Links I liked, Sep 17 – Sep 24 (Christian atheists, artificial viruses, cul-de-sac neighborhood design)

1. Tom Holland: Why I was wrong about Christianity

A self described “Christian atheist” historian realizes that many of the ethical positions he holds dear are not shared across humanity, but the result of the West’s Christian history.

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

2. Smallest reported artificial virus could advance gene therapy.

Artificial viruses eh.  I’ve seen that movie.

3. Why Tim Keller Wrote a Prequel to ‘The Reason for God’

…people have a materialistic view of the universe—we aren’t here for any purpose, we evolved strictly through a process of the strong eating the weak, and nothing we do here will matter in the end, since everything will burn up in the death of the sun. Yet we’re told we shouldn’t live selfish lives, and we should treat everyone as having human rights. Humanistic values in no way fit with that view of the universe—they’re held despite that view of the universe.

4. Openings in Our Fractured Republic

Great interview of Yural Levin – hard to quote just any one piece, but worth a read.

5. Will the Left Survive the Millennials?

Lot of people passing this piece around last week.

In an era of weaponized sensitivity, participation in public discourse is growing so perilous, so fraught with the danger of being caught out for using the wrong word or failing to uphold the latest orthodoxy in relation to disability, sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity, that many are apt to bow out.

6. Debunking the Cul-de-Sac

“A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.”

7. Complete History Of The Soviet Union, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris

Older but fun video!

This week brought to you by cats hiding from vets.

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Links I liked, August 2-8 (I Am N, Star Trek fan films, Krugman and Trump)

1. I reviewed “I Am N”

A good book to read for any American Christians tempted to think the goal of life is to be comfortable… which is probably just about all of us. This is not a very complicated book, the chapters tend to be 3-5 pages each, and even the names are often changed in these short stories of the lives of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. And for the most part these are not the stories that make the news, the threats and violence and legal punishments, however terrible, are too personal and too much “just the daily risk you take being a public Christian in these parts of the world” – all the more reason to read them. These are the stories of people who share the good news they know no matter the risk, because they’re longing for a better country.

2. ReasonTV talks about Star Trek fan films

Prelude to Axanar might be the best fan-produced short film I’ve ever seen… which is probably why CBS got all concerned.

3. Tim Keller Releases New ‘Sweatin’ To the Hymnal’ Line of Workout Videos

Babylon Bee is a treasure.

4. Self-driving Cars Will Kill Transit-Oriented Development

Will this happen?  Are transit agencies thinking about this happening?

5. How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible

Dishonesty always comes back to bite you in the end.

His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad.

He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president.

I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney.

6. No, Eric Metaxas is not a Proto-Nazi

Just sharing to say, the world could probably use more “my friend is wrong about this but don’t you dare slander him” pieces.

7. Key Figure in Fight for Religious Freedom in Egypt Freed, Declares Return to Islam

Hegazy apologized to family members, who had threatened to kill him after he became a Christian.

8. Aquatic Mushrooms Timelapse

From our aquarium, photos taken every five minutes from around noon until around 8 PM.  Huh.

9. I had no idea Kevin DeYoung’s new children’s book was being made into a short film

Look at dat.  (He is the senior pastor of our church.)

This week brought to you by a rainbowfish in our freshwater aquarium.

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Links I liked, 5/18/2015 – 5/24/2015 (Economics, Superconductivity, Classical Liberalism)

1. EconPop – The Economics of Elysium

Actually I enjoy all these EconPop videos – brought to you by the same guys as that (more famous) Hayek/Keynes rap battle.

2. The Civic Project of American Christianity

An article from February that might be titled, “Did American-style liberalism undermine itself from the beginning?”  Not sure how much I agree with it, and I haven’t read the response pieces yet.  One of the reasons I’m a bit more optimistic than many of these authors when it comes to cries that “Christians are going to be excluded from the public square!” is because I know that the heartbeat of many progressives is “isn’t it so terrible that such and such a people were excluded from such a such a place where they would have thrived?”  Of course you might ask, if they really believe that, then why do we in fact see efforts to exclude Christians from the public square?  I don’t know, I suspect it’s a mix of things – for some people all the talk of inclusion really is just pretense, for others it isn’t but they aren’t leaping to defend people who aren’t like them because, well, humans just don’t do that very naturally.

