Friday, December 30, 2005

Satanic Jeans Update

This is an unusual high-traffic morning for The Christian Mind. It's almost 9:30 AM and already this blog has been visited by 30 people as a result of searches for Bjorn Atldax, the Swedish designer of an anti-Christian logo for Cheap Monday jeans I mentioned briefly two days ago. If it's publicity Atldax wanted, it looks like he got it. There's more about Atldax and his creation in today's Guardian Unlimited (HT: The Pearcey Report). Here's an excerpt:
Logo designer Bjorn Atldax says he's not just trying for an antiestablishment vibe.
``It is an active statement against Christianity,'' Atldax told The Associated Press. ``I'm not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion.''
The label's makers say it's more of a joke, but Atldax insists his graphic designs have a purpose beyond selling denim: to make young people question Christianity, a ``force of evil'' that he blames for sparking wars throughout history.
The article states that plans are in the works to market the jeans in the U.S. I'm sure there will be a market for them.

Church-Shopping Teens

The New York Times reports on the church-attending habits of American teenagers. According to the article, the practice of attending multiple churches is "particularly pronounced among young people" who, while they may go to church with their families, also participate in youth programs offered by other congregations. The article cites a survey conducted by the National Study of Youth and Religion under the leadership of Christian Smith, author of the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (about which I blogged here and here).

Many parents are enthused that their children want to participate in religious services even if at another congregation.

Parents also want their children to have an "authentic" relationship to faith, and "if you don't choose it, it's not authentic for you," said Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina and director of the survey on youth and religion.  Emily and her parents, who are evangelical Christians, say her decision to attend the megachurch, New Life, reveals the strength of her faith and the profoundly individual spiritual course each believer follows.
"I saw that my parents' relationship to Christ and my relationship to Jesus Christ were different, and my kids aren't going to relate to Jesus Christ the same way we do," said Emily's mother, Tracy Hoogenboom, 49. "And that's to be expected because Jesus Christ is your own personal lord and savior."
Focus on the Family's director of teenage evangelism, Jose Zayas, also expresses approval for the trend: "[Teenagers] gravitate to where they feel a connection. They're more pragmatic than their parents' generation. They look at what works for them. I think it's healthy."

I have to count myself among those who, according to the article, decry this approach as consumeristic. I wouldn't expect the Times to cover this aspect but something I'm concerned about is how this growing trend might adversely affect teens' ability to construct coherent biblical/theological frameworks. When I was a new believer, eager to learn all I could about the faith, I listened to Christian radio every chance I could, sometimes for hours on end. I listened to teaching from a variety of conflicting theological perspectives and wondered how they fit together. I eventually came to realize that such integration was not always possible because the assumed theological systems (which are inevitable) were contradictory in many points. I fear that in many cases, participation in multiple congregations will only contribute to further splintering young minds that are already fragmented.  I'd be interested in hearing others' reactions to the article so if you read it please share your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More on Satanic Ethics (and Fashion)

A good friend emailed me in response to the conversation with a Satanist that I posted in three parts. He had some perceptive insights and asked a very good question that I'd like to share with other readers. His comments are in italics, followed by my reply.

I have a couple of comments on your exchange with the Satanist. First, logic certainly doesn't seem to be a big thing for him. He doesn't even recognize what a contradiction is. But self-deification comes through in his answers. Secondly, he did try to express a concept that may be legitimate as a rule for behavior. He denied the existence of an absolute moral standard based on right or wrong from God, but claimed a standard based on consequences. "If you do this it will only hurt you." He called it Karma and common sense, but I believe God uses that motivation, alongside the right and wrong motivation. "In the day you eat of it you will die," "Those who love money pierce themselves with sorrow," etc. Isn't it possible to arrive at some universal guidelines for behavior on the basis of consequences, apart from divine Law?

Thanks for the feedback on the conversation with a Satanist. I agree that God does use the fact that sinful behavior has negative consequences as a motivation. But I wasn't addressing the issue of motivation. I wasn't claiming that one should be motivated to perform or abstain from a given act on the basis of what is right or wrong. Rather, I was trying to get him to think about what best explains the fact that we can't help thinking and speaking in terms of objective moral truths.

The point I was trying to make was that even if we observe that a particular action yields harmful results, it doesn't follow that that action is morally wrong. At best, we can conclude that it is imprudent. Yesterday I broke out with what I believe is an allergic reaction to something my wife used in the wash. This morning when I was trying to decide how many Benadryl tablets to take, she said that I shouldn't (or ought not) take two because that would make me very drowsy. I decided to heed her advice but it wouldn't have been immoral or blameworthy of me had I decided to take two. The "ought" in her counsel is different from the "ought" in the statement "You ought not steal from your neighbor" as the latter "ought" conveys a moral prescription. Sure, pragmatic considerations can be helpful guides for behavior but they're not necessarily moral rules one is obliged to obey. Moral obligation requires some kind of moral authority. The Satanist, while denying the existence of a moral authority, expressed moral outrage as though some universally binding moral standard had been violated. This is why I wanted to press him on his likening urinating into the wind to doing violence to someone. He wanted to say that both are stupid acts with undesirable consequences yet it was clear that he made a moral distinction between them.

