Real World

The Holy Family in American Politics

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do not play very visible roles in US politics.  “For God and Country” is a slogan that makes the rounds in some circles, but the nature of that God is left unspecified (perhaps beyond typically excluding Muslims).  The dearth of direct appeal to Jesus even in conservative American politics, to say nothing of the silence about his mother and step-father, makes it all the more surprising that the Holy Family has been dragged into political debates twice in one month.  The nature of those invocations, and their historical and theological confusion, reveals the cynical pragmatic secularism driving the use of these religious ideas at this political juncture.  Christian complicity in these invocations threatens the intelligibility of the gospel message to outsiders. (more…)

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Still Crazy After All These Years: A Reformation Scorecard at 500

Amid the commemorations and celebrations of Martin Luther nailing several Latin points for disputation upon his local bulletin board, there has been some discussion about whether the Reformation “failed” or “succeeded.”  The answer, of course, depends on what you think the Reformation’s goal was.  But to enable you to reach your own conclusions, I thought a scorecard might be helpful. (more…)

What Do You Do With Faith vs. Facts?

I was just asked how I respond when my religious beliefs conflict with what I believe on the basis of other sources of information.  I think this is a common experience (certainly common for me), and that many people wrestle with it in different ways.  My short answer is that I do what I do whenever any two beliefs of mine conflict.  But that answer itself presumes certain views regarding the nature of religious beliefs and knowledge, and there are perhaps some slight differences worth exploring.  Here are a few thoughts about how I approach the issue, and ways I think are dead ends. (more…)

Fictional Transgender Before It Was Cool?

Sometimes it is useful to look back to a time before the heated debates of the present were kindled, and see how cooler heads then discussed those issues.  One of the heated public arguments of our time is the place of gender and gender expression in our society, and the degree to which those are God-given, naturally determined, socially constructed, or individually chosen.  This past week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a “Nashville Statement” outlining what they regard as necessary Christian teaching on homosexuality and transgenderism.  Reactions to the statement were covered in all the major and most of the minor media outlets.  And this is only the latest flurry in a discussion which already goes back several years.

I recently read Margaret Widdemer’s 1915 novel Why Not?, written long before the current cultural uproar regarding transgender identity and gender expression.  It includes, solely for entertainment value, a subplot surrounding a woman who wants to be a man, and how that turns out.  In doing so, it raises possibilities that our modern gender pugilists do not consider, or even wish to foreclose.  Let us examine those, looking for an alternative to a renewed culture war.

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Is Talman Also Among the Islamicists?

In my previous post I discussed Harley Talman’s argument that Christians ought to entertain the notion that Muhammad might have been a prophet (though not a very good one).  Other critics have pointed out biblical and scriptural flaws with his argument.  But since very few Christian bloggers have specific training in Islamic studies (the academic study of Islam), I thought it might be useful if I pointed out some criticisms of Talman’s argument from the perspective of Islamicists (experts in studying Islam).  In addition to a few outright errors, Talman provides historically ignorant interpretations of the available sources.  In particular, the crux of my disagreement is that Talman argues that the Qur’an is not in fact anti-Trinitarian, as accepted by almost all Islamicists (regardless of their religious views).  Instead, he claims that the Qur’an only criticizes unorthodox Christian views which orthodox Christians ought also to reject.  I think this assertion is untenable, and this flaw is fatal to his entire argument. (more…)

Was Muhammad a Prophet?

For almost a millennium and a half, Muslims (and almost exclusively Muslims) have said yes.  Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and polytheists said no.  This was a sharp enough distinction that saying “Muhammad was God’s messenger” (i.e. prophet) was the defining act of converting to Islam.  That assertion is the second half of the Shahada (the Testimony), the first half of which (“There is no god but God”) is shared with Christians and Jews, and even some Zoroastrians.  The second half of the Shahada is distinctively Muslim, and it is the assertion that Muhammad was a prophet.

But I recently came across a Christian missiologist who argues that we Christians should re-think our negative answer.  Writing under what is apparently a pseudonym, “Harley Talman” has proposed that a Christian committed to the sole efficacy of Jesus Christ for salvation can cautiously and conditionally affirm that Muhammad may have been an actual prophet.  Unsurprisingly, this approach is controversial and has occasioned rebuttals.  My goal in this post is simply to lay out a brief consideration on the subject. (more…)

The Plausibility Divide

Earlier today President Trump used Twitter to accuse President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in the month leading up to the election.  This accusation is shocking, but for different reasons to different people.  Some people are outraged at how the previous president misused his power against the American people.  Others are outraged at how the current president is misusing his power against the democratic system.  These two groups are divided by divergent ideas of what is plausible, and shocking claims like this leverage the plausibility gap to make American society even more polarized. (more…)

Even When Enemies are Muslim, “Muslims” are not the Enemy!

A friend asked me a bit ago whether my day job (trying to understand the Middle East, including Islam and Muslims) wasn’t counterproductive for me as a Bible-believing Christian, or whether it was an attempt to “know the enemy.”  In truth, it is neither.  Of course, I believe that Christians should explore all fields of knowledge to understand the world in the light of God’s revelation.  But I also do not think of Muslims as “the enemy.”  Since this latter point is apparently highly contentious at the present among conservative Christians, I thought it might be useful for me to explain my reasoning. (more…)

How the Trump-News Feud Hurts America

Everyone who reads the news, or only the President’s twitter feed, knows that there is a major feud between the occupant of the Oval Office and the editors of every mainstream news organization in this country.  In a tweet, President Trump even declared the press:

“Fake news,” of course, was originally the battle-cry of the mainstream media against alternative sites such as the pro-Trump Breitbart news, a weapon which Trump has now turned on its makers.  But the mainstream media is not above the fray: major news outlets have consistently offered the reporting to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency, even a month after his inauguration.

In a recent press conference (which the news media reported was 77 minutes long!) President Trump mentioned that he was enjoying the give and take with the news media, even as he expected them to publish that he was “ranting” (which the media duly characterized him as doing).  It does not surprise me, given what we know of the president’s career and conversational style, that he enjoys some conflict and competion.  And he probably knows that his public feud with the media is good for keeping his name on the front page: this is apparently no presidency to become “boring.”  It probably even helps the mainstream media with page views, even as it panders to Trump’s political supporters (a smaller group than those who voted for him).  So it’s a win-win situation, right?

The only problem is that it is bad for America as a whole. (more…)

The Forgotten Art of Civil Discourse

I haven’t blogged in a while, largely because I have been busy with other things, but I have been watching US politics rather more than previously, and not liking what I am seeing.  The polarization of the two-party system has been expressed in isolated discourses with minimal cross-over, in which vocal members of each group express outrage and ridicule at the other group’s viewpoints, mock the appearance of representatives of the other group, engage in ad hominem (and ad familiam) attacks, and do all this while expressing outrage that members of the other group should treat them in the same discourteous manner.  Civility seems to be nearly extinct.  If the American way of government is to be saved, and I must admit great appreciation of the freedoms to which we have grown accustomed, we must reclaim civil discourse, not only in the sense of discourse about issues related to the civilian society, but also discourse which is civil in tone, even when disagreeing strongly. (more…)