Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Trilemma

A trilemma is a series of three statements that provide a logical framework in which to evaluate a claim. In order for it to be useful, any underlying assumptions must be accepted, and the three statements must be independent and mutually exclusive enough to cover all possibilities. Finally, only one of the three can be true.

As a computer system administrator, I have been, unknowingly, familiar with trilemmas for many years. Software programmers are notorious for glacial progress in delivering the product. The following is the software programmer's humorous response to questions of when will be ready
  • I can do it quickly
  • I can do it cheaply
  • I can do it right.
Pick any two.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, offered a trilemma in response to those who claim Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not the Son of God.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Mere Christianity -- Book 2, Chapter 3
To summarize:

Assuming that Jesus, in fact, claimed to be the Son of God, there are three possibilities:
  • He was not, and he knew it, therefore he was lying.
  • He was not, but he sincerely thought he was, therefore he was delusional.
  • He was who He said He was -- The Son of God.
The underlying assumption -- that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God -- is the point at which the trilemma stands or falls. If one rejects the testimony of Scripture, then using the trilemma is probably an exercise in futility. On the other hand, if someone is on the verge of faith, or is wavering in faith, but also is disposed to accept the Scriptures, then this is a useful way to help them think it through.

This isn't the only time Lewis employed a trilemma. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Peter and Susan are discussing their concerns about Lucy with the Professor. The Professor questions them about Lucy's general truthfulness compared with Edmund's reputation for unreliability, and says this:
"There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth."

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, chapter 5
Of course, the Professor did not need to convince himself that Lucy was truthful, as subsequent books in the Chronicles of Narnia make clear. But in this case it had the effect of causing Peter and Susan to take a step back and think about the ramifications of disbelieving their youngest sibling -- who had never before given them cause to doubt her word. Were they, themselves, convinced? Not yet. Ultimately, like Jesus' disciple Thomas, Peter and Susan had to see in order to believe.

Lewis' Trilemma may not be useful in all situation, but is IS a good response to the "Jesus was nothing more than a great moral teacher" belief of many who otherwise reject the idea that God became Man. It seems reasonable to make it a part of our apologetics framework and to use it when appropriate.

For further reading:

Friday, December 30, 2005

Religious following for cyber sermons

Religious following for cyber sermons

"SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Even the faithful miss church occasionally, but these days they do not have to miss the sermon -- they can download it to their play lists.

Cyber sermons are catching on with a religious audience who are on the run, torn between worship and work...."

"...Podcasts are essentially talk radio for your digital audio player, available on the Web for download, and cover content from politics to comedy to children's stories.

Religion appears to be the fastest growing segment of the podcast community, and Patchett believes this is based on word of mouth...."

There are a couple churches here in Columbia, MO that already provide podcasts of church services, and more than a few people are talking about it.

This may grow by leaps and bounds. Many churches in the past have provided cassette tapes (or cds) of services, so this is a natural evolutionary step.

Being a computer professional, I rate this high on the "geek index", but I value face-to-face interactions as well.

Have web browsing, email, blogging and podcasts really enhanced our fellowship?

I can see both sides of this issue. I have renewed old acquantances (directly and indirectly) via blogging activities, and I find email to be invaluable in communication with the members of the Mission Committee of my congregation. The information that is available on the World Wide Web is staggering and, with discretion and discernment, can be a liberating thing.

On the other hand, will podcasts, websites, and blogs reduce the fellowship that comes from sharing worship, sacraments, Christian education, and meals?

I suppose it boils down to how people use these tools. And one thing seems intuitive: People are being reached who otherwise might not be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Boundless-The Screwtape E-Mails

Boundless-The Screwtape E-Mails:
TO: "
RE: re: help

So you have finally come to ask me for help! I knew it was just a matter of time. Frankly, I'm surprised at how well you have done so far with your subject. I read her entire file with interest, but next time you really must remember to send it in Word format I can't tell you how annoying it is to read around all those little "&nsp" characters and such...."

I was reviewing my ever-increasing bookmarks, trying to organize them in a coherent way, and I came across this. It appeared in 2001, and is a humorous speculation of how C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters might appear if Screwtape used email to communicate with his minions.

The original was a much darker work than this parody, but a lot of the point gets across.

