Apologetics

Family Fight

Dear Russell & Friends,

This won’t be long or profound.  There is no image I borrowed to entice you.  It is only a heartfelt response to the last week and the people I love – – my family.  My family is now nuclear after the passing of my mother this year preceded six years ago by my father’s death.  One wife and three sons.  My older brother and I are not close at all.  My sister and I love and respect each other, but are not entwined, let alone enmeshed.

This family is the family of Christ.

I call myself a follower of Christ rather than a Christian for reasons that are apparent to any who have tried to unpack the baggage of the latter term.  I want to follow the example of Christ as a man, and I acknowledge the divinity of Christ as the firstborn over creation.  Perhaps that is the litmus test for a Christian.  Is Christ divine?  ‘No’ or ‘I don’t know’ are legitimate answers held with integrity by those I consider friends.  But, for orientation, my answer is ‘yes’ and now is not the time to argue why.  It does, however, identify me as part of the family of Christianity in at least the primary color of its enormous spectrum.

If you’d like to read this post by Russell’s wife, it gets very close to my heart on this. If you choose not to read, I’ll summarize the thesis:  she is confused and disappointed by Christians who don’t welcome Syrian refugees or Muslim refugees in general.  Further:  those who don’t welcome Muslims, or [insert other human here] confuse and disappoint her.

Do I, a member of the family of Christ, share her disappointment?

I do.  Deeply so.  It is like the disappointment I felt when I first discovered why Southern Baptists were so named.  It was like the disappointment that stained my subconscious even after the apology twenty years ago for that evil stance on slavery and racism.  How could that be prospectively tolerated 170 years ago then willfully maintained for 150 years?  Didn’t my family read the scripture?  Didn’t my family think?  Didn’t we argue?  It was like the disappointment I felt after learning that Martin Luther was a rabid anti-Semite.  I thought Jesus was Jewish.  What did I miss?  How could such a brilliant theologian have such a hateful blind spot?

So, here’s the thing about a family.  We will confuse and disappoint each other.  We will hold diametrically opposing views at times ensuring that one of us is wrong.  I’ve certainly been on the wrong side of many arguments.  On this one, I’ll stick to an anchor of scripture:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

Why would a follower of Christ cast out the refugee?  Why would the follower of Christ not welcome a fellow creature of God?  Why would the follower of Christ fear death from a bullet or a bomb?  I just don’t get it.  Isn’t this life to be lived to his glory with gratitude and the next life to be eagerly anticipated?

I love you family – – but you are wrong.  The brothers and sisters who want to love, want to accept, want to understand will need to disagree and even fight within the family to keep the family together.  Are we not light?  It doesn’t feel like it now.

Love,

Pascal — 1:16

The Russian Winter

 

Minard grafficDear Russell & Friends,

A short post on a long book?  The graphic by Minard above is hanging in my study.  I first saw it in consultation with our hospital’s statistician.  He described it as the best information graphic ever.  I purchased the inexpensive print in an Edward Tufte conference on the graphical display of information that my oldest and I attended together 5 years ago.  Hobby Lobby did the rest.

The graphic depicts Napoleon’s march to and retreat from Moscow in the War of 1812.  And that was the extent of my knowledge until reading Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  Like a visit to Israel, reading and reflecting on this book takes time.  Tolstoy has fascinated me since I read that his apologetic influenced but did not convince Gandhi.  I took Oprah’s advice to read Anna Karenina and found my favorite opening line ever, an explanation for my upbringing, and a hope for my children and grandchildren:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

Like so many of you, my history and future is an amalgam of the clauses of this brilliant sentence.  I found that Anna Karenina was a profound portrait of humanity and I found in Levin a man I could admire and even emulate in his pursuit of authentic faith.  So, when the the itch to read War & Peace arose, I was ready to scratch.  I listened to the story from Audible, just less than 1 hour a day with occasional splurges on the way to the airport.  It took a quarter of a year.

