“Culture Shift” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

If you know anything about the men that I look up to in the current evangelical environment, you know that Al Mohler is one of my favorites. He always offers a keen, Biblical perspective on whatever is happing in our world or in our culture. In a time where people are more concerned with political correct speech, Mohler stands out with his Biblically-correct speech. That is why, when I found out he was finally putting out his first book, (that’s right, he’s never written a book before this) I was pretty pumped. Even though I figure I’d be getting the book for free at the Together for the Gospel Conference next month, I couldn’t help but buy the book immediately. As it turns out, Mohler still hasn’t written a book…

That isn’t to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy his first book, “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth”, it just isn’t really a book. It is closer to a collection of blog essays pumped up to be a collection of essays. The book is made up of essays dealing with a plethora of issues. Mohler addresses hot topics from abortion, public education, the separation of church and state, war, torture, freedom of speech, and recent disasters such as Katrina, the tsunami, and Hiroshima. With each topic, Mohler offers a succinct description of the debate, and how Christians have usually been approaching the subject unbiblically.

Mohler’s greatest concern isn’t necessarily trying to tell Christians how to think. You’ll notice that each chapter just offer a paragraph or two on what a Christian is to do. That is because Mohler isn’t trying to tell people how to think, more how not to. He is encouraging mainline, evangelical Christianity to stop reverting to the ‘christianese’ it has been speaking, and to search the Bible for a true, Christ-like perspective.

There are a few chapters that I absolutely loved. The first is one on how our society is raising a generation of wimps. Parents are following their children everywhere, saving them from any sort of pain, from rejection to the skinned knee. We are raising kids who can’t stand correction or admonition. They are getting to college and many don’t know how to swim in the currents of academic criticism. He points out how our schools are gradually giving out more A’s, and it isn’t because the the work is improving, but the standards are being lowered. Not every kid is going to be an outstanding student. Not every kid is going to excel on the fields. Not every kid is going to be the prom queen or king. It is a great chapter that every parent should read. I know I found it helpful and will be re-reading it as Micah grows older. (turning 1 this week!)

Another chapter that was fascinating was on the topic of abortion. Sonogram machines are being used to prevent abortions, and some of those that are pro-choice corner are saying it is unfair and basically brainwashing. Speaking of these places, one Planned Parenthood vice president had this to say: “From the time they walk into these centers, they are inundated with information that is propaganda and that has one goal in mind. And that is to have women continue in their pregnancies.” Now pick up your jaw off the floor. She says the ultrasound technology, “isn’t a matter of providing more knowledge, but an attempt to manipulate women.” So much for fighting for the woman’s right to choose. Now she’s fighting for the right to kill the child. The mother’s rights have largely been abandoned by many in the fight.

Mohler has another chapter on the changing perspective on abortion, mainly in the pro-choice corner. Many are beginning to come to out and say that they realize that abortion is a sick, depraved practice. He sights a debate that was had on slate.com between two pro-choice personalities. An interesting portion of the chapter was where the woman arguing that abortion wasn’t as bad said that she saw the time coming where unwanted pregnancies would “join obesity and smoking as unacceptable behavior in polite society.” Mohler, in reaction, wrote, “Taken by itself, this is a truly amazing comment. At the very least, it suggests that, in Katha Pollitt’s social circle, obesity and smoking are taken as genuine moral issues, while abortion- the killing of an unborn human- is not.”

Overall, the book was a very interesting read, and one that I would fully recommend. Being only 160 small pages, the reading doesn’t take long, and the topics are addressed thoroughly, but succinctly. But, Al, I’m still waiting for a book. I’d still love to have him sit down in one topic, flush it all out, and write the insightful masterpiece he is capable of.

Critique of New Atheism

Here are the first and second part of the characteristics of New Atheism that I wrote in the past couple weeks. You should check them out before you read this post, if you haven’t read them yet.

I thought it would be good to wrap-up this introduction to New Atheism with some of my thoughts and complaints with this new movement. These are not all of my views, but some more of the more important ones. Let me use a disclaimer that I don’t pretend to think that these are true of all New Atheists. These are just general characterizations of some of the leaders and most vocal individuals in the movement. If you are an atheist and are offended by some of the characterizations, just know that I’m not lumping everyone into the same pile.

1. They unfortunately horribly mischaracterize Christianity. Like I said in the previous posts, they are notorious for straw-man arguments. That is when you define that which you are arguing against in a way in which it would be easier to tear down. They often equate the most radical extremes, and present them as being mainline.

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Characteristics of New Atheism: Part II

Disclaimer:  As I have said earlier, this post isn’t necessarily meant for Atheists.  This isn’t meant to increase discussions.  There are plenty of venues where that is being done.  This is more for the readers of my blog to get familiar with New Atheism, and how I see it.  I realize that I will say some things that may be contested, but I am trying to be as accurate and even handed as possible.

I know what some of you may be thinking.

