Dialogue with Ken (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Ken is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began a few days ago as a comment exchange between Ken (whom I otherwise don’t know) and me on someone else’s blog.  The dialogue took a different path from the original post so I’ve reproduced it here for the purpose of continuing it.

(If you want to see all the initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian?on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.  [August 15, 2015: Sorry, but it appears the lined-through links are no longer being maintained.]  For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

The conversation begins as Ken asks me why I believe Jesus as He is presented in the Bible.  I’m pulling it from the original site and from his comment to my Everyone Is Going to Heaven post so I’ve done some very light editing here to improve readability.)

Ken:  What gives you “conviction” that Jesus actually walked on water and healed the sick?  Because the bible says so?  Why do you believe in the teachings of the bible and not the teachings of the Koran, or the teachings of the Torah, or the teachings of Buddhism? Or the teachings of the ancient gods of Zeus, Thor, vishna, apollo, Odin, Ra, or any of the thousands of other faiths? I wager that you were born into a family or society that was of Christian denomination.

Do you believe your faith out of knowledge or of ignorance of other ways of thinking? Do you believe your faith because it helps you fit in with your community? Do you believe your faith because it is comforting to believe in a big sky daddy always watching over you and going somewhere really nice after you die? I recommend you google “why won’t God heal amputees” it is an interesting read. (unless you are fearful that knowledge may challenge your faith).

Mike:  Ken, you’ve asked more questions than can be individually addressed here, but if you’ll ask them on my blog I’ll answer each one thoroughly. For here and now let me give this summary answer:

I believe what the Bible says about Jesus because it’s logical and persuasive. By contrast, I’ve read “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” and do not find it logical or persuasive. As for all the supposed motivations you think I have for believing in Jesus, none of them apply. I hasten to say that I reject organized religion (yes, this includes all churches) as unrepresentative of God. Instead, I am motivated by a healthy regard for truth whenever I encounter it.

I believe Jesus takes everyone to heaven at death – you, me, Hitchens, Dawkins, the Dalai Lama, etc. This does not mean, however, that there is no judgment for our sins. On the contrary, it matters very much how we live.

Ultimately, everything I believe rests on the personal veracity of Jesus of Nazareth. And with that stance, I am quite comfortable.

Ken:  So in other words, you are a christian because you hold too strong a desire to believe in heaven for the majority of your life that facing the alternate reality of no heaven would be too life changing for you to face… No matter the facts surrounding it. Many people maintain their faith this way (too much time and life invested to completely re-invent your mind and way of life).

And if that works for you, so be it. After all, for many it is impossible to reverse their childhood indoctrination of their parents religion.

Mike:  Your paraphrase is as if you didn’t read a word I wrote. You must be working from preconceived notions. In any case, our dialogue is stalled so no point continuing it…at least not now. We each believe what we believe and neither of us is persuading the other.

Thanks for engaging and now let’s let Scott have his blog back.

[Editor’s Note: At this point, Ken went to my blog and made the following comment on my Everyone Is Going to Heaven post.]

Ken:  Hey Mike, I am grateful that you have invited me to share viewpoints on your blog.
Just a quick question, if you have indeed read the entire “why won’t god heal amputees”.
Then what would be your explanation for why indeed we have never seen an amputee healed by God or Jesus through prayer?

P.S. Although our views differ, I do find you to be an intellectual rarity amongst the throngs of uneducated or thoughtless throngs of “Christians”. And I do very much agree with your approach to Christianity (nobody likes Christians who shout with megaphones on street corners about going to hell) So I applaud you for that.

Therefore I do not wish to come across as an evil atheist bent on ridiculing you or belittling you. However I do hope that you feel like responding to a few of my queries, and I will gladly return the favor if you desire to challenge my train of thought.

Cheers: Ken

Mike:  Ken, your challenge is very gracious – and one I am grateful to accept.

So, to start with the “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees” web site, I think the argument there is illogical and unpersuasive. It starts with a flawed premise – that God has promised to answer all prayers and is answering all prayers – and then points to amputees and says, “See, it isn’t so!” Jesus’ hometown synagogue challenged Him to do miracles in their midst that they had heard about Him doing in other locales. He said that while there were many lepers in Elisha’s time only one of them was healed (Luke 4:23-27). And it was said of Jesus that He did no miracles there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5-6). Thus, even in Jesus’ time, miracles were not always commonplace.