And here I am – – done.  I wrote the topics that Tolstoy approached in my journal and I’d like to share them here soon.  It is astonishing.  Calculus, astronomy, medicine, literature, theology, history, philosophy and so much more.  The characters, at least 20 major, became friends or even worthy opponents.  And here I am – – done.  As the Texas Winter begins I can’t help but feel let down.  Finishing an amazing book leaves me wistful.  Will my life ever be apportioned with the time and knowledge to write like that, even read like that in more than borrowed minutes?

Consider this an introduction if you will.  I missed you in the blog and hoped that writing about reading would help get me off dead center.  May I ask?

  • Do you enjoy long books?
  • Do you feel a let down when they are done?
  • Have you read Tolstoy?
  • What were you surprised to learn in War & Peace?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  Charles Joseph Minard’s work, hanging in my study

Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.

schaeffer

Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16

Action Required

Our Team

Dear Russell & Friends,

Forgive my absence from the blog.  I completed a difficult assignment at work where I primarily work in the hospital with sicker patients.  I then traveled for committee work and experienced the wonders of perpetual delay in the flight back home.  That said, I read, considered and ultimately liked Russell’s last post very much.  What do I mean like?  Yes – – I hit the like button after reading the post and thinking carefully about it.  Perhaps for another day, but I think that you choose love and don’t necessarily choose like.  I like my bride and that has made all the difference for us.  I would love her from choice and obedience to a standard that is greater than me.  Love can be, often is, painful.  Like is pleasure of the purest form.  Diversion complete.

I liked Russell’s post because it really does reveal who he is – – one of the most moral and compassionate people I have met.

So what?  I downloaded the Charity Miles app.  I’ve begun to use it.  I pray for people who don’t have water as I marvel at how blessed I am to go to any sink or hose bib in my home and know that the water is potable.  I’ve stopped using distilled or filtered water and my tastes and thoughts have changed.

For the people who have joined us in this blog, would you please join our team?  You have many choices besides water – – that’s just the one that moved me on a base level.  The screenshot above is our team.  You can see that my friend Russell is more kinetic than me.  As a believer, do I welcome an atheist challenging me to put action to faith?  Oh yes I do.  I’m so thankful that my friend called me to action.  And will you join our team?  Please do.  I really don’t know why our follower count increases daily.  Perhaps our generation is ready to respectfully reason together.  Could you help our charity miles team grow as well by downloading the app and joining RussellandPascal?  You could.  Will you?

Pascal – – 1:16

On Evidence and Faith

old fashioned scale

Dear Russell & Friends,

I hope this Saturday morning finds you well.  Yes uncleE and other friends in Australia, I realize it is almost Sunday.  This has been a week like all others.  One fiftieth of another year elapsed.  I do not know what proportion that year represents of my supposed middle aged life.  A treasured work colleague one year younger than me died suddenly yesterday.  His partner, our community, and I grieve.

Because I don’t know if I’m in the middle or a day from the end, the conversation here means more to me.  You mean more to me.  I’m sorry for doubting it.  No — that’s not true.  Doubt is part of who I am and a reason I feel drawn to you.  Reason.  That’s what I’d like to address this morning.  I’m grateful to Mike for his guest post and the respect that he showed in our home here.  He is a thoughtful atheist who is willing to talk.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

Mike quoted this scripture in a dialogue with Eric (uncleE) about evidence and faith.  It started with a comment that Mike offered in his guest post.  I’d like to provide the paragraph before as well for needed context.

I’m all about secularity and think people should be free to choose religion or non-religion. If anyone tried to take religious folks rights away to choose a religion, I would be in the front lines with them.

However, I will not pretend that I agree with religion – Christian or otherwise, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

The first paragraph is important to me because I need to emulate it.  I need to stand for people whose convictions I do not share.  I live in America, an imperfect place.  But one blessing that I should not take for granted is the ability to speak without being stifled.  How can I realize that blessing without defending it for another?  That was the core of Mike’s first paragraph and I appreciate it.

The second paragraph is important to me because Russell and I have often reached a point of impasse here.  Is the word instead correct?  I feel that it is the pivot of the sentence at least, likely the paragraph, perhaps the thesis.

