Saturday, September 27, 2008

Please pray for my father

My posts here may be relatively limited for the time being. My father was in a pretty serious accident on Thursday. He fell 30 feet out of a tree. Believe it or not, none of his injuries appear to be life threatening, but he will be in the hospital, probably until Monday, then in a rehab facility for a few weeks regaining his ability to walk. Even after that he is in for a long, hard rehabilitation. Thank you for your prayers and your understanding.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Podcasts

Seven new podcasts are now available in the Biblical and Discipleship series on the Ten Minas website. There is a four part lesson titled "Chosen for a Purpose" and a three part lesson titled "The Mystery of Christ." Both are taken from the book of Ephesians, Paul's letter on unity within the church. More podcasts from Ephesians will be forthcoming in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Striving for Peace Through Antagonism

As I was driving to work this morning I pulled up behind a car, the back of which look more like a collage of bumper stickers than part of a vehicle. With the exception of the rear windshield there was not one square inch on this thing that wasn’t covered, and even the windshield had a few blockages.

One of the bumper stickers was sending what I believed to be a very noble message. It said, “We need a Department of Peace.” I’m all for promoting peace. I am not a total pacifist and believe that there are times when war is necessary, but at least as a general objective peace is a good thing.

On the same car was one of those Christian fish symbols with legs attached and the word “Darwin” written inside. I can’t imagine that there are too many of you out there who do not know what I am talking about, but for those of you who may not, picture this. In the early days of Christianity, fellow Christians devised a surreptitious system for identifying one another. One person would use a stick to draw a curved line (kind of like a frown) in the dirt. To anyone looking it would just look like they were doodling on the ground. If the person watching was a Christian, however, they would draw a mirror image of the curved line, making the two lines meet at a point on one side (i.e., the nose of the fish), then crossing over each other at the other end of the line making the tail of the fish. If you want a picture, see the “Christian Links” page on the Ten Minas site. We have a picture of this “Christian fish” there.

Nowadays, a number of Christians put these fish on the back of their cars to identify themselves as Christians. As I said, this is a symbol that Christians have long used to identify themselves to one another (it’s not like we all walk around with “Christian” emblazoned on our foreheads).

In the last few years, someone came up with the idea for Darwinists to express their views on the back of their cars by creating one of these fish, but putting legs on it and writing “Darwin” across the middle. This is the placard that was on the car in front of me. It also had something I had never seen before, a T-Rex eating one of the Christian fish symbols.

My point is actually quite simple. I firmly believe that the first step toward peace is to try not to antagonize your opponent. I have often encouraged Christians to follow 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Why use the Christian fish to identify yourself as a proponent of Darwinism? I understand that many people believe Darwinian evolution and Christianity are contradictory. But why use a symbol that obviously has deep meaning to Christian adherents and, in essence, mock it to make your point? Why is the T-Rex eating it? Why are you putting feet on it?

It seems to me that this type of behavior is essentially “thumbing your nose” at Christianity. It is the type of behavior that you should know could generate strong negative emotions in the person or class of people that you are targeting. It is behavior that is designed to antagonize. Why else use that particular symbol in such a way that you have to know would not be welcomed by those who were using it before you? The Christian fish did not in any way mock Darwinism. Christian believers were not ridiculing Darwinism by putting these fish on their cars (although please do not misunderstand me to think I am saying that many Christians do not unfortunately ridicule others). It just seems to me to be an unnecessary attack and I find it ironic that someone who advocates a quest for peace would get the first step toward that peace so horribly wrong.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not starting off some kind of a crusade to have all these placards removed. I don’t start screaming at the car in front of me every time I see one. I am only using this small example as a point of entry for something bigger. Namely, if we really want to work for peace, let us begin by trying to respect one another. This does not mean we have to agree with each other, or that you cannot tell someone that you disagree. But do this without mocking, without teasing, without ridicule, and in a manner that shows that you respect your opponent as a human being.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Secularization of America

I was reading an opinion article today from the L.A. Times (dated June 17, 2008) titled “Will Gay Rights Trample Religious Freedom?” (Here). If I can briefly summarize the author’s point (although I encourage you to read the article for yourself), he was skeptical of the California Supreme Court’s assurances that allowing same-sex marriages will not effect the ability of churches to practice their religion (allegedly because no clergy member would be forced to perform a same-sex marriage). The author, Marc D. Stern, then gave four examples which he believed justified his skepticism:

(1) A case currently before the California Supreme Court in which a San Diego County fertility doctor is being sued for refusing to perform artificial insemination on one partner in a lesbian couple because it would violate his religious convictions (the doctor had referred the patient to another colleague at no extra cost to the patient).

(2) Catholic Charities in Boston and San Francisco stopping adoption services altogether rather than being forced by anti-discrimination laws to place children with same-sex couples (at least in Boston they were willing to refer these clients to other providers who would accommodate them).

(3) A case currently on appeal in which a Lutheran School is being sued for expelling two students for engaging in a lesbian relationship contrary to the values of the school.

(4) A lawsuit in Poway, California involving a public school that is seeking to ban students from wearing T-Shirts expressing their opposition to homosexuality on campus.

In fairness, I should point out that Mr. Stern only gave a somewhat discreet mention of the fact that in the Lutheran School case the lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court. This is actually a pretty big deal, as anyone can sue for just about any reason. The key question is whether or not the courts will allow that suit to proceed, which in this case they have not (at least so far). I should also point out that a number of the comments following the article argue that any organization receiving public funding must abide by anti-discrimination laws. Judging by the fact that Mr. Stern described this as a “Lutheran” school, it is probably safe to assume that it is a private school and not receiving government funding (the government does not fund religious education), although the article does not say one way or another.

