Archive for the ‘Christianity and Culture’ Category

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Is Morality Determined By Society?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

In my previous post, I was taking a look at a popular approach to morality known as “moral relativism”, specifically the kind of relativism which says that right and wrong are up to the individual to decide.  I had pointed out that most relativists are not consistent when it comes to actually applying their relativistic view to real life.  In the end, they attempt to relativize any values that they don’t like, while absolutizing the values that they do like.  For example, they will often tell us that modesty, sexual purity, and abstinence before marriage are only “right” for some people (it’s “relative”).  Yet, when it comes to anything that they personally find offensive such as hate, discrimination, intolerance, or homophobia, they push their morality on others by insisting that such things are wrong for everyone-  absolutely.  As I said, this is hardly in keeping with their claim that right and wrong are “up to the individual”.   When faced with the fact that they are not living consistently within their own view, the diehard relativist will often seek refuge in another brand of relativism which says that right and wrong are determined by society.  As it turns out, this approach to morality is plagued with many problems as well and it raises a number of questions.

For example, when someone says that morality is “determined by society”, the first question we need to ask is, “Which part of society?”  This is an important question for several reasons.  Before World War II, the Jews were certainly a part of German society.  So, if society determines what’s right, then how did the Jews ( being part of that society) end up in the prison camps?  Right now, even within American society, we are split almost 50/50 on everything from same-sex marriage to abortion.  As a side-note, this “split” within American culture is the reason why it’s no longer reasonable nor meaningful for a politician to claim that he or she wants to represent “the people”, because the question could always be asked, “Which people?  Those for abortion, or those against it?  Those for same-sex marriage, or those against it?”  The point is, how can a society that is so sharply divided over moral issues be said to “determine” what’s right or wrong?

There are other problems with the notion that morality is based on whatever society says.  If something is right or wrong based solely on whatever society says, then moral reformers, by definition, would be “immoral” because they are defying that which society says is “right”.  Based on that sort of reasoning, we would have to condemn German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer for standing up against Hitler and the Nazi party when he spoke out against their crimes against the Jews.  We must also condemn Corrie ten Boom for going against society’s wishes by hiding and protecting Jews from the Nazis.  William Wilberforce would have been a “criminal” for defying society and fighting against the slave trade.  In our own country, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been considered “immoral” by that definition because he disobeyed racial segregation that was put into place by a society that had already determined what was “right”.  By the way, this is why I often ask the relativist if they believe that racism was wrong before the Civil Rights Movement.  If right and wrong are simply determined by a majority vote, then we lose the only foundation on which to say that racism is objectively wrong or truly wrong.  At best, we would be forced by our own twisted logic to say that racism is only “wrong” for now, but that may change in the future as society changes.  Now that is a frightening thought.

If there is a lesson to be learned in all of this, it is best learned by looking back in history at the Nuremberg trials in 1945 where the leaders of the Nazi party were put on trial for war crimes.  Throughout the proceedings, the defendants insisted that the Allies had no business trying them for war crimes because they (the Nazis) were operating according to the laws of their country-  they were doing what was “right” for their society.  If that’s true, if right and wrong are determined by society, then the International Military Tribunal would have never been in a position to bring charges against those who masterminded the Holocaust.  The only way that any society can be judged as “immoral” is on the basis of an external standard of what is right-  a Moral Law that transcends culture.

I am convinced that a Moral Law of such supreme authority and power can only come from God as the Supreme Lawgiver.  Undoubtedly, there are many people who will stridently disagree with me.  I would only remind them that in disagreeing with me, they are also disagreeing with Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, ten Boom, and Dr. King, all of whom shared my conviction.  One thing is for sure, justice would have never been served if the Nazis had succeeded in convincing the Tribunal and the rest of the world that right and wrong are determined by society.

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An Inconvenient Truth About Morality

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

If you’ve ever listened in on a discussion involving a controversial issue where someone is perceived as promoting “traditional” or “Christian” values, chances are, you’ve heard one or more of the following responses:

“That’s not wrong for everyone, it’s only wrong for you.”

“That’s just your opinion.”

“What’s right for you may not be right for me.”

“Stop pushing your morality on everyone else.”

