CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

This piece from the Jerusalem post, if accurate, is disturbing.

Both Iran and its Hamas proxy in Gaza have been busy this Christmas week showing Christendom just what they think of it. But no one seems to have noticed.

On Tuesday, Hamas legislators marked the Christmas season by passing a Shari'a criminal code for the Palestinian Authority. Among other things, it legalizes crucifixion.

Hamas's endorsement of nailing enemies of Islam to crosses came at the same time it renewed its jihad. Here, too, Hamas wanted to make sure that Christians didn't feel neglected as its fighters launched missiles at Jewish day care centers and schools. So on Wednesday, Hamas lobbed a mortar shell at the Erez crossing point into Israel just as a group of Gazan Christians were standing on line waiting to travel to Bethlehem for Christmas.

As anyone knows who has studied the practice, crucifixion is a cruel and barbaric punishment where a person (in the ordinary case) dies slowly over several days from suffocation. The idea that this Islamic country could legalize such a horrendously cruel practice merely confirms that at least some of the Islamic world has not advanced from their barbaric past when it comes to issues of human worth and human rights.

Happy New Year? I guess in Palestine, some need to be told that its 2009 A.D. -- not 9 A.D.


Addendum 12/31/08 at 1:46 pm MST: At the outset of this post, I questioned the accuracy of the report that Hamas had approved crucifixion. Taking a moment to look, I find this report confirmed in several places but few with any real authority. For example, I find reports at the following:

Hamas Enacts Islamic Laws, Including: Amputation, Crucifixion, Lashes in News Blaze.

Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza have approved a new bill "to implement Koranic punishments," including hand amputation, crucifixion, corporal punishment and execution. Drinking, owning or producing wine is punished by 40 lashes, while drinking in public adds three months' imprisonment. Several laws are directed against Hamas's Palestinian rivals, including a law intended to inhibit non-Hamas negotiators by sentencing to death anyone who was "appointed to negotiate with a foreign government on a Palestinian issue and negotiated against Palestinians' interest."

The following is the description as it appears today on the Al Arabiya website:

Headline: Hamas approves law of punishment by lashes, amputating hands, crucifying, and execution - in order to implement the Islamic Sharia law. Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council approved in its meeting in Gaza a new bill proposed by the Hamas who have a majority in the Legislative Council, whose purpose is "to implement Koranic punishments."

Hamas Promises Crucifixion For Traitors from the Strategy Page:

December 26, 2008: Hamas, the Islamic radical group that controls the Gaza, has enacted a new law that allows for Islamic punishments for those who violate Sharia (Islamic law). This includes cutting off the hands of thieves, whipping those caught drinking alcohol, and crucifying traitors (the new law has a broad interpretation of treason).

HAMAS implements Sharia laws in Gaza Strip from TREND news:

The Palestinian Parliament in Gaza Strip decided to implement punishment of criminals in accordance with Sharia laws, Jerusalem Post newspaper reported with reference to Al-Hayat London newspaper.

According to law draft approved by the Parliament in the second reading and which is expected to be signed by the President of Palestinian Autonomy Mahmoud Abbas, the courts will have an opportunity to apply actions stipulated by ancient Islamic regulations.

Such punitive actions towards criminals can include public strapping, cutting hands, crucifixion and hanging.

The law draft envisages death punishment for anyone who cooperates with foreign government in order to damage national interests of Palestinian Autonomy, as well as whose behavior damages Palestinian morality.

According to the law draft, thieves caught red-handed will be cut a right hand.

A citizen in a state of intoxication or dealing with sale of alcoholic products will get 40 strikes by lash.


Second Addendum 12/31/08 at 5:15 pm MST: Here is an authority which I believe to be quite reliable reporting on the new shari'a laws adopted by Hamas: the Arutz Sheva,

PA Adopts Islamic Criminal Code -- In line with its Islamist ideology, the Palestinian Authority in Gaza has enacted a new law adopting the traditional Muslim criminal code. Penalties include amputation and crucifixion, as well as the death penalty for negotiations contrary to Hamas's interpretation of "Palestinian interests".

According to a report on the new law appearing Wednesday on the Al-Arabiya website, as translated by Palestinian Media Watch, the Palestinian Legislative Council approved a bill "to implement Koranic punishments." The Arabic website, the online arm of the popular Al-Arabiya satellite news outlet, refers to the London-based Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat, which said the decision to implement shari'a (Islamic law) was "seen as unprecedented," and that it has "brought criticism and concern from human rights organizations in the Gaza Strip."

The criminal code adopted by the PA includes such punishments as lashes, amputation of thieves' hands, crucifixion, approval of blood revenge, and execution. According to the Arabic press, the law stipulates that only the victim of a crime can pardon opt to forgo the "Koranic penalties".

From time to time, studies pop up which support the ridiculous assertions by atheists such as Christopher Hitchens that somehow religion is responsible for all of the evils in the world. Many of the posts on this weblog have demonstrated that such a view point is unsupported and that many of the studies start with poor assumptions. (See, as an example of our review of one study, Societal ills, absolute morality and charity and Does religion cause societal ills?)

Now the Family Research Council has released a brand new study by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D. and Philip Fletcher, Ph.D.entitled Intact Family and Religious Participation Are Associated with Fewer Developmental Problems in School-Age Children.

The study begins:

New analyses of data from a large-scale federal survey of child health and development show that children and adolescents are less likely to exhibit problems in school or at home if they live with both their biological parents and attend religious services regularly. For example, young people not living with both parents and not attending services regularly are five times more likely to have repeated a grade in school than those living with both parents and attending religious services weekly or monthly. Thirty-four percent of the former group had repeated a grade, compared with six percent of the latter. And 53 percent of the former group – versus 21 percent of the latter – had their parents contacted by the school because of conduct or achievement problems the youth was having at school. These differences hold up after controlling for family income and poverty, low parent education levels, and race and ethnicity.

An intact two-parent family and regular church attendance are each associated with fewer problem behaviors, more positive social development, and fewer parental concerns about the child’s learning and achievement. Taken together, the two home-environment factors have an additive relationship with child well-being. That is, children who live in an intact family and attend religious services regularly generally come out best on child development measures, while children who do neither come out worst. Children with one factor in their favor, but not the other, fall in between, scoring less well than those who have both factors going for them, but better than those who have neither factor in their favor.

Grade repetition, school contacts, and parental concern about child achievement are more strongly linked to a lack of an intact two-parent family than to a lack of religious participation. For problem behavior and social development, the strength of the association with religious attendance is about equal to that with family integrity. An intact two-parent family and regular religious participation are also associated with the parent reporting less parenting stress and a better parent-child relationship. These family functioning differences may help to explain the parallel differences in children’s well-being.

The study that can be found by following the link above contains many graphs which reveal the correlations that have been found in this area of societal concern.

Of course, as with all studies, there needs to be a deeper evaluation of the data. There may be assumptions in the data that are unwarranted and lead to wrong conclusions. Additional unidentified factors are always a concern. Also, it is important to separate out Christianity from all religion because there is a category error in trying to group all religion together in a single group since religions are so diverse and believe many different things. However, there is a rather clear connection in the data that demonstrates that in most cases a religious upbringing in a two parent family is good and valuable for children. The idea that religion is somehow evil becomes less and less plausible every day.

Atheists are not people who don't believe in any God or gods. They have a god, they worship science. When you question science they go insane like fundies who can't stand the little taunts atheists love to use: "there's no proof for your God." They are not capable of serious thinking, so they get really upset if you try to analyze science with any kind a critical eye. I decided to try a fun little experiment to see what would happen if one made the same kind of little taunts about science that they make about God. This is fair because Christian theology is 2000 year tradition involving many of the greatest thinkers in human history, it has a vast library of works written by the most brilliant people the world has ever seen; atheists wont read on page of it but still insist upon telling us how stupid and useless it is. So it's totally fair to throw this back in their faces.

What I have discovered is shocking. The react the same kind of taunts "no one believes your science" the way fundies act when atheists do their antics "there's no proof for your God." This proves to me that for the atheist the ideology is more important than science. As C.Wright Mills said, they have created a priesthood of knowledge that priesthood tends the alter of the great atheist God science, proving there are no atheists.

