Friday, May 30, 2014


I often choose to read books that trouble me - books of social commentary - books that describe and discuss matters that should concern me as a Christian.  Usually books such as these are not written by Christians; at least the authors do not profess to be Christians.  However, they often give the feel of moral indignation and of a sense of injustice.

One such book that I recently read was The Divide by Matt Taibbi, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine and the author of other books of social commentary.  The cover blurb describes the problem addressed as " ... a statistical mystery:  Poverty goes up.  Crime goes down.  The prison population doubles.  Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth.  The rich get massively richer.  No one goes to jail."

Hence the title of the book.  The Divide tells the stories of our two justice systems:  one for the "haves" and another for the "have-nots."

While the author does do a great deal of analysis, the power of the book lies in the stories he tells, stories from both sides of the divide, illustrating his points with accounts of real people.  But before diving too deeply into these he gives this statement:

"Unquestionably, however, something else is at work, something that cuts deeper into the American psyche.  We have a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and we're building a bureaucracy to match those feelings" (page xx).

Taibbi all through the book shows his moral indignation.  He feels a sense of unfairness that enormous crimes by the rich go unpunished and even rewarded, while the poor are rounded up for alleged infractions and often end up helpless and/or imprisoned.

Chapter after chapter, story after story, Taibbi makes his case.  His stories are accounts of real people - poor blacks, poor whites, poor Hispanics, caught in the "stop and frisk" or similar policies of large cities.  He devotes a long chapter to the stories of the abusive treatment of undocumented immigrants.  And he alternates these with tales of successful (often "legal") swindles pulled off by millionaire bankers.  The poor have little, if any, legal counsel and are rushed through impersonal court systems, while the wealthy are represented by top-of-the-line law firms.

This is not a "political" book.  Taibbi doesn't place the blame on any one political party or politician.  He does, however, place much blame on a memo authored by our current Attorney General Eric Holder, when he was a little-known official in the Clinton administration.  The memo warned of the dangers of "unintended consequences" if large corporations and their executives were prosecuted - job losses for innocent lower level employees and the resulting economic losses.  Apparently the "too big to fail" thinking resulted from this.  Of course, a corollary would be "too-big to jail."

The book is over 400 pages thick and I suppose my greatest criticism would be that the stories at times are too long and detailed.  And yet this is one of the books great strengths; Taibbi forces us to share in the misery of those who are being beaten down by the system, as well as in the frustration at the long legal maneuvers of those who get away with their crimes.

This book does make some suggestions, but mainly I felt a sense of hopelessness when I had finished.  What can be done?  Some things can be done to alleviate much of the injustice, but probably not too much will be.  What can I as an individual do?

Stepping back and looking at the present situation through the lenses of history and the Bible, we can see that while the particular injustices that Taibbi describes may be unique to our country and our age, they are not new phenomena.  The poor appear to have always been the ones to suffer more for their "crimes," while the rich and powerful seem to be free from the consequences of theirs.

We see these problems addressed in the Old Testament Scriptures.  The author of Ecclesiastes had a few things to say (cynically?) about this nearly 3,000 years ago:

"If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, don't be shocked at the sight ... (Ecclesiastes 5:8; see also 4:1-3; 7:7).

The prophets raged against it.  In fact, as I read The Divide I kept being drawn back to Amos' tirades:

"Those who turn justice into wormwood and put down righteousness to the earth" (Amos 5:7; see verses 10-15).

But the most severe threats against injustice come from Jesus Himself.  He concludes His sermon on things to come by promising that He Himself is going to return to judge the nations for their mistreatment of the poor, the hungry and the prisoners.  See Matthew 25:31-46.

Is Taibbi correct in his analysis?  Do we in America really hate "the weak and poor"?  Do we really have a "groveling terror of the rich and successful?"  I fear that he is correct.  I have heard statements from many implying this and sadly I have heard such things from those who claim to follow Jesus.

I'm not sure what we can do about injustice.  But one of the first necessities is to admit it exists.  Another is to cease blaming the victims.

Monday, May 19, 2014


As I pondered the matters discussed on my previous post, I kept coming back to the consequences of denying our humanity.  Where does this lead ethically and morally?  To question the existence of a Deity seems to be one matter, but its corollary - to question the humanness of man - could lead to bizarre, even frightening consequences, not only in our thinking but also in our behavior.

