Sunday, 28 October 2012

God's not going away anytime soon

"I just can't believe the God of Christianity exists. God allows terrible suffering in the world. So he might be either all-powerful but not good enough to end evil and suffering, or else he might be all-good but not powerful enough to end evil and suffering. Either way the all-good, all-powerful God of the Bible couldn't exist." (Hilary, an undergrad English major)

What should be our response?

Well my response is to tell Hilary to be more original - no disrespect of course. Has she got anything newer than that? With apologies, it's a sad rehash, recycled ad nausea.

The evil paradox has been around since the beginning of time. It got its orthodox proponents 2300 years ago with the greek philosopher Epicurus. It got its vociferous opponents with the enlightened fathers of the church Iranaeus and Augustine of Hippo.

Then, through the centuries, Gottfried Leibniz came along and coined the term "theodicy" and became one of the many barristers for God in the face of evil. Philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne also jumped into the theodicy bandwagon and became instant star defenders.

At a great risk of oversimplifying (without sounding trite), the main thrust of their defence can be summed up like a jingoistic jingle: freewill, god's will, man's fall, sin tainted all, god's love, Christians delaying His hearth, earth's groans for an apocalyptic end, and all's purposeful, all's god's sent.

Against this, the neo-atheists like Harris, Dennett, and Dawkins mounted their own offensive and rewashed the same old "evil paradox" laundry. But this time, it is with a different bleach of "angst". They are angrier, more aggressive and even more organized. But stripped of all pretenses, their "evil paradox" arguments are nothing more than a slap of a branded label on a second hand coat.

If HIlary shows any interest at all, it would be to start by playing the devil's advocate. And if Christians shows any sincerity at all, it would be to put themselves in an atheist's shoe. We start with empathy and not with apathy. We look beyond our prejudices, beyond our unidimensional mindset, and beyond the angst rant. Alas it's a cognitive dissonance that is not easy to disparage and separate.

The history of atheism is the history of repetition. The atheists have been putting God on the witness stand since time can remember. They served the subpoena on Him with such insane regularity that it makes jury duty look like a much sought after fruit basket picnic. God has been arraigned with disdain and without restraint yet the jury is still out cold. With many dismissals and remittances, mocked hearings and re-trials, appeals and repeals, still the judicial gravel is withheld from the wooden block for reasons no one can frankly tell.

After the fury, fire and furnance, the crucible of truth that remains is this: Religion will not go away just because one smarty-pants thought he had got it all sorted out. The atheists are forgetting that religion goes to the core of our existence, the raison d' etat of humanity. It has a history that is so entrenched that it has gone to the realm of myth, mystery and miracles. The sacred will not be dethroned by argument; it can only be brought down by experience. But our sacred experiences are inseparable from our existence.

So, faith will not be "KO'ed" by one defining epistemological haymaker. It will not go quietly into the night just because the atheistic jury finds God "guilty" of non-existence. It will not concede even if scientism forces it to accede. Its estate is not of the physical or tangible but its dominion is in the hearts and minds of the people.

I can only imagine the death of religion as extinguishing the only light on the hill that keeps the wolves away from the city. Extinguish that and we may as well take covers under the shadow of aleister crowley's mantra: "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

So, Hilary's probe, be it tainted with prejudice or otherwise, and if allowed to ferment, makes for good debates but bad neighbors. Cheers out.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Untested Christians

A wise friend posted this statement: The words "I trust in God" will only be tested well during desperate times.

Here’s my thought on it:-

Thinking aloud: "There is no false Christian in the foxhole of trial."

If that is the case, are we all "untested" Christians? Since we have yet to experience the smelting furnace of life or the baptism of fire, can we claim to have overcome in advance as Christ had triumphantly overcome in the past?

Where is our cross? What kind of cross are we carrying - the one Jesus carried on his flesh-torn back or a portable and light-weight bamboo cross, sometimes used more as a crutch than as an aid in our  Christian walk?

Are we really "born again" if we have yet to be borned out of the ashes of tribulation or walk through the valley of the shadow of death? What kind of Christians are we then when our only definitive "trials" are year-end exams, some colleague issues at work, the struggles to decide which country to go for holiday vacation, the competition with other parents for better grades for our children, and so on? Is our faith measured by our suffering? The more, the "merrier" (a bit of a stretch, I know).

I am wondering what would most of our faith scorecards reveal about us when we go to heaven before the mercy seat? In this affluence nation of ours, whether it is Canada or Singapore, we cannot openly claim to have experienced starvation, persecution, and untimely deaths of loved ones that leave us destitute; at least most of us are immune from such faith-bashing tragedy.

So, as "untested" Christians, will we pass the test when a real tsunamis of life comes rushing in? Will we stay afloat or drown? If some of us honestly fess' up that we cannot imagine being caught with the same dress as another in a wedding dinner or become "inconsolable" when their favorite "Kate Spade" is lost, could we then brave through a tweaked trial of moderate severity, not to mention a real unrelenting one, for the glory of God?

Maybe our faith is of a promissory nature, whereby it is a promise to suffer in the future and to suffer well once we are in the thick of it.

