Category Archives: Wrestling with Worldviews

Everyone is believing a story by faith. Everyone is letting that story shape their life. What’s the better story? Believe that one.

The Benedict Option

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It’s Time for Christian’s to Disappear! 

What? Yes, to hide, to go underground, to withdraw to the margins of society, in some cases literally “head for the hills.” We have entered a dark age for Christianity, and the only way to preserve the seeds of faith is to form small Christian subcultures that intentionally orient their lives fully around the worship of God. These cell groups will practice out of their faith through the rigorous keeping of church traditions, liturgy, and the church calendar. They will practice asceticism, (fasting, prayer, and limitations on distractions & entertainment)  live close to one another and share life together. The absolute priority of these small groups will be to pass on the faith to the next generation. Just like Benedict did in the 5th century. 

Why must Christians go into hiding? 

Secular humanism is the dominant narrative of our time, it runs in complete opposition to Christianity. It’s like a riptide at the beach, the current is just too strong now to resist. All Christians who remain immersed in the surf of our culture will eventually be swept out to sea and lost. The linchpin of cultural Christianity according to Rod Dreher is its views of sex, sexuality, marriage and gender. The Christian worldview doesn’t work with today’s view of whatever, whenever, however, and whoever. If a Christian tries to draw a moral line in the sand that is different from the cultural norm of “be whatever you are” and “love is love” he is shot down with increasing brutality. Also, Christianity needs contemplation and prayer to work but today’s society is constantly abuzz with one distraction after another, followed by one temptation after another. The section that details the staggering amount of pornography consumption in the West and the latest scientific studies about its adverse effects on the brain is unnerving, to say the least. Dreher is unashamedly alarmist. The Western world is not a safe place to hang out anymore if you are a Christian. All Christian efforts to be relevant, missional, or “cutting edge” need to be stopped in the interest of survival. 

What exactly are we talking about here?

  • No more public school education — Putting your kids in public school is “spiritual suicide” says Dreher. And most Christian schools are not much better either. The only solution is what he calls “Classic Christian” education, or homeschooling of a similar vein. 
  • If you are a compromised professional, quit — It’s going to be increasingly difficult for Christian lawyers, doctors, educators, politicians, nurses and the like to avoid having their convictions compromised in their workplaces. The solution says Dreher is to quit. Christians must become comfortable with less money and less notoriety.  He suggests working in the trades, becoming an entrepreneur, or taking up farming.  
  • Move in close to each other. Geographical proximity will be necessary for the dark night ahead.
  • Create a self-contained sub-culture. Dreher has no time for Christianized imitations of the world, whether that be pop-Christian music, radio, technology, consumerism. Etc. Etc. The sub-culture he envisions is unashamedly counter-cultural. Entirely other from the world in which we now live.  

Should we be worried? 

In 8 years living as a missionary embedded in the secular culture, I can certainly see his point. I’ve seen more Christians leave the faith then come into it. I’ve experienced first hand the increasing hostility of influential people who don’t share my Christians worldview. I at times have felt the enticing currents of secular humanisms pull. I’m concerned for sure about the decidedly non-Christian fashions that entice my family and me. My neighbour from Iran lamented to me that his daughter is losing the Persian language and culture, “I can’t keep up” he said. “We practice in our home, but all day at school it is English, English, English.” His daughter is being assimilated into the English Canadian world, not the Farsi Persian one. Is the same happening to us with our Christian heritage? We are teaching Christianity in our home, and at our worship gatherings, but all day, it’s secular humanism, secular humanism, secular humanism. Can I expect anything less than assimilation for my family and me if something more drastic is not done? Dreher’s point is to resist assimilation at all costs. He fears that most Christians are already functionally assimilated, believing in what he calls Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism, rather than Christianity. “Be nice, be happy, God is not really involved.” Indeed there is a dearth of Biblical and Theological understanding among so many who purport to be Christian. 

Is it time to buy 40 acres in northern B.C.? 

Should I take my family and friends and go “off the grid” to preserve our way of life? That strategy is not without historical precedent. Monks, Mennonites, and Puritans have all made that move in times gone by. Is Dreher a prophet of doom whose dire warning I must head? Undoubtedly much of what he says is not without merit and Christians would do well to consider what strategies might work best towards a more comprehensive form of Christian indoctrination. However, I would like to offer some gentle push back as I conclude this review. 

  1. Don’t let fear dominate. The whole message of the book is driven by fear. All is lost if we don’t radically separate ourselves from the cesspool that is our world. Love not fear should dominate our worldview. Are there not things in our culture today that by our very presence we can redeem? Can we not appreciate truth and beauty wherever we find it, even if it is not necessarily Christian? The answer is yes to both these questions. Fear forces us into the false dichotomy that “Christian” is good and “Non-Christian” is bad. 
  2. Serve do not Run. We have lost our voice to be sure, but we have not lost our hands or our feet. We can serve; indeed, we must! My input is not welcome at our local public school that has been made abundantly clear; however, I can still stack chairs, and run the BBQ on Sports Day. Is that not Jesus’ message to us when he washed the feet of his disciples? 
  3. Follow Jesus’ example. Jesus our Saviour and our model for worldly interaction was a friend of publicans and sinners. He regularly scandalized the religious separatists of his day through his intimacy with those who did not think or act in line with him. 
  4. Education is not the Saviour. I’m not convinced classical Christian education is the panacea Dreher claims it to be. Never have I witnessed praises heaped so high upon an educational system before. Perhaps Dreher was overstating his case to make his point. 
  5. Let us not confuse tradition with the gospel. It’s an easy thing to let non-essentials become essentials, especially if they are cherished and have had a long cultural shelf life. This is not a new problem. Every generation of Jesus followers since the first century have attempted to innovate, to grow, to change, to morph, to evolve their faith in a variety of ways and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The big bag of “cultural Christianity” that Dreher wants to carry with him into the back 40 may actually need to be emptied of some of its contents. Christians are at their best with less cultural baggage, not more.
  6. Sex is not the centre of cultural Christianity. Unquestionably Christian views on sexual morality are at odds with the culture of our day, but they have always been at odds with the natural inclinations of the human heart. In this sense, there is nothing new here, except a stern reminder for Christians to take the beam out of our own eye first! The linchpin of cultural Christianity is love, not sexual restraint. Self-sacrificing love that manifests itself in forgiveness, perseverance, patience, and kindness is the mark of true Christianity. Love that extends a worshipping hand to God and a helping had to others, whatever their belief system or sexual point of view might be. 

The book certainly scared me, but I’m not moving up north just yet, check back with me in a years time, and I’ll let you know if I’ve changed my mind! 

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The Brothers Karamazov

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The story takes place in a small town somewhere in Russia in the late 1800’s. 

