Environmentalism as evangelism

There are at least three key elements to effective evangelism: accurate proclamation of the Gospel, a connection between that Gospel and people’s deepest needs, and the elimination of any unnecessary obstacles that might impede them embracing it.

With this in mind, we must sadly admit that Christians have badly bungled items two and three with respect to people who have a deep concern for the environment. This means that such people have never seen the possibility of having their passions fulfilled in Christianity, and we have basically told them they must forsake such concerns to even join the community of Christ. As a result, they have been driven into various forms of false religion instead.

If we are ever to remedy this, we must realize that God has given some people a special love of His creation and then show them how their deep love of nature comes most fully true in Him. In other words, admitting our own error in excluding them as we embrace a Biblically healthy form of environmental concern isn’t just good theology. It’s good evangelism.

Thought of the Day 06.30.10

Is it possible that the people who best understand marriage are actually those who avoid and condemn it? Well, their common allegation is that marriage is a form of slavery. And they’re absolutely right.

When you get married, you promise to do things in the future that you may not want to do when the time comes, a promise made by current-you but binding on future-you. It’s a bit unfair to future-you because current-you wants to do all the things being promised. But, nevertheless, this is the basic reality of marriage.

The idea that future-you may either want out of the marriage or simply want to not perform marital duties isn’t even weird. In fact, the only possible reason we make vows in the first place is because we expect this to happen. It’s normal for spouses to want to leave or neglect their marriages in the future. So we promise to not act on that desire.

Thus, the right response to a married person wanting to leave a marriage is simple. “Of course you do. So what? You vowed not to.”

Thought of the Day 06.29.10

Marriage is a creature.

What I mean is that, when you get married, you actually create a brand new lifeform that didn’t exist before. There is you, there is your spouse, and there is also your marriage: a living breathing thing that can thrive or suffer based on your nurture or neglect of it.

This “creatureliness” of marriage means that marriage is sacred not in a way similar to life, but in precisely the same way as life. It means that you learn to guard your marriage’s safety and health the same way you might that of your child or a friend. And when a marriage ends, there really is a something that has been tragically killed. Some marriages die from neglect, and some from direct violence. But every divorce is really a marricide, whatever the culpability, and should be mourned as a death in the family.

Happily, the reverse is also true. If you are raising and nurturing your marriage well, it can be a thing of enormous beauty and satisfaction, sustaining both of you and glorifying the God who enabled you to create it.

This way of thinking, by the way, explains why we celebrate anniversaries basically as if they were birthdays. They really are. It's also why I look forward to a day when divorce is as uncommon as child mortality, the sort of ugly thing that happened to people who simply didn’t yet know how to prevent it.

Thought of their Day 06.28.10

The motto “In God we trust” has been in use on coins since the 1860s and on paper money since the 1950s, a fact which is notoriously controversial to some people because it seems like an endorsement of religion. But I wonder whether some others might object to this for a different reason.

They might think that it’s a poor choice to put God’s name on money because it seems like an endorsement of materialism or like some crass demotion of God’s sovereignty to put his name on “filthy lucre.” As you might suspect, I see it differently.

We live in a land where materialism and financial idolatry are as rampant as any epidemic. Some people worship money by the way they misuse it, while others worship it by orienting their entire lives around making and saving it. Precisely for these people, I think printing this motto on money is useful as one potential brief reminder at the point of purchase that God, not wealth, is the only true source of security. It actually makes me wonder why banks don’t usually put it on checks and credit cards.

Thought of the Day 06.25.10

On my way to Israel last month, I first had a five-hour flight to New York. When most everyone had boarded, I was pleased to see no one sitting next to me in the middle seat. But then I saw an older woman coming down the aisle, who wound up sitting beside me, a fact for which she apologized since, in her words, “I take medication and have to go to the restroom a lot.”