My thoughts ran back to a book I'd read over 40 years ago, when I was attending Dallas Theological Seminary.  One of my assignments in Theology 101 was to read three books and analyze the theology of each author, with the understanding that everyone has a theology - a concept of God and/or reality.  One of the books was to be a non-evangelical non-fiction.  I chose a book that was at the time a best-seller - Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B. F. Skinner, 1971.  Skinner was the great behavioral psychologist of his day and this book was, according to the blurb, considered to be a "stunning, detailed plan for change that challenges many of Western man's most sacred ideals and personal freedoms."

I have reproduced my 40-year-old brief paper here (typed by Uni on her Royal electric typewriter) for those who may be interested in where dehumanizing thinking can lead.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


On a recent post (IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS ) I briefly discussed my views of evolution.  Though my Atheist friend disagreed with me on most of what I said on this topic, what really seemed to bother him were the following remarks:  "And of the many matters for which it cannot account, the greatest is the humanity of man – our uniqueness.  We are God’s unique creation.”

My friend took me to task for this statement; the discussion can be found in the comments following that post.  Not satisfied with that however, he published a post on his blog a few days later, The Need to Feel Superior to Other Forms of Life.

He begins with a picture of a couple of cute monkeys and the statement, "I find it strange when people need to feel superior to other forms of life. I recently had a mini-discussion with a Christian who posted a rather interesting blog post."  He follows with my whole brief paragraph on evolution.  After a brief disagreement with the paragraph, he homes in on the final sentence quoted above.

" -- the idea that really struck me is the part about how we’re supposedly ‘unique’.

Of course, Bill isn’t the first one to voice such a sentiment. In fact, he voiced it in a very polite way. I’ve often run into theists who say something similar. Some seem to get rather offended because they think evolution means they’re nothing more than a monkey. A few have said this with a sneer, as if monkey’s are beneath them.

And that’s the problem, I think, with some religious thought. It teaches we’re above the other animals on this planet – that we’re somehow more beloved of a creator God and are here to use or safe-guard this planet, which we’re doing a horrendous job of, by the way."

He then follows with a rather interesting set of data showing our similarities with other creatures, most of which is well-known by those who read popular journals or watch PBS.
·       We share a similar genetic makeup with chimpanzees - "a minuscule 1.2%" difference.
·       We share much of our genetic makeup with other (dare I say "lower"?) forms of animal life.
·       It "isn't even necessarily true" that we are "more intelligent" than other animals.  This claim and the data supporting it compose most of the post.
·       Monkeys may even "wonder" and "process ideas about self".

The data is interspersed with a few gotcha remarks and the blog concludes:

"I think we need to put aside our selfish, egotistical wish to be superior to other forms of life. We’ve caused enough harm by putting it to use. Even if we think in terms of sheer dominance, bacteria has us beat hands down.

It’s just one more thing the Bible (and other religions) have gotten wrong.

And if you’re going to insist that we’re unique, special and even made in the image of some omnipotent deity, at least don’t pretend you’re being humble."

So has my friend refuted my "selfish, egotistical wish" which I stated above?  Somehow I don't see how he has.  As a matter of fact, I believe that he has confirmed my point.  Whatever we make of the idea of evolution, it cannot account for the vast differences between humans and other creatures which are composed of the same material.

If we take the position that the material and physically observable accounts for all of reality, we are left with matters that cannot be explained - the uniqueness of the human race being one of those matters.  So for the materialist the simple solution to this dilemma is simply to deny that these inexplicable matters really exist.  The materialist is forced to deny the humanity of man.

Yes, I do believe that we human beings "are beloved of a creator God" and that "we're unique, special and even made in the image of some (the) omnipotent Deity."  I also believe that "we are here to use and safeguard this planet."  (I suspect that my friend  believes that too.)   And I hope I will be forgiven for those times I "pretend (I'm) being humble."