3. LCC PHYS252 – Magnet levitates over superconducting disk

Hey, a little video from my class last semester.  Some explanation here.

4. Jeweller says he has been bullied, threatened

Lesbian couple discovers the jeweler for their wedding (who happily served them) is a Christian, demands their money back.  Internet outrage mob of course jumps aboard.  What really got me, though, was the claimed that the jeweler, who clearly serves all, was pro-discrimination, while apparently people who pick and choose who to do business with based on religion are not?  Beg pardon?

5. Review: The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War

I read a book.  It was good.

6. In Praise of the Dying Art of Civil Disagreement

I do think, in some quarters, to disagree civilly with someone is taken as a sign that you don’t believe in either the truth, or the importance, of what you’re saying.  And that’s sad.

7. Why religion will dominate the 21st century

It matters because theology has consequences. The post-Enlightenment secular worldview tends to treat religion as nothing more than a private hobby. It rejects out of hand the notion that people’s spiritual beliefs matter in a broader context. When evolution tells us we’re just genes trying to spread, when economists tell us all we do is maximize our self-interest, when psychologists tell us we just want to get laid — we become convinced that humans act on nothing but narrow material desires.

But that’s just not true. As a matter of fact, human beings are spiritual beings first, with a natural orientation toward transcendent realities. More prosaically, to state the obvious, human beings make decisions partly based on how we understand our self-interest, yes, but also based on our worldviews, on our vision of what is true and good and beautiful.

Downed Tree

This downed tree, near Lansing’s Sycamore Creek, brought to you by a beaver.

Links I liked, 5/11/2015 – 5/17/2015 (Russia, Christianity, Cemeteries)

1. Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America

There have been so many stories taking this poll as their starting point that it was hard to know which to share.  But essentially churches that give in to the surrounding culture on the hot-button issues of the day are dying, and those that aren’t are stable-to-growing.  Also interesting to note that atheists have one of the lowest retention rates of their children – meaning their children are especially likely to convert to another religion.

2. In Detroit, Jewish cemetery survives within GM auto plant

Just an interesting story via Sarah Brodsky about a cemetery entirely enclosed by a GM plant.

3. The “least of these” are not the poor but the Christian baker, photographer, and florist

While the Bible does emphasize care for the poor, they were *not* the subject of Jesus’ comment about “the least of these”.

4. Do Baltimore Schools Need More Money?

There is a graph you see around a lot showing (inflation adjusted) spending per student as a function of time since the 1970s, and test scores as a function of time since the 1970s – the former goes way up, and the latter barely budges.  Why that little fact rarely enters into discussion about education funding I cannot say.  This article does something similar but looks at funding across states and again finds very little correlation between funding and learning.

5. On conservative religious activism, the numbers speak for themselves

Everybody knows churches care more about the politics of sexual morality than they do about poverty – unless, that is, you actually look at how they spend their money.

6. Russia: Twenty Feet from War

We in the West think that using nuclear weapons in almost any environment would be crazy, and a full-scale war with Russia will probably never happen – at least rhetorically, Russia doesn’t seem to share those sentiments.

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Our find this year from the East Lansing Art Festival.

The death of Herod Agrippa and the reliability of the Bible

Just wanted to share two quotations that speak for themselves from this morning’s sermon by Kevin DeYoung. The first is the Biblical account of the death of Herod Agrippa, from Acts 12:20-25 (ESV).

Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

Compare that with an account of the same incident by Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian (referenced here).

Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Caesarea […] There he exhibited shows in honor of the emperor […] On the second day of the festival, Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a truly wonderful contexture, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment was illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it. It shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him. At that moment, his flatterers cried out […] that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’

Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and he fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, ‘I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.’

After he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign.

