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From Godlessness to Ghosts

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Not quite on topic, but a good indicator of why humanistic naturalists tend to borrow the terminology and trappings of Christianity:

From the New York Times:

Ghosts, or at least belief in them, have been around for centuries but they have now found a particularly strong following in highly secular modern countries like Norway, places that are otherwise in the vanguard of what was once seen as Europe’s inexorable, science-led march away from superstition and religion. While churches here may be largely empty and belief in God, according to opinion polls, in steady decline, belief in, or at least fascination with, ghosts and spirits is surging… “God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum,” said Roar Fotland, a Methodist preacher and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo. Instead of slowly eliminating religion, as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and other theorists predicted, modernity has only channeled religious feelings in unexpected ways, Mr. Fotland said. “Belief in God, or at least a Christian God, is decreasing but belief in spirits is increasing,” he added, describing this as part of a general resurgence of “premodern religion…” Arild Romarheim, a Lutheran priest and recently retired theology lecturer, described the conviction of well-educated atheists and agnostics that ghosts exist as “the paradox of modernity” — a revival of old beliefs to slake an innate human thirst for a spiritual life left unsatisfied by the decline of the church.1


  1. Hat tip to Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing” podcast []

Prayer, Action, and Broken Plates

Last night Christina and I were talking in the back of the house while our two children were finishing supper in the dining room. Our conversation centered around goals that we desired to meet and our frustration in not being able to meet them. After the discussion, we prayed together, asking the Lord to help us meet our desires and expectations. As we prayed, my wife jokingly said, “Lord, don’t let Samuel (our 20 month old) throw his plate from the high chair and break it while we’re back here.” I thought to myself, “I should get up and go get that from him.” As we continued to pray, I heard his fork hit the floor. I thought, “At the very least I should shout out to him not to throw his plate down.” About thirty seconds later, I heard the plate shatter.

The Holy Spirit immediately brought to mind that this was an example of how I often pray. I ask God to help me accomplish a certain goal, then wait in hopes that it will come to pass. The Spirit prompts me to act, but I remain still. I knew exactly how to stop that plate from being broken the moment we realized that it was a possibility, but I was too distracted and comfortable to get up and take action.

Distraction and comfort. These are the enemies of the Believer. Whether it be other desires, less important but higher prioritized, or the simple pull of relaxation, our prayers will be for naught if we refuse to take action when the Spirit commands. Peter knocked at the door while the supplicants inside ignored the summons and continued to pray. Likewise, the Spirit often calls us to act on our own holy desires and we instead continue to ask, hoping some other force will act for us.

Put aside spiritual laziness and temporal comfort. Act when the Spirit answers!

The Liberty of Restraint

I was struck the familiarity of the following complaint, recorded by Philip Hone, New York City, 1837:

We have become the most careless, reckless, headlong people on the face of the earth. ‘Go ahead’ is our maxim and pass-word, and we do go ahead with a vengeance, regardless of consequences and indifferent to the value of human life.1

If there is one characteristic that most wholly encompasses the definition of worldliness, it is lack of restraint. Mankind has always strived to push past boundaries. Eve, in the garden of Eden, defied the sole restrain in the universe because she “saw that it was good to the eyes,”2 and the scoffers of the last days will “walk according to their own lusts.”3 We built towers up to heaven when God said to “fill the earth,” and we crucified the Holy One who came down from heaven, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us.”4 Even as infants, we break rules merely because they restrict.

The world defies restrictions. They must be systematically and methodically eliminated, regardless of the ultimate cost. This is why those who live according to the example of Christ will be hated by the world. Life in Christ consists of servitude and restraint – the bending of our will away from ourselves and toward the will of God – anathema to a world enslaved to self.

