Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

Faith & Religion

God Is Real. Here’s Proof.


I’m often asked by my irreligious friends how I, an otherwise intelligent and learned person, can also believe in the existence of God and also how I can possibly believe that Jesus Christ is both God’s Son and mankind’s salvation. I don’t take umbrage at the questions. After all, we’ve been taught – in school, in society and in the popular media – that the existence of God and the practice of logic and reason are mutually exclusive. This slow divorce of reason from the logic of God has been an element of neoliberal thought for well over 150 years. What was once an edgy, cool philosophical theorem primarily examined and debated on the most respected campuses made its way into the public consciousness by the beginning of the 20th century. By the 21st century, it was no longer cool or edgy – it had become accepted dogma, even among most of the religious, that logic and religion were non simpatico.

I was not immune to the modern doctrine. As I pursued my Baccalaureate degree in the sciences, it was only strengthened. Like most of us, I didn’t question the infallibility of idea that science and “mysticism” can not co-exist. And as I gravitated further towards the “rational” world, the religious world, the world of “mysticism,” became something not only to be ignored but shunned.

As Christians, we’re admonished to “take it on faith” that God exists and that despite our failings, he loves us enough to have sacrificed his own Son for our salvation. A powerful message, yes, but also pretty mystical as usually presented. This is largely because the majority of Christians fail to understand the actual meaning of faith. Yes, it is about belief (as explained by the apostle Paul, faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Heb 11:1]) and when we begin talking about things we can’t see, that gets pretty mystical. But faith is not belief in the absence of evidence, nor is it belief in spite of contrary evidence. The New Testament is replete with stories of people who came to faith though knowledge and who used logic, reason and contemporaneous thinking to increase not only their faith but that of those around them. Perhaps the most famous of these is that of “Doubting Thomas,” who did not believe that the Christ had returned after his crucifixion.

I’ll leave out how my personal journey back to sanity and away from the secular commenced. Not because I don’t think it’s an interesting story, but simply for brevity’s sake. But 27 years ago when I began looking for the real meaning to life, rest assured I used every bit of the classic liberal education I received earlier to answer the question, “Is God real?” Not unlike Thomas, I wasn’t looking for absolute, irrefutable proof of His existence. Rather, I was searching for something that any reasonable person could look at as proving God lives.

The elegance of the answer is in its very simplicity. We can know God lives because every religious philosophy has, at it’s core, one tenet. In Christianity, we refer to it as the Golden Rule and it can be found in every religion, current and past, all over our planet. From the Brahmans to the Zoroastrians, EVERY religion espouses that the purest way to demonstrate their teachings is to love our fellow humans as we love ourselves.

Is this incontrovertible proof? Perhaps not. But consider this: over the thousands of years humans have walked the Earth, we’ve rarely found the capacity to agree on anything. We’ve fought, argued, warred over far less important topics. Yet, even in our ancient history, when scattered to the four corners with virtually no contact, our ancestors all came up with the same central religious philosophy? Perhaps someday, a statistician will run the numbers and give us the probability of that happening on its own. The odds, I imagine, will be astronomical. But with a spark of divine guidance, the odds suddenly become not astronomical but likely.

So, the proof God lives? It is as complex as quarrelsome nature and as simple as our belief that the highest goal is treating everyone with respect.

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Maybe I’m Getting Old…


I began this morning the way I usually do, by opening my Bible and reading a passage, then moving on to Facebook and looking at the overnight posts from my friends. Usually, this is a great way to start the day: I get my moral gyroscope spinning with the right orientation and then lighten my mood by seeing the crazy stuff people I know were up to the night before. I especially enjoy the memes that get posted. As those of you who follow me on the Zuckerberg Express are certainly aware, I’m a pretty snarky person and love ironic humor.

But this morning…well, this morning is different. All of the Ferguson memes, styled in a way that ordinarily would at least get a chuckle from me, didn’t have that effect. Instead, they only filled me with a sense of sadness. Pictures that are repurposed to make you laugh have instead left me wanting to cry – and that’s why I now worry if, in fact, I’m getting too old.

