Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Postmodern Climate Change

The present controversy surrounding the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia causes me to wonder about the present status of academia. I can say without hesitation that the liberal arts departments of our universities have been taken over by postmodern philosophy. Postmodernism is built upon a radical view of relativism that not only denies absolute truth, but takes the cynical view that "truth" is determined by the people in power as a means of re-inforcing their power. The postmodern technique of "deconstructing" truth is the process of disclosing the winners and losers in the culture. For example, the postmodern view is that Western culture is the product of white heterosexual males who have, by their beliefs and values, marginalized non-whites, females, and non-heterosexuals. Since in the postmodern view truth is all about power, e.g. the winners write history, then it is appropriate for the marginalized to seek political power in order to advance their agenda. Political correctness in our colleges and universities is not about "truth" it is rather the pursuit of justice for an oppressed class.

As a result our universities are filled with courses and departments oriented toward these marginalized groups, whether it be feminist studies, African-American studies, or GBLT studies. The consequence of postmodern thought is that these departments "advocate" for their group, and if truth is relative they feel justified in taking a political rather than an objectively neutral approach to their subject. Because of this lack of objectivity and outright advocacy, postmodernism has dramatically changed the environment of post-secondary education in America.

There are two academic disciplines that must never be subjected to postmodern thought: law and science. These two areas of thought and life are too important to the health and future of our society to be subjected to the radical relativism and political correctness of postmodernism. Sadly, both seem to be effected. In law, we saw "empathy" become the test for a proper leagal decision. Empathy, which implies a postmodern view of class or race, undermines the objectivity of the law and leaves us with a politcally correct leagal system. Now, in this global warming scandal, we see scientists playing fast and loose with data in an attempt to attain a politically correct goal. The approach of these scientists appears to be to defend a pre-ordained conclusion and the political approaches to solving the "problem." My fear is that with environmentalism being a cause celeb for the intellectuals of the West, scientists have allowed their commitment to the scientific method to be subverted by their politics. I hope I am wrong, but I also fear that I am not.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is the Battle Actually Between Science & Religion?

I am working my way through the companion book to the PBS special, "A Glorious Accident." In the documentary, several important intellectuals discuss the development of human consciousness and the mind/brain question. The title of the program comes from a quote by Stephen J. Gould who describes the development of consciousness as, "a glorious accident." Dr. Gould was reflecting a shift in the way that evolution was conceived by many of today's scientists. Previous generations of evolutionists believed natural selection drove the increase of complexity in the progress of organic life from simple organisms to human beings. It was the observed complexity of the biological world that needed a serious explanation, and evolution provided a naturalistic explanation. The idea that evolution was a progressive force was central to the doctrine. Dr. Gould, in rejecting the inevitability of progress, is embarking on a major departure from this view. Logic told him the development of human consciousness was a stroke of pure luck. He said, "No species now alive is predictable, and any species that exists does so by the merest good fortune of tens of thousands of antecedent events that went one way and not the other" (A Glorious Accident, p. 92).

It is not that Dr. Gould was rejecting evolution or natural selection, rather he was affirming that nothing in evolution was predictable or inevitable. It was all just one great big accident. (Actually it was trillions of accidents, many of which would require several integrated steps and parts. It boggles the mind to think that "luck" could have operated so many times in nature.) Dr. Gould was part of an attempt to redefine evolution in the light of several serious problems such as the scarcity of transition forms, the proven stability of species, and the lack of experiemental evidence for gradualism. The new explanation was called "punctuated equilibrium." It attempted to say that species are normally resistant to genetic change until subject of dramatic stress. For example, it was a gigantic meteor strike that changed the earth atmosphere, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and produced dramatic evloutionary change in the birds and mammals. In explaining his theory, Dr. Gould said that evolution was not a straight line gradually inclined upward, but rather a line shaped like a set of stair steps.

