Friday, March 6, 2015

Spiritual Warfare Part 2

In an earlier post I wrote about Spiritual Warfare. Historically we have seen struggles which were clearly seen to be good versus evil. I believe there was a spiritual component to them.

(1) Wars, WWII

While nobody likes war, sometimes it becomes necessary for a nation to defend itself from aggressors. Typically the aggressors are considered evil because they are attacking innocent people, trying to grab more territory, destroying cities and villages, and are generally up to no good. Probably the best examples of evil aggressors were the Nazis and Japanese in World War II. They made their leaders into gods, rather than worship the true God. So I believe WWII was definitely a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

(2) Idol worship

Another struggle is against the “gods” of this world, such as materialism, accumulation of wealth, career, success, etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of these until we make them into idols. When these things dominate our lives and are more important than God, then they become idols. That’s the constant spiritual struggle we face.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spiritual Warfare Part 1

Occasionally you might hear a Christian you know use the term “spiritual warfare.” In Christianity there’s the concept of “spiritual warfare” which refers generally to the struggle between good and evil. Those with a biblical worldview see personal as well as global events through the lens of the Bible. I’d like to explain “spiritual warfare” so you understand where your Christian friend or co-worker is coming from when he or she uses that term. The Apostle Paul describes the struggle we all face in Ephesians 6:10-12 in the New Testament:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (NRSV)

We see God involved in our struggles in many places in the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 17:46 David said the following to Goliath:
“…for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” (NRSV)

In 2 Chronicles 20:15 God says the battle is his:
Thus says the Lord to you: “Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s”. (NRSV)

Part of our spiritual battle has to do with temptation. Speaking about temptation, 1 Peter 5:8 warns:
Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (NRSV)

Christians believe that many of the struggles in this world have a spiritual component. Let’s look at an external struggle and an internal one to get an understanding of the spiritual aspect of each.

(1) Extremism and terrorism

Whether we like it or not, I believe the struggle against Islamic extremism has a spiritual component. What makes it a spiritual battle is the fact that these radicals are evil by any religion’s definition. Secondly, they are killing people under the banner of their religion. While most Muslims are content to live their lives in peace, aggressors like ISIS kill even their fellow Muslims.

Thirdly the battle against radicals, extremists, and terrorists is a spiritual battle because of their desire to wipe other religions off the face of the earth. If they had their way, there would be forced conversions, mass executions for those who refuse, and everybody would be subject to harsh Sharia law.

By the way, calling these radicals “fundamentalists” is wrong and misleading. The term originated in Christianity to identify those who rejected liberal theology and wanted a return to the “fundamentals” of Christianity. These Islamic radicals aren’t concerned about the purity of their beliefs. Moreover, they don’t even obey their religion’s scriptures, which forbid killing of civilians and harsh treatment of “People of the Book” (Sura 2:62; 5:69). They want an Islamic society but don’t seem to want to follow the teachings of their holy scriptures.

(2) Temptation to sin

Interestingly, Islam recognizes the struggle that takes place within a person. One meaning of the word jihad is the struggle within the believer between good vs. evil. Christians also understand that life is constant battle against temptation and the lure of the things of this world which can separate us from God. That is the heart of spiritual warfare.

Now when you hear somebody talk about “spiritual warfare” you’ll know where the person is coming from.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is ISIS Islamic?

You may think the question “Is ISIS Islamic?” strange. “Of course they are Islamic. What else could they be?” might be the reply. Let’s take a look at that question in some depth.

ISIS followers are Islamic in name, culture, and religious background. However, they break many rules of Islam in their brutal killing of innocent people. They don’t even show mercy to fellow Muslims, engaging in wholesale killing of surrendered soldiers and even burning alive that Jordanian pilot. Since they disobey Qur’anic rules, I don’t think we can consider ISIS to be representative of Islam or to be religious in any way. They are using Islam for their own nefarious purposes: to gain power, territory, and legitimacy.

Having said that, I believe our struggle is a spiritual one to a large extent. If they are invoking their god, then shouldn’t we be praying to God for help and protection? Ultimately the battle is the Lord’s. (see future post on spiritual warfare)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Does Obama Love the U.S.?

Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani made a statement the other day to the effect that President Obama doesn’t love America. I believe I know why he said that, so let me try to provide some insight. I think there are several points to consider.

1. Obama is a liberal (also known as a progressive). Liberals tend to be internationalists, and this can make them appear to be less concerned about their own country. Liberals tend to be less outwardly patriotic than those on the right.

2. Obama’s pastor in Chicago made anti-American statements in some of his sermons, mainly because of our history of slavery and oppression. This may have influenced Obama to not be as outwardly patriotic as some might expect from the President of the United States.

3. Some may view him as an apologist for Islam, meaning he’s defending Islam from those who blame Islam for what is being done in its name.

4. He’s been exposed to Islam much more than the average American, and that makes some feel he’s too sympathetic to Muslims (which we see in his speeches per point number 3 above).

5. Lastly, we need to understand the difference between a person’s attitude towards his or her country, and his or her criticism or opinion of the government, our culture, our history, or the administration. All citizens need to recognize and come to terms with our country’s flaws and its history, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love our country. We can and should seek to improve our government and make politicians more accountable to the voters. We do that out of love for country, not because we hate it. We want our country to be the best it can be.

While we should love our country and be loyal to it, our first priority as people of faith must be to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We can’t elevate country (or anything else) above God. If we shut God out of our country (as militant atheists are trying to do), society will lose its moral foundation and will continue to deteriorate. Now, more than ever, we need strength from above to fight the battles against terrorism.

