The Prophet Option: A Mormon Review of The Benedict Option

41QY+zZAzfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re an active Latter-day Saint with any interest in The Benedict Option, I have good news for you: you’re pretty much already living it.

Rod Dreher’s bestseller isn’t actually a tirade against American society–that’s too far gone to even really bother with at this point–it’s a call to arms to rescue what’s left of Christianity in the West. We do this, Dreher says, by ignoring the mainstream and living our religion fully.

Dreher is an excellent writer; his observations, anecdotes, and advice are all solid. Still, the formula he gives is surprisingly basic. The fact that this pattern is supposed to be a rebellious throwback to the seriousness of medieval monks is an even better illustration of how far we’ve gone astray than any gloom and doom statistic.

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Reviewed But Not Recommended: Facing the Giants

Facing_the_giantsI’m a big fan of the Christian movies Fireproof and War Room, so I was looking forward to Facing the Giants, which looked like basically the same thing, but with high school football.

The other two movies have actual struggles and hard change and some serious real world difficulties in them…but not Facing the Giants.

In the first act of this movie, we see all the things wrong in the life of a losing football coach at a private Christian school: a failing job, a broken down house and car, infertility. Then he decides to turn his life over to God more fully, and suddenly everything magically turns around. He gets a new car. His wife gets pregnant. His team wins the state championship.

No, I don’t have a problem with the concept of miracles, but I don’t like a story where it’s that easy, or that selfish.

This movie turns God into Santa Claus, just waiting for us to say the right words politely enough before showering us with all the toys we want.

The big change he makes as a coach is really just doing his job a little bit better than before. And merely for that, a player’s father buys him a new car. What a materialistic gospel this movie preaches! It’s the definition of cheap grace.

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“I know what you Christians believe.”

A response to accusations against Christians about being judgmental. Perhaps those making the accusations don’t understand just how universally we view the fallen state of humanity, and our need to all come to Christ with “a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” including me, and you, and all of us.

Early Christian Fathers

fathersI’ve been reading a great collection of writings by Christian leaders from just after New Testament times. I’ve largely enjoyed it, but as I get into the second half, I’m stalling out–my enthusiasm for this one is just winding down, so I’m putting it back on the shelf for now (sorry, Justin Martyr).

The Ensign had a great article about these writings in the August 1976 issue.

Of the documents I’ve read so far, all were at least good, and some were really great. The four marked with an A+ I highly recommend to everybody. Here are my notes and quotes:

 

THE FIRST EPISTLE OF CLEMENT: A+

This one comes from a bishop who knew and was mentored by the Apostles, and his letter is amazing. It’s actually from within the first century, making it contemporary with the New Testament, and was even included in some early versions of the New Testament. It isn’t canonized scripture for us, but it isn’t far off…the Spirit is there in this one.

35 How blessed and amazing are God’s gifts, dear friends!  2Life with immortality, splendor with righteousness, truth with confidence, faith with assurance, self-control with holiness! And all these things are within our comprehension.  3What, then, is being prepared for those who wait for him? The Creator and Father of eternity, the all-holy, himself knows how great and wonderful it is.  4We, then, should make every effort to be found in the number of those who are patiently looking for him, so that we may share in the gifts he has promised.  5And how shall this be, dear friends? If our mind is faithfully fixed on God; if we seek out what pleases and delights him; if we do what is in accord with his pure will, and follow in the way of truth. If we rid ourselves of all wickedness, evil, avarice, contentiousness, malice, fraud, gossip, slander, hatred of God, arrogance, pretension, conceit, and inhospitality.

 

THE LETTERS OF IGNATIUS, BISHOP OF ANTIOCH:  A-

There are seven of these letters–as a whole, I give them an A-, but his letters to the Romans and to the Philadelphians each get a solid A, and my favorite, to the Ephesians, gets an A+. A quote:

9 I have heard that some strangers came your way with a wicked teaching. But you did not let them sow it among you. You stopped up your ears to prevent admitting what they disseminated. Like stones of God’s Temple, ready for a building of God the Father, you are being hoisted up by Jesus Christ, as with a crane (that’s the cross!), while the rope you use is the Holy Spirit. Your faith is what lifts you up, while love is the way you ascend to God.

