“no question … Barack Obama is a born again man”

Official portrait of Barack ObamaStephen Mansfield in the Huffington Post quotes Joel Hunter:

There is simply no question about it: Barack Obama is a born again man who has trusted in Jesus Christ with his whole heart.

Hunter, a pastor from Florida, is apparently one of President Obama’s current team of four spiritual advisers. He reports a significant change in Obama’s life since he arrived at the White House:

Obama is having a new encounter with truth.

This means that, according to Hunter, the President would no longer suggest that all religions are essentially the same. I trust that this also means that he would now stop carrying in his pocket “a tiny monkey god”, which made me suggest in 2008 that he might in fact be a Hindu.

Meanwhile there seems to be no question that Obama’s apparently most likely opponent in this year’s elections, Mitt Romney, is not a born again Christian, at least as evangelicals would understand the term.

So who should American Christians vote for? If they choose to vote for Romney, they should at least admit to themselves and to others that they are voting for the policies they prefer, not because they want to see a Christian in the White House.

2006 Suzuki SX4 1.6 GLX 5dr Auto Hatchback £3,900

We interrupt our regular programming (or at the moment lack of programming) for this commercial announcement. But it’s not a paid ad, as I am selling this myself:

2006 Suzuki SX4 1.6 GLX 5dr Auto Hatchback5 Door mini-SUV style hatchback, Red, Petrol, Automatic, 7 months MOT, Low mileage, Air conditioning, Power assisted steering, Trip computer, 3×3 point rear seat belts, Remote central locking, Immobiliser, Folding rear seats, Priced for a quick sale. £3,900.

UPDATE: Missed this important point: only 44,000 miles.

If you are interested, please contact me in a comment or using the contact form. Or go to the full ad at Auto Trader.

Cameron tried to send love to Murdoch editor: FAIL!

I haven’t kept up with the details of the Leveson inquiry into the British press. But I sometimes see headlines of something really shocking, and sometimes of something really stupid. But today’s news takes the biscuit: something potentially shocking but also so hilariously stupid that no one will take it as seriously as they perhaps should.

Rebekah BrooksToday at the inquiry, as the BBC reports, it was the turn to give evidence of Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the Murdoch newspapers the News of the World and the Sun, and then Chief Executive of  Rupert Murdoch’s company News International until she was forced to resign in 2011.

It has long been known that Rebekah is a personal friend of Prime Minister David Cameron. So it is hardly surprising that they exchanged regular text messages, although she has called allegations that he texted her 12 times a day while opposition leader “preposterous”.

But what really seems preposterous is this part of Rebekah’s evidence:

She said the prime minister signed off most texts with the letters DC but occasionally used the acronym LOL.

But she said he stopped this when he learnt the text shorthand stood for “laugh out loud” not “lots of love”.

In other words, David Cameron, a married man, was in the habit of trying to send “lots of love” to this woman friend, but he in fact completely failed to do so! I’m not sure which is more concerning, that he would have this kind of relationship with a newspaper editor, or that he would be so incompetent at expressing his love. I’m sure Rebekah indeed laughed out loud when she found out what was happening.

I hope these revelations don’t cause difficulties between David and Samantha Cameron or between Rebekah and her husband Charlie Brooks. But I would be pleased if they signal the end of the far too cosy relationship between the British government and the Murdoch controlled press.

Larry Wall’s Quantum Proof that God is Good

Larry WallThanks to Tyson for posting an interesting article (originally from 2002) by Larry Wall, the inventor of the Perl programming language, on how his scientific mind led him to belief in God. In the article he is responding to an atheistic or possibly deistic questioner who seems to hold that Christian belief is incompatible with science.

Here’s a taster, showing how Wall bases his response in quantum mechanics:

A lot of folks get hung up at point B [“God is good to people who really look for him”] for various reasons, some logical and some moral, but mostly because of Shroedinger again. People are almost afraid to observe the B qubit because they don’t want the wave function to collapse either to a 0 or a 1, since both choices are deemed unpalatable. A lot of people who claim to be agnostics don’t take the position so much because they don’t know, but because they don’t want to know, sometimes desperately so.

Because if it turns out to be a 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there’s no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

And because if it turns out to be a 1, then you have swallow a whole bunch of flim-flam that goes with it. Or do you?

