Monday, September 27, 2010

Worldwide Persecution of Christians

As anyone will know who reads my monthly columns in the Christian Voice newsletter, the Lord has given me a burden for persecuted Christians. In America and England it is easy to take our freedoms for granted, but there are many nations where Christians are arrested and sometimes even killed for their faith in Christ. God has not put me in a position to smuggle Bibles into these countries or to visit  them and minister to the believers there, but I do have a small part to play in disseminating information about the terrible conditions that exist in many of these nations.
 
This year I've been doing some volunteer research for Open Doors Ministries, to help them get updated country profiles on their new website, which has just been launched. Open Door Ministries was started by Brother Andrew and does a lot of hands-on work with the persecuted church. So far I have written the following profiles which are available for viewing on the new website:
I would particularly like to draw my readers' attention to the article on North Korea. In first position on the 2010 World Watch List, North Korea has the deadliest level of Christian persecution in the world. The only worship that is allowed is that of the “dear leader” Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim Il-Sung.

In North Korea, every other religious activity is labeled an act of insurrection against North Korean socialist principles. Christians are routinely beaten, tortured, imprisoned for life, mutilated, murdered, and used in the testing of biological or chemical weapons. Punishment for being a Christian can also include the imprisonment or death of ones mother, father, sisters, brothers, children and grandchildren.

The communist Police stop at nothing to search out and punish Christians, including pretending to be Christians to infiltrate underground prayer meetings. The information they obtain is then used to identify and arrest Christians, who are taken to prison camps where they face slave labor and starvation as well as the inhuman treatment mentioned above.

Kierkegaard quote

Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle.
 

Soren Kierkegaard

My Recent Upgrade to IMAP

Clinch Mountain Communications is a website development company which I have had occasion to recommend before because of their outstanding service in hosting my Alfred the Great Society website. But they do a lot more than merely design and host websites. We recently upgraded to IMAP email service and Ken at Clinch Mountain Communications helped me switch my email over. This means that now all my email is back up online. It even stays online even after I download it, enabling me to access my messages when I travel.

It doesn't get any better than that!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review of Against the Protestant Gnostics

In 1987  Philip Lee took wrote Against the Protestant Gnostics. Drawing on all the latest evidence on Gnosticism from the discoveries of the Nag Hammadi library, Lee argued that there were more commonalities than between Gnosticism and Protestantism than are usually appreciated. Though himself a Protestant, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and a Presbyterian parish minister, the questions Lee raised were deeply unsettling for the Protestant tradition. Had Protestant evangelicalism unwittingly recovered more than merely the canons of what Wesley called ‘primitive Christianity’? Had it, in fact, drunk deeply from the wells of ancient Gnosticism? 

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Dictatorship of Relativism

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires... The church needs to withstand the tides of trends and the latest novelties.... We must become mature in this adult faith, we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith.” Pope Benedict XVI

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. ... Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards.” Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What I'm Reading Right Now



 

Rage Against the Breeders

At Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments, James M. Kushiner drew our attention to the fact that

Jonathan V. Last at The Weekly Standard has written an article about the rising tide of anti-childbearing sentiment, in which he writes:
It is a quirk of the movement that while the most committed childfree people tend to be women, being childfree is not primarily a feminist pose. In The Childless Revolution, Madelyn Cain describes three types of childfree women: “those who are positively childfree, those who are religiously childfree, and those who are environmentally childfree.” It is this last aspect that undergirds much of the movement, particularly at the policy level.
On the connection between being childfree and the environment, or more precisely, population control and "climate change," see also our new Salvo article, Baby Freeze.

Back to Jonathan Last:

Yet for all the Malthusian worry-warting, at the street-level, being childfree is mostly about disdain for conservative traditionalists. Thus, the childfree refer to parents as “breeders” and mothers who breastfeed as “moomies” (as in cow). Those are the nicer terms. (The site happilychildfree.com cheerfully catalogues childfree slang.)

Now if someone posted a list of offensive names for an ethnic group..

