Category Archives: Articles of Interest

9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial

Today marks one year since Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist from Pennsylvania, was convicted  of three counts of first-degree murder. Here are 9 things you should know about the case of America's most prolific serial killer:

gosnell kermit1. Gosnell was arrested in January 2011, charged with eight counts of murder: one patient died under his care after a botched abortion, and seven infants supposedly born alive whose spinal cords Gosnell  severed with scissors.

2. According to prosecutors in Philadelphia, Gosnell catered to minorities, immigrants, and poor women, and made millions of dollars over 30 years performing illegal and late-term abortions in squalid and barbaric conditions. Gosnell took extra precautions with white women from the suburbs, according to the grand jury report. He ushered them into a slightly cleaner area because he thought they would be more likely to file a complaint.

3. Women paid $325 for first-trimester abortions and $1,600 to $3,000 for abortions up to 30 weeks. The clinic took in up to $15,000 a day, said authorities. Although abortions after the 24th week are illegal, Gosnell aborted and killed babies in the sixth and seventh months of pregnancy and charged more for bigger babies.

4. According to the grand jury report, the clinic reeked of animal urine and the furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Medical instruments found in the practice had not been properly sterilized. State officials have failed to visit or inspect his abortion clinic since 1993. Prosecutors also claim that Gosnell was not certified in either gynecology or obstetrics.

5. Prosecutors said that none of Gosnell's staff, including his wife, were licensed nurses or doctors and that a 15-year-old student performed anesthesia with potentially lethal narcotics.

6. A woman who worked for Gosnell testified that she was called back to a room at his abortion clinic in Philadelphia where the bodies of aborted babies were kept to hear one screaming amid a shelf-full of dead babies. "I can't describe it," says the woman. "It sounded like a little alien." She says the body of the child was about 18 to 24 inches long and was one of the largest babies she had seen delivered during abortion procedures at Gosnell's clinic.

7. On January 31, 1998, a then 15 year old Robyn Reid sought an abortion from Gosnell's clinic. Once she was in the clinic, though, Reid, an 87-pound teenager at the time, told Gosnell she changed her mind about the abortion. She claims Gosnell got upset, ripped off her clothes, restrained her, and repeatedly told her, "This is the same care that I would give to my own daughter." Reid regained consciousness 12 hours later at her aunt's home, with the abortion having been completed against her will.

8. At the time of Gosnell's arrest and trial, his crimes received almost no coverage by the national media. During the early part of the trial ABC, CBS and NBC did not cover the trial at all, yet gave 41 minutes and 26 seconds of air time to the story of Mike Rice, the Rutgers basketball coach who was fired for verbally and physically abusing his players.

9. The 3801 Lancaster Film Project is an ongoing documentary series about Kermit Gosnell, the Women's Medical Society, and the cover-up by state and local oversight agencies.

(Warning: The video contains graphic images.)

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About Prayer in the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About the National Day of Prayer

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

What Does 1 + 1 = 2 Mean? -- Why Christianity Matters for Math (and Everything Else)

[Note: This is the sixth article in an occasional series on apologetics and worldview analysis.]

Over the past few decades evangelicals have expressed a renewed interest in the concept of vocation. No longer is it uncommon to hear call to "think Christianly" about our work or, for academics, their fields of study. Some people (like me) go a step further and claim that we're merely fooling ourselves if we believe that we can approach our vocations at the deepest levels of engagement with a sense of religious neutrality. "Thinking Christianly" about our work is not something we add on as an afterthought; it radically changes the nature of our work.

111Not surprisingly, this view is often met with skepticism. Even those who agree with my general point do not see, for example, how there could be a particularly Christian view to subjects like mathematics.

While I certainly understand their hesitation, I do in fact believe there is a Christian view of mathematics. Indeed, I believe that there is a distinctly Christian view of everything.

The reason this idea seems so foreign (if not downright absurd) is that most of our theories about the world have only a minimal pragmatic affect on how we actually live our lives. Both my neighbor and I, for example, may get sunburned even if we hold radically different beliefs about the sun. The fact that I think the sun is a ball of nuclear plasma while he believes that it is pulled across the sky in a chariot driven by the Greek god Helios doesn't change the fact that we both have to use sunscreen. It is only when we move beneath the surface concepts ("The sun is hot.") to deeper levels of explanation ("What is the essential nature of entities like the sun?") that our religious beliefs come into play.

