Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Critical thinking and email forwards

Note: This is a thorough rewriting of an original post that more harshly criticized Christians who forward conservative emails. I regret the tone (sarcastic and condemning) of the original post, because I ultimately just supported the same kind of tribalism I was trying to attack.

I have incorporated some of the insights from the comments that followed the original email (in particular I should acknowledge Brad Brock, “anonymoose,” and Kevin Wells), and as a result some of that original discussion, still included at the end of the post, will appear less coherent.

My hope is that this version of the post will give a clear debunking of the supposed Dobson email and will challenge each of us to think about the ideas we adopt; I also hope that I can accomplish this without belittling anyone or pinning narrow-mindedness on a particular group that I tend to disagree with. --SDH, 12-24-07


I got an email forward this past week that I've received before:
Subject: Dr. Dobson and CBS Response
Will you please take a minute to read this, please? It's
really important to our faith.
Thanks,
_____Dr. Dobson & CBS Response

Apparently we are to be allowed to watch TV
programs that use every foul word in the English
language, but not the word "God" It will only
take a minute to read this and see if you think
you should send it out

DR. DOBSON'S PLEA FOR ACTION

CBS discontinued "Touched by an Angel" for using
the word God in every program. Madeline Murray
O'Hare, an atheist, successfully managed to
eliminate the use of Bible reading from public
schools a few years ago.

Now her organization has been granted a federal
hearing on the same subject by the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) Washington , DC

Their petition, Number 2493, would ultimately pave
the way to stop the reading of the gospel, our Lord
and Savior, on the airwaves of America

They got 287,000 signatures to back their stand!
If this attempt is successful, all Sunday worship
services being broadcast on the radio or by
television will be stopped. This group is also
campaigning to remove all Christmas programs and
Christmas carols from public schools!

You as a Christian can help!

We are praying for at least 1 million signatures. This would
defeat their effort and show that there are many Christians
alive, well and concerned about our country. As Christians
we must unite on this. Please don't take this lightly.

We ignored this lady once and lost prayer in our
school and in offices across the nation

Please stand up for your religious freedom and let
your voice be heard. Together we can make a
difference in our country while creating a way for
the lost to know the Lord.

Please press "forward", and forward this to
everyone that you think should read this.
Now, please sign your name at the bottom ( you
can only add your name after you have pressed the
"Forward").

Don't delete any other names, just go to the next
number and type your name and state. Please defeat this
organization and keep the right of our freedom of religion.

REMEMBER: Our country was founded on freedom of religion
and our Constitution is based on the 10 Commandments.

Agree or Delete: Instructions to sign are at the bottom.

PETITION FOR PRESIDENT BUSH

PETITION TO REINSTATE PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
1.

2,236 people had typed their name into this particular email.

For anyone who doesn't know, this petition is a hoax. In fact, almost every single thing in it is either fabrication or gross misrepresentation.

To begin with, an internet petition is basically useless, because there's nothing stopping someone from either (1) making up names (since you can't check the handwriting) or (2) changing the subject of the petition once everyone's name is on it. Even assuming an email petition could work, this particular email is basically incoherent. It is written in sloppy prose with numerous mistakes (that James Dobson supposedly penned!), and on the whole it doesn't make logical sense.

Here are a few of the problems.

1. Madalyn Murray O'Hair's first and last names are both misspelled in the email.

2. Touched by an Angel ran (according to imdb.com) from 1994 until 2003, which is actually a long run for a tv show. It doesn't take a conspiracy to get a show cancelled after nine seasons.

3. The email is riddled with grammatical errors, such as the missing period after "God" in the first paragraph.

4. O'Hair apparently did succeed in eliminating Bible reading from public schools in 1963; but calling that just “a few years ago” suggests that this was written up a long time ago.

5. One sentence reads, “Their petition . . . would ultimately pave
the way to stop the reading of the gospel, our Lord and Savior, on the airwaves of America”. So grammatically, in that sentence, “the gospel” is "our Lord and Savior"?

Then, right before the list of names, it says, "PETITION TO REINSTATE PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:".

Wuh?! The email starts out saying it's in direct response to the petition to the FCC to ban religious programming on public airwaves. Prayer in public school may be a related topic, but it has nothing to do with the FCC. The body of the email discusses one topic, but then someone seems to have just tacked on a petition for a different topic at the bottom.

Fact checking and the internet

Despite all this, it’s easy to see why people would read the email and assume it was legitimate; most people accept what they hear from people they tend to agree with. (More on this below.)

But, if someone were suspicious, how could they go about checking whether it was true or not?

At this point we're in luck, because the one part of the email that is accurate is the fcc case number in question. When I first receive this email, I went to fcc.gov and typed "2493" into the search box there. If you do that, the first result is a link, titled Religious Broadcast Rumor Denied, that explains the hoax. There also are other ways to research the claim:

  • If you google "Madalyn Murray O'Hair fcc" (without quotes), the second link explains the hoax.

