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.

Atheist Delusions

We remember what we want to remember

    Every age necessarily reinterprets and rewrites the past in accord with its own interests, ideals, and illusions (33) The past is always to some extent a fiction of the present (129). 

Hart is disgusted. The tale that modernity is wishing to call history has gotten entirely out of hand, most notably in its recollections of Christianity. 

The story that modernity wants to remember

  • Once upon a time, there was a late Roman Hellenistic culture that cherished the power of reason and pursued science and high philosophy. Then came Christianity, which valued only blind obedience and irrational dogma, and which maliciously extinguished the light of pagan wisdom. Then, thanks to Islam, thirteenth-century Christendom suddenly rediscovered reason and began to chafe against the bondage of witless fideism. And then, as if by magic, Copernicus discovered heliocentrism, and reason began its inexorable charge toward victory through the massed and hostile legions of faith. 
  • The emergence of the secular state rescued Western humanity from the rule of religious intolerance. 
  • Secularism is the exuberant adventure into the adulthood of the race so long delayed by priestcraft, superstition and intolerance. Secularism is the great revolution that liberated society and the individual alike from the crushing weight of tradition and doctrine.

What does Hart think of this story? 

   Utter bilge. Hart criticizes Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Kirsch, Gibbon, MacMullen, and Freeman to name a few. To Christopher Hitchens subtitle on his bestseller “How religion poisons everything” He directs particular malice. What precisely is meant by everything? Hart wonders, then he lists an entire page of wonderful things that would not exist were it not for Christianity, things like the abolition movement, the golden rule and hospitals. He concludes with the comment “It borders upon willful imbecility to lament the rise of Christendom.” One example of the “selective memory” of modernity comes to us through Edward Gibbon’s majestical work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In it, Gibbon argues that Pagan polytheism was more “tolerant” than Christianity because of the plethora of pagan deities to choose from. This “tolerance” is pure fiction. Pagans slaughtered with “extravagant violence” says Hart, Jews and Christians alike. Anyone who denied the god’s existence was in mortal danger.  Adding to pagan “tolerance” was the reality of human sacrifices both on alters, and more prevalently in the coliseums. Pagan systems of belief cared nothing for the homeless, the gladiatorial spectacle, crucifixions, the disposal of unwanted infants, or the brutal slaughter of war captives or criminals. Paganisms “tolerance” was completely ambivalent towards tyranny, injustice, depravity or cruelty. In Gibbons over-reaching bid to prove paganism more tolerant than Christianity, he leaves all these considerations out these items out.  Hart is not about to let him or anyone else get away with it. 

“Vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness. — Their rantings are as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism.”

Christianity not perfect but…

    “It is true” is the single most used phrase in the entire book. Hart uses it to acknowledge that Christians were not perfect. For example,

“It is true that Christianity’s greatest historical triumph was also its most calamitous defeat”. Hart admits that when Christianity became a politically dominate force unfortunate tragedies happened. “It is true that Christendom in many respects was hardly Christian. Even so, the gospel has at best flickered through the history of the West, working upon hard and intractable natures—the frank brutality of barbarians, the refined cruelty of the civilized— producing prodigies of sanctity and charity in every age.” 

Critics of Christianity point out that slavery and the abuse of women continued on into Christendom. Hart acknowledges that “it is true” but then takes us on a fascinating journey where the norms of abuse accepted without question in paganism gradually fell prey to the corrosive influence of Christian thought. Hart concludes

Christianity has been the single most creative cultural, ethical, aesthetic, social, political, and spiritual force in the history of the West, to be sure; but it has also been a profoundly destructive force; and one should perhaps praise it as much for the latter attitude as for the former, for there are many things worthy of destruction.

The extinction of Paganism was a good thing.

    Pagans became Christians to such a degree that paganism became extinct because paganism was terrible.

“It was time for the gods of that age to withdraw: for too long they had served as the terrible and beautiful guardians of an order of majestic cruelty and pitiless power.”

  • Pagan thought did not embrace science and reason: Christianity upended the progression of science we are told. According to Hart, science as we understand it, didn’t even exist in pagan times, “all its methods, controls, and guiding principles, its desire to unite theory to empirical discovery, its trust in a unified set of physical laws and so on—came into existence only within Christendom, and specifically under the hands of believing Christians.” The “so-called” dark ages of Christendom brought about the university, the first real steps in medicine, and the devolvement of incredible new science-based technology. The same cannot be said for the Hellenistic world or the Muslim world for that matter. They remained technologically static in part because they never developed science beyond theory and they remained committed to a slave culture. The church muting Galileo always comes up as evidence that the church and science were not friends. Hart is not buying it. What’s the story then? “That story demonstrates nothing of Christianity’s aversion to Science but only how idiotic a conflict between men of titanic egotism can become.” 
  • Paganism was depressing: Harts assessment of paganism is particularly bleak: 

“In any event, to return to my principal point, the Christianity of the early centuries did not invade a world of noonday joy, vitality, mirth, and cheerful earthiness, and darken it with malicious slanders of the senses, or chill it with a severe and bloodless otherworldliness.  Rather, it entered into a twilight world of pervasive spiritual despondency and religious yearning….It was a pagan society that had become ever more otherworldly and joyless, ever wearier of the burden of itself, and ever more resentful of the soul’s incarceration in the closed system of a universe governed by fate.

Christianity is a better story.

    In addition to the fundamental goodness of the world, Christianity taught the indispensable value of a human person. The followers of Jesus saw in persons something godlike, to be cherished and adored. Then adding to the image of the divine in all humanity comes the grand rescue story of Jesus, proving once and for all that humanity is loved by God and welcomed into a divine eternal relationship. As Hart puts it: 

By contrast, Christianity taught the incorruptible goodness of the world, the original and ultimate beauty of all things, inasmuch as it understood this world to be the direct creation of the omnipotent God of love. (144) … Christianity brought a deep and imperturbable joy” (145) 

    The advent of Christianity unquestionably changed the world for the better. For Hart, it is unconscionable for respected historians and philosophers not to recognize this. Hart is not apologizing for Christian’s who may have misbehaved in the past. Hart quips “Humans frequently disappoint,” but this truth is not limited only to Christians. He will not accept criticism from angry, misinformed people who:

“have not even paused to acquaint themselves with, for example, the Inquisitions actual history, while at the same time completely ignoring twenty centuries of unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs. — its’ care of widows, and orphans, its almshouses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on.”

    The secular nation-state is the problem – Hart refuses to take the blame for the “so-called” religious wars of the 15th -17th centuries. He insists that they be renamed as the first wars of the modern nation-state. “Religious allegiances, anxieties, and hatreds were used by regional princes merely as pretexts for conflicts whose causes, effects and alliances had very little to do with faith or confessional loyalties.” The protestant reformation succeeded because it served the interest of the emerging nation states. It wasn’t that the Germans became protestant and now wanted independence from the empire. They wanted independence from the empire, and so they became protestant. Hart takes us on an entertaining albeit very disturbing walk through the 15-17th centuries and concludes with a statement that hardly needed to be said. “Few would be so foolish to suggest that any side fought for religious reasons” As the common bond of Christianity decreased in Europe, so the standing armies of the future nations increased. Violence increased in proportion to the degree of sovereignty claimed by the state, and that, whenever the medieval church surrendered moral authority to the secular power, injustice and cruelty flourished. Before the shift, for example in the 10th-11th centuries, the church instituted “Peace of God” days and “Truce of God” days, making war illegal on certain days of the week, fast days, and feast days. By the time the church was finished with the calendar three-quarters of it consisted of periods of mandated tranquillity, the churches great work though not carried out perfectly was always tilted towards peace. 

