The rest of what I said: on religion & facts

There wasn’t room for everything that I said in that interview the Washington Examiner did with me. So as not to waste anything, I’ll post the outtakes here:

1. A recent Pew study found that atheists and agnostics scored higher on a religion quiz than did people of faith. How important are facts to faith? And/or can God thrive when his followers lack an understanding of the facts?

Some people think religion is just a matter of what goes on in their heads. They make up something that works for them, they think, selecting from the great cosmic smorgasbord to construct a kind of spirituality that makes them feel better. Though Christians are guilty of this too, Christianity does not work like that. It teaches that God became Man, that Jesus is literally God in the flesh. And that somehow when He was executed by torture He bore the sins of the world, taking our punishment and letting His goodness count as ours. And that He rose again, physically, from the dead.

The whole Christian faith rests on facts. We can theorize, we can intellectualize, we can debate abstractions. But what if these things really happened, as historical objective facts? Then the theoretical discussions don’t really matter.

One of my pet peeves in theology is the way many Christians approach the problem of evil, how a good God could allow all of these bad things to happen. That’s a profound question. But the answers given often assume that God is some abstract deity looking down on the world from above. But Christianity teaches that God came into this world of suffering, that He Himself not only suffered but took the world’s evil into Himself, and that He redeemed it!

Not that this answers all of the questions, but it certainly complicates the issue and underscores the difference between the Christian God and God as most people conceive Him.

When conservative Christians were politically liberal

My point was apparently not clear in yesterday’s post about “government as a force for secularization.”
I’m trying to think through the history of conservative Christian’s stance towards politics. There was indeed a time when many if not most conservative Christians were politically liberal.

I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt, as they say, in small town Oklahoma, where most people were Southern Baptists. (Not us, we belonged to a liberal denomination.) But virtually everyone was liberal politically. There was no Republican Party in the county where I grew up. They were liberal when it came to economic policy. We thrived on government pork barrel projects, with our long-ensconced representatives building dams and lakes and waterways and all kinds of stuff. If there was a problem, we wanted the government to take care of it. And the reason was not resentment of Abraham Lincoln or anything racial. It was fidelity to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He brought us out of the depression, put us to work, started rural electrification, and on and on. None of our political heroes, from FDR to LBJ, did anything to challenge our Christian faith. It never occurred to them to do so.

Then came the Vietnam war. We were good LBJ Democrats, supporting him in his civil rights bill, the Great Society, and his crusade to bring Democracy to Vietnam. But then came another kind of liberal: The cultural liberal. The hippies and the yippies and the yahoos. Our boys volunteered to fight in Vietnam, but now these people are vilifying them. Then the Democrats started being on their side! Then we were getting things from our government like outlawing school prayer. Some of us saw the wisdom of that, but then the Supreme Court legalized abortion. The tide turned. As I heard people say, I didn’t leave the Democratic party; the Democratic party left me. We became Reagan Democrats. And now my county is solidly Republican.

Of course conservative Christians can be liberal politically. That was arguably the norm up until a few decades ago. But now things have changed. Most conservative Christians, not all, but most, are now alienated from their government, which in their eyes has become a force for secularization. Now they want a smaller government to minimize its power to threaten their way of life and their beliefs.

Could the Democrats win them back by focusing on economic and political liberalism, without the cultural liberalism? I suspect so. ButI don’t think that can happen now.

An interview with me

OK, I’m kind of embarrassed to be posting this, but the Washington Examiner did an interview with me.  It mentions you all at this “lively blog” twice, so I guess I should show it to you.  You can even see what I look like:

Credo: Gene Veith | Washington Examiner.

St. John the Hensley

My newest grandson, John Peter Hensley, was baptized yesterday.  It happened to be on the commemoration of the martyrdom of John the Baptist.  Pastor Douthwaite preached a remarkably good sermon, tying both of those events together, linking John the Baptizer with John the Baptized.  Finally, he announced that just as we have St. John the Baptist, we now have, by virtue of his baptism, St. John the Hensley.

