An Article to Irritate Democrats

One of my character flaws is that I seem to enjoy annoying people.  I sometimes dance around the house, even though I don’t actually like dancing. Why would I do that, you ask?  Simple: It really gets on my daughter’s nerves.  [Editor’s note: His daughter is being reasonable. The editorial staff at the Apologetic Professor recently unearthed a VHS tape with definitive proof of the alarming fact that Luke was once in a dancing and singing show choir.  We kid you not – this guy danced and sang on video camera!  It was horrible.  It was like watching Angela Lansbury try to imitate a squid.  It actually gave us nightmares.]  Anywho, the best thing you can say about that trait is that I am an “equal opportunity” irritator – I seem to like irritating pretty much everyone.  Kind of like the writers on SNL, but without the wit and unnecessary lewdness.

Last week I intentionally irritated Republicans.  Next up on blog-destroying Irritation Month Programming is an attack on Democratic politics.  In particular, I think my Democrat friends might be interested to learn that:

(1)  The Bible clearly states, and more generally implies, that you should not get to eat if you do not work.  In other words, the rules designed to help poor people are explicitly opposed to helping them if they are not willing to do their part (2 Thessalonians 3:10-14).  To put a fine point on it, the Bible implies that it would be better for people to be rejected and learn a moral lesson than it would be for them to be given food as an entitlement.

(2)  Indeed, the Bible would oppose anything like an “entitlement.”  Really, far from trying to stir up dissent in the fine union-esque manner, the Bible instead encourages people to be content with what they have (Hebrew 13:5), and to submit to their fate even in shockingly bad circumstances (e.g., 1 Peter 2:18).  It consistently encourages a spirit of gratitude on just about every page (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Gratitude makes people happy; feeling entitled makes people unhappy.  The sense of collective action that is so important to liberals historically finds very little to support it in the Bible, and much to oppose it.

(3)  The Bible is pretty radically opposed to anything that smacks of self-indulgent laziness, lust, and the like (Matthew 5:27-30).  The Bible talks a lot about holiness and takes adultery and marriage shockingly seriously – like death (e.g., Matthew 5:27-32). Things like pornography, lewdness, and loose attitudes towards monogamy and sexual relations – things that that Democrats are more prone to support – will find essentially no quarter given to them in the Bible.

(4)  When democrats speak of “human rights,” the Bible has little to say to them.  For example, there is leftist talk of some kind of “right to a good job.”  What?  Christianity simply laughs at this.  The…right…to a good job?  Even if you don’t work for it?  Even if you sit and home and play video games?  Really.  (See 2 Thessalonians 3:10-14 and about half of the book of Proverbs, e.g., 21:25). But more broadly, Christianity teaches throughout that we really have no rights.  There is a sense in which everything good is a gift…yes.  One of our gifts is freedom.  But there is literally nothing we are owed (for a representative sample, see my least favorite chapter in the Bible – Romans chapter 9).

I could go on – I could literally do this all day, annoying both sides with my annoying banter that so deeply annoys.  But rather, I think I’ll finish by pointing out that the main problem with both sides is that they think they are totally right.  And next week, I’m going to add one additional post to ensure that exactly everyone is completely annoyed with me.

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An Article to Irritate Republicans

Despite the fact that I warned you my next two posts would be intentionally irritating, I’d guess that some of you thought I was just being hyperbolic.  Wrong!

In case you missed it, I’m the idiot who decided to ruin his blog by talking about religion and politics.  If you want to see some reasonable thoughts on the subject, try my last post.  This post and next, I’m going beyond reasonable to offer intentionally-irritating opinions about how we might translate the Bible into a political program.  I’m going to start by irritating Republicans because that’s the least stereotypical thing to do.  But don’t worry – next week I’m going to irritate Democrats.  Stay tuned!  Let’s jump right in.

I think my Republican friends might be surprised to learn that:

(1)  Capitalism? Invisible hand?  I think not.  With apologies to Adam Smith, Jesus talked a whole lot against the pursuit of material wealth.  In fact, he never said a single recorded word against gay people, but said quite a load against rich people (e.g., Matthew 19:16-30), greed (e.g., Matthew 6:25-34), and money (e.g., Matthew 6:24).  In other words, it’s not really particularly Christian to be in favor of capitalism as such (and that is why many major Christian groups, such as Catholics, have historically opposed capitalism).  Jesus also had a lot of bad stuff to say about the conservative religious establishment which might apply today, but I digress.  (It’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one, to say that the only people Jesus really directly attacked vigorously during his time on earth were the self-righteous religious establishment who seemed more interested in pointing figures and making money than in loving people.  Does this ring any bells to anyone besides me?)

(2)  Republicans might be alarmed at the fact that the main creed in the uber-liberal Communist Manifesto – “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” – is almost taken word-for-word from the Bible (the New Testament, no less!  Right in the book of Acts):

All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 2:44-45).

