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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Guest Post by Nate Reid

My brother-in-law, Nate, associate pastor and youth leader at my church, originally wrote this article for my short-lived e-zine. Many Christians, including Nate and I, don’t think that Christians should celebrate Halloween because of its association with the devil and other malevolent entities. Here is Nate’s original article, written in October of 2008 and originally part of this e-zine.

For the Christian today, our diverse American culture poses many real
challenges in determining what he or she should and should not partake in. There is such a blending of belief systems and melding of cultural practices that for those who try to follow closely to the teachings of Jesus Christ, it can be a daunting task riddled with humanly perceived “gray areas.”

In keeping with the season, I would like to address the Christian’s response to the celebration of Halloween. I do not want to go into an exhaustive background, but Halloween began with ancient Druid beliefs that this time of year the souls of the deceased could and sometimes did come back to pester and possess the bodies of the living. Therefore, many of the customs that are still performed today have roots in actual Druid ritual. Carving Jack ‘o’ Lanterns and dressing up in frightening costumes was an attempt to scare away evil spirits. Building giant bonfires (derived from “bone-fires”) was intended to do the same and also eradicate anyone who was believed to be possessed by an evil spirit. Furthermore, today the “holiday” is celebrated by neo-Pagans, Wiccans, and even Satanists as somewhat of a high holiday.

So, if this is the case, what is a Christian to do? What’s so terrible about dressing up as a princess or a pumpkin and going door to door begging for candy? What possible harm can come from carving a pumpkin or bobbing for apples? I would venture to say that these things in and of themselves are not wrong and definitely not the point. The bottom line is this: Halloween today in our culture, no matter how any individual celebrates it, glorifies death, evil, and fear. As a Christian, we know that Jesus came to overcome the power of death, defeat evil, and eliminate fear. Why then would a Christian partake in an event that, no matter what their celebration includes, glorifies the very things Christ came to abolish?

If you argue that our customs for Christmas celebration have pagan roots and therefore would be wrong to partake of according to my argument, then you are right on the first part at least. Many Christmas customs do indeed come directly from pagan practices—the lighting of a tree and the yule log, just to name two. However, I would argue that you are incorrect on the second part of your statement. What, today, does Christmas stand for? Does it not still mark the celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ? You would be correct in noticing the need to eradicate the disgusting overemphasis of commercialism and the blatant substitution of the true meaning of Christmas with a certain “Santa Claus.”

Therefore, my analogy goes like this: Celebrating Halloween in the sense of celebrating the harvest and honoring the Saints that have gone before us would in theory be acceptable as a Christian, just as celebrating Christmas as the commemoration of the birth of Christ is acceptable. (The Catholic Church unsuccessfully tried to replace pagan meanings of Halloween, thus “All Hallow’s Eve,” which morphed into “Halloween” with “hallow” having the meaning of one who is hallowed or holy. Think, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name…”). Both celebrations go wrong when the pagan is celebrated over the Christian.

In the case of Halloween, glorifying death, evil, and fear is akin to placing the myth of Santa Claus in place of the real Jesus Christ while prioritizing the giving and receiving of gifts over glorifying the Giver of the Greatest Gift of all at Christmas time. I believe it is simply summed up in the following verse: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 The 5:19-22, ESV).

As a Christian we have the responsibility to ensure we are thinking through everything we do in general, and specifically in this case with celebrations to make sure we are glorifying God, holding to only that which is good, and keeping far away from anything that is associated with evil. I cannot personally get around the fact that Halloween glorifies death, evil, and fear. It should be obvious that this is the clear meaning behind this day.

Halloween movies more often than not feature brutal massacres, witchcraft as fun and acceptable, and glorification of the demonic side of the very real spiritual realm. The fiction that has been created about ghosts, zombies, and the like have their roots in reality and can only be demons as described in the Bible. There is a spiritual realm that features very good and very bad spirits.

We should not, especially as Christians, make light of this and consequently behave as if the evil is “cute” or “harmless” or anything else other than a terrible offense to God and contrary to everything He is.

