February 24

Responding to Non-Christians in Christian Discussions

[It is my hope that no one would conclude that I am hijacking a discussion that I not only joined late but kind of killed.  I am posting on my blog for convenience, not for the purpose of driving traffic.]

Introductory Stuff

Let me begin by quoting a verse that I have tried to make applicable to myself.  It addresses how to respond to others in general and has specific and valuable application for online interactions with those who do not believe in Christianity.  Such people are, from the Bible’s perspective, incapable of comprehending the significance and ultimate meaning of the gospel and the Scriptures.

This does not mean they cannot intellectually know what the Bible says; it does mean that they don’t know it intimately as a believer might.  This does not make them bad people – some are honestly wrestling with spiritual issues (although, sadly, it seems clear now that “Kirk” is not one of them) – it means simply that they are limited or restricted.  In fact, believers are only able to know God and the Bible intimately because of the indwelling Holy Spirit who illuminates God’s words to us.  Without Him (the Holy Spirit) we are no better off that non-Christians.

Here is the verse I referred to earlier, along with a couple of others that I’ll remind the reader of:

. . . but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence, and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”  — 1 Pet 3.15, emphases mine.

What I want to draw attention to at this point is the attitude we should have when talking with those who ask about or question our faith.  First, we are to be gentle or meek with others; we are never to be arrogant, condescending, or impatient.   It is not an easy thing to do, in no small part because we take their objections personally.  But typically they are not.

Second, we are to be reverent.  This means we should treat all people with the respect and honor they deserve since they, too, bear the image of God.  They are wonderfully and fearfully made.  They are sinful (as are we) but they are foremost image-bearers.

Finally, we are to keep a good conscience, i.e., we should conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called (Eph 4.1).  We should talk and behave in a way that demonstrates respect not only for them as people but for Him who created them, i.e., God.  We are, after all, just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.

A corollary of this is found elsewhere in Paul’s writings:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” — Eph 6.12

Unbelievers or even atheists are not our enemies but slaves in service to the true opponent: “the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Ours is a spiritual battle against spiritual powers, not against other people.  We should address their ideas and misconceptions but we should not attack them.

Another passage should be kept in mind when discussing biblical matters with unbelievers or non-Christians.  It, too, is from Paul:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” — 1 Cor 2.14

A “natural man” is a person without the Holy Spirit; without the Holy Spirit, the things of God are “foolishness,” or, more accurately, “moronic” to an unbeliever.  We need to keep in mind that a person lacking the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth is restricted in their understanding.  They are doing the best they can (sometimes) with what they have, often with a clear conscience.  We should not fault them or criticize them for their inabilities.

And now to the point I hope to make in this post.

Those of you who followed the back-and-forth between me and “Kirk Roos” (if that is his true name) are aware that he has stated that he will “let sleeping dogs lie” and not engage me any further in the present venue.  That is fine; I respect his decision.  As he said, the discussion was not going to be resolved: he could not persuade me or I him; indeed, he seemed to take issue with my attempt or attempts to find common ground – or at least a common language.

Rather than refute what he has said I want to focus on two matters, one in this post and another in a post to follow.  The next post will explain what philosophers and logicians call “informal logical fallacies”; this post will examine what appears to be Kirk’s “worldview” or practical philosophy in hopes of enabling Christians to better identify such argumentation and thereby know what they are up against and how to proceed.

Before going any further, let me attempt to calm any fears that might be emerging at the thought of delving into philosophy and, specifically, postmodernism.  The latter is a term that seems impressive and reserved only for those with Ph.D.s in lofty ideas.  In reality, it is easily understood and just as easy to detect.  So read on without fear, knowing that if you don’t understand, it is my failure to explain and has nothing to do with your ability to comprehend.

Postmodernism

At the risk of being too simplistic, the approach reflected in Kirk’s interactions falls under the philosophical heading of postmodernism.

There are three individuals whose works either laid the foundations for postmodern thought or provided the framework for those who would follow: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.    Wittgenstein’s philosophy later in his life (after renouncing pretty much all of what he had done before) affected language and communication.  He saw language both as a tool and a game; the nature of the game allowed every individual participating to create their own rules.  If you think this leads to confusion and people talking to themselves and past one another, you’re correct.

Foucault followed, bringing relativism with him.  He believed that truth changes over time and from culture to culture; truth, therefore, is determined by cultures and individuals and cannot be imposed on others.  What Wittgenstein had done for language — or undone, as the case may be — Foucault did with the concept of truth on a bigger scale.