Naturalism, consistently applied, makes life unlivable

I came across a speech yesterday by Andrew Sach entitled Science and God: do we have to choose?. I couldn’t find a current profile of him, but from his speech he’s a neuroscientist. His big point is that not only are science and Christianity NOT contradictory, but that in fact many of the people who argue that they are are really arguing for a certain philosophy (specifically, naturalism), and only acting as if they’re arguing science. Click the link to hear the entire thing, but I just wanted to share the portion near the middle where he argues that none of us really lives – and indeed couldn’t live – like we really believe in naturalism.

I want to read to you an excerpt from this book by John Gray. He’s a professor of European Thought at the LSE and apparently was Tony Blair’s favorite philosopher – I don’t know if that commends him to you or not! But this is what he says. Basically John Gray is arguing that we’ve failed to be consistent with our beliefs of naturalism. He himself isn’t a Christian. He gets to a kind of Gaia belief later in the book, but he’s of the opinion that we’ve failed to follow our beliefs to their logical conclusion, and he’s lambasting us for that.

“Man must accept that his or her existence is entirely accidental. He must awake out of his dream and discover his total solitude, his fundamental isolation. He must realize that like a gypsy he lives on the boundary of an alien world, a world that is deaf to his music, and as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his suffering, and his crimes.”

That last part is very perceptive – a world that is indifferent to your hopes, and to your suffering, my suffering. And to our crimes. A universe that is just random cannot be asked the question “why?”. See, here’s this dear friend of ours from church, he’s in hospital at the moment with a stroke, age 29. If you’re a naturalist you cannot even ask why. There is no one behind it. It is just an accident and your suffering is just bad luck, basically. No purpose behind it. And similarly your crimes.

And then later he relays a conversation he had with another neuroscientist.

“Kate, I can’t understand, if you’re right about the universe, why me killing you would be wrong. Now if I took out a dagger and kind of cut you in half all I would be doing would be increasing the entropy of the universe by a factor of two. Why would that be any different from cutting a grapefruit in half for my breakfast? Just rearranging the atoms in the universe in a slightly different way.

She thought for a moment and then she said “well, it’d be wrong because my mother would be upset with you!”

Good answer. But we were neuroscientists, so I said to her “Kate, what is ‘upset’? ‘Upset’ is just the increase in the concentration of a certain chemical in the random collection of atoms which is your mom’s brain. What’s it matter? What is the significance in anything that we do?

Bonhoeffer on compromise between the Church and the World

“…there is in truth no such thing as harmonious coexistence between the church and the world, for where there is no conflict it is because the world has taken over.” ~M. Wilcock

We read that quotation in our church small group last night – it was referenced in a Tim Keller Bible study on lessons from the life of Samson. But appropriately enough, I’m also reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship at the moment, and as you might imagine he has much to say about Christian compromise with the world, at one point describing the Christian life as nothing but “hand-to-hand combat” with the world. (Do we feel that?) And “the world” is not only outside our churches – he spends much time speaking against the proclamation of “cheap grace” from the pulpit, a sort of message that says “God will forgive you, so don’t worry too much about your sin”.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness with requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.

Because it is unconcerned with obedience, it becomes a message that justifies the sin, instead of the sinner. He says,

…do we realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard. Where were those truths which impelled the early Church to institute the catechumenate, which enabled a strict watch to be kept over the frontier between the Church and the world, and afforded adequate protection for costly grace? What had happened to all those warnings of Luther’s against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living? Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing of the world than this? What are those three thousand Saxons put to death by Charlemagne compared with the millions of spiritual corpses in our country today? With us it has been abundantly proved that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generations. Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical church.

When fear is more than awe (as we now use the word)

The Bible is full of reminders to fear God, and I think for most of my life I’ve heard that the kind of fear expected from Christians is really a kind of awe of his greatness and power. You aren’t supposed to be scared of God, in other words.

But today, our sermon was on the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5. You probably know it, but it just takes a moment to read (ESV),

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

“And great fear came upon all” – you read a story like that and you think, I bet these people were quite literally afraid. And it wasn’t an unreasonable fear – you’re scared of tigers because they might eat you. Fear of danger is a good thing. As to God, in the words of CS Lewis (speaking of Aslan), of course he isn’t safe! He is not a person to be trifled with (or, in this instance, lied to).