  • Fyodor is the dad in the story. He is a terrible man. One of shrewd, wicked, and self-absorbed character.
  • Dmitri is the eldest son, he hates his father and has publicly declared on numerous occasions that he should like to murder him because he feels as though his dad has cheated him out of a large sum of money. Dmitri is an irresponsible brute of a man who is into parties, women and alcohol.  But he can also be incredibly generous and kind. He is the sort of fellow who wears his emotions on his sleeve. 
  • Ivan is smart and rich but haunted by great unanswerable doubts. He has lost his faith and as an atheist believes that “all things are lawful.” He too would not mind seeing his father’s end. 
  • Alexei — Fyodor’s youngest son, he loves all people and has faith but not in a dogmatic sense. He would prefer the quiet calm of the monastery but answers the call to be in the world to help people, most especially his family and their friends. 

The story in a nutshell — Fydor is murdered, Dmitri is blamed, and the evidence is stacked against him. Not only was there a motive for the murder on account of the money but also Fyodor and Dmitri had found themselves in competition for the affection of the same woman. This titillating triangle of love certainly didn’t help Dmitri’s case for innocence. In the end, there is a massive court case, and Dimitri is found guilty, even though he is innocent. This book is not fundamentally a  murder mystery; the story is a mere pretext for a philosophical conversation.

So many names — Each character in the story has about 4 or 5 a.k.a’s It’s a good thing the book is so long because it takes quite a while to get everyone straight. 

I won’t take the time to explain — The book is written in journal format, with the author as one of the townspeople who observed all the events of this sordid story. As he tells this tale, he wanders all over the place going down bunny trails, back stories, and side stories. At several points, he mentions the he “won’t bore the reader with more details” but invariably almost accidentally he does anyway as his mind picks up another story trail too appealing to resist. I found this quite entertaining. 

Are people really that messed up?  The words pile together in masterful, long-winded sentences which are incredible in their descriptions of human nature and the challenging situations that life brings. It’s a literary treat to be sure. He is, however, so thorough in the uncovering of his characters’ thoughts that sometimes I wondered if what they were thinking could be believed! There are some seriously messed up thoughts, emotions, and affections going on with this cast of characters, and to track with every single step of their thought process is a bit mind-bending. The scary thing to me is Dostoyevsky is probably spot on in his analysis and descriptions of the thoughts of humanity. 

When it comes to faith desire always precedes proof – A realist will not just see a miracle and then believe. Alexei believed in God because he wanted to. The story of divine love and immortality struck his imagination as an ideal means of escape from darkness to light. So he went all in for it. That’s why he tried to become a monk. The heart always directs the mind not the other way round. 

Ideas have consequences — Ivan was proud of his intellect and proud that he had finally shed the false skin of religious conviction.  “All is lawful” he declared. Morality is a fiction; there are no actual rules, no grand story to shape our lives. Of course, Ivan wasn’t willing to take these bold new claims to any logical extremes. What he didn’t see coming was that his servant was. Fyodor was a blight to be removed, and since “all is lawful” the servant went ahead with it, and since Dmitri was so violent and volatile why not implicate him with the murder and send him off to Siberia. What could be wrong with this plan? Nothing if one subscribed to Ivans ideology, so the servant did the deed with genius, cunning, and determination. 

Persevering in Love — A minor character in the story wants to believe in God but isn’t sure, the tension tortures her. All that matters says one of the monks is “active love, which is self-forgetfulness in the care of your neighbour…and if through love you are unable to find happiness content your self by knowing you are on the right road.” Somehow love of the sacrificial variety set forth so marvellously in the person of Jesus is the thing around which human life is best shaped. The life of love is infinitely more valuable than the life of personal happiness.  

Alexei is the hero, but he is not the main attraction — Amid the scandal and the hate, the debauchery and the pain, the foolish superstitions of the religious and the blunt rationalism of the non-religious, among the pride and the mental illness (which comes in abundance in this book!) there is this man. He finds himself driven to be in the middle of the mess not as the hero, but as the helper. Alexei is quiet and gentle. He is honest; his heart breaks for the sufferings of others, he doesn’t claim to have answers, doesn’t sit in angry judgment on the wicked, doesn’t take sides, he is just present and available. He is not even a man of great faith necessarily, at multiple points in the story he waivers on questions of belief. However, in his deep heart, Alexei sees a truth that pushes him forward. Love is that priceless treasure that can redeem the whole world. It is love that will expiate not only Alexei’s sins but the sins of others as well and so even in the absence of faith sometimes, even with only the most dimly lit hope Alexei resolutely fashions his life around divine love. For the reader, the emergence of love through this quiet, unassuming man is the real mark of beauty in this book.

Tuesdays with Morrie

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An eccentric lovable old professor gets ALS and begins the slow terrible  decent into death. ALS gradually paralyses the body until the victim eventually asphyxiates on his own bodily fluids. It is in this context that we discover a man who refuses to wallow in self-pity, anger, or depression. Instead, he wishes to use the final chapter of his life as a means to help people learn from the experience of dying so they can live in better ways. A former student with journalistic capabilities reconnects with the professor, their friendship which had grown distant is reinvigorated through this slow moving tragedy. In the final months of Morrie’s life, Mitch travels 700 miles almost every Tuesday to chat with his beloved ever-weakening professor. This book is the fruit of those interchanges.

When given the bad news:

“Do I wither up and disappear or do I make the best of my time left?… I decided I’m going to live, or at least try to live—the way I want, with dignity, with courage, with humour, with composure.”

Mitch was truly in awe of the almost complete lack of self pity that he saw in his professor. The professor somehow knew that self-pity was a false promise of comfort that wouldn’t deliver.

Is it ok to mourn? Yes, but: 

“Sometimes in the mornings, that’s when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands — whatever I can still move — and I mourn what I’ve lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I’m dying, but then I stop mourning, I give myself a good cry but then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life.”

How important is meaning and how do you discover it? 

Morrie tells us,

“We live largely unfulfilled, unsatisfied lives because we have not discovered any transcendent meaning to them.”

Mitch resonated with his ailing professor’s observation.  Mitch had everything money could buy, but sitting next to his professor, he felt as though he had nothing.  He was particularly disturbed when he looked around the professors old house, unlike Mitch, everything the professor had was used, 2nd hand, and old. But Morrie didn’t care about stuff, he wasn’t into chasing whatever was new and shiny. In the midst of this modest, dumpy dwelling place, it became increasingly clear who the happier, more content, more fulfilled person was, and it wasn’t Mitch.

If a greater meaning is so important in life, how does one find it?

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose.”