And while we're on the topic of Satanism, I came across this interesting article about a Swedish designer who has increased sales of a new jeans line by incorporating a Satanic logo, an inverted cross on the forehead of a skull. Bjorn Atldax describes himself as a "devout anti-Christian" and admits to using the logo to make Christians angry.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Meditation on the Nativity

Meditation on the Nativity
Elizabeth Jennings

All gods and goddesses, all looked up to
And argued with and threatened. All that fear
Which man shows to the very old and new--
All this, all these have gone. They disappear
In fables coming true.
In acts so simple that we are amazed--
A woman and a child. He trusts, she soothes.
Men see serenity and they are pleased.
Placating prophets talked but here are truths
All men have only praised
Before in dreams. Lost legends here are pressed
Not on to paper but in flesh and blood,
A promise kept. Her modesties divest
Our guilt of shame as she hands him her food
And he smiles on her breast.
Painters' perceptions, visionaries' long
Torments and silence, blossom here and speak.
Listen, our murmurs are a cradle-song,
Look, we are found who seldom dared to seek--
A maid, a child, God young.
Unto us a Savior has been born! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas in the Biotech Century

Nigel Cameron reflects on what "and the Word became flesh" really means at Christianity Today's Life Matters Blog reminding us that the incarnation didn't begin at Jesus' birth:
God took human form; and he took it not simply as a baby, but as the tiniest of all human beings, a mere biological speck, so small and so undeveloped that it could be mistaken for a laboratory artifact, a research specimen, an object for human experimentation. But this speck was God; this complete genetic human organism, in its primitive and undeveloped form, was so much "one of us" as to bear the existence of the Creator. He dignified humanity by taking the form of this creature he had made in his image; and he did it at the most inauspicious and feeble point in the human life story. At the heart of the Christmas celebration lies the fact of all facts, that God became a zygote.

Dover in the News

Al Mohler takes a look at what the editorial pages of major newspapers have to say about the Dover intelligent design case.

An article in The New York Times explores the potential impact of the Dover ruling on school boards elsewhere in the U.S. contemplating the inclusion of intelligent design in their biology curricula. One quote I found amusing was from Tom Williams, a school superintendent in Muscatine, Iowa who is opposed to any such inclusion. "We need to stick with what our teachers are trained to do," he said, "and they're not trained to teach religious philosophies."

This evening's edition of Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes will include further coverage about the decision including Michael Behe going "head-to-head with Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission." I'm not sure why Fox is promoting this as a bout since Land shares Behe's dissatisfaction with Judge Jones' decision, calling him "an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries." Maybe they'll get into the differences between I.D. and creationism.

Fox's website also has a Speakout page where viewers can voice their agreement or disagreement with the ruling. Here's one response that caught my eye from a woman named Juanita:

It never ceases to amaze me how people of religious faith are so adamant about believing something just because someone else told them to. And for those of you who are obviously oblivious to current happenings in the world around you, make no mistake, the missing link HAS been found AND linked.
Juanita is quite adamant in her belief that Darwinism has been proven. I wonder who told her that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Good Questions in the Aftermath of Dover

In the National Review Online, David Klinghoffer asks some very good questions in response to yesterday's Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling; questions like:

"If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself? After all, many proponents of Darwinian evolution have philosophical beliefs to which Darwin lends support." 


"Is it really true that only Darwinism, in contrast to ID, represents a disinterested search for the truth, unmotivated by ideology?"

Klinghoffer notes that one of the expert witnesses whose testimony Judge Jones found persuasive is on the board of directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association as well as a member of the Atheist Alliance International. In addition, Klinghoffer includes some very telling quotes from proponents of Darwinism revealing what can only be called an antipathy for religion, especially Christianity. Here's a sample:

There is University of Minnesota biologist P. Z. Myers, a prominent combatant in the Darwin wars being fought in an archipelago of websites. He links his own site (recently plugged in the prestigious journal Nature) to a "humorous" web film depicting Jesus' flagellation and crucifixion, a speeded-up version of Mel Gibson's Passion, to the accompaniment of the Benny Hill theme music "Yakety Sax," complete with cartoonish sound effects. "Never let it be said that I lack a sense of reverence or an appreciation of Christian mythology," commented this teacher at a state university. In another blog posting, Myers daydreamed about having a time machine that would allow him to go back and eliminate the Biblical patriarch Abraham. Some might argue for using the machine to assassinate other notorious figures of history, but not Myers: "I wouldn't do anything as trivial as using it to take out Hitler."
Apparently, one's motivation for advancing a position is only relevant when it opposes Darwinian dogma.
The day before yesterday, I read a lecture given by Michael Goheen called "The Power of the Gospel and the Renewal of Scholarship" (HT: Prosthesis). The following excerpt is timely in light of the Pennsylvania court's decision.
[The] belief in a secular or pluralist society is an illusion however. The claim to religious neutrality is a myth, and a dangerous one at that, because it masks its own ultimate commitments. In fact, all human societies embody all-encompassing truth claims about the world that are based on ultimate commitments. These faith commitments are often below the level of conscious understanding yet they shape and form the whole of our social life. Western culture is not a secular society but a society that since the time of the Enlightenment has been shaped and formed by a deep religious faith in progress, human autonomy, scientific reason, technology,and social planning. While these idols are under attack these days, and a multitude of new spirits are rushing to fill the vacuum of the central core of culture that is being swept clean, the fact remains the same: Ultimate commitments lie at the foundation of our shared social life and shape every part of it. . . .all human societies including secular or pluralist societies are shaped in their entirety by a shared understanding of the universe and humanity’s place in it.

