Obama’s confession of faith

President Obama was asked at a recent meeting with voters why he was a Christian.  Here is what he said:

“I’m a Christian by choice,” the president said. “My family, frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew but she didn’t raise me in the church, so I came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead. Being my brothers and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me, and I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes and we achieve salvation through the grace of God.”

Mr. Obama went on: “But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day.’’ Yet he said that as president, he also “deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith.’’

via Obama Talks About His Faith – NYTimes.com.

Though this is hardly complete theologically and reflects his liberal mainline Protestant roots, is this confession of faith–especially the part about “Christ dying for my sins”– enough to make you think that he is, in fact, a Christian?

Do atheists know more about religion than the religious?

That’s what a Pew Research study of “religious knowledge” suggests:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

via U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey – Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

But look more closely.  The study also found that evangelicals and (again) Mormons know more about Christianity than atheists and other groups do.  Atheists do better when it comes to world religions.  But that shouldn’t be too surprising.

Here are some findings:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims.

Look more closely still: Here is the complete questionnaire. Is it really much of a religious knowledge test? It doesn’t ask anything about who Christians think Jesus is, for example. There is nothing on the Trinity. Or the atonement. Of course, people who don’t know the first book of the Bible (to take another example) are unlikely to know the more important teachings of Christianity. Still, a more substantive test would be more helpful. Do atheists know what Christians believe, beyond knowing the general facts about Christians and the history and politics of Christianity?

HT:  tODD

Is a major terrorist attack imminent?

Something seems to be brewing among jihadist terrorists, with officials in Europe and the United States on high alert.

US and European officials said Tuesday they have detected a plot to carry out a major, coordinated series of new terror attacks in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and possibly the United States.

A senior US official said that while there is a “credible” threat, no specific time or place is known. President Obama has been briefed about the threat, say senior US officials.

Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the threat information is based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

US law enforcement officials say they have been told the terrorists were planning a series of “Mumbai-style” commando raids on what were termed “economic or soft” targets in the countries. . . .

The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.

via ‘Credible But Not Specific’ Threat of New Terrorist Attack – ABC News.

But it may be that the plot has been disrupted to the point that the plans will not be carried out.  In the meantime, there are sure lots of nervous law enforcement officers, as we see in Georgia:  “A team of federal agents has been stopping tractor-trailers on Interstate 20 just west of Atlanta, inspecting each truck as it passed through a weigh station, and Channel 2 has learned its part of a counter-terrorism operation.”

Conference on Lutheranism & the Classics

I’ll be heading out to the seminary at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, for the conference on Lutheranism & the Classics October 1-2.  I’ll be giving a paper on Luther and the Liberal Arts.  If you are in the neighborhood or can come to the neighborhood, ome out for it!  For more information, go here: Concordia Theological Seminary – Lutheranism & the Classics.

The Rich Man & Lazarus

Those of us whose churches follow the three-year lectionary on Sunday heard  the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and very likely heard a sermon about it.  Last week we had what I found to be a very enlightening trading of notes on a rather challenging parable.  Let’s do that again with this parable.

Here is some of what our Pastor Douthwaite said about it.  (Read the whole sermon, which delves into some fascinating details in the text that are very illuminating.)

Don’t assume things about God, that you know what God is doing and why He’s doing it. That’s a dangerous thing to do, although (it seems to me), it’s done all the time. Don’t assume God is your friend because your life is good, and don’t assume God is against you because things are difficult and trials are many. The truth may be exactly the opposite. The man who had been so rich was now eternally poor, and the man who had been so poor was now eternally rich. . . .

