Evangelical AtheismAccording to its website, The Unbelievers movie “follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.”

Okay, so let’s unpack that a bit and examine the contents of the film in light of its billing.

Science and Reason
Shortly into it, there is a string of clips, apparently taken from an Australian TV show called Q&A, in which (unbeliever) Dr. Dawkins and (believer) Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, participate in an informal debate. Now here’s something to pay attention to, the truly inquiring free thinker might say to himself, rubbing his hands together and preparing to listen up.

But that genuinely curious viewer-listener would be disappointed if he were hoping to hear a scientific or reasoned argument over the existence or nonexistence of God. Or even just a scientific or reasoned argument at all.

Here’s a little snippet from the Q&A:

Cardinal Pell: Most evolutionary biologists today don’t believe … this crude, fundamentalist version of random selection that you have proposed.

Dr. Dawkins: I do not propose it, and I strongly deny that evolution is random selection. Evolution is non-random selection. Non-random.

Cardinal Pell: Oh, so there’s a purpose to it?

Dr. Dawkins: No! [laughs can be heard from the audience]

Cardinal Pell: Could you explain what non-random means?

Dr. Dawkins: Yes, of course I could. That’s my life’s work.

But we never actually get to hear the explanation, if there was one. Oddly, interspersed between the clips of this discussion, we get selected clips from another debate, at another location, between (unbeliever) Dr. Krauss and Muslim (believer) Uthman Badar. When the film cuts back to Dawkins and Pell, the discussion has moved on.

We can surmise, though, from listening between the clips, if you will, that there was mention of discernible purpose in the universe and some reference to the human inclination to look for meaning:

Cardinal Pell: It’s part of being human to ask why we exist.

Dr. Dawkins: The question Why? is not necessarily a question that deserves to be answered.

There are all sorts of questions that people cannot ask. Like, What is the color of jealousy? That’s a silly question. Why? is a silly question.

You can ask, What are the factors that led to something coming into existence? That’s a sensible question. But, What is the purpose of the universe? is a silly question. It has no meaning.

Sadly, we don’t get to hear what Cardinal Pell said next, as the film cuts away again to Krauss and Badar.

Then it cuts back:

Dr. Dawkins: We do have a scientific understanding of why we’re here. And we therefore have to make up our own meaning to life.

We have to stand up, look the world in the face, face up to the fact that we are not going to last forever, we have to make the most of the short time that we have on this planet. We have to make this planet as good as we possibly can and try to leave it a better place than we found it. [applause can be heard from the audience]

And this is, as far as the film is concerned, the end of the Q&A. It’s also the end of any semblance of reasoned argumentation in The Unbelievers of the basic point purportedly at issue: whether there is reason to believe or unbelieve in God.

Encouraging Others to Cast Off … What?
After the two debates, which we see by clips and switches, the film shifts to a ponderous conversation between Dawkins and Krauss. The two are riding in the back seat of a car when Dr. Dawkins expresses some exasperation with the debate format.

Dr. Dawkins: Well, I got thoroughly fed up with BBC type interviews where you have a chairman in the middle and you’ve got an interesting conversation going on between two … there might be [as many as] five people around the table. And A and B are having an interesting conversation. And so the chairman suddenly says, ‘Well, what do you think about this, C?’ totally breaking the flow and spoiling the conversation, all in the interest of balance and things like that.

And it occurred to me, Why on earth do we bother with chairmen? They’re not necessary. Certainly my recent encounter with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford (click here for debate), that was completely ruined by the chairman, who was a philosopher and felt it was his role to clarify things. And of course that meant obscuring things.

The two scientists share a knowing laugh. Those silly philosophers who ask clarifying questions. Don’t they know some questions should not be asked?

And to Embrace … What?
Having cast off those questions that should not be asked or that have no meaning by the fifteen minute mark, the remainder of the film consists mostly of this “Dynamic Duo of Science” traipsing the globe, pontificating together, and speaking to sympathetic audiences about the universe “that can come from nothing,” the multiverse “that can be eternal,” and how we are “endowed by evolution” to create our own meaning during our “brief moment in the sun.”

Look at those phrases again. Does this sound to you like the language of science or the language of religion?

Evangelical Atheism2Later on, the two are riding in the back seat of another car, and we get to listen in:

Dr. Kraus: I guess the best part of communicating is the excitement. Science turns us on. Science is fun. Science excites us. … I feel it’s so fascinating for me that I want to tell people about it.

Dr. Dawkins (looking off into the distance): Carl Sagan said, “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world,” and say to them, “I’m in love with science, and I have to tell the world.”

Do you hear the echoes of religiosity as Dawkins and Krauss pontificate together? These men are not advancing science or reason. These are adherents of an alternative religion.

So don’t ask them silly question they aren’t prepared to answer. Science turns Dr. Krauss on. And Dr. Dawkins? He’s in love, and he has to tell the world about it.

Watch The Unbelievers if you like. But not if you want to hear a discussion based on authentic science or grounded reason. The Unbelievers is about two scientists who are missionaries of Evangelical Atheism.

USAF CellistA typical crowd of tourists, seniors, and schoolchildren on field trips was mulling around the large lobby of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. when a young man, wearing full military dress and carrying a cello, walked toward a chair curiously placed in the center of the large room and sat down. He took up his bow in one hand, stretched his other arm to adjust the sleeve, and began playing with calm, expert finesse.