These three devotions can be accomplished nicely without the need for a God. This was Morrie’s perspective. He wasn’t anti-God, God was more of a mystery to him, something worthy of study, awe even, but not devotion. I’m wondering if the call to transcendent meaning rings a tiny bit hollow if God is not attached at some point. We all need meaning or we shrink into ourselves, why not embrace an ultimate meaning in a creator God who loves us and gave himself for us? It seems to me that this would up the ante of greater purpose more than anything. I wonder what Morrie would have said if I had the chance to ask him? Toward the end, Morrie’s gentle agnosticism began to fragment. He started having conversations with God.  If a good God was out there somewhere, Morrie was becoming interested in joining him after ALS had completed it’s work. It is no sign of weakness or foolish delusion for a human facing his own mortality to explore post death realities more substantive than agnosticism’s “I don’t know”.  Death often has a way of prioritizing the search for God.

Breaking through the fog

“We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our county, do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it — and have it repeated to us — over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore…. What matters? — Love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness.”

It was these four principles that shaped Morries life and these four principles that he instilled in anyone who wished to hang out with him. What broke the cultural brainwashing that Mitch had been duped by? Followers of Jesus would refer to it as “Life on life discipleship.” This is the most powerful change agent in existence and its what led to Mitch’s transformation. In reading the authors bio I discovered that he doesn’t believe that “more commercialism is good” anymore at all. Mitch spends his time and money at his orphanage in Haiti. In addition to this he has also started a handful of other life giving charities. He is a different man.

Fully present 

“When Morrie was with you, he was really with you. He looked you straight in the eye, and he listened as if you were the only person in the world. How much better would people get along if their first encounter each day were like this, rather than a grumble from a waitress or a bus driver or a boss? I believe in being fully present.”

He excoriates people for being distracted when they should be focused on the person in front of them, (well, he doesn’t really excoriate anyone, Morrie is too nice for that, I just like that word, but Morrie is certainly not impressed with those of us who find ourselves distracted! )  This was all before the iphone era! If we were distracted in the 90’s how much more so today! Morrie isn’t just lecturing on being polite and respectful of other people. Attentiveness is important for everyone’s health. He puts it this way:

“When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel.”

How good is the human race?

Morrie like so many humanists believed in the inherent good of people, he didn’t deny that bad people existed, but for Morrie, people only became bad when threatened. This is where I must part company with the amicable professor. There is no denying that a threatened human is capable of harm, but someone always initiates the threat. Is it because they themselves also feel threatened? No, it’s because they want something for themselves. Selfishness is the core of bad behaviour, not being threatened, and every human has selfishness in spades! To my way of thinking then, humans are not inherently good creatures. Humans are inherently selfish creatures which make us bad in our very nature. This is not happy talk, but it is true talk.

A fear greater even then death

“I heard a small sad sound,

And stood awhile among the tombs around:

‘Wherefore, old friends,’ said I, ‘are you in distrest,

Now, screened from life’s unrest?’

— ‘O not a being here:

But that our future second death is near;

When, with the living, memory of us numbs,

And blank oblivion comes!’”

— Thomas Hardy, “The To-Be-Forgotten”

Morrie was terrified not so much of death, but that he would one day be forgotten. Thanks to Mitch, and Ted Koppel, and a made for T.V. movie promoted by Oprah, Morrie’s oblivion date has been extended to a point in time well beyond any of the rest of us. Mitch posthumously rejoices in this accomplishment in the 20th anniversary edition of the book. Morrie’s life caries on through others. But it won’t forever – the oblivion date will eventually arrive.

For me the better story is not so much that one’s memory lives beyond the grave, rather it’s that one’s actual person lives beyond the grave. With this perspective there is no “second death”.

Other good quotes/thoughts 

  • Morrie was an expert at coaxing compassion out of people
  • Giving is living
  • The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and to let it come in.
  • Regarding being ashamed for being so needy: “Forget what the culture says. I have ignored the culture much of my life. I am not going to be ashamed. So what [if someone has to wipe my butt]! What’s the big deal?

Mortality

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You always listen a little more intently when it’s a man’s last words. Sadly, Hitch didn’t have much to say.

What can be said when you are walking through death’s door convinced there is nothing on the other side? As it turns out, not much. Preparing to die without the anticipation of future hope is very gloomy business indeed.  One of the saddest lines in his book is:

“One finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less”

If all of us just return to dust when our time on earth is over, then, Hitchens observation here, is about as depressing as it can get. He genuinely feels the weight of hopelessness that his worldview brings him.

Death causes you to rethink your beliefs

As Hitch suffers he is forced to confess a truth about grave illness:

“It forces you to examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings”

One such confidant that withers under the scrutiny of Hitch’s suffering is Nietzsche. His famous maxim “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a load of bilge! Hitch’s battle with cancer had only made him weaker, not stronger. Maybe the solid bedrock of Nietzschen thought upon which countless atheist’s have build their systems has a few cracks? Hitchens is honest enough to point out a couple of them.

Christian people are jerks

But Hitchens is not ready to throw down the whole system. He still had plenty of spunk. He is at his best when pointing out the flaws of organized religion and he is very good at it. His criticisms in many cases should not be ignored, people have done terrible things in the name of religion. Particularly saddening at a personal level are all the people of faith, (and he quotes several) who gleefully informed the world that Hitchens esophageal cancer which took away his ability to speak, was a wrathful God’s vindictive justice upon this leading spokesman for the Anti-God point of view. Hitchens rightfully points out that these people are heartless jerks who care more about their ideology than people and of course if God is actually like this, than he is not interested.

Prayer: Not a fan

Even in death, the idea of prayer disgusts him. He mentions one statistic from some non-footnoted study about how prayer makes things worse – and then moves on. I guess I have to give him a pass for his poor scholarship since he was dying when he wrote it, but it is frustrating from a truth standpoint. Does prayer help? Countless legions of people from the beginning of time to this very day would enthusiastically say it does. The weight of all this counter evidence is dismissed in one opinionated stroke, and the matter concluded with Hitchens saying:

“Don’t trouble heaven with your bootless cries!”

Believe the better story

Hitchens above statement reminds me of Monsieur Thénardier’s line in the famous musical Les Miserables

“And the God of Heaven, he don’t interfere, cause he’s dead as the stiffs at my feet, I raise my eyes to the heavens and only the moon, the harvest moon shines down…”

That’s certainly one way to look at life, but why would you? “Because, it’s the truth!” is the loud bombastic response that Hitchen’s championed his whole life. It’s the cold hard reality of our existence, it might be unpalatable but it’s true. Is it? We are all of faith. Hitch believed his story of materialistic naturalism and reason alone seemingly to the bitter end – but we must all acknowledge that it was his faith story. In the Les Miserable classic there was another faith story, different from Monsieur Thénardier, different from Hitchens, it was a better story, It was Jean Val Jean’s story.

Come with me

Where chains will never bind you

All your grief

At last, at last behind you

 

Lord in Heaven

Look down on him in mercy.

 

Forgive me all my trespasses

And take me to your glory.

