Why It Stinks to Be an Atheist

A man recently told me that what he dislikes about religion is all the absolutes.  “There are no absolutes; that’s just a fact.” 

I try to tamp down the baffled look on my face.  But I wonder what would happen if he ever listened to the sound it makes when his lung-air strums his vocal chords.  One atheist described laughter as diaphragm spasms.  Apparently, our brain sparks occasionally produce an arch, resulting in what some might describe as “rational thought,” though the ration is illusory and ultimately meaningless.  If you know what I mean.

Welcome to the hollow world of atheist thought.  Not that I question an atheist’s ability to be rational.  They manage quite well in certain areas.  I have even had conversations with atheists which they insisted were meaningful and coherent.  I don’t dispute it.  I just want to know how they explain it. 

Because if, as the atheist claims, all the world is a product of impersonal forces – the collision of matter and energy – or perhaps, lightning striking mud, then what we really have going on is this gigantic chemical reaction which members of the press somberly describe as “breaking news.”  Sometimes the chemicals fizz; sometimes they pop; sometimes they experience diaphragm spasms; sometimes they debate.  But the chemical activity from one beaker to the next really doesn’t matter because it isn’t really anything anyway.  Some brains spark rationally, and some quite irrationally, and that is what chemicals do given certain temperatures and atmospheric pressures. 

Continue reading “Why It Stinks to Be an Atheist”

Double Standards

Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD. (Proverb 20:10)

God hates a double-standard — one standard applied to ourselves or our friends and allies, slanting things in our own favor, and another standard applied to our rivals or adversaries that slants things against them.  The idea of a double standard comes from these divers weights and divers measures spoken of in the proverb. The Hebrew reads “a stone and a stone, a measure and a measure.”  The idea is that you have a large weight and a small weight, a large measure and a small measure. Depending on the transaction, one set would be used for buying and the other for selling.

To this day, this kind of thing is a universal means of cheating your customer.  We do it with or without scales and weights.  When buying merchandise, we point out the flaws and talk the product down.  When selling, we ignore (or conceal) the flaws and talk the product up.  The age-old double standard still carries the freight.

Continue reading “Double Standards”

Why I’m Not Leaving Facebook. Yet.

I think we can apply the familiar maxim to Facebook: don’t take Facebook too seriously – Facebook already takes itself too seriously.  Over the past few months, I have given a lot of thought to my involvement with Facebook, and particularly to the question of whether I should stay or leave.  In frustration, I have threatened to leave and urged others to consider doing the same.  I have opened accounts with Parler and with MeWe.  I haven’t opened anything with Gaab, but that’s only because… well, I just haven’t. I have raged against the censorship, against the glaring double-standard, against the obvious bias of the medium.  I have chuckled wryly (that is a thing, you know) as I scrolled through old posts of mine to see shadow-ban screens covering select posts.  My favorite warning screen, which appears on several of my more recent posts, warns of inappropriate or explicit content.  I found myself trying to remember what it was I posted that Facebook might consider to be “partial nudity.”  If you are curious, just scroll through my old posts. You’ll be shocked to discover what passes for sexually explicit content these days. 

The big question is, do I stay or do I go. Ultimately, I have decided to stay for now.  And since I like to get a little mileage out of these decisions, I thought I would share my thoughts on it with you, the reading audience.  Notice that I said “reading” audience, not the “glancing” audience or the “skimming” audience.  How ‘bout we slow down that scrolling, swiping, and/or surfing for a minute so you can see for yourself.

Here are five reasons why I’m not leaving Facebook YET, followed by a few rules for my fellow rebels who stay with me.  I’m not leaving Facebook…

Because I don’t have to.

And you can’t make me.  Neener, neener, neener.  So there.

Seriously though, I don’t think it speaks well of us that we let ourselves be chased off these platforms by the bully tactics of the left.  I for one prefer to keep the “fake-checkers” busy. 

Look, I get it if you are frustrated by Facebook’s “community standards” and arbitrary deplatforming of conservatives and Christians.  I won’t criticize you if you leave.  But I’m staying.