After the opening measures, another soldier musician approached with a standup bass and joined in. A small riser was brought out, and a graying maestro removed his overcoat and accepted the conductor’s baton from an assistant with a cordial salute. An oboe came in with the melody, followed by strings, brass, clarinets, flutes, even a harp.

Mothers holding children swayed with the music. Faces broke into smiles and wonder. A few people started recording the flash concert on their cell phones.

The crowd has stopped mulling around; the rockets, space capsules and bi-plane hanging from the ceiling are forgotten. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” composed by the great Johann Sebastian Bach and performed by the US Air Force Band under the direction of Colonel Larry H. Lang, Commander and Conductor, is enough to render these museum artifacts, sophisticated as they were in their time, as just so much scrap metal.

Then come the vocals:

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright …

If you look carefully, you can see a few museum-goers wiping away tears while other faces appear close to tears. In fact, you may find yourself reaching for a tissue as you watch.

Now why is this? Why is it that, all those bystanding technological accomplishments notwithstanding, this music has the power to slip right past the intellect and, drawing from unseen wells of emotion we didn’t even know were there, summon the heart to come forth and behold something greater?

Or to phrase the question in the language of science, what is the explanation for this universal phenomenon we call joy? Or rapture? Hold that thought.

Several years ago, I had an interesting conversation with an atheist named Ken. A medical doctor, Ken is very intelligent and articulate. His mother had passed on a few weeks prior, and the conversation turned to his reaction to it. “I was walking down the street Tuesday,” Ken said, “by an antique shop. And I had looked for a particular kind of double-striped cranberry glass that my mother collects. It’s very rare. And every time I go by this antique shop I look to see if they’ve got any in the window. I’ve never seen it. And I realized as I walked by that I never really need to look for that … ” and here his voice broke away. An emotional wave had struck him, seemingly, out of nowhere, and he couldn’t finish the sentence, I never need to look for double-striped cranberry glass again…

He changed the subject and soon afterward ended the conversation. It made me want to cry for him – not so much for the loss of his mother, but for the loss of his ability to grieve the loss. He feels something very deeply, but he’s cut himself off from both the source and satisfaction of that longing. Ken has rejected belief in God for lack of evidence, yet he misses the evidence that springs from the emotional wells of his very soul.

C.S. Lewis wrote about the innate desire for something beyond. That desire is also a form of nascent knowledge. “Most people, if they had really learned to look in their hearts, would know that they do want, and acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.” The human soul was made to enjoy some objects that are “never fully given – nay, cannot even be imagined as given – in our present mode of subjective and spatio-temporal experience.” He called it joy; he also called it longing. A literary critic, he even at times called it Romanticism. This desire, Lewis wrote, is distinct from others in that it is itself desirable. “To have it is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find, is to have it.”

To want to have what? Look at the rest of the words of the first stanza of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” penned by Robert Bridges to be sung to the masterpiece:

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring,
Soar to uncreated light.

Souls aspiring to do what? To soar to uncreated light.

Christmas NightTo rise up to God, to be united, or re-united, with our Maker. Why is Ken moved at the remembrance of his mother? Because God made both him and his mother for eternal relationship, and those relational bonds transcend death. Why are museum-goers moved by beautiful music? Why are we moved by beautiful music? Because God himself is beautiful, and he made us to dwell with him in glory and beauty. It’s part of the created order. We long for it, and we know it.

The tears tell us so.

Related:

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Soviet R-12 intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile (NATO designation SS-4) in Red Square, Moscow

Standoff
On the morning of October 28th, 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, received a cable from Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador in Washington. For nearly two weeks the Soviet Union and the United States had been engaged in a nuclear standoff in the Atlantic Ocean over Soviet missiles in Cuba. Cold War tensions were as high as they had ever been. The cable relayed a message handed to the ambassador by US Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the brother of the President.

The message was direct and clear: Time is running out. The United States is prepared to take strong and overwhelming retaliatory action by the end of the week if Moscow does not immediately agree to withdraw its missiles from Cuba.

By midnight that night Moscow time, about a dozen Soviet ships that had been steaming their way toward Cuba were turning around. Khrushchev had backed down. The Kremlin also announced that all Soviet missile bases in Cuba would be dismantled and returned to Russia and that UN inspections would be permitted to verify the removal. It had been a tenuous game of global chicken, and the Soviet Union had been the first to turn back.

That same evening, General Ion Mihai Pacepa, head of Romania’s Securitate (secret police), went to the residence of Gheorghe Gheordhiu-Dej, General Secretary of the Soviet satellite, to report the end of the Cuban crisis. “That’s the greatest defeat in Soviet peacetime history,” Dej said. Neither Dej nor Pacepa was a fan of the bellicose Khruschev. Although Khruschev had gained favor with the world through “unmasking” Stalin’s crimes and had publicly espoused a policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West, the two Romanian leaders knew Comrade Khrushchev personally. Together they celebrated Khrushchev’s “apocalyptical” humiliation over caviar and champagne.

Payback
But although Kennedy had won this skirmish, Dej remarked that at this point, he wouldn’t give a penny for Kennedy’s skin. Then he made a prediction that is stunning to Western (but not Eastern) ears. “He won’t die in his bed.”

