I Pray for a Better 2011

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New year - which direction?

Image by randihausken via Flickr

Another year has passed, and the older I get, the faster time seems to pass. I pray that the world will be a better place in 2011 than it was in 2010. As a Christian, I am thrilled by the rapid spread of Christianity in Africa–and African Christians, unlike American Christians, can pay a steep price for their faith. Their dedication in facing persecution, in walking twenty or more miles in the mud to get to church, is a model for all of us to follow.

I pray that there will be fewer wars and that the American people will wake up to the power of what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”

I pray for the unborn, that God would protect them from the scourge of abortion. I pray for marriage–that it will continue as a permanent union between one man and one woman. I pray for parents to be good fathers and mothers, to be affectionate for their children, to praise them when they do well, and discipline them when they do wrong. I pray that the trend toward physician-assisted suicide and toward active euthanasia will be reversed. I pray that Americans realize that older people have just as much intrinsic value as young people–and they often have more wisdom.

I pray that colleges and universities will recover some of the sanity that they once have. I pray that young people will learn the great classics of literature, philosophy, and religion. I pray that more traditional Christians strive for teaching and research careers in higher education.

I pray that the American people will take more responsibility for their actions and not blame others for all their misfortunes. I pray for greater courtesy between people. I pray that mediating institutions that stand between the person and the state–churches, civic organizations, and clubs–will grow and prosper. I pray that Americans realize that there is a life beyond both big government and big business.

I pray that we all stop and enjoy the beauty of nature, that we realize that environmentalism is not contrary to Christianity, but recognizes the goodness of the earth and the plants and animals God created. I pray for less cruelty toward animals, that people realize that humans are not the only animals with intrinsic value, that even if humans have more value than other animals, that does not imply that animals be mistreated. I pray for more free range animals and fewer factory farms. I pray that people treasure their pets, and I pray that God in His mercy will raise them from the dead when He reconstitutes the world in a perfect form.

I pray for the salvation of all people, recognizing that there is a possibility of eternal damnation–I pray, though, that Hell will be empty. I pray that we will forgive without excusing, mete justice but balance it with mercy when mercy is warranted. I pray that Americans will realize that people are more important than material possessions, that the accumulation of riches alone will never make a person happy. I pray that all people will strive to have virtuous characters, and that God will reach down and touch the most damaged of souls, all those with intractable vices or mental illness, all those who suffer from the sin of narcissism, those who suffer from borderline personality disorder, even those who are psychopaths.

I pray that the New Atheism will show forth its shallowness and not convince people that God does not exist.

I pray for the success of Sam Parnia’s study of Near-Death Experiences, that his findings will suggest that a spiritual realm truly does exist.

I pray for my family, my friends, for every person that they will cooperate with God’s grace to become all they are meant to be. And to the readers of this blog, may God’s richest blessings descend on you in 2011.

To Christopher Hitchens: All the Best

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Christopher Hitchens

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There is a fascinating story and interview at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/14/christopher-hitchens-cancer-interview

Christopher Hitchens, one of the best known of the “new atheists,” has been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Although I disagree with his position on God’s existence, I wish him the very best in his treatment and I hope he recovers. And yes, I will say a prayer for him as will thousands, perhaps millions, of other believers, and there has even been a “Let’s Pray for Hitchens Day.” Believers in God should take care not to do anything out of mean spiritedness or “I told you so,” but only from genuine concern that Mr. Hitchens will recover from a terrible disease.

In May I lost my best friend to cancer–in her case, breast cancer. She was lucky to have been asymptomatic for most of the six years of the recurrence of the disease she thought she had beaten two years earlier. Yet when things began to wind down, she was in a great deal of pain, and her strong runner’s body bore the weight of the ravages of cancer. I wish this disease on no one. Christians should be wary about any hints of claiming any divine retribution against Mr. Hitchens. He engaged in some habits (smoking and drinking a bit much now and then. for example) that probably had more to do with his condition than any act of the deity. And I would have great difficulties affirming the goodness of a God who would directly inflict this terrible disease on anyone, including anyone who does not believeĀ  in God.

With those caveats, I will pray for Mr. Hitchens and for all people who suffer from the ravages of cancer and other terrible diseases. Of course I hope that Mr. Hitchens changes his mind about God’s existence, but if not, I hope he recovers, even if that means he remains a pain in the … for theists for a long time to come.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun: The “New Atheists”

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Richard Dawkins giving a lecture based on his ...

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Richard Dawkins. Daniel Dennett. Christopher Hitchins. Stephen Pinker. Peter Singer. These are some of the names of the “new atheists.” These individuals are “crusading atheists” who sincerely believe that belief in God is dangerous for society. Their hope is that religion disappears and is replaced with a “scientific,” naturalistic world view.

Yet when one examines their arguments, there is nothing new in them–the “new atheism” is actually the “old atheism” reincarnated. For example, the argument that religion results in strife between human beings and wars has been asserted at least since the seventeenth century. At that time, after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in which Roman Catholics and Protestants slaughtered each other in Europe, philosophers decided that religion was intrinsically harmful if used as a basis for the structure of society. They relegated religion to the private realm and advocated a “scientific” approach to ethics and social-political philosophy. Philosophers as diverse as Descartes, Hume, and Kant belong in this category, despite disagreeing among themselves about the existence of God.

But in France, Voltaire, a deist, argued that specific Christian claims about the divinity of Christ and about miracles in general were primitive superstition. It was not a great leap to argue that such superstition only causes division and violence among people. Bertrand Russell argued this way in his book, Why I am not a Christian.

But the claim that religion is more harmful that good is problematic. True, religious people killed others in the name of their faith–both in war and in religious persecutions. But if one adds up the number killed in the twentieth century due to secular, atheist ideologies (such as Nazism and Communism), the death toll stemming from these systems outnumbers those killed in religious wars by an astronomical margin. In addition, religion has helped set up hospitals, help the poor, and perform other positive actions to benefit society. The “new atheists'” old argument fails.

Another claim parrots the Freudian argument that religion finds its origin in wish-fulfillment fantasies and childish superstition that looks to the transcendent to be a father-figure and to overcome death. Thus, both God and immortality have their basis in our wishes–and in nothing else.

That old argument fails as well, since it commits the genetic fallacy–the origin of a belief, whether psychological or sociological, tells us nothing about its truth or falsity.

Then Dawkins and Dennett raise the old, tired arguments that evolution implies atheism, since all biological development, including human development, can be explained through the non-purposive process of natural selection. Again, this argument is problematic. To treat biological entities, such as organs, tissues, or cells, as “having a function” but lacking a purpose does not make sense. Is it not true that the heart has the purpose of pumping blood? To deny teleology (ends or goals) at least in biological science ignores the facts. And even if God is not needed for the evolutionary process itself, God is necessary to continually keep the universe in existence, as Aquinas pointed out in the thirteenth century. If the very existence of the universe is not a “surd,” an unexplainable fact, which does not sit well with the contingency of the universe, it makes sense to say that an overarching intelligence both brought the universe into existence but also keeps the universe in existence.

It is possible to argue endlessly with the claims of the “New Atheists.” But there’s nothing new about the arguments they make, and nothing new about the refutations of their case written long ago.