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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Witness Protection Program


Read an comment on my blog.

I don’t think of myself as a strong witness for Christ. When I’m among people who are likely unbelievers, I tend to play it safe when the topic turns to religion. There are a number of reasons for this. Partly, it’s just habit. I’ve grown used to avoiding religion discussions. When I was a child, I didn’t want to be labeled. In fact, I had an inordinate fear of it after being ridiculed as a pansy or a goody-goody. As I matured, this fear turned into an unwillingness to be misunderstood. I would remain silent because I thought the people I was with would not understand what I said.

How unlike Jesus! He repeatedly said things that confused not only his opponents but also his closest followers. When religious leaders asked him by what authority he drove merchants and bankers from the temple grounds, he replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again.” The leaders were taken aback. The temple had been under construction for almost 50 years, how could this man claim to be able to rebuild it in only three days? On another occasion, he told his listeners that they would have to eat his body and drink his blood. “For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink,” he explained. Talk about saying things that were ripe for misinterpretation! Yet Jesus said nothing to clarify his meaning.

What was the result? The Jews called him a crazy bastard. They vilified him. He was labeled and called names. He didn’t seem to care.

One thing I’ve recently noticed, however, is that I don’t have a problem discussing religion online. In person I shy away from religious discussion, but on my blog and in my Facebook posts I often choose religious topics. I’m not sure why. I know, for example, that people are often less civil online than in the real world. But talking God-talk online is somehow easier than in real life.

Perhaps it is the perceived distance. Even though hardly anyone reads my blog except friends and family—at least as far as I’ve been able to determine—I have the sense that when I commit words to the ether that anyone who reads them is far away, separated from me by a virtual chasm that cannot be crossed. Perhaps it is that written words can be meticulously crafted. When a topic comes up in conversation, I may be glib, but I cannot be well-researched. Whatever the reason, I feel somehow safer expressing my views online than I do in person. Being online acts for me as a kind of witness protection program, giving me a comforting illusion of safety.

I consider this a flaw in my character. I need to be the same person in real life as I am online.


More on Cordoba House and Religious Freedom


Read and comment on my blog.

Here is Newt Gingrich’s take on the Cordoba House, and here is a medieval historian’s response.

The idea of reciprocity sounds great. Muslims can worship freely in America if and only if Christians can worship freely in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia. However, reciprocity is fundamentally unAmerican. It presupposes that the United States is a Christian nation and contradicts the first amendment protection of freedom of religion. The United States may be predominately Christian and does indeed have a long tradition of Christian influence. However, the Constitutional framers deliberately excluded any mention of God because they wanted to create a secular government completely independent of the church. They did this because they feared that an ascendant religious sect would seize the power of government to persecute and suppress other religions. They were familiar with the religious wars in England and the rest of Europe and hoped to prevent similar conflicts by safeguarding the government from religious control. They wanted to protect government from religion and also protect religion from the government.

At the same time they clearly recognized the value of religion, particularly Christianity, in shaping morality and ethics. They firmly believed that democracy could succeed only where the people were willing to submit their own desires to the common good. If the people—those who in a democracy constitute the government—simply voted for their own interests all the time, then the government eventually would be controlled by special interests, each intent on its own agenda. As Christianity has declined as a cultural influence in the United States, this is exactly what has happened.

Those who want to prohibit the Cordoba House would grant the government authority to persecute Muslims. Once the government has authority over any religion, it cannot be prevented from extending it over all religions. The result would be a secular state in which all religions, including Christianity, would be restricted. Those on the Christian right alarmed at the shift from “freedom of religion” to “freedom to worship” should be loudest in their defense of the Muslim’s right to build Cordoba House. By attacking it, they undermine their own liberty.


How Much Help Does Truth Need?


Read and update on my blog.

Why is there such an uproar over the so-called ground-zero mosque? I admit, when the issue was first brought to my attention about six weeks ago, I dismissed it. I thought no one would take seriously the claims made about the building because they were so patently untrue. As others have pointed out, it isn’t a mosque, and it isn’t at ground zero. Instead, according to a CNN poll, nearly 70% of Americans oppose its building, which strongest opposition coming from Republicans.

My initial reaction was disbelief: New York can’t possibly be allowing a mosque to be built on the site of the World Trade Centers. My disbelief turned out to be justified. The proposed Islamic community center, dubbed Cordoba House, would be located two-and-a-half blocks from the site of the World Trade Center Memorial. Due to intervening buildings, the site of the Memorial is not visible from the site of the proposed community center. Were it not for the 24-hour news cycle, visitors to the Memorial might never know that an Islamic community center was nearby.

Again I wonder, why such an uproar? Have we really reached the point where unsupported, bald assertion gets as much respect as the truth? Is it really only necessary to proclaim a lie loudly and repeatedly to have it universally believed? Even if, as has been claimed, Muslims have deliberately located the Cordoba House close to the WTC Memorial in order to demonstrate their global dominance, is the United States really so weak that we can’t allow Muslims to make ridiculous claims like everyone else? What, exactly, are we so afraid of?

Americans have a tradition of free speech because it was once believed that in a free society, truth would emerge from allowing free and open debate. We have a free press because it was once believed that a free press would expose self-serving lies and help citizens get at the truth. Now, however, it seems that truth has to take a backseat to whoever has the biggest megaphone, and citizens distrust the press almost as much as they do the government. The free market of ideas has given way to shouting matches between parties interested only in dominating. Every issue moves away from reasoned, dispassionate debate toward gang warfare, Republicans and Democrats alike acting like rival gangs out to secure their turf with all the same bravado, name calling, and aggression. No wonder voters have become cynical.

For the record, I’m not in favor of the Islamic community center. But I also don’t oppose it. The Muslims have a right as American citizens to build where zoning laws permit and to practice their religion in accordance with their conscience. As Christians, our only response must be persuasion through proclaiming and affirming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any attempts to restrict the practice of Islam will restrict Christianity as well. All those who prize the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights need to take a long, hard look at anyone wanting to deny those rights to other American citizens.