What came after Christianity faltered was the absolute state and total war. The “religious wars”  were the moderns state’s great struggle to free itself from those institutional, moral, and sacramental allegiances that still held it even partially in check. So that it could now get on with all those mighty tasks—nationalist wars, colonial empires, universal conscriptions, mass exterminations of civilians, and so on.

Is the post-Christian world better?  

    First, for any people, comes its story, and then whatever is possible for those people becomes conceivable within that story — slowly and relentlessly, for centuries now, another story has been replacing the Christian one. Attempts to reverse this process are probably futile. (239)

  • A New God — Freedom.

At the deepest level of their thoughts and desires, they are obedient to principles and promptings that rest upon no foundation but themselves…Freedom of the will is our supreme value. It is for all intents and purposes our god and certain kinds of god (as our pagan forebears understood) expect to be fed.

Human freedom is the thing that drives people to a passionate and often articulate hatred of belief in God. Anything that stands in the way of freedom must be destroyed. Freedom might just as well be seen — from certain more antique perspectives as a kind of slavery to untutored impulses, to empty caprice, to triviality, to dehumanizing values. Modern Freedom is nihilism. The question to ask is where does nihilism lead? Nowhere good.

  • A Better Story — Knowledge. Technological mastery is not just our guiding ideal but our model of truth. Power over material reality is all that matters, that’s the better story of the post-Christian world. 

    Only Christianity teaches the infinite dignity of every soul and the infinite value of every life. Because of Jesus, charity became the shining sun around which all other values were made to revolve. In the Post Christian world, this is no longer the case.  If there is a God of infinite love and goodness, of whom every person is an image, then certain moral conclusions must be drawn; if there is not, those conclusions have no meaning… What Nietzsche understood was that the effort to cast off Christian faith while retaining the best and most beloved elements of Christian morality was doomed to defeat…A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it…But as a cultural reality, even love requires a reason for its preeminence among the virtues. Love requires a reason, and the post-Christian world doesn’t have a reason. 

    Then to scare us entirely out of our minds, he quotes the ideas of Joseph Fletcher, Linus Pauling, Peter Singer, James Rachels, and Lee Silver, whose post-Christian ideals seek to manage humanity in what Hart describes as “robustly merciless terms.” When Christianity goes, so goes the sanctity of human life. Reading these guys makes this claim perfectly visible.

    When the aspiring ape ceases to think himself a fallen angel, perhaps he will inevitably resign himself to being an ape. He will rejoice that the universe demands little more from him than an ape’s contentment. This is no description of progress, this is a descent into darkness. 

What can a Christian do? 

    Hart is not jubilant. Christianity’s inexorable movement towards extinction is only resisted by his confidence that the Christian story is a cosmic truth that can never finally be defeated. Hart recommends retreat for the Christian into the desert as the monastics did in the 4th century. They rebelled against Christianity’s own success, to discover again in the quiet wastelands, what it really meant to live for the love of God and one’s neighbour. To banish envy, hate, and resentment from the soul and to seek the beauty of Christ in others. The success of secularism to Hart is the same as the success of institutionalized, politicized Christianity of the 4th century. The authentic Christian retreats from both. In many ways, I think Harts very brief conclusion tilts toward an agreement with another book I read recently, The Benedict Option

Body counting might not be the best comparison.

    Hart with almost monotonous regularity takes the reader back to the 20th century to remind us that the most savage and sublimely violent period in human history was brought about by secular governments who had embraced thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology. My one issue with this constant refrain is the failure to consider technology into the body count. The real question to ask in my opinion is what would the badly behaving religious leaders of Christendom have done with weapons of mass destruction had they had them? A question impossible to answer, but I get an uneasy feeling that the body count discrepancy from the Christian to secular would not have been nearly as high if both had weapons of equal capability. 

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Bohemian Rhapsody

 Freddy Mercury’s life as portrayed in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody is one of unnecessary loss, avoidable sorrow and misplaced priorities, at least until right at the end. 

If you gain the whole world but lose your soul “Your life will be difficult” Mary said to Freddy with genuine care. “I Love you Mary…but,” was Freddy’s all too familiar refrain to the only person who genuinely loved him. She had to let him go.  Commitment as the foundation for lasting love is what Freddy seemed to want, but he also wanted a bit of everything else as well, and you can’t have both. If one chooses to get everything possible in life, one seems to end up with nothing of value in the end. 

A blessing and a curse. Freddy’s ruthless disregard for musical convention combined with his radical commitment to let his creativity be his absolute guide is the reason for his unprecedented success. Freddy was an experimenter and a rule bender and music lovers the world over have benefited immensely as a result. Sadly, he took these same attitudes with him into the social, sexual, and celebratory aspects of his life. What was a blessing now became a curse and once his ego was sufficiently large enough, which rock stardom is wont to do, it was only a matter of time before he destroyed himself.  

The straight goods. I appreciated how the movie did it’s best only to tell the story. It did not seek to glamorize Freddy’s descent into debauchery or use his life as a platform for activism. It did not condemn Freddy nor did it immortalize him. 

My big takeaway. What emerges from the movie is the need for human beings to stay faithful to each other over the long haul as a primary key for human flourishing. If Freddy could have kept his commitments to Mary, his band, and the world view of his upbringing. “good words, good thoughts, good deeds” His life and his legacy would have been infinitely better. 

Darwins Doubt

Darwin had a problem, and he knew it. 

    The difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory were no doubt somewhere accumulated before the Cambrian epoch, is very great…I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.

    Darwin’s doubt about the Cambrian explosion centred on the problem of missing fossil intermediates. Not only have those forms not been found, but the Cambrian explosion itself illustrates a profound engineering problem that fossil evidence does not address— the challenge of building a new type of animal life by gradually transforming one tightly integrated system of genetic components and their products into another. 

    Wrestling with uncooperative evidence to try and point it back in the direction favourable to a Darwinian explanation is proving increasingly difficult for scientists. So much so, that other explanations are becoming popular. There is only one rule to keep when asserting a new theory explaining the sudden appearance of unique organisms in the fossil record. One must express one’s opinion in strictly materialistic terms. Adherence to this rule is the scientific equivalent to the rigid religious dogma.  Richard Lweontin speaks for much of the scientific community when he says “Materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” Admittedly, this book takes on a rebellious tone, it simply cannot abide by this rule. Cue the music from Twisted Sister “No, we are not going to take it anymore!” Meyer appeals to his readers: “Let’s break some rules and follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

    So what is making so many scientists grumpy and rebellious with Darwinian theory? 