No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…there were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need (Acts 4:32-25).

(3)  One of the primary ways that God judges societies in the Bible is by whether or not they take care of the poor and less fortunate (see, e.g., Isaiah 1:7-26; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Exodus 22:22).  It’s not by whether they believe in gun ownership or oppose gay marriage.

(4)  Republicans might also be quite taken aback if they actually fully read the only legal system that God is recorded as having given in the Bible – in the Old Testament.  For example, it might surprise them to find that rich people are often required to allow poor people to take grain, grapes, and olives from them (Exodus 23:10-11) and that a large part of taxes were specifically set aside for the less fortunate (Deuteronomy 14:29). It might similarly surprise them to know that every seventh year, rich people were required to forgive the debt poor people had acquired (Deuteronomy 15:1-6).

Now I’m not saying, for the record, that we should design our legal system around theirs – there are a lot of seemingly-arbitrary (e.g., things about burying one’s dung at night) and super-difficult (e.g., making allowances for slavery) things in that system, and many of those things seem not-so-good to me.  The New Testament directly contradicts some of those things.  My point is rather that, if we are going to read messages from the Bible at all, one of the clearest political themes in the Bible seems to me to be a pro-poor and anti-rich theme, one that explicitly includes commands of rich people to give their stuff to poor people.  Jesus’ own teachings ring loud and clear with that message – and the legal system discussed in the Old Testament includes that theme, too.

In other words, there is a lot in the Bible that is consistent with a liberal agenda focused on helping poor people by (gasp!) re-distributing income in a very, very Un-American sort of way.

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The Relationship Between Religion and Politics

I know pufferfish look cute and all.  I’ve seen Finding Nemo.  I’m a big pufferfish fan, I really am.  So imagine my surprise to learn, what they don’t apparently tell you on Finding Nemo, that it turns out they are poisonous to humans.  I mean deadly poisonous.

Now that was alarming enough.  But it gets worse.  My daughter told me that, in spite of this, in some overseas country, they actually eat them anyway.  Apparently it takes a really, really great chef to correctly prepare the fish so that all the poison is cooked out.  If it’s not prepared just so…you die.  This is why a pufferfish chef is one of the highest-paid positions in the world.

Now, call me crazy, but I’m not overly fond of the idea of eating a meal where my very existence depends on my chef’s expertise.   What if my highly-paid chef is slightly distracted?  When this happens at Jaker’s, my Cajun pasta is merely poorly flavored.  When it happens at a pufferfish restaurant, I squirm uncomfortably, foam at the mouth, and die.

Or what if I do something that is unintentionally insensitive to the chef’s culture?  When I used to work at Little Caesar’s Pizza, we had these guys who would hock loogeys into the pizzas of anyone that irritated them.  I thought that was pretty bad (although it turns out that eating a properly-cooked loogey will not kill you, or even cause mild irritation…who knew?).  But imagine if my chef says “I do not like the look of that guy in table 4b. Seriously, a mullet?  In Japan?  This guy’s pufferfish is going to get just slightly undercooked tonight.  Maybe he dies and maybe he just writhes in pain for a few hours singing Achy-Breaky Heart over and over, but either way, he’ll learn not to bring his attitude and his mullet to this part of the world, buster.”

I bring this up at this moment because I’m about to try and bring out the metaphorical pufferfish blogging dinner – I’m about to try and write about politics and religion at the same time.  If the ingredients aren’t just right…well, this could turn bad really quickly…for all of us.

So keep that fair warning in mind, dear readers.  I’m not sure if I’m the chef or the diner or both in my unwieldly analogy, but you should yourself digest cautiously the next three posts.

In forthcoming posts, I have written separate articles designed to irritate Republicans and Democrats. I don’t mean that metaphorically or figuratively: That’s actually what the articles are called (“An Article to Irritate Republicans” is the next post; then after that is “An Article to Irritate Democrats”).  Today, I only want to make a couple of hopefully-less-irritating-stage-setting points about the larger relationship between Christianity and politics.

(1) First, and least importantly, is this: When considering the relationship between religion and politics, religion mostly provides the larger principles, the aims, that society should grasp for.  It does not necessarily provide the formula for how best to get there.  For example, it tells us that any decent society should involve a lot of “loving one’s neighbor” – but it doesn’t tell us what sort of laws, exactly, might encourage that the best.  It thus leaves a lot of wiggle room for how to accomplish those general principles.

In commenting on the relationship between religion and society, C. S. Lewis once said:

“Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed program for applying ‘do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment.  It could not have.  It is meant for all men at all times and the particular program which suited one place of time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works.  When it tells you to feed the hungry, it does not give you lessons on cookery.  When it tells you to read the Scriptures, it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar.  It was never intended to supersede or replace the ordinary human arts and sciences: It is rather a director that will set them all to their right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life.”