 

Take my hand

I’ll lead you to salvation

Take my love

For love is everlasting

 

And remember

The truth that once was spoken

To love another person

Is to see the face of God.

 

It’s the beauty of this story that has captured my imagination and my heart.

Eternity: A really bad idea

“With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives… sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

Isn’t there a better way of looking at this? Like an eternal family reunion without the weird uncle? Could we embrace a vision of infinite life by thinking in terms of all the joys that make up family life without any of its difficulties? It takes a special person to rain on heaven’s parade.

God is a jerk if he damns people for doubt

Hitchens curses any god who would punish “irreconcilable doubt”. To which I would say, God is not anti-doubt – he is pro-faith. The faithful enter in not because they are doubt free: they enter in because their hope manages ever so slightly to overshadow’s their doubt.

This is a sad story of pain and death with no hope beyond the grave. Interestingly, in the first part of the book, Hitch chews on the idea of Pascal’s Wager for a little bit, but then spits it out as distasteful.  However, towards the end of his book and his life, we see him becoming less and less critical of Pascal’s Wager. In one of his final musings, he says “Atheists ought not to be offering consolation… If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.” — Was he betting on God in the end? Was he throwing his chips in with the better story? Good for him if he did.

Amazing Grace

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This was one of the few books I’ve read where I was genuinely sad when I turned over the last page. I had met someone special, a friend, a good man, a hero really. I had walked with him through his extraordinary life and I guess I just didn’t want it to end. Who was this guy? His name was William and he changed the world.

The idea of ending slavery was completely out of the question in the 1700’s. Slavery, it was thought, was inextricably intertwined with human civilization. It was the way things were supposed to be. Slavery was economically necessary and morally defensible. Wilberforce managed to destroy an entire way of seeing the world! He vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable and allowed it to survive and thrive for millennia. Slavery does live on today but for the Western world the idea that slavery is somehow good is completely dead thanks in large part to this great Christian statesman.

The Great Change — William was not always so passionate for a noble cause. Before the “great change” as he called it, William was a man given over to selfish ambition and personal pleasure. He was charming, witty, and popular and he naturally used these personal assets for self advancement. That all changed when he invited the smartest person he knew to accompany him on a long trip to the south of France. Milner was brilliant like Wilberforce, but what Wilberforce didn’t know, and certainly didn’t expect was that Milner was a committed follower of Jesus. “Methodists” as they were called in that era were ridiculed for their stupidity and backwardness, and yet here was Milner every bit the intellectual equal to Wilberforce, but unyielding in his confidence in Jesus. All of Wilberforce’s objections to living faith, were met with stunning counter measures. Eventually this was the fork in the road for our man. Wilberforce became a Christian.  He naturally concluded that he must give up his political career, since he felt it was impossible to be a Christian and a politician at the same time. That assumption was called into question when he had a pivotal conversation with John Newton, the famous slave trader turned pastor. From Newton’s point of view, William was being uniquely positioned by God to change the world. The die was cast, Wilberforce would use his political influence to end the great wickedness of slavery.

It wasn’t pretty – It’s easy for me to think of course this attack against slavery would gain momentum, isn’t it clear and obvious that this was a bad idea?” Wrong! The fight to abolish the slave trade and ultimately emancipate slaves was brutal. William was forced to endure threats, intimidation & character assassination. There were times when his very life was in danger. At one point the opposition was able to make Wilberforces anti-slave trade position unpatriotic. With skillful political savvy they connected Englands arch-nemesis, France, to the anti-slave position. For almost a decade anyone in Britain who stood to abolish slavery had to endure a violent pro-Britain patriotic backlash.  It is impossible not to see a correlation between that and what Donald Trump is doing in our age. The problem of in-equality as a result of race still exists even though slavery doesn’t. NFL players have been strategically placed to call our attention to this problem, but political savvy distracts us from the all important issue and instead makes it about patriotism. I guess I’m reminded that “there is nothing new under the sun”, but I won’t be fooled by it.

The power of media and the public — The abolitionist’s were convinced that if the public could actually see what the slave trade was, they would eventually lose the stomach for it. The media wing of the abolitionist movement was unprecedented. In graphic and discomforting ways they exposed the trade for the evil that it was. The common person in Britain had no idea, what all went into getting them their tea, sugar, and tobacco.  Eventually, the sensory bombardment worked, the general public was convinced. The trade had to go. In upressedented fashion the abolitionist movement mobilized the masses to speak. They captured millions of signatures protesting the trade, had rallies and pushed the common mans message into the halls of power.

Dead orthodoxy and really long titles — Wilberforce, was saddened by the deplorable state of the church of England. The church had left off following Jesus, and had become a stale institution for personal profit and worldly pursuit.  Wilberforce agitated tirelessly to wake the church up. Resurrecting the church was just one of many initiatives he laboured for. He worked tirelessly to help Britains poor, to educate women, to stop Englands pillaging of India, he advocated against cruelty to animals, something unheard of in the 1700’s. He wrote vociferously on all these issues. Basically, any moral issue of the day, he spoke on, wrote on, or created a society to assist in.  One such society he started was for widows and single women.  He aptly named it, the ”Society for Widows & Single Women of Good Character Who Have Seen Better Days” — that’s quite a title!

Put your money where your mouth is — Wilberforce was born into wealth, but he didn’t stay rich. Over the course of his life he gave all his money away to assist in all these great causes. He lived out the last of his days in a small room provided for him by his son.

Clapham, the vital role of community — For many years the Wilberforce family lived in a tight-knit community known as Clapham. Wilberforce and many of his friends simply shared their lives together. Their kids played, while they shared meals and stayed up late dreaming about the world they wanted to create. They weren’t just coworkers in a cause; they were dear friends. Without this relational bond stemming from a shared life, I wonder if they would have had the fortitude to do what they did.

Religious Freedom – Wilberforce was ahead of his time. Protestants and Catholics in the 1700’s were not exactly bosom buddies, even still he advocated religious freedom. No need to fight about religion, let both understandings of Christianity live in peace.

Playful spirit – Wilberforce’s house was full of kids and animals and visitors of all kinds.  Many times he was seen playing with children, or lost in his imaginiation or having a laugh about some oddity of life. He was fun and he enjoyed his life to the glory of God The kid in William never completely left. He was very serious about his life’s work, but the difficultly and struggle of it never forced the twinkle out of his eye, or caused him not to see and be amazed by the beauty of a rainbow.