Many people don't believe that Satan exists, and I have to admit that, while I accept that there is evil in this world, and that it is supernatural, it is not something I think about a whole lot. It does remind me of something the French mathematician Blaise Pascal thought about concerning God.

Pascal's famous wager went something like this:

I can believe in God or I can disbelieve in God. What are the consequences of each?

  • The best I can hope for is eternal life.
  • The worst that can happen is that I live, I die, I simply cease to exist.
  • The best I can hope for is that I was correct and I didn't waste any time on faith and other trivial pursuits.
  • The worst that can happen is that I was wrong, and now have to deal with the consequences...
Therefore, it is in my best interest to believe in God, and to live my life accordingly.

Now, let's turn this around and mull over the consequences of believing (or not believing) that there is a personified evil in the world.

By believing that there is an evil in the world that tries to separate us from God, we can exercise vigilance and hopefully recognize the choices we see before us as leading us toward or away from God. At this point, then, we can choose, whether it be the right choice or not...

By not believing in the existence of Satan, Wormwood, or whatever name is applied to personified evil in our world, we have a lessened ability to evaluate the choices we face every day, and we are left with seeing moral equivalence between many of the alternative paths we take.

Enjoy The Screwtape Emails, but also consider reading The Screwtape Letters if you haven't already done so. It provides much food for thought.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Amy Welborn on Christmas

Amy Welborn on Christmas (National Review Online):
A Sword Will Pierce Your Heart
The dark side of Christmas.

By Amy Wellborn

"About a year ago, my husband and I traveled across the chilly cornfields of Indiana to the frigid cornfields of Ohio to have our younger son baptized.

It was not quite, but almost, spur of the moment. A bishop, an old friend of my husband's, would be visiting his mother for a few days after Christmas, and yes, he could certainly squeeze a baptism in. The parish church was available, the bishop's sister and mother would be witnesses, and there you have it: insta-baptism.

Perfect timing. A baptism is a happy occasion centered on a baby. Christmas is another happy time centered on a baby, and a fine opportunity to focus ourselves on the vaunted Real Meaning of Christmas. Babies, love, and family. Comfort, joy, and peace.

But perhaps not so fast...."

Today is the "Feast of Stephen" (as in 'Good King Wenseslas went out on the Feast of Stephen'). In the British English-speaking world it is known as Boxing Day. The origin of the name is a matter of controversy, but all the explanations I have heard revolve around service or gifts to the poor.

It is also the commemoration of the martyrdom of Stephen, the deacon. This office was established by the Apostles as a means of seeing that charitable offerings were equitably distributed among those in the early Christian community who needed assistance.

Amy Welborn, who blogs at "open book", writes about the "dark side" of Christmas, beginning with the Nativity. Jesus came into a world that was set against him for the start. It was necessary for Mary and Joseph to flee the country not long after the birth of Jesus. Herod was made aware inadvertently, by the magi, of the birth of of a child accompanied by such portents that they left their homes and travelled to see this child, who they believed was destined to rule. Simeon, who recognized Jesus as the one for whom he awaited, said this to Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) This disturbing prophesy was close on the heels of Simeon's exclamations of praise that he had lived to see the arrival of the one who would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)

Herod's paranoid attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne is linked forever with the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is celebrated on December 28 -- the day the Welborn's son was baptized.

Amy Welborn closes with as clear a statement of the meaning of Christmas that I have seen. The fight over whether people should be able to wish people "Merry Christmas" is insignificant by comparison to what actually happened, and is still happening to those who choose light over darkness:
"...Glad tidings of comfort and joy, and Merry Christmas indeed. But without awareness of the risk of discipleship, and the reality that the baby in the manger ends up hanging on a cross, those words have about as little power to change the world as "Happy Holidays."
Amen, and may we all be reminded on this day that acts of service to others are as if we did them for Jesus Christ himself.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Word Became Flesh

Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jn 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Jn 1:6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Jn 1:10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jn 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

-- John 1:1-14, New International Version

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Teach, Don't Preach, the Bible - New York Times

Teach, Don't Preach, the Bible - New York Times:
"YESTERDAY'S ruling by a federal judge that "intelligent design" cannot be taught in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district has the potential to put the teaching of the Bible back where it belongs in our schools: not in the science laboratory, but in its proper historical and literary context. An elective, nonsectarian high school Bible class would allow students to explore one of the most influential books of all time and would do so in a manner that clearly falls within Supreme Court rulings...."