That being so, the question is not whether religion will be permitted in the classroom but which religion will gain admission.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Satanic Ethics - Part Three

Part One Part Two

Notna: Yes, there is. It's called gut instinct. The thought of murder or rape of a child simply makes me sick to my stomach and angers me. If it were done to someone in my family, the wrath I would bring would be just. However, I wouldn't kill or rape, but I might pay to have it done.

KP: Are you saying that people SHOULD believe as you do? And if not, then why do they "deserve" to be punished for not so thinking and acting in accord with YOUR beliefs? And by the way, the pedophile acts out on what he calls "gut instinct" as well.

Notna: KP, there is just a moral human code that should not be crossed. You and I know what it is but for those that don't, they don't deserve to live among us. They haven't evolved far enough from the ape yet. I know you understand...if I were to rape a child I would deserve whatever ill-will begets me.

KP: So this moral code is ultimately just the product of our biology? (Are you saying that people SHOULD believe as you do? And if not, then why do they "deserve" to be punished for not so thinking and acting in accord with YOUR beliefs? <---you havent answered this yet. )

Notna: The biology of the mentally elite. If only we could breed out mental imperfections of people like that society would be better as a whole. They serve no purpose except to instill fear. Let a robber try to take my wallet. He will leave a much wiser man. 

In this particular circumstance we’re discussing, YES, people should believe as I do. Anything less is uncivilized.

KP: Whoah! That sounds kind of authoritarian. 

Notna: Yet true. 

KP: What happened to free thought? Why should people join your herd?

Notna: That's not herd mentality, that mental awareness and eliteness...the wisdom to know that doing something like that is morally wrong.

KP: According to what standard of right? 

Notna: Human standard. The ability to judge naturally right from wrong. Other animals in the animal kingdom do not rape the young. Nor do they murder their own kind unscrupulously. 

KP: So on one hand you're saying that people should think for themselves (which in itself is a prescription) and on the other you're saying that people should think like you. 

So, we should use the animals as our measure of what is acceptable? I know of some animals that eat their young. What should we conclude from that?

Notna: I think for myself, KP. Nobody tells me how to think and personally, I can't tell a rapist how to think, but if he decides to rape I can tell myself to beat his sorry ass down. As for animals who eat their offspring, they don't do it out of malicious intent. Alligators do it to control their population in their environment.

KP: Should humans do it for that reason? There are some pretty overcrowded areas in the world. 

Notna: Alligators will not thrive if they overpopulate...We have actually barely begun to populate this planet. Our instincts do not tell us to eat our young, theirs do. But if that’s the only way for our species to survive, then so be it. My guess though, is by deductive reasoning that we would eat the old.

KP: Do you see how dehumanizing your position actually is? Looking to animals lower than ourselves to determine how we should live? This is exactly what the Bible says is the case when man refuses to acknowledge God in his thoughts and makes himself the final reference point of meaning and truth. He becomes less than what he actually is. 

Notna: See? The Bible is demeaning. Use intelligence and be less than you are. Repress, repress, repress. Love your neighbor even though he's a total c*******er. HA! Not this kid. Repress your feeling that you can't stand him and love, love, love - then end up hating yourself for it. What makes you follow such requests? You seem intelligent. Why waste your time trying to uplift people who can't uplift themselves? They look to God and hope some mighty power is going to pick them up and hand them what they want or blame Satan when things go wrong. Why can't we just be responsible for our OWN good & bad? 

KP: Notna, first things first. First of all, I didn't say that one must trash intelligence. I DID question however, whether it is intelligent to use the animals as the standard for our behavior. 

Notna: I say yes. Ecology applies to us as well as the animals. We ARE animals. We just happen to be self-aware and more intelligent than any other in the kingdom.

KP: Furthermore, it’s the kind of internal inconsistency that you’re demonstrating that makes me adverse to nontheistic thought. So, we should look to less intelligent creatures to determine how we should live. I see. That's intelligent. 

Notna: KP, it’s not inconsistency. I have not contradicted myself once. I think maybe you just want to debate and try to defeat a Satanist. You can’t tell me that I have changed anything I have said.

KP: Notna, It is inconsist to assert that one should think for himself and then to assert that one should think as you do. 

Notna: I didn’t say that either. I used ecological examples. We have animal instinct whether you like it or not. I choose to listen to mine. God chooses to repress it for you and make you feel guilty about it. You are completely misunderstanding me and I knew this was going to happen.

KP: Notna, do you think a pedophile has instincts? 

Notna: KP, there is free thought, and there is human responsibility. In order to be successful and thrive in this environment I think people SHOULD feel the way I do about murder and rape. Yes, the pedophile does have instincts and he should be locked in a room with kids that want to get abused [even with asterisks I couldn’t post what was originally said] Are there any? Nope! So I guess he should just be locked in a prison with bikers who will beat some common sense into him. 

KP: And someone should feel guilty and be punished for acting in accord with his biological instincts?
Notna: That is a biological goof, and other species would kill it off or strand it as a lame of the breed. 

KP: Oh, so biological goofs should be killed? 

Notna: Us, we just lock it in a cage and feed it. 

KP: Why should someone be penalized for what he/she can't control? Isn't that your objection to Christianity? Animals kill runts of the litter as well. Should we do that?

Notna: They can control it! Just like a junkie can control whether or not they smoke crack. They may crave it, but it's their own plotting and planning that makes it happen. 