We suffer from an epidemic of Christians that behave exactly the same, or at least nearly the same as their non-Christian counterparts without regard for taking a stand for what is pure and holy. We need to not be afraid of looking weird or irrelevant when we speak out against or abstain from celebrating overtly pagan and evil “holidays” such as Halloween. It is time we did as the writer in Hebrews describes when he writes: “…Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Heb 12:1, ESV).

I challenge every Christian who reads this article to examine the Word of God, pray specifically, and carefully consider what I present to you even if you initially disagree with my stance. I believe that any Christian absolutely must treat any and all matters of life, not exclusively the “hot button” issues like the celebration of Halloween, in this manner. We cannot afford to slog through life accepting or rejecting doctrine, lists of right and wrong, and in this case celebrations based on our culture at large, what someone we care
about or respect said, or whatever happens to fit our personal references.

There is absolute truth out there, and we all must strive to find it and understand it to the best of our imperfect human ability and live our lives accordingly. Ultimately, we will be held accountable for our actions and what we supported or fought against in the end.

I do not say all this to suggest that a true Christian cannot celebrate Halloween and still be “right with God.” There are godly men and women I know and respect and whose salvation I would not question who advocate at least portions of current American Halloween customs. I do not have a problem with disagreeing with them and personally choosing to abstain, but I only continue to respect their opinion if they have demonstrated that they are convinced that they are doing what is pure and holy to the best of their ability. I do, however, strongly infer that a true Christian will examine their hearts and motivations for celebrating it or not celebrating it and ensure that they have a solid set of reasoning and specific purpose for everything they do.

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Show #6: More Questions for Christians

My most recent podcast is now up! Most of it consists of a new set of tough questions for Christians, but I also address Chris Hallquist’s statement on sin found here. Typical for atheists, Chris’s view of sin is too simplistic. There’s a better, more nuanced view of sin that better explains how Christians view sin.

Here’s the show.

For Once, I Agree With Vjack

 

Christine O'Donnell

I normally bash what Vjack has to say, but in this case, I think it’s perfectly justified.

 

Christine O’Donnell, from everything that I’ve read about her, is making Christians in general look bad. She tried to argue that the phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution, so it’s not a valid concept.

The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What’s clear here is that the Founding Fathers didn’t want any one religion to be the religion in the United States, but I don’t think that they meant to clean all references to God and religion out of the government. They wanted the governing authorities to remain secular and not tied to a specific church or denomination. Different denominations within Christianity often have very different ideas of what constitutes the greater good. To remain free to serve the diverse religious beliefs within the new republic, the government would have to remain clear of heavy church influence.

Since many were religious refugees from the Anglican church, they wanted to respect the rights of other religious refugees to practice their own religion when they emigrated here.

The main problem with O’Donnell’s argument is one of consistency. I’m assuming (dangerous, I know) that she would believe in the Triune God, since she is a Roman Catholic. Well, by opponents of the Trinity, it has been repeatedly asserted that the word “Trinity” is found nowhere in the Bible. That’s one of the main arguments against the Trinity. Yet, the Trinity can be supported with numerous Scripture passages, even if they make no direct reference to “Trinity.”

So it is with separation of church and state. The phrase itself may not appear, but it can be deduced that this is the intent of the Founding Fathers. They didn’t want a single religion or denomination to dominate politics. To support a free exchange of ideas and to arrive at what is really the common good, denominational in-fighting has no place in government.

The Bible tells us to submit to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1; 1 Pet 2:13-17). Nowhere can I see that we are called to be the governing authorities. Rather, Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pet 2:15-17)

So, Christians should fine with separation of church and state. All the more reason to witness by our lives that have been changed for the better by Christ, for Christ. Live up to Christian values and morals, leading by example.

Great Quote from Facebook

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a great status that I thought I’d steal–I mean, share:

Nothing is random in His Kingdom. Everything that happens fits into a pattern for good, to those who love Him. Instead of trying to analyze the intricacies of the pattern, focus your energy on trusting Him and thanking Him at all times!

I try to keep things intellectual here at all times, but there’s something to be said for having a child-like faith that doesn’t need a complicated apologetic defense. The problem with most skeptics that I talk to is that they “psych themselves out,” so to speak.