A. T. Pierson, the famous 19th century abolitionists and urban preacher, wrote the following:

True freedom is found only in obedience to proper restraint. A river finds liberty to flow, only between banks: without these it would only spread out into a slimy, stagnant pool. Planets, uncontrolled by law, would only bring wreck to themselves and to the universe. The same law which fences us in, fences others out; the restraints which regulate our liberty also insure and protect it.5

So it is with followers of Christ. May we embrace the restraint of Christ and resist the prideful anarchy of the world, so that we can share in the life of true liberty from sin and self.6

 


  1. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848, by Daniel Walker Howe, p. 214 []
  2. Genesis 3:6 []
  3. 2 Peter 3:3 []
  4. Luke 19:14 []
  5. Taken from William MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary, excerpt from commentary on Galatians 5:2-15 []
  6. Weird footnote: I got the idea for this blog post while reading What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848, by Daniel Walker Howe. He quotes the “famous Christian businessmen and philanthropists Arthur and Lewis Tappan.” The quote led me to the Philip Hone passage, written in 1837. Then, in reading various other passages, I came across the last quote by A. T. Pierson, as recorded by William MacDonald. I looked up A. T. Pierson, and to my amazement, he was born in 1837 and was named after Arthur Tappan. Such a strange set of coincidences! []

Circles of Fellowship

Ryrie on fellowship across theological lines:

We also need to be realistic about the matter of priority in fellowship. Fellowship means sharing in common, and all areas of fellowship are not equal, simply because they do not involve the same sharing. Fellowship on the horizontal plane (that is, with other human beings) is like a series of concentric circles.

The largest circle includes all people with whom we have a certain kind of fellowship. We are to do good to all (Gal. 6:10) and to show respect in our speech to all people, believers and unbelievers, simply because all were created in the image of God (James 3:9).

The next largest circle includes all Christians. We have a certain kind of fellowship with them regardless of their affiliations or beliefs. God has done something miraculous and eternal for every person in that circle of fellowship, and we all share in common that internal divine work.

Some of the smaller circles may be our particular church fellowship or a doctrinal fellowship, such as is shared in an educational or mission affiliation. It could also be a small group or a Sunday school class, or a group of Christians serving in a specific ministry.

Cutting across all these circles is the personal factor. We obviously do not share to the same extent the fellowship we have within a given circle. Our Lord shared certain things with Peter, James, and John that He did not share with the others who were in that circle of the Twelve. As well as personal factors, there may be legitimate sociological factors that cut across the circles, and certainly geographical factors themselves limit fellowship.

The point is simply this: Circles of fellowship are not in themselves wrong; it is our failure or refusal to recognize some of them that is wrong. When someone fails to recognize the larger circles and builds a wall of doctrine or practice around the smaller one, refusing ever to move out of these circles for any reason, he is in error. Equally wrong is the attempt to make believers have the same kind of fellowship with all other believers and not allow them to have the smaller circles of fellowship.

From Charles C. Ryrie’s book, Dispensationalism, Chapter 12: A Plea

We Have Forgotten What This Is Like

From William McDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary:

These are some of the ministries of the Spirit which are realized in a person the moment he is saved. Everyone who is in Christ automatically has the baptism, the indwelling, the anointing, the earnest, and the seal.

But the filling is different. It is not a once-for-all crisis experience in the life of a disciple; rather it is a continuous process. The literal translation of the command is “Be being filled with the Spirit.” It may begin as a crisis experience, but it must continue thereafter as a moment-by-moment process. Today’s filling will not do for tomorrow. And certainly it is a state greatly to be desired. In fact, it is the ideal condition of the believer on earth. It means that the Holy Spirit is having His way relatively ungrieved in the life of the Christian, and that the believer is therefore fulfilling his role in the plan of God for that time.

