The gods of America Are Locked in Mortal Combat Today

The gods of America are locked in mortal combat today, and the carnage resulting from their struggle has wounded many in our midst. We had hoped, since increasingly jettisoning all the moral baggage associated with a biblical worldview, that the new gods we enshrined and embraced would play nicely together. And it seemed to work, for thirty years or so. Fame and Fortune, Sex and Power proved to be such a wonderfully worldly team when they all pulled together. Who didn’t want to be on national magazine covers, to become filthy rich (legally, of course), to enjoy hundreds of glamorous sex partners promising pleasures bringing a blush to the cheeks of Eros, to wield power capable of securing one’s wildest dreams?

We were so hopeful that these gods would partner together to create a new age utopia. Tired of the traditional morality that boxed in our ancestors, we were confident of a better way. Sexual pleasure is such a wonderful thing – why should it be confined to the marriage bed, or even to male-female unions or even to human-human encounters? Sex has nothing to do with a created order, but is solely for pleasure however we wish. Human beings are nothing more than enlightened animals with natural urges – let’s get rid of these old moral shackles, vestiges of Victorianism and Stoic asceticism. Free love, baby!

And what’s wrong with fame, after all? Doesn’t everyone deserve to be noticed and fawned over in public, for at least fifteen minutes of nationwide attention? In the 1980s, finally, we kicked to the curb the idea that vanity is a vice rather than a virtue, and we preened ourselves to launch the “Me Generation.” The teen movie Fame hit the silver screen in 1980 and spawned a TV series of the same name lasting six years. We turned the entertainment industry into a massive idol-making enterprise, fawning over superstars and trying to make ourselves look like them in hopes their celebrity would rub off on us. Thank God, or rather Al Gore and Steve Jobs, for inventing the Internet and iPhone respectively, so that we could finally take selfies and post them online for all the world to see and drool over. The god of Fame showed us that he could even take a family with no notable achievements or noteworthy abilities and cause the masses to keep up with the Kardashians. Now that’s saying something! Enough with humility and contentment in the midst of our circumstances, as the Bible counsels. Let’s flaunt ourselves before the world and see what transpires – after all, we deserve the attention.

A close handmaiden to Fame is the goddess of Money. While wealth in and of itself is neutral, in the hands of an unrestrained ego it is the purchaser of all the wares offered by the other philistine deities clamoring for our business. And America, as the Land of Promise, pledged to make us all rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Unfettered capitalism, get rich quick schemes, multi-million-dollar lottery jackpots, massively inflated real estate markets, all sang to us the song that we could join Buffett, Gates and Bezos in the penthouse pantheon of Mammon. And we sang along with all our hearts, trying to drown out the ancient warning, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Heaven? Heaven is for the dead. Life is for the living – and the living need money! We need to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die! I’ll worry about virtue when I’m old; right now I need to jack up my bottom line.

And finally, Power. The ability to influence people and massage circumstances so as to remake reality according to my vision. It’s a dog eat dog world; there can be only one King of the Hill; you’re either the predator or the prey – which one do you want to be? To rise to the top and command others is a recipe for success. Leadership is for winners; eating dust for losers. To build an empire with many employees doing our bidding, to create a movement with many personal followers creates a sense of importance and dominance. Whoever said, “The one who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. Power is meant to be wielded for the benefit of those who have it.

So we have danced to the strains of this quartet, seemingly happy until a fifth deity made her way quietly onto the stage and began to play. Eris, the goddess of strife, destroyed any pretense of harmony among the other four. Instead of playing as a team, each has sought to win first place in our hearts, and so we find competing priorities in our bewildered society.

Sex and power combine forces, telling their acolytes that if you want pleasure and can force others to give it to you, it’s your right. Fame and sex combine to urge women to sexualize their appearance as a way to gain notice. Power and money combine to create a governmental structure churning out rich, self-serving, career politicians and competing lobbying groups. Money and sex partner to produce sex-trafficking rings and oceans of pornography.

