Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Proposition 8 Has Nothing To Do With Being Gay or Straight

NOTE: Thank you for all who responded to this post. It made me realize that in wanting to put this out as quickly and efficiently as possible, I left out important clarifications and qualifications. I hope to revise and rework this argument soon to better flesh out my own argument and respond to your criticisms.

“A federal appeals court on Tuesday [Feb. 7, 2012] declared California's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, putting the bitterly contested, voter-approved law on track to reach the U.S. Supreme Court,” reads an article put out by the Huffington Post. The Great Prop 8 Debate of ’08 has flared up again as those who oppose CA Proposition 8 celebrate a victory, while supporters plan to make an appeal to the US Supreme Court. This decision was made by the appeals court because Prop 8 was “a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians”. If this were true, it seems that supporters of Prop 8 are guilty of essentially being the same as racists who opposed the civil rights bills in the ‘60s. However, I contend that neither Prop 8 nor the entire same-sex marriage debate are in any way similar to the Civil Rights Movement. I think this for one fundamental reason.

Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

This may seem like a strange statement, especially if you are only used to hearing the (admittedly) bad arguments coming from supporters of Prop 8, or agree with virtually all of its opponents. It is, though, the most logical conclusion.

Let’s assume that the courts did not in fact overturn Proposition 8. For clarification, Prop 8 is not actually so much a ban on same-sex marriage, more than it is an affirmation that opposite-sex marriage is the only viable and ought to be the only legal form of marriage. I’m sure you can think of all kinds of combinations that Prop 8 “bans” (If you’re having trouble, think of all the fallacious slippery-slope arguments that Prop 8 supporters sometimes use: bestiality, pedophilia, polygamous etc). Still, this has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Consider the following situations:

A heterosexual male marries a heterosexual male.

A homosexual male marries a homosexual female.

Which of the two situations is legal under Proposition 8? That’s right, the marriage between two homosexuals! Doesn’t that entail that Proposition 8 doesn’t actually discriminate against sexual orientation? I think so.

Mirriam-Webster defines “civil rights” as “the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially: the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to United States citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress” [emphasis added]. So, the obvious question is “If Prop 8 is ‘a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians’, and homosexuals as individuals are allowed to marry, then in what way is a homosexual stripped of his or her personal liberty to marry?” If there is none, then it seems obvious to me that Prop 8 isn’t a violation of civil rights.

“Aha!” the defender of “gay rights” responds, “But Prop 8 does discriminate against homosexual couples!” Perhaps, in a sense. Prop 8 discriminates against marriage between two men or two women, but this is regardless of sexual orientation. We’re no longer talking about same-sex marriage as a question of civil rights, which is what my arguments sought to do. Now we can reach the actual issue at hand and stop talking past each other, as the two sides have done for almost four years. You can still object to Proposition 8, just not on the grounds of a violation of civil rights.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CGtM: Stairway to Heavens (Part 1)

“Contrary to the views found in the uninspired teachings of the creeds of modern Christendom, there are in eternity kingdoms of glory to which resurrected persons…will eventually go. These are named: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial – the glory of each being beyond mortal comprehension” –McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 420.

I don’t think I have to say too much to show that this is radically different from the Christian (or any other theistic faith out there for that matter) conception of heaven. Not to mention the bit about “the uninspired teachings of the creeds of modern Christendom”. Keeping on track, just what are these different kingdoms of heaven, also called the “Degrees of Glory”?

A nice description of these kingdoms can be found in Doctrine and Covenants 76: 50-112. I’ll point out the important verses, but feel free to look up this section on your own.

Let’s begin at the top: the Celestial Kingdom. This is where God the Father resides. It is what all other religions call “heaven” (assuming their religion has a heaven). Perhaps more important than the question “what is it?” is the question “who gets there?”. “They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized…That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins…These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever…unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all…These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all…”

Next is the Terrestrial Kingdom. It is where people who lived before Christ, moral non-Mormons and Mormons who don’t keep the law are held. Beginning with verse 17, “And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn [those in the Celestial Kingdom] who have received the fullness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament [sky]. Behold these are they who died without law…These are they who are men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fullness…wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial…These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus…”

Then, there is the Telestial Kingdom, whose glory is better than mortal humans, but not as great as the other two degrees of glory. “And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament [sky]…These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus…These are they who are thrust down to hell…These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers [immoral people], and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire…until the fullness of times [ie. not for all eternity], when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work…”

Finally, we have Outer Darkness, those who reject the Holy Spirit after it has been revealed to them, which is described earlier in D&C 76, in verses 30-49. “…They are they who are the Sons of Perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come– Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame...”