  • If you go to Madalyn Murray O'Hair's wikipedia page, the bottom of the entry explains the hoax.

  • If you google "Madeline Murray O'Hare" (the incorrect spelling found in the email), the top five links all explain the hoax.

  • Snopes.com (the urban legends site) has a page on this hoax, which you can find by typing "O'Hair" into their search box.


If you made it to the FCC explanation page (or to an older page with more information at this link), you would find that two guys named Lansman and Milam filed a petition in 1974 to prevent sectarian groups from using a couple of public access stations (which no one watches anyway), and the FCC turned them down in 1975. Turns out their request was unconstituational.

But what you really ought to know is that the FCC, since that time, has received millions of phone calls, form letters, and (more recently) emails from Christians opposing this supposed conspiracy. That means people were typing up chain letters, sticking 10-cent stamps on them, and dropping them in the mail to the FCC before I was born. That's 33 years of Christians mobilizing in response to a form letter written by a crackpot.

What does it mean?

I think I’ve demonstrated that it’s not difficult for someone to check up on this kind of forward if they have questions about it.

That means that most people who forwarded this email must have assumed it was trustworthy enough that they had no need to check its facts. Moreover, it suggests that when we are presented with a position that we already agree with, we tend to accept uncritically what we’re told; in these kinds of cases we often don’t bother checking up on the facts.

I'm sure there have also been thousands of Christians who have seen this email, assumed it was a hoax, and deleted it. However, there’s good reason to think that those people (along with myself) hear lots of other ideas about religion or politics, in the course of our lives, that we accept uncritically. Personally, I disagree with the viewpoint of this email, and never would have forwarded it, so I can’t claim any real virtue for having tried to debunk it.

What seems to be the case is that many, many people (in this case Christians) will agree to just about anything, as long as they think it's supported by people they generally agree with. As long as something is an ostensibly (conservative) “Christian” cause, all you have to do is show people where to sign.

My first thought was that this makes Christians look bad, which I'm sure it does.

But on further reflection, the potential consequences are a lot more serious, especially considering that Christian America often directs its efforts toward wielding real political power rather than passing around ineffective petitions. My question, then, is this: In what other areas are Christians liable to join a cause without considering its real implications? Some suggestions:

Evolution: Do most Christians really know anything beyond the basics of evolution (or creationism, for that matter) when they vote for new textbooks?

Abortion: Do most Christians know which groups of people have abortions and why?

Homosexuality: When the question comes up concerning whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children, do most Christians actually know anything about gay couples, or do they just assume they're all twisted child-molestors who don't deserve such a right?

War: If our president sounds Christian (like the fcc email sounds Christian), how many Christians will just assume that he's supporting a “Christian” cause and go along with it?

I know people can make arguments in favor of the supposed “Christian” stances on all these points. Furthermore, the questions can be flipped around. As someone who grew up in Texas but lives in the Northeast, I have often witnessed blue state folks dismissing the views of conservative Christians as if they are not only wrong but absurd. It’s easy to find, among supposed proponents of free thought, examples of the same kinds of suspicion and disrespect we see reflected in the email forward I’m addressing.

Is it any wonder that our political language is so divisive and that we rely on political might (i.e. getting a majority of the vote) to change policy rather than focusing our efforts on persuading people who disagree with us? I don’t want to trust people to make policy decisions if they support pretty much any initiative that sounds like something they agree with. And yet this seems to be how people work.

God help us.

21 comments:

anonymoose said...

It may be true that the vast majority of Christians don't think. However, I would argue that the vast majority of people in general don't think. I agree it is very sad. But which is worse: giving into things that sound Christian but aren't smart, or giving into to things that sound smart but aren't Christian?

scoots said...

That's a good point, but I don't think the Dobson email is smart or Christian.

This is the difficulty with the way people read the Bible (see my last post). I am fully in support of starting with the Bible for doing theology. But any reading of Scripture that doesn't also take into account the complexity of the world around us is not, in my opinion, a valid reading of Scripture.

Too many things that sound like the right thing to do are actually harmful to others. You can give $20 to a guy on the street to be nice, but if he goes and buys crack with it, you have to take some of the responsiblity. Parents can give their kids lots of nice things because it seems caring, but if it results in a generation of people who can't function if they don't get their own way, then the supposed virtue is kind of lost. And if your preacher tells you that God hates gay people and you should too, that doesn't make that right either.

If Christians were making fools of themselves trying to raise money for a scam artist pretending to need surgery, that would be one thing. But the Dobson email reflects a more troubling problem of a common conservative Christian mindset. We read about persecution in the Bible, so we assume that every time the world disagrees with us, it's the world out to get us. We forget that the removal of prayer from public school is intended to defend freedom of religion, not attack it. If people take it too far (say, prohibiting kids from reading the Bible during homeroom), then deal with that as it comes up –– but don't overreact and go militant in response.