How then can a believer be filled with the Spirit? The Apostle Paul does not tell us here in Ephesians; he merely commands us to be filled. But from other parts of the word, we know that in order to be filled with the Spirit we must:

  • Confess and put away all known sin in our lives (1 John 1:5-9). It is obvious that such a holy Person cannot work freely in a life where sin is condoned.
  • Yield ourselves completely to His control (Romans 12:1-2). This involves the surrender of our will, our intellect, our body, our time, our talents, and our treasures. Every area of life must be thrown open to His dominion.
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). This involves reading the word, studying it, and obeying it. When the word of Christ dwells in us richly, the same results follow (Colossians 3:16) as follow the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:19).
  • Finally, we must be emptied of self (Galatians 2:20). To be filled with a new ingredient a cup must first be emptied of the old. To be filled with Him, we must first be emptied of us.

Does a person know it when he is filled with the Spirit? Actually, the closer we are to the Lord, the more we are conscious of our own complete unworthiness and sinfulness (Isaiah 6:1-5). In His presence, we find nothing in ourselves to be proud of (Luke 5:8). We are not aware of any spiritual superiority over others, any sense of “having arrived.” The believer who is filled with the Spirit is occupied with Christ and not with self.

At the same time, he may have a realization that God is working in and through his life. He sees things happen in a supernatural way. Circumstances click miraculously. Lives are touched for God. Events move according to a divine timetable. Even forces of nature are on his side; they seem chained to the chariot wheels of the Lord. He sees all this; he realizes that God is working for and through him; and yet he feels strangely detached from it all as far as taking any credit is concerned. In his inmost being, he realizes it is all of the Lord.

Music Pick – Luca Stricagnoli’s “Braveheart” Instrumental

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Music Picks

I’m not going to say much about this one. Just watch and listen and be amazed at the talent this one-man-band displays.

You can find more of his work and purchase his music at candyrat.com.

This Is What It’s Like to Break Every Rule

When I was still young, I realized that I was missing something. I wasn’t sure what it was, but then someone told me. I was being imprisoned by the dictates of a theocracy that denied my most basic rights.

Not long ago I did the one thing almost everyone said I shouldn’t do, what good God-fearing girls don’t do. I may have lost my innocence, but I gained so much more. I understand now what it’s like to make my own choices, to have a will all my own, to be responsible for my own decisions. I feel a freedom that only those who leave behind everything they loved can feel. I have a sense of life that only those who truly understand mortality can have. I was liberated – able to finally do what was right in my own eyes, and not in the eyes of others.

When I told my companion that I feared doing it, he suggested to me that that those who judge often have ulterior motives. The desires that I had kept hidden away from everyone were justified – I needed to break the bonds they put on me. I wanted the best for me. They wanted to keep the best from me. I believed him.

When I did it, the effect was immediate. I felt vulnerable, very exposed. Something you didn’t think anyone would know about, suddenly everyone knew. I wasn’t alone in my decision, though. The one I thought would be most resistant chose to accept my decision. Seeing his shift to my way of thinking was amazing – it gave me confidence in my decision. His participation with me really validated my choice. But those I thought were closest to me were the first to condemn me. They said my decision put an almost insurmountable barrier between us. I was told that I had to leave my home or else. Their henchmen picketed my place of birth. Some carried threatening weapons. I was separated from everything I was meant to be. I felt like I had to hide, to cover myself.

I came out of my past into a different creation, and it’s been a hard journey. There’s a lot of things in my past I’ll never be able to get back, and I have to learn to live with it. But it has transformed the way I see the world, the way people experience me, like I’m 100% human. It feels like everything has gone from black or white to a rainbow of choices. Everyone has noticed it. It changed everything.

I tasted the forbidden fruit, and I have grown wise because of it.1

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened…”2


  1. Obviously, you’ve figured out this is a reference to Eve. However, this is a counter-factual Eve, a caricature of what she would be like in our post-modern, celebratory-of-sin society. She gained wisdom, but is forced to ignore or downplay the reality of her decision’s terrible costs. []
  2. Genesis 3:6-7 []

Abortion – The Modern Moloch

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were constantly straying into idolatry, and one false god that snared them is specifically connected to the hideous practice of infant sacrifice. The Ammonite idol Moloch was worshipped first by the Canaanites, who then transmitted their practices to the Israelites. The worship of Moloch, which included ritualized carnal acts as well as infant sacrifice, was associated with intercession for the idol’s favor – a plea for prosperity.

