What Makes Men Good?

 

shutterstock_105095180Nothing. If history has taught us anything, it is that mankind excels at doing bad while pretending to be noble and otherwise.

Sorry to be so pessimistic, but the last century has proved beyond doubt that human beings are not getting better. In fact, the opposite has occurred: we’ve regressed. The myth of progress be damned and forgotten evermore. Sure the last century saw many positive examples of growth – technology and applied science come to mind. And, yes, this growth has been at an unprecedented level too – since 1915 we have had the invention or upgrading of planes, automobiles, vaccines, indoor plumbing, freezers, dishwashers, modern medical advances such as the heart transplant and chemotherapy, television, radio, mobile phones, satellites, and the computer. I could go on and on, but I shall stop where I am. Human technology and its use has been a definite benefit.

But the story of the last century encompasses much more then the good uses of technology. it also saw the rise of three totalitarian threats (the legacies of which are still with us), which nearly wiped out all life on earth; two unbelievably destructive great world wars; genocides (I use the plural because even in our “enlightened age” they occur still); mass torture; starvation; a Cold War (that included multiple actual wars); the unleashing of political tyrannies never seen before, whose great claim was making many of their subjects never to be seen again; the rise of police states to a level Orwell could not envision; biological warfare; chemical warfare; poison gas; gulags; concentration camps; the emergence of religious violence and the deaths of 200 million people. More people died in the 20th century from secular regimes than all the wars in history up until that point.

Reckoning with Divorce

 

We’ve had a pair of gay marriage posts this week on the Member Feed [Editor’s note: Curious? Join!], and there have been a few comments along the lines that Christians focus all their anger on gays, and similarly comments about the easy forgiveness of heterosexual sexual sins. These comments bothered me, but I don’t want to hijack those threads.

In the 20 years or so since I’ve been an active member of congregational churches (yes, those of you doing the math, I started when I was about 10 years old; being a voting member is a matter of salvation and understanding of the doctrine through baptism, not age), and I’ve seen sexual sins brought up a number of times. Almost always heterosexual, and almost always aimed at fornication and adultery (with the balance being about how married people should have sex more frequently).

Split-Religion Marriages and Conversions

 

When I was a young teenager, my dad got pulled into the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults when a neighbor asked my dad to sponsor him through the process of conversion. The man’s wife was Catholic, so he was considering the Church’s beliefs with charitable patience. My father has participated in RCIA ever since, in varying capacities.

These days, one of his favorite TV programs is The Journey Home in which host Marcus Grodi interviews converts to Catholicism about their conversion experiences. Baptists, Lutherans, Mormons, Jews, housewives, lawyers, scientists, preachers — The show is fascinating because of the endless variety of origin stories, which provide insights and nuances which cradle Catholics like myself often have never considered.

Why Marriage in America Is Wrong

 

Marriage equality has become a sticking point for many Americans, primarily from the conservative side of the spectrum. As we get closer to the point where SCOTUS could arguably settle the dispute, I have been thinking about why we have ended up with the entire argument in the first place.

The basis of the marriage equity camp’s argument is the 14th Amendment, while those opposed tend to argue on the basis of the First Amendment (even though we haven’t really gotten to the point where lawsuits are being filed to force religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriage.) Ben Carson ended up in a minor situation with the Southern Poverty Law Center over the fact that he publicly stated that gay rights organizations should not be able to define marriage. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to agree with him, at least not in the context of state recognition of marriage.

Self and Soul

 

Prompted by the great Casey, I re-read Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. First read it years ago, but I’m older now, and reading it again brings very different reactions.

One argument is that the modern world has done away with the Soul and has replaced it with the Self. That’s a quick way of describing a conviction I’ve held for a long time. A soul is an individual connected to God and the rest of the universe, striving to find harmony with all of it. A self has no such connection; it’s just a command center (with little control) over a sea of conflicting and confusing interior psychic currents. Or, as Bloom suggests, a soul is on the roof pondering the mysteries of the heavens, but a self is in the basement snooping around in the dark for Freudian rats.

Will We Ever Have Another Overtly Religious President?

 

shutterstock_131310620George W. Bush is probably the last. I remember the excitement at bible study about a praying president. We all thought it was pretty darn cool. It’s a shame economic sensibilities weren’t high on the laundry list he asked for from God.

Somebody asked me about Mike Huckabee recently and I opined that we’d never have another overtly religious president. I thought I’d explain why and see what the masses think.

