Monday, July 4, 2016

Rights and Righteousness: The Moral Foundation for Liberty

What is freedom? A free society? And how do we produce it?

“Freedom,” according to the prevailing view, must be the unfettered pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment, i.e. the ability to satisfy all your heart’s desires so far as they don’t conflict with the basic rights of anyone else (or at least anyone else with the power to complain and to seek recourse). However, as traditional mores frequently conflict with such a self-serving view of freedom, a free society, it seems, must dismantle itself from all but perhaps the utter minimum of moral convictions. Those who want to produce such a society understand that this begins by breaking down the sources of our moral understanding, which are religion as well as the bonds created by the natural law, bonds which naturally oppose complete selfishness.

We see the destruction of these bonds taking place every day as people strive for the kind of freedom to do whatever they please. Men and women break the natural order of bonding either through infidelity, promiscuity, or perversion. Fathers and mothers break the natural order of bonding with their children through abortion, abandonment, and abuse. And children break the natural order of bonding with their parents through contempt, rebellion, and entitlement.

These fundamental familial bonds are the divinely-ordered basis for expanding one’s circle of care and compassion beyond oneself. Our connection to family is what leads us to transcend our selfish desires and to ultimately care for the well-being of other people in this world. Yet those “progressives” who promote this notion of moral-less liberty claim to want to make the world a better, fairer place as we all get what we want or as much of what we want as possible without killing and stealing (or without getting caught and punished).

This is why such a concept of freedom bears its own self-destruction. For who and what forms our wants and desires? Is it not the case that much of our impulses are shaped by things beyond our control? If so, then when we thoughtlessly act in accord with these wishes, we are not demonstrating any kind of freedom at all. In the end, we’re merely affirming our enslavement to the whims of our circumstances.

Thus the libertine is nothing but a slave, who dwells in a dismal illusion of liberty. His freedom is so free it flies away, probably to join his long-lost virtue, wherever it has gone. Nevertheless, there is something right in the libertine’s wrong notion of liberty. We could say that this distorted view of freedom, namely acting for the sake of our uninhibited pleasure, is a damaged reflection of the image of God within us. If true freedom is the ability to know, to do, and to be good, then God is the unique Being whose inherent wisdom, power, and righteousness provides the perfect liberty to act according to His desire with mesmerizing consistency. Freedom only exists in the domain of humanity as a divine grace, because only God can make us and our desires good.

This was a truth well-known to the founders of our country. They understood that to be able to guarantee the rights under this revolutionary kind of republic, righteousness is a requisite of the citizenry. Even the most cursory survey of their writings proves their perception that it is the balanced relationship between family, church, and government, which creates a society that promotes Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (not to be confused with hedonism).
Benjamin Franklin
For example, Benjamin Franklin, who was more of a deist than a Christian, wrote: “Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness . . . it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several States to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof.” Rather than removing every vestige of religion from the public square, Franklin wanted religion to be promoted. 

Consider this prophetic insight from John Adams:

Statesmen . . . may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.

These men and their fellow architects of our constitutional republic understood that a country of free, thriving people is not imposed, top-down fashion, via government and laws that enforce acceptable behavior, but rather by virtuous people who promote the sort of government which guarantees rights to various freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion, to petition, to bear arms, etc. As Samuel Adams, American Revolutionary and organizer of the Boston Tea Party, observed:

Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.

Laws are meaningless without a populace that is virtuous, because, as John Adams points out:

We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

John Adams
To have a free society, we need moral people. However, a government cannot produce morality in people; it can only guide those who already have it. God alone is the ground of all goodness, and goodness is the only consistent path towards liberty; hence, only within the will of God do we find perfect freedom. As Christians, we know that it was the Lord’s will for the Son to become flesh, to die, and to miraculously rise from the grave in order to reveal in human form the image of the invisible God, full of grace and truth. Our primary duty is to have a relationship with God, to love Him first and foremost. From this relationship flows the capacity to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In a rightly ordered State, the church ministers to us, reminding us of our values and providing accountability for one’s mastery and measure of virtue. Within this framework of fellowship, the gracious action of the Holy Spirit, and the working out of our own salvation through personal discipline, we become increasingly moral individuals, capable of self-rule. A government of such people, for such people, and by such people will establish just laws and select wise, virtuous leadership, thus producing a society with Liberty and Justice for all. If we would have freedom rather than tyranny in this land, then we must continue to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorials and Martyrdom: No Greater Love

On one of my runs in the city parks of New York, I came across this World War I Memorial, which seems appropriate to share on Memorial Day.

The words of the inscription—“GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS”— were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ (John 15:13) directly after the command that His disciples love one another as He loved them. Jesus loved to the point of death for the sake of the church, and the command to love with that very same depth and commitment applies to all believers.

