Elisabeth Rosa Miller, R.I.P.

As you probably know, I didn’t know Elisabeth Rosa Miller personally, and so my remarks here are somewhat limited, but at the same time after getting to speak with Warren, Mike and Hugh during their difficult loss, I feel like I know something of her warmth and greatness, and of her devotion to her family.

It is often the occasion of great loss that causes us to see how much we have to be thankful for, and Elisabeth’s wonderful life is no exception. Her long life of 89 years, her story, includes many twists and turns, many exciting moments where the fate of this family hung in the balance. The misdiagnosis of her appendicitis as a child, and her lone survival of a train attacked by planes in wartime Germany Continue reading

Not a Network the Way CNN Is

Weeks ago now the White House made the comment that FOX is not a real network the way CNN is. A poll taken by NPR (that league of conservatism) relates the public opinion.

As of today, 12% (238,326 votes) agree with the White House, 87% (1,794,370 votes) agree with Fox News (“it asks questions others don’t and the White House should be able to handle them”), and 1% (27,769 votes) voted neither.

And why fear?

Leithart continues, a gives a humbling question for fathers:

Some of it is certainly distorted doctrine and teaching in the church. Some of it is a failure to embody the gospel in the Lord’s Table. Much of it, I suspect, has to do with our conduct as parents. What kind of portrait of God does our parenting portray before our children? Fathers, ask yourself: if your children’s first notion of fatherhood comes from you, what connotations will come to mind when you call God “Father”? In any case, this service–this abject fear, this fear of punishment–is precisely what John says the gospel removes. God loves us, he’s demonstrated his love to us in his Son.  And the more this gospel grips our hearts, the more that love will be visible in our love for one another.

Love Not Fear

I’m working through Peter Leithart’s new commentary on 1 John, From Behind the Veil. This is choice.

John Stott notes that 1 John 4:19 indicates that the church’s great characteristic is love, not fear. That is it should be. Is it? Hardly. Read the next piece of direct mail you get from some Christian advocacy group. Look at the listings in a Christian book catalog or bookstore. Analyze the rhetoric of your favorite Christan political figure. Read some of the web punditry about Barack Obama. Think of the conspiracy-mongering that gets mixed up with Christianity in many circles. How many dozens of Christian ministries contiune to exist only because of the fear they are able to generate? As Jesus didn’t say: you can tell a Christian by his fear.

Vaccinations

Here is a good article about the anti-vaccination movement of late. By noting that culture, by no means do I throw my stock with the current medical establishment with its cherished infanticide money-maker. One nurse friend recently told me about an abortion performed at a local Seattle area hospital where the paper work said the baby was too inconvenient to keep. Trusty medical establishment; they’ll tell you all you need to know. But I digress already.

As of yet, no link between vaccination and autism has been shown. That first clause is likely the cause of much of the suspicion, like no one has found the cause because pharmaceutical execs have hidden the evidence beneath their piles of gold bullion. On this one, it’s better to think of the “yet” the same way they haven’t found the homosexual gene “yet.” It appears, all desperation to the contrary, that it doesn’t exist.

The question of vaccination is not whether one will take a risk but which kind. Paul Offit says it well: “The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk. It’s just a choice to take a different risk.” As far as we know (and a constantly changing scientific consensus ought to keep the “as far as” in there), vaccines don’t cause autism. As far as we do know, disease outbreaks do occur in the absence of certain vaccines. I cherish the fact that my wife runs an extremely low chance of dying in childbirth, and the fact that my kids are as likely to get struck by lightning as to get polio. I made that comparison up, but the fact that polio is so rare makes it plausible. And vaccination can be thanked for that. You either have be an ingrate or distractedly panicked not to be mindful of and thankful for these advances. Of course, this gratitude does not require signing up for every shot the federal government recommends. I heard Ron Paul, a politician (and doctor) I generally trust, that the last time the government handed out swine flu vaccines, twenty-something people died from the vaccine and just a few from the flu. There are good questions to ask your doctor, and any parent would be irresponsible to not ask for reasons and find out where those reasons lead.

I would love to see the government get out of the medicine business. Private industry, unhindered by their over-regulation, could no doubt do a much better job. But this doesn’t mean everything the government says is wrong, nor does the vaccine boogeyman Paul Offit appear to embrace just any vaccine. In 2002 when the war on terror was at a fever pitch and old ladies were being frisked at the airport in case they were jihadist Muslims, Offit voted down a small pox vaccine intended for thousands. Why? Because one in a million who got the vaccine would die, and outbreaks of small pox could be contained if they did occur. So the benefit of administering it were outweighed by the risks.

Most importantly, Christians ought not to make decisions based on fear, and they ought not to pretend that somehow their medical decisions are righteous. This is difficult because these topics, especially when the health of children is involved, are volatile. As I mentioned, the scientific consensus has not shown a link between autism and vaccines, but this is not to say the current consensus is ultimately correct, or that someone is an idiot for not following it. It’s more complicated than some people on both sides of these questions assume it is. What no one should do is let themselves be driven by fear and hysteria, somehow looking for ultimate peace in a medical decision. Your kid can still die no matter what you do, helmet, elbow pad, surrounding bubble and all.