This may be a solution to the long-standing conflict over whether the Bible can be taught as literature, or even be mentioned in relation to other areas of learning. I cannot imagine how American history could be taught without reference to the religious motivations of many of the people who emigrated from Europe. Certainly the contributions of the Presbyterians to our type of government cannot be ignored. The myriad of Scriptural allusions in literature of all eras provide a dimension that would be lost if the Bible were ignored in the curriculum.

When the Bible is taught in our churches, I prefer that those doing the teaching at least believe that it is the Word of God. My personal approach to the Bible is that I presume it to mean what it says, unless my study causes me to think otherwise. It is, after all, one of the key underpinnings of the Reformation.

When the Bible is taught in the public schools, though, it is entirely appropriate to keep such discussions neutral so all can come to their own conclusions unfettered by the biases that affect all of us. This is difficult to acheive, and there have been failures in the past to present balance, but this should not prevent educators from trying.

Bruce Feiler points out in this NYTimes Op-Ed piece that the extremists on either side are the ones who define the debate to the public, via the media. It is up to the center to join the debate with examples that counter the far right and far left.

Beau Weston over at the Gruntled Center has adopted the theme of "Principled Centrism". It would be worthwhile to read his articles, especially those linked on the sidebar under the heading "A GC Manifesto".

My biggest fear is that the battle between the extremes on this and other issues will ultimately turm people away from the Presbyterian Church. If there is a "winner" in all of this, what will they have won? The rubble of a once great denomination? An infrastructure that costs far more to maintain that the base can support?

We will have lost our historic witness to the nation and the world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dazed by Disasters - Christianity Today Magazine

Dazed by Disasters - Christianity Today Magazine:

"A woman and her daughter were inside the government-run eye clinic in Battgram, Pakistan, when the ground suddenly began to shake. Running outside to safety, the mother turned and urged her girl to hurry. But it was too late. Before the child could escape, the building collapsed. The clinic is now just a heap of corrugated metal and concrete, in which the girl's lifeless body is entombed.

There are countless stories like this in the heavily Muslim Kashmir region of Pakistan, where more than 73,000 people perished and 100,000 were injured when an earthquake struck on October 8. Tens of thousands of more lives are at risk, and at least 3 million people have been made homeless.

Yet after a brief burst of coverage, the media have moved on to other topics. Many American Christians apparently have, too. "Some people probably are becoming numb to these tragedies," Richard Stearns of World Vision told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "What we call 'compassion fatigue' may be setting in...."

From my corner of the Universe, it seems the church has more staying power than the media, whose attention can shift rapidly. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has an ongoing program to meet needs in this country and worldwide.

This editorial acknowledges that Christians have met the call since the hurricane season of 2004, the tsunami that devastated southeast Asia in the last week of 2004, on through the hurricanes of 2005 and the earthquake in Pakistan. Aid workers in Pakistan believe the response has not been at quite the level of earlier giving. This editorial suggests "Yes, charity may begin at home. But for globally minded Christians, it shouldn't stay there."

Two suggestions are made in the editorial:

(1) Budget for disasters. We have had two severe hurricane seasons, and meteorologists suggest that we are beginning a cycle of increasing risks (it has happened before).

(2) Work to reduce risks. The 2000 lives lost resulting from Hurricane Stan in the Yucatan was due more to inadequate construction than to the force of the winds and rain. The same holds true for the earthquake in Pakistan. A program of helping people construct more sturdy homes or to improve agriculture might allow them to mitigate the forces of nature that can be so devastating in their countries.

We Presbyterians are (justifiably) proud of our Self Development of People program which celebrated its 35th anniversary this year. The philosophy of this program is to let people determine their own development, rather than be dependent on handouts that deal with symptoms rather than causes. It would be good stewardship to use our considerable resources to help people reduce devastation before the storms arrive.

Monday, December 19, 2005

“… and on earth, peace"

“… and on earth, peace" (Presbyterian Outlook, free registration required):
"So we know that the Scriptures are inspired by God and are authoritative for the church’s faith and life. Does that mean that the words in Scripture uttered by angels are just as inspired as those spoken by God or humans? Do their words carry clout, or can we dismiss them as being platitudes? Getting specific, what’s to be made of the angels’ song to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” (Luke 2:14a)? If the chief end of humans is to glorify God, then the first line of the angelic song sounds substantive. What about the second line, the one that sings the promise of “peace?”