KP: So you're saying that in some cases instinct can and should be repressed? 

Notna: We have places in society for the mental runts. We don't kill them because it's not morally objective. What purpose would it serve? 

KP: Can animals control their instincts? 

Notna: Sure. I've wanted to blindly murder someone in revenge as I'm sure you have. I think everyone has contemplated suicide at least once in their life, but what purpose does it serve? Free thought and inner-instinct is what stops you. And, yes, animals can control their instincts. Dogs under our command are taught to control theirs. But not all animals can and they don't live amongst us and we are wise enough to avoid them if encountered. 

KP: So, if not all animals can control their instincts, why would we choose to look to them to determine how we ought to live? 

Notna: KP, you are splitting hairs. I've made my answers quite clear and you are seeking holes that need not be there. I know you understand where I am coming from. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the works of Anton LaVey. He does quite well at explaining it all in full color for you. 

KP: Why look to organisms driven by their biology apart from rational thought, to determine how we as humans should live? I appreciate your talking with me and hope that you'll be open to it in the future.

Notna: I don't base my entire existence on the actions of animals. I used it as an example and you are blowing it way out of proportion. I know you understand where I am coming from and your argument is becoming nerve-wracking. I find the luster to be gone in this conversation. Please read LaVey's works for your own education. You will see the light. Whether or not you agree with it, you will understand it. Thanks for talking to me. Have a good weekend.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Self-Produced Child Porn

There's a disturbing article in today's New York Times about teens who use webcams to start their own home-based pornography businesses. They call themselves "camwhores."

The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars - with nicknames like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez - whose images are traded online long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents announce schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for the performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even buy "private shows," in which teenagers sexually perform while following real-time instructions.
The lure is the prospect of easy money. Many teenagers solicit "donations," request gifts through sites like or negotiate payments, while a smaller number charge monthly fees.
The central figure in the story is a boy named Justin, now 19, who entered the world of cybersex five years ago shortly after acquiring a webcam he originally hoped would help him connect with other teenagers. He didn't attract the attention of any adolescents but did catch the eye of a number of adult men. One of them helped him set up an account on and promised him $50 to sit in front of his camera bare-chested. Eventually his "audience" grew to 1,500 paying customers (Justin earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in under 5 years) and the requests became more sordid.

One of the most alarming things about this story (and there are many) is the description of the people who paid for Justin's services:

In its investigation, The Times obtained the names and credit card information for the 1,500 people who paid Justin to perform on camera, and analyzed the backgrounds of 300 of them nationwide. A majority of the sample consisted of doctors and lawyers, businessmen and teachers, many of whom work with
children on a daily basis.
As Justin's business grew, he became technologically more savvy, adding more sophisticated cameras to his computer system which he hid in his room. There's a sobering lesson for parents in all this:
Justin's mother, Karen Page, said she sensed nothing out of the ordinary. Her son seemed to be just a boy talented with computers who enjoyed speaking to friends online. The Webcam, as she saw it, was just another device that would improve her son's computer skills, and maybe even help him on his Web site development business.
"Everything I ever heard was that children should be exposed to computers and given every opportunity to learn from them," Ms. Page said in an interview.
She never guessed that one of her son's first lessons after turning on his Webcam was that adults would eagerly pay him just to disrobe a little.
A video interview with Justin is also available (check sidebar of article).

Earlier this month Al Mohler wrote a commentary about the dangers associated with the explosion of teen blogging in which he said, "Responsible Christian parents will establish clear boundaries and rules for their childrens' use of the Internet. There should be absolutely no expectation of privacy when it comes to what their teenagers are doing and writing on the Internet. The stakes are simply too high." In light of this new phenomenon, the extent of which is unknown, such a warning is all the more urgent.

Satanic Ethics - Part Two

Continued from Part One

KP: My earlier comment wasn't so much about the number of people who believe as you do. I'm quite sure there are many. Rather, I was curious as to why anyone SHOULD believe as you do.

Notna: SHOULD?! Honestly, it's self-fulfilling, gratifying, and when a lucid grip of it is obtained, you do hold the upperhand at times when you otherwise would not.

KP: So, people should do whatever is self-gratifying?

Notna: Yes, but responsibly so. Here comes the ethical stuff. I do not condone rape, murder, preying on the invalid, stuff like that - no matter how gratifying that is. That is NOT evil, that is STUPID! Those are the dipsh**s that turn to Satanism without knowing what it is and expect to be patted on the back. FOOLS!

KP: But why should people do what is self-gratifying? According to what authority is this ethical prescription based? And why shouldn't people do what is stupid?

Notna: Did you really just ask me that?

KP: Yes, I did.

Notna: C'mon KP, that doesn't even deserve an answer.

KP: Humor me. ;-) I'm just a dumb Christian, remember?

Notna: I never said that. Stupid actions get stupid results. Equate it to pissing into the wind.

KP: Do you have the same objection to pissing into the wind that you do to rape, murder, and preying on invalids?

Notna: Sure I do. It's like running in a circle. You're never gonna end up anywhere except chasing your own tail.

KP: So someone who pisses into the wind is as blameworthy as one who rapes a child?

Notna: No. Only equally as stupid.

KP: But there really isn't any basis for moral praise or blame, is there?