I knew what she was thinking. Americans are selfish, especially on airplanes. They form terribly cruel judgments about people who irritate them, such as children, the obese, those who talk too much, or someone who takes away your cherished extra seat. And they would far rather have someone else suffer the burden of sitting near such people. So when you are one of those people, you shudder to imagine what others might be thinking of you.

Having already thought a bit about this particular scenario, I had a ready answer for her apology. I smiled reassuringly at her and said, “Well, if you have to inconvenience someone, it might just as well be me, right?”

Thought of the Day 06.24.10

Imagine that I regularly suffer really bad headaches. One day, it’s particularly painful. So I decide to go down to the store and purchase a strong painkiller. When I get there, the pharmacist asks me for my prescription. I tell him I don’t need any stinking doctor telling me what to put in my body. I have a terrible headache and it’s not improving, so he’d better give me something strong for it. I’m obviously going to lose this argument.

But why as a society do we believe I should have to get powerful pain medication from a professional? Don’t I deserve pain relief, and isn’t it my life? The answer is obvious. Because only a professional can properly diagnose my condition and help me find a remedy which will do more good than harm, especially since many self-directed remedies could be extremely damaging to me. Thus, we require this not because we dislike people with headaches, but precisely because we care too much about them to let them self-administer such things.

Given the obviousness of this and its truth for all sorts of far more serious medical conditions, I just have one simple question. How sure are you that divorce should be available as an over-the-counter marriage remedy?

Thought of the Day 06.23.10

Just how important are good deeds to a normal Christian life? In answering this question, some people make the mistake of saying that good deeds save you, while others make the opposite mistake of saying good deeds are irrelevant. So, what’s the right answer?

In one of the shortest books of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul clearly affirms to Titus that we are saved according to God’s mercy and not on the basis of our deeds (3:5). But he also emphatically reminds Titus no less than six times about the importance of doing good deeds (1:16 by contrast, 2:7, 2;14, 3;1, 3:8, and 3:14). He even implies that God’s reason for saving us is so we can do good deeds (1:16, 3:14).

But why would Paul feel the need to repeat himself so often about this in such a short letter? Precisely because he realizes that the most natural error in Christianity after understanding the Gospel’s offer of free grace is to then think that it doesn’t matter what we do with that gift. And if the “apostle of grace” thought such emphasis on good works was necessary to avoid that error, perhaps we should listen to him.

Thought of the Day 06.22.10

One narrative secularists like to tell about this country is that the early colonists were horribly intolerant religious fanatics who did crazy things like execute witches in Salem. This is why we must not allow religious people to run things.

But another narrative they like to tell about this country is that the people who came here were fleeing religious oppression in order to set up an open society based on tolerance. That’s why religious diversity is a core part of America’s historical identity.

For obvious reasons, they don’t normally tell both of these stories right next to each other. So what really happened?

Although they were fleeing religious oppression, the early settlers came here not to form open societies, but extremely closed ones based on their ideas of “purity.” The freedom they sought was the freedom to be far more strict in their particular way than Europe would allow. The notion of tolerating first other Protestants, then Jews and Catholics, and eventually any religion (or even none at all) came much, much later.

What all of this means for us is of course up for debate. But the point is that you can’t tell who has history on their side until you at least tell the story correctly.

Thought of the Day 06.21.10

There are two basic kinds of intellectual oppression. The most obvious sort is when a particular idea is discouraged, whether through censorship or less overt mechanisms, such as social disapproval.

But the much less obvious sort stands opposed not to the direction of the belief, but to the degree with which it is held. The culture of indifference doesn’t suppress any particular idea. Instead, it suppress having any of them strongly. This zealotry of moderation opposes anything it considers extreme without noticing that devout apathy is itself a form of extremism.

But beyond being merely self-contradictory, this kind of oppression also proceeds from very mistaken anthropology. The human heart, you see, is so deeply wired for enthusiasm that it needs devotion, just like it needs companionship or significance. In trying to avoid eating poisoned food, it’s not a solution to avoid eating altogether. That just leads to dying in a different way.