I don’t claim to understand all of this, but it is interesting!

New Mayan Calendar Find: World Won’t End in 2012

The BBC reports a new find of “the oldest-known Mayan astronomical tables”, as part of a find of wall paintings at a site in Guatemala. Indeed, Mayan art and calendar at Xultun stun archaeologists, and should also stun armchair predictors of the end of the world. For it seems that among the discoveries are
Mayan art from Xultun

astronomical tables, including four long numbers on the east wall that represent a cycle lasting up to 2.5 million days … representing a calendar that stretches more than 7,000 years into the future.

So no longer can it be claimed that according to the Mayan calendar the world will end this year. There is apparently no more basis for predicting an apocalypse on 21st December 2012 than there was for Harold Camping’s similar predictions for 21st May and 21st October 2011. (Why does everyone go for the 21st of the month?) And it looks likely that these New Age doomsday merchants will end up with as much egg on their face as Camping already has.

Well, Harold Camping has repented of his false predictions, although only after the event. We can only hope that the people looking to the Mayan calendar will do the same, preferably before the day, and spare us all a circus in the build-up to that date.

Gay Marriage: Why Christians Shouldn’t Try to Ban It

J.R. Daniel KirkDaniel Kirk (no relation) writes an interesting post Regarding Amendment 1in North Carolina. It is interesting not only to people in North Carolina, or who consider it home, but to Christians worldwide, and especially here in the UK where moves to legalise same sex marriage are under consideration. This is because the core of the proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment is as follows:

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

Daniel’s response to this is simple:

You don’t have to vote for Amendment 1, even if you don’t think God approves of homosexual behavior.

And this is the basis of his reasoning:

We have a responsibility to guard the morality of the church in a way that God has not given us responsibility to guard the morality of the entire world. …

When we hold positions for reasons that are clearly and fundamentally religious positions, we must take extra care not to impose these on our non-Christian neighbors–if, in fact, we would love them with our religious convictions in the same way we would have them love us with theirs.

In other words, as Christians we should not be seeking to impose our own moral standards on the world. If we try to do so, we are not showing Christian love to our unbelieving neighbours.

I agree. In fact I would take this a little further than Daniel does explicitly. If we seek to impose our moral standards on outsiders, we give them the impression that the Christian faith is a matter of obeying rules. That is a complete denial of the gospel proclamation to unbelievers, which should be that God loves them and gives them his grace even while they are still living sinful lives. As Craig Groeschel writes today for the Huffington Post, Rules Create Toxic Religion. And the sin of a homosexual relationship is no worse in God’s eyes than the sin of showing self-righteousness and of misrepresenting the gospel.

The issues here in the UK are rather different from those in North Carolina. Here we already have civil partnerships for same sex couples, and there is no question of abolishing them. So the human rights argument Daniel presents is not really applicable here. The pressure for allowing full same sex marriage seems to be coming more from the political correctness lobby than from the gay and lesbian community. So I will not come out in support of the government’s same sex marriage proposals. But I think Daniel has also given me good reasons not to oppose them.

“No” to Christian Political Parties and to Theocracy

Today is polling day for local elections here in the UK, in London and in many other areas, but not here in Chelmsford. So the discussion I am having here is primarily about the UK political scene. But the same principles apply in other democratic countries, and so I recommend this post, and the ones I link to here, to all my readers.

Houses of Parliament and CrossA few days ago Gillan Scott caused some controversy by posting an Interview with Malcolm Martin, Christian Peoples Alliance candidate for the London Assembly. In response to this debate, including to some of my own tweets, he asked the question Are Christian political parties really a good idea? Meanwhile Danny Webster responded to the same controversy with Why I don’t think Christian political parties are the best option. Both Gillan and Danny have been posting other good material on faith and politics over the last few days.

I can basically agree with what both Danny and Gillan have written about Christian political parties. I don’t want to condemn those who choose to join or support them, especially in the UK context where votes for them are more likely to be wasted ones than to usher in a theocracy. There is nevertheless a real chance that the CPA candidate will be elected for one of the proportional top-up seats in the London Assembly – and if so that is likely to be because of the party’s stance against gay marriage, an issue which is divisive even in London’s churches.