I’d like to mention something interesting about these Degrees of Glory: not once are they mentioned either in the Bible, nor, more strikingly, the Book of Mormon. Considering that the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”, isn’t it curious that a precept of this importance is absent from it?

Let’s return our thoughts on the highest Kingdom: the Celestial. Perhaps the question more important than “what is it?” is the question “how does one gain admittance?”. Essentially, as the verses I cited show, there are three things you need to do to get into the Celestial Kingdom: believe on the name of Jesus, be baptized, and keep the commandments. As far as the first is concerned, it lines up with Christianity: “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13). Mormons then take this two steps further. They insist that one must be baptized in a Mormon temple. This is a literal baptism, unlike the kind seen in Christianity that only manifests itself in physical form in order to be a symbol of an internal, spiritual change. Finally, we have “keeping the commandments”. Now, I’m going to have to unpack Mormon salvation in another post, but for now I’d like to briefly look at what this entails. “Keeping the commandments” means just how it sounds: adhering to all (read: every) commandments in the Bible, Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, all the time. Is it even possible to do this?

To put it differently, God the Father cannot be in the presence of sin, which is why those in the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms do not have access to him. This means that in order to gain access to the Celestial Kingdom, one has to be completely sinless. Thus, an important question arises for members of the LDS Church: are you (or anyone you know), or have you become, completely sinless?

To quote Bruce McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine again, “An inheritance in this glorious kingdom is gained by complete obedience to the gospel or celestial law. By entering the gate of repentance and baptism [by one in authority] candidates find themselves on the straight and narrow path leading to the celestial kingdom. By devotion and faithfulness, by enduring to the end in righteousness and obedience, it is then possible to merit a celestial reward.” (emphasis added)

In Part 2, we'll take a look at what the Bible has to say about heaven.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hawking's God is Too Small: A Review of "Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?"