Jesus has come to turn beggars into rich men. For He was the truly rich man who for our sakes became poor (2 Cor 8:9). Who came to all of us Lazarus,’ not to dip only the tip of His finger in water, but to give us the living water of His Word that we may drink and never thirst again (John 7:37-38). Who came not merely to soothe our wounds with the licking of dogs, but to wash and cleanse and heal us from the leprosy of our sin with His forgiveness. And who came to feed us not with crumbs from His table, but with the feast He has come to provide – the feast of His own Body and Blood. And these gifts He comes to give to all people, whether they be rich or poor on the outside, whether they be notorious or hidden sinners – for spiritually, we are all Lazarus’. Crippled and left to die by sin. Wholly dependent on the mercy of God. And so we pray: Lord, have mercy.

And He does. Always. Jesus is no rich man that bypasses, steps over, or ignores those in need. Who feeds the dogs and not His children. Never. For whether or not you have riches in this world, the Spirit, through the Word of God – through Moses and the prophets – directs our eyes where true riches are to be found. The riches that poured forth from the cross. The cross which shows us who God truly is, what God has done for you, and how much God loves you. So that we never have to guess or assume the mind of God – the cross is the mind of God. Who came for you, to die for you, to forgive you. . . .

But there is another clue to Lazarus’ faith, when Abraham told the rich man: “Besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Now, it makes sense that those in torment would want to cross from there to the comfort of heaven; but who would want to cross the other way? Why would Abraham say that . . . unless, perhaps, it was Lazarus who was ready to do so. To comfort the one who refused him comfort. To serve the one who refused him service. To help the one who refused him help. For is this not the love of Christ, who did these things for us on the cross? Is this not the love of Christ living in Lazarus’ heart?

That is the love that has been given to you. By the one who did cross the chasm – the only one who could – and served you who were dead in your trespasses and sins, to raise you to a new life in Him. A new life of faith and forgiveness, and of love and service – even to those who sin against you.

For now, we bear the cross – but it will not always be so. A day of rest is coming for all who are in Christ.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 18 Sermon.

What did you pastor do with this (or, if you are a pastor, what did you do with it)?  What did you learn from this text?  How did it affect you?

Wiretapping the internet

The Obama administration is seeking the authority to wiretap the internet–including Facebook, Skype, smart phone e-mails, and every other kind of online communication–and to force sites to provide unencrypted access to law enforcement agencies. From the New York Times:

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.

Webmonk, who alerted me to the issue, has some special expertise on the subject and offers some useful explanation:

I developed software for police departments to do (almost) exactly this – wiretap an Internet signal. That is perfectly legal (in most jurisdictions) as long as one has a warrant – the police take their software/hardware to the Internet Service Provider, and hook it up to whichever of their routers happens to funnel the subject’s Internet traffic. My software made a copy of every bit that the subject passed in or out and stored it. Then, the police could go look at that stored information.

The problem we ran into was encryption: encryption encodes the information being passed back and forth so that even if someone is listening in the middle (hackers, police, stalker) and can see what is going back and forth, they can’t decode the message to understand the contents. . . .

The same sort of thing that helps keep my banking information from being stolen can also keep illegal activity safe. Most of the websites that we were interested in knowing the subject’s activity, used encryption, so the police weren’t able to see the details of what the person was saying or doing on that site.

The difference in what I developed and what is being proposed here is that this would require all “communications” websites to install software that would allow the government (with a warrant, presumably) to access everything that someone was doing in an UNENCRYPTED form.

For example: Facebook uses encryption. If the police get a warrant to tap your Internet signal, they can see that you are going to Facebook, but they can’t see what you are doing on there. The proposed law would require Facebook to install software that somehow provides a completely UNENCRYPTED copy of what you are doing on their site to the lawman with a warrant because Facebook could be used by (rather dumb) terrorists to communicate with each other. This would apply to all websites that provide “communications” of some sort.

So what do you think about this? Is it a legitimate update of law enforcement needs in light of new technology or a dangerous assault on civil liberties? Do you see anything wrong with this statement?: I don’t do anything wrong, so I don’t have anything to hide. Might there be a time when a law aimed at terrorists could be used against other “subversive” groups, such as Tea Partiers? Or Christians?

HT: Webmonk


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