May 18, 2015

Tossed to and fro

Michael Coren has crossed the Tiber. Again. He first converted to Roman Catholicism as a young adult in 1985, then converted to evangelical Christianity in the early 1990s, then returned to Rome in 2004. Now, he has announced that a year ago he left the Roman church again and began worshipping with the Anglicans. (If this trend continues, he is due to re-convert to Catholicism in approximately 2024, by which point his personal swimming lane in the Tiber River will be marked off with pool ropes.)

The reason for Coren's departure from Rome is all too predicatable these days, as he notes in an op-ed published Saturday in the Toronto Star:

I gradually came to embrace the cause of same-sex marriage, more liberal politics and a rejection of the conservative Christianity that had characterized my opinions and persona for more than a decade. . . .

The change was to a large extent triggered by the gay issue. I couldn’t accept that homosexual relationships were, as the Roman Catholic Church insists on proclaiming, disordered and sinful. Once a single brick in the wall was removed the entire structure began to fall.

In other words, like so many, he's capitulated to the spirit of the age, and it looks like he's found a church that won't challenge his assumptions: "I quietly and privately drifted over to an Anglican Church that while still working out its own position on many social issues, is far more progressive, open, relevant and willing to admit reality."

Not that it's difficult. The Anglican Church of Canada has been drifting toward the left on this issue for years. Currently ten dioceses are authorized to "bless" same-sex unions, including the Diocese of Ottawa where I live. The 2016 General Synod will vote on whether to authorize same-sex "marriages." Meanwhile, Canon XXI of Anglican church law, as well as the marriage ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, still presuppose that a marriage consists of a man and a woman.

If you go to a wedding ceremony, you are likely to hear such biblical passages as Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:15-24, or Ephesians 5:21-33 read. Marriage is not merely a license for guilt-free sex. It is a powerful symbol of the relationship of Jesus Christ and his church. That's why, notwithstanding whoever the world says can be married, within the church a same-sex "marriage" is a theological absurdity. It would be interesting to know what Bible verses about marriage are going to be read at Anglican same-sex ceremonies.

I viewed Coren's TV show from time to time and have read some of his books, and found them worthwhile. But this bouncing back and forth from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism and back again every decade is symptomatic of a deep spiritual immaturity. His denominational affiliation is driven by his current likes and dislikes; he is the very definition of one "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:14).

Pray for Michael Coren that he finally grows up in his faith and stops swimming.

April 28, 2015

"We played the flute, and you did not dance": thoughts on Saturday's incrementalism vs. immediatism debate

On Saturday evening, I enjoyed a late dinner and viewed a live stream of a debate titled "Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. Abolitionist Immediatism." Gregg Cunningham of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform argued in favour of the incremental position, while T. Russell Hunter of the International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies, and the founder of the Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) movement, argued for the immediatist position. (Henceforth I will call the latter the "absolutist" position: while I have no particular prejudice against their preferred term, I just feel that visually, "immediatist" and "incrementalist" may appear too similar in print.)

The event, which took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was streamed live via YouTube and can still be viewed there.

My first post as a blogger for Faith Beyond Belief was about taking an incremental approach to ending abortion on demand. After viewing the debate, I firmly continue to stand behind that post. Quite frankly, I found Hunter's argument unconvincing.

Both sides made rhetorical missteps, but Russell Hunter came across as unprepared, strident, and preachy. (After Scott Klusendorf paraphrased a well-known legal aphorism while commenting on the debate on his Facebook page, an interesting side discussion ensued about its origin. Although the proverb is by no means original to him, it was Carl Sandburg who most famously quipped, "If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell." Hunter certainly did his fair share of yelling on Saturday night.)

After the debate, someone on the debate's event page posted that Gregg Cunningham "ended up conceding the debate" in his answer to one audience question: "If you had the opportunity, if a bill was presented to you, that would abolish abortion completely, except for one child, you had to let one child die, there was one exception, what would you do?" He replied, "The answer, quite simply, is no. . . . I would say, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.'" His response consciously echoed Hunter's, to whom the question was originally posed.

