Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Language Propaganda

George Orwell's classic novel, 1984, predicted a world in which, among other things, language would become a means of the government to shape thinking--a propaganda tool. Thus, the very active military was controlled by the Ministry of Peace. The department that created dependence through economic shortages was called the Ministry of Plenty.

Orwell's idea was already being used in the Soviet Union at the time he wrote, and has since been adopted by all sorts of political causes. No one describes themselves as  pro-infanticide or pro-abortion, only "pro-choice." And if you support the recent Hobby Lobby decision, you are "against birth control," instead of objecting to one particularly gruesome and deadly (to the fetus) form of it. The way in which this decision has been framed in the media and by politicians who promote abortion has been so one-sided that most Americans have no idea what is really involved, nor of the ramifications of the recent executive order by the President to force all who have contractual relationship with the government to offer abortion coverage in their healthcare plans.

Those who wish to redefine for all the concept of marriage have embraced the term "marriage equality." However, "marriage" has had a universally understood meaning, and this "equality" asks to redefine something that all cultures and times have understood to be one thing, in favor of a new contemporary understanding. Marriage has always been between the two sexes, not the joining of two people of the same sex. This redefinition of a core human concept is breathtaking to say the least. And it is meant to imply that those who do not agree favor "inequality"--a near universally bad concept in our society, like slavery.

Let's assume, for sake of argument, that a group of people who loved the color red were angered and upset that their favorite color's name was associated with embarrassment (red-faced), crime (caught red-handed), and cultural backwardness (redneck). They decide that it is patently unfair that this is the case, whereas that other color, blue is favored by more people,and associated with being refined (blue blood), noble character (true blue) and great music (the blues). So they decide that blue should share its name with red. These folks start calling for "blue equality." No one color deserves to be thought of as special and deserving of higher status. No, we must call blue, blue; we must call red, blue; and any other color desirous of such recognition should be called "blue" for the sake of equality for all lovers of all colors.

Marriage is not just two people deciding to live together and share everything. Dating is not marriage. Roommates are not married. Cohabitation is not marriage. Marriage, as seen in creation's initial union of male and female, in the clear witness of Scripture, and the concurrent witness of history and culture throughout the world  is a man leaving father and mother, being joined to his wife, and the two becoming one flesh--a new "whole" that includes physical intimacy. The joining is a covenant, the breaking of which is most serious. Adultery has always been seen as "immoral," and while some societies have favored (or at least tolerated) polygamy, same sex unions have never been called "marriage." This kind of redefinition is like calling up, "down," or as in our example, calling red "blue." You can do it, but you rob the word of any meaning.

I suppose that we should not be surprised that people want to redefine reality. Those who follow their same sex inclinations, or embrace the choice of aborting infants have already decided that what the created world shows them, what historic taboos have reinforced, and what the Bible clearly teaches (at this point in agreement with all major world religions), is not enough to govern or overrule one's passions. "What I feel or desire deeply, powerfully, and passionately" trumps "what is true, historically demonstrable, and natural (in the purest sense of that term)." Having decided that one's passions equal one's identity (another spurious construct), and that one's passions thus become the standard of right, good, and true, the redefinition of historic concepts becomes a relatively minor step to take.

For society, this is one more downward step. No surprise in a fallen world where, for all of our talk of the "j curve" of information growth, we get more stupid and silly as sin takes deeper root. For Christians, it will be one more reason we will need grace and strength from God to speak truth that will generally become more inconvenient, unacceptable, and scarce. And our speaking must itself continue (perhaps for some, begin) to be gracious, even as those opposed to our message use ever more inflammatory descriptions of dangers of our views.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why I Support Israel, Care About Palestinians, and Don't Trust the Media

The current Israeli military action to neutralize the ability of Hamas to launch rockets at Israel is the subject of news, comment, Facebook posts, demonstrations worldwide, and a rise of public anti-Semitism in Europe. Civilians are dying along with combatants. No one expects the current conflict to yield a permanent solution.

And many Christians who comment are guilty of sloppy thinking.

The following all make me crazy:
  1. When Christians blindly assert that Israel's right to the Holy Land makes all of their actions "blessed" and worthy of Christian support. 
  2. When Christians treat the conflict as a matter of equal actions and reactions and moral equivalence. They refer to "both sides" needing to step back and "negotiate" and act as if there are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in the situation.
  3. When anyone accepts the mainstream media's reporting as accurate of the situation that is occurring.
Let me unpack my thoughts, and how I believe we ought to approach this matter.

1. Americans should see Israel as a strategic and natural ally. This is a solely political calculus. Of all the countries in the region, Israel is the only stable, western-style democracy that embraces western cultural values related to personal liberties, freedom of religion, free expression of opinions, and treatment of people based on a high view of human life. Israel is not perfect, but neither is the U.S. And only Israel has shown the ability to actually win a conflict in the region. If we have to choose up sides in the world, I want Israel on my team.