On to India — is it good to disrupt culture? — Wilbrerforce said “Next to the Slave Trade, India is the foulest blot on the moral character of our country.” For years Britain managed to dominate the sub-continent emptying it of it’s resources, while at the same time, being careful to prevent Christianity from spreading. They were happy to have Indians carry on with institutionalized slavery, and caste abuse. They cared nothing for the female infanticide and the forced burnings of wives on the funeral pyres of their husbands. None of that mattered just so long as the flow of valuables continued. For Wilberforce, a “hands off” point of view on suffering was not possible. Christianity teaches the value of human life, and the East India Company of Britain didn’t want the Indians awakening to their own human rights and the objective standards of justice that Christianity provides. So they threw up the smoke screen that it’s better for the Indian to have his own culture and religion. Wilberforce wouldn’t buy it. Abuse and wrongdoing should be stopped even if it comes nicely formulated and justified in a pre-existing culture and religion. Thanks to Wilberforce’s efforts, missionaries were soon heading to India and the “turn a blind eye” strategy would be pushed aside.

Wilberforce was a man of small stature and for most of his life he was very sickly. He was everything you wouldn’t expect in a super hero, but a super hero he was. My desire is to emulate his life.

A House in the Sky

81WS5WQhg3L.jpgThis is one of those books where you have to stop every few pages, look at the front and back covers, searching for something that says “fiction” as you say to yourself, “This isn’t a true story – is it? No, it can’t be true!” Turns out it is true.

So what happens? A little girl from a fractured home grows up and gets the itch to travel. The story is about all of her adventures, which seem harmless enough at first, until her wanderlust brings her into dangerous places. Much to her family’s disapproval, she is able to spend significant time in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places, barely skirting death on several occasions.

High stakes adventuring is what Amanda wanted, and so it seemed to her that the ultimate prize would be Somalia. What better place was there to risk it all? This war-torn state is a veritable treasure trove of peril and uncertainty!

She talks an ex-boyfriend into going with her and off they go. Things unravel quickly from there. After only 4 days, they are captured and held for ransom for 15 brutal months. During that time, Amanda is starved, beaten, raped repeatedly, tortured, and in every way abused. In the end, a ransom amount is arranged privately with the families of the two captives and a release is arranged. This book is troubling to read, so it would not be for the faint of heart or the squeamish. What did I learn?

  1. Just Business — From the very beginning, Amanda’s captors constantly proved their devotion to Allah through the vigorous keeping of endless rituals. They also exhibited a genuine care for their fellow Muslim brothers, but the trajectory of devotion to God, which should result in care for other humans, never reached Amanda. Why? Amanda was a business project. Her captors were actually apologetic at times, “Just business, Amanda, nothing personal – your family just needs to pay the ransom” ~boot to the head!~ How is it possible to see another human being in this less-than-human way? That question leads me to my second point.
  2. That Which Your Right Hand Possesses — Repeatedly, Amanda’s captors, almost in gentle ways, told her to get accustomed to the treatment she was receiving, especially the rape. What was their justification for such actions? The Koran. In it, it is ok for sexual relationships to happen with both one’s wives and any woman “That your right hand possesses.” “We possess you, Amanda, so there is nothing wrong with what we are doing to you.” Lovely 😦
  3. Nothing to See Here — At one point in the story, Amanda and her partner manage a daring escape. They flee to the one place they figure they will find a sympathetic and compassionate ear. They burst into a mosque full of worshippers, and cry out for help. In broken Somalian, they explain that they have been kidnapped and abused. The elders of the mosque confer with the kidnappers who arrive breathless and angry a few minutes later. After a short conversation they are handed back over to the kidnappers. Only one woman objects, but she is violently kicked to the side. How in God’s name would you not intervene if someone in such a deplorable condition as Amanda barged into your church service pleading for help? It is inconceivable to me.
  4. You’re Still A Woman and A Slave Even If You Convert — As a survival tactic, Amanda converted to Islam. But it did little to improve her situation – she was after all still a woman, and still a slave, Throughout her captivity, she was told repeatedly of her lowly status. As a good Muslim, she would have to make peace with her station in life. It is the will of Allah. The only improvement offered to her was the promise that if she married one of her captors, they would untie her, let her live in an upstairs room with a window, and have lots of babies.
  5. Ritual Is All That Matters — Amanda as a Muslim now needed to make sure she shaved her pubic hair, but not pluck her eyebrow hair. She needed to preform her daily ablutions. It was critical for her to learn the Koran and pray five times a day. Correct pronunciation of Arabic words in her prayers became critical. Her standing as a good Muslim or a bad Muslim depended on it. She must observe Ramadan, and keep her eyes lowered in the presence of men. These are the things that mattered. Not compassion or mercy or justice. Jesus bumped into a similar sort of situation in his day. He was not amused – see Matthew 23.

This is Amanda’s story. It is not a direct attack on the religion of Islam per se, but it’s impossible not to become skeptical of that particular religion after reading this book. Is what Amanda experienced just a perversion of Islam or just the way it is? Is this what Islam becomes if you are serious about upholding its beliefs? To me it seems like the more one devotes one’s life to Islam, the more justifications there are for what happened to Amanda. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

What about Jesus? For my Muslim friends and indeed for all the world, I say follow him. The more one becomes devoted to Jesus the more the needy are helped, the more equality and value for all humans becomes the norm, the more captives are freed, and the more humanity flourishes. Whatever ones official religion, to follow Jesus is never a mistake. I just finished reading Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce, the Christian statesman who in the late 1700’s fought for 40 Years to abolish the slave trade. If ever there was a dramatic counterpoint to this story, it is Amazing Grace. I challenge you to read both books back to back and ask yourself the question, which faith story is the better one to shape your life around.

Redeeming Sex

3639Debra comes out with the vision of her book right away:

This book is about the posture one takes not the position one holds. 

She isn’t interested in writing a policy manual for the Christian position regarding issues of sex, gender, and the gay lifestyle. Her book is really her own personal story and the stories of the many that she loves. Deb was abused early and often, developed same sex attraction, almost as a defence mechanism against predatory men, ended up being part of a communal lifestyle with both men and women, then found Jesus, after a while she stumbled into an ultra conservative seminary to learn about the Bible. It came as a shock for Deb to find out that people at the Seminary might frown on her more “free” perspective on life and sex. Eventually, Deb would graduate from the seminary marry a guy named Allen and they would become the dynamic and influential writer/speaker duo that they are today. If I had to to tell you about her book using twitter my description would be as follows:

  • Sex points you to God
  • Christians have really screwed things up
  • Covenant love is where it’s at
  • Human Sexuality is complex, stop acting like a know it all
  • What’s the Christian position? — Love, Serve, Pray

Sex points you to God 

Deb is convinced that sex is more than a biological function. Her contention is that sex is a deeply spiritual event. It reveals the deeper human longing for eternal connection, for transcendent belonging. As Christopher West says “The sexual confusion so prevalent in our world and in our own hearts is simply the human desire for heaven gone berserk.” We want to belong so badly, but we don’t know how to get there, or how sex plays a role in that. She quotes psychiatrist M. Scott Peck on this saying “Sex is the closest that most people ever come to a genuine spiritual experience.” She goes further saying that  “orgasm is a fleeting experience of transcendence — a way of loosing ourselves.”

