Thursday, October 26, 2006

No Exit?

This week, your class is going to be grappling with a question – the question, as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett put it, of
why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?
And if you’d like a good answer, then watch The Truman Show – the story of a man, Truman Burbank, who lives in a paradise named "Sea Haven" with:
  • no crime,
  • no poverty,
  • and no way out.
(At least, no easy way out.)

No, watch the movie and you’ll discover that Paradise without an exit sign – an visible exit sign with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!” – would have been little more than a very fancy prison.

Actually, I liked him better when he was a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama.

Sam Harris is the kind of atheist who makes unbelievers squirm.

It's not just that he reject the idea of God; in both his books (and an upcoming movie), he also makes clear his belief that believers in any kind of god are evil, nasty, and irrational people.

Except Jains. Jains are okay. Harris wouldn't object if everyone became a Jain.

Then again, it's anybody's guess as to whether Harris's idea of Jainism squares with the beliefs and practices of Jains themselves. That's one of the problems with his books -- they don't always fit the facts on the ground.

Take his horrifying (and utterly convincing) description of a suicide bomber. In his first book, he describes everything except the reason why the bomber is prepared to do such a horrible thing. But then Harris asks the question, "Is there any doubt in your mind as to the religion this man believes?"

Actually, there is.

Suicide-bombing, remember, was not pioneered by Moslem extremists, but by Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka -- separatists who are pursuing the "secular" goal of a national-state for their people.

Now we could go on to talk about all the other "isms" that have inspired violence (and even suicide). Last time I checked, for instance, nobody was arguing that the "Kamikaze" of World War II were Moslems (or even theists); neither were the Khmer Rouge, nor the followers of "Heaven's Gate."

No, any belief can degenerate into violence; any faith can spawn hatred and death.

But find me someone who loves their enemies . . . now there you'd have something unique!

(Click on the title for the article in The Washington Post.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Grief Observed On Stage

Julia Sweeney was a devout Catholic.

Then her brother died of cancer, and her faith didn't help.

Julia's now an atheist, and in her one-woman show, she talks about her "spiritual journey" -- the journey of a woman who doesn't believe anymore.

Click on the title of this post for the New York Time's review of her show.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The wages of sin are death -- but as an investment, it looks pretty good.

Turns out that a lot of "socially responsible" investment fund managers are rethinking bans on companies that deal with alcohol or gambling. Ask them, and they'll tell you that these issues aren't as "black and white" as they used to be . . . but the real reason may be buried in paragraphs 18 and 19 of The Christian Science Monitor's article on the topic:

Finances could also be a factor. Pax's three funds have largely failed to keep pace with average mutual-fund industry returns over intervals of one, three, or five years, according to data from fund-tracker Morningstar. In one particularly painful episode, Pax last year reluctantly divested its profitable stake in Starbucks when the coffee giant struck a deal with Bourbon distiller Jim Beam and triggered a requisite "sell" in accordance with a zero-tolerance policy for companies that make alcoholic products.

Meanwhile, vices are paying dividends. The Vice Fund, which seeks out alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and defense stocks, has beaten the market with returns in excess of 18 percent on average over the past three years.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

If you thought those secular humanists in Hollywood were bad, just wait till you see what Christians can do!

Matthew Crouch makes Christian movies.

And no, the movies themselves are not very good. And if this profile of him in The Los Angeles Times is any guide, the man himself is not very . . . nice.

But his parents do run the Christian TV network TBN -- so hey, what do I know?

You don't suppose Matthew Crouch is working for him, do you?

Sure as eggs, you're going to get asked about Richard Dawkins' book -- in The God Delusion, he argues that belief in God is just not mistaken, but positively evil.

Fortunately, you can click on the title of this post for a review of Dawkin's book in the New York Times -- and while you probably won't agree with everything he says, the review's author makes it pretty clear that theism is safe (for now).

(Dawkins, by the way, has proposed that atheists should launch a PR campaign, and as part of this, they should start calling themselves as "Brights." Works for me . . . just so long as believers are referred to as "Lights." "Brights" and "Lights" -- I like it!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I still think they should have asked Little Richard to play the Apostle Paul

Turns out a lot of actors are devout Christians -- it's just that nobody noticed 'cuz they're Black. (And yes, some of them are Adventist too!) Now a new all-star audio-recording of the Bible is giving these members of Hollywood's elite a chance to talk about their faith. Click on the title for the article in the LA Times.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Promises to keep

God always sticks with "Plan A."

Even when we make it tough for Him to do so.

In the first chapter of Genesis, for instance, God made three promises to humanity:
  • we'd have dominion over the earth -- and as part of that,
  • we'd have lots of food,
  • we'd have lots of children.
Now in chapter two, God shows how He plans to deliver on those promises.
  • God plants a garden, then gives us the job of tending and guarding it -- and yes, the phrase here is the same phrase you'd use to describe the duties of a priest in a temple. What's more, we're giving "naming rights" to the animals, i.e. we're allowed to determine the role they'll play in God's world.
  • God fills the garden with every kind of tree that looks good and tastes good; this was one place, in other words, where food literally grew on trees.
  • Finally, God creates sex. (And yes, I know that sounds a little blunt, but how else can you describe the creation of the first man and the first woman?)
In chapter three, of course, our first parents will make it terribly difficult for God to keep these promises -- so difficult, we might have thought it far easier for God to forget them entirely.