And as if that were not enough, throughout the sermon, he also tied everything into vocation.  A sampling (Adam and Joanna being his parents; Johnno being the Australian nickname for John):

Not all heard John’s preaching as good news. And Adam and Joanna, I can fairly surely say that you will not hear all of little Johnno’s preaching to you as good news – especially when he calls out to you at 3 am, calling you to your vocation as father or mother to come and feed him, or to change his diaper. But he will call out, whether you like it or not, because that’s his vocation right now, calling you to your vocation, and so being God’s gift to you. That you may serve as you have been served. That you may love as you have been loved.

You won’t believe how good this sermon is.  You have got to read the whole thing, which has more insights than I can summarize.  The sermon is posted here:  St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist Sermon.

St. John the Hensley


Well, I just got back from the ordination of my son-in-law, Ned Moerbe, and his installation as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Blackwell, Oklahoma (just a few miles from our ancestral farm outside of Tonkawa). It was a great occasion. I counted 15 pastors taking part. The circuit is far flung, including Stillwater (where Oklahoma State University is), Guthrie (where my wife grew up), and Alva (where I was born). It was very moving when Ned was ordained and then started leading the service himself, including his first celebration of Holy Communion.

And then the pot-luck dinner afterwards that the church put on was one of the biggest and best I’ve experienced, with at least half a dozen different varieties of BBQ!

Now Ned’s a pastor. I am so happy for him, the rest of his family, and his congregation.

The Moerbes on ordination day

French food

I have more to tell you about my trip to France and Germany this summer. (I lectured at John Warwick Montgomery’s International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights, then stayed over to visit friends in Germany.) Today I will report on French food.

I have been to some French restaurants in the USA and, frankly, was not all that impressed. They were fine, but too fancy and expensive for my taste and my social condition. But over there the food was amazing. Every little sidewalk cafe in Strasbourg, no matter how humble, at least that I encountered, turned out food that was made from scratch with fresh ingredients, that was prepared with care, and that tasted spectacular. The French take food very seriously, with TWO HOUR lunchbreaks, and dinners that last all evening. (Restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 7:00 p.m.) Every meal has at least three courses: a first course (the “entree,” meaning the introductory course, not the main course as in our usage), the main course, and dessert. Even the student restaurants followed this structure. (Students have not cafeterias but actual restaurants scattered throughout the university area of the city, with payment via a meal card.)

I ate at a little creperie (you know, crepes, like pancakes) in the shadow of the cathedral. These were not little doughy white pasty confections such as I have had here. These were made out of buckwheat and fried crisp and dark, with a kind of charred taste that combined perfectly with the filling of melted Gruyere cheese, ham, and onions. So savory. Talk about (as we have) umami tsunami. Washed down with a carafe of local cider, which the waitress replenished for free, thinking that the kitchen was taking too long. (The service was nearly always friendly, hospitable, efficient, and joyful.) For dessert she brought me another kind of crispy crepe filled with pears and chocolate topped with ice cream. It was one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.

This was in the Alsace region. Each region of France has its own cuisine. Food in the Alsace, but also I believe the rest of France, does lots with sauces and features an abundance of butter, cream, and cheese. We Americans are encouraged to fear such food. Clogged arteries! Heart attack! Obesity! And yet, in one of the greatest medical mysteries, the French people who eat this stuff all the time are some of the slimmest, healthiest, and heart-disease free people in the world. (Some think that is due to the wine, which flows freely at meals.)

Other highlights: pate de frois gras. I hate liver and I sympathize with the poor ducks and geese getting force fed so their livers will grow. I am not condoning that practice. But the resulting product offers what has to be one of the great taste sensations ever. It doesn’t even taste like liver. It is like the essence of meat conveyed in a medium with the texture and the mouth feel of butter.

And there are all of these little touches in the way the French serve food and orchestrate flavors. For example, lemon sorbet (desserts are usually quite light) served with a splash of brandy.

I forgive France for not wanting to take part in American wars. (They have fought enough wars in all of their history. As for jokes about them losing, I remind you that Napoleon came close to conquering the world. We don’t want a militarily powerful France.) I forgive them for the sake of their food.

UPDATE: After my visit, back in this country, I was taken to a French restaurant in Moscow, Idaho, which measured up to the continental standards. So such good food can be found here, as well. Watch for an actual French chef.

OK, now you can tell about great meals YOU have had. (It’s a challenge to describe tastes. But try it.)