Whether they realize it or not, those who give such responses are expressing a particular view of morality known as “moral relativism”.  More specifically, they are referring to that view of morality which says that right and wrong are up to the individual to decide for himself or herself.

This concept of moral relativism has been accepted by so many people today that we hear it on a regular basis from the average person on the street (as we’ve just seen in the examples above).  Even though relativism has its share of problems as a moral view, I’m more interested in focusing at this time on the people who have adopted that view of morality-  that is, the moral relativist.  As we will see, those who say that morality is “relative” tend to be very inconsistent when it comes to how, when, and where they apply that principle.  Generally speaking, they will only play by that rule when it’s convenient for them to do so-  when it suits their own self-interests.  This explains why they claim to be a “relativist” when it comes to justifying their own lifestyle or behavior.   Yet, the moment someone does or says anything that offends the relativist, they will react as if they believe in a real, objective standard of morality. All of a sudden, they believe that right and wrong are not up to the individual to decide.

This double standard of the relativist is most noticeable when you listen carefully to the things they say.  For example, consider the following statements that are commonly expressed by the moral relativist:

“I was here first.

“That’s just wrong.

“Christians are such hypocrites.”

“You’re being intolerant.

“People who don’t support gay rights are spreading hate.

“Not allowing same-sex marriage is discrimination.

“She lied to me.”

“Someone stole my iPod.”

It’s important to understand that in all of these statements, the relativist is making a moral judgment-  they are condemning someone else’s behavior as “morally wrong” .  Here’s my point: as a relativist, it would make sense if they meant that such things are only wrong for them, but that’s not what they’re saying.  They’re saying that it’s wrong for others. To put it another way, they’re deciding what’s right or wrong for others, yet they claim to believe that it’s up to each person to decide for himself!

All of this reminds me of a conversation that I had a few years ago with a young lady named “Denise” (not her real name).  It was a few months before the 2008 elections and there was a proposition on the ballot in Arizona that was intended to preserve and protect the institution of marriage as one man and one woman by a “yes” vote.  Denise had been going around the neighborhood putting up posters and signs encouraging people to vote against the proposition because, as she put it, “Such a proposition is discriminating against same-sex couples.”  As I engaged her in conversation I pointed out that if we were going to get anywhere in our discussion, we must ultimately get down to the foundational question of every political, social, and moral issue:  by what standard does one determine what’s right or wrong?  The conversation at that point went as follows:

(Denise)-  “Well, you want to base it on God.”

(me)-         “I think that’s the most reasonable basis for morality.”

(Denise)-   “I don’t believe in God.”

(me)-          “It’s not a question of whether or not you ‘believe’ in God.  It’s a matter of whether or not he really exists.  There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence from both science and philosophy that God really does exist.  But just for the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that he doesn’t exist.  Let’s suppose you’re right.  So, if there is no God, then on what basis are you going to decide what’s right and what’s wrong?”

(Denise)-     “That’s easy.  It’s up to each person to decide for himself.  I can’t say what’s right or wrong for you and you can’t say what’s right or wrong for me.  I can’t push my morality on you and you can’t push your morality on me.  Like I said, it’s up to each person to decide for himself.”

(me)-        “It’s easy for you to say that, but I don’t think you can live by that.”

(Denise)-       “Why not?”

(me)-              “Because a moment ago, you said that not allowing same-sex couples to marry would be discrimination.”

(Denise)-        “It would be discrimination.”

(me)-               “So, are you saying that discrimination is wrong?”

(Denise)-         “ABSOLUTELY.  Discrimination is absolutely wrong!”

(me)-               “That’s what I don’t understand.  How can you say that discrimination, or anything else for that matter, is ‘absolutely wrong’ if you believe that it’s up to each person to decide for himself whether or NOT such things are wrong?  After all, to say that it’s ‘up to the individual to decide’ is to say that it’s up to each person to decide whether or not discrimination is wrong, whether or not intolerance is wrong, whether or not racism is wrong, etc.  Do you really want to live in a world where each person is deciding for himself or herself what’s right?”

She had no response.