Gillan makes a good distinction between parties like CPA which “puts faith at the heart of its politics” and those which promote “a whole raft of biblical principles such as the basic human rights of every individual, social justice and the importance of marriage”, but not a specific faith. Neither Gillan nor I object to the latter – but are they really Christian? However, he has some serious reservations about the former:

If a party stands up and says that it represents the Christian faith, then the implication is that all Christians should agree with its policies.  As we all know though, Christians don’t agree on a lot of things and party politics is one of them.  The added danger is that such a party will be perceived as working towards a theocracy where the government subjects its people to what they believe is God’s will and of course because it’s God’s will it can’t be questioned.  Where this is taking place in the world in countries such as Iran, theocracy inevitably leads to oppression.

I’m not saying that theocracy is the CPA’s aim.  But they do want to promote faith in God and put him at the heart of politics. …

There’s nothing I can find in the Bible about Christianity gaining political power.  Israel in the Old Testament was a theocracy, but it was never intended to spread beyond the Jews who lived under the Mosaic law.  Instead in Romans Paul talks about us submitting to the authorities, not usurping them.

Indeed. It is parties like this which, if they become more than fringe groups like CPA, are seen as promoting theocracy, and are rightly condemned as teaching some kind of “dominionism”.

Gillan concludes as follows:

I would suggest that there are two ways God’s values will become prevalent in our society. One is through revival, which I long to see, but will only come through prayer and not politics.  The other is by Christians working their way into positions of power and influence where they can live out kingdom values.  That includes politics.  There are some fantastic Christian MPs and political activists who are doing just that.  They are working through the existing frameworks to influence what happens in government and in our nation.  They haven’t chosen to go up against the existing structures, but work in them and through them and I admire them for that.  Realistically, they will have more effect and do far more good than by looking to do something exclusively Christian and will gain the support of many more people, Christian or otherwise, in the process.

I completely agree. This approach is not “dominionism” and will not lead to a theocracy. But it will help to bring our society to work more according to the principles of the kingdom of God.

Eugenics close to becoming a ‘human right’ in Europe

Downs syndrome childThe Christian Medical Fellowship reports: Eugenics close to becoming a ‘human right’ in Europe. Apparently the European Court of Human Rights

is preparing to issue a ruling on the fundamental right to the prenatal screening and elimination of children with diseases or disabilities. …

A decision in favour would not only increase the stigmatisation of disabled people but would also make the eugenic process (of selecting and eliminating certain people) a human right.

This has worrying overtones of the Nazi policy of eliminating those deemed unfit to live. It is also of course deeply concerning to those of us who believe that unborn children have the right to life.

You may like to join me in signing the Stop Eugenics Now petition, linked to from the CMF post.

To Cure Cancer, “Cleanse me with Hyssop”, or Pizza!

Again, as in my post about hyrax intelligence, scientists seem to have found proof of ancient wisdom from the Bible, and this time it has real practical use, as a cure for cancer.

The king and psalmist David wrote, after his adultery with Bathsheba,

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean.

Psalm 51:7 (NIV)

Now the cleansing he had in mind here was more spiritual than physical. But why did he mention hyssop? In the Bible this plant, ezov in Hebrew, seems to have been used mainly as an instrument for sprinkling water or blood as part of cleansing rituals. But that hardly makes sense in the context of David’s psalm.

Anyway, what was hyssop? There is a genus of plants, Hyssopus, now known by that name, but it seems unlikely that the biblical accounts refer to any of these species. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia,

The plant, which at the present day, is considered as more probably the hyssop of the Mosaic ritual, is the Origanum maru.

Origanum syriacumNow “the present day” here is 1910. A more recent source suggests that the biblical hyssop was Origanum syriacum, also named by the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, but there seems to be some confusion between this plant and Origanum maru. In any case the ancient name may well have referred to more than one species. However, it does seem likely that the biblical hyssop was a member of the oregano family.

The relevance of this is in a new report from Science Daily Component of Pizza Seasoning Herb Oregano Kills Prostate Cancer Cells. Apparently a researcher has shown that carvacrol, a constituent of oregano which is best known as a herb used in pizza, causes the death of at least some cancer cells.

