Friday, April 4, 2014

Christianity In Japan, Part IV: Today

Modern Japan is externally a healthy and stable nation.  Although the country has to deal with its share of political corruption and social issues - particularly in relation to foreign affairs with Korea and China - it is for the most part a peaceful, stable society.  Compared to the United States, crime rates are extremely low, there are few people who are homeless or live in poverty, and most visitors to Japan will quickly observe that Japanese tend to be generous, polite, and hospitable.  By most external measures, Japan seems to be much better off than a country like the United States.

A cultural difference helps to shed light on why this is mistaken: in the US, there are garbage cans almost everywhere, even in public spaces, making it easy to throw out your trash.  Yet in Japan, public garbage cans are a rarity, and even large venues often go without them.  In spite of this, Japan is very clean, without much litter.  The reason is because most people carry their garbage with them, and throw it out at home.

Japan is a country that, collectively, throws its garbage out at home, not in public.  The issues affecting modern Japan are just as subtle - but no less problematic - than those in the US.  Today we'll look at a few of the main challenges.

Fractured Families:  A major factor in Japan's social problems comes from the state of the family.  Most families in Japan have little time to spend together - many, if not most, fathers work late, and children are frequently occupied with after-school clubs, activities, and seasonal events.  In many cases, the wife is the de facto head of the household, managing the money instead of her husband.  Affairs in Japan for both husbands and wives are common, and are facilitated by so-called love hotels, which offer an escape from the virtually nonexistent privacy of many Japanese homes. (Although to be fair, they're also used by non-illicit and even married couples who just want to get away for a night.)  Japan's divorce rate is lower than the United States, but a similar - perhaps higher - proportion of relationships are very unhealthy.

Overwork:  Perhaps at the heart of all of Japan's social issues is the problem of overwork.  A standard white-collar work day in the US typically starts between 8 and 9 AM, and goes until 5 PM or so.  In Japan, a work day usually starts at about the same time, but most Japanese work extreme amounts of overtime on a daily basis, often staying at the office until 9 or 10 PM.  In addition, many Japanese work six days a week.  This places workers themselves under extreme amounts of stress, but also damages families.

As a result of overwork, fathers spend little time with their children and wives.  The frequent absence of a father on a daily basis leads to dysfunction in other inter-familial relationships, as well.  Making matters worse is the fact that many men do not get paid overtime.  Unlike people who work extra hours in Western countries, Japanese are typically motivated not by desire to be successful or earn money, but simply to appear to be a "good employee" by going home late.

Suicide: Relatively well-known outside of Japan is the issue of suicide.  Japan has a very high rate of suicide, often within the top ten countries in the world, on a year-to-year basis.  Japan's view on suicide tends to be more flexible than Western countries, partially because in centuries past, it was viewed as an honorable way to atone for one's failures, particularly amongst samurai.  Suicide was also acceptable as more honorable than being captured, and most recently, is familiar from kamikaze tactics in World War II.

Almost three-quarters of suicides in Japan are male, and in recent years, suicide has particularly increased among people in their twenties and thirties.  The causes of suicide are closely linked to some of the other factors described here, particularly overwork and family breakdown.  In recent years, school bullying is increasingly a contributing factor to suicides in Japan, with schools and authorities able to do little about the problem with corporal punishment a taboo and teachers lacking any real power to enforce discipline or deal with troublesome students.

Hikikomori: A Japanese word meaning "one who withdraws," Hikikomori are mostly young men in their twenties or thirties who retreat from the outside world and isolate themselves, often for months or years at a time.

An issue that has received considerable attention overseas, the Hikikomori phenomenon encapsulates many of the issues afflicting Japanese society.  From childhood, conformity is urged - even mandated - so that children who do not fit in with the prevailing mindset and behavior patterns tend to be ostracized, both directly and indirectly.  Combined with other pressures such as the demand of cram schools attended in preparation for grueling university entrance and other extra-cirricular activities, this means that many Japanese are already burnt out by the time they reach college age.

The underlying cause of hikikomori behavior can be found in pressure to conform, and the crushing realization that one doesn't measure up and can't function in a merciless society.  On top of that, with so little to look forward to - such as punishing work hours, poor labor conditions, high cost of living, and others - is it any wonder that so many young men retreat from everyday life in such a manner?