Even the concept that 1 + 1 = 2 -- a formula which almost all people agree with on a surface level -- has different meanings based on what theories are proposed as answers. These theories, claims philosopher Roy Clouser, show that going more deeply into the concept of 1 + 1 = 2 reveals important differences in the ways it is understood, and that these differences are due to the divinity beliefs they presuppose.

But before we can see why this is true, let's review the claims made in my previous article about what constitutes a religious belief.

A belief is a religious belief, says Clouser, provided that (1) It is a belief in something(s) or other as divine, or (2) It is a belief concerning how humans come to stand in relation to the divine. The divine, in this definition, is whatever is "just there." He contends that self-existence is the defining characteristic of divinity, so that the control of theories by a belief about what is self-existent is the same as control by a divinity belief and thus amounts to religious control of all theories.

Whether we refer to it as being self-existent, uncaused, radically independent, etc., it is the point beyond which nothing else can be reduced. Unless we posit an infinite regress of dependent existences, we must ultimately arrive at an entity that fits the criteria for the divine.

Different traditions, religions, and belief systems may disagree about what or who has divine status, or whether such an ontological concept should be considered a "religious belief." But what they all agree upon is that something has such a status. A theist, for instance, will say that the divine is God while a materialist will claim that matter is what fills the category of divine. Therefore, if we examine our concepts in enough detail, we discover that at a deeper level we're not agreeing on what the object is that we're talking about. Our explanations and theories about things will vary depending on what is presupposed as the ultimate explainer. And the ultimate explainer can only be the reality that has divine status.

Returning to our example, we find that the meaning of 1 + 1 = 2 is dependent on how we answer certain questions, such as: What do "1" or "2" or "+" or "=" stand for? What are those things? Are they abstract or must they have a physical existence? And how do we know that 1 + 1 = 2 is true? How do we attain that knowledge?

Let's look at the answers proposed by four philosophers throughout history:

Leibnitz's view -- When Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, an inventor of the calculus, was asked by one of his students, "Why is one and one always two, and how do we know this?" Leibnitz replied, "One and one equals two is an eternal, immutable truth that would be so whether or not there were things to count or people to count them." Numbers, numerical relationships, and mathematical laws (such as the law of addition) exist in this abstract realm and are independent of any physical existence. In Leibnitz's view, numbers are real things that exist in a dimension outside of the physical realm and would exist even if no human existed to recognize them.

Russell's view -- Bertrand Russell took a position diametrically opposed to Leibnitz. Russell believed it was absurd to think that there is another dimension with all the numbers in it and claimed that math was essentially nothing more than a short cut way of writing logic. In Russell's view, logical classes and logical laws -- rather than numbers and numerical relationships -- are the real things that exist in a dimension outside of the physical realm.

Mill's view -- John Stuart Mill took a third position that denied the extra-dimensional existence of numbers and logic. Mill believed that all that we can know to exist are our own sensations -- what we can see, taste, hear, and smell. And while we may take for granted that the objects we see, taste, hear, and smell exist independently of us, we cannot know even this. Mill claims that 1 and 2 and + stand for sensations, not abstract numbers or logical classes. Because they are merely sensations, 1 + 1 has the potential to equal 5, 345, or even 1,596. Such outcomes may be unlikely but, according to Mill, they are not impossible.

Dewey's view -- The American philosopher John Dewey took another radical position, implying that the signs 1 + 1 = 2 do not really stand for anything but are merely useful tools that we invent to do certain types of work. Asking whether 1 + 1 = 2 is true would be as nonsensical as asking if a hammer is true. Tools are neither true nor false; they simply do some jobs and not others. What exists is the physical world and humans (biological entities) that are capable of inventing and using such mathematical tools.

For each of these four philosophers what was considered to be divine ("just there") had a significant impact on how they answered the questions about the nature of the simple equation. For Leibnitz it was mathematical abstractions; for Russell it was logic; for Mill is was sensations; and for Dewey it was the physical/biological world. On the surface we might be able to claim that all four men understood the equation in the same way. But as we moved deeper we found their religious beliefs radically altered the conceptual understanding of 1 + 1 = 2.

