Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Is Proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection Political Incorrect?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog article about political correctness. For the most part I favor the effort to be politically correct, for in its best form political correctness shows empathic understanding of those who are often discriminated against or belittled.
There was some questioning of a more recent article, though, along this very line. There was no direct reference to my not being P.C., but it was implied that what I wrote about the origins of Christianity and of Islam was problematic.
From the beginning I knew that there would likely be some pushback, for what I wrote could be used as an excuse to criticize, discriminate against, or mistreat Muslims today. I tried to counter that possibility by writing what I did in the final paragraph.
Christians around the world have just celebrated Easter (except for those in the Orthodox tradition who will not celebrate Easter until May 1). If there was, in fact, something historical about the resurrection of Jesus, Easter is an event that decisively differentiates Christianity from other religions.
Many have understood Jesus’ resurrection much too literally, seeing it is some sort of miraculous resuscitation of his physical body. That is not the kind of resurrection I am writing about.
On the other hand, many liberal Christian interpretations emphasize that Jesus’ resurrection was mainly metaphorical or “psychological” rather than historical. That is, it is explained as the “resurrection” of the spirit of Jesus in the hearts and minds of his early followers.
John Shelby Spong, for example, contends that the Jesus’ resurrection took place in Galilee, where the disciples had fled after Jesus’ crucifixion, rather than in Jerusalem, where Jesus had been buried in Joseph’s tomb.
Liberals need some way to explain the resurrection so Christianity can be considered just one religion among many that are equally valid and valuable.
That is not the kind of resurrection I am writing about either.
Recently, I have written a review of a book about the life and thought of Lesslie Newbigin. In that process I looked again at some of his notable writings, especially The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989). Newbigin (1909-98), an Englishman, was one of the premier missionaries and missiologists of the 20th century. (Several years ago I wrote a blog article in praise of Newbigin.)
Newbigin repeatedly used the words “public truth” in referring to the Christian message, and one of his smaller books is titled Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (1991). The idea of public truth, of course, stands in stark contrast to the relativistic idea of truth in post-modernism and often in liberal Christianity as well.
He wrestles with the problem of truth not just from the standpoint of religious faith but also epistemologically, making repeated references to the significance of Michael Polanyi’s emphasis on “personal knowledge.”
In Truth to Tell, Newbigin avers, “To believe that the crucified Jesus rose from the dead, left an empty tomb, and regrouped his scatted disciples for their world mission can only be the result of a very radical change of mind indeed.”
He goes on to assert that “the simple truth is that the resurrection cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world except one of which it is the starting point” (p. 10-11).
Belief in the Resurrection should never lead to arrogance, condescension, or triumphalism. That belief should, however, lead faithful Christians to have confidence in the uniqueness of Jesus and to proclaim, boldly and lovingly, the significance of that pivotal event—even though some might consider it politically incorrect.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Fire that Changed America

For several weeks I had planned to write this article about the terrible “Triangle fire” that occurred 105 years today. Then earlier this month I had the privilege of hearing a talk by David Von Drehle, an editor-at-large for Time magazine. (Some of you may have seen his cover story about Donald Trump in the March 14 issue of Time.)
Von Drehle (b. 1961), I learned then, is also the author of Triangle: The Fire that Changed America (2003). It is an engrossing book about the Triangle Waist Company fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, a fire that tragically took the lives of 146 people.
Last week June and I also watched “Triangle Fire,” a DVD that was originally a PBS program produced in 2011 as part of the centennial remembrance of what they call “the tragedy that forever changed labor and industry.”
Von Drehle’s first chapter tells about the beginning and growth of the waist factories in Manhattan during the first decade of the 20th century. That was when waists and skirts first became popular wearing apparel for women in this country. (At that time, women’s blouses were known as “shirtwaists,” or simply as “waists.”)
Hundreds of factories sprang up in New York City to produce the popular new garment. The great majority of the workers in those factories were women who were new immigrants, mostly Italians and East European Jews. The working conditions, as well as the living conditions, for most of those factory workers were terrible.
 Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were the owners of the Triangle Waist Company. According to Von Drehle, “They were rich men, and when they glanced into the faces of their workers they saw, with rare exceptions, anonymous cogs in a profit machine” (p. 36).
Those were still the days of “robber barons,” men who became wealthy through the exploitation of the people who out of financial necessity had to work for them with very low wages, long hours, and dangerous working conditions.
(Is there any significance, I wonder, that the billionaire now running for President named his youngest son Barron?)
The fire right at closing time on that March afternoon in Manhattan drew huge crowds, as did the funeral march for the Triangle dead four days later. From 350,000 to 400,000 people participated in what one newspaper called one of the “most impressive spectacles of sorrow New York has ever known.”
As Von Drehle emphasizes, though, “the plight of the shirtwaist workers brought together the forces of change” (p. 193). Eight new workplace safety laws were created in 1912, including the law that women and boys could not work more than 54 hours a week. The next year, 25 more new laws were passed to protect factory workers.