Herbivore Men:  A closely related issue is the "herbivore man" phenomenon.  These are young men who eschew traditionally masculine pursuits, such as high-income jobs, conspicuous consumption, and status, in favor of a free-wheeling, relaxed lifestyle that avoids responsibility and conventional masculinity in favor of hobbies (and related careers) in areas such as fashion or hair styling.  If the traditional strong-willed Japanese salaryman was a "carnivore," then these young men, predominantly Millennial, are the opposite - hence, "herbivores."

The Herbivore movement is a reaction to the excess of Japan's bubble era, which ended in the early 1990s.  Though most herbivore men were only children at the time, this is when their fathers  established themselves.  Herbivore men resent the indifference of their absent fathers, who they perceive as insensitive and uncaring, and who prioritized work over relationships.  As a result, Herbivore men are more sensitive and emotionally balanced, but are often perceived as weak and feminine, something akin to twenty first century dandies rather than proper men.  Many women are physically unattracted to such men, compounding lack of marriages, the low birthrate, and related issues.

Materialism:  Japan remains an exceedingly materialistic country, far moreso than many Westerners realize.  Luxury imported goods - like BMW automobiles and Louis Vuitton purses - are crucial status symbols to many adult Japanese.  Although the younger generation is changing somewhat, money and high-paying jobs remain a priority for most Japanese.

The biggest difference in Japan compared to the US is that Japanese typically avoid credit card debt (many not owning or using credit cards at all) and have more disposable income by eschewing cars or living with their parents.  This is becoming increasingly common among young men, as well.

Atheism:  Although Japan is a nominally Buddhist/Shintoist society, in practice religion is nearly irrelevant to the majority of Japanese, who only observe religious ceremony at weddings, funerals, New Year's, and perhaps one or two other holidays through the year.  This is much akin to how most Americans are nominally Christian but rarely give much thought to faith outside of Christmas or Easter.

However, Japan's brand of atheism is much different from the belligerent variety frequently encountered in North America and Europe.  While Western atheism tends to be outright hostile toward religious belief,  Japanese are simply indifferent to most types of religious faith, seeing little need for it in their lives.  There is a measure of antipathy toward Japanese new religious movements, which tend to be cult-like groups closely associated with fanatical behavior, such as the Aum Shinrikyo cult responsible for a terrorist attack in Tokyo in 1995.  But established religions like Christianity and Judaism are rarely met with much hostility by Japanese.  The biggest challenge toward evangelism in Japan is simply getting Japanese to care.

Aging Population:  Japan is a rapidly aging country in which the number of deaths outpaces births.  Because Japan has very little immigration, this issue is more clearly seen than in the US or Europe, where an influx of immigrants masks the declining birthrate of the native population.  The result is that more and more resources are dedicated to the elderly.  Occupations such as nursing and caretaking are especially popular amongst young people in Japan, because with the aging population, employment is all but guaranteed.

Many of the aforementioned factors contribute to Japan's low birthrate.  Work conditions make it difficult to start a family, and the high cost of living - particularly in large urban areas like Tokyo or Osaka, where most jobs are found - makes it difficult to support a family.  Young couples are wary to start a family when one or both of the parents work nonstop, and it's becoming increasingly normal for women to not have children until their early or mid-thirties - far past peak fertility, further adding to the difficulty of starting a family. 

Conclusion

The aforementioned social factors would seem to paint a bleak picture for Japan's future.  But on the contrary, I think there's good reason to be optimistic about the future of Christian faith in Japan.   

First, many of the barriers to the Gospel have fallen away.  In previous decades, worries about family pressure and expectations were a major barrier to Christian faith, but today - when so many families are already fractured and many young people seem to act without much regard for their parents' expectations, anyway - there is an unprecedented opportunity for the Gospel to take hold.

Many Japanese, particularly young people, have an inferiority complex about their race and culture.  They've recognized the failure of the Showa-era ideal - extreme overwork, materialist indulgence, and familial detachment - but struggle to find an alternative, instead floating aimlessly through their twenties, discontent with all of the options available to them.

Never before has Japan been so open to the Gospel.  People have awoken to the problems with Japanese society, and they're ready to see the solution and healing that can only come through the saving power of Christ.  Christian families, in particular, have the most potential to make a positive impact in Japan.  By showing their neighbors a loving, Gospel-centered home and gracious relationships between husband and wife, parent and children, they can offer a hope that the aspirations of Japanese society have failed to achieve. 

