Friday, November 30, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 40: Responding to Philip Pullman's cultural and ideological agenda in The Golden Compass

One week from today, Friday December 7th, 2007, will be the sixty-sixth anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor that pulled an unwilling United States into the most bloody conflict to date, World War II.

On that day, Philip Pullman's movie version of his 1998 book, The Golden Compass will premiere in movie theatres across the USA, signalling a new phase in the ongoing civilisation-wide sustained assault on the Christian Church and gospel by various atheists, secularists and their fellow travellers.

In this phase, the intent is to capture the imaginations of our culture's youth, through a movie version of the Dark Materials series of books which was conceived of -- in Peter Hitchens' sadly apt terms -- as "a labour of loathing," in attempted direct literary rebuttal to the classic, seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia by the famous Oxford [and Cambridge] literature professor and Christian author and thinker, C. S. Lewis.

Is such critical language excessively harsh on my part?

Sadly, no.

To begin with, as Brent Bozell reports, Mr Pullman (from Wikipedia, a former part-time lecturer at Westminster College, Oxford; 1988 - 1996, "a supporter of the British Humanist Association
and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society" and one of Britain's most outspoken atheists), has long since declared his attitude to the Chronicles of Narnia and Lewis' underlying Christian Faith:

"I thought they were loathsome," [Pullman] said of those books, "full of bullying and sneering, propaganda, basically, on behalf of a religion whose main creed seemed to be to despise and hate people unlike yourself" . . . . Pullman hates orthodox religion and "those who pervert and misuse religion, or any other kind of doctrine with a holy book and a priesthood and an apparatus of power that wields unchallengeable authority, in order to dominate and suppress human freedoms" . . . . The evil empire in this movie for children is called the "Magisterium," which is exactly the word Catholics use to describe the teaching authority of the Pope and his bishops. The books are more explicit, in which the evil institution is also called "The Church" and the higher-ups are the "Vatican Council" . . . . Pullman depicts priests as evil and murderous, drunk and probably perverted, and the Church as "a conspiracy against happiness and kindness" . . . . the menace in Pullman's trilogy isn't called the Caliphate, and its hideous monsters aren't mullahs. They are cardinals and priests, and the heroes are an atheist former nun and two rebellious gay male angels.
In short, the core premise of Mr Pullman's attitude and work, sadly but on good authority, is a lie, a blatant and brazen slander against the Christian Church: "a religion whose main creed seemed to be to despise and hate people unlike yourself."

Mr Pullman is a highly educated man, and so must be at least minimally aware of the existence of the Bible, and that in it is to be found the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5 - 7, where we may easily read the core Christian creedal statement on ethics in Matt. 7:12 (echoing Moses' summary of the law in Leviticus 19:15 - 18), and commonly known as The Golden Rule:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Paul, in Rom 13:8 - 10, amplifies this principle:
RO 13:8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Now, of course, we painfully and only partly successfully struggle with the implications of what Peter Hocken has so aptly called "the glory and the shame."

That is, the long centuries of Church history and current experience beyond recounting both document that Christians are far from perfect, even if forgiven and that at our best, we are struggling through the grace of God to walk in those good works that God has laid out in advance for us to do. But one thing is certain, the core Christian creed cannot be "to despise and hate people unlike yourself."

We could go on to detail how he seriously misrepresents the substance of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Christian faith, but that is only by way of showing that the intent is questionable.

What is more directly relevant is the topsy-turvy, world turned upside down moral and worldview programme evident in the books and the upcoming public release of the movie. As Hitchens goes on to tellingly summarise:
. . . while Narnia is under the care of a benevolent, kindly creator, Pullman’s chaotic universe has no ultimate good authority, controlling and redeeming all. God, or someone claiming to be God, dies meaninglessly in the third volume of his trilogy. There is life after death, but it is a dark, squalid misery from which oblivion is a welcome release . . . . Pullman’s saga begins just as Lewis’s does with a girl hiding in a wardrobe and finding more than she bargained for. It is almost as if he wants to turn Narnia upside-down and then jump on it. While Lewis portrays rationalist atheists as comically ghastly and joyless, Pullman depicts priests as evil and murderous, drunk and probably perverted, and the Church as a conspiracy against happiness and kindness.

Challenged about his assault, Pullman professes enthusiasm for something called the Republic of Heaven, whatever that means. He also says that he draws many of his ideas from Milton’s Paradise Lost. No doubt he does, but much of his thinking could also have been taken from the pages of the Guardian, or from politically correct staff-room conversation in a thousand state schools. Among the good characters in his trilogy are gypsies, an African prince, a homosexual angel and a renegade nun who abandons her faith but who willingly obeys orders from another angel (orientation unknown) who speaks to her through a computer screen.

The bad are to be found among the religious, the respectable and the well-off. A particular villain is discovered at his opulent home. Pullman writes with feeling, ‘Everything Will could see spoke of wealth and power, the sort of informal settled superiority that some upper-class English people still took for granted.’ Pullman has also assailed Lewis for being racist, a charge that simply doesn’t stick. One of Lewis’s noblest characters is the dark-skinned Calormene, Emeth, while the vilest is the White Witch. He also suggests that Lewis is monumentally disparaging of women. As Michael Ward points out, this, too, is absurd . . . . His other angry charges against Lewis, that he sends Susan Pevensie to hell because she likes lipstick and nylons, and that he kills all the children because he prefers death to life, are equally questionable.
The intended effect of this is potentially devastating.

For, as Dr Wade Bradshaw of L'Abri Fellowship, UK aptly summarises:
The understanding of our culture increasingly is that the Christian God is seen as primitive, old-fashioned and immoral. The terrible thing is that non-Christians will say that to you but, increasingly, as I speak to Christians who are going to church, they have this nagging sense that they may be in agreement with them - that God is primitive, immoral and old-fashioned. In other words, that the church no longer occupies the moral high ground . . . It is as if . . . I was trying to call them up to what is clearly good and true and right and they kept acting like I was trying to call them down to something . . . Can you see if the church does not understand this dynamic, that we are proclaiming these people to be sinners in need of reconciliation with the real God and they are thinking, whether clearly or not, 'if there were a God why would I go to yours? Because I already consider myself morally superior to your God.'
This tellingly, sadly, echoes what we read in Romans 1, now speaking to a culture that has for twenty centuries had to confront the gospel:
RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. [Some would add: In the old days, in temples, now often on TV or in textbooks, magazines and museums.]