Denise, just like every other relativist, finds herself in the unenviable position of trying to make moral judgments, yet lacking a foundation on which to do so.  No doubt, the late Francis Schaeffer had people such as Denise in mind when he described the relativist as having “both feet firmly planted in mid-air.”

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Absolutely Relative

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Over Memorial Day weekend, some friends of mine brought to my attention an interesting exchange that was taking place between a few college students on Facebook. It all began with a discussion surrounding a movie that had just recently come out.  The first student had rightly pointed out that many things about the movie, including the language, was in very poor taste.  Other comments followed as a few more students joined the conversation.  Most of the students agreed with the first guy and some of them went on to point out that movies which promote such obscene humor not only have a compromising effect on Christians who view them, they have a subtle, yet corrosive effect on our culture in general.

            As expected, not everyone agreed and it wasn’t long before some students began to challenge this idea.  One of those students was “Dave” (not his real name).  Dave, as a non-Christian, identified himself as “Ignostic”, which he said is “not to be confused with ‘agnostic’.”  In any case, Dave made it clear that he was a relativist and he made several comments to try and convince the other students that it’s pointless for them to make moral judgments about such movies because “morality is relative.”  I have no doubt that Dave is a very intelligent guy and he was very persuasive in pointing out several examples from various cultural and historical traditions which, on the surface, give the appearance that morality is “relative to cultures”.  There was one statement in particular that caught my attention as he attempted to summarize his comments by saying, “You cannot escape the context you are born into.” 

            This is not the first time I’ve heard that view expressed.  In fact, I just recently spoke to a woman who teaches political science at one of our universities who stated that this “context” view is quite common within higher education.  While it may be tempting to accept such a view purely on the basis that it’s “generally accepted” today in our colleges and universities, that should not stop us from calling it into question.  In fact, the ability to examine the strengths and weaknesses of an idea is what a good education is all about.  One thing that we often forget is that despite a great education, even a person of great intellect is capable of making egregious errors in reasoning because, just like the rest of us, they’re not perfect.  I believe that this story is an example of that.   

            There is something fundamentally wrong with this relativistic notion that “you cannot escape your context.”  To illustrate, suppose that I’m a Christian student in a college classroom and my professor has just said, “You cannot escape the context that you’re born into.”  If that really is the case, then what would be the point in teaching that to me?  As a Christian, I do not share that view.  So, in order for me to change my way of thinking and to embrace this “context” idea, I can only do so if I have the ability to step out of (“escape the context” of) my Christian worldview.  Yet, my professor has just told me that it’s impossible for anyone to escape their context!  Or suppose that someone was raised in a community that is very racist.  If he cannot escape the context that he was born into, then what would be the point in trying to persuade him that racism is wrong?   It only gets worse at this point.  What about the person who initially came up with this “context” theory?  Isn’t his theory, itself, really nothing more than a result of his or her own cultural context?  Did he come to his conclusions simply because he was raised that way?  If his theory is nothing more than a product of his context, why should the rest of us accept it, even if we could accept it? 

            This “context” view runs into the same problem that undermines all relativistic views-  they can’t live up to their own expectations.  Right from the start, they begin to lose traction because the person promoting the idea is attempting to apply his view or theory to everyone except himself (“the self-excepting fallacy”).  It’s one more example of an idea that has been allowed to take root in our culture, not because it is reasonable, but because we are either unwilling or unable to question the foundation on which the idea was built.  “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”  (Romans 1:22)

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There’s Nothing Tolerant About The New “Tolerance”

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

            Over the next few posts I want to look at some issues that came up recently in an article published in the editorial section of a local high school campus newspaper.  I’ve mentioned before that I have the privilege of working with the high school students at my church.  Because of my interactions with them, they will often mention to me some of the issues, topics, and discussions that have come up during the week on their various campuses.  Two of our students recently brought me a copy of their school’s paper which had an editorial written by one of the students on the newspaper’s staff.  The title of the article reads, “If God Is Real, Why Won’t He Reveal Himself?”  The article is by no means limited to that question.  In it, the author raises several thought-provoking questions that range anywhere from the problem of evil, to the areas of science such as the fossil record.  Later, he goes on to raise doubts about God’s fairness and questions God’s apparent unwillingness to reveal himself openly to us today as he did in the Bible.