These questions are not as much scientific as they are logical since the lack of direct scientific evidence has led to the need for a reformulation of the theory grounded in the use of logic to find a more reasonable explanation. It seems to me that this is the crux of the entire controversy. Since there is no direct evidence of evolution, either by being able to re-create it in the laboratory, of by direct observation of evolution in nature. The questions are not really matters of "science" but of logic. So the matter revolves around which of all the explanations for life on earth makes the most sense. When one thinks of the astounding complexity of life, from spiders weaving webs, to bats flying by sonar, not to mention all that is involved in digesting ice cream, the most logically satisfying answer is the Grand Designer God whose handiwork is seen in all that He has made.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

God Consciousness

I was recently struck by Paul's statement in Acts 17 that, "in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) Even those of us who believe in Jesus tend to see ourselves as self-possessed individuals living an independent existence in this physical world. We may have a relationship with God, but we believe there is a separation between us. God is in some distant realm we call, "Heaven," while we inhabit a physical body and face a series of daily choices in this material world. God may visit us and help us from time to time, but as far as our perceptions of things go, we're on our own. This becomes a source of anxiety for some of us, because we believe we will be required to face God one day and give an accounting of both our deeds and mis-deeds. This, it seems to me, heightens the appeal of doctrines that assure the security of the believer. The problem with the perception and the remedy is that they lead Christians to live what an earlier generation called, "defeated lives." In other words, this belief that we are on our own and that God is out there somewhere evaluating our lives does not prevent moral compromise, it too often enables it. So, when we find our temper get the best of us, when we lie or cheat, we chalk it up to, "nobody's perfect," and "I'm not perfect, I'm just forgiven." Both of these things are true for Christians, by the way, but they are not the ideal. They are not what God really had in mind in sending His Son to rescue us from sin.

When Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again," He was referring to the need to be born of the Spirit. We believe, as a theological doctrine, that Christians are born of the Spirit and thus have the Spirit of God, "living in their hearts." We agree with Paul's statement in I Corinthians, "you are the temple of the Holy Spirit." The problem is that while we believe this in the abstract, we don't believe it on the level of our daily choices and reality. I assume, actually, that this is exactly why Paul gave this reminder to the Corinthians. They were engaging in immoral behavior and he had to bring them up short by pointing out the indwelling presence of Spirit in their lives.

The Kingdom of God operates on the principle of faith. If we believe, we receive. Part of the reason God is not as real to us as we would like Him to be, is that we don't really believe that He is with us. I would encourage us to spend some time reading and meditating on John 14:15-21. It explains to us how we truly live and move and have our being in God. He is our life, as we abide in Him by faith, our life will be filled with the fruit of His grace, love, and presence. Remember faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, we must cultivate our sense of the presence of God through prayer, worship, and pondering the incredible truths of the word. May we all realize the absolute validity of Paul's declaration, "In Him we live and move and have our being."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Changed World?

With the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, we were given another snap shot of the liberal agenda for America (and, we might add, Western civilization). Several commentators eulogized Senator Kennedy by saying he was working toward, "a new world," or a "new era." Without exaggerating the implications of these terms, liberalism in the modern West is built upon two assumptions: the benefit of progress and the pursuit of the ideal. Every liberal from the beginning of the Enlightenment has sought to create a "new" world.

Central to the Enlightenment worldview is/was belief in the inevitability of progress. Human history came to be interpreted as the story of human progress, whether in science, medicine, social policy, or education. At the horizon of the story stood a set of Utopian aims: the eradication of deadly diseases, the elimination of abject poverty, the end of war, ethnic equality, gender equality, and universal education. This is only a partial list of the grand goals of Western liberalism, but it reveals the two assumptions of progress and idealism.