RO 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised . . . . RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity . . .
It is therefore extremely ironic that a peak, turnaround moment in the series of books is the point where Lyra, the twelve year old heroine, invited on by the former nun turned atheist, comes of age sexually (explicitly, apparently only through a kiss), but in a moral context that -- from the reaction of several credible critics -- can be seen as inviting the young reader to far more than that. [Cf Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (New York: Random House Children's Books, 2000), pp. 68, 80.]

Most telling, perhaps is an excerpt from the novel, in which a fallen angel speaks:
The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty – those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves – the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.
In short, the core message of this series of novels and the movie is an attempt to turn our youth against the God of the Bible, and to make it seem plausible that evolutionary materialism has credibly accounted for mind (and morals as a key function of mind).

Not so fast!

This attempt at anti-God bigotry gliding into materialism fails, for it glibly glides over the very serious and long since unmet challenges faced by materialism on precisely these points. Indeed -- and unsurprisingly given Pullman's hostility -- it was the very same C S Lewis who in his apologetics works eloquently, forcibly and repeatedly brought the mid twentieth century world's attention to the issue of the evident incoherence of materialism.

From my summary at an introductory level:

Philosophical materialism . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance and psycho-social conditioning, within the framework of human culture.)

Therefore, if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity. Of course, the conclusions of such arguments may still happen to be true, by lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” them. And, if our materialist friends then say: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must note that to demonstrate that such tests provide empirical support to their theories requires the use of the very process of reasoning which they have discredited!

Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, immediately, that includes “Materialism.” For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?

In the end, materialism is based on self-defeating logic, and only survives because people often fail (or, sometimes, refuse) to think through just what their beliefs really mean.

As a further consequence, materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil. So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead.

Plainly, there is a lot more to the Pullman story than meets the eye!

Let this reported excerpt from an interview with Pullman serve as a warning, then:
"I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people - mainly from America's Bible Belt - who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."
So, let us therefore beware of the rhetorical and imaginative power of artful stories and associated well-executed movies that become a now often-repeated Christmas or Easter-spoiler argument by story-telling, for a set of evolutionary materialist claims that cannot stand reasonable scrutiny, and against a gospel that can. END


UPDATE, Dec 02:
An exchange with a friendly but critically minded reader leads me to conclude that I should note on the implications of my use of secondary sources above, as opposed to basing my remarks primarily on direct reading and/or watching. First, it is always a risk to use authorities, no matter how "credible" they may seem, as no authority is better than his/her facts, reasoning and assumptions as well as attitudes.

Having said that, it is also true -- as C S Lewis pointed out -- that 99+% of practical arguments are crucially dependent on authorities [starting with the dictionary and one's teachers, moving on to claimed witnesses and experts of one stripe or another, etc, etc].
The question also raises the issue of the adequacy of evidence for history in general, as for most of history we have no direct access to the real-life situation and must rely on witnesses or authorities of one form or another. Similarly, we are in no position to prove for ourselves from scratch in any significant area of knowledge, and so we must determine criteria for accepting the testimony of such potentially fallible authorities and witnesses. That is for instance the challenge Thomas Didymus faced:
Thomas, who has been one of the core group of disciples for several years, and who happened to be absent when Jesus appeared to the group of disciples that first Easter Sunday evening, refused to believe their collective testimony (and, we may infer, the implications of the by then notoriously empty tomb). Instead, he demanded to physically inspect Jesus' wounds. That is, far from being a paragon of epistemic virtue, he was in the position of one who refused to believe credible testimony and accessible corroborating physical evidence -- which is, by dint of the finitude and fallibility of human nature, the only access to most of history that we have a right to expect.

So, while Jesus did graciously grant him his request, Our Risen Lord was entirely justified to advert to the fact that we cannot properly demand direct physical access to historical events as a condition of believing them. Therefore, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet [having heard and heeded credible testimony and record, cf. vv 30 - 31!] have believed." And, indeed, millions across twenty centuries (including the author of this note) have done so, and have indeed experienced the miracle of the new birth and its result: eternal life -- JN 17:3: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" -- just as Jesus promised.

That is, we plainly have an epistemic duty to respond appropriately to credible evidence, through exercising reasonable faith.

That in turn means we have to balance several things, among others: (i) the risk of error vs the risk of silence in the face of the need for prudent action, (ii) the risk of loss of credibility on having to acknowledge error, (iii) the issue that we are often tempted to accept things that fit our preconceptions too easily, (iv) the opposed risk that we are prone to reject those that do not unless they surmount an unrealistically high criterion of evidence, and much more.

This raises the issue of judging when something is adequately warranted to accept as [a] possible or then [b] likely or then [c] highly likely or then [d] morally certain or then [e] demonstrably certain. (A good test of that is degree of corroboration across independent witnesses or authorities, joined to correspondence with a wide range of reliable facts in the situation, and onward to being coherent and elegantly simple but not simplistic as an explanation across alternatives. Cf Greenleaf's set of courtroom-tested rules of thumb here.)

As of now, I believe there is sufficient corroboration to accept that the above main post is substantially accurate -- note how, e.g., I highlight that there is only explicitly a "first kiss" in the series of novels, but in a context that is apparently undermining of moral and/or even prudential restraint on too-early sexuality -- and as a whole requires us to act on prudence even in the face of possible errors.

Should further information arise that materially alters the balance of that judgement, I will make a note of it and notify regular correspondents.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A plea for help in Zimbabwe

One of my longstanding email (and "snail-mail") pen-friends forwards the below.

He pleads:
Dear God, please help these people who are at breaking point, give them the will and strength to lift their heads up and stand tall against this ugly fear that they are facing. There is a saying that goes like this: "Bread thrown over the water returns to you!"

Thank you God for loving us and taking care of us. You are mighty and we believe that you will help these people!!

The original is:

. . . I am a 16 year old person living in Zimbabwe. I think the time has come for a more direct appeal, and so I am writing to you, the world.

Maybe, just maybe, there might be someone out there who can help us...

It's tough here now. The inflation rate is so high that if you don't change money within 6 hours you could get half the amount of foreign currency that you would have originally

We're starving now; people die around us. In the last year alone at least ten people associated personally with my family have died despite the fact that they were only middle-aged. Other people don't make it to middle age. They don't even make it past childhood.