Granted, modern translators differ as to who should receive the peace promise. Is peace to be experienced by “all people?” Is it intended for “all people of good will?” Or is it being offered only to “those on whom God’s favor rests?” What’s for sure is that the peace is to be experienced by many, including at least all recipients of God’s saving grace. It may be intended, as suggested in other biblical passages, for all persons created by God. Indeed, given the plan for the wolf to lie down with the lamb, it appears that God promises peace for all creation.

What about that peace? Holiday carols sing its melody. Christmas cards echo its refrain. But do we really want it?..."

Jack Haberer, the newly installed editor of Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required to read the full articles) asks the question "But do we really want [peace]?" He then goes on to make a cogent case that we DO want peace -- even those who look at issues from different perspectives.

The General Assembly in 2004 urged divestment from Israel and this action caused an immediate response from Jewish organizations who are understandibly sensitive to attacks, both military and rhetorical. It also resulted in what Haberer calls an "angry backlash" from persons within the PC(USA) who wanted to see the Palestinian acts of violence condemned in equal proportion. Haberer points out the both sides "yearn to see peace among those conflicted peoples", and differ only on methods of approach.

The 2004 action, if I understand the path toward implementation correctly, cannot take effect before the 2006 General Assembly, although research and recommendations have taken place. In addition, there have been conversations among Presbyterians in local congregations and presbyteries. The wild card in all of this is that each general Assembly consists of a new slate of commissioners, who can, and often do, overturn or modify previous GA actions.

These actions are symbolic. Caterpillar (which does NOT manufacture armor-plated bulldozers; that is put on by a third party) will sell its stock to others and will no doubt continue to show an ever-growing bottom line. The symbolism is, on one hand, an expression of displeasure with the way Israel responds to terrorist attacks on its citizens. On the other hand, we are symbolically assigning blame for the conflict. The PC(USA) is perceived as beng less than even-handed in dealing with the problem. Having read the news releases from PNS and the Washington Office, I see both sides being criticized, but not in a balanced way.

The criticism of the anti-Israeli factions seems almost like an afterthought, and the impression I get is that our demoninational stand is that Israel is the primary offender in all of this. I cannot accept that. Our credibility would be greatly enhanced if, when we condemn Israel for bulldozing the homes of suicide bombers, we condemn in equal terms the hate for the Jews that drives this terror against Israelis. Peace can never be a reality in Israel and Palestine while hate is taught to succeeding generations.

Haberer's point is that with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, both sides of the debate are seeking the same outcome, just as those who want immediate withdrawal from Iraq are seeking the same goals as those who feel that we can only leave when Iraq is stable, and democracy is working.

He suggests that we consider halting our internal conficts over how to achieve our goals of peace and "cooperate with God in helping them come to pass"


Friday, December 16, 2005

Scandal for Cloning Embryos: 'A Tragic Turn' for Science - New York Times

Scandal for Cloning Embryos: 'A Tragic Turn' for Science - New York Times:
"Last May, a stunning research paper in Science, one of the world's most respected scientific journals, instantly changed the tenor of the debate over cloning human embryos and extracting their stem cells. A team of South Korean scientists reported in the paper that they had figured out how to do this work so efficiently that the great hope of researchers and patients - to obtain stem cells that were an exact match of a patient's - seemed easily within sight.

But that rosy future has been cast into doubt with the statement last month by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who led the team that wrote the paper, that it contained fabricated evidence. Questions have also been raised about earlier research and a new debate has begun.

Scientists and ethicists caution that the full story is not in, but they are staggered by how the research has unraveled so far...."

Well, the NY Times has picked this up, and while they quote scientists who urge caution, it appears that the paper in Science is going to be withdrawn due to academic fraud.

This underscores the need for continuing research in the use of umbilical and adult stem cells, which has shown promising results lately. See earlier blog entries on November 2, October 11, and October 3 for further information and links to the original articles.