  • The idea that W only needed evangelicals to get elected hit home to the leftists; they’ve chipped away at their influence through all of their many tendrils;
  • For all the fuss about it, gay marriage is a losing cause, both nationally and in many states;
  • Abortion, that horrible act, is a touchy issue politically even for those against it;
  • Mitt Romney never got pressed hard because the Democrats knew all along he’d lose; Magic underwear and his family’s own afterlife planet would have come to the fore if needed;
  • Jeb will have to deal with more negativity than his dynastic name. He believes the pope can speak ex cathedra. While the Left will adore the socialist leanings of this pope, the media will hammer Jeb on birth control and women’s issues; and
  • If an evangelical gets the nod, there will be dinosaur questions as well as rapture ones.

You get the idea.  Whatever faith a person has, there are some beliefs that open themselves up to criticism, derision, or worse….comedy.

Newsweek Wants To Tell You About Those Rotten Evangelicals

 

explorerIt’s Christmastide, so it’s time once again for Newsweek to flex its theological muscles and slam Christians for their intolerable reading of the Bible. It’s a cheap trick. It’s easy to throw bombs at Christians. They’ll refute your claims, but they are not going to strap on a vest of explosives.
I’ve read the article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a Sin,” and — as a favor to you, and to help you preserve time to prepare your New Year’s Eve — I’m offering up time that would otherwise have been completely wasted (as opposed to mostly wasted) to fill you in on what you already know.

In 2013, Newsweek’s balance sheet showed the magazine in fiscal bankruptcy, so it’s little surprise that the magazine now demonstrates its moral bankruptcy by publishing an article bashing Evangelical Christians for their alleged Biblical ignorance and — naturally — for their refusal to stand with the current zeitgeist. No sensible person will pay attention to, or pay for, the magazine. However, plenty of senseless readers will glom onto the end-of-the-year edition, eager to read something that bucks up what they are sure they already know. Newsweek needs those readers and will fill them full of what they need just to stay afloat.

The writer, Kurt Eichenwald, writes for Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and a few other fish wraps. He’s written some books. Read all about him here. But when I Googled his name I couldn’t find anything that established his bona fides as a Biblical scholar. But I didn’t really need to research Eichenwald credentials. The article fully reveals the depth of his scholarship. He must have spent minutes actually trying to understand the history and theology of Sacred Scripture.

Member Post

 

“Wasteland 2” finally came out. This is a game set in a post-apocalyptic world, sort of like a Spaghetti Western with robots, cyborgs, energy weapons, black humor…and giant robot scorpions. It took me 235 hours to play through. That is a big amount of time–even though I’ve logged in hundreds of hours playing “Fallout” games, […]

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Pope Francis: Doggie Heaven Is Real

 

During a recent appearance, Pope Francis comforted a little boy who had just lost his dog. The Pontiff said, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

I never think much about this issue until I’m the one dealing with a dying pet. I’ve lost two Corgis in the past several years, and each required lengthy conversations with my young daughters about the cute little guys’ eternal resting place. Though I was non-committal, I employed several “maybes” and “could be’s” to comfort crying kids who wanted a firm promise they would see their puppies again. If I’m being honest, the thought also comforted me more than a little.

Member Post

 

One of my friends is a writer who is presently spending time in Malaysia as his wife teaches English. He’s among my liberal friends and though he’s strongly in that direction, I’ve found I can have at least intelligent disagreements with him. Earlier this week he posts this picture: He commented on this as well: […]

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Take the Test: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Deepak Chopra?

 

Astrophysicist, Cosmos host, and director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Several media outlets (especially The Federalist) have investigated his anecdotes, quotes and claims only to learn he makes up quite a few of them. Luckily for the pop scientist and his devotees across the Internet, the New York Times published an article exonerating Tyson for his multiple transgressions. Because Science!

Tyson also is one of America’s most popular skeptics, making a career ridiculing religious beliefs (and conservative ideology) as just so much silly superstition. So I decided to juxtapose his quotes with New Age self-help guru Deepak Chopra. Surely this will be the easiest test ever created, right? Let’s begin…

Fault Line: Culture Wars Playing Out in the Church

 

shutterstock_204326209There is a divide among American Christians. Less a disagreement between Catholics and Protestants — or other divisions of doctrine and theology — the difference turns on culture, and relates to a fundamental difference in worldviews that transcend the old schisms. In short it, is a matter of orthodoxy, with non-denominational evangelicals and cafeteria Catholics on one side, and traditionalists on the other. It has been talked about within the various churches for decades, but affects almost all of them in the same fashion, and reflects larger trends in the culture that mirror political parties.