It's very much like marriage where jittery, idealistic and young couples take the oath that they will stay together through good times and bad. It is therefore based on this sworn declaration at the altar that the enduring love of the couple is affirmed, and even presumed, even if it has to be taken at face value. Who is to know what trials await the couple after the honeymoon?

It is also not much different from two corporate bodies signing on the dotted line and undertaking to fulfill their respective contractual obligations. It is by mutual trust that such relations are based and hopefully they flourish.

But dealing specifically with your statement, "Our trust in God will only be tested well during desperate times", it leaves one thinking about the value of a Christian in the interim, doesn't it? (Especially the word "well" in that statement).

The temptation as a flawed human being is to look at a young preacher, yet unmarried, who just happens to be the son of the founder of the church, living with a silver spoon in his mouth, and then considers all his pulpit sermons about suffering for Jesus, taking up the cross, living victoriously without anxiety and fear, and how to have a successful marriage and raising up Godly children, as sermons tainted by his lack of personal experiences.

But then again, this inevitably turns the high beam on us when we are posed this question: "By your standards, only Jesus is qualified?" Doesn't this affirm Nietzsche's disparaging statement that the last Christian died on the Cross? Doesn't this make a mockery of the Great Commission of Christ?

I remember a court case when a judge actually asked a lawyer in a divorce proceeding if he had the experience in family law since he's not married. The lawyer then replied politely, "I believe I do in the same way that I am also practicing criminal law without being a criminal."

So, I guess we can learn from everybody and anybody. Everyone of us has something good to share; something that will push us forward in life. I think when Jesus sent the motley crew of disciples out, he knew it would be an uphill climb for them. But through His guidance, history has vindicated them with faith scorecards that read, "A+".

True, experience definitely helps, in particular if you are looking for a surgeon to perform a life-saving operation. But, I guess Jesus is looking for more than that. He is looking for personal submission because the work has already been done, it’s finished. And the good news is that a "submitted heart" is a quality you possess from the get-go without the need of braving through a trial to get hold. Cheers out!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Is Jesus a pacifist?

A friend of mine, Joshua, once wrote that he believes Jesus is NOT a pacifist.

If I had to reply him,  it would go something like this:

“Josh, that would depend on your definition of a pacifist. I trust that in this day and age, most of us want peace. Unless you are nihilistic, or suicidally "kamikaze-ish", or suffering from a lesion in your left temporal brain that makes you susceptible to uncontrollable rage, we are essentially peace-loving people.

Pilate once told the religious authorities this about Jesus, "You bought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him."

Frankly, I can't imagine Jesus leading a crowd to challenge the government of his days, however corrupt and venal they are. Jesus doesn't cross political lines as his riposte "Render to Caesar" had effectively cemented the line for good (at least that was His earthly legacy).

Jesus' kingdom is not territorial or political. Neither is it secured by military conquest or artillery might. In his ministry of three short years, Jesus was anything but a military commander, pursuing megalomaniacal plans, training his disciples for war, even defensive ones, and arming them with weapons of tribal destruction. He is more known for his acts of generosity and love, forgiveness and kindness, and turning the other cheek rather than cutting one's ear off.

So is Jesus a pacifist? Well, here’s the rub. Maybe not. Ermm? Why? Because there is no greater wrath than the wrath of God. And didn't God say vengeance is mine? To compound matters, we Christians are to embrace ourselves for the coming end-time war (a war to end all wars) led by none other than our Prince of Peace! And you can bet your last bottom dollar that when the time comes, death and destruction, bloodshed and massacre, will rule the day and every other day till the new heaven and earth is established.

But of course, Josh, the Jesus in full eschatological battle gear is not what you had in mind when you say He is not a pacifist. I think we all can agree that Jesus is no dummy or political punching bag. If anything, He is a realist because David Ben-Gurion once said, "In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles." And Jesus was a miracle worker.

So, as a realist, having the benefit of hindsight and foresight, and existing in the realms of eternity, Jesus harbored no illusion about the deeds of humanity and the end that will befall on them.

I guess you can say that Jesus saw the future and he saw what man can do to man. When Harry Truman defiantly dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it only confirmed what Jesus knew from the start that real, sustaining peace was and has always been a mirage in this world. Asking men to hold up an olive branch to their fellow men is like hoping that a baby would not eat his own shit. Given a chance, we all know that a baby is unable to distinguish between a lump of excrement and a bar of chocolate. So, as sure as a baby will swallow it, men will wallow deep.

Josh, I think I am more comforted to know that my Christ, who had given Himself for me at the cross of unbearable pain, is a realist rather than a pacifist. Of course we all want peace in this world but peace in this world comes with a price and the price is what humanity has paid with innocent blood. Through the ages, we have succeeded in one thing and that is to secure peace through war. In fact, there is a saying, "If you want peace, be prepared for war."

I know this is a little morbid on my part so please pardon me. I am a father with a wife and three young kids. Morbidity is not a mental hobby of mine. But I too resonate with Jesus when I read what He once said, "My Kingdom is not of this world...But now my kingdom is from another place." That's the words of a true-blooded realist!