[By the way, when I give you chapter and verse it is not to say “this is the word of the Lord,” but simply to let you know my source should you want to keep me honest about what the Bible says. When I started reading the Bible I only gave it the same respect I would give any other document from antiquity. That’s all I’d ask you or anyone else to consider.]

I myself think miracles are quite rare. That’s what makes them miracles! That’s what made Jesus of Nazareth so unique – never before or since have that many miracles of that magnitude been ascribed to a human being. But even He was limited when there was no faith.

I myself am not surprised that God does not heal amputees. And the fact that He doesn’t, doesn’t mean to me that He can’t. Moreover, the hospitals filled with people that God is not healing miraculously. They’re either being healed through more mundane means or not being healed at all. God can do anything He wants. But He chooses to operate in very predictable ways most of the time (e.g. through the laws of physics and biology) which makes miracles exceedingly rare.

Having said that, I see the ordinary flow of life as quite wondrous, if not “miraculous” in a sense. For example, you and I are spinning around somewhere between the top and the side of a ball. The rate of speed is about 600 miles an hour in the continental United States. Simultaneously, that ball is circling the sun at about 66,000 mph. Simultaneously again, the ball’s solar system is moving around the Milky Way at 432,000 mph. And so on. Nonetheless, you and I do not fall off or fly off the ball, neither are we getting chapped lips from the experience. I’m no scientist, but I do have a sense of irony. And of wonder.

As I said, amputees are not the only people God does not heal. In fact, you could say that ultimately He doesn’t heal any of us because we all die. (That’s why everyone going to heaven – independent of faith – is such wonderfully good news.)

In other words, I adopt the opposite stance of the straw man on the “Amputee” web site (which I concede that the extravagant claims of wishful thinkers have encouraged). That is, I see God’s healings and answered prayers as the exceptions rather than the rules – and I derive this perspective from reading the Bible.

Your turn, Ken.  Just comment below.

Dialogue with Willy (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Willy is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue with Willy (whom I don’t otherwise know) began as a comment exchange yesterday on another blog.  Willy had actually been observing a comment exchange between Rob (whom I also don’t otherwise know) and me on that blog which I’ve since reproduced as Dialogue with Rob.  Willy then decided to offer a point of his own.

(If you want to see all the initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian? on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.  [August 15, 2015:  Sorry, but it appears the lined-through links are to pages that are no longer being maintained.]  For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

I’ve reproduced Willy’s comment here and responded to it.  If he chooses to continue the dialogue it will show up as comments on this post.

Willy:  Mike, a few things. First: historicity. There are several versions of the Christian Bible which include and exclude books from other biblical cannons. Over several centuries, biblical cannons determined what books would and would not be considered part of the Bible. Extensive editing and translating has occurred throughout the history of the Bible by hundreds and thousands of people (most notably monks) as directed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church (King James), Greek Orthodox, and the dozens of Protestant sects. Needless to say, taking the gospels at “face value”–that they are Reports of Christ’s life or something–requires a complete disregard for (or ignorance of) biblical history. You seem to appreciate historicity and verifiability, so if I were you, I would take a look at the history of the Bible.

On top of that, however, to call the gospels and the resurrection of Christ “logical and persuasive” undermines both logic and faith. Between the four gospels (in the King James Bible), there are dozens of events recounted where one gospel fundamentally contradicts the other. That is definitively illogical. But if we talk about the resurrection of Christ as logical, then you undermine faith. Faith requires suspension of reason, and the resurrection of Christ requires just that. It is not just illogical, it is, in fact, impossible. But the resurrection forms a crucial part of Christian faith–that the divinity of Christ was proved by this event because it contradicted the limitations of the natural world and logic.

I like your curiosity and I bookmarked your blog. Would enjoy some more discussion with you because it appears that you are an out-of-the-box thinker with regard to Christianity, and that you appreciate historical background. I would advice you to engage the documented history of the Bible in order to build you understanding and knowledge on the subject.

Mike:  Willy, I have studied the historical background of the Bible but draw a different conclusion than you do.  First of all, the different biblical canons that you mention are notable not for their dissimilarity but rather for their similarity.  While the Catholic canon includes a few books that the Protestant canon doesn’t, and the Greek Orthodox canon a few more, the vast majority of the books are the same in all three.

