Sunday, September 30, 2012

Christians are Wrong; Atheists are Right


    This week, in the span of twenty four hours, I received two invitations; one from an Atheist friend, and a second from a good Christian friend.  The atheist invitation was for International Blasphemy Rights Day (held on September 30th of each year) which “is a day to promote the rights to freedom of belief and expression and stand up in a show of solidarity for the liberty to challenge reigning religious beliefs without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal.”  The Christian invitation was to sign a petition to force Youtube to stop a video that was blasphemous to the name of Jesus Christ. 

Wow.  

    It isn’t often that this sort of thing drops into my lap.  What's more rare, is a situation in which I agree so strongly  with the atheists and so clearly disagree with the (well-intentioned) Christians.  To me, the atheists ‘get it’ and these particular Christians just don’t (however well-intentioned) particularly in light of recent events in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East.
   
    The United States is an amazing place.  Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech like nowhere else in the world and that gives us, as Christians, an unprecedented opportunity to compete in the arena of ideas.  I believe, as the Apostle Paul did, that Christianity is absolutely able to stand on its own in any such competition if it is given the ability to speak clearly.  Our freedom allows us to do exactly that.  My atheist friends may disagree with me on matters of faith but they understand that this same freedom allows them to disbelieve without fear of punishment or reprisal, whether from Christians, or Muslims, or anyone else.  My Christian friends want someone to protect Jesus from being defamed when, I believe, Jesus doesn’t need protecting.  First of all, Jesus is completely able to defend himself if he chooses to do so and second, Jesus chose not to defend himself when his accusers defamed him face to face.
  
    In recent days the entire Middle East has been in an uproar over a video produced by an American and released on YouTube.  In it, the Muslin prophet, Mohammad, is presented in a negative light.  This, the Islamists claim, is blasphemous.  They demand that YouTube remove the video, that the United States government require that the video be removed from the Internet and pass blasphemy laws preventing such things from happening in the future (sound familiar?).  Free speech on the other hand requires that none of this happen.  Free speech allows any of us to say things, to present a range of ideas, even offensive ones, without fear of punishment or reprisals.  If the government were to prohibit us from blaspheming Jesus, then why not do the same for Mohammad? 

    Already our friends in Canada have passed hate speech laws that make it illegal for Christian pastors to preach what the Bible says about homosexuality (even if preached compassionately and not being deliberately inflammatory)  but that same speech, unpopular or not, is still legal in the United States.  If free speech is constrained to protect Christians today, it may very well be used to harm us tomorrow.  I don't like it when people burn flags, but I believe that it is a protected form of free speech that I am willing to protect.  I don't like it when the KKK or other hateful groups march and spout their venom from the public square, but it too is an important example of free speech.  Just because I don't like it isn't a good reason to make it stop.  After all, I have things to say that other people don't like very much and I wouldn't want someone to decide that my speech was no longer legal.

 In this case, I think the Christians are wrong and the atheists are right.
 
Jesus is not threatened by the people who oppose him.  Christianity doesn’t need the law to protect us from blasphemy.  Jesus is more than able to compete in the arena of ideas.

The atheists are right. 

Free speech is far more valuable...
                                                           ...for all of us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Politics of Falsehood



    I try to guard my personal opinions from the members of my church because their knowledge of my opinion may interfere with my ability to communicate a far more important message.  I hope that no one in the congregation of our church ever feels that they cannot objectively hear what I am teaching about the Bible because of some perceived political disagreement.  Even so, I have grave misgivings about our upcoming election and it isn’t just about the candidates.  My problem is that, perhaps now more than ever, the truth is taking a beating.

    In the television series “House,” Dr. Gregory House is fond of reminding his staff that “Everybody lies.”  Never has this been truer than during this election.  Each candidate has been caught stretching the truth, or worse.  It seems that after every speech or public appearance the fact-checkers are out in full force pointing out what was incorrect or misrepresented.  Even the media have been caught being “inventive.”  Sadly in the decades since the Watergate scandal, we’ve grown accustomed to “media bias” and understand that each news outlet allows their particular worldview to color their reporting, but now we’re seeing media outlets create their own news or creatively editing audio and video without revealing what they’ve done.  Heck, even the fact-checkers can’t be trusted.  After a recent speech by Paul Ryan, one set of fact checkers went wild pointing out his apparent “lies,” followed by another that pointed out the flaws in the “facts” presented by the first set of fact-checkers, and so on… for nearly a week.  

(Sigh)

    The television show, The X-Files” told us that we should “trust no one.”  This election certainly seems to make us think that this is true, but if we take a look at scripture we might regain a better perspective.  Our problem is that we expect our leaders to tell the truth, and our anger and disillusionment grow out of their failure to live up to our expectations.  We often think of the Bible as being full of love and grace, but in this regard scripture cautions us to be far more cautious, perhaps even downright cynical.  Psalm 20:7 reminds us that while “Some trust in chariots and some in horses… we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  Whenever we think that the government or the military or any human authority is our salvation, we are in deep trouble.  Isaiah goes farther saying, “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem? (Isaiah 2:22)  Particularly when we expect government to be trustworthy, our trust in is misplaced.  Psalm 118:8 teaches that “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans.”

    The clear theme here is that whenever we put our trust in human beings, we are sure to be disappointed but there is one upon whom we can safely place our trust.  Psalm 119:138 declares that “The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.” And Proverbs 3:5 says that we should “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

    So does that mean that we as Christians should give our elected representatives and our media pass?  Should we simply overlook their self-serving dance with the truth?  Clearly, no.  Proverbs 12:22 says that “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” What’s more, Paul declares that “…it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (Romans 12:21)  We should not overlook what our elected officials and the candidates for office are doing to the truth, but we should do all that we can to hold them accountable.

    As we move ever closer to our next presidential election, the followers of Jesus Christ need to hold fast to the truth that we have been given.  We cannot be content to choose the “lesser of two evils” but instead remember our calling to be agents of truth and good in the world around us.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  (Romans 12:9)

    Instead of giving anyone a pass for playing fast and loose with the truth, or making excuses because “everybody does it,” let us instead recommit ourselves to love, hope, and goodness.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (1 Corinthians 4:2) 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Does the Jesus' Wife Fragment Destroy Christianity??

If you read the papers, watch television or get your news from the Internet, you have probably seen or heard something regarding the recently announced 'discovery' of a papyrus fragment claiming that Jesus (yes, Jesus of Nazareth) was married.  For all the fuss, you'd think that this was the first time anyone had ever suggested that Jesus might have had a wife but clearly it isn't (I'm still sure he didn't).  So what does this mean?  Is it interesting? Certainly.  Does it cast doubt on Christianity and the Bible?  Uh, no.  Currently, most scholars who study ancient Coptic (that is, Christian Egyptian) writing believe that this is a total fake, but even if it turns out to be real, there isn't much chance that it changes much of anything at all.

For a quick run-down of some excellent blogs, you can look at The Biblical World, written by Dr. John Byron at Ashland Seminary.  Dr. Byron presents reminds us to use caution in jumping to conclusions before the scholarly community has even had a chance to look at the fragment and respond.  He then provides a healthy collection of links to other blogs where you can learn more, if you are so inclined.

You might also go to Dr. Ben Witherington's (Asbury Seminary) blog where he quotes from an analysis by Simon Cathercole, an expert on such documents.  If you are really interested, the link to Cathercole's blog and the complete text of his comments is among Dr. Byron's links.

Ben Witherington quotes Simon Gathercole 

If you aren't really much into reading you can see and hear Dr. Witherington's comments here.

Long story short, as much as the media seems to be in a feeding frenzy over 'Jesus' Wife', it really isn't likely to a big deal at all.

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