The Triangle fire also resulted in political changes in New York and eventually in the nation. For many years up until 1911, New York was controlled by the Democratic Party’s corrupt political machine known as Tammany Hall.

However, it was Tammany Hall that pushed through the new labor laws of 1913, and it was evident in that year’s elections that it had become “a true friend of the working class” (Von Drehle, p. 217).

Later, “Tammany’s Al Smith, bearing the legacy of the Triangle fire, grew into the dominant political figure in New York from 1918 to 1928” (p. 259). Smith, then, became the Democrat’s candidate for President in 1928.

Von Drehle concludes, “In the generation after the Triangle fire, urban Democrats became America’s working-class, progressive party” (p. 260). And that is still true today.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Case against "Demon Rum"

Many of the great 19th century women leaders in the U.S. were against what they considered three great evils: slavery, discrimination against women (including no voting rights), and alcohol. The first two evils have largely been eradicated. But not the third.
Jane Addams, the subject of my 9/5/15 blog article, was active in the temperance movement, as was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the main subject of my 11/10/15 article, and her close friend Susan B. Anthony.
One of the main 19th century opponents of alcohol was Frances Willard. She is best known as the first national president of the Women’s Christian Temperance League, serving in that position from 1879 until her death in 1898.
In addition, Willard was a strong advocate of women’s suffrage, and her vision included federal aid to education, free school lunches, unions for workers, the eight-hour work day, work relief for the poor, municipal sanitation and boards of health, national transportation, strong anti-rape laws, protections against child abuse, etc.
Willard was a strong suffragette partly because she thought it would take women’s votes to pass laws against liquor. Consequently, fear that alcohol would become illegal was one of the reasons for much male opposition to giving women the right to vote.
In spite of women not being able to vote nationally, though, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the production, transport, and sale of alcohol was ratified in January 1919 and went into effect a year later.  
Interestingly, the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified 19 months later.
Last Dec. 22, 2015, the Washington Post published an article titled “Americans are drinking themselves to death at record rates.” According to that article, in 2014 “more than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes,” a 35-year high.
Moreover, that number “excludes deaths from drunk driving, other accidents, and homicides committed under the influence of alcohol. If those numbers were included the annual toll of deaths directly or indirectly caused by alcohol would be closer to 90,000.”
From that and many other sources, it seems indisputable that the consumption of alcohol has a direct causal relationship to health problems, fatal and disabling accidents, homicides, domestic violence, rapes, and other negative issues, such as financial problems for those with limited means.
Of course, some will quickly say, “But that is only when alcohol is drunk excessively or irresponsibility.” While that is probably true, who ever starts drinking with the intention of doing so excessively (except maybe temporarily) or irresponsibly?
Proponents of stricter gun control repeatedly point out that guns cause some 33,000 deaths each year in this country. But if the figure of 90,000 deaths caused by alcohol is correct, guns are not nearly as much of a problem as alcohol is. Moreover, alcohol is a worldwide program.
Even though I am a strong advocate of greater gun control, perhaps the NRA and its friends are correct: it is not guns that kill people, it is people who kill people. Is that really any different from saying that alcohol does not cause problems, it is the people who use alcohol excessively or irresponsibly who cause problems?
What is the solution to the alcohol problem? Probably not more laws. But maybe a long-term educational program such as there has been against tobacco. The detrimental effects of tobacco has been widely disseminated, including in public schools. As a result, smoking in this country has decreased drastically.
No doubt the nineteenth century women who were opposed to the three big problems of slavery, discrimination against women, and “demon rum” would be pleased if society now took the latter problem much more seriously.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Radical Christianity vs. Radical Islam

