The Moral Superiority of Jesus

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Jesus was simply the man. But hey, I’m biased.

My thinking this is not arrogance. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all believe our religious founder is superior (or that they are all overrated if we have none). But what reasons do we have for that belief, and in what ways do we claim one is better than the other? 

Here, I want to take a quick look at why Jesus is morally superior to Buddha and Mohammed. 

Jesus’ Moral Revolution

Whether you look at the New Testament or the other extra-biblical sources that mention Jesus (there are numerous), they really don’t have any kind of evidence that he was an immoral man. The Rabbis didn’t like him because he did miracles and yet didn’t agree with them. The Romans saw him as an insurgent, but give us no reason to suspect he did anything violent. And his followers themselves were known for how counter-cultural they were in how they lived – communally, respectfully, lovingly… and never violently.

Further evidence of the morality of Jesus comes from the Biblical traditions and cultural changes that spawned from him. The Christian movement truly was a moral revolution, and most of us today hold to some distinctly Christian values, whether we think we do or not. In fact, the word “humility” which has the same root as “humiliation” was not something that people valued until after Jesus, whose humility was found in his willingness to be humiliated for the sake of others.

To preface my criticisms that follow, I say this: I want to be careful and yet critical. That is, I don’t with to be unfair in what I say, nor do I wish to say it impolitely. But I do want to be direct and to the point, and to not shy away from what I believe to be honest criticisms. I also welcome yours! 

Mohammed’s Conquests & Romances

Contrast the morality of Jesus with that of Mohammed. While Muslims praise him as the final and greatest prophet of God, I think that even Islamic tradition itself betrays Mohammed’s questionable character.

First, his whole campaign was not a peaceful one like Jesus’ was. The early Muslim regime was a militant one. Granted, they sought first a peaceful conquering of land and peoples (but still a conquering, and one which included institutionalized discrimination for those who did not convert), but if there was any resistance, violence was the 2nd resort. Whereas Christians crusaded in the 11th century over a thousand years after their beginnings, Muslims were crusading right away and have been doing so in larger or smaller groups ever since. And I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Mohammed set that tone.

Secondly, Mohammed had a questionable romantic life. Besides being polygamous and marrying 9-year-old Aisha, he justified the normally unlawful divorce (even by previously revealed Qu’ran law) of his adopted son Zayd’s wife so that he could marry her. Making things worse, he did it through a convenient and arguably self-serving “revelation” from God.

Buddha’s Negligence 

I find it funny how many Westerners adopt Buddhism as a convenient, new age kind of spirituality. I can definitely see the appeal in some ways, but I find the supposedly “enlightened” Buddha, in the end, morally lacking.

Being dissatisfied with his native Hinduism, Buddha left his family (wife and children too if I remember correctly) for a life of extreme asceticism, which is essentially a giving up of indulgences. People nowadays think that Buddha is noble for leaving behind excessive lifestyle choices, but how is leaving behind one’s wife and children and other societal responsibilities noble? Morality, after all, is more about our relationships to others than about ourselves.

Jesus lived a relatively poor, underprivileged lifestyle, devoid of any real excess. Yet he worked and was a faithful contributor to society for 30 years until his more significant religious work began. Even then, while he called for radical commitment to his teachings, his ethics centred around loving one’s neighbour, not leaving them to find personal fulfillment (which was indeed Buddha’s goal, though it wore the veneer of sacrifice).

Jesus’ sacrifice, on the other hand, was one of service to others. After his death, unlike the deaths of other Messianic would-be-nots of Jesus’ time, caused a total revolution and changed the moral landscape of the world. This is simply not the case for Mohammed or Buddha, who arguably may have caused more moral damage than good.

But again, I’m biased. What do you think of my criticisms? I’d be interested to hear, so feel free to hit me up in the comments below or via Twitter @rexCo27.

Keep thinking!

Corey

Four Ways to Get Good Stress

The principle of getting good stress is true, I think, in all the different arenas of life. If you understand these key areas you can at least get started in pursuing healthy degrees of challenge in your life to keep you sharp and strong.

Physical Exercise

This is something right at your fingertips. Even if it’s just doing daily push-ups when you wake up or in the evening. Ideally, it’s more than that. Some regular, sweat-inducing cardio, a fun sports game a couple times a week, a challenging resistance training routine. I’m hoping to learn some kind of fighting soon, which might take out an evening or weekend afternoon every week.

The number one excuse for not exercising is time. But again, even something small like a 20-minute run can give huge physical benefits! Kinesiology was my field of study in University, and a major take-away from several classes looking at physical activity research was that exercise is essentially a miracle drug. It fights depression, stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, and has innumerable other benefits.

So do yourself a favour and commit to getting some exercise.

Mental Exercise

Whether it’s reading a book, watching educational videos, writing, or even browsing Wikipedia articles that you find interesting, you need to find ways to sharpen your mind. Learning – and being challenged in what you think you already know – should be a norm for everyone, since the brain is much like any muscle and will atrophy if it is not challenged with healthy, regular use.

I encourage you to interact with content that you disagree with. Try and understand it, pick it apart, and explain to yourself verbally or in written form why you disagree. I find listening to both sides of any argument quite invigorating – even purpose-giving. It keeps you on your toes and you’re less likely to get stuck in your own ways and ideas, if you’re doing it right.

I’ll never forget when I once wrestled with the theology of the Protestant Reformers (Martin Luther and John Calvin, among others). Some of it I hated so much that I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to continue being a Christian! But after 8 months thinking and hearing different perspectives I embraced the doctrines I was once so scared of. That journey changed how I see the world, and I’m immensely thankful for it. Such intellectual journeys are not only fun but life-enriching, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep learning and seeking truth.