And I think that’s about right.

Lewis’ quote also highlights that there are two stupid errors we can make in talking about how politics and religion fit together.  One of those errors is to assume they should be the same thing, that religion necessarily dictates politics.  Obviously the gap between, say, Christianity and government is too big for that.

However, it is equally stupid to say that religion has no implications for politics.  Obviously it does.  But the implications are just that – implications.  Does religion provide energy and life to political agendas?  Yes.  Drive? Sure.  Principles?  Absolutely.  But absolute belief in a particular political program? No.  In reality, Christianity itself isn’t overtly political, it doesn’t directly offer many political imperatives, it rarely discusses politics directly at all.  And yet, it offers principles which do suggest some political implications, and offers a motivation for carrying out those implications.  It gives us the things we should aim at, and animates and inspires us to achieve those aims.

[Editor’s note: It is not unique in those aims.  Atheists and Christians and Muslims and Hindus largely agree about basic human morality, about the principles.  But as I’m uniquely considering the relationship between Christianity and Politics here, I’m of course focusing on implications directly drawn from Christian teaching].

Over the next two posts, I’m going to explore briefly some of those political implications, based solely on my own study of the Bible.

(2) But the main political implication I’d like to state up front, and that is this: Who you vote for is less important than how you treat your neighbor.  How you treat your neighbor requires sacrifice, love, hope, relationship.  Who you vote for requires very little sacrifice at all, essentially nothing but a piece of paper.  Not all political acts are like that – some of them do require sacrifice and duty and the rest, and I am aware of that and completely respect that – but Jesus clearly did not come to found a political movement.  He came to save souls and change lives.  So it is important that everything I say in the next two blog posts is taken with that in mind.  Because, dear reader, did I mention that those next two posts are intentionally irritating?

Again, C.S. Lewis sums up this idea nicely (not the idea that I’m irritating, of course; Lewis was very prescient but not that prescient – I mean the idea that politics is somewhat overrated):

“You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.”

“A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about digestion: the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”

With all those caveats, hang on!  This could get ugly; undercooked-pufferfish ugly.

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The Top 5 Worst Christmas Songs of All Time

I absolutely love Christmas music.  In fact, I love it so much that I’ve always restricted the times I listen to it, in a very, very high need for structure way that generally crosses the line from “endearing” to “please-help-me-this-guy-is-super-annoying” – as I was saying, I’ve always endearingly restricted the times that I and the people around me can listen to it, because I want to savor it the way I would savor, say, a maple-covered donut.  You don’t just swallow that like a Mars Bar, man – you gotta enjoy it.

Yet, like all glorious things, even Christmas music has its low points.  The Beatles had Ringo; Justin Bieber had the spikey attack hair (“please don’t point that at me”) phase; the glory of professional basketball is sullied by the 76ers; and Christmas music is sullied by a small reindeer.  Thus, to cheer your heart and wish you a merry Christmas, I bring you: The top 5 worst Christmas songs ever.  We start with what is unquestionably the worst holiday-related item humanity has ever produced.

1.  Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  This song is a cacophony of un-Christmassy badness.  Bullying?  In there.  Social exclusion?  Oh, it’s got it.  Liking someone only after they experience material success?  Check.  I mean, where was Santa when all the reindeer were mean to Rudolf before he was the light-em-up-nose guy who saved him from the fog?  Nowhere to be seen, I tell you.  Nice work, Santa.  Way to stand up for the guy when he needed you most.  The “Rudolf” Santa is like some kind of banker who smiles at you when you have money and leaves you to be taunted by short IRS agents with Napoleon complexes the moment you hit hard times.  And this is what we want our kids listening to at Christmas?  I half expect “Fat Tony” to show up in the second verse and say:

“It’s a foggy Christmas eve, yo

I’ll offer youze some dough

If youze turn your boss man in

I’ll breaka his knees and go”


Oh, how Rudolf remembered

That Santa had a lot of dough

So when Santa begged to be saved

Rudolf said to Santa, @#$#@ no!

But honestly, my hatred of this song has less to do with the bizarre and other-worldly words than with the fact that (a) it is arguably the worst-written tune in tune-writing history, and (b) my daughter sings it…repeatedly…over…and over…and over…again.  (My daughter says: That is SO not true.  Her mom says: Actually, it’s pretty true.)  I hate you, Rudolf!

2.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  In some Nordic cultures, this is actually called The Stalking Song.  “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.” Really.  One of my good friend’s youngest sons told me that, on account of this song, he used to cry at night in abject fear that Santa would be creepily spying on him.  True story.

3. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.  Grandma…got…run…over…by…a…reindeer.  Ohhh….kaaaay.

4.  Jingle Bells.  This song won the International Award for Most Creative Use of Repeatedly Playing Middle C. There are other notes on the piano, James Lord Pierpont! I’m going to need you to focus the next time you write a song that millions of people will be forced to listen to whether they want to or not.

