Monday, September 28, 2015

The Death of Conversational Intimacy

What has happened to meaningful conversation? In the  New York Times Review, September 26, 2015, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” Sherry Turkle identifies technology as the culprit – namely the cell phone:

         So conversation proceeds [amidst cell-phone interruptions], but… The effect is what you would expect: Conversation is kept relatively light, on topics where people feel they can drop in and out.

Turkle argues that this makes for superficial conversations:

         Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

What do we sacrifice for the convenience of a cell phone? Turkle observes that through direct conversation:

         We learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that [is where] empathy and intimacy flourish.

However, as she points out, there seems to be other factors involved:

         In 2010, a team at the University of Michigan led by the psychologist Sara Konrath put together the findings of 72 studies that were conducted over a 30-year period. They found a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000.

The decline in empathy and intimate conversations seems to even pre-date the advent of the cell-phone. Turkle identifies our discomfort with solitude and any attempt to try to become grounded in ourselves and self-awareness as the source of the problem:

         In one experiment, many student subjects opted to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit alone with their thoughts.

While some thrive on the contemplative life, others dread it. This resistance to encountering self is tragic. Turkle reflects that:

         In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic…If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely…When we are secure in ourselves, we are able to really hear what other people have to say.

Why is it that security – the comfort in knowing and accepting where we stand – enables us to hear and to attend to others? I think that there are a numbers of ways that we can understand this.

When we accept ourselves, we can accept others. Their problems, weaknesses, and even their strengths do not threaten us. We are free to appreciate them for who they are. When our most pressing needs are resolved, we are also free to attend to the needs and anxieties of others.

Besides, when we are secure in our own opinions and even in our failings, we need not fear being exposed, ridiculed, or backed into the wall.

Also, when we know where we stand and why we stand there, and this requires a lot of personal reflection, we can comfortably respond. It’s like hitting a home run. Our feet must be planted firmly and securely. When our feet aren’t planted securely, we are off-balance and confused.

Let’s use an example. Your friend tells you about a wonderful extra-marital affair he is enjoying. You ask him about its impact on his wife and kids. He answers that everything is just fine.

Where do you go from there? You feel that adultery is wrong and destructive, but you also believe that your friend has to do what feels is right for him. (You are a moral relativist and don’t believe in objective moral truths.) Consequently, you are very confused and do not know how to respond. You try to resolve your confusion, but your paradigms are in irresolvable conflict. Result – great discomfort and a huge headache! Further contemplation? It just leads to frustration. It’s like starting to button your shirt with the wrong button. Every other button will be out of place.

We have to go back to the beginning, but that is too difficult. Questioning moral relativism is like questioning the very foundation of our life.

Turkle suggests that we simply reclaim conversation:

         This is our moment to acknowledge the unintended consequences of the technologies to which we are vulnerable, but also to respect the resilience that has always been ours.

However, it is one thing to acknowledge this extensive problem, but it’s another thing to effectively confront it, especially in light of our antipathy to solitude and self-examination.

Sexual Assault, College, and its Causes

  • The Association of American Universities on Monday released the overall results of a survey that asked students at 27 universities about their experiences with sexual assault and sexual misconduct, drawing responses from more than 150,000 students. 
  • More than 20 percent of female undergraduates at an array of prominent universities said this year they were victims of sexual assault and misconduct, echoing findings elsewhere, according to one of the largest studies ever of college sexual violence.
  • The survey found that 23 percent of undergraduate women and 5 percent of undergraduate men said they were victims of non-consensual sexual contact – ranging from penetration to sexual touching — due to force or incapacitation. Eleven percent of undergraduate women said they were victims of non-consensual penetration or attempted penetration… 20 percent of students said sexual assault and misconduct is very or extremely problematic on their own campus.
What can account for this epidemic? One thoughtful respondent appropriately commented:

  • I don't for a minute want to minimize the roll that drunkenness plays in campus sexual assaults, but drunkenness on college campuses is not new… What is new on college campuses across the nation, as a result of the explosive growth of the World Wide Web, is college facilitated access to a "smorgasbord" of hardcore pornography that depicts the abuse, degradation, and exploitation of females. 
However true this might be, there is also another consideration. The normalization of almost any form of sexual acting-act is routinely promoted. In a New York Times Op-Ed, Charles M. Blow glowingly affirmed Miley Cyrus’ statements:

  • “I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual.”
  • I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me.”
For Blow, these statements represent what sexuality should be about – “casual,”  “carefree,” and non-judgmental sex.