Notna: Someone who rapes a child deserves to have the living sh** kicked out of him. Someone who pisses in the wind needs not be touched. YUCK!

KP: So you believe in something like justice? But if there is no evil, why should there be justice?

Notna: Pissing in the wind doesn't cross the same moral boundary as rape or murder. It works the same way with the law actually. The rapists and murderers are punished worse than the guy who was throwing snowballs at cars. They are both stupid as hell.

KP: But if there is no real evil, why should there be penalization?

Notna: There is evil, but I don't find it to be defined the same way as the Bible. Fortunately Webster didn't write the Bible.

KP: Please tell me how you define evil. What is it?

Notna: Evil is LIVE spelled backwards. Everything that is defined as evil is something that we would possibly enjoy in THIS lifetime. Why repress it? Why spend this lifetime repressing myself in hopes of my "next" life that I don't even know I'm gonna have? Screw that! I'm having too much fun now and who should stop me?

KP: Deriving our ethics from the spellings of English words may not be the best practice. Furthermore, I think the child rapist enjoyed his actions. Why repress it?

Notna: Because it's f***ed up and if he raped one of my relatives he'd better find a nice secluded dungeon to hide in. I wouldn't kill him, I'd rather watch him live and suffer. We don't turn the other cheek. Nor do I think the meek will inherit the Earth. The strong will survive and that's just how ecology works. The meek don't win the Superbowl.

KP: Why does someone who does what you said he should, namely live for self-gratification, deserve to "have the living s*** kicked out of him?" He deserves to be penalized for what may be normal for him?

Notna: KP, why do YOU think? I just told you why I thought so. You're welcome to cuss. I'm a 30 year old adult.

KP: He deserves to be penalized for doing what he OUGHT to do? That's a pretty messed up ethical system where someone gets punished for behaving as he ought to.

Notna: Sure. That's causing harm and damage to another person who didn't deserve it.

KP: But you said people should do whatever is self-gratifying, didn't you? And now you want to punish them for it? That sounds unjust.

Notna: I also said what I don't condone. And Satanists only believe in doing harm to those who well deserve it. Whether it be through magick or through personal physical vengeance.

Notna: No one is supposed to rape a child and you know it. You sound like one of the stupid ass misdirected people who turn to Satanism for all the wrong reasons and get disgruntled when they figure out they're dumber than hell.

KP: I'm not advocating the rape of children. I'm just trying to follow the logic of your position. Please don't be upset with me. But you've already said that people ought to act consistently with their desires. Now you're saying that in some cases those desires should be repressed. But I thought your objection to Christianity was exactly because you saw it as repressive. Why should the rapist conform to the herd mentality of civil laws?

Notna: KP, we are all required to be responsible humans. Actions like that need repercussion. Things like that were not meant to be. I'm not upset with you, I just think this debate may be losing a bit of its luster. There are some things xtiantiy preaches that I have no problem with. But sleeping in, overeating, sex, indulgence, etc. - those are self-gratifying and don't hurt anybody else.

KP: So we are morally obliged not to harm another? Is that what you're saying?

Notna: Yes, when it comes to victimizing an unsuspecting individual who does not deserve it.

KP: And the authority that issues this moral obligation is....?

Notna: The rapists who escapes the law because the big-breasted 14 year old wore a revealing shirt should not be free from getting his face smashed in by the girl's father.

KP: And the authority that issues this moral obligation is......?

Notna: In Satanism there is no "authority." Satanism is not meant for people who prey on the weak for no reason.

KP: So if there's no authority, then what is the origin of this moral obligation you keep talking about?

Notna: It is simply a moral code of humanity and harming someone in that manner simply buys bad karma. If you wish for bad things to happen to you, go ahead and pull sh** like that but don't cry when the sky starts falling.

KP: But why am I morally obliged to abide by the moral code of humanity? If there is no transcendent authority, then there is no such obligation.

Notna: You are not obliged but if you do it, don't cry about the results. You get what you deserve.

KP: So then I'm NOT obliged to not harm another, am I? There ‘s no objective basis for this obligation you keep appealing to. It's simply a statement of your personal preference. But then the question is, Why should I abide by your personal preferences? I fail to see how your position isn’t reducible to subjectivism and ultimately nihilism. You DID say that your ethical assertions were only your opinions, right?

Notna: For the most part. But you’re looking for holes that don't possess lucid thought. You're making the argument of an uneducated fool. I realize that you're not, but you're trying to make me defend myself instead of having stimulating conversation.

KP: I'm simply asking you to be consistent, that's all. And I don't see asking you to defend your position as being diametrically opposed to stimulating conversation. And there’s no need for you to engage in insult and ad hominem argumentation. If my argument is flawed, please point out how. Otherwise, please address my questions.

Notna: I wasn't. I concurred that I knew you weren't stupid. Anyway, I am quite consistent.

KP: There is no objective basis for this obligation you keep appealing to. It's simply a statement of your personal preference. But then the question arises, why should I abide by what you prefer? You DID say that your ethical assertions were only your opinions, right?

Notna: I don't try to shove it down your throat with fear tactics like the friggin' Christians do. There is no God of everlasting power that I am to be afraid will strike me down if I have sex with someone I just met. Where's the justice in that, man? My opinion as well as others, but there is no law other than the laws of magick or karmic consequence that will strike me down if I do something stupid.

KP: So you believe it's wrong to "shove one's ideas down someone's throat" (whatever that means)? But that again is simply a statement of your personal preference, right? There's no objective standard by which we can determine that that is actually wrong, is there?