"When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and stars that You set in place --
What is man, that You take thought of him?
And the son of man, that You care about him?"
Psalm 8:3, 4

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


A big concern in Oklahoma is a new monument that some want to erect on the Capitol grounds, right next to the huge stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments.  Those who desire to erect this monument claim their right to do so under the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
It's a seven foot statue of Satan as "Baphomet, a goat-headed, angel-winged, androgynous creature" flanked by two children gazing rapturously on him.  The Satanic Temple based in New York has been campaigning for its erection.  An Oklahoma State Representative is said to have called it "an insult to the good people of the state."  I'm sure there are similar complaints from others of our good people.
While the Satanists have no complaint as to the Ten Commandments' monument, they simply feel that it should be accompanied by other religious monuments.  Other groups are attempting to do the same in other states.  The ACLU, of course, has sued to get the original monument removed, and pending the outcome of that case, we're told there will be no more new monuments.
My Atheist friend, of course, finds quite a bit of humor in this whole flap, as I suppose do many other unbelievers of various persuasions.  I must confess that I too find the whole affair amusing.  Somehow, I don't feel my faith at all threatened by the erection or removal of the various monuments.  I even (sarcastically, of course) commented that perhaps old Beelzebub's statue was appropriate for our fair state, right next to the Ten Commandments, considering our behavior and politics.
But how should I relate to this whole affair?  My mind somehow seeks to make connections where there seem to be none; like what would be the significance, if any, of a statue of Satan sitting right next to the Ten Commandments?  There seems to be a subtle, unintended irony here.  My thoughts kept coming back to the Apostle Paul's word pictures of what we have been delivered from by Christ:
          "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you then walked, according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the domain of the air - the spirit that is now working among the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1, 2).
          "... the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us out of the present evil age according to the will of our God and Father" (Galatians 1:3, 4).
          "Giving thanks to the Father ... who delivered us out of the domain of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son of His Love" (Colossians 1:12, 13).
According to Paul, we - every one of us -- were subjects of "the domain of darkness," enslaved and ruled over by the being represented by that statue and his minions.  But through faith in Christ who died to rescue us, we have left that slavery behind.
This ruler, who is known by a variety of names - Satan (Adversary), the Devil (slanderer), the tempter, the accuser of the brethren, the Old Snake, Beelzebub, Beelzebul - is pictured by Paul as carrying out his will through his minions.  And he's still active in our lives, even though we are no longer his subjects.
Paul uses a number of words to describe the beings who ruled over us in the past.  One word stands out, the Greek word stoicheia, which is often, especially in older English versions, translated as "elements" or "elemental things."  While this is a legitimate translation in many cases, Paul uses the words of actual personal beings (as it is used in magical papyri in the second century).  "Elemental spirits" is probably a better translation of the word in Paul's writings.
He tells the members of the church in Colosse, a church composed mainly of new converts from paganism: "... you died with Christ from the elemental spirits (stoicheia) of the world ..." (Colossians 2:20).
He tells the Galatian churches, also recent converts from paganism:  "Even so we, when we were children, were enslaved under the elemental spirits (stoicheia) of the world" (Galatians 4:3).
          "... at that time when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those which by nature are not gods" (Galatians 4:8).
Paul's letters were written to young churches, full of new believers, many of whom had only recently left behind the worship of pagan deities -- those "elemental spirits" mentioned above.  And many of his letters had to deal with problems that came up in those churches.  Some of those new believers had difficulty sorting out what was proper behavior and worship and what was improper.  There were - then as now - temptations to fall back into the old ways, which Paul saw as putting themselves again under bondage to those spirits.
The church at Colosse had such temptations.  Their temptation was to fall back into pagan worship, but with a "Christian" twist.  While it is not clear exactly in what ways this temptation presented itself, it seemed to be bound up in worshipping pagan deities as angelic beings, on the same level as Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote to combat this tendency by showing that Christ was higher than any and all created beings - that He was God in the flesh.  He told them that when they placed their faith in Christ, they died to those old ways and that they were resurrection creatures.  It made no sense to return to their former ways.
          "Watch out lest there should be anyone who leads you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ ..." (Colossians 2:8).
          "If you died with Christ from the elemental spirits of the world, why, as living in the world, do you dogmatize, 'don't touch, don't taste, don't handle'?" (Colossians 2:20, 21).
But the churches of Galatia were going astray in a different manner.  Though they too had been converted from paganism, there were a few who had come out of Judaism, and there were some teachers who had been teaching them that to be justified and live the Christian life, they needed to get themselves circumcised and keep the Old Testament Law.  In other words, these new converts from paganism were being urged to become Judaistic Christians.  And Paul's words to them were even harsher than those to the Colossians.  He tells them that to turn to Judaism was to turn their backs on Christ and to return to those same elemental spirits that had enslaved them when they were pagans.
          "... at that time, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those which by nature are not gods.  But now having come to know God, how can you again return to the weak and poverty stricken elemental spirits, to which you want to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, lest somehow I have labored for you in vain" (Galatians 4:8-11).
          "You have been severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the Law; you've fallen away from grace" (Galatians 5:4)!