Relational Exercise

The internet age has given us artificial relationships while making us think we have real ones. We think we’re more connected than ever, but we’re not. Any wonder so many of us feel isolated and deal with resulting anxiety or depression? It’s time to put our skin in the game, take some risks, and build authentic relationships.

If you’re in a stage of anxiety or other mental illness right now, this kind of exercise will be especially hard. But like any “good stress”, the risk is necessary for the reward. And for some, the reward is finally coming to a place of security and mental health.

Start with friends or co-workers you have around. Think of a few questions you could ask them; make some conversation. Try to develop a curious mind, and questions will eventually just start to come (Dale Carnegie insists that a genuine interest is one of the chief ways of making real friends!).

Like any good stress, expect difficulties and even setbacks. Disagreements or conflicts in general are normal in any real relationships, so learn how to deal with them honestly and humbly. Try and see them as an opportunity for growth and greater connection rather than something negative.

Emotional Exercise

Most people in our western culture grow up not learning how to process emotions properly. As a result, when we get older, we just don’t know how to deal with them. We suppress, avoid, or just get frustrated because we don’t know what to do with our feelings.

I say this as a man who grew up in a home where you didn’t talk about emotions, and in a culture that doesn’t allow men that freedom. In an unfortunate twist of irony, my emotions often end up getting the best of me and leading to a deep seeded anger.

It’s a real challenge (a good stress), but we need to build emotional connections with people, learn to express and process our emotions appropriately, and accept them as they ebb and flow. As we do, we actually come to a point of greater emotional stability – that is, our emotions become helpful rather than controlling or crippling.

Bonus Round: Practicing Thankfulness

In our privileged culture, the #firstworldproblems thing is no joke. We are so entitled that we are incredibly ungrateful even when we have amazing lives.

Time to fight this indwelling evil. Fight it with the only true antidote: thankfulness. Think of things you have every reason to be thankful for. And be honest – if you’re not satisfied completely with something, ask yourself why? Consider that perhaps the problem is not the thing itself but you and your perspective. I find that when I really think about it, usually my biggest complaints in life aren’t that warranted. And when I stop with the complaining attitude, the relationship or work-related thing often improves as my attitude changes.

We’ll explore these areas some more soon. For now, be challenged and (appropriately) stressed!

Corey

The Good Stress of Purpose

runner-555074_1920I’ve talked before about the importance of struggle and healthy stress in our lives. It grows our character, strengthens our minds and bodies, and humbles us.

But something was lacking: what sort of things give us healthy stress in our lives? Here, I want to briefly explore why purpose is one good example of a healthy stress-inducer.

Pressure and Purpose

You might not first think of it this way, but purpose naturally puts pressure on us. It directs and guides us. It moves or draws us towards its ends, requires results, and motivates us with rewards (among other things). It keeps us from things that are undesired, destructive, or just a waste of time. It is a healthy stress if it is a good and correct purpose and one that drives us forward in important areas of life: overall health, good relationships, moral goodness, societal contribution, etc.

Think of school work. Perhaps your purpose is to learn and get good grades (though you may have a different one). That purpose motivates you to actually do your homework and work relatively hard at it. It stops you from wasting time on too much video games (hopefully) and is probably going to keep you from abusing drugs or alcohol which would get in the way of success.

I think of the people who did not adopt such a healthy stress in high school. They wasted time out in the forest smoking and playing hooky. Many of them didn’t really go anywhere. I know there are complicated reasons that someone might choose that lifestyle, and I’m not trying to be inconsiderate. I also think that any life can be turned around! That said, when people shirk healthy purpose, they leave behind overall health and success with it. The good stress of purpose will stop you from going down such roads.

Perspectives and Purpose

Coming from a Christian perspective has helped me in many ways. One of those has been by giving me an all-informing and all-encompassing sense of purpose. I know that my life is to be lived for the good of others and the glory of God. I live to tell others about the purpose that Jesus taught and the understanding that he gave. He takes care of my failures so that they don’t weigh me down or guilt me like most religion does. He promised a hope for a new earth in a future life, but also one that continues from this one. Thus, “what we do in this life echoes into eternity” as Maximus says in Gladiator. This completely changes how one lives.

I know not all of you reading this will come from or even be interested in a Christian perspective. That’s fine, although I do think that theists have an advantage here since I can’t see a good reason for having purpose that you just make up or that comes from something from this world only.

That said, I do think anyone can (and must) take advantage of the idea of purpose and the healthy stress that it puts on you. Consider thinking of purposes or “mission statements” for the different areas of your life. For example, you may have this mission statement for your family responsibilities: “I will prioritize my family relationships above all others, doing my best to help each member flourish, putting their needs above my own.” When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, this kind of statement will be a stressful one to carry out! But it’s a great one, and if you really believe it it will push you towards healthy living, and in one of the most important social institutions at that.

So wherever you’re coming from, and whatever place of “health” you’re at in your life, consider the benefits of purpose and the stress that comes from it. Remember that even though stress might seem particularly hard at first, you’ll need to build up strength to do it – but you’ll be better off for it.

Finally, be challenged: do you have purpose in your life? Are you giving yourself to meaningless or secondary things? Perhaps you need to do some soul-searching.

I hope you find strength in it all,

Corey

P.S. A Book That Talks About Purpose:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The Good Stress

 

bodybuilder-646482_1920Mental health issues have been on the rise for some time. And isn’t it strange that they come even as “stress” in our over-civilized lives has supposedly decreased? I’ve also noticed as an outspoken Christian and politics-observer that there’s an interesting insecurity not just in individuals but in entire cultural ways of thinking (notice all the protests and lack of reasonable conversations which I talked about in my last post). Coincidences? Maybe.