Thought of the Day 06.18.10

Hazel Soares recently finished her undergraduate degree in art history at Mills College in Oakland, California at the age of 94. This is so obviously a wonderful thing that only a true curmudgeon wouldn’t celebrate it.

However, modern feminists who want to praise her are caught in a bit of a bind. You see, they regularly lament women who get college degrees and then choose to get married, have children, and stay home with them rather than working. They view this as a waste, either because mothering isn’t a worthy enough project for a college graduate (anybody can do that) or because now the whole society will miss out on her educated potential to contribute to the economy.

But of course, nothing could be more “useless” than a 94-year-old woman getting a college degree in art history. And so the only way to celebrate Hazel is by realizing that education is much more than mere financial productivity. When done right, it makes you a more complete person, a “humanities” benefit no less valuable in stay-at-home mothers than in an elderly graduate.

Thought of the Day 06.17.10

I know it’s a bit of a departure, but just for fun, can you identify the flawed reasoning in the following ideas?

The number one killer of children is auto accidents. That’s why we’ve stopped taking our kids with us in the car.

But then we discovered that no children were killed in car accidents last year while riding on the outside of their parent’s car. Now you know why we always have them ride on the hood.

Since statistics tell us that the people most likely to abduct a child already know them or even are family members, we now have a strict policy of only letting our children spend time with strangers.

An insurance study showed that 77% of all car accidents occur within 15 miles of home. We’re really torn whether this means we need to drive super-carefully in our own neighborhood or whether we should just move to a safer one. Both seem like valid options.

My people also perish from lack of training in logic.

Thought of the Day 06.16.10

A fanatic is someone who is irrationally or excessively committed to something, such as an idea, a person, a cause, or an entity. When this devotion is to things we usually think of as harmless (such as musical artists, television shows, or sports teams), we generally substitute the slight euphemism of “fan” for fanatic. In contrast, when we use the full word, we usually mean a true zealot of something really serious.

Interestingly, the most common use for this term is in the phrase “religious fanatic;” denoting someone who isn’t merely religious, but unreasonably religious. Secularists generally hold such people in contempt for having an excess of devotion and an unwillingness to consider criticism of their beliefs. But an atheist friend of mine who was recently baptized taught me something insightful about this.

He said that most anti-religionists he has even known are fanatics in their own right. Although they proclaim the virtues of reason and self-criticism, their doubts and opposition are every bit as unreasonable and zealously held as are the faiths of their targets.

So, the next time someone uses the phrase “religious fanatic,” simply ask him what differentiates this from “religious person,” “atheist,” and “fanatical atheist.” At least that way, the terms can have valid content rather than just being slurs.

Thought of the Day 06.15.10

This is how censorship happens.

Over the decades, a few loud atheists have filed numerous lawsuits against schools for violating the Constitution’s ban on establishing religion. Some of these lawsuits they won, and some they did not. The principle repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court is that schools must not endorse nor practice religion. However, the Court has repeatedly gone out of its way to remind schools that they both can and should teach about religion and the Bible because of the secular value of such knowledge.

The practical result, however, is not clarity about this legal fact, but fear. Teachers are widely worried that any mention of religion will risk a lawsuit or their jobs or even jail time, if not all three. So, they practice defensive education, avoiding religion altogether, an end result which is exactly the same as if religious content actually were illegal.

The irony is that secularists love “Inherit the Wind,” a farcical play in which a biology teacher is persecuted for teaching evolution. Meanwhile real teachers imagine they would be treated precisely this way if they even dared mention religion as an educational subject.

Self-imposed censorship is no less real than the coerced kind, especially in the impact is has on a student.

Thought of the Day 06.14.10

Anyone who knows my wife and me personally knows that ridicule and sarcasm are pretty much our love language. If we love you, we will mock you, and we expect the same in return. Last weekend, when I made a joke to a longtime friend, she quipped, “I can handle it from you because I know you don’t really mean it.”