Back to Mike’s scripture reference.  It is one of my favorites and I chose to use the King James Version because I remember it from childhood and it has the words evidence and faith in close juxtaposition.  As a Christ follower in a scientific vocation, this verse has meant the world to me.

Is faith blind?  Is it always required?  The text in Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things hoped for.  Is faith needed for things already realized?  Probably not.  I do not have faith for a table.  I’m sitting at it.  Is faith the substance of my hope for my children to follow Christ?  It is.  Is faith separated from hard work?  By no means.  My favorite epistle is James.  Martin Luther called it the epistle of straw.  I don’t particularly like Martin Luther.  James said that faith without works is dead.  So, if my faith that my sons will follow Christ is to have life, should I lead an authentic life worthy of imitation?  I argue yes.  I have faith – – belief – – in what I hope for but have not yet realized.  That faith is coupled with effort.  I can not have faith that Mike and I can continue respectful dialogue.  I have to be willing to write letters and to carefully read his.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  Allow me to be clear.  I am an old earth creationist.  I believe that God created the universe by authoring natural laws and allowed us to evolve to sentience.  I don’t think he directed every mutation.  He could have, but the scientific evidence does not point that way.  I don’t believe that Genesis is literal.  I do believe it is completely true.  As a student and lover of language, allegory has never bothered me.  In biological science, I have some degree of expertise.  In physical science, I have enough knowledge to plumb the depths of my own ignorance.  In social science, I have compassion, but not Mike’s degree of professional knowledge, expertise and practice.  As an aside, social workers are some of my favorite people on earth.  How is faith evidence?  Did I take on faith the existence of Pluto?  It could have been another light source that we didn’t understand.  In a thin way I did before the photos came back, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I take on faith that my life will continue if it ends tomorrow.  That is a bold claim that I can’t prove.  My personal version of Pascal’s wager is this:  if I’m wrong I won’t know it  — the can’t lose position for an egotist like me.  That is a statement of faith.

Faith is my belief in the things that I have not witnessed, accounting for the fact that even what I witness, experience and remember are constructed in a brain so complicated we barely comprehend it.  Is faith required for history?  To some extent.  Only modern history is recorded verbatim and one first run movie or internet meme will convince you that future generations may believe nothing that we so confidently record.  But I don’t really consider it faith to believe that Jesus Christ existed.  That is a consensus amongst historians just as the existence of the third Roman emperor Caligula is.

Do I need faith to believe that Jesus was God incarnate?  I do.  Scripture claims that he was.  I can question the veracity of that Scripture.  I can rightly question the legitimacy of eye witness accounts.  I can rightly question even the existence of a supernatural.  I can rightly ask why some claims of deity survived and others did not.  There are few active temples of Zeus remaining.  At every point in my chain of logic for belief, there are legitimate questions that skeptics ask.  I don’t have answers for them all.

I’m open to the possibility that I live a dichotomous life – – evidence in my professional pursuits, faith in personal.  But that doesn’t feel quite right.  I see the effects of faith as evidence.  There was a call to comfort when our professional friend was taken so quickly.  There was an impromptu memorial at our place of work.  We remembered his life.  There was an urge to pray – – a hope that there was someone greater who cared about our grief.  Is that urge evidence?  It could be.  All human societies have displayed the behavior of worship.  Is that behavior evidence?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps it is an accident of our genes that made the paranoid and delusional more likely to survive.  But it could be.

Time to close this James Joyce style post.  I’m not even sure that I’ve asked or answered any good questions and for that I apologize.  I suppose I just needed to write, and in a time of sudden loss this post took a different flavor than it would have otherwise.  I do have one question that may be useful.

 embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

How would the meaning change if “in addition to” replaced “instead of”?

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  “Bascula 9” by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  – self made, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Bascula_9.jpg.

Arguing with Ayn

Ayn_Rand1

Dear Russell and Friends,

There she is.  Demure smile, confident pose, piercing eyes & cigarette in hand.  She created the best book title ever – – Atlas Shrugged – – a title that compelled me to read.  Her first name rhymes with wine.  She is worth arguing with.  We could not disagree more on so many fundamental things.  And yet.

