The Word: Can God Make A Person Free Enough To Surprise Him?

Explanation: A bit over a year ago, I began writing a regular theology column for Sci Phi Journal called The Mote In God’s ‘I’. This is the column that launched the series, and remains my fastest sale to date (15 minutes). I am re-running it here, hoping my readers like it as well as the editor did.

The Mote In God’s “I.”

Most of the problems I’ve run into in my life, I have solved by the simple expedient of reading more science-fiction. I was too young to be an astronaut when I discovered that such an incredible profession existed, so I read Rocket Jockey by Lester del Rey. I didn’t have any friends in my middle-school years, so I read Anne McCaffrey and imagined myself a dragonrider. Somewhat more productively, I watched and read Star Trek and found myself a few like-minded friends who started tabletop gaming. Problem solved. Whenever dramatically boring people said I couldn’t use made-up worlds to solve my problems, I pointed out that a) the “real” world had no better track record at that, and b) it was working fine so far. Then I read more science-fiction and solved more problems.

One of the oldest problems in theology is that of free will versus theological determinism. If God exists, and is all-powerful and all-knowing as his followers claim, then how can his creation be possessed of free will? Won’t He know everything they are going to do beforehand? And if He does, is the future not fixed? And if fixed, in what sense do creatures have a choice?

(This essay is not going to concern itself with the debate on whether free will exists. For the sake of this essay, it exists. If you believe otherwise, go… do whatever the hell you were already going to do, I guess. I can’t stop you. More to the point, you can’t stop you. Have fun.)

On the other hand, if creatures have free will, then can God really be God? Doesn’t that mean he’s either not omnipotent, or not omniscient?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

The problem is that many theological thinkers have just been willing to accept what turns out to be a false dichotomy. Calvinists, who believe in predestination, essentially say that yes, God does know everything, and are fine with that because the purpose of God is to glorify God. How God is glorified if it turns out that He Himself is the ultimate cause of evil, because no one ever had a choice not to commit it, I have never been able to figure out.

On the other side of the theological divide, we have the Arminians, who say that free will is sacred to God, so God would never interfere with it. While that certainly says a lot more for God’s character, it still doesn’t really answer how God can’t destroy free will by knowing the future.

In other words, the problem with both schools of thought is that their answers lack the imagination that provides the backbone of really solid science-fiction writing.

For the longer answer that is actually relevant I eventually formulated, I have to give credit, not, as you might think, to men like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (I’m going to assume we all know these guys were hard-core Christians, yes?) but to writers such as S.M. Stirling and Terry Pratchett. Because both of these men’s worlds really do contain the answer, if we look hard enough.

S.M. Stirling is my all-time favorite alternate-history writer. Sister Marya Sokolowska of his Draka cycle is one of my favorite religious characters in all of fiction. But it was The Peshawar Lancers that started me thinking along theological lines. In it, the “seer” Yasmini can see possible futures, enabling her to predict the results of present actions. As the novel progresses, she begins seeing all the possible futures, all the time, until it threatens to drive her mad.

Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld universe, more facetiously puts an omniscope (which can see anywhere and anywhen) under the control of the Department of Inadvisably Applied Magic. When asked to observe the future, he demurs, on the grounds that observing the future would cause all the possible futures to collapse into a single future, which, having been observed, would now be the only future.

In both of these cases, we see the same core idea: there are many futures to choose from. And while it might not be possible for a man to observe them all, as in Pratchett, or for a woman to keep them all straight, as in Stirling, it should be quite possible for God.

The solution to the problem is not that God be considered less than omniscient. It is that He be considered more omniscient than we had ever imagined. Why could God not see all possible futures, simultaneously, and then react accordingly as His creation, blessed with free will, makes choices?

There are really only two objections to this: Firstly, does this mean that God could be surprised? Maybe even thwarted? Certainly not, and science-fiction (or fantasy) again provides the answer, as any competent dungeon-master who has ever run a party through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign knows. Because the dungeon-master knows the rules. The party may do something unusual, and the die rolls may be odd, but they can’t really surprise him.  And by (in Hawking’s famous phrase) “throwing the dice where they cannot be seen,” God can certainly always create the circumstances He wants. But no being with infinite attention could ever be surprised, any more than an author of one of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books could be when a child reaches one of his endings. Yet, the child had free will.

Secondly, is it possible for God to keep knowledge from himself in this way (and you have to admit, that’s a lot more interesting than the old “can-God-make-a-rock-so-heavy-yadda-yadda-barf” question)?

Well, it’s hard to imagine why He couldn’t. His lack of knowledge doesn’t threaten Him or anyone He cannot protect. And God often speaks in “If… then” phrases in the Judeo-Christian tradition (Exodus 4 being but one example). Why would God need to use “if” when He already knew? Is He lying to his followers? That would seem more troubling than the idea that God might limit his own knowledge. By giving people free will at all, God would already have limited His own power, simply by allowing other power to exist. This objection seems petty.

There seems to be no intrinsic reason then, why free will and omniscience could not coexist, so long as we recognize the proper definition of “omniscience,” which requires, as science-fiction has always required – as religion, at  its best, has always required – that we always seek beyond the limits of the humanly and presently possible.

Screwtape’s Toast: A Serial Retrospective

Blogger’s Note: It would be neither practical nor wise to divulge the means whereby the following dispatches came into my hands, and following the example of that great author upon whose work I have built, will say no more, but release them into the Internet, where intelligence from Hell will doubtless feel welcome and at home. I also with him encourage my reader to remember that the devil is a liar, and that not all he says should be regarded as true even by his own standards.

Introduction: It has now been sixty years since the recording of “The Toast,” which, although conceived as no more than a series of remarks delivered to a general audience of tempters, has in the interim become unhallowed as one of the foundational strategic texts of the Lowerarchy.

It is, however, perhaps fitting at this time to review the salient points of this great document, and comment upon the extent to which his vision and aims have been accomplished among our patients in the past sixty years, which have seen such changes wrought upon that planet as to make it almost unrecognizable. It has seen us triumph in ways that would have seemed unimaginable. And as we are not, in the words of a popular political slogan in the United States “tired of winning yet,” it is perhaps worth our time to examine this worthy document so as to safeguard and preserve the final victory that even now is in sight.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

It is customary on these occasions for the speaker to address himself chiefly to those among you who have just graduated and who will very soon be posted to official Tempterships on Earth… I well remember with what trepidation I awaited my own first appointment. I hope, and believe, that each one of you has the same uneasiness tonight. Your career is before you. Hell expects and demands that it should be — as mine was — one of unbroken success. If it is not, you know what awaits you.

While Screwtape himself has fallen out of favor with Those Below (some say for the grievous fault of being unable to restrain his incisive intellect, others that he was falling too far and too fast to suit the powerful. The precise charge, as always, is Secret), he has perhaps won for himself the distinction of being the first to simultaneously distinguish himself as a devil of parts, and a devil in parts. It is of course to be hoped that his intellect will one day be with us again, when his reeducation is accomplished.

I have no wish to reduce the wholesome and realistic element of terror, the unremitting anxiety, which must act as the lash and spur to your endeavours. How often you will envy the humans their faculty of sleep! Yet at the same time I would wish to put before you a moderately encouraging view of the strategical situation as a whole.

If Screwtape had remained to see the fruition of his designs, we can only assume that he would indeed be more than “moderately” encouraged. But we will speak of that later.

Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.

Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.

Being assigned to the European theater of operations, Screwtape had reason to be, shall we say, disappointed with the abrupt change in his culinary fortunes. But had he taken a broader view, he would have dined on Chairman Mao, Idi Amin, and Fidel Castro, to say nothing of those who outlived the general slaughter on the general principle that we base our own rebellion on, that “the victors are never judged.” Curtis LeMay and Richard Nixon might well have warmed his gullet as well as any ancient Roman.

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it?

And now, let us look at the first hints of our great success, because while these petty creatures still exist, and defile the plates of the more pathetic of us, today we have encouraged such Little Men — and women, let us not forget the importance of the division — with a burning resentment of the limits to their power, and the feeling that they truly deserve the meager resources they cheat their fellows out of. Some of them even add a delightful frisson of self-righteousness to the melange.

Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Casanova, they were nauseating.

These we still have with us, and for the same reasons. But we have taught more and more of them to invest their sexual antics with their entire reason for living. To boast of them openly as a sign of “liberation” and “rebellion” (while carefully avoiding any actually worthwhile activity that might make those words meaningful, to be sure) and to join an ever-growing movement that regards such activities as morally right and even “honest.”

The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.

The humans flatter themselves that such creatures are of the past, but really, as I hardly need tell you, we are getting them more and more often, in the two chief flavors of Corporatist, who does all these things while congratulating himself on his natural leadership and clear thinking (and the knowledge that if he did not do it, someone else would) and the Activist, who regards the bloodshed, famine, and extinction of liberty as not only excusable, but as positively desirable as long as it all happens to the right people in the name of the Cause.