Supposedly Cunningham conceded the debate to the absolutist side because by his answer he admitted that he could not sacrifice the life of a single unborn child for the sake of the greater good. I didn't see it that way. Rather, I heard what I perceived to be a loaded question intended to manipulate emotions in favour of the absolutist side (the man who posed the question was wearing an AHA shirt). Of course there would be no practical benefit to such a law; the hypothetical was contrived for emotional impact, as if to compel Cunningham to tell that innocent little unborn baby to her face that she must die for the greater good. (I think the questioner must also have confused incremental strategy with utilitarianism.)

I suggest an alternative form of the question, one which I hope will preserve the same moral issue present in the one asked at the debate, but hopefully without the transparent emotional appeal:

If you had the opportunity, if a bill was presented to you that would abolish abortion completely, except that the law would not come into effect until the end of the month and the status quo would remain in the meantime, what would you do?

Of course, I would sign that bill in a heartbeat, because it would mean both a soon and definitive end to the scourge of abortion.

I would be curious to see how an absolutist would answer it, though. I would think that their devotion to ideological purity would catch them on the horns of a dilemma.

And in the final analysis, it's that purism that renders the "abolitionists" (I reject their claimed monopoly on that term) so irrelevant. Incrementalists see victory over abortion on demand as achieved in a series of small steps, some of which have resulted in victories. Absolutists see any sort of partial legal restriction on abortion as implicitly saying "then you can kill the baby" if those restrictions don't apply in his case. If you can't outlaw abortion all the way, they say, you shouldn't go at all. So far, this approach has achieved exactly zero successes. Maybe they should stop calling themselves "abolitionists" and adopt the label "armchair quarterbacks."

Members of AHA spend a lot of time outside abortion clinics, protesting what goes on inside and counseling women not to have abortions there. I have no doubt that they changed many minds, and deserve unqualified credit and praise for the good they have done. Their activities are praiseworthy, but they are not a vindication of the abolitionist strategy. Do sidewalk counselors persuade every woman who comes to the clinic for an abortion not to have one? Do they blockade the clinic to prevent everyone they don't persuade from entering? If not, are they not tacitly acknowledging that women are legally allowed to enter an abortion clinic and kill their baby? How is this not the abolitionists' own "then you can kill the baby"?

We need the absolutists' zeal. We need their calls to the church to awaken out of its lethargy and do something to stop the killing. What we don't need is the kind of almost priggish commitment to an ideology that has thus far probably not prevented a single abortion, and treats allies as enemies.

April 24, 2015

And now . . . this - Apr. 24/15

Here's an instant classic from the chronicles of the Society of the Perpetually Outraged, whose feelings are so tender that even a tongue-in-cheek slutshaming of a fictional superhero suffices to send the social-justice warriors running for their keyboards.

When asked about fans' unmet hopes that Black Widow would get together with their characters, Captain America and Hawkeye respectively, instead of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), [Jeremy] Renner said, "She's a slut." [Chris] Evans laughed and agreed: "I was going to say something along that line . . . A complete whore." Renner also joked that "she has a prosthetic leg anyway."

[Full Story]

Reports are coming in that the Black Widow has been so humiliated by the incident, that she developed an eating disorder. Moll Flanders and Holly Golightly are said to be staging an intervention.

Seriously, when people get upset about someone calling a fictional character a slut (it's probably true, anyway, by design), then the Big One can't come soon enough.

April 17, 2015

Scrubbing the Sin List

My latest post for Faith Beyond Belief is up.

In the aftermath of Indiana's RFRA law, while no one is calling for the lions, some secular thinkers are calling for Christian silence: for example, NYT columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni recently wrote that Christians need to take homosexuality off the "sin list."

(Read "Scrubbing the Sin List.")

February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

When news broke a few days ago that actor Leonard Nimoy had been hospitalized, I feared the worst, and it has happened: he has passed away at the age of 83, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed to his former smoking habit.

Like many people of a particular generation, I knew that Nimoy had had a long and varied career in the performing arts. However, I knew his work exclusively from one character: Star Trek's Spock, the role that defined his career for almost 50 years. (Nimoy wrote two autobiographies: I Am Not Spock [1975], in which he attempted to distance his own personality from the character's, and then I Am Spock [1995], in which he clarified that he was proud to have played Spock, and never meant to reject the role.) Nimoy also played guest roles on numerous television programs of the 1960s, including Bonanza, The Rebel, Get Smart, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone (as did his Star Trek co-star William Shatner, arguably more famously), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (in an episode where he and Shatner both appeared as enemies on either side of the Cold War, with Nimoy as the villain). After Star Trek, he had a recurring role on Mission: Impossible. Come to think of it, I may have seen the episode of the Outer Limits revival on which he was the guest, but apart from the various incarnations of Star Trek, that's it.