I think Giuliani could have worded his criticism of Obama a little better. Because it was such a personal criticism, Rudy ended up becoming a lightning rod for all kinds of criticism. Some felt it was a low blow and inappropriate. As a result of all this, why don’t you and I step back for a minute and think about how we show our love for our country?

Do we vote?
Do we correspond with our representatives on a regular basis to give our opinion and keep them accountable?
Do we pray for our country on a regular basis?
Do we pay our fair share of taxes?
Do we help the less fortunate?
Do we try to be more “green” to help conserve our natural resources?
Do we stay informed of what is happening at all levels of government?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Terrorist Attacks – Not the New Normal

With terrorist attacks occurring with some frequency, it is easy to slip into a fatalistic mentality which views them as the “new normal”. The excerpt below talks about that frequency:

Yet, the fact remains that there have been at least 60 Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the homeland since 9/11, illustrating the continued threat of terrorism against the United States. Fifty-three of these plots were thwarted long before the public was ever in danger, due in large part to the concerted efforts of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence.
The Heritage Foundation has tracked the foiled terrorist plots against the United States since 9/11 in an effort to study the evolving nature of the threat and garner lessons learned. The best way to protect the United States from the continued threat of terrorism is to ensure a strong and capable domestic counterterrorism enterprise—and to understand the continuing nature of the terror threat.
The bombings in Boston are not likely to be the last such attempt to attack the U.S. as a whole. Now is not the time for the U.S. to stand still.
60 Terrorist Plots Since 9/11: Continued Lessons in Domestic Counterterrorism
Jessica Zuckerman, Steven P. Bucci, Ph.D. and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.

We can not accept terrorism as the “new normal.” The United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, Western Europe, and other targeted countries shouldn’t just take defensive actions in the hope of preventing attacks, important as that is. The world needs to be on a war footing and make a concerted effort to eradicate the curse of radical Islamic extremism by such groups as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haran, and many others which commit acts of terrorism every day. We don’t hear about most them unless the act of terrorism is so horrendous that it gets the attention of the western press, or the act is against a western target (like what happened recently in France).

We should support and encourage our country’s counter-terrorism efforts. Think of all the misery these terrorist groups cause: anguished parents of kidnapped girls in Nigeria, the thousands butchered by ISIS, most of whom are Muslims, the bombings of marketplaces in Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries, just to name a few. This savagery must be dealt with by every civilized country, no matter what the dominant religion. We can’t let these groups continue to terrorize and kill people.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pluralism and the Duke University Chapel

Sometimes the desire for pluralism goes a bit too far. This happened at Duke University recently. The school, which has a Wesleyan (Methodist) heritage, decided to allow a Muslim call to worship to be announced from speakers in the chapel bell tower on Fridays. This was done in the interest of “pluralism,” but because of numerous complaints, the university reversed its decision.

The chapel is an interfaith place of worship, so what’s the problem? There are a number of issues I have with Duke permitting a Muslim call to worship from its chapel.

(1) The chapel is not a mosque, and it is not appropriate to announce a Muslim call to worship from a building that is primarily Christian. Duke was, in essence, turning it into a mosque.

(2) Pluralism, whatever that means in the wacky world of political correctness, is already present in the university by its diversity, religious and otherwise. There’s no need to broadcast a Muslim call to worship that would be heard all over the campus in order to foster “pluralism.”

(3) The religion Duke wanted to elevate is the very religion that suppresses and oppresses women, persecutes and kills Christians, kidnaps children in Nigeria, and burns churches in Egypt and elsewhere. I know, I know, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, you say, but remember, they are still free to practice their religion in the United States. All I’m saying is don’t convert a church into a mosque to accommodate a religion in whose name terrible things are done. It sends the wrong message.

(4) We should also remember that while Muslims are free to worship as they please here in the U.S., Christians and other religious minorities do not enjoy such freedoms in many Islamic countries. While we don’t want to stoop to that level in the United States, we don’t need to celebrate a religion that is essentially at war with Christians, Jews, and the West.

Don’t miss the meaning of that final point. We are at war with Islam whether we want to admit it or not. While it is a small segment of the Muslim population that commits terrorist acts, their radicalism is based on the Qur’an’s teachings, which most Muslims are familiar with. In one part of the Qur’an, it refers to Christians and Jews as “People of the Book” who should be treated with respect. However, in other parts the Qur’an suggests harsher treatments of these “infidels.” Those parts of the Qur’an seem to be the ones that Muslims pay attention to, not the “People of the Book” sections.

More about the spiritual aspects of this struggle in a future post. Also, more about pluralism and diversity in universities in a future post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rights and Responsibilities

With the terrorist attack against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, the issue of “rights” has come up, especially the right of free speech and freedom of the press. These are enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, a remarkable document at the time it was written. Let me point out a few things about rights and the responsibilities that go with them:

(1) We should keep in mind that no right is absolute, including speech and press. Using your right of free speech to slander someone is illegal and may result in a lawsuit. It is wrong to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Governments can control some rights in the interest of public order, such as requiring a permit to assemble.

(2) In our Bill of Rights, free speech and freedom of the press are not necessarily “blanket” rights with no restrictions whatsoever. Their main purpose was to permit criticism of the government without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately these rights have been invoked for things the writers of the Constitution never envisioned, such as pornography and flag burning.

(3) Just because something is a right doesn’t make it right. What I mean is that something may be allowed by law but it might be immoral or unethical according to the Judeo-Christian tradition which informs much of our moral code (or at least used to).

(4) Publishing a newspaper, magazine, or even a blog comes with the responsibility to tell the truth, not to plagiarize, check your facts, and not insult or make fun of anyone because of their race, color, nationality, religion, or any other aspects of their lives.

Responsibility and good taste should be used when exercising any of your rights.