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All Things Examined

factfiles_lion_01Charles Spurgeon once said, "Truth is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself." A few years back, I learned just how right the 19th-century preacher was. It happened during in an online discussion I had with “Nigel” (not his real name).

Nigel is a self-described atheist and rising star in the Brights movement—a community of philosophical naturalists aimed at “illuminating and elevating the naturalistic worldview,” as their slogan proudly states. Some of its more prominent luminaries include Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, and Daniel Dennett.

After coming across a piece I had written critical of naturalism, Nigel invited me to have a dialogue with him on his open blog. I agreed and was quickly drawn into a protracted discussion.
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Priorities

islam-in-america-shutterstock_30831886-400x400The takeover of America by radical Islam happened a lot faster than anyone ever expected.

How it happened is well known now: the electromagnetic pulse bomb that shut down the nation’s electrical grid, producing food shortages, jet crashes, and instant national panic; the detonation of a suitcase nuclear weapon that took out Manhattan’s Financial District; a string of beheadings (most of which were characterized as “workplace violence”); the bombing of the U.S. Capitol; and the capture of the White House by a hit squad of well-armed fanatics. All these events and more set the stage for national surrender, basically without a shot being fired.

True, the Secret Service put up a fight once the intruders were discovered inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But they were badly outgunned by the Islamists, who cut off the heads of the Secretary of State and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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Literary Lights

9781598566123Part of the challenge (and privilege) for any writer delving into the past is to discover fine things waiting there, and commend them anew. To put it another way, how do writers who look at an earlier time pass on facets of wisdom and insight in ways that are at once accessible and compelling?

Often, I take my cue from D.L. Moody, remembering his pithy and memorable phrase: “It’s worth going a thousand miles to get a good thought.” So saying, he’d take out a small hip-pocket notebook, chock full of what he called “nuggets,” and read some of them out.

Moody’s generous and very genuine habit is instructive, and of a piece with another practice he had, that of letting people borrow his Bible, if they wanted to copy out something he might have written in the margins—whether his own thoughts, or perhaps some pearl of wisdom he’d discovered from another source. It was always understood that anyone who borrowed Moody’s Bible was expected write in a few nuggets of their own before returning it.

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Worldview and You

OrientationAndrew Marin is an evangelical Christian, the founder of the Marin Foundation, an organization that “works to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and the Church through scientific research, biblical and social education, and diverse community gatherings.” He’s also the author of the 2009 book “Love Is an Orientation,” which I just finished reading. Brian McLaren wrote the foreword.

With that short introduction, my guess is you’d like to know where Marin stands on the issues. I certainly had to wonder about that as I was reading the book, trying to discern whether I could safely recommend it. Is he really evangelical? Does he agree with what the Bible says about homosexuality? What about same-sex marriage?

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All Things Examined

Before-I-Die-New-Orleans-Candy-Chang“Before I die I want to ______.”

How would you fill in the blank?

It’s a haunting question, one that challenges everyone who passes by one of the hundreds of walls from Beijing to Brooklyn emblazoned with that hanging statement.
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Internally Displaced Person

51Nv4MC8ZOLWith the possible exception of “bigot,” the worst thing you can call someone nowadays is a “hypocrite.” Our culture values “authenticity” above nearly everything else, so, naturally, it despises hypocrisy and hypocrites.

Except that its use of the word “hypocrisy” brings to mind Inigo Montoya’s reply to Vizzini in “The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

My musings about hypocrisy have their origins in, of all things, a recent “binge read” of James Michener novels, which included “The Covenant,” his epic telling of the story of South Africa, and “Centennial,” his account of the history of a fictional town in Colorado.

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Priorities

ISISLogoIn the 2013 movie “World War Z,” armies of aggressive, wall-climbing zombies are taking over the world, leaving cities and whole nations “dark.” The hero, a retired U.N. investigator named Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, must find a way to stop the unknown infection, which is spread by the bite of a zombie, before all human life is overcome. Whatever disease is involved, it works fast: The transformation from human to zombie takes just 12 seconds.

To protect against the chomping undead, Lane improvises by wrapping magazines around his forearm and securing them with duct tape. Even zombie teeth cannot penetrate this glossy paper and ink barrier. However, Lane—and civilization itself—needs a masking agent to keep the zombies from biting in the first place. But will he be able to survive long enough to discover it?

We can thank God that “World War Z” is fiction. Yet human civilization is facing an infection just as barbarous and nearly as deadly: the inexorable spread of Islamist ideology and its inevitable fruit, terrorism, exemplified by the grisly beheadings of two American journalists, posted on YouTube. Read More >
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Literary Lights

teachers-620x420In December 1880, readers of The New York Times were introduced to one of the finest phrases to come from the pen of Julia Ward Howe. “Education,” she said, “keeps the key of life.”