No one would question these noble goals, the problem arises when we talk about execution. The Enlightenment takes credit for creating the modern world, but, in fact, it hasn't. The end of feudalism and the emergence of representative democracies are a product of the reformation, not the enlightenment. The Magna Carta, William of Orange and the ascent of British Parliament, and the founding of the American colonies were expressions of reformed theology being worked out in the larger society. In contrast, the enlightenment produced the French Revolution with its subsequent reign of terror and the attempt by Napoleon to create a global empire. In terms of its political impact, the Enlightenment inspired Utopian socialism and the great Marxist experiment in world communism. Max Weber, the famous sociologist, wrote a famous discussion of the origin of Western capitalism. He saw its connections to Protestantism and its subsequent work ethic. I would argue that it also flows out of the emphasis on individual liberty and the rights of man that arose because of the influence of Protestant theology during this period of history. Adam Smith may not have quoted Bible verses, but his understanding of the importance of private property and economic freedom come right out the works of Luther and Calvin. In other words, our freedoms come, not from the writings of Rousseau or Voltaire, but from the grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible that lies at the foundation of the Reformation.

How ironic that the great promise of a changed world came not from "modern" thought but from the much older "Good Book." The truths of the Gospel have the power to change lives, this has been shown to be true from the time of the Apostles all the way to our own day. The reason that this Gospel created a new world in the eighteenth century is because so many of the people of that day had been personally transformed by its message. So too in our day, God wants to make your world "new," and He will if you will put your trust in Him.

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Intellectuals and Liberalism

The majority of faculty and administrators in our colleges and universities have liberal views and values. The result is that the educated professions such as law, education, and journalism are dominated by liberals. This has significant implications for the future of our society, and as I said in the last post, since liberals have so much influence, we need to ask about their beliefs and goals.

It is not my intent to demonize liberalism or to exagerate the consequences of its ideology. I want take an honest look at what liberals believe and their reasons for doing so. Keep in mind that it is the dominant political philosophy of the most educated among us. If the best and the brightest believe it, there must be some compelling reasons behind it. So what do liberals believe?

The modern left arose from the enlightenment, and shares its basic beliefs and values. The enlightenment was high point of rationalism or faith in the power of unaided human reason. Men like David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and Anthony Flew (before he became a deist/theist), to name just a few, believed that reason led them to naturalism/anti-supernaturalism. Liberalism, therefore, puts a significant emphasis on secularism which must be interpreted as the removal of religion and religion's influence upon public life. The emphasis upon separation of church and state and all the attempts by progressive organizations such as the ACLU in removing all vestiges of religious (and primarily Christian) experession from public schools, court houses, and public events demonstrate their intentions and the extent of their influence upon American public life.

We have to ask the question, however. In removing religious influence from society, are we improving or harming? The supporters of secularism believe they are eliminating one of the main sources of intolerance and ignorance in the world. In their view, without religion there is no reason to hate the outsider, no reason to believe that certain actions (being gay, having an abortion) are evil, and, of course, no justification for doing harm to evildoers. But, what if this view is a myth? What if religion (and in particular Christianity) forms the very foundation of our agreed upon moral customs and values? What if religion provides the grounds for the development of conscience, tolerance, compassion, honesty, and moral concern?

It is my personal goal to spend the rest of my life speaking to this most important question. My book was written to speak to this question, and I have developed a seminar/lecture series that I call "Why Belief Matters," to answer this important question. I find it interesting that some of the early leaders of the enlightenment in Britain (possibly because of influence of Christianity upon British culture) understood that in eliminating organized religion from society they were facing the danger of moral chaos. Thomas Huxley, for exampled, argued for teaching the Bible in public schools because of the need to provide moral instruction to British children. His son, Julian, recognizing how unpopular Christianity was among enlightenment thinkers, organized the Humanist movement. Julian Huxley was responsible for the first Humanist Manifesto and influenced later versions. He was attempting to provide a secular and rationalistic substitute for the Bible and Judeo/Christian values.