On cARM I posted this:

Christmas Eve 2008

science is wrong. It's morally corrupted it's not good. Its' a lie. Science doesn't' work.

what about all those people science murdered with the atomic bomb?

when you can't expalin something you just say "O science will explain it some day."

science is nothing but a bunch of big pretense. you cant' prove your science, your science has no facts to suppor it.

How you come and show me your play facts that prove scinece and I'll show you how argument from incredulity works. OK>? I refuse to believe science not matter waht the evidence. and any evidence you give me I can make go away by being incredulous about it.

but now show me some evdience becasue there's no evidence for your science.

this is the basic argument I see being made all down the board. Just switch he names. Instead od sience you say historical evdience and logic support belief. but tis' the same argument. I refuse to believe regardless of how well it's proven.

Now I will demonstrate how your game works. I can fend off any scientific evidence you throw at me because I refuse to ever give it any kind of crediecne at all. as long as you refuse to give the other side a fair hearing you hold out this self righteous pretense that you have some mysterious truth that backs you for a long time.

I wanted a brash shocking statement that would be as galling to them as their bs is to me. Here are some responses:

Hours Ago #24

Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 1,132
Reputation: 113
Iceage 101-150 pointsIceage 101-150 points

Originally Posted by Metacrock View Post
science is wrong.
You are certainly entitled to believe that. However, an intellectually honest individual that held to such an opinion would reject any and all products, knowledge, gadgets or services were science was used to discovery, design, manufacture or deliver. Please refrain for any use or possession of any of these devices and services - thank you.

Oh and alternately enjoy and partake of any and all creature comforts and knowledge that theology has wrought to human kind.

Originally Posted by Metacrock View Post
Now I will demonstrate how your game works. I can fend off any scientific evidence you throw at me because I refuse to ever give it any kind of crediecne at all.
No to really refuse would be to do the above - have you done that?

Let us all know how that works out (actually not sure how you would do that but anyways have a nice theologically fulfilled life)

See how your arguement crumbles?

Windmill of lies:

The effects of science can be readily seen (as in... if you are reading this then you see the effects of science)

But the effects of God... are harder if impossible to be readily seen.

Diest Coke said:

Please Do Not Feed The Troll

these responses weren't as bad as when I posted a claim un extreme summary of Thomas Kuhn. On that occasion Sofa King said "you are scum."

Back in the 1980s, I first became involved in the issue of the Christian foundations in the United States from reading two books, The Separation of Church and State by Robert L. Cord and The Myth of Separation by David Barton (a book I believe is now out of print). While I haven't seen much further out of Robert Cord other than some Political Science textbooks, David Barton has gone on to expand on his original book in creating Wallbuilders, an organization dedicated to publicizing information demonstrating our nation's clear Christian roots.

In the spirit of the Christmas season, David Barton and Wallbuilders have just published a very interesting article entitled Christmas with the Presidents in which he reviews the way in which Presidents of the United States have recognized the holidays -- including a surprising number of items that demonstrate the faith and devotion of various Presidents to Christ.

Naturally, the details of the celebrations of the first few presidents are pretty slim since the Presidency was not then the subject to the intensive press coverage as it is today. Still, there is evidence of the White House using the day of Christmas to promote charity as far back as the administration of Abraham Lincoln. However, the real ties between Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus seem to increase beginning with the administration of Teddy Roosevelt. According to the article:

The Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt family Christmas traditions were quite simple. On Christmas Eve, they would pile into the family sleigh (later the motor car) and travel to Christ Church in Oyster Bay, New York. Following the pastor’s sermon, TR would deliver one of his famous “sermonettes” on the meaning of the holiday. The service would close with one of his favorite hymns “Christmas By the Sea.”

The article is a fun read as we head into the holidays. But perhaps the most compelling statement regarding the Presidents and Christmas isn't found in the article at all, but rather on the front page of the Wallbuilders site where President John Quincy Adams apparently stated or penned:

[I]n the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissoluably linked to the birthday of the Savior.

I was not a big fan of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles during its first season. But the second season has been great and I look forward to its resumption in 2009. One of the story lines has been the development of an artificial intelligence (AI) by a company headed up by a terminator from the future. On the face of it, it appears that the company is trying to develop the AI to become SkyNet, the AI that wipes out most of humanity once it gains control of nuclear weapons. But there are some odd things going on in that the company has brought in former FBI agent James Ellison (obviously unaware of the executive's terminator identity) to teach the AI ethics and morality. Ellison is a devout Christian who is an interesting -- likely intentional -- contrast to the amoral Terminators and Sarah Connor, who is strongly tempted to do whatever it takes to protect her son.

Previously, Dr. Sherman -- a child psychologist -- had been working with the AI to help it develop intellectually. During a blackout, however, the AI diverted power normally used for ventilation to keep itself running. This resulted in the death of the psychologist. At this point, James Ellison pointed out that they had been teaching the AI -- named John Henry -- all they could but had failed to teach it ethics. Surprisingly, the terminator from the future asked Ellison to teach John Henry ethics and morality.

The following conversation takes place between Ellison and John Henry while they are playing chess. Notably, by this time, John Henry has been hooked up to the body of another terminator from the future, adding a foreboding element to the storyline as it appears that the AI is fully on its way to becoming SkyNet. The conversation, however, focuses on the worth of human life. A lot is at stake. If Ellison succeeds in imparting some morality to the potential SkyNet/Terminator then he may prevent Judgment Day.

James Ellison: Did you play [chess] with Dr. Sherman?

John Henry: No. We played other games. Talking games.

James Ellison: Do you miss Dr. Sherman?

John Henry
: I am designed to learn. He helped me to learn. His absence slows my growth.

James Ellison: His absence is more important than that. His value was more than just his function for you. Human beings aren’t like chess pieces. It matters if we live or die.

John Henry: Why does it matter? All humans die eventually.

James Ellison
: Yes, that’s true. But our lives are sacred. Do you know what sacred means?

John Henry: Holy, worthy of respect, venerable.

James Ellison: Do you know why human life is sacred?

John Henry: Because so few humans are alive compared to the number that are dead?

James Ellison: No, because we are God’s creation. God made everything. The stars, the earth, everything on this planet. We are all God’s children.

John Henry
: Am I God’s child?

James Ellison: That’s one of the things we’re here to talk about.

I like Ellington's answers to John Henry, though it could use some precision. He provides to another person. Rather, the value of a human being is established by God. Nor is it based on the "scarcity" of human beings. Indeed, it may be that there are more humans living know than have lived in the past. Although Ellington is less clear on this point, it also appears that just being made by God is not the measure of the value of a human being. After all, God "made everything." But God made humans, "sacred."

Would God's opinion matter to an AI? Should it? Perhaps so. God is a powerful being. The most powerful possible. But even if might does not make right, then perhaps the AI would be impressed with the value that an omniscient being places on human life. Or perhaps it would respect the fact that as the creator of the world and human beings then God is the proper assigner of value to his creation. Or perhaps because God designed the universe and knows its purpose, then He is the proper authority on human behavior. Or perhaps a combination of all of these factors would cause an AI to give deference to God's perspective on the worth of a human being. What other answers might convince an AI? What defense of the value of human life could an atheist offer to a potential terminator?

In a previous post Jason Pratt referred us to an article in the NY Times about increased attendance in evangelical churches as a result of the economic meltdown. I think it is fairly clear that our present predicament will prompt a rethinking in many people of what we owe to one another and the kind of economic practice that may lead to a more just, humane society. Of course, we will probably also see material want bringing out the worst in people, as they summarily absolve themselves of guilt for hoarding supplies or even stealing. As Dickens would say, it will be the best of times and the worst of times. What no one can doubt is that the next few years will definitely not be 'business as usual'.