Indeed he would not, as the world would see a scant thirteen months later.

Damage Control: Dezinformatsiya
Four days later, General Alexander Sakharovsky, head of Soviet foreign intelligence, arrived in Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, to brief the Securitate on Operation “DRAGON,” the goal of which was to divert attention from the KGB’s intelligence relationship with Lee Harvey Owsald and to frame instead as the culprit, the CIA.

It was business as usual in the Eastern bloc. “Unlike Western intelligence services, Soviet bloc espionage was not designed to obtain factual information and predict enemy intentions,” wrote Pacepa years later. “The communist tsars used their foreign intelligence services to hide their crimes and to embellish their own stature — in other words, to lie to their country and to the rest of the world.”

And for the most part, the West bought it hook, line, and sinker. Quite likely with the complicity of President Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Reflection
Gen. Pacepa is kind to the members of the Warren Commission, which reported a year later that Oswald acted alone. “We should not blame the Warren Commission for missing the significance of the espionage proof sitting right in their hands. None of its members had any background in counterintelligence analysis. … You cannot expect a plumber to perform heart surgery.”

But a plumber can learn from a heart surgeon who’s willing to teach him. Gen. Pacepa has extensive experience with KGB modus operandi. In Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination, he combines his own knowledge about the KGB’s involvement with Oswald with the evidence assembled by the FBI and other US investigators. In Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, he adds new information that has become available since the publication of Programmed to Kill.

JFK last day

A half-century ago, President Kennedy came to understand the importance of being prepared to use force to protect American sovereignty. Did he pay for it with his life? Probably, Yes. What would have happened had he looked the other way or pursued a policy of appeasement toward the USSR? Thankfully, we will never know.

For that, we do well to pay honor and respect to President John F. Kennedy.

And to learn a little something of modern heart surgery.

Related:

The Dragon of Disinformation
The Assassination of President Kennedy, the KGB, and the Cuban DGI: An alternate version
Disinformation

The Great American Church Fire Hoax

The Campaign
Disinformation-church-fireIn the spring of 1996, a spate of news reports about black church fires in America dominated airwaves and inflamed decent people both at home and abroad. The World Council of Churches (WCC) flew thirty-eight pastors to Washington, DC, to provide government leaders with more information about this racist tragedy. In a June radio address, President Clinton spoke with emotion about his own “vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.” Charging that “racial hostility is the driving force,” he pledged the full power of the federal government to the crisis and put two hundred federal agents on the case.

By late summer, more that twenty-two hundred articles in the press had condemned what the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR) called “a well-organized white-supremacist movement.” The Church Fire Prevention Act of 1996 was signed into law in July, making church arson a federal crime, and $12 million was appropriated for combating fires at churches with black congregations. The National Council of Churches (NCC), the national affiliate of the WCC, took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and several other outlets soliciting donations for its new “Burned Churches Fund.” It reportedly raised nearly $9 million in two days, with contributions continuing at about $100,000/day.

With that kind of money coming in, though, could America really be that racist of a country? Probably not. As it turned out, the whole brouhaha was more media firestorm than actual fire. It was later established by the National Fire Protection Association, a private organization that keeps track of church arson, that the data did not confirm the reports, but rather showed that there had been a dramatic drop in church fires in the years leading up to 1996. Of the few on record, law enforcement officials in the South couldn’t confirm any as having been racially motivated, and despite the president’s vivid and painful memories, no church burnings had occurred in Arkansas during his childhood.

Michael Fumento traced the source of the black church fire media meme to the CDR, whose mission at the time was to work “with progressive activists and organizations to build a movement to counter right-wing rhetoric and public policy initiatives.” The corrections received comparably scant coverage, and most Americans went on about their lives forgetting the whole thing. But even as they did, their country was being slandered as a cauldron of neo-Nazi racism both at home and abroad.

The key to understanding the significance of this lies in the fact that the World Council of Churches and the CDR, both of which ignited and promoted the story, have been the tools of Russian intelligence since the early 1960s. It was classic disinformation, designed to defame.

The TechniqueDisinformation
Disinformation, write Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa and Prof. Ronald J. Rychlak, in Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, is not a synonym for misinformation. The two are as different from one another as night is from day. If the Soviet press fabricated a story and published it through its own outlets, that would be misinformation, and readers in the West would rightly take it with a grain of salt. If, however, the same material appeared in Western media and was attributed to Western sources, that would be disinformation, and its credibility – and therefore it power – would be substantially higher. Since World War II, they write, “disinformation has been the Kremlin’s most effective weapon in its war on the West.”

Disinformation is a science and art born and perfected in Russia. In this his third book, coauthored with Rychlak, a law scholar at the University of Mississippi, Gen Pacepa (pronounced ‘pa-CHEP-a’), the highest-ranking Soviet bloc intelligence officer ever to defect to the West, explains how disinformation works by unraveling some of the most consequential disinformation campaigns of the twentieth century. It’s fascinating reading, covering the Kremlin’s systematic denigration and defamation of Christianity, Judaism, Pope Pius XII, America, and the West through multiple channels and in widely varying communication forms.

But Pacepa didn’t write Disinformation as a matter of historical curiosity. Disinformation has caused worldwide damage to the reputation of the United States. That was a primary Kremlin objective, and it was accomplished stunningly. But now, disinformation is taking root in America itself. That is worse.