It’s no secret that the “media” portrays a great deal of tension between matters of science and matters of religion. Controversies draw attention, and attention brings in money. So, when Discovery Channel announced that their new show “Curiosity” would open with the question “Did God create the universe?” I can’t say I was surprised. Nor was I surprised that famed physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking would answer that question with a resounding “no”. My curiosity, if you will, came from how he would come to this inevitable conclusion. So, without further ado, here is my review of “Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe?”
The show begins, not with the Big Bang, nor natural laws, nor any allusion to the beginning of the universe, but rather with a tale of Vikings who, upon seeing a solar eclipse, believe that the wolf god Fenrir has eaten the sun. So, they raise their weapons and shout fiercely in order to scare the wolf god away. Minutes later, the sun returns as a result of their war cries, or so the Vikings in all their lack of scientific knowledge believed. Fast forward to an ancient Greek philosopher astronomer named Aristarchus who also observed eclipses. While the religious Vikings had used a deity to describe an eclipse, Aristarchus sought a more scientific route. He concluded that lunar eclipses were the result of the earth blocking the sun’s light from the moon, and solar eclipses were the moon blocking the sun. Hawking then describes Aristarchus as “liberated by this discovery”. Hawking then tells more stories of a Pope who was afraid of scientific discovery, only to be crushed by a roof that fell because of gravity, and (of course) Galileo being marked as a heretic for his heliocentric solar system (neglecting to emphasize that Galileo kept his religious beliefs despite his condemnation).
But what do solar eclipses have to do with the creation of the universe? Well, nothing really. What it really is is an attack on any kind of “God of the gaps” theory, or “if we can’t explain the event, it must be God”. Hawkings tries to rid his viewers of the idea that we need a deity to explain how the universe works. Indeed, he says, “each discovery moved us further from the need for a God.” However, the episode is not about how or what makes the universe work, it’s about who or what made the universe exist in the first place. Apparently this did not bother the creators of the show. In fact, it takes 20 minutes of the episode for the word “origin” to be even mentioned. The entire first part of the episode is devoted to making people believe that religion is unnecessary and actually inhibits human understanding of the universe. The only real argument against theism I can give Hawking credit for is a single underhanded jab at miracles. Hawking says that natural laws are immutable, and concludes that “if laws of nature are fixed, where does that leave God?” and leaves the matter at that. At face value, it seems like just another way that religion and science are separate; however, if we consider the argument seriously, we see that it is not an issue of whether God exists or not, but an issue of whether or not miracles happen. Reformulated, it goes like this: If the laws of nature are immutable (cannot change), then they cannot be temporarily suspended. When a miracle occurs, the laws of nature are temporarily suspended. Therefore, miracles do not occur. Never mind that this by no means a new argument and has been challenged (I would say successfully) since the days of Hume.
The next 10 minutes of the program leads up to the entrance of the Big Bang, first talking about the “Cosmic Cookbook”. “To create a universe”, Hawkings begins, “you only need three ingredients: matter, energy, and space.” All of which you can pick up at your local grocery store. I kid, of course, but you can see that if you still believe in God at this point in the show, His creation has thus been trivialized to be made up of the cosmic equivalent of sugar, flour, and milk. Hawking then explains that matter and energy are essentially the same thing because of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (E=mc2). So, the universe is actually made up of "only" two ingredients: energy and space (sugar-free is all the rage anyway). Interestingly enough, Einstein was forced to accept the existence of a divine creator of the universe by his own scientific inquiries. This, of course, was not mentioned. That said, this trivialization was somewhat undercut by the sweeping CGI footage displaying the vastness of the universe.
It’s not like the program needed fluff to fill time and keep audiences interested. These are some of the most complex theories in science and instead of poking fun at that abstraction we call “religion”, the time could have been spent to explain some of these theories and actually further people’s knowledge. Or is that not what scientific inquiry is about?
Finally, half way into the show, Hawkings starts his main argument. Well, actually three different arguments. All three revolve around the assumption that the universe spontaneously popped into existence out of nothing, and without cause.
So how can something come from nothing? The first answer Hawking gives is regarding negative energy. Hawking explains that the formation of the universe is a lot like making a mound of dirt in a field. You take your shovel and pile dirt on top of itself until you have your mound. However, you don’t only have a mound, but you also have the hole from which the mound dirt came. For every shovel of dirt in the mound, you have an equivalent amount of “negative dirt” in the hole. Likewise, the universe is made up of x-amount of energy and therefore x-amount of negative energy as well. (x)+(-x)=0 Thus, the universe is basically made up of a sum of zero energy, nothing. The theist quivers under the immense weight of mathematics and physics.
Dr. William Lane Craig, a notable Christian philosopher and apologist, wrote an article in response to Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s recent book The Grand Design. In the book, Hawking and Mlodinow describe the balancing of positive and negative energy in regards to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. Craig concludes, “They are not even answering the same question.” Hawking’s terms in his answer are not defined the same as in the question. “Nothing”, in Hawking’s vocabulary doesn’t actually mean non-being, as described by the question “How can something (some thing/being) come from nothing (no thing/non-being)?”. What then does he mean by “nothing”? “Nothing”, for Hawking, is the balance of positive energy and negative energy, which is zero. But zero is not nothing (non-being). Zero is just the vacuum of negative energy, which Hawkings states is found in space, added to the positive energy found in matter. This doesn’t mean that neither of those exist, or even more absurd, that negative energy is also negative being (as we might conclude if “zero” means “non-being”). As Craig quips, “Like the philosophy student who, to the question, “What is Time?” on his final exam, answered, ‘a weekly news magazine,’ so Hawking and Mlodinow have avoided the tough question by equivocation.”
Hawking’s next argument as to how the universe came into existence ex nihilo comes by way of quantum mechanics. In the early universe (nano-nano-seconds after the Big Bang), the universe was the same size as the subatomic particles observed in quantum mechanics. These subatomic particles (protons, for instance) appear to pop out of existence only to reappear someplace else at seemingly random times. If such particles can pop into existence, why couldn’t the universe when it was a similar size?
First of all, there are many, many different theories regarding quantum mechanics (not to mention the many variations of string theory as well), so to say that Stephen Hawking’s version is correct is at this point in the study of quantum physics fairly speculative. For instance, not all scientists agree that sub-atomic events are uncaused (see David Bohm). This means that the universe was not necessarily caused to exist by means of a sub-atomic event alone. Ignoring that, however, Hawking’s argument still has a major flaw. Subatomic particles do not pop out of existence. Again there is a misunderstanding about what “nothing” means. Protons do not disappear out of being, but disappear within the fluctuating vacuum of energy.
Hawking’s begins his third and final argument with an explanation of a black hole. A black hole’s gravitational pull is so great that there is a point at which time itself stops. Just like a black hole, there was no time “before” the Big Bang. Thus, Hawking triumphantly concludes, there was “no time for a Creator to have existed…Looking for a cause is futile.”
Now, there are two things wrong with this as an argument against the existence of God. The first is very easy to see. Once again, it seems Hawking has trouble with definitions. If we define the “Creator” as existing within the confines of time and space, made up of matter, then yes, Hawking is correct in saying that such a deity could not have created the universe. If, however, we define the Creator as a Christian might (because the show is obviously aimed at Christianity), we find that out answer is very different. The Christian God is timeless and spaceless; non-physical. Time does not apply to Him, even when causing the universe to exist. Now, if Hawking were to argue that time is necessary for causality, there might be an actual argument to analyze, but instead he just pre-assumes naturalism (no supernatural beings exist) when dealing with this issue. As the title of this post says: Hawking's God is too small.
The second thing that makes this a failure of an argument against the existence of God is that it actually helps in arguing for the existence of God! If the universe had a beginning, which Hawking affirms and shows, and if everything that begins to exist has a cause, then it follows that the universe has a cause that must exist outside the universe (ie. physical reality)! This is what’s called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. A beginning of the universe is significant because there are many who try to claim that the universe is infinite or has existed for an infinite amount of time, and therefor there is no need for a cause. On the other hand, if the universe had a definitive beginning, then it also has a cause.
So, it turns out that despite Hawking’s conclusion from flawed arguments, the claim that God created the universe still stands. Really, Hawking’s arguments against God creating the universe didn’t fire me up as much as the first half of the show. With hardly any scientific substance for half the epsiode, I can only hope that future episodes of “Curiosity” won’t be so underhanded in what they are trying to show.