They look at things like starving children in Africa, the candiru parasite, or anything else they don’t like about the world and conclude, “God didn’t make this. No good god would make a world like this one!” Well, there’s an apologetic defense for that (hint: it’s called “the Fall”), but why do I have to recite it? Yes, there are problems in the world. Making me (or any other Christian apologist) defend God against everything in the world that sucks is “analyzing the intricacies of the pattern.”

Instead, let’s trust God to work it out. The world as we know it is a giant Tower of Siloam. What did Jesus say to those trying to analyze the pattern?

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Lk 13:4-5)

Focusing on minutia for which I readily admit that I don’t have an answer to is beside the point. Instead, let’s fix our eyes on God, who will work all of these things out for the good of his elect (Rom 8:28). This comes back to the real definition of faith: trust. Trust God to be who he has revealed himself to be in Scripture.

This Might be the Funniest Thing EVER!

This should serve to demonstrate the evils of evolution:

H/T to Senor Gif.

Can Atheists be Moral Without God?

A few days back, I promised that I would discuss the answer to a question that has been raging in the atheist-theist dialogue for a long time. It stirs up controversy wherever it goes. The question: Can atheists be moral without God?

The short answer: NO, absolutely, unequivocally, not. It is impossible to be moral without God.

I had best get to the long answer before I get flamed by my atheist readership, which actually amounts to 99% (if not 100%) of my overall readership. First, I must explain an important, and oft overlooked, distinction that will bring this entire question into focus: the difference between ethics and morals.

When he was learning the art of the psychological autopsy, NCIS’s Ducky was asked by Mr. Palmer to explain the difference between ethics and morals. Ducky said something akin to “The ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife, while the moral man would not.” In other words, ethics govern solely the behavior of an individual, where morals begin with the heart and proceed out, modifying the behavior as a result.

It is quite possible for a man to watch rape porn, read erotica featuring rape or non-consensual scenes, constantly fantasize about raping women, and even request that his consensual partners fight him, beg him to stop, and cry real tears during sex. He literally views women as objects that exist solely for his enjoyment. What holds this individual back from actually raping a woman is the threat of jail time, the looming possibility of having to register as a sex offender, and the associated shame and loss of status all of that would bring.

This person actually quite ethical. He doesn’t act on his impulses. He obeys the law. By all outward appearances, he’s a fine, upstanding citizen. But his hidden dark side poses a problem with calling him  “moral.”

Ethics are solely concerned with behavior. A person can be ethical and even appear to bear the good fruit associated with the Kingdom of God, but essentially be a “whitewashed tomb full of dead man’s bones.” If you take care to wash only the parts that people can see, while continuing to live a robust life of mental evils, are you really moral?

If my neighbor, the guy with the really hot wife, the awesome job that I could never get in a million years, who paid off his house because he’s a millionaire in his twenties, and owns three fancy sports cars suddenly got divorced, fired from his awesome job, and totaled two of the three sports cars (in one day), how should I react to that?

Externally, if I offered a shoulder to cry on anytime he needed one and offered to help him financially if he needed to pay some debts or bills (no millionaire is completely without debt), and tried to help him get a job; would I still be good if in my mind I kept thinking silently, “I’m so happy! I want to see this S.O.B. fall further into despair. I’m going to nickname him ‘Job.’ May he total the other sports car, too!”

I’m thinking, “NO.”

That example is perfectly within our fallen natures. It isn’t that we can’t do good. We, in our fallen nature, can’t will good. We may do some (relative) good, but privately, we still entertain impure (or even evil) thoughts. Our behavior conforms to the good, but our minds do not.

Contrast this with a Christian, who is a Christian in both word and deed. I hate to say a “true” Christian, so let’s say a “sincere” Christian. Once his faith has been placed in Christ, a transformation occurs. He is a new creation. His inward thoughts are taken captive, to conform even those to Christ. Our carnal minds, after all, aren’t subject to God’s law (nor indeed can be).

Ethics are external. Those are what people see. However, morals work from the inside out. Instead of just doing good, we are good. That’s a far cry from simply acting ethical. Instead of not stealing thousands of dollars from the bank at which I work, the capability of that theft is no longer in my person. That, in a nutshell, is what it means to be conformed to Christ.