Our once-proud nation is on it's knees. We flee or die. This beautiful, bountiful once-rich land has become a living hell. We have dealt with it until now; we have made a plan. That was the Zimbabwean motto: "MAKE A PLAN".

But now we can't make a plan. We're too tired, too broken, too bankrupt. We can't afford life, and life does not

cost much, not really. We cannot afford to eat, we cannot afford to drink, and we cannot afford to make mistakes, because if we do we die. We don't have the capital to support ourselves, and those few who do, have to deal with the horror of watching their friends and family fall into absolute poverty as they cannot afford to help them.

We're waiting desperately for a great hand to pick us up out of the dirt because at the moment we are outnumbered by Fate herself, and so we close our eyes and pray. We have fought for too long, and have been brought to breaking point. We simply stand, heads down, and bear it. Our spirit has gone; we are defeated. After a valiant struggle of over fifteen years, we have been broken.
There is no will left, no spirit. Like a horse that has been beaten until it cannot fight anymore; we are the same, and, like that horse, we stand dusty, scarred and alone, with dried blood on our sides and lash marks along our flanks. Our ribs too stand out; our hide is also dull. Our eyes are glazed, our throats are parched, and our knees struggle to support us so that we stand with splayed legs to bear the brunt of the next beating, too dejected even to whimper.

This is my plea. The thought of picking ourselves up again is sickening; one can only take so many blows before oblivion is reached, and we are teetering on the rim of the bottomless void. One more push will be the end of us all.

There must be someone out there who can do something. There must be someone out there who cares! We are a destroyed nation. I appeal to you all.



ZIMBABWE 24-hour Solidarity Vigil adds -- and pardon the all caps:




Let us pray for Zimbabwe, and let us see what we the Christian people of the Caribbean can begin to do to help one of our ancestral motherlands - not just through prayer and charity, but to help turn around the ideologies that lend power to the ill-advised policies and oppressive behaviour that has so materially contributed to this sad deterioration of the condition of the people of Zimbabwe. END

Friday, November 23, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 39: On the triumph of agenda and spin over truthfulness and balance in the academy, the media and the public square

The academy, the media and the public square are three key institutions for the preservation of liberty and the fostering of progress.

So, when -- as is, sadly, increasingly plain -- these three institutions in our Caribbean region and the wider arena of Western civilisation become increasingly dominated by agenda and spin that is serious cause for concern.

But, some will protest, such is not really the case --
the above is just crying "sour grapes" because theological and/or political conservatives are losing the freely-fought battle of ideas as secular progressives continue their centuries long triumph in our civilisation, "enlightening" and "liberating" us from the dark night of theocratic domination by those who would take us back to the dark ages of religious tyranny under the spiritual heirs of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition.


In fact, first, the -- too often unacknowledged or dismissed or even hotly denied -- contribution
of people and movements anchored in the Biblical worldview to the rise of modern liberty, and in particular, the similarly in large part Biblically anchored contribution of the abolitionist movement to the liberation of our ancestors from slavery was as real as the anti-clericalist secular tyranny of the French Revolution in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

For, finite, fallible, fallen, too often ill-willed men will always find a way to do evil in the name of doing good, regardless of the reigning orthodoxy of the day. Just as, through God's grace, others will eventually rise up to stand for the right.

So, the challenges of oppression, injustice and tyranny and the consequent need to reform and liberate are human challenges, not specifically connected to any one specific religious or secular outlook. And, as Bernard Lewis pointed out about the sins and triumphs of Western culture:
. . . revulsion against America, more generally against the West, is by no means limited to the Muslim world . . . . The accusations are familiar. We of the West are accused of sexism, racism, and imperialism, institutionalized in patriarchy and slavery, tyranny and exploitation. To these charges, and to others as heinous, we have no option but to plead guilty -- not as Americans, nor yet as Westerners, but simply as human beings, as members of the human race. In none of these sins are we the only sinners, and in some of them we are very far from being the worst . . . .

Slavery is today universally denounced as an offense against humanity, but within living memory it has been practiced and even defended as a necessary institution, established and regulated by divine law. [NB: Slavery was only officially abolished in the Islamic theocracy of Saudi Arabia in 1962.] The peculiarity of the peculiar institution, as Americans once called it, lay not in its existence but in its abolition. Westerners were the first to break the consensus of acceptance and to outlaw slavery, first at home, then in the other territories they controlled, and finally wherever in the world they were able to exercise power or influence -- in a word, by means of imperialism . . . .

In having practiced sexism, racism, and imperialism, the West was merely following the common practice of mankind through the millennia of recorded history. Where it is distinct from all other civilizations is in having recognized, named, and tried, not entirely without success, to remedy these historic diseases. And that is surely a matter for congratulation, not condemnation.
What Mr Lewis leaves implicit is the fact that -- once the Bible was put in the hands of the ordinary man some 500 years ago -- Christian people and movements, acting out of explicitly biblical, Judaeo-Christian ethics, had a lot to do with that process of exposure, correction and liberation. Often, at terrible personal cost.

So, I must insist on my point. For, as the recent incident of the public lecture held here in Montserrat under the auspices of the local centre of a regional university -- where not only this present author but also the Christian faith and civilisation were slandered and history was sadly distorted -- plainly illustrates, the issue of the triumph of agenda and spin over truthfulness and balance is an all too real and relevant one.

Some of that is a hangover from the days when Marxism dominated our regional university, in parts now displaced to other bases for playing out the latest forms of dialectic style radicalism. Only, to fall afoul of the same problem yet again and again: extremes provoke extremes, but the point of balance is the true opposite to all extremes.

(But then, one of the central lessons of history is that by and large we refuse to learn from it. No wonder it is so hard to find the point of balance.)

Another major dimension of it is the surging into our region of the de-Christianising tidal wave from the North, especially North America.

For instance, since, proverbially: "if America sneezes, the Caribbean catches flu," let us take careful note of what Bruce Thornton observes, in a recent issue of New York's quarterly City Journal, on the state of the American university:
Political free speech serves a practical end: to discover the best public policies through citizens’ raucous, sometimes woolly discussion in the town square. As Mill put it, “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” Academic free speech, on the other hand, has its own peculiar purposes and requirements. The purpose of academic freedom is to encourage the search for truth and the exposure of error, an endeavor conducted through what Matthew Arnold called “the free play of the mind on all subjects.” . . . .