PM - Shock as scientist allegedly confesses to faking research

The following is a transcript of the first few moments of an ABC Australia newscast. Follow the link for the entire report. It appears that the story that aired on NPR's Morning Edition earlier this week is taking on a potentially devastating turn with other researchers being sucked into the web.

PM - Shock as scientist allegedly confesses to faking research:
"MARK COLVIN: The world of genetic science is in shock after a highly regarded South Korean researcher allegedly admitted to colleagues that he faked results on a key stem cell study.

Pictures of Dr Hwang Woo-suk with his genetically engineered dog Snuppy were flashed around the world earlier this year.

In South Korea, which has been positioning itself as a hub for biotechnology, he's been hailed as a hero.

But after Dr Hwang reportedly told colleagues that he'd fabricated earlier research into "tailor-made" human stem cells, biotech stocks in Seoul plunged and the South Korean President immediately called an emergency cabinet meeting...."

I'll await further word before I consider making any more comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Belief in the balance

Belief in the balance:

"Tom Phillips is a cell biologist. So when his 3-year-old son developed a life-threatening case of pneumonia, he knew exactly what was happening inside the boy's body. He had an intimate understanding of how antibiotics would attack the bacteria trying to kill his child. But that was hardly comforting.

"I wasn't thinking about the medicines that were going to save his life," Phillips said. "I was saying prayers."

Like many Americans, Phillips, a practicing Catholic and biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, only feels complete with a life that allows room for both science and faith. He sees no need to reconcile his knowledge and his belief...."

This is a local story to Columbia MO, so it is unlikely that readers outside the Mid-Missouri area have seen it.

This is one of the most balanced pieces I have read on the topic of science and religion and has none of the vitriol and little of the condescension that often characterizes discussion of the relationship between theory and theology.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Perspectives on the Christian Peacemaking Teams

Mollie Ziegler at "Get Religion" makes a much needed point during this time of uncertainty regarding the CPT hostages in Iraq:

GetReligion: December 12, 2005:
"...The Christian Peacemakers require its corps members to be “deeply grounded in Christian faith.” So you have a group of peace activists who may have already lost their lives because of their interpretation of the Bible. Leaving apart the possible merit or naivete in their political understanding, why aren’t reporters teaching us more about their Quaker-infused theology?..."

The Saturday deadline is nearly 48 hours in the past and there is is still no word as to their fate.

As Ziegler points out, there is no consensus among Christians as to whether wars can ever be justified, but there is no serious question as to what motivates the CPT. Yet to read the news stories about this, the closest they seem to come to suggesting a motive is simply reporting the name of the organization.

CPT has an informative website and goes into detail into why they do what they do. The qualifications to be a part of the corps are sufficient to weed out the people who might want to try it out because it's just too cool:

"...Team members are selected to represent a range of ages, skills, life experiences, and ethnic backgrounds. CPT seeks applicants who are:
  • at least 21 years of age
  • deeply grounded in Christian faith
  • committed to peacemaking
  • experienced in nonviolent direct action
  • adequately free from responsibilities in order to move into life-threatening situations on short notice
  • willing to commit to three years of service
Members may also have special skills or significant experience in a particular cross-cultural setting...."

Whether you agree or disagree with their stance, their rhetoric, or their methods, these people are truly committed to the Lord and are in need of our prayers.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia -- The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

My wife, son and I went to the 1:00 pm matinee (cheaper tickets, usually fewer people). After a few glitches with the audio, the movie unfolded. I won't spend any time reviewing it in this post, other than to recommend it highly.

Two suggestions: (1) hit the bathroom during the previews; and (2) don't be in too big a hurry to leave the theater when the ending credits start to roll.

Enjoy it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Disney film renews interest in Lewis

Disney film renews interest in Lewis:
"LOS ANGELES — When 8-year-old Douglas Gresham met C.S. Lewis, the man who would be his stepfather, he was disappointed. The American boy expected the British author of The Chronicles of Narnia fantasy books “to be wearing silver armor and carrying a sword with a jeweled pommel.”

Instead, the person he encountered “was a stooped, balding, professorial-looking gentleman in shabby clothes, with long, nicotine-stained fingers,” Gresham, now 59, recalled in a phone call from his home in Ireland...."

Well, today's the day, and the PC(USA) has weighed in with a PNS news release.

A quick look at the Yahoo Movies web site reveals that the critics give it a "B" and the viewers give it a "B+".