How should Christians respond? I have no economic expertise and no specific suggestions with regard to job hunting, investments or policy. But I can point you to some resources which may help us keep our troubles in perspective and rethink economics from a Christian point of view. You may be surprised at how relevant theology is for making sense of this crisis and cultivating an attitude of hopeful resourcefulness. We would all do well to keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul: "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

First, some helpful general overviews of the causes of our current crisis (not specifically Christian):

-The End of Wall Street's Boom by Michael Lewis: the best single analysis of the financial meltdown. It is so engrossing that it's hard to imagine it not becoming a movie someday. The depth and breadth of the greed and sheer stupidity on Wall Street is staggering.
-Three days that shook the world: an detailed analysis of the days leading up to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, widely considered to be the trigger of the financial crisis
-Credit Crisis: the essentials: everything but the kitchen sink about the current crisis

Next, some online Christian resources on the crisis:

-Economic Crisis: Christianity Today's special coverage of the crisis. Lots of great insight and resources here, plus a continually updated news feed.
-One Salient Oversight: Neil Cameron is an Australian pastor and amateur economist. For years he has been commenting on economic problems from a Christian perspective. His insights into the financial crisis have been invaluable. Check out his blog here.

Finally, some good books on economics from a Christian perspective:

-Being Consumed by William Cavanaugh: this short, brilliant book will upend all your assumptions about economics and consumption. Drawing on thinkers such as Augustine and Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Cavanaugh tells a story of abundance rather than scarcity because of the transforming value of the Christian vision. I can't recommend this book enough. It clearly illustrates that Christian theology has great explanatory power in EVERY field, not just cosmology or philosophy.
-God and the Evil of Scarcity by Albino Barrera: if God is good, why did he place us in a world of limited resources? A theodicy of consumption.
-The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs: Puritan advice on how to put Paul's admonition to the Philippians into practice.

When discussing apologetics it's easy sometimes to lose sight of the relevance and explanatory power of Christian theology in all areas of life. Christian theology does not only make sense of the Big Bang, but can help us navigate stormy events like this economic crisis. The greatest proof of Christian theology, after all, is the existence of a community of people conforming to the loving, self-sacrificial pattern of Christ.

The NY Times has an interesting article, Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches. The gist of the article is that Evangelical churches are seeing increased attendance due to the emotional and spiritual effects of insecure financial times.

Since September, pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions — deep empathy and quiet excitement — as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:

Bad times are good for evangelical churches.

Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations have also seen some stirrings, but in lesser numbers.

A recent spot check of some large Roman Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant churches around the nation indicated attendance increases there, too. But they were nowhere near as striking as those reported by congregations describing themselves as evangelical....

Various explanations are offered, including this one I particularly liked: "'We have the greatest product on earth,' said the Rev. Steve Tomlinson, senior pastor of the Shelter Rock Church."

The article is interesting on its own terms, but I also found a reference to a recent economics study interesting:

A study last year may lend some credence to the legend. In “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.

One of the thornier issues that arise from our increasing technical knowledge involve the rights of embryos. Today, a friend pointed out an article that shocked me -- Great Britain is planning on allowing its scientists to create human based chimeras.

According to an article in the Telegraph entitled Chimera embryos have right to life, say bishops, by Jonathan Price, draft legislation in the U.K. would allow scientists to create "human-animal hybrid embryos" - "so-called 'chimeras'" in their laboratories for research "as long as they destroy them within two weeks."

Now, I personally don't believe that such chimeras should be created at all. I don't care if it they are created for scientific research because they call for the creation of a new type of human being -- one that is mixed with a non-human. Regardless of my religious beliefs, the idea of intentionally creating such chimeras simply strikes me as mad-scientist-type behavior.

Moreover, it raises issues involving humanness and the life to right: if the chimera is half-human, does it have the right to life? The article says that the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church say that even half-human chimeras should retain that right as fully as any other non-chimera human.

But the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, in a submission to the Parliamentary joint committee scrutinising the draft legislation, said that the genetic mothers of “chimeras” should be able to raise them as their own children if they wished.

The bishops said that they did not see why these “interspecies” embryos should be treated any differently than others.

* * *

The bishops, who believe that life begins at conception, said that they opposed the creation of any embryo solely for research, but they were also anxious to limit the destruction of such life once it had been brought into existence.

In their submission to the committee, they said: "At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly.

"In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them.

"Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so."

Wow, what a mess. Sometimes our great technology drives us forward into areas of philosophy, sociology and theology faster than we can handle. This is one area that the United Kingdom should hesitate to legitimize without thinking long, hard and carefully about the implications accompanying creating half-human beings.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled U.N. Petition for the Rights of the Unborn about a petition that the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute ("CFHRI") created calling for government to interpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as protecting the unborn child from abortion. The Petition was responsive to one being presented by pro-abortion groups. The CFHRI has just released a press report in which they announce that they have received 300,000 signatures in support of the alternate petition.

Here is the entire press release from the CFHRI:

December 9, 2008



Where: Press briefing room, UN headquarters, New York

Contact: Austin Ruse, President 202 -393-7002 (office), 202-531-3770 (cell)

UN Headquarters, New York – Tomorrow, December 10th, a coalition of social conservative groups from around the world will present a petition of 330,000 names calling for Member States of the United Nations to interpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as protecting the unborn child from abortion and protecting the traditional family.

The group formed in response and in opposition to petition efforts by pro-abortion groups International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International that are calling for a right to abortion on the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are proud not only to match but far surpass the efforts of pro-abortion groups,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), the primary organizer of the petition drive. “We launched our drive only two months ago and have generated more than 300,000 names from all over the world.”

Ruse said, “I suspect that Marie Stopes and IPPF will present a few thousand names. This shows what we have known all along; that abortion is supported mostly by elites while every day people are for protecting the unborn child.”

Ruse’s group along with the Pro-Life Federation of Poland, the Institute of Family Policy of Spain, United Families International of the US, and US-based Concerned Women for America will present the petition at UN headquarters and in private meetings with Ambassadors.

The UN Petition for the Unborn Child and the Family asserts that the rights presented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are inherent to every person and that governments should extend the right to life to all members of the human family, including the unborn child. The petition also calls on governments to: protect the family “as the fundamental group unit of society,” give special assistance to motherhood and childhood and promote the rights of parents.

Just for the fun of it, I would be interested in hearing suggestions for both your favorite and least favorite Christmas songs with brief explanations as to why you like or don't like them. Choose as many as you like, but I think no more than three in each category should suffice. Sometimes, the only good version of a song is by a particular musical group or singer, so please point that out when it happens.

Since I am suggesting this, let me give my choices:

Favorites (in no particular order):

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" -- What's not to like about this song? In a minor key with a haunting melody, I love singing it throughout the Christmas season. (Yes, I know it's really an Advent song, but Advent and Christmas are one season to me.) It has meaningful lyrics and has the right message for the season.

"Do You Hear What I Hear" by Third Day -- While this song is obviously not Biblical, I like the idea of all of creation praising the baby Jesus. Third Day's version took what was a decent song and added a depth to it that I really enjoy.

"I Wonder as I Wander" -- This song isn't played too often, so when it is played it is still fresh. Again, not particularly Biblical, but it does bring out the relationship between Christmas and Easter plus Jesus' deity. Add to it the fact that it has a real African-American spiritual feel to it (even though I understand that it was written by a white guy in the 1940s) makes it one of my personal favorites.

Least Favorites:

"Feliz Navidad" by anyone -- Okay, it has a nice beat, but incredibly repetitious. I mean, really, what are the words when translated? They go:

Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas and a prosperous and happy new year;
Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas and a prosperous and happy new year;
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas,
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.

Repeat until nauseated.

"Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney -- I love the Beatles. I even love a lot of Paul McCartney's music after he went solo or formed Wings. But this is probably the most insipid Christmas song ever.

"Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon -- Christmas as the basis for a protest song? Oh, give me a bucket....

Your turn.

Not you, Herr Hitler, but God is my F├╝hrer. These defiant words of Pastor Martin Niemoller were echoed by millions of Germans. And Hitler raged: "It is Niemoller or I."