2. Christians may differ on eschatology, but they should not miss the truth that the Jewish people are God's "elect" people in one very specific sense. Romans 11 says this is the case because of the promises to the patriarchs. Further, while most Jewish people do not yet believe that Jesus is their messiah, there is coming a day when, as a people, they will do so as a demonstration of God's faithfulness to his promises. Only the most obtuse reading of Romans 11 would fail to grasp that ethnic Israel has a promised revival of faith that is coming. Therefore, to love the Jewish people, even in their unbelief, is to love a people that are loved as a people by God.

3. Christians should not see the current state of Israel as guaranteed a future until the return of Christ, or the government of Israel as always "doing the will of God." While I believe that Israel's current existence coincides with circumstances that will be present in the end times of Revelation, I cannot be positive that they may not be scattered again if the Lord Jesus delays his return for centuries. I believe that there will be a definable Jewish people in the land preceding the Lord's return. I think (but cannot be sure) that the current state may be the precursor to that future. That said, Israel is in the land in unbelief, not submissive to the will of God and in rebellion to his plan of salvation. And in such a state, Israel's government is capable of great evil, just as all human governments are.

4. Americans in general, and many Christians, seem not to understand the nature of the current conflict. Israel wants peace with Palestinians, and has provided land and other concessions as incentives. Hamas (which controls Gaza) wants Israel wiped out of existence, and will not negotiate peace--ever. And the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank wants Israel to surrender all lands conquered in the war of 1967; borders that would make Israel very difficult to defend. In both the PA and Gaza children are taught from texts that teach hatred for Jews. How does a nation live next door to a people that want it dead? As one commentator has said, "If the Palestinians laid down their arms, there would be peace between Israel and a Palestinian state. If the Israelis laid down their arms, there would be no Israel and only a Palestinian state."

5. Palestinians are not monolithic, and certainly are not all "evil." Not all of them support Hamas. Some actually favor peace with Israel. And there are Christian believers among them, even in Gaza. Churches there are housing refugees while being hated by their own government (Hamas). If you had grown up as a Christian Palestinian in Gaza, you might not have much reason to love Israel, even if you don't desire their destruction. We can and should care about the situation of our Christian family there. But that is not the same as supporting the cause of Hamas, or seeing it as "equivalent" to Israel's cause. Think of it this way. In World War 2, there were Christian Germans who may not have supported Hitler, but served their country in the armed forces. They were our brothers and sisters, and yet their fighting for their country did not mean American Christians should not fight against Germany in World War 2, or that we should somehow have seen the German cause as being just a different take on world affairs. Their policies and their invasions were evil. Hamas is evil, and their actions are evil. While Israel is not perfect, they have as much right to exist as any other nation (they at least were created by U.N. vote and not simply by rebellion as the U.S.A. was) and to defend themselves against attack. Hamas has declared that as long as they are alive they will fight to destroy Israel. They use civilians, schools, and hospitals as bases for their rockets and their tunnel systems. 

6. Press reports reflect all the errors mentioned above, and are meant to generate controversy, readership (or viewership) and revenue for their owners. Their general bias is against Israel, fearful of insulting Islam, and unwilling to appear as if the actions of a terrorist group (Hamas) might be worse than those of a state that has had to defend itself against rocket attacks launched from primary schools (Israel). And no one seems to report that Israel continues to take Gaza's civilian patients in need of emergency medical care, or continues to supply electricity, water, food, medical supplies to Gaza, and much of its water, even while Egypt does not. I have been in Israel many times when events have taken place that the are reported with breathless urgency by the media, as if they were huge and influential. I've actually seen "staged stonethrowing" where the media was invited to report on a Palestinian demonstration. The cameras rolled, some teenagers shouted and threw stones, the cameras stopped, and the teens left. Most people are unaware that about 75,000 tourists are moving all around Israel without incident or disturbance. 

In short, I love my Christian brothers and sisters in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza more than I care about any other individuals in this situation. I pray for their protection and for peace that would be to their benefit and the furtherance of the Gospel.

But I also recognize Israel's right to exist. I believe in the special place of Jewish people in God's election and purposes. I must acknowledge the evil that is embodied in Islamic teaching generally (from its corruption of Old Testament history and its denial of Jesus' full deity, to the concept of jihad and the intolerance it fosters throughout much of the world) and in the Hamas "brand" of Islam specifically.