In response, I explained, “Quite the contrary, dear. We mean it, but the reason it’s okay is that when I joke about your real flaws, you know that I love you not in ignorance of them or in spite of them but even because of them. In other words, when I make fun of you, I’m making you aware of your flaws and also affirming my absolutely unconditional love for and acceptance of you.

If you need to believe they aren’t really your defects, perhaps it’s because you’re too eager to base your identity and value on the fact that you don’t have some particular flaw. If so, then my teasing is very much a divine thing that reminds you that your status is in Christ, not in your own defectlessness. See? I can tease you because I love you, and you can take it for the very same reason…especially if it’s on target.”

Thought of the Day 06.11.10

Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?

Okay, good. Now I have just a few other questions:
Can you name the twelve apostles?
Can you name five cities in ancient Israel?
Can you tell me the names of any four judges of in the book of Judges?
To what audience was the Gospel of Mark written?
How much of the Sermon on the Mount do you have committed to memory?
Can you recite the Ten Commandments in order?
Do you know all 66 books of the Bible by name?
What is the main message of the book of Habakkuk?
Can you name the seven churches of the book of Revelation?
What’s the name of the first Gentile to covert to Christianity in the book of Acts?
Who were the twelve direct descendants of Jacob/Israel?
Do you know what happened on the road to Jericho? How about the road to Damascus? Emmaus?

Just one more question:
Do you still want to say that you believe the Bible is the Word of God?

Thought of the Day 06.10.10

When I used to work at Blockbuster Video, there was one job which I particularly hated: cleaning all the movies and shelves every week. For a fidgety, easily bored guy like me, such monotony was grinding, a pain made all the more awful by a firm belief that we could have done it once a month and no one would have noticed the difference. Thus, boring and pointless reinforced each other for great misery in me.

However, I recently realized a hidden benefit of cleaning all those movies over and over: seeing them so many times caused me to know them. This meant that whenever someone asked me about a movie, I would already know whether we had it and where it was. And I can’t imagine an equally effective way to have produced that knowledge other than as the indirect effect of all that ridiculous cleaning. Studying a list of titles, for example, would have been pointless by comparison.

So, do I believe this weird bit of highly effective training was by design? No. Does that mean it was therefore less effective? Not in the least. Sometimes unintended consequences can be benefits.

Thought of the Day 06.09.10

“Lunacy” is a word that comes from the idea that the full moon (luna) causes people to behave strangely. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be a real phenomenon. So why might millions of people (including me until just today) believe it is? Well, once you have the idea in your head (from any source) that the full moon makes people weird, you become prone to a thing called “Confirmation bias.” Here’s how it works.

When you are out and about on a day when you see a lot of strange stuff, if you also notice there’s a full moon, you think to yourself, “Aha. That’s why.” But if you happen to notice strange stuff on a random day without a full moon, you think, “Well, it’s just a weird day.”

On the other hand, if you happen to notice that it’s a full moon on a day when nothing really strange happens, you never think to yourself, “Gosh, I guess that means there’s no effect.” You simply don’t notice or think about it, both because the absence of weirdness doesn’t fit your bias and because it’s notoriously difficult to notice a lack of something. There’s just nothing memorable about nothing happening.

Thought of the Day 06.08.10

If the customer is the person who pays for the service, who is the customer of our education system? Not the student. Not the parent. Not even the employer. Rather, it must be the society or government.

When viewed this way, there seem to be three criteria for evaluating the quality of the service. First, is it creating qualified, informed voters? Second, is it producing ethical people and hence law-abiding citizens? Third, is it producing integrated, mutually compatible members of a coherent culture? Given that all three of these objectives are so abysmally achieved, one might reasonably ask whether our educational system is even truly striving toward them anymore. Then again, what if the government is a customer who is getting exactly what he wants, namely a population which both needs and accepts an ever-expanding government?