I worry about that, because I know it’s an old-fashioned idea that senseless and needless violence simply isn’t a source of humor. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not unfamiliar with senseless violence. After all, I live in Newark, not exactly a paragon of domestic tranquility. In my decades of life, I’ve witnessed dozens of riots similar to the ones we’re seeing in Ferguson. And yet, somehow, these riots have touched me in a way that none of those others did.

Maybe it’s the circumstances that led up to them. There seems to be a sickness in our society, a malady that is on the edge of my understanding without my truly being able to grasp it. At the core, the source of the riots and the accompanying (no longer funny) memes is this: blacks in America are certain the police are gunning for them. Whites in America think that idea is a bunch of baloney. Try as I might, I cannot find a way to bridge that difference – and I don’t think anyone else has the answer, either. That very real possibility is the source of my angst, because I’ve always believed in America as the world’s best hope for a Shining City on a Hill – and if we’ve failed in that mission, we’ve failed in so much more.

If America is not the nation of our collective imagination, one where any man can rise as high (or sink as low) as he chooses based solely on his abilities and desires, then we have a serious problem. If America is not a nation where we strive to make that dream a reality, then we have a problem. If America is simply a nation where an entire class of people believes they are to be permanently impressed as nothing more than the punching bags for everyone else, then we have an even bigger problem. How do you change someone’s belief system, one they see reinforced on a daily basis in their personal experience, even if the reinforcement is only perceived?

I don’t know, but I find my mind traveling back to the time of my youth. Men like Bobby Kennedy and Ralph Abernathy provided the leadership to help guide America towards our goal of realizing Shining City on a Hill status. Of course, foremost among the men of that day was Dr. Martin Luther King and I think of the speech he gave 46 years ago in Memphis. Many remember it as the call to arms for the sanitation worker strike; others as the last speech Dr. King would ever give. I recall it for the simple sermon Dr. King gave towards the end of the speech, in which he relayed how the Parable of the Good Samaritan should infect our modern lives. He talked of the time he and his wife traveled the Jordan Road and was made aware of how the travelers could ignore the mugged man’s plight, how the dangers of that road were evident even in his day. (By the way, if you ever get a chance, you’ll see it still hasn’t changed). But most importantly, he talked about how the Good Samaritan took the element of danger and turned it on it’s head. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, “Rather than asking ‘What is the danger to me if I stop to help, he asked what is the danger to him if I do not stop?'”

Maybe that passage still holds true today and maybe that’s where we’ve lost our way. Maybe we’ve simply stopped asking ourselves what the danger is to our nation and our society, if we stop to help the guy who’s in trouble. If instead, we’ve become so insular as to be unable to even see that question, much less answer it.

I’m not sure. But for now, I’m going to find some old Three Stooges shorts and see if some senseless violence can restore my humor.


Life and Liberty


Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook know I recently spent 8 days hospitalized once again. My ongoing battle with Crohn’s Disease, one that has consumed the last 22+ years of my life, remains unrelenting. Like all of such events over the past three years or so, this hospitalization didn’t end with long-term remission of my disease activity or even the hope of a near term remission.

I could complain and I doubt many of you would be upset if I do so. But I’ve never really been one for complaining about things beyond my control, nor do I think that really accomplishes much. Certainly, venting can ease the mind but it’s only a temporary relief. I pointed out once before that life’s recent turns have, if anything, made me more reflective and this most recent turn only served to reinforce that attitude.

But reflective of what, exactly? Well, in a word: EVERYTHING.

Faith, religion, why we’re here? Yes. My personal history, my family, friends and relationships? You bet. Medicine and medical research? Naturally. My overarching view of our world, our past and our future? Certainly.