Next thing you know, you're circling the wagons and assuming every issue amounts to Christians being persecuted by the world. That leads people to assume (1) the world never does anything right, and (2) Christians never do anything wrong.

I'm stereotyping, of course, but the mindset is real. It's why, in an age when Newsweek runs cover stories about Jesus 3 times a year and the Purpose Driven™ Life is the best-selling hardback book in American history (25 million copies!), Christians can still think someone is going to remove all talk of God from public airwaves.

Ryan B said...

I have to admit that I am tired of, and a little embarrassed by, recieving these e-mails in my inbox. Despite the fact that it's ridiculous to think that a petition like this would work through e-mail, why do we Christians still hold to the idea that American culture and government will cater to Christian values and beliefs? Even if the governemnt did outlaw speaking about God/Christ in the media, should we really be upset about it? Do we really think putting prayer back in schools and airing Touched By An Angel will make America more Christian? And, should it surprise us anymore that Christian language and morals aren't wanted in mainstream American culture?

I guess I am tired of e-mails like this and others I've recieved recently that reflect the belief by many Christians that America is a country mostly defined by a commitment to the Christian religion.

On a similar note, I'm also disturbed by the recent e-mails that I've recieved from Christian friends that reflect very questionable political views concerning immigration. Here's a few lines from a recent e-mail about immigration in Australia and America:

"This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and
we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this.
But once you are done complaining, whining, and
griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian
beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you
take advantage of one other great Australian freedom,

'THE RIGHT TO LEAVE'."

"If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force
you to come here. You asked to be here So accept the
country YOU accepted."

Maybe if we circulate this amongst ourselves, American
citizens will find the backbone to start speaking and
voicing the same truths!

This could apply to all of our Immigrants' both Legal
and illegal

If you agree, please SEND THIS TO EVERYBODY YOU KNOW!

Busboy said...

I think anonymoose is correct: the failure to think critically is a failure among all of us, and not merely Christians. Re: this failure among Christians, my younger son has a T-shirt with the logo (or prayer, if you will) "Lord, please protect me from Your followers."

scoots said...

Yeah, I have a good friend that's a conservative Christian who makes the point that most people who believe in evolution have never thought critically about it either. While I personally think evolution happened (though I've only studied a little bit about it here and there), I think my friend is right: most people take whatever science says as a matter of fact, even when in reality it depends on lots of interpretation and inference, as does macroevolution.

Another friend of mine sent me an email in response to this post, in which he said that his Ph.D. friends in New Jersey will believe any story about George W. Bush, as long as it makes hiim sound like an idiot. (As it turns out, he never actually claimed that the French lack a word for entrepreneuer.)

Most of us, I suspect, don't really like nuanced understandings of things because it's so much more enjoyable to praise our friends and bash our opponents and not really have our assumptions challenged. Clearly, that's just part of the human condition.

Along the lines of that t-shirt, I saw a book last year called When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, which is actually from a conservative Christian press, but which takes up the question of why Christians so often fail to practice what they claim to believe.

In the end, I don't mean for my post to imply that thinking is the antidote to sin, but I do believe that not thinking, when we're able to, is a manifestation of sin.

JKnott said...

Scott,

I don't think the problem is failure to think, at least not the primary problem. As C.S. Lewis would put it, the problem is with the wrong "stock responses." Someone like you or me who gets that email is predisposed not to believe it. In a complicated and increasingly more complicated world, nobody has time to check and double check everything. We shouldn't expect people to. But the problem arises when people live in a manichean (sp?) world where you can trust some people and/or sources completely and all others are to be mistrusted absolutely. You see this all the time in Creationist literature.

Busboy,
I hate that saying. It could be saved, however, with a simple addition of quotation marks:

"Lord, protect me from your 'followers.'"

micah said...

Does anyone think it is funny that I just found out one of my Christian friends skipped church on Sunday to study for a test on evolution?

Kevin said...

This kind of email is an attempt to re-enforce tribal identity, (no offense to any legit historical tribe.)

If you know what group you fit in, then then you no longer have to think. Your surroundings provide all the comfort you need.

One polical action group email that I got yesterday referred to everyone who didn't support a particular resolution that they were pushing as "racist." Without evaluating the justification of the claim, my first impression was that the intention was not to move forward a particular platform, but rather to define a niche political party. This indeed happened to be the case and they are called "Party Led Ballot Questions." These can be used in situations where a marginal political party wants to gain traction against a dominating party.

Those who forward the emails to the FCC imagine themselves to be in the minority, and this has scary implications, considering the political power that Christianists enjoy.

ksw

Busboy said...

Re: Busboy,I hate that saying. It could be saved, however, with a simple addition of quotation marks:

"Lord, protect me from your 'followers.'"

jknott: point well made and understood. I believe this is Scoot’s point as well.