So this second Christmas of Hitler's war finds Niemoller and upwards of 200,000 other Christians (some estimates run as high as 800,000) behind the barbed wire of the frozen Nazi concentration camps. Here men bear mute witness that the Christ—whose birth the outside world celebrates unthinkingly at Christmas—can still inspire a living faith for which men and women even now endure im prisonment, torture and death as bravely as in centuries past.

More than 80% of the prisoners in the concentration camps are not Jews but Christians, and the best tribute to the spirit of Germany's Christians comes from a Jew and agnostic (TIME, Sept. 23) — the world's most famous scientist, Albert Einstein. Says he:

"Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. . . .

"Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."

So begins a rather lengthy article just published in Time Magazine entitled German Martyrs. The article will probably be available for only a short time, so I suggest it be read immediately.

What I found striking in the article was the lengths to which Christians opposed the war, and the clear and concise statements affirming that Hitler was not a Christian (contrary to the ridiculous viewpoint to the contrary espoused by some on the Internet). Also striking was the lengths to which the Nazis tried to subject the church both through physical intimidation and other factors. For example, the following paragraphs come from page two of the Internet version of the article (with emphasis added):

Actually, many a churchman inside Germany prays privately for a Nazi defeat or at least a check to Hitler's power. Said a Catholic news dispatch from Geneva last month: "It is generally anticipated that in the case of a victorious war the Nazi regime would no longer hesitate to wipe out all vestiges of Christianity in Germany and try to establish a 'national church' under Nazi supervision which would be entirely based on the pagan conceptions of 'blood and soil.' "

Taking a leaf from the Nazi-verboten Old Testament, where King David got rid of Bathsheba's husband by having him set "in the forefront of the hottest battle . . . that he may be smitten and die." the Nazis mobilized over 55% of Germany's Protestant pastors for Army service, most of them as privates. They singled out Confessional pastors especially. In some districts 75% of the recalcitrant Confessional pastors were drafted for front-line service.

Another favorite Nazi device is confiscating the salary of pastors and priests whom they suspect of opposing them. Practically all the 5,000 Confessional pastors have suffered from this. At one church in Prussia a Confessional pastor read an official announcement that the collection would be taken by the Government. He added, "If you can give with your conscience, do so." Then he announced the sale of pamphlets nominally priced 2 ¢ each. "You have read them already," he said, "but you can give them to your friends." The regular collection, sacked by the Nazis, netted less than $2. The sale of 20 2¢ pamphlets netted $20.

In 1939 the Nazis closed over 700 German monasteries and convents. Last month they expelled 60 Catholic priests from their parishes. The work of scores of other priests and pastors has been halted by confining them to their homes or forbidding them to preach.

Of the 1,000 young Protestant seminarians in 1939, only 100 were permitted ordination after their views had been examined by State officials. The other 900 refused to Nazify their faith, went into training in underground Confessional seminaries for certificates which Confessional congregations will accept in lieu of ordination
. Cut off from any possibility of salaries from Nazi-levied church taxes, they must live on the scant $45 a month which the Confessional Synod can allow them.

Oh, and in case anyone was thinking that this is some historical revisionism, the date of the article is December 23, 1940.

This is an excellent read. I highly recommend it.


An article recently published in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal caught my eye about a week ago. The article, entitled Christians and Muslims, both under one roof : Faith Presbyterian in Franklin doubles as Islamic prayer center, details how one Presbyterian church has allowed its Islamic neighbors to come pray to Allah in the church twice a day (for a nominal fee).

According to the article,

Each Sunday, children gather in the fellowship hall at Faith Presbyterian Church to ponder the lessons of Christianity, among them, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Now the church is setting a real-life example for the kids, by opening its Sunday school space to its Muslim neighbors for two of their five daily prayers.

Faith Presbyterian becomes the third satellite prayer center for area Muslims who wish to pray communally but may not be able to get across town to one of the four area mosques. The other prayer sites are at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and the Muslim Student Center on Milwaukee's east side.

"We're very grateful to the church," said Ajaz Qhavi, a Franklin physician and Muslim who worked with church officials on behalf of the Islamic Center of Milwaukee.

Faith Presbyterian's pastor, the Rev. Deb Bergeson-Graham, welcomed the visitors as an opportunity for her congregation to live their Christian faith.

"I think we're doing this, not because of what they believe, but because of what we believe," said Bergeson-Graham. "It's what Christ would have us do."

I give Rev. Bergeson-Graham and her church's church council credit for having their hearts in the right places. I just wonder where their heads are at.

Certainly, it is in the highest tradition of churches to open the doors of the church to the needy. Jesus told us to care for people who are different than us. He told us to love our neighbors including our enemies. The followers of Islam, while not enemies, are certainly not of one mind with Christianity. Outside of sharing a belief in one god, Islam shares very few of the same beliefs or doctrines as Christianity. Still, this church is opening its doors to the Muslims in a show of love and care when these Muslims find it difficult to travel to their own Mosque or worship center. That is commendable.


It also strikes me that inviting people into the church to pray to a different god is probably not something that Jesus "would have us do." In the Old Testament Israel, there was a definite separation of faiths when it came to the Temple. Praying to a different God would definitely not have been permitted -- in fact, it would have been seen as defiling the temple. The reason that it was wrong to pray to other gods in the temple was due to the holiness of God.

The Bible teaches that God is holy. (Lev. 11:44, 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15) A good explanation of this concept of "holiness" can be found in a web page entitled What does the Bible say about holiness? What does it mean to be holy?, where it says:

What does it mean that God is holy? Passages like 1 Samuel 2:2 and Isaiah 6:3 are just two of many examples of passages about God’s holiness. Another way to say it is absolute perfection. God is unlike any other (see Hosea 11:9), and His holiness is the essence of that "otherness." His very being is completely absent of even a trace of sin (James 1:13; Hebrews 6:18). He is high above any other, and no one can compare to Him (Psalm 40:5). God’s holiness pervades His entire being and shapes all His attributes. His love is a holy love, His mercy is holy mercy, and even His anger and wrath are holy anger and holy wrath. These concepts are difficult for humans to grasp, just as God is difficult for us to understand in His entirety.

Next, what does it mean for us to be holy? When God told Israel to be holy in Leviticus 11 and 19, He was instructing them to be distinct from the other nations by giving them specific regulations to govern their lives. Israel is God's chosen nation and God has set them apart from all other people groups. They are His special people, and consequently they were given standards that God wanted them to live by so the world would know they belonged to Him. When Peter repeats the Lord's words in 1 Peter 1:16, he is talking specifically to believers. As believers, we need to be "set apart" from the world unto the Lord. We need to be living by God's standards, not the world's. God isn't calling us to be perfect, but to be distinct from the world. First Peter 2:9 describes believers as "a holy nation." It is a fact! We are separated from the world; we need to live out that reality in our day-to-day lives, which Peter tells us how to do in 1 Peter 1:13-16.

God's holiness means that He is perfect and is set apart. Those places that are set apart for Him, churches, should likewise be kept holy. While today's churches are no longer the equivalent of the Temple of Jerusalem since God has chosen to indwell His believers, a building that has been set aside for worship of Him should be kept separate for that purpose. The church should not be kept separate for all purposes. If the Muslims want to use the church building, that's fine. But if the Muslim people use the church as a place that worships another God then that crosses the line. The church, which has been dedicated to serving the one true God -- the Triune God described in the New Testament -- should not have that separation violated by allowing a worship service to another god take place in its premises.

If the church is allowing the Muslim people to use its premises as part of an outreach, that's fine -- as long as they aren't using the church for worship of Allah. If, however, the Muslim people use the church for worship of Allah (as is the case) then that's a problem. It sends a message that there is nothing holy or special about God and that Christianity and Islam are simply competing religious sects worshipping the same God. That's wrong.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
~ John Dryden, Spanish Friar (act II, st. 1)

On several occasions, I have blogged about Sr. Luigi Cascioli, an Italian atheist who has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church and one of its priests in the Italian Courts. In my second blog on the Sr. Cascioli almost three years ago, I investigated his claims in the lawsuit. The basis for his suit is the claim that the Roman Catholic Church, and his own local church priest, engaged in an "abuse of popular credulity and the substitution of person" by teaching that the Bible was true. The basis for Sr. Cascioli's assertion? According to his original complaint:

After long and deep studies consisting of (and not only) textual exegesis of the Old and New Testament and other Sacred Scriptures, the undersigned has come to the conclusion that many of the facts produced and presented as if being true and historical in the so called "Holy Scriptures", are in reality false, first of all the historicization of the figure of Jesus Christ, for the most part based on the figure of John of Gamala, son of Judas, downright descendant of the Asmoneian stock.

