Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pizza with the Atheist Club

In typical college fashion, the pizzeria was crammed with people, food and loud music. I wormed my way to the back wall toward a booth with three young students. Surveying the young men arrayed in the small booth—one with his nose in a textbook, the other with a lopsided grin and the third with stereotypical long hair—I greeted each with a firm handshake.

Placing my pizza on the table, I started the meeting with proper appreciation: “I am glad you agreed to meet with me.”

“No prob man. We don’t do this with just anyone ya’ know,” drawled the grinner. “Our club v.p. here told us you were someone worth talking with---intelligent.”

“Well, I don’t claim mastery of logic or philosophy, but I have enough of a background that I was able to challenge your vice president here.” I grinned in reply.

Instead of reaching for the philosophical jugular, I decided to ask some personal questions: was he raised Christian? Did he have anything personal against Christianity? In short, he was raised a nominal Roman Catholic, yet had no related personal problems. He actually thanked me for asking him, as it was common for cross-examiners to assume the worse.

I then asked about their philosophical views: they were typical atheists (materialistic empiricists disagreeing over morals). However, they had one twist: they were mostly atheists—they were not willing to absolutely rule out the existence of God (as the older atheists would, ala Bertrand Russell).

Ignoring this idiosyncrasy, I spoke with the long-haired student for the next twenty-five minutes about his empiricist approach to morality. As with most empiricist, he was gung-ho for the morality bell-curve; that behavior in the curve was normal. Pointing out that using the bell-curve for the last fifty years on a global scale would lean “normal” morality toward totalitarianism, he replied that being an American he could not accept that. “Then you’ve changed the bell-curve referent,” I reminded him. He was silent. Then I noted that he did not have a large enough sample-size for human behavior over the last 10,000 years. This he conceded. After asking why the extremes of the curve should be ignored (like megalomaniac dictators), he partly conceded. Feeling the pressure he quietly replied: “Even if we cannot establish morality objectively, we can still live it intuitively as we all have human nature.”

“Do we?” I asked. “Materialism cannot speak of a human nature other than observable behavior—the bell-curve. Why does a dictator have to follow a hypothetical curve? What you have is pure subjectivism: every man doing what is right in his own eyes.”

He thoughtfully chewed on his pizza. He was none too happy.

But the day was not over yet.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Christian Black History Month: Lemuel Haynes

Lemuel Haynes:

1) First black pastor ordained by a mainstream American Protestant church.
First black pastor for a white church.
3) First in this series of politically incorrect black heroes.

He was born in Connecticut of a "a white woman of respectable ancestry" and an African father; he was abandoned by them. He grew up indentured until the age of 21. Although of limited education, he read voraciously, especially the Bible and theology books.

He became a Minuteman for the Revolutionary War. Then he was ordained amongst the Congregationalists (1780), serving three congregations until his death at the age of 80. He married. He wrote against slavery. And he was a vocal defender of the ancient ways: Republicanism and the Reformation.

Later when the newer class of anti-slavery ministers arose, they would try to use his legacy but gave up since his theology would not dovetail with their liberal theology. He publicly preached against the new (now old) theology of universal salvation.

Ironically, his anti-slavery position was one of racial integration instead of the then popular view (amongst even white anti-slavery proponents) of sending them to Africa (supposedly a land of freedom). The introduction of the new biography sums up the entire matter better than I:

“Like a number of other eighteenth-century black authors...Haynes accepted a Calvinist form of Christianity. Indeed, Calvinism seems to have corroborated the deepest structuring elements of the experience of such men and women as they matured from children living in slavery or servitude into adults desiring freedom, literacy, and membership in a fair society. From Calvinism, this generation of black authors drew a vision of God at work providentially in the lives of black people, directing their suffering yet promising the faithful among them a restoration to his favor and his presence. Not until around 1815 would African American authors, such as John Jea, explicitly declare themselves against Calvinism and for free-will religion. By the standard of many in the twenty-first century, this Calvinist vision may seem tainted, since it presented God’s hand in evil as well as in good. Moreover, this black Calvinism scorned Islam …Acknowledging the divine providence both of evil and of good, these black Calvinists insisted upon the human obligation to shun sin…and to further God’s benevolent design. More than any of his peers, black or white, Haynes found in Calvinism a tradition of exegesis that could be leveled against the slave trade and slavery...By 1830, a new abolitionist exegesis was undoing the ideal of interracial unity that Haynes and his peers had seen in the Bible.” (Sallant, 4, 6)

If we are to have politically correct history months, let us at least pick our own heroes!

[More details:
Online biography: Sketches of... Rev. Lemuel Haynes.
Saillant, John.
Black Puritan, Black Republican: The life and thought of Lemuel Haynes]

Black History Month Series:
1. Lemuel Haynes
2. Jupiter Hammon 
3. Phillis Wheately

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Elmo's Death Threats

I always suspected something was wrong with Elmo...MSN has the scoop.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Osteen a Heretic?

Here is part two of two-parts of a Sixty-Minutes piece on Joel Osteen.

Two things of note:

1. The interviewer had some astute observations (for an unbeliever).

2. The interviewer's questions and observations were more astute than some Christians.

This last point is sad. Sometimes unbelievers have more discernment than Christians--or at least so-called Christians.

Also, ask yourself this: how many professor of theology today would call a man a heretic?

It's a good interview: watch it, you will not regret it.