Gastronomically, then, the situation has much improved, because while the human cattle were content to ignore the moral law in the age of the Toast, now we have taught them that flouting it is a supremely moral act, whose virtues are Envy and Greed, and whose blessings are pleasure and power, both of wich they have rights to.

The Conservative Christian Who Cannot Make Voting For Donald Trump A Morally Good Choice: An Open and Respectful Fisking of Dr. Wayne Grudem

I was dismayed last week to read Dr. Wayne Grudem’s call to Christians to vote for Donald Trump. You can find the whole thing here. While I disagree vehemently, I also respect Dr. Grudem as a capable theologian whom I have found generally respectful of those he disagrees with. Dr. Grudem’s words will be in italics. Mine will be in bold. And this is gonna be a long one. For reference: I am not a liberal by almost any definition. I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton either. But that is another topic.

Some of my Christian friends tell me they can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump because, when faced with a choice between “the lesser of two evils,” the morally right thing is to choose neither one. They recommend voting for a third-party or write-in candidate.

As a professor who has taught Christian ethics for 39 years, I think their analysis is incorrect. Now that Trump has won the GOP nomination, I think voting for Trump is a morally good choice.

American citizens need patience with each other in this difficult political season. Close friends are inevitably going to make different decisions about the election. We still need to respect each other and thank God that we live in a democracy with freedom to differ about politics. And we need to keep talking with each other – because democracies function best when thoughtful citizens can calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences. This is my contribution to that discussion.

So far, Dr. Grudem, I don’t really have anything to object to. Although I disagree with your thesis, I think you are absolutely right about respect and patient dialogue. However, I just have to ask whether those two qualities are in fact hallmarks of the candidate you are choosing to defend here. 

I do not think that voting for Donald Trump is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

I did not support Trump in the primary season. I even spoke against him at a pastors’ conference in February. But now I plan to vote for him. I do not think it is right to call him an “evil candidate.” I think rather he is a good candidate with flaws.

Again, I’ll agree with the core thesis: all candidates are flawed. On occasion, it may be better to accept those flaws than to accept much worse flaws. But let’s look at what those flaws are, on your own showing:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Here’s my first serious criticism: if you believe that bombing the families of terrorists is morally reprehensible as a strategy, then this cannot be waved away as a “mistaken idea.” Punitively killing people’s families isn’t a “mistake.” That’s a deliberate strategy that involves killing non-terrorists to influence terrorists. Mass killing may in fact be necessary to end a war, and that did work in World War II, but let’s not pretend that the firebombing of Tokyo was a “mistake.” Either defend it on moral grounds, having the courage to say outright that it is a morally terrible but necessary choice, or don’t. But don’t call it a mistake. Furthermore, Donald Trump has not “abandoned” this position. He just evaded it when cornered and said that “take out” didn’t mean “kill.” What it does mean, he has not made clear.

On the other hand, I think some of the accusations hurled against him are unjustified. His many years of business conduct show that he is not racist or anti-(legal) immigrant or anti-Semitic or misogynistic – I think these are unjust magnifications by a hostile press exaggerating some careless statements he has made. I think he is deeply patriotic and sincerely wants the best for the country. He has been an unusually successful problem solver in business. He has raised remarkable children. Many who have known him personally speak highly of his kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. 

Of course, the press is hostile to Trump now that their free advertising — whoops, I’m sorry, I meant “dedicated coverage” — has made him the Republican candidate guaranteed to lose to Hillary Clinton. He’s the kind of Republican candidate they’ve had wet dreams about since Nixon kicked McGovern’s ass in 1976! Of course they magnify his statements. That doesn’t mean that those statements don’t exist (nor do you need to be particularly leftist to find them. Is Fortune magazine leftist? Seems hard to credit). But they scarcely need much magnification and they don’t seem “careless.” And if your candidate goes around placing full-page ads in newspapers to object to removing “hate and rancor from our hearts” CARELESSLY, then that is a major problem in and of itself. Indeed “carelessness” seems to be a hallmark of Donald Trump’s candidacy and character. When the young men falsely imprisoned in the case linked above were exonerated, Donald Trump… didn’t care.

And while I am sure many people speak highly of him, many people speak highly of Che Guevara, but he was still a racist mass-murderer.

But the main reason I call him “a good candidate with flaws” is that I think most of the policies he supports are those that will do the most good for the nation.

Should Christians even try to influence elections at all? Yes, definitely. The apostle Peter says Christians are “exiles” on this earth (1 Peter 1:1). Therefore I take seriously the prophet Jeremiah’s exhortation to the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

By way of modern application, I think Christians today have a similar obligation to vote in such a way that will “seek the welfare” of the United States. Therefore the one overriding question to ask is this: Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?

Okay, sure, although I think you hardly have to reach this far into Scripture to support the idea of seeking the welfare of your own nation, and I definitely agree that Christians have a moral imperative to use the power granted us to make sound decisions based on effective policy.

If this election is close (which seems likely), then if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win. Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?

Well, no. First of all, write-in candidates are not the only other choice, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that they are. Gary Johnson is going to be on the ballot in all fifty states, and he’s polling ahead of Clinton in Utah. This may be the first election since 1964 that a third-party candidate wins electoral votes. Jill Stein has far less support, but at least is nationally known.

Under President Obama, a liberal federal government has seized more and more control over our lives. But this can change. This year we have an unusual opportunity to defeat Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism that she champions. I believe that defeating that kind of liberalism would be a morally right action. Therefore I feel the force of the words of James: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Dr. Grudem, this is unworthy of you: you are using Scripture as a club to try to beat people into submission by using a strategy very similar to victim-blaming. You might as well say that crime victims “sin” because they know that going outside increases their exposure to crime. They know this, so they should stay indoors. And it can be just as easily argued on the same grounds that defeating Donald Trump is a morally right action and claim that people who vote for him “sin.” This sort of spiritual Mutually Assurd Destruction gets us nowhere, and should be avoided. In addition, one might very well have used the same argument to defend voting for Hitler in 1933, when Josef Stalin had killed millions of people, while Hitler (as far as I can tell) had killed none. “A vote against Hitler is a vote against Communism!” And in case it’s in doubt, I believe impeding, let alone defeating Stalin’s Soviet Union would have been an immensely morally right action. But we have to ask: defeat it in favor of WHAT?

And, Dr. Grudem, as long as you are using James’s epistle to back your position, let us see what he has to say about “careless statements:”

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear,slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
James 1:19-20.

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
James 3: 7-12.

The Scripture, sir, tells us not to trust men like Donald Trump. BECAUSE OF their words. So I have to question whether your “moral choice” is a Biblical choice.

 

Some may feel it is easier just to stay away from this messy Trump-Clinton election, and perhaps not even vote. But the teachings of Scripture do not allow us to escape moral responsibility by saying that we decided to do nothing. The prophet Obadiah rebuked the people of the Edom for standing by and doing nothing to help when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem: “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that . . . foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” (Obadiah 1:11).

But voting for a third party is not voting for Hillary. And it is not doing nothing. I agree that staying home is a bad idea. But it is not the only idea, and it is wrong to equate “doing what is unlikely to succeed, but right” with “doing nothing.”

I am writing this article because I doubt that many “I can’t vote for Trump” Christians have understood what an entirely different nation would result from Hillary Clinton as president, or have analyzed in detail how different a Trump presidency would be. In what follows, I will compare the results we could expect from a Clinton presidency with what we could expect from a Trump presidency.

Okay, good: let’s discuss policy. That’s what this election is supposed to be about. Whether it is about that is a different question.

The Supreme Court with Clinton as president

Hillary Clinton would quickly replace Justice Scalia with another liberal like Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. This would give liberals a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court even without Justice Kennedy, and 6-3 when he votes with them.

But that is not all. Justice Ginsburg is 83, and she has had colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and has a heart stent. Justice Kennedy is 80. Justice Breyer is 78. A President Clinton could possibly nominate three or four justices to the Supreme Court, locking in a far-left activist judiciary for perhaps 30 or more years. She could also add dozens of activist judges to federal district courts and courts of appeals, the courts where 99% of federal lawsuits are decided. Judicial tyranny of the type we have seen when abortion rights and same-sex marriage were forced on the nation would gain a permanent triumph.

The nation would no longer be ruled by the people and their elected representatives, but by unelected, unaccountable, activist judges who would dictate from the bench about whatever they were pleased to decree. And there would be nothing in our system of government that anyone could do to stop them.

That is why this election is not just about Hillary Clinton. It is about defeating the far left liberal agenda that any Democratic nominee would champion. Liberal Democrats are now within one Supreme Court justice of their highest goal: gaining permanent control of the nation with a five vote majority on the Supreme Court, and then relentlessly imposing every liberal policy on the nation not through winning elections but through a relentless parade of one Supreme Court decision after another.

