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4.30.2007    |    Not too much faith, however
Tony Auth cartoon

As reported in the Washington Post, This from an academic who studies the role of faith in the public square: "We want people of faith, but we don't want them making decisions based on their faith." The issue at hand is the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal law banning partial-birth abortions.

Did you know that all five of the justices who formed the majority are...Catholic. Oh my God. Where's Guy Fawkes when you need some papists to blame for everything? The Post article asks, "Is it significant that the five Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold the federal ban on a controversial abortion procedure also happen to be the court's Roman Catholics?" It then goes on to report on several idiotarians-cum-bigots on the matter.

The article, surprisingly for the WaPo, actually sheds light on the anti-Catholic (anti-religious, actually) bigotry so prevalent among the abortion-on-demand left. What one academic (Stone, University of Chicago) wrote is illuminating:
What then explains this decision? Here is a painfully awkward observation: All five justices in the majority in Gonzales are Catholic. The four justices who are either Protestant or Jewish all voted in accord with settled precedent. It is mortifying to have to point this out...

[In finding that there was a moral reason for upholding the ban, Stone added, the majority failed] to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality.
Well spoken, for someone who appears to know nothing about religion as actually practiced in the United States. I have to assume that Stone is an atheist, or, perhaps, attends a feel-good church or synagogue from which sins have been banished, and all are welcome and automatically forgiven.

It is mortifying to have to point this out, Mr. Stone, but from whence do you suppose morality comes? It is not necessarily Catholic (or Protestant or Jewish), but morality comes to our society from one essential source: religion. Not any particular denomination or liturgy. Rather, from the Bible. The Bible, that is, that is essentially the same (notwithstanding the Apocrypha, which don't alter the basic truths on morality) whether used by Catholics, Anglicans, or Protestants. And Jews, of course, share the same Hebrew Scriptures, and if one just wished to stop there one would still have the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and love thy neighbor as thyself (Leviticus 19:18). Pretty firm foundation for morality; At least Jesus seems to have thought so...

One may argue as to whether non-Christian societies have the same morality, but whether they do is besides the point. Our morality happens to come from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Old, and New Testaments.

The notion that five justices of the Supreme Court are Catholic, and thus their opinions must not reflect the moral teachings of Roman Catholicism is bigoted. And should not be tolerated on the left, or on the right.

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4.29.2007    |    Do the Limbo Rock
"How low can you go?" is the refrain, in Chubby Checker's Limbo Rock. Back-wrenching rituals aside, the Catholic concept of limbo has come on some hard times. A wholly man-made creation, the Roman church has nonetheless denied comfort and burial in consecrated ground to countless generations of unbaptized infants who die without the benefits of a Catholic baptism.

What is truly vile about this practice? It that placed tradition, wholly man-made, not mentioned in Scripture, as what the laity could expect from their church. And it did so in the worst kind of top-down, hierarchical fashion. Cardinals, bishops, and priests in charge. The rest of you unwashed, just pray, pay, and obey.

It looks as if the Catholic Church has now seen, to a limited extent, the error of establishing limbo. Looks like Benedict XVI is going to allow the concept of limbo to recede into limbo. From a Washington Post article:
The Vatican commission stressed that there is no mention of limbo in the Bible and that it was never a part of church dogma. Nor, by the way, is the commission's own advisory opinion. But there is little doubt that Pope Benedict XVI agrees with its conclusion. In a 1985 book-length interview, "The Ratzinger Report," then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said limbo was "never a defined truth of faith," and "personally . . . I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis."
Indeed. "Only a theological hypothesis." As is, of course, the notion that baptism qua baptism has saving power. Without the baptism of a believer enabled by the Holy Spirit, baptism is just a bath. Or sprinkle; method isn't important. God knows what's in the believer's heart.

But then, I'm a Baptist, and you know how confused we can be...


4.27.2007    |    Yeshua
Descent from the Cross by Marc ChagallMarc Chagall's images have always been special to me, especially because of the artist's affinity to biblical themes. I also shared, up to a point in my life, Chagall's secular Judaism.

