Month: November 2017

“Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.”
(Aragorn, in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.)

The murder of 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX has already gained notoriety as the deadliest massacre in a house of worship in the U.S. (More information on this is available here and currently tops the news programming of most news outlets).

The motives behind this appear to be as senseless as can be imagined. Apparently this was an “intra-family feud” involving a man described as “deranged”, in which the intended victim wasn’t even there.

Words can ill-express my shock and horror on behalf of the victims as well as all of civilized humanity. Our prayers go out to all who have been affected by this tragedy.

In a recent article in “Cracked”, author Kristi Harrison laments the “4 specific things you lose when you leave Christianity“. The author describes her own de-conversion experience from faith into agnosticism, which began with a disbelief in angels. “Once I realized I didn’t believe in human-shaped beings from Heaven who could appear on Earth to pass along Godmail before hightailing it back to Heaven, a domino chain of disbelief was set in place.

Having made the leap of faith into unbelief, she now identifies four things she really misses. We might turn the emphasis around to say that there are some specific things you gain when you enter the Christian faith. Here are the ones mentioned Ms. Harrison:

1. “Getting High on Worship”: The author found worship to be an “addictive and engaging” experience. She noted a CNN article reporting that “Religious thoughts trigger reward systems like love, drugs”. She concludes by saying “You lose your sense of self and feel like you’re blending in with the Universe or feeling God’s presence, depending on your cultural background and what you’re going for. If that’s not getting high, I don’t what is.”

2. “Culture and Community”: You have an organized support system that is like a family.

3. “Magic”: “The hook of Evangelical Christianity is that believers have access to the creator of Universe just by asking for it. You don’t have to be rich, literate, clean, pretty, smart, or a non-murderer to talk to Him. God is for everyone. The idea of a personal God who can take away disease and reunite you with loved ones after death is intoxicating. … The ability to hand over your deepest problems to someone else is Christianity’s killer app, one that has absolutely no equivalent in the secular world.”

4. A cosmic “Best Friend”.

Ms. Harrison stops there. Here are some more that we might add:

5. Health: People of faith are healthier, and this is seen in countless studies. Relevant Magazine opines “If religious faith could be packaged in a pill, the stock price of drug companies would soar. Religion, not merely spirituality, is a profound predictor of health. Spiritual practices can reduce blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and help stave off some effects of mental illness about as well as many drugs on the market.” (The article is entitled “The Surprising Link Between Faith and Health“). You can be a Christian and still die (we all do), but even in facing death and calamity, studies show that you will have more peace and less anxiety.

6. Truth: I don’t just mean that Christianity reveals truth about the universe, human nature, and our ultimate destiny. These are “truths” with a little T, many of which are unknowable and could only be revealed by a behind-the-scenes Creator (their relevance depends on accepting the premise that God is real and has “spoken though the prophets”). I mean to speak of “Truth” itself–with a capital T. Christianity emerged out of the only ancient culture where truthfulness had a religious basis. Christianity’s chief personage stated “I am Truth.” It could be argued that the truthfulness we expect of ourselves and others in society, while it has pragmatic value, is nevertheless also a hangover from prior generations dominated by Christianity and the “10 Commandments.” It is not universal.

Furthermore, arguments can be made that truth requires us to presume something at the outset of seeking it, something that inexorably implies some kind of God. To trust our senses and mental capacities to understand the universe is to assume God (see the design argument in Robert Taylor’s Metaphysics).

Additionally, the fact that the universe exploded into being from a point in time and space makes little sense without an eternal Godlike being that exists outside our universe–you can say, “uh-uh” all you like, but the alternative is some brand of spontaneous generation, which to accept is to embrace illogic and to mar truth at its intellectual foundation, and on a cosmological scale at the very origin of everything.

7. Meaning: Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche and others have known and expounded on the lack of ultimate meaning and significance in a life free of God–you gain freedom to write your own rules but lose that sense of meaning. Their powerful writings have prodded many a Christian’s de-conversion experience (very nearly my own at one point, when I was a college student). I believe their thesis on this point. It is intellectually dishonest to cling to meaning after ejecting God from your life, and people really know this, deep down inside, in their moments of disquiet, which they try very hard to suppress. You have a choice to believe the Shakespearean line that our lives “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, or to believe that our lives have a higher meaning. We have written of this here. In the absence of clear proof, do you choose to embrace a dark story, or a beautiful story?

8. An answer to the “Problem of Evil” (Of course you get the “Problem of Evil” also): The dagger into the heart of Christianity is the problem of how God can be all-powerful, all-loving, and yet allow suffering and evil. However the alternative, to dismiss suffering and evil as simply part of the human condition, is not very satisfying. Christianity gives you a God of love who deeply cares about you and wants your best. Most astoundingly of all, you have a God who suffered also, more than anyone can imagine. This brings us to Love:

9. Love: Above all, Love is the ultimate thing we gain when we embrace Christianity–Love on a cosmic scale that is simultaneously deeply personal. The Bible says that “God is love.” God’s love for us is a costly love, and its most powerful moment is the sacrifice of the Heavenly Father’s own Beloved on a cross of wood. God’s love is not cheap!

“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”

All Souls Day is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church on the day after All Saints Day. Historically it has been viewed as remembering the faithful departed who yet have time to serve in Purgatory, and are on their way to future heavenly blessedness. Observance tends to focus on family members. In Anglican churches, it is an extension of All Saints Day, merely remembering the faithful departed.

Lord God,
you are the glory of believers
and the life of the just.
Your son redeemed us
by dying and rising to life again.
Since our departed brothers and sisters
believed in the mystery of our resurrection,
let them share the joys and blessings
of the life to come.

(You can find this prayer in the context of “The Office for the Dead” here).

So opines an article by Ed Kilgore in New York Magazine on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On a variety of issues, the two camps have moved closer together theologically (see, for example, our article “Protestants and Catholics Celebrate Agreement on Justification”). Protestants have warmed toward some of the church’s historic liturgies and practices (such as the increasing popularity of observing Lent). The Roman Catholics have had their own internal reformations both in response to Luther in the 1600’s, and more recently with the reforms instituted by the Vatican II council.

Catholics have by and large embraced what might have previously been considered distinctly Protestant practices, like the use of vernacular languages in worship, personal Bible study (again, in the language of the reader rather than Latin), congregational singing of hymns, etc; and they have shed some of the more egregious practices that rankled Protestants (and also internal critics), such as the selling of indulgences. And as the article points out, “Moreover, virtually all Christians have abandoned some of the more unsavory habits of thought and deed they once shared, from aggressive anti-Semitism to active state-sanctioned persecution of “heretics.”

Today, the real divide is within denominations more than between them. “The difference among Christians these days tend to break along a left-right rather than a Catholic-Protestant spectrum,” says Kilgore.

The NY magazine article quotes Atlantic writer Emma Green, who observes the same shifts in an essay entitled “Why Can’t Christians Get Along, 500 Years After the Reformation?“.

Historian Mark Noll of Notre Dame notes that Catholics and Protestants have come closer together. “In my lifetime, there has been a sea change in Protestant-Catholic relations, opening up an unimaginable array of cooperation.”

Yet these denominations are beginning to fracture over LGBTQ issues and more fundamental disagreements between traditional Christians, especially in places like Africa, and the intellectual elites in the west who embrace a more worldly and progressive stance. In reaction,

A growing number of Christians are organizing themselves based on ideological convictions, rather than a shared confessional tradition. “As a lot of denominational traditions are experiencing pressure and even fracture,” said Noll, “so also [is] interdenominational cooperation amongst like-minded people growing in leaps and bounds.”