Maybe not.

The Art of Manliness has recently been discussing something they are calling “the strenuous life”. They note the steady decline of stress in day to day life with culture’s over-civilisation, both stress of the physical nature as well as of the mental. Life is, with technology and industry and the like, becoming easier and easier. And yet, we see on the rise an increasing count of apparent “stress” in the form of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Also on the rise is unexplainable and undiagnosable pain in the body. Paradoxically, even with less stress, our bodies and minds seem bent on stressing themselves out.

Brett Mckay and his wife (who author most of The Art of Manliness’ stuff) make a call for “a New Strenuous Age”. And I think they’re on to something.

The Strengthening of Good Stress

Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with someone. Among many topics, the importance of good stress kept coming up.

My friend is learning Muay Thai, and recalled his need to learn how to take a good punch so that when he got hit in the future he could take it in stride. As we talked about politics and how hyper-sensitive so many people in our culture are today (in particular those who are on the Left side of things politically and socially) we related that sensitivity to the same principle as the bodily (and mental) stress that my friend needed to undergo for growth and development.

We both seemed to reach the same idea together as we talked: what if our lack of willingness to have the hard conversations and disagree with each other was leading (at least in part) to all this hyper-sensitivity? What if our lack of conversation was actually making it harder and harder to have a conversation at all, and thus leading to the difficulty of even living with and tolerating one another? Like a marriage that never quite fixes itself after a bad problem: somebody avoids conflict for the sake of so-called “peace” only to leave an issue to fester and rot the relationship from the inside out with bitterness and problems unsolved.

That is where we are. We have defeated ourselves by seeking comfort. We have become too soft to even function properly as a society.

I remember a friend’s story of conflict. While on assignment in Asia, he was working closely with a team of about 6 people (seeing/working with each other every day, living with one of them as a roommate… in general, very close proximity). When a regional leader came to the team a few months in, he was shocked to find each team member reporting no conflict. The leader called an emergency meeting. To him, this lack of conflict was actually a bad thing. Why? Because friction between people is inevitable. And when we learn to work with and deal with that friction, we actually get closer to each other through that difficulty. But if we don’t deal, we run the risk of bitterness festering and becoming something nearly impossible to work through.

It’s Easy to Be Soft Behind Screens

Consider also the internet and social media in particular. With being able to so easily take things out of context and with being limited to a certain amount of characters or words in any piece that I tweet or post, how can I really express myself in satisfactory nuance and be more understood? How can I have real relationships and a good support system (something key for emotional security) if I’m not having these kinds of conversations with real people and am content with discussions online? Perhaps social media is indeed largely responsible for a lot of the propagating of this bad disease of insecurity as relationships are electronic now more than they are real.

I heard Connor McGregor (a UFC fighter) say something like this regarding his training: the more uncomfortable you are willing to make yourself, the more comfortable you’ll actually become.

How paradoxically true! Not only for the body, but also for the mind.

We are so soft that we can’t tolerate even small stresses in our lives. Mere words trigger us, and we overreact. When we are hurt, we aren’t willing to have the conversation where we explain ourselves or just “agree to disagree”. Why? We’re soft. Insecure. Too proud to experience conflict and take the risk that should be part of any true and meaningful relationship and which is actually necessary for true intimacy leading to true security. All for selfish, supposed “comfort”.

We need to stop this. We need to harden. We need a new, strenuous age where we challenge ourselves in body, mind and spirit. We need to experience working with our hands and having rigorous dialogue with our neighbours, family and friends. We need to spend less time in our virtual, simulated world online and more time in the real world with real people looking at and touching real things. We need to challenge ourselves in our work, take on new tasks that scare us, and be willing to “fail forward”.

Only when we make ourselves uncomfortable can we find an increasing, true and malleable comfort.

Think for yourself about new ways you can do just that.

Corey

 

Trump, Free Speech and a Conversation

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Bigot! Nazi! White supremacist!

… Really?

They are becoming baseless (and now, unfortunately, trivialized) terms thrown around in recent times in wake of the election of Donald Trump and his latest actions in office (mind you they’re often not about him, and even were said about Canadian PM Justin Trudeau by Black Lives Matter Canada’s founder). No conversation – not even general niceness included. And, seemingly more and more often, violent protests come with them! Is there any room for real conversation with how things are going? Is there a way to move forward?

Opportunities in the Wake

Perhaps contrary to the opinions of some, I think there is great opportunity in these times. The controversial election win is surprising, and many think that it is going to hurt diversity and freedom in America. I think the worries aren’t unreasonable – but don’t think it has to end up that way. I think there is opportunity for conversation with the Republican win – a conversation that has not been happening much in our far Western culture. The liberal/Leftwing extremism and intolerance that has become even more obvious in recent times (as well and humbly confessed to by liberal Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times) has gone too far, in my opinion, and a Trump victory might mean that such extremism is not allowed to gain too strong a foothold. Or at the least, we will all be forced to have the conversations we have been avoiding. Let me explain.

First, what is this liberal extremism and intolerance? Kristof gives us examples when he explains several Facebook comments that illustrate a liberal arrogance that discriminates against conservative perspectives, writing them off without discussion. He states that while many people who follow him on Facebook care about social issues from human trafficking to abused chickens they don’t seem to care that academia is discriminating against conservatives in general and Christians in particular. To such liberals, there is nothing conservatives can add to the conversation.