ConcernedEngineer said...

I agree that way too many people (Christian and non-Christian) don't think.

I agree that people shouldn't be quick to agree with something that sounds Christian. Neither should they necessarily disagree with something that sounds unChristian.

We must love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Having said all that, scoots, I have to challenge you. As I do, I intend to challenge you at the presuppositional level.

Who is your ultimate authority? You? God? The government? The masses? The European Union?

When you start discussing prayer and Scripture in the public schools, it comes down to a question of right, a question of rights, and a question of authority.

The truth is that Christ is Lord of ALL. The whole earth is the Lord's. He made all of it.

No where in the Bible do we see any of the prophets, apostles, or Jesus Christ contending for political freedom of religion. In Acts 4, the apostles were chastised for obeying the Lord's command to preach the gospel to the whole world. In response, they said, "We must obey God and not man!" Later, the believers all prayed togetether. They didn't pray for favor with the authorities. They didn't pray for religious liberty. They didn't pray for peace. Rather they acknowledged the Sovereignty of God, requested that God take note of the threats of the earthly authorities, and asked God to enable His servants to speak His word. And the place where they prayed was shaken, and the disciples went forth declaring the Word of God boldly.

The antithesis between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of our God is real. Where Christ is not acknowledged, honored, respected, and worshipped, Christ is dishonored. There is no neutral ground.

The whole notion of freedom of religion depends on there being neutral ground. But there is none. If Christ is not preached, then other ideas are preached. In the public schools, the ideas that are preached are secular humanism. Secular humanism is antithetical with Biblical Christianity. Secular humanism is a damnable idolatrous ideology full of philosophical contradictions.

So, your position is that prayer and the teaching of Scripture do not belong in public school. Again, I ask you: Who is your ultimate authority? Did God tell you that He does not want to be honored in the public schools? Do you have Scripture to back up the idea that Scripture is only "religious" truth and that it has no place in education?

In the 2nd Psalm, we see that the nations are raging against the Annointed One (the Ultimate Authority). They say, "Let us throw off the fetters."

The world is in rebellion against the Ultimate Authority of God.

What is God's response? He's not worried about it. He scoffs at the rebellious and then rebukes them in anger and terrifies them in wrath.

If you belong to Jesus Christ, then you must belong to Jesus Christ fully. He is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. And the truth is that He is Lord of all.

And He has given authority to His people to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, establish justice, feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the least and the helpless. All in His Name and for His glory. It is not a humble thing to refuse to assert authority. It is not necessarily humble to assert authority. We must humbly assert authority. We do this not for money, power, prestige, or to satisfy a perverted desire to be obeyed. Rather we are to assert authority out of love for God, love for people, love for justice, love for mercy, and hatred of all perversion and evil - all of which is made clear to us through God's Word and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In the end, the big sins of the modern church is our apathy and our contentment to just live comfortable, non-controversial lives. But when Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on the donkey 5 days before Passover, He came in authority - Ultimate Authority. He essentially came commanding the people to repent and bear fruit. Instead of humbly submitting to the Ultimate Authority of the Universe, the people challenged His authority. They assumed authority that they did not have, and after a mockery of a trial, they crucified the Lord.

The Lamb of God was slain for your sins and for mine on the Passover.

As we approach Good Friday, I encourage you to consider the claims of Christ and the calling of Christ. And then humbly obey the only Sovereign Lord.

Blessings.

scoots said...

I think where I differ from you, concernedengineer, is the time frame in which Jesus is Lord of all and how that authority is applied in our world.

In once sense, of course, Jesus is already Lord of all. But in another, very important, sense, he is not exerting his authority. Instead he allows people to remain slaves to sin and allows evil forces in the world to harm God’s creation.

Now, for students in public school who want to gather and pray together, I think I would agree with you that they should be able to. When they do so, they are indeed experiencing Jesus’ presence as Lord. And I would even support those students defying school authorities who told them they couldn’t pray.

But the prayer in public school that I’m talking about is the kind that is led for the whole school, both for those who wish to participate and for those who do not. I don’t think that a prayer being led by, say, a principle of a public school at a school-wide assembly is the same thing as Christ being Lord of that school.

Christ most likely is Lord of that principal, and he’s Lord of the students who pray along in their hearts. But for the other people present, he is no more Lord during the prayer than he already would have been if the prayer weren’t being prayed.

In Scripture, I’m not sure I know of a place where Christians prayed and forced non-Christians to participate. Even when they preached the gospel in a public place, those who didn’t want to listen could leave. Paul preached in synagogues, but when they rejected his message, he left and went elsewhere.

Prayer in public schools is different than all this, because the audience is more or less captive and because the forum is not religious. Christians can still live sacred lives in as profane setting, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to initiate worship services there. As I understand it, the mission of the church is to persuade, not coerce. I think this idea lies behind Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 5:12: “What have I to do with judging those outside [the church]? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?”