There has been extensive translating of the Bible over the centuries, not just because there are so many languages but because each language (e.g. English) changes.  However, I am unaware of what you say is “extensive editing” of the text.  On the contrary, Bible translations have always been valued for their faithfulness to, not their divergence from, the original text.  Even paraphrased versions, while trying to communicate in more understandable ways, are doing so in the name of faithfulness to the original meaning.

As for Christ’s resurrection, on what basis do you say that it is illogical?  I could understand if you said that it was uncommon, and I would agree.  But what makes something illogical just because it’s not commonplace?

Faith is not the suspension of reason.  Rather, faith is based on reason.  I trust my wife because my reason (as well as my affection) led me to do so.  I do not have exhaustive knowledge of everything my wife thinks, says, and does – but the subset of knowledge I do have leads me, through the process of reason, to trust her regarding the subset I do not have.

I find the accounts of Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament persuasive because I find more reason to believe them than to disbelieve them.  My reasons for believing them, summarized, are that they are logically coherent and they – unlike anything else I have ever read – adequately address the fundamental question of life: that is, death.  To disbelieve the apostles I would have to see evidence that they had motive, opportunity, and means to lie.  (For more, see Why the Bible Can Be Trusted.)

Your turn, Willy.  Just comment below.

Dialogue with Rob (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Rob is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began a couple of days ago on someone else’s blog.  I had made some comments on a post there.  Then Rob, who also commented on that post, challenged my comments (by the way, we don’t otherwise know each other) and our dialogue took on a life of its own.  Therefore, I’ve moved it here.  (For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

(If you want to see our initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian? on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.)

In this post I’ll reproduce all our exchanges to this point (with some very minor editing to improve readability).  Then Rob will be able to comment on this post and the dialogue can continue.

Here are the two statements I had made which provoked Rob’s first comment:

 “Jesus read the same Old Testament that [Richard] Dawkins did and it led Him to a life of kindness, generosity, power, self-sacrifice and – summing it all up – love…that has not been achieved by any other human being before or since.”

“I believe what the Bible says about Jesus because it’s logical and persuasive.” 

And here then is how Rob began:

Rob:  Mike, it says in the bible that Jesus lived this oh-so-perfect life, and you assume this to be true…..why?

Obviously the writers of the bible had a bit of a vested interest in having you think that Jesus lived a perfect life. Even so, how do you know that no one before or after did the same, but just didn’t get attention for it? There’s been 20-billion-some people on the planet, and you’re willing to state that Jesus lived a “better” life than any of them?

All you’ve said is “it is logical,” but with nothing whatsoever to indicate why you think so.

Mike:  Rob, I thought I addressed that but I’ll be happy to repeat and elaborate. I accept the story about Jesus in the Bible to be true because it’s logical and persuasive – the same basis on which I accept news reports, weather reports, history books, and anything else I read. Some things we hear are credible and some are not. I find the gospel accounts to be credible history. As for His disciples having a vested interest in making Him look good, I’d say quite the opposite. They had a vested interest in forgetting the whole thing, and indeed they all forsook Him at the crucifixion. Only when He was raised from the dead was their zeal restored. Even then, they knew that their zeal would only lead to the same fate He had experienced. When Dawkins and Hitchens find acceptance for their message it leads to financial rewards and worldly praise – and I don’t begrudge them that at all. But the fellows you think had a vested interest in fudging the story of Jesus had no such hopes. For them, a job well done meant shame, disgrace, and death. They wouldn’t have done it unless the resurrection were the truth.

Yet another strong corroboration is the Old Testament.  When  you read its prophecies of the Messiah, you see that ONLY the life Jesus lived could fulfill them all.  Until Jesus, these prophecies were considered contradictory (“How could you have a Messiah who both suffered and triumphed?”).  It was a riddle to which Jesus’ life was the only answer.

I’ve read and loved books all my life. When I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s I approached as I would any other book. I did not consider it sacred. I only considered it historic. I still read it today as I would any other book. The difference is that it rewards me more than any other book.

Oh, and as for the possibility that some other human life was as great as His, I suppose that could theoretically be possible. However, that point is moot because no other life could have been the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

Rob:  Ok Mike, well I guess my standards for credibility wouldn’t include unverifiable ancient texts, but to each his own. At least other things from history (say, Julius Caesar) are corroborated by a lot more sources.

As for the “vested interest,” well, they wouldn’t have written it down if they didn’t have an interest in getting people to follow it. Even if they thought their reward comes in the afterlife.