When I came to accept Christ as Lord, at first I thought I had left Judaism behind. After several years as a Christian, however, I now recognize an essential truth: what we call Christianity is merely fulfilled Judaism. And that Christians who think that the Hebrew Scriptures are, somehow, not part of their faith, are quite mistaken.

What brought this to mind was an article in today's Wall Street Journal on Chagall's fascination with our fellow Jew, Yeshua of Nazareth. Greek translation: Jesus.

The article, appropriately titled "A Jewish Artist Haunted By the Face of Jesus" includes this discussion of an unusual Christian group and the author's appearance before the group to discuss the artist:
The topic of Chagall usually elicits a strong Jewish response -- reproductions of his works are ubiquitous in Jewish homes, images that seem to evoke shtetl life. But these people were members of an unusual local Christian congregation who referred to Jesus as Yeshua and who blew the shofar whenever a new family joined their church. They gave me an illustration that merged Jewish and Christian iconography. An explanation on the back presented some surprising symbology. The Torah scrolls were said to represent Jesus.
As a Jew who is a Christian, this is hardly a surprise. What it is, is simply a restatement of the opening of John's gospel. John 1:1 reads:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Torah is considered by believing Jews to be the Word; dictated by God to Moses at Sinai. No exegesis, just the literal word of God as written down by Moses.

To me, the Gospel of John is hard evidence of the very Jewish nature of what came to be called Christianity. John was a Jew, wrote as a Jew, and thought as a Jew. The Book of Revelation should attest to the transcendental nature of John's faith. As does the very first line of his gospel.

The Word is God; the Word is Torah. The Word is Jesus.


4.18.2007    |    No evidence of Jesus
The culture wars continue, albeit sometimes beneath the radar. As an example, consider this from Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus today:
Finally, a story about NPR. I haven’t listened to it for years — since the 1980s? — but I happened to hear it a couple of weeks ago. I was with someone who had it on. And I listened with wondering ears.

They were doing a segment on a man who had been a Christian missionary deep in the Amazon jungle. It seemed a warm, positive story. “Huh — this is interesting,” I thought. “Maybe I should rethink NPR.”

The narrator recounted that the man had learned the language of the tribesmen, a remarkable feat. But his “proselytizing” — NPR’s word — wasn’t going so well. The ex-missionary said (and I paraphrase), “I told them there had been this man, Jesus, who was killed, and then came back to life. They said to me, ‘Did you see this?’ I said no. They said, ‘Do you know anyone who saw this?’ I again had to say no.”

Long story short: The missionary discarded his religious beliefs; the natives, as NPR said, wound up “converting him.”

So, a happy ending! A perfect, happy, NPR ending! It was just beautiful.

But here’s the kicker: This segment was broadcast Easter morning. It was the perfect Easter gift to the American people from their public radio.
Great story, and so typical. It's one reason that I, too, don't listen to NPR talk radio. Too predictable. But Jay's vignette got me thinking about an analogy, about how we commonly have faith in many things that we neither have seen nor done.

Example: you drive a car, and you know that the car has brakes that will stop you when you need to. Well, at least most of us do; some of us have had cars where one's faith in the brakes would have been misplaced...

But getting back to most of us and the brakes on our cars, how many of us can design and build those brakes? Or really know how they work? Or, for that matter, know any person, friend, relative, or acquaintance, who does? And yet, we all assume that those brakes will work.

It's called faith, albeit of a different sort, but still, it is an informed belief: we think we know, we hope we know, we have faith that we know. Know that brakes are designed by engineers and built by craftsmen who know what they're doing. In the absence of actually seeing those designers and craftsmen, we still believe.

So, too, do we take the divinity of Jesus Christ, and his atoning death, and his resurrection as being true.


4.16.2007    |    Root cause
I just happened to turn on the news, and caught the horrific news of 22 dead in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. May God have mercy on the dead; may He comfort those who grieve for them. Reports are sketchy at this hour, although according to this report at Fox News, the shooter is among the dead.

How can a God-fearing Christian handle this kind of violation of God's law? How can a loving God, a God who promises all of humankind eternal life through Jesus Christ, fail to protect the innocent?