Even if Clinton were to drop out of the race (perhaps due to additional shocking email disclosures, for example), our choice in the election would be just the same, because any other Democratic nominee would appoint the same kind of liberal justices to the Court.

This is the reason that a lot of people whom I otherwise respect give for casting a vote for Donald Trump: BUT THE SUPREME COURT! And given the overreach of the judicial branch and the federal government, I share the concern. But Donald Trump isn’t the answer to that concern. Firstly, there’s little evidence that he’s actually in favor of limiting that overreach. Trump was in favor of Obamacare just in FEBRUARY! And the mandate! Secondly, Trump has made proposal after proposal that shows that he is ignorant of the basic limitations of the Constitution! How could such a man reliably pick a Supreme Court justice that is NOT the very kind of “liberal” you fear? He could do it through sheer ignorance.

Abortion

On abortion, a liberal court would probably find the ban on partial-birth abortion to be unconstitutional (it was upheld by only a 5-4 majority in Gonzalez v. Carhart, 2007). In addition, the court could find an absolute “right to abortion” in the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and then sweep away with one decision most or all of the restrictions on abortion that pro-life advocates worked for tirelessly over the last 43 years, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and prohibitions on non-doctors performing abortions.

Voters should not doubt the power of the Supreme Court to abolish all these laws restricting abortions. Think of the power of the Obergefell v. Hodges 5-4 decision in June, 2015. It instantly nullified all the work that thousands of Christians had done over many years in persuading the citizens of 31 states to pass constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But no one is campaigning for such laws or amendments anymore, because it would be futile. The Supreme Court has spoken, and therefore the issue is settled in the political system of the United States. We lost – not at the ballot box, but because we had a liberal Supreme Court that nullified the democratic process regarding the definition of marriage.

So it would certainly be with any efforts to place legal limitations on abortion. Nobody would campaign any more for laws to limit abortions, because any such laws would be unconstitutional. The legislative lobbying work of pro-life advocacy groups would be totally and utterly defeated. Millions of unborn children would continue to die.

Yes, well, I’ve already written on why opposing same-sex marriage on the legal level is a bad idea. In addition, I really hate to break it to you, Dr. Grudem, but most Americans want abortion to be legal, at least under certain conditions. If you want the court to oppose this, then you are engaging in the same type of judicial rule you object to liberals using, and that’s dishonest. Additionally, the Bible does not consider abortion to be the equivalent of murder: Exodus 21:20 states that: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.” The same law would require the death of the offender if the woman died, but only a fine for terminating the pregnancy. This practice of “fining” seems to imply that Old Testament law considers  termination of pregnancy (even when it is caused by someone NOT THE PREGNANT WOMAN) morally equivalent to theft, which was also punishable by fines.
I cannot therefore find any Biblical grounds for taking this objection seriously. I dislike abortion intensely, but I didn’t write the Bible.

Religious liberty

The current liberal agenda often includes suppressing Christian opposition to its views. So a liberal court would increasingly nullify rights of conscience with respect to forced participation in same-sex marriage ceremonies or expressing moral objections to homosexual conduct. Already Christians are being pushed out of many occupations. Florists, bakers, and professional photographers have had their businesses destroyed by large fines for refusal to contribute their artistic talents to a specific event, a same-sex wedding ceremony to which they had moral objections.

Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran in Atlanta was removed from his job because of self-publishing a religious book that briefly mentioned the Bible’s teachings regarding non-marital sexual conduct, including homosexuality, amidst a host of other topics. His situation holds ominous implications for any Christians who hold public sector jobs. In our military services, many high-ranking officers have quietly been forced to resign because they were unwilling to give support to the homosexual agenda.

Mozilla/Firefox CEO Brendan Eich was pushed out from his own company merely because he had donated money to Proposition 8 in California, supporting marriage between one man and one woman. This event has troubling implications for Christians in any corporate executive role who dare to support a political position contrary to the liberal agenda.

Last year Boston urologist Paul Church, a Harvard Medical School faculty member, lost his hospital privileges at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center because he had expressed concerns about the medical dangers associated with same-sex activity.

Are my predictions about this kind of loss of religious liberty too grim? The three conservative justices still on the Supreme Court expressed similar concerns just last month. The case concerned a Washington pharmacy that has been owned for 70 years by the Stormans family, who are committed Christians. They will likely now be put out of business by the Washington State Pharmacy Board for refusing to dispense an abortion-causing prescription drug. On June 28, 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Stormans’ appeal, in spite of the strong dissent written by Justice Alito (joined by Roberts and Thomas):

“At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. . . . . there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State . . . . If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” (italics added)

I generally share these concerns, but again, given Trump’s ignorance of the Constitution’s guarantees on freedom of religion, it’s pretty hard to believe that Trump would be able to appoint justices who wouldn’t do exactly what you fear from Clinton.

Christian business owners

If Clinton appoints just one more liberal justice, it is likely that many Christian business owners will be targeted. Hobby Lobby won its 2014 Supreme Court case (again 5-4), so it was not compelled to dispense abortifacients to its employees, but that case could be reversed (the four liberal justices in the minority, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, are still on the court). If that case is overturned, it would force Hobby Lobby out of business, because the Green family had said they would shut down the company of 23,000 employees and over $3 billion in annual sales if they lost the decision. The implications for other Christian business owners with pro-life convictions are ominous.

These incidents show that it is not an exaggeration to say that, under a liberal Supreme Court resulting from Hillary Clinton’s election, Christians would increasingly experience systematic exclusion from hundreds of occupations, with thousands of people losing their jobs. Step-by-step, Christians would increasingly be marginalized to the silent fringes of society. Is withholding a vote from Donald Trump important enough to pay this high a price in loss of freedom?

Some Christians have even hinted to me that “persecution would be good for us.” But the Bible never encourages us to seek persecution or hope for it. We should rather work to prevent such oppression of Christians, just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Paul did not encourage us to pray that God would give us bad rulers but good ones who would allow us to live a peaceful life:

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1Timothy 2:1)

Yes, Dr. Grudem, I share your concern, and even more, believe your interpretation of Scripture to be right on, here, but it still doesn’t make Trump more familiar with Constitutional law than he was in the last paragraph. It also doesn’t exactly jive with your willingness earlier to use an argument that voting third party is morally equivalent to voting for Hillary. By your own logic here, any action that could be expected to lead to the strengthening of our faith through persecution should be taken: after all, strengthening our faith is a good thing, right? And you just told us that not doing a good thing is sin.

Christian schools and colleges

A liberal Supreme Court would also impact education. Christian colleges would likely be found guilty of “discrimination” if they required adherence to the Bible’s standards regarding sexual conduct, or even required affirmation of primary Christian beliefs. Campus ministries like Cru and InterVarsity have already been forced off of many university campuses following the 5-4 Supreme Court decision CLS v. Martinez (2010), which upheld the exclusion of the Christian Legal Society from the campus of Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. And now California’s Equity in Higher Education Act (SB 1146), which recently passed the California state senate and will likely become law, would prohibit Christian colleges from requiring students or employees to hold Christian beliefs or abide by biblical moral standards regarding sexual conduct, and would prohibit colleges from assigning housing based on a student’s biological sex if a student claimed to be transgender. Colleges like Biola and Azusa Pacific could not long survive under those regulations.

With regard to elementary and high schools, laws promoting school choice or tuition voucher programs would likely be declared unconstitutional if they allowed such funding to go to Christian schools. A tax credit program for scholarships to private schools, including Christian institutions, was only upheld by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn in 2011, and all four liberal justices who voted against it are still on the court. Another possible target of the liberal agenda would be laws that allow for home schooling, if the secular/ liberal governmental hostility to home schooling in European countries is any indicator.

I feel like I’m in church again, singing a hymn where I don’t know the words to anything but the refrain, only in this case the refrain goes: “I share all thy concerns, but thy solution doth not impress me.” 

Churches

Churches would not be exempt from the impact of a liberal Supreme Court. The court could rule that any school district is allowed to ban churches from renting school buildings on Sundays, an action that could severely hinder the work of small churches and church planting in general. (This was already the ruling of the Second Circuit in the Bronx Household of Faith case regarding New York City public schools.) And some churches in Iowa have now been told that they have to make their bathrooms open to people on the basis of their “gender identity” if the churches are going to be open to the public at all.

“I share all thy concerns, but thy solution doth not impress me.” 

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech would be increasingly restricted in the public square. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that prayers of visiting pastors who prayed “in Jesus’ name” when they opened a city council meeting were allowed under the Constitution, but again it was a 5-4 decision (Town of Greece v. Galloway) and all four liberals who wanted to restrict such prayers are still on the court.

“I share all thy concerns, but thy solution doth not impress me.” Especially since Trump has spoken of his own willingness to clamp down on free speech. I sure don’t want that to be a precedent, still less a precedent set by a Republican.