  • Irreducible complexity — Complex biological systems depend for their functions on hundreds, of independent, yet jointly necessary parts. As the number of essential components increases, the requisite number of coordinated changes increases too, rapidly driving up the difficulty of maintaining the functional integrity of the system while modifying its parts. When modifying the design of a machine, an engineer is not bound by the need to maintain a real continuity between the first machine and the modification. The evolutionary problem is, in a real sense, the gradual improvement of a machine while it is running. The more functionally integrated a system is, the more difficult it is to change any part of it without damaging or destroying the system as a whole.
  • Mathematical impossibility — The idea that new genetic information arising from random mutations in the DNA runs smack into the problem of “Combinatorial inflation.” Mathematically inclined scientists have realized that if the mutations themselves were truly random— that is, if they were neither directed by an intelligence nor influenced by the functional needs of the organism (as Neo-Darwinism stipulates) — then the probability of the mutation and selection mechanism ever producing a new gene or protein could well be vanishingly small. Why? The mutations would have to generate, or “search” by trial and error, an enormous number of possibilities — far more than was realistic in the time available to the evolutionary process. The math doesn’t work out.  
  • Junk DNA is not Junk — For a long time the rejoinder to silence scientists dabbling with intelligent design was as follows:  “If the information in DNA provides such compelling evidence for the activity of a designing intelligence, why is over 90% of the genome composed of functionless nonsense sequences?” It isn’t. “Junk DNA” as it has been called, doesn’t actually exist. According to a landmark study concluded in 2012, every part of the genome is overwhelmingly functional. 
  • Random mutation doesn’t cut the mustard — Mutations of any significant quality that could alter a body plan to the degree that it becomes a different creature separate from its ancestor would have to happen during the embryonic stage of life. But if you screw around with embryonic development in hopes of creating a significant mutation, you will find that early stage manipulation results in catastrophic failure for the embryo every time. Microevolutionary changes do not create new body plans, and the macro-level mutations are always harmful. 
  • DNA as language — All Body plans have blueprints. Blueprints are highly specific instructions pre-built into each organism. It’s like each organism is a book. Each book has arranged the alphabet into specific words strategically sequenced to make a complete story. Random mutation is when the letters of the words in the book get scrambled. Is it possible for an entirely new story to be produced by the random scrambling of these letters? Moby Dyck does not become the Hunger Games by randomly scrambling the letters. There is no way one book becomes another no matter how many times the words are rearranged.     

Since genes, like English sentences, contain sequence-specific functional information, multiple changes in the genetic text will inevitably degrade function (or fitness) long before a new functional sequence will arise — just as random changes in a meaningful English sentence will typically destroy meanings long before such changes produce a significantly different sentence.

  • Micro-evolution leading up to macro-evolution is a baseless assumption: Because of what we know of DNA and epigenetic information. It won’t do any more to look at finch beaks and butterfly wings as pointers to Macro-evolution. There is a big difference between shuffling and slightly altering preexisting sequence-specific modules of functional information and explaining how those modules came to possess information-rich sequences in the first place. 
  • Does design actually demand a designer? Some scientists like Stuart Kauffman are promoting “the self-organization” theory. He says “life bubbles forth in a natural magic beyond the confines of entailing law, beyond mathematization.”  For scientists less inclined to the mystical materialism of Kauffman the only option is to hang on doggedly to large scale sudden macro-mutations as explanations for the Cambrian explosion.“A bird hatches a reptilian egg”— says Otto Schindewolf.  Jeffrey Schwartz speaks of animals suddenly originated “full-blown and raring to go.” Other theories hold on to a specific mutation of the Hox gene as the explanation or geographical location being the necessary cause for macro-evolution of the quickened variety.  

Whatever the materialistic explanation, all scientists today speak of the appearance of design. Selection and mutation function as a kind of “designer substitute” says Ernst Mayr. Fransicsco Alya says that natural selection explains “design without a designer”  Richard Dawkins himself says that the digital information in DNA bears an uncanny resemblance to computer software or machine code. He explains that many aspects of living systems “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Nevertheless, to be faithful to Darwinian orthodoxy all must agree that evidence of design is illusory. Natural selection, though it appears in every way to the contrary, must be wholly blind and undirected. 

The question comes down to is “Is design real or illusory?” Intelligent design theory contends that it’s real. Intelligent design does not negate science or even much of evolutionary theory, but it does argue that living organisms look designed because they actually are designed. This conclusion is based on evidence first of all, not religion.  

Good Illustration:

The Easter Island statues — Archeologists, still don’t know the exact means by which they were carved or erected. The ancient head carvers might have used metallic hammers, rock chisels, or lasers for that matter. Though archaeologists lack the evidence to decide between various hypotheses about how the figures were constructed, they can still definitely infer that intelligent agents made them. In the same way, we can conclude that an intelligence played a causal role in the origin of the Cambrian animals.  Even if we cannot decide what material means, if any, the designing intelligence used to transmit the information, or shape matters or impart its design ideas to living form. 

Good Quotes: 

  • After giving a lecture in America J.Y. Chen, a Chineses scientist vociferously critical of Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy was asked why he wasn’t nervous about his anti-Darwin perspective. He gave his answer with a wry smile “In China, we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin!” 
  • Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest, the question of origins remains unsolved. 
  • Michael Polanyi argues that “chemistry and physics alone could not produce the information in DNA any more than ink and paper alone could produce the information in a book.” 

The Witches

In the dark, cold winter of 1692 several young girls inexplicably began to manifest strange behaviours: spasms, cries of pain, loss of sight, strange visions, at times they became unmanageable, even belligerent. Disobeying parents and telling off the pastor in the church was unthinkable for an 8-year-old puritan girl of that era, but it this strange season it happened with disturbing regularity. What both tortured and emboldened these girls? Three possible answers lay before the troubled town of Salem. The girls were experiencing a physical malady, they were demon-possessed, or tortured by witches. Doctors came, and physical explanations were quickly ruled out. The nature of the girl’s ailments could only be diabolical. Leading questions were asked, the girls began to name names, and the witch hunt was on. In 9 months 14 women, five men and two dogs were all executed for being witches. During that frenzied nine months, many people opted to become bewitched to save their skins as the number of bewitched individuals increased so to did the number of accusations. The jails overflowed. Finally, the witch storm blew itself out, the sheriff quit, witch hunting was too exhausting. The governor’s wife was accused, and he wasn’t about to let her be prosecuted, and the desperate appeals of innocence from those who hung for their alleged crimes began to weigh on the collective conscience. Today everyone agrees that this was a gross miscarriage of justice. What can be learned? 