You are all taking part in a religious procession,185 carrying along with you your God, shrine, Christ, and your holy objects, and decked out from tip to toe in the commandments of Jesus Christ. I too am enjoying it all, because I can talk with you in a letter, and congratulate you on changing your old way of life and setting your love on God alone.

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Flannery O’Connor

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

–Flannery O’Connor, 1925-1964

Christmas Is For Christians (And Their Friends)

I just re-read a thundering post I put up a year ago about a major concern of mine this time of year.  The mainstream culture’s war on Christmas has me wanting to mount a backlash.  In light of the economic meltdown and bailouts, a lot has been said this year about Ayn Rand and striking against the system.  I wonder if it’s time for Christians to “strike,” at least in terms of taking back their holiday from the secular mainstream that has watered it down and now wants to deny the validity of the original completely. 

The language in my original may have been a little harsh–I don’t really think that only Christians should celebrate Christmas.  It’s important to be able to share our traditions and beliefs with others, and certainly I don’t mean to deny the celebration of Christmas to anyone just because they may not exactly be devout.  However, yes, it does bother me when that growing body of society that denigrates Christians, that belittles God, and that wants to flout the Western world’s–and especially America’s–Christian heritage, or strip our public realm of it entirely, still wants to put up a tree and get presents. 

If atheist warriors like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins want to put up lights or a tree this year, they’d better face a huge groundswell of protest from outraged Christians. 

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Defending Ayn Rand

atlasPoor Ayn Rand.  She’s taken her licks lately in the Bloggernacle, getting excoriated at By Common Consent.  Some have stepped up to defend her honor, conservative gentlemen they are, but there are still some important points to be made that I don’t think anybody has explained yet. 

Rand is criticized for three main things: that her philosophy promotes greed and selfishness, that she was militantly anti-religion, and that her writing is poor.  I’ll address each:

1.  On the title page of my personal copy of Atlas Shrugged, I copied this famous quote from Book IV, chapter 2 of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

Every individual…generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it…he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention….By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more efficiently than when he really intends to promote it. 

Meaning, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism may seem selfish and greedy…but it results in a better world for all, a world more just, more prosperous, and more fair than any other system.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Shack

shack1I only read the first six chapters of The Shack, and I won’t be reading any more.  Author William P. Young uses a story about a man who loses a young daughter to violence, and then accepts an invitation from God to meet with Him at the scene of the crime, as a vehicle for his own pseudo-theological pontificating.  I’d call it the philosophy of men mingled with scripture, but Young never quotes any scripture.

He’s a competent enough writer but, like too many I’ve read, he makes his protagonist have thoughts and feelings that are too easy just to move the story along.

Mack: “I’m angry about the death of my daughter.”

God: “Let’s talk about something else.”

Mack: “Okay!”

That’s my next problem with The Shack: as soon as Mack comes to the cabin to commune with God, God proceeds to welcome him with…a lecture about the nature of the Trinity.  And it goes on for the rest of the chapter.  I’m not sure which bothered me more: that Mack would so calmly go along with the plan, or that Young would have the audacity to use his character’s pain as a vehicle for selling his own ideas about religion.

And make no mistake about it, that’s what The Shack is for.  Young has an axe to grind with anyone who “limits” God by suggesting that he has any kind of concrete church, truths, salvation system, or other such apparently trivial nonsense like that.  You know, the little things that religion doesn’t really need.  No, the God of The Shack is a stereotypical, multicultural, I’m-OK-you’re-OK, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya kind of God, exactly the sort of silly, watered down, narcissistic Baby Boomer fantasy that gets made fun of with things like “Buddy Christ” statues.  Continue reading

Should Non-Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Non-religious friends and associates often ask me if I’m offended when they express a lack of belief in traditional religion, usually with the tone of an apologizing diplomat. I assure them that such ideas are not inherently offensive. However, ironically, few people seem to worry about something which truly is offensive: the warping of traditional religious belief itself.