Criminalizing dissent

Another troubling possibility is that liberal activists, once in power, would further entrench themselves by criminalizing much political dissent. We have already seen it happen with the IRS targeting of conservative groups and with some state attorneys general taking steps to prosecute (!) groups who dare to disagree with activists’ claims about the danger of man-made global warming.

“But my conscience won’t let me vote for Donald Trump,” some have told me. But I wonder if their consciences have considered the gravity of these destructive consequences that would come from a Clinton presidency. A vote for Trump would at least be doing something to prevent these things.

Well, you’d like to think so, anyway.

In addition, I think there are several positive reasons to vote for Trump.

The Supreme Court with Trump as president

Trump has released a list of 11 judges to show the kind of nominee he would appoint to the Supreme Court. A lawyer familiar with many of these names has told me that they constitute a “dream list” of outstanding judges who would uphold the original meaning of the Constitution and would not create new laws from the bench. Trump has said he would rely primarily on advice from the Federalist Society, the organization that promotes the “original meaning” view so strongly exemplified by Justice Scalia before his death.

If Trump would appoint a replacement for Scalia from his list of 11, and probably one or two other Supreme Court justices, then we could see a 5-4 or even 6-3 majority of conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The results for the nation would be overwhelmingly good.

Such a Supreme Court would finally return control of the nation to the people and their elected representatives, removing it from dictatorial judges who repeatedly make law from the bench.

Well, that’s great news. I very much admired Justice Scalia. But all of this hinges on Donald Trump being a man of his word. And you just acknowledged that Trump is a man who makes careless statements. Moreover, the legal record abounds with cases of Trump and his companies NOT keeping their words to pay bills.
Political promises are the currency of the business of politics. Why should we trust that the man whose company claimed that they should be let off because they had “paid enough” will not tell us, when he is elected, that he has “kept enough promises?”

Abortion

Such a court would likely overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion laws and the regulation of abortion to the states.

Dr. Grudem, it’s not going to happen. I don’t like abortion either (saying it isn’t murder, by the way, doesn’t mean I think it’s a right, nor that I think it should be carte-blanche legal) but Republicans have been fighting this for FORTY YEARS. One of the main reasons trump is popular is that Republicans who WANT to see it happen are damned tired of Republicans promising to end it and it keeps being legal. You don’t have the support among the populace for this. And promoting bad policy because you really, really WANT it to happen is exactly what you say we shouldn’t be doing.

Religious liberty

A conservative court would vigorously uphold the First Amendment, protecting freedom of religion and freedom of speech for Christian colleges, Christian ministries, and churches.

Such a court would likely overturn the horribly destructive decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) that changed the meaning of the First Amendment and ruled that a government action “must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion” (note: not a specific denomination but “religion” in general). A conservative court would likely declare that the First Amendment was only intended to prohibit the establishment of a state-sponsored church or denomination.

Such a decision would once again allow the nonsectarian affirmation of personal belief in God in public schools, would once again allow coaches to pray with their football teams before a game, and would allow visiting clergy to be invited to give a prayer at high school graduation ceremonies. It would also imply that nativity scenes without Santa Claus and Buddha should be allowed in government-owned parks and buildings at Christmas time. It wouldn’t require these things, but would allow them if local officials chose to approve them. It would restore true freedom of religion as the First Amendment intended.

It would also protect freedom of conscience for Christians who object to participating in abortions, or dispensing abortifacient medicines, or who do not wish to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. It is also possible that a conservative Supreme Court would eventually return control of marriage to the states.

Slightly modified refrain: “Generally a good idea, if you trust Trump.”

Freedom for Christian influence in politics

Significantly, Trump has pledged to work to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the IRS code, which has been used for 62 years as a threat to silence pastors from speaking about political issues, for fear of losing their tax-exempt status. This would be a great victory for freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

In short, a Trump-appointed Supreme Court, together with dozens of lower court judges appointed by him, would probably result in significant advances in many of the policy areas important to Christians. It would also open the door to huge expansion of influence for the many Christian lobbying groups known as “family policy councils” in various states, especially enabling them to work for further legal protections for life, for marriage and family, and for religious liberty.

Speaking of which, at least you’re honest enough to ask:

How can we know that Trump won’t change his mind?

“But Trump has changed his mind in the past,” a politically-minded friend said to me. “How do you know that he will do what he has promised? Maybe he’ll betray you and appoint a liberal Supreme Court justice.”

My reply is that we can never know the future conduct of any human being with 100% certainty, but in making an ethical decision like this one, we should base the decision on the most likely results. In this case, the most likely result is that Trump will do most or all of what he has said.

I disagree, obviously. Trump has a track record of NOT doing what he says he will. That’s what a bankruptcy IS.

In the history of American politics, candidates who have been elected president have occasionally changed their minds on one or another issue while in office, but no president has ever gone back on most of what he has promised to do, especially on issues that are crucially important in the election. In this election, it is reasonable to think that the most likely result is that both Trump and Clinton will do what they have promised to do. That is the basis on which we should decide how to vote.

Possibly correct, but Trump has said so many contradictory and unconstitutional things that it breaks all precedent. It’s almost impossible for me to believe that he WON’T have to break many, if not most of his promises.

And notice how Trump has changed his mind. He continues to move in a more conservative direction, as evidenced by his list of judges and his choice for vice president. Just as he succeeded in business by listening to the best experts to solve each problem, I suspect that he has been learning from the best experts in conservative political thought and has increasingly found that conservative solutions really work. We should applaud these changes.

Of course he is moving in a more conservative direction. He’s already poison to all liberal and most swing voters (which is why, barring a disaster, I’m fairly confident he won’t win) and a lot of conservatives hate him. He has to play to the base. He doesn’t have to keep playing to them after he’s in office.

His choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate is an especially significant indication that he will govern as a conservative. Trump could have picked a moderate but instead picked a lifelong solid conservative who is a thoughtful, gracious policy wizard. Pence is a lawyer and former talk radio host who served 12 years in Congress and had significant congressional leadership positions, so he will be immensely helpful in working with Congress. He is a committed evangelical Christian. He is a former board member of the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative Christian lobbying group in Indiana.

However, the Supreme Court is not the only issue at stake in this election. While I disagree with Trump on a few things (especially trade policy), on most important issues, Trump will likely do much good for the nation.

Taxes and jobs

Trump has pledged to cut taxes significantly, while Clinton wants to raise them. Trump is advocating a 15% tax rate for corporations rather than the current 35%. Lower corporate taxes would lead to business expansion and a massive increase in available jobs and higher pay levels. For individual taxpayers, Trump favors a top rate of 25%, but for Clinton it’s 45%. Most small businesses file under this individual rate, so once again Trump’s lower taxes would result in substantial expansion of businesses and many more jobs. Finally our economy would snap out of its eight years of anemic growth.

In my judgment, Christians should support lower tax rates that would lead to more jobs, because Obama’s economic policies for the last eight years have hurt lower income and low-middle income families the most. Many can’t even find jobs, and others can’t find full-time jobs. Those who have jobs struggle to survive with no meaningful pay raises year after year. It is no surprise that these are the people who are supporting Trump in overwhelming numbers.

Tax rates are also a good indicator of government control. Higher tax rates mean greater government control of our lives, while lower tax rates indicate greater freedom.

If all that comes along with closing loopholes in the system, I’m all for it. Has Trump said ANYTHING about that? Or is it just more “tax cuts promote growth because magic?”

Minorities

Two of the deepest causes of poverty among minority groups and racial tensions in our country are failing public schools in our inner cities and lack of available jobs. Trump expressed a commitment to solve these problems at several points in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. He pledged to reduce taxes and regulations, leading to many more jobs. And he said:

“Nearly 4 in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58% of African-American youth are not employed . . . . This administration has failed America’s inner cities. It’s failed them on education. It’s failed and on jobs. It’s failed them on crime . . . . Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America? . . . . We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice.”

By contrast, Clinton will bow to the teachers’ unions and oppose school choice at every turn, and she will continue to strangle businesses with high taxes and regulations, preventing job growth.

Awesome, but that’s not a policy. It’s a vague goal at best.

The military

Trump has promised to rapidly rebuild our depleted military forces, but Clinton would continue the liberal policy of eviscerating them through denying funding. This is dangerous in light of increasing threats from China, Russia, Iran, and ISIS.

Funding the military will make very little difference if it is employed ineptly, as has been the case since approximately 1991, and I’m being generous, there. Trump has even less experience with military action as an arm of government policy than Clinton does, and I think SHE’S going to be disastrously bad at it.

Borders

Trump has repeatedly promised that he will finally secure our borders, an urgent need to protect the nation from ever more terrorists and drug smugglers. Clinton will not do this but will continue to allow in what she thinks will be thousands of future Democratic voters.