What all of the explanations have in common, what all non-theistic views share, is a tendency to produce theories that are reductionist -- the theory claims to have found the part of the world that everything else is either identical with or depends on. This is why the Christian view on math, science, and everything else must ultimately differ from theories predicated on other religious beliefs. We may appear to agree on the surface, but dig a little deeper and we find that what we believe about God changes everything.

 

Other Posts in This Series:

What is a Religious Belief?

When Atheists Are Angry at God

Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

Naming Your Turtles

Should You Trust the Monkey Mind?

Survey: Hispanics Leaving Catholicism, Becoming Either Evangelicals or Religiously Unaffiliated

pentecostal-hispanicThe Story: Religious polarization is taking place in the Hispanic community, with the shrinking majority of Hispanic Catholics holding the middle ground between two growing groups (evangelical Protestants and the unaffiliated) that are at opposite ends of the U.S. religious spectrum, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The Background:

According to Pew, the long-term decline in the share of Catholics among Hispanics may partly reflect religious changes underway in Latin America, where evangelical churches have been gaining adherents and the share of those with no religious affiliation has been slowly rising in a region that historically has been overwhelmingly Catholic.

Hispanics leaving Catholicism have tended to move in two directions. Some have become born-again or evangelical. On average, Hispanic evangelicals - many of whom also identify as either Pentecostal or charismatic Protestants - not only report higher rates of church attendance than Hispanic Catholics but also tend to be more engaged in other religious activities, including Scripture reading, Bible study groups and sharing their faith.

At the same time, other Hispanics have become religiously unaffiliated - that is, they describe themselves as having no particular religion or say they are atheist or agnostic. This group exhibits much lower levels of religious observance and involvement than Hispanic Catholics. In this respect, unaffiliated Hispanics roughly resemble the religiously unaffiliated segment of the general public.

The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the survey include:

• Because of the growing Hispanic population, a day could come when a majority of Catholics in the United States will be Hispanic, even though the majority of Hispanics might no longer be Catholic.

• Among the youngest cohort of Hispanic adults, those ages 18-29, virtually all of the net change has been away from Catholicism and toward no religious affiliation.

• Among those ages 30-49, the net movement has been away from Catholicism and toward both evangelical Protestantism and no religious affiliation. Among Hispanics ages 50 and older, the changes in religious identity are not statistically significant.

• Even though the percentage of Hispanics who identify as Catholic has been declining, Hispanics continue to make up an increasingly large share of U.S. Catholics. Indeed, as of 2013, one-third (33%) of all U.S. Catholics were Hispanic.

• Catholicism is the only major religious tradition among Latinos that has seen a net loss in adherents due to religious switching. Roughly a quarter of Latinos were raised Catholic and have left the faith (24%), while just 2% were raised in some other faith and have converted to Catholicism, for a net decline of 22 percentage points.

• Of those who have left the faith of their childhood, 55% say they just gradually "drifted away" from the religion in which they were raised, and 52% say they stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood religion.

• Latinos who have left the Catholic Church are especially likely to say that an important reason was that they stopped believing in its teachings; 63% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated and 57% of former Catholics who are now Protestants give this reason for having left the church.

• The influence of Pentecostalism is still strongly felt within the Hispanic community. The new survey finds that among Hispanics who have left Catholicism and now identify as Protestants, more than a quarter (28%) are Pentecostal.

• Among Hispanic Protestants overall, two-thirds either say they belong to a traditional Pentecostal denomination (29%) or describe themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (38%). Among Hispanic Catholics, 52% describe themselves as charismatic Christians.

• Hispanics who are Pentecostals are particularly likely to report having received a divine healing (64%) or a direct revelation from God (64%), to have witnessed the devil or spirits being driven out of a person (59%), and to say they have spoken in tongues (49%).

• Latino evangelical Protestants are the most likely to say they attend worship services at least weekly, pray daily and consider religion to be very important in their lives. Religiously unaffiliated Latinos are at the other end of the spectrum, with just 6% reporting that they attend services weekly and a minority saying that religion is very important to them (20%) or that they pray daily (29%). Latino Catholics and mainline Protestants fall in the middle between these two groups.