On top of this, Japanese Christian families often tend to have far more children than normal families, which is crucial for a country with a declining birthrate; and more encouraging is (based on my admittedly anecdotal experience) a far greater proportion of children grow up and follow their parents' faith, rather than abandon it, as is common in the US.  Christians have the opportunity to completely rebuild the smoldering wreck of family in Japanese society.

On top of that, a good church community can offer fellowship and relationships that many people, especially those who are a little older, can't find anywhere else.  Japanese are much slower to make friends and welcome people into their in-group, and for many men, in particular, their workplace is the only place they can forge friendships.  Church communities offer a better way, and a place where people who have been rejected elsewhere in society can find a place where they'll be loved. 

There's still much to be done, but overall, the future for Christianity in Japan is brighter than you might think.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What sins did Jesus discuss most?

Last week I read a tweet which referenced off-hand that Jesus spoke more about the sin of hypocrisy than any other sin. Yet another person stated that Jesus spoke more about love of money than any other sin.

Both were speaking in hyperbole to make a point, but it did raise an interesting question:  if we look at the Gospels, which sins were discussed most frequently by Jesus? I divided them into 10 categories, and of course how you count may differ slightly by person. But in general, the following is a good representation of how frequently Jesus discussed each sin in the Gospels:



Now this is very interesting to me for a few reasons. But before we discuss what I see in this chart, let's say one thing clearly:  less frequency does not necessarily mean "less importance" or "less sinful."  It would be wrong to interpret this chart as saying that lust or murder or false teaching is somehow less sinful. Obviously, anything that Jesus explicitly mentioned as sinful is not good.

That said, what it does reveal is what was on Jesus' mind the most, in that time, in that culture. (Which may or may not be the same, if He was here with us today!) However, the Roman Empire does bear many similarities to modern America (dominant superpower, dominant economy, extreme patriotism, general religious tolerance, decadent lifestyles, reputation of being quick to war, etc.). As such there is probably at least a reasonable alignment between what concerned Jesus then, and what concerns Jesus about us today.

The thing Jesus talked about the most was belief:  but rarely did He speak of simply intellectual acceptance. Belief to Jesus was more than simply acceptance of a creed; it was an acceptance of a lifestyle, and a willingness to follow His path even in spite of family preference, obstacles, suffering, or even death.

After disbelief, Jesus spoke most about hypocrisy among religious leaders and a lack of love and forgiveness among all men. This was followed by many speeches about greed and materialism.

Think that through for a second. Two out of every three times that Jesus preached on sin, He was talking about disbelief, hypocrisy, lovelessness, or materialism.  And what do we see around us in America? A society with many unbelievers. A society whose Christians are called loveless and hypocrites. And a society in which nearly everyone--Christian or not--is materialistic.

Ouch.









Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Speaking of science...

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a fan of (proper) science. But I had to laugh last month when I read this article (Precambrian: Facts About the Beginning of Time).

First of all, the very title is scientifically inaccurate:  the Precambrian is the first epoch of Earth's history, NOT of the universe's history...so the article lists nothing "About the Beginning of Time" at all. They meant, "About the Beginning of Earth."

That said, what was really funny to me was the use of the word "Fact"--a fact is generally defined as something which has actually occurred or is verifiably true. The title of this article says it will be filled with facts, but the actual article is filled with the following statements:

  • "Astrogeophysicists theorize that..."
  • "It is hypothesized that..."
  • "Exactly when or how it happened is unknown..."
  • "It is probable that..."
  • "It is generally accepted that..."
  • "Some scientists classify them as..."
  • "The boundary...is not as clear-cut as it was once thought to be..."
  • "It used to be thought that..."

There are only 10 paragraphs in this short article, and I count at least 8 equivocations on the "facts" of the "beginning" of "time".


What I hope to be the case is that the author wrote an article titled something like, "The current evidence and theories about the Precambrian," and an editor made up a totally misleading headline. Because otherwise there is really some confusion about the definitions of the words "Facts" and "Time" going on here.



This is, however, indicative of a larger problem in modern science--or, I should say, scientism. There is a tendency of modern science to leap right past "hypothesis" and "theory" and start reporting things as facts.