But maybe even “vested interest” was the wrong term. A better way to look at it is probably almost Darwinian….those religions which were NOT documented in a way that made their founder look particularly impressive, aren’t around today because people weren’t as likely to follow them. So, any religion around today would be expected to be similar in that respect to Christianity….whether it is true or not.

”(How could you have a Messiah who both suffered and triumphed?”) It was a riddle to which Jesus’ life was the only answer.”

Well, ok. And you don’t think that it’s possible….just POSSIBLE….that someone might have altered the story of Jesus to make it fit the prophecy? (as many think they did having him born in Bethlehem, rather than Nazareth)

And… don’t you see the circular reasoning? He only “triumphed” if he really is a supernatural savior. If the atheist point of view is correct, he was simply a guy who was executed in a cruel way, like so many others of his time.

Mike:  Rob, you and I seem to agree that it comes down to this: the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament documents were either fabricating the resurrection or telling the truth. I find the latter infinitely more logical than the former.

To believe that the apostles were lying I’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy…and that they all plotted to put forth a fiction about someone whose chief claim was that He was nonfiction (”I am the truth”).

As the adages go, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and “you can’t make this stuff up.” The New Testament documents are the personal testimonies of His followers about Him. I challenge you to read these documents for yourself with an open mind and come away with the conviction that they made it up.

Rob: 

“…the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament documents were either fabricating the resurrection or telling the truth. I find the latter infinitely more logical than the former.”

Hmmm, really? There is this notion of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” that would seem to apply. If a few people say they saw a car accident, I am inclined to believe they are not lying. If those same people say they saw space aliens come out of a flying saucer, I want a little more than hearsay to back it up. I consider my approach pretty logical, if I am really interested in knowing the truth.

“To believe that the apostles were lying I’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy”

Are you basing this on simply reading the Bible, or have you followed any of the scholarship on the historicity of Jesus?

Because it wasn’t many people that would be involved in the “conspiracy” at all. It wasn’t written down until decades later, and it was then circulated in lands far away from where it supposedly happened, where it was impossible for anyone to fact-check the original story or corroborate with any witnesses. Sure, supposedly a bunch of people witnessed the resurrected Jesus, but this is simply what a few (unknown) authors wrote much later, after most of those people would be dead….and their readers had no ability to verify it one way or the other. Lots of witnesses” doesn’t count for anything if the information, via retelling, gets bottlenecked through a much smaller number of people.

“…and that they all plotted to put forth a fiction about someone whose chief claim was that He was nonfiction (”I am the truth”).”

Oh dear, I don’t know even what to do with this. Because the story says that Jesus said “I am the truth,” that’s really good enough for you? Are you suggesting that, while people might lie, they sure wouldn’t go so far as to lie about someone claiming to be telling the truth….? I’m losing you here. If someone said he saw Elvis in a 7-11, would you give it more credence if he mentioned that Elvis said “I’m really still alive”?

“As the adages go, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and “you can’t make this stuff up.” The New Testament documents are the personal testimonies of His followers about Him. ”

Yes, you can make stuff like that up, and history shows many cases of people making up stranger stuff. (and actually, a lot of very similar stuff) And no, the New Testament was probably not written by his direct followers, it was probably written by unknown people many decades later.

Mike:  Rob, I take the New Testament at face value – that is, that the documents are simply what they present themselves to be (Occam’s Razor, if you will). By contrast, you believe that they are fabrications produced decades after the fact by people who were not Jesus’ direct followers…and that they did this at the peril of their lives because they believed God would reward them in the afterlife for doing so. Talk about extraordinary claims! Where’s your extraordinary evidence?

If someone told me that Elvis appeared and said, “I am the truth,” I would reject the idea because it is inconsistent with what I know of Elvis’ life and sayings. When Jesus says “I am the truth” I read the four accounts we have of His life and sayings, and I see consistency. And His claim to be the truth is one I cannot logically reject.

I should tell you that I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s and did so as a skeptic. At that point, I only considered the Bible as having literary value. It was the text itself that convinced me otherwise. Until you read the New Testament for yourself you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to make an informed decision about the claims Jesus made for Himself.

Rob: Mike, all I can say is that is a strange application of Occam’s razor. You take an ancient document at face value because it is simpler to assume the magical claims of the document are true, than that the author might not be fully truthful? People lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time. Come back from the dead? We don’t see that so often.