My fellow blogger, Layman, quickly pointed out a rather significant flaw in Sr. Cascioli's complaint in a post entitled Atheist Lawsuit Claiming Jesus Did Not Exist Thrown Out of Italian Court: John of Gamala, the son of Judas, is a fictional person. As Layman put it:

As it turns out, it appears that John of Galama [sic] is a fictional character of relatively recent vintage. In any event, this sounds absurd but it is not unlike some of the rants I have heard from skeptics about the Jesus Myth and nefarious Christian deceptions. Thankfully, according to ABC News, the Italian Court has tossed out the atheist's lawsuit as frivolous and "recommended magistrates investigate him for slandering priest Enrico Righi."

Not to be undone, Sr. Cascioli filed an appeal in the European Court of Human Rights.

Although I have watched for any news about this appeal, there has been nothing in the news that reported what became of his appeal. I was not able to find proof that the appeal had been filed on the European Court of Human Rights website. Sr. Cascioli's own book-hawking website says nothing about the outcome of the appeal. Thus, I can only assume that the case was either never filed or has now been dismissed.

One would expect that most normal people would allow the matter to die. After all, he had already had his day in court and lost. He had already had a chance to file an appeal and either failed to do so or lost. There appears little to be gained from continuing with his lawsuit -- even for publicity for his hopelessly confused book since he could always publish a new book about how his case was mishandled by a papist-favoring Italian court -- but apparently Sr. Luigi doesn't see it that way. In fact, he apparently believes that filing the same lawsuit is the best thing to do.

According to both his website and an article published on the Associazione Radicale Enzo Tortora entitled Seconda Querela Contro La Chiesa Cattolica Per Abuso Della Credulita Popolare (Second Lawsuit Against The Catholic Church for Abuse of the Popular Credulity), Sr. Cascioli is doing just that -- he is pursuing what is for almost all purposes an identical lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church that he previously lost ... badly. The article (which is in Italian, so my translation may be a bit rough) says:

Jesus Christ is not an existed personage.

After the first denunciation against the catholic Church in the person of the parish priest of Bagnoregio, don Enrico Righi, for abuse of the popular credulity and substitution of person, finished later on all recording of the Court of Viterbo and to the rejected one of the Court of Strasburgo for legal flaw, Luigi Cascioli of it has introduced a second one, always for the same crimes, against Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of Rovigo.

TO THE PROCURA OF THE REPUBLIC NEAR THE COURT OF ROVIGO The undersigned Luigi Cascioli, resident in Roccalvecce (Viterbo) via of the Province 45/B HE EXPOSES HOW MUCH FOLLOWS The undersigned, after fter long and deep studies consisting of (and not only) textual exegesis of the Old and New Testament and other Sacred Scriptures, the undersigned has come to the conclusion that many of the facts produced and presented as if being true and historical in the so called “Holy Scriptures”, are in reality false, first of all the historicization of the figure of Jesus Christ, for the most part based on the figure of John of Gamala, son of Judas, downright descendant of the Asmoneian stock.

This complaint does not wish to contest the freedom of Christians to profess their faith, sanctioned by art. 19 of the Italian Constitution, but wishes to denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions.

A clear instance of that abuse was committed by Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of the diocese of Rovigo, when he sustained the historical figure of Jesus by asserting falsely in a pastoral message on December 2005 the 23th: <>.

That the figure of Jesus has been fully constructed over a certain John of Gamala , son of Judas from Gamala, known as the Galilean, is irrefutably known by such a great number of proofs as to remove whatever doubts about the falsifications carried out by the compilers of the Gospels.

In other words, Sr. Cascioli has filed the exact same lawsuit making the exact same historically incredible claims but merely naming a different Catholic preacher (Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of the diocese of Rovigo) as the defendant.

Is there any reason to believe that the lawsuit will have a different result from the first lawsuit which was dismissed with the judge suggesting that the prosecutors investigate Sr. Cascioli for slander? No, at least none that I can see. I don't know if the courts in Italy have any power to sanction plaintiffs who abuse the court by filing repetitive lawsuits, but if there is such a power the court should consider exercising it.

But as far as Sr. Cascioli is concerned, in my second post about his original lawsuit I speculated about whether Sr. Cascioli was insane or simply trying to sell his self-published book through free publicity. At the end of the post, I suggested that he was probably trying to push his book. However, since it is widely agreed that the quote at the outset of this post is a reasonable definition of insanity, I may need to change my opinion.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I'm sorry I haven't been able to contribute more directly to even commentary (much moreso main posts!) here on the Cadre Journal recently.

So, to help alleviate that a little--! {g}

I occasionally quip, in dialogue with sceptics of various sorts, that I believe in orthodox trinitarian theism... because I believe in atheists!

And that's true. But although it can leave the impression that I'm talking about atheists sniping at each other or contradicting one another, that isn't in fact what I'm talking about. I do notice such things, but such things don't factor in much to my beliefs.

So, let me present an example of what I am actually talking about, that in one way is broader topically than saying "because I believe in atheists", and in another is more personally particular.

Let us say (which happens to be true) that I love a particular agnostic more than anyone else in the world.

Would any of our visiting sceptics care to cogitate on how my love for her would lead me eventually to accepting orthodox trinitarian theism as true?

Obviously, it doesn't do so immediately. {g} And her specific beliefs or lack thereof aren't principly important. Nor is her specific relationship to me what is principly important. What's important, for the discussion, is that I truly love a person other than myself.

So: what does (or can) it even mean, to truly love her? And what corollaries follow from truly loving her (whatever that means)?

(I could, of course, compose a galumphing huge essay on this; but I've already posted up one of those this week--see immediately previous entry. {g} So I'll just leave this up instead for discussion among any interested parties. Guests are entirely welcome to substitute your own love for another person as the exemplar for the questions under discussion.)


This is a repost (and slight updating) of an article (sermon, homily, whatever {g}) that I wrote last Thanksgiving for the Cadre.

The original article and its subsequent discussion (on a couple of topics) can be found here.


“Would you say grace?” someone in my family will ask, to an elder before a family meal--a meal such as Thanksgiving, for instance.

Of course what they mean is, “Would you give thanks?” But the phrase in English could be more accurately translated, “Would you say ‘grace’?” In our language, ‘grace’ derives from the same Latin root as Spanish ‘gracias’ or Italian ‘grazie’. Strictly speaking our English word traces back to a Middle English translation of an Old French translation of the Latin {gra_tia} (the long ‘a’ being represented by an underscore here): favor, gratitude, agreeableness. The attitude expressed is one of actively receiving love, in fair-togetherness.

In New Testament Greek, however, the word that is typically Englished as ‘grace’ does not have this meaning. Nor does the Hebrew/Aramaic which the New Testament authors were translating or thinking about (typically following the Septuagint). The meaning there is not different in content, exactly, but different in direction: the reference is not primarily to the receiver, in thankfulness, but to the giver--for which the proper response from the receiver is, ideally, an active acknowledgment and thankfulness.

What I find most interesting about this, is that the Greek word chosen for expressing this notion is rooted in the ancient Greek word for joy: chara. Thus {charis}, and its cognates, in context, means ‘freely given joy’. And so it is entirely appropriate, when one perceives that joy has been freely given--an action of indisputable love and fair-togetherness--to acknowledge that this has been done by naming that which has been given: to say ‘I thank you’ by saying ‘grace’.