There are only so many times a man can stare at his own mortality without contemplating the wonder and the why of it all, I suppose. Or the alternative could likewise be true: all these brushes with Death’s door may have already left me insane – in which case, you’ve been reading the rantings of a madman. We’re about to embark on a journey to find out which is true over the next few days and weeks. I’ll leave the decisions about my sanity to your discretion – which considering my readership, may be the boldest move I’ve made yet!

For a blog that spends as much time on political matters as mine, you may be wondering how I managed to leave any mention of that topic from my list of contemplations. But here’s your first point to ponder in judging my perspicacity: isn’t the political the one realm where we publicly express our personal philosophy?

Tomorrow, we begin…


Wait a cotton pickin’ minute


Perhaps because I’ve never believed our nation is a bunch of redistributive idiots at heart, I’ve watched as the country plunged headfirst towards Obamacare with fascination. Maybe because nearly all my adult life is partly defined by my battle with Crohn’s Disease, I pay an inordinate amount of of attention to the Battle for Health Care Reform. Could be because I am even now lying in a hospital bed in the latest go-round with Crohn’s, I’m amazed at the dizzying pace of lies pouring forth from the administration of President Barack Obama over the past four weeks.

What is most sad is that a sizable chunk of the American people are just sitting back and taking it. Despite the evidence of their own eyes from the past four years, they continue to loll about and let the administration get away with the greatest government take-over of American life in history. I’m stupified by the willingness of the American citizenry to just play ostrich when they should at least get to strutting like Foghorn Leghorn.

Then it hit me.

With all the force of a Superstorm, it hit me square in the face. After 40 years of war, debt, moral erosion and political scandal, the American people are tired of dealing with it all – and longing for something they never experienced. The Founding Fathers left us a political and economic system that only works if everyone (or nearly everyone) participates. Most people don’t participate unless they have either a very personal interest in a particular program or they’re corrupt enough to look upon governement service as a way to create individual wealth.

More later. As mentioned, I’m typing this from a hospital bed. In the meantime, am I on the right track? Is the reason most Americans just don’t care because we’ve spent four generations being battered into submission?


Social Conservatism and Libertarianism can co-exist


This morning’s post about being a Libertarian raised questions among the readership (thanks for the feedback, by the way) and I thought one in particular needed addressing. It came from a Twitter follower who wanted to know how I, an unabashed Christian and social conservative, can also be an unabashed Libertarian. On first blush, I understand how there is a seeming dichotomy in the two philosophies. The confusion, I think, stems from not understanding how classical liberalism and classic Protestantism influence Libertarian thinking.

As defined today, liberalism invokes the idea that government is the only organization capable of providing social cohesion. Religion, family and community each play a role, but in the end it is the government that must be the glue that keeps society from coming apart. This view – call it modern liberalism – is currently the predominant one in western society. The “enlightened oligarchy” of this model actually isn’t far removed from the “enlightened monarchy” that dominated that dominated European governments in the latter half of the 18th century. It also hews closely to various themes that come to bear in the mid-20th century, in which government control over most or all aspects of social order were encouraged: Socialism, fascism and communism.

However, classical liberalism as practiced in the upper-echelon salons of Western Europe and mainstream American life in the same period held that each institution worked in combination to create a stable society. In this model, government is just another player along with religion, family and community in creating a just and stable society. Classical liberalism, as opposed to modern liberalism (or perhaps, “progressivism” is a more apt term), holds that individual rights outweigh those of the society – provided the individual is a just and moral being. If not, then each of the various factions that comprise a society; the churches, the schools, the community organizations, the family and friends and yes, the government, has a role to play in returning the individual to that place of moral rectitude.

“The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained… While just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords government its surest support.” –George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 20, 1789

Although the nation’s creation included the indispensability of a moral citizenry, the founders further outlined the necessity for religion and governance playing separate yet equal roles in public life by purposely cleaving the two. Government would have no role in determining religious affairs and (other than informing the moral character of the citizenry) religion would have no say in the body politic. They codified the principle in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids the government from establishing a national religion or interfering in any religious activity. Moral character may be important, but it is not so important that the government should decide that which is moral. Rather, the government should be informed of that which is moral by the decisions of plebiscite, which in turn should be informed by the communities’ religious institutions.