At the same time, since academic intellectuals are supposed to be trained in the principles of sound thinking, one should expect higher standards for the ideas considered on campus than for those that contest in the town square . . . .

The [ongoing] politicization of the university has transformed academic free speech into something more like the no-holds-barred, anything-goes political speech of the town square. Ideologues have discarded the university’s higher intellectual standards, deriding them as ivory-tower excuses for avoiding political engagement. This decline of academic free speech into activist politics and ideology has not even been consistent. The political prejudices of the professoriate—a continuum that starts at liberal and ends at radical leftist—have favored liberal and leftist speakers, thus narrowing the range of ideas offered to the campus community.
In short, the university movement in North America has been in large part captured by a particular portion of the North American [and European] ideological spectrum, one largely associated with the more "Liberal" wings of their Democratic Party.

In turn, that is highly significant, given the increasingly discernible influence of that party's approaches on our region's politics, opinions and policy agendas. For, it is little known and less understood in our region, that the US' political and media culture, over the past generation, has been undergoing a steadily accelerating, significant, evolutionary materialism-anchored radically anti-Christian secular humanist trend, as Louis Bolce has pointed out in his Fall, 2002 Public Interest article, "
Our secularist democratic party":

The "culture wars" is the controversial metaphor used to describe the restructuring of religious and cultural conflict in the United States since the 1960s . . . On the orthodox side are persons who locate moral authority in a transcendent source, such as God or the Bible. Orthodox morality, according to Hunter, adheres to an absolute standard of right and wrong and is based on universalistic principles. Progressivists, in contrast, embrace a humanistic ethic drawn from reason, science, and personal experience. Progressivist moral rules are "loose-bounded," pluralistic, and relative to circumstance. This new cleavage cuts across the major American faith traditions and most denominations . . . .

[P]rior to the late 1960s, there was something of a tacit commitment among elites in both parties to the traditional Judeo-Christian teachings regarding authority, sexual mores, and the family. This consensus was shattered in 1972 when the Democratic party was captured by a faction whose cultural reform agenda was perceived by many (both inside and outside the convention) as antagonistic to traditional religious values. The political scientist Geoffrey Layman has defined this block, the largest in the party, as "secularists,"--that is, self-identified agnostics, atheists, and persons who never or seldom attend religious services. Over a third of white delegates fit this description, a remarkable figure considering that, according to James Davison Hunter, only about 5 percent of the population in 1972 could be described as secularists . . . .

The religious and cultural cleavages that roiled the Democrats in 1972 were nonexistent at the Republican convention, where mainline Protestants still dominated. The GOP platform that year merely reiterated cultural positions the party had endorsed in past platforms, for example, support for school prayer and the Equal Rights Amendment. The Republicans, by default more than by overt action, became the traditionalist party. "The partisan differences that emerged in 1972," writes Layman in his book The Great Divide, "were not caused by any sudden increase in the religious and cultural traditionalism of the Republican activists but instead by the pervasive secularism and cultural liberalism of the Democratic supporters of George McGovern." . . . . The secularist putsch in the Democratic party had the opposite effect on its rival, which over time came to be seen as more hospitable to religious traditionalists and less appealing to more secular Republicans. What was at first an intraparty culture war among Democratic elites became by the 1980s an interparty culture war . . . . cultural and religion-based evaluations have increased since the first Clinton election [in 1992]. Moreover, during this time span secularists and traditionalists have voiced mirror-opposite "likes" and "dislikes" about the parties' stances toward "religious people," the "Christian Right," "abortion," "gay rights," "school prayer," and other cultural concerns. In the 2000 ANES survey, for example, secularists were nearly four times more likely to volunteer religion-based dislikes about groups and positions associated with the Republican party than were traditionalists, who in turn were four times more likely to voice cultural or religious reasons for disliking the Democratic party.
So, on the evidence of the history just outlined, the polarising wedge that drove the American public apart into the culture war that now rages at large, came from the secularists -- not the orthodox traditionalists. And, it is therefore patently unfair to characterise their essentially defensive and conservative response or reaction as the attempted imposition of an unprecedented, dangerous, radical theocratic agenda. But, sadly, politics is hardly a context where we can generally expect to find a truthful, fair and balanced presentation of issues.

Traditionally, though, in democratic societies, the media are seen as the bastion of liberty, and the fair-minded watchdog over our political arena. So, let us now turn to how the above political polarisation and conflict has been covered in the dominant American media.

The culture war, of course, has sharply accelerated ever since 1992, and has been widely reported in the major media -- but with a telling twist, one that reflects the dominant culture of the major media houses (and behind them, that of the ideological groups that dominate the Academy):
The importance of . . . [The New York Times and The Washington Post (which also publishes Newsweek)] is aptly summarized by former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg: "Many TV journalists simply don't know what to think about certain issues until the New York Times and Washington Post tell them what to think. Those big, important newspapers set the agenda that network news people follow." At the very least, these papers' coverage of religion in politics can be considered bell-weathers of elite understandings of the religious divide in the electorate . . . . Between 1990 and 2000, the Times and the Post published a total of 14 stories that pointed out that the Republican and Democratic parties were split along a traditionalist-secularist divide. Readers of the Times and Post were more than twice as likely to find news accounts about clashes between religious traditionalists and moderates within the Republican party than stories about religious divisions between Republicans and Democrats . . . .

The most striking finding to emerge from these comparisons is the paucity of news stories and commentaries that identify secularists or the secularist outlook with the Democratic party, particularly when contrasted to the large number of stories and editorials in both papers about the Republican party's relationship with evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (43 stories and 682 stories, respectively) . . . .

Studies by public-opinion researchers have shown that the news media powerfully shapes the way the public views social groups. And thus it is not surprising that ANES survey results indicate that the more attention a person pays to the national political news media, and especially to television news, the more likely is that individual to believe that Christian fundamentalists are ideologically extreme and politically militant. Those who read and watch national news media are also more likely to conflate evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists with Religious Right organizations and to make voting decisions and judgments about public-policy issues based on the antipathy they feel toward both these groups.
In short, once we probe beyond the surface clutter of politics, scandals and the glitter of information-age media presentations, we see that truthfulness, fairness and balance have consistently been given short shrift by the key media houses, in favour of an agenda-serving presentation of the issues in the international media that increasingly influence us in our own region.

