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I Sold My Soul on eBay author Hemant Mehta has a blog called “Friendly Atheist”.  Some of his posts are indeed of a friendly nature while others, especially recently it seems, are a bit less so.

Two recent entries are worth looking at:

Christians hurting Christianity 

Hemant asks: “Have any of you (Christian or atheist or otherwise) had encounters with Christians who were well-meaning about sharing their faith, but actually ended up pushing you further away from Christianity?”

Atheists hurting Atheism 

Hemant asks: “Have you ever met an atheist who pushed you away from atheism (whether you’re a religious or non-religious person)?”

Have a look and add a comment if you have one.

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My friend Nick Fox is also doing a series on Dawkins at his blog.

I am trying to read all 374 pages of The God Delusion and comment along the way; Nick is taking the easy way out and commenting on various interviews with Dawkins. (joking)

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Teach Your Children Well

Dawkins hypothesis of why someone like me is of the same religion as my parents involves what he calls “childhood indoctrination.”

“If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam is false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.”

I think this hypothesis is largely disproved by the significant growth of Christianity in non-Christian nations like India and China. Pretty close to none of the Christians in those countries were born into Christianity.

In assuming that all faith is blind faith he misses the fact that many Christians have struggled, as I have, long and hard to ensure the faith of their parents is a reasonable one. Dawkins impression of Christians as indoctrinated photocopies of their former generation is accurate in one sense – there are indeed many Christians who are just that – but to label all Christians mindless twits is a great error.

I can’t help thinking here of the useful practice of the Bruderhof Anabaptist sect that sends their young adults “into the world” for a minimum of one year before they are allowed to decide whether or not to become members of the community. I read of this practice some years ago in Time or Newsweek and it has remained in my memory as a unique, risky, and useful concept. I believe it would go a long way toward combating both nominalism and the type of blind faith that is likely to fall apart at the first sniff of a challenge.

Dawkins insists that there is no such thing as a Muslim child or a Christian child, but rather that these are children of Muslim parents or Christian parents. “Children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics.” This is a point of some shallowness in his thinking.

The reasoning on the part of many parents goes something like: “I’m not going to bias my kids with my beliefs. I’m going to let them figure that out for themselves.” To me this is a gross mismanagement of parenting responsibility. They will be influenced one way or another and all one is conveying with this “non-influence” stand is that all the searching in life has not led them to anything they want to pass on.

I do agree that children raised under a certain belief system having all other systems withheld will be ill prepared to face the world. My children will be exposed to many viewpoints but I will certainly be passing on to them what I’ve learned along the way. As a responsible parent can I really abandon them in their intellectually formative years to make an unaided decision?

That idea of an unaided decision is a fallacy anyway because children don’t make many unaided decisions – you will either primarily aid them or they will be aided by someone who is not you, and at that point what was the point of your parenting, or your lifetime of learning for that matter?


The Dawkins Challenge – “Hey you idiot – read my book!”

“If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down… Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature. Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan.”

Dawkins’ ego is obviously fully evolved. The above statement he describes as “presumptuous optimism”; I am more likely to describe it as “arrogant hyperbole”, but to each his own.

Must we resort immediately to name-calling? “Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument”? Does Dawkins really expect those he berates to read his book? On one hand his greatest wish is for these “faith-heads” to pick up his book, read it, and then become Atheists. On the other hand, if you are a “faith-head” do you want to read much further? Its like he’s saying “Hey you idiot – read my book!”

Maybe I am in a unique case. I am a member of a large and rather conservative church, but I heard about this book because my Pastor quoted from it in a couple of his sermons and encouraged me to read it as well. He’s read the whole thing and wrestled with its claims – and he made it through without becoming an Atheist. Thank God for that.

Of course Dawkins probably feels largely justified in his approach because he has been approached by numerous Christians with the same attitude, trying to convert him. I have to say that he probably is justified in that sense, but two wrongs, as they say, do not make a right, and he comes off as a bit of a fanatic. We’ll see if this continues – if it does this could be a long read.

