Totalitarianism vs. Religion

Mussolini_cropSome atheists accuse religion of being inherently “totalitarian.”  But, as sociologist Chandler Rosenberger, points out, this isn’t true.

The word “totalitarian,” coined by Italian fascists, was defined by Mussolini as “everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”  (Limited government conservatives:  Memorize this definition.)

Prof. Rosenberger explains how religion is usually a check against totalitarianism, which is why totalitarians try so hard to stamp it out. [Read more…]

The Jewish argument for “closed” Passover meals

Seder_PlateMany churches during Holy Week hold a “Seder” meal, a version of the Jewish Passover celebration that was the context for Christ’s “Last Supper” in which He established Holy Communion.

Those Christian seders are interesting in their symbolism.  But there are problems with Christians celebrating a Jewish ritual.  Not only are there Christian reasons not to celebrate the Passover, but there are also Jewish reasons.

This is explained by two Jewish rabbis writing in Christianity Today.  Their fascinating article shows an impressive understanding of both Christian and Jewish theology.  They point out that Jesus did not, in fact, eat a Seder meal.  He ate the Passover, but not the ritual as practiced by Jews and now some Christians today, which was started long after the destruction of the Temple.  They also explain why it is disrespectful for one religion to take over the rituals of another.

Their argument is sort of a Jewish version of what Lutherans take heat for in their practice of “closed Communion,” that those who commune together should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith.  Call this “closed Passover.”

[Read more…]

Jokes about race and sex are out, so religion takes their place

bully-624747_640In the culture of the workplace, it is now taboo to make jokes about race.  Nor can you make jokes about ethnicity.  Nor can you make jokes about disabilities.  Now you can no longer make jokes about sex.  Or gender.  So what can you make jokes about?  Religion.

Those now forbidden attempts at humor at other people’s expense were part of the pattern of bullying and harassment that sometimes took place at work.  Sexist humor often offended women in the office.  Now religious people are feeling the harassment.

So says a British study, reported on after the jump.  Do you think this is happening in the United States as well?  Why do you think workers–usually, ironically, in the jolly spirit of camaraderie–feel they have to find a class of people to target?  [Read more…]

Why April is the cruelest month

A_view_across_the_desert_landscape_of_Big_Bend_National_Park,_Texas“April is the cruelest month.”  That snatch of poetry always comes to mind when the calendar turns to April Fool’s Day.  But surely April isn’t the cruelest month!  April showers bring May flowers!   April marks the time when Winter is over and Spring has sprung!  So why would the poet T. S. Eliot say that April is the cruelest month?

Well, that is the first line of a long, difficult poem called “The Waste Land.”  It plays off of the legend of the Holy Grail.  When the chalice Christ used for the first Holy Communion was lost, due to a terrible sacrilege, the whole country turned into a waste land.  Vegetation died, turning the land to desert.  Nothing would grow.  Animals stopped giving birth.  Life became barren, sterile, dry.

Eliot was using that legend to explore what he saw as the spiritual wasteland of modern times.  Here too we have lost what is sacred.  He describes our emotional wasteland.  He writes about the sterility and lifelessness of the Waste Land in terms of uncommunicative marriages; a bored typist and a house-agent clerk who engage in unloving, dehumanizing sex; a woman who casually talks about her abortion.

April is the cruelest month, to people like that, because they don’t want the new life that Spring heralds.  They are happy to be spiritually dead.  They don’t want to be born again.  They feel threatened by the rain that could bring new life to the desert of their lives.  They think the prospect of new life is cruel.

In the course of the poem, amidst many other patterns of imagery, we find the motif of “death by water.”  At the end of the poem, a quester is walking in the desert towards the ruined grail chapel.  He has the sense that someone is walking beside him.  (Eliot’s footnote identifies the allusion as pointing to Christ on the road to Emmaus.)  At the very end of the poem, it is thundering and starting to rain.  Soon after he published the poem, T. S. Eliot was baptized.  Water brought life to Eliot’s own personal wasteland.

The most acclaimed, innovative, and radical poet of the modernist movement, who knew the waste land in his own heart, converted to Christianity.

[Read more…]

Student suspended for disagreeing with Muslim professor

male-213729_640Muslims believe that Jesus was not really crucified.  According to the Qur’an, 

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah“;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power.  (Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157-158)

This is taken to mean either that Allah substituted someone else for Jesus, making the other person look like the “prophet,” or that he created an illusion so that a spirit-shape only appeared to be Jesus, which was the teaching of some Gnostics.  In any event, Muslims believe that Jesus, while He existed and was a great prophet, did not really die on the Cross, but that He was rather taken up into Heaven.

At Rollins College, a Muslim professor, in light of his religious commitment, claimed outright that Jesus’s crucifixion was a hoax.  A Christian student took issue with that and argued otherwise.  Whereupon he failed the class and got suspended from school.

Let me offer some perspective based on my four decades as a professor:  In a secular school, professors may talk about religion, including their own, as long as it is relevant to the course and as long as they do so objectively, without imposing their religious views on their students.  In discussing Milton, even when I was teaching in a secular college, I could talk about the Christian concepts of creation, fall, and redemption.  “This is what Milton believed.  You need to know this to understand Paradise Lost.”

The professor here could say, “We Muslims don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross.”  That would be interesting and could prompt some illuminating discussion.  But in claiming outright that Jesus’s death was a “hoax” and then punishing a student for disagreeing, in accord with his own Christian religion, the professor was clearly “imposing” his religious beliefs on the class.  Professors aren’t supposed to do that.

But what about issues of diversity?  Wasn’t the student being insensitive to the professor’s religious beliefs?  Cultural diversity, sensitivity, tolerance, etc., are supposed to manifest themselves in the way faculty members treat students!  Not the way students treat faculty!

Faculty members have the power here.  It’s their job to treat their students appropriately, including showing respect for their religious sensibilities.

I don’t know the whole story.  Maybe the student was disruptive, disrespectful, and breaking other campus rules.  But treating Muslims equally means holding Muslim professors to the same standards as Christian professors in the way they handle their religious beliefs in their classes. [Read more…]

Praying the Catechism

Many Christians have problems praying.  Our minds wander; we run through our wants and needs; we forget what to pray for; and we soon turn to something else.

Christians in the past, though, often prayed “with” a text that would direct, inspire, and be a catalyst for their prayers.  The Lord’s Prayer was not just repeated verbatim, though that was part of it.  Each petition of the prayer sparked personal prayer–how can I do God’s will?  What “daily bread” do I need?  What temptations do I need to be delivered from?

Scriptures such as the Ten Commandments would also be prayed.  Luther suggested finding in each commandment, an instruction (“I must honor my father and my mother”), a thanksgiving (“Thank you, God, for giving me my parents”), a confession (“I have been neglecting my mother”), and a petition (“Lord, help my parents with their health and money problems. . . .”).

Luther also advocated praying the Creed, and in doing so, addressing the Triune God and receiving His promises of grace.

The Catechism itself is not just an educational handbook for the instruction of children.  Rather, it is an inexhaustible source book for prayer, meditation, and the richest, deepest devotions.

John Pless unpacks all of this in his book Praying the Catechism. [Read more…]