Years ago I taught a Christian Studies course at Seinan Gakuin University titled “Radical Christianity.” The Japanese word for “radical,” just like the English one, had to be defined, for it was a term easily misunderstood.
As part of my explanation I told the students how the English word, which is often transliterated into Japan, comes from the Latin word radix, which means root. So my emphasis was that radical Christianity was the sort of belief and practice that went back to its roots, to Jesus and his teaching and activities.
(By the way, do you know about Radix, the “radical” Christianity magazine? I subscribed to it for several years, beginning soon after its initial appearance in 1976.)
In explaining what radical Christianity looks like in Christian history, I talked about people such as Francis of Assisi, Kagawa Toyohiko, Martin Luther King Jr., and Clarence Jordan (among others).
The only examples I used were Christians who believed in and practiced non-violence and who were devoted to social justice. And I still believe those are characteristics of what radical Christianity should, and does, embrace.
In recent years the term “radical Islam” has been widely used—and in such cases radical has a completely different meaning—or does it? In general use, radical means “associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change” (Merriam-Webster). Used this way, it most often includes use of violence to bring about that change.
Christianity changed from its radical beginnings to become more and more aligned with violence (war). In contrast, until the recent rise of the Taliban, ISIS, and other such radical groups, Islam became more and more peaceful through the centuries.
“Muhammad and the Caliphate” is the first chapter of the massive tome titled The Oxford History of Islam (1999). It is explained there that beginning in 627 Muhammed “launched raids against Meccan caravans, seizing valuable booty and hostages.”
Then by a “series of raids and battles” Muhammad was able to subdue some of his opponents and by “outright force” was able to subdue other groups.
Soon after Muhammed’s death in 632, Abu Bakr, his successor, sanctioned the “Apostasy wars” and then by “shows of force” brought the entire Arabian peninsula under his control by 634 (pp. 10-11).
The British historian Hugh Kennedy is the author of The Great Arab Conquests (2007). In his first chapter Kennedy explains how Muhammad’s “military campaigns” were “the beginning of the Muslim conquests. His example showed that armed force was going to be an acceptable and important element first in the defence of the new religion and then in its expansion.”
Kennedy also writes, “The Prophet’s example meant that there was no parallel to the tendency to pacificism [sic] so marked in early Christianity” (p. 48).
In spite of the changes that later took place, both in Christianity and Islam, it seems indisputable that the nature of the public activities of Jesus and Mohammed from the beginning to the end of their lives differed greatly. There was also great difference in the activities of the followers of Jesus and Mohammed in the decades after their deaths.
Restoring radical Christianity is a challenging and worthy goal for all Christians, and one I continue to promote. How badly most contemporary Christians need to go back to following the radical teachings and activities of Jesus!
On the other hand, staunchly opposing radical Islam, such as embodied by ISIS, as well as affirming and supporting the peaceful Islam that has developed through the centuries and widely practiced here in the U.S. now is also badly needed.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Amazing Nick Vujicic

There have been, and are, many amazing people in the world. Recently, I wrote (here) about the amazing Grimké sisters. They were amazing because in spite of growing up as privileged white girls in Charleston, S.C., they became leaders in the movement to abolish slavery in the U.S.

In completely different ways, Nick Vujicic (pronounced voy-a-chich) is also a most amazing person. He was born on December 4, 1982, in Australia of parents who had, before they met, each fled their native country of Serbia.

What a shock it was to them when Nick, their first child, was born with phocomelia! That little-known term describes the condition of babies who are born with malformed or missing limbs. (The term literally means “seal limbs.”)

Nick was born with no limbs at all, just one small foot with two toes at the bottom of his torso. Thus, he was destined to live a life without arms or legs as even prosthetics did not seem to work for him. Appropriately, his official website address is LifeWithoutLimbs.org.

His best known book, though, is titled Life Without Limits (2010). It is the inspiring, first-person story of this truly amazing man. In spite of their initial shock, Nick’s parents were pretty amazing, too, in the way they reared their son in spite of the tremendous challenges.
Nick’s book is a combination of autobiography, motivational messages, and Christian testimony all mixed together.

On the first page of the Introduction, Nick writes, “I was born without any limbs, but I am not constrained by my circumstances. I travel the world encouraging millions of people to overcome adversity with faith, hope, love, and courage so that they may pursue their dreams.”

It is certainly amazing how a person born with what seems to be such serious physical handicaps and disabilities has become an international speaker who seeks to motivate people to overcome their own physical or psychological handicaps that keep them from achievement and happiness.

Nick learned how to overcome the tremendous physical challenges he was born with, so in most ways he lives much the same as “normal” people—although he does need the help of a caregiver for many things, especially when he travels.