Derrida is identified with the philosophical school labeled deconstruction, another of those concepts and words that intimidate without reason.  James Mannion (2006) explains:

Deconstruction is the process of breaking down of a thing (in Derrida’s case, language) to show that what is being stated is in fact inherently false . . . He sees language as a flawed means of communication, arguing that the reader can not really know the author’s true intent, and for that matter, neither can the author. The text you are reading may have an entirely different meaning to you than the author intends, and the author may not even have a clue about what the meaning of his words are.”

The underlying narcissism of such a position is obvious: the postmodernist maintains that the author has no idea what he is really saying but you, the reader, can claim to know what is really meant.  But, the reader must admit, it is a personal understanding and not necessarily one that anyone else would hold.

Mannion goes on to describe postmodernism as a manifestation of latter-day Sophism (another of those words!).  Socrates argued against the Sophists of his day (c. 469-399 B.C.) and Plato (Socrates’ most famous student) had very little positive things to say about them.  The Sophists were the forerunners of infomercials: they could argue persuasively for or against any position or concept because they were skilled rhetoricians.

Protagoras is considered the earliest of the Sophists.  He thought everything to be relative and denied the notion of the existence of absolute truth (truths that are true for all people of all time in all places).  He and the other Sophists had little time for spiritual matters.  Mannion writes,

Protagoras also had an apathetic view toward the gods.  His attitude was that you can’t really know if they exist, and because you can never know, they do not really matter much in your day-to-day life so you may as well forget about them . . .”

This has a modern ring to it.

The following quote from the movie The Wind and the Lion captures a written exchange between the movie’s dark hero and then-president Teddy Roosevelt.  Roosevelt has successfully overwhelmed the sheikh with support forces in the form of the U.S. Marines:

To Theodore Roosevelt – you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. – Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.”

Postmodernists do not know their place, either, for the simple fact that they have none.

Proceeding

What are we, as Christians, to do when we encounter postmodernists/Sophists?  Perhaps the best thing to do is to resist engaging them further when we sniff them out: this saves time and eliminates the possibility of greater frustration on all sides.  In addition to praying for such people (always), we can try to communicate our love for and acceptance of them.  Very few people come to Christ as a result of argumentation; most come (humanly speaking) because they have been loved even though there is disagreement.

It is also possible to turn the tables on such people if they are not especially skilled in rhetoric.  But that is a subject for another time.

February 13

Changing the World: “Here Come the Beatles!”

images (1)When The Beatles came to the United States on Feb 9, 1964, and performed on The Ed Sullivan show, it did not change the world. Not at all.  That came later.

To say the country or world was changed at that moment is like saying that Jesus’ birth changed the world.  Well, yes and no.  Certainly His birth was the sin qua non of His ministry but He changed the world during His later life, i.e., in His death, burial, and resurrection.

A more accurate date for The Beatles’ culture-changing impact might be August 28, 1964, when Bob Dylan truly introduced the group to marijuana.  It was their first real experience with the drug and being stoned; the effect on their music was obvious.

Consider the following lyrics from the early ’60s, before Dylan decided to “Meet The Beatles” and more:

I Want To Hold Your Hand Lyrics

Oh, yeah, I tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something’s
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Oh, please say to me
And/You’ll let me be your man
And, please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand
I/You’ll let me hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you, I feel happy inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hi’e

Yeah, you got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something’s
I wanna/I’m not gonna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you, I feel happy inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hi’e
I can’t hide
I can’t hi’e

Yeah, you got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

She Loves You Lyrics

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you’ve lost your love
Well, I saw her yesterday
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad

She said you hurt her so
She almost lost her mind
But now she says she knows
You’re not the hurting kind

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad
Ooh!

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad

You know it’s up to you
I think it’s only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her

Because she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
She loves you
And you know you should be glad
Ooh!

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

The-Beatles-the-beatles-32839194-999-855Earth-shaking?  Paradigm-shifting?  Hardly.  I’m never even sure they were particularly clever. They were typical, run-of-the-mill lyrics of the pop/rock’n’roll culture of the day.  Certainly The Beatles, by virtue of their attractiveness and charisma, made the songs famous and memorable.