So when I envision those two monuments sitting side by side on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds, I can't help but see the irony in the fact that in a real sense they represent two forms of slavery that we are in danger of falling back into:
·       The danger of worship of false gods -- pure paganism
·       The danger of putting ourselves under the Old Testament Law - as a way of works' salvation or a way of life.

As Paul warned his readers in both of these churches, we cannot turn back, whether to paganism or legalism.  We have been freed in Christ from both of these.

Friday, May 2, 2014


I was intrigued by the following data that I came across in a little article entitled, "Poll watch" in The Week magazine, 5/2/2014, page 15:  "Americans' skepticism of science is growing.  51% doubt that the universe was created by a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.  42% doubt evolution, 37% doubt climate change is real and caused by man, and 15% question the safety of vaccines.  (Associated Press/GfK)"

Of course, I recognize that polls can be a bit deceptive.  They can be skewed by the way the questions are posited, as well as the fact that they usually require a simple yes or no, with no room for any subtle nuances in between.  But I'll accept these figures as reasonably accurate.

Also, the polls fail to tell us the "whys."  Why do so many doubt the Big Bang, evolution and climate change?  Why do any doubt the safety of vaccines?  Are the doubts due to religious conviction?  To alternative scientific (or anti-scientific) views?  Or just plain ignorance?

I fear that, while all of these may be factors, the last question is most likely true of much doubt.  Anyone who has ever watched Jay Leno's little "Jay Walking" segments has seen people who appear to be quite normal demonstrate astonishing ignorance.  And a few weeks ago Jon Stewart on the Daily Show showed a map of the world on which were pinned all the various places Americans had supposed were the location of Ukraine, a country that is frequently mentioned in the news.  It was to be found in many places on every continent, the Indian Ocean and even in the state of Iowa. (I'd be a bit worried about Russians invading Iowa.)

I also recognize that these large percentages are influenced by the religious convictions of many who were polled.  There are many who feel that some of these data contradict the Scriptures, and even more who aren't sure that they do, but are afraid that they might.  And in my experience, I have found many people who show little signs of religious conviction on other matters, still claim to believe in a 6-day creation or doubt anything about evolution or climate change.

So how would I, as an Evangelical Christian, as one who accepts the Bible as true, answer the poll?  I can't say for sure without seeing the actual questions, but here are some thoughts (which I suppose would totally frustrate the poll-taker):

The Big Bang:  I believe, and have for as long as I can remember that God - the God of the Bible - is the Creator of the universe.  Whether He did it in six days, 6,000 years ago, or whether creation began 13.8 billion years ago with a gigantic explosion is a question mainly concerning how long it took Him.  The Big Bang theory has for many years seemed to me the simplest way to understand the origins of the universe.  And taking the first chapters of Genesis metaphorically I have little problem reconciling the two accounts.

Evolution:  I have been "evolving" in my understanding of this subject.  It seems certain that evolution occurs on some scale, though I am convinced that it does not hold the answers to all questions involving the millions of species and variations of plant and animal life.  On the smaller, "micro evolution" scale it undoubtedly occurs:  bacteria and viruses evolve immunities to antibiotics; fossil evidence shows gradual changes in many species.  But how far "up the ladder" this occurs is still unclear.  Transitional fossils are rare.  And of the many matters for which it cannot account, the greatest is the humanity of man - our uniqueness.  We are God's unique creation.

Climate Change:  I can't understand why so many doubt the fact of climate change, other than the propaganda put forth by a small but vocal minority of scientific "experts."  And even more, I can't understand why so many Evangelical Christians seem to hold that any belief in climate change is heresy.  It seems to be a well established fact.  The only questions really are these:  to what extent is global warming caused by man, are we capable at all of preventing it or at least slowing it down, and how do we prepare for the consequences?  And shouldn't those of us who believe that God left us this earth to take care of, be concerned about doing so?
Vaccines:  I don't even want to get into this one.  I have a few acquaintances who fear vaccines, but the consequences of ignoring their safety are far worse than any supposed consequences of receiving them.  I know; I was around in the days before many of these vaccines!

