Thursday, May 3, 2018

On God's Presence

"If God exists," many atheists ask us, "why doesn't he make himself present to us?"

Although this question appears reasonable, it is in reality patently absurd, and there are multiple ways to explain this absurdity. Here's just one:

There's a mode of perception proper to every object. Scents are perceived through smelling, music through hearing, food through taste, and so on. All of these can be subsumed into the broader category of objects of sensual perception.

Now, the problem with the above question is that God is a spirit, and, as such, is normally perceived spiritually, not sensually. Why can't most of us perceive him spiritually? Because most of us are spiritually blind (or, as Christ puts it, most are not "pure at heart"). But this doesn't disprove God's existence any more than a blind man's inability to perceive a visual object disproves its existence.

In other words, the above question is a loaded one, since it presupposes that God has not made himself present to us. Once we understand that he has, and if we work to sharpen our spiritual perception, we will one day discover that God is indeed "everywhere present and fillest all things," as we recite in the Trisagion Prayers.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Biblical Standard for Evaluating the Jehovah’s Witnesses

If the Jehovah’s Witnesses belong to the true "congregation" (i.e., their preferred translation of ekklēsia, which is most often rendered as "church"), then there must be scriptural evidence that their particular ekklēsia is the one, true, and visible body of Christ, which has existed in unbroken continuity since its very foundation. I'll be using their own translation of the Bible to support this particular standard.

  • Christ himself built his ekklēsia (Matthew 16:18). 
  • The ekklēsia is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:24) and is therefore one, since Christ has only one body.
  • The ekklēsia is “a” bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).[1] 
  • The ekklēsia is a visible body.  For "if your brother commits a sin," how can you "speak to the congregation [i.e, ekklēsia]" to resolve the matter if you can't even find it? (Matthew 18:15-17). 
  • The ekklēsia must be a permanent body since Jesus says that not even the “gates of the Grave” (Matthew 16:18) will overcome it.

With these points in mind, the Jehovah's Witnesses should be asked the following:

  • Where in history do we find anything remotely similar to the ekklēsia of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
  • If you believe that your ekklēsia was the original ekklēsia, but somehow went missing for a number of centuries (as is evidenced by the vast difference in beliefs and practices between you and Christians of the intervening period), shouldn’t we conclude that the “gates of the Grave” did indeed overcome the ekklēsia until Charles Taze Russel “resurrected” it in the 1870s?  In other words, did Jesus predict wrongly in Matthew 16:18?

[1] The NWT inserts the indefinite article “a” in this verse, presumably to imply that the ekklēsia is but one “pillar and support of the truth” among others.  However, among the 28 renderings listed on Bible Hub, the vast majority (93%) translated stylos to mean the pillar.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

On the Shameful Defense of Trump's 'Sh--holes' Remark

"Well, the countries are sh--holes, aren't they?"

To this pathetic attempt at defending Trump's alleged remarks, we should reply with honesty: "Well, many of these countries are in terrible shape - rife with poverty, corruption, repression, war in some cases, etc. So, I suppose you could describe them as sh--holes, but is that term necessary? Is it becoming of a president? Of a self-described Christian? Of any civilized adult? Do you want your children to grow up speaking this way?"

That aside, the context of his alleged remarks points to something far more problematic than his characteristically churlish language. To be clear, I don’t believe that referring to countries as sh—holes, in itself, demonstrates racism. Is his parlance trashy? Obviously. Is it racist? Well, we can’t know until we examine the context in which he allegedly uttered these words.

But the context doesn’t help, does it? After all, Trump doesn’t say, “Let’s rescue these people from their sh--holes by lifting our lamp beside the golden door!” Rather, he proclaims, “Keep, ancient sh--hole lands, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.” In doing so, he essentially equates the “sh--holes” with the peoples living there, drawing no distinction between those who would likely contribute to our society and those who would not. They’re all little sh—s to our sick and contagious president.

I’m unashamed to express this fact to my students. Am I politically biased in doing so? Only if you believe that calling countries s--holes is a Republican value.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

One of the Biggest Challenges of Contemporary Christianity

Suppose a buddy pointed to a couple of really heavy metal bars, and said "Hey, why don't you grab these heavy things and lift them up, put them down, repeat these steps a couple dozen times, and consequently suffer some ridiculous soreness afterwards!" If I knew nothing about weightlifting and its health benefits, I'd probably reply, "Hey, why don't you go to hell?" If, however, my buddy explained how weight-lifting strengthens bone density, burns fat, improves sleep (among so many other things), then I'd realize that the benefits outweigh the costs.

The first scenario represents our current understanding of the many "rules" of Christianity, especially as they relate to sex. The challenge of contemporary Christianity isn't simply to enumerate its rules, but to explain why they're necessary. The problem in meeting this challenge, of course, is that many Christians, themselves, have forgotten how compliance with these rules prepares one for the ineffable joy that we all seek.