The Antidote
To neutralize disinformation, people of conscience must learn to recognize disinformation for what it is because, like the terrorists who killed three thousand Americans on September 11th, 2001, disinformation is usually clothed in innocuous civilian garb.

Gullibility can be costly. Educating the free world is the purpose of Disinformation.

Related:

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“Want a Capri Sun?”

Those were the first words he said to her afterwards. Rachel White, age fifteen, had been anticipating this moment for at least a year. She’d sneaked out on a snowy school night, shoes in hand. Then, wearing nothing but her wet socks,  Ginuwine playing in the background, it was finally happening! Oh my god, she told herself, this is sex! Just move your hips to Ginuwine. When it was over, he locked eyes with her, opened his mouth … and offered her a kiddie drink in a disposable bag.

Nevertheless, delirious in the afterglow, Rachel shared all the details with her friends the following day at school. Soon though, her delirium morphed into a strange agitation. ‘He’ wasn’t her boyfriend or anyone particularly special. They had been “just talking” – her lingo for “just friends” – and since he was cool and good-looking, Rachel had picked him to be the one to whom she would lose her virginity. Once the deed was done, “I wanted something from him. I thought about him every five minutes.” She called him repeatedly, several times a day, until finally, his weary mother asked her to please stop calling. Then depression set in. “I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want to eat. And if Ginuwine came on the radio—forget it.”

Rachel later blogged about her experience and found she wasn’t alone in suffering a post-sex funk. Kate responded, describing her first time this way, “He just sort of rolled off me, he was drunk and probably also high, and I just sat there for awhile and stared at the ceiling while he snored. I remember I got up … thinking, ‘That’s it? What the hell just happened?’” Others recounted stories of writing long embarrassing love letters or drunken explosions at parties. Clearly, joining the sexually initiated doesn’t always pan out as expected.

The Neurology of Sex
Any Grandma or psychotherapist worth her salt could have told them that this was bound to happen. In Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, OB-GYNs Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush explain, from a neurobiological perspective, why it happens and how. “Scientists are confirming that sex is more than a momentary physical act. It produces powerful, even lifelong, changes in our brains that direct and influence our future to a surprising degree,” they write. A single sexual encounter sets off a cascade of changes in a young brain, and modern imaging technology allows researchers to observe those changes more thoroughly than ever before. Hooked explains what they are discovering.

Three neurochemicals in particular are especially involved in sex:

Oxytocin. Oxytocin is the “bonding” chemical. While it is present in both sexes, it’s much more predominant in females. When a boy and girl touch in a meaningful way, even something as simple as a lingering hug, oxytocin is released in the girl’s brain, causing her to desire more of his touch and to feel an increasing bond to him. It also produces feelings of trust in him, whether or not he actually merits it. When sexual intercourse happens, her brain is flooded with oxytocin, causing her to feel connected to him and to continue to need this connection with him, as Rachel discovered. Oxytocin is also released when a mother nurses her newborn, causing similar, though non-sexual, feelings of deep attachment. “The important thing to recognize,” the doctors stress, “is that the desire to connect is not just an emotional feeling. Bonding is real … a powerful connection that cannot be undone without great emotional pain.”

Vasopressin.Vasopressin is the bonding chemical for males. Often referred to as “the monogamy molecule,” it hasn’t been as thoroughly studied as oxytocin, but is known to play a role in bonding, both to the female sexually and to the children that result. In an article titled, The Two Become One: The Role of Oxytocin and Vasopression, Dianne S. Vadney explained it this way,”Essentially, vasopressin released after intercourse is significant in that it creates a desire in the male to stay with his mate, inspires a protective sense (in humans, perhaps this is what creates almost a jealous tendency) about his mate, and drives him to protect his territory and his offspring.”

Dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel-good” or “reward” chemical. When we do something exciting, dopamine floods our brain and produces feelings of exhilaration and well-being. Not surprisingly, it also makes us want to repeat the behavior that produced it. Active in both males and females, dopamine is values-neutral, meaning it rewards pleasurable or exciting behaviors without distinguishing between those that are beneficial and those that may be harmful.

Hooked by Sex
Chemical biology“Sex is one of the strongest generators of the dopamine reward,” the Hooked authors point out. This is not inherently bad, but overstimulation can cause the brain to become relatively resistant to it, leading the indiscriminate to engage in more and more of the same behavior to regain the high, not unlike the spiral of addictive drug use. “For this reason, young people particularly are vulnerable to falling into a cycle of dopamine reward for unwise sexual behavior – they can get hooked on it.” But when the relationships are short-lived, the losses due to breakup are felt in the brain centers that feel physical pain and can actually be seen on a brain scan. It’s not hard to see how multiple relationships, each with its own cycle of bonding and breaking, can lead to profound pain, anxiety, and confusion, especially among teens still far from emotional maturity.

The results can be devastating. A series of studies published between 2002-2007 showed that sexually initiated youth are three times more likely to be depressed than their abstaining peers. The girls were three times as likely to have attempted suicide, and the boys were a whopping seven more likely to have done so. The studies accounted for other mitigating factors in their  lives, ensuring an accurate comparison with their peers.