Ayn Rand is one of the best, smartest, most incisive writers that I have read.  She has strong opinions well reasoned that are diametrically opposed to my worldview and philosophy.  Is reading her an exercise in frustration?  No.  Not at all.

Atlas

Reading her is pure pleasure and reminds me that my life is too short to pick lesser books.  I’ve just begun The Fountainhead in its 25th anniversary edition.  Rand wrote the introduction in 1968 – – five years before I was born and a full 25 years before I could digest her ideas.

Now I’ll wrestle with Howard Roark just like I wrestled with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.  From the grave their ideas and speeches echo.  And so it is with Ms. Rand.  I want to invite her to our table and listen. Then I’d share what enthralls yet disappoints me.  Her protagonists are my antagonists – – they are Übermensch, gleaming strong and clear.  I need these antagonists – – worthy opponents in the circus of ideas. Her antagonists are straw.  Caricatures of bias, bigotry and weakness.  If only she could revise.  Would she?  If only she had the courage to face the strong and not the weak.  Would she?  Oh well.  Her gift to me remains – – enemies that I can respect and answer with a clear conscience.  Enemies that best me in more areas than I usually admit.  Enemies of concrete, steel, arcs and planes of soaring thought.  Enemies that could become friends.

What of my antagonist to her protagonist?  I hope to return her gift and not to duplicate her greatest mistake.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credits:

Ayn Rand portrait by Phyllis Cerf (1916–2006) Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg#/media/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg

“Objectivist1” by Michael Greene – originally posted to Flickr as Atlas 2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Objectivist1.jpg#/media/File:Objectivist1.jpg

An Internally Consistent Christian View on Gay Marriage?

Old Cobblestone Road

Dear Russell & Friends,

The final session of the The Table occurred two nights ago.  To refresh, this a local church holding small Wednesday follow-up meetings on the Sunday sermon.  The sessions will continue, but my attendance as a guest was prompted by this particular sermon series topic – – hard questions asked of Christians.  The room was full this Wednesday night.  The topic was a Biblical view on homosexuality.  The hour flew by.  Opinions were respectfully expressed, but clearly deeply held.  Can I express an internally consistent view on gay marriage?  That was honestly one of the reasons that I began teaching Romans.  So I’ll try.  My style is usually narrative, but I’m going to present a numbered list to facilitate discussion.  I realize that I could be wrong and I’m open to the audit of our readers.  I’ll write from the perspective of a 43 year old white American lower upper class man.

  1. I believe that scientific research and my conversations with a dozen gay colleagues over a dozen years supports that sexual orientation is primarily inherited – – nature outweighing nurture in a majority of people.  That said, I don’t believe that being gay is a choice for most people.
  2. The best number that I can find is approximately 10% of people on earth are represented in the LGBT spectrum.
  3. As a Christ follower, I accept the authority of scripture and believe that interpretation requires study and an understanding of the culture and capabilities in which the inspired words were written and read.
  4. The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is well described in Will Durant’s Caesar and Christ.  Homosexuality as understood today was common in the culture of Rome and Greece before it.  I don’t know if the number was similar to ~10%.
  5. As an American I acknowledge civil authority and the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  There is a reason that this is the first sentence in the First Amendment of the ten known as the Bill of Rights.
  6. I could dwell on number 5 for a while.  I’m distressed with a growing lack of civic knowledge in my society.  I think that studying and understanding the Constitution are appropriate responsibilities of an engaged electorate.
  7. That said – – the US Supreme Court makes decisions for all citizens of the United States.
  8. Most citizens of the United States do not follow Christ.
  9. I’m not convinced that 3 of 4 people in our Christian churches follow Christ.
  10. I accept the civic authority of the US Constitution as a citizen of the US and accept the authority of scripture as a follower of Christ.