Full disclosure: our church has used Facebook for live streaming.  In the next few weeks, we will be rolling out a new platform for live streaming our services that will be accessible through our church website.  As I understand it, services will still be broadcast over Facebook for a few minutes and will then direct the viewer to continue from the website.  So, we won’t be entirely removed from Facebook, but Facebook will no longer be the medium for broadcasting.  We are taking this step for a very practical reason: we don’t wish to be dependent on Facebook.  We think it is inevitable that Facebook will de-platform us, and we don’t want to be left scrambling when that happens. 

In all good conscience, I believe that we need to ensure that our relationship with Facebook is not one of dependency.  It is one thing to engage in the conversation.  I’m staying so I can do that.  It is quite another to rely on Facebook. 

Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint. (Proverbs 25:19)

Because Facebook is a medium, not a way of life.

Again, I would urge perspective.  The advancement of technology has provided us with a wealth of platforms and mediums for broadcasting our message.  That is what we are discussing here.  For too many, Facebook has become a way of life.  If you live on Facebook, you should probably get back to real life. 

Think of Facebook as a bulletin board.  The bulletin board has some really great features, and a lot of people can look at it at one time.  But at the end of the day, it is still a bulletin board.  Feel free to post stuff on it.  The hall monitor might take some of your stuff off.  The little old Bitties in the Ministry of Information might rap your knuckles for posting unapproved opinions.  And some of you might be banned from using their corkboard and stickpins.  Still, the bulletin board provides a service, and as long as we can, I think we should keep posting good stuff there. 

But don’t spend your day hanging around the bulletin board.  Stop by once in a while to see what else is going on, but don’t obsess about who is looking at your stuff.   

I have made the casual observation that my wife’s stuff gets a lot more attention than mine.  Maybe you noticed that we have a joint Facebook account.  She posts more and interacts more than I do on Facebook.  When a post gets a lot of interaction, you can take it to the bank that she put it up.

I chalk that up to my wonkish personality – what people have affectionately described as fifty shades of vanilla.  I am the classic “bland leader of the bland.”  Its okay, really.  I’m not trying to prime the pump here.  I’m very comfortable in my skin. 

I will point out, however, that a certain kind of post is almost certain to get more attention than others.  A number of years ago, I blogged at Jackhammer with Kent Brandenburg and Jeff Voegtlin.  We had a great time, and for a while, we built up quite the head of steam over there.  I stopped blogging because, frankly, it became an obsession for me.  I loved making waves, and the bigger the waves, the more attention we got.  It was a vicious cycle, because the more attention we got, the more I tried to build up a tidal wave. 

I needed the break from blogging, if for no other reason than to restore my own sanity.  My son described my activity on the Internet as me walking through the forest tossing lighted matches at random. When I started blogging over here at The Village Smithy, I made an agreement with my wife that I wouldn’t try to start forest fires any more.  I put in place some measures for accountability, and embarked on a new approach to blogging – aiming for value rather than provocation.  So far, so good.

But I have also noticed that when you don’t breathe fire, people don’t read you.  Not too long ago, a pastor posted a rebuke on Facebook of those who talk politics all the time and have little of spiritual value to say.  I understand the sentiment.  But the truth is, we scroll past the spiritual stuff.  I’m as guilty of it as the next guy.

For an example, I have been posting a series of articles on joy.  The reception of those articles has been pedestrian at best.  Perhaps we could chalk that up to the pedestrian writing.  Let’s say that is the issue.  The same author (Yours Truly) has written other articles that were off the charts – readers in the thousands.  And that is no exaggeration. What articles get read that much?  Well, I’m pretty sure my most popular post ever was the one I wrote last summer about our family’s COVID experience.  A close second were two articles I wrote on contemporary worship (thanks to a little help from David Cloud).  More recently, my article on Martin Luther King, Jr. got a lot of attention as well.  

What is the point?  We read what interests us.  And forest fires interest us. Does that mean we aren’t interested in spiritual things?  I don’t think so.  I blame it on the medium.  If we drive by the city park and notice an orchestra playing in the gazebo, we will probably think that is really neat that an orchestra is playing in the gazebo.  We’ll look at it as we drive by.  But if we drive by the city park and someone is shooting off fireworks, we will pull over to watch.  That’s what we call human nature.