           Even though the title is rather vague, suggesting that it is critiquing religion in general, there is no doubt that the writer had Christianity specifically in mind as he makes several references to “the Bible”, “Jesus”, and “Christians”.  As one reads the article, it’s hard to miss the author’s cynicism as he openly challenges the Christian students on campus to come up with the goods.  For example, he says, “Have you ever been sitting by yourself, contemplating His existence, and then you ask yourself, ‘Jesus, if you are real will you appear?’  Let me guess, Jesus was a no-show.”  By the way, this is not the first time that this same paper carried an editorial written by a student on the paper’s staff which openly and unashamedly challenged the Christian students. 

              As I read the article, I kept wondering what would have happened if this student had written an editorial that was just as critical toward any other religion, group, or lifestyle on campus.  Based on the cultural trend that I’ve witnessed over the past several years, it’s a pretty safe bet that such an article would have never been allowed to go to print.  Even if it had, it would have drawn a tremendous amount of attention from local organizations and, perhaps, even from the local media who would have immediately condemned such an article as “intolerance”, “bigotry”, and “hate speech”.  There’s no doubt that the “tolerance police” would have been all over that one.

              This brings me to my main thought.  In case you haven’t noticed, there is a big emphasis on tolerance these days not only in our public schools but in the media as well.  Unfortunately, what’s being promoted  today as “tolerance” turns out to be nothing more than a counterfeit of the real thing.  This is why it is imperative that we clearly understand the difference between true tolerance and the distorted version which so many people have come to accept.  Let’s begin with a proper understanding of what it means to be tolerant.  Simply put, true tolerance means that we can agree to disagree.  It’s important to understand that tolerance, by definition, actually requires disagreement.  Why is that?  Because if you’re in agreement with the other person, there’s nothing to tolerate-  you agree with them!  The whole point of genuine tolerance is that it allows us to freely and openly express our disagreement with someone else’s views or lifestyle while still maintaining a sense of respect and civility toward them.

            Now compare this to the distorted version of tolerance being promoted today which says:  1)  “All views are equal”  2) “Everyone has their own truth”  and  3) “You cannot say that another person’s views or lifestyle is wrong.”  While that may sound  like good advice, a closer examination tells us that such a definition of tolerance is not only unreasonable, it’s impossible for anyone to live that way consistently.  Even the writer of the editorial cannot live by that definition.  Even though he doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, his criticisms of Christianity imply that:  1) All views are not equal (Atheism is more true than Christianity)  2)  Christians do not have the truth (Christians have sincere beliefs that are false) and  3)  It’s okay to say that another person’s views are wrong (Christians are wrong).

            Please understand that I am NOT criticizing the author for writing his article or for disagreeing with Christians.  In fact, I respect (tolerate) his right to disagree with us and to openly express that disagreement.  I am simply drawing our attention to the fact that there is an obvious disparity which exists when it comes to which groups are allowed to express their views publicly and which groups are not allowed to do so.  The lesson in all of this is that we need to be careful not to buy into today’s counterfeit version of “tolerance”, because in doing so we surrender our right to speak openly and freely.  As a result, we will no longer have a voice in the arena of discussion and it will become impossible for us to engage anyone in open, honest dialogue.

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I’m Offended That They’re Offended

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If you’re not familiar with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), they are an organization of trained legal professionals that specialize in taking on court cases where the rights of Christians have been violated. In recent days, they took on a case in Colorado Springs, Colorado that involved a middle school student named Cainan Gostnell who felt that he had to stop wearing his cross to school for fear of being punished by Mann Middle School where he attends as a 7th grader. It all began when an announcement was made by the school that all students wearing religious jewelry would either have to conceal it or stop wearing it due to the fact that some people in his school are “offended” by it. The ACLJ came to the aid of this young student by sending a demand letter to the school. As a result, the attorney from the school district responded to the ACLJ’s legal team with a letter stating that “Cainan may continue to wear and display his cross at school….”