No one in my family really wants to deal with the opening day crowds, so we will just have to wait for a day or two to form any kind of an informed opinion.

The PNS news release makes note of some of the controversies surrounding C.S. Lewis and the themes that are evident in The Chronicles of Narnia, but quotes Gresham as saying this:
“If you want to remember him,” Gresham said, “remember him as a man with all the foibles and difficulties and dark times in his life that men have ... not as some kind of plaster saint. He wasn’t like that at all. He was a man of great humor, great warmth. He was a fun bloke to be around...."

“People should not be trying to remember C.S. Lewis at all,” he said. “They should be trying to remember the Jesus Christ whom he represented and whom he preached.”

This is fantasy literature, wrtten in a way that has nearly universal appeal. I hope it doesn't get ruined by adults who forget what it was like when they were children.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Iraq peacemakers await word on hostages' fate

Iraq peacemakers await word on hostages' fate:
"LOUISVILLE — As the Christian Peacemaking Team (CPT) in Baghdad awaits news about the release — or executions — of four of its team members held hostage for 11 days, former team members in the United States are reflecting on what it means to love one’s enemy.

Even if it kills you...."

An Associated Press update from yesterday reported the deadline, originally today, had been extended to Saturday. The situation is still very tense, with a video being broadcast of one of the hostages pleading for his life.

I know of no one who fails to see this as a barbaric and unwarranted act, and most people are bewildered as to just what is going through the minds of the captors. In this PNS article a Presbyterian member of the Baghdad CPT team said "When we learned of the demands, we were fairly astonished. Our work is working with detainees and advocating (for) detainees … with human-rights organizations."

The problem is that logic appears to play little role in the violence perpetrated upon people who otherwise are opposed to the war in Iraq. CPT has issued a statement condemning the "our own governments" for their actions in Iraq, and asking for the release of the hostages.

This CPT statement may work, but I am not hopeful. The terrorists have killed at least one humanitarian worker in the past. The four CPT hostages are in God's hands, and prayers are their hope -- prayers not only for them, but for all the parties involved in the continuing situation in Iraq.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Narnia's lion really is Jesus - Sunday Times - Times Online

Narnia's lion really is Jesus - Sunday Times - Times Online:
The letter, written from Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Lewis was a don, contradicts this. [the idea that there is no religious content] “Supposing there really was a world like Narnia . . . and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?” he wrote.

“The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts, I thought he would become a talking beast there as he became a man here. I pictured him becoming a lion there because a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; b) Christ is called ‘the lion of Judah’ in the Bible.”

In light of the current efforts to get The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe removed from the grade school reading list in Florida, this revelation might help fan the flames. I hope not, but I suspect that the controversy is far from over.

Children have read and loved the Chronicles of Narnia, and not all of them have realized that there is an underlying message. The themes of betrayal, redemption, courage, commitment, self-sacrifice, and good overcoming evil are ones that few people can speak against -- and these themes are explicitly treated in the Chronicles.

What is not very explicit is the parallel between Christ's redemption of the world and Aslan's care and love for Narnia. The closest the Chronicles come to "spelling it out" is when Lucy, having been told that she would not be able to return to Narnia, asks Aslan how she will remember him. Aslan's answer was that he WAS in her world, but under a different name. Lucy would have to learn to know him by that name.

The letter, which will be published in 2006, sheds a great deal of light light on what was going through Lewis' mind as he wrote these stories. He did not, however, write in such a way that only Christian children could read and appreciate the stories; the stories have been read and loved by children of diverse religions.

These are stories that children can love and that their parents can also read and enjoy. I first read the entire Chronicles after I turned 50 (I had read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and parts of The Magician's Nephew when I was in my 20s. I was brought up in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord" and that laid the ground for my continued growth, and I was able to see the underlying meaning of the Narnia books.

I regret not having taken the opportunity to read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child -- It would have been nice to experience this as a child, with a child's wonder.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kirkpatrick on capital punishment

Kirkpatrick on capital punishment:
"LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement on capital punishment on Dec. 2, shortly after the death of the 1,000th person executed in the United States since 1976.

Kirkpatrick, noting that the PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations “have long been opposed to capital punishment,”said: “Capital punishment is wrong because it is impossible to know that a person who has murdered can never be redeemed or restored. As a matter of faith and faithfulness, this possibility must be left open for every human being.”