  • There was something about the casual, carefree-ness of the statements that I found both charming and revolutionary. It took a happy-go-lucky sledgehammer to the must-fit-a-box binary that constrains and restricts our understanding of the complexity of human sexuality.
Since the NYT doesn’t discuss the down-side of the sexual revolution, we can assume that they too regard uncommitted sex as something that should be fun, playful, “happy-go-lucky,” and perhaps even a bit mischievous – something that our college students can readily applaud.

Blow rejects the traditional approach to sexuality as sacred, as something that “restricts our understanding of the complexity of human sexuality.” How ironic! It is the media and the universities which have silenced and struck down any message counter to the rampant sexual permissiveness and experimentation. Does the university offer any talks on the value of chastity? On traditional marriage? Instead, such discussions are taboo, routinely screamed down, and even penalized. Meanwhile, polyamory and other unsustainable practices are given free range to entice the minds of the susceptible.

However, it is Blow’s and Cyrus’ message, loudly proclaimed on almost every campus, that has helped to unleash sexual experimentation – the exploration of one’s sexuality. One popular form of sexual exploration is, understandably, forceful, bodily, sexual proselytizing. Well, isn’t it natural enough?

Isn’t it true that everyone wants and needs sex? What then is the problem? Sexual taboos, of course! Well then, what’s wrong with penetrating through these taboos in a persuasive, although somewhat aggressive manner? Perhaps these sexual trend-setters have even convinced themselves that they are providing a needful service to their victims? After all, the pedophiles have convinced themselves of this – the children a better-off because of them!

Behavior can no more be separated from belief than life from blood. If our youth are taught the primacy of choice above everything else, they will exercise their choice, albeit harmfully. If they are taught that their nature should govern their behavior, they will act out according to their nature. However, if they are taught that they must govern their natural impulses, and when they do not, they violate heaven’s dictates, they will think twice. (Also, our law-makers and universities will think twice!) However, this has become the forbidden message, the message that must be silenced.  

Friday, September 25, 2015


Many are unwilling to be bound be the dictates of Scripture. One “Christian” stated that, for him, the Spirit working in His life trumped Scripture. However, nothing must trump Scripture:

  • Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one SPEAKING THE VERY WORDS OF GOD. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
If we wish to praise and glorify God, we must bring our words into conformity with His  Words of truth. Otherwise, we are not serving Him. Even Jesus boasted that His words were not His own but the very words of the Father.

Isaiah made a similar claim:

  • When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! IF THEY DO NOT SPEAK ACCORDING TO THIS WORD, THEY HAVE NO LIGHT OF DAWN. (Isaiah 8:19-20)
Consequently, no one would be justified in claiming:

  • I have the Spirit or God leading me, and this takes precedence over the Scriptures.
In fact, Scripture never affirms such a queer notion. Why not? Because the Spirit is the author of Scripture:

  • Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but MEN SPOKE FROM GOD AS THEY WERE CARRIED ALONG BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Therefore, we have no basis to separate God from His Word and charge us with bibliolatry – the worship of the Bible.  

How then does this “Christian” know that he is being led by the Spirit if the Word is just a secondary artifact for him! Perhaps he is being led by a deceiving spirit. Instead, the way we love God is by keeping His Word:

  • Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:21-24)
Consequently, a Christian is one who obeys the Word.

Jesus’ Impossible Commands

Jesus’ commands are impossible to follow. Here is just one example from the Sermon on the Mount:

  • "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. (Matthew 6:1-4) 
Of course, some of Jesus’ instructions are hyperbolic. There is no way that we cannot prevent the “left hand [from knowing] what your right hand is doing.” Instead, Jesus highlights the fact that our spiritual deeds should not be performed in order “to be seen by” others.

But can we ever be entirely unconcerned about what others think of us? We are social creatures and care profoundly about how we are seen. Even in the midst of my most unselfish act, I found that I was still concerned that people would see how spiritual I was. I saw an elderly woman fall down in the middle of a busy intersection. Immediately, I ran out to help her, but even before I was able to rescue her from the oncoming cars, I looked around to see how many were observing my “un-self-concerned” sacrificial act.

And I am not alone in this. We are self-absorbed with what others think of our appearance and everything about us. How then can we fulfill Jesus’ command to not perform our “acts of righteousness” to be seen by others?

We can’t! Well, if we can’t, why does Jesus command this? It will merely depress and discourage us, won’t it?