1. “Wow, Tim’s writing a lot lately!” Yes, yes I am.  I guess there has been more to write on, and since New Atheism has been so prolific with their writings, there will be plenty more to write on in the future.  I do most of my blogging at work since we don’t have internet at home, so that is a reason I don’t get a ton of it done, but I’m trying to do some at home and then just post it when I get in.  Now that the holidays are past, you’ll be seeing more consistent posting.

2. The other thing you are thinking is, “Wow!  There is actually a Part II!”  I feel like if I decide a post is too long and break it up into two posts, the second one is less likely to get written.  Here’s to trying to break that habit!

Without further adieu, here’s the rest of the characteristics:

Reason to replace a biblical morality

I spoke a little of this earlier, but it is central enough that it bears more discussion.  This is particularly the view of Sam Harris, from his interview with “Wired” magazine:

“There would be a religion of reason.  We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously–a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it’s in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer, but we would have prayer without [expletive deleted].”

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Characteristics of New Atheism: Part I

Disclaimer: As I have said earlier, this post isn’t necessarily meant for Atheists. This isn’t meant to increase discussions. There are plenty of venues where that is being done. This is more for the readers of my blog to get familiar with New Atheism, and how I see it. I realize that I will say some things that may be contested, but I am trying to be as accurate and even handed as possible.

History

This isn’t by any means an exhaustive history of Atheism, as that can be a very difficult pursuit. There can be some references that could be interpreted as atheistic as far back as Socrates, but I’m going to start with around the 1600’s. Interestingly enough, Karen Armstrong had this to say about Atheism prior to this age:

“During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic … The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”

During the 1600’s, Humanism began to become the way of thinking. Basically speaking, Humanism says that man is the center of existence. Man is the ultimate authority. The Enlightenment really helped spread this way of thinking. God was no longer the center of things, and the militant wing of Humanism became Atheism. They were not content with man just being the center of existence, but also wanted to push God completely out of the picture and society.

At first, Atheism was primarily opposed to the Judean/Christian God, but as the 20th century came, it moved into more of an objection to all deities. Until the last thirty or so years, atheism was mostly about just not believing in God. They generally didn’t care if you believed in God, just as long as you didn’t press it on them. They were mostly content with just living without God being a factor in their lives.

But over the last twenty years, there has been a seismic shift in atheism, leading to something called ‘New Atheism’. Mitchell Cohen says it is “a reaction against politicized and intolerant religious fundamentalists who have acted aggressively to impose their views of the world on American politics and public life for several decades. A strong intellectual challenge to them has been long overdue.” As you can see, this new brand of Atheism is seeking to make a difference in the world. Here are some characteristics of New Atheism:

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The New Atheism

Disclaimer: This post will begin a series I’m going to be doing on New Atheism.  Let me begin with a warning and a request.  I realize that these posts will be somewhat unpopular with many people, namely atheists.  The purpose of these posts really isn’t to create a dialogue between Christians and Atheists, and as you will see later, I don’t think this would be possible or a good opportunity to do that.  So here is my request:  if you are an atheist and you really hate these posts, this isn’t a place for you to voice your aggravation and continue to attack Christianity.  As we will see, New Atheism isn’t about an open debate, but about intolerance towards any sort of acceptance of Christianity.  So if you have a comment that wouldn’t be considered ‘healthy dialogue’, I kindly and respectfully ask you not to post it.

New Atheism

For many years, atheism has been a view that a person would hold to if they just didn’t believe in God.  It often reflected a lack of desire to try to believe or search things out.  Most of the time they didn’t mind if anyone else believed in God, as long as those beliefs didn’t infringe too much on their own lives.  Recently, there has been a significant shift in atheism, and a ‘New Atheism’ has been born.  This new movement can be characterized by not only intolerance towards Christianity, but also towards anyone who would tolerate it to any degree.  They see themselves as being repressed and held down by a society that inexplicably holds to Christianity, only to its own demise.

Just like any movement, this one is lead by charasmatic personalities, both young and old.  The senior statesman would be the British scientist and evolutionist, Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins, who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford was, for many years, known as the author of  “The Selfish Gene”.  Though he grew up in a normal Anglican family, he questioned religion from an early age.  Interestingly, at one point he was convinced back to Christianity due to the argument from design, but eventually abandoned religion altogether when he became convinced that evolution satisfyingly answered the questions of the complex design of the world.

Recently, around the events of 9/11, Dawkins began to become more militaristic in his fight against Theism, namely Christianity.  This is worked its way to his recent book, “The God Delusion”, where he presents his evidence that a belief in God is just foolishness.  It is mostly centered around the idea that Creationism is just  “preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood”.  The book has been very successful, reaching #5 on the New York Time’s bestsellers list for hardcover non-fiction books.  As of November 2007, it has sold 1.5 million copies.  It has gotten around, to say the least.