Natural Chemistry
Rachel White, who now writes for Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, and other sex-focused outlets, offers this suggestion for avoiding the pain of disappointment after first time sex: “Maybe we need to throw out the idea of virginity altogether. Maybe we need to toss away the idea that you ‘lose’ something from a single act. … Perhaps teaching this would help with those depression stats.” In other words, devalue the sex act altogether, starting with the very first one. Lower your expectations, the dismal thinking goes, so you won’t suffer the pain of disappointment.

Rachel can promote disposable sex until the cows come home, but it will never improve the depression or suicide stats. In fact, it will probably make them worse. It’s impossible for the neurochemical aspects of sex to be turned off. Here’s a better idea: Ponder deeply the remarkable work of oxytocin and vasopressin. Consider how the biochemistry of sex appears to be marvelously fashioned for the purpose of forging marriage and family bonds. See sex that way. And then act accordingly. Go with instead of against your natural chemistry.

And finally, lest the cheap sex authors convince you that sexual restraint equals sexual repression, reflect on the serendipitous, dual sex ministrations of dopamine. Only regular, monogamous sex keeps the dopamine rushes coming, strengthening the marital bond, infusing feelings of personal well-being, and smoothing the inescapable bumps that come with living together and, if fortune smiles, raising children. All that without the pain and fear of breakup.

This article first appeared in Salvo 24, Spring 2013

hooked-science-casual-sex-wide

Related:

Below is evidence of the societal black hole that the PPACA (I refuse to call it Obamacare because there’s nothing caring about it) health care legislation will suck us all into if it’s not repealed in full. Pay attention to the real-life stories testimonies and share them everywhere you can. Even now, we hang on the event horizon of this social abyss,

The Matt Walsh Blog

On Sunday night, I wrote a short post soliciting stories from my readers about how Obamacare has already immediately impacted their lives. I asked that all of these emails be directed to ObamacareMakesMeSick@Yahoo.com. I expected a response; I didn’t expect it to be quite so overwhelming.

Over the last 24 hours, my inbox has been flooded with hundreds of emails. What you’ll read in this post represents a portion of them. I’m only one guy (with a fulltime job and twins) — I wasn’t able to go through every single message just yet. Some, I left out because the information was too specific and personal, to the extent that it would reveal the identity of the person who sent it. Some, I couldn’t include because they are simply (well written and accurate) editorials about Obamacare, but they don’t speak to the personal, physical impact of Obamacare on American families. Others…

View original post 22,472 more words

Doonby: Every Nobody is Somebody

Doonby Film Promo PhotoJust who is Sam Doonby? That’s the question everyone in the honky-tonk town of Smithville wants to know after a good-looking but mysterious “Golden Boy” hops off a bus and takes up residence in the one-horse town 40 miles east of Austin, Texas.

A wandering poet-philosopher, Sam Doonby does good wherever he goes, but he also seems to attract trouble like still water attracts mosquitoes. Most people like him at first, but before long, the local equilibrium is strained. Without any intention of doing so, Sam Doonby stirs pots, upsets apple carts, and occasionally digs up a dark deed which the doer thought was long buried. The townsfolk of, shall we say, disrepute – women and men – are thrown off kilter. Before long, something’s got to give, but what does give packs a power punch that will surely take you by surprise.

Doonby has been in the works for a long time. Born in the mind of British writer/director Peter Mackenzie more than seventeen years ago, production officially got underway after Mackenzie took his script to veteran film producer Mark Joseph in 2009. It’s full of intrigue, action, and suspense. One reviewer called it a psychological thriller.

“Marketing Doonby has been challenging in the sense that it is, at its core, a mystery,” said Mike Mackenzie, Peter’s son, who joined the production team as co-producer. “With that in mind, we have to be careful what we give away and what we hold back, but we know from the screenings that we have done that and our audience is going to be there when it hits theaters.”

I’m not going to give away what happens, either. But I will tell you this: like its lead character, the film is not easily categorized. It’s neither pro-life nor pro-choice, neither political nor religious. It’s just a story, set in a town, and lived out by people, people whose lives matter because every nobody is somebody.

DoonbySmithville Water TowerAnd while it’s not family-unfriendly, a lot of the action takes place in a bar and mature themes are probed, so consider it appropriate for adolescent and older viewers. Release date in theaters is set for November 1st, 2013.

And do consider it. See it, talk about it, and ponder it deeply. Good things come from good thinking, and Doonby will make you think.

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Click here to contribute to the Doonby crowd-funding campaign through October 10th. Every $10 buys you one virtual raffle ticket to win an autographed guitar from John Schneider. See more offers and prizes here.

$10 gets you one “virtual” raffle ticket
$10 gets you one “virtual” raffle ticket

Unstoppable

Unstoppable

When a young friend died at the tender age of 15, Kirk Cameron was left wrestling with the perennial faith-breaking questions, Why does God allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Matt had lived a full 2/3 of his young life with cancer. His parents were good people. They loved God, even as they had to watch their son slip away. Kirk loved God too, but he had a hard time reconciling the seemingly senseless pain of life on this earth with the Christian doctrines of a sovereign and loving God.

Is it that God loves his creatures but can’t prevent the things that cause suffering? Or could he prevent them, but doesn’t really love people enough to bother? Well, no. The Bible tells us that God is both fully loving and completely sovereign. This leaves honest Christians with something of a personal/theological puzzle. How to reconcile the two absolutely good characteristics of God with the inescapable (and ultimately inevitable) pain of suffering and death in the world?