The best answer to the first, and it's taken me my entire life to come to this realization, is that mankind is, truly, a fallen species. We have the stain of original sin, defiance of God, which brought us to our sorry state of sin. One need not be a biblical literalist to believe that mankind carries this stain on his soul. One need only look at the evidence from all recorded history, not excluding biblical history, of course.

Men do evil, men do good. Both are part of our natures, and, often, but not usually, the good will shine through. I prefer to believe that when men are good, they are allowing the God that lives within each and every one of us to dominate. In different words, when we do good we are turning towards God.

In contrast, the Virginia Tech shooter turned away from God. Which is another way of saying that he allowed Satan to gain control. God's Son, Jesus, we are told, is a sure way for us to succeed at turning away from Satan and towards God.

This is true, and Jesus' atoning death is sufficient. What we sometimes lack, however, is the will to know this, and to follow Jesus. One may attribute the failure of so many men and women to truly follow Jesus to predestination (which is convenient; it blames God in a way) or just bad luck. I believe that we won't know for sure until the end times, and that in the here and now it is up to us to heed the call.

Jesus did the heavy lifting. All we need do is know that, confess Him Lord, and turn towards God. Easy to say; awfully hard to do.

The killer in Blacksburg is fresh evidence of how very hard this can be.


4.12.2007    |    Militant Atheists
There is no one who quite so fanatical about his faith as a self-declared atheist. And, after thousands of years of taking it lying down, they're getting militant. At least in Europe, according to this fascinating article (subscription required) in the Wall Street Journal.

Atheists have been with us since the beginning of civilization. Also from the WSJ, this summary of the Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 B.C.):
Socrates was a philosopher in Athens, where he was known for drawing close connections between knowledge and virtue and for his identification of the human soul as the source of both consciousness and character. In 399 B.C., when he was about 70 years old, he was accused and convicted of religious heresies -- including atheism -- and of having corrupted the country's young people. Sentenced to death, he was given a draft of poisoned hemlock.
Atheists have been annoyed ever since. The rise of militant atheism in Europe, however, seems to have more to do with the same old, same old: power. Unfortunately, the militant atheists are absolutely on the mark when they accuse the Church, by which they really mean the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church, of, well, fill in any horror you wish. The Catholic Church in Europe has done them all, usually in the name of "preserving the faith."

Yes, of course, the Church has also helped preserve the knowledge of the ancient world, and, by any objective account, has served as one of the great engines of capitalism and progress in all things. Unfortunately, at a heinous price; a price paid by those who valued freedom of conscience more that obedience to the Bishop of Rome and his hierarchy.

Europe's Christian background should never, however, be denied or swept under a rug because it is far from perfect. It is what it is. It must also be said that Europe gave birth to true Protestantism, to a true freedom of conscience to worship as a Christian. And, after the Scottish Enlightenment, to not worship if that is what one's conscience dictates.

But, as I've said, it's really all about power. From the Journal:
As with many fights involving faith, Europe's struggle between belief and nonbelief is also a proxy for other, concrete issues that go far beyond the supernatural. In this case, they involve a battle to define the identity of a continent.

Half a century after the 1957 Treaty of Rome laid the foundations for the now 27-nation European Union, Europe has secured peace and prosperity. But it is deeply uncertain about what binds the bloc together beyond mere economic self-interest. Says Ms. Armstrong: "There is a big fight going on to define European civilization."
A thing as vast and sweeping as a "civilization" is not likely something subject to definition by a bunch of Eurocrats. Suffice to say, Europe is the heartland of Western Christianity. For better, and for worse. Speaking as an inheritor of that civilization, I say "thank you" to the brave souls who held out against the tyranny of establishment churches, Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant. But I must also say "thank you" to the many thousands of devout Christians of all confessions who paved the way, and worshiped in quiet humility regardless of who claimed the throne.

The current wave of atheists, who put their faith in man and in princes, are doomed to ultimate failure. As the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 146:3. "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help."

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4.08.2007    |    Belief
He is risen indeed! Jesus defeats death, should read the headline in all major news outlets. Of course, they will not have any such headlines; it would require that the reporters and editors had some measure of belief. Belief, not of the sort that can be confirmed by scientific experiment. Belief, of the sort whose negation is not "unbelief," but, rather, disobeying God.