That, however, isn’t something that just happens the day of my altar call. It is part of sanctification, which is a life-long process where I work with God to conform both my actions and my thoughts to Christ’s example.

This is hard. But no one ever said Christianity was supposed to be easy.

New Low for America

This could be the saddest graphic I’ve ever seen. (H/T to Failbook)

Godthoughts Wired

Somehow, I started receiving a newsletter titled “Godthoughts Wired.” The e-mails act as though I had subscribed to it, but it is being sent to one of the side addresses that I don’t use for that purpose. So, I think that a spider crawling my expansive network of sites found it and subscribed me. I thought that the newsletter might be interesting, so I fished it out of my spam folder and decided to give it look.

The issue sent for October 21 raised an eyebrow. A lot of people in the religious right are going to great lengths to besmirch President Obama. It’s occasionally comical. I want to go on record first: I voted for Obama. I believed that he would do more to lead this nation out of its financial crisis than McCain would have. I’m still waiting. At this point, I’m probably not going to vote for re-election. The problem is that the Republicans seldom put up a candidate worth voting for. I’m usually trying to decide between the lesser of the two evils. But in this case, I really believed what Obama was saying. I really thought that he’d be the leader who pulled us out of this economic sinkhole. And, I looked forward to laughing at my fellow churchgoers who doubted that he could do that, all of whom were proudly displaying “McCain/Palin” yard signs and bumper stickers that they got from our church.

I just want everyone to understand this background. I was pro-Obama, and now I’m not so sure. He really hasn’t fulfilled his campaign promises. Go after him on those grounds. But what the Godthoughts Wired e-mail did was a bit different.

They say:

In 2009 a London reporter asked Barak Obama the following question, “Could I ask whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of ‘American Exceptionalism’ that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world?”

Obama answered, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

Okay, Obama is being a politician and giving a political answer that isn’t really an answer. That’s typical. I hate it. I wish that more reporters would call politicians out on this crap, but that’s another article entirely. Godthoughts continued:

Hmmm…Any honest assessment of the history of the founding of the United States of America reveals that America was a country that once honored Christianity and the God of the Bible more than any country in the history of the earth. Thereby, the institutions of this nation rested upon the foundation of the Christian faith.

While I agree, despite numerous claims to the contrary, that the United States was founded on Christian principles (not necessarily as a safe haven solely for Christians, but as a place that allowed a free choice of religious worship–there’s a difference!), I’m not so sure I really see where this e-mail is going. Obama never denied American Exceptionalism. He just said that he figures (rightly) that other nations feel that they are also uniquely qualified to lead the world.

Because my bet here is that they are going to equate a denial of American Exceptionalism with a denial of Christianity. The letter concludes with these words from Pastor Brad (whoever that is):

To reject “American exceptionalism” is to reject the God who made America the most “exceptional” nation in the history of the world.

Yep, there it is. So, Obama’s words are twisted to mean that he denies American Exceptionalism, and that is twisted into a denial of Christianity.

There is plenty that you can attack Obama for. Why manufacture something that just isn’t there? And what is the purpose of trying to prove that he isn’t a Christian? Or that he isn’t an American citizen?

End of rant. And I’ll be unsubscribing from that newsletter.

Show #5: Didn’t Think I’d Get it Up in Time!

As the title suggests, I really didn’t think I’d get this show up in time. All I had was a rant on the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality as of yesterday evening. Normally, I have more done than that, since I work on podcasts a little at a time throughout the week. So, during the course of Thursday afternoon, I managed to answer two of the six questions that I had on the docket despite having my kids with me. I finished up the remainder of the questions and did the promised rebuttals to Doug Crews after everyone went to bed.

Unfortunately, the answers that I offered to some of the questions are superficial and I didn’t provide background links to supplemental material that would help the listener understand better. I promised at the end of this show to get more motivated in answering the comments, so I will do that–because my answers are probably going to be pretty open to rebuttal from skeptics. I’ll be more ready in the comments to answer.

Here’s the show.

Really? This is Your Argument?