Perhaps that’s the point. Certainly, we should be guided by the right motives, but we also need to be humbled. Jesus told a parable about two men praying at the Temple. One thanked God that he was better than others; the other knew he wasn’t and humbled himself accordingly:

  • "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)
Those who humble themselves by admitting their spiritual unworthiness will be exalted. This means that the way up is the way down. When we humble ourselves by admitting that we are spiritual failures who cannot keep Jesus’ commands, He will lift us up. He already knows our frailties and failures.

Following Jesus is always a humbling experience, as it should be. Consequently, to follow is to be humbled and then to be exalted. However, this process requires obedience to His commands.

Instead, many of us believe that by following spiritual or physical disciplines, we directly exalt ourselves. However, Jesus warns us that this is impossible:

  • Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:24-26)
While all things are possible with God, they are not with us, as Jesus taught:

  • “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5) 
This should be comforting. It allows us to take the attention off of us and place it upon our Lord, where it belongs. Nevertheless, we must be obedient to His commands. We must follow.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Christian Love and the Refugee Problem

What is Christian love? Answering this question is essential to how we answer the question regarding our response to Islamic refugees. For one thing, according to Jesus, it is essential to forgive as we have been forgiven:

  • For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Forgiveness is not optional. It is integral to the Gospel itself. Love too isn’t an option:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (Romans 12:14-19)
Consequently, on a personal level, we must be loving and forgiving even to members of ISIS. We cannot take revenge but must leave matters of justice to God and to the authorities He has ordained. This is how we “leave room for God’s wrath” and how He avenges:

  • Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)
It is God and His officials who punish, not us! Instead, this division of responsibilities frees us up to love, while we respect and uphold the system of justice that He has instituted.

God embodies both justice and love. Therefore, we cannot reject one in favor of the other. Besides, if we are assured that He will bring justice, we need not take the law into our own hands. Consequently, love and justice go together, like the two wings of a plane.

Although we are not the agents of justice, we have to affirm God priorities and uphold justice. Therefore, by approving of bringing jihadists into the country, we demonstrate an unbiblical disdain for justice and an aberrant understanding of love, one that rejects the need for justice, order, and social peace. It would be no different than springing murderers and rapists lose from prison, arguing that this is the duty of Christian love. Instead, this love upholds justice and seeks to protect the innocent against avowed murderers.

What does love look like? If your wife is raped, love does not take personal revenge but refers the matter to God’s authorities. And we must! Would it be right to subject our neighbor to this rapist? Of course not! Love would require that we bring criminal charges to stop the rampage. To not bring charges against the offender would bring disrepute upon Christianity and call into question our wisdom. Likewise, would it be wise to unleash jihadists on the innocent? Of course not!

Meanwhile, pray for the perpetrator and do good as you seek justice through the ordained channels. We support those who bring relief to refugees but not those who would unleash destruction by indiscriminately bringing them into our neighborhoods.

Also, the church should proactively love those Muslims who are already here. Why? Because such love in no way further endangers our neighbor! Instead, it works to bring repentance.

While we always forgive wrongdoing within our hearts, complete forgiveness and restoration can only be achieved through confession and repentance:

  • So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)
According to Jesus, complete forgiveness and restoration require repentance. We cannot disdain matters of righteousness and justice for the sake of love. Nor can we disdain love because of an overriding concern for justice. Instead, these are complementary rather than oppositional. Excommunication (judgment) might be required to bring about true restoration and love, as Paul suggested:

  • …Some have rejected these [faith and obedience] and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:19-20)
Excommunication can be an expression of love. Paul advocated this form of tough love in hope of restoring blasphemers. Love is not a matter of giving everyone what they want but what they need.

What does the Muslim refugee need? How do we best serve them? At the very least, the Muslim refugee should be required to renounce those Koranic passages about jihad, sharia law, wife-beating, and rape. Perhaps the most loving thing to do is to clearly demonstrate that many of the tenants of their religion will not be tolerated.

Meanwhile, those who are left of center are appalled at the suggestion of requiring the refugee to disavow murder and rape. Instead, they enable them to continue in moral and spiritual bondage.

In contrast, Christian love is not just a matter of soft-fuzzies – those things that feel good and buy a temporary peace. This love also requires firmness and discipline. God chastens those He loves:

  • Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11) 
Christian love also requires correction, which is often painful. While Jesus reserved His harshest comments for the religious leadership – they required harsher words – He issued far more words of censure than praise for His own disciples:

  • Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23) 
Because Jesus loved, He also warned about the impact of false teachings:

  • "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16; Mark 8:15; Rev. 2:14-15; 1 John 4:1)
We too must denounce dangerous false teachings. What did Christian love require during the rise of Hitler? At the least, warning! Had the West powers intervened earlier, they could have stopped the coming Nazi horrors and the destruction of many millions. Had the Church exposed Hitler’s false conception of Christianity, Hitler might have even been stopped earlier.

However, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that those Christians who did oppose Hitler would be labeled as “Communists,” “bigots,” “fundamentalists,” and “haters of the German people.”

I too am called a “hater” and a “bigot” because I oppose Islamic emigration to the West. However, what can we say to a young man who wants to join ISIS and defends his decision by citing verses of the Koran? Wouldn’t we then have to challenge the Koran? Wouldn’t Christian love require that we attempt to rescue the sinner from sin?

At this point, many would call me an “Islamophobe,” saying:

  • You cannot criticize an entire religion because of some extremists. Muslims interpret the Koran differently, and you are no Islamic scholar! 
However, if I am to love this young man, I must address his Koranic rationale for wanting to join ISIS, despite the predictable leftist charges of “bigot.” However, Jesus, the epitome of love, was called worse.

What would be the influence of receiving many thousands of additional Islamic refugees? What would Christian love require of us? In the past, refugees to the USA were grateful to their host country and wanted to repay the debt. However, Muslims instead want to replace our government with sharia law, which subjugates all non-Muslims and condemns any criticism of Islam. There is no gratefulness, only demands!

If we have any doubts about this inevitable outcome, we need look no further than Western Europe, where Islam has already created their own “states” – no-go-zones - within their host countries. Meanwhile, rapes of the filthy infidels has exploded. What is our responsibility? To defend the innocent!

Both history and Koran testify that the Muslim rarely adopt our system of justice. In every country where there is a sizable Islamic minority, there is also a demand for Islamic law, often accompanied by violence.

If Christian love would have required the Church to warn against Hitler, it also requires us to warn against Islam. Why? It is Islam’s intention to dominate the world, violently if need be. The Koran reads:

  • “Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion [Islam] reigns supreme, (Surah 8:37)
  • “When the Sacred Months are over, kill those who ascribe partners [like Jesus] to God wheresoever ye find them; seize them, encompass them, and ambush them; then if they repent and observe prayer and pay the alms, let them go their way’.” (Surah 4:5)
  • “…kill the disbelievers wherever we find them” (Koran 2:191) and “murder them and treat them harshly” (Koran 9:123), and “Strike off the heads of the disbelievers” (Surah 8:12, cp. 8:60).
Well, aren’t there also good Muslims? There are some, but can we identify them? Not without great difficulty! In light of their doctrine of Taqiyya, the Muslim is authorized to deceive the infidel, even with false demonstrations of friendship, in order to promote Islam.

What then does the West do with the many needy Muslim refugees crashing the boarders of Europe? Resist the influx! They are passing through the Islamic nation of Turkey. Why doesn’t Turkey grant them safe haven? Many are offering Turkey assistance. Why not Iran or Saudi Arabia? Why should this fall upon the West, which is held in the highest contempt by the Muslim?

Meanwhile, the West is turning away those most in need of a refuge, those who would be most grateful for one – the Christians! Middle East scholar, Raymond Ibrahim, writes about this horrible irony:

  • Why are Christian minorities, who are the most to suffer from the chaos engulfing the Middle East, the least wanted in the United States?
  • To the Obama administration, the only "real" refugees are those made so due to the actions of Bashar Assad. As for those who are being raped, slaughtered, and enslaved based on their religious identity by so-called "rebel" forces fighting Assad -- including the Islamic State -- their status as refugees is evidently considered dubious at best.
  • The Obama administration never seems to miss an opportunity to display its bias for Muslims against Christians. The State Dept. is in the habit of inviting scores of Muslim representatives but denying visas to solitary Christian representatives. While habitually ignoring the slaughter of Christians at hands of Boko Haram, the administration called for the "human rights" of the jihadi murderers.
  • In Islamic usage, the "cause of Allah" is synonymous with jihad to empower and enforce Allah's laws on earth, or Sharia. In this context, immigrating into Western lands is a win-win for Muslims: if they die in the process somehow, paradise is theirs; if they do not, the "locations and abundance" of the West are theirs.
  • Muslims all around the U.S. are supporting the Islamic State and Muslim clerics are relying on the refugee influx to conquer Western nations, in the Islamic tradition of Hijrah, or jihad by emigration.
What does Christian love require? How are we to love our neighbor? By bringing assassins or by bringing in those who will love their neighbor? Love should not enable violence and insurrection. Rather, love should favor the protection of the innocent.