We’re trained to resist offense and be as accommodating as necessary so that nobody feels that their toes are stepped on.  To that end, the public celebration of Christmas, enshrined for generations as a bedrock part of American culture, has been quietly stripped of religious significance.  We’re now to the bizarre Orwellian point where we see many voices in the media complaining that the secular holiday of Christmas is being infringed upon by nosy Christians. 

Glancing at the news this morning over my breakfast, I saw a local news channel announcing a contest: they’d be giving away a “holiday tree.”  What?  Why is Christmas picked on like this?  (Have you ever heard of a “holiday menorah?”)  Why are so many in our country desperate to preserve the commercial trappings of Christmas long after they’ve abandoned its spiritual significance?

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Ten Best Atheist Arguments?

Presented here for your convenience, for the first time ever and after countless hours of painstaking research by eavesdropping on actual cafe conversations and Internet chat rooms, are the top ten reasons I overheard secular Americans give for dismissing faith.

Well, not really, but it sounds about right.

 

10. “If there truly is an infinitely powerful and all-knowing God, then why can’t I easily understand him right away? He may well be an omnipotent and eternal deity ruling over a universe larger and more complicated than the mortal mind could ever possibly envision, much less comprehend… but I do read The New York Times, you know.”

 

9. “Why are all Christians such closed-minded morons? Their attitude towards atheism is marked by perpetuating generalized misconceptions about honest seekers of truth like me… often in the form of pitifully sterile insults. They should celebrate those whose opinions differ from their own, like we do. Stupid Christians.”

 

8. “Completely unlike us, Christians never demand any more evidence for the validity of their belief than bandwagon appeals to common knowledge. Everybody knows this is true. How could anybody even entertain conclusions drawn about an opposing point of view from such ridiculous ignorance? Hypocrites!”

 

7. “And what about the Bible? If there is a God, reason dictates that the Bible should have compelling, dynamic theological and ethical innovations unlikely to be conceived by human beings alone. It should also offer strong circumstantial support for divine inspiration. Of course it does not. I know this because I heard somebody quote a verse from it once.”

 

6. “The Bible has been proven many times through scholarly critical analysis to be nothing more than a biased collection of fairy tales written for the sole purpose of subjecting the superstitious masses under a code of moral liberty and civil enlightenment. This conspiracy is what allows monsters like Mother Teresa to rule as the despicable despots they are, breaking the spirits of proactive altruists everywhere.”

 

5. “Why is there any degree of disorder and injustice in the world? It’s not like a perfectly black and white world would make the existence of God obvious, thus removing our crucial need to develop faith in God and would reduce us to mindless automatons forced into conformity!”

 

4. “The complex worldview that Christianity posits suggests that humanity is an intricate tapestry of interdependence working towards a fundamentally greater collective good. That selfishness cannot distract us from the more neutral, objective conclusion that life is simply a series of random events, the inevitable result of a physical system that developed completely by chance and that ends in death, rendering life ultimately pointless and devoid of any obligation to improve ourselves or the world in general. I know how ennobling this sounds, but it is merely a fact, unadulterated by any ulterior motive.”

 

3. “‘By their fruits you will know them?’ So has anyone ever abandoned a materially abundant lifestyle or altered behavior inconsistent with their beliefs because of religious conviction? Nobody that I know of! This is because religion is only a selfish delusion of convenience, not a vigorous and vital dimension of life whose empirical validity empowers adherents to make vastly positive personal change. Their wanton mental self-indulgence is starkly revealed when placed in contrast with those of us who so stoically bear the Spartan torch of atheism.”

 

2. “I read this in the correspondence of a European philosopher and scientist to his brother in 1895: ‘If there were in existence some Supreme Being, why has he then withheld from his own children that most natural of blessings, automated wheeled transportation? For, as any fool can see, such a marvel absolutely must be commensurate with the existence of God. If not for this insurmountable flaw, however, I would gladly become a Christian.’ This perfectly logical query was never satisfactorily addressed, and he died a happy atheist in 1948.”

 

1. “Clearly, belief in God amounts to no more than wishful thinking. Simply put, while those of us who accept atheism only do so after the most stringent open-minded research into every possibility, and then often reluctantly, those who embrace any faith-based belief system always do so blindly. The more they explain their opinion, the more they reveal their fundamental ignorance.”