Another, and even more militaristic personality, is an American named Sam Harris.  He has been called Atheisms new bulldog, and has led his charge with two books, “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation”.  Sam Harris seems to take it to the next step, blaming every bad thing in America on Christianity, calling for an abandoning of  Christianity to a new society based on  reason.  The thing that all these men have in common is that science is the new religion. They see science as falling woefully short of obvious scientific truths.  Harris grew up in with a Jewish mom and a Quaker dad, attended Stanford studying English, but dropped out when he started Ecstasy.  This lead him to study Buddhism, meditation, and read hundreds of religious books.  Eventually, he would return to Stanford, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.  He is now pursuing a doctorate in  neuroscience, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to conduct research into the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty. (Wikipedia)

Harris says that religion, namely Christianity, served a purpose for some time, but it is now time to view God the same way we view the myth of Zeus.  It is now time to leave religion behind, and take society in a new direction.  Religion as been “one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised.”  According to Harris, we must bring the nation to a point where we can not only talk about how mentally ridiculous Christianity is, but to the point where we cease to let it effect the way our society is run.  Reason, instead, should be the basis of society.   In the near future, I will be writing some views on his “Letter to a Christian Nation” book, so you will become very familiar with Harris.

Other personalities in the New Atheism movement are Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, as well as entertainers Penn and Teller, who have made bashing Christianity and Creationism a part of their popular act.  If you could boil all of their thoughts down to one, I think it may sound something like this: A belief in Christianity, Theism, God, Creationism, the Bible, the Koran, or any other ‘holy scripture’ is idiotic, baseless, and you are stupid if you believe them.  They very much carry themselves as being societies best thinkers, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just a nim-wit.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding various other posts to continue to explore some of these writings, what they teach, and how it may affect our society.  Their mission is to make Christianity intolerable, outlawed, and banished, along with those that hold to it.  They will not rest until their mission is accomplished.  What is a Biblically minded Christian to do?  Through this series, I pray that you do not fear these men and their bravado, but you realize that this is another season of attacks on faith.  Interestingly enough, in England, where Dawkin’s books shot up the sales of books of spirituality by 50% and the sales of Bibles by 120%.  Somewhat ironic that this has lead to a resurgence in the reading of the Bible.  I doubt that was the intended reaction.  I pray that it leads us to a resurgence in understanding our faith, and how to defend it.

Ben Stein: Creationist?!

I know those are three words I never thought I’d see, but apparently Ben Stein is a pro-Intelligent Design and has made a documentary about it.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Ben Stein, he came to fame in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as the teacher who dryly continues to call out “Bueller…. Bueller….” though Ferris has taken the day off.  He also hosted a hit game show on Comedy Central called “Win Ben Stein’s Money”.  And apparently he is a notorious Pro-Life, worked in the White House for Nixon and Ford.  He was even rumored to have been “Deep Throat” during the Watergate scandal.  He was also a lawyer, and even taught at Pepperdine University Law School.

Now Stein is taking on the education system’s bias against teaching or even handedly discussing Intelligent Design with a new movie, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”.  It is Stein’s view that Intelligent Design is mocked in scientific circles as well as educational circles and those who believe in Intelligent Design are thought to be lesser minds and ignorant.  He says that there is no freedom to discuss this, and anyone who does is immediately black listed.

Ironically, one only has to look at the comments left on the blog on the website to see how true this really is.  Peruse through the comments, and he is lambasted for the movie and the ‘moronic and idiotic’ arguments it makes.  Check it out if you want to get frustrated.

I can say, especially after speaking with my sister, that this is definitely a problem.  Intelligent Design is not seen as a credible option and anyone who claims it as their view is mocked and ridiculed.   But is this a profitable conversation?  I’m not so sure.  I really don’t think that many people will have their mind swayed by this film, because both sides just spout off normal speaking points.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think the issue is big and important, I’m just not sure if it is profitable for debate.  People get very animated on both sides, and everyone reverts to dogmatics and speaking points.  The only thing that happens is one side is made angry, while the other side is made more resolute in their argument.   This movie isn’t likely to sway one side to the other, but it may be important nonetheless.  It may be important to just raise the argument that there really isn’t freedom of thought.  Check it out if you’d like!

Some People Just Can’t Get Away From It All

I saw this interesting article. Apparently, camp grounds are beginning to offer Wi-Fi.  Campers need no longer to go somewhere else to log on, but can surf the internet from the comfort of their camp-site.  This is another alarming bit of evidence that Americans don’t know how to be still and quiet.  They can’t stand to actually slow down and think.

A big reason why camps are so successful in student ministries is because it gets people away from their life.  I couldn’t begin to imagine the disastrous effect this would have on those camps.  I don’t know if some would take it this far, but this is pushing God further and further out of the sight of people.  Living in a city, I am able to see how much they are monuments to man and their accomplishments.  God becomes less and less visible through the Creation that surrounds man because man does everything that they can to distract themselves from it.

I know that most of the people who read this live in the country and don’t have this perspective, but it is sad to see how man is becoming less and less aware of the beauty of God’s creation.  When we take our kids to Hume Lake, they are immediately struck with the beauty of Creation.  The hills and mountains cry out that God created them, and now people are doing more to ignore that.  just sad.