Now I am reminded of this silly joke: "Do you know why God didn't send a second flood to wipe out this world? (leaving rainbow aside). Because the first one was utterly useless." If I could pigeon-hole that joke in one category, it would come under  "Uber-Realism".

Jesus deliberately made his earthbound trip a short one because he had no plans to stay for long, so to speak. He knew that any earthly kingdom will collapse on itself no matter how benevolent and earthly prudent its ruler or counsel of rulers are. Monarchism, Feudalism, Fascism, Communism and now Democracy are not an improvement from the one that preceded it, but it is humanity trying in desperation to forestall the inevitable.

In other words, Jesus knew that we sucks at creating a sustainable utopia. So, He chose with divine omniscience to plant his kingdom in another soil not of earthly corruptibility. I think this is the genius of Jesus' realism. What soil am I talking about? It is of a spiritual origin. It is in the hearts of men.

I know this sounds a tad anti-Dominionism; an “otherworldly” gospel rather than a social gospel. But I guess Jesus was going to the core of the human disease, the origin of the Fall. I believe Jesus knew that the world, when he descended 2000 years ago, had strayed too far from the pristine-ness of Eden days to ever hope for any established earthly rulership to change it.

So, the plan was to transform it from the inside-out. And like a mustard seed, or an atomic chain-reaction, it is hoped that from the center real sustaining change will ripple out in a dye-in-the-wool manner. This is how the world at large will witness a transformation of lasting value. It will of course take time, but you can bet that it will be enduring and thorough.

So, I think in the larger scheme of things, Jesus is less a pacifist than He is a realist; and as a corollary of that, He is less an idealist than He is authentic. And finally, His kingdom is not of this world because His "logic" defies ours as the late John Stott puts it succinctly, "We live and die. Christ died and lived!" That's an inside-out kind of logic. Cheers out.”

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Hitchen's Golgotha

Christopher Hitchen, the atheist extraordinarie and a world class journalist, passed away late last year (2011). But his legacy will live on in the hearts of many.  Even in death, he was defiant to the end. His stand on religion is unswervingly unequivocal, that is, religion poisons everything.

"If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does," that was a quote of his. Knowing Hitchen, the insinuation is clear. I think he's trying to highlight the cowardice of those who hide behind a deluded belief when facing death.

It can't be wrong to say that Hitchen finds religion the big brainwash where even intelligent people are being conned into believing in that eternal estate flushed with rolls of big lush mansions and never-ending karaoke sessions of praise and worship.

"Death is the end of it; deal with it" - that's Hitchen's dying refrain. And if there's anything worth our secret admiration, it would be that at least he's consistent to the end. He started very much the same way he ended, that is, as an atheist who fearlessly stared into the jaws of death and saw a big black hole of nothingness.

Let's revisit his gungho quote: "If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does." Correct me if I'm wrong, but his condescending undertones are unmistakenly clear. What he is standing firm on at his deathbed can be unravelled with these rhetorical questions: What's wrong with an atheist's death? Why should Christians or religionists have the final say on the dying's last lap of life? Can't an atheist die an atheist in the same way a theist dies a theist since it is, to him, more likely that an atheist would be less surprised than a theist when both "cross over"?

Hitchens rather choose an atheist's death that courageously embraces the truth as he sees it than to die a coward's death still hanging on to one's wet security blanket of faith. No doubt Hitchens was troubled by blind idealism in this world, but he was obviously much more incensed by misplaced idealism than the idealism of atheism.

More importantly, Hitchen's salvation rest on his disbelief and that was his chosen destiny to a death of peaceful nothingness. And to say that such disbelief is a form of "religion" akin to faith is as ludicrous to him as saying that baldness is a new hair-do. Indeed, in life and in death, Hitchens lived on his own terms.

Honestly, I would miss his brilliant prose and incredibly sharp wit. Here's a taste of it (just a tribute to the creativity of the man) in his much-acclaimed book, God is Not Great (although I strongly disagree with it):

"The abolition of religion as illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition that needs illusions.

The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from chain, not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower."

How's that for brilliance? It's ironic that his name actually means "Christ-bearer". It seems that in his death, the only thing he bore was a Christ-less belief.

Well, brilliance or not, all this reminds me of what CS Lewis once wrote that a man chooses his own ultimate fate. As such, a man in hell is not likely to trade places with another in heaven because he ended in exactly the place that his life's choices have brought him there.

Here's how eloquently CSL puts it, "There are only two kinds of people - those who say, "God's will be done" or those to whom God in the end says to them, "Your own will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, it wouldn't be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it."

And mind you, both roads to heaven and hell exact a high price for it's patronage. Both residents of heaven and hell therefore have duly earned their places there.

Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, "It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition." Dallas Willard calls it the costs of non-discipleship.

Indeed, nothing's for free, even for one's place in heaven or hell. And in a twisted logic, those who are bound for the "paradise" of hell should be "congratulated" or garlanded when they finally get there!

So, while you hope that an atheist would eternally regret his choices in death; on the contrary, and quite uncannily, he should be "rejoicing" now as we speak. Cheers out.