I seriously doubt the authors of the gospels put themselves at risk by writing it. People later put themselves at risk by spreading it around, sure. But that happened with numerous other religions, which you presumably don’t accept the truth of. Do you think those who flew airplanes into skyscrapers were “correct”? If you apply Occam’s razor as you have, you’d have to assume they must have been. No, reasonable people would assume they were deeply misguided. Just because someone puts themselves at personal risk in the name of some religion does not bolster the truth.

And I think you missed the point on the Elvis thing. Substitute Harry Houdini if it helps. If Houdini came back from the dead, it probably would have been consistent for him to communicate that he really is him. Regardless, hearing second-hand (or third or fourth hand), that he said “I am really me,” does not in any way strengthen the claim that he came back from the dead. It is bizarre to me that you would quote someone’s claim of being truthful, as if it somehow strengthens the case that they indeed are.

And trying to demonstrate that a work is not fictional simply because it is internally consistent (not that the Bible is known for consistency, but whatever!), makes no sense at all. I’m sorry you don’t see the problem there. You need to look outside the Bible (or Harry Potter, or the myths of ancient Greece, etc) to be able to make any inferences as to its truth. And there is little outside the Bible to back its claims (other than the most basic, such as that Jesus probably did live, get some followers, and was executed … none of which was particularly remarkable).

Thankfully our judicial system has doesn’t use such illogical means of establishing truth.

Mike: Rob, you so frequently misrepresent my positions when you argue with them that I have to assume you are not thinking through what I am saying.

Rob: Mike, you are welcome to clarify. I don’t think I unfairly represented your opinion as being that you believe what the Bible says purely based on the Bible itself, rather than based on any external corroboration. That sort of logic permeates everything you have said, and is incredibly weak evidence, if evidence at all.

If you have a different position, please do state it.

Mike:  Thanks for letting me clarify.

I don’t find the New Testament’s claims “magical” at all.  In fact, the pragmatic nature of the miracles (all of them helped people in practical ways) and absence of titillating embellishment (the New Testament authors do not merchandise or sensationalize Jesus’ accomplishments) lend to their credibility.  I considered the possibility that the documents were falsified but I could not and cannot come up with a plausible motive.  Your notion that a handful of people far removed from Jesus and His lifetime forged the documents in order to get followers does not comport with the uniqueness of teaching and elegance of thought in the New Testament.  In my lifetime, whenever I see religions trying to get followers there is always a motive of self-aggrandizement that appears in one form or another.  I can’t see it in the New Testament for it actually announces the end of organized religion! And indeed, in accord with its prophecies, Jerusalem, the center of Old Testament worship, was destroyed in 70 A.D.  Yes, people do lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time, but the New Testament just doesn’t read like a lie, exaggeration, or myth.

I agree with you that just because someone puts himself at personal risk in the name of God does not mean he is telling the truth.  The 9/11 killers prove this.  And indeed that’s what they were: killers.  What a contrast with Jesus who condemned not just homicide, but even hateful and disrespectful thoughts toward one’s enemies!  Suicide bombers are putting whole societies at risk; Jesus and His apostles put no one at risk but themselves. 

If all we had were third- and fourth-hand claims of Jesus’ resurrection, I would be suspicious of its authenticity.  However, in the New Testament we have first-hand accounts from Peter, John, Paul, and Matthew – not to mention many others whom they reference.  When I read them, they just don’t sound like liars to me. 

As for what you said was “bizarre,” I wasn’t saying that I believe Jesus was truthful because He said He was truthful.  I was saying that Jesus said, “I am the truth,” and after thinking about this claim in light of all that was in the New and Old Testaments I could not logically or in good conscience reject it.  It’s one thing for a person to say, “I am truthful.”  Both honest and dishonest people say this sort of thing all the time.  What Jesus said was, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  That sort of boldness invites us to make a decision.  It polarizes.  We must accept or reject such a claim; once we’ve heard it, we cannot ignore it. It’s the kind of statement that would make me think the person uttering it was mentally ill – unless it was that one-in-a-million case where it might possibly be true.  All I have been saying is that after reading the New Testament, I felt far more comfortable accepting His amazing claim than I did rejecting it.

Like you, I want multiple witnesses for an issue as important as this.  For you this seems to mean that you have to go outside the Bible.  But the Bible is not one book; it is a collection, a library.  And I’ve already mentioned at least four different witnesses who said they saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead.  The New Testament says there were over 500 who saw Him.  If such statements were viewed as false at the time of their writing, the writings would have been immediately discredited.  Immediately after the generation of the apostles, many documents sought inclusion as sacred texts, were judged to be false, and were excluded from the collection.  The scores of documents we have in the Bible were the survivors of fierce scrutiny.