To see Craig's full article on The Grand Design, click here.
To watch "Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe": Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Religion Fact or Opinion?

        Religion is like ice cream.  You can suggest your favorite flavors to people, but don't you dare say that chocolate is actually better than vanilla.  That's just your opinion, it's not a fact that chocolate is better than vanilla.  Likewise, you can't say that Christianity is any more true, as a fact, than say Islam.  That's just your opinion.  Or at least this is the mentality.
        You may have seen cars bearing the bumper sticker spelling "Coexist" in the Muslim crescent moon, peace sign, "e" with male and female signs protruding, Star of David, Wiccan pentagram as the dot of the "i", yin yang, and Christian cross.  If you've ever heard me talk about things such as pluralism, etc., you will have most likely heard the disdain and contempt for the ideas that "Coexist" embodies.  So much so that I have actively removed the words "judge" and "tolerance" from my vocabulary, knowing that the words have been so twisted that they no longer hold their proper meanings.
        As a note, when I refer to "Coexist" or the "tolerance movement", I'm not referring to some organization.  Rather, I'm referring to a societal undercurrent, displayed by popular figures like Oprah, or even perceived in daily conversation.
        "Coexist" is a complex ideology.  At its face value, it merely means that people of different beliefs should exist together with peace and understanding.  That doesn't sound so bad, right?  Who doesn't want peace and understanding?  The problem arises, however, when people start changing the definition of "peace and understanding" to something like "you can tell people about your beliefs [promoting understanding] but you can't tell them that your beliefs are any more correct than theirs [moving away from conflict and towards peace]".  Look!  Peace and understanding!  We like those.
        Can you see the problem, though?  No one's beliefs, especially religious, is any more correct than another's beliefs.  Where would humanity be if we actually kept this ideology?  Ptolemy's geocentric solar system is just as correct as Copernicus' heliocentric?  Aristotle's theory that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies is just as correct as Galileo's proof otherwise?  The theory that the universe is expanding is just as correct as a still universe?  We would never say such things.
        Oh, but here's the kicker: "But these are issues of science!  Science is fact!"  And what is religion?  Opinion.  Ice cream flavors.  Something that has no bearing on reality.
        This kind of thinking is wrong.  And that's not my opinion.  That's a fact.
        Religion, much like philosophy, asks and answers questions of ultimate reality, things that exist, but aren't (or even can't be) necessarily looked at through the lenses of empirical study.  Does a divine being exist?  If a divine being does indeed exist, what attributes does it have?  Do humans have some purpose outside of passing along their genetic code or not?  What is this purpose?  Are humans inherently good?  Evil?  Is their such thing as either?  Upon what do we base what is good or evil?  Is there any way to be saved from our wrongdoings?  These all have factual basis in reality.
        Let's take the question of a divine being as an example.  If we look at the question , we come to three possible conclusions.  (1) One divine being exists.  (2) Multiple divine beings exist.  (3) No divine being exists.  If (1) is true, then a divine being exists whether we believe in that divine being or not.  Likewise, if (3) is true, it is true despite every religion and ideology that believes (1) or (2).  One of these statements must be true, because we're talking about the literal, factual existence of something, not whether or not we prefer whether or not a divine being exists.
        And while we're on preference, I'd just like to mention that if religion was merely a matter of preference, why wouldn't more people be hedonistic atheists?  Absolutely zero moral accountability with the ultimate goal of doing that which pleases you, whenever it pleases you.  This sounds much more attractive than my own religion, Christianity, in which we are all morally responsible for our actions, which constantly fail to live up to the standard of the holy God, and our only escape from the eternal punishment we deserve was the death of God's only son.
        But what about something that's not as black and white as existence?  What about morality?  Surely that's just opinion.  Since it would take too long to get into objective morality, basis for morality, and other important things, I'd like to use someone else's brilliant work to prove my point.  A simple parody of the Coexist bumper sticker.
        So I ask, should we Coexist?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Coexist Creamery

