What is Make America Great

There’s a little picture meme floating around social media these days, especially since last Tuesday when Indiana voters effectively made Donald Trump the GOP presidential candidate. Although it doesn’t mention him, it’s clearly a set of questions meant to challenge the Trump slogan about making America great again.

It’s nothing more than a rapid-fire attack litany, the kind that usually issues from the mouth of someone who would never support a GOP candidate anyway. It holds the potential to provoke a reasoned, intelligent discussion of what exactly is good about America, but generally that’s not what people who post and repost these kinds of pictures are interested in. Or perhaps even capable of. Here it is:

What is Make America Great

Do you feel wise after reading through that? Or do you feel attacked?

Don’t feel either. Be smart. Ask the rapid-fire wise-guy two questions:

  1. Do you have any principles by which you evaluate political agendas?
  2. What are they?

Chances are, this will stop a verbal brawl before it gets started because people who derive emotional satisfaction by issuing smart-sounding, rapid-fire attacks are rarely able to articulate their own first principles. They will not want to answer these questions.

Chances are, the next six months of general election campaigning are going to be very, very ugly. Be above it. If there’s ever going to be a respectable, intelligent dialogue about American political movements from here on out, it’s going to have to start at first principles.

So think about what yours are. Where do they start? Do they start with some objective standard of right and wrong? Or do you go by your feelings?

For a good start at actually responding to the rapid-fire questions in the picture, I would highly recommend Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World Without Her. It’s very good, and it will set these kind of silly questions in a broader context. And if there’s anything shallow thinkers need, it’s context.

Conservative thought can trace its political positions to principles grounded in objective reality. Political progressives? Not so much.

But they should be pressed to try.

Call it my “Make America Think Again” campaign.

“Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” ~ Proverbs 26:5

America the Movie

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Horst von Wächter and Niklas Frank

A Review of What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

Philippe Sands, an international human rights lawyer, was doing research for a book on the Nuremberg trials, when he met Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter. Niklas and Horst, both born in the spring of 1939, had known each other as boys. Their fathers were both prominent Nazis all through World War II, and this was the common thread that tied the three men together.

Hans Frank

Hans Frank

Niklas’s father, Hans Frank, was a highly cultured and educated man. He knew Goethe and Shakespeare. He was the personal lawyer of Adolph Hitler, and then rose to the position of governor general of all of Poland. After the war, he was dubbed The Butcher of Poland. He was hanged at Nuremberg for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Otto von Wächter

Otto von Wächter

Horst’s father, Otto von Wächter, was one of Hans Frank’s deputies. He was named SS Oberfuhrer on Kristallnacht and went on to run the transportation system that moved people from German-occupied cities and ghettos to the concentration camps. After the war, he was indicted of mass murder, but having fled and sought protection from the Vatican, he died in 1949 in Rome. Horst’s parents, both proud Nazis, had named him after Horst Wessel, the erstwhile martyr/mascot of Nazi Germany.

For Sands, a Jew, meeting the two septuagenarians was deeply personal, as a large branch of his family tree – more than 80 of them from one Ukrainian city alone – had been summarily executed under the personal direction of Otto von Wächter. Nevertheless, with much trepidation, he brought the men together to make a documentary about their reflections on their fathers.

What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy is loosely structured around Sands’s questioning Niklas and Horst about their attitudes toward their fathers and the crimes they committed. To be sure, Niklas and Horst were mere boys – age six when the war came to an end. Of course they’re not responsible for their fathers’ crimes. But what are their thoughts today, Sands wanted to know, about their fathers?

Two Moral Responses
The short answer to that question for Niklas, who is eager to criticize his father in public settings, is that he unequivocally repudiates his father’s actions. He says that his father deserved to die for what he did. He was raised Catholic, Niklas points out, so he knew right from wrong. Niklas says he himself has peace now about his father because he has acknowledged his father’s crimes.

Horst, on the other hand, has responded quite differently. “I must find the good in my father,” he says. Citing loyalty, Horst intractably resists ascribing any guilt to his father. “I’m very sorry about this,” he says, but the charges against my father are “very general suppositions … all generalizations. … I have so many documents from people who knew him personally, who said he had a decent character.”

When presented with evidence of Otto von Wächter’s command responsibility over tens of thousands of death en masse, Horst replies, “He had no influence. He tried everything he could do to prevent the things that have happened.”