The statement was mailed to the governors of all states that still have capital punishment...."

Follow the above link to read the full text of Kirkpatrick's letter.

My feelings on capital punishment have evolved over the past 35 years from full support as a college freshman in 1970, to starting to have doubts in the mid-1980s, to believing that it is morally indefensible in any circumstances.

I do not use the rhetoric of some who say it is murder -- murder is defined as the unlawful taking of a human life. It is, however, killing, and I tend not to use euphemisms to describe it. By the same reasoning neither can abortion be called murder.

I do not always agree with what Kirkpatrick says (or what he has leaves unsaid), but here he says what needs to be said, and I am thankful for his witness.

Friday, December 02, 2005 - University cancels creationism class - Dec 2, 2005 - University cancels creationism class - Dec 2, 2005:
"TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- A University of Kansas course devoted to debunking creationism and intelligent design has been canceled after the professor who planned to teach it caused a furor by sending an e-mail mocking Christian fundamentalists...."

I mentioned this situation a couple days ago. Apparently apologies did little to reassure the University of Kansas that this course could be taught fairly in view of the actions of the teacher.

It's too bad, since this could have been an occaision for fruitful debate -- and while I am not in favor of teaching ID as science, I think that there is potential for dialog -- but first each side must acknowledge that a diversity of opinion exists, and respect it and each other.

Bioethics in Narnia? - Christianity Today Magazine

Bioethics in Narnia? - Christianity Today Magazine:

Nigel M. de S. Cameron writes:
"When I interviewed Leon Kass for Christianity Today on his appointment to chair the President's Council on Bioethics back in 2002, I asked why he got into bioethics. One reason he gave was a short and stunning essay by C. S. Lewis.

As the world awaits the Narnia movie, and Lewis's extraordinary work receives the acclaim of a fresh generation, nothing demonstrates his genius like that little essay with the strange title, The Abolition of Man. It runs to just over a dozen pages. Not only are they the most profound pages he ever wrote, they may also be the most significant pages written by any writer of the 20th century. They are certainly the most relevant to the technological challenges of the 21st century...."

Nigel M. de S. Cameron notes that C.S. Lewis was "way ahead of the curve" when it came to reflecting on how the modern world could ultimately affect the human race. In The Abolition of Man Lewis started with "...three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive." (Note that during World War II, the wireless was radio, the aeroplanes were taking on a more military role, and contraception was fairly new on the scene. )

Lewis continued with an analysis of how science can be used well or used destructively. He suggested that the final "victory" of Man over Nature might place power into a ever-dwindling number of hands:

"The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man's side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well aas stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man's conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho' and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?..."

-- The Abolition of Man (1943), Chapter 3

At the time of Lewis' essay, the atomic bomb had not yet fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the structure of DNA was still unknown, genetic engineering was done the old-fashi0ned way (one hybrid cross at a time), cell phones were not a reality, computers were in their infancy and personal computing was unknown, the rapid dissemination of information (truth or lies) via the Web could not be predicted, supersonic "aeroplanes" were not anywhere to be seen (or heard), and space travel was only a theme of some science fiction writers.

It would be interesting to see what Lewis' reactions would be to OUR modern world. Yet in reading the essay I see Lewis asking questions that people are still asking or perhaps more accurately, should be asking.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Intelligent Design: Kansas Prof. Apologizes for E-Mail - Yahoo! News

Kansas Prof. Apologizes for E-Mail - Yahoo! News:
"LAWRENCE, Kan. - A University of Kansas religion professor apologized for an e-mail that referred to religious conservatives as "fundies" and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face."

In a written apology Monday, Paul Mirecki, chairman of the university's Religious Studies Department, said he would teach the planned class 'as a serious academic subject and in an manner that respects all points of view.'..."
I am not a big proponent of teaching ID as if it were a scientific theory. Any system of belief that resorts ultimately to an untestable assertion is not science.

Having said that, it is extremely harmful to honest debate when a professor starts off with ridiculing opposing points of view in addition to trash-talking their adherents. Even with an apology, it calls into question whether or not this professor can truly accept differing points of view, especially when they flow from faith in God.

Read the whole article for additional information.