The problem that liberalism faces is that rationalism cannot provide an eternal/universal standard of right and wrong, nor can it compell men to choose against self-interest and personal pleasure. If it weren't for conscience and the deep sense of moral compulsion and conviction within human nature, we would be at the mercy of purely animalistic impulses. Here's the irony, liberalism operates from a deep set of moral convictions (equality, justice, peace now, tolerance) which arise from a realm of human nature that they soundly deny and reject; the human soul. On the basis of pure rationalism, every one of their moral principles can be co-opted and rationalized away. Their convictions do not come from their minds, they come from their hearts. In a very real sense, I can say, "I rest my case."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where Are We Headed?

David Warren, writing for the Ottawa Citizen, tells us that liberalism, "has established control of the bureaucracies, the courts, the universities, and the media." While their control of Congress and the Presidency has been temporary and sporadic thanks to a public that is mostly conservative, liberals have over many years steadily increased their control of the levers of power in our society. Whether we consider ourselves conservative, liberal, or independent, it is important to ask where liberalism wants to take our society now that they have so much power.

The liberal or progressive agenda has dramatically affected Western society as seen by the fact that even the conservatives of today support without question the changes produced by the progressive influences of the early twentieth century. Much of that agenda is positive and important, and could not nor should not be abandonded. For example, only the most ultra-conservative/libertarian would argue for the abolition of social security. And no one would support the return of racial segregation. In many ways, we are all liberals now.

It is important, however, to realize that there has been another side to their agenda that has not been positive. We are facing today a whole host of very difficult social and personal problems that were created or exacerbated by progressive policies. This sad reality is made worse by the fact that liberalism's only solution to these problems is to continue doing more of the same things that caused the problem in the first place. For example, the progressive answer to our failing educational system is to spend more money on the programs, policies, and personnel that have already proven they can't compete. We spend more per-capita on education than any nation on earth and we stand far down the list on student performance. How can spending more money be the answer, when we spend so much for so little benefit now?

Harry Jaffa points to a fundamental error of progressive thought, "I was aware that I was a member of that comparatively small class, the univeristy professorate, that today is the decisive source of the ruling opinions in our country...[C]hanges generated by this class have been in the direction of denying the existence of any objective standard whatever." In other words, liberalism has given us moral relativism.

Relativism is born of two influences. The first is rationalism, which attempted to discover truth by the power of unaided human reason. According to Immanuel Kant, human reason is limited and incapable of finding the answers to life's greatest mysteries. Thus rationalism led the intellectuals of the West to the conclusion that truth, and particularly moral truth were unknowable. The second, and probably more influential factor was the desire for social and sexual liberation. No one stated the principle more clearly than Sigmund Freud. Freud spoke of our need to be free of inhibition and of the malady of repressed desires. So these two forces, moral agnosticism and sexual liberation stand behind the emphasis on moral relativism.

The loss of moral boundaries produced by relativism has been the opening of Pandora's Box for Western culture. Relativism has created moral and personal chaos of unimaginable proportions. The fact that 40% of live births in our society are to unwed mothers or that only 1/2 of the students in many of our high schools graduate is related to the fact that relativism is the predominate view of progressive intellectuals in our society today.

Does reason lead inevitably to relativism? Only if we take a very narrow empirical and naturalistic view of the world. If we are open to a larger, metaphysical view, we find that reason
must account for human conscience and evidence for natural law confirmed by thousands of years of human experience. Using reason this way leads one to conclude that moral values are very real and objectively true. Sadly, the chaos unleashed by realtivism becomes one more piece of evidence for the belief in a universal set of objective moral principles.

Relativism is just one of the tragic errors of modern progressivism. In future posts, we will examine other aspects of the liberal agenda and their impact on our society.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Teenage Abortions

The Daily Mail recently reported that of 40,000 teen age pregnancies in the U.K. last year, 20,000 or 1/2 ended in abortions. They reported the level of acceptance of abortion among British teens by telling of one young woman who had four abortions before she turned 20. This is a breath-taking statistic, because of its reflection upon these young women's view of abortion and child-birth. Whatever we are doing in the process of educating our children and preparing them for responsible adulthood, these statistics should tell us that it isn't working.