A recent conversation on the Member Feed turned to the matter of how Christians consider each other with respect to true worship and doctrine. Along the way, member Gary McVey asked:

My “local” [Lutheran parish] is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America [ELCA]. To folks in the know, are they in or out?

Member Post

 

I used to belong to a blogging site called ‘Journalspace.com,’ which has since collapsed. On my blog there I had posted text  from a book of biblical scholarship by Bruce Vawter, to stimulate discussion about Christianity’s origins. I am planning to do the same here, but I am unsure of the best way. In other […]

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The Exorcist, The Demon, and The One Who Is Not There

 

imageIt’s nearly Halloween, which means a cornucopia of horror movies on TV. Most of them are just awful, with a few masterpieces occasionally making the grade. Last night some cable channel featured Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and a couple of zombie features I’d never heard of. Frankly, the horror movie genre is in a slump. It’s zombies, zombies, zombies, all the way down and I’ve never understood their appeal. I have a pretty strong stomach — I always have anchovies on my pizza — but I demur when it comes to people eating people. I just don’t understand how they can be the luckiest people in the world.

For just over 40 years, The Exorcist has been the magnum opus of horror films. I’ve never completely understood how such a frankly religious movie has been transformed into a Halloween staple. Yes, it’s terrifying and — for whatever reason — people love to be terrified. But what makes it a perennial favorite, I think, is the gut deep fear that demonic possession may be possible. Nobody’s going to turn into a zombie or be resurrected as a member of the fraternity of the undead. But at a visceral level, most people believe fallen angels are more than superstition who literally, in the words of the Prayer to St. Michael, “prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Satan is out of style, nowadays, which is a very bad thing. Archbishop Fulton Sheen pushed the idea of the devil with a great deal of fervor. Satan’s untimely death in the psyche of present day man is, he said, his greatest triumph. Modern man may be numbed to evil given the terrors of the present age. But when beheadings are all the rage in ISIS land, it might be wise to re-think our dangerous conceit that evil lives only in the hearts of men. Evil is personal. It may be ISIS policy to chop off heads, but individuals carry out the orders. And it could well be that a person — one of unfathomable power — and who is supernaturally skilled in the art of deception, tempts us to break free from the “superstition.”

Can the Secular Define Evil?

 

I’m a fan of Dennis Prager, though I split my listening between him and Rush, as they’re both on at the same time. Dennis is an unabashed advocate for religion, and the notion that goodness flows from it. He frequently challenges secular people or atheists — like me — to contradict his claim that “[w]thout God there is no good and evil.”

It’s a good challenge, and I’ve been contemplating it for a long time. Not only do I think we should always confront our opponent’s best arguments directly but I really do think its important to ask myself — as secular person — how I draw the distinction between what is good and evil if I am not going to trust religion to define it for me?

Yom Kippur: A Torah Explanation

 

I like to explain everything using only the words in the Torah. The following is a modified excerpt from my upcoming book. It is, oddly enough, libertarian in the sense of taking responsibility for one’s own actions. But otherwise, this is pure biblical exegesis, which obviously will not appeal to many. But it might interest a few of you.. so enjoy!

Consider the Yom Kippur offering, the famous “two goats.” One is consigned to Azazel and thrown down a cliff, and the other one meets a holy end as a sacrifice to G-d. Like many other commandments in the Torah, the twin goats of Yom Kippur can be very difficult to understand.

Member Post

 

This post is just a quick THANKS! to the great members here.  Through Ricochet I’ve been able to meet some astounding people (even if only through posts and audio meet ups), and hardly a day goes by where I don’t learn something here.  I’m not going to name names because I don’t want to be […]

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Atheist In the Foxhole? So Help Me God…

 

As many are aware, the Air Force became the last branch of the military to make “so help me God” optional in the oath of enlistment this past week.

A legal review of rules that required the phrase occurred after the American Humanist Association (AHA) threatened to sue on behalf of an atheist airman. The unnamed airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied re-enlistment Aug. 25 after crossing the phrase out of the oath.

HS Football Coach Suspended for Joining a Team Prayer

 

It has been a tough few weeks for football suspensions. As lurid tales of players beating women and “whooping” children dominate the headlines, a successful Arizona high school football coach has been suspended for an even more shocking offense:

Tempe Prep football coach Tommy Brittain has been suspended two weeks for praying with his team after the Show Low [Ariz.] win two weeks ago, his wife, Melissa, confirmed.