  • Defying authority was the bigger problem: The chief justice Stoughton and several of his judges were convinced already before the trials began that witchcraft was the problem. They were only interested in guilty verdicts. To declare one’s innocence was to challenge authority and ensure their wrath, that is what got you killed. 18 out of the 19 people of those executed maintained their innocence. It was only the ones who acknowledged their guilt in agreement with the judges that ultimately went free. This is how the whole fiasco managed to balloon so much. It didn’t take long to figure out that chances of survival increased with a confession, so people started admitted to the most inane stories of witchcraft one could imagine. In the interest of survival, they freely named names of others they suspected of being witches. When the trial ended, there were over 60 “guilty” witches stacked up like cordwood in the tiny prison. They all went free. 
  •     There was one accused witch, a 71 one-year-old man name Giles Corey, who defied the court by refusing to say the words “By God and country” at the beginning of his hearing. Without saying these words, the trial could not proceed. This stubborn refusal upended the proceedings and infuriated the judges. They found a way around the impasse, by digging up a medieval law for what to do with someone who refused to plead, as Corey had done. Turns out “pressing” was the legal way to get the indigent Corey to say the words “By God and country” and thus to be able to move forward with the trial. Pressing involves lying the victim on the ground, covering him with a board and putting increasingly heavy stones on the board until he either says the magic words that would allow the proceedings to continue or he dies. Corey was indignant to the end, having lots of choice words for his persecutors none of which resembled the words “By God and country.” 
  • “Justice” was more interested in having someone to blame: Life was hard in 1692. It was no picnic to live on the frontiers of Massachusetts. Sometimes people try to make sense of things by blaming others for their misfortunes. Witches must be why all the Indian attacks are happening, why I can’t solve the land dispute with my neighbour, why my child died etc. If we do away with the witches we do away with our problems was the conventional wisdom. It also helped to ease the conscience if own blamed people less desirable. With only a few exceptions the community purged itself of its nastiest people. 
  • There was a catastrophic failure in understanding what constitutes legitimate evidence: The primary flaw was in the acceptance of spectral evidence. The accused could press charges against someone if they felt that person’s ghost had harassed them. There was no way to defend against such charges. Chief Justice Stoughton had no reservations about spectral evidence, though increasing numbers of people did. Other inferior quality evidence used to damn a person was the discovery of slightly raised discolouration on an accused person’s body. These “Devils teats” were a clear sign of guilt. The “touch test” was another abysmal means of establishing guilt. 
  • The rule of law appears to be a bit of a joke.  Rebecca Nurse’s story is the saddest one of all. She was happily married to Francis for over 50 years, eight kids, many grandkids and great grandkids. She was named as a witch and accused based on spectral evidence. People could believe others were witches but not Rebecca. The trial was contentious, but the jury declared her “not guilty.” The judge was very unhappy with the verdict and told them to reconsider. During all the tumult of celebration on one side and disgust on the other, the judge ordered another accused witch to come in. Rebecca was surprised to see her prison mate at her trial and wondered allowed something to the effect of “what another one of us was doing here.” The jury under incredible pressure by the judge, asked Rebecca what she meant by “us.” was this the admission of guilt that the judge wanted? By using the pronoun “us” was she implicating herself as a witch? Rebecca then over 70 years old and nearly deaf did not hear the juries question so did not answer. The Jury took her silence as an admission of guilt and overturned their verdict. Phips, the governor, didn’t like the guilty verdict, so he reversed it again, Nurse was free, but only for a short while. When Phips left the colony, he appointed Stoughton as governor in his absence. Stoughton, the chief justice of the witch trials used his additional power as governor to secure the guilty verdict he wanted for Rebecca Nurse. 
  • Too many logical potholes and too many muzzled mouths.  One observer noted that If the witches were so convinced on their innocence why would they choose the courtroom to bewitch their victims? (The girls regularly disrupted court proceedings with outbursts)  This visible logical pothole was ignored, along with stories that consistently contradicted each other. There are dozens of questions that if asked would have assuredly unravelled the prosecution, but there was no one able or willing to ask them. Unfortunately, at that time in history, defence lawyers were not invented yet and the accused by, and large were scared out of their minds. Most people were scared out of their minds, to object to the hunt often resulted in finding oneself accused of witchcraft. 
  • I would do anything for love. Something ailed the original girls to be sure, but one factor that helped them carry on in their state of distress was love. Most of these girls received frighteningly little attention, and now all of a sudden the entire town was concerned for their safety and well-being. Never before in the history of Puritan New England had little children received such affection and care. Why stop it? For many of these girls they were only too happy to play their roles with distinction, the pay they received in affection was worth it.  

    In the end, the blame should go on Stoughton the chief justice. He, in my opinion, did everything wrong. He assumed guilt, had little patience for objections, badgered the accused, forced convictions, ignored good evidence, accepted terrible evidence, and condemned the innocent without a hint of remorse or even sober second thought. He failed to listen to a growing chorus of clergy and other learned men who warned him of clear points of concern in the whole debacle. Even though the entire affair was admitted to be a terrible mistake within decades of the events, Stoughton remained untouched for his gross negligence in the whole incident. That is a shame.

The Gulag Archipelago

This book is why Jordon Peterson is so intense.

The Gulag Archipelago is an incredibly intimidating 3 volume set written by a wounded man on a mission to set the record straight. On its many, many, many, pages you will find a seemingly never-ending story of heartbreak, trauma, despair, and injustice. My review only covers volume 1 of Solzhenitsyn’s written war on communism. Seventeen years of the author’s life were spent in the communist labour camp system known as the GULAG. He does his best to uncover what must surely be the worst story of human suffering in the history of humanity. How can it not be, when some 50 million people lost their lives? Experts say Solzhenitsyn’s book was the key that spelled the beginning of the end for communism.  

Woman of Faith or Prostitute? — Solzhenitsyn says that Women were the more stubborn of the sexes to give up their faith, so waves and waves of them went to the GULAG. What was their crime? They were teaching the Christian faith to their children. Life in prison was not an unreasonable sentence for such wickedness. If you were convicted as a prostitute, however, the verdict was only three years, and you were freely able to ply your trade with the administrators. Returning home with suitcases full of payments after the time was up. As for the religious women, well, they were never heard from again. 

Clap until you drop — The insane story of a communist party meeting in a small city where Stalin’s name was announced. The unyielding expectation for all in attendance was wildly enthusiastic clapping. As the clapping goes on and on, who would dare to stop? Finally after over an hour of clapping an exhausted official stops and sits down. He is arrested for anti-soviet sentiment and given ten years in the GULAG! 

How Communism works: 

  • Terror as the primary mechanism for control — Lenin said in one of his final letters that “terror is necessary to bring about our ways” and to “spread terror as broadly as possible.” 
  • There is no such thing as the sacredness of human life in this system.
  • Loyalty to party over truth. — Lying is not wrong, especially if it helps to prop up the party. Propaganda is the truth. 

Russian Sailors, you better lie or else! A Russian ship ran aground on Swedish territory during the war. The Communist sailors sat out the war experiencing the freedom and plenty that neutral Sweden had to offer. At the end of the war, they went back to Russia, in private conversations with friends they admitted that Sweden was a better place to live than Russia. Their comments were discovered, and they were all given 10-year labour camp sentences for “Anti-Soviet Sentiment.” The Swedish press somehow heard about it, and they created an international news story, condemning the harsh prison sentences of the sailors. Russia denied that the sailors were in prison and set a date for foreign reporters to come and interview the sailors themselves.

Meanwhile, they pulled the sailors from the prison camps, fattened them up, and coached the crew to tell the foreign reporters that they were free, happy, well travelled, and well fed. They must communicate that the USSR was the best country in the world to live. Naturally, if they didn’t comply they would all be killed. The sailors lied to live; the Western world was convinced, the reporters issued an apology and left the Soviet Union. Whereupon the sailors were immediately sent back to their prison camps!

Easy ways to get a prison sentence

  • Date a foreigner 
  • Say a positive thing about Western democracy
  • Have praise for any technology that was not built or invented in Russia
  • Write a letter to a friend that had anything other than a gleefully excited tone about the government. 
  • Stumble across a Soviet official who wanted something of yours

Confess — Confessions were all that mattered in this justice system. Whatever means necessary to obtain a conviction was fine. Evidence was not required. The powers that be didn’t hide this either. The philosophy that underpinned this wretched system was the conviction that absolute truth was unknowable anyway.

I’ll take the Gestapo over the KGB — Could anyone be worse than the Gestapo? Solzhenitsyn says yes, at least they were remotely interested in the truth; the Russian secret police were just interested in quotas. He shares the story of a Polish guy who was interrogated by the Gestapo on suspicion of being Anti-Nazi when they could find no evidence they let him go. When the Russians came, he was arrested on suspicion of being Anti-Soviet. There was only torture and a long train ride to the GULAG, they didn’t care about the truth. 