This reliance on indirect morality in government is how I can be both a Libertarian and socially conservative. It is not the government’s job to dictate morality; that is best left to me, my personal relationship with Jesus Christ and my spiritual mentorship from my church. The moral and religious beliefs I hold will, by nature, play a part in how I vote and participate in the political theater. But the place to make the arguments for those positions is not in the political arena, but the spiritual: in the pews and pulpits, not the halls of Congress.

To put it more plainly: it is not the role of religion to decide the affairs of government and it is not the role of government to decide the affairs of religion. This principle has been a cornerstone of the American Republic since the founding. As JFK said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” That many of my fellow social conservatives see fit to now overthrow this essential precept of American republicanism speaks more to their insecurity and unwillingness to engage the populace in true debate over morality – rather, they would impose it by means of government impression. That is antithetical to the teachings they claim to uphold. Christ wants a conversion of souls, not an enslaved people. In the same way, we should look to create a nation of free minds, not coerced opinions.

Libertarianism and social conservatism are more than compatible. Since both teach that the best way to a society that can absorb the worst while coming through with our individual best, they are mutually supportive.


The Little Red Hen


In case you’re wondering why so many Americans are dependent on the government for subsistence today, I thought returning to our childhood might be a good place to start. When I was a wee lad, I was told the story of the Little Red Hen. It goes something like this:

*****

Once upon a time, there was a little red hen who lived on a farm with her friends, the dog, the cat and the duck. One day when she was scavenging for food (for that’s what hens do), she found some seeds laying on the ground. Being a bright hen, she had an idea. She would plant the seeds and see what grew.

“Who will help me plant these seeds?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I” said the dog. “Not I” said the cat. “Not I” quacked the duck.

So, the little red hen tilled the ground and planted the seeds by herself. But she knew from watching the farmer that the seeds needed to be watered.

“Who will help me water the seeds?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I” said the dog. “Not I” said the cat. “Not I” quacked the duck.

So, every day the little red hen watered the seeds by herself. Soon, she had big stalks of wheat ready for harvest.

“Who will help me harvest the wheat?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I” said the dog. “Not I” said the cat. “Not I” quacked the duck.

So, the little red hen harvested all the wheat by herself. She was tired, but proud that her hard work had paid off with such a handsome harvest. But what to do with the wheat? The little red hen thought she could grind the wheat into flour.

“Who will help me grind this wheat into flour?” she asked.

“Not I” said the dog. “Not I” said the cat. “Not I” quacked the duck.

So, the little red hen ground the wheat into flour. It was wonderful flour, pure and white, perfect for baking a cake. The little red hen, being hungry from all of her hard work, decided to do just that.

“Who will help me bake the cake?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I” said the dog. “Not I” said the cat. “Not I” quacked the duck.

So, the little red hen baked the cake. When it was done, it smelled soooo good that the little red hen decided to eat the cake.

“Who will help me eat the cake?” asked the little red hen.

“Oh, I will” barked the dog. “Yes, I will, too!” purred the cat. “I will eat the cake” said the duck.

The little red hen looked at her friends in amazement. “When I asked your help in planting the wheat, none of you would” she said. “When I asked your help to tend and harvest the grain, none of you would. When I asked for your help to grind the wheat into flour and to bake the cake, none of you would. So, I will give each of you as much cake as you have earned.”

And with that, the little red hen sat down and ate the whole cake by herself.

*****

Today, I see a lot of people acting like the dog, cat and duck in the story, but very few little red hens. Once upon a time, this was the American ethos. But the dual ideals expressed in the “Little Red Hen” are apostasy to many of our countrymen these days. The ideals of earning you own way in the world, and the that diligence in your labors enable greater gains in the future. Rather, today the story is seen as an example of greed and avarice: how dare that little red hen keep that cake all to herself when those around here are asking for their “fair share?”