See, if something is so horribly broken, the natural (and frightening) question is whether it’s brokenness is a result of incompetence…or design.

Thought of the Day 06.07.10

Last week, Al and Tipper Gore announced that, after 40 years of marriage, they had “decided to separate.” They offered no further comment, and they have not clarified whether this is a prelude to divorce or an attempt to avoid it.

I imagine some political conservatives might react to this news by sneering at the downfall of someone they regularly lampoon and mock. Perhaps the worst ones might even propose this is somehow God’s judgment on the former Vice President for his unbiblical social views. On the other hand, some political liberals might also sneer at the illness of a marriage where the wife was once the driving force behind content warnings on music. Such responses reveal nothing about the Gores and much about the hearts of those who think them.

For my own part, I couldn’t care less about a man’s politics when I see his child is sick. And if I care about a man’s children, how much more do I care about the recovery of his ailing marriage? There is only one correct response to this news, and it’s to pray that the Gore’s would rediscover their love for each other by and through their commitment to their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Note: For those who are curious, Tipper is an Episcopalian, and Al is a Baptist.

Thought of the Day 06.04.10

1. Does America have a right to exist as a nation?
2. Does America have a right to protect itself against terrorism?
3. Would America have the right to establish a blockade against a militant territory with a history of attacking us and the officially pronounced desire that we be destroyed?
4. Would America have the right to enforce this blockade even if doing so led to the deaths of those trying to break it?
5. Would such deaths be considered primarily the fault of the American forces or primarily the fault of the terrorist supporters who were trying to violate the blockade?

The answers to these questions are fairly obvious, right? And yet, if you simply replace “America” with “Israel,” many people suddenly can’t seem to get those answers right anymore. This is vital to remember as you hear people discussing the events in the Mediterranean Sea, and the reason is simple.

Although not all critics of Israel have this problem, you’d be shocked to find out how many of them can’t even affirm the first two questions, let alone the others. This means that their real criticism of Israel isn’t that it mishandled this blockade incident. Rather, their real criticism of Israel...is that there’s an Israel.

Thought of the Day 06.03.10

“That guy sure is a throwback.” “No, he’s a relic.”
“My ideas are traditional.”
“No, they’re unevolved.”
“That design is classic.”
“No, it’s old-fashioned.”
“My viewpoint is historical.”
“No, it’s primitive.”
“This is the ancient way of doing things.” “No, it’s the barbaric way of doing them.”
“That shirt is retro.” “No, it’s just dated.”

Notice that in each of these pairings, there is no disagreement about the fact that something is old. The dispute is whether age is a virtue or a defect.

The reason I bring this up is because in using language, we almost unconsciously manipulate it to reinforce our point, which can be problematic. Age, for instance, doesn’t mean anything. But if it’s something we like for other reasons we call it good oldness, whereas if it’s something we dislike for other reasons we call it bad oldness. Instead, we might do well to simply say something is old, or some even more neutral term. That way we can have a discussion shaped by neutral facts rather than by adjectival bias.

Thought of the Day 06.02.10

We easily talk about having true and false beliefs, but have you ever considered the possibility that your desires might also be described as either true or false? It seems weird, right? Well, my definition of a false desire is one whose satisfaction does not match or correspond to what was expected. When viewed this way, there are several ways a desire may be false.

First, we may desire something which is truly bad for us. We get it, but it makes us miserable. The Bible calls this sin. Second, we may desire something good, but we believe it will satisfy us more than it possibly can. We may get it, but the results are inadequate. The Bible calls this idolatry. Third, we may simply lack the proper desire for something good. We continually feel dissatisfied because we aren’t even pursuing the right things. The Bible calls this being carnal.

There may be other forms of false desire, too, but the value of seeing these three basic kinds is that now you can stop and ask your desires whether they are true or false before acting on them, a layer of challenge which just might avoid some of the pain of presuming they’re all basically true.