***To read earlier parts of this series go to the Richard Dawkins page***

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What is lost?

Ultimately the question raised by the quote is this: What do we lose if we lose the virgin birth?

I will attempt to answer it: We lose Jesus. We lose his divinity. We lose his claims about himself and the claims of the apostles about him, and that has infinite and eternal consequences. But if we only lose this one spring, is Bell saying it’s OK because there are plenty of others supporting us?

But let’s examine Bell’s metaphor as it stands:

Is the meaning of the quote that the virgin birth is simply one of many expendable, expandable, and ultimately disposable springs? But isn’t this doctrine woven into the very fabric of our faith? Remove this spring, then another like it, and another, and our jumping becomes more difficult and eventually impossible.

Bell comes short of actually removing the spring by asking if our faith would fall apart if we “reexamine and rethink one spring.” But what is this reexamining and rethinking? If the inspection turns up a faulty part, should it be left in place? Why retain a belief that turned out to be false?

How many springs can be removed before the jumping stops?
Which, if any, are off limits?
When do we cease to call the trampoline a Christian faith?

By implying that all doctrines are of equal weight, Bell paints over the difference between that which is settled and that which is still open for debate. Mark Driscoll describes this dichotomy as ideas that are either in the open hand or the closed hand.

There are not many Christians, Protestant or Catholic, who would argue that all doctrines are of equal weight. And of course there is room for debate, among Protestants anyway, about what is dogma (truth) and what is doctrine (teaching). I know Bell wants us to hold these beliefs as our own and not simply because they were given to us by our parents, and thus he asks us to examine them, to test them. But it is equally unwise to question excessively or reject those beliefs because our parents gave them to us.

Ben Witherington:

“On p.26 we hear about what “being born of a virgin” means. In the course of this discussion Rob claims that the word ‘virgin’ in Hebrew could mean several things. Well in the first place, we do not have the word ‘virgin’ in Isaiah 7.14 in the Hebrew text we have almah which means a nubile young woman of marriage age. In an honor and shame culture like that, this would certainly imply the virginity of the girl in question, but would not focus exclusively on that trait. There is a word for virgin in Hebrew, but this is not it. It is the Greek OT, not the Hebrew that has the term virgin (parthenos) which Matthew follows in Mt. 1 when he quotes the Isaiah text.”

Let’s take a look at the biblical text in Luke 1: 26-38 (ESV):

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

At the end of Bell’s scenario there is no learning other than he tells us he believes in the virgin birth (and for the record, I truly believe he does). But he just gave us a number of compelling arguments NOT to believe, so why in the face of these compelling arguments does he still believe? I wish he’d used something more debatable or, conversely, if this is only a lesson in constructive thinking, why not use something less debatable and more controversial? Why not
use the resurrection? That too has been debated and attempts at refuting it have been numerous.

A Place For Certainty

We must be wary of the despair found in chosen uncertainty. I have experienced that despair. We must not love mystery so much that we create it where there is none. I am not uncomfortable with Bell’s book because I am afraid to challenge my own beliefs. On the contrary, I am cautious about hyperextending my doubt at the expense of weakening my faith because I have been down that road a few times. It leaves scars. Balance is needed.

What can be known for certain, if not empirically then because scripture says it is certain, should be stated as such.

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This is part 3 of 5 in the series Smashing Brickworld. Go to Part 4.

Go to the series index page. This page contains other links and the option to download the series in one Word of PDF file.

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Noted futurist John Naisbitt is ready to give up the secrets of his trade. The author of Megatrends and Megatrends 2000 has proved himself one of the most far-sighted and accurate prognosticators of our hi-tech world. In this book he reveals the 11 “mindsets”- or processes of thinking – that enabled him to make such accurate predictions about the direction of our culture and society.

This is not a book review per se. Here are the notes I made while reading and some short reflections.