The discussion is civil, but tension mounts over the course of the film. Sands and Niklas want him to condemn the crimes, but Horst excuses, evades, and/or relativizes every charge they present. “The system was something [that we today] can’t imagine,” he says. “Death was so near to everybody. Life was just nothing.” Bad things happen still today everywhere, he says, and “we have no means to stop them. We have to accept them.”
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A scene with a similar dynamic takes place in the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, where Ben Stein, also a Jew, visits the Clinic for Forensic Psychiatry/Centre for Social Psychiatry in Hadamar, Germany, where thousands of people deemed unworthy of life were put to death. The curator of the Hadamar museum declines to pronounce any judgment, though, when Ben probes her thoughts about it. “They had purposes,” she said. “I don’t think that it’s my role to tell him something,” she says regarding one of the lead doctors who oversaw the killing.

Ben doesn’t press her. Similarly, in the end Philippe Sands and Niklas Frank give up all hope of getting a moral judgment out of Horst. Clearly, it’s not going to happen, and the film ends with the three men at an impasse, Sands and Niklas on one side and Horst on the other. “I despise him,” Niklas says bitterly, about Horst.

To his credit, Sands displays no animosity toward Horst. He and Niklas just want to hear Horst condemn the crimes. Because, to Philippe Sands at least, those lives were not “just nothing.” They were his family.

The Question of “Ordinary-Looking” Evil
Niklas predicts that Horst – or at least those who live in the same spirit as Horst does – are the seeds of a new Nazism. He may well be right, and I think this is a large part of what motivated Sands and others to produce this film. There is yet evil in our midst. And it can look disturbingly, alarmingly ordinary.

What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy, is gripping viewing. How could these men, Sands asked early on, meaning Hans Frank and Otto von Wächter, participate in mass murders by day and then spend an evening with their families at night?

As it turns out, we learn from their sons that they didn’t spend many evenings at home with their families (Niklas says his parents hated each other). We do however get a rare look at some of their home movies and family photos. Viewers with a working moral compass may feel a dark disquiet at the sight because Hans Frank and Otto von Wächter look to all appearances like fine, upstanding citizens, certainly not moral monsters capable of mass murder.

So the question lingers. How could such ordinary looking men be capable of such evil? Watching Horst’s home movies and looking at family photo albums, Sands noted, “felt dirty” to him, as if in some way he was “looking on the inside of horror.”

It’s a poignant observation, for which the film itself provides no answer.

Moral Reality
Only the Judeo-Christian worldview gives us a comprehensive answer to that question. It presents man as created in the image of God but desperately fallen and capable of great evil. It also presents man as a moral being, capable of choosing between good and evil. Some choose to turn toward God, owning their own fallenness. Others choose to turn away. In the end everyone receives what he has chosen.

The biblical worldview also explains that angst Niklas and Sands expressed over Horst’s stubborn denial, that palpable (and right!), gut-level inability to “be okay” with his moral blindness. Human lives are not nothing, and they all know it. Mass murder, even if it is sanctioned (or ordered) by otherwise legitimate governing authorities, is not excusable.

And, no Horst, we do not have to accept it. There is an objective standard of right and wrong to which we are all bound. And we all know it on some level.

This is the gist of what’s called the moral argument for God, which goes like this:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

People have attempted to muster arguments for moral relativism, but those who really adhere to it end up excusing great evil.

Horst is a very sad specimen of lost humanity. He could, if he would, still find the good in his father while also condemning his crimes, if he would allow the Moral Lawgiver to set his moral compass. But if he hasn’t by now, it’s hard to see how he ever will. That is a great tragedy.

For the rest of us in the free world, we would do well to watch this film and grapple with the question of objective morality and evil in our midst. Those who refuse to see and identify evil not only allow it to spread unchallenged, but inevitably end up succumbing to it and participating in it.

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How the West Won

Unfashionable History
A Review of How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity
by Rodney Stark

How the West WonAmericans are becoming increasingly ignorant of how the modern world came to be what it is, says Rodney Stark. A generation ago, most college curricula included a course in Western Civilization that covered Western achievements in art, music, literature, philosophy, and science. Today those courses have all but disappeared on the spurious grounds that the West is but one of many civilizations and that it is ethnocentric and arrogant for Westerners to study it. So Stark is out to educate us, its beneficiaries, in the “remarkably unfashionable” story of our own heritage.

The most important thing to know on this subject is that “modernity is entirely the product of Western Civilization.” By modernity, he means, “that fundamental store of scientific knowledge and procedures, powerful technologies, artistic achievements, political freedoms, economic arrangements, moral sensibilities, and improved standards of living.”