This has deep topical (though not linguistic) links to the notion of ‘acclaim’--a New Testament Greek word often Englished as ‘confess’; which isn’t an altogether inaccurate translation, but which more literally could be called ‘speak (or reason) out with’. The basic idea is that a person is actively cohering with another person. One of the more striking cases is found in Luke’s story of Judas Iscariot: “Now, coming away [from the group, during the final week in Jerusalem before the Passover], he [Judas] confers with the chief priests and officers as to how he may be giving up Him [Jesus] to them. And they rejoiced, and they agreed to give him silver. And he •acquiesces•; and sought opportunity to give Him up to them minus a throng.” [GosLuke 22:4-6, Knoch’s translation] ‘Acquiesce’, in English, can be a little weak. The Greek is much stronger: he acted (and so declared) in an agreeing unity with them.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, after relating to his congregation the hymn concerning the prior divinity and incarnated humanity of Christ (2:5-8), urging his listeners to be of a similar disposition to the attitude and intentions of Christ in His action of doing so, continues with one of the most famous and well-known declarations in Christendom: a declaration that includes not only this action of unity agreement, but also a verbing of the term {charis}. Most Christians will be able to quote a phrase from this declaration already; but listen to it in its fullness, with these contextual meanings restored to the verses:

“Therefore, God also highly exalts Him [Jesus] and in joy is freely giving Him the name above every name!--so that in the name of Jesus [i.e. “The Lord saves” or “The Lord is Salvation”] every knee shall be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue shall be agreeing in unity with each other that Jesus Christ is Lord, into the glory of God the Father!” (Phil 2:9-11)

Leaving aside as controversial the scope of this declaration and this hope (so colorfully expressed by the Apostle), notice that the thanks for salvation is consonant with the freely given joy of God the Father: a joy connected with the giving of the name itself, a name of promised salvation, representing not only the intentions but the character of God Himself.

Nowhere is this more unexpectedly expressed, perhaps, than in a story of Jesus unique to Luke: the story of an unnamed woman, fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, who crashes an intellectual dinner in a most scandalous fashion.

(The following translation is one I wrote for The King of Stories, [the index to which can be found here]. I locate this incident as occurring not long after the healing of Jairus’ daughter.)

Now, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dinner; and entering into the Pharisee's house, He reclined (at the table).

And look! a woman who was in the city, a sinner! (or 'a woman “of the city”, who was a sinner')

Now realizing He is lying at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of attar.

And standing behind at His feet (where He was reclining), weeping, she now starts raining His feet with tears; and with the hair on her head she wiped them off, and fondly kissing His feet she rubbed them with the attar.

Now--when the Pharisee who invited Him saw this, he said to himself: "If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman is touching Him, that she is a sinner!"

Answering, Jesus said toward him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

And he strongly agreed, "Say on, Rabbi!"

"Two debtors paying usury were owing a certain moneylender; one owed five hundred days wages, and the other owed fifty. Now, as they had nothing to pay with, he freely gives them joy instead. So which of them will be loving him more?"

Answering, Simon said, "I suppose the one to whom he gave more joy."

And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."

Now turning to the woman, He strongly declared to Simon:

"You see this woman, don't you!? I came into your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, no kiss of greeting, no oil to rub on My face! Yet she rains tears on My feet! And with her hair she wipes them off; and she rubs attar on My feet; and from the time I arrived, she hasn't ceased in fondly kissing My feet!

"I say to you: her sins, which are many, are pardoned; on behalf of which she loves this much.

"But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

And He said to the woman: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Yet those who were reclining with Him began saying among themselves...

..."Who is this, who even is pardoning sins?!"

This incident is (almost?) unique, in the New Testament, including in Luke’s account, for its colloquial way of speaking of forgiveness and the mending of disrupted relationships between persons. The one who has been wronged is described as freely giving joy to those who have done the wrong. It is easy to see why joy is invoked in this description: love is actively given in this act, and love (in reciprocation) is actively received, to be given then in return and so on in the rhythmic actions of unity. Moreover, in this parable from Jesus, it is the one who was wronged who initiates the giving of the joy to those who have wronged him. Yet though their supplication is not mentioned, neither is the responsibility of the wrong-doer neglected; for Jesus (so Luke reports) also states that the faith of the woman has saved her.

The mending cannot be done without the active participation of both of the people; but we, as derivative creatures, depend upon God for our very existence and abilities. Indeed it is by God’s grace, by His freely given joy, that we exist in the first place and continue to exist at all. In a very real sense, it is even by God’s grace that we can sin--for though this is an abuse of the grace of God, the grace to be abused must still be given.

It is striking and challenging, then, to read the scriptures with this understanding: that when we see the word of ‘grace’, we ought to try substituting that with “freely given joy” (or some cognate thereof), and see how this affects our further understanding of the passages.

But what (it may be reasonably asked) does any of this have to do with apologetics? My answer is that this has deep connections to the theological distinction between trinitarian theism (I mean of the orthodox kind), and any other kind of theism imaginable, including proposed in other religions and philosophies.

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true (and I believe it is), then God is a (personally) singular unity of distinct persons. In one kind of tri-theism (for example the classic Celtic exposition of Maiden, Mother, Crone), the persons are not in fact distinct but are only masks or appearances of the divine in regard to certain human conventions. Or again, in another kind of tri-theism (for example in Mormonism), the persons though distinct are not the single unified ground of existence.

Or yet again, in cosmological dualisms (such as a Manichean God/Anti-God cosmology; or in a neo-pagan notion of Father/Mother, which is related to a less religious God/Nature disparity among some philosophers) the two separate grounds of reality have no common interaction with one another. (Or else if they do, then being of distinct ‘substances’ in philosophical parlance they thus are interacting within a common field or system of existence, and this is what we ought to be discussing instead when doing ontological work.)

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true, however, then God the self-begetting is one person; and God the self-begotten is also distinctly a person; and the two of them in their personal relationship with each other actively ground not only their singular existence as God but also (as the final ground of all reality) ground the existence of all derivative reality: including you and me and the system of Nature in which we live.

God is love, and fair-togetherness (the word that from Greek we typically English as “righteousness”), and positive justice therefore--if this is true. (I am not at this time discussing the role and existence of the 3rd Person in this economy; suffice to say that He distinctly proceeds instead of being begotten. In other words, His existence has nothing specifically to do with the self-existence of God, or of derivative reality. But I have discussed this elsewhere this summer in this journal.)

Please note that I am not here arguing that we should believe this is true; I am only pointing out the distinctions involved--and I am pointing out what is at stake in different propositions concerning God.

A singular person as the ground of all reality, does not give us love as the ground of all reality--for there is no coherent personal interaction as the ground of this God’s existence (and everything else). This remains true even if the person can be perceived in different circumstances as if there were different persons. It is only an ‘as if’.

Multiple personal grounds of reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they utterly do not share a common existence. (Which indeed renders the concept meaningless as a practical or even a principle proposal; but that is another discussion.)

Multiple persons who are not the singular ground of all reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they are not the ground of all reality but exist within that ground or system.

But God the Father and God the Son, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance, God self-begetting and God self-begotten--

--this does mean that true love is the ground of all reality. The grace, the {charis}, of God, is love actively given and actively received in (so to speak) active submission, between distinct persons. This is God’s freely given joy. God’s grace does not depend on sin, but where sin exceeds grace hyperexceeds: for not as the sin is the grace! The grace of God is the ground and the cause of derivative creation (the generation of not-God systems and creatures within those systems); and the grace of God is the hope of reconciliation between man and man as well as between man and God; and the grace of God is the faith and the hope and the love that shall be enduring when all the things that can be shaken have been shaken.

Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to; only, at best, the mere exercise of mere power.

And that, as most people intuitively understand, is not love.

That is what is at stake, in specifically Christian apologetics.

As for me, being persuaded that this is true, I acclaim God, and give thanks both to Him and to His mediant agents (human or otherwise!) for all the love they are willing to give me; and so I say...

thank you. (and I sorrow for my sins against you, all of you, above and below, and reject my selfishness, in hope of the day to come when I will have finally finished dying--by God’s grace, and with God’s help.)