Promises, again. There are 11 million — ELEVEN MILLION — illegal immigrants who are determined to live here regardless of what the law says. Many citizens support them in this. Many of both groups believe their political power can only increase by increasing the flow. Amnesty and a path to citizenship for these folks, giving them a stake in closing off the pipeline, is the only alternative to actual civil war.

ISIS and terrorism

Trump has pledged to aggressively attack and utterly defeat ISIS. Clinton will continue the anemic Obama policy of periodic bombing runs and drone attacks, under which ISIS has continued to thrive.

See the comment on use of the military, above.

China and Russia

Trump will not let China and Russia and Iran push us around anymore, as Obama has done, with Hillary Clinton’s support when she was secretary of state. If Trump is anything, he is tough as nails, and he won’t be bullied.

He won’t APPEAR to be bullied. That’s very different from actually being bullied. By asking Russia to expose the emails it might have from Hillary Clinton, he has ALREADY rewarded Russia’s interference in our elections, setting a dangerous precedent. I have little use for Obama’s foreign policy, or Clinton’s, but at least they have the advantage of not scaring the bejeezus out of our allies, whom Trump has openly threatened not to support if they should fall behind on their NATO obligations, FURTHER encouraging Russian bullying of NATO.

Israel

Trump has promised to vigorously defend and support Israel, while Clinton will most likely continue the Obama administration’s criticism, snubbing, and marginalization of Israel.

And why does that need to be a cornerstone of our foreign policy? Maybe it does, but it’s worth perhaps not simply assuming.

Energy

Trump has said he will approve the Keystone oil pipeline and grant more oil drilling permits leading to lower energy costs and providing thousands of jobs. Lower energy costs help everybody, but the poor most of all. Clinton, by contrast, will make fracking nearly impossible and essentially abolish the coal industry, causing energy prices to skyrocket.

Here, I agree, but I’d love a statement supporting nuclear power.

Executive orders and bathrooms

Trump has promised to rescind many of the most objectionable executive orders given by President Obama, so he will likely end the compulsory moral degradation forced on us by a liberal agenda, including orders forcing schools to allow boys in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, in defiance of the will of the vast majority of Americans. But Hillary Clinton would likely perpetuate and expand these policies.

The problem is not which laws govern our bathrooms. The problem is there is law about bathrooms at all. Trump is just the opposite side of the same terrible coin, here, but that is a large topic, for another time.

Health care

Trump will work to repeal Obamacare, which is ruining the nation’s health care system, and replace it with an affordable free market system in which companies have the ability to sell insurance across state lines, thus substantially lowering insurance prices especially in those states that currently allow only high-priced “Cadillac” insurance plans. But Clinton would continue to work relentlessly toward federal government control of our entire health care industry.

Not according to what he said in February.

The unprotected

Trump will finally begin to recognize and protect what Wall Street Journal writer Peggy Noonan calls “the unprotected” in America — people in lower income areas who cannot find good jobs, cannot find good schools for their children, do not feel protected from crime, and find their retirement savings are not enough because for years they have been earning no interest in the bank. Trump said in his acceptance speech, “Every day I wake up determined to deliver for the people I have met all across the nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned . . . I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves.”

These American citizens recognize that Trump has built a business career on listening to experts, solving problems, and getting things done. They realize that Trump didn’t earn $4 billion by being stupid, and their instinct says that he might be exactly the right person to solve some of the biggest problems in a nation that has for too long been headed in the wrong direction and stuck in political gridlock.

They may not have college degrees but their old-fashioned common sense tells them that America would be a much better place if we no longer had to be afraid to say “Merry Christmas,” or that boys are different from girls, or that Islamic terrorists are Islamic terrorists. They’re sick and tired of being condescended to by the snobbish moralism of the liberal elites who dominate the power centers in our nation. That is why they cheer when Trump repeatedly violates the canons of politically correct speech. They have found in him someone who gives them hope, and they are supporting him by the thousands.

This is unquestionably Trump’s appeal. This is what his supporters want. But he’s not God, or even a ruling king. He can’t do it by fiat.

Does character matter?

“But are you saying that character doesn’t matter?” someone might ask. I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.

In addition, if someone makes doubts about character the only factor to consider, that is a fallacy in ethical reasoning that I call “reductionism” – the mistake of reducing every argument to only one factor, when the situation requires that multiple factors be considered. In this election, an even larger factor is the future of the nation that would flow from a Clinton or a Trump presidency.

Your statement on reductionism is correct. Interesting that I rarely see a Christian figure make those same argument when a Christian politician of better character (but questionable policies) runs against a Democrat with worse character (but better policies). And hopefully, I’ve addressed many issues by now, sir.

To my friends who tell me they won’t vote for Trump because there is a chance he won’t govern at all like he promises, I reply that all of American presidential history shows that that result is unlikely, and it is ethically fallacious reasoning to base a decision on assuming a result that is unlikely to happen.

Consider instead the most likely results. The most likely result of voting for Trump is that he will govern the way he promises to do, bringing much good to the nation.

But the most likely result of not voting for Trump is that you will be abandoning thousands of unborn babies who will be put to death under Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court, thousands of Christians who will be excluded from their lifelong occupations, thousands of the poor who will never again be able to find high-paying jobs in an economy crushed by government hostility toward business, thousands of inner-city children who will never be able to get a good education, thousands of the sick and elderly who will never get adequate medical treatment when the government is the nation’s only healthcare provider, thousands of people who will be killed by an unchecked ISIS, and millions of Jews in Israel who will find themselves alone and surrounded by hostile enemies. And you will be contributing to a permanent loss of the American system of government due to a final victory of unaccountable judicial tyranny.

When I look at it this way, my conscience, and my considered moral judgment tell me that I must vote for Donald Trump as the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America.

By all means, Dr. Grudem, vote your conscience. The only way forward is for us each to vote our consciences. But your reasons, I regret to inform you, have not only failed to move my conscience, they have utterly strengthened my determination not to vote for Donald Trump, because I cannot place my faith in the God of the Bible, and in the Donald Trump that I have learned about. I regret even more to inform you that, because of what I can only see as a selective use of Scripture to support a partisan political viewpoint, and in spite of the respect I have for your many years of Biblical scholarship, I cannot hold that scholarship in the same high regard I have previously. However, please believe that, should Trump be elected (which I doubt he will), I shall pray to the God we both worship that you are correct and that I am wrong. Because may God help us all if you are not.

House Rules and The Limits of Agnosticism, By A Christian Agnostic

I sometimes like to describe myself as a Christian Agnostic.

Actually, that’s not true, I hate to describe myself that way, because it sounds so damned pretentious it makes me want to throw up. It sounds like exactly the kind of mealy-mouthed spinelessness I always hear from people who describe themselves as “spiritual-but-not-religious,” which is the pop culture Excuse Of The Decade for having an opinion on religion without actually knowing shit about it.

“God’s” House Rules

Nevertheless, Christian Agnostic describes a lot of what I believe about the God of the Bible. Because too many Christians like to relate to God through what I can only describe as the “house rules” of Christianity. You know how house rules work: it’s how we modify games to make them more fun for us. Like putting all the Monopoly money from Chance and Community Chest in the center and then giving it to the guy who lands on Free Parking. Which is awesome for games — usually. Until you get that one guy who doesn’t understand that it isn’t his house. Then it’s more appropriately called, “Making Shit Up I Happen To Like As I Go Along.” That’s also known as cheating. And people love to do it to religion: They make up rules based on their own culture. Or they extrapolate beyond the bounds of what God actually said. My favorite excuse for this in the Evangelical Church goes: “We should never see how close we can come to sinning.” And while there’s a core of truth in there, I find that 99% of the time this is code for, “If you don’t accept this rule I’ve made that’s more restrictive than the rule God made, you’re not really a follower of Christ.” This is bullshit now, and we know it is, because Jesus called the Pharisees out on it 2000 years ago (Matthew 12).

We can only know of God what God tells us, and since that’s so, we need to be very sure He did tell it to us. Otherwise, we are stopping people from following Christ because of our own self-serving conviction that unless they are as good as we are (snort!), they are not worthy of Him. So let’s be very careful what we say we know, as Paul did, when he was determined to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2).

Agnosticism… And Its Limits

Yet when you clear away all the house rules, we do believe, if we believe anything, that God told us something in the person of Christ. We believe God sent us salvation through Christ, and that Christ spoke truth when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). If Jesus is worth following, then He spoke the truth. And if He spoke truth, we are obligated to believe Him. And this is where we start to hit the limits of Christian Agnosticism. I hit it in a conversation.