For example, I recently read an article by an astronomer talking about how great it was we were past the Dark Ages and no longer believed that we held a special place in the universe. But do you not see that he makes just as big a leap as the people he is accusing? It is true that those who assume "Earth has a special place" do so based upon no evidence; however, those who assume the opposite--as the astronomer did--also are basing it on a personal belief system rather than evidence. We lack the astronomical perspective to know whether Earth has a unique place or not. It happens in paleontology all the time as well: a tooth or rib bone is found and from that evidence (which IS fact) an assumption-filled extrapolation is made of size, habitat, range, body type, and the like (which is NOT fact). But by the time these stories reach the press, only the final theory is found...although it is presented as fact.


The problem is that in so doing, they undermine the credibility that they once had. I firmly believe that more and more Christians would be pro-science, if only scientism would get out of the way and scientists would present the fact as they stand, their theories as theories, and we could all be the wiser for it.


Monday, March 10, 2014

10 Myths Scientists Believe

I saw a tweet today from @DiscoveryCSC regarding thisarticle. The tweet said it would be nice if there was a list of myths most scientists believe.

Ask, and you shall receive.


With no further ado, Reboot Christianity’s 10 myths scientists believe:


Copernicus invented the heliocentric model and was punished by Christians:  This is just wrong all the way around. First of all, Copernicus was a Christian himself—a Catholic priest. He was urged to publish by his bishop. We know for a fact he was never punished because he was already dead before he published. Oh and it wasn’t his idea, either: Greek philosopher Aristotle considered the heliocentric system centuries earlier, but rejected it because it would predict stellar parallax and he could not observe this. (Aristotle was right, by the way: stellar parallax would later be observed as technology improved.)  So Copernicus did not invent the heliocentric model, he was just the first to make it mathematically plausible. And in no way can anyone say he was punished for it.


Galileo’s brilliant theory resulted in his torture by the Catholics:  Again, not even close. First of all, Galileo was himself a Catholic and many of his theories were based not on science, but on interpretations of Scripture and Catholic thinkers like Thomas Aquinas. Secondly, Galileo’s theories were widely acclaimed by the Pope (who was an old friend before becoming Pope) as well as many others. It was the secular professors—not the Christian ones—who disliked his theories. Why? Because he actually had no proof of most of them. He was on the right track in general, but could not provide evidence for many of his theories, and his popularity in spite of this fact was irritating. He was never tortured, never beaten, never burned, etc. For twenty-one years he was a darling of the Pope and Catholicism, until eventually publishing a story in which he put common arguments of the Pope in the mouth of a character called “The Fool.” That resulted in a house arrest, but even then he was allowed to continue his work. He actually used this time to write his magna opus, which he was allowed to publish.


Ernest Haeckel’s embryo drawings:  Every evolutionary biology textbook reproduces Haeckel’s drawings of embryonic development. It is an icon of evolutionary teaching. Haeckel proposed that at various stages of development the embryo looked like its evolutionary ancestors. He produced a series of drawings which were very detailed and certainly seemed to show this. There is only one problem:  it isn’t true. Depending on how harsh the critic, Haeckel either exaggerated or outright faked all of his drawings. He omitted things which didn’t agree with his theory, added things that did, and generally fudging the data. Embryologist Wilhelm His went as far as to say, “[he has] relinquished the right to count as an equal in the company of serious researchers.” Science magazine in 1997 said that it was, “one of the most famous fakes in biology.” Yet if you grab a high school biology textbook today, chances are you will see his drawings reproduced within it, and his theories presented without the following controversy.


Most Christians believe the earth is 6,000 years old:  Okay, this one is only partially a myth—because many Christians do believe exactly that. However, the National Science Board has been conducting polls on continental drift since the 1980s, and consistently find that 80% of Americans firmly believe that the continents have drifted apart over millions of years, 10% are unsure, and 10% firmly reject it. How then do pollsters like Gallup find such a high percent of Young Earth Creationism? Well, it’s all in how you word it. The question generally asked is something like, “Do you accept the Biblical account of creation as literally true?” then almost every Christian will say, “Yes.” But some do not think that the Bible literally interpreted indicates a young earth. Most Old Earth Creationists also consider themselves Biblical literalists—they simply have a different interpretive method. But the National Science Board polls seem to indicate that no more than 10% of the population is convinced that the earth is definitely young—so obviously, this is not “most” Christians.