Mindset # 1 – While many things change, most things remain constant

Mindset # 2 – The future is embedded in the present

The “News Hole” (P 18)

“Newspapers are forced choice in a closed system… [they] are great monitors of social change because, simply stated, the news hole – the space available for news stories in a newspaper – is a closed system. For economic reasons, the amount of space devoted to news in a newspaper does not change significantly over time, so when something new is introduced, something must be omitted or reduced. You cannot add unless you subtract.”

Naisbitt then suggest this as a template for personal observation. When you begin to monitor something new, drop something else. I immediately went to my bloglines account and deleted a few of the blogs I read and took out a few podcast feeds from my podcast aggregator as well.

I knew this needed to be done. I am an information junkie but a man can only take in so much. I need to have a “space budget”, but I also want to push as much into my brain as it can handle. And I’ve tried to practice this as I find new blogs to read and new podcasts to subscribe to. If I find a new one I try to take and old one off the list… a zero sum game.

“In the stream of time, the future is always with us” Naisbitt says in summary. We need to keep a distance and a clear eye to see things in the present rather than in retrospect. Newspapers are the first draft of history but since what is happening now will determine the future, they are also a glimpse into the future.

Mindset # 3 – Focus on the score of the game

In this chapter Naisbitt encourages us to keep sports as the model, since results do not change because of excuses, praise or explanations from the losing or winning team.

He also explores the dilemma of the non-expert, which applies to all of us in one way or another. He uses the issue of climate change as an example, noting that to be completely knowledgeable about the subject you could read the 963 books on global warming listed on Amazon.com and then in the interest of balance, you could read the 1,054 books on global cooling and the coming ice age. It is difficult to tell the score of the game since the “game” manifests itself as competing rhetoric. “Global warming has become a religion,” he says “and those who don’t buy into its gloom and doom scenarios are infidels who must be banished from any public forum.”

He follows this up with an affirmation of the necessity of regulation and protection of the environment, but only as much as is necessary as indicated by the real score of the game. “Exaggerating problems without any real idea of the score of the game,” he says “distorts society’s priorities and makes it hard for citizens and leaders to make the best decisions.”

There is plenty more here on the environmental war of rhetoric that is worth reading. The book is a worthy purchase or a good selection from the library.

“It is in the nature of human beings to bend information in the direction of desired conclusions.”

Mindset # 4 – Understanding how powerful it is to not have to be right

Mindset # 5 – See the future as a picture puzzle

Mindset # 6 – Don’t get so far ahead of the parade that people don’t know you’re in it

Mindset # 7 – Resistance to change fails if benefits are real

Mindset # 8 – Things that we expect to happen always happen more slowly

“Almost all change is evolutionary, not revolutionary… expectations always travel at higher speeds.”

Mindset # 9 – You don’t get results by solving problems but by exploiting opportunities

“When you’re looking for the shape of the future, look for and bet on the exploiters of opportunities, not the problem solvers.” Problem solvers, by their nature, mine the past for the answers to “what happened?” Exploiters of opportunities look at the present and see the potential for gain.

“Windows of opportunity are often blown open and closed again like windows in a storm. You have to be ready to grasp them… Big companies with little flexibility are on the side of the losers… The problem of a declining market for a product can’t be fixed by improvements to an already obsolete technology.”

“Change favours the prepared mind,” said Louis Pateur. “I was ready.”

The chapter ends with a wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw:

“People are blaming their circumstances for what they are. I do not believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they don’t find them, they create them.”

This one hit me particularly close as I am huge on problem solving. I love evidence and piecing the scene together and this has served me very well in my day job as a quality assurance technician. But I need to make a transition and become much more of an opportunist. I need to make decision much more quickly and I need to learn to distill information more quickly.

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All the content of this blog has been moved to: http://michaelkrahn.com/blog/

The following content can be found by clicking below:
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion click here.

Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis click here.

Pedro The Lion

Enjoy!

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All the content of this blog has been moved to: http://michaelkrahn.com/blog/

The following content can be found by clicking below:
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion click here.

Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis click here.

Pedro The Lion

Enjoy!

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