Extremism might still sound like a strong word, but let me continue. Often with these liberal perspectives’ strong (and often admirable) push for social justice, they preach the idea of “tolerance”. Tolerance sounds nice, but the kind of tolerance we see from many of these folks is not tolerance at all. Instead of agreeing to disagree and pursuing dialogue and truth, this new tolerance says that if you don’t agree with my ideas or convictions, you must be a bigot and a hater. Even if your views are based in what you believe to be fact, and even if they are based on evidence. Lately, there have even been violent riots to protest speeches of conservative speakers.

The Jordan Peterson Example

Take for example the recent news coverage and debates with Dr. Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto. Dr. Peterson, though appealing to things like biology, political sciences and history, and even recent social patterns in other countries, is dismissed as a bigot and someone who should essentially be ridiculed and punished by the University of Toronto because of his views on Bill-16 and the gender pronoun legislation. There is no attempt to truly understand him, no desire to hear out his heart (which, by the way, is to keep us from actually becoming a Marxist nation, something many of us would believe to be evil), and, well… definitely no attempt at tolerance. This is a ruining of free speech, and it comes in the guise of the new tolerance. A perspective that is based on science and thoughtful examination of the facts is suddenly now hate speech, and many a far leftist is crying for supposed justice.

Now I don’t necessarily agree with Peterson and all of his views or how he is expressing them. It’s not wrong to disagree with the guy, or even call into question his tact in discussing such issues (though I’ve never heard the man talk in person). But to not even discuss with him? To not care enough about the truth to reason with him, logically and coherently? To throw accusatory words around blindly? Are we mere children? If this weren’t enough, some have even insisted on legal action against the man! Do we not see the ridiculousness?

We only need to browse YouTube and even mainstream news in general these days to see yet more of the same liberal extremism happening. They throw around baseless terms, protest anything pro-conservative (even violently) and forget the tolerance that they all preach. It is more and more a very real problem, and it betrays deep cultural issues.

Honest Conversation, Honest Criticism

Let’s be straight here. If your worldview or perspective on any given issue is not logically arguable (or you yourself are incapable of making a good case) and you lower yourself to ad hominem (personal) attacks, then you are acting like a child and should instead be rethinking your perspective. You need to be open to the idea that you might be wrong, as any honest person (especially an academic!) should be. We as a society need to grow up, try to be nuanced in our thinking and argumentation, and always be open to correction if we hope to truly make progress.

And this brings me full circle. Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election in the United States of America. He’s doing a lot of the things many didn’t agree with but that he promised – and that got him voted in in part. Instead of throwing words like “racism”, “misogyny” or “xenophobia” around and condemning those who disagree with us, let’s consider that there are some real issues that need to be talked about, people that need to be understood (before you make yourself so), and ways that you are wrong and need to be corrected (whatever your views are).

And while we’re at it, let’s try to practice some optimism.

Keep thinking, even with all this stuff appealing to your emotions going around!

Evil and the Cross of Christ

Original Post: Wednesday, 19 June 2013

 

After discussing evil and suffering for a few posts, I think I’ve done a half decent job at dealing with the overarching themes and discussions pertaining to evil and the existence of God. At the same time, I do feel that there is a lot more to these problems and concerns when it comes to evil. Sure, maybe you’re at the point now where you can see evil and God co-existing logically and you understand that your emotions, if anything, don’t give you enough reason to deny God’s existence (and maybe even motivate you to the hope that God does exist)… But there is still a hunger and a thirst there for something more, I bet.

But is there a satisfying answer to why evil exists and how it can be overcome or dealt with?

This is where I’d like to get a lot more specific. I’d like to contend that the Christian God, particularly through the person and work of Jesus Christ, is the most satisfying answer to evil and suffering, bar none.

The Only God to Suffer

First and foremost, let me talk about Jesus. The Christian view of Jesus of Nazareth was that he was God incarnate (See the first chapter of the Gospel of John). That is, he was very much God and yet he was God manifesting himself in the everyday body of a man of middle-east descent. He wasn’t a superman with special powers or abilities but was a man, plain and simple. He slept, ate, drank like a man. He got hungry and thirsty and tired. And he also experienced pain, betrayal, sadness, and so on. I could go on. But I will make a point of looking at how Jesus, in his human flesh, also suffered.

As he was being tried for crucifixion, Jesus was betrayed by all who loved him and whom he also loved. They scattered and left him, not saying a word to defend him. His top disciple even denied having ever been his friend and follower – three times, publicly. Imagine being betrayed like that by your best friend, and tell me Jesus can’t sympathize even with social sufferings that are so common even here in the West. Feeling alone? No one was ever more alone than Jesus, even though he was as innocent and moral as they come and deserved none of it.

When it came to actually being criminalized, Jesus suffered immeasurably. Before he was even crucified, this innocent man (not to mention God incarnate) unjustly suffered flogging and scourging. Think being whipped, but with a 5-string sharp leather whip with iron balls that would penetrate the skin and cause many a contusion and laceration as deep as the muscles. Oh, and you’re naked while they do this to you. They would do this to near collapse or even death. Feel free to look it up for yourself, but be warned, I’ve toned down the description considerably.

Crucifixion itself is a most brutal form of execution. Victim’s arms would be nailed and tied to the horizontal beam of the cross and hung from them. Death would not be quick – imagine a slow suffocation as you hang from outstretched arms, either cold because you are naked, or hot because of the roasting middle-eastern sun over you. If suffocation didn’t get you, it might be because you’ve already died from blood loss or organ failure thanks to the scourging you just received.

Evil Dealt With

Evils though there might be in this world, Christians worship a God who can sympathize with it all. He became a man and suffered and died unjustly. He wasn’t willing to put his creation, which he loves, through anything he wasn’t willing to go through himself.

Another very important truth about the work of Jesus Christ. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, it was more than simply a physical event. Anyone familiar with Christian theology knows that it was a very spiritually and theologically significant event as well.