Part Three

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Night of Firsts

Yesterday was a historic date, indeed. First, last night marked the first time my son's pet ball python, Gary, ate his first adult mouse. Just thinking about it is enough to bring a tear to my eye. Our little Gary is growing up. We got Gary as a baby about five months ago. Then his diet consisted of newborn mice called pinkies because they look like little erasers. Soon, he graduated to fuzzies, baby mice that have just begun to grow hair. But last night we made our way to the local pet shop and purchased a mature rodent. The rule of "thumb," so I've heard, is that when the snake's girth at its widest is approximately the circumference of your thumb, then it's ready to move on to adult food.

Once we got home with the little mouse (that a pet shop employee was kind enough to terminate in the store), we treated Gary to his fare. He wasted no time getting down to business as he was slightly off his regular feeding schedule. When I considered that the mouse was larger than Gary's head, I was worried. However, I didn't let my son see me sweat since I knew he, too, was anxious. I don't know who I was trying to persuade more, my son or myself, when I told him not to worry because mice are able to squeeze themselves into very tight quarters so Gary would have no trouble downing his dinner. Gary did not disappoint. "Fascinating" is the only word I can think of to describe the experience of watching him dine.
Agur counted the movements of a snake on a rock as one of a number of befuddling natural phenomena (Proverbs 30: 18-19). I wonder if he ever watched one eat.

I found out about the other "first" just minutes after placing a sated Gary back in his tank. While checking out sites that referred folks here, I discovered that mine was among a number of blogs nominated for one of Evangelical Underground's 2006 Evangelical Blog Awards. I'm very grateful to Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons for considering my efforts noteworthy. I really admire and appreciate his fine work and so, am honored.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Satanic Ethics - Part One

Starting today and concluding early next week I plan to post the log from an online exchange with a self-professed Satanist. Reviewing this dialogue reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in his preface to The Screwtape Letters. In warning against the two equal and opposite errors of disbelieving in devils and obssessing about them, Lewis noted that evil spirits "...hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." In our fractured, postmodern ethos, sometimes the materialist and the magician are, as in the case with the individual I'll (uncreatively) call Notna, one.

I chose not to omit the profanity used by my conversation partner though I have replaced some letters with asterisks. My reason for leaving such language untouched is because I think Christians have to stay on point and not get sidetracked by such speech. Furthermore, we need to perceive and portray fallen life as it really is so that depravity and lostness are not diluted. I also believe that our willingness to listen to what a person is saying under and at times, through such coarse language is part of our witness.

I'm fully aware of the limitations of conversations like these. This one didn't "seal the deal" and culminate in my dialogue partner's repentence and faith. In fact, I didn't even get around to presenting the gospel. However, as Mark Coppenger notes in the article I linked to in the previous post, such encounters "can strip away smugness, loosen up hardened soil, embarrass treasured criticisms and sow disarray in a pagan worldview." My goal in exchnages like the following is the same as that described by Greg Koukl. I really like the image:
I want to put a stone in his shoe. All I want to do is give him something worth thinking about. I want him to hobble away on a nugget of truth he can’t simply ignore because it continues to poke at him. Whether the opportunity is a short one with a transient audience or a long one with a captive audience, my goal is the same - a stone in the shoe.


Notna: No I'm not materialistic if by that you mean that I only believe in that which is "tangible" or "proveable.” Magick is not tangible or proveable any more than the power of God but believe me when I tell you that it is real.

KP: I had in mind philosophical materialism, the idea that all that exists is that which consists of matter and/or material processes.

Notna: I base things on reasoning and intellect. I can choose when and how I react spiritually. I have an energy as well as anyone else, and how I direct it is not materialistic, nor can it be.

KP: Can you tell me how Magick is consistent with rationality whereas Christian theism isn’t?

Notna: Because I can practice it solitarily with my OWN influence. I am the keeper, and I'm not being instructed or told how to do it. It is all performed with my own mentality and creativity.

KP: That doesn't really answer my question, though. The fact that I can do something solitarily doesn't mean that it is necessarily rational. I may choose to believe a whole host of things privately but there is no necessary connection between that and their being rational.

Notna: I use rationality to decide when, how, and if a ritual is appropriate. I'm not told to have this ceremony on this specific day, or worship this deity on this day, etc. It's a thought-out mental process first. I'm not amongst a herd of sheep who repeat after their "teachers."

KP: I think you're missing my point. Does it necessarily follow from the fact that I believe something on the basis of authority that the belief itself is irrational?

Notna: You'd have to understand where I come from. I do not condemn you for your beliefs. What you asked me was, am I materialistic and the answer is no. I explained why.

KP: Please tell me where you come from.

Notna: What do you want to know?

KP: Whatever it is that you think I need to know in order to understand your position.

Notna: It would require a lot of reading. Truthfully, I am a Satanist which does not mean I worship Satan WHATSOEVER. I simply oppose Christianity, and I believe it is repressive and an insult to human nature. It rides guilt on people for being normal.

KP: Thank you for telling me.

Notna: No problem. I come into Christian rooms to learn more, not make enemies. Nice talking with you.

KP: With you as well.

KP: Can you tell me whether you believe there are any ethical absolutes?
Notna: Sure, there are ethical absolutes. What you reap is what you sow. But there are times when boundaries are crossed and ethics don't apply.