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joseph Smith: Profile of a False Prophet

My interest in Joseph Smith is not just academic. As I mentioned in my previous post, 'Questions about Mormonism', Idaho is inundated with Latter Day Saints, and our neighborhood community is no exception. Shortly after moving to the area I was blessed with frequent visitations from traveling Mormon missionaries. I always try to visit with them and ask them questions about their religion, hoping to influence them with the gospel.

Once a pair of missionaries shared with me the article 'The Profile of a Prophet.' In a typical example of post hoc reasoning, the author outlines the profile of characteristics we should expect from someone who is a prophet. It was familiar ground, because some of these very same characteristics had been used by people trying to convince me that Frank Sandford was a prophet.

As I reflected on the article and tried to think of what to say to the people who had given it to me, I was struck with the thought that perhaps the Mormons, and particularly the  people described in the article's dialogue, were starting on the wrong end of the question. Instead of beginning by asking what characteristics a true prophet should exhibit, perhaps they should have asked what characteristics a false prophet has. The reason I say this is because Deuteronomy 18 lays down very specific criteria for helping us to determine if someone is a false prophet. If Joseph Smith conforms to the criteria of a false prophet then there is no need to look further at his alleged credentials as a prophet.

When I mentioned this to the missionaries, they refused to even consider the possibility that Deuteronomy 18:22 might apply to Joseph Smith. They indicated that it had never even occurred to them to assess Joseph Smith by the Mosiac standard since they just knew that the things he taught came from the Lord. There was not even the hypothetical possibility that he might be anything other than a true profit. But what does Deuteronomy 18:20 say? I quote:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak... that prophet shall die.
The scripture is very simple: anyone who speaks a word which they say is from God but it turns out not to be from God, that person is a false prophet.

So how does one know whether a prophet is speaking for the Lord or not? There are a number of ways. One clear indication would be if the prophet himself admitted that on occasions he had spoken falsely while claiming at the time that it had been from the Lord. Another indication would be if the prophet spoke things which contradicted scripture. Still another indication, given in Deuteronomy 18:22 is this: "when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

This last point is somewhat tricky since there were often prophets of God who were commissioned to prophecy judgments for which the Lord latter relented when the people repented. Jonah and Amos immediately come to mind. Prophecies are not the same as prediction, as Richard Pratt has shown in his fascinating study “Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions.” However, this is not relevant in the case of Smith, because although he prophesied things that never happened, we can know that he was a false prophet for the much more basic reason that (A) many of the prophecies he claimed were from God were, upon examination, clearly the product of a lying spirit (either his own or a demonic spirit); (B) his prophecies took people away from reliance on the Bible, functionally discouraging them from using scripture as a yardstick.
 
So how does Joseph Smith fare by these tests, particularly A and B?

The rest of this post has been removed since it appears in my chapter on Joseph Smith in my book Saints and Scoundrels


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Killing Babies for a Cause

After contemplating the immense mysteries of human life and sacrificial love in comparison to a woman's "right to fertility control," a writer for the Times of London concludes that attempts by pro-aborts to dismiss the life of an unborn child are a "convenient lie" hiding the fact that, "Yes, abortion is killing.”
  
“But,” she argues, “it's the lesser evil." Women 'must be prepared to kill' unborn children to protect their autonomy.
 
She concludes that, "As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil” – in this case choosing "the expectation of a life unburdened by misogyny," which she suggests can only be achieved through abortion.
 
Building on this reasoning, she says, "The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too."

Did you hear that: "If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too." That may be true in war, my friends, but we're talking about innocent babies here.

Read full story

Noll on "Creation Science"

"The word creationism by rights should define all who discern a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomena of the natural world. Yet by a most unfortunate set of events, the term has come to mean only the view that God created the world ten thousand or fewer years ago and that God used a worldwide flood in the days of Noah to form the geological conditions that most modern scientists think reveal an ancient earth with evolutionary changes over great expanses of time."


Friday, September 17, 2010

Time for a Rethink

“Britain is a liberal and progressive utopia – and the authorities will arrest anyone who disagrees.”

So writes Melanie Phillips in a “thought crime special” edition of the Spectator magazine, published this weekend.

Concerns about the policing of opinion are shared in the magazine by the homosexual journalist, Matthew Parris, and the Sikh comedian, Hardeep Singh Kohli.
 