“Whatever it is that one is seeking in sex, one thing seems clear — it’s more than just about momentary pleasure, as intoxicating as that can be. It seems that almost all the existential and religious aspects of human life are somehow mysteriously involved.” 

Every aspect of our sexuality: our capacity for relationships, our longing for love, our identity as male and female, all point to something beyond oneself, to the “Eternal Other” I have come to believe that our sexuality is so interlaced with longing for and experience of spirituality that we cannot access one without somehow tapping into the other.”

I’m inclined to agree, but so what? What can this deeper meaning about sex actually accomplish? She jokes, but with seriousness, that spiritual people ought to be some of the sexiest people on the planet. This observation, serves to tee up her next major point which is:

Christians have really screwed things up

And have been for quite some time. The early church fathers were certainly not rejoicing in the mystical union of sex as a pointer to God. Origen thought his sexuality would interfere with his spirituality so he castrated himself.  Ambrose encouraged married priests “stop having sex with your wives” so they could focus on loving God. Jerome was utterly convinced that Mary the mother of Jesus could not have had a sex life, it would be dirt on her perfect reputation. Augustine, built an entire theology against the use of private parts by suggesting that original sin was passed on by having sex. The more sex, the more sin. Therefore sex should suppressed and avoided as much as possible.

Deb laments how fear has strangled a healthy sexuality out of so many Christians. Fear makes people create artificial boundaries, all the rules to make sure “it” doesn’t happen, actually back fires creating a forbidden fruit syndrome. Fear creates an over focus on sex. She quotes a popular Christian leader who recently wrote a tract entitled “12 questions to ask before watching Game of Thrones” All twelve of the questions had to do with the sexual content on the show, and none of the warnings were directed toward the greed, jealousy, deception, gratuitous violence, arrogance, or pride so prevalent.  Deb makes the incredibly poignant observation

“We worry about what people are doing in bed much more than making sure everybody has a bed to begin with… Boundaries are certainly important for life and sexuality, and the Bible does give us guidelines, but read through the lens of fear they can become the very prison form which we ourselves need liberating.”

No argument from me. Her longings for a fear free version of sexuality really resinated.

“What would our marriages, our friendships, our churches, and our communities look like if men and women were not afraid of connecting with each other in deep ways? What if men and women could really know each other without sex getting in the way? What if we did not have to be afraid of our own and others’ bodies that we cannot trust ourselves with them. I guess we would look a whole lot more like Jesus! In Jesus, the fully integrated human, the embodiment of spirituality and sexuality, we find our model. A man whose life was characterized by right loving, who navigated well both genital and social aspects of his sexuality.” 

Even still I’m afraid, I know my own heart, but I share her longing.

Covenant love is where it’s at

She doesn’t want to push anything on the reader directly, no dogmatic statements coming from this book, but covenant love certainly gets at least a gentle nudge in the readers direction. She describes it as “Abiding commitment to each other’s best interests, to the ongoing search for truth, vulnerability, the risk of getting hurt and the accountability of our community.” and contrasts it to its more intoxicating cousin, romantic love. She really isn’t a fan of our cultures efforts to send us forever hunting for the perfect romance, it’s an illusion, it’s a drug that wear’s off after a while. Our culture is intensionally misleading with it as well, because it assumes that once you’ve had “intense emotional connections” you’ve “fallen in love” and sex is the cultural expectation for those who experience these connections. This is neither right nor healthy. “Romantic love might get you down the aisle, but only the higher, more sacrificial love will carry you on till “death do us part” — Whatever human sexuality should look like, covenant love should be at its centre.

Human Sexuality is complex, stop acting like a know it all

In a way, she is calling her readers to chill out a bit, to stop talking and start listening. To realize that the world of black and white doesn’t mesh well with the complexities of human sexuality.

Regarding gender: She distinguishes the word from sex. Sex meaning the anatomical parts of the body, and gender being the non-physical aspects of being male or female that exist in a cultural context. Gender is also more internal, she says, it’s how we feel about ourselves. Gender “Is how we emotionally navigate the body we were born into.” It’s unhelpful for Christians to hang on to culturally solidified stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl. She urges us to consider gender as more of a dynamic and fluid concept. The truth is expressions of masculinity and femininity change over time, and from culture to culture and that’s ok. She also doesn’t like the concept of “opposite sex” preferring rather that we understand ourselves as “neighbouring sex” since there is so much we share in common. To the Christian’s in her readership she says “The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t come in pink and blue” 

She is the first to say male and female are different, those terms aren’t meaningless, or unnecessary, She even quips “It seems men have a penchant for looking at people’s private parts, women for looking into people’s private lives.” but on the whole she hates generalizations and calls on us to be more broad when considering gender.

Regarding categorizing people:  Is this person gay, is this person not? Is this person trans is this person not? Her message on our never ending desire to categorize and label people is clear “Stop it!”

Deb says, “It’s ok to have intense same sex attraction and not have to view one-self as gay.”  She notes, “the gap between gay and straight is not often as clear for women as it is for men. Perhaps this accounts for the rise in women who identify as bi-sexual.” Feelings and attractions ebb and flow, people are different, people change, we all make choices, life happens.

“Simple binary categories of homosexual and heterosexual are not really good enough. They don’t do the job, everyone has a story and not everyone fits neatly into those categories. Given that everyone’e experience of sexuality is not only multifaceted but unique to their story, it’s almost impossible to place a generic label on a whole group of people and think you’ve defined them… Anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris says ‘try to define gay or straight and the words begin to slip through our fingers’.”

Hirsh says, “No one is simply born gay. No surprises here. Lady Gaga is wrong.” She goes on to confirm the complexity of human sexuality by quoting the American Psychological Association:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles. 

Her point is clear, whatever you think, there is an excellent chance you don’t know it all, what is true is that all human beings want to belong and to be accepted. Christians must be more than accommodating when it comes to that. Sadly we haven’t been.

Whats the Christian position? — Love, Serve, Pray. This book is a worthy read, it’s provocative and poignant. If you want a book that won’t give you all the answers your looking for, but will at least make you think, this is it. Also Deb is a delight to read, she uses humour well, and her stories are fantastic. I think I will finish this review by sharing some good quotes from her book.

  • The only thing wrong with being an atheist is that there’s nobody to talk to during an orgasm. 🙂
  • Beneath the search for genital sexuality is a longing to be loved. One seeks it where one can.
  • I accepted Jesus into my heart but how do I get him into my penis?
  • None of us are “healed from our sexuality” none of us are flawless. Most heterosexuals are actually polygamous in their orientation. We are all sexually broken
  • Avoid stereotypes, think well of others. Love the sinner, hate your own sin
  • Our business is to love, pray and serve and let God sort out the rest.
  • Be a listener not a teller
  • I have never been one for developing specific church policies on homosexuality. If we have a policy on homosexuality, why wouldn’t we also develop policies about every other ethical issue? For instance, what is our policy about greed? Jesus seems pretty concerned about this, yet I don’t know a single church who has a formal policy on it. The problem with writing policies on a particular issue is that you make that issue more important than the others
  • Acceptance precedes repentance
  • In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things love.