How old is the story of the little red hen and her barnmates? Nobody knows for sure, or even knows the origin. Some say it began in Russia, others in Germany. What we do know is that the principles exhibited by the characters and the results of their work (or lack  thereof) are found in texts that predate the Persian Empire. In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs (also known as the Wise Sayings of King Solomon) has several passages that refer to laziness. Among them is Proverbs 10:4, “He becometh poor that dealeth [with] a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich” and Proverbs 19:15, “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.” The current idea that your “fair share” is determined by need, not effort is a relatively new phenomenon, first expressed by Karl Marx. You know, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

I often wonder if the folks protesting at OWS encampments are aware of the story of the Little Red Hen. I’ve no doubt they’re aware of the Marx quote (although I would be willing to wager a small sum that most would confuse its origin). If we want to fix what’s wrong with the country, perhaps we should return to teaching more “Little Red Hen” and less “Critique of the Gotha Program.”


Dear Rick Santorum:


I won’t make this very long. This message is too important to be left open to interpretation (which you demonstrate time and again to be horrible at).

Actually, I can sum up the message in pretty short order: GET OUT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE.

It’s not that I think you’re necessarily a bad guy. I believe you genuinely care about America’s blue-collar majority, probably quite a bit more than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. Unlike the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I also believe that you’re a man of conviction whose word is as good as any signed contract. In fact, I think you’re probably not unlike many people I know personally. Your politics, however, are better suited to running Pakistan than the USA.

Numerous independent and non-partisan economists have reviewed your spending proposals. All of them agree that of the proposals currently out there, yours is the most fiscally irresponsible. We’re enduring a Presidency in which the federal debt will double in 4 years. Somehow, doubling it again by 2016 doesn’t strike me as either responsible or *ahem* conservative.

But more alarming than that is your commitment to theocracy as an overriding governing principle. That anyone can as flippantly dismiss the separation of church and state as you have, and still be considered a major candidate, speaks volumes about the mess the Nation has become. That you seem to read meaning into the 1st Amendment that isn’t there doesn’t speak very well of your professors at Dickinson. That you seem certain that people of faith are excluded from providing input into government affairs is either the result of extreme bigotry or extreme blindness on your part. If it’s the former, then nobody but another bigot could want you for President. If the latter, you’re too stupid to be President.

I’m writing this as man of deep religious faith, but also an American citizen. I’m fine with you practicing Catholicism openly. But I doubt you feel the same about the millions of your countrymen who are equally faithful regarding other religions. You’ve made it abundantly clear that you certainly do not respect the rights of millions of more to not practice any faith. I’m not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about Catholicism, but surely you were taught the Golden Rule at some point (some version of it seems to be the underpinning of every Christian religion I’ve encountered). Anyway, that’s what makes the 1st Amendment unique among the laws of men: we actually codified the idea that if you respect everyone’s else right to speak, write and pray as they like, they’ll respect yours to do the same. You know, the whole Do Unto Others thing – the part of your faith you seem to have left at the altar of politics.

The longer you stay in the race, the longer the press will be obligated to publicize you and the moronic things you say. But if you drop out now, you can still go on speaking tours of every KoC hall in America. You can still write op-eds for the weekend newspapers. You’ll still have the same right as every other citizen to weigh in on the important topics of the day. But those of us who really don’t want have your misguided opinions shoved down our throats won’t be forced to listen to you every morning, noon and night – to the exclusion of the real problems facing us.

See, there are people in America who actually care about fixing the country – and not turning us into a broke, corrupt and contemptible nation. I know, I talk to them every day of the week. And with you out of the way, the public discourse can return to matters of substance. If you love your country as much as you profess, than do us a favor Rick. Get out.


What Would Jesus Do?


Does he really believe in the symbolism?

Does he really believe in the symbolism?