In How the West Won, the Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences at Baylor University goes beyond the old “Western Civ” courses, which usually merely described the rise of the West. Stark tells the neglected story of why these monumental contributions to human good grew out of the West, and not out of Asia or the Islamic world. To explore this panhistoric phenomenon – as a set of explicable effects produced by discernible causes – is not ethnocentric, but is rather, “the only way to develop an informed understanding of how and why the modern world emerged as it did.”In the process, Stark refutes much of the “received wisdom” about Western history. Here are a few examples:

  • Dramatic changes in climate, including a four-century-long warming trend followed by a “Little Ice Age” played major beneficial roles in the rise of modernity.
  • There were no “Dark Ages.” The Dark Ages myth was made up by “eighteenth-century intellectuals determined to slander Christianity and to celebrate their own sagacity.” In reality, the entire era was one of remarkable progress and innovation.
  • The brilliant achievements of the “Scientific Revolution” (which is also a misnomer) were the culmination of centuries of step-by-step progress.
  • Europe did not grow rich by exploiting its colonies. Rather, the colonies drained European wealth – even as they became the beneficiaries of European advances.

Throughout, Stark gives primacy to ideas. He does so because it was certain, specific ideas that gave rise to all those desirable societal traits – democracy, science, free enterprise, etc. – that have characterized Western nations and that are now revolutionizing life in the rest of the world.

Ultimately, Stark says, those potent – and truly revolutionary – ideas are the product of Christianity. “The most fundamental key to the rise of Western Civilization has been the dedication of so many of its most brilliant minds to the pursuit of knowledge. Not to illumination. Not to enlightenment. Not to wisdom. But to knowledge. And the basis for this commitment to knowledge was the Christian commitment to theology” – the highly rational discipline of formal reasoning about God, with an emphasis on discovering his nature.

1938-bible-lands-and-the-cradle-of-western-civilization-mapWith lively, in-depth narratives, Stark demonstrates how Christian ideas drove everything that is good and desirable about Western modernity. Yes, Western Civilization has seen its failures, limitations, and discontents. Nevertheless, it far surpasses every known alternative, and is, in a very real sense, God’s gift to the world.

This article first appeared in Salvo magazine, Issue 30, Fall 2014

garvin-dennis MD

garvin-dennis MDThe Man for Whom Science Proved Religion
Dennis Garvin grew up the second of three sons born into a Norman Rockwell setting in the Berkshire Mountains of upstate New York. After graduating valedictorian of his class at The Citadel military college in South Carolina, he went on to graduate with honors from VCU School of Medicine in Virginia and serve thirteen years in U.S. Air Force. By the time he reached his mid-30s, he’d met every one of his life’s goals. He had a family with children he loved. He was a successful physician with a good practice in Roanoke, Virginia. And, much to his own delight, he’d acquired a nice, four-degree-long, academic tail that certified him as a really smart dude. So why, having achieved so much, did he feel so empty?

It wasn’t depression; his life was full and active. No, the existential ennui was more akin to that of Alexander the Great, who surveyed the breadth of his domain and wept that there were no more worlds to conquer. And when he looked within, he saw a life of black and white. His wife at the time, by contrast, seemed to have access to a joy he didn’t. Her life looked to him like it had color. What was with that?

Raised in a Unitarian Universalist household, Dennis was a committed atheist. But, having adopted the ethic of his liberal feminist mother, which dictated tolerance as the supreme virtue, he had no particular hostility toward Christianity. So, with a semblance of open mindedness that way, the rational scientist in him started getting curious.

This was, philosophically speaking, new territory for him. But the time was ripe. A lifelong Darwin devotee, he’d started to realize that there were a great many cracks in Darwin, chief among them for him being altruism. He could explain away just about any human behavior except that, and it bugged the ever-living snot out of him. Worse, it had begun to dawn on him that he’d long parroted the phrase “science disproves religion,” but never actually questioned it. This was downright shameful for a man who called himself a scientist.

So he set out in all honesty to reexamine his assumptions. The primary one he’d accepted a priori was atheism. Okay then, he started out, let’s just say that there is a God. How would he have gone about doing what he did? Since the Bible, the book of Christianity, had been the first thing he’d dismissed, that was where he went first in pursuit of an answer.

A Dangerous Book
As he read, he became increasingly and utterly astonished to find that the Bible – the book he’d dismissed out of hand as a stupid fairy tale – was probably one of the most precise books of quantum physics he’d ever run into. This was not at all what he had expected, and as a scientist knowledgeable in modern physics, it started to turn his whole epistemological orientation on its head. Dennis had long been fascinated with the study of light, and to him, the quantum physics of light precisely explained the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. That brought him to his knees.

There was an evangelistic factor at work during this time too. His wife had introduced him to some people with Campus Crusade for Christ. Now Dennis had a stockpile of well-honed verbal projectiles designed to destroy belief in God or revealed religion in any form. He wasn’t just your nice, garden variety atheist. He was a predator, the kind of atheist Christian parents don’t want their children to meet when they go away to college. He relished destroying the faith of the poor miserable souls, and with his scientific credentials and the academic tail to back them up, he was pretty darn good at it.