On that cross, the Bible tells us that death and evil were conquered. The victory of all things good and righteous was sealed. And there will be a day in the future when that victory comes to consummation, when evil is destroyed and dealt with and good will reign forever. As the New Testament’s final book puts it:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4).

Evil Does Not Get the Last Laugh

In Christianity, God is not complacent about evil. He comes down and faces it man to man. Then he deals with it decisively.

So when it comes to evil and the sufferings of the world we live in, Christianity gives us hope. And our hope, ironic as it might seem given the problem of evil itself, is God himself. Thus, he is the very reason we can endure evil and sufferings in this life, knowing he sympathizes with us and that his truth comforts us and gives us hope that what we endure will not be for naught.

Hell and Suffering

A final note. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and your God, you do not share this hope. You do not have God, the hope himself. The evil and suffering you endure in this life will be but a shadow of what you face when you die and are completely separated from God. That is what “hell” in the Christian tradition is – separation! And so I plead with you – deeply consider that the answer to evil and sin and all that is wrong with this life lies in the person of Jesus Christ. Please, talk to me, read the Bible, talk to someone you know who truly knows Jesus. My whole reason for writing these blog posts is that people would meet Him, so you would do me great service even if we could just chat about this. At least give this great thought! If indeed what I speak is true, it has great consequences and is worth checking out.

Thanks for reading! This is for now my last post on evil, but there are many more questions that people are always asking, and so there will always be more blog posts. Until then,

Keep thinking.

 

Corey

Dealing with Evil Emotionally

Original Post: Tuesday, 4 June 2013

As I think I showed quite well in my post on evil and suffering, we perhaps don’t have good enough reason to think that there is a logical problem with the simultaneous existence of God, evil and suffering. Nonetheless, I think that if we’re all totally honest, there’s more here than straight logic.

The Fight between Emotion and Reason

Even the most logical of us surely battle our emotions from time to time. For all intents and purposes, your reason tells you one thing but your emotions say something else completely. And so it often is for evil and suffering. Even if we can see logically no incompatibility between the existence of God with the existence of terrible moral evils or seemingly pointless but awful suffering, we still feel like all these wrongs mean there can’t be a right. We’ll even go as far as to say that life is meaningless, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” as Shakespeare wrote. We go this far, perhaps, because we hope that our emotional pain (whether our own or lived vicariously) will be numbed or eased. Behind this might be a hope that if we can convince ourselves that it’s all just part of life, part of our “meaningless” existence, then we can just move on and not have to worry about it. We want peace – and when life’s evils seem to keep us from this peace, we try to convince ourselves that there is no evil at all. Just existence.

Taking the Honest Step Back

If we take a step back, however, we can see where we go wrong. We are telling ourselves these things. We are the ones trying to redefine what we understand as evil, and for our own convenience no less. The evils and endless sufferings of life impact us emotionally – and we respond based on our emotions. Thus, our emotions govern our actions and control what we believe or how we live.

Emotions: Important but Not Authoritative

I think we would all agree that our emotions are important. Clearly, they can be very helpful as we make big decisions, as we relate to others, and as we undergo self-discovery. Our emotions can tell us much. But they can also mislead and interfere. We have all had times where our emotions have gotten the better of us, made us say or do something we ended up regretting or even changed so suddenly that we wished we had never listened to them in the first place. Indeed, as helpful as emotions can be, they are not the be-all, end-all, and must be cautiously watched, and constructively questioned and criticized.

When it comes to our worldview, (that is, how we see and understand the world) we must be incredibly careful that our emotions do not govern us. Why? Because how you see and understand the world will determine how you live and how you relate to those around you, and will in a very real way lead you (and others) either to success or to destruction. And even more importantly, if how you live and thus what you believe have consequences not only in this life but any life that may follow this one, then your worldview (led by your emotions, if you let them) will have great and lasting (even, possibly, eternal) consequences.

Our emotions can only tell us so much. Ultimately, they cannot be what we base our worldview on – and so when it comes to the existence of God, indeed perhaps the most important question of anyone’s life, we cannot let our contempt for evil and suffering guide us to say, simply, “there is no God”… That, I think, is foolishness.  

And so our emotions, though helpful, must not be the real decision maker in our lives.

What Emotions Can Really Tell Us

Though I think the above case is sound, I know still the depth and power of emotions and don’t pretend to make light of them nor their ability to guide and determine our minds. I think a future post should deal with the superiority of the Christian God in these matters, as I think that there is still a lot to deal with when it comes to evil and suffering, and I also think that the God of the Bible answers and satisfies these problems better than any (largely through the person of Jesus Christ, God in a human body, who himself suffers and endures evil unlike anyone else).  

For now though, I would plead with you that you do not let your emotions decide such an important question as the existence of a loving God. Please, keep thinking. And my hope is that instead of a resentfulness towards the thought of a “so-called” loving God who allows evil, you would see such a being as the good comforter in the midst of a world filled with evil, and that you would see pain and suffering as the “megaphone” (as C.S. Lewis puts it) to a sleeping and broken world that He uses to awaken and heal it.

Keep thinking, and consider how Jesus handles the problem of evil. 

 

Corey

 

 

Dealing With Evil Logically

The Old Argument

There is an age-old argument against the existence of God, and it is one to this day still dealt with in the hearts and minds of many. It is known as “theodicy” or the Problem of Evil (often suffering is included here also), and it goes something like this:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Many attribute this particular statement to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, though there is debate as to who actually has said it. Nevertheless, this kind of argument has been around for some time and even in our culture is manifested in the cries of people everywhere, religious and non-religious. Some use it as a means to justify denial of anything and everything to do with religion. For others, dealing with many a challenge and difficult circumstance, simply walk away from any idea of a so-called “loving God”. I think the best way to deal with the problem of evil and suffering is to look at it in two different ways: logically and emotionally. In this first post, we will deal with evil logically.