Heresy-hunting

Melanie Phillips, who describes herself as an ‘observant agnostic’, writes that “the intellectual trend in Britain is a remorseless slide towards a dark age of intolerance, reverting to a reason suppressing, heresy-hunting culture in which certain opinions are being turned into thought crimes.

“Astoundingly, people are being arrested by the police – even if the case against them eventually falls – because of what they have said. They are not inciting violence or any criminal activity. They are merely expressing a point of view. Yet for that they may find the police feeling their collars.”

She refers to the case of Dale Mcalpine, a Christian street preacher who was arrested, held in police cells and charged with a crime because he believes that homosexual conduct is a “sin”. The costs of his legal defence was financed by The Christian Institute.

The above was taken from 'Thought Crimes: Time for a Rethink' from the Christian Institute's website. To read the entire article click here. Also see some of my earlier posts on Thought Police in Britain.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Welcoming the Pope

God knows that Pope Benedict XVI has received a lot of flack, but I am one Protestant who is more than glad that the pontiff has decided to once again grace the shores of England with his presence, and not merely because I consider Roman Catholics to be Christians, though that helps.

Having spent a number of years blogging about the loss of freedoms in England, particularly where Christians are concerned, and being employed to regularly update Christian Voice's Big Brother Index, the Pope's defense of religious freedom in England strikes a familiar chord. I agree with the Evangelical Alliance who are

urging all Christians to unite in their support of the Pope's planned address on religious freedom. The Pontiff is set to deliver a thinly veiled attack to Westminster on Thursday on what has been described as a growing 'secular agenda' - marking the first Papal visit to Britain in 28 years.

"There have been a number of high-profile cases involving gagging orders on Christians sharing their faith at work, praying for people and practising their faith in obedience to biblical teachings in the work place," says Steve Clifford, General Director of the Alliance.
"Religion is not something we do in church on Sunday. It's a living reality that affects every area of our lives. As such, we applaud companies and organisations that sensibly allow Christians to reasonably follow their beliefs without hindrance or hostility."

 
See "Pope Warns  of Atheist Extremism."

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Salvo 14


Salvo 14 is now hot off the press. Those readers who enjoyed the quirky humor of my last Salvo feature may enjoy reading my latest contribution to the magazine. This time the topic is not the deep ambiguities of gender but population control as the new solution to global warming. If you like what you read, consider taking out a subscription to Salvo Magazine. It's only $25.99 for a year's subscription, and that gets you four whole issues. Wow! To wet your appetite for the magazine, Salvo has made my feature, titled  'Baby Freeze: Is Population Control the New Solution to Global Warming' available for free on their website here.


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Sterilize the Unfit

Professor David Marsland (pictured right) made news last month when he suggested that the mentally and morally “unfit” should be sterilized. The sociologist and health expert made the remarks on the BBC radio program Iconoclasts and urged that “permanent sterilization" was the answer to many of society's problems.
 
Though Professor Marsland's remarks produced outrage, his basic ideas are nothing new. I have had occasion to mention before on this blog  that during the 1920’s and 30’s, permanent sterilization and social engineering were commonly accepted practices among the liberal intelligencia.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Christianity and France

Last year I interviewed a number of French Christians to find out what it was like being a Christian in France. What they said may come as a surprise, especially for those of us in England and America who tend to take our freedoms for granted.

But first, some cultural and historical background may be helpful.

Of France’s 60 million inhabitants, only about 5 million attend church each month. Although French society is extremely secular, dominated by deists, agnostics and atheists, the nation has historically been solidly Christian. Under Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance, the Franks played a pivotal role in Christianizing Western Europe towards the end of the first millennium. With the rise of the Huguenots in the sixteenth century, France again had an important role to play, this time with the Protestant Reformation.

Christianity and the French Revolution

France continued to be a deeply religious nation until the revolution of 1789. Undergirded by the ideas of the Enlightenment, the French revolution represented a concerted and deliberate attempt to dechristianize the nation, including
  • The implementation of a new calendar to replace the Christian one. The calendar, which was adopted in 1793 and used for the next 12 years, employed a ten day week (in a 10 day week, no one could ever know which day was Sunday) and had 1792 (the year Louis XVI was taken into custody) as year 1. This was known as ‘the year of liberty.’
  • The dispossession, deportation and brutal martyrdom of thousands of clergy
  • Christians being denied freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of thought if it contravened the secular humanist ideology of the revolution.The criminalization of all religious education
  • The elimination of all Christian symbols from the public sphere, including removing the word ‘saint’ from street names and destroying or defacing churches and religious monuments
  • The replacing of Christian holidays and symbols with civic and revolutionary cults like the ‘Cult of Reason’ and ‘Cult of the Supreme Being.’ A statue to the goddess Reason was even erected and worshiped in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November 1793.
In these and many other ways, the French revolution tried to create a new man through civic regeneration. French society has never fully recovered from the impact of this paradigm shift and all of the successive French government have born the mark of the revolution upon them, including an institutionalized antipathy to the Christian faith.

Modern History of France

France’s Revolutionary Republic officially lasted until the establishment of the First French Empire in 1804. Its leaders included Napoleon Bonaparte, who served as First Consul from 1799 to 1804, before ending the republic and declaring himself Emperor. Napoleon then ruled as a dictator, dominating much of continental Europe, until his defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

Following the ousting of Napoleon, the Allies restored the Bourbon Dynasty (an important European royal house that had ruled France up to the revolution) to the French throne. Charles X of the House of Bourbon was overthrown in the July Revolution, and was succeeded on August 9, 1830 by Louis-Philippe of the House of Orléans (another royal family related to the House of Bourbon). There followed a period of moderate, constitutional monarchy under Louis-Philippe until the revolution of 1848. A second republic was established until a coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte brought that to an end in 1852 and initiated the Second Empire.

When the Empire of Napoleon III crumbled during the Franco-Prussian War, a third Republic was created, lasting from 1870-1940. After the turbulence of WWII, a fourth Republic was proclaimed (1946-1958), lasting until 1958 when the constitution was rewritten and the current form of government was adopted.
The Threat of Tolerance

One of the key areas where the effects of the revolution are still felt in France is in the notion of tolerance. Prior to the revolution, late 18th century France had been the most tolerant society in all of Europe. Tolerance was understood as allowing or permitting another person’s viewpoint or values in spite of how one personally felt. Though this notion of tolerance, like any type of liberty, has obvious legal limits, it was based on the Biblical idea (not always perfectly followed by Christian societies) that we should refrain from deporting, imprisoning, executing or humiliating those whose beliefs, practices and behaviours are inferior to one’s own.

Tolerance in this sense did not suggest an acceptance of that which was being tolerated, but connoted the idea of allowing something in spite of how one actually felt about it, as embodied in the quotation falsely attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

During the revolution’s reign of terror, all tolerance came to a sudden end. Revolutionary thought police began enforcing what we now call ‘political correctness.’ The guillotine was used to vigorously suppress any opinion or expression which contravened the anti-Christian values of the revolution.

Though France regained some of its freedoms after the fall of Napoleon, the nation has remained institutionally secular, paving the way for a new shift in the notion of tolerance which began to emerge in the 20th century. Around the middle of the last century, tolerance gradually ceased to be understood in the original sense as permitting that which one did not personally accept. Instead, it began to mean actually accepting ideas, values and practices that differed from one’s own. Whereas under the old notion of tolerance a Frenchman had to disagree with someone in order to tolerate, allow or put up with the different viewpoint, the new meaning of tolerance does not allow for such disagreement; rather, it asserts that a person must actually accept all values and viewpoint as being equally legitimate (the obvious exception is that we are not supposed to tolerate the older notion of tolerance, since the older notion assumed what is now an allegedly intolerant antithesis.)