Keep Facebook in perspective.

Because Facebook doesn’t shape my opinion.

If Facebook shapes your opinion, shame on you.  If Facebook is your primary source of news and information, double shame.  Boo!  Shame!  Boo! 

Image result for the princess bride boo lady
Facebook’s default value

The Internet provides us with plenty of options when it comes to news and information.  Facebook isn’t the only thing.  I have tried to promote the services of Real Clear Politics in the past, which offers a variety of articles from a variety of perspectives every morning and every evening.  It really is a great way to keep yourself informed.  You have the opportunity to read articles you agree with and articles you disagree with.  But at least you aren’t being herded.

Our opinions shouldn’t be shaped by the things we read on the Internet, or in books for that matter.  Our opinions should be shaped by the eternal, unchangeable Word of God.  The things we read should be filtered through the lens of Scripture, so that our opinions resemble more closely a faithful application of Scripture to current events. 

Facebook is one avenue for news and information.  News services and sites are another.  Blogging isn’t totally dead yet (but don’t look at my stats for confirmation).  Our reading and scrolling tends to fall into familiar patterns, similar to the way we drive.  We all tend to drive one street more than others.  Some of that is convenience, some habit.  But once in a while, we really ought to take a different route, if for no other reason than curiosity (aka nosiness). 

Because Facebook provides a platform, and it is still one of the biggest.

Speaking of my blog, the vast majority of traffic comes from Facebook.  And it isn’t even close.  While I’m not encouraged by this fact, I don’t think my blog would die if I left Facebook either.  I’m pretty sure my aunts will still read my stuff whether I’m on Facebook or not.  And since the two other people who visit my site regularly would probably come without Facebook, I’ll not worry about it too much.

But enough about me.  I’ve checked into other social networks, and frankly, they feel like you are trying to get traction in wet clay.  Facebook feels like sprinting, and MeWe feels like a sack race.  I hope some of these other social media platforms can catch up and figure this out soon.  But in the meantime, I’d rather use the billboard on the Freeway than the billboard at the end of the dead end street.  Put it where people can see it!

Because I prefer to get kicked off than to run away.

Maybe that’s just me.  Think of it as my own personal vendetta.  But once in a while, a little healthy rebellion is good for the soul. If you don’t find yourself in Facebook jail once in a while, you aren’t trying. 

My kids and I really enjoy The Great Escape.  We especially love the soldier’s stated commitment to escaping from the prison.  In particular, we love Steve McQueen’s character, who finds himself in isolation over and over again.  It was a point of dignity for those men that they were fighting the war, even when they were in prison. It would be good, I think, if more of us took that approach. 

With that said, let’s consider…

Some rules for using Facebook:

  1. Don’t post things just because you can.

You don’t have a quota to reach.  You aren’t shown to be intelligent by your much speaking.  It is fine for you to share your thoughts on Facebook.  But don’t feel obligated to share your whole mind.  Save some for later.

2. Be reasonably sure that you are posting the truth.

Nobody is helped by phony news stories.  Like it or not, America is inundated with misinformation and disinformation.  As Christians are called to love the truth, make sure you are posting the truth.  It is best to take an extra day to ensure that your opinion is informed and justified than to fly off the handle and add to the flow of garbage on the Internet.

3. Don’t be a coward.

If you are thinking about posting something, but you’re afraid to post it because you think it might put you in Facebook jail, stick it up there, man!  Either that, or think about deleting your Facebook account altogether. 

Times like these call for courage, not cowards.  Be bold.  Speak the truth in love. Don’t pander.  Don’t compromise.  And don’t be afraid to contradict the secular narrative. 

Along those lines, we really need to give more attention to refuting Critical Race Theory, social justice, and Black Lives Matter.  When you see a Cyclops, you really ought to be poking it in the eye.

4. Don’t be a crank.

Some folks can really get to cranking out the crankiness.  Don’t be Lake Marah.  Lighten up a little there, sparky.  Try to offer some cream and sugar with your coffee.