Man’s Search for Meaning

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Victor Frankl was no stranger to pain suffering and death, even before the war as a successful neuroscientist and psychologist in Vienna, his practice led him to spend the majority of his time with suicide patients. In his research among these troubled souls, he found that 100% of them could not answer the question “Why am I here?” The absence of any ultimate meaning in his patients lives was the common thread in their suicidal perspective. Further, he discovered that alcoholism, drug abuse and most forms of neurotic behaviour were connected to the absence of meaning in a persons life.

As his research broadened he was startled to find that as much as 78% of German/Austrian young people in the mid 1930’s would rather have a clear transcendent meaning to their life than just making lots of money, or living for themselves. Sadly, Hitler capitalized on this “existential vacuum”  as Frankl liked to called it. According to Hitler there was a transcendent reason to live and die. He was the Saviour to follow and the Third Reich was the heaven to build, and brutality was the necessary equipment needed for the project. This was better than the boredom and despair that a meaningless existence was bringing to the youth of the nation of Germany.

The Nazi’s took over Vienna. Victor was Jewish, so that was a problem. First he faced the indignity of being terminated from his post at the university and hospital. Second, he and his wife suffered through the forced abortion of their pre-born child. Third, his grief was multiplied when he witnessed the arrest and deportation of all of his extended family members, including his elderly parents, his bereaved wife, and his brother. Finally, his own arrest and internment at Auschwitz, the most notorious of the extermination camps came. By the time it was all over he was the lone survivor among all his family and friends who went to the camps.

His discoveries at the extermination camps agreed with his earlier findings on the importance of transcendent meaning being critical to the health of a persons life.  The prisoners that survived clung to some meaning, some reason to carry on — those who were not able to grasp any kind of meaning to the madness of their existence simply gave up and died off.

Of course even those who had a greater purpose to their life died with ridiculous efficiency as well. Greater purpose did not mean you would survive, in many cases living by transcendent scruples just got you killed quicker, but somehow even the deaths of these meaning filled creatures were different. Frankl observed:

“They marched upright into the gas chamber with the Lords prayer or kaddish on their lips, offering whatever help they could to others.”

Their grasp of a “super meaning” as Frankl liked to call it gave them a confidence that there was meaning in suffering and meaning even in death itself. This confidence, allowed them to cope, to be at peace even as their lives were taken from them in the most despicable of ways.

The whole point of the camp was to dehumanize, to turn people into animals, it worked for many, but those who could hang onto meaning retained their humanity.

When Frankl was liberated it took him just 9 days to write the book for which he is most famous. “Mans Search for Meaning” has sold 10’s of millions of copies world wide, and has been translated into some 40 different languages.  Is Frankl on to something when he says we need a “super meaning” beyond ourselves to truly flourish a human beings?

Yes.

He gives several suggestions for how we as humans might be able to find greater meaning to our lives:

Finding meaning through a life’s work — Frankl stayed purposed during his time in camp, by secretly re-writing on tiny scraps of paper the manuscript for his book that the Nazi’s destroyed with his entry into camp.

Finding meaning through deeds —  Frankl turned down an opportunity (albeit a risky one) to escape in order stay with some of the sick in the camp that he had been charged to care for, it was the right deed to do.

Meaning through love — For Frankl the ultimate purpose for existence is love. In his own case, as he suffered, there were moments in the midst of it all, where his mind was transported to Tilly his wife. She spoke to him in his distress, and he dreamed of better days with her. He carried on, for her.

This is why things were even more difficult for him when he finally got out and discovered that she and everyone else he loved were dead.

“The best have not returned (also, my best friend [Hubert Gsur] was beheaded) and they have left me alone. In the camp, we believed that we had reached the lowest point—and then, when we returned, we saw that nothing has survived, that that which had kept us standing has been destroyed, that at the same time as we were becoming human again it was possible to fall deeper, into an even more boundless suffering. There remains perhaps nothing more to do than cry a little and browse a little through the Psalms.”

Frankl says ultimate meaning makes you human (animals don’t probe the depths of their own suffering) we do. Somehow that meaning becomes fullest when it’s connected to true love. The best reason for living, for suffering, for overcoming, and even for dying is love.

As a follower of Jesus this book, though entirely secular in nature, made me appreciate with renewed clarity the grand story of Jesus that I have come to love. The Christian story fits perfectly with Frankl’s findings. Love forms in us our greatest meaning which makes us truly human. To love, however, has it’s risks, for when that love dies or is somehow extinguished, we become susceptible to great despair. However, if our love is attached to a person who even death cannot vanquish, how then can despair conquer us? in a word, it cannot!

Guns, Germs & Steel

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Jarod Diamond is an evolutionary Biologist who spent some 30 years in and out of the jungles of Papua New Guinea. A question asked by an indigenous tribal person sparked a decades long research project that culminated in the writing of this book. The Tribesman asked Diamond why the white people came to his Island with the big ships and amazing inventions, and not the other way around.

Why did some people groups remain locked in the stone age while others advanced into the modern era, ultimately using their superior technology to dominate, displace and in many cases all but exterminate less developed peoples?

It’s not biology — The gap in advancement between Eurasian peoples and the primitive cultures they conquered should not not be explained by means of slower evolutionary development, or anything that might construe biological inferiority. He cited all sorts of scientific data to push the reader away from such superior race conclusions, he also used many personal anecdotes from his time with tribal peoples. Diamond is absolutely convinced that “primitive” peoples minds are not less evolved than his own, in fact, he argues, to the contrary. The real question to ask, according to Diamond, is how intellectually inferior Europeans managed to invent so much stuff! Time and time again in the jungle it was the natives intellect, know how, and savvy that kept him alive. But even still, why hadn’t they figured out how to move beyond the use of stone tools and hunting and gathering as their way of life?

Location, Location, Location — Diamond is convinced that Eurasian peoples, were predisposed for success because of their environment. Diamond realizes that many a judgmental finger will be raised at this point, cursing him for his  “environmental determinism”. He is quick to point out that geography is only the primary cause. Many other less deterministic causes played roles as well, but those roles must be considered secondary.