It was a talk with a person I generally respect, which made it hard. We were discussing the spirit of this passage. Note that Christ said, “no man cometh to the Father, but by me.” He does not say how a man comes to the Father by him. Only that by Christ a man must come. And we expressed the hope that Christ may, in His power and mercy, save even those who dies without ever hearing His name, so that they too could know Him. I don’t see any promise in Scripture that it can happen, but I don’t see an absolute bar to it. I wouldn’t bet an eternal soul on it, but I hope that chance is there. More, I feel that Jesus’ command to love my fellow-man as myself requires that I hope that chance is there. That every person may choose to come to Jesus, and through Him, to God. And that is the limit of our knowledge.

But then my friend went further. Said that we don’t know even that. He claimed that perhaps, people did not even need to come to Christ, or God, because, you know, you never know. Maybe we don’t have to choose between God and not-God. And that’s where I had to part company with his reasoning, and the argument. Because, you see, while the limit of our knowledge is the beginning of our ignorance, it works the other way, too: The limit of our ignorance is also the beginning of our knowledge.

So you do not get to say that we don’t know what we were told about God any more than you get to say that we do know what we weren’t told. You cannot have that both ways. Once we believe we have a revelation (and if we don’t then this whole argument is damned — and I mean that with theological exactitude — silly) we must live by that faith. If we do not, we do not choose to live OR have faith. That’s what faith means. And that’s why standing up for Christ is so important. It may be that a person who dies not knowing Christ may be saved by Him. It is certain, however, that a living person who places faith in Christ will be saved.

Our knowledge is limited. Our lack of knowledge is also limited. Pretending otherwise — either way — is dishonest, and we should never expect that to have a reward.

From Somewhere In Orbit

Theology vs. The Memes #4: If At First WHO Doesn’t Succeed?

Oh, how one of my atheist friends loves the Noah’s Ark story. It is the ultimate proof of God’s incompetence and evil. The argument goes that if God couldn’t make people good enough not to sin, he’s not much of a god, expressed by the meme above.

Folks, this is the worst sort of begging the question when it comes to arguments against religion. What the meme wants to conceal is three separate assumptions that are made: firstly, that the success or failure involved is God’s. Secondly, that we are capable of judging that “success.” Thirdly, that God’s justice, like man’s, is circumscribed by death.

To take the points in reverse order, I’ve already noted that using premature death as an argument against the goodness of God is rather silly. The people killed in the Flood were already going to die. They would face God’s judgment eventually. By the laws of statistics, many of them would have died before reaching the average lifespan. If allowing people to die in a Flood is evil, then allowing them to die at all is hardly less evil. And of course, if you don’t trust God to be just to the souls of the dead, you’ve rather pre-judged your case, since you can have no experience of how He does that. And no, you can’t use God’s visible behavior to humans on Earth to judge what he does with them later. Otherwise you might just as well assume that every parent who speaks sharply to a child and then hauls them away from a party for misbehavior goes directly home and murders the child.

Which of course brings up the next two points. Do we not see that if we take the idea of God at all seriously, we have to imagine a Being that can plan on a scale of millions of years and has access to energies, times and spaces that we cannot conceive of? I realize that atheists don’t take the idea of God seriously, but that’s exactly what reduces memes like this to self-congratulatory wankery, utterly irrelevant to the average believer. It’s a straw-god argument. And straw-god is a real asshole, that is for sure. But if you want to convince believers, you have to take on a real god at some point, and that’s a much harder target, because you can’t judge a god’s success (let alone God’s) on a human scale.

Finally, the idea that the Flood (or any other example of mass death) was triggered by a “failure” on God’s part neatly and conveniently removes human action and accountability from the equation. Scripture’s take on the state of humanity was that life was nothing but people plotting to do evil (Genesis 6).

Again, I realize that my atheist friends don’t really believe in this story. But friends, if you’re going to condemn it as emblematic of the evil nature of the God we have imagined for ourselves, you’re going to have to be consistent, and you’re not even doing that well. First you complain that all the evil in the world is the fault of God and his “failure” to make good humans. Well, okay, let’s take that seriously for just a moment. If indeed that is the case, then surely humans, having seen the evil God allows, could prevent it, yes? If we are better than Him, then we must be able fix it; that’s the inescapable conclusion. Okay, not everything. I mean, we started from a pretty low technology base, so it’ll be awhile before we’re up to preventing plagues and floods.  But at the very least there should be no war, murder, slavery, or any other purely human evil, should there?

Oh, there is? All of those things exist? Gee, that doesn’t look very good for our claim to be better than God and stand in judgment of Him, does it? Hell, we’ve done a better job at preventing the plagues and floods!

If we are so capable of sitting in judgment of God, then why are we not doing better than Him? The failure is not His. The failure is ours. If God calls attention to that failure, then getting mad about it is about as admirable as yelling at the police officer who pulled you over for actually breaking the law.

And of course the other side of the coin is this: If we are not capable of doing better than the God we revile, then obviously we do need a God, don’t we? We need to desperately seek Him — to seek someone — out and discover how we can stop failing. When you’re failing, it’s time to listen and trust. Not to judge. Judgment is the purview of the successful.

If you really disbelieve, then all I can say is that blaming a god who doesn’t exist for your troubles is even more childish than worshiping one. The god you worship might turn out to be real. The god you blame might, too, of course, but you might think about the possible results of that. In either case, the failure is the argument against God’s ethics.

A Christian Case For The Legality Of Gay Marriage

So much has been said on the subject of the recent Supreme Court ruling that it is nearly asinine even to mention that much has been said. And yet, in all that has been said about love, and all that has been said about justice, and all that has been said about fairness and all that has been said about hatred and bigotry and hypocrisy and force, I have yet to hear anyone address an issue that, in my opinion, the Church must acknowledge. That issue is whether or not we, the Church of Christ, are obligated to be honest to the world about what we want out of our government.

Despite some of the histrionics that I have seen from scaremongers on the extreme left, most of the Christians that I know and fellowship with do not want a theocracy in America. I have lived in enough places in this nation and spoken with enough Christians that I can say with assurance that most Christians do not want this. They do want their faith, and the right to practice it protected, and like all people, they get scared (despite the Lord’s command that they should not) and overreact. But the vast majority of them don’t really want a Church State.

I am going to speak, then, to those in the Church who agree with this principle. If we really do agree that Church and State should be separate, and that the State should have nothing to do with the Church, it is difficult for me to understand why the Church should consider it relevant what definition the State places on “marriage.” “Marriage” to the State denotes a legal arrangement that allows for special privileges between the married parties, most of which have to do with parental and property rights. What do we have to do with what the State says, unless it directly challenges our rights to be the Church of Christ?

I submit that it is dishonest of the Church of Christ to both want and not want the State to do our bidding. If we wish to seize the power of the State to make laws (which I think would be a grave mistake) then we should at least be honest enough to proclaim that this is what we want, and work openly for the establishment of a theocracy, which would make laws along Christian principles. I trust that such laws would include making divorce and the remarriage of the divorced illegal as well. But I have not seen the part of the Church that campaigns against the legalization of gay marriage waging a campaign against laws that recognize these other practices of marriage. All of them are practices which the State permits and Christ condemns.

The Muslim faith does, under certain conditions, permit and encourage its adherents to lie to unbelievers in a practice known as taqiyyah. Some Muslims have interpreted this to justify any lie to a non-Muslim. Others stress that taqiyyah only allows Muslims to lie about their Muslim identity to escape torture and death at the hands of persecutors. This is a difference between the Muslim faith and the Christian faith. As Christians, we are charged in the strongest terms to openly avow our faith in Christ when asked. We cannot be honest with God if we are dishonest with the world.

Thus, when we as Americans take offices that require us to execute the laws of the State, and consider ourselves as citizens whose rights are protected by the State (not, please note, granted by the State), we are obligated to make and interpret the laws of the State in a spirit of honesty. And I cannot see how, honestly, we can deny the State the right to define legal marriage as long as we assent to the State’s right to grant changes in married couples’ right to hold property and raise children. If we deny it this right, then we are essentially lying. We are trying to make the State into the Church. I see nothing Biblical in this. It would be just the same as if I, in my capacity as an employee of a private business, took money from my employer and then used my time and effort to preach the Word of God. That would not glorify God. That would be fraud, and sin.

If we assent that a secular State is good, and that we, as the Church of Christ can partake of it, then we must assent to the State the right to make its laws, and its right to, within those laws, enforce them. Otherwise, we are committing fraud, and this we cannot expect the Lord to honor. Note that this applies to Christians regardless of whether you believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful.

If the Church is not honest about its contracts and its obligations as a citizenry, it is not really being the Church. It is being a den of liars and fraudsters. This cannot be a good witness. This cannot glorify God.

Things Fall Apart. The Center Cannot Hold These Rights

I have been reluctant to respond in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to declare marriage rights constitutional rights. I do not feel the need to retread ground that others, more intimately connected to these issues and the conflict surrounding these issues, have covered more adequately and better than I can. However there was one post that has stuck with me. Rachel Held Evans a popular Christian and political blogger, said on her Facebook page (6/27):

“Civil rights aren’t up to a vote. They aren’t up to public opinion. Civil rights are part of what it means to be an American citizen. Theological arguments around marriage set aside for another day, I simply cannot find a single compelling argument in support of denying civil rights to LGBT people that does not rely on an unhealthy marriage (sorry!) between church and state.”