Russia the worst country ever to fight for under the Communists 

  • Incompetent in battle — Solzhenitsyn cites numerous examples. 
  • Forsakes troops when captured — to be caught alive was a treasonous offence to mother Russia, so while other countries worked tirelessly to supply their prisoners with food and care packages, the Soviets vilified them and let them rot in enemy prisons.
  • No Hero’s welcome for you —  Almost all Russian POW’s that returned to the USSR at the end of the war were sent straight to the GULAG. 

Thanks a lot, England! — Hundreds of thousands of Anti-Soviet partisans were ready to fight to the death against Stalin at the conclusion of WW 2. England negotiated a bunch of post-war deals with the Communist dictator, the most damning of which was the agreement to help disarm anti-soviet forces. The English used their anti-soviet reputation to lure all the partisan leaders into a special secret meeting. After the English managed to get all the various leaders together in one city, they turned them over to the Soviets. With all the leaders in Soviet hands, the battle was over before it started. The Soviets purged out of existence anyone even remotely connected to these partisans. The body count for this English betrayal was exceedingly high. Solzhenitsyn, understandably, had no great affection for Churchill. 

Blame the Church  —  It’s 1920 and Russia is starving. Fieldworkers have been off fighting wars, and they have little incentive to work the fields upon return because the government takes everything anyway. The Communists tell the church to feed the poor, isn’t that the churches “job” after all? The church agrees to sell off all its /Icons/gold etc. to stop the famine. The Soviets tell the church to give them the money, and they will make sure the people get fed with it. The Church hesitates, they will feed the poor, but they don’t trust the government, they want to run the program themselves. The Soviets seize upon the hesitation as an opportunity to slander the church. A vicious defamation campaign ensues, and all the church leaders are arrested and slaughtered for their “lack of compassion” upon the poor starving peasants. Lies, terror, and violence is the M.O. of communism. 

    It’s easy to see why someone like Jordan Peterson after spending so much time studying Solzhenitsyn and the great failed experiment of communist Russia puts such a premium on telling the truth. Truth can only flourish where free speech is permitted. For Peterson, the price is just too high anytime the truth gets bent or it’s pursuit prevented, even if the reasons are for “the greater social good”  After reading this book, it is impossible for me not to agree. 

The Problem With Christianity

  What are the six questions? 

  1. Why does God seem to be against gay people?
  2. Why should I believe in miracles in an age of science?
  3. Why should I worship a God who commanded genocide?
  4. How can there possibly be only one way to God?
  5. If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? 
  6. How can a loving God send people to hell

Nothing new here, these six questions or iterations of them are precisely the ones that keep cranking out people who identify as “formerly Christian.”

Below are some of the helpful bits that I want to remember from Barton Priebe’s valiant effort to plug the six holes that seem to be sinking Christian ships everywhere. 

  1. Gay: When it comes to the gay question, the author gives us a timely reminder in our polarizing and increasingly toxic culture that to disagree is not to hate. Human sexuality is a mighty big topic, and there must be room for differences of opinion. 
  2. Science: Science cannot answer our most basic questions, it can do a great job with the “how” questions of life, but it is useless to answer the “why” questions, which are the most important ones. Science is no saviour, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is.  
  3. Desire: Priebe was of great assistance in confirming my contention that desire shapes our belief’s more than reason or facts ever could. Priebe quotes Thomas Nagel “I want atheism to be true…It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”  and C.S. Lewis (before he became a Christian): “I had always wanted, above all things, not to be ‘interfered with.’ The real work of helping people change, I believe, comes with a confrontation of desire more than a confrontation of fact. 
  4. Violent God: Regarding the violence of God in the Bible, the author attempts to smooth out the rough edges by displaying God as exceedingly patient. For example, our God who is such a fan of justice managed to patiently wait for 700 years before dropping the hammer of judgment on the Canaanites. Indeed, it is a good thing that the Biblical God doesn’t fly off the handle like other gods. I can also appreciate a God concerned about justice and even invoking at times harsh penalties for disobedience. What I can not appreciate, and what Priebe doesn’t wrestle with is that God would deputize humans to carry out his divine wrath as the genocide passages reveal. A mass slaughter of one people group by another people group from a human point of view must always wrong. The sincere cry “My God who is committed to justice told me to do it” as the blood flows freely in the streets will never work for me. Even a hint of this must be removed from the human playbook in my estimation. 

Another attempt to smooth things over that fails to land is his observation that Jericho and Ai were only military installations. That means Israel would have inflicted casualties on military personnel and not civilians. The analogy given is that of tearing down the great wall of China but leaving Beijing undisturbed. This is bilge. The walled cities were places of refuge that civilian populations would have naturally run to for protection in the face of invasion. The Bible is clear that the Canaanite people were under God’s judgement not just their armies. 

What I think is right and well stated was that Israel was not the big oppressor coming in, they were a ragtag bunch of former slaves who were complete underdogs. The real miracle is how these desert wanderers managed to avoid there own annihilation! Against all the odds, they carved out a tiny existence for themselves on a perpetually violent piece of real estate that sat at the crossroads of 3 continents. Also, I agree with Priebe that it’s important to realize the hyperbole in play. The great defeat and consequent slaughter of the Canaanites were markedly less impressive than some of the bravado indicates.

 The Canaanites were really bad, I get that, and the book points this out with disgusting particularity. Which brings out the question at what point does one nation interfere with another nation that is really nasty. I believe, at some point, justice must trump sovereignty. Good countries must say to bad countries “stop it or else” — Is that what happened so long ago in Canaan? Perhaps at least partly, but the point is complicated to maneuver correctly in our world. Would anyone agree if a pro-life army was mobilized in the States to go to war against the great wickedness of the pro-choicers? Somehow we’ve managed to leave that judgement in God’s hands and have, I think, rightly, stuck to non-violent protests. Those who follow Jesus happily leave off any violent judgements on people to God. Ultimately what we find in the book of Joshua sits in uncomfortable tension with the teachings of Jesus. What I don’t understand, is how any ardent atheist can in good faith criticize the actions of the Jewish people so long ago. They don’t have the moral high ground to do it. Which brings me to Priebe’s strongest point in the book, and what I believe to be the most persuasive argument for continuing in the faith. 

  • The Moral Argument: Dawkins is amazed that molecules that make up rocks would gather themselves into chunks of rock sized matter capable of feeling, thinking and falling in love with other chunks of complex matter. To which Priebe says:

 “If we are nothing more than complicated chunks of rock, it is difficult to see how our actions can be morally right or wrong. No one holds a boulder morally accountable for falling on and crushing another boulder. But we don’t believe that a man abusing a girl is simply a collision of rocks… We hold such a man to be morally accountable and yet if we live in an impersonal material universe, it is hard to see why the actions of complex rocks should be considered morally good and evil… Ultimately if there is nothing higher than human beings, than morality can only at most be a matter of opinion…Atheism, when followed to its logical end, has no categories for absolute good and evil…  Atheists want to use Christian categories of universal absolutes and yet at the same time they deny that those absolutes exist.” 

  1. Hell: This is a tough one it’s such an immensely unpopular topic. He quotes Ingersoll a 19th-century atheist.  

“It there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant…I do not believe this doctrine; neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena.”