But the good folks at Campus Crusade for Christ took his infantile flak like fearless soldiers. He’d lob one objection. But what about Christ? somebody would say. He’d throw another. But what about Christ? He ranted and raved about Isis, Osiris, and the Christ figure mythologically reborn every winter and how Christianity was just mythology write large. Patiently, they listened. And then came back with, Okay, but what about the God who loves you? Eventually, he ran out of arguments. The science had brought him to his knees. Through Campus Crusade, he became a new creature in Christ.

A Violent Man, Conquered by God
It’s highly unusual in America for anyone to come to Christian faith after the age of 35. For someone to do so on the burden of science is nearly unheard of. But for Dennis Garvin, that was how it happened. All that took place nearly thirty years ago, and since then some things about life haven’t changed all that much. He’s still a family man, though two grandchildren have been born into the mix. He’s still a physician, though medical missionary work has been added to the schedule. And still a pure scientist applying aspects of accepted scientific knowledge to biblical concepts, he’s taken up writing and teaching to disseminate the findings.

Another thing hasn’t changed. The good doctor still covets a good argument. Never one to do things by halves, the “really smart dude” who’s now fully graduated into an intellectually sound Christian compares himself in all humility to the apostle Paul, who had a confrontational style as the murderous Saul of Tarsus, then went on to preach the gospel with equal confrontational punch. But where Paul went on to preach the faith he once tried to destroy, Dennis takes pleasure in destroying the faith he once preached, aspiring to be the kind of Christian atheist professors and materialist scientists don’t want their students to meet.

“I have a take-no-prisoners mentality,” he says about them – not meaning the garden variety atheists, for whom he feels a brotherly sympathy, but the profiteering and predatory wise guys who pass themselves off as intellectually superior in order to destroy. Certainly he recognizes the command to love our enemies, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into playing nice with people who aren’t nice.

“I know those SOBs because I was an SOB. And I know what makes them think. I’ve got street credibility. And I can tell them, based on my credentials and my study, that anybody who retains a faith in atheism is an idiot. And they’re welcome to be idiots, but don’t dress themselves in intellectual propriety.”

“The big secret about atheists, the big fear of all atheists, is that they fear looking intellectually stupid in front of their contemporaries. They don’t mind if you pull their pants down in front of a bunch of other religious Neanderthals or people that they can label as such. But if you can go into their cave and, in front of their contemporaries, pull their pants down, you have done something. And that’s what I want to do.”

It’s not about scoring a win. It’s about exposing and choking off a predator that comes to kill.

A Violent Man Conquered by God
André Trocmé was a Huguenot pastor in the French mountain village of Le Chambon when Germany invaded France in 1940. As far as the war was concerned, Trocmé was a non-combatant pacifist. But when the Nazis demanded loyalty oaths and complicity with the deportation of Jews, he defied them openly. “We have Jews. You’re not getting them,” stated an open letter to the Vichy minister dispatched to Le Chambon in 1942. A man who knew which war was worth dying for, he was often described as un violent vaincu par Dieu – a violent man conquered by God. “A curse on him who begins in gentleness,” the pastor wrote in his journal. “He shall finish in insipidity and cowardice, and shall never set foot in the great liberating current of Christianity.”

thorns and nailsLike Pastor Trocmé, Dr. Garvin is by profession a servant of healing. Also like him, he knows which battle is worth taking a bullet for. That’s why, for the sake of a generation subjected to smug SOBs with big egos and long academic tails, he stands not only ready but eager to enter the ring and do violence for the sake of the Truth.

This post first appeared in Salvo 29, Summer 2014

Why We Pray

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In the wake of the Planned Parenthood videos, I thought I’d repost my thoughts after my first visit to Planned Parenthood.

And I would add two things:

(1) It was a very sobering, somber, convicting experience. I believe all of us in America share collectively in some way in the guilt of abortion on demand, whether or not we have participated in abortion. And that includes me.

(2) There is release from the pain and guilt of abortion for all of us, including those who’ve had them, participated in them, or even performed them. There are some outstanding organizations in post-abortion ministry (and men seek out post-abortion healing too; this is not just a woman’s issue). One I’m familiar with is Rachel’s Vineyard, but there are others.

If the revelations coming out about abortion prick your conscience, then here is my counsel for you: Take it to the cross of Jesus Christ. He claimed to be the savior of the world and the Messiah to the Jews who secures forgiveness of all sins, past, present, and future. I think he knew what he was talking about.

Right Angles

“Band of Brothers,” a 2001 ten-part miniseries based on the book of the same name, follows a group of WWII paratroopers, E Company (“Easy Company”), through basic training, the D-Day invasion at Normandy, into occupied France and finally into Germany. Author Stephen Ambrose based his narrative on interviews with Easy Company veterans.