If all the evidence for a crime is collected in one folder, I don’t dismiss it out of hand and say it’s not enough to prove the case.  If I do, then there will never be enough evidence because every relevant piece gets added to the folder.  After a while, it’s like saying I can’t believe in the American Civil War because its not chronicled in the history books of India.  Indeed there is corroboration of Jesus’ life in both Jewish and Roman history; of course not in any detail because neither had any interest in prolonging his memory.

Again, I arrived at my position by refusing to take other people’s word for what the Bible said and by reading it – quite skeptically at first – for myself.  Before you completely dismiss Jesus, you owe yourself the same experience.

Your turn, Rob.  Just comment below.

“Isn’t There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?” – Charlie Brown

This brief article from Christianity Today tells the story behind the inclusion of Luke’s gospel account of the Savior’s birth in the classic holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It comes from a much longer article from The Washington Post about the creation of the special on the 45th anniversary of its first showing in 1965.

Would that all parts of the Savior’s life story be told in all parts of our lives!

What Was Wrong with Communism?

I don’t mean at all to suggest that there was nothing wrong with communism.  There certainly was.  I am simply asking what it was specifically that was wrong with it.

Was there anything wrong with “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?  No.  In fact, that sounds like a lovely ideal.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a society where everyone is productive and no one goes hungry?  The problem comes with the means applied to achieve this end.  The means is always a human power structure, and it is at this fundamental point that communism would begin to break down.  There is simply no human authority that is morally pure and strong enough to achieve the end desired.  Human nature is too vulnerable to corruption.

This is why the nation of Israel (God’s Old Testament organization of religion) and the church (God’s New Testament organization of religion) were only temporary structures until the kingdom of God could be established.  Beginning with Moses in the wilderness, God used Israel for about 1,500 years.  Beginning with the day of Pentecost, God used the church for less than a hundred years.  These structures could not be permanent because humanity could not be trusted to keep its integrity.  Ancient Israel was subject to bad kings as well as good ones.  The New Testament church was subject false teachers as well as true ones.  To be permanent, God needed a government that did not depend on people.  It would need to depend only on Him.

Ever since biblical times ended (that is, the late 1st Century A.D.), the kingdom of God has been His sole vehicle for managing His relationships with mankind.  It will be this way always because this was established as a kingdom that would never end (Isaiah 9:6-7).  (To understand better precisely when and how this kingdom was established in the late 1st Century A.D. see Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again; people who are waiting for a physical return of Jesus to the earth are going to be forever disappointed.)

Having lived among us as Jesus of Nazareth, God has established a personality and name to which we can all relate.  Before Jesus, how could we have a clear sense of what God was like?  Through the life of Jesus, however, we can see that God is personal, humble, kind – and most of all He is animated by a love that is greater than any we have ever seen or imagined.  Therefore, we relate to the invisible God as Jesus.  He is not subject to corruption and is capable of governing every human being. 

His governance overlays every – and does not replace any – form of human government.  That is to say, we are always to obey whatever form of human government we are under – except in those cases where to do so would put us in disobedience of Jesus. 

Forms of human government come and go.  Our own form of government here in the United States is not perfect, though its primary virtue is the separation of powers which deters the corruption that Lord Acton rightly said power brings.  Even so, we cannot even count on this form of government.  It too will eventually pass.  The kingdom of God is the only form of government that will never pass away.

Don’t deprive yourself of what Jesus died to give you: God Wants a Loving Relationship with You (and this has nothing to do with joining a church or any form of organized religion: Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church).

An Open Letter to Christopher Hitchens

Dear Mr. Hitchens,

You are going to heaven when you die.  This is because Everyone Is Going to Heaven.  I hope you will believe me, but even if you don’t, I am happy to say that the outcome remains the same.

As someone who believes in God, I have admired the way you have defended your atheism.  Specifically, you have done on the basis of morality.  Your debate opponents never seem to understand or address this point adequately, and they end up losing points with audiences for this reason. 

Your debate opponents have suffered from often having to defend religion.  Because religion has sponsored so much that is immoral or amoral, it is an impossible position to defend.  They stand on firmer ground when they defend God or faith in God.  They would stand on the best ground of all were they to defend simply Jesus of Nazareth, who was God visiting us for a moment.