And Nick has literally travelled to countries around the world and has, as he says in the Introduction, spoken to millions of people in person and over television. June and I have seen him on “Hour of Power,” the Schullers’ TV program.

As strange as it might seem, Nick has even starred in a short movie. You can access “Butterfly Circus,” the movie he was in, here and watch the whole 20 minutes.

Kanae Miyahara was born in central Mexico, the daughter of a Japanese agricultural engineer and a Mexican mother. When she was a teenager, she moved to Texas to live with relatives, including her older sister.

Later, Kanae went to hear Nick speak in Dallas met him on that occasion. A romantic relationship developed, and they were married in February 2012. One year and one day later their first son, Kiyoshi, was born. Their second son was born in August of last year.

In 2014, Nick and Kanae co-authored a new book titled Love Without Limits: A Remarkable Story of True Love Conquering All. And theirs is truly a remarkable story.

Without a doubt, Nick and Kanae are amazing people. If you, or someone you know, are discouraged and feeling defeated, or even if you are not, I recommend the reading of Nick’s book. Those who do so will surely be amazed and inspired.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Understanding/Defeating ISIS

Donald Trump told Newsmax TV back in July of last year, that he would “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State (ISIS) if he was elected to the White House. And then in December, Ted Cruz uttered what seems to be his favorite line on ISIS: “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion.”
But bombing is most likely the wrong way to defeat ISIS, especially if that is the primary offensive method used.
Last month Lt. Col. Brian Steed, a military historian at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, gave a learned lecture at the Kansas City Public Library. A specialist on the Middle East, Steed spoke on “Mesopotamia on Fire: Changing the Conversation on ISIS.”
Earlier that day (Feb. 23), Steed was interviewed by KCUR’s Steve Kraske. That 24-minute interview was linked to (see here) under the title “Defeating ISIS By Understanding It.”
Unfortunately, I don’t get the impression that the candidates seeking to become President have a very adequate understanding of ISIS, except perhaps for HRC.
I was very favorably impressed with Steed—especially when I heard him in person. Even though he is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, he made it clear that he was speaking as a private citizen—and when he is in Baghdad, he apparently speaks in Arabic.
One of the important points of his lecture was this: we see the cruelty of ISIS when there is television footage of beheadings and executions of individuals. But such cruelties are no worse than that resulting from U.S. bombing of ISIS targets or from using drones to kill ISIS combatants, often with civilians being killed as “collateral damage.”
It is clips of the latter that are shown on television in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries—and the hatred for the U.S. deepens with each such telecast. Such clips are recruitment tools for ISIS.
What surprised me most from hearing Steed’s lecture was that ISIS believes that Jesus (yes, that Jesus) is coming soon and he will kill the Dajjal (the Antichrist) and will establish “Islam and its justice” over the whole world.
(Khilafah = Caliphate)
The final decisive battle, according to the apocalyptic mythology that seems to be driving much of the activity of ISIS will take place at Dabiq, a place in Syria that is about 150 miles north of Israel’s Mount Megiddo, where according to popular Christian apocalyptic thought the battle of Armageddon will be fought.
Dabiq is also the name of a glossy propaganda magazine published by ISIS. It is said to be “sophisticated, slick, beautifully produced and printed in several languages including English.” It is used in recruiting jihadists from the West. (Here is the link to Dabiq’s webpage.)
This same information was presented a year ago in the Atlantic magazine, which I either didn’t hear about or didn’t pay attention to. (See the bibliographical information given below.)
Graeme Wood, author of the Atlantic’s article, insists that ISIS is very Islamic—but an extreme, apocalyptic form of Islam that is opposed by other forms of Islam and by the majority of Muslims in the world today.
In the Spring 2016 issue of Plough Quarterly (see here), Nathaniel Peters writes, “Wood is right. Islamic extremism is a theological problem. But how do we go about solving it? The solution to the theological problem must be theological, not military." 
The long-term strategy for defeating ISIS must be in the realm of ideas, or “narratives,” to use the term Steed emphasized, rather than bombs and military force. The sooner our political leaders learn that the better.
 Links to important articles
“ISIS Says Jesus is Coming Soon, and the End of the World” by Karen L. Willoughby – February 17, 2015, article in Christian Examiner (here)
“What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood – Cover story of the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic (here)
“What ISIS Really Wants: The Response” by Graeme Wood – February 25, 2015, issue of The Atlantic (here)