Maybe I’m just suffering from linguistic confusion. I looked up the definition of awe, “a feeling of amazement and respect mixed with fear that is often coupled with a feeling of personal insignificance or powerlessness”. Actually, that sounds right, I just don’t think that’s how many people use or understand the word today. I could easily imagine someone saying they were in awe of a Hollywood celebrity – but there is no fear there, they have no real power over you. God does.

What if religion is like breathing?

I just wanted to share a small portion from our sermon last Sunday by Kevin DeYoung. If you want to watch the sermon follow this link. If you just want to watch this part of the sermon, start the video around the 35 minute mark.

The default religious impulse in America is a religion that is personalized, psychologized, and pragmatized. That’s sort of the default, that’s the air we breathe. Religion is something that is personal (between you and God), and your understanding of it. And it’s psychological, the benefits are what they do to you, how they make you feel at peace, and they deal with your guilt, and they give you a good feeling about life, and make you feel like a better person. And it’s pragmatic, religion is about what works for you. If this helps you, and gets you through life, and helps you to cope, gives you comfort, gets you on track, helps you be a moral person, then that’s fine. See, that is the default religious sensibility…

But we believe our faith is built upon facts, upon certain events in history that have been passed down to us by eyewitness accounts. So it’s the difference between having a discussion with your friend who says,

“I think Holland has the best beach in Michigan.”

“No no no, not Holland. Come on. No, Grand Haven, or obviously you’ve never been up north to Traverse City, or to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Wasn’t that voted the most beautiful spot in the universe on Good Morning America or something?”

You don’t know. You go back and forth and say, “well, if that’s where you have a special meaning and affection then that’s fine for you.”

That’s how people think of religion.

But what if it’s more like having a conversation with your friend who says,

“You know what? I can breathe underwater.”

You say, “I don’t think you can.”

“I can.”

“I don’t believe that you can breathe underwater, and I believe if you try, and if you tie a safe onto your leg and you jump out of the boat, you’ll find that you can’t breathe underwater.”

“Well, why can’t you just allow that I can breathe underwater?”

“Because you can’t!”

See, it’s a different understanding. And so often, I think Christians and non-Christians talk past each other because you have this person over here whose understanding is “well religion is about preferences and opinions and about what helps me and makes me feel better.” And as Christians, we understand – no, this is about facts, about the way that the world is and the way God has revealed it to be.

So we believe in these objective realities whether anyone wants to affirm them or not. That God created the world, that God sent his son Jesus, that he died for our sins, that he rose again on the third day, that there is such a thing as objective sin and guilt and a real Heaven and Hell. We believe that these things are because they are.

Richard Mourdock’s comment shows us that theology matters

And that the media doesn’t get it.

If you’ve been sleeping for the last couple days, you’ve missed some extensive (though, I sense, short-lived) outrage over comments made by Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock. Speaking on the subject of abortion, he said,

You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal or even state office faces. And I have to certainly stand for life. I know that there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view. But I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have on abortion is in that case — of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

The controversial sentence is the last one, but in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with this comment. Even when bad things happen, God is there bringing good out of them. If you are conceived in a rape, you should still know that God intended for you to be born. That doesn’t mean, dear media, that God, or Richard Mourdock, endorses rape as some kind of moral good. In fact the Bible is loaded with examples in which God uses some evil act to accomplish his good purposes – think of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, later to save the nation of Egypt and his own family. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,” he said. But regardless of the God-intended good that came of the situation, selling him into slavery was still an evil act.

But the media, and too many (mostly but not exclusively) Democratic politicians, have jumped all over Murdouch, essentially painting him (and God) as pro-rape (at least if pregnancy results) and wondering how he got so stupid. And while the media coverage has been extravagantly wide, it has not been deep at all. I have seen no indication from mainstream sources that they understand that Christians might believe that God works to bring good out of evil. Even more critically, I have seen no mainstream source ask any Christian politician who has condemned Mourdock if they believe that children conceived in rapes are unfortunate “accidents” or mistakes in the opinion of the deity.

But look right here, theology matters. And the secular world doesn’t understand Christians at all, in many ways.

Edit: TGC posts a similar article this morning.