Later, Christ will return and be fully Lord of all. For now, however, he leaves the question of lordship up to each person. Our task is to persuade each person respectfully, not pray whether they like it or not to force the issue.

ConcernedEngineer said...

"But in another, very important, sense, he is not exerting his authority. Instead he allows people to remain slaves to sin and allows evil forces in the world to harm God’s creation."

Do you or do you not recognize this as God expressing His wrath?

It is my position (and I believe it is the position of Scripture and thus God) that when God lets people go their own way, He is giving them over to their own sinful desires. This is the wrath of God.

When God confronts us and disciplines us, it is proper for us to recognize that discipline as a kindness. It is the grace and mercy of God to be disciplined.

You seem to be - like many othe Americans - trying to marry American-ism - if you will - with Christianity. But Jesus is not American. He does assert His authority all the time, and the people rebel against Him. And as I said, it is bad news when He stops asserting His authority. The wise man prays, "God don't give me over to my own evil desires." The wise man knows the depravity of which he is capable, and thus prays accordingly. The wise man loves being chastised by the Lord - even when he doesn't like it.

The fact that many people think that God is not asserting His authority simply shows that many people have a wrong view of God. God is merciful and He is not willing that any should perish. So, more often than not, He does assert His authority. Giving someone over to their evil desires is what happens when finally, our patient God has had enough. Since He is patient and merciful, more often than not, He is chastising people. People just don't recognize it for all kinds of reasons: hardness of heart, distractions of the world, preoccupied with sin, etc. But in the Psalms, we have the truth revealed to us. God mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble. God is scoffing the rebellious. He ridicules them, because their pride and rebellion is ridiculous. That which is ridiculous deserves to be ridiculed. Mocking God is ridiculous; thus God mocks proud mockers.

The appropriate response to being mocked by God is for the person to humble himself before God and repent, for He gives grace to the humble.

You seem to be saying that forcing children into some external form of righteousness is for some reason undesirable. While it is not ideal, it is in no way undesirable. Extrapolating on your logic, you would have no desire for any law whatsoever. After all, law by our very nature, is an imposition on our "freedom to choose." Likewise, in any classroom, a teacher has rules and standards of conduct. This is forcing people to behave or receive the consequences. This is the whole purpose of government. See Romans 13. The governing authority (in the classroom, that would be the teacher) is an agent of God's justice who has been annointed by God to establish His justice. In the classroom, that means that the teacher pushes the lines of structure. He has authority to create an atmosphere in the classroom where God is honored and children can learn wisdom. A good teacher is careful and consistent to discipline the students. Furthermore, a great teacher does not merely focus on the external behavior (though he certainly does do that), but he addresses the issues of the heart. He shepherd the heart of children.

I used to teach, and I was at best, a mediocre teacher. When I had classroom discipline issues, I would enforce the rules, but I had tons of great conversations with students about Jesus. And I saw lives changed.

Now I don't presume that you think that teachers shouldn't have any rules, nor do I presume that your idea of a good teacher is one who is legalistic about rules while ignoring the personhood of his students. Perhaps I am wrong on both accounts. Let me know if I am.

Philosophically, theologically, on what shoud these rules/standards be based?

See, it is not a question of whether or not teachers will pass on values to the next generation, but rather which values will be passed on? In our culture, the values being passed on to the next generation in the public school classroom is this: God, if He exists at all, is irrelevant to education and government. This is being taught by default. For, to spend hours and hours and hours with students every day and fail to teach that God is real and relevant is to teach by default that He is irrelevant. Similarly, to fail to teach students that racism is unacceptable is to teach students that racism is acceptable.

Also, taking your logic to the limit, if the gospel is not to be preached in public schools, then why should children be taught to condemn racism? After all, that is pretty intolerant of racists. But then again, what's wrong with intolerance? If God is not real or relevant, then who is the teacher to tell me to be tolerant, to celebrate diversity, or anything else? Then again, just as there is no reason to be against intolerance, there is not reason to be intolerant either.

See, when you take God out of the equation, everything falls apart, and it all becomes completely arbitrary.

And still, the nations rage. Psalm 2 happens every day. Students are taught to value the American ideas of freedom and democracy above all else. They are also taught that women have the right to choose (to murder their babies), that homosexuality is a cool alternative lifestyle, that the love of money is perfectly acceptable - even virtuous, and that if you have trouble with learning, the answer is not to be more disciplined, but to get drugged up on Ritalin.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where God is not honored, God is dishonored. If God is not the shepherd, then people created in God's image are going to be extremely needy. It is no wonder that our culture is so screwed up on pharmaceutical drugs.

Blessings.

ConcernedEngineer said...