In the ninth episode, “Why We Fight,” the soldiers encounter a whole new realm of evil. It’s April 1945, the war in Europe is all but over, and the men of Easy Company are stationed in the German town of Landsberg awaiting orders. One day a few of them venture out to explore the area. They come to the edge of a forest, and before them stands a high barbed wire fence with a locked gate. Behind it are hundreds, perhaps thousands of dazed, emaciated, starving prisoners.

The men of Easy Company have seen fierce battle, but this…

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— on TV this Saturday —

Mining for God Profile picBrandon McGuire grew up with a Midwestern American view of Christianity. After college, though, he lived for three months in Africa, where he saw a very different kind of lived-out Christianity.

When he came back to America, he started to pay more attention to what people think about Christianity. As he asked questions, both online and on the street, it soon became apparent that people hold all manner of beliefs:

  • Good people go to heaven; bad people end up in hell.
  • All religions are basically the same.
  • It’s about rules.
  • It’s about controlling people.
  • No religion can be the only way to God or spirituality.

Some people didn’t have a clue as to where they got the ideas they hold or why they believe what they believe (none of the above are consistent with orthodox Christianity, by the way). Brandon realized that this was an area of much confusion in America. So he set out to address it rationally. He asked such questions as:

  • What is Christianity?
  • What are some of the ideas that have influenced the way people think about it?
  • Is there any evidence for God in the natural world?
  • If so, how can we know something about this God?
  • Is there such a thing as objective truth, or is truth relative to cultures?

And then he turned an eye to the central event in the Christian narrative – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After all, this claim – that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead – makes Christianity testable:

  • Is there evidence for the resurrection?
  • And if so how credible is it?

He interviews a variety of people – people on the street, former atheists and former believers in other religions, and some of the most seasoned Christian scholars making the case for Christianity today such as William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, J Warner Wallace, Nabeel Qureshi, Lee Strobel, and many more.

The result of all of this inquiry is Mining for God, a one hour, expertly produced documentary that doesn’t preach at anyone or quote the Bible at anyone. Rather, it raises good questions and respectfully offers intelligent food for thought.

You can watch it free this Saturday, July 18th, on AT&T U-Verse Channel 61, Comcast HiDef Channel 436, Comcast Channel 13 (West Palm Beach), Comcast Channel 17 (Vero Beach), and Over-The-Air Channels: 61.1, 61.2, 61.3, 61.4.

If you don’t get those channels, you can watch live online here.

It will air from 10:00-11:00pm and again from 11:00pm-12:00am, Saturday, July 18th.

You really should set your DVR and check this out. It’s excellent. And by the way, I think it’s notable that Brandon’s still in his 20s. If more millennials take this kind of approach to faith, there’s good hope for Christianity in America. Tune in and see if you don’t agree.

Click here for the trailer for Mining for God.

Click here to hear William Lane Craig on, Is science the only path to knowledge?

… and here for another clip from the film.

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Clearing up Cosmos


A Review of The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos: Fact and Fiction in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Landmark Science Series

CosmosDouglas Ell became an atheist as a youth because of misinformation handed down in the name of science. It took him thirty years “to climb out of the atheist hole.” Sadly, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the 2014 series brought to you by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane, and a host of like-minded celebrity atheists, served up thirteen dazzling episodes containing similar misinformation. The series mixed, quoting Jay W. Richards, “one part illuminating discussion of scientific discoveries, one part fanciful, highly speculative narrative, and one part rigid ideology disguised as the assured results of scientific research.”

If you like science, science done well that is, you’ll find invaluable help making sense out of Cosmos with The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos: Fact and Fiction in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Landmark Science Series, an easily readable volume co-authored by Ell, Richards, David Klinghoffer, and Casey Luskin. The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos sorts out, episode by episode, the legitimate science from the liberal doses of materialist philosophy, revised history, and brazen ideology the makers of the series have carelessly (or intentionally?) stirred into the mix. Here’s a sampling:

Materialist Philosophy. Without acknowledging it, Cosmos presupposes a priori the materialist worldview. This should come no surprise. But the makers deceive themselves if they think they’ve dispensed with the religious. Scientific thought, according to Tyson, is the “light” that has “set us free.” And discovering our “long lost cousins” (organisms with similar DNA sequences) can be a “spiritual experience.”

Science History: With respect to history, there are errors of commission, a deceptive retelling of the Giordano Bruno affair, for example, clearly designed to paint Christianity as a mortal enemy of science. And there are errors of omission, such as the utter desacralization of many revered fathers of science (Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, and more) who were men of open Christian piety.

Ideology. In later episodes, Tyson lectures viewers about a dire need to save the planet and casts climate dissenters, who are “in the grip of denial,” as either ignorant or evil – this against a backdrop of cheering Nazis, to round out the propaganda package.