But skip ahead to Revelation 20-22, and you'll find that every single one of God's promises will be fulfilled in the end.
  • We shall rule as priests and kings.
  • We shall eat from the tree of life, "and the leaves of the trees [shall be] for the healing of the nations."
  • And "a great crowd beyond number" will praise God as its saviour and king.
In short, God's plans for His people have not changed -- and God's promises to His people will all be kept . . .

No, God never goes to "Plan B."

That's because God never settles for second-best.

Monday, October 16, 2006

2000 years of Christianity are disappearing in Iraq.

Fifteen years ago, there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are somewhere between 600K and 800K -- and more are leaving every day. Click on the title for the article in the NYT.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How long before they do "The Passion of the Christ" as a musical?

Article in The Christian Science Monitor about Hollywood's new-found interest in movies based on the Bible. The reason? Hollywood's long-established interest in movies that make money. When TPotC made $600 million, that made a lot of studios get religion. (And didn't they used to call these movies, "Bathrobe Epics"?)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fragment of Archeteknos' "Dialogue with Siderohippos"

Archeteknos: And so we both agree that a workman may use tools in building his house?

Siderohippos: Certainly.

Archeteknos: Yet we still say it is the workman who built the house, and not the tools which have done so?

Siderohippos: Of course.

Archeteknos: Likewise, is it possible that God may have used certain tools in building this Universe?

Siderohippos: What do you mean?

Archeteknos: Consider the rain we had today. Did God send the rain?

Siderohippos: Yes. We all know that God is in charge of the weather.

Archeteknos: What tools did God use to give us this rain?

Siderohippos: Clouds and the wind, of course.

Archeteknos: Would these things suffice in themselves to give us rain?

Siderohippos: Not without God – no more than a hammer and saw could build a house by themselves.

Archeteknos: So God sent the rain?

Siderohippos: Yes.

Archeteknos: But you will allow Him the use of tools – tools such as clouds and wind – in this task?

Siderohippos: That only makes sense.

Archeteknos: Even though some might call these tools a "natural process"?

Siderohippos: "Natural" need not imply "autonomous"; God is still in charge.

Archeteknos: So God is still the creator of our weather, even though He may use a "natural process" as His tool in creating that weather.

Siderohippos: That is true, just as a workman is the creator of a building, even though he uses a hammer and saw.

Archeteknos: Likewise, we both agree that God created the Universe, just as surely as He sent us the rain.

Siderohippos: Without a doubt.

Archeteknos: Might it be that God used tools – tools He has made – for this task of creation, just as we agree that He uses tools for the task of sending us rain?

Siderohippos: It is possible.

Archeteknos: And might these tools include what some have called "natural processes"?

Siderohippos: Yes, just so long as it is God who is doing this.

Archeteknos: But even if God were to use these tools, that would not stop us from saying that God is the creator of this Universe?

Siderohippos: That is true, but . . .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

And no, "Jesus Camp" is not the answer.

Christianity Today asked over a hundred youth leaders how we're doing at reaching youth.

The answer?

Not very well "They come to our events," say the experts. "They come forward when we make an altar call. But none of this seems to be making the long-term difference that it should.

So what's the problem?

"We've created a youth ghetto," say the experts -- "one that doesn't tie in with the larger church."

Click on the title for the article

Monday, October 09, 2006

Is there some way I could get Caesar to keep an eye on what I've been rendering unto God?

Okay, so I'm reading part two in The New York Times series on churches on the law -- the one where it says that pastors can't sue their denomination if they get fired.

And as I'm reading, I'm going, "yeah, yeah, yeah -- so what else is new?"

But then I read this:
Religious employers are exempt from Erisa, the federal pension law that establishes disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest restrictions for employee pension plans. That exemption has given rise to several cases in which workers at religious hospitals found that their pensions had vanished because of practices that would not have been allowed under Erisa’s rules.

A related exemption frees religious employers from participating in the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government-run insurance program that provides a safety net for corporate pension plans.
Okay, that's . . . interesting.

Does anybody out there know how this affects us? I mean, even if we don't need to obey Erisa, we're still in compliance with it, right? And as for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation . . . oh well, never mind.

(By the way, the last few paragraphs of this article concern SDA hospitals. I knew that most SDAs won't join labor unions; I was a little surprised to find that our hospitals won't let any of their employees join labor unions, either.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Never mind "rendering unto Caesar" -- what about my local planning commission?

Troubling article in the NYT: Romans 13 urges me to "be subject to the governing authorities" -- but does that mean I have to obey local zoning laws? How about state regulations on child-care? And could somebody tell me how to build a baptistry that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sure glad we don't have to worry about this.

Interesting article in the New York Times about youth ministry -- right now, many evangelical churches are running scared; they're afraid they're going to lose the next generation.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Time to Reboot

A kludge cannot be repaired.

That's what a kludge is -- it's something so badly flawed in its conception that it cannot be fixed. (In fact, any attempts to fix it will only make it worse.)

Need an example? Think of the Edsel. New Coke. And some of the haircuts you've endured.

No, the only thing you can do with a kludge is pull the plug. Get rid of it. Start over from scratch, and hope things go better the next time.

That's what we'll be doing this quarter -- we'll be going right back to the beginning. Right back to the start. Right back to the first book in the Bible: the Book of Genesis.

In the process, we'll take another look at some of our basic ideas about the big issues: God, humanity, sin, and salvation. And if it turns out that we were right all along, then we can spend the next three months just patting ourselves on our collective backs.

But if it turns out that some of our most basic ideas are wrong . . .

Well, what do you do with a kludge?