Priebe argues that the opposite of love is indifference and because God is love it is then impossible for him to be indifferent to evil and injustice, he will always be outraged and active against all wickedness. A God who cares deeply enough to be outraged about injustice is much better than one who is indifferent to it.  He also leans heavy on Lewis: “Hell is locked from the inside.” 

  • Other:

If all we need is a teacher of enlightenment, the Buddha will do; if all we need is a collection of gods for every occasion and need, and hope, Hinduism will do; if all we need is a tribal deity, any tribal deity will do’ if all we need is a lawgiver, Moses will do; if all we need is a set of rules and a way of devotion, Muhammad or Joesph Smith will do; if all we need is inspiration and insight into the sovereign self, Oprah will do; but if we need a saviour only Jesus will do. 

— Al Mohler

All of us are exclusivists — it is impossible not to be. Every time we claim something is true, we are, by definition, claiming that its opposite is false. — Don’t feel bad next time someone rips on you for being an exclusivist. We all are. 

12 Rules for Life An Antidote for Chaos

We have here in Peterson a man of great courage, intelligence and help for any humble enough to double check their pre-suppositions and listen well. Most of us want to be accepted culturally; we want our ideas to fit well with popular ideology. Peterson cares nothing about that. It’s no surprise that Babylon Bee, the Christian news satire organization granted him “honorary Christian status.”. He’s saying a lot of what Christian’s have been saying for years. Below are some of his most juicy counter-cultural bits.

Humanity is evil

False Axioms:
Humanity is good
We all naturally get along
People don’t typically want to hurt each other.

The truest thing about any of us is our propensity toward evil. We hurt people with full knowledge that it will hurt them. Only the human has made an art form out of torture. The Nuremberg trials were the most significant event in the 20th century because the world agreed that evil is real. If evil is real then good must also be real. Clarity on good and evil is what creates the moral fabric of society. Christianity, for Peterson, is not true in any historical sense, but it’s true when it comes to good and evil. The rejection of Christianity is why the 20th century played out the way it did. The bloodbath came as a direct result of the moral vacuum created by the dismissal of Christian thought.

How does the acknowledgement of our evil help anything? Instead of spending valuable energy trying to disguise it you can confess it, then use it as motivation to push hard toward’s the light. The realization that we have the capacity of a Nazi prison guard becomes a good thing in helping us all make sure we don’t.

Humanity needs Religion
The ancient religions tell true stories but not in any objective, historical, or scientific sense. The invaluable truth is in the moral drama played out in the stories. These stories give understanding to life which is something science can never do. It’s not difficult to see why some people get irritable and even violent when their belief systems are attacked. Belief is the greatest thing any human has in the assistance of living. Belief is the great antidote for chaos. Nihilism is the real enemy of humanity and faith keeps it at bay.

It is cruelty not to punish your kids
“Adultism” equates disciplining your child with other unacceptable perspectives like sexism and racism. Peterson gives no quarter to this idea. Reward and punishment consistently and carefully administered is the only way to raise children. “Two-year-olds are the most depraved humans on the planet,” says Peterson “they’re violent and selfish, and they must be taught. It’s cruel not to teach them.” Enforcing basic boundaries is an obvious necessity. He recommends limiting rules as much as possible and using the minimum force necessary to implement them, but kids must be taught.

Christians should be tougher
Peterson likes Christianity, that is obvious, but not Christianity that doesn’t stand up for itself. He says, “Christianity is not a call to victimize oneself in the service of others… Taking care of yourself doesn’t include being beat up!… It’s not virtuous to be victimized by a bully. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” I resonated with this, but also wonder how this “don’t mess with me” perspective fits with Jesus’ admonition to take up our cross and follow him. It’s not always clear to me when it is Christian humility to defer to someone or if that is just weakness.

Using “the finished work of Christ” as an excuse for non-action was a terrible idea.
Nietzsche, Yung, and Marx were all extremely critical of Christianity because of the Christian emphasis on the finished work of Christ. This belief affected some prominent Christian people in such a way that they felt they were not responsible for working to make the world a better place. Redemption had already been accomplished in Christ, and so the status quo could remain. Communism came to be as a direct reaction to this apathy. Carl Yung said that the explosion of science as an effort to fix the wrongs of the world came about as a result of this same theologically based in-action. I wonder if this is one of the terrible unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation? Catholics emphasized works but then used works as a hammer of oppression. The Protestants removed that hammer but then also, perhaps, the impetus to change the world.

Western culture brought about by white men is not as terrible as you’ve been led to believe
What has this “terrible western patriarchy” brought us? A comparatively uncorrupt political and economic system. Technology, wealth, increased lifespan, freedom, luxury and opportunity are all gifts from this “terrible oppressive system.” All cultures take with one hand and give something back with the other. Western culture has given more back than any other culture. To reduce our culture to simply an “oppressive system” is ungrateful, untrue and dangerous. Hierarchy exists everywhere. It’s not wrong or right, it just is. Culture creates winners and losers. Healthy cultures like Western culture have many levels and grades of success which can be noted and appreciated. We can all be winners without being equals.

The idea of a master plan where men simply tyrannized and controlled woman before the feminist revolution is false. Men invented feminine pads, tampons, and anesthetic to help women in childbirth and birth control. Did these men do so to oppress women or free them? (My wife astutely pointed out that perhaps they invented these things to benefit themselves. This possibility Peterson fails to suggest in his book.) Ultimately, Peterson’s big point is that freedom is Western culture’s overall goal, not oppression. The prevailing narrative that white men, in particular, are oppressors and destructive is not true. While abuse and exploitation have occurred, the dominant narrative arc of Western civilization has been a slow, and thoroughly imperfect, march towards freedom.

Marginalized men wreck society
Peterson makes a direct link between the softening of masculinity and the right-wing extremism of Donald Trump. When society forces men to be gentled and weak, when men are put down and villainized for their masculine behaviours they will always revolt in extreme directions, becoming either fascists or antisocial video-game-playing losers. Peterson laments that the universities are already emptying of men. Our society needs to celebrate and encourage masculine characteristics like competition, leadership, independence, risk and struggle. In the long run, this is better for women. Children of father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor, twice as likely to commit suicide, and are at much higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse. Men no longer know where they belong in society and that spells trouble for everyone.

Inequality as the greatest evil is a lousy idea with terrible consequences.
The insane and insensible postmodern insistence that all gender differences are socially constructed comes from the false pre-supposition that all inequalities must be eliminated. Our society seems to want to believe that inequality is the greatest evil and hierarchy or distinction of any kind is wrong. For Peterson, these pre-suppositions must be rejected because they run right over the truth, prove themselves to be logically inconsistent and create havoc for our society.

And furthermore

  • Taking care of yourself does not mean getting what you want or doing whatever makes you happy.
  • Picking the right friends will push you in the right direction not pull you in the wrong direction and don’t worry about being overly compassionate. Jesus loves sinners to be sure, but you’re not Jesus so pick good friends!
  • The triad of evil is arrogance, deceit, and resentment; however, listening to resentment can help you address what’s wrong.
  • Do you want your kids to grow up safe or grow up strong? If the answer is strong, then you will be able to give them the tools to grapple with the chaos of life. Safety first is not the best way when it comes to raising kids.
  • Christianity is far less barbaric than any other society. It was the unique Christian idea of the worth of an individual soul that turned the world upside down and ended slavery. People migrate West not East for a reason: It’s because Christian roots taste better.