Being both a thinker and one who’s emotions can definitely get the best of him (surprising as that may seem to those who know me), I have wrestled much with the ideas of evil, suffering and the existence of God. I’m sure the worst of life has yet to hit me too however, and so I know I will wrestle all the more in the future with the deep, heart piercing questions that plague each one of us. I also know that I have not delved into the depth of the debate in modern philosophy regarding this question, and so as per usual the discussion below will likely only be surface level. Nonetheless, I hope to give the big picture and make the case that evil is still no reason to deny God’s existence; to the contrary it is all the more reason to believe in it!

The Assumption You May Have Missed

First, we must start with the big picture. We must define evil – what is it? Evil is first and foremost a moral problem – wickedness, or acting immorally.

You might be surprised at how simply I will deal with evil right now. The reason for this, I think, is that the problem isn’t a problem at all, at least from a logical perspective. The truth is, if you believe in evil, that is, a transgressing of some moral standard, then you of course presume that very moral standard. In other words, you believe that there is also a such thing as good. But what defines this good? Therein lies the second presumption of the “problem” of evil – it presumes a source of moral law. And this source must be transcendent! It cannot come from us; otherwise it would be defined by us and therefore subjective and subject to change. But when we speak of the problem of evil, we assume that indeed, something is objectively evil, that is, it is bad whether or not someone says it is (or isn’t). For an extreme example, if Hitler had claimed to us all that the killing and torture of millions of people was not evil we would not have agreed with him, though at least then we may have given him the insanity plea (maybe). He could have argued that it was all for science and for the greater good of humanity that we kill off these people and perform these experiments. But no, I think we would all agree that regardless of the potential benefits he may have argued for, we would have denied him any claim to “good”. We would have condemned such ideas because we believe that such things are evil, objectively, whether or not someone argues otherwise. Isn’t it interesting? We make an audacious claim in calling things evil – effectively, we imply the very existence of God when we do so.

But isn’t there still a problem?

So sure, maybe our claims against evil imply God’s very existence… But still, why does he allow it? Again, perhaps simpler than we might think. It would be unhelpful (and incredibly difficult, if not impossible) to come up with an answer to every single evil committed, but perhaps a general look at things would suffice. From a logic standpoint, it is perhaps enough to simply say that God may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil. If we could have even one good reason for allowing evil that is morally sufficient for God to do so, then there is no logical reason to believe that God ought not to allow evil. Make sense?

One example that comes up often is the idea of free will. If God wanted to create a world of free creatures that had choices, in particular a choice to love or not to love (thereby enabling true, self-giving love to someone, namely God in this case) then he had to allow for the possibility of un-love. It is in this choice that evil is made a possibility, and indeed, in the Christian view, it is the choice that brought evil into the world when Adam and Eve chose to follow their own, subjective “moral law” (see the book of Genesis, chapter 3). So, God has given humanity some degree of freedom, and within that freedom is a choice of evil.

I think that is one half-decent argument among many. One could also posit quite effectively that through allowing evil God is somehow seeking a greater good, thereby having more than sufficient reasons.

These definitely aren’t always the “comforting” answers that many, perhaps even you, have sought. But this is the logic aspect of the question, and I think that from a logical perspective we don’t have reason to disbelieve in God because of evil… But rather we have reason to believe in his existence if indeed there is evil in this world.

 

Check out my other posts where I deal with the emotional problems associated with the existence of evil and why I think Jesus’ own dealings with evil and suffering give Christianity the most powerful responses to evil amongst the world’s religions. Thanks for reading!

Corey

 

Original Post: Saturday, 19 January 2013

 

 

Responding to Adam4d on Anxiety

A few things got me worried (ironically) as I read Adam4d’s guest post at challies.com recently. As someone who has had clinical anxiety in different forms (and depression also), I felt the need to address some concerns that the article brought up. This is not meant to be an attack but a thoughtful assessment of his conclusions based on experience and all that I’ve learned in my process of experiencing anxiety.

First, I love the overall positive tone that Adam takes. He acknowledges the truth, and sincerely wants people to understand more about those who are struggling with anxiety, even as Christians. I also love that Adam does give the disorder its fair shake of the sauce. Anxiety is a powerful thing as a disorder and can indeed bring doom with it for no apparent reason. And it’s often not the fault of the individual! We all would do well to acknowledge this and realize that there can be issues we really just don’t understand.

But as someone who has gone through crazy periods of anxiety and depression and come out the other side with a lot of healing (emotionally, physically, spiritually and so on) I think there are some things going on that Adam is ignorant to, and so he may mislead us in some ways. It also appears that he has not achieved much healing or learned a lot in this area except for coming to a point of embracing his reality (which is important, properly understood). I sincerely believe that although brains can malfunction and patterns can be hard to break out of, we have the abilities to heal (most of the time), change our brain patterns, and that there are often life issues or patterns that we might not even be recognizing that can lead us into even physiological anxiety. I also want to note that a lot of what I am sharing I have learned not simply by experience but through good Christian counseling and psychological education (with names like Dr. Henry Cloud). Finally, I will always leave room for the cases that are indeed something we cannot fix and may even always need medication or the like for. We don’t know it all, and though I think the majority of strong anxiety cases are treatable (holistically), I can’t say that all of them are. I encourage all of you to at least believe that it can be treated and worked through, however! There is no point in hanging up the towel and being satisfied with where you are.

I was thankful to the “Letters to the editor” that Challies posted, and agree with some of the statements said there. Maybe check them out for some balance.