Fortunately, its lack of musical complexity is saved by its lyrical depth.  I note the repeated focus on the one-horse open sleigh (yeah, we got it, buddy, but this is America, and we like two or more horses on our sleighs – and Fresca…we like Fresca, too) and the particularly moving use of the word “hey!”

5. The Little Drummer Boy.  In the words of my daughter, go buy a guitar and get back to me.

The best thing you can say about this song is that it has excellent use of the onomatopoeia: “Pa rum pa pum pum” really does sound like a drum.  Of course, “caw caw” really does sound like a bird, but I don’t want to hear it repeated in a Christmas song a million times.  Call me crazy.

Honorable Mention goes to my daughter’s least favorite Christmas song We Wish You a Merry ChristmasIn addition to the fact that it has the lyrical depth of a half-eaten molecule (whatever that means), talking about figgy pudding just…ain’t natural.

Merry Christmas all!  I know I’ve been promising this for a while, but I really am going to post those political musings (three blog posts’ full, already written!) after the New Year, but I thought a piece criticizing everyone’s favorite Christmas songs would be more festive than ruining my blog by talking about religion and politics.  Caw Caw!

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Luke is Speaking at Cru Wednesday Night at 7:00!

Before we get to the talk implied (nay, directly stated) in the title of this post, I wanted to offer a brief glance backward and forward in blogging time.  To wit: I have read your many awesome and thoughtful comments to my last post where I offered an argument for atheism — and hope to re-invigorate the discussion soon.  Truth is, I have missed getting to dialogue with all of you!  But alas, things like my job and putting food on the table keeping getting in the way of genuine intellectual exchange.  ’Tis a sad world indeed. (Sigh).

Also, I am polishing up a three-part series on the blog-destroying topic of politics and religion, which is coming soon.  And I haven’t forgotten about the beating my own argument for God’s existence took this summer, and still plan on fighting back!

Now, to that speaking engagement: Luke is going to give a talk on A Christian Approach to Self-Esteem on Wednesday, November 12, at 7:00 PM.  It will be in ISB 110 on the University of Montana campus.

This is the weekly Cru meeting, so be apprised that if you are not a Christian, there will also likely be other Christian-ish sorts of things…like singing…and humor.  But all are welcome!

Posted in What Christians Actually Believe | 2 Comments

The Apologetic Professor’s Argument for Atheism

There is this scene in Tron: Legacy where the son of the main character is trying to explain to his dad, who has been absent from society for twenty years, what “WiFi” is.  When the dad gets it, he says matter-of-factly: “Wireless linking of digital devices?  I thought of that in ’85.”

It turns out that this is often how I myself feel when I read atheist arguments.  I often feel something like “yeah, I thought of that, on my own, about 20 years ago – already been there, done that, moved past it.  You’re way behind me, kid.”  I rarely hear of an argument for atheism that I haven’t already considered.

This just in: I’m arrogant.

This has a point, which is: I like to look at things from both sides of the issue.  My intellectual hero is St. Thomas Aquinas, who generated some of the best arguments for the positions he did not believe in that have ever existed.  I don’t think you’ve really begun to think about an issue until you’ve put forward the best arguments on both sides.  Otherwise, to paraphrase Chesterton, you are like someone arguing against the existence of a police force who has never heard of criminals.

So my Christian readers should not be alarmed that I occasionally still generate arguments for atheism, try to think of the very best reasons why God might not exist. And quite frankly, my arguments for atheism sometimes seem better to me than most of the arguments atheists themselves generate.  Most atheist arguments that I read about are boring, or tautological, or declarations by fiat, or filled with self-defeating logical contradictions, or all four at the same time.  (To be fair, and to stave off the inevitable wave of criticism, most Christian arguments strike me the same way.  See: Humanity). Since I dismiss that kind of thinking for both sides when I see it, I admit I often don’t see a lot of merit in what atheists themselves say about atheism.

It isn’t just me.  A while back, I ran a series where I graded arguments for God’s existence; and I’ve been thinking of doing a parallel series where I grade arguments for atheism. Problem: There are currently, in the public zeitgeist at least, very few constructive arguments for atheism floating around.  I know that sounds controversial, but really, save your hate mail.  This isn’t sensationalism – it is rather something that a lot of people on all sides agree on, including famous atheists such as Richard Dawkins.  I’m not saying there aren’t any constructive arguments – I’m saying that most of atheist argumentation historically, and certainly in the current climate, involves refuting arguments for God, often in a fairly boring manner based on personal experience, and not creating a compelling positive case for the atheist world view.  The very name atheism is reactive.