Thank you for your patience so far.  I hope that for the views I hold and represent, I have represented an internally consistent rationale.  What do I do with this foundation?  Here are my views:

  1. I approve of the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage for American citizens inclined to do so – – marriage has no benefit with taxation, but rather a penalty.  Marriage has enormous implications in health care and in the care of children and the elderly.  In my practice I have seen gay couples care for each other and for aging parents with integrity.
  2. I respect the churches of all faiths who do not accept this as consistent with the moral teachings of their sacred texts.
  3. For that reason, I would never compel a pastor or church to conduct the marriage of a gay couple before God against conscience.
  4. There are streams of thought in Christianity and other faiths where these marriages are approved and conducted.  This is where our family debates as a body of Christ occur.  This is where some of the discussion with other believers landed Wednesday night in a smaller coffee club after the main meeting.
  5. If Christian churches in the United States are faced with an imperative to act against conscience by the federal government, then a voluntary first step seems obvious:  relinquish the tax exempt status of houses of worship.  If there is no federal subsidy to churches, then we can stand on Biblical principles and the Constitution with equanimity.

I expressed some of these views on Wednesday night and felt that I had talked too much.  I much prefer writing to friends.  Are my views internally consistent?

 

Pascal:  1:16

photo credit:  Doris Antony via Wikicommons, CC-BY-SA-2.5

Wealth and Power

640px-Biltmore_Estate_14-2

Dear Friend,

I begin most of my letters here with a derivative of that salutation.  Dear Russell and Friends . . .  But the letter on my table is not from Russell.  It is from Steve Forbes, or rather it appears, from his desk.  I don’t know Steve Forbes but he asks me to join him by buying a magazine.  It is three and a half pages long, but a quick read due to capacious spacing and outsized font.  The first words that receive the inflation denote the thesis of the letter.  Mr. Forbes offers me something that he thinks I want:  wealth and power.

Is he right?  Before I discount advertising, I must assess its success.  It often works.  Very often.  And those who can afford Forbes magazine and even its peddled luxury wares are not less vulnerable. Perhaps they are even more so.

Mr. Forbes thinks that I want to read about the lives of billionaires.  In his words the magazine that bears his name is not all about business.

It’s also about enjoying the rewards of success.  Exotic supercars. Yachts to die for.  Hideaways that you can’t get to from here.  The private plane circuit, where wealthy flyers never see the inside of a terminal.  Plus, you’ll get ForbesLife, our guide to living the good life.

Is he right?  Is wealth and power a worthy goal?  Mr. Forbes is no fool, but I’ve been one.  I’ve been sorely tempted to mistake my gifts for entitlement.  I’ve been sorely tempted to direct my capacity toward temporary things that will not survive even my brief life.  I’ve been sorely tempted to seek approval, influence, and regard.  In truth – – I find power more tempting than wealth and view the latter as only the currency of the former.  I have been tempted and I have fallen.

One reason I follow Christ is so that I can answer Mr. Forbes with honesty.  Yes – – you’re right sir.  I do want wealth and power.  But, deep within me I know it is not enough.  Deep within me I know that it will not survive me.  Vanderbilt barely lived in America’s largest home.  So what can replace wealth and power as my desire? Following Christ has given me that answer.

Mr. Forbes and his team are no fools.  I’m not in the top 0.1% of income, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 1%.  I’m not in the top 0.01% of intellect, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 0.1%.  Honesty is not what I need.  I need humility.  By following Christ I see someone so much greater than me that I have no metric of comparison.  Yet he came to serve and to suffer with us (compassion defined).  Mr. Forbes may not be a fool, but I want to be.  I want to foolishly reject the call to wealth and power although I know that I could realistically attain a measure of it.  I want to foolishly love those who are poor and powerless.

Oh Mr. Forbes, you knew I would be tempted.  I am constantly tempted by goals that honor myself and not my savior.  Oh God – – please let me be wise and pursue your compassion.  Let me live differently as a steward of the capabilities that are only a gift from you.

Dear readers – –

1)  Does Mr. Forbes’ offer tempt you?

2)  Atheist friends:  how have you mitigated this siren call?

3)  Christ followers and those of other faiths:  same question.

4)  Any:  am I wrong to recoil from this letter?  I welcome your criticism.

 

Pascal  1:16

photo credit:  “Biltmore Estate 14-2” by Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg: Doug Coldwellderivative work: Entheta (talk) – Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –