What Skeptics Think About God

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, included in the Appendix of his book, How We Believe, a list of the reasons skeptics give for (a) why they believe in God (b) why they think other people believe in God, and (c) why they do not believe in God. I’ll present the results of his survey of their answers in three separate posts:

Why Skeptics Believe in God

1. Good design/natural/beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe (29.2%).

2. It is comforting, relieving, consoling, gives meaning and purpose to life (21.3%)

3. Experience of God in everyday life/God is in us (14.4%).

4. Just because/faith/need to believe in something (11.3%).

5. Without God there would be no morality (6.4%).

6. The Bible says so (5.5%).

7. The universe is God (4.0%).

8. Raised to believe in God (3.0%).

9. God has a plan for the world, history, destiny, and us (3.0%).

10. To account for good and avenge evil in the world (.10%)

Cumulative total: 99.1%. Other answers included “God answerers prayers.”

I would be interested in what my blog followers have to say about what these percentages mean.

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Evangelism

In the wake of the criticism for evangelist Joel Osteen’s apparent lack of charity in Houston after Hurricane Harvey breezed through town, I thought it appropriate to talk about evangelism to explain why Osteen’s behavior should not be used to judge a religion he allegedly subscribes to.

According to Dr. David F. Wells, author of The Courage to Be Protestant, there are three categories of evangelism in Christianity: 1. Classical Evangelicals. They are serious about the Christian doctrine. Their churches reflect this mindset. 2. The Marketers. As the name indicates, these evangelists capitalize on all the achievements of the classical evangelical movement which began after WWII, but they did this for their own purposes and success. As evident from Osteen’s display of wealth, he exemplifies this category.  Dr. Wells tells us that this particular group is characterized by its emptiness, loss of personal connections in its monster-sized churches, and capitulation to consumerist modernity.” 3. The Emergents. Dr. Wells tells us this “constituency would  be straining the definition of ‘evangelical’ to the breaking point if its leaders were not themselves distancing their world from evangelicalism. This constituency is made up of a loose coalition of churches that came together during the 1990’s and now constitute the so-called emerging church. Here, far more than was the case among traditional evangelicals, there is a continuum in the core beliefs that is so wide that it might be wise to distinguish between the emergent church, on the one end, and those who are simply emerging on the other…What they are against is often clearer than what they are for.” This group is heavily influenced by post-modern concepts and culture.

Believers and unbelievers alike should understand that not all evangelism is the same; nor is it even Christian. Only the classical evangelicals represent our reformed doctrine, and it is they who present the genuine Christian witness to the world.

 

Eternity is on our hearts

Most every religion attempts to address the reality that one day our life will come to an end. We humans are curious by nature and are inclined to wonder what will happen to us when that day arrives. Our fascination with death is one of the major reasons humans have embraced religion. Dr. Bruce P. Baugus, associate professor of philosophy and theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, states in an article he wrote for Ligionier Ministry’s Table Talk magazine, “What becomes of us after death is a cardinal doctrine of nearly every religion, and it is ordinarily considered decisive for how we ought to live this life in preparation for what follows.” Christians believe that what we do in this life counts forever.

C. S. Lewis once observed that our longings run deeper and reach further and aspire to things far higher than anything ready at hand can satisfy. Dr. Baugus tells us that eternity is in our hearts and people who stifle this feeling and instead focus on the material world and the pursuit of temporal pleasure will lead an empty life. We ask ourselves is this life all there is? That’s one of our concerns theologians call “the big questions.”

Dr. Baugus opines that “no matter how vigorously one denies the afterlife, however, the sense that there is more than this present life stubbornly persists..so stubbornly that Immanuel Kant, who denied anyone could know such a thing, nevertheless conceded that we must a least believe in a an afterlife in order to live right in this life.” This sounds like a corollary to Pascal’s Wager, doesn’t it?

Jesus Christ told us that we humans are not only inclined to believe in an afterlife but to believe in our future resurrection as well. Dr. Baugus tells us that it is impossible to make sense of Christ’s life work and teaching without presupposing we will live somewhere forever and that “somewhere” is either heaven or hell. Jesus often spoke of these two states and emphasized how important it is to keep this actuality in mind as we live out our lives. He asserts that our destiny does not depend on our good works, but depends solely on our belief in him as our Savior, the second member of the trinity. “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” That’s the blessed assurance Christians should have. Dr. Baugus concludes his article with the most important question of all: “Do you believe this?”