If Jesus was the teacher of a public school classroom, what do you think that would look like? I think He would be quickly chastised and fired for hurting the "self-esteem" of His students. However, many would love Him.

As it is, the Holy Spirit is actively engaging people (students, teachers, principals, school boards, parents) who put such a high value on public education. Some people are responding to the Holy Spirit with wisdom and obedience while others are rebelling/ignoring the Holy Spirit.

And then politicians step in and do their thing.

And the nations continue to rage.

In your view, how does the Holy Spirit interact with all the participants in public education?

Has He completely given them over to their rebellious ways?

Is He engaging people?

Does He check with the Constitution before He interacts with people?

Likewise, how do you relate to the Holy Spirit?

Do you compare what the Holy Spirit teaches you and commands you with what the secular authorities teach and command?

Are you more committed to pleasing the Spirit of God (the Sovereign Despot) or to pleasing the despotic secular state?

(by the way... God is a Sovereign Despot - check out the Greek of "Sovereign LORD" that is used in Acts 4)

ConcernedEngineer said...

Scoots,

In the final analysis, I guess I would encourage you to really love people the way God has commanded you. When you really love people (and not just have a nice friendly attitude toward people, but if you are actually committed to helping people in their lives), you will find that to love people is to challenge people. To fail to challenge people is to treat people with contempt and hopelessness.

Tell me: What do you think is the big difference between a good shepherd and a politician?

As it is, there is a great divide in our nation between the parents who love their children and the parents who treat their children with contempt.

May God arise; may His enemies be scattered.

scoots said...

concernedengineer wrote: Where Christ is not acknowledged, honored, respected, and worshipped, Christ is dishonored. There is no neutral ground.

There’s no way I can take up all the issues you raise, but I think this might be the point where we most fundamentally disagree. Not that I totally reject the statement, but I can’t agree to the way you apply it.

The problem with declaring that there is no neutral ground is that I have yet to find a good way to mark the dividing line between good and evil. I understand that there are good (and even clear) biblical reasons for saying there is a line, but then the more carefully I study Scripture, the more I see lines of disagreement within Scripture itself.

To take a fairly trivial case, when I read that 2(?) Samuel says God incited David against Israel, and Chronicles says that Satan did it, it’s clear to me that the later author re-told the story and intentionally re-interpreted the earlier because it was unacceptable for God to have incited David to something that he then punished him for. I know someone can claim that God and Satan both had a role, so there’s no technical contradiction between the two, but from my perspective that’s just a loophole. I don’t know why God would let people write the Bible with contradictions, but it sure seems like they did.

The same thing happens in the Gospels, when you can literally see in places how Luke looked at Mark, disagreed with some claim he was making, and changed the passage to say something different. For what it’s worth, my basic approach to studying scripture is here, and I raise some critical issues in Matthew here.

Even if it were the case that Scripture is consistent, we’d still have the problem that every Christian group I have ever encountered has serious problems in living up to what I believe we’re called to. I think most churches are sold out to politics, whether conservative or liberal, and I think people consistently read the Bible out of context and come to wrong conclusions. The thought that people would use their political power to legislate those conclusions for everyone frightens me.

I’ve tried the route of saying, “truth is whatever is revealed in Scripture”; however, not only do I see contradictory ideas within Scripture (as I mentioned), but also I’ve consistently witnessed disagreements on significant issues between sincere people who read the Bible and want to do exactly what it says. If I don’t trust other people’s sincere conclusions about God to be enforced on others, I’m not sure why I should trust my own. No offense, but I wouldn’t necessarily want you teaching your views to my kids (though I don’t have any) in public schools, and I seriously doubt you would want me teaching your kids mine. In a public school, I’d figure in any given class there are at least 3 or 4 wildly different worldviews that different parents of students would prefer to be taught.

So how do we decide it? Does whoever has the most votes get their way, and get to decide what truth is that day?

A better solution, it seems to me, is to acknowledge that there is truth about God (I’m not a pluralist, as I try to defend here), but that we apparently cannot finally agree on what it is. That doesn’t mean we hold our own convictions within the church any less strongly, but it does mean we hesitate to force them on others. I’m not saying this is ideal, just that I haven’t witnessed another approach that’s better.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Scoots,

You raise many important issues, and I understand and appreciate your frustrations and concerns.

Without getting into a big discussion about it at this present time, I will simply say that I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. When properly read and interpreted, Scripture is consistent. Where we come to apparent contradictions, we must ask God for wisdom and revelation, we must evaluate our hearts and our lives, and we must repent of our sins. Truth (whatever that may be on any given subject) is absolute. If we are confused, then the problem is with us, not with God.

The problem is that the big doctrine that everyone is pressuring everyone else to accept is the idea that doctrines should not be forcefully advanced. But observe: this is a contradiction. To be intolerant of intolerance is to be intolerant. This is self-defeating. In practical terms, it comes down to politically correct BS.