9 Things You Should Know About Prayer in the Bible

Do you know how many prayer are mentioned in the Bible (and how many were answered)? Here's the answer to that question and other things you should know about the prayer in the Bible.

gethsemane_thumb1. There are 650 prayers listed in the Bible. (Here is the entire list and where they can be found.)

2. There are approximately 450 recorded answers to prayer in the Bible.

3. The first time prayer is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 4:26 (earlier dialogues where initiated directly by God, e.g., Genesis 3:8-13, Genesis 4:9).

4. The Bible records Jesus praying 25 different times during his earthly ministry.

5. In the Bible, Paul mentions prayer (prayers, prayer reports, prayer requests, exhortations to pray), 41 times.

6. Although prayer can (and should) be done from any bodily position, the Bible lists five specific postures: Sitting (2 Sam 7:18), standing (Mark 11:25), kneeling (Chronicles 6:13; Daniel 6:10; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60, 9:40, 20:36, 21:5; Ephesians 3:14), with one's face to the ground (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35), and with hands lifted up (1 Timothy 2:8).

7. In Jesus model for how his disciples should pray (Luke 11:1-4), he provides five areas of focus: That God's name be honored - the focus on his everlasting glory ("Father, hallowed be your name"); that God's kingdom come - the focus on his eternal will ("your kingdom come"); that God's provision is given - the focus on our present ("Give us each day our daily bread."); that God's forgiveness is granted - the focus on our past (Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.); that God's deliverance will be provided - the focus on our future.

8. The Bible lists at least nine main types of prayer: prayer of faith (James 5:15), prayer of agreement (also known as corporate prayer) (Acts 2:42), prayer of request (also known as petition or supplication) (Philippians 4:6), prayer of thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2-3), prayer of worship (Acts 13:2-3), prayer of consecration (also known as dedication) (Matthew 26:39), prayer of intercession (1 Timothy 2:1),  prayer of imprecation (Psalms 69), and praying in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).

9. The word "Amen" (which means "let it be, "so be it," "verily," "truly") makes its first appearance in the Bible in Numbers 5:22. In that passage God commands it to be said by a person who is yielding to his examination.

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About the National Day of Prayer

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

9 Things You Should Know About the National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual day of observance celebrated by Americans of various faiths. Here are nine things you should know about the day when people are asked "to turn to God in prayer and meditation."

ndp1. The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.

2. Prior to the nation's founding, the Second Continental Congress issued a proclamation recommending "a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer" be observed by the "English Colonies" on Thursday, July 20, 1775, "and to bless our rightful sovereign, King George the Third..."

3. In his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington acknowledged a second day of "fasting, humiliation and prayer" proclaimed by the Continental Congress to be held on Thursday, May 6, 1779. To enable his soldiers to observe the day, Washington ordered a one-day cessation of recreation and "unnecessary labor".[12] In March 1780, Congress announced a day of "fasting, humiliation and prayer" to be held on Wednesday, April 26, 1780.

4. There have been 142 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the President of the United States (1789-2013).

5. The National Observance in Washington, DC is coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an evangelical nonprofit group. The NDP Task Force was founded in 1979 by Mrs. Vonette Bright, co-founder of the evangelical Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ International. Since 1991, Shirley Dobson, whose husband is James Dobson, has been the chairwoman.

6. During each year of the George W. Bush Administration, events coordinated with the NDP Task Force were held in the White House. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush each held only one NDP Task Force-coordinated religious ceremony on a National Day of Prayer during their tenures. During his tenure, President Clinton held informal prayer meetings but did not participate in NDP Task Force events, nor has President Obama.

7. In 2008, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to challenge the designation of a National Day of Prayer. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional as it is "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function." A three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned that decision.

8. There have been 65 Presidential Proclamations for a National Day of Prayer (1952-2013). Gerald R. Ford (1976), George H. Bush (1989-91) and Barack H. Obama (2012) are the only U.S. Presidents to sign multiple National Day of Prayer Proclamations in the same year.

9. 34 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed proclamations for National Prayer. Three of the Presidents who did not sign a proclamation died while serving in office. Two Presidents, not included in the count - William Howard Taft and Warren Gamaliel Harding, signed proclamations for Thanksgiving and Prayer. Every President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 

Was the Ascension Bad Evangelism Strategy?