The application of this treasure of a truth to the deaths of soldiers in battle is in some ways appropriate. For a soldier to engage in battle is not merely to obey but to be brave, brave enough to care for something so much that he is willing to die for the sake of it. War is never the ideal, and many wars are worse than that, being constituted of greed, desire for power, domination, and the other base lusts. However the most ideal form of the less-than-ideal path of war must be one that is purely fought in order to protect the freedom and lives of people against a violent aggressor. So those soldiers who die, while defending those who are helplessly in harm’s way, commit a great deed of courageous love.

Naturally, there are important differences between the sacrifice of the soldier and the sacrifice of the martyr, and yet these surface differences point to deeper similarities. The soldier willingly enters a profession in which he must be prepared, if necessary, to take lives and to have his life be taken. This may not seem necessarily to be the case with a Christian, who is called to promote his faith peacefully and in the minds of some, such as this commenter on a previous blogpost, live a harmless, harm-free life:

This "Seeker" is apparently surprised that a Christian should suffer for his faith. Personally, I’m more surprised by his surprise. Continuing in the same passage in John 15, Jesus clearly expects that His followers will undergo hardships and is preparing them for what lies ahead: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18-20).

Jesus states very clearly why He wants his followers to know the troubles to come, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” (John 16:1-4). Thus, Christians are not being persecuted because they are misguided and under God’s punishment, but rather the religious zealots who murder Christians are misguided and ignorant people who “have not known the Father or Jesus.”

The words of the Lord convey not merely expectation of trouble but also encouragement in the midst of it, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

If this is so, then why, as the questioner above asks, doesn’t God rescue all Christians from persecution, torture, and death such as when God rescued the three young Hebrews from the furnace in the book of Daniel? Certainly, God can save us and many times He does. Why not in all cases?

Returning to the Gospel of John, we find Christ praying the “high priestly prayer” for the disciples and for those who will believe in Him through the disciples’ testimonies, He says, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” The hatred that Christians receive is a testament to the fact that the world is in rebellion against the Creator. Every Christian who professes his faith in Christ as the risen Lord and Savior should comprehend that the cost of one’s own mortal life may be demanded of him. If Christ was hated unto death, then why should we imagine the same end for ourselves to be out of the realm of possibility? As are the soldiers on earthen battlefields mortal-conscious, so ought to be the soldiers of faith in the realm of spiritual fray.

The gospel—even in the gentlest of presentations— is an offensive stumbling block to the proud and wayward soul. People often prefer the darkness to the light because their deeds are evil. Perhaps the soul, averse-to-convert, fears that the evil is all there is within him and if that is gone, he will be no longer; his fear deludes him into believing that violence and persecution are merely self-defense. In a way, he is right. To be identified with Christ is to die to one’s imagined claim to oneself, but if a person’s identity is utterly bound with his sin, then he may prefer to kill the one who bears the news that he must die to it.

While soldiers in war may advance their cause through killing, the soldiers of faith ask of their enemies to allow enmity itself to be killed, so that enemies can become brothers in the family of God. The soldier of faith risks his life to share this message because he knows that only those who allow the true Light to shine upon and transform the dark places of the innermost heart discover the peerless joys in being a new creation.

Whether it is in a spiritual or physical sense, Christianity has always, always been about dying in order to live. Thus, onward Christian soldiers. Be not afraid. The Lord is with you.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bombs and Earthquakes: Shared Evil, Shared Hope

The following picture which I posted in reaction to the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 appropriately popped up in my Facebook memories as I was listening to this morning's news about the terrible earthquake on the Japanese island of Kyushu.

The immense suffering in the world, whether caused by the evil of human choices or natural disasters, can be disheartening, especially as we wonder helplessly, "What can one person do?” Still, there are people trying to do something.

Earlier this month, the mayor of Boston declared that from now on April 15th would be officially known as One Boston Day. The One Boston Day tradition actually started last year as a day that “encourages random acts of kindness and spreading of goodwill,” in order to support and honor the community that rallied together in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. The phrase “random acts of kindness” is unfortunate; deliberate acts of kindness stemming from a character that cultivates kindness would have a more powerful impact on the world than moody spurts of faddish, feel-good deeds. Nevertheless, surely we can all get behind the message of demonstrating love and goodwill towards our fellow human beings through caring actions. One Boston Day as a reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings represents how we are not overcome by evil, “but overcome evil with good.” And that is a great message both as a reminder to ourselves and as a little, in-your-face victory dance before those who thought to overcome with evil.

Now regarding the earthquake in Japan, there is no “bad guy” to point the finger at, but perhaps there is an intangible “bad guy.” This unseen “bad guy” was also present and near the heart of the terror attack in Boston three years ago. Let’s call his name “Despair.” Despair is the unwelcome houseguest of the soul that is touched by tragedy and death, and Despair never wants to leave on his own. Furthermore, he thanks us for our hospitality by inviting his brother, “Apathy,” to move in as well. NO. As soon as possible, Despair must be shooed away and his room must be converted into a residence for the strong and patient ally, whom we may call “Perseverance.” Despair might linger on, squatting in corners or lurking behind the sofa, but if the house owner refuses to feed him and provide comfortable repose, eventually he moves on.