The Big Bang Theory is anti-Christian:  Quite the opposite, in fact. The Big Bang model was hated by most scientists when it was developed. It was developed by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre, and he was often accused by his scholarly enemies of trying to bend the facts to be pro-Genesis. Beforehand, most cosmologists and evolutionists believed in the Steady State Model, which argued that the universe was not expanding, was steady state for eternity and (therefore) there was no creation event. As Nobel prize winning physicist Arno Penzias once said, “The best data we have [on the Big Bang model] are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”


Until recently people believed the Earth was flat:  It is completely false that the Scientific Revolution in the Middle Ages of Europe (and Columbus’ trip) proved the Earth not to be flat. In fact, very few scholars believed in a flat Earth even by the time of Jesus. The spherical Earth was shown at least by the time of Pythagoras (6th century BC), was clearly taught by Aristotle (c.330 BC), the size of the Earth’s circumference was calculated by Erastosthenes (c. 240 BC), and by the time of Christ Pliny the Elder stated that everyone in the world agreed on the round shape of the Earth. Christian writers such as Augustine clearly discuss the widespread view of a spherical Earth.


The Library of Alexandria was burned by Christians and set science back years:  The Library was burned on several occasions. When Julius Caesar was being attacked in 48 BC, he set fire to his ships and it burned a huge section of the library down (ancient sources say it was basically completely destroyed). A smaller section of the library survived until 270-275 AD, when Emperor Auerlian was invading and the fighting damaged most of the remaining works. Both events preceded the large-scale spread of Christianity into the Roman Empire.


Giordano Bruno expanded Copernicus’ theory and was killed for it:  I had not heard this one until it popped up on Cosmos a few weeks back. Bruno argued publicly that the Sun was just another star in an infinite universe, saying to those who disagreed, “Your God is too small!”  He was killed by the Church for these beliefs. Well…hold on that quaint little story, Cosmos. You left a few details out. First of all, Bruno did not come to this conclusion based on any evidence or science…it came to him as a vision, not as a scientific inquiry. He was killed by the Catholic Church, this is (sadly) true: but not due to his scientific beliefs. In fact, Copernicus’ theories at this time were not considered heretical at all. No, Bruno got on the wrong side of Catholicism for the following reasons:  he said Jesus played a trick on everyone and was not God; denied the Virgin Birth; denied the Catholic faith; claimed that there were other worlds that lasted for eternity (no creation); practiced astrology; and taught reincarnation. As a Catholic monk.  So you can see why they might have some problem with one of their own teaching that the entire faith was false; and while they certainly were wrong in their reaction, they couldn’t have cared less about his scientific viewpoints.


Stanley Miller proved that life could form spontaneously:  The Miller-Urey experiments of 1953 have long been held up as proof that life can spontaneously form in the early Earth’s history. They created a simulation of the early atmosphere of the Earth, subjected it to electrical sparks, and then extracted amino acids to demonstrate that the building blocks of life could have formed spontaneously. There are only a few problems with this nice story:  (1) their experiment wasn’t based on the correct atmospheric composition (they had to leave out oxygen and nitrogen to make it work, even though those are major atmospheric components in the early earth); (2) the amount of yield produced was miniscule (only one molecule per 10,000 liters of raw material, not nearly enough yield to allow the proteins to come in contact); (3) no left-handed amino acids were able to be created, even though those are the ones important for life; and (4) the instability of the atmosphere would immediately destroy the few acids produced so they had to cease the experiment and “cold trap” the amino acids…the environment wouldn’t allow them to continue.  So basically, this famous experiment proves almost nothing; it was cleverly set up, but all it really shows is that if you have an atmosphere alien to Earth, you can in some situations create an exceptionally small amount of material that is useless for building life forms. Not all that encouraging.


The useless appendix (and other vestigial organs):  Most scientists accept that the body is full of vestigial organs—organs which had uses in prior evolutionary forms but not in our modern bodies as humans. They are just “left overs”. The appendix is the most famous; frequently doctors speak of removing them because they can only do harm, “they provide no real purpose anymore.”  However, now we know that the appendix plays a critical part of the immune system in the fetus, infant, and toddler years—so while it may be harmless to remove from a child or teenager, that does not mean it served “no purpose” at a younger age. Likewise, other organs considered at one time to be vestigial have been found to be important:  tonsils help protect the pharynx, the pineal gland secretes a hormone that regulates circadian rhythm, the thymus is an important part of the immune system (one attacked by HIV). All of these have at one time been called “vestigial” or useless organs. The reality is that just because you don’t know yet why an organ is there doesn’t make it useless! And likewise, just because you can survive without it doesn’t make it useless: you can amputate an arm and still survive, but that doesn’t mean the arm was a purposeless byproduct of evolutionary randomness.