John W. Loftus and company occasionally have excellent arguments against Christianity. They put up nuts that are tough to crack individually, and other nuts that are tough to crack cumulatively. I want to start by giving them props for those excellent arguments.
And then, other times, they put out completely stupid arguments. Loftus more than the other guys. Case in point:

Yahweh did not exist. He is much too tribal of a god, created the world in conflict with the sea God Rahab, married to Asherah, accepted child sacrifice, commanded genocide, forbid worship of all other gods (didn’t deny their existence), and chose Israel like the others gods did to other nations.

All of this crap has been answered before. Let’s break it down:

  • Created the world in conflict with the sea god Rahab: Water was present at the moment of creation (see Gen 1:2), and Rahab was a sea goddess described in period literature. Personifying the waters with a pagan goddess in this way would emphasize God’s power over the elements and his superiority to other gods. Since the Bible elsewhere makes it clear that God is the only god in existence (see below, and check the apocryphal book Wisdom 13:1-19), this isn’t a stamp of approval on the existence of Rahab, just strong poetic language.
  • Married Asherah: Asherah was a popular goddess among ancient Israel, but there is no biblical evidence to indicate that she ever married Yahweh. The fact that she is worshiped is no surprise; there is much in the texts that indicate Israel repeatedly worshiped other deities. As I mentioned above, the writers of Psalms and Job even worked the sea goddess Rahab into their imagery of the creation of the world. There is nothing significant in calling attention to a specific deity that they worshiped in spite of God’s command not to.
  • Accepted child sacrifice: What? Have you read Genesis 22:1-19, where God stops Abraham from doing the deed? If that isn’t enough for you, try Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5 and Ezekiel 20:31. That Solomon re-instated child sacrifice is considered by the Bible writers to be a major downfall in his kingdom. And before you bring up Judges 11:29-40, show me where in the text (a) she was actually killed, and (b) God accepted and approved the sacrifice. Even though the language is unclear (probably intentionally), I can grant that (a) could be true, but I’ve searched very carefully and know for a fact that (b) is not in the text.
  • Commanded genocide: No, he pronounced judgment on a sinful people worthy of his wrath. Big difference. Murder, by the way, is wrong. But, if taking a life is justified (sin = death, see Gen 2:16-17, 3:17-19; cf. Rom 5:12, 14, 6:16, 23, 7:5, 13; 1 Cor 15:56; Jms 1:15), then it isn’t murder, is it?
  • Didn’t deny the existence of other deities: Really? Are you reading a different Bible than the one I have in my hand? The biblical authors say God is the only deity in Deuteronomy 4:39 and 1 Kings 8:20; God himself declares it so in Isaiah 44:8, 45:5-6, 14, 18, 22, 46:9 and Joel 2:27; and an Israelite lauds Jesus for teaching that God is the one and only in agreement with Scripture in Mark 12:32 (and Jesus tells him that heaven is close for him).
  • Predestination: It’s God’s perogotive to do what God will (Rom 9:18), choosing to save people at his will and pleasure to bring him glory. Unfortunately, apart from that drawing, no one can know God (Jn 6:44). So the wonder isn’t that only a few are saved, the wonder is that any are saved.

Thom Stark (a Christian, I believe) claims in the comment section of the post that all of these claims about Yahweh are true. I haven’t read his book–though now I want to–but I’ll bet his sources for this information didn’t come from the Bible. The authors may have, as Stark claimed, believed some of the things that appear above, but they are not present in Scripture. It’s a moot point–Scripture is our measure for truth about God, not what the authors of it believe.

The actual point of the post is to say that if Yahweh doesn’t exist, then God doesn’t exist. That’s bad logic. The God that Christians worship is the Creative force of the Universe, and is identified with the ancient name YHWH (or “Yahweh”). That is Hebrew for “I AM,” which is taken to mean, since names in ancient literature are allegorical, that God simply is, that he exists necessarily outside of nature, time, and space, and through him (and for him) the universe was created.

Showing that the ancient Israelite deity YHWH never existed isn’t tantamount to showing that a divine being, held to exist by any theistic religion, never existed. It means that YHWH may never have existed, but since Jesus did exist and claimed to be descended from, co-existent, and co-eternal with the One, True God–so you still have to do something with Jesus.

Sorry, this kind of fails.