Mr. Stern cites the above instances as examples of times when legal civil liberties have clashed with religious freedom, and religious freedom is the one that had to give way. He appears unconvinced that clergy really will not be required to perform same-sex weddings, possibly under threat of being prohibited from performing legal marriages at all. In other words, clergy weddings may have full force and effect within the church, but those same weddings may not be legally effective unless those clergy also agree to perform same-sex marriages. Mr. Stern does not explicitly make this point, but it is at least the impression I received, especially from him citing the Catholic Charities example.

Dr. Ravi Zacharias defines the process of “secularization” as “the process by which religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance.” (Here). He argues that this process is occurring in American culture today. I agree. I saw this process illustrated in a number of the comments that followed Mr. Stern’s article. The following comment serves as an example:

“This entire argument is based on a false definition of ‘religious freedom’. Religious freedom allows you to believe anything you want, and to worship with any group you like. Your article assumes that believers have the right to live in a society that mirrors their beliefs. All of the examples cited of religious persecution have nothing to do with what a person believes, and everything to do with how they behave in public. The doctor doesn't have to inseminate anyone, but if he chooses to be licensed by the state to practice medicine, he is responsible for following whatever legal guidelines exist.
Submitted by: Jason
3:59 PM PDT, June 17, 2008” (emphasis added)

According to Jason, there is (and should be) a disconnect between what a person believes in private and how they act in public. Religion should be confined to the sphere of private thought alone. You are free to believe whatever you want inside your head as long as you conform to the cultural norms outwardly. Religious notions have no place in the public discourse.

I wonder how the secularist would react if I was to reverse this definition? You are free to have all your secular thoughts in private as long as you outwardly act in conformity with my religious ideas. That certainly would be unacceptable because at least the postmodern secularist demands that all viewpoints be “tolerated”, especially their own. Unfortunately, this postmodern world has redefined “tolerance” to mean not just “respected and allowed equal opportunity to express their perspective,” but instead that all views must be affirmed as equally true. No longer are we even permitted to respectfully disagree, but instead we are called upon to celebrate and actively practice those perspectives with which we may passionately disagree because all views are allegedly equally “true.” Jason tells us that we are perfectly free to disagree with homosexual practices in private, but in public we must act as if they are a cause for celebration.

What postmodern secularists fail to realize, though, is that in expressing this viewpoint they are violating their own definition of tolerance as to the religious believer! In restricting the religious viewpoint to the private arena, the secularist is not affirming it to be equally true with other views. What they really mean to say is that all views must be tolerated except those views that disagree that all views should be tolerated.

Let me pose a simple question. Do you truly “believe” something if you do not act as if you believe it? How many of us have been told by our parents that “actions speak louder than words?” The notion that someone can believe something in private but not act upon that belief in public is completely contrary to the realities of our existence. This is not how we live our lives and really appears to be nothing more than the secularist’s attempt to suppress the non-secularist, even though such suppression should be against what they preach.

The examples given by Mr. Stern illustrate this suppression. Take the case of the insemination doctor that was cited by Jason. It is not like this lesbian couple was without options. The doctor referred them to a colleague who was willing to perform the insemination. There would have been no additional cost to them whatsoever. If what they really were after was an opportunity to conceive a child, everything was in place for them to do so. But that is not what they wanted. The fact that they filed this lawsuit proved that what they really wanted was to force THIS PARTICULAR doctor to perform the insemination, contrary to his religious beliefs? Why? Why is the lesbian couple’s belief that they are civilly entitled to insemination more worthy of respect than the doctor’s belief that he should not perform it? How can Jason (and others who made similar comments) possibly decry the alleged suppression of the couple’s “right” to child-bearing without also realizing that they are suppressing the doctor’s right to practice his religion, especially when the couple HAD ANOTHER OPTION? Even assuming that this couple had a right to insemination, what made them believe that they had a right to be inseminated by this specific physician? Their "right" to insemination was not being denied. At best some alleged "right" to be inseminated specifically by "Dr. X" was being violated. I fail to see how any such "right" exists.

I can understand when a religious practice in and of itself would cross a line that a society believes cannot be crossed (such as human sacrifice, etc.). But this was not one of those instances. Nobody else’s “rights” would have been affected in any way by this doctor’s decision. If that couple had really wanted artificial insemination, they would have been able to get it. This really appeared to be more of a crusade against this individual doctor to force him to act in conformity with the prevailing culture’s beliefs instead of his own.

Forced belief is never appropriate. The Christian Crusades were unacceptable. I would hope that even secularists would realize this and try to persuade people through the marketplace of ideas rather than through the power of legal coercion.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Upcoming Appearances

I will be making several appearances coming up if anyone would like to stop by.

I will be teaching a class on Ephesians starting this Sunday. The classes are from 9:15 to 10:15 am at Grove Presbyterian Church, 50 E. Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, MD. They will be held on the second floor of the Monroe Building (the large building adjacent to the church). I will be teaching on the following dates:

September 7
September 21
October 5
October 12

The class will also be taught on September 14 and 28 with another (and very qualified) elder of the church leading the group.

I will also be operating a table at the Havre de Grace Community Yard Sale, to be held at the Havre de Grace Activity Center, 351 Lewis Lane, Havre de Grace, Maryland 21078. This event will be on Saturday, September 27, 2008 from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. We will be trying to raise money for our Disaster Relief Project to help people who have been the victims of natural disasters. See our website for more information.

I hope to see some of you at one or more of these events. God bless.

Ken Coughlan