Nazis would  not be appeased. Hamas will not be appeased. In a world where no government is perfect or righteous, there is nevertheless the right of governments and nations to act against evil that is directed at their own people. And so I hope that Israel prevails, Hamas is defeated, and out of that defeat a more humane and secular government might come. But looking at the region and the inability of Islam to foster such governments and cultures (quick, what Islamic country can you think of where women have equal rights with men and are not treated as property, where minorities live in relative peace and safety, where criticism of the government is freely allowed without repercussion, and violence is not considered an appropriate way to settle personal vendettas?), I have little hope of this.

Israel has perpetrated injustices in the past, and will do so in the future; as will other countries. For example, they have failed to protect Christians in their midst, and made it hard for Jewish believers in Jesus to become Israeli citizens, although they allow every other kind of Jew--agnostic, Buddhist, atheist, New Age--automatic citizenship. They should be criticized when they do injustice. This military action, however imbalanced it may appear (given Israel's military superiority), is not an injustice, but seeks to address an evil that needs to be stopped.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Inspiring, Intriguing, and Unnerving Links

I am an avid student and reader about many subjects, and one of the joys of the internet age is the availability of various stories, articles, and tools that allow me to learn, to be inspired, and sometimes to be challenged and made a bit uncomfortable, all through excellent stories and writing. Here are some links to some matters I have found interesting, and two programs/apps that have increased my opportunities to listen.

Inspiring Story...
Sixty Nine Days, by Hector Tobar appeared in The New Yorker magazine and is the true story of the Chilean miners who survived underground over two months after a massive cave in. The story was powerful at the time (2010), but having it told through the voices of the men involved is even more so. You will be impressed by the role Christian faith played, and how the experience revealed the positive and negative extremes of human reaction.

Middle East Mess Made Clearer...
This video by Dennis Prager is a concise look at the Middle East problem from an historic perspective. Prager simplifies, but not in a way that interferes with understanding. There are certainly wrongs done by Israel, as well as the Palestinians, but the political dilemma is pretty straight forward. View the following video and see.

Summer "reading" with New Audiobook resources...
This summer, Kathy and I have been enjoying our reading, and also enjoying audiobooks on our long car drives. What has made this even better has been learning of two programs available through our local library where we can borrow audiobooks, ebooks, and even movies and TV series if we want.

The first program is "hoopla," and it has apps and programs that allow you, in partnership with your local library, to "borrow" audiobooks, music, and videos. They have quite a wide variety, and you can stream or download.

The second is Overdrive, and it offers a large selection of ebooks and audiobooks, but limited numbers of copies of items, where hoopla has unlimited copies of what it offers. We have found some titles on one service that are not on the other. Overdrive requires you to sign up for an Adobe account when you begin service.

Both require you to have a library card number, and that your library be in partnership with the program.

Two great books on love and marriage...
Speaking of reading, I've read two great books related to love, and especially to love in God's economy. Paul Miller has become one of the authors I've greatly appreciated for his insights and applicational teaching. He has followed up a personal favorite of mine, A Praying Life, with a new book about God's love seen in the life story of Ruth in A Loving Life. This book challenged, convicted and encouraged me, and it will you, too.

The second is about love and marriage, by another of my favorite authors, Tim Keller. Along with his wife, Kathy, he has written The Meaning of Marriage, and it is one of the best surveys of material about on Christian marriage--for anyone from those who are considering marriage, to those who are fearful of it, to those who may be finding it much harder than they bargained for. You will benefit from reading this book, no matter your marital status.

Some thoughts on children crossing the U.S. Border
I have made no secret of my concern for immigration reform, and my desire to see a plan that takes care of the millions of undocumented people here as well as the problem of border security. The issue has blown up recently due to thousands of children who are crossing the southern border without parents or guardians from central America. What do we do? My friend, David Hegg, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, has offered a well-thought answer here.

Here's a review of a new book I may need to read pretty soon, but some of you better read now!
It's the newest book by J. I. Packer, and it sounds pretty inspiring. The book is titled Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. The review that tipped me off, and makes me think will be good is found at Desiring God's website here. Of course, J. I. Packer has been a favorite since his book, Knowing God, was used by God to change my way of thinking in my late teens. Packer, at the age of 88, insists that the Christian must not buy into the world's perspective on retirement--calling it "worldliness" and "folly." Read the review, and then you might decide to get the book!

Making sense of crazy days...
If you know me well, you know that I have strong opinions about political matters, leadership, and cultural morality (if I hear another person say "you cannot legislate morality" I may just call that person the dunce that they are--ANY law passed about human behavior is a legislating of morality!). I have watched national and international developments with amazement and, when I am not thinking rightly, dismay. But I am getting better at reminding myself that the ills and sins of this world are what we should expect, and God is using them for his purposes, even when I find them infuriating. May you have peace in your heart, even as our world has none.