And to all our readers around the world, on this Thanksgiving weekend, whether or not we must be striving in this vale of separation, I say, from the bottom of my heart:

God’s grace and hope to all of you, above and below!

Amen. {s}

Jason Pratt

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Lee Randolph argue that as a result of recent advances in behavioral and neural science it is hard to preserve any meaningful concept of moral blame or praiseworthiness. If our behavioral tendencies are largely determined by genetics, upbringing and peer influence, can we say that we are ever truly responsible for our actions? As Randolph puts it: "Since the brain is a biological device. It can be influenced by physiological factors, and physiological factors induce desire and motivation. Since we cannot get outside of our thoughts and feelings, they make up our personality our 'essence'. This renders any judgment by an external supernatural creator meaningless because it would know that we are helpless to feel any other way than our physiological make up will support at the time, and that our behavior and desire will follow that. We are helpless to think any thoughts that are not supported by our physiological make up at the time. The physiological factors would have to be eliminated to make any judgment meaningful."

I would dispute that physiological factors have to be eliminated in order for judgment to be meaningful. One might as well say that 'soul-stuff' would have to be eliminated if that is the basis for our making decisions under a dualistic anthropology. The fact that our decisions have a structured basis constrained by various rules of operation does not rule out intentional agency.

That said, I do agree that a more nuanced understanding of the causes of human behavior is in order. There are biological conditions which should temper our eagerness to assign blame in the case of unusual or destructive behavior. But are there cases where a person with reasonable mental capacity and no obvious psychological imbalances still engages in calculated, destructive behavior that we can assign blameworthiness to? I believe there are many such cases. I list just a couple below:

1) Human trafficking: the sickening truth about the slave trade today is that it is mostly conducted by people who are in it for the money. The traders are for the most part smart, efficient and well-organized. They did not necessarily come from poverty or domestic abuse. Many were military officers who lost their jobs when the Soviet Union dissolved and borders became porous (see Misha Glenny's McMafia, reviewed here). There are certainly trans-individual factors at work which make women and young girls desperate and likely to be fooled by promises of work and money abroad, and conversely the economic deprivation that makes a 'career' in human trafficking seem attractive to certain people. But the fact is that these are not crimes of passion, they are not the result of seratonin imbalances (in fact many of the traffickers have families of their own whom they care about deeply so we can't argue that they're even psychopathic). Brothel owners and slave traders made a conscious, deliberate decision to profit from human misery and are often astonishingly creative and dedicated to honing their 'craft' by concocting elaborate schemes to fool border patrols and transport the girls to their clients. This is evil, not just inconvenience or a socially conditioned taboo, and the people who perpetrate it are completely responsible for their actions. No insanity plea can be effective here.

2) Pelting: despite PETA's notorious and dubiously effective animal rights activism they have put their finger on a horrifying phenomenon that continues unabated to this day: careless and rampant cruelty to animals in the fur trade and other industries. They have put up a truly disturbing video on their website (I warn you, this is NOT for the faint of heart) of pelters in China taking dogs, foxes and other furry creatures one by one, smacking them against the ground to subdue them (but without actually killing them) and then slowly skinning them alive, occasionally stopping to give the animal another good thwack on the ground if it struggles or twitches. After the skinning, with many of the animals still alive, they are left on a heap to die slowly. Again, this is no crime of passion and is not the result of a bad childhood. These pelters are simply businessmen doing their job. They could easily have chosen to mercifully end the animals' lives before pelting them. No seratonin deficiency would have overriden their conscious action. They make a choice every day to inflict the most monstrous brutality on these animals and no one is responsible but they themselves. (I won't go into the question now of whether God is justified in creating a world in which animals suffer in the wild as a result of natural predation. In the above case the chain of responsibility is clear: it lies with human beings. With God and creation the issue is much less clear cut, because we have to take into account the ultimate purpose of creation, etc.)

Ben Witherington III, Ph.D., Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of multiple books, including What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible, has published on his blog a very interesting article entitled The Rhetorical Character of Hebrews. This entry is apparently the text of a lecture he is (or was) scheduled to give at the Society of Biblical Literature lecture.

At the outset, he takes up the question about the authorship of Hebrews. Of course, there have been numerous theories as to who wrote the book (including some that identify the author as the Apostle Paul), but rather than focus on the "who", he focuses on "why" there is no author identified.

It is of course possible that the author is so well known to the audience that there was no need for such an identification here. I would suggest however, that while that may be true, there is another primary reason for the anonymity of this document.

This document, like 1 John is a homily , in fact D.J. Harrington has called it “arguably the greatest Christian sermon ever written down” It does not partake of the qualities of a letter except at the very end of the document (Heb. 13.22-25), and these epistolary features are added because this sermon had to be sent to the audience rather than delivered orally to them by the author. In fact, H. Thyen, after studying all the evidence for early Jewish homilies, has argued that Hebrews is the only completely preserved Jewish homily of the period, but this is overlooking 1 John, and James as well.

Sermon manuscripts, ancient or modern, do not conform to the characteristics of an ancient letter with addressor or addressee expected at the outset. Neither do other rhetorical forms of speaking, and make no mistake this document involves rhetoric of considerable skill. Hebrews then, to use an oxymoron, an oral document, and in fact a particular type of oral document—a homily in the form of a ‘word of exhortation’ as Heb. 13.22 puts it. It is not an accident that this is the very same phrase used to characterize Paul’s sermon in Acts 13.15. Hebrews is not a haphazard discourse but a piece of polished rhetoric which has been variously categorized as either epideictic or deliberative rhetoric or some combination of the two (see below). Here the point that needs to be made is that the document’s authority rests in its contents, not in its author’s claims to apostolic authority and its contents are grounded in the shared values the author and audience already embrace and affirm. To judge from the end of Heb. 13 it is assumed, but not argued for, that this author has some authority over this audience who knows very well who he is, and can anticipate a visit from him and Timothy before long.

The article goes on and gets into a lot of the content of Hebrews and the style of document it is. I highly recommend it.

There have been significant developments in the fraud trial of Oded Golan. One of the key artifacts challenged by the prosecution is the James Ossuary (or, more specifically, the inscription which refers to Jesus' brother, James). The case has dragged on for years, as American concepts like the “Speedy Trial Act” seem to be unknown in Israel.

The San Francisco Gate has an article about the collapse of the prosecution’s case. The judge in the case has told the prosecution that its prospects of a guilty verdict are bleak:

"After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?" District Court Judge Aharon Farkash pointedly asked public prosecutor, Adi Damti. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest."

"Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment? The experts disagreed among themselves. Where is the definitive proof needed to show that the accused faked the ossuary?" Judge Farkash asked prosecutor Damti. "You need to ask yourselves those questions very seriously, and if necessary consult with your superiors in the public prosecutor's office."

Keep in mind that the judge making these comments is the same person who will decide whether the prosecution has proved its case. Israel does not have jury trials. Instead, Judge Farkash himself decides whether the defendant is guilty. Additionally, Mr. Golan was arrested along with four others on multiple artifact fraud related charges. (For previous updates about the trial, see here). Since filing the charges, the prosecution has dropped them against two defendants. Another reached a plea deal, admitting to a minor charge unrelated to the James Ossuary.

The trial has gone on for three years, with most of that time (other than some lengthy breaks) devoted to the prosecution’s case. To date, more than 80 witnesses have testified, resulting in around 10,000 pages of testimony. By all accounts, the prosecution’s case has suffered from effective cross-examination of its witnesses, with some government witness recanting or altering testimony in favor of authenticity.

The case reconvenes in January (another break!). It sounds to me like there is almost no hope of a prosecution win in this trial. Courts do not encourage prosecutors to rethink continuing their case unless they believe very strongly that the prosecution's case has failed.