Night

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I’ve just now completed the two books: Born a Crime and Eli Wiesel’s book Night. I’ve also started a third, the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and now I’m ready, ready to be done once and for all with this foolish notion that the human race is fundamentally good. Where does this absurd idea come from? Certainly not from the pages of history. We are not good, not even close. Even in our best and most civilized moments, we are but tiny steps from great evil.

Innocence and Ignorance 

    Somehow in 1944 in a tiny town tucked away in northern Romania the Jew consuming death machine that was the Third Reich still managed to be mostly unknown. The reports were in, the Germans were losing the war, whatever trouble they had caused for Jews elsewhere would not happen here. Even when a survivor of the death camps stumbled into town, describing the horrors and warning all to flee, they did not listen. This is madness, not the truth they thought. When the Germans arrived, they were calm, hopeful even.  After they were put in ghetto’s the positivity remained, sure this isn’t ideal, but it could be worse. At the deportations, some began to worry in earnest, but when  Eli’s family was given a chance to split up and escape deportation they didn’t, they chose to be deported together. They had no idea what was before them. 

From human to animal

    Death camps are built in such a way that one must kill, steal, cheat, and lie just to survive. The dehumanizing pressure of such an environment is probably the worst part about it. If you are not acting like a wild animal willing to sacrifice all morality to survive you don’t make it. When his father was close to death, other inmates beat him mercilessly because he was unable to relieve himself outside. They stole the dying man’s food. A veteran prisoner pulled Eli aside and told him to stop making up for the loss of his father’s rations with his own. No sense in both dying was the thinking.  Prisoners would almost gleefully anticipate the death of another inmate, and in some cases, they would help it along especially if there was bread or boots to be gained. There was no friendship in the camps, only shaky alliances, violence and betrayal.  On the final cattle car ride before liberation, German civilians would throw bread into the cars and watch with sickening pleasure battles to the death for these tiny morsels of food.  

Guilt 

    Eli was with his father when he died, sort of. He was two bunks away when the S.S. guard was beating his dad to death. Eli’s dad called desperately for his son to be at his side, but Eli remained in his bunk, he had neither the strength nor the courage to endure the blows that would be his if he came. The enduring guilt springing from this circumstance and hundreds of others just like it are infinitely worse than any suffering caused by the boot or cudgel of a prison guard.  

The tragedy of loyalty

    By 1944 the war was for all practical purposes over. Why all of this German effort to capture and kill more Jews?  Even as the Red Army in the East had the German army in full retreat, those in charge of the prison camps doggedly followed their orders, to get their prisoners back to Germany. They were death camps for crying out loud! What would it matter to abandon them? Germans left guns on the field of battle as they fled, but they would not leave their Jews behind! The forced retreat in the winter of 1945 left extinguished the lives of thousands of inmates. Cattle car retreats with one-hundred prisoners per car were even more deadly. Of the 100 in Eli’s car, only 12 remained alive to touch the German soil. It’s good to take orders and obey, but it’s even better to consider what those orders are and let the higher moral power of divinity determine whether you should abide by them or not. Blind loyalty to any human will always be a massive mistake. 

The Moral responsibility to step in and speak up. 

    Eli Weisel’s big message is to speak up and step in when the abuse of humans is happening. Borders, customs, convictions, or religious dogma should not prevent any country that has a conscience from doing whatever they can to stop abuse wherever they find it.     Admittedly, this is complicated. Would it be okay to start a regional war, or perhaps even another world war to stop a genocide going on in one country? 

Remembering helps keep away the darkness.

    Eli’s other big message is to remember. If we keep the wickedness and horror of past sins regularly before us, we won’t be able to forget them as quickly. It’s in the forgetting that evil reinvents itself. 

If my worldview allows me to decrease the value of humans, I need to throw it out. 

    Hitler referred to the Jews as rats, Lenin referred to anyone who disagreed with him as insects. American propagandists categorized the Japanese as sub-human how else could they proceed with the firestorm bombings and finally the atomic bomb? Horrific acts always require some system of justification before they can be successfully carried out. There is no better system of justification than to believe that the people one crushes are not really human. A beetle squashed beneath my shoe is one thing a human quite another. Whatever worldview or decision making process one embraces, it is only good to the degree that it values human life.  

What can be done about our black hearts?

    Weisel does not speak to this. We can remember the Holocaust and vow never to repeat it, we can step in as best we can and help the one who is abused, but what of our own wickedness? What about the blackness that is lodged in everyone’s heart? As long as that remains so to will be the possibility of great atrocity. Its the little daily cruelties that reveal who we are, the middle finger, the honk, the passive aggressive comment, the guilt trip, the rolling of the eyes, the condescension and the cursing under one’s breath at the incompetence of another. All of this is dry kindling. The match to set it off is a clever leader who packages hate just well enough.  His remarks spark the smouldering hatred inside all of us and soon the forest burns again. This danger is real, and what blinds us to it more than all else is the conviction that we are all good — we are not. 

Everything Happens For A Reason and other lies I’ve​ loved

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First, it’s Christopher Hitchen’s dying words, (Click Here to read my review of his book Mortality). Then it’s Morrie Schwartz’s dying words, (Click Here to read my review of the book Tuesday’s With Morrie) and now it’s Kate Bowler’s dying words. Of the 3 I am the saddest for her. Hitchen’s was defiant, arrogant, and pernicious in death; he went out swinging. Morrie, on the other hand, had made his peace with death, he had lived a good long life, and he viewed his slow death from ALS as an opportunity to help others. But Kates life is being cut short, she is too young to feel the way Morrie did, and while she has some of the spunk of Hitchens, she cannot merely curse God and die. Kate want’s to live! She’s 34, happily married, has a two-year-old son, and a promising career ahead of her at Duke Divinity School. In this raw and unvarnished account, Kate has not at all made her peace with death. Is there hope in despair? Is a steadying belief possible in the midst of such sorrow? Using wit, humour, and the full range of human emotions Kate produces a modern-day lament. If you are dying, you should read this book. If you know someone who is dying you should especially read this book, it will help you help them.
For the Love of God Don’t Give Me A Reason!
Kate wrote a New York Times article about her fight with cancer, it was immensely popular, and she received thousands of letters as a result. Unfortunately, a lot of those letters came full of reasons, explanations and trite cliche’s that were intended to help her understand and accept her suffering, most of them did not.

  • A Hindu writer said “We have had many millions of births and deaths in different life-forms, so don’t worry, this life shall pass, and your soul will move forward to its next step.
  • A Christian neighbour blurted out in the midst of some of the more gruesome parts of living with cancer “Everything happens for a reason, there is some important Divine plan in all of this, God is good all the time.”
  • A Secularist wrote in “I find it comforting to believe the universe is random then the God I might believe in could no longer be cruel.
  • A ‘power of positive thinking’ guru promised that healing was possible by chiming in “Your attitude determines your destiny.”
  • A reformed pastor wrote: “God is a just God to let you die, these are the consequences of your sin.”
  • A Medical professional coldly gives advice, “The sooner you get used to the idea of dying the better.”

Kate Bowler understands that to be human is to ask why, but maybe some things like tragedy lie beyond the reach of good reasons and should, therefore, remain untouched by them. If the search for logic in the midst of chaos is a fruitless one, what then?