His most authentic and vulnerable production to date, Unstoppable is the product of Cameron’s search for satisfying answers. Part Bible exposition and part visual diary, Unstoppable dramatizes and records his personal Q&A journey with God. It’s one fruit of his own suffering, if you will.

There’s life and death seriousness in Unstoppable – this man is not one to shy away from something just because it’s hard. But there’s also some comedy: Imagine you were going to make a film about the biblical story of the flood, and the central character was going to be God. From a storytelling point of view, this is a hard sell.

Nonetheless, Cameron dons his Sunday best and goes before a committee of Hollywood big shots bearing “Hollywood Pitch: The Flood.” It goes something like this:

Cameron: The setting for the story is the apex of evil. Humanity is destroying itself. Then God steps in and raises up a man named Noah. He has a heart after God and is blameless in his sight.

Exec 1: Hero, hero

Cameron: And he begins calling everyone to turn back to God.

Exec 1: He’s the savior

Cameron: And God commissions him to build a giant ship.

Exec 2: Like a cruise ship?

Exec 3: Oooh, cruise ship; that’s a good idea. We could go with that.

Exec 1: Midnight buffet! (laughing) How many desserts can you have at 1:00 in the morning?

Cameron: Guys, this is not about a cruise ship. It’s a three-story, massive, cargo barge  –

Exec 1: [gets a quizzical look on his face]

Cameron: – with Noah, his family, and some animals.

Exec 2: Alright, this is where the family comes in. The animals could talk to each other. Kids love animals.

Cameron: No. You see, there’s a complete deluge of the entire world, and everyone –

Exec 1: Yeah, I can see it. Everyone gets on these floating cities and –

Exec 2: – and everyone forms, like, a republic?

Cameron: No floating cities. One ship. With Noah. And his family. And all the animals.

Exec 1: Where are all the people?

Cameron: [pause] Drowned.

Exec 1: Whoah, whoah, whoah –

Exec 2: It kinda portrays God as the enemy here.

Cameron: The reason God does this is –

Exec 3: If we go back to the boat and the animal thing … the more I visualize this, I see this more as a cartoon kind of thing.

And the beat goes on. The execs like the idea of the family, the adventure, the talking animals, and the rainbow. They really like the rainbow. Exec 3 can already see the spike on Pinterest. But Cameron wants to stay true to the story. In the end, the execs tell Kirk they love him. And they love the story. All except the part about God and what really happened.

Do you see what they’ve done here? They want to rewrite the story according to what works for them. “That’s the story people want to hear,” says Exec 1.

The scene is staged for maximum comic effect. It’s like a scene from The Office. But there’s a very serious point to be made through it. We can be like those execs. After all, don’t we all want to rewrite the story of life according to what works for us?

But then, when the world doesn’t act according to our script, we don’t know what’s going on. We get angry. Or depressed. Or both. We don’t get it. And we gnash our teeth at God. Whether we believe in him or not.

Perhaps we don’t “get” God because we don’t want God. We have not paid attention to what he has already told us. We have instead rewritten the story of our life according to what works for us. And then, when we find ourselves at odds with life, or when tragedy strikes and we reel in confusion, not only do we not understand, we don’t even know where to look to seek understanding. We wrote God out of our story.

Meanwhile God’s story goes on. And it’s not over. God, who is exceedingly patient and gracious, still calls all of us to repent and seek him. Sometimes that happens as a result of suffering. For some of us, it doesn’t happen any other way.

Unstoppable2Cameron has produced a beautiful and brutally honest film, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Dedicated to Matthew James Sandgren, May 2nd, 1997 – August 23rd, 2012, the Q&A session between Cameron and God ends with satisfying answers. Satisfying enough, at least, for the time being. The name “Unstoppable is fitting, but I had to watch all the way to the end to figure it out.

You should too.

Unstoppable will premier September 24th. Get your tickets here.

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Chicken Little Redux

A Review of Roosters of the Apocalypse: How the Junk Science of Global Warming Nearly Bankrupted the Western World, by Rael Jean Isaac

Roosters of the ApocalypseBeginning in April 1856, after decades of frontier skirmishes with British colonial powers, the Xhosa tribe of current day South Africa stopped planting crops, slaughtered their cattle, and destroyed their grain stores. Now why would any clear-thinking people do this? Well, they had acted on the prophecy of a teenager. She had said spirits told her that, if the Xhosa would do these things, then the golden age that had existed before the white invasion would be restored, and they would then see an era of increased prosperity. Did that happen? Well, no. By the end of 1857, an estimated third to half of them were dead, and the British corralled survivors into labor camps and assumed control of the land.

Rael Jean Isaac opens Roosters of the Apocalypse with this true story to make a very important point: Despite modern advancements and scientific enlightenment, we may have more in common with the Xhosa than we think.

Apocalyptic movements have much in common, says Richard Landes, a historian with Boston University. They have initiators, promoters he likens to “roosters” – because they crow an exciting message. They have skeptics, “owls” who caution against unwarranted drastic action, and they have a mass of followers who must choose whom to believe. Furthermore, they follow a common lifecycle: (1) In the first wave, the roosters break onto the public scene and begin building mass. Next (2) comes the breaking wave, when the roosters’ message dominates public life. This is followed by (3) a long churning phase, when the inertia of the movement carries it furiously forward despite failed predictions and mounting evidence that the owls were right. And finally, (4) as the wave recedes, the owls are vindicated, but much damage has been done and the consequences remain.