I have lived a long life; I have known many people, believers and unbelievers, educated and uneducated; I have pastored churches; I have taught in college. And while no particular group has a corner on ignorance (the above poll brings this out) I fear the most for my fellow Evangelicals.  In many of them I have found almost a pride in ignorance.

Scientific knowledge is, by many, perceived as the enemy of faith.  I understand, of course, the difficulty many have in reconciling science and the Bible, especially in the theories of origins.  But as has been said many times, all truth is God's truth.  Where there appears to be disagreement, there is a need to reexamine whether we have got all our facts straight, whether what we claim to believe is biblical or what we claim to believe is science.
We have nothing to fear - and we have no need to pride ourselves in our ignorance.


Thursday, May 1, 2014


Uni and I moved to Oklahoma six years ago, to live closer to our daughter and her family, as well as to be a day closer to our siblings and their families in Michigan, where we had both grown up.  We had spent most of our lives in Texas.

Oklahoma has taken some getting used to, but we've learned to love much about it.  People are friendly here.  No matter where we go, we always feel welcome and among friends - the neighborhood, our church, our doctor's and our dentist's offices, even the shopping mall where we walk when the weather is too hot, too cold or too wet.

It's not all peaches and cream, of course.  Oklahoma is a RED state - both its politics and its dirt; there's always either red dust blowing or red mud flowing.  So I have to hose off my porch frequently and I know my vote doesn't really count except as a protest.

I'm developing a little Okie pride.

We're in the national news again.  This time, however, they're not praising us for the unity and care shown for tornado victims.  The news this time is about something that brings shame to our state.

Two men who were convicted of horrible sadistic murders were scheduled to die by lethal injection this past Tuesday evening, April 29.  Though the cases were unrelated, for some reason the executions had been scheduled for the same date - a sort of "double feature."  The condemned men had both fought for a stay of execution based on the fact that the state refused to disclose the source of the lethal drugs to be used.  They lost their appeal.  The talking heads on the local news felt that this was fine, that these men did not deserve any such consideration.

But something went horribly wrong in the first execution.  It's not clear yet exactly what happened - perhaps a vein was missed in the injection.  But the condemned man took forty minutes to die!  He struggled, even mumbled a few words.  It was obvious to the observers that he was in great agony.  Finally he died from what was apparently a massive heart attack.

The second execution was put on hold for two weeks.  The governor promised an investigation.

But as if this whole deadly fiasco weren't horrid enough, the comments that were made afterward added to the horror and the shame.  Most that I heard, whether by pundits, lawyers or TV call-ins, seemed to reveal feelings that what had occurred was a positive thing.
·       It was Karma, some said:  ”This man had caused his victim to suffer horribly, now he was simply receiving back what he had done."
·       "This was real justice being done," some said.
·       "We ought to do this to every murderer," said others - "then people will learn."
·       When some spoke of the horror of this event, others said that we shouldn't forget the families of the victims.

Wait a minute!  Do two wrongs make a right?

Oklahomans are concerned about our Second Amendment rights.  The right "to keep and bear arms" is considered sacred and inviolable.  But doesn't the Eighth Amendment have the same status?  Isn't the prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" just as sacred?

And Oklahoma is the buckle on the Bible Belt.  There are churches on nearly every street corner.  Where is Jesus in all of this?  Didn't He tell us to love our enemies?  We don't hear much of this in all of the conversation.

I'm not questioning here whether these men deserved the death penalty for their crimes.  I am questioning whether we know what we're doing when we impose it.  I am asking the question whether there might not be a better way.

I cannot put myself in the place of the victims or their families.  I realize they have suffered horribly.  But I cannot see how the suffering of the one who caused their suffering can bring them any comfort.

One of the call-ins asked (apparently tongue-in-cheek), if Jesus would have watched this scene and what He would have thought?  I don't believe He would have demonstrated the glee that so many seemed to feel.  I picture Him as He appears in the statue across from Oklahoma City's Monument - weeping.

Our Savior suffered a horrible execution that He did not deserve.  On each side of Him hung men who apparently did deserve their penalty.  His words to the one who turned to Him were, "... today you'll be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).