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” were both released in 1963, meaning they were written prior to the group’s encounter with Dylan.  In contrast, look at the lyrics for two songs released just a few years later:

For No One Lyrics 

Your day breaks
Your mind aches
You find that all her words
Of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you

She wakes up
She makes up
She takes her time
And doesn’t feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You want her
You need her
And yet you don’t believe her
When she says her love is dead
You think she needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You stay home
She goes out
She says that long ago
She knew someone
But now he’s gone
She doesn’t need him

Your day breaks
Your mind aches
There will be times
When all the things she said
Will fill your head
You won’t forget her

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

Eleanor Rigby Lyrics

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby
Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window
Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie
Writing the words of a sermon that no-one will hear
No-one comes near
Look at him working
Darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby
Died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie
Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No-one was saved

All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?

the beatlesBoth of these songs were released in 1966 and, presumably, written shortly before their release.  The subject matter in “For No One” is a common one: Neil Sedaka had already sung “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” in 1962.  But notice the tone and emotional valence of The Beatles’ tribute to breaking up: it is hardly upbeat and, in a word, melancholy.  It was typical of most of The Beatles’ music once drugs became a fifth member of the group.

And then there’s “Eleanor Rigby”:  where did that come from?  It reflects the isolation and lost-ness of (at least) young people of the day.  Prior to the Beatles, I know of no singer or group that included funerals and death in their catalog of dance tunes.

Things had changed for the Beatles; things began to change for people.  Melancholy and tragedy was a frequent theme in their music and in the moods of their fans.  Not all their songs in this period were sad but almost all of them were unlike anything that had gone before.

Here are two of my personal favorites, taken from Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966):

Norwegian Wood Lyrics 

I once had a girl
Or should I say she once had me
She showed me her room
Isn’t it good Norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn’t a chair

I sat on the rug biding my time
Drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said
“It’s time for bed”

She told me she worked
In the morning and started to laugh
I told her I didn’t
And crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke I was alone
This bird had flown
So I lit a fire
Isn’t it good Norwegian wood?

She Said She Said Lyrics 

She said
“I know what it’s like to be dead
I know what it is to be sad”
And she’s making me feel like
I’ve never been born

I said
“Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad
And you’re making me feel like
I’ve never been born”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no. You’re wrong.
When I was a boy,
Everything was right.
Everything was right.”

I said
“Even though you know what you know
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cos you’re making me feel like
I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no. You’re wrong.
When I was a boy,
Everything was right.
Everything was right.”

I said
“Even though you know what you know
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cos you’re making me feel like
I’ve never been born.”

She said, she said
“I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.
I know what it’s like to be dead . . .”

 images
Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t recall Pat Boone or Elvis Presley singing lyrics like these in the ’50s and early ’60s.  And, for that matter, neither did Chuck Berry, Bo Didley, or Little Richard.  These are drug songs, not necessarily about drugs (although some of their post-Dylan lyrics were) but certainly reflecting the effects of drugs on their minds.

And this doesn’t even get us to 1967 and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which profoundly changed rock music from something to dance along with to something to sit and listen to, reflect upon, and embrace.

And it also doesn’t cover The Beatles’ use of LSD, which began somewhere between March and July of 1965.  A fascinating account of their initials trips and comments from John Lennon and George Harrison can be found here.

In light of this, I find it surprising that so many Christian writers have seemed to embrace The Beatles and their music in recent weeks.  It is as though Lennon’s statement that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus – which might have been true with young people in Britain in those days – or the album pyre that took place in various places in a ridiculous reaction to his words never happened.  And what of John and Oko’s famous “sleep-in”?  Or, more importantly, The Beatles’ tremendous influence on their fans that resulted in marijuana and other drugs suddenly being in vogue among middle-class, white teenagers in the ’60s?

I will close by saying that, as an outlier and atypical Evangelical Christ-follower, I have no problem with The Beatles.  I own vinyl albums, tapes, CDs, and digital copies of almost all their music and continue to listen to it 50 years later.  And it is especially the post-Dylan songs and albums that I enjoy most and most frequently.

And I’ll stop just short of endorsing or approving of marijuana use for other than medical purposes.   But as a past pot head, I will say that I understand the nature and direction of The Beatles music subsequent to their introduction to drugs.  I find the songs neither pro- nor anti-Christian, although the messages certainly do not align with the Bible’s view of life, meaning, and purpose.  But as far as originality, creativity and excellence go, there aren’t many other groups that come close to The Beatles.