By the way, some might ask why we should be concerned about British young people? All Western societies are connected, and the European societies are "ahead" of American society in the influence of secularism and enlightenment thought. The same forces that gave rise to this abortion tragedy in the U.K. are at work here in the United States. In many ways, Europe is the "canary in the coal mine" for us in the U.S.

Speaking of forces that are at work in this process, the Daily Mail quoted Ann Furedi who works for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. The BPAS was established in 1999 to "reduce teen pregnancy by 1/2 in 10 years." The service provides contraception, sex ed programs, and pregnancy counsel. (They didn't even come close to achieving their goal, teen pregnancy increased in the decade.) Ms. Furedi called the tragedy of 20,000 abortions for British teens, "a positive sign" that these teens don't feel bad about having an abortion.

No society can succeed that does not prepare its young people for adult responsibility. The reduction of teen pregnancy is a proper goal for a modern society, but it must be part of a larger social and educational program of endorsing traditional marriage and the family. One of the tragedies of the modern era, reflected by the comment by Ms. Furedi, is that the family, the one institution that has proven to be most beneficial to the happiness and success of individuals and communities has been denied and denigrated. Thus, we want to reduce teen pregnancy while opposing traditional values. If we believe it is "positive sign" for young women to voluntarily terminate their pregnancies, what are we saying about those young women's view of children and child-raising? Are their babies a gift to be cherished, and loved, or a burden to be avoided? We must ask, seriously, what kind of parents will these girls become?

I couple this with a further statistic that does not bode well for Western civilization. Many young couples on both sides of the Atlantic are foregoing marriage, and simply living together. Secondly, large numbers of both married and unmarried couples are choosing to remain childless. The implications are that marriage and the family could become an anachronism. Some commentators see this as leading to the death of, at least, Western Europe.

In the end, we must affirm that morality and a moral life are essential for a healthy society. We, by denying these moral values, are weakening the very moral and social fabric that holds us together. What is worse is that each of these young women who aborted their babies is a personal tragedy (not to deny the consequences in the lives of the young men involved in these relationsnips). No society can afford to teach their children that marriage, birth, and family are out of date and unimportant. We will be left as a culture with no future, and we will be increasing, not decreasing the personal pain that will mark so many people's experience of relationships and life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Decline of the Church?

Michael Spencer wrote a provocative essay, "The Coming Evangelical Collapse," which was published in the Christian Science Monitor on March 9, 2009. Mr Spencer predicts that the number of evangelical Christians in the United States will decline by 50% in the coming years. I profoundly hope that he is wrong just for the sake of the damage that will ensue for our culture. The New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins may want a world free of religion, but they have never lived in one. The only recent examples we have of "religion free" societies are Stalin's Russian, or Mao's China, or worse yet, Pol Pot's Cambodia. They were not places of live and let live freedom or tolerance, they were cultural gulags. The less Christianity is allowed a place of influence in society, the less moral and the more brutal it becomes.

I understand why Mr. Spencer made this prediction. He correctly sees the rising opposition to Christianity in Western societies. Atheism is on the march, and secular humanist organizations are becoming much more aggressive in their opposition to all things religious. Secularists are putting signs on buses and in subway stations promoting atheism and opposing religion. Several books defending atheism have been best sellers in the past year, and of course, Bill Maher did an anti-religious movie entitled, Religulous.

Opposition to Christianity has existed since at least the time of the Apostles, and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is that today, the evangelical church is ill prepared for it. As Mr. Spencer writes, "We evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught." I am afraid that statistics support his statement. Ministries that prepare young Christians for college regularly point to studies that show that at least 50% of students who say they are Christians as freshmen lose their faith by their senior year. The growing unpopularity of Christianity in the larger society will only increase this terrible problem.