KP: What do you believe to be the nature of those absolutes?

Notna: I suppose the nature of the situation in which they apply could alter the nature of the absolutes, however I believe in karmic consequence. This conversation could get really deep, man. Not to mention long-winded.

KP: That's no problem for me. I thrive on such conversations. :-)

Notna: There are so many ethical absolutes. What would you like to inquire about?

KP: Your objection to Christianity seems to be on moral or ethical grounds, at least to some extent. Am I right?

Notna: Somewhat. I don't think overall that it is immoral, but I believe it promotes herd mentality, control, and represses free thought. I don't think it's unethical necessarily. For some people it works. For me, I just have trouble swallowing all of it. It's tough living as a religious minority. You must know when to shut up and when to speak.

KP: Well, you certainly must believe that it is immoral to repress free thought, right? And you obviously believe that people should not promote or submit to a "herd mentality."

Notna: Indeed it is. And I believe that for SOME people Christianity does just that. They look to religion to answer for everything, they give themselves no credit for good and blame Satan for everything that goes wrong.

KP: So, in some sense you're making ethical prescriptions, aren' t you?

Notna: Somewhat. I guess I could see how you might think that. But to me it feels like more of a personal inhibition to the theory.

KP: You're making assertions about how people SHOULD or SHOULD NOT behave and/or believe, aren’t you?

Notna: Those are just my opinions and that is how I base the path I choose to take.

KP: But nevertheless, you're making ethical assertions.

Notna: By no means are my ideas indoctrinated nor should they be followed by everybody. The mentally weak could not handle the left hand path. They would crumble. Perhaps I am making ethical assertions but everyone does.
KP: You're right about that. But what I'm curious about is why anyone else should believe as you do.

Notna: A lot of people do. More people believe as I do than you think. Benjamin Franklin, for one. I’m curious as to why people believe as you do. That's why I come to the Christian room and debate. Once in a while I meet someone lucid such as yourself. Mostly I get brainwashed, scripture quoters would couldn't conjure up a debate to save their butts.


Notna: You laugh ‘cause you go to the same room.

KP: Yes. And believe me, what I see here at times frustrates and disturbs me. I agree that there is a mindlessness that is rampant in some segments of Christendom but I don’t believe (obviously) that that is inherent to Christian faith. Rather, I think it is more of an accommodation to the mindlessness and anti-intellectualism that so pervades our culture.

Notna: Well, actually this conversation turned out nicely. I thought this would be the battle of evermore. If you are interested in what I believe, Barnes & Nobles or Books-a-million carry or can order the collection of writings from Anton LaVey. I don't expect you to succumb to his theories, but it may be educational to you.

KP: I'm vaguely familiar with the Satanic Bible.

Notna: Satanism has the same misdirected goofballs, but they are not recognized, nor welcomed. They come looking for orgies and some magic power that will hold them high above the rest, and that's not at all what it's about. It's almost completely psychiatric theory.

Part Two

Why the Church Needs Apologetics

1. We can savor, cultivate, and honor rationality, just as we do physicality.
2. It cultivates dialogical prowess for the public square.
3. It helps keep the warrior spirit alive.
4. It keeps us honest - we need to hear our critics.
5. It encourages the troops who have been beaten down. 
6. It is good pre-evangelism -- for the evangelizer as well as the evangelized.
7. It helps us become culturally literate.
8. It helps us clarify our own language.
9. It exposes the opposition as a Wizard of Oz.
10. It’s fun, a form of wholesome recreation and entertainment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A-Team Interview with Common Grounds Author, Glenn Lucke

I'm about halfway through Common Grounds: Conversations About the Things that Matter Most, an excellent book that presents the Christian faith in a manner consistent with the nature of the Bible itself - by means of story. What's unique about this volume is that it can be useful to non-Christians desirous of learning more about the faith as well as to those already following Christ who want to grow deeper in their understanding and practice of biblical Christianity.

Today at The A-Team Blog, Amy posts the first part of an interview with Glenn Lucke, one of the book's authors. Glenn explains why they chose narrative to unpack theological issues:

Ben Young (my co-author) and I discussed how there are multitudes of young-in-their-faith believers who would like to know and live out more of their Christian faith, but they are very busy professionals and lack time and even a map of where to go. We realized that a straightforward, didactic prose book of Christian teachings would probably not motivate lots of young adults to read it.

However, Ben and I knew that young adults were hungry for teachings if the teachings could be presented in an interesting manner. Ben had preached a remarkable series of messages for over a year on the essential teachings of the Christian faith. What began as a gathering intended for a small core of leaders at the church exploded as well over a thousand young adults flocked to learn.

So we knew there was hunger to learn Christian teachings and we suspected that a didactic prose book of teachings would not satiate that hunger. So, I suggested that we use Plato's dialogue genre and tell a story involving young professionals at different stages in their faith journey.

Glenn also gives a few hints about forthcoming books in the series. I hope you'll read the entire interview and, of course, the book.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why is the Church Ailing?

Posted by Picasa The cover of the current EFCA Today gives a clue. The issue is devoted to the relationship between doctrine and life.

Einstein on God and Ethics

Last week American Public Media's weekly radio program Speaking of Faith began a two part series called Einstein and the Mind of God. "Part one...takes Einstein's science as a starting point for exploring the great physicist's perspective on ideas such as mystery, eternity, and the mind of God. Part two[to be aired Dec 15]...delves into Einstein's Jewish identity, his passionate engagement around issues of war and race, and modern extensions of his ethical and scientific perspectives." Visit the site to listen to part one and preview part two.