Yet it need not be the case.  Indeed, as much as I think Richard Dawkins mostly an idiot (he is) that my daughter could out-argue (she could), and which St. Thomas Aquinas could have beaten in an argument while taking a freakin’ nap (hahahahaha!), Dawkins actually produced a pretty clever constructive argument for atheism in a recent book.  Clever, but not memorable – I can’t remember what it was.  A better blogger would go find it for you right now – but I think we’ve established at this point that I’m not a better blogger. Seriously, go read some Grundy or Jack Shiflett if you want better blogging.

Anyway, Dawkins’ argument, whatever it was, did not re-capture the atheist glory of David Hume or anything, but it at least offered something worth reading.  Really.

And in that spirit of creating positive constructive arguments for atheism, I here present to you an Apologetic Professor original:  One of my own positive cases for atheism that is in the old “ontological argument” mold (but of course on the other side of the debate).  I’ll let you decide for yourself, but personally, I think it’s air-tight logically and pretty tough to beat.  It’s only defect is that it happens to be wrong.

Now, I’m not claiming that this argument has never been said before – quite surely, someone else has thought of this chain of reasoning. I even have this vague sense that Jack Shiflett may have inspired or facilitated this argument in a discussion on this blog – I don’t remember.  Maybe I even got it from Richard Dawkins.  But I’ve never seen it before that I remember at this moment, and I didn’t “get it” from anywhere that I know of.  It’s just been in my head for many years running now.

But seriously, how many Christian blogs are going to offer you an argument for atheism?  Cut me some slack.


For the lazy, here’s the short form of the argument:

1. God must be better than people on all dimensions or else He is not God.

2. God cannot contain sin inside of Him or else He is not totally good.

3. Doing the ultimate good requires overcoming one’s own sin nature.

4. People can do the ultimate good because they can contain a sin nature.

5. God cannot do the ultimate good because doing the ultimate good requires containing a sin nature.

6. Therefore, people are better than God on the dimension of doing the ultimate good.

7. It follows that it is logically impossible for God to exist – the idea of God is self-defeating:

7a. If God contains a sin nature, He cannot be God.

7b. But If God does not contain a sin nature, He cannot do the ultimate good, and therefore He cannot be God.

For the obsessive over-thinker, here’s the argument in long form:

Part I:

1. God is defined as an omnipotent being that on every single dimension attains the very best possible on that dimension.

2. This means that God must be equal to or better than humans on every single dimension, or else He would not be God.

3. God by definition cannot contain sin – God cannot do something morally wrong, because that would not be the best possible on that dimension.

4. God cannot even contain sin inside of him as His own – sin cannot be a part of God – because having sin inside of oneself would make one less than the best one could possibly be.

Part II:

5. It is morally better to exert effort/sacrifice for doing good than it is to do good when no effort/sacrifice is required.

Example: If you can literally print/manufacture money whenever you want it, it would be morally less inspiring to give someone in need $100 than it would be if you had to give $100 of your $200 grocery allowance.

6. It requires more moral effort to overcome sin when it is a part of you than it does when it is not a part of you.

Example: Take a single act of goodness, such as being kind to a stranger on the street.  It would be nearly universally acknowledged that for a (1) person who was raised in a perfect environment where kindness was shown repeatedly and that person had a good temperament and personality, who wanted to do the good act out of her/his nature, performing that good act would be less noble and good than for (2) someone who had been raised starving on the street, fighting for food, having never been shown an ounce of kindness, and who did not want to do the good act.  In the second case, there is goodness is overcoming the natural inclination they had been dealt, their natural inclination to do bad, which does not exist in the first case.

7. Because God does not have a sin nature, God being good does not require the ultimate in moral effort.  It is not possible for God to have a natural inclination to do bad.

8. Because humans do have the potential for a sin nature, humans have the potential to exert the ultimate in moral effort.

9. Therefore, people are potentially better than God on that dimension.  God’s “ceiling” for potential goodness is lower than humanity’s “ceiling” for goodness.

10. Because God cannot have a sin nature, and simultaneously a Being without a sin nature cannot do the ultimate good, it is logically impossible for God to exist – the idea of God is self-defeating.

Posted in Science and Religion | 3 Comments

The One Bible Character I Can Really Relate to

Just because I believe in the Bible doesn’t mean that I can totally relate to all the characters there.  In plain fact, even when I think them admirable, I often have a hard time relating to them at all.  In fairness to the Bible, I’m a backwoods kid from Louisiana who ended up as a college professor.  Not sure I’m exactly “normal”.  [Editorial staff note: He’s not.]

All the same, I really have a hard time finding folks in the Bible I can really sink my teeth into.  Here’s a partial list of what I mean:

Peter? I identify with Peter when he denies Christ and loses faith on the water, but otherwise, I just don’t get having that much faith.  Peter is thunder and lightning, and I’m…the half-dead wimpy bush the lightning strikes and catches on fire.

Daniel?  No thanks.  I have a healthy fear of starved animals that can eat me.  (That’s not a phobia, folks.  That’s just being normal.)