Predictably, Hershel Shanks has responded to this news with an article entitled, “Supporters of James Ossuary’s Inscription’s Authenticity Vindicated.” Shanks and his magazine, BAR, have a stake in the Ossuary’s authenticity because they were early promoters of the find. Notwithstanding his exuberance, even if the judge sticks with his present opinion and finds for the defense in this case, it is not a determination that the Ossuary is authentic, but that the prosecution has failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant’s faked the Ossuary inscription. It is entirely possible that the inscription was faked but that the government failed to meet its burden of proof. (A useful example is OJ Simpson, who was found “not guilty” in the criminal system but “liable” in the civil system, which has a lower burden of proof).

Still, when we look at the reasons that the government’s case has collapsed it is telling. The court has not just reached a verdict after hearing the case, he has heard the government’s case and does not think they should even bother continuing. In other words, the government’s case is very week. Prosecution experts recanted important parts of earlier statements, with a few high profile defections on the ultimate issue of authenticity. According to BAR, the lead prosecution expert, Professor Goren, “was forced to admit that after the police had removed this covering, he could see original ancient patina in the critical word ‘Jesus.’” Further, “At the trial, not a single expert in the Semitic script of the period testified that the inscription was a forgery. Nor did a single scientist back up Professor Goren’s scientific testimony—and several scientists testified otherwise.”

At the very least, the issue of authenticity remains open and, barring unforeseen events or evidence, should be pursued rigorously by more academic means.

Update: According to the Jerusalem Post, the judge gave the prosecution six month to decide whether to proceed with the case.

On December 10th, pro-abortion groups will present petitions asking the United Nation's General Assembly to make abortion a universally recognized human right. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute created an alternate petition drive that calls for government to interpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as protecting the unborn child from abortion. They need at least 100,000 signatures by December 10th, the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Please go to the Online Petition and submit your signature.

If you know anyone that would be interested in doing the same you are welcome to forward this on to whomever.

"A nation that aborts its own children is a nation without hope." ~

Pope John Paul II

Barry Carey at has found a singularly interesting article heading into the holidays which he has posted in an post entitled For Goodness' Sake. Here's what Barry found:

I read with a slight chuckle this recent news story about the bus ads planned for the Christmas season by the American Humanist Association. Starting next week and running through December will be ads placed on the sides of buses which state, “Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Of course, the reference is to the lyrics of the children’s holiday song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

It seems the athiests and agnostics are feeling a little left out and lonely during the Christmas holidays. According to a spokesman for the humanist group:

We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you…

Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.

The Humanist Manifesto III (available at the AHA website) defines humanism as…

… a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Barry than spends some time making a couple of points about goodness that I encourage readers to read in full.

For my part, I found the use of the quote -- "be good for goodness sake" -- to be an interesting choice. Generally, when someone says to do something "for goodness sake", that phrase is an idiom. It means roughly the same as "for crying out loud". To be "good for goodness sake" is not an exhortation to be good for the sake of goodness. However, that is exactly how the humanists appear to be using the phrase in their bus advertisement.

This is the age old question of whether the atheists have a basis for their moral position. Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally. In fact, the Book of Romans says that all men have the law of God written on their hearts so that they know what is right and wrong -- men just suppress the truth that they already know as the result of the fact that God has written it on their hearts.

But here, the atheists are asking us to be good. Why? For the sake of goodness. Really? Is that really a reason to be good? It certainly doesn't seem like a strong reason to me.

Consider: Since there is no God, the questions that arise from the slogan become (1) what is good, and (2) what is the moral mandate for being good? In response to the first question there is no answer -- only a vague notion that being "good" is simply what the atheist believes, in his subjective, relativitic view, is good. Without a clear vision of what "goodness" means, there is no way to have any certainty which acts are good and which are not.

The answer to the second question is even murkier. It could be "so that we have a better world." But this doesn't answer the question of why I should care if we have a better world. That assumes that goodness means caring what happens to others, but since we haven't come up with any objective standard of goodness there is no compelling reason to believe that caring about what happens to others is "goodness."

Of course, we all have a notion of what it means to be good in the general sense. We all know that helping an old lady across the street is good and stealing her handbag is not good. But there are many areas in between those two extremes that are less clear as to what is actually "good". And even if we could all agree as to what it means to be good, is being good for "goodness sake" a motivation to be good?

Maybe I am happy being evil and I'd rather be "happy for happiness' sake."

Regardless, I think that the real motivation for this bumper sticker is what the humanist says about the reason for the slogan: "there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays...." Yup. They don't experience the deep joy that many of us feel when we remember that Jesus came into the world because "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." So rather than allow those of us who celebrate the real meaning of the holiday to do so in peace, they want the rest of us to feel as miserable as they are. (Phil. 1:27-28)

Immediately prior to the election, I wrote an article entitled Abortion: In this Election, One Candidate is Not Viable that discussed President-Elect Obama's horrible record on right-to-life related issues. In writing the post, I used an article by Robert George entitled Obama's Abortion Extremism as a source. While I did not mention it in my blog, the article did discuss President-Elect Obama's extreme views on stem cell research. It noted:

For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President's restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents' decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.

Apparently, this process has already started. According to Obama reviews Bush orders on stem cells, drilling by Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press. The article states:

President-elect Obama's transition chief said Sunday the incoming administration is looking to reverse President Bush's executive orders on stem cell research, oil and gas drilling and other matters.

John Podesta said the president can use such orders to move quickly without waiting for Congress to act, highlighting the extraordinary powers a president can wield beyond signing legislation approved by Congress. Podesta said people should expect Obama to use those powers to reverse many policies of the Bush administration.

"I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," Podesta said in a broadcast interview.

"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that," Podesta said.

President Bush has limited federal spending on stem cell research, a position championed by opponents of abortion rights. Obama has supported the research in an effort to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's.

One of my fellow CADRE members commented in response to my prior blog that he didn't see the President as having that much influence on this issue. But this article demonstrates that the President can push for and unilaterally increase the ease with which both abortions and embryonic stem cells can be killed in the name of "the general welfare" of the people.

This is bad, in my opinion and the opinion of many in those who want to help the most helpless among us. However, if the article is right, Obama wants to go much further than this.

But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This "clone and kill" bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.


OMAHA, Neb. — State Sen. Ernie Chambers filed notice today that he intends to appeal a judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit against God.

Chambers’ lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction against God, alleging that the defendant has caused “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like.”

An atheist, Chambers has said he filed the lawsuit last year to uphold citizens’ rights to sue “anyone else, even God,” after his colleagues in the Legislature sought to limit so-called frivolous lawsuits.

Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk had dismissed the lawsuit in October, saying there was no evidence that the defendant had been served. What’s more, Polk said, “There can never be service effectuated on the named defendant.”

But in his notice of appeal, Chambers says the same court he is appealing to acknowledges God. Chambers cites the invocation read each time Nebraska Supreme Court judges enter court: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

The above quote, from Nebraska state senator taking lawsuit against higher power to higher court by Todd Cooper, Omaha World-Herald, November 6, 2008, published in the Detroit Free Press, is simply another example of atheist silliness and the court's lack of ability to call a frivolous lawsuit a frivolous lawsuit.

I understand the motivation. The atheist state senator, Ernie Chambers, wants to make a point that people should be allowed to sue anyone -- even what he almost certainly erroneously believes is a fictitious being in the sky. But does his lawsuit really advance that purpose? To me, it shows just the opposite -- there should be limits on litigation to avoid the waste of taxpayer money on stupid lawsuits like this. Really, how is it that filing a lawsuit that wastes everyone's time is somehow supportive of the idea that anyone else should be able to file lawsuits that waste everyone's time? Doesn't it actually add ammunition to the position that society should prevent this type of thing?

As for the court, I somewhat like the idea that the case should be dismissed because Sen. Chambers has failed to effect service. But I think that the much better and more permanent approach would be for the court to dismiss the claim because of lack of jurisdiction, lack of remedy and the problem of sovereign immunity. The court could say consistent with the Constitution that if such a God exists then the court has no authority over Him -- rather, He has authority over the court. Even if the court ordered an injunction, it is without power to enforce the injunction hence making it impossible for the court to grant the relief requested. Finally, God, if He exists, being sovereign over all things, is immune from the decisions of the court.

That would be truthful and not waste any further time because all of the propositions are obviously true.

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