It is this very problem that contributed to the writing of my book. What is so sad to me is that the evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel is so strong. Yet we seem to be losing the battle, primarily because we don't know how strong the historical, philosophical, experiential, and even the scientific evidence is for the validity of Christianity. I would hope that every Sunday school program and youth group in every church in this country would incorporate a basic apologetics course. We must prepare our children for the attacks upon their faith that they will surely face.

It is, of course, not just an intellectual or educational issue. The strength of our faith is based on our real experiential knowledge of the living God. We must also teach our children to love Jesus and to know Jesus, to have a living faith born of the Holy Spirit's presence in their lives. We and they must be people who know the reality of prayer, of worship, and of the real presence of the Lord in our lives. My prayer is that God will move on our society in this generation and upset these trend lines toward secularism. In the end this is the only real solution to this problem.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mister President you're scaring me

I don't mean to be an alarmist, but I found our President's decision to fund and expand embryonic stem cell research using federal tax dollars truly frightening. First, he told us that in doing so, he was defending "science" based on "facts and not ideology." Those are strong words. He is in effect, demonizing the former administration and his present political opponents as anti-science and pro ideology (another word for lies and propaganda). One must be careful in how one defines the people on the other side of an argument. Can the people who have deep moral misgivings about destroying human embryos to produce stem cells be written off as ideologues? Does their opposition to this kind of research really make them anti-science? As a Christian, I found his dismissive attitude toward my concerns about the sanctity of human life profoundly disturbing. He claimed to be a uniter and the post-partisan candidate. On this issue, he has proven to be the great polarizer and as deeply partisan as any leader we have ever had.

In defending his action in this way, he is elevating science to an almost sacred status. Because his opponents are opposing science, they are opposing all that is good, true, and beneficial. Science becomes something that should never be questioned or opposed. To be fair, he did acknowledge that there were legitimate moral concerns behind these issues, but he assured us that the science would take place under the guidance of our "humanity and conscience." The problem is these assurances aren't very re-assuring. A great many terrible things have been done in the name of "science." The forced sterilizations that resulted from the "science" of eugenics is just one example. One must be careful about invoking science. Science has been a wonderful tool for the benefit of all mankind, but it has also produced weapons of mass destruction. We have used science both to cure and to kill. We must be careful in giving it free reign because it is morally neutral. It will kill or cure depending on those controlling it. So we must ask the question who controls science and to what standards will they and it be held accountable. It appears that President Obama is releasing it to the control of the scientists themselves, but this, it seems to me is a dangerous choice. Science, in the last 100 years at least, has been enlisted in the service of methodological naturalism and the implicit denial of any religious or spiritual reality. I know of no moral system that can be built upon naturalism except a rationalistic utilitarianism. Even with the addition of "humanity and conscience," utilitarianism gives us no protection from the unthinkable and the unspeakable.

Finally, we must think long and hard before allowing human beings to be defined as just biological organisms. At that point, we have given up our humanity and even our conscience, since these can easily be explained away in biological and naturalistic terms. If we are just organisms, even the constraints the President imposed are gone, and we are left at the mercy of pure utilitarianism. Already, we see the fruit of this view. We may want to write him off as an eccentric, but Dr. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, was a proponent of the "new eugenics." He openly endorsed human genetic engineering in 1998 and asked three telling questions that science can not answer, "Why shouldn't we do it? What's wrong with it" and "Who's telling us not to do it?" On a PBS special not long ago, he advocated for the mercy killing of the insane and the retarded. Dr. Watson was not crazy, read what he says, watch the videos in which he defends his policies. He is certainly rational in the sense that he is consistent with his naturalistic and atheistic worldview. The problem is that science as we define it in our culture today, has no answer for his three questions. And if we make the issue of Embryonic stem cells, which is really about how we define human life, merely a biological question, we have no answer for the three questions either.

Be very afraid.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Words Words Words...