An especially insidious error of omission involves the makers’ failure to even hint that a vigorous debate rages today among scientists. “Cosmos has done a wonderful job of recalling how old mistaken ideas were overturned—ideas about geocentrism, stellar composition, continental drift … and more,” writes Luskin. “However, these are all tales from the annals of scientific history. Cosmos presents current scientific thinking as if it were all correct, with everything figured out. … Tyson never discusses evidence that challenges the prevailing evolutionary view.” This is inexcusable.

Even scientists sympathetic to the makers’ agenda have pointed out serious flaws. “Cosmos is a fantastic artifact of scientific myth making,” wrote science historian Joseph Martin of Michigan State University. Yet, he defends the series including the myth making. Why? Luskin parses Martin’s defense: Because Martin thinks it’s permissible to lie if the lie helps “promote greater public trust in science.” Martin calls this kind of useful lie a “taradiddle.”
Luskin furthermore puts his finger on the million-dollar question the thinking public should be asking: If the science academy is condoning telling us ‘taradiddles’ to curry our trust in science, why should we blindly trust them when they claim that only their “science” can explain the origin of life and the cosmos?

It’s a good question. Indeed. Why?

This article first appeared in Salvo 32, Spring 2015

My testimony

This is way too good not to pass on. She sought; she found.

File this under, “True Science Always Supports True Faith”

SixDay Science

I’ve had numerous requests over the years to write down my personal testimony and post it here. I was asked to give my testimony at a local church here in Austin as part of their Easter celebration, which finally compelled me to write it all down. What follows is an adapted version of that Easter talk.

I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Canada. My parents were socialists and political activists who thought British Columbia would be a better place for us to live, since it had the only socialist government in North America at the time. My parents were also atheists, though they eschewed that label in favor of “agnostic.” They were kind, loving, and moral, but religion played no part in my life. Instead, my childhood revolved around education, particularly science. I remember how important it was to my parents that my brother and I did…

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The Codependent Conjunction of “Gay Christians” and the Gay-Affirming Church

book pictureWhen Harvard sophomore Matthew Vines came out to his parents over Christmas break, both of them affirmed their unconditional love for him right away. But the news was hard for everyone. As Christians, they believed the same thing the church has held for 2000 years – that homosexuality runs contrary to the created order and is therefore sinful and harmful.

A “shattered soul,” Matthew decided not to return to school for spring semester. Instead, he stayed home and set out “to confront homophobia in my conservative Wichita church and find acceptance there as a gay Christian.” By summer, Matthew’s father had changed his mind, and the family subsequently left their “strongly non-affirming” church for one more amenable to their new outlook.

In March 2012, two years after having set out to confront homophobia in the church, Matthew presented the results of his “thousands of hours of research” in an hour-long talk titled “The Gay Debate.” The upshot of it was this: “The Bible does not condemn loving gay relationships. It never addresses the issues of same-sex orientation or loving same-sex relationships, and the few verses that some cite to support homophobia have nothing to do with LGBT people.” The video went viral (more than three quarter million views to date) and Matthew has been disseminating the content of it ever since.

In 2013, he launched “The Reformation Project,” “a Bible-based, non-profit organization … to train, connect, and empower gay Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on homosexuality from the ground up.” At the inaugural conference, paid for by a $104,000 crowd-funding campaign, fifty LGBT advocates, all professing Christians, gathered for four days in suburban Kansas City for teaching and training, At twenty-three years of age, Matthew Vines was already becoming a formidable cause célèbre.

“An Agenda in Search of an Interpretation”
Now, the same message has been published in his 2014 book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Matthew’s larger argument, stated in the introduction, is this: “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” [emphasis in original]. He divides Christians into two groups based on their views regarding alternative sexualities: affirming and non-affirming, and his goal is to turn non-affirming Christians into affirming ones.

He gives three reasons why non-affirmers should rethink their position:

Reason #1: Non-affirming views inflict pain on LGBT people. This argument is undoubtedly the most persuasive emotionally, but Matthew has produced a Scriptural case for it. Jesus, in his well-known Sermon on the Mount, warned his listeners against false prophets, likening them to wolves in sheep’s clothing. Then switching metaphors he asked, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” The obvious answer is no, and Jesus’s point was, you can recognize a good or bad tree – and a true or false prophet – by its good or bad fruit. From this, Matthew concludes that, since non-affirming beliefs on the part of some Christians cause the bad fruit of emotional pain for other Christians, the non-affirming stance must not be good.