Let's be honest: the ascension of Jesus is weird. It's the story of a man taken up into the clouds. I remember reading the story with a friend who is not a Christian, and she looked at me with pity as if to say, "You don't really believe this wacky stuff, do you?" I was about to object to her unspoken accusation when I thought, Yes, actually, this is pretty weird.

9781781911440v7

The two men at the ascension scene, probably angels, don't seem to help matters. "Why do you stand here looking into the sky?" they ask. Surely the answer is obvious. The apostles have just seen a man taken up into the clouds, so I'd probably be looking up to see what happens next, too. The point these men are making, of course, is that what happens next—what their attention should be focused on—will take place on earth because Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit to empower his people to become his witnesses.

So, again, the ascension is weird. But it can also feel a bit disappointing. For example, you may have had conversations that went something like this:

"If God exists, then why doesn't he make himself known? Why doesn't he write a message in the sky? Surely he could if he were God."

"But he has made himself known," we say. "He sent his Son, Jesus. Jesus is God among us. He made God known."

"So you say, but how can I know that? Jesus died a long time ago."

Or, something like this:

"How can you be so confident there's life after death?"

"Because someone came back from the dead," we respond. "The resurrection of Jesus is key to the claims of the Christian gospel. Our faith stands or falls on this historical event."

"But how do you know that wasn't just a made-up story?"

"Because the tomb was empty and eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive. And those eyewitnesses weren't gullible people, desperate to believe. Thomas in particular, one of the Twelve, doubted the news until he saw and heard and touched Jesus for himself. His life was changed, just as meeting the risen Jesus changed the lives of countless other witnesses. Many went from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming the story of Jesus even when faced with persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom."

"Yeah, but coming back from the dead? There's no scientific proof for anything like that."

These conversations meander around a similar refrain: wouldn't evangelism be a whole lot easier if Jesus were still on earth? Imagine he was still living somewhere in Palestine so that people could go to see him. Imagine scientists had studied him over the years and could verify that he was more than 2,000 years old. Or imagine Jesus himself was on tour, performing miracles and preaching the gospel.

The ascension seems like bad evangelism strategy. It removes the key piece of evidence that substantiates the claims of Christianity. It's like our best player got subbed out as the game was just beginning.

Startlingly Good News

But in Scripture and for the Christian, the ascension is startlingly good news. In fact, there could be no salvation or mission without the ascension. The great Puritan theologian John Owen affirmed the same when he said:

This assumption of our Lord Jesus Christ into glory, or his glorious reception in heaven, with his state and condition therein, is a principal article of the faith of the church—the great foundation of its hope and consolation in this world. . . . The darkness of our faith herein is the cause of all our disconsolations, and most of our weaknesses in obedience.

That said, what was the immediate effect of the ascension on the first disciples?

"Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God" (Luke 24:52-53).

Their response was worship, joy, and praise. Their Lord and friend had been taken from them, but they understood enough of what had happened for the ascension to produce in them worship, joy, and praise.

Why? They believed Jesus when told them: "But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). This exhortation remains true for us as well; Jesus' physical absence is better for us than his continued physical presence.

As we think about the ascension, we must rediscover the great comfort it brings. Diplomats and reporters often talk about "their man in Washington" or "their man in Tokyo." For Christians, Jesus is "our man in heaven." He is there for us, on our behalf. He's our representative, securing our salvation by his very presence in heaven.

But we must also discover the ascension as a great challenge. Jesus receives all authority and sends us out to declare that authority to the world. The ascension, then, is the beginning of mission.

This article has been adapted from Tim Chester and Jonathan Woodrow's new book The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God (Christian Focus, 2013).

How Can We Increase Ethnic Diversity in Our Churches?

[Note: Questions and Ethics is a new monthly series in which Russell Moore provides insight into how Christians should navigate through life's most challenging moral and ethical issues.]

Q: What can Christians do to increase the ethnic diversity in their congregation?

Q&ELOGO-mainpageE: I've seen a lot of churches that have had communities that have changed in terms of ethnic and racial demographic around them, but those churches haven't changed for all sorts of reasons. That is a sign of some deep sickness going on in the congregation. I think one of the things that is necessary is saying it has got to be about more than saying whatever ethnic group is the majority group within that congregation. Your people can't have the mindset of, "We are going to minister to the other ethnic groups around us." Especially when your people have the mindset of, "We are here in this primarily Latino community­­­—or it is becoming more Latino­—so let's minister to the Hispanic people in our community." That is a mindset that I think needs to change, especially among majority ethnic groups of white people of America.