        The little brass bells jingle as you step through the door.  The pleasant scent of cream and waffle cone wafts through the summer air.  As you approach the counter, you glance at a family happily licking their cold desserts.  The youngest child licks the melting treat off her hand, pausing only to look at her hand, absolutely befuddled by the strange phenomenon.  You turn to look over the various flavors.
        "Would you like to try any of the flavors today?"  The cheery employee smiles at you.  She has bright hazel eyes with mouse-brown hair pulled back in a tight bun hardly visible behind her green company visor sporting the logo and words "Coexist Creamery".
        "Um, sure.  Let me try Buddhism." You say almost at random.  Unlimited free samples, right?  The employee opens up the glass and reaches down with the tiny spoon and scoops a pea-sized portion of the soft cream.  She hands it to you, still smiling with rosy cheeks.  You lick the sample off the spoon, tasting what appears to be lemon sherbet with a hint of the Eastern fruit lychee.  Deciding that you ought to try out some more flavors, you ask for a sample of Islam.  Reaching down again, the girl hands you a tiny spoonful of deep crimson cream.  Rich and flavorful, it reminds you of plums and strawberries.  It is perhaps too rich, however, and all you want that day is something small to beat the heat.
        Noticing your indecision, the girl, trying to be helpful suggests, "Wicca seems to be increasing in popularity lately."
        "No thanks," You reply, looking at the black cream, "I don't much care for the taste of licorice.  See, I've usually just ordered Christianity, but that's been getting pretty bland lately.  I want to try something a little more exciting."
        She nods in agreement.  "Well, if you like, we have some of our more exotic religions over on your left.  If you're feeling adventurous, you could try Rastafari or Scientology."
        "I don't think I'm that adventurous," You say, laughing.  The employee no longer smiles, but now looks at you strangely, wondering what was so funny.
        "Well, if you don't want to stray too far, mixes are available."  She offered.
        "Mixes?"
        "Oh sure, people do it all the time.  It's a little more rare with flavors like Islam, but you mentioned you usually get Christianity and I see people do it all the time with that.  I know New Age tends to go pretty well with everything, but Buddhism and Hinduism are pretty similar so you could try it with those as well.  We're always adding new flavors too, so if you don't find something you like now you can always come back.  Soon, our new Mormonism flavor will come in.  It tastes like Christianity, only instead of vanilla fudge ripple, it's more like vanilla caramel ripple, if you want to try that."
        "You know what, I think I'm going to try a mix.  Let me do Christianity and Buddhism, please."
        "Sure thing!" Her smile was now more brilliant as ever as she took the two scoops out of the respective containers and smashed them between her two flat tools, creating a ball of streaks of vanilla, chocolate, and sherbet.  You pay and she hands you the bowl of religion cream and a spoon.  "Have a nice day!"
        You step out into the sun, already longing for the air conditioning of the shop as you stroll leisurely to your car.  Taking a bite out of your Christianity-Buddhism religion cream, you are pleasantly surprised at how well it tastes.  Sure, most of the pleasure may come from tasting vanilla and fudge and sherbet, and not the combination, but you are satisfied.  Perhaps this will become your regular order; at least until you decide to try something else.