I will start how Adam ends, because I believe he exposes a root of the problem while enabling it further, and this is a great danger.

 

We know you’re not blowing us off… But it doesn’t matter

He says, “When we’re struggling… Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)” Do you see it? It is a fear of true interaction leading to avoidance of that interaction that surely leads to further alienation and isolation… And at the root of almost any depression or anxiety, as I’ve been learning from Dr. Henry Cloud, are those very things. Adam, you would do well to not only take real phone calls but make them. You would do well to fight through the pain of real interaction and relationship in order to overcome your paralysis. Trust me! You need friends. You need interaction. You need laughter. And you won’t get those things, really, without relationships that don’t just consist of text messages. 

Those invites you declined? The plans canceled? I don’t think you should have done so! I know you can’t do it all at once, and there are times you might need alone. Baby steps. But even if you’re actually an introvert, you still need people and strong relationships and true intimacy. Period. We are all human, introvert or not, and we are prone to insecurity if we are without intimacy. Anxious Christians are biblically mandated, also, to love people and also be loved… If you do not have genuine and deep relationships, are you really obeying that command? And so I advise any of you struggling with even slight anxiety – go and do relationship. Real relationship. Not social media, not texting… Real relationship. Start with baby steps if you have to, and maybe start on those relationships you already have that could be quite easily strengthened. Spend time with friends, people you enjoy. Go to parties, or out for a drink or video games with friends. Big groups, small groups, individuals – it doesn’t matter (though you should get all three eventually). You need people.

 

It might be more of a Matthew 6/Philippians 4 issue than you think.

As I said above, isolation could be your biggest problem (and often is at the root of anxiety and depression). But along with relational and emotional problems, it is very likely in anxiousness one may have thought patterns that are enabling or propagating the anxiety. I’m not saying it’s the main issue, but one might do well to learn some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help the mind slow down and stop going down certain paths. Like any neural pathways, they can be learned and unlearned. Biblically, we are responsible for seeking renewed minds, and we help ourselves if we do so! Basically, I want to tell any of you stuck in an anxiety rut that you might have more control than you think, and you are still responsible for your thoughts and thought patterns, even if you have dispositions that you can’t escape from on your own.

Coming from my own experience, I found such practices invaluable. I found that I was feeding my own anxiousness every time a trigger came my way. I learned that anxiety in its nature is illogical, and that if I really wanted to deal with a problem, I needed to hit the stop button whenever a trigger came (sometimes literally telling myself “STOP” in my mind or out loud) and refusing to think about whatever issue it was for the time being. Then, when my generalized anxiety was lowered or when I wasn’t in freak out mode because of the trigger, I could more helpfully assess whatever issue was at hand.

 

My own Journey

For me, panic attacks and constant freak out mode plagued me for months. Depression right there with it. I had suicidal thoughts, kept fearing that my girlfriend would break up with me, felt like I was completely alone, and had major insomnia which prevented healing. Even little things took me to extreme thoughts thanks to the patterns I was in. Eventually, I saw my doctor, saw a naturopath, got counselling, and read some really amazing books from experts on these issues. I decided to take medication for a season and try some simple supplements to help my body heal and recover.

Very soon after taking the supplements and medication, I started to feel more normal again. I was able to actually sleep so that my body could recover and I had the brain capacity I needed. It was time to address the issues at hand, and a counsellor helped me work through some major areas that were affecting me at both deeper and more surface levels. I learned how to control my thought life more effectively, and I learned how to understand anxiety and how to deal with it. The seemingly unstoppable monster that was anxiety had been dealt a crippling blow, and it was now more at my mercy than I at its.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Changes that Heal” and some reflection on my recent seasons of life, I realized that my relationships and social life were struggling. I didn’t really have friends close to me that I was interacting with regularly or relying on for help, and had let my stronger relationships from University weaken. In a way, the anxiety was a red flag or alert that these things were issues, but I didn’t know it. Now that I did, it was time to work on my social life and support system. Simply put, I needed friends and I needed fun. I had to learn to actually enter in to relationships and allow myself to be vulnerable again, even though the gut reaction was to respond as Adam4d appears to be – further isolation. This is normal, as in the moment it feels like the right thing to do. The temporary relief, the lack of social obligation or fear of what people might think, or of being vulnerable. But we must remember that strength comes through training – periods of being weakened because of a healthy stress followed by healing. In this case, the vulnerability of relationships was to lead to greater strength. I don’t think I’m completely where I should be yet, but the point is I’m not isolating myself at all. I am building my support system, growing in intimacy with good friends new and old, fighting anxiety and isolation with real relationships with God and others.

And that is my biggest issue with Adam’s post. He appears to excuse the anxiety more than is necessary, and excuse the further isolation which worsens the problem. And he speaks nowhere of healing, perhaps because he is not there yet. Adam, I pray you get there and find health again! And I pray that any of you reading this see the hope that there is and take some practical steps towards greater emotional and spiritual and physical health. It is available. Do whatever you can.

 

Corey

The Resurrection of Jesus

I decided this would be a great post to kick off my new (ish) blog. Hope you guys like the new look and enjoy the stuff I put out on it! Hoping this will be the first post of many, and hoping to go beyond my usual “why I believe” stuff to some life stuff also.


scarred hands
Christians see Jesus’ scars as a symbol of altruistic sacrifice. Interesting historical tidbit? Scholars debate whether the nails would have been in the palm or wrist.

To my surprise, I have yet to write anything blog related on the resurrection of Jesus (and why I believe it to be a true historical event). Why so surprising? Because it’s one of the most substantiated facts in the Christian religion.  