This agenda has therefore decisively shaped how a great many Americans view the many issues connected to the accelerating advance of the secularist agenda in their own country, and the wider world.

Nor is this sort of take-over by the secular humanists isolated to North America. In fact it is only because of the strong presence and abundant capacity of traditionalists in the American scene that we have had an open, sustained conflict. For, as Francis Schaeffer long ago observed, secular humanism has long since triumphed in Western Europe. Indeed, that is exactly what one would pick up if s/he were to carefully analyse and investigate the pattern of reportage and commentary on say BBC [The British Broadcasting Corporation], for two generations now the most respected media house in the Caribbean -- ever since Radio spread across our region as a mass phenomenon.

That brings us full circle: right back home to the Caribbean.

It is immediately clear that we now have to be far more discerning in what we accept from our political leaders, our media houses and our academics. For, what we saw with the recent public lecture here in Montserrat, and with the earlier attempted one-sided revision of our history to make it out that the majority of slaves in our region were Muslims, is likely to be from now on an increasingly common and forcefully pushed trend as the de-Christianising tidal wave from the North and the Islamist one from the East send surge after surge into our region.

So, we must now urgently develop the ability to recognise, evaluate, resist and refute spin and bias, and we will need to develop the capacity to counter the impact of various radical, secularist and islamist etc agendas in our politics, in our education systems, in the popular media and popular culture (especially music), in our colleges and universities and in the region's public square and halls of power. Indeed, even among our churches.

That is a tall order indeed, but we have no choice -- if we don't want to allow the waves to sweep in in upon us unhindered, creating chaos as they go.

So, again, the challenge we face: why not now? why not here? why not us? END

Monday, November 19, 2007

A late discussion on Pagan Myths and the Christian faith

Over the past few days, there has been an emerging discussion with a commenter known as Starsbloom, in response to the March 17, 2007 post on Ms Kathleen McGowan's novel, The Expected One.

Onlookers may find it interesting, especially the underlying concept/assertion on "her truth," vs. that of others. That is, SB denies that truth says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not; reducing it instead to something very much more like perception and/or opinion.

But since we already have very good and common English words for such concepts and phenomena, why then -- apart from rhetorical impact -- do so many now wish to turn truth into a synonym for opinion or perception?

Thereby hangeth a rather long tail on the rise and dominance of radical relativism in Western Culture, and where it leads.

My own comment on this point and several closely related issues is:
2] [SB:] i confess that i do embrace the concept that the faith that each individual has is their own truth

It would be more correct usage -- but would then be a mere triviality -- to speak thusly: i confess that i do embrace the concept that the faith that each individual has is their own [OPINION].

In short, there is already a very good English word for what is of merit in what you are trying to say.

Let us therefore reserve the word truth for what Aristotle said in aptly defining it, 2,300+ years ago: that which says of what is, that it is; and, of what is not, that it is not. Jesus adds the appropriate virtue -- truthfulness: Let your yes be yes, and your no, no. Whatever is more than this comes of evil.

To deny that truth in this sense exists, is to try to affirm an instance of such a claimed truth, i.e it is self-refuting. Far better is to acknowledge what Josiah Royce highlighted: error exists.

Let us follow up the chain of logical consequences:

--> This is undeniably true as to try to deny it exemplifies it.

--> So, well-warranted truth exists.

--> Therefore, truth exists and is [at least in part] knowable, even by finite, fallible, fallen creatures who are too often ill-willed.

And, while we may be in error in part -- we see through a glass darkly -- that does not excuse us from the duty of truthfulness in thought and word; and even deeds as one can lie by what one does as well as what one says [a second NT cite].

[HW: tell me the NT texts that the above three cites come from, and where and when we first find them in the MSS of the NT and/or the Fathers.]

3] i know enough to not believe that there is only one truth, and the beginning of wisdom is in knowing that you don't really know

It would be far more accurate for you to say that, in the first instance: i know enough to not believe that there is only one [OPINION]

In the second part,the possibility of error haunts our attempts to seek or know or state truth, true, but the point of so stating is to make a claim to know a certain truth. Namely, that we start from error and relative ignorance, so should be humble and willing to learn and correct our mistakes.

This last is very compatible with the existence of truth and with the point that adequate warrant exists that certain opinions have a right to be termed: knowledge -- well-warranted, credibly true belief. [Cf here my first linked in the set of references above.]

4] why do we always have to best each other? why can't we just embrace our own truths and allow others to explore and embrace their own without making it a contest, but a means by which we become a better people?

So, why then are you trying to "correct" me in my "intolerant" and [by implication, "wrong"] opinions?

In short, the answer to the problem of error and multiplicity of opinions leading to acrimonious debate and polarisation is not to indulge in circles of group-think, but to enter into serious dialogue based on comparative difficulties.
So, we can see where the challenge of relativism leads. END

Friday, November 16, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 38: on balance vs Racist Neo-Fascism and its links to European groups opposing Islamism

I think it was Martin Luther -- sadly, no mean anti-Semite himself -- who long ago said that the devil was all too willing to help you get back up on the horse of truth, the better to then push you over on the other side. (Would to God he had heeded his own counsel on this and some other points!)

This of course reflects the grain of truth in the Marxist version of Hegel's Dialectic, a model of the dynamics of history: when an established order is oppressive [thesis] it provokes an extreme reaction [antithesis], which then leads to a resolution for the time being in a new order [synthesis].

That little three-step dance is just a little too neat an account of the forces and stages of history, especially when it is married to Marx's "inevitable" and "scientific" evolutionary parade of societal types: ancient communalism, classical slave states, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism as the socialist state withers away. It is also worth noting that if one's patterns of thought and behaviour etc are held to be determined -- i.e. controlled -- by unconscious socio-cultural and economic forces, that necessarily includes the thoughts and behaviour of the Marxist thinker, so this system -- as is true of all evolutionary materialist systems -- is self-refuting.

But in the idea behind the three-step dance, lurks a key point: just like with a swinging pendulum, extremes provoke opposed extremes, but the point of balance is the true opposite to all extremes.

(Thus too the importance of balanced or at least balancing perspectives in helping us move away from that futile and dangerous swinging from one extreme to another. In this blog, that is the aim, if -- alas! -- not always the achievement.)

These issues came to mind as I recently tried to calm down and converse with an attender at the public lecture where I was unfortunately publicly slandered for insisting that an objective, balanced view of the C18 - 19 Abolitionists had to reckon with abundant evidence that many of them were Gospel Ethics motivated humanitarians, whatever their inevitable failings as fallible humans. (It also came up in the course of an ongoing blog visit at Dr Dembski's Uncommon Descent Blog, where several pro-Darwin commenters were trying to argue that Marxism-Leninism was not rooted in an evolutionary conception of the world, driven by Darwinist thought. E.g. cf the thread here.)

But, most relevantly, it comes to mind as I observe on a worrying pattern in Europe, aptly summed up by Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, in observing on Charles Johnson's ongoing expose on the Vlaams Belang and the Sweden Democrats, groups that oppose the rise of Jihadism in Europe but are evidently deeply tainted themselves by neo-Fascism and Racism:
For years now Hugh Fitzgerald and I have written about the unfortunate fact that the European mainstream parties have completely failed to address the problem of European Islamization -- a problem that of course they have, in many cases, abetted. Hugh and I have both in many separate posts lamented that those mainstream parties have thus left the field open to neo-fascist and neo-Nazi parties, like the Holocaust-denying white supremacist BNP and Haider's party in Austria, and to noxious characters like LePen in France. Those types have in several European countries become the only ones addressing the issue of jihad and Islamic supremacism.

This is unfortunate for several reasons. It allows the European elites and the political and media mainstream to continue to marginalize the counterjihad resistance as simply racist reactionism, rather than a legitimate concern. So their own abdication and complicity are reinforced by the character of the reaction to it -- a logjam that only a new Churchill could break, and there is no such person on the horizon at this point.

The neofascist character of the anti-jihad parties in Europe also keeps many decent people from joining the counterjihad movement, when they otherwise would. This is the great weakness of the argument that, well, there is no one else fighting this fight, so we have to join forces with people we would otherwise regard with distaste: some people simply will not and will never do that, and it limits the power of the movement and its ability to grow.

The sad and destructive pattern of one extreme provoking or making room for and then reinforcing another, is all too obvious. The resulting polarisation and paralysis open the door to the further rise of the underlying threats, and ultimately it may lead to an explosive and utterly dangerous situation similar to that in Germany on the eve of the rise of the Nazi party to power at the turn of the 1930's.

For, all that is required for evil [of one form or another] to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing.

For us in the Caribbean, there are several lessons -- if we will but learn from history, even in the first, rough draft form we read in newspapers or on the Internet, listen to, or watch (which the historians themselves warn us is the exception, not the rule):
1] Extremes provoke extremes, but the point of balance is the true opposite to all extremes.

2] So, when we see the De-Christianising and Islamist tidal waves now surging into our region, we must not make the mistake of becoming extremist ourselves.

3] Similarly, we must not become so paralysed and unwilling to stand for the right that we will not act in good time to avert disaster as the extremists polarise our region and set up an explosion.

4] Likewise, we must understand that those who prefer to be willfully blind, deaf and dumb -- i.e. paralysed -- in the face of evil, may often think of and present themselves as the voice of moderation, claiming that those who stand up to evil (no matter how balanced) are "extremists." Such need to heed the voice of Amos of old:
AM 3:8 The lion has roared--
who will not fear?
The Sovereign LORD has spoken--
who can but prophesy? . . . .

AM 5:12 . . . You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

AM 5:13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.

AM 5:14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
5] Extremists and oppressors, knowing how much we want peace and tranquility at almost any price, will very often often try turnabout rhetoric: trying to unjustly accuse those who challenge them of being hypocritically evil, deceptive or extremist, thus clouding and poisoning the atmosphere, and confusing or polarising onlookers.

6] At the same time, we Caribbean people must awaken to our strategic potential under God as descendants of the victims of slavery and colonialism, who can therefore credibly speak and act with clarity and balance into the global situation, to the good.
So, again: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 37: Of letters, novels, trenches in temples and bombs in the making . . .

For some weeks now I have been meaning to get around to commenting on a recent letter of invitation to "dialogue" to the leaders of various Christian Churches by 138 Islamic leaders, and on the telling Vatican response here.

Similarly, I have just now read J K Rowling's last book in the Harry Potter series -- and have seen a very interesting parallel to the Passion story, complete with a self-sacrificial quasi-death and quasi-resurrection and triumph by the hero of the series as he has his final duel with Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldermort aka He Who Must Not Be Named, etc.

Then, too, I noticed that a trench dug by the Muslim authorities in defiance of proper archaeological procedures, at Temple Mount, has now revealed some interesting Solomon's Temple era artifacts, despite insistent Islamist claims there was no ancient Jewish connexion to the site. (By the way, some Israeli citizens have now sued to protect the site from such wanton or willful Islamist vandalism against inconvenient history and concrete evidence.)

While we are on the subject of Jerusalem, another recent dig has unearthed one of the Wall-towers built by Nehemiah.

Last but not least, overnight, we can learn of
the Iranians saying they just happen to have been given nuclear bomb making blueprints by a black market supplier. (Apparently Mr El Baradei has known about this ever since 2005, when inspectors working for the UN's IAEA "stumbled upon them among a batch of other documents during its examination of suspect Iranian nuclear activities." What else does he know that we need to know for ourselves and be able to make up our own minds on the significance of? Why isn't this all over our headlines this morning?)

All of these apparently almost-at-random observations are deeply connected, and deeply (and, sadly) revealing on the temper and trends of our times:
1] Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran put his finger squarely but diplomatically on the key, generally overlooked problem with the Muslim invitation to "Dialogue": "Muslims do not accept that one can discuss the Koran in depth, because they say it was written by dictation from God . . . With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith." In fact, an examination of the letter will reveal that it is not an invitation to true dialogue, but a demand for surrender to the Islamic Faith and its core assertions. That is, a prelude to and pretext for war of subjugation, or Jihad. This is immediately apparent from page 2 of the letter, where we may read the following quranic citation:
Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and
you: that we shall worship none but God, and that
we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside
God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who
have surrendered (unto Him). (Aal ‘Imran 3:64)

But, let us compare, e.g.:

They do blaspheme who say: "God is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O Children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. Whoever joins other gods with God -- God will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode..." Surat-ul Maida (5):72
--> In short, far from an invitation to dialogue, the letter (properly understood in Islamic textual and theological contexts) begins its theological stance with an accusation of idolatry by Christians! For, it refuses to accept that the historic Christian understanding of the tri-une nature of God is at least a possibly legitimate understanding of the credible facts we have on how the One God has revealed himself to us, especially in the face of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

--> So, the letter unfortunately polemically subverts the possibility for real, mutually respectful dialogue from the outset. Sadly -- and ominously given the direction of the letter to many Christian leaders in regions under Islamic domination -- it is a call to surrender and a pretext for violent attack on failing to do so, not at all the invitation to dialogue it tries to present itself as.

--> Cardinal Tauran is therefore right to point out that aggressive stance, and to then point out that:
The fact that Muslims can build mosques in Europe while many Islamic states limit or ban church building cannot be ignored, he said. "In a dialogue among believers, it is fundamental to say what is good for one is good for the other."

--> Bottom-line: No respectful give-and-take, no dialogue; only, a call to surrender that historically has been preparatory to the launching of war to subjugate alleged idolaters under Islam.

2] On
The Deathly Hallows, we observe that, as the Harry Potter series recently drew to a close, Ms Rowling dropped the bombshell that the most positive adult role model in the series, Albus Dumbledore -- [as of the end of Book 6, late] Headmaster of the Wizards' High School, Hogwarts, and mentor to Harry Potter -- is a homosexual character; instantly colouring (and, frankly, further poisoning) much of the series. Especially, how we should read his two-month involvement with a crucial Dark Wizard, Grindelwald -- but also how he came to be and how he functioned as an educator, headmaster and mentor. (So, plainly, had that announcement been made been up-front, for excellent reason, I doubt that the books would have been favourably reviewed by so many Christian leaders or enthusiastically bought to the tune of US$ 1 billion.)

--> Is it any surprise to read that, according to Wikipedia, Ms Rowling also says now that her series is "a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry" and that also pass on a message to "question authority and... not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth"?

--> Even that apparently innocuous plea takes on a sadly different colour in our new context. Shapiro's rebuke is ever so apt:
By most accounts, there is nothing in any of the books to suggest that Dumbledore is gay. It's easy enough for Rowling to retroactively adopt politically correct attitudes about homosexuality -- she never had to face the public scrutiny that surely would have ensued had she made Dumbledore openly gay. Instead, she raked in over $1 billion by appealing to kids and their parents, then conveniently announced Dumbledore's orientation before a swooning fan base in New York . . . . Rowling's gutless decision to "out" Dumbledore months after the release of the last book in the Harry Potter series smacks of manipulation.
--> Now, multiply this by the obvious borrowing of the plot-line of the Passion of Jesus, and we see the rise of in effect yet another pseudo-gospel that tickled our itching ears with what we wanted to hear, and now strikes hard with the hidden hook.

3] We live in an era where in order to promote "Palestinian" national identity and claims to the Land of Canaan, Islamists routinely and brazenly assert that there is no historical connexion of Judaism to Jerusalem, and especially to Temple Mount. So,
the archaeologically destructive behavior of Muslim authorities on Temple Mount over the past decade are obviously not at all innocent, but amount to attempts to destroy inconvenient evidence. How ironic, then, to see that such attempts have again backfired as the digging has unearthed exactly what Jewish and Christian leaders have always pointed out would be likely indeed to be under that Mountain, evidence not only of the NT era Temple but now also Solomon's Temple.

4] Multiply this, too, by the current news that the increasingly bellicose Iran -- whose president has openly announced intent to wipe Israel off the Map -- has been in possession of blueprints for the construction of the cores of nuclear bombs, which only have one use: making nuclear weapons. Worse, over the past two years, they have foot-dragged on allowing even the toothless IAEA to properly inspect the engineering diagrams. (I am astonished to now observe a common attempt to infer that Iran is morally equivalent to far more transparent, far more responsible, rights-respecting though of course all too humanly imperfect democratic regimes. We should have learned that long since that Hitler played that same card in 1939, just as he was on the verge of launching the most destructive war in history to date. But then, one of the most frequently repeated lessons of history is that we usually refuse to learn form it -- at least, before it is too late.)
In short, we again can clearly see the two tidal waves in action: Dechristianisation from the North, and Islamisation from the East. And their common tactic: persuasive, plausible but in the end dangerously misleading stories.

For, in both cases, persuasive stories have been put out that have drawn us in to nibble contentedly, and the question is whether we will spot and back off from the hook before the angler strikes, fatally.

Or, will we -- yet again -- refuse to listen to today's Cassandra's and Churchills, even as we eagerly gather around those who pleasantly tickle our itching ears with what we want to hear? END

Saturday, November 03, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report, 50: Factors in opening hearts to Jesus

For the past several days, I have been intending to report on factors on opening hearts to Jesus, as reported in a recent CT article; as a part of how we should respond to the trends, challenges and opportunities of our times.

This is especially important just now, given the sort of polemical exchanges with Islamist spokesmen that have been going on in recent days on national television in Jamaica.

For, plainly, men like Mr Trevor William Forest, aka Sheik Abdullah El Faisal, are setting out to create the false but persuasive perception that the Gospel message is a fraud perpetrated by dishonest clerics, and indeed that it was pushed down our ancestors' throats oppressively (and even sadistically), thus creating a hostile atmosphere in which people may simply become unable to hear the words of the Gospel message.

Also, since -- as Aristotle so aptly warned -- our judgements when we are pained and hostile are very different from those we make when we are pleased and friendly, we must not only address rebuttal points on major Islamist polemical claims [cf. also, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here and here] and deal with wider apologetics issues tied to Islam, and to more general apologetics issues, and for that matter worldview-level concerns including scientific ones, but we must attend as well to the wider context of spiritual, personal and situational factors that promote a positive response to the gospel.

So, even though of course nowadays such things are often viewed by post-/ultra- moderns as very politically incorrect, or even "bigoted" or "hateful," it is in fact important and an act of love to study how to help people out of the swirling pain and personal and spiritual despair, bondage and darkness they suffer, towards light and true peace with God (thus also with themselves and others) and to liberty.