Give up on the illusion of control and certainty. Before the illness, Kate wrote the worlds first history of the prosperity gospel movement. That entire movement hinges on the twin jewels of control and certainty. If you follow an assortment of spiritual laws, you can control your destiny and be certain to avoid pain and suffering. The more you believe in and adhere to these laws the more control and certainty you have in your life. Of course, all of this is bogus, but as Kate expanded her search beyond the prosperity gospel, she discovered that everyone religious or otherwise tends to build systems of belief and practice that reach desperately for control and certainty. Kate has come to realize that all such reachings end in despair. She concludes that a much better way is the practice of surrender to the will of God, but she is quick to admit that she is not very good at it.

Touch me, be with me, buy me things, don’t say much. It’s the gentle love of others that is needed in times of great sorrow and suffering. Love opens the door for trust, hope, faith and anything good that can be extracted from the stony ground of pain. Her words describe it best:

“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus…I did not tell them how few of their words are needed but how much their hands are wanted, a hand on my back as I tear up, a hand on my head for a soft prayer for healing, When I feel I am fading away, these hands prop me up and make me new…Joy persists somehow, and I soak in it. Life is so beautiful, life is so hard.”

Islam and Judeo-Christianity

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This was my first crack at Jaques Ellul. I’m guessing this isn’t his most exceptional work. Author Jean Claude Guillebaud refers to Ellul as “the Great Disturber,” and after reading this book, it’s not hard to see why. In short, Ellul is not a fan of Islam. He sees Islam as “a permanent military threat to the West.” He gives no quarter to anyone who might attempt to link Christianity to Islam or romanticise about any perceived virtue of this faith. For Ellul, the two religions have very little in common. One is good and (to put it mildly) the other is not.

Even David Gill who writes the forward braces the reader for impact by telling us that Ellul was dialectical in his thought and expression which means that truth is best discovered by highlighting extremes and accentuating contrasts. Dialectical is one way of putting it I guess. Gill recommends reading Volf’s book Allah, A Christian Response as a counterweight to Elulls hard-charging frontal assault on Islam because as he puts it “In the end, we must not just identify our differences, we must learn to live with them in peace.”

To start off, here are some of Ellul’s “dialectical” comments:

It is important to recognize that when Christians worship idols, are violent or anti-Semitic, they are at odds with their founding text. This is not the case with Islam.

Again we see the huge difference between the two books. In the Koran…love is irrelevant.

Some fervent supporters of Islam (in Europe) regret that the Arabs were finally defeated and repulsed (they were the civilized ones after all) These people have forgotten the horrors of Islam, the dreadful cruelty, the general use of torture, the slavery, and the absolute intolerance. It is enough to point out that wherever Islam gained a hold, strong and vital churches like those of North Africa and Asia Minor simply disappeared. And all native cultures that were different were exterminated.

I believe that in every respect the spirit of Islam is contrary to that of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

War is inherent in Islam. It is inscribed in its teaching. It is a fact of its civilization and also a religious fact; the two cannot be separated. No matter what atrocities have been committed in wars waged by so-called Christian nations, war has always been in essential contradiction to the gospel.

Christians did not invent the holy war or the slave trade. Their great fault was to imitate Islam. (Islam) Turned Christian ethics upside down in favour of what seemed to be very obviously a much more effective mode of action. For in the 12th century and later the Muslim world offered a dazzling example of civilization. The church forgot the authenticity of the revelation in Christ to launch out in pursuit of the same mirage.

There is so much talk nowadays of the tolerance and fundamental pacifism of Islam that it is necessary to recall its nature, which is fundamentally warlike…(we must do away with) the romanticized picture (of Islam). History is not an inoffensive discipline.

The world of Isalm is divided into two regions: the Dhar al-Islam and the Dhar al-Harb; in others words the domain of Islam and the domain of war. War is an institution (in Islam) Peace with this world of war is impossible.

Ellul has the moxie to state that everything terrible found in Christendom comes from the Muslims! I’m not kidding either, that is the primary thrust of this book. Personally, this assertion seems preposterous. Christians (or anyone for that matter) do not require outside influences to become utterly corrupted. We as humans are all remarkably efficient at cultivating our own depravity.

1) Christians are flabby! Says Ellul. “The intolerable meaningless of the West” has caused us to “no longer believe in anything.” Consequently, Islam becomes attractive precisely because of its uncompromising and unwavering beliefs and behaviours. People want order, and the freedom of the west leads to chaos. This soft belief of the West is a real danger to its survival.

When a church no longer knows what it believes, or why it believes it, it slides imperceptibly towards Islam. Overwhelmingly and in a short time this happened to the Monophysites of Egypt, the Syrians Nestorians, the Donatists of North Africa, and the Arians of Spain.

I think there are other better explanations for these versions of Christianity being swallowed up by Islam, then the uncertainty of belief, but the point is well taken.

2) Love vs Submission Elull’s understanding of Christianity is that it is fundamentally about love. Love can only exist in the fresh air of freedom. Islam, according to Elull knows nothing of either love or freedom. Faith in this closed system is about submission to the will of Allah. Everything is predetermined, and so one’s duty is to accept and obey. There is no room left over for a relationship with God, for struggle, mystery or even hope as there is in Christianity.

3) The Bible and Koran are nothing alike. “The Bible is about a promise and openness to freedom; the Koran is about constraint and absolute certainty” The Koran is understood as a perfectly dictated message from heaven. The Bible according to Elull comes to us when: “God speaks to a person who receives this message, who understands it more or less, who interprets it, and who writes it down.” The Bible is a paradox, a mystery and a contradiction. It looks a lot like life. The God found in its pages seeks restoration, love and relationship. The incarnation which is the center point of Scripture makes it impossible for God to be understood fundamentally as the impassive, sovereign judge that the Koran makes him out to be.

Is a book like this helpful? Yes and no. Yes because it’s important not to forget history. A straight retelling of Islamic history is so bad that most people would want to write off the telling of it as Anti Muslim propaganda. We shouldn’t do that; we need to be aware. We are sensitive enough to remove a statue of John A. MacDonald from the B.C. Legislature because he said some bad things about first nations people, but when it comes to criticising Islam, we seem to be more hesitant, more generous to give them the benefit of the doubt. This was a frustration of Ellul. In 1983 he lamented that “In France, it is not acceptable to criticize Islam or the Arab countries.” He did anyway, and as of 2018, I would say this unwritten rule of politeness towards Islam has changed. Many parts of Europe now are banning burquas, outlawing immigration from Muslim countries and putting Imans behind bars. Why? Are people coming to see what Ellul was saying all along? He does have that prophetic quality about him.

And No, because Ellul’s language is not gracious and his work is incomplete in my estimation. He doesn’t have the whole picture, granted none of us do, but he is not even trying! Many of his categorical statements are without appropriate levels of scholarship, which is a mistake given the sensitivity of the topic. What we have here is an inflammatory document full of partial truths written by a highly respected person. It is precisely this kind of stuff that could be taken by lesser men and used to promote hate. I would be surprised if it hasn’t already been pressed into service somewhere.  What the world doesn’t need more of is hate.

Is Ellul optimistic that peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims is possible?

Only if Muslim people embrace a total recasting of the way they think, a desacralizing of jihad, a self-critical awareness of Islamic imperialism, an acceptance of the secular nature of political powers and the rejection of certain Koranic dogmas.

In others words, not really.