New Testament textual and historical studies have been a booming research field in the last half-dozen or so decades. One of the main reasons for this has been the archaeological findings of the New Testament geographical areas. Whether early manuscripts of the Bible, findings on Jewish culture and practises of the first century and much more, there has been a lot to study and a lot to try and understand. And of course, with the person of Jesus of Nazareth so significant to this time period and the rise of the Christian church so pivotal to even world history, it’s really no surprise a lot of attention has been given to understanding the events around these peculiar happenings.

I won’t spend any time looking at the rise of the Christian church right now, though it is relevant to the discussion. You can check out the archives for that one.  

What I want to focus on is an overview of the current scholarship regarding the resurrection of Jesus (yes, serious secular historians study it even if they don’t all assert that it happened). You might be interested to hear the results.  

First let’s start with the facts. By “facts” I mean what scholars affirm quite unanimously to be factual, given multiple independent attestation and other historical criteria agreed upon.  

5 Facts about the Resurrection of Jesus

We know Jesus of Nazareth died, so we will start with that. It might sound insignificant to affirm, but what you might not know is how well attested to the fact of the man’s death is. Multiple Roman and Jewish sources affirm it, as well as the multiple and independent Christian sources we have. The only source ever to outright deny the death of Jesus is the Muslim sources that came over six hundred years later. There is simply no debate among historians here.

Secondly, Jesus was specifically buried by a man named Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (a leadership council of sorts). Besides being multiply attested to by independent sources, it’s important to note that no alternate burial story exists (probably because it was less controversial).

Thirdly, there was an empty tomb. Note we haven’t said that Jesus “rose again” yet, but are simply affirming that the tomb he was placed in was empty. Of historical note, we see the sources attest to women discovering the empty tomb. Given the insignificance of women’s testimony in that society, it would have been actually embarrassing for the Jewish Christians to have to include this fact, especially in “selling” the story to fellow Jews and the Greeks they would share it with (scholars call this “embarrassment criteria”). Also very interesting is the Jewish response to the empty tomb: his disciples stole the body! If the tomb wasn’t empty, they would have just pointed to it. Instead, they had to find an explanation for what was obvious fact.  

Fourthly, different groups of people experienced post-mortem appearances of Jesus at different occasions. Again multiple and independent sources attest to this fact, and an apostolic epistle that we have guarantees it. A letter written by the Apostle Paul likely 20-25 years after Jesus’ death attested to over five hundred people seeing Jesus in the Jerusalem area after his supposed resurrection (he writes this because some people in the new church were under the impression that the resurrection wasn’t literally real). In effect, he was saying that they could go and talk to many of these 500+ witnesses who would still be alive to get their eye witness accounts for themselves. Such an audacious claim couldn’t have been made if indeed those eye witnesses weren’t around to confirm, nor would that letter or the Apostle Paul’s story have held any weight either. (You can read this appeal in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15).

Finally, the original disciples came to a sudden and sincere belief that their leader had risen from the dead – and were ready to die for it – despite all predispositions to not believe it. Jewish theology and Messianic understanding did not permit a crucified Messiah coming back to life right away like that, nor did any disciples of executed revolutionists before Jesus go through a similar pattern of martyrdom-embracing belief. It is very remarkable, and a unique and even strange historical phenomenon.

Finding the Best Explanation

So those are five very agreed upon facts surrounding the death and supposed resurrection of Jesus. Note also that these are not simply what “conservative” or even Christian scholars affirm. Rather, it is the pattern of the vast majority of New Testament scholars to affirm these facts.

A very plausible explanation of these five facts is that Jesus indeed was resurrected from the dead by God, given the following criteria that scholars use: It has great explanatory power and scope, it is plausible given what we know about Jesus’ life and claims, it’s not “ad hoc” or contrived (it only requires one other hypothesis, namely that God exists), AND it easily beats out other explanations. Actually, contemporary scholarship has almost universally rejected all other proposed theories.

Now you might have guessed it – not all of the scholars believe that Jesus rose from the dead! My understanding is that most take an agnostic position on it, unable yet to give a solid alternate theory.

Making the Call, Historian or Not

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So that’s a lot to take in, and we’re really only scratching the surface of a lot of these historical understandings and criteria and so on. Perhaps we can dig in a little more in the future (I’ll post some resources you can look at right away for further study below). But I do want to end with a personal story on why I think even an objective historian can look at these facts and still be persuaded honestly that Jesus rose from the dead.

I had the sweet opportunity of taking a Religious Studies class at McMaster University as an elective. Obviously, the program itself is secular. While studying the resurrection and events surrounding it, my professor said that the resurrection of Jesus has been problematic for historians, because of the religious implications that would come with affirming it.  

Now, in ways I understand this problem, but in other ways I do not. I think it’s possible for one to hold religious persuasions and still be an objective historian. Can he not say that the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? Does this affirmation necessarily undo his academic integrity or affect all the other work he does?

I think we need to be able to hold even religiously affirming views while still looking at evidence honestly and objectively. And I think we can do so too – in fact, I think if we cannot look at things objectively while holding on to some kind of worldview, then none of us can actually think or critique objectively! I say this because we all bring our own presuppositions and assumptions to the table, no matter who we are. This doesn’t mean objectivity is impossible or even that difficult, but it does mean that things will take some effort and a decent amount of introspection. It will also take a lot of trying simply to understand, rather than to make ourselves understood, while we have the conversations needed (be they in book or paper form, or in actual verbal discussion and healthy debate).


You, too, have a decision you have to make confronted with the evidence I’ve put forward. Shall you take an agnostic position? Try and make up your own theory? Or will you take a step of well evidenced trust and investigate further into this person who appears to have risen from the dead?

I hope it is the latter!

Keep thinking.  

Corey