And in most cases, the truth is very plain. We are to love one another. We are to be kind. We are to give charitably. We are to respect just authoritities. etc etc.

In general, a student will become like his teacher. So, it is not a question of whether or not teachers should mold students or pressure students to respect certain values, but rather how will the teacher be molding students. Which values will the the teacher be pressuring students to respect? As it is, teachers pressure students not to pressure people with "personal convictions." Politically correct BS. Philosophical contradiction.

You are right that churches are sold out to politics. Churches are often just as committed to the politically correct BS (PCBS) as the world is. The difference between the visible church and the world is merely language - not lifestyle.

But the point is that the answer/solution is not to find some loophole/rhetoric that everyone can seem to live with (such as the language of "freedom of choice"). Without Christ, we are totally depraved. We are faced with a huge problem. The solution to the problem is not down here "under the Sun." No human solution (humanism) will do. No secular philosophy will do. We need a Savior.

One of the big objections that people have to my arguments is that human beings get in the way and screw everything up. Touche. This is true. But this actually strengthens my stance. Human beings are the problem. God is the solution. Thus, we are totally dependent on God. We can not depend on ourselves. We certainly can't depend on the government or the masses. Both are often sinful and stupid. And we can't expect that if we just adjust our rhetoric, then everything will be cool. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.

And so, let us cry out to our blessed Savior - on whose shoulders the government shall rest.

And as we do, let us not pray for "religious liberty." For Scripture never teaches us to pray this way. But let us pray, "Let thy Kingdom come and thy will be done." Let us pray the Psalms - including the imprecatory Psalms.

Let God arise, and His enemies be scattered.

Colossians 2:8 - "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

1 Corinthians 1:18 - "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love."

Galatians 6:14 - "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

One other thing: As for something being of God and of the devil at the same time, I chalk that up to the Sovereignty of God. For instance, Job suffered due to the torment of the devil. But God is Sovereign. Ultimately then, Job suffered by the hand of God. Job recognized and acknowledged this. Likewise, sinful men under the domain of the prince of this world (Satan) had Jesus put to death on the cross, but it was the Father's will for this to happen, so that by this sacrifice, we could have atonement. Praise God.

Peace and blessings to you.

ConcernedEngineer said...

How in the world people can pray the Lord's prayer in one breath, and in the next breath, argue for the gospel not to be preached in the public school classroom baffles me. To be consistent, they should pray, "Let thy Kingdom come on earth - but not in the public school classrooms - as it is in heaven. Let thy will be done on earth - but not in the public school classrooms - as it is in heaven." This would at least be more consistent and honest.

As it is, people pray for God's kingdom to come, but then argue for complete separation between church and state, and then wonder how God could allow things like the Holocaust to happen. Hello? Isn't it just like sinful men to say to God, "Stay out of this part of our lives."? Isn't it just like sinful men to blame God when we then reap the consequences of our rebellion?

ConcernedEngineer said...

http://credenda.org/issues/18-3thema.php

"Conflict in the church—where does it come from? One of the things we need to learn how to do, whenever questions like this arise, is turn instinctively, immediately, to Scripture. If we want to know where conflict in our midst comes from, we should ask ourselves if the Bible ever raises the issue, and, if it does, what the answer is."

I quoted the first paragraph of this essay, because I think it is a crucial point for us. Do we believe in ourselves, or do we believe in the God of the Bible? If we believe in ourselves, then we will resort to "human wisdom" (secular humanism) to try to work out our conflicts. If we believe in the God of the Bible, then we will turn to Him in prayer and to the Bible to seek out the answers.

The way we handle conflict and disagreement is just as important - if not more important - than the final outcome of our conflit and disagreement. As you can see, I'm arguing at the presuppositional level - asserting that the way we are to resolve this conflict is by submitting to the God of the Bible. If you agree with me on that point then by default I "win" our little debate. (not that this is about winning, but it is about seeking truth and doing what is right and just - etc). But note that we are debating whether or not it is proper for us as a culture to submit to the God of the Bible in the public school classroom or not (and preaching that submission). And note what I am doing. I am asserting that in order to resolve our conflict, we must first submit ourselves to the God of the Bible.

In other words, I am essentially saying that in order to resolve our conflict, you must agree with me. At least, you must agree with my most basic presuppostions. I hope this doesn't come across as arrogant.

But anyhow, if at the presuppostional level, we don't agree, then Biblically speaking, we are enemies. That doesn't mean I hate you. Far from it. It means that I will continue to practice charity and kindness and respect toward you - praying for you in the hope that you will soon agree with my most fundamental presuppositions. I'm all about befriending enemies.

And in truth, I don't know that we even disagree about our most fundamental presuppositions (henceforth - MFP).

ConcernedEngineer said...

And now, in submission to Scripture, I need to stop blogging and do some work today. Hope you have a great day. It has been fun bantering with you.