Examining Climate Change Churn
Isaac applies this explanatory metaphor to the climate change movement. “From a political point of view, climate change must still be counted a breaking wave,” she writes. “It continues to dominate public life because the preponderance of political, academic, environmental, and media elites, as well as a significant segment of business leaders remain committed roosters. Intellectually it’s another story.”

Subsequent chapters lay out the facts of that other story – from the massive intellectual fraud perpetrated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), now dubbed “Climategate;” to the convoluted scheme of trading the fictitious commodity known as carbon credits, which amounts to nothing more than a huge tax on energy; to the economic black holes surrounding the quest for renewable energies – to show that the movement, far from being grounded in scientifically established fact, is basically irrational, ideological, and profoundly anti-science.

Most helpful, Isaac delves into the movement’s history to suggest a diagnosis for the driving force behind it all. “From the beginning, energy, not pollution was the chief target of environmental roosters,” she writes. In so doing, she succinctly exposes the movement as a pernicious drive to undo human achievement. Tying a political tourniquet on energy production is merely the means du jour for pursuing the end, which is pure destruction.

Her application of Landes’s metaphor fits way too close for comfort. Despite warm fuzzies we might feel about protecting the earth, the warning should compel reasonable people to apply sound judgment before cackling along with the roosters. Western civilizational strength and human livelihoods hang in the balance. “How ironic it will be,” she concludes, “if despite our pride in bringing down the Soviet Union without a shot, the twenty-first century, thanks to our self-destructive pursuit of an apocalyptic fantasy, belongs to a Communist dictatorship?”

‘Ironic’ doesn’t even come close. Contemptible would be more like it. Don’t be a stooge for the destroyer, and don’t let such destruction happen with your consent.

This article first appeared in Salvo 22, Fall 2012.

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Womens-bs2

Life Coaching: the New (but Maybe Not So Improved) Counseling

The setting: a kitchen table in a suburban Midwestern home, four women seated around one end, coffee or ice water within reach, a book, pencil, and paper set before each one. The scene has been repeated weekly for some months now, usually, as today, with me included. Of late, we’ve been working our way through a Bible study on prayer, one chapter a week. Sometimes one of us takes issue with the author. At other times we disagree among ourselves. At all times, barring major schedule conflicts, we come back each Tuesday because we find it rewarding intellectually, spiritually, and relationally.

Rethinking Depression
On this particular morning, we reflected on some of the challenges we’ve grappled with over recent years. Some would certainly qualify as grounds for clinical depression in more formal settings, yet none of us identify ourselves as “depressed.” I thought about this as I read Rethinking Depression, the newest book by family therapist turned “life coach” Eric Maisel. The back cover had plugged it as a “deconstruction of the ‘mental health industry'” that “busts numerous myths about why people have the so-called mental illness of depression,” and Part One delivered well on that promise.

Maisel argues that the ordinary human condition of sadness, a common phenomenon traditionally called melancholia, has in recent decades been exploited and medicalized by professional psychiatry and an aggressive pharmaceutical industry. As a result, social forces now direct us to diagnose the often temporary feelings as “the mental disorder of depression” and then to seek “treatment” for them from the mental health industry, which happens to consist of psychiatrists and pharmaceutical manufacturers. “Mental disorders come into existence by virtue of a handful of people in a room deciding that a phenomenon ought to be called a mental disorder. Once this naming occurs and is codified, the rest of the profession goes along with the naming, and the general population follows,” he wrote. “The system is designed to turn ordinary human experience into categories of disorder, trapping in any real disorders with the concocted ones. This bad science couples intellectual shoddiness with venality to produce tens of millions of ‘patients’ annually.”

Fees are collected and prescription drugs sold, generating economic activity and a variety of neurochemical alterations in patients’ brains, but perhaps not much else. Voices as diverse as Time magazine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Scientific American have raised credible doubts as to whether antidepressants work any better than placebos.

In light of those doubts, Maisel’s deconstruction struck me as a welcome breath of fresh air. Certainly feelings of sadness are unwanted, but it does not follow that they are abnormal in a medical sense. “It is a grave mistake to make every unwanted aspect of life the symptom of a mental disorder,” he asserted. Yes! I thought. We were clipping along, Dr. Maisel and I, until I got into Part Two, his prescription for overcoming the blues.

Reinventing Meaning
Maisel promotes a “new psychology,” a pseudo-academic approach he has christened niometic psychology, “the new psychology of meaning.” In doing so, he has rightly identified the innate human need for meaning. We want and need to live for something that matters, and we want and need to know that we matter. But he has wrongly positioned the locus of meaning squarely within the self. Instead of beginning with the questions, What really matters? as if there exists some objective, transcendent meaning to life, and How should I orient my life’s activities in reference to it? as if one finds satisfaction in life by discovering it and living accordingly, his approach begins by asking, What matters to me?