5. Do be a Christian.

Someone asked me whether it was wise for Christians to be on Facebook.  As he explained it, when they start coming for Christians, won’t they use Facebook to find us?  My answer was, when they start coming for Christians, I’ll be upset if they pass me by. 

What a great opportunity we have to shine as lights in the world on platforms like Facebook.  As long as we can, I think we should.

6. Keep things in perspective.

I said this already. 

Okay, I’ll say it again.  Any one of us leaving Facebook is like Aesop’s gnat flying away from the bull’s horn.  As the gnat said when he flew away, “you will probably be relieved that I’m not sitting on your horn any more.” To which the bull replied, “I hadn’t even noticed.”

Look, Facebook would certainly be impacted if they lost half their users in a few months time.  Maybe they would go away, like MySpace.  Maybe another social media giant would take their place.  Or maybe not.  Either way, it won’t make the world a better place.

Only one thing can make our world a better place, and that is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  Evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse.  They waxed worse before Facebook, and they will after.  Boycotting Facebook doesn’t deliver us from evil.

7. Laugh a lot. 

What Facebook needs is an army of jolly Christian soldiers.  And one great void that needs filling on Facebook is a wholescale mockery of secularism and all its minions.  Mocking the enemy is an act of war, and we really need more warriors to find their javelins. 

In this, our Lord Jesus Christ provides the very best example.  He loved to poke fun at the ever-pompous Pharisees and all their rules, rules, rules.  If you don’t recognize the spirit of the Pharisees in Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, AOC, Black Lives Matter, and all the SJW’s around, you aren’t paying attention.  These are the new Puritans, currently re-prosecuting the Salem Witch Trials.  When doing battle with them, we really need to use language they understand.  Mock them.  Ridicule them. 

Isaiah’s vivid depiction of the daughters of Zion primping themselves and “mincing as they go” provides an excellent template for this most serious business.  Your contempt of the world is a virtuous thing. 

So, when will I leave Facebook? When they carry me out on a stretcher. Unless Facebook winds up on the stretcher first.

Joy Restored

We have been discussing various hindrances to joy.  We discussed the way emotional pain from sorrow can disrupt our joy, and we gave some thoughts on dealing with depression and the various ways discouragement can affect our joy.  Then, we discussed the way physical pain and suffering can rob us of our joy, and we offered some suggestions for dealing with this in order to overcome it.

Throughout our lives, we will experience varying degrees of disruption to our joy from both sorrow and suffering.  These are a part of the human experience.  “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”

But the most common disruption to our joy will not be from depression or pain.  The most common disruption to our joy will come from our own sinful choices and behavior.  The pain of sin is the greatest interrupter of our joy. 

Pain and suffering piggybacked into our world on the sin of Adam. I do not say that God ever intended for our world to be a pain-free world.  Pain certainly serves a wise and good purpose.  But the suffering and sorrow we experience from pain is a direct result of sin. 

Continue reading “Joy Restored”

Joy in Pain

Physical pain quickly becomes all-consuming to us. We become preoccupied with it. At the moment, intense physical pain chases away all thoughts of joy. But chronic pain, which lasts for years instead of days, can strip away our hope for recovery and rob us of our joy. We might wonder what to do about joy in the face of such crippling pain. Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this challenge. God gives us the image of Job scraping at his boils with a potsherd.

Some Christians believe the answer to debilitating pain is stoicism. I read about a lady who lost a baby and later testified that God’s grace had been so all-sufficient that she had not shed a tear. I find that troubling. Circumstances may require us to set a firm jaw and soldier on. Still, we should keep a firm handle on the difference between firm resolve and a calloused heart.

God made us physical as well as emotional creatures. We are body, soul, and spirit. At various times, we may experience pain in different body parts – head, neck, back, knees, or elsewhere. Because of the connection between body and soul and spirit, pain in one part of your self can lead to pain in another part. God didn’t make you a block of wood. Those pesky little nerve endings are a part of your whole self. It isn’t unheard of that chronic pain would lead to depression, which can, in turn, cause a loss of joy.  