Three of Trek's seven stars have now passed on; Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig remain.

In addition to television and film acting, Nimoy also pursued other arts: directing, poetry, photography, and music—the last infamously including a novelty song titled "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins."

Leonard Nimoy's final tweet before his death was this:

Or, in the final words of Spock, in Star Trek II: "Remember."

'Nuff said

Technically since it's in the dark, it's ALL black.

January 03, 2015

And now . . . Science! - Jan. 3/15

We begin the 2015 blogging year with this note of brilliance from astrophysicist, Cosmos host, and popular spokesman for Science!, Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

While I'm sure Tyson is eminently qualified as an astrophysicist, it seems to me there are some people who are vocationally better suited to running the planetarium gift shop than opining. When your answer to the world's problems is something like, "Well, why don't they make it so you can't do that?" you may be one of those people.

December 25, 2014

Unto us a Son is given

Every Christmas, we commemorate the birth of Christ. Often this means that sentimental visions of nativity scenes, and songs about silent nights and the little Lord Jesus in his manger, dance in our heads. But the birth of Jesus was just the starting point in his earthly ministry. At Christmas, we celebrate not merely his birth, but his Incarnation: as the apostle John wrote, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The Incarnation—God becoming a man—is the basis of the theology of the New Testament.

The Incarnation brings God close to us

Matthew wrote that the virgin birth was to "fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)" (Matt. 1:22-23). What the prophet Isaiah wrote symbolically, eight centuries earlier, actually happened at the dawn of the first century: Jesus Christ is, literally, "God with us."

God being made flesh in the person of Jesus means that he is not a disinterested spectator viewing human suffering from afar. The Creator actually entered into his own creation and participated in humanity along with the rest of us, along with our sufferings and temptations. The author of Hebrews writes, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things. . . . For because he himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb. 2:14). Jesus was baptized by John, not because he needed ritual purification, as he was sinless, but to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). He did it to identify with us, because we do need to be purified.

The Incarnation shows us God's character

In Jesus' teaching, we see God's teaching. In his miracles, we see God's power. Jesus said that he never did anything of his own initiative; it was his Father doing his own work through him. If you want to see God&'s compassion, see Jesus' healing miracles. If you want to see God's judgment, see Jesus' rebuke of the hypocritical Pharisees. If you want to see divine love, see the way Jesus loved sinners. To see what God is like, just look at Jesus.

The Incarnation shows Jesus' true humanity

As evangelical Christians, we do not compromise on the doctrine of the deity of Christ. He was no mere philosopher or great teacher; he was God in human form. The miracle of the virgin birth shows his divinity: he was not born of ordinary human parents.

Unfortunately, we often over-emphasize Jesus' divinity at the expense of his humanity. There is a surprising and unsettling tendency in some conservative churches to downplay or deny that Mary was the mother of Jesus in a meaningful sense. (I've actually heard some people claim that Mary was merely an "incubator" for his human body.) Likely, they are reacting against Roman Catholic claims concerning Mary as the "mother of God"—which, properly understood, is an affirmation of Christ's deity, not of Mary's exalted status. In rightly rejecting one extreme, some evangelicals have gone too far and embraced another.

The virgin birth shows Jesus' humanity as well as his deity. The New Testament gives us two genealogies of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). It is generally assumed that one of them traces his line through Mary. If so, then Jesus is not merely an avatar of God come to earth in a human body. He is truly a Son of Adam, and a genuine member of the human race.

The Incarnation makes Jesus a perfect priest

A priest is a person who is appointed to mediate for his people in religious services. In the Mosaic covenant, the priestly functions were carried out by the descendants of Moses' brother Aaron. They carried out the animal sacrifices in the temple of Yahweh, which were intended to forgive the sins of the Israelites. The high priest alone was permitted to enter into the Holiest of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the temple that originally housed the Ark of the Covenant, which was associated with the presence of God. The priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood on the mercy seat that covered the Ark once a year, on the Day of Atonement.