Paul?  Seems super-arrogant and full of himself.  I can’t identify with being arrogant at all. Wait…don’t say anything.  That was a mean thing to think about me. [Editorial staff comment: Re-read his last post about believing the truth about oneself, and tell me the shoe doesn’t fit here?  This guy is so arrogant and full of himself, he makes Jiminy Cricket look like the Easter Bunny.  And we don’t know what that means.]

Noah? I’d be asking God questions like you really want me to save the stupid dung beetles?  I mean, here’s your one chance to get rid of dung beetles forever, and you’re tanking it?  And do you think it’s wise to only bring two antelopes when we have two lions, two cheetahs, and two leopards?  That’s like, what, six fierce cat predators to just two antelopes – you sure that’s a good plan?  And if the ark gets a leak and sinks, am I allowed to use the panda bears as a flotation device?  Wait, what?  You mean the rain’s started while I was asking questions and you decided to let my neighbor Jimmy build the ark?  Jimmy – really?  What kind of name for posterity is “Jimmy”?  If THAT’s the only link between the old humanity and the new, don’t you think the new humanity will just die of shame anyway?  Our hero…Jimmy? I mean, do you really want Russell Crowe in a movie called “Jimmy?”  Not gonna sell tickets, you know.  

Moses? Seriously, think of the snakes, man.

David?  Been in one fight in my life – over whether Terry Bradshaw was a good quarterback – and it was a two-hitter.  He hit me, I hit the ground, went home crying to my dad.  Not a proud day.  But seriously, you think I can understand facing Goliath?

James?  The pursuit of perfection?  Taming the tongue?  I’m just happy when I don’t yell at my co-workers and get fired on a given day.

Matthew?  The guy was a tax collector.  No kidding.  I’m not working for the IRS, you know? That’s bad enough, but then he basically follows Jesus one day because Jesus says “follow me.”  I mean, really, just follow me and he’s gone?  I know tax collecting is an embarrassing and disgraceful profession and all, but I have a hard time with just up and leaving because some person with kind eyes and an authoritative manner says “quit your job and follow me!”

John the Baptist?  The guy ate locusts. You lost me right there.  The Bible could go on and say “…and he was a Griz football fan with a huge ego and a love of all things donut-y,” and I’m still never gonna identify with a guy who eats locusts.  That kind of thing just ain’t natural.

I could go on.  Ezra: Never could understand all that animal burning.  Nehemiah: Built a giant wall?  I can’t build a lego figure named “Brick the Boring Lego Figure” that only has two legos.

My point is, though I love the Bible and often can find points of overlap with most of the characters above, and certainly can find inspiration from almost all of them, there are also points at which I have a hard time understanding them.

There is really only one Bible character that I think I really identify with at some deep emotional level – my story is not hers, but I feel, I’m sure, what this character felt.  I feel that in some way, this character’s experience with God has been basically my own experience with Him.  She was given no name in the Bible; but I’m sure I will learn her name in Heaven.

That character is: The whore at Jesus’ feet in Luke chapter 7:36-50.

The story goes like this. A woman who had “lived a sinful life” came to meet Jesus at the home of a supposedly-righteous religious person.  She stood behind Jesus, at his feet, weeping.  She had brought perfume to pour over his feet and she kissed his feet and wiped them with her hair.

This shocked the sensibilities of the religious folk Jesus was supposed to be dining with.  In fact, the Bible says that his host thought to himself that Jesus should know this woman was a sinner and keep his distance from her.

Jesus read his thoughts and rebuked the host.  Jesus’ words to him are worth reading, but I’d like to focus our attention on the woman.  At the end of the chapter, Jesus turns to her and says, right in front of the uber-religious snobs, “your sins are forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

I am that whore.  I am someone who lived a sinful life, devoid of anything meaningful.  And I found Someone who loved me anyway.  And I came to that Person, broken, unworthy to do anything but weep at his feet.  And He forgave my sins and told me to go in peace.  And I did.

So I take comfort.  Atheists and religious people alike rage around me; but they do not trouble me. I sometimes go to academic conferences and see all these famous, sad, anti-religious agnostics lambasting away at God, seeking – like children on a playground who want their peers to think what a fine fellow they are – their esteem in the approval of the world.  Some of them get the approval, and some don’t, but both are equally unhappy.  As for me, I just ignore them – their insults fly past my head – because I have found what they are looking for already; I am at the feet of the Creator of the universe; I am already at peace.

On the flip side, religious leaders often seem to think that people like me don’t belong in the church; they seem to think that I’m not quite what they had in mind; but their long-winded judgments and long surly faces just go right past me.  I hardly take notice: The Creator of the universe has approved me, so why would I care about their hollow and trumped-up self-righteousness?  (I’d like to note that none of those long-faced people go to my church, where I have been loved and accepted beyond all hope of love and acceptance for a pony-tailed windbag.)