Thoughts of perseverance and despair came to mind, while I watched a video of a baby being rescued from the rubble, miraculously unharmed. Media outlets provide a steady stream of images. Many are of the damage and loss, but there are also images of helpers, of people providing blankets, neighbors consoling each other, emergency teams in action. Each moment shared is a great consolation not merely as signifying a tangible form of relief to those in pain, but also in that every person who perseveres has taken a stand against despair and affirms the value and goodness of this world, of existence itself. The accumulation of these acts creates a bulwark of compassion against apathy and despair.

Moreover, the lifting of the spirit by each precious rescue is proof that if even one life is saved, it counts. Yes, even only one counts, and it counts beyond counting, because something infinite has been touched. So we can rejoice, precisely as the good shepherd rejoices over the rescue of one lost lamb.

Look for the helpers and by all means be a helper. Pray and consider donating to the Japanese Red Cross.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fact-Checking Sam Harris 2: Did Jesus Command Christians to Kill in Luke 19:27?

Sam Harris claims that Jesus ordered his followers to kill his enemies in Luke 19:27. But is this what the text says? Only if we ignore the fact that the command is part of a story that Jesus is telling, and that it's a king in the story who issues this command. Can we take the leaders of the "new atheist" movement seriously when they make such blunders?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pastor Saeed Abedini Has Been Freed by Iran

Christian pastor Saeed Abedini (along with several others) has been freed as part of a prisoner exchange with Iran.
Pastor Saeed Abedini
CNN—Iran has freed four prisoners from the United States, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Iran's semi-official FARS news agency reported Saturday, citing Tehran's prosecutor.

According to FARS, Iran freed Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been held on various charges. FARS identified the fourth prisoner freed as Nosratollah Khosrawi. Details of Khosrawi's case were not immediately known.

The release is part of a prisoner swap deal in which the United States reportedly freed seven Iranian-Americans held on charges related to sanctions against Iran, FARS said. The news agency had previously said the U.S. was to release six prisoners.

"Based on an approval of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and the general interests of the Islamic Republic, four Iranian prisoners with dual-nationality were freed today within the framework of a prisoner swap deal," FARS quoted the office of the Tehran prosecutor as saying. (Continue Reading.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fact-Checking Sam Harris 1: Islam and the Virgin Birth

Sam Harris recently said that he wants to correct every error he's ever made, and that people should send him any errors they find in his works. One of Sam's errors was made on "The Colbert Report," where he insisted that, according to the Qur'an, anyone who believes in the virgin birth of Jesus will spend eternity in hell. Since Islam affirms the virgin birth of Jesus, we can only wonder how much Sam really knows about the religions he discusses in his books and lectures.

***UPDATE*** Sam Harris responded: "I meant that Quran asserts Jesus wasn't divine. I misspoke." Odd to give a reply about Jesus' deity when Colbert was talking about the virgin birth, but it's entirely possible to misspeak while the cameras are rolling and you don't have much time to think about what you're saying.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Advice for Future Apologists

In 1 Peter 3:15, Christians are commanded: "In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." From the Greek word for "give an answer" comes the word "apologetics."

Christians are commanded to be apologists. But how do we go about this? In this video, seven experienced Christian apologists (Douglas Groothuis, Gary Habermas, Craig Hazen, Mike Licona, Nabeel Qureshi, Mary Jo Sharp, and Frank Turek) share their thoughts.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Craig Blomberg: Jesus in Non-Christian Sources

While all Historical Jesus scholars go to the New Testament to learn about Jesus, ancient non-Christian sources report a number of facts as well. Interestingly, the facts we learn about Jesus in non-Christian sources support the Christian view of Jesus.

In this short video, Dr. Craig Blomberg shares the details we learn about Jesus from non-Christian sources.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Privileged Species

Are humans the accidental products of a blind and uncaring universe? Or are they the beneficiaries of a cosmic order that was planned beforehand to help them flourish? The Privileged Species is a 33-minute documentary by Discovery Institute that explores growing evidence from physics, chemistry, biology, and related fields that our universe was designed for large multi-cellular beings like ourselves. Featuring geneticist and author Michael Denton, the documentary investigates the special properties of carbon, water, and oxygen that make human life and the life of other organisms possible, and it explores some of the unique features of humans that make us a truly privileged species.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Information Enigma

Even the simplest life requires a tremendous amount of genetic information, so the amount genetic information required for the diversity of life in our world is simply unfathomable. Is it reasonable to assume that this information arose through unguided naturalistic processes? Or does the evidence point to an intelligent designer?

The Information Enigma is a fascinating 21-minute documentary that probes the mystery of biological information, the challenge it poses to orthodox Darwinian theory, and the reason it points to intelligent design. The video features molecular biologist Douglas Axe and Stephen Meyer, author of the books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt.