Wednesday, November 07, 2018

No, Mr Robinson (and Gleaner): the gospel is evidently true, the Christian faith is not mere fraudulent propaganda, and major media houses have public duties of fairness and responsible discussion

On Sunday, August 26th 2018, Mr Gordon Robinson (a Gleaner columnist) abused his privilege by unjustly, directly implying that the Church is guilty of educational and/or financial fraud. His key words:
Either the Church has NO CLUE about who/what God really is [--> educational fraud], or it deliberately misrepresents God's essence in order to frighten people into becoming church members and tithing [--> financial fraud]. Nothing else makes sense.”
In addition, among many other intemperate remarks, he wrote about alleged “dangerous dogma promulgated by the Church and its many brainwashed surrogates,” “perverse propaganda spread by Christian churches,” “sycophants” and the like.

He did manage to ask a crucial question, which is pivotal to the response below: “Who/ what is God?”

Now, the matter was brought to my attention by a colleague ("R") and we collaborated on the first stage response below; which was communicated to the Gleaner's Editors on the principle of a right of reasonable reply to unwarranted and patently false accusation. The Gleaner chose to reject that response. Similarly, the second major newspaper in Jamaica has demurred. This leaves little option but to respond in other fora. For, that major regional media feel free to put up such accusations without room for responsible reply speaks telling volumes on the impacts of the two tidal waves I have warned about for about twenty years now:

The Christian gospel and the church are clearly under increasing and deeply hostile attack across our region, and in some influential quarters our message and leadership are seen as so discredited that they see little or no reason to hesitate before publishing accusations that the church is an out and out fraud, pretending to know about God despite obvious ignorance and/or seeking to exploit the gullible financially through fear mongering in order to extort tithes.

This has to be replied to, at minimum for record.

Likewise, we have to take time to show why it is important to correct such errors, because of the harm they do to our civilisation.  

Let us continue (see backgrounders here and here), with a first direct response, the article rejected by the Gleaner:
>>The Credibility of God
R+G Sept 2018

Over the years, many millions have met and been transformed through meeting God in the face of Christ. This includes countless Jamaicans. It also includes many famed scholars, eminent scientists and leaders of powerful reformations. Logically, if just one of these millions has actually been reconciled with God through Christ, God must be real and the gospel must be true. (Where, if instead so many are deeply delusional, that would undermine the rational credibility of the human mind.)

However, for some years now various voices have tried to dismissively question God, the gospel and Christians. So, it is not unexpected to see Mr Gordon Robinson writing in the Gleaner1 recently (on Sunday August 26th), about alleged “dangerous dogma promulgated by the Church and its many brainwashed surrogates,” “perverse propaganda spread by Christian churches,” “sycophants” and the like.

Along the way, he managed to ask a pivotal question: “Who/what is God?”

Regrettably, he also implied outright fraud by church leaders: “Either the Church has NO CLUE about who/what God really is, or it deliberately misrepresents God's essence in order to frighten people into becoming church members and tithing. Nothing else makes sense.”

In fact, a simple Internet search might give a better answer. For, thinkers such as a Thomas Aquinas or an Augustine of Hippo or a Paul of Tarsus or even a Wayne Grudem or a William Lane Craig have long since credibly addressed the idea of God and systematic theology at a little more sophisticated level than Sunday School lessons or Internet Atheist web sites. In so doing, they have made responsible cases that rise above the level of caricatures of the art on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.

We may begin with Paul in Romans 1, 57 AD:

“Rom 1:19 . . . what can be known about God is plain to [people], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” [ESV]

Here, one of the top dozen minds of our civilisation first points out how our morally governed interior life and what we see in the world all around jointly call us to God our Creator. But, too often we suppress the force of that inner testimony and outer evidence. (This, predictably, leads to unsound thinking and destructive deeds stemming from benumbed consciences and en-darkened minds.)

Crick's March 19, 1953 letter, p. 5 with a highlight (Fair use)

For one, consider how for sixty years now we have known that the DNA in the cells of our bodies has in it complex, alphanumeric, algorithmic code that is executed through molecular nanotechnology to build proteins, the workhorses of biological life. That’s why Sir Francis Crick wrote to his son Michael on March 19, 1953 that “we believe that the DNA is a code. That is, the order of bases (the letters) makes one gene different from another gene (just as one page of print is different from another).”

Yes, alphanumeric code (so, language!), algorithms (so, purpose!), i.e. intelligent design of life from the first living cell on. Including, us. No wonder the dean of the so-called New Atheists was forced to admit that Biology studies complicated things that give a strong appearance of design.

1947 saw the advent of the transistor age, allowing storage of a single bit of information in a tiny electronic wonder. We have since advanced to computers based on silicon chips comparable in size to a thumb-nail, with millions of transistors. These microchips and support machinery process many millions of instructions per second and have storage capacities of many gigabytes. Coded electronic communication signals routinely go across millions of miles through the solar system. Every one of these devices and systems required careful design by highly educated engineers, scientists and programmers. The living, self-replicating cell’s sophistication dwarfs all of these; yet we question the all-knowing God, the author of life.

Next, Mr Robinson and others inevitably appeal to our known duty to truth, right reasoning, fairness, prudent judgement, etc. But, where did that inner moral law (testified to by our consciences) come from? Surely, it is not a delusion; or else responsible, freely rational discussion would collapse into nihilistic chaos: might and manipulation (= “power and propaganda”) make ‘right,’ ‘rights,’ ‘justice,’ ‘truth,’ ‘knowledge’ etc. Instead, our conscience-guarded hearts and minds clearly show the Creator’s design that we freely live by the light and law of truth and right.

Such considerations – and many more – point us to the only serious candidate for the source of reality that can bridge IS and OUGHT: the inherently good (and wise) Creator God, a necessary and maximally great being. Who, is fully worthy of our loyalty and of humble, responsible, reasonable service through doing the good. Then, we may readily draw out the classic understanding of God described in scripture and studied in systematic theology: all-good, eternal, creator and Lord with sound knowledge and full capability to work out his good purposes in the right way at the right time.

Moreover, what we most of all need to know about God is taught by Jesus the Christ, recorded in scripture within eye-witness lifetime then accurately handed down to us for 2000 years now, at fearsome cost: the blood of the martyrs. Martyrs, who had but one incentive: that they directly knew and must peacefully stand by the eternal truth – cost what it will. They refused to be frightened by dungeon, fire or sword, much less mere rhetoric. Why would thousands die horribly to promote a known lie?

Their record is that Christ is the express image of his Father, Logos – Cosmos-ordering Reason himself, prophesied Messiah, the Saviour who in love died for us on a cross. He rose from the dead as Lord with 500 eye-witnesses, precisely fulfilling over three hundred prophecies that were long since recorded in the Old Testament. (See esp. Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, c. 700 BC.2) He ascended to his Father in the presence of the apostles. He shall return as eternal Judge, before whom we must all account. (Yes, professing and “backsliding” Christians too.) The Bible also records Jesus’ prayer for us: “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and [“thy Son”] Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” [John 17:1- 5, cf. 3:16.]

That is the truth witnessed by the church, whether it was 33 AD in Jerusalem before an angry Sanhedrin, or 50 AD before the laughing Athenians (who had built a public monument to their ignorance of God), or today. We therefore confidently invite Mr Robinson et al. to join with us in a serious-minded, substantially informed discussion about “who/what God really is” and about why the gospel is just that: God’s good news that brings salvation, blessing and hope for the positive transformation for our nation. END
In short, there is every good reason to acknowledge or at least respect the credibility of the gospel and associated theology. Difference of responsible views is not educational and/or financial fraud, propaganda or brainwashing, etc. Mr Robinson et al need to acknowledge this and in all decency must retract their unjustified accusations.

Going on, God and the gospel are also highly relevant; at least, if we are concerned to recover from the malaise that haunts us and to have a sound civilisation founded on sound principles of justice. Accordingly, here is the first follow-up article (which was not submitted to the newspapers):
>>The Relevance of God
R+G Oct 2018

From time to time, we hear various voices in our media suggesting that the church is a main culprit behind Jamaica’s backwardness.

For instance,1 we saw how Mr Gordon Robinson recently implied outright educational fraud by Jamaica’s church leaders: “Either the Church has NO CLUE about who/what God really is, or it deliberately misrepresents God's essence in order to frighten people into becoming church members and tithing. Nothing else makes sense.” He also spoke of alleged “perverse propaganda spread by Christian churches,” “brainwash[ing]” and the like. Clearly, he and others of like ilk believe that the churches are largely responsible for spreading ignorance, indoctrination, mis-education, fear- and- hate- mongering (the major function of “propaganda”), incivility and the like.

Now, given the historical and ongoing sterling contribution of Jamaica’s Christian churches to education, schools and more, such a notion should instantly be utterly implausible.

Likewise, for 2,000 years the church has borne true witness to the first, foremost, central, world-shaping reality, God: the inherently good (and wise) Creator, a necessary and maximally great being with sound knowledge and full capability to work out his good purposes in the right way at the right time. One, who in love intervened through our Saviour so that “[we] might know thee the only true God, and [“thy Son”] Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” [See John 17:1- 5, also 3:16.]

Now, too, there are indeed far too many Christian voices in Jamaica and across the wider Caribbean and world who exhibit ignorance, want of sound education, poor reasoning and worse. But also, such backwardness is patently true across the board. So – especially in a nation where there is proverbially a church next door to a bar on every street corner – in strict logic, the problem cannot primarily be due to the churches.

We must look deeper for the root.

The logical place to find that root is in our formal and informal ethical and general education systems, especially as we have had universal access to taxpayer-funded public education for generations now. Similarly, we have had a mass media culture ever since cheap transistor radios, then television and now Internet and smart phone technology pervaded our society. Traditionally, major newspapers are the people’s colleges, building a national base of general knowledge and awareness of events and issues; indeed, creating the public in the modern sense. Today’s social media landscape extends that culture by turning everyman into his own publisher, journalist and pundit.

Sadly, just to list these facts is enough to indict us all: we have met the enemy and he is us.

For one, we need to rebuild the habit of serious reading – yes, reading not just viewing or listening – leading to informed discussion that rises above pooling ignorance and attack- the- source rhetorical tactics.

But, there is more: to recover from our national malaise, Jamaica needs national ethical renewal and transformation rooted in sound, God-given moral principles. We can already see this from how “Mr Robinson and others inevitably appeal to our known duty to truth, right reasoning, fairness, prudent judgement, etc.” That leads straight back to: “where did that inner moral law (testified to by our consciences) come from?” Plainly, such a known law of our morally governed nature “is not a delusion; or else responsible, freely rational discussion would collapse into nihilistic chaos: might and manipulation (= “power and propaganda”) make ‘right,’ ‘rights,’ ‘justice,’ ‘truth,’ ‘knowledge’ etc.

The pagan Roman lawyer and statesman, Cicero (c. 50 BC) gives a key clue. For, he summarised the received view in his day, on how Law is highest reason, implanted in [our] nature, which prescribes those things which ought to be done, and forbids the contrary.” He continued: “the voice of conscience is a law . . . moral prudence is a law, whose operation is to urge us to good actions, and restrain us from evil ones.” He then concluded in his own voice: “the origin of justice is to be sought in the divine law of eternal and immutable morality.” [Cf. De Legibus.2]

No wonder, the Apostle Paul (the principal figure in the Christian synthesis of the legacy from Jerusalem, Athens and Rome) adds: “when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], by nature do what the law requires, they . . . show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” [Romans 2:14 - 15 (57 AD).] Thus, we find a body of known law written on our hearts; tracing to our Creator, who is Logos, Reason himself.

So, we readily see why – in his 1594 Ecclesiastical Polity – Canon Richard Hooker so freely cited Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (and echoed Justinian’s jurisconsults in Corpus Juris Civilis): “That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain.

Then, in laying the foundations for modern constitutional democracy, John Locke cited “the judicious Hooker” on the Golden Rule:

. . . my desire . . . to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.” [2nd Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sec. 5 (1689), citing Eccl. Polity, preface, Bk I, Ch. 8.]

Following Locke, Thomas Jefferson et al. therefore wrote in the 1776 US Declaration of Independence (the rights-charter for modern constitutional democracy):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it [→ nowadays, by voting], and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Clearly, the ethics of sustainable democracy stem from our being equally created in God’s image; where, the worth of a single soul exceeds the wealth of a planet. Such ethics pivot on the enlightening, culture-transforming moral force of the positive-form Golden Rule of neighbour-love; a core law of God written on our hearts and taught in scripture by Moses, Jesus and Paul. Living by the truth in love then leads to conscience-guarded, truly enlightened reasoning and neighbourly living. Which, would transform Jamaica: “Teach us true respect for all, Stir response to duty’s call . . .” END
1See [TITLE] [LINK] {--> this was meant to link to the first article just above}
These two articles then lead to a third issue, how do we address the gospel's discipling mandate in terms of its implied challenge of godly national transformation? Not only for Jamaica, but for the Caribbean, our civilisation and the whole world?

Accordingly, article no. 3:
>>Jamaica’s Godly Transformation Challenge
R+G Oct 2018

As we have already noted,1 Mr Gordon Robinson recently wrote off the church as a damaging centre of “brainwash[ing],” “propaganda,” “dangerous dogma” and the like. Plainly, some view the church as an obstacle to the sound governance and progress of Jamaica. So, let us now address the church’s involvement in good governance and in positive national transformation.

A good place to begin such is with Plato’s Parable of the Ship of State, which is so deeply entrenched in our thought-world that the English Language word “government” comes from the Greek one for the steersman of a ship: kubernetes.

Regrettably, this parable is tellingly relevant to Jamaica’s long-standing governance challenges.

For, the idea is that the owner-merchant captain of a ship (= the people of Athens c. 430 - 400 BC) was blind and could not navigate or steer the ship. Members of the crew (= political leaders and pundits who got that city into the ruinous Peloponnesian war) then tried to befuddle him, and clamoured to gain control of the helm through having popular support; even though they plainly lacked character and competence. Meanwhile, away in a corner was a disdained, “useless” stargazer – the skilled navigator. The fate of such a “ship” was sadly predictable; a grim warning on how democracies can fail.

In Paul’s day, this parable would have been part of the mental furniture of any educated person of the Roman Empire. So, in Acts 27, we can readily see that Luke viewed Paul’s shipwreck on his journey to Rome c. 59 AD as a real-world case study on the ship of state in action, illustrating how a Christian leader can act as a model citizen by being “a good man or woman in a storm.” Thus, Acts 27 opens up the issue of the church’s call to nurture, equip and support people capable of effectively participating as stakeholders and of giving soundly prophetic, prudent intellectual, ethical and cultural leadership in society; contributing to good governance and positive transformation.

Paul was on his way to Rome as an appeals prisoner, one of 276 souls aboard a wheat merchantman standing out of Egypt and heading for Rome. Due to contrary winds, it was dangerously late in the sailing season and the ship was stuck in Fair Havens, Crete; about 40 miles short of a better wintering port, Phoenix. Luke zooms in on an ill-fated meeting:

Ac 27: 9 “Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast [of Yom Kippur] was already over, Paul [by then, already a veteran of three shipwrecks] advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot [= kubernetes] and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix . . . and spend the winter there.” [ESV]

The owner was worried about his ship and his money, the kubernetes knew exactly who buttered his bread and the people aboard were very open to a suggestion that a quick afternoon’s sail down the coast to a nicer port was not overly risky. So, Paul’s prudent concerns were brushed aside. Then, when a convenient South wind blew they set off in high spirits.

But, half-way to Phoenix, they were caught in a hurricane-force nor’easter; which instantly strained and seriously damaged the ship. (So, they had to frap the vessel.) They were also being driven towards deadly sandbars off the North African coast. (That’s why they used a sea anchor to shift the drift-direction to North of West.) Soon, they were lost as neither sun nor stars were seen for almost two weeks. Hope was given up, until Paul gave a prophetic message in answer to prayer: shipwreck but only loss of the ship, not lives.

Then, as they approached strange land by night — through a ruse — the same crew that got everyone into trouble tried to abandon the passengers. This was spotted by Paul, and the Centurion Julius — who (at great cost) now knew whose counsel could be trusted — blocked further stunts by cutting away the ship’s boat. Then, the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to prevent their escape. Wishing to spare Paul, Julius refused. Thus, all 276 souls made their way ashore at what is now St Paul’s Bay, Malta.

Sadly, history from 400 BC and 59 AD closely parallels how Jamaica lost its way over the past sixty years. How many times did we brush aside sound but unwelcome, unpopular counsel; only to stubbornly run destructive risks? How many times have money and “bought” expertise misled us into following ill-advised agendas? Or, propaganda-driven polarised fantasies? The chaotic results are all around us. We must now raise up sound advisors; we must support independent platforms for them to speak to the nation freely (and without fear of retaliation); we must heed sound, godly counsel before the cost to our nation becomes utterly ruinous. (It’s all right there in our [--> the Jamaican] National Anthem!)

Now, “business as usual” [BAU] reflects the balance of power across factions in a community. So, even when there are strong signs of danger, powerful interests will back “steady as she goes.” Especially, if there’s “a sweet South wind.” So, an ill-advised ideological agenda may prevail, leading to a ruinous voyage of folly.

In turn, key centres of influence in a community support and are dominated by the BAU “roof”: family systems, religion or religion-substitutes, education systems, media, government, the arts and culture, business (with linked finance and sci-tech capabilities). So, to challenge BAU a critical mass of stakeholders has to come together, providing a capable platform that uses SWOT analysis to question the ill-advised agenda, gradually building support for a sounder alternative (ALT).

Of course, it is hard to build up support for change while everyone wants to “let the good times roll,” but “what sweet nanny goat mout’ run ‘im belly.” Where, by the time a major crisis is undeniably obvious to one and all, the ruinous storm has already struck. In that case, being the “navigator” who forewarned can shift the balance of credibility, but it also sets one up as a target for hostile power brokers. Thus again, the need for secure, independent platforms.

Going forward, the church in Jamaica needs to stand for sound moral, intellectual and governance frameworks; rooted in the credibility2 and relevance3 of God as the source of reality, sound law and sound ethics. Then, we must all come together as a people to do the fresh policy analysis required to provide a sustainable national alternative. This will involve understanding that we are morally governed creatures under known duties to truth, sound reasoning, fairness, prudence and right. For, our nationhood, social systems, education, economy, finances and government are all under our Eternal Father. END
1 See [title_of_no_1], [link]
2 See [link_to_no_1]
3 See [link_to_no_2]>>
Clearly, the time for keeping a dignified silence is over. 

We must stand boldly now, if we are to help to rescue our region from the abyss so many are blind to even as they insist on marching towards the cliff's edge: If not now, then when? If not here, on so central a topic, then where? If not us, then who else will think, speak and act? END