I generally try to leave religion out of this blog. Religion is a deeply personal matter and I’ve always tried to respect that. While I make no attempts to hide the fact that I am a Christian, I also realize that our great nation has people of many faiths (and some with no faith, although I find that puzzling) and not everyone shares identical beliefs. My original intent here was to discuss politics and sports. It has since evolved primarily a political blog (I still blog about sports; you can catch my writing at Zell’s) and one aimed at policy matters. But as you may be aware, I recently suffered a setback in my battle with Crohn’s Disease and spent some time in the hospital. Such stays allow you a chance to reflect on things more deeply than you might otherwise, and as a result of that reflection I decided I cannot stay silent on the sudden intrusion (and misrepresentation of Scripture) in political discourse.

One of the tag lines that liberals love to toss around is “what would Jesus do?” The intent, of course, is to paint conservative thought as mean, bullying and anti-Christian. In a world where Scripture is often used to further political ends, conservatives are just as guilty as liberals, of course. But the sad reality is that the archetype of liberal thought loves to use misguided perceptions of Christ’s teachings in an attempt to show conservatives as hypocritical.. Two recent events are incredible examples of just how liberal political use of Scripture has perverted its lessons and meaning.

The first was the President’s invocation of Luke 12:48 in his National Prayer Breakfast speech on February 2. He said,

“I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.'”

This gave me pause at the time. The President claims to be a Christian, yet used this particular verse to justify raising taxes in the name of charity? There are plenty of verses regarding the concept of charity. 1 Timothy 1:5 is an excellent example of the Christian view of charity, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” But since the verse is a description of charity not mandated by government but rather as a demonstration of faith, it hardly fit the political bill.

See the reason the particular verse cited by the President made me sit up and take particular notice is that it has nothing do with charity or taxation. It is part of a parable Christ was telling the disciples regarding the types of punishment that would be meted out during the Second Coming. The parable begins in verse 42, in response to a question from Peter. Jesus had just told the disciples the parable of the Thief in the Night, which he used to describe the timing of the Second Coming, and Peter asks in 12:41 if Jesus is only telling this parable to believers or to all people. Christ then describes how Christians are held to a higher standard than non-believers. While all men will be held accountable for their sins on Judgment Day, believers who purposely misled the unfaithful through their actions will receive a special punishment. That is what he is referring to in 12:47-8, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

I was, and remain, deeply puzzled by the President’s misuse of this piece of Scripture. There are only two possibilities for him to use it in the context he did. Either he is not a Christian, or he has been seriously misinformed regarding one of the most important passages in the Bible. If the former, so be it – but he shouldn’t suggest he understands the meaning behind words that hold no particular relevance to him. If the latter, he should seek a new church, one that actually hews to Scripture and do so immediately.

The other odd policy decision regarding faith that made headlines was the President’s seemingly insane attempt at forcing Catholics and others to accept mandated birth control, in direct contravention to their doctrine. I am not Catholic – many of their teachings I cannot find Scriptural reference for (such as the veneration of saints). Yet, I still found the method he arrived at the decision to be puzzling. Catholics believe contraception to be a sin and there is a Scriptural basis for this doctrine (Geneses 1:28 and Leviticus 15:16, in particular). So why was it so difficult for the President to make the exception he made on Friday part of the original HHS decree, especially when the Catholics in his administration warned him beforehand that such move would essentially be sticking his thumb in the eyes of all people of faith? Again, the only answer I can come up with is that the President, his protestation to the contrary, is either not a man of faith or has received seriously deficient spiritual counsel.

This brings me back to the beginning of my post. What would Jesus do? Jesus was not apolitical – the Romans would have cared less about him if he were. No doubt, Jesus would have been fired up at the President for misrepresenting his teaching. Given that Christ was first given to instruction of those who should know better, he would have asked the President to define how he could simultaneously claim to be a man of faith, and in the same moment blaspheme? That would have been very akin to his questioning of the Pharisees over their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:41-46).

So, I’ll now sit back and wait to hear replies, either from the President or his liberal supporters. I suspect, that much as the Pharisees were unable to answer Jesus, I won’t hear a peep from the liberal masses.