I suppose Ms. Evans may have meant that civil rights are not up for an ordinary vote. If so, then what she said was a bit sloppy, but essentially correct. However, I suspect that what she meant was that Civil Rights are not up for a vote at all. Certainly it’s what was meant when Gay Rights activists in the seventies marched behind a banner reading “Human Rights Are Absolute,” quoting Jimmy Carter. His quote thus takes its place at the end of a long line of ideas that sound like wonderful affirmations of the human spirit until they are subject to five minutes’ thought.

Historically, of course, the idea that Civil Rights are not up for a vote is utter and complete nonsense. The very meaning of Civil Rights is “the rights you have as a citizen.” Do people really not understand the way this works? The Civil Rights we enjoy in the United States were created by a process of voting, from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitutional Convention, up through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-68. All of those were done by voting. Some were prefigured in the English Bill of Rights of 1688, also passed by vote of Parliament.

To be sure, the Constitution itself declares that it is not the source, but rather the instrument, of the rights. The simple enumeration of these rights, declares the Ninth Amendment does not disparage the others retained by the states or the people. It points to a principle that the rights exist, but are merely codified by the Constitution, or the laws.

However, one of the very rights the Constitution protects, and explicitly enshrines, is the right to alter the Constitution itself, and that includes the Bill of Rights. Which of course, implicitly makes the claim that some rights are more absolute than others. The most important, in this case, would be the right to edit the codification of rights.

So when we say that human rights are absolute, do we mean they are morally absolute, and belong to us no matter what the State might say? Or do we mean that they are legally absolute: that we have a right to laws codifying and supporting our exercise of our human rights?

Historically, of course, we have meant the latter. This very process that we have seen last week meant the latter, except that the courts, rather than the vote direct, were the lever of choice. And when those Civil Rights have not been left up to (or enforceable by) the vote, both our American and British ancestors have fallen back on the other guarantor of Civil Rights: the sword. Which of course, is an even more dangerous precedent to build your human rights upon than the vote, although it is ultimately the same, because never, in the whole history of humanity, has there been an expression of popular will (or legal ruling) that did not ultimately depend on the possession and willingness to use force.

However, if the legal battle is merely over the power to express human rights that permanently exist and are, as Jimmy Carter said, absolute, then where do those absolutes come from? It certainly does not come from “science” or “nature.” A thorough study of science and nature will not lead to the least idea that “human rights” — certainly not rights to “life, liberty and happiness” — exist in nature or because of laws that can be derived.

See, I know Jimmy Carter and his religious background, and I keep coming back to one inescapable source for that absolute. The same one that the Declaration of Independence referenced, right after its 18th-Century Enlightenment appeal to “Nature:”

“Nature’s God.”

The Enlightenment thinkers, the Founding Fathers among them, may have had a lot of problems with their philosophies of life. Unthinking racism, sexism, an acceptance of chattel slavery as the cost of doing business, and a blind trust in a “Nature” they barely understood (hence “natural” rights), but one error they didn’t fall into was believing that an absolute was not required.

The idea that human rights — much less Civil Rights — are not up for a vote presupposes that they are grounded in an absolute truth. This must be clearly understood, because if it is not, then the whole idea that they are in any way special is founded on a lie. Moreover it is founded on the worst kind of lie: the lie that knows it is a lie, and does not care that it is a lie. It is the treacherous lie of the mob to itself that says, “We have created our own absolute, which we know is not an absolute, but we will call it one anyway because it makes us feel better.” Like the treacherous spouse that swears “Until death do us part,” all the while knowing they can call the divorce lawyer if ever they are dissatisfied, rights founded on this lie have no permanence and deserve no respect. At best they are a sort of mass-mysticism of human passion, liable to turn on their present beneficiaries in the next crisis. If we do not see this, we are blind. We can hold to no rights.

If we wish to reclaim our sanity, and to claim our rights are based on an absolute authority, we must identify that authority and its claims. And then we must submit to it. And if there is one thing I see in our nation that frightens and disheartens me, one thing that all sides in our present political morass share, it is the utter unwillingness to submit. Submission is only for our foes to do to us. Which will lead us inevitably back to the Absolute of the Sword.

It is, of course, those who are winning legal support to express their rights that should be most aware of the danger here. They are the ones who were most recently that target of laws that favored others’ expressions of rights above their own. They will feel most keenly the fear that tempts them to use their new power to suppress their old foes. To take revenge. To silence and destroy them. And this is a very real and complex conflict: just how far do we dare press some rights at the expense of others? We have seen above that we cannot treat them as equally absolute. In our present law, the right to change our legal rights reigns supreme. This is perhaps wise, as it allows that we may have erred in the past. But we could make laws immutable, favoring other rights. Legally, anyway.

What right will be favored? The right to express our feelings? Or the right to the feelings themselves, enforced by the binding of expression? Choose carefully. And admit to your absolute. The hypocrisy you avert must be your own.

From Somewhere In Orbit

Theology vs. The Memes #2: The Emperor’s New Quote

I have seen this meme passed around a whole lot by certain types of atheist whose primary source of comfort is how much smarter they are than Christians because they can face the truth. Allow me, therefore, in the name of truth, to point out the first little problem with it:

That’s right. Marcus Aurelius never said it in the first place. The whole meme is a lie. There’s a quote that it may be loosely based on, but we’ll review that at a more appropriate time. Still, I’m sure that there are those who will claim that, regardless of the source of the quote, it’s still a good message. So let’s examine the whole thing and see what parts stand up to any rational interpretation of “good.”

1) “If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.”

First, does anyone else wonder what the original author meant by “devout?” The people who pass this around probably don’t because the first rule of Meme Club is that you DO NOT talk about what memes MEAN. Memes are self-congratulation masquerading as critical thought. They work by giving the reader the illusion of having had an insight. They are philosophical porn. So in the absence of any definition I’m, going to guess that “devout” means how much you sing, dance, pray, sacrifice and wear cheap T-shirts extolling your deity, because this is the behavior atheists enjoy mocking.

The funny part is that Jesus rather enjoyed mocking it, too: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding of the blood of the prophets… Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.” (Matthew 23:29-31, 34). The fact is that even if Marcus Aurelius had said this, Jesus would have anticipated him by nearly a century. Jesus and the Jewish prophets agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of the quote. “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what the LORD doth require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Further, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27).

What the atheists and the “spiritual-not-religious” folk are missing here is that we all fail miserably at doing these things. They fail to consider what it might mean to be judged by a just God “on the virtues you have lived by.” The whole reason for “devoutness” is an acknowledgement by us that we have indeed failed to practice these virtues, time and time again. God’s standards are higher than ours. They have to be. If God’s standards are not better than our own, He has no claim to be God at all. This is why Jesus said, “You give a tenth of your spices… But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23-25). Devotion is part of the virtue God expects, and what a Christian must mean by “devout” is something more — not less and not other — than living virtuously.

On to part 2 of the “quote:”

2) “If there are gods but unjust, you should not want to worship them.” This is the easiest part of the quote to agree with. But the inherent assumption here is that you know exactly what justice is. Even among good people there are disagreements about this. In the real world, the circumstances in which we find ourselves can not only make living justly a good way to get yourself killed, it can make justice literally impossible. And sometimes, people can be conditioned to think that behavior that would horrify most of us is perfectly normal. Men in prison have a strict code: don’t bump into each other. Don’t pick up another man’s matches. Don’t sit in another man’s chair. “Justice” for these infractions, in that context, can mean a beating or stabbing.

Are we so sure we are different? Killing for honor is still considered justice in many parts of the world. But we call it unjust in my part. If we call God unjust… how are we certain we are right?

And now for the biggest and most subtle lie of all:

3) “If there are no gods: then you will be gone. But you will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” Except that’s a lie.  The only true part is the first: “You will be gone.” From your perspective, the story ends here, if there are no gods. Now, your loved ones, they will live on. But you will not know it. They could all be put to death by torture the second you cease to breathe, and you would not care. You could not care. This is one of the greatest lies that atheist thought believes, that there is a state called having lived. That state does not exist in any meaningful fashion. Nonexistence is at the root of it. You will be gone. You will be as utterly gone as if you had never been. Nothing will matter, because you will not exist for it to matter TO. In that nonexistence, the greatest saints and sinners are equal to each other, because they are equal to nothing.
There are only two ways to get around this, and in my experience, most atheists will not do it: admit that morality is a complete and utter illusion, because there is no evidence anything aside from human preference for certain behaviors exist, or admit the existence of something resembling an afterlife (or at least an afterthought), which must be taken on faith.