To do this, let us first excerpt Woodberry, Shubin and Marks, starting with the big picture on patterns of growth, interaction and conversion in the world's two leading religions:
. . . perhaps counterintuitively, the number of new Christians each year outstrips the number of new Muslims, even though the annual growth rate is higher for Muslims (1.81 percent) than for Christians (1.23 percent). Over the last century, Christians have grown at a slower rate than have Muslims, with Muslims increasing from 12 percent to 21 percent of the global population during that time. But this is hardly surprising. Christianity has more total followers than Islam. More people need to become Christians annually simply to remain at roughly a third of the world population. Muslims are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and among African Americans by conversion, but elsewhere the growth is mostly by birth or immigration. The major growth for Protestants, especially evangelicals and Pentecostals, has been by conversion.
This article focuses on a specific question in this context: "what attracts Muslims to follow Jesus?" It then lays out the method used to find out:
Between 1991 and 2007, about 750 Muslims who have decided to follow Christ filled out an extensive questionnaire on that basic question. The respondents—from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups—represent every major region of the Muslim world . . . participants ranked the relative importance of different influences and whether they occurred before, at the time of, or after their decision to follow Christ. While the survey, prepared at Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies, does not claim scientific precision, it provides a glimpse into some of the key means the Spirit of God is using to open Muslim hearts to the gospel.
The resulting rather revealing factors and reasons can be excerpted, and enumerated for convenience:
[1] respondents ranked the lifestyle of Christians as the most important influence in their decision to follow Christ . . . .

[2] Many Muslims who faced violence at the hands of other Muslims did not see it in the Christians they knew (regrettably, of course, Christians have been guilty of interethnic strife elsewhere). Muslim-on-Muslim violence has led to considerable disillusionment for many Muslims . . . .

[3] The next most important influence was the power of God in answered prayers and healing. Like most of the factors that former Muslims list, experiences of God's supernatural intervention often increase after Muslims decide to follow Christ . . . .

[4] Closely related was the finding that some noted deliverance from demonic power as another reason they were attracted to Jesus. After all, he is the healing prophet in the Qur'an and has power over demons in the Gospels . . . . It helps to note that a third of the 750-person sample were folk Muslims, with a characteristic concern for power and blessings. It is also worth noting that the Jesus portrayed in the Qur'an is a prophet who heals lepers and the blind and raises the dead. Not surprisingly, many Muslims find him attractive.

[5] Of course, power and blessings do not constitute the final word for Muslims. The Bible also offers a theology of suffering, and many Muslims who follow Christ find that their faith is strengthened through trials.

[6] The third biggest influence listed by respondents was dissatisfaction with the type of Islam they had experienced. They expressed unhappiness with the Qur'an, which they perceive as emphasizing God's punishment more than his love (although the Qur'an says he loves those who love him [3:31])

[7] As for Islam's requirement that liturgical prayer should be in Arabic, a Javanese man asked, "Doesn't an all-knowing God know Indonesian?"

[8] Others criticized folk Islam's use of amulets and praying at the graves of dead saints.

[9] Some respondents decried Islamic militancy and the imposition of Islamic law, which they said is not able to transform hearts and society. This disillusionment is broad in the Muslim world.

[10] As with Paul and Cornelius in Acts, visions and dreams played a role in the conversion of many. More than one in four respondents, 27 percent, noted dreams and visions before their decision for Christ, 40 percent at the time of conversion, and 45 percent afterward.

[11] Many Muslims view dreams as links between the seen and unseen worlds, and pre-conversion visions and dreams often lead Muslims to consult a Christian or the Bible. Frequently a person in the vision, understood to be Jesus, radiates light or wears white (one respondent, though, said Jesus appeared in green, a color sometimes associated with Islamic holy persons).

[12] The gospel message, especially its assurance of salvation and forgiveness, is also a significant attraction to Muslims. The Qur'an states that "those who repent and believe, and work righteousness … will enter paradise" (19:60). Yet it also states that God forgives whom he wills and punishes whom he wills (2:284), so Muslims do not have certainty of salvation.

[13] One Indonesian woman spoke of her fear, based on a tradition attributed to Muhammad, that the bridge over hell to paradise is as thin as a hair. An Egyptian said he was attracted to Christian faith because it preaches that people can be sure of their acceptance by God.

[14] Next in attraction for Muslims is the spiritual truth in the Bible. The Qur'an attests that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel (commonly understood as the New Testament) are from God. Even though Muslims are generally taught that these writings became corrupted, they often find them compelling reading and discover truth that they conclude must be from God . . . The Sermon on the Mount helped convince a Lebanese Muslim that he should follow the one who taught and exemplified these values.

[15] Respondents were also attracted by the Bible's teaching about the love of God. In the Qur'an, although God loves those who love him, his love is conditional. He does not love those who reject faith (3:31-32). There is nothing in the Qur'an like, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10), or, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

[16] Particularly attractive to Muslims is the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus. The Qur'an already calls him faultless (19:19). Many Muslims are attracted to him by his depiction in the Qur'an and then go to the Gospels to find out more.

[17] Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, and Algerians became more responsive after enduring Muslim political turmoil or attempts to impose Islamic law.

[18] Christian relief and development agencies try hard to guard against spiritually misusing their position as providers of desperately needed goods and services. But natural disasters in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Sahel region inevitably put Muslims in contact with Christians trying to follow Jesus. It is no surprise that some of these Muslims also choose to follow Christ. [Cf discussion and declaration here, p. 5.]

[19] In many places, apostasy is tantamount to rejecting family, religion, culture, ethnicity, and nationality. Thus, many Muslim converts face persecution from family, police, or militants . . . . But Muslim converts to Christ know that such persecution can, in a mysterious way, be part of the best of times. Jesus, in fact, said it was a blessing.
All the above can be boiled down: the Gospel's truth, consistently lived in love and eloquently expressed in holy, beautiful, caring spiritual power.

So, while the specific case just excerpted on is concerning Muslims, the factors identified obviously relate to many other cases and contexts all across our region and world. Also, while it is important to effectively address commonly encountered issues, objections and arguments against the gospel, we must never forget the context in which such must happen: the truth, taught and lived in godly manifestations of love, power and purity.

This both inspires and shames me; calling me yet again to the four R's of revival and reformation: repentance, renewal of mind and life through the truth in love, revival proper as seasons of refreshing are poured out from on High, reformation as the impact of revival spills over into society at large.

Therefore, let us hear again St Peter's exhortation:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. [1 Peter 3:15 - 16.]
So also, let us again ponder: Why not now, why not here, why not us? END