Reason #2: The biblical writers did not write from a contemporary understanding of sexual orientation. Ancient societies associated homosexuality with sexual excess – as an out-of-control behavior that anyone might engage in out of hedonistic self-indulgence, and not as a fixed, unchosen characteristic. It is this lustful excess that is prohibited, Matthew suggests, and not loving, committed same-sex relationships.

Reason #3: Traditional, non-affirming interpretations, which imply mandatory celibacy for gay Christians, conflict with traditional teachings of celibacy as a spiritual gift freely chosen. Since Jesus affirmed marriage, and since not all are capable of celibacy, the Bible’s teachings regarding marriage must now conform to our understanding of same-sex orientation. Therefore, loving, same-sex relationships must be affirmed.

After presenting these reasons for taking the affirming side of the gay debate, Matthew spends four chapters explaining how the six biblical passages that specifically mention homosexuality actually mean something other than what they say.

Through it all, Matthew maintains that his approach is thoroughly biblical. And in truth, he does draw liberally from Scripture and in many respects seems to understand central biblical themes. But, as I hope you’ve surmised by now, his attempt to ground affirmation of homosexuality in Scripture travels quite a convoluted route. Biblical studies professor Denny Burk summed it up best when he called it “an agenda in search of an interpretation.”

Matthew Vines in particular, and LGBTs in general, appear to be drivingly fixated on changing other people’s moral outlook. But why? Why are they distressed over the shrinking subset of Christianity that holds to the traditional ethic of sex? Note that Matthew found an affirming church in his hometown, as can most any LGBT-identifying Christian. Affirming churches abound. Gaychurch.org lists forty-four affirming denominations – denominations, not just individual churches – in North America and will help you find a congregation in your area. Why, then, given all these choices for church accommodation, are Matthew and the Reformers specifically targeting churches whose teachings differ from their own?

One gets the sense that LGBTs really, really need other people to affirm their sexual behavior. Certainly it’s human to want the approval of others, but this goes beyond an emotionally healthy desire for relational comity. Recall Matthew’s plea that non-affirming views on the part of some Christians cause emotional pain for others. He, and all like-minded LGBTs, are holding other people responsible for their emotional pain. This is the very essence of codependency.

The term came out of Alcoholics Anonymous. It originally referred to spouses of alcoholics who enabled the alcoholism to continue unchallenged, but it has since been broadened to encompass several forms of dysfunctional relationships involving pathological behaviors, low self-esteem, and poor emotional boundaries. Codependents “believe their happiness depends upon another person,” says Darlene Lancer, an attorney, family therapist, and author of Codependency for Dummies. “In a codependent relationship, both individuals are codependent,” says clinical psychologist Seth Meyers. “They try to control their partner and they aren’t comfortable on their own.”

Thou Shalt … Affirm?
Which leads to an even more troubling aspect of this Vinesian “Reformation.” Not only are LGBT Reformers not content to find an affirming church for themselves and peacefully coexist with everyone else, everyone else must change in order to be correct in their Christian expression.

This is the classic progression of codependency, and efforts to change everyone else become increasingly coercive. We must affirm same-sex orientation, Matthew says. If we don’t, we are “tarnishing the image of God [in gay Christians]. Instead of making gay Christians more like God … embracing a non-affirming position makes them less like God.” “[W]hen we reject the desires of gay Christians to express their sexuality within a lifelong covenant, we separate them from our covenantal God.”

Do you hear what he’s saying? LGBTs’ relationships with God are dependent on Christians approving their sexual proclivities. But he’s still not finished. “In the final analysis, then, it is not gay Christians who are sinning against God by entering into monogamous, loving relationships. It is we who are sinning against them by rejecting their intimate relationships.” In other words, non-affirming beliefs stand between LGBTs and God. Thus sayeth Matthew Vines.

The Evolution of Sexual Understandings
Matthew leans heavily on the contemporary understanding of same-sex orientation, which he says “actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture.” But he doesn’t bother to examine the standing on which this understanding rests. So we should.

The first edition of the DSM listed homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in 1953, and it was considered a mental disorder until it was upgraded to the less toxic-sounding “sexual deviation” in 1973. Was there new information? Did empirical data prompt the change? No, according to the Association of Gay & Lesbian Psychiatrists, “This decision occurred in the context of momentous cultural changes brought on by the social protest movements of the 1950s to the 1970s” in conjunction with the (now debunked) Kinsey studies.

Today, the American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes.” The American Psychiatric Association defines it similarly and adds that it “does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum” and can be “fluid.”

“Attractions” that occur “on a continuum” and can be “fluid.” Notice the vagueries of these definitions. Are there any finite limits that define sexual orientation? Or do distinctions between sexual excess and sexual orientation actually boil down to semantics and subjective identity?

In any event, this is how the “understanding” has evolved: Changing attitudes about sexual excess led to the concept of sexual orientation. And now the concept of sexual orientation requires that attitudes change.