You see, I agree with you that “religion poisons everything,” but, contrary to you, believe that “God is…great!”  The Old and New Testaments, taken together as the testimony of Jesus the Messiah, condemn and warn of all the evils that would be done in the name of religion.  Jesus even warned that people would do all sorts of evil in His name.  For this reason, we should not be surprised at the evils that spring from religion.  Neither should we reject the truth of God just because there are an abundance of lies about Him.

Ironically, one of your most common criticisms of God is that He is like a North Korean dictator.  The truth is that He gives humanity dramatically more freedom than any country in the world gives.  That fact explains why so much evil is done in the world – religiously and otherwise.  If He were a dictator, there’d be no human immorality and your debate opponents would not be confounded by your atheism. 

Even though everyone is going to heaven, God does judge every deed large and small.  Some of this judgment occurs on earth.  Of these earthly judgments, some we see and many we do not.  The balance of judgment comes in heaven after we die.  We certainly are not seeing heavenly judgments.  All that is to say that most of God’s judgment takes place out of our sight.  When we occasionally glimpse some of it (such as Saddam Hussein cowering in a hole in the ground), we shouldn’t think we are seeing all of it.  God is great, and we will all eventually acknowledge that He was right about everything all along. 

When I tell you that you are going to heaven, it is not in the hope that these words will convert you.  Rather, I hope they will comfort you – and your family.  Death is not the end for a human being, just as departure from a mother’s womb is not the end for the unborn child.

While you and I have disagreed about God, I have deeply admired the courage of your convictions.  Most of all, I admire you for refusing to exchange your integrity for some story about God that would require you to compromise your integrity and lower your moral standards.  You simply have not yet heard the pure and unadulterated story of Jesus Christ.  He will speak to you even now in your heart…because He loves you, and He always has.

Respectfully,

Michael Gantt

Two Outbursts of “Hallelujah!” in Unlikely but Entirely Appropriate Places

We are more accustomed to hearing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in churches and concert halls.  And we are even more accustomed to its audiences being self-selected – that is, the audience attends precisely because it wants to hear this music.

How wonderful then that these two videos (both occurred in Christmas season 2010) were at a department store and food court respectively, and that the audiences were entirely surprised by it all.  Would that there were even more spontaneous outbursts of praise to our God Jesus Christ!  Rather than calling it a “random act of culture” (as the signs had it near the end of the first video), let us call it a “random act of righteousness,” or a “random act of praise,” or a “random act of sanity.”  Whether by such a majestic choral composition or by the humble spoken words of a single individual, and whether in a grand concert hall or in the everyday places that we live our lives, glorifying our Creator and Redeemer is simply the right thing to do.

Let all the earth praise Him and let us praise Him in every place, for He is our God and we are His people!

Why Christopher Hitchens Debates Well Against Christians

Obviously, Christopher Hitchens has an interesting personality and is very bright.  Nonetheless, his Christian debate opponents usually have similar if not identical assets.  The reason that Hitchens often appears to “win” the debates is because he argues from moral conviction.  Strangely, his Christian opponents I have seen won’t engage with him on this ground. 

Take this debate below between Hitchens and William Lane Craig.  It is quite long (1-2 hours in total) but if you watch it all, you will see the irony I am describing.  Craig is a very good debater and, at the end, concludes that Hitchens hasn’t laid a glove on him…and that Christianity has won the debate.  The problem is that Craig is viewing and grading the debate in strictly philosophical terms.  Audiences, however, don’t listen so purely.  They are affected at the emotional level, and this is where Hitchens has appeal. 

I believe in Jesus Christ and nothing Christopher Hitchens has said makes me want to do otherwise.  However, it is disappointing to see Hitchens take the moral high ground while the representatives of Jesus argue philosophies, logic, and tradition.  Surely Jesus has a moral argument that is superior to anything Christopher has heard or said.

(If you want to view the Hitchens-Craig debate, which is one of the best, here it is:)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxgGKA9eUn0

A Redefining Orientation to Christmas

This video puts the Christmas season in its proper light – its overwhelming Light!

The song was written by David Meece.  The music provides an appropriate setting for the powerful lyrics (which are included).  It’s performed by Avalon.

Try to watch it when you can set aside five undisturbed minutes so that you can experience the full impact.

Indeed, we are the reason that He gave His life.  By “we” I mean all of us, for everyone is going to heaven.