So let the world spin out of control on its axis for all I care.  Let the arguments about God’s existence rage, the empty religious judgments fly, the hate and lies and everything else this world has to offer keep coming.  I do not care: I will just remember my Jesus, remember that he has accepted my tears, remember that I am loved and that my sins are forgiven; and I am at peace.

Posted in What Christians Actually Believe | 3 Comments

Top 5 Things that are True About You That Make Good Self-Affirmation Messages

I have never understood people who “believed in themselves.”  The advice is so obviously stupid, so obviously bankrupt.  It’s like telling me to believe in a rock at the bottom of the ocean or in a piece of broccoli.  I mean, why should I pick a random object in the universe and believe in it?  Especially when in this case I happen to know, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that the thing in question (myself) is hopelessly defective? That would be like picking “red” on the roulette wheel after the ball has landed on “black.”

Having dismissed our entire cultural philosophy in one irritating gesture, I’d like to get on with what I actually do believe in.  But odds are, you are so annoyed right now that I’m going to have to stop and (in a fit of deranged irony) defend myself.

So: Consider a parable.  When all the sports stars or artists or what-have-you succeed in our culture, they inevitably say something like “I just believed in myself.  No one else did, but I kept believing in myself.”  OK, so if I were to take that advice as a causal chain with which to impart to young children, then all the mothers of the children on the losing team would also have told them to believe in themselves, right?  I mean, All-Pro kicker Jeff Norwood’s mom and All-Star first basemen Bill Buckner’s mom would both have told them that, at the key moment, they should believe in themselves, right?

But they would have both been wrong.  (Mom, nooooo!).  Norwood missed the kick that cost the Bills the Super Bowl.  Buckner flubbed the grounder that cost his Red Sox a World Series title.  It is an obvious truth that for every person who believes in themselves and succeeds, there are hundreds who believe in themselves and fail. Running back LaDanian Tomlinson did a commercial about how much he believed in himself (“the man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right,” it said) – but LT never won a title, or even made it to a Super Bowl.  (He did make cool commercials, but I never heard him say “I believe in my ability to make cool commercials.  Write that down, kids.  Fact.”)

No: Believing in oneself is a documented way of losing touch with reality.  There are plenty of people who believe in themselves who think they are Jesus.  Which would be fine if they were – but they aren’t.  So even if I believed in God, the one thing on earth I most certainly would NOT believe in is myself.

G.K. Chesterton once said something similar about not believing in himself to a friend of his, who responded by saying, “well, if you can’t believe in yourself, what can you believe in?”  Ah, there’s the rub.  We want to believe in something.  We don’t want to give up all hope.  We want to have optimism, to think there is a reason to go on.

Well, I don’t believe in myself – but I do have real reasons for optimism.  Last week we documented how I am a flawed, broken, pitiful thing who, despite all our cultural commentary to the contrary, is pretty much incapable of doing anything without a lot of help, or luck, or what-have-you.  So are you.

The astute reader may have noted that last post, I said nothing about God at all.  That was purposeful.  Because last post’s “top 5” list, in a sense, looks at ourselves without God. [Insult alert: I’m not saying the atheist life is meaningless, or that no meaning can be constructed without God.  That’s obviously false.  I am only posing an honest question about where our inability to trust in us leaves us.  That’s all.]  Your life could end today – all that you value could be taken away right now – your very mind could be removed, your personality altered, by a car accident on your way home.  You did not give yourself your brain and you cannot stop it from being taken away.  You may have worked hard for your job and your house, but if the market your job depends on collapses – if a foreign nation successfully invades – if a hurricane destroys all you hold dear – you get the idea.  Clearly, putting faith in yourself isn’t really a good decision.  And if there is nothing beyond this world – if this is really all there is – then there’s nothing for it but to acknowledge that and trudge on anyway.  And I respect that, as long as the trudging is honest and doesn’t involve a delusion that one can tackle a tornado, when the plain truth is that the tornado will beat you almost every time.  You and I are really not that great.

However, I believe in something more.  I believe in a different reason for hope that goes beyond myself.  Whether I believed in God or not, I’d believe that humanity needed some outside help.  Part of the problem IS us – the problem is inside all of us, you and me, me and you.  And we need something from beyond to help us.  The only question is whether or not that thing exists or not.

Well, I think it does – and in today’s post, below, I detail some more positive reasons for optimism about yourself.  So without further delay, I give you: Top 5 Things that are True About You That Make Good Self-Affirmation Messages.

1. There is not a single thing I could do today that would make God love me any less – or more.

2. The person I see in the mirror has committed sins that are already forgiven – all I have to do is ask for it.

3. I am incredibly special to God and could never, ever be replaced in His heart and mind.

4. There is nothing that this world can do to me that can take away my soul.

5.  God knows my name and He’s ALWAYS glad I came!

Posted in Top 5 Lists, Ratings, and Rankings | Comments Off

Top 5 Things that are True About You That Make Bad Self-Affirmation Messages

In responding to criticism of his actions, NCAA President Mark Emmert said (from the Missoulian, August 11, 2013):

“Have I done things that were inappropriate or frustrated people by mistakes that I have made? Of course.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop doing these things.  That’s not the way I operate.”