Your "Biblical worldview" might not match the Bible's

Society is filled with competing worldviews. The world around us is confusing, complex, and vastly interconnected. Human nature throughout all the ages has been to create narratives, stories which explain everything around them. These narratives create a worldview which explains the world around us, and where we are going, and the manner in which we should attain our goals.

Consider the worldview narratives commonplace in our country. Liberals share a worldview where a benevolent government led by the people provides the goods needed and protects the rights of the individual. Libertarians talk about the corruption and oppression of government and the ultimate freedom of the individual. Conservatives see government as okay as long as it remains small, and tell of a time in our past when the country’s values were stronger and commitment to the Constitution greater. Each of these worldviews competes for attention and action.

We individuals are confronted from the time of our infancy with these competing worldviews. Each of us as individuals takes some combination of the above worldviews and knits them together into something new, personal, and individualistic.

For example, I live in a red-state, Bible-belt area. The most common worldview you will find is a mixture of Christianity, American populist nationalism, libertarianism, conservatism, and capitalism. There is no one name for this—though most would call it Republicanism or Conservative Christianity or the Moral Majority. Whatever name you choose, the basic narrative goes something like this:  the Puritans fled Britain for fear of religious persecution; they founded the country on Biblical principles; the Constitution was written to defend those principles; God has blessed the nation as it grew from sea to shining sea as a symbol of Christianity and freedom for the world to envy; we defeated the evil Nazi regime in WWII and began to spread our freedoms throughout the world in the 20th century; our economy is the greatest in the world because it is based on free-market principles which reward cleverness and hard work; and this worldview is currently under attack by liberals and atheists who wish to crippled America and make us into a Marxist state.

I say none of that with any agenda; I would agree with some statements and disagree with others in that list. But that is a pretty fair report of the worldview in this area of the country.

My point is not that this is a correct or incorrect worldview. My point is that we each are exposed every day to competing narratives meant to explain the world around us and—consciously or not—we put these narratives together in a pattern to explain what we see.


The Biblical Worldview

The goal that we all have, of course, is to have a Biblical worldview (or as I prefer, a Gospel worldview). But what does this mean, exactly? Of course, there is no single Biblical worldview:  each book of the Bible is written with a unique worldview, and it provides the context to the contents.

Nonetheless, if we were to try and define a Biblical worldview, what would it look like? What is the one thread which links them all together?


I submit to you that the common Biblical worldview is, “We are an oppressed minority, eagerly awaiting justice.”


The first five books of the Bible are written from the perspective of slaves under oppression, seeking freedom from Egypt. The historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures trace the bloody history of Israel trying to find its promised land and (all too often) losing it and falling under oppression again and again as they defy God’s leadership. Most of the prophets record Israel trying to regain power from under the oppression of Babylon, Edom, etc. The other prophetic books—those written in the rare times that Israel is in power—warn of the coming fall into more oppressiveness. The characters of the Gospels and most of the epistles are under the heel of Rome; the Jewish Christians in Acts, Hebrews, and other books are under the dual heels of Judaism and Rome. Revelation is little more than a book about oppressed peoples, including martyrs crying out for justice.


This is the “Biblical worldview”—that we are oppressed, beaten down on every side, a minority; we are strangers in a strange land, but we have hope that one day our God will return and save us all and, in the end, it is we who will be vindicated. Those who are currently last (i.e., us) will be first. And those who are currently first (i.e., our oppressors) will be last when it really counts.


The danger to us

And therein lies the danger to most of us. Most readers of this blog are (most likely) white, wealthy*, well-educated, Protestants.

We are not the minority in our society.

We are not the oppressed. 

We do not eagerly await the justice of God’s kingdom because we are the rich and privileged who are living it up in the now.

We are the Egyptians. We are the Babylonians. We are the Romans. We are the Pharisees.

We are the powerful who look down on the powerless, and take what is ours no matter the consequences.


And because of that, you and I have a worldview problem. Because we receive so many ‘blessings’ from our government, and have been raised in the dominant superpower of our day, most people sitting in pews on Sunday morning have drunk deep from the well of American nationalism. 