Friday, April 22, 2011

CGtM: The Not-So-Wonderful Cross?

      Jews have the Star of David.  Muslims have the Crescent Moon and Star.  Taoists have Yin and Yang.  Christians have a Roman public execution tool.
      The Christian God incarnate, Jesus, was killed by crucifixion, and his future followers would use the instrument of his death as their symbol.  That's only a little morbid.  Perhaps this is why Mormons are so strongly opposed to it.  You can usually spot a Mormon Ward or Stake (aside from the bold letters "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints") because it will look similar to a Protestant Christian church minus any sign of the cross.  They reject the symbol of the cross on the basis of its very nature of being that which killed Christ.  "If Jesus was killed by a shotgun, would you wear it around your neck?"  I think it is important, especially on this Good Friday, to reflect upon what the cross means and why Christians adopt it as their symbol.
      First, let's look at why Mormons prefer not to have the cross as their symbol.  The cross, obviously, represents Jesus' death.  Mormons claim to celebrate his life, not his death.  Former President Hinckley stated, "And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)."  There are two important things we can draw from this: the inadequacy of the cross as a symbol of Christ, and that the apparent symbol of Mormons is "keeping the commandments".  It is on the second of these that I will focus.
      Jesus lived a life of perfection.  He overcame temptation, he performed amazing miracles, he was a great teacher, he was morally perfect.  He is the greatest role model a person can have.  It's no wonder why Mormons, who attain eternal life through works, would want to celebrate his life.  He is the model for future Mormons to become exalted beings, or gods.
      But that's not enough.
      Jesus didn't just live a good life.  He didn't preach the gospel then say "hope you get it this time!"  He was tortured and executed by his own people.  People who accused him of heresy, of claiming that he, Jesus, was God.  He died an innocent man, taking the punishment for, not his sins, but ours.  The burden he boar, the cross he carried was the punishment for the wrongs we have done.  We've heard "Jesus died for you" so often that perhaps it has lost its meaning.  Allow me to explain what it really means.  All humans, ALL of them (Romans 2:9-12, 3:23) have sinned against God, have willfully violated His laws, and because we sinned against the Everlasting, our just punishment is everlasting.  "For the wages of sin is death..." states Romans 6:23.  Christ died in our place.  He was punished so that we don't have to be punished.  That is what "Jesus died for you" means.  Are you glad Jesus died?  I am.
      But. That's. Not. Enough.
      Jesus didn't stay dead.  If he would have died, The End, that would mean nothing.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, "and if Christ be not risen, then our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."  For if death had truly overcome Jesus, then how could he be able to save us from death?  But he is risen ("He is risen indeed!" the congregation responds).  He showed his power over death.  Christ was raised from the dead and made appearances to many people over 40 days.  He is more than a role model; he is our one and only savior.  The fire-and-brimstone of the previous paragraph doesn't just stop with our condemnation.  Take Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death..."  If we stopped here we would have no hope in heaven.  We are all worthy of death and no matter what we do, we cannot overcome our sinfulness.  But the verse does not stop there.  It goes on, "...But the gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  We have Eternal Life, living in the presence of God the Father forever, only through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Savior, who died on the cross to take our punishments in our stead, and who resurrected, conquering death to save us from eternal damnation.
      So I ask you, in light of what I've written about what this weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is about, in light of what Christ did on the cross, in light of Jesus telling many people "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 10:38,16:24; Mark 8:34,10:28; Luke 9:23,14:27), and in light of the following verses in which the word "cross" is used: (1 Corinthians 1:17,18; Galatians 5:11,6:12,14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:8,3:18; Colossians 1:20,2:14; and Hebrews 12:2), how should we view the cross of Christ?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Christian Exclusivity (And Why It Doesn't Matter)