Jesus was not a Levite or a descendant of Aaron, so he was not qualified to be an Aaronic priest. The author of Hebrews describes him instead as a priest "after the order of Melchizedek." Melchizedek is a rather obscure figure from the Old Testament, described as the "king of Salem" and a "priest of God Most High" (Genesis 14:18). Following a battle in which Abraham rescued his nephew Lot who had been abducted, Melchizedek brought Abraham bread and wine and also received a tenth of the spoils as tribute.

The reasoning of Hebrews goes like this: Since Abraham paid tribute to Melchizedek and received a blessing from him, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, and also Abraham's descendants, the Levitical priests (Heb. 7:4-10). The author also notes that Melchizedek has no recorded genealogy: "neither beginning of days nor end of life" (Heb. 7:3). He resembles Christ, who, being God, has existed from all eternity and lives forever.

Therefore, Christ is a far greater priest than Aaron and his children: not because of his family line, but because he has always been. And because he is tied to Melchizedek and not to Aaron, he is not a Jewish priest for the Jewish people, but one who can intercede before God for all of humanity. Unlike the Aaronic priests, he does not die and need to be replaced, and has no need to offer sacrifices for his own sins first. "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).

The Incarnation makes Jesus a perfect Saviour

The sacrificial system of the Mosaic law taught two important lessons. First, forgiveness was available for sin. Second, to receive forgiveness, something had to die. The flaw in the Mosaic system was that the blood shed by an animal could never take away sins completely, so the rituals had to be repeated, time after time, year after year.

But this flaw was by design. The sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah. It was never meant to be an end in itself. As a true man, Jesus Christ is the substitute for humanity that no animal could ever be. As the sinless and perfectly obedient God-man, he had no guilt of his own to make him worthy of execution on the cross. The sin of guilty people was imputed to him, and his righteousness is imputed to them in return. As a perfect priest, he is able to approach God his Father with the perfect sacrifice of his own blood, and through his intercession obtains forgiveness for his people, the church. "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).

When we grasp the importance of the Incarnation, we can truly appreciate the full weight of the meaning of the words announced by angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas night: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

November 24, 2014

The Danielle delusion

American Atheists, the secular organization founded in 1963 by the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair, wants you to believe that God is a delusion.

They also want you to believe that their Public Relations Director is a woman.

David Muscato, AA's PR director, made an announcement via the Friendly Atheist blog that he is henceforth to be known as "Danielle": "I’m coming out publicly today as a transgender woman."

Not all at once, of course:

While I have identified internally as a woman for a long time, for now, I will be presenting more-or-less as a man; that is, I will continue to wear mostly traditional men’s clothing, speak in my natural lower voice, and so on.

Nonetheless:

The only real difference for now is that, going forward, I prefer to be called Danielle instead of Dave, and I prefer the use of feminine personal pronouns (she/her rather than he/him).

Behold "Danielle":

["Danielle" Muscato]

An adage from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind, about what happens when you call a calf's tail a leg.

The irony is especially thick when you consider that Muscato is an officer of a rationalist organization, and makes his announcement with the support of his superiors. American Atheists' statement of aims and purposes says:

Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.

I can't speak for everyone, but my experience (viz. my observation of the above photograph) affirms that Muscato is, indeed, a dude. I wonder what the scientific method might tell me about Muscato's maleness or femaleness—say, by administering a a DNA test. Finally, the comments to his Friendly Atheist post consist almost entirely of well-wishers, apparently unreservedly accepting Muscato's pronouncement solely on his authority.

Atheists assert that belief in God is unwarranted given the lack of evidence for his existence. Then they turn around and assert that a woman named Danielle exists, denying all evidence to the contrary. Mark Twain's schoolboy said, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Well, thanks to David/Danielle, we now know who makes that leap of faith.

November 08, 2014

And now .. . this - Nov. 8/14

See? I warned you:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed taking 72 hazardous chemicals off of its approved list of inert ingredients allowed for use in pesticides. . . .

But the inclusion of argon (AR)—a naturally occurring element and the third most abundant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere—has left some people scratching their heads.

[Full Story]

The hard truth is, we need to find ways to reduce our dependency on Big Air. In the meantime, make sure that any air you breathe is locally sourced, fair-trade, and free-range.