This paradigm shift in the notion of tolerance has had far reaching implications for Christians living in France. Since it is now an act of intolerance to call anything wrong or immoral, Christians who hold to the Biblical standards are constantly finding themselves accused of intolerance. The result was described succinctly by Janey DeMeo, former missionary in France of 22 years and author of Heaven Help Me Raise These Children!: “They tolerate everything — except Christians. Unless you have actually lived in France, it is hard to understand just how challenging this can be.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

Explaining Biblical Morality to Teenagers

A few years ago a Christian friend asked my advice about defending Biblical purity to his teenage sons and daughters and their friends. How do you articulate the reasons why casual dating wrong? What is the best way to defend the Biblical sex ethic? By God's grace my answers hit the nail on the head for the family and helped them enormously, and it relates to some points I recently made in my series Gender, Morality and Modesty. This is what I said to him:

I am in total agreement with your position on relationships. As our older children become interested and involved in relationships, I’ve also been forced to explain our ethos and clarify the reasons behind it. I’ll share the approach I’ve taken.
Whenever I tell my children that intimacy is inappropriate without a clear possibility of marriage, or that casual dating is wrong, or that modesty is important, I always try to emphasize that this is because I take a higher view of love, romance and sexuality than those with looser standards. This is such an important point to emphasize since those who maintain Biblical standards of purity and integrity are frequently accused of being repressive or of having a pessimistic view of sex. But in reality, it is those who are casual with their sexuality who do not have a sufficiently high regard for it.

So the starting point has to be an affirmative one. If the restrictions are not seen within this positive context, then everything the parent says will just be perceived as repression, legalism, over-restriction, and so on. This is something that was impressed upon me when I was researching about the betrothal and courtship movements where the starting point can tend to be  predominantly negative.
 
Building on that, the problem with casual dating is that it trivializes relationships and treats our sexuality as unimportant. When two people are simply pursuing a relationship as a means for personal pleasure, it offers a sort of ‘emotional foreplay’ that provides the pleasure of a relationship without the responsibility of a relationship. That is hardly good preparation for marriage. Because we have been created in the image of God, casual relationships cannot fulfill us and will always leave us feeling empty even if they provide a temporary thrill.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Christian Heavy Metal and Rap

Is it true that any style of music can glorify God, and what makes it good or bad is just the words? That is another question we were discussing after church last Sunday. Can styles like heavy metal and rap music glorify God as long as the words are Christian?
 
In order to answer this question, we must first back up and consider the relationship between form and content. The form of an artwork is simply the vehicle by which the content or meaning is communicated. Put another way, form is the building blocks out of which an artwork – whether visual art, literary art, musical art, etc. – is constructed. This is best understood by way of example. In the art of poetry, the form might be iambic pentameter or couplets or limerick or something else, while the content is the actual words or meaning that fill up that form. In the musical arts we have the form of the sonata, the form of the symphony, the form of the minuet, etc.. It is through these musical forms that the content of a piece - which includes melody and words, if the piece has lyrics - is mediated. In the visual arts, form is to do with light, colour, shape, etc. and this is the means through which the content of a painting or sculpture can be mediated.
 

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Music and the Objectivity of Beauty

I’m sitting at the train station waiting for 9:30 to arrive when the tickets for London become cheaper, so it seems a good time to jot down some comments on music and the objectivity of beauty. We got into a great discussion after church last Sunday about music. Can you say that certain music is “evil”? And if so, is it only the words that make such a verdict possible? Can any style of music be written for the glory of God? These were some of the questions we were discussing.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Essays on Aesthetics

Throughout the history of this blog, I have tried to provide a number of posts dealing with aesthetics and philosophy of the arts. Some of these posts can be read by clicking on the aesthetic label in my list of topics or by visiting my series on the objectivity of beauty.

To add to this growing collection of articles about aesthetics, I am now making available a few essays on aesthetic philosophy that I wrote as an undergraduate. (But beware: they are written for specialists in the field and may prove difficult for a popular audience)

The first is on the theory of beauty proposed by Immanuel Kant (pictured left). Kant argued that judgments about beauty were specifically related to the reaction of delight that artwork prompt us to feel. To find out my thoughts on this, click HERE.

The second essay asks whether truth is an aesthetic virtue? To download this essay, click HERE.

Third and finally, I have an essay on the importance on artistic intent in interpreting works of art. It does make a difference, and an artistic difference, to know what the author of a work intended.

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