I personally think ol’ Mark needs some good old-fashioned and unvarnished self-reflection.  You see, he appears to think so highly of himself that even though he has done “inappropriate things” that “frustrated people” – well, he’s ok.  He’s not going to stop doing those things – that’s not who he is.  It’s not how he operates.  And obviously ol’ Mark thinks he operates just fine, thank you.

Look, I’m fine with self-esteem – properly understood – and I think the Bible is, too.  (Just to prove I’m not a total sourpuss and so you don’t get too down, next post we’ll give you the Top 5 Things that Are True About You That Make Good Self-Affirmation Messages). But it occurs to me that we could all use quite a bit more of the truth about ourselves, and quite a bit less of thinking we are incredibly awesome (when we are clearly not all that awesome, or are at best awesome in a “Twinkie-ish” way, by which I mean a this-tastes-great-but-it-makes-my-stomach-hurt-my-gosh-what-is-that-thing kind of way).   We could all use to follow a little bit more of the Bible’s advice when it says in Romans 12:3:

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”

So, with that self-enlightenment goal in mind, I give you the Top 5 Things that are True About You That Make Bad Self-Affirmation Messages.  Try putting these messages on your mirror as your morning “pick-me up”:

1. Today, I might just stop breathing and there is not a single thing I could do about it!

2. The person I see in the mirror has committed sins that I can never undo!

3. If farmers in Oregon do not have a bountiful broccoli crop this year, that could lead to a chain of events causing me to lose my job and I would be helpless to stop it!

4. Remember that most of the things I am afraid of would in fact kill me if I met them alone in a dark alley!

5.  I am a forty-two year old fat guy and I will most likely never fulfill my dream of becoming an NBA basketball player!

(OK, that last one might not apply to you – but did you think this was all about you?  How petty.  That calls for two more.)

6.  In the big scheme of things in this immensely vast universe, I’m like a speck of dust or a blade of grass!  (Go get ‘em, tiger!)

7.  Most people that know me probably think that I’m a worse person than I believe I am – they just don’t know how to tell me!

Posted in Top 5 Lists, Ratings, and Rankings | 2 Comments

The Apologetic Professor is Embarrassingly Alive

There is a nasty rumor going around that I’m not alive.  To squash this rumor, I’m happy to violate several federal laws and share my own recent medical report with you.  As a part of the university’s “wellness” program, a month ago I underwent a series of physical exams.  Here is the doctor’s report, word-for-word:

“Patient is obese.  % body fat in unacceptably high range.  Patient does not exercise and eats a poor diet consisting largely of cheese, donuts, and french fries.  His diet has never seen the broad side of anything green.  YET, we are also professionally annoyed to report that, in spite of this shockingly unhealthy lifestyle, he is obviously as healthy as horse.  An incredibly healthy horse, we mean – not one of the ones you have to put down because its leg is broken.  That would be a weird and horrid analogy that should never be put on a blog, even as a bad joke said in passing.”

So you can clearly see that I annoy my doctors, who constantly tell me to exercise and eat more vegetables, and yet who also constantly tell me that they’ve never seen someone so incredibly healthy.  (This suggests a low-hanging fruit for the health researcher: Where is the study on the health value of donuts?)

I’d also like to squash another erroneous rumor that, after posting my own argument for the existence of God and having it scathingly reviewed with a “barfing face” sticker, I have crawled back into the hole from whence I came and given up.  I laugh an evil laugh at that thought!  Bwahahahahahahahaha!   (The key to the evil laugh is to breathe deeply and let it go from the gut outwards.  Otherwise, you risk pulling an abdominal muscle.  That’s truly humiliating.  So breathe, people, breathe!  Take it from me – I’m in great health and do an evil laugh at least once a day).

Seriously, you don’t know me at all if you think I’m packing it in.  Quite the contrary: I love the intellectual challenge and Jack and the atheist/agnostic crowd better get their gear on.  In actual fact, I’ve been working on a rebuttal/defense so epic, so annoying, that I want it to be perfect before I present it.

No, what I’m actually feeling is this: I’m embarrassed, genuinely embarrassed, that it’s been so long since my last post.  This term has been unusually difficult due to the fact that the federal government gave us some money for a grant (that’s good), but gave it to us like six months late (that’s bad), and then didn’t give us more time on the back end (worse and worse), so we had to cram a lot of work into a short period of time.  Now that we are (somewhat) caught up on that, I can breathe again.  So be warned!  More posts are coming.  Breathe!  Bwahahahahaha!

Posted in Rather Bizarre Social Commentary | 2 Comments