We bristle at those who claim America is oppressive or war-mongering…because we have embraced America’s “freedom spreading” worldview. We get angry at those who attack the 1%...because we have embraced the capitalist worldview. We look down on the poor…because we have embraced the American Dream “if you work hard enough you will succeed” worldview.

We have so embraced the worldview of our culture that we explain away even the Master’s commands! We say that He didn’t really mean for us to forgive our enemies (so it is okay to bomb them). He didn’t really mean for us to be peace-lovers (so it is okay to kill in certain situations). He didn’t really mean that the rich would have trouble getting to heaven (so it is okay to go buy that new car). He didn’t really mean that true religion was measured by how we helped the poor and helpless (so it is okay to pass by that guy on the side of the street).

We are so enamored with our American worldviews that we will flat out ignore the plain teaching of Scripture if it disagrees with that narrative.

Let me ask a question:  How many times do you see someone in the Bible who is among the power-classes come to truly follow Jesus?

It is rare. Very rare.  The Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. The rich young ruler turns away from Jesus, unwilling to do what is needed. Ananias and Sapphira lie to cover up their greed and end up dead. Judas, unwilling to give up his dream of overthrowing Rome, betrays the Lord.

Jesus tells us, in parable after parable, that those who are powerful and wealthy here—by and large—don’t make it to heaven. Those who taste success here generally won’t see the Kingdom. They are too in love with their things, their power, and their pride.

We are too in love with our things, our power, and our pride.


David deSilva points out in his book Unholy Alliances that the church of Laodicea in Rome is criticized as being lukewarm for reasons different than we often think. The hot and cold water are both good things, served with different courses in the meal; between them one would drink and spit out lukewarm water. The lukewarm water is used in Revelation as a symbol of the Laodicean church: just like the glass of water, they had blended into their surroundings and become “room temperature.” They had accepted the Roman worldview and were indistinguishable from those around them.



So let me ask you a tough question. (And don’t worry, I ask it to myself as well.)  Are you really, truly, radically different from the other Americans around you? Or are you lukewarm? Have you accepted the worldview of this secular world, and lived large off of the wealth of being one of the children of the superpower of our era?

To put it simply:  do you feel like someone who is oppressed and can’t wait for Jesus to return and make it right? Or are you pretty comfortable in the role of the powerful elite?


It’s an important question. Because as the Master says, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”




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* Yes, you’re wealthy. You are reading for pleasure, in English, on a computer or smartphone. Only the wealthy in our world get to do that. Don’t feel wealthy? Go visit even a “wealthy” major city in India or China and you’ll realize that all of us in the USA are the “1%”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Difficult Passages: The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (sermon)

This week I was privileged to preach at Grace Church, and taught on the Parable of Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-13).

Click here to listen to the sermon.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Is Disney's Frozen gay?

A few weeks back, I lauded the movie Frozen as one of the best theological movies in years. A few days ago, a few comments on that post indicated a belief that Frozen had a pro-gay agenda (such as this Catholic site, who also claims Madagascar 2 was aggressively gay). I was a bit surprised to say the least, and started doing some reading, finding several sites arguing precisely that.

I felt like my response was too long for a comment, so I thought an extra post was useful. Here are my four main thoughts on the matter, in no particular order:


1:  THE EVIDENCE IS UNCONVINCING

The three biggest pieces of evidence given are:  (1) Elsa is "born cursed" and eventually is true to herself; (2) Oaken (a male) refers to his family and there is another seemingly adult male in the shot; and (3) after the credits, a deep-voiced snow monster puts on a tiara.

Let's take them one at a time:

(1) As I argued in my post, the entire point of the story is that Elsa was trying to control her curse through willpower, and only after understanding and experiencing sacrificial love was she able to redeem her curse. To consider this about homosexuality is the thinnest of connections. For example, look at the lyrics of the song Let it Go, most of which is nonsense in the gay-themed reading but makes complete sense in the "willpower fails" reading. In fact, Elsa's entire approach is to flee civilization and be, as she says, "Alone but free."  If "Let it Go" is Disney's pro-gay message, then apparently they expect homosexuals to separate themselves from society and--even from a distance--they can still accidentally harm society (as Elsa continued to harm Arrondale).  Let's also not forget that Elsa's curse actually harmed society until someone else chose to die for her...not exactly the message you want to send in a pro-gay lobby. 