Desires and Identity
But where contemporary culture and the APAs speak in terms of orientation, the Bible speaks of desires that can be deceitful. And, at the risk of oversimplification, sin is less a matter of desires that one feels than the  one actions one chooses to take in response to his feelings. And that is a crucial distinction.

Yuan ProfilePicChristopher Yuan embraced the desires he’d felt from a young age and lived as a prodigal homosexual until a drug-dealing conviction landed him in prison. An HIV+ diagnosis on top of that turned his mind to spiritual matters. He started reading the Bible. He was drawn to Christ, but perceived that his homosexuality presented a problem. So he sought the counsel of the prison chaplain, a nice affirming chap who gave him a book that said he could be gay and Christian, no problem.

“I had that book in one hand and the Bible in the other. I had every reason to accept the book’s assertions to justify same-sex relationships,” but something told him the book was distorting the clear words of the Bible. He realized he would have to make a choice. “Do I walk away from homosexuality? Or walk away from what God teaches?” He chose the former and discovered a new identity as a son of a perfectly holy God. “I eventually realized I’d put great emphasis on ‘being gay.’ Now I needed to place my primary identity in Christ.”

Repentance and Recovery
Recovery from codependency requires taking responsibility for one’s own emotions and behavior. Or, to return to Jesus’s metaphor, it requires that each tree take responsibility for its own fruit, recognizing that fruit proceeds from the root. At the risk of oversimplifying again, whether or not one’s desires change, a Christian becomes a “new tree” by virtue of being accepted by Christ. A new tree, if it would choose Christian maturity, will neither coerce nor construct amenable accommodations for its own bad fruit.

This article first appeared in Salvo 30, Fall 2014


True Blue


A Review of Blue: For Earth. For Humanity. For Freedom
a Jeffrey D. King film

movie-logoJeffrey (JD) King is on a mission to save the earth. As a millennial and lifelong Montanan, he wants to cultivate and preserve the most beautiful, life-filled planet possible. With that desire, he took a critical look at today’s Green movement and asked, Does Green suggest solutions that further those ends? And a related question, Does Green enhance human flourishing? The answer to both questions, he found, is a resounding no. Here are four clear findings from his investigation that flatly contradict Green orthodoxy:

CO2 is a boon. Leighton Steward, geologist and founder of Plants Need CO2, held the established view of CO2 as a pollutant until he conducted a critical examination for himself. As it turns out, many scientists dissent from this Green dogma. Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin says that higher atmospheric CO2 levels are “making the earth a more fertile world,” which shouldn’t flabbergast any of us who recall from third grade biology that CO2 is plant food. Zubrin says photos taken from space since 1958 corroborate the claim, showing a 15% increase in non-agricultural plant growth (jungles, grasslands, forests, etc.) corresponding to a 19% increase in CO2 concentration.

Development is beneficial. “Economic development is actually the best friend of environmental stewardship,” says Calvin Beisner, founder of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Energy production generates productive industry and wealth. The environment is demonstrably better managed and cared for in developed countries than in undeveloped ones because people can afford responsible caretaking.

Population growth is good. Actually, what we should fear is underpopulation, says Beisner. “The world needs more people,” says Zubrin, “because people are not just consumers, people are producers.” The more people there are, the more inventors there are, the greater the divisions of labor, and the faster the rate of technological innovation. “This is why, as the world’s population has gone up, the world’s living standards [have] gone up. And not just in this century … but through all of human history.” We live much better today, he says, because of all the people who lived in the past.

Government rarely helps. While there are a legitimate roles for government, in America, “we’re protecting things to death,” says ecologist and retired USFW ranger Ray Haupt. “Governments have far and away the worst environmental records,” notes Beisner, citing the Soviet Union, China, and the Americas. “The healthiest forests in North America are those forests that are privately owned,” and “the least healthy are the ones that are owned by the US Forest Service.” It’s the people who own and work the land – the farmers, miners, loggers, and foresters, as opposed to centralized bureaucracies – who are best positioned to manage their property, both for their own interests and the interests of their communities.

In sum, King concludes, Green gets the whole thing backwards. It begins with a false, misanthropic outlook – nature good, humans bad – and ends up harming both. A Christian who believes we were created to be stewards of the earth, King proposes replacing Green with Blue. A healthy environment and human prosperity can coexist, he says. In fact, they are interdependent and inextricably linked with proper stewardship of creation. That is what Blue is all about. Humanity’s mission, according to Blue, is to reflect God by enhancing the beauty and fruitfulness of the earth. We do this to the glory of God and for the benefit of our fellow man.


5-AUS_oceanspray-e1392995899175This article first appeared in Salvo 29, Summer 2014.