Domesticate or die — To advance, a society must be able to domesticate seeds and learn to mass produce food. Having regular crops allow a society to settle down into permanent places. Sedentary life-styles with reliable food supplies mean more population, more population increases power and the potential of invention. The domestication of animals also provides a huge leap forward in productivity and sustainability, all creating more space and time for innovation. The cold hard facts, according to Diamond, is that South and North America, Australia, and Africa simply did not have the same number of domesticable seeds available to them. In some cases, like Australia, they didn’t have any domesticable seeds at all! It also turns out that some animals can be domesticated and some can’t. The above mentioned continents just had bad luck with animals. The Eurasian horse can be tamed, the zebra cannot. The Asian bovine, from which all modern day cattle come from is domesticable, the African water buffalo and the North American bison are not. All large possibly domesticable animals went extinct in Australia giving the early inhabitant’s only the kangaroo to work with! The llama in South America was domesticated but it use pales in comparison to that of the horse. Diamond imagines how history would have been rewritten if African tribes had managed to domesticate the rhino and use it with mounted shock troops to wreak havoc all over Europe, but, alas, a rhino doesn’t take kindly to being mounted and will not be mastered.

Germs are nasty! — The possibility of sickness through germs increased as populations grew and began to cluster into cities in Europe and Asia. Natural trade routes established themselves on Eastern and Western lines and germs were free to travel. The germs that caused black death and countless other plagues ravaged Europe and Asia in the middle ages, but the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” certainly proved true. The unprepared immune systems of largely isolated populations of North & South America and Australia were vanquished by the germs inflicted upon them by European explorers. In some cases entire populations of indigenous people were exterminated.

Belief does impact behaviour — Indeed, one of the greatest misfortunes of the wide acceptance of Darwinian evolution is the assumption made by industrialized countries that they must be farther along in the evolutionary process and thus superior. Just like Cro-Magnon exterminated, the Neanderthal, so to must those of the modern age, destroy those of the stone age. In the last 250 years countless millions were subjugated to unspeakable atrocities on the slippery footing of these evolutionary assumptions. Diamond halts to speak of right or wrong because as an evolutionary biologist it is really difficult to speak of morality with any sort of authority. For him things must remain a matter of fact. But the facts, according to Diamonds research, prove there is no connection between intelligence and industrialization and thus any sort of racial or developmental superiority should be done away with. The harsh conclusions of inferiority levelled against less developed people have happily fallen out of favour in the main stream, however, Diamond laments that even so, these prejudices remain deep in the psyche of many moderns.

As a Christian person this is one of the reasons I am not overly thrilled to embrace wholesale the origin theories of evolution. Whenever, “lesser humans” factor into our story, there is precedent to destroy them. This of course, become more difficult, if one has the perspective that all humans are created in the image of God and thus intrinsically valuable.

The sad story of Christianity’s conquest — Unfortunately, not all who claimed Christianity as their world view developed a perspective that valued human life regardless of the state in which it was discovered. Such was the case with the conquest of the Incan empire by Pizzaro.

The story is remarkable: With brilliant trickery, superior weapons, and incredible bluster for being so totally outnumbered Pizarro and 168 soldiers defeated over 30,000 Incan warriors in one day. On that day of battle they managed to capture the Incan king and kill thousands of his soldiers without sustaining a single fatality of their own.

Several of the first hand accounts of the events remain. In them we discover a spirit of gratitude, there is  thanks to God for his grace and mercy in allowing such a miraculous conquest. They sincerely believed a great victory for Jesus had been won that day. Why? Because now the infidel hordes would have a chance to learn about the love of Jesus. They would be prevented from carrying out their terrible human sacrifices, and they would learn their place, for no infidel should be in a position of authority over a Christian. What happened to Atahualpa the Incan King? After using him to extort vast amounts of gold from his people. They condemned him for conspiring against Spanish rule and sentenced him to death. However, if he converted, he would avoid being burned at the stake and receive the lesser sentence of strangulation. He converted, was baptized, and then sent to his reward in heaven. Somehow, there had to have been a better way to bring the “good news” of Jesus to South America 😦

The curse of unity — European city states, constantly fought each other, constantly competed. This forced them to innovate, to develop, to incorporate new ideas. China on the other hand was unified and authoritarian. The emperors word was law. One or two bad idea’s by a Chinese emperor could prove to have enormous negative consequences such was the case with shipbuilding and iron smelting, China was the world leader in these two areas long before the Europeans were. But the emperor decreed that nothing good could come from the outside, so he had all of China’s ocean going ships burned and all designs destroyed. As far as iron development was concerned, the emperor, didn’t like the burgeoning middle class that was resulting from iron innovation, so he decreed all iron developments to cease and so it was. In Japan a similar situation happened. Thanks to early Portuguese exploration, Japan acquired guns. Immediately Japan saw the potential, and quickly developed advanced weapon technology, that is until the ruling class Samurai, offended that commoners could wield such deadly power, outlawed guns. An so it was.

Of course we eat humans — Diamond is so matter of fact in his writing style. In Papua New Guinea we discover cannibalism. This is easily explained. There is a lack of protein because there are no large mammals so naturally humans would eat each other. So there you have it. And so it is, with the natural world. We do what we must to survive, some people win and some people lose. Gun’s germs and steel came to Europeans and Asians because they were able to domesticate seeds and animals quicker. Asians & Middle Easterners fell behind for secondary reasons, so Europeans took over the world.

In my heart I long for more than just naturalistic explanations for what is and I find myself wanting to believe in something that transcends the natural world and gives ultimate hope. Why do I feel that way? I won’t find that answer from Diamond, but even still his explanation for why New Guineans didn’t colonize Europe, is very convincing.

 Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

A workaholic, and sub par husband and father get’s an invitation to dinner.  The invitation is signed by Jesus. It must be some kind of a joke, but it intrigues Nick enough to go to the high end restaurant in search of dinner with Jesus. Sure enough Jesus is there.

I settled in for what I thought would be a humorous, intriguing and provocitive conversation. The whole idea seemed so creative to me. However, by the end of the book I was not sure if Nick had sat down with Jesus or Josh McDowell. Essentially, after that first chapter had set everything up so nicely, the booked devolved into an overly simple and straightforward apologetics textbook. Nothing wrong with that of course, I have loads of those kinds of books on my shelf, but I was hoping for something more, like a real story where I could be drawn into the characters lives, where genuine wrestling for faith could happen through a compelling story line.

Instead Jesus effortlessly slices and dices through all of Nicks objections to God and Christianity. In almost bullet point form Jesus solves all of Nicks struggles with faith. By the end of the night Nick has learned from Jesus that universalism is a bad idea, Buddhism and Islam are bogus, Christianity is not about keeping the rules, hell is a good idea, suffering has a purpose, and that Scripture is reliable.  The bullet point argumentation is only broken up by brief descriptions of the food and drink they are consuming as they chat.

It’s an ok book, if you want to learn basic ways of arguing apologetics with someone who might be easily convinced. Since that’s not what I was looking for, the book was more a disappointment than anything.