What a telling metaphor—beckoning, as it does, to promise, potential, and opportunity. To give young people this key opens the door on a wider world. Gifted teachers impart a legacy as rare and fine as any we may discover.

* * *

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Worldview and You

Depressed-PersonWake up!

Everyone is telling everyone to wake up. Wake up to the desperate plight of Christians in Iraq! Wake up to religious freedoms being trampled under in the West! Wake up to the horrors of sex trafficking! Wake up to the crisis at our borders! Wake up to institutional racism that just keeps hanging on! Wake up to the unending murder of babies in the womb! It goes on and on, doesn’t it?

Do you ever get worn out from all these wake-up calls?
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All Things Examined

MultiverseWe shouldn’t be here. And, if any one of dozens of parameters had been different by a smidgen, we wouldn’t be.

For instance, the formation of stars, planets, and matter itself hinges on the relative masses of the proton, neutron, and electron, and on the relative strengths of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces. The habitability of Earth depends on precise values for the sun’s size, mass, and intensity; the Earth’s size, tilt, orbit, and rotation; and the distances from the sun to the Earth and Earth to the moon, as well as the size and number of Earth moons. The viability of a biological gene—the smallest thing nature can “select” in the Darwinian struggle for survival—is determined by hundreds to hundreds of thousands of base molecules arranged in a particular sequence. And that’s just for starters.
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Priorities

104314531Critics sometimes like to charge that Christianity is a fairy tale for adults. Now some are saying that religious belief hinders children from understanding the difference between fact and fairy tales.

According to a study published last month in the July issue of Cognitive Science, five and six year olds who have “exposure to religious ideas” in church or parochial school find it harder to distinguish fact from fiction than do less-religious children. For example, they were less likely to be able to tell the difference between Snow White and George Washington.

Prominent atheists were quick to trumpet the study, which had all of 66 participants, as proof that religion is bad for kids and their cognitive development. Hemant Mehta, the self-styled “friendly atheist,” blogged, “Religion blurs the lines between fact and fiction. You only hope kids exposed to it figure it out soon enough. . . . It’s just more evidence for those who believe religious indoctrination is a form of mental child abuse.”

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Literary Lights

Ancient-BooksIt all began with a book that nearly went unread. The setting was England, the time, October 1916. Amid the whistle and clatter of steam engines, and the sound of a porter shouting out arrival and departure times, a well-dressed young man, age 16, pored over the books set out on a railway station bookstall. He had done so before, times without number, for he was an avid reader. He prospected for books like a miner in search of buried treasure.

But not just any book. He was looking for titles that held some promise of a great literary experience. He had been reading Edmund Spenser’s epic allegory, “The Faerie Queene,” with rapt attention. Its stories of martial valor and chivalric virtue had stirred something deep within him. He wanted to revisit that world, or something like it, if he could.

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Internally Displaced Person

Border_Crisis_Bambini_a_scuolaThis Joe Klein piece on the border crisis and the president’s feckless response to it is filled with unintentional irony and reminds me of why I am a man without a political party and not likely to ever vote again.

Really.

I’ve been trying not to read about the predicament of the 57,000 unaccompanied Central American minors accumulating and rotting at our southern border because thinking about it brings words like “accumulating” and “rotting” to mind.
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Worldview and You

teensA couple days ago my 19-year-old daughter, Lisa, asked a hard question I couldn’t answer. I’m taking her out for ice cream for it. That’s her prize for winning “Stump the Dad.”

Last month in this column I wrote about how “Homeschooling and Classical Christian Schooling Could Alter the Leadership of the Future.” While no one has said anything about this to me, I want to make sure that column didn't leave the wrong impression for those who don’t have those options available. Will your family be left behind? Not at all; at least, not necessarily.

I understand your position. My wife, Sara, and I didn’t have those options available for most of our children’s school years, either. (It’s only been in the past few years, anyway, that I’ve developed the strong beliefs I wrote about in last month’s column.) We homeschooled Jonathan and Lisa through a few grades, but most of their education was in public schools.
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All Things Examined

MV5BMTUwNjUzNjAzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTQ4Mjc1Nw._V1_SY317_CR20214317_AL_That’s the question that occurred to me after viewing the trailer for “Seventh-Gay Adventists,” a documentary about homosexuals in the church. The answer I gave on the BreakPoint Blog and a Facebook page promoting the film was as follows:

“The same way they should have been [receiving] heterosexual individuals and couples whose lifestyles are at odds with Scripture and church teaching: For non-members, enthusiastically welcome them and invite/include them in all programs, events, and services the church has to offer (Matt. 11:29); for those seeking membership, call them to repentance (Acts 2:38); for those who are already members, invoke church discipline for the purpose of restoring them into the fellowship (Matt. 18, Gal. 6:1); and for those who willfully remain in unbiblical lifestyles, disfellowship (1 Cor. 5)."