White people in America are really a tiny minority in the body of Christ. We are part of a cloud of witnesses, the Scripture says, in heaven. There aren't many white people there. Abraham is not a white guy, and neither is Jesus. These are Middle Eastern, Jewish people. Augustine is an African. You go through the whole list of everyone in the history of the church and that great cloud around us. We are not the people that God has given—whoever the majority race is or ethnic group in that church is­—to bless the nations. The nations are being blessed through the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Which means we need to change that mindset.

We also need to recognize that the people in that congregation are not just going to minister to, but are going to be ministered to. It is easy, especially for some of us who have Messiah complexes, to want to minister to all sorts of people, because we can be in charge of that. We need to say, "We want to be ministered to in ways we don't even recognize we need to be ministered to." It changes a mindset, and it changes the way worship looks when you have people from various different cultures getting together. Finding ways to anticipate that ahead of time, and to signal that from the pulpit is important. We also need to start intentionally working to signal that in worship.

Jimmy Scroggins has done a really good job with this, especially at the level of worship by saying, "I'm in an ethnically very diverse place in south Florida, so I'm not going to be able to come in and say, 'Here are our worship styles.'" Instead it is almost a Kaleidoscope of different forms of worship that are intentionally saying to everybody that worship is not about finding your groove and ministering to you in it. It is about teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We need to recognize that this is going to take a while.

The Jew-Gentile division in the New Testament church meant that there was a lot of conflict going on with people who didn't understand one another and didn't know what was happening and that had to be explained. Most of the epistles in the New Testament are dealing with that divide that was theological at some level, but also was cultural. You are going to have that. Have some patience with that as time goes on. But starting to get your people to recognize if you are in an all-white church or an all-black church, you are starting to come in and say, "Hey people, this is not normal for the body of Christ." We are not going to solve this situation by saying, "We should all bring someone from another race next Sunday," but we are going to say, "If we still look this way 10 years from now, something is wrong." I think it is a long-term project.

Related: You can find more answers to ethical questions and subscribe to the Questions and Ethics podcast on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

 

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the campaign of genocide in Rwanda. Here are nine things you should know about one of the most horrific seasons of slaughter in modern times:

rwanda_genocide1. The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 20 percent of the country's total population and 70 percent of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda.

2. The Hutu (also Abahutu) are a Central African ethnic group while the Tutsi (also Abatutsi or Watutsi) are an East African ethnic group. The two groups intermarried for decades prior to the genocide which has lead to an ongoing debate about whether they can truly be considered two separate and distinct groups.

3. The inciting event appears to have occurred on April 6, 1994 when an airplane carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into the Rwandan capital. Genocidal killings began the following day as soldiers, police, and militia executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, then erected checkpoints and barricades and used Rwandans' national identity cards to systematically verify their ethnicity and kill Tutsi.

4. In rural areas, the local government hierarchy served as the chain of command for the execution of the genocide. The governor of each province disseminated instructions to the district leaders, who in turn issued directions to leaders within their districts. The majority of the actual killings in the countryside were carried out by ordinary civilians, under orders from the leaders. Tutsi and Hutu lived side by side in their villages, and families all knew each other, making it easy for Hutu to identify and target their Tutsi neighbors. Historian Gerard Prunier ascribes this mass complicity of the population to a combination of the "democratic majority" ideology, in which Hutu had been taught to regard Tutsi as dangerous enemies, the culture of unbending obedience to authority, and the duress factor - villagers who refused to carry out orders to kill were often branded as Tutsi sympathizers and killed themselves.

5. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 100 days of genocide. As a result of this rape, up to 20,000 children were born from these women. More than 67% of women who were raped during the genocide were infected with HIV. In many cases, this resulted from a systematic and planned use of rape by HIV+ men as a weapon of genocide.

6. An estimated 200,000 people participated in the perpetration of the genocide. Participants were given incentives, in the form of money, food, or land, to kill their Tutsi neighbors. Hutu were allowed to appropriate the land of the Tutsis they killed.