Idealists & Realists

It has been said idealists are in love with humanity but never actual people. To love actual people would require one to interact with them, to take time to listen and probe with determination to help, and all of this takes more than clever thoughts and pristine philosophy. C. Fitzsimons Allison says

Concrete situations of diapers, debts, divorce, or listening to and being with someone in depression and despair, is the test of real love. Docetism is the religious way to escape having love tested in the flesh. All of us are tempted to audit life rather than to parrticipate fully and be tested by it.

Allison makes this comment in the context of discussing false doctrine in his The Cruelty of Heresy. Docetists maintained (and maintain) that Jesus only seemed to be a man but never really took on flesh and suffered as a man. God wouldn’t get so dirty, sweaty and bloody. The relationship of sin and heresy is symbiotic. One begets the other, and over the long run it’s impossible to cling to one without it spilling over. It’s not just idealists who keep themselves from getting their hands dirty, but all complainers. Complainers are easily distinguished from lovers because lovers have their hands dirty in the actual work, their own sweat and blood invested in the spouse, family, organization etc at hand, and the recipients of this sacrifice know it. They are the true realists who not only know the problems and weaknesses, but have taken on those problems themselves constructively for the sake of others. This is always costly which is why it always bears fruit.

Inescapable Combat

In Bound For Glory, R.C. Sproul Jr. comments on the idolatrous inclinations of Christian families.

The world has its own peculiar goal. Everyone wants marriages that are enriched, fulfilled and exciting and hopes that their children grow up to be prosperous. In fact, the world is in a mad dash in pursuit of personal peace and affluence. Sadly, too often in the evangelical church it is not much different. Of course, we want our children to become Christians. but that is just an addition to the all-consuming goal, that they would attain their own personal peace and affluence. We pray that they will be Christians just like us, who have found their way in the world. But the command of God for us and for our children is not that we would find our way in the world, but that we would wage war on the world. Continue reading

Slowing down to a watch a Collision

The new documentary Collision is out, delighting pop-corn fed audiences all over and selling nicely at Amazon (#2 and #3 in the religion category for movies and TV) to boot. You can find links to Hitchens and Wilson sound-biting at various venues at www.collisionmovie.com. These serve nicely to whet the appetite for the film. My personal favorite is on The Joy Behar Show when she schoolmarmingly scolds Wilson for affirming his parents consistently brought him up in the faith, spankings and all. “Oh, spanking isn’t Christian,” she says. Of course not, because, you know, Christian simply means nice, it’s not like it’s a religion that actually says something. Spanking isn’t nice, so it’s not Christian. Hitchens is so delightful because he actually takes Christianity like good scotch–straight. He has read the Bible, and although not theologically versed (as you can see in the documentary), he can read and has resisted the boorish trend of liberal religion to mantra “all religions say the same the exact same thing–be nice to your neighbor.” This is part of the reason why he despises liberal religionists of all sort who simply half affirm what their holy books actually say. Soon I’ll write up a fuller review of the film.

The debate began with a debate hosted online by Christianity Today and eventually published by Canon Press as the small book Is Christianity Good for the World. It’s a great read and digestible in one sitting. Wilson makes this point early on.

In your third objection, you say that if “Christianity is to claim credit for the work of outstanding Christians or for the labors of famous charities, then it must in all honesty accept responsibility for the opposite. In short, if we point to our saints, you are going to demand that we point also to our charlatans, persecutors, shysters, slave-traders, inquisitors, hucksters, televangelists, and so on. Now allow me the privilege of pointing out the structure of your argument here. If a professor takes credit for the student who mastered the material, aced his finals, and went on to a career that was a benefit to himself and the university he graduated from, the professor must (fairness dictates) be upbraided for the dope-smoking slacker he kicked out of class in the second week. they were both formally enrolled, is that not correct? They were both students, were they not?

What you are doing is saying that Christianity must be judged not only on the basis of those who believed the gospel in truth and live accordingly but also on the basis of those baptized Christians who cannot listen to the Sermon on the Mount without a horse laugh and a life to match. You are saying that those who excel in the course and those who flunk out of it are all the same. This seems to me a curious way of proceeding.

Hitchen’s argument is a staple among skeptics, and not a few Christians have no idea how to answer it. What about the Crusades? Don’t immoral Christians ruin the plausibility of the faith? If anything, they uphold the truth of the faith which denounces hypocrisy. A counterfeit evidences the authentic thing–something worth imitating. But in order to have a hypocrite, you have to have a standard to violate, a fixed line to cross. This is the crux of the debate and Hitchens never gets his arms around it. He wants to denounce, denounce, denounce based on the “solidarity of the human race” which in fact isn’t solid at all and even if it was has no binding authority over anyone. “Sez who?” is the perennial question. Hitchens can’t answer that question so he constantly goes on to begging it, bringing up the next item from biblical history for condemnation. Hardened atheists love this film because he is eloquent in this procedure, but for those following the argument it is like listening to a man passionately denounce the architectural integrity and aesthetic allure of his friend’s house while his own house in burning down and sliding into the sea right behind him. Which is fun to watch.