For the life of me, I’ve never understood why any business or any school would establish its rules and policies on the basis of whether or not it might offend someone. Furthermore, I don’t understand why any state or federal government would pass laws on that basis because it seems rather pointless. A few years ago, during the month of December, a co-worker of mine had approached management and asked if he could decorate his workspace with Christmas decorations. Having received permission to do so, he proceeded to put up the decorations. As I expected, the other employees allowed him to do so without objecting to it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many businesses, offices, and schools in America today. When I was growing up, it was not unusual to see a Nativity scene on display in various public places. However, to do so today is almost guaranteed to draw criticism from those who object to it. As is often the case, they might even insist that the display be removed because it’s “offensive” to them.

Looking back on that day when my friend put up his decorations, I’ve tried to imagine what I might have done if someone had gone to management with the complaint that they were offended by his display. I think that an appropriate response would have been for me to follow up by going to management myself and explaining to them that if they make him take it down, then I will be offended! While I’m at it, I would also point out to them that they now have the unenviable position of having to decide which one of us they’re willing to offend and which of us they don’t want to offend. To make matters worse, if they choose to side with the other guy, I’ll be even MORE offended by the fact that they were willing to offend me in order to avoid offending him! Do you see how ridiculous the whole matter becomes?

The lesson in all of this is that it’s unreasonable, irrational, and counterproductive for any business, school, or government to establish laws, policies, rules, and regulations purely on the basis that it might “offend” someone. The fact of the matter is that everything is offensive to someone, and everyone is offended by something- it’s human nature and it’s unavoidable.

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Rewriting The Ten Commandments

Monday, November 29th, 2010

On a radio talk show, the host was discussing a court case that involved a Ten Commandments display where a plaintiff, backed by the ACLU, was demanding that the display be removed. A woman calling in to the program told the host that she agrees with the plaintiff that the Ten Commandments have no business in a public place. Furthermore, she was offended by the idea of the Ten Commandments being used as a means of “forcing religion and morality down her throat.” The show’s host, who feels that the display should remain in place, asked the caller a series of questions. He said to her, “Would you be angry if you found out that your husband was cheating on you?” She replied, “You’d better believe it!” The host responded, “So, you really do think that adultery is wrong.” He asked her another question. “Would it upset you if someone deliberately misled you regarding a product or service that you purchased?” The caller said, “Of course” to which the host responded, “So, you really do think that lying is wrong.” Using one real-life example after another, he went right down the list explaining to the caller that she’s contradicting herself when she claims that she is “offended” by the Ten Commandments or that she can “live without them”. She had just admitted through her answers that she personally benefits from and desperately needs the Ten Commandments as a restraining force in society to keep others from doing harm to her.

It’s bad enough that there are groups and individuals today who try to deny the Ten Commandments and who relentlessly pursue the removal of them from public life. But it doesn’t end there. They take it to the next level by trying to replace God’s Law by establishing “ten commandments” of their own choosing. This is becoming more apparent with every conversation that I have with the average person on the street. For example, if I was discussing the topic of same-sex marriage with someone and if I was arguing against it and the other person was arguing for it, I have no doubt that at some point in the conversation the other person would insist that not allowing same-sex couples to marry is discrimination. If I were to ask this person if they believe that discrimination is wrong, I’m sure they would say, “Yes. It’s wrong to discriminate.” This, of course, leads to a follow-up question. When they say that discrimination is “wrong”, what do they mean by that? Do they mean that it’s only wrong for them, or are they saying that it’s wrong for everyone? Obviously, they’re trying to say that discrimination is wrong for everyone.

Here’s my point. Why is it that when I say, for example, that adultery is wrong, others are quick to tell me that it’s only “wrong” for me and that I shouldn’t “force my morality on anyone else.” Yet, when it comes to something that they feel is wrong, such as intolerance, they don’t seem to mind forcing their morality on everyone by insisting that intolerance is wrong for everyone. Do you see what’s going on here? Those who are opposed to the Ten Commandments are trying to remove God’s Law from public life, insisting that there are no moral absolutes. But then they try to replace them by setting up moral absolutes of their own- “Thou shalt not be intolerant.” “Thou shalt not commit hate speech.” “Thou shalt not discriminate.” Again, it’s important to understand that these “counterfeit commandments” are being treated by today’s culture as if they are moral absolutes, written in stone!