Though the study is at its preliminary stage, she believes that the initial data indicates a huge potential in terms of carvacrol’s use as an anti-cancer agent.

Oregano oil, the main component of which is carvacrol, has also been claimed as

useful as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent rivaling even pharmaceutical antibiotics … also a powerful parasitic expellant, is valuable as a food preservative, and has been used to decontaminate foods from potentially harmful pathogen’s

– but I would be sceptical about such claims which come from a site selling this oil. The oil is generally taken from common oregano, Origanum vulgare, but carvacrol is also the main component of the oil of Origanum syriacum.

So what did the biblical authors know about the herb they called ezov? Surely it meant more to them than a sprinkling instrument. Its use in cleansing rituals suggests that it was also known in itself as a cleansing agent for the body. The ancient Greeks certainly knew of the healing properties of oregano, and it seems likely that the Hebrews would also have done. But it seems to have taken until the 21st century for scientists to recognise this.

Meanwhile, as man in the age group at risk from prostate cancer, I will use this as an excuse for eating more pizza!

Hell: Evangelicals and Universalists Share an Error

FireKurt Willems has followed up his interesting series Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? by publishing a guest post by Dan Martin Burn-them-all vs. Universalism: A false choice. In this post Dan explains why he rejects both universalism, the teaching that no one goes to hell but all are saved, and what he calls the “Burn-them-all” position, that the great majority of human beings are sent to eternal punishment. He also calls the latter “the Evangelical position”, but I would prefer to call the conservative evangelical position, as by no means all who call themselves evangelicals would take this line. John Stott was well known as an evangelical who taught something very different.

To me the most interesting part of Dan’s post is in a parenthesis:

(Note, of course, that the error of universal immortality is one committed by those who espouse eternal conscious torment as well; it’s not just a universalist concept)

This follows his discussion of how universalists seem to assume that every human being, or at least every soul, is immortal, and the only alternative to eternal punishment is eternal bliss. The point of the parenthesis is that conservative evangelicals seem to make exactly the same assumption. But where does this assumption come from? The immortality of the soul is a fundamentally Greek concept, not a biblical one. Dan explains further:

It is quite possible that only God’s followers actually go to heaven–for that matter, that only these win immortality–and that the rest die or are annihilated …  Furthermore, this concept has some circumstantial biblical support…from Genesis 2 & 3 where man is only immortal when granted access to the tree of life, to John 3:16 which posits life-vs-death, not eternal-good-life vs. eternal-bad-life.

I would suggest that the biblical support for this is more than “circumstantial”, but is actually quite strong. It is a consistent theme in the New Testament that eternal life is the inheritance only of God’s holy people. The alternative seems to be destruction: there is remarkably little in Scripture to suggest that the wicked survive beyond the final judgment, when they are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), surely an image of annihilation rather than of torment.

Some will surely object by pointing to the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), where the rich man is said to be in torment in Hades. Now Hades or Sheol is where, according to the Old Testament, all the dead went, and indeed we see that righteous Lazarus is in the same place, although in a separate section of it. In the New Testament we learn that this stay in Hades is only temporary, until the general resurrection and the final judgment. It is at that point that, it seems, the wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire, also known as Gehenna or “hell”, and only the righteous are admitted into the fullness of God’s kingdom.

This is basically the annihilationist or conditional immortality position held for example by John Stott. As Kurt Willems notes in part 7 of his series, it was also the view of some of the church fathers. It is more biblical than the traditional evangelical one, which is strongly influenced by Greek ideas of the immortality of the soul, as well as by mediaeval images of torment in hell, which were introduced in a fruitless attempt to frighten people into correct behaviour. In Kurt’s words,

The idea that humans are innately immortal is foreign from biblical thought. Greek philosophy fuels this assumption.

This position also resolves the neatly the apparent contradiction involved in a God of love sending most people to eternal punishment. In Dan’s words:

The idea that immortality itself is a gift to the faithful and not the nature of all souls, actually fits the bill both for the reward of those who love God, and the exclusion/damnation of the rest, without making God into the torturing monster we read in (for example) the works of Jonathan Edwards.

Dan concludes his post as follows:

So…will all but a few burn in hell, or will everyone eventually be saved?  Biblically, probably neither.  But after all, “what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22, out of context!)