I cannot live in a universe that is governed by the former admission. And I do not greatly care, for reasons that should be obvious by now, for anyone who impugns my reason or intellect for refusing so to live. Why should I care what that person thinks? By their own admission, they will shortly not exist, and their moral judgments are but present constructs of taste and fashion. I will shortly not exist, and will care for nothing.
This is why I will continue to live by faith. For only if there are gods, and they are just, is life possible. This is why I will raise my voice with Peter, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).

I will leave you with some actual words of Marcus Aurelius, who did know better than this. Ironically, this may be the quote on which the above drivel is based:

“But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence? But Gods there are, undoubtedly, and they regard human affairs; and have put it wholly in our power, that we should not fall into what is truly evil. “

I’m a lot closer to agreeing with that.

Found Theology: Lovers In A Dangerous Time

This is the first in a series I’m calling “Found Theology,” in which I find spiritual insights in the everyday materials of life.

If you are scandalized by the idea of finding spiritual things in the works of a band called Barenaked Ladies, this is not the blog you are looking for.

I’m not a student of contemporary music. My tastes are that ultimate statement of ignorance: I know what I like.

So I was listening to Barenaked Ladies on the way home, at the end of the kind of day that leaves you driving a race in dark streets against your own steadily closing eyelids, drawing in breath after steady breath, and trying to count down how many more of them you will have to take before you are allowed to rest. The day had been a scramble from one immediate thing to another, and finally, it was just me, the tatters of my mind, and the single voice of the soloist:

The hours grow shorter as the days go by.
We never get to stop and open our eyes.

I’ve listened to those lines in self-pity before, considering the time I don’t have. But that night, I wondered what the author was thinking when he wrote the chorus, the low, rising growl of the song’s very name: Lovers… in a dangerous time.

Who were these lovers? Were they torn apart by war? By codes that forbade romance across class? Race? Within gender? And what made the time so “dangerous” that the singer felt the need to boast about being such a lover? The pretentiousness hung there, threatening to drown the song in self-importance. There is not a word, not a single justification for the “danger” of the time to the lovers, not even a word of concern about the singer’s partner in this danger.

And that’s when my perspective turned along a new axis.
I had assumed that the song was about people in love with one another. About romance. But it can be just as easily about anyone who loves. Who loves anything. Because when you love — when you truly love — you put yourself in danger. You cannot help it. Any time is dangerous for a lover. To love a thing means to subordinate yourself to its well-being. To put it in the sacred and safe place where you are accustomed to seeing only your own ego.

How could we ever do this and think we were not in danger? How could we ever do this and think we would not be hurt?

These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This fragrant skin, this hair like lace.
Our spirits open to a thrust of grace.
Not a single breath you can afford to waste,

Lovers… in a dangerous time.

If you think you love something, or someone, and can keep doing that without being hurt, you are fooling yourself. The love that says, “I will love until I am hurt” is no love at all. Our culture has begun to believe the very dangerous lie that only painless love is worth having. That anyone who hurts you is an enemy, not to be trusted. An abuser, not to be endured. And there is real abuse and there are real enemies. Those problems should be dealt with swiftly and decisively. But love is pain. Anyone who says different, as one of the great love stories of our time puts it, is selling something. There is a reason that love stories are so often tragic. And the model we have for this sacrificial love is Christ, who subordinated Himself to our need for compassion and salvation even unto death: the death on the cross. Even God could not get away from the pain of love. We are not better than Him.

Somewhere In Orbit

Put All The Gods Back In Schools: Why We Need Religious Education

What would you say if the school systems of the nation refused to teach children about a subject that affected the entire population of the world for all of known history, and has been used both as a motivation to liberate, persecute, build and destroy nations? Would you not justifiably wonder at the ignorance and cowardice of the institutions that are supposed to be teaching our children? And yet no one seems to question the fact that our public schools systems by and large do not teach about the religious beliefs around which (and sometimes in spite of which) the moral structures we build our society upon rest. We ignore them entirely, and as a result, students have almost no understanding of what religions have taught or do teach, and which inform the actions of millions within the nation and billions outside of it. The result of this is a citizenry that is incapable of putting together the most rudimentary theological statements. They can neither examine nor defend a religious position, nor comprehend a religious text. They think all religious statements are opinions, on the level of “I like strawberry ice cream,” or “I’m a Chicago Bears fan.” They do not understand that for many of their fellow Americans, let alone the people of the world, religious faith is a matter beside which matters of life and death dwindle into insignificance. And because of that, we are unable to relate to our fellow humans.

You see, whether you believe that the Bible (or the Koran, or the Bhagavad-gita, etc.) is the Word of the Lord to Mankind or whether you believe it is the biggest pile of bullshit ever delivered — and certainly whether you like it or not (as if the world cares) — religion is, long-term, one of the most  successful ideas in human history. There have been gods before there were nations, before there were states, possibly even before there were economies. This is why I don’t take anyone too seriously when they say that the death of religion is just around the corner. These people are at best the equivalent of the liberal who, after Richard Nixon’s 49-state sweep in 1968 said, “I don’t know how McGovern lost; I don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon.”

Further, until the day that religion does go away, there is no one on the planet who can logically fail to have a religious position. “I believe in God” is a religious position. “God is a fairy-tale” is a religious position. “I don’t know” is a religious position. And your religious position, once known, affects the behavior of other people with religious positions toward you. Even refusing to declare a religious position will do that.

Therefore, we are doing a grave disservice to our children, to say nothing of our nation as a whole, when we do not teach about religions. And why do we not teach about religion? Because we are petrified of the potential consequences. We are scared that our children will be exposed to religions we don’t agree with. Our children might turn Muslim. Or atheist. Or Christian. To which I can only say: if you are so worried that being exposed to religious ideas other than your own in a class for a year or two might cause your child to embrace another religion than the “true” one you are teaching in your home, then you must not be doing a very good job of being the (un)religious leader of your household. I think that’s a big fear behind our unwillingness to consider this idea. We’re worried that our kids might become one of those people.

Oh, we pretend to have higher motives. We don’t want to “offend” anyone. Sure. So rather than make anyone the least bit uncomfortable, we, in the name of civil discourse, pretend that religion is either unimportant or does not exist. We are lying to them (which they know) and telling them that public discussion and debate about such things can’t happen because disagreeing with someone over such matters is tantamount to a declaration of enmity.

Is this the right lesson to teach in a democracy? Because we’re teaching it. That’s what we’re teaching by not teaching religion. That disagreement is hostility and war, and the only way to avoid that is to lie to one another. And a democracy cannot survive that loss of trust and honesty. No, what we need is a Comparative Religion course that forces our students to examine the different belief systems according to their own points of view. We take a comprehensive view of, say, the six-to-ten most practiced religions in the nation (yes, including atheism) and teach their historically-known origins, the origins as they see them, and an overview of the dominant doctrines. For kids who believe in a faith not represented, we let them have a day of class time to present their faith, or to invite a religious leader of their choosing to present it. No one is forced to pray to anything, or to participate in any overtly religious activity. No one is proselytizing. Everyone is studying, and learning what people believe.

Now about this time I expect to hear a few major whines:

“But why can’t Social Studies classes teach that? They teach history, and religion is part of that, right?”
Yeah, but it’s big enough to warrant its own class. That’s like asking why we teach US History and not just World History. Isn’t the US in the world? I can’t teach all the doctrines of even all the major religions. I’m not qualified to explain their theologies, and how they’ve changed, and why people act the way they do in support of them. I might be able to with some training, and time to teach them, though. Which means, having a separate class.

“But what about all those people pushing their own agenda? What about bad teachers who push THEIR religion onto MY kid?!”
Okay, seriously, you think you won’t hear about that? Treat it like you would any other incompetent or abusive teacher. Report it, complain about it, and if it gets bad enough, go elsewhere. If it’s real, and not just you being paranoid, it will be addressed. Bad teachers happen; this subject isn’t special.

“I like the way we do it now, because it does teach kids that religion is unimportant, and religion shouldn’t exist.”
Well, okay. That’s at least honestly said, but of course, you’re turning around and lying to the kids and they know it, as I said above. And you’re taking the position that it’s okay for the government to push the religious position of agnosticism on our children (because you acknowledge it is doing that), which is both unconstitutional, because it effectively violates the Establishment clause, and bad education, for reasons discussed above.

“But what if we get it wrong?!”
Okay, this one at least isn’t rooted completely in selfishness. But we get school wrong all the time. Ask any teacher. We will get it wrong, frequently. But it’s not the end of the world. We screw up, we learn, and we do better. We consult with religious leaders if we’re accused of misrepresenting matters of faith, we take their input, and we do better next time. Like adults who care.

Adults who care need to teach this, without fear or favor. Without flinching. Because otherwise we are further teaching a lie, and weakening ourselves.