Last weekend was the annual L'Abri conference in Rochester. The power of L'Abri is its capacity to bring the Gospel to bear on the relevant issues of our time, and this year's conference was no different. One of the workshops that caught my eye was a session that covered the topic of cynicism in contrast to the message of hope and change in the election of Barak Obama. The speaker referred to the prevalent cynicism of the 90's as expressed by television programs like Seinfeld and Simpsons. I have noticed this move to the "dark side" by the youth culture of the last 20 years and have been very concerned by it. It was this emphasis on cynicism that drew me to the workshop.

What I wasn't expecting was the discussion of the Obama phenomenon and the appeal of his message of hope and change to this same generation that seemed mired in cynicism. Why would this skeptical and critical generation be drawn to President Obama and his optimistic message?

There are two possible explanations that come to mind; first, people (even cynical people) long for hope. When one combines President Obama's message with his demeanor, his race, his background, and his skill as a communicator we shouldn't be surprised at the numbers of people who are attracted to him. Maybe it was the cynicism in me, but I kept asking what specific things he was going to change, and therefore, what should I be hopeful about? It seems to me that this is a phenomenon similar to the New Age Movement or existentialism. It is the (likely unconscious) rejection of the rational (which produces cynicism) for the embrace of the irrational. Thus the "hope" that Obama is tapping into is the hope for hope. It is an emotion and a longing based on people's trust in what they consider to be the outstanding character of their new president. He is a remarkable man, but I am afraid that many are destined to be disappointed, simply because one man, even with the power of presidency, can't provide the change or hope we all long for.

A second possible explanation is the power of words. I have noticed over the years that political liberalism in the West has been very adept at co opting words. A recent example was a liberal church group providing asylum to an illegal immigrant in a church in California. Above the sanctuary of the church the group had hung a banner explaining their cause. The banner declared, "We seek Justice." The problem is, they were not seeking justice at all. Justice is the prevention and punishment of evil and the reward of the good. When they assist someone in breaking the law, they are not seeking "justice." I know, they can consider the law unjust, but they are using the term to justify illegal action nonetheless, and thus they are misusing the term for the sake of political manipulation.

It seems to me, as Christians, we need to be careful with words. Not only in how we use them, but discerning in how we understand them. The grand manipulators of history have always been primarily manipulators of language. They have known how to use the power of words to persuade their followers. I am not accusing President Obama of being manipulative, I think he himself believes he can initiate a mass movement that will bring about beneficial change to American society. I view him as part of the larger body of Western liberalism that has mistaken terminology and intention for pragmatic reality. So liberalism can claim to be concerned for the poor, and to be working to eliminate poverty, by creating programs that lead to welfare dependency and cyclical poverty. Or liberalism in America can proclaim its concern about education, yet have created an educational system that is more expensive and less effective than almost any in the world.

It seems to me that the problem is primarily one of definitions and understanding of truth. The great appeal of liberalism in the West are its ideals. Ideals that we all should support and even long for. Who does not want world peace? Who would not want equality and justice for all? Who does not want the elimination of poverty? On the basis of these ideals, liberalism has replaced the church (and Christianity) as the moral leader of our society. Liberalism, for at least the past 50 years, has defined the issues of good and bad in our society. In fact, their moral leadership has been a mixed bag, they were for the most part correct in dealing with race and racial prejudice, but are sadly mistaken in their views of sex and marriage. The vast majority of their diagnosis of our problems and their prescribed solutions are incorrect and will not acheive their goals.

As followers of Jesus, I donot believe it is our job to try and restore Christianity to its place of moral leadership. We exist now, and probably will until Jesus returns, as a counter-culture. Jesus calls us to be salt and light to a world filled with darkness and decay. We also are called to be "wise as serpents," that is able to clearly see what is going on in the world around us. Therefore, we can and should evaluate the "solutions" our political leaders put before us, and based upon our biblical understanding of things support or oppose them. We also need to live out our faith before our fellowmen in such a way that they see the glory of the Gospel. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Those aren't just words. As we walk with Him through this world, our lives will exhibit Life, Truth, and the one and only Way to the knowledge of God. Jesus called us to the greatest priviledge a person can have, "live in Me and I in you" (John 15:5), a personal relationship with God. May each of us, from this day onward, be living expressions of this realtiy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thoughts on Postmodernism