The very fact that those who reject God’s Law feel the need to replace them with a different set of moral absolutes bears testimony to the fact that no society can survive for very long without a solid moral foundation. The only question that remains is, which moral foundation provides the best foundation for a stable society? We must either choose a foundation based on arbitrary rules that are derived from man’s shifting opinions that vary from person to person, or else we must base it on the Commandments given to us by our Creator, which have proven trustworthy throughout history. Just in case anyone has any serious doubts as to the answer to that question, all they need to do is ask the woman who called in to the radio talk show that day.

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“If You Don’t Like It, You Don’t Have To Look At It”- An Argument That Deserves To Be Challenged

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Dr. Francis Beckwith is a Christian philosopher, author, scholar, debater, and lecturer.  He is currently a professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University.  Dr Beckwith’s credentials and accomplishments (which are too numerous to list here) include such books as “Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air”, a devastating critique of moral relativism which he coauthored with Greg Koukl in 1998.  In addition to his tremendous knowledge and insight, one of the things that makes Frank Beckwith such an engaging speaker is his dry wit and his uncanny ability to detect and expose a flaw in his opponent’s arguments during a debate.  One afternoon I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Beckwith live as he was speaking on the topic of moral relativism.  At one point, he related a story about an experience he had while sitting on a panel that was debating the issue of pornography.  Dr Beckwith had put forth several arguments to make the case that pornography has been a tragic, destructive force in our culture, leaving countless lives and relationships confused and broken in its wake.  A woman on the panel who sought to defend the porn industry tried to shut down Frank’s comments by saying, “Well, Dr. Beckwith, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it.”  Not to be outdone, Frank immediately shot back, “What makes you think that I wouldn’t like it?  The fact of the matter is that I probably WOULD like it!  That’s the problem with pornography.  That’s what makes it so powerfully deceptive, addictive, and destructive.”  Dr. Beckwith is absolutely right.  When wrestling with social and moral issues, we cannot and must not base our decisions on whether or not we “like” something, because it is oftentimes the very things that we like that turn out to be our greatest downfall.

Still, there’s another problem with the argument that says, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it” (or any variations of it such as, “You have a remote control- use it”).  The argument is built on the false assumption that if I leave it alone (porn or offensive music, movies, or TV shows), it will leave me alone.  Supposedly, if I choose to avoid such things, my life will not be impacted by them in any way.  That’s the claim, but nothing could be further from the truth.  A case in point- I once heard a family give a heartbreaking testimony to the fact that even though pornography had never been allowed in their home, they still ended up paying the consequences of it.  Apparently, a young boy who lived down the street from them had been viewing pornographic magazines that someone had discarded.  Eventually, he found an opportunity to live out his fantasies by molesting their little girl.  The point is, even IF I “use my remote” and avoid certain movies, music, and publications, the fact remains that all of those things will continue to have an enormous impact in shaping our culture which, in turn, directly impacts my friends, family, and loved ones.

One final thought.  I can’t help but notice that those who use this argument are not consistent in how they apply it.  For example, as I look back over the past several years, I could cite numerous cases where an individual or a small group of people have

complained that they were “offended” by a public prayer, a Cross, or a Ten Commandments display that has been in place for many, many generations.  And so, as a result of one person being offended by it,  the majority ends up giving in to his demands by removing it.  And yet, when thousands of people speak out against something that they find deeply offensive, this same person will respond to them by saying, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it.”  It’s just one more reminder that those who are quick to give such advice are oftentimes unwilling to follow it themselves when it comes to that which they find offensive.

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Are Christians Narrow-Minded?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I want to begin by stating unambiguously that I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that there is salvation in no one else.  I’m fully aware of the fact that for me to say something like that is to invite accusations of everything from “hate” to “intolerance”, “bigotry”, “narrow-mindedness”, and “arrogance.”  I suppose that one of the reasons that people react this way is because so many people have bought into the idea that truth is “relative”- that everyone “has their own truth.”  Another reason has to do with the fact that in today’s world, the term “tolerance” has been radically redefined to suggest that everyone’s view is correct and that no one can ever say that someone else’s view is wrong.  As a result of such confusion, whenever someone comes along and suggests that some views are wrong and that some ideas are more true than others, that person is immediately labeled as narrow-minded.  Given that such misguided views of truth and tolerance are so pervasive in our culture today, how do we, as Christians, respond to such charges without compromising the truth of the Gospel?