Let's try that from another perspective. "Belief" in the risen Savior is a synonym for "faith": faith in God's promise of salvation; faith that God became man and died a most heinous death to put paid our sins.

Today, of course, is Resurrection Sunday, and what, exactly, did we do to earn this gift? Nothing. We remain vile sinners, hoping for regeneration through our belief.

Why believe in the Resurrection? Perhaps because it's true? But we should always recall Doubting Thomas, who is one of us. From John 20:
24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin,[c] was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe."

26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Blessed, indeed.

Happy Easter.


4.04.2007    |    Lions, tigers, and Mormons, oh my - redux
Late last year, I posted my thoughts on having a Mormon, Mitt Romney, as our president. Now that Gov. Romney appears to be gaining on Rudy and McCain, it appears that the mainstream media is focusing, with greater focus, on Mormonism in the public square.

Case in point is the front-page story in the WaPo featuring those creepy, stick-together-no-matter-what LDSers. Well, the Post didn't exactly say those things. But the tone, and tenor, of the article captured precisely these thoughts. In that sense, faithful Mormons are being treated much the same way that those fish-on-Friday, Rosary-praying idolatrous Catholics were portrayed when John Kennedy ran for president. The polite sentiment was, and appears to still be for some groups, "We can tolerate them in our country, but they'd better not get any notions of being in charge."

Let me be plain: I think that now that a Mormon has a serious shot at the presidency, the mainstream media is starting to use every arrow in its quiver to ensure that this does not come to pass. Faithful Mormons, like faithful Jews, or faithful Christians (but not faithful Muslims; see below) are just too, well, faithful to God. Which, generally, means a big fat "No!" to many points of the conventional secular humanist agenda.

Mitt Romney, as a (generally) conservative Mormon, would be anathema to those on the left whose theology is best defined by abortion on demand, all power to the unions, protectionism, and statism in all things. Romney, as a Mormon, however, should also give any faithful Christian, conservative or otherwise, pause.

Let me be blunt about it: Mormon theology is just plain nuts; it is a cult, and substitutes the wisdom of their latter-day prophets for the truths we find in Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian tradition. On the other hand, Mitt Romney isn't running for Pope, or to be head of a seminary. He is running for a secular office, president of the United States.

The immediate fear from the left is that Romney's faith in God, as interpreted through his Mormon theology, will result in a rock-solid brand of conservatism. Similar in some ways to that of evangelical George W. Bush's conservatism. We're not arguing purity here, merely stating that President Bush is much more conservative in matters of public policy than any Democrat, and that his conservatism is grounded in his Christian faith.

As for Mitt Romney, all that I care about is that there be no religious test for public office. Not that I would support a member of any faith. I wouldn't vote for a satanist, obviously. And I would not vote for a Muslim. No, I don't equate Muslims with satanists. But Islam's theology, among many other things, requires that all submit to the will of Allah, as given in the Koran.

To which I say, bullocks. The Muslim faith and its entire history have one, continual and continuing feature: conquer and convert. In this way, Islam is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment in a way that Christianity (and Judaism and Mormonism) is not.

We Christians would certainly prefer if all would accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But we know, after a long and brutal history, that this conversion can not be forced by any but the Holy Spirit. We in the here and now must encourage this conversion, but must never, ever force it.

Let me state this differently. I am a Baptist. We are, collectively, the largest single Protestant denomination in the United States. It is safe to assume, that given our history of suffering persecution at the hands of state-sponsored religions, we'd be the last to assent to a theocratic government. Baptists, if nothing else, must agree on the strict separation of church and state and on freedom of conscience.

I'd like to think that my brethren in other denominations also agree that freedom of conscience must trump all other political virtues. Which means, among other things, that no leader's vision of God will be imposed on our citizens. What about having a president whose beliefs are starkly different than ours, as Mitt Romney's appear to be?

Does not matter, so long as two questions may be answered in the affirmative: "Do all have freedom to worship, or not, as their conscience dictates," and "Will the candidate pledge to uphold our laws and our Constitution."

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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.