(2) Is Oaken's family shown as a gay lover and their children? This allegedly occurs during  a blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke where Oaken says that his family is in the sauna and it briefly shows the following photo:

The implication being that the man was Oaken's lover and the other four were their adopted children. I did not see it that way at all--nor did my wife, or our other two kids, on three viewings. Until someone raised this it never occurred to me. Why? What did I see?













Well, Oaken looks like this:













As you can see, he looks considerably older than the male in the photo. The male looks to be an older teen like most of the characters in the movie, while Oaken looks more like his mid-forties. Meanwhile, I assumed the woman on the right of the sauna photo was not just an older child, but his wife.

 Frankly she looks a lot like Elastigirl from the Incredibles, certainly drawn to be older than the others. I assumed the older son was blond like Oaken, and the other kids were brown-haired like their mother. (And again...if Disney is using this as their pro-gay agenda, I think having a much older man and a very young man as the couple is a questionable way to go about engendering sympathy, as it would play into all kinds of predator stereotypes!)

At best, this is ambiguous. 

If they had made one of the children black, or Indian, or something which clearly indicated them as adopted that would be one thing. But there is nothing in the photo so clear. And unlike the author above, who indicates that the framing somehow implies prominence to the relationship of the older son...I say hogwash. (I don't, really. I don't use the term 'hogwash.' But it seems appropriate.)  The joke of the scene is that Oaken is trying to sell things to the two visitors and offers them an uncomfortably tight sauna crowded with his family.

(3) The monster wears a tiara.  Yeah, clearly gay, right? Because the movies have never played up the masculine/feminine differences for jokes before. Need I point out that long before gay marriage became a big thing, the big burly man wearing a dress/jewelry/liking to cook/etc has been played for laughs a thousand times? Bosom Buddies, anyone?



2:  THIS IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF CONFIRMATION BIAS

As I discussed at length here, confirmation bias is the tendency of our brains to give extra weight to evidence which confirms our pre-held beliefs. In the comments to my Frozen post, one commenter said, "You don't seem to understand what Disney has been attempting to do for many years if you don't see the gay agenda here."

Ah, there it is, no? The commenter already believes Disney has a gay agenda, and then sees it when looking at the movie and discounts my arguments to the opposite. This is confirmation bias: she excessively weights the arguments which agree with her, and downgrading/ignoring the arguments which disagree. This is why conservatives tend to watch Fox and liberals watch MSNBC--we like to hear people who agree with us much more than those who disagree. It's human nature.

And so it is no surprise that the article I linked to before--by someone who already sees a pro-gay agenda in Madagascar and Happy Feet and others--also finds one in this movie. Indeed, I would venture to say that it is likely they could find one in any Disney movie if they put their minds to it.


3.  IF THIS IS DISNEY'S PRO-GAY AGENDA, THEY ARE TERRIBLE AT IT

We live in a world where the sin of homosexuality is so widely accepted that it is on TV, in movies, and legal in half the country. You don't have to exactly be subtle about it any more. If me and my wife--both of whom are intelligent, conservative Christians--can watch a movie three times and not see the agenda, then Disney sucks at agendas.

Seriously. If they were sitting around thinking, "Hey, how can we corrupt the youth and make them think gay marriage is okay?," and this is what they came up with...then EPIC FAIL, Disney. I can guarantee you my kids didn't get that from it, nor did I. 



4.  EVERYONE JUST RELAX, ALREADY

Remember like 15 years ago when Christianity lost its mind over the Harry Potter books, and now almost every Christian child has read them? Ever read some of the articles from another 15 years before that, when Christians were up in arms over Star Wars, and now we use the movies as sermon examples? Back about 25 years before that, some states banned Charlotte's Web based on the argument that talking animals were clearly the work of the devil.  Those seem silly now?  

Here's the thing--we Christians LOVE us some culture wars. We love to get irate about what "those guys" are doing to us and "our" society. We love to rant and rave about how America is going to hell in a handbasket, and it is all because of some godless commies/gays/atheists pick your enemy of the day.

And so we love to get irate about whatever the popular entertainment du jour is, and how it is ruining America. Today it's Frozen, and 50 years from now that will seem as strange to my grandkids as the Charlotte's Web thing seems to me. 

So everyone just chill out a little bit, breathe deep, and ask yourself if this is really a movie whose themes are so gay that they're worth getting worked up over.