I believe that there are at least three points that need to be made when addressing this accusation of narrow-mindedness.  First of all, it’s important to point out that we are not the ones who came up with the idea that Jesus is the only way.  Jesus is the one who made that claim.  So, whenever someone asks me if I believe that Jesus is the only way to God, I often tell them that I am convinced, after looking at the evidence, that Jesus was telling the truth when he made the claim that he is the only way to God.  Stating it this way makes it clear that their struggle is not really with us, it’s with him. If they feel that such a claim is arrogant, narrow-minded, and intolerant, then they’re going to have to take that up with him, since he is the one making the claim.

Secondly, when someone accuses us of being narrow-minded on this issue, it’s important for us to point out that if they are not willing to give an open, honest, unbiased examination of the evidence supporting Jesus’ claim, then they are being closed-minded themselves.  Interestingly enough, it is often those who are the most vocal about open-mindedness and tolerance who turn out to be the most intolerant and closed-minded people of all!

Thirdly, it is extremely important for us to understand and to point out to our critics that truth, by definition, is narrow and exclusive. It always is.  For example, suppose that I make the truth claim that my keys are in my right front pocket.  If that really is the case, then that statement is absolutely true.  And not only is it true, but that truth is also narrow and exclusive.  Think for a moment about just how narrow that truth really is.  Out of all of the infinite possible locations in the entire universe where they could have been or may have been, we have narrowed it down to only ONE location that is true.  Furthermore, not only is that truth extremely narrow, it’s exclusive as well, because in telling you where the keys are, it’s also telling you where the keys are not. It is excluding all of the other locations as false. As I said, truth, by definition, is always narrow and exclusive.

One final point.  If anyone is going to accuse Christianity of being exclusive, it’s only “exclusive” in the sense that it’s making a truth claim.  But, as we’ve just seen, this is the case with any truth claim.  On the other hand, Christianity is NOT exclusive with regard to the extent of its invitation and to whom it is offered. This becomes clear as we consider a few of the passages of Scripture referring to God’s offer of salvation.  Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37).  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  “(God is) not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9b).  “(God) wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Tim. 2:4).

The message of the Gospel is clear.  God is offering his salvation to anyone and everyone who is willing to come to him.  Our refusal to do so and our insistence that God should have come up with a plan that meets our approval, only goes to show that we are the ones who are being narrow-minded, not God.

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Playing the Hate Card

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I’ve always had a fascination with magicians and illusionists.  When I was a kid, my father would order magic tricks from a mail-order novelty company and I was always anxious to impress the kid next door with my “prowess” as a magician.  Although I never pursued it as a serious career or hobby, I am still impressed when I have the opportunity to watch some skilled magician who does so professionally.  One thing that’s clear is that in order to become  a successful illusionist, one must master the ability to divert people’s attention away from the very thing that they were supposed to be watching.

Diverting people’s attention away from the important thing is something that is certainly not limited to the world of magicians and illusionists.  For example, in debate there is a fallacy  known as a “red herring” where someone introduces something that has little or nothing to do with the subject being discussed, in an attempt to divert the other person’s attention away from the main issue or topic.

Of all of the diversionary tactics that people use these days, there is one in particular that I wish to focus on at this time.  I call it “playing the hate card.”  By that, I’m referring to any situation where someone FALSELY accuses another person of being “hateful” or “spreading hate.”  No doubt, there are times when this accusation is made in a legitimate way.  But more often than not, people who falsely accuse others of hate are using it as a diversionary tactic to draw people’s attention away from the real issue at hand.  Worse yet, it is now being used by many as a bullying tactic intended to intimidate or to silence others from merely stating their view.  If you watch closely, you will notice that people often accuse others of hate for the simple fact that the other person happens to disagree with them.

Of course, there are a number of problems that arise when someone begins to illegitimately accuse others of hate or “hate speech.”  For one thing, they are often being inconsistent from a moral standpoint.  Those who play the “hate card” are oftentimes the very same people who claim to believe that when it comes to matters of right and wrong, each person should be allowed to “decide for himself.”  But clearly they don’t believe that each of us should be allowed to decide whether or not hate is wrong.  They believe that spreading hate is morally wrong for everyone- that it’s absolutely wrong.

Another thing that’s tricky about falsely accusing others of hate is that the knife cuts both ways.  In other words, if someone labels you as “hateful” just because you happen to disagree with their view, then by their own definition of “hate”, it makes them just as hateful since they obviously disagree with your view!  Furthermore, when someone falsely accuses you of hate, they are encouraging others to hate you for something that you’re not even guilty of.

When it comes to this recent redefining of the word “hate”, I think that the most dangerous thing of all is that it is now being used to silence or punish Christians for sharing the Gospel and for speaking out on social issues.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Swedish pastor Ake Green.  A few years ago, pastor Green was arrested and charged with violating one of Sweden’s “hate crimes” laws.  His crime?  During a Sunday morning message, within the privacy of his own church, he made mention of the fact that

God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sexual depravity.  What happened to pastor Green is not an isolated incident and it’s already beginning to happen here in America as well.

The bottom line is that “playing the hate card” is usually nothing more than name-calling, labeling, bullying, and intimidation.  It is often used by those who are unwilling to engage in open, honest discussion on important issues that impact our lives.  It is unnecessarily divisive, counterproductive, and contributes nothing towards any real social progress- especially when it comes from those who pride themselves on being known as “progressive.”

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Why NOT Discuss Politics and Religion?

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

It’s election time again which means that it’s time for voters to begin the process of weighing out the candidates as well as the issues that are up for discussion.  Once again, friends, family members, and co-workers will engage in discussions that tend to come up during a political year.  Unfortunately, conversations of that nature have a tendency to stir up people’s emotions and before long, what started out as a civil discussion often turns into a heated argument.  Eventually, some well-meaning person listening in will try to ‘put out the fire’ by saying, “You see?  That’s exactly why I say that you should never discuss politics and religion!”  But even though people often say such things, there is a very real sense in which everyone brings politics and religion into their normal, day-to-day conversations and they don’t even realize it.

Take religion, for example.  I often hear ‘unbelievers’ say, “Don’t bring religion into this!”  (By that, they usually mean “Don’t bring Christianity or Christian values into this!”)  But the fact of the matter is that even those who would consider themselves “non-religious” have a ‘religious’ view of their own.  The reason that they may not think so is because most people today think of religion as ‘a belief in God’, but such a simple definition is inadequate because there are some religions (such as Buddhism) that do not necessarily believe in God.  So, that brings us back to the question, “What is a religion?”  A religion is fundamentally a worldview, a perspective, a set of assumptions, a ‘lens’ if you will, through which a person looks at everything in life in order to try and explain how all of life fits together in a coherent and comprehensive way.  It is a ‘framework’ through which a person is trying to make sense of the world around them.  This is extremely important to understand because it tells us that everyone, whether they realize it or not, is operating on a set of beliefs (a worldview).  This means that everyone, including the atheist, is ‘religious’ in that sense.  Furthermore, it tells us that ALL views expressed are ‘religiously motivated’ because they are an expression of that person’s worldview.  In other words, any time an individual gives their perspective on a matter in almost any conversation they are, in fact, bringing their religion into the conversation just as much as anyone else!

Even political discussions are not entirely avoidable.  Why?  Because political issues are ultimately about moral principles.  They have to be.  If you don’t believe me, think for a moment about the kind of issues that we typically refer to as ‘political issues’.  Most political issues involve that which is right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust, fair or unfair- all of which are moral issues.  Even the questions of how and why people should be treated equally are moral questions.  In other words, by what objective moral standard did we determine that it is right (morally) to treat people equally and that it would be immoral to not treat people equally?

So, just as with religion, everyone has a moral point of view and they are asserting their moral point of view every time they use words such as ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘fair’, ‘unfair’, ‘just’, ‘unjust’, ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘should’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘ought’, ‘ought not’, (etc.).   It’s unavoidable.  So, the next time you hear someone insist that people shouldn’t get into discussions about politics and religion, you may want to point out to them that they just did!

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.