7. Local Rwandan radios would use propaganda to incite Hutus to violence. Broadcasts included such statements as, "You have to kill the Tutsis, they're cockroaches. We must all fight the Tutsis. We must finish with them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country. There must be no refuge for them."

8. Most of the murder was done with machetes (in 1993 Rwanda imported three-quarters of a million dollars' worth of machetes from China), but automatic weapons and hand grenades were also used.

9. The U.S. was reluctant to get involved in the "local conflict" in Rwanda and initially refused to label the killings as "genocide." Then-president Bill Clinton later publicly regretted that decision in a television interview. Five years later, Clinton stated that he believed that if he had sent 5,000 U.S. peacekeepers, more than 500,000 lives could have been saved.

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 

 

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

The end of March marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of C.S. Lewis completing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Here are nine things you should know about the Lewis' beloved novels:

narniachronicles1. The name 'Narnia' is a Latin word, referring to a town in ancient Italy called 'Narni'.

2. Lewis first thought of Narnia in 1939, but didn't finish writing the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, until a decade later in 1949. Lewis said of the idea for the book, "The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it."

3. Lewis believed the series should be read in the chronological order of the events covered in the books. But most readers, critics, and scholars believe they should be read in the order the books were published: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), The Last Battle (1956).

4. Lewis Scholar Michael Ward has proposed a theory that that Lewis deliberately constructed the Chronicles of Narnia out of the imagery of the seven heavens. According to astronomers before Copernicus in the sixteenth century, the seven heavens contained the seven planets which revolved around Earth and exerted influences over people and events and even the metals in the Earth's crust. In his book, Ward says, "In The Lion [the child protagonists] become monarchs under sovereign Jove; in Prince Caspian they harden under strong Mars; in The "Dawn Treader" they drink light under searching Sol; inThe Silver Chair they learn obedience under subordinate Luna; in The Horse and His Boy they come to love poetry under eloquent Mercury; in The Magician's Nephew they gain life-giving fruit under fertile Venus; and in The Last Battle they suffer and die under chilling Saturn."

5. 'Aslan', the name of the central Lion character in the Narnia Chronicles, is the Turkish word for 'lion'. Although Aslan is the only character to appear in all seven books, he never appeared in the first draft of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, even though it was published a year later.

6. The character of Puddleglum, who appears as a principal character in The Silver Chair, was based on Fred Paxford, who served as a handyman, gardener, and occasional cook for over 30 years at Lewis' home (the Kilns) in Oxford. Douglas Gresham described him as "a simple and earthy man who might be called a cheerful, eternal pessimist." If someone said "good morning" to Paxford, he might respond by saying "Ah, looks like rain before lunch though if it doesn't snow or hail that is."

7. The series of books took Lewis more than eight years to complete, though he spent only three months of that time writing the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

8. Although there are several maps of the Narnian universe available, the one considered the "official" version was published in 1972 by the books' illustrator, Pauline Baynes. (Illustration copyright © C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.)

narnia

9. In a letter to a fifth-grade class, Lewis explained that Aslan is not meant simply to "represent" Jesus: "Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen."

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 

What is a Religious Belief?

[Note: This is the fifth article in an occasional series on apologetics and worldview analysis.]

Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that the proper task of philosophy was to make the nature of our thought and talk clear. The problems of philosophy were illusory, he believed, and arose as a misunderstanding about language. While I think he greatly overstated the case, I think Wittgenstein was on to something important. Many problems—not only in philosophy but in other areas such as religion—result from the imprecise use of language. A prime example is the debate about what constitutes a "religious belief."

beliefsWhat exactly makes a belief a religious belief? In order to make that determination we must first define the term in such a way that it is neither too broad nor too narrow by listing all of the features that are true of all religious beliefs and true only of religious beliefs.* While this may appear to be an obvious point, we are often surprised to find what has been pruned when a definition is stripped to its essential components. Imagine, for instance, trying to define the concept of tree in a way that is limited to what is true for all trees but only true of trees. Paring the explanation down in such a manner would not only be difficult but would leave us with a curious, and likely unsatisfying, definition.