Because we treasure the gift of joy, we should consider when physical pain affects our joy. For this reason, I want to consider a few things towards a Christian approach to physical pain, especially chronic pain.  I say these things in hopes that if you suffer this way, you will be encouraged to battle your pain in the interest of preserving your joy. I trust that you will find these things helpful towards recovering the joy you might be missing due to debilitating pain.

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The Mormon Hope Podcast

A few weeks ago, Pastor Brandon Vaughn from Grace Baptist Church in Logan approached me about doing a podcast with him. His goal is to provide helpful materials to our LDS neighbors as well as apologetic information for our fellow believers who desire to evangelize their neighbors.

The Vaughn Family from Southern Logan

We get off to a rocking start (think rocking chairs) in this first episode. He does all the setup, editing, posting, and promotion, and I provide that wonderful voice of mine along with a few donated brain cells per session. Let me encourage you to listen to this when you have a chance. If you can’t sleep at night, go ahead and turn on our podcast – it is sure to make you sleep more soundly. I intend to share the weekly episodes on Facebook, so I probably won’t write about it much on my blog.

The leash is NOT for my wife

The first episode is available here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1645945

You can subscribe, according to buzzsprout, by copying and pasting the URL from the address bar (provided here) into the podcast app of your choice. https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1645945.rss

I’d offer more helpful advice, but I’m plumb out…

Joy in Depression

Very few people – Christians included – spend much time thinking about whether or not they have joy.  We assume that it is there.  We feel happy from time-to-time, usually because of a special moment or event.  So long as “everything’s going my way,” we don’t concern ourselves much with joy.  We don’t necessarily feel a sense of joy or delight, but we are content enough with our lives and circumstances.  So, we don’t think about joy.  After all, how ironic would it be to worry about something like joy?

But then, things go sideways.  Something comes along – perhaps a tragedy or some challenge – that disrupts the easy-going joy that we have experienced as almost a default setting.  And then we do worry about it.  “I’m supposed to be full of joy: where is it?”  We feel down, discouraged, maybe even despair.  We know that we shouldn’t feel this way.  After all, we are Christians: the joy of the Lord is supposed to be our strength.  But something has happened.  Joy is gone. 

We don’t tend to be concerned about joy until it goes AWOL.  In the good times, we take it for granted.  But then God brings along a disruption to our joy – may be in the form of a trial, but more often by letting our spirit sink. When we are low in spirit, we feel our loss.  And because we haven’t paid much attention to joy, we find ourselves stuck in a rut. How do I get my joy back?  What is it, really?  Where did it go, and how do I find it?  What does joy look like when I am low in spirit? 

We are speaking here of the garden variety forms of what we call “depression.”  Sometimes it can show up in a mild case of the blues, sometimes it can be more severe than that.  When our spirits fall, we experience a loss of joy. 

Continue reading “Joy in Depression”

What I Learned About Martin Luther King, Jr.

For most of my life, I had been taught certain things about Martin Luther King, Jr. – specifically that he was a communist and an adulterer. Looking back, I wasn’t confident that my sources told me the truth or that those characterizations painted an honest picture of King.  

I decided to study the life of Dr. Martin Luther King for myself. As part of my study, I listened to the audiobook version of Joseph Rosenbloom’s Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last 31 Hours. I also read one of King’s earliest biographies, Let the Trumpet Sound, by Stephen B. Oates.

In hindsight, a better choice would have been one of David Garrow’s three biographies of King. Oates’ biography is thorough enough. Questions have been raised about plagiarism in his book, but that has more to do with the “gotcha” culture of acadamia than any legitimate problem with citations in his material. Oates answers these charges here, for reference. I got the overall impression that Oates was a bit too enamored with King to tackle some of the controversy surrounding his life. Nonetheless, I am glad I read this biography since it gave me a better perspective of King’s life and legacy.

When I finished those two books, I checked out from the library two documentaries about King’s life. The better documentary came from The History Channel and featured Tom Brokaw. The footage in that film included some of the most important events in King’s life. I enjoyed watching video of the things I read about in King’s biography.  

What follows is a rundown of the things I took away from my research. I know that we have little tolerance for wordy online articles, but I hope you will “endure to the end!” Perhaps this article will help you better understand one of the truly iconic characters in American history.