Pascal’s Wager Explained

Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument presented by seventeenth-century French philosopher and scientist, Blaise Pascal. Basically, its point is that we wager our lives that God exists or not.

Pascal opines that a rational person should live as though God does exist and seek to believe in God. Pascal was a Christian so he is specifically referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the philosopher’s God of presuming a cause (a Creator) for an effect (the creation.) Pascal postulates that if God does not exist, a believer will limit himself to some extent by paying homage to a power that doesn’t exist and thus will experience a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.) in living out his life. Whereas, if God does exist a believer stands to inherit infinite gain in his or her salvation in Heaven and avoid the infinite loss of eternity in Hell. So then, what does Pascal’s Wager mean to us? British author C. S. Lewis explains the wager this way in his classic, Mere Christianity.

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promises…Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right way:  (1). The Fool’s Way…he puts the blame on the things themselves. He goes on all his life thinks that if only he tried another woman, or holiday, or whatever, then this time he would really catch the mysterious something. (2). The Way of the Disillusioned “Sensible” Man…He soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine. And so he represses the part of himself which used to cry for the moon. (3). The Christian way…The Christian says (and here is the argument): Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger,  well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim, well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire, well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Probability is what Pascal’s Wager is all about.

The fool pursues materialism to fill the void in his life; he will never achieve this goal. Money can’t buy us love or anything else of such value. The “sensible” man believes life is absurd so why try to find any meaning in it other than what meaning we can give to it? He tries to ignore God, but he cannot effectively ignore him because, as Lewis once said, “He is all around us.” Pascal tells us both of these people lead lives of despair.

Both the fool and the “sensible” man are making the wrong bet by turning their back on the strong clue God has given us as we observe his creation and become aware of what he has laid on our hearts. The Christian believes through faith that God is personal and is not some sadistic creator who implants a desire for him in our hearts without giving us the means to connect with him.  Most sane people know they should never bet against the house; they will inevitably lose.  That’s Pascal’s wager.

 

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals

One of my left-leaning Facebook connections asked me to elucidate on why I am so critical of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. First let me remind readers of the Rules. There are twelve of them, but I find half of them particularly offensive. As I have mentioned before, I believe the trick to living a contented life is in the balance, and Alinsky’s Rules are overly ideologically unbalanced. Here are six of them; judge for yourself.

1. people are encouraged to build power and influence by focusing on an external antagonist and turning him, her or them into a common enemy. The people would then become unified in their opposition to this common enemy. 2. Focus on increasing anxiety, insecurity and uncertainty. Stir up the pot of division in our culture; create an “us against them” mindset. 3. Use ridicule and keep the pressure on. 4. Remember that the threat of a group like the white supremacists is probably more terrifying than the thing itself.  5. Emphasize the negative and it will sooner or later become a positive. 6. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it; cut off its support network by ridiculing its proponents.

Does any of this recommended game plan to divide and conquer seem familiar? In an effort to personalize the conflict, malcontent cultural warriors have primarily focused on Donald Trump and his various character flaws more than they have attacked his presidency. They have tried to build their power by turning him into America’s common enemy. Ironically, Trump himself has seemed to play along with them and has actually created anxiety, insecurity and uncertainly in the majority of Americans who mention this when surveyed. It’s the primary reason his opinion polls are so low, and it’s the main reason those of us who voted for him are concerned about the future of our beloved country.

In addition, the lefties have focused on Trump’s misstatements in response to the Charlottesville tragedy in an effort to make the threat of white supremacy and nazism more terrifying than the thing is itself. I’m no historian but I know America is not post-WWI Germany. This is not the fertile ground for a revival of nazism Alinsky’s followers would have us believe. Nonetheless, when demonstrations like this erupt in violence, it serves the Alinsky objective well in encouraging over-the-top public demonstrations which strengthen their cause to divide America.

So then, I hope my readers can see how current attempts of Trump’s opponents to destroy his presidency are following the Alinsky model to a “T.” But it’s not just the lefties that follow the model; the Tea Party followed it too. Saul Alinsky died in 1972, but his rules for dividing and conquering live on. This is not the time for Saul; it is the time for St. Paul who called us to unify, unify, unify. We Americans have a common enemy and Donald Trump and his supporters aren’t it. Our real enemies, Russia, China, countries dominated by radical Islam, those are our real enemies, and the more we squabble among ourselves, the more they are encouraged to wait us out until we destroy ourselves from within. It’s the old Pogo saying come home to roost: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Government Subsidy

We minimalists believe in a limited government influence in our lives. Here’s a humorous example illustrating our point.

To the Honorable Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir, a friend of mine received a check from the government for $1,000 for his “not raising hogs” business next year. I want to know how I can get into this business too, but, as I see it, the hardest part of this program will be in keeping an accurate inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised. My friend has been raising 50 hogs a year for twenty years and in his best year, he only made $422 until this year when he received the $1000 for not raising them.

If I get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, will I get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 hogs not raised. Will this mean I will receive $80,000 the first year?

Now another thing, these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that you also pay farmers for not raising corn and wheat. Will I qualify for payments for not raising wheat and corn not to feed the 4,000 hogs I plan on not raising?

I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of the year not to raise hogs and grow grain. I am also considering the “not milking cows” business, so I would like you to send some information on that too.

Since I won’t have to work to raise hogs or cows or grow grain, I will be unemployed and plan to file for unemployment compensation and food stamps.

I will close by saying your political party may be assured of my vote in the coming election.

Sincerely yours,

Freddy the Freeloader

 

 

If you’re so rich, why ain’t you smart?

Most of us recognize the old bromide “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” Based on the context of many of President Trump’s reported remarks, his tweets, and his speeches since he took office, he seems to be proving the corollary to that old saying, and it makes those of us who voted for him very uncomfortable because he seems to be increasing the division in our country and supporting the opinions of those who believe he is unfit to be our president.

I’m sure I’m not alone among his supporters in wishing he would take more time to engage his brain first and think about what he really wants to say before he stumbles over his own tongue. His staff does too. I wish he would offer measured responses in addressing issues like the Charlottesville demonstration, for example. If he were to  have really thought about what he wanted to say before he said it, he would have responded to that tragic demonstration by following the text of what the senior editor of The National Review, Jonah Goldberg stated in a recent syndicated article on this issue.

The president should have said what Goldberg said, “Fighting racism is a good thing, but fighting Nazis doesn’t necessarily make your cause good.” Goldberg goes on to say that communism under Joseph Stalin helped defeat the evil of Hitler’s fascism, but that of course doesn’t mean communism is good. In other words, “The alt-right’s despicability doesn’t make ‘antifa’ the good guys.”

In implying that both sides were to blame for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, I believe the president meant that of course we oppose the alt-right’s objective to replace the traditional conservative viewpoint with their own racist agenda. That’s a given. But he should have explained that, in opposing free speech, celebrating violence, despising any dissent and anything that stands for the American political tradition, the anifa folks have a similar agenda to those they oppose. They want to replace traditional liberalism with their own way of doing things. I wish my liberal friends would see how their ideology is being hijacked by groups like this, and not be so quick to support a cause they have claimed they don’t believe in.

President Trump should have responded with Goldberg’s  words, but of course he obviously didn’t. As he has in a number of other such incidences, the president again reacted without thinking about what he really wanted to say. If he’s so rich, why ain’t he smart. He doesn’t seem to understand that only on rare occasions does his knee-jerk thoughtless responses work best for anyone, much less suffice for the most powerful man in the world (after Putin, according to Forbes Magazine).

But that doesn’t make what the president was trying to say (or what he should have said) wrong. Regardless of how misunderstood the president is by those who would want him out of office, and how he supports their negative opinion of his character with responses like his latest gaff, Goldberg’s conclusion makes sense. “This is America. You’re free to denounce totalitarians wherever you find them…even if they (anifa) might hate the right people.” In my opinion, that’s the point we all should really take from our president’s remarks. With this president, I think it’s important to try and always see the glass as being half-full.