What is true of trees will be equally so for religious beliefs. After we cut away the foliage and underbrush that are features of specific religious beliefs we are likely to be unimpressed by the bare, slender reed that remains. We should also expect to find that a minimally precise definition will have exposed the fact that some beliefs that we might have considered to be religious really are not, while finding that others are actually more religious than we might have imagined. Nevertheless, while we might be surprised, unsatisfied, or unimpressed, the important point is that we have defined the term correctly.

Let us begin by examining two features that are commonly (though mistakenly) believed to be essential to religious beliefs:

Religious beliefs require a belief in God or gods — One of the most common misconceptions about religious belief is that it requires a belief in God or a supreme being. But such a feature would be too narrow because it would exclude polytheistic religions that do not recognize a supreme being. In fact, we cannot include the concept of god or gods at all since some religions (e.g., Brahmin Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism) are literally atheistic.

Religious beliefs are beliefs that induce worship or worship-related activities — This feature is also defeated by the counterexamples of Brahmin Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism, neither of which practices worship. The same is true for the religious beliefs of some ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and later the Epicureans who thought the gods neither knew about nor cared about humans. They certainly felt no obligation to worship such apathetic beings.

Having excluded gods and worship from our definition, we are left with very few features that all religious beliefs could possibly share in common. As philosopher Roy Clouser asks, "What common element can be found in the biblical idea of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in the Hindu idea of Brahman-Atman, in the idea of Dharmakaya in Mahayana Buddhism, and the idea of the Tao in Taoism?" The answer, he argues, is that every religious tradition considers something or other as divineand that all of them have a common denominator in the status of the divinity itself.

While many religions disagree on what is divine, they all agree on what it means to be divine . The divine is simply whatever is unconditionally, nondependently real; whatever is just there. By contrast, everything nondivine ultimately depends for existence (at least in part) on whatever is divine. This idea of nondependence or its equivalent is the shared feature in all religious beliefs.

Clouser uses this common element to formulate a precise definition: A belief is a religious belief provided that it is (1) a belief in something as divine or (2) a belief about how to stand in proper relation to the divine, where (3) something is believed to be divine provided it is held to be unconditionally nondependent.

The conclusion we can draw from this definition is that everyone holds, consciously or unconsciously, a religious belief. For many of us, this will be as obvious as finding that our entire lives we've been speaking in prose. Others, though, will have a reaction similar to those who argue that while everyone else may speak with an accent, they themselves do not.

Although it may be true that not everyone has a religion (a system of religious beliefs, practices, and rituals), it would be rather absurd to believe that there is anyone who does not have a religious belief . This can be shown by focusing on a theory or belief that many people mistakenly believe to be the reverse of religion: materialism.

Although the idea of materialism has been around since at least the ancient Greeks, it has only recently been considered to be a non-religious idea. This is rather odd considering that it explicitly claims that matter (or some other physical entity) is unconditionally, nondependently real and draws conclusions about nature and humanity based on that belief.

Materialism, in fact, fits the definition more closely than some related beliefs, such as atheism. Just as monotheism claims that the number of gods is one and polytheism holds the view that the number is more than one, atheism simply claims the number of gods is zero. Because it merely takes a position on a nonessential element of religious belief, it would be erroneous to claim that atheism is inherently a religious belief. Materialism, on the other hand, fits the definition in a categorical and clear-cut manner.

Clouser's definition is neither too broad nor too narrow, is applicable to every known religious tradition, and is logically forceful. Still, I don't suspect materialists to bend to its logic and admit that they too have a religious belief. When pressed on this point many materialists tend to resort to special pleading or wrangling over the semantics of using the term "religious." But as Clouser says, "If you insist that whatever you believe to be divine isn't religious for you, you'll have to admit that for those of us who hold such a belief and admit its religious character, your belief is going to appear to be religious for reasons that are far from arbitrary." In other words, call the belief what you want—it certainly looks and functions like a religious belief.

*The definition, ideas, and general explanation of concepts in this post are derived from the work of Roy Clouser . I have, however, filtered it through my own interpretation and sprinkled in some of my own thoughts on the question. Anything coherent, obvious, reasonable, and logical should be attributed to Clouser. Anything incoherent, absurd, unreasonable, and illogical should be credited solely to me.

 

Other Posts in This Series:

When Atheists Are Angry at God

Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

Naming Your Turtles

Should You Trust the Monkey Mind?