A 163-page train wreck proceeds from there. “‘Meaning,’ the shorthand word for ‘what matters to us,’ is primarily a subjective psychological experience,” he pronounces without providing any support for the bald proclamation. And “since meaning is a subjective psychological experience, you are in a position, as with any other subjective psychological experience, to participate in influencing it, manipulating it, and creating it.” In other words, the meaning of your life is all in your mind, and since it’s all in your mind, you are the source and determiner of it. Once you realize this, you “are suddenly in the position of never running out of meaning again: it is a wellspring, a renewable resource, and in a sense that is more real than metaphoric, infinite.”

infinite loop imageDid you follow that? Here it is minus the lofty language: You make your own meaning, and then the meaning you made makes your life have meaning. There is nothing infinite about this, except that if it took the form of a computer program, it would be stuck in an infinite loop. It’s circular reasoning, beginning and ending with the self.

Life Coaching: The New Counseling
Maisel has adopted the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, commonly called existentialism (Your life means whatever you decide it does), invented a new name for it (noimetic psychology), and deployed it as therapy under the banner of life coaching. Life coaching is the new counseling.

In a sense, the new branding suggests a refreshing paradigm shift, with its emphasis on a relationship in which one person comes alongside another to help him attain his personal best. Etymologically, ‘coach’ comes from earlier words regarding transportation; think ‘cart’ or ‘carriage.’ The sense of ‘instructor’ arose, as did its use in athletics, in the 1800s in reference to a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam, and the shift toward counseling connotations followed much later, when football coach Benjamin Karter took up motivational speaking in the 1970s.

Since then, life coaching has blossomed into a bouquet of niche specialties. Need help navigating the marketplace? Career, business, and executive coaches will help you in return for fees ranging from the modest $50 to upwards of $300/hour. The budget-challenged can hire a financial coach, and the relationship-challenged, a conflict, victimization, or dating coach, depending on the nature of the relationship in distress. If you prefer a coach with a Christian bent, those are out there too, and for general help with life challenges, a smorgasbord of all-purpose life coaches stand eager to tender services.

Coachee’s Caveat Emptor
To be sure, any of these may prove helpful for getting you through a tight spot in life, but careful screening is a must. Just like any professional, a prospective counselor-coach offers knowledge, expertise, and time in return for a fee. A personal trainer, for example, will mine his knowledge of exercise physiology to help you set reasonable goals, devise a regimen to achieve them, and then work the regimen with you. A similar process would ensue with a financial coach. If all goes according to plan, the fees you pay will be money well spent.

But what is the base of knowledge from which a life coach coaches? Whereas physiology begins with the hard sciences of anatomy and physics, and finance with basic math, a life coach’s counsel begins with his outlook on life. This is a whole different category of knowledge, not a matter of hard science but of one’s personal philosophy.

And that begins with one’s view of God. Maisel, to use him as an example, begins with the presupposition that God either doesn’t exist or is irrelevant. This explains why he recognizes no transcendent point of reference for meaning in life, but it also indicates that the ‘wisdom’ he offers will ultimately be groundless, as it will spring, presumably, from the same, self-referential and vacuous, What matters to me? It will either direct you back to yourself – What do you experience as meaningful? – a question you may as well discuss over coffee with a friend for free, or it will be based on his own subjective experience of meaning – What matters to me? being the admitted wellspring from which his life’s meaning flows.

Ponder for a moment the absurdity of a counselor who makes meaning (and a living) for himself by counseling clients to make meaning for themselves in whatever way they make meaning for themselves. Other life coaches take an approach similar to that of 12-Step programs, appealing to “whatever Higher Power you recognize.” This works fairly well for the purposes of 12-Step but is dubious at best for general life counsel, as it’s still precariously self-referential. One must choose his counselors wisely.

For kicks, I took a free online quiz from Coach Training Alliance (CTA) to see if I have “what it takes” to be a Certified Life Coach. I answered all ten questions with the bland ‘Somewhat Agree.’ “Not bad,” responded CTA, according to whom I can become a Certified Coach “with paying clients and a growing practice – in just 6-months.” Not only that, if getting started seems overwhelming to me, I can “land coaching clients” by  hiring Client Acquisition Partners (CAP) to make cold calls for me. CAP “will sell business owners into FREE phone consultations” with me because they’ve made it their business to set me up for success.

Are you ready to buy in yet?

Resetting the Locus of Meaning
Pursuit of God in Company of FriendsMe neither. Which brings me back to my cherished friends around the table. In The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends, Richard Lamb suggests that what people are really looking for in life is God, not just ideas about God, but God himself. To satisfy that desire, he recommends cultivating deep friendships with others whose lives are shaped by the same pursuit. This is what my friends and I do together. Life is hard. We know that by now. But we’ve managed to navigate it thus far without sinking into “the mental illness of depression” or the delusion of self-made meaning, in part I believe, because we look together to the self-existing Author of life, who is himself a better and more reliable source for truth.

With this as our immovable reference point, we coach, counsel, and carry one another through the perennial challenges of holding a marriage together, raising children, and maintaining a semblance of equanimity in a hostile culture. These things matter, we know, because God made those people, put them in our lives, and has tasked us with loving and serving them on his behalf. The mission involves a host of unpleasant feelings, but it is infinitely meaningful, not because we experience it as meaningful, but because the infinite God who is the determiner of all meaning says it is.

If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, though, for a limited time I’m offering FREE phone consultations …. Haha, just kidding.

This article first appeared in Salvo 24, Spring 2013