I also shared my suspicion, given the endorsement of gay advocacy groups and statements made by the filmmakers, that the purpose of the documentary is to convince Christians “to ‘get over’ their fetish with biblical teaching and ‘get on’ with the full integration of non-celibate homosexuals in all aspects of church life, including leadership, lay and ordained.”

In retrospect, I could have worded that more delicately. One of the filmmakers who read my comments took me to task for rushing to judgment on her work without seeing it. She offered to send me a complimentary DVD, which I accepted and recently viewed.

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Internally Displaced Person

Daniel_Deronda_2The non-religious word that comes to mind when reading about the events leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948 is “improbable.” (The religious word is of course “miraculous.”) More than 18 centuries after the Bar Kokhba Revolt, a Jewish state was not only reconstituted, but it spoke Hebrew, a language that had not been spoken as a vernacular since before the time of Jesus.

How it happened is a long and complicated story. (If you are interested, I would suggest three books to start with: “A History of the Jews” by Paul Johnson, “A Peace to End All Peace” by David Fromkin, and my favorite, “Righteous Victims” by Benny Morris.) There was the vision of Theodor Herzl, whose book “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State) created modern Zionism. There was the organizational genius of Chaim Weizmann, who turned Herzl’s vision into a political movement.

Vision and organizational genius wouldn’t have mattered without the tenacity, dedication, and discipline of the pre-1948 Jewish settlers, known collectively as the Yishuv (from the Hebrew word for “return”), led by David Ben-Gurion, who made the desert bloom and turned back the attempt by their neighbors to drive them into the sea after the 1947 partition of Palestine.

Then there were two books.
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Priorities

cirseal-white-color-343x350Over the last two decades, more than three-fourths of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country, driven out by a combination of Muslim fanaticism and economic and social collapse. Iraq, however, isn’t the only place to experience a mass Christian exodus in recent years.

Look at the Presbyterian Church (USA), the 10th largest denomination in this country. But you’d better look fast. The PC(USA), which is the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination (at least for now), is driving out members through its own brand of leftist fanaticism.

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Semper Quaerens

Deliver_Us_from_Evil_2014_film_posterDeliver Us from Evil,” a supernatural thriller starring Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, and Édgar Ramírez, opens in theaters today. The film was inspired by the book of the same name, written by New York Police Detective Ralph Sarchie, about his actual experiences with demonic possession and exorcism.

In the film, Sarchie becomes convinced that something other than human evil is responsible for some of the horrific crimes he investigates—a view shared by his renegade priest friend, Joe Mendoza. Together, through the ancient rite of exorcism, they take on the demonic forces destroying the lives of their New York neighbors, which ultimately direct their rage against Sarchie's family.

“Deliver Us from Evil” is rated R for “bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout, and language.” I interviewed Scott Derrickson, who both directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay, to learn more about the movie and why he decided to make it.
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Internally Displaced Person

amazon-fire-tv-advanced-tipsIn a recent BreakPoint broadcast, Eric Metaxas spoke about a “Christian colleague” who, despite having recorded every episode of the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” hadn’t watched a single minute and suspected that he never would.

Well, I’m that “Christian colleague.” As Eric told listeners, the show’s nihilism was (and is) the primary reason I no longer care (if I ever did) about what happens in Westeros. But something John Piper wrote about the show’s graphic nudity has got me to thinking. (That BreakPoint’s resident Catholic is approvingly citing a well-known critic of Evangelicals & Catholics Together is a delightful irony for another day.)

Two years ago, I would have taken issue with some of what John Piper had to say about nudity and “Game of Thrones.” Now, while I’m not sure I would agree that watching the show amounts to “re-crucifying Christ,” I am much more inclined towards bright lines, and for many of the same reasons.
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Literary Lights

CowperJust yesterday, we bid farewell to a treasured friend from the UK who’d come for a weeklong visit: Lady Davson, a great-granddaughter (to the third degree) of the great anti-slavery reformer William Wilberforce. She is 76 years young, and a beloved “extra grandma” for our eight-year-old son Sam.

We spent hours enjoying the summer sun in our back garden—talking, gathering flowers, reading books, having meals, and picking wild strawberries. Time slowed, and brought us so many things to savor.

Being with Lady Davson, or Kate, as she prefers to be called, reminded me anew why so many friends in England cherish gardens. There, even the smallest patio, or backyard plot, is enchanted ground. Flowers cover all available space around a patch of lawn that may only be 10 feet square. But it matters not: Ten feet of lawn, with flowered palisades, makes up a kingdom all its own.

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