Having just finished attending a series of Wednesday evening studies on the subject of postmodernism at our church, I want to put down my thoughts on the impact of this philosophy on our society. Postmodernism comes out of the enlightenment's skepticism about ultimate truth. One of its foundational principles is that there are no "meta-narratives;" a meta-narrative is an overarching explanation for all reality. One of the world religions would be a meta-narrative, because it claims to describe God, the human condition, moral values, and the final destiny of everything and everyone. Since postmodernism says there are no meta-narratives, the truths and values that shape our lives are a product of the culture in which we live. And, in a very cynical assessment of particularly Western culture, those who have been historically in power have crafted those "truths" and "values" for personal benefit and to retain their power. This evaluation of the beliefs of a culture is called "deconstructing." Thus in deconstructing Western culture, the postmodern view is that it favors white heterosexual males to the detriment of all others. This has created a deep seated suspicion, if not outright rejection of traditional values, not to mention traditional roles and institutions in society.

As a result of postmodernism in academic circles (namely just about every college and university in the land) we have Women's Studies Departments, African-American Studies, GLBT Studies, and so on. Each of these departments are developing their own versions of history, often not to discover the facts or significance of history, but to advance their agenda and defend their previously accepted values. As well, no small part of their efforts are to gain political power and influence in order to achieve their agenda in the larger society. They feel justified in doing so because they believe they are overthrowing an oppressive system that, like everything else, is only one group's "version" of history anyway. In our relativistic age, if everything is true then in actual fact, nothing is true. Postmodernism leads to the most cynical of all conclusions; "might makes right." The people who can accumulate the most power have the right to make the rules and set the agenda. And gaining power is the end justified by nearly any means.

This has frightening implications for the future of politics and governance in our society. I have begun to wonder, if some of the heated rhetoric, exaggerated accusations, and apparent personal hatred that we see in politics today are the beginnings of postmodernism's influence. I don't believe we have crossed the line yet, but I fear we are headed in the direction of a postmodern dividing up into political "tribes" and the fearsome world of political correctness that we see on so many of our college campuses.

It would seem to me that we must be more dilligent than ever to explain and defend our traditional judeo-christian values. And the best way to explain and defend them is to live them out. Jesus called us the "light of the world;" by living out Christian values we show their reality and validity to an increasingly skeptical postmodern world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Facing Uncertain Times

Even as people of faith, we must confess that much of life and its circumstances appear shrouded in mystery. We really do, as Paul wrote, "see through a glass darkly." In good times, we make plans with a sense of hope and expectation. In hard times (which appears to be on our horizon), hope and expectation get replaced by anxiety and skepticism. These reactions may be natural but are they right?

In particular, how do we deal with the fear and discouragement that may accompany the economic downturn we are facing? These emotions are the result of both not knowing what the future holds and of imagining worst case scenarios. God told us (and Israel) why He takes us out into the "wilderness." First, He wants to humble us (Deut. 8:2). Humility is one of the essentials of a life with God. One of the repeated principles of Scripture is that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humility is the key to experiencing grace. So in the face of these difficult times, admit your need and call upon Him for grace.

God also used the wilderness to reveal the heart condition of Israel and the condition of their character (Deut. 8:2b). Our greatest needs are not material, they are spiritual. God wants to strengthen our character and purge our lives of those distractions, attachments, and omissions that keep us from being all He wants us to be. God, therefore, will threaten or even weaken the material in order to strengthen the spiritual.

If you are in the wilderness or fear you maybe soon, remember that one of God's great promises is the promise of His presence. "I will never leave you nor forsake you," He said. Cling to Him and His promises, and allow the uncertainty and the difficulty to move you closer to Him. You may find that He is taking you "through" the wilderness to bring you in to the Land of Promise.