He was a great man.

No man is without his flaws, and King had some glaring shortcomings. But King is worthy of honor, and I am glad to celebrate him. 

By design, some men rise above the crowd. Martin Luther King, Jr was one such man. He would have been famous and wildly successful at whatever he attempted. He was a driven man; he had tremendous talent; he had a magnetic personality. The fact that he possessed so many marks of greatness makes it all the more remarkable that he dedicated his life to the civil rights movement. King did not launch the civil rights movement. Men like W.E.B DuBois and others fought for black people’s rights for many years before MLK came along. King drew our attention to the movement, put it in the national spotlight, and forced America to take note. It was the sheer force of his personality, his presence, that caught America’s attention.

He was a brilliant man.

He entered college while still fifteen years old and earned a Ph.D. when he was twenty-five. He wrote his thesis on “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.” He studied nearly all the great philosophers and almost all the Great Books. He wrote at least four books in his lifetime, the first while still in his twenties. He was conversant in all the great thinkers of Western Civilization, often quoting these philosophers in his sermons. He had a grasp on the nuances of the philosophies that influence our modern era. He knew these philosophies well enough that he could discuss them at length and explain his disagreements.   

He was one of the last great orators.

It has been said that Martin Luther King was one of the last orators to use the grand style properly. I do not believe there has been a man with more natural oratorical skill since King died. 

Continue reading “What I Learned About Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Sorrow Turned to Joy

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (John 16:20)

In John 16, Jesus has His disciples in the upper room, preparing them for His crucifixion.  He tells the disciples that very soon, they will be in mourning.  Pointing to this, Jesus makes a staggering promise: “your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

How can sorrow be turned into joy?  The two seem perfectly contradictory, like a square circle or frozen fire.  Yet, Jesus made the promise: “your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”  Turn a toad into a prince, or a statue into a man, but how can sorrow be turned into joy?  The simple answer is, only by the power of God. 

Somehow, God’s recipe for joy includes sorrow.  I can’t say that I completely understand that.  In my mind, joy consists of the absence of sorrow.  Yet, God calls for our sorrows, tucks them into the cake batter, throws the mix into the oven, and brings forth a masterpiece of a cake.  There must be sorrow, or He could not turn it into joy.

Continue reading “Sorrow Turned to Joy”

Let the Healing Begin!

Spoiler alert: I don’t think Antifa was behind the assault on the U.S. Capital.  I think it was Trump supporters.  No doubt there were some bad actors there.  On the same day, January 6th, a Trump rally was held at the Utah State Capital.  At that rally, both QAnon and the Proud Boys showed up in full force.  Agitators are on the rise in our country, fueled by a growing sense of frustration and discontent. 

Caution: bad language throughout

I don’t excuse what happened, and I don’t deny it.  I think President Trump bears some of the blame; I don’t think he carries all of the blame.  I don’t think he gets a pass; I don’t give his opponents a pass.  I think we are in a real mess right now, and I don’t see relief on the horizon.

Sorry if that feels too gloomy for you.  Generally speaking, I am an optimistic person.  But in this case, we need to face reality.  We see a rising tension in our country that threatens to explode at any moment.

Immediately after the media projected Joe Biden the winner of the Presidential election, newspapers from Australia to Arizona ran the same headline, almost verbatim: “A Time to Heal”  The message was clear: a Biden presidency can bring healing to our nation.  I find it uncanny the way the news media can present the same story in almost the same words across the board.  I have often wondered whether there is a central agency that provides all the mainstream media with the verbiage for their news reports.  Perhaps if we could find that agency, we could make TV news watchable again.

The left believes that with the removal of Donald Trump, we can experience healing in our nation.  The tension in Washington is all his fault, after all.  He is a dictator, a tyrant, unhinged, a rogue, a Russian agent, Putin’s pawn.  He colluded with Russia.  He stole the 2016 election.  He is bad for democracy.  He sought a quid pro quo with Ukraine.  He is the problem.

And Joe Biden can bring healing to our land.

Continue reading “Let the Healing Begin!”