BTW, I grew up in MA. Went to high school in Groton. You are certainly studying at a very liberal school in a very liberal region. If you actually buy into my arguments, more than a few people will start looking at you as if you grew a few extra heads or something.

scoots said...

Thanks for all your comments, Dan. I should spend less time blogging as well. Presumably, the most fundamental presupposition we share is that God has given us the Bible.

However, I do think there is a huge problem with saying we’ll see eye to eye if we both submit to Scripture: I believe that I am reading Scripture for what it is (a complex, multi-voiced and sometimes contradictory document that is nevertheless inspired by God), and that those who insist on inerrancy are taking Scripture for what they want it to be (an inerrant work of theology with no contradictions). To me, that looks an awful lot like I’m submitting to the Word of God as God has given it to the church, and that inerrantists are telling God what God is and isn’t allowed to include in Scripture.

I can’t prove that, but then neither can I really change my viewpoint to match yours. We both feel we are reading Scripture the way God intended for it to be read.

I think I should point out, though, that I didn’t start reading Scripture the way I do because the secular humanists told me to. I started out reading Scripture like you do, as if it were inerrant. But the more I looked at it, the more impossible that Doctrine became for me to reconcile with what was actually in Scripture. Efforts to smooth things over just look like dishonesty to me now. And they certain look that way to many of my friends, who felt lied to by the church once they were old enough to recognize the problems Scripture presents. Honestly, this blog is more or less my effort to persuade some of those folks that the Bible is still the word of God despite its problems and contradictions.

Ultimately, here’s where I don’t see us finding common ground: because I think God wants us to imbrace and ponder the contradictions, reading Scripture as inerrant and totally consistent appears to me to be (ironically) a distortion of the Word of God. I’m really not sure how we could get past that point.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Scoots,

Well, going further back in our presuppositions, we agree (I think) that God is. Now, the question becomes this: How do our views of God differ?

But before we get there, can we agree that God (whoever He is) is the Ultimate Authority? That is, are you committed to submitting to His will as He reveals Himself to you? Or do you compare what you perceive His will is with some other standard?

The point here is this: Regarding public education, if God is Ultimate Authority, then what He says goes. We must seek to obey Him. This will present us with all kinds of practical problems; let us cross those bridges as we come to them. When it comes to public eduation, can you say Amen to this? "Let your kingdom come and let your will be done in the classroom and in the hearts and lives of students, teachers, parents, principals, and school boards on earth as it is in heaven." We can debate what the will of God might or might not be, but can we agree that whatever God's will is, we ought to be praying for that to happen?

Essentially, I'm asking you this: If you pray for "religious liberty to be protected" or for "freedom of choice to be protected" are you praying in accordance with God's will or not? How do you know? Does it matter?

Once we agree on this, then we can start arguing about the specific will of God, the veracity of Scripture, etc. And eventually, we might get to a debate about strategy. But at the moment, that seems a long way away.

When you get around to it, I would like to get a response from you about how you think the Holy Spirit is interacting (or not) with the all the people involved in public education. I'd also like to get a response from you about my supposition that the wrath of God is expressed when God gives us over to our own desires. Esssentially, when you get to it (and I respect your time), I'd like you to respond to my arguments point by point. No hurry on that.

Finally, one thought about secular humanism. I don't think that people are so much "brainwashed" by secular humanists - as if there is some kind of "secular humanist illuminati" that is conditioning us all to think along certain lines. It is much more subtle than that. Secularism is any idea that suggests (many times by default) that God is irrelevant if He is real at all. Humanism is any human argument that asserts that man is his own final authority - that he gives himself meaning - that he is capable of (fill in the blank) on his own a part from His Creator.

And so, in truth, secular humanism is nothing new. It started way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

In other words, we are not taught to sin. Rather, we are sinners in nature and in practice. By nature, without Christ, we think like those who are objects of wrath, for without Christ, we are, by nature, objects of wrath.

Romans 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, in view of God's mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices - holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will."

If we want discernment concerning the Word of God, it must start not by reading the philosophers, but by worshipping God - recognizing that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.

In other words, we are not merely homo sapiens, but homo adoranus (sp?). We are not meant only to think, but to worship. It is only in the context of worshipping our Creator properly that we have the ability to think straight. All thinking that is not done as an act of worship to God is depraved in nature. To think without worshipping is to rebel against God. And if we don't repent for this depravity, we will be given over to it (Romans 1).

This does not mean that we worship God mindlessly. We are not Buddhists. We are Christians (I hope). God wants us to love Him with all our minds. To meditate on God is not to empty our minds, but to fill our minds and to exercise our minds. He gives us wisdom and gets the synapses firing so we can think well and think clearly as we discern what is and is not in line with His will.

Peace and blessings. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my posts thoughtfully and courteously. That's already much more than I can say for many other people.