I'm grateful to the member of our congregation who informed me of this weekly program and I look forward to listening to future shows. If you're in the U.S., check the station guide to find out where and when you can listen too.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nancy Pearcey on Teaching Kids to Think Like Christians

In the second of a series of interviews with Christian culture watchers (Gene Veith being the first), American Family Association Journal talks with Total Truth author, Nancy Pearcey about the necessity of thinking Christianly about all areas of life. She reminds those of us with kids:
The key thing for parents to accept is that we are our children's primary educators, whether they are homeschooled, in Christian school or in public school, and my own children have been in all three at various times. As parents, we are not off the hook just because we put our children in Christian school or homeschool, using Christian textbooks. Why not? Because they typically follow a sacred/secular approach instead of teaching how to develop a comprehensive worldview.
This is a problem right up to the university level. A Lutheran scholar, Robert Benne, did a study finding that the vast majority of Christian colleges teach what he calls an "add-on" approach. By that he means that the content of the courses is essentially what you would get in any secular university, with Christianity added on the side, in chapel and prayer groups. At one major Christian university, more than half the faculty said they would not even know how to give a biblical perspective on the subject they teach.

Read the whole interview.


...that's the title of my second favorite SpongeBob SquarePants episode. Sponge Bob has to write a paper for school but finds a multitude of creative ways (such as doing household chores, sharpening his pencil, feeding his pet snail, Gary, and taking great pains to write the first letter of the first word of his essay in ornate calligraphy) to put off getting started. At one point he even hears his chair telling him to relax and put his feet up. I remember the Saturday morning I watched it. I was supposed to be writing a paper.

Reading this article about academic procrastination in the Chronicle of Higher Education was painful because I could identify with so much that was said. However, it was also informative. For example, did you know that the word "procrastinate" comes from the Latin verb procrastinare which means "to defer until morning"? Another interesting tidbit: Paul Ferrari, a psychology prof' at DePaul University divides procrastinators into two camps - - "'Arousal procrastinators' believe they work best under pressure and tend to delay tasks for the thrill. 'Avoidant procrastinators' are self-doubters who tend to postpone tasks because they worry about performing inadequately, or because they fear their success may raise others' expectations of them."

If you have a tendency to put things off, you just might want to read it. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Sermon, the Pitch, and the Cashbox

12/7/05 - updated with related posts below

I confess. I've been counting down the days until the release of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Friday evening I'll be joining a large group from my church to view the film. While at the theater I'll try to put all the marketing hype surrounding the production out of my mind so as not to ruin my enjoyment. As David Wayne notes in his musing about the promotional fervor, "Just as Aslan is on the move in Narnia, so the servants of Mammon are on the move in our world seeking to make us evangelicals their servants." Like David, I too thought back to Tim Challies' question of just how crassly the church is being used to market the new Narnia film as I've witnessed all the hype.

When I read at Reformation 21 that according to the Philadelphia Inquirer Walt Disney Pictures is sponsoring a promotional sermon contest whose winner will be given $1,000, I was shocked. I couldn't believe that Disney would go so far as to sponsor a contest designed to get pastors to give verbal trailers from the pulpit. It just didn't seem like good business sense. Such an offensive move could alienate members of the very audience Disney is banking on to make the film a success.

After a little searching I found what at first appeared to clear Disney of such crass publicity seeking. The "Narnia Sermon Sweepstakes" is sponsored by which claims to be the world's largest sermon research site. In addition to $1,000, the grand prize winner will receive a trip for two to London and Oxford, England to walk where Lewis walked and worshiped. All a pastor has to do to enter the competition is submit a qualifying Narnia-related sermon transcript or outline. Apparently it's not necessary that the sermon actually have been preached but the odds are good that if a pastor has expended the time and effort to compose such a message, it will get preached. And those entries that are eventually posted on SermonCentral's site will probably be preached in some form or another from numerous pulpits. The Inquirer claims that Disney is using hired agencies to promote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in churches. Among them is Outreach Media Inc. which, according to the article, hosts the sermon contest. At first, I thought this was an error having read at that it was sponsoring the contest. However, when I visited SermonCentral's page for potential advertisers, I learned that it is an arm of Outreach Media and thus it appears that the sermon contest is indeed another Disney marketing strategy.

Outreach Media Inc. affirms Christian orthodoxy and states its vision as follows: "To create a network of churches and ministries working together to love and serve people with the goal of inviting every person in America to a local Bible believing church and, ultimately, into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." I'm sure there are sincere believers at Outreach who are eager to promote the Narnia film because they are persuaded that it has the potential to turn minds toward contemplation of the gospel. However, given their being in Disney's employ, the decision to run a sermon sweepstakes is a matter of very poor judgment. It may lead some to conclude that the folks at Outreach have succumbed to the craving for Turkish Delight.


Christianity Today asks, "Did Disney Pay for Your Sermon?" and likewise questions "the propriety of offering financial incentives for pastors to preach on a commercial product, even if it is Narnia."

Paul C. at has a few questions of his own: "What's next, pastors wearing suits emblazoned with sponsor's logos like a NASCAR driver? Maybe cash strapped churches could sell commercial breaks during services to help raise funds?"