Jewish tradition describes the practice of infant sacrifice:

Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass, having the face of an ox; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.1

This practice is depicted as possibly the worst offense committed by the Israelites, as it is often listed first, and frequently singled out – though it could be included in the general condemnation of idolatry. God, speaking through Ezekiel, said,

Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire?2

This offense is so great that, even after its chief perpetrator, Manasseh, repented in his old age and his grandson, Josiah, led a great revival, God still pronounced destruction on the Israelites of Judah:

Now before [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.3

modern molech cartoonThroughout history, Moloch has been portrayed as a proxy for the sacrifice of innocents in order to gain material well-being. In 1923, backlash against a frightening increase in the number  of pedestrian children being killed by motor vehicles led to a St. Louis Star political cartoon entitled, The Modern Moloch, in which a man offers a platter of children’s corpses to the leering grill of a monstrous car. In Fritz Lang’s 1927 blockbuster silent film Metropolis, workers are thrown to their deaths to oil the cogs of Mol0ch, a giant machine that powers the wealthy upper city.  In his volume, The Gathering Storm (1948), Winston Churchill described the near worship of Adolf Hitler and his prewar economic reforms in Molechian terms.

The similarities between this idolatrous infant sacrifice and today’s mass murder of the unborn are revealing. Most abortions are at the alter of modern prosperity – a sacrifice in order to increase the chance of gaining or keeping prosperity. Attempts to keep mothers from seeing imagery of the unborn children conjure up the drowning out of infant cries with beating of drums in an attempt to keep the mother’s “heart from being moved.” The methods of killing are far more cruel than even Rabbi Itzhaki’s chilling description.

Despite American evangelicalism’s fixation on sexual impurity, it does seem “a small matter” compared with the fifty-six MILLION unborn legally killed in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973. By 2020, the number of children killed in the U.S. will be higher than TWICE the current population of Canada. I fear that, even if we experience a revival equal to that of Josiah, the “great wrath” of God will not be stayed, because of “all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.”

God help us.

 


  1. Commentary on Jeremiah 7:31, by Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki, 1040-1105AD []
  2. Ezekiel 16:20-21 []
  3. 2 Kings 23:25-26 []

Music Pick – Unbreakable

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Music Picks

 

The soundtrack for Unbreakable, scored by James Newton Howard, is as understated and underrated as the movie. In particular, I love the 12th track – The Orange Man. It starts with a mellow brass fanfare flavored with a Lawrence of Arabia vibe (it actually sounds a little Jerry Goldsmith’s Mummy score, though with less crisp urgency). After a brief crescendo that segues into the main theme, a dozen seconds of tension form an interlude.  Then, with a roll of kettle drums, the score quickly resolves into a full reprisal of the theme.

Now comes the best part, and the reason I picked this track. I am an absolute sucker for what I call “the silver trumpet.” This is the punctuation of a score with the strong melodic line of a single brass instrument. I’ll post more of these later. In this case, the silver trumpet sounds at 1:13 mark, and gradually blends into the strong finale. It is glorious. The track ends with a few thoughtful piano chords.

You can purchase the track or the album at Amazon.com.

Right Questions, Wrong Places

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, November 10, 2014 – Review of the move Interstellar

It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s soulless. It’s possessed of forces that would rip you to ribbons the second you dared to step off the tiny planetary beachhead it has permitted us. What’s more, it completely defies understanding, at least for anyone who’s not fluent in the language of singularities and space-time and wormholes and all the rest. But never mind, because we believe in it all—and oh, how we love it. Big cosmology has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you’ve heard of a thing called faith, right? Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking—people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don’t even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood.

Interstellar will unavoidably help us look at the cosmos more as cathedral than void—a place to contemplate the riddles of space and time, yes, but life, death and love too. That’s explicit in the movie.