I was in my Islam class the other night, and my professor, heavily influenced by postmodern ideals of “tolerance”, multiculturalism, and even religious pluralism, was attempting to show that Islam promotes tolerance and pluralism.  Whether her defense of Islam was adequate or not, she was trying to defend a particular religion with the underlying assumption that religious pluralism is good.  This theory has pervaded society as people, generally secular, point fingers at religions, generally Christianity, and exclaim, “They think they have the only way to heaven!  How dare they be so arrogant!”  Religious exclusivity is seen as this evil created by religious institutions to claim superiority over the plebeians.  I’m not so sure that this is an inherent part of religious exclusivity.  After all, each religion makes truth claims about the ultimate nature of reality.  These truth claims are analogous to the type of claims we make all the time.  For instance, “Great Aunt Dorothy is wearing a blue blouse.”  This means that we are claiming that the blouse is exclusively blue, because it is blue, it is therefore not red or green or maroon.  Hindu’s claim, in truth, that all things are a manifestation of Brahman.  It necessarily follows that, if Hinduism is true, there is not a deity substantially separated from physical reality (as most monotheistic faiths claim).  Religiously exclusive?  Yes.  Wrong?  No.  “Exclusivity” is just a necessary byproduct of such a truth claim.
            Let’s critique religious pluralism a little more.  Religious pluralism essentially arose from the idea of multiculturalism; we should look at different cultures, without the assumption that our own is true, gleaning ideas from other kinds of peoples that we may want to incorporate into our own worldviews.  In theory, multiculturalism fosters an open outlook on the lives of humans across the world.  In practice, however, multiculturalism leads to cultural and moral relativism (which is a whole other can o’ worms).  When this concept is applied to religious study, I think it can offer a healthy way to examine religious traditions for their own sake.  Unfortunately, this also has lead to people to believe that all, or at least multiple, religions can be simultaneously true.
Any logician will tell you that two opposing claims cannot be simultaneously true.  This violates the Law of Non-contradiction, which is one of the foundations of logic.  Take the statements, “Man A is a bachelor” and “Man A is married”.  The qualifiers “bachelor” and “married” are opposing.  Therefore, according to the Law of Non-contradiction, Man A cannot be both a bachelor, and married.  A “married bachelor” is a logical impossibility.  I would argue that the same can be said for religions who have opposing claims.  They both cannot be right.  Either one is wrong, or both are wrong, but it can never be that both are right in making opposing truth claims.
Returning to the main point, Christians do claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  And if Christianity is true, then Jesus is the only way to heaven.  Likewise, if Islam is true, then Jesus is not a way to heaven, but rather submitting to God and His Law is the way to heaven.  Both truth claims cannot be simultaneously true.  One truth claim or the other can be true, or both truth claims are wrong.  Perhaps the atheist is right and there is no heaven.
A small aside on atheism.  Many atheists like to quip, “All people are atheists about every other god but theirs.  We just go one god further.”  This is a flawed way of looking at theism.  No theist is an “atheist” about any other gods.  By making the claim, “God is the transcendent, omniscient, incomprehensibly powerful divine being who inspired the Bible and sent Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected, as the savior of the world,” the Christian is not making a denial statement about the Muslim God, or the gods of Classical Greece.  Instead, the Christian makes a positive claim that automatically and necessarily excludes the existence of any god that does not match such a description.
Returning to the original, original point, I don’t think religions should sacrifice their “exclusivity” to make themselves look better in the eyes of secular society.  Showing the truth and love of God ought to be enough.
So, now that I’ve explained Christian “exclusivity”, I think it’s appropriate to speak of Christian “inclusivity”, that is, the message that Paul espoused.  In Galatians, he claims to be the apostle of the Gentiles, which, in the original Greek, means “nations”, or everyone who is not a Jew.  Paul explained that Christ came to redeem everyone, not just a particular group of people.  Romans 10:9,13 states, “if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It’s verses like these that make me question those who point fingers at Christian “exclusivity”.  Because, as we know, the word “everyone” is the epitome of exclusive.