But wait, we say. This is not what we were promised. Our gods must toe the line. But gods make the rules, not their worshipers. When Sex says, “The body has no purpose other than pleasure; do as you wish,” and we revel in this, how can we later recoil in horror when we discover that those in positions of power have sexually abused those under their control? When we enshrine Money and Power as ultimate pursuits, how can we complain when we learn of politicians selling their votes and lining their pockets? When we believe that women can get ahead by objectifying their bodies in advertisements, movies and “barely there” outfits, how can we complain that they are then treated as objects by those they sought to use to get ahead?

What we need then, you might say, are some limits, some guard rails to keep these gods in check. We want to encourage sexual pleasure, but only within the bounds of appropriate  relationships. We want to enjoy wealth, but responsibly and with generous hearts. We want people to wield power, but only those with servant hearts. And Fame – well, I don’t know what to say about Fame. The devil wanted to become top dog, and that didn’t work out too well for him.

The irony is that we had all these guard rails in place back when a biblical worldview was still haunting the recesses of our collective, cultural mind. We knew that the sexual relationship was intended for the security and confines of husband and wife. We were taught that the love of money was the root of all evil, and that there is great gain in godliness with contentment. We believed that the call to love our neighbors included putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves. The proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall” was tattooed on our inner eyelids. And we jettisoned all that as being old-fashioned, stultifying, puritanical, legalistic. Let us stretch our wings, we cried. Reach for the stars. Grab for all the gusto. Give us our freedom!

Well, here we are, basking in the glow of freedom without limits. A world of increasing revelations about sexual predators, anarchists, human and drug traffickers, corrupt politicians, vapid celebrities, political parties and other interest groups painting their opponents as spawn from hell, all in the interest of saving our country.

If only we could get the genie back into the lamp. If only we could get our chosen gods under control. The problem is, gods can’t be controlled once they’re on the throne. They have to be unseated. And they can only be dethroned by a god greater than them. Unfortunately, we already turned once away from this God to give free rein to our baser passions. But the good news is that the true God operates by the rules He has given to us. He is a servant Master, and in His divine humility He is willing to receive us once again, even after we have trashed His name and given our loyalty to gods who are no gods. In divine condescension He is willing to accept our desperate cries for help and our mumbled confessions of infidelity.

If we have finally grown weary of false promises that have led us to despair in the pig sties of a foreign land and we are willing to come to our senses and turn back to the only safe and secure relationship we have ever known, the like the Prodigal Son who sought the mercy of his father, we too will see the Father on the horizon racing toward us with a welcoming embrace, and the promise that all will be well. We have made a mess of things, and the stench of our choices clings to us, but our Father waves that all aside, orders a steaming bath made ready, lays out our new clothes and busies Himself with a celebratory banquet, while we prepare to reenter His family home with joy.

The way home may be long, but it starts with a turn, a change of heart. The choice is simple really, for those with eyes to see.

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Abracadabra! Shazam! Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo! The Saudis Now Fight Terrorism!

Would you find anything strange about the following hypothetical news headline: “Playboy Enterprises Decries Explosion in Pornography as It Positions Itself to Reclaim the ‘Men’s Magazine Market”?

How about this: “Saudi Arabia Fights Radicalism by Firing Thousands of Extremist Imams in Its Midst”?

The former headline is purely imaginary, the latter was reported a month ago. According to Arab News, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Moscow that his government “…will not let anyone spread the ideology of hatred, to finance that kind of ideology or terrorism,” As evidence of this, he declared that the monarchy had dismissed “several thousand imams from mosques for spreading extremism.” Jubeir

However, it is unclear whether he was referring to some new cleansing or merely repeating the old news that from 2004-2012 some 3500 imams had been expelled from the Saudi mosques, and about six times that number had been persuasively invited to “re-education camps” so as to reframe their understanding of Islam. External reviews of this re-education effort have led the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to express skepticism over the success of these efforts to “instill tolerance.”

Al-Jubeir went on to say, “Our approach to this problem has been very strict: We … modernize our educational system in order to rule out the possibility of misinterpretation of texts.” This would be humorous were it not such a serious falsehood. For decades, ever since the West became aware of the incendiary jihadi literature used in Saudi schools and exported all throughout the world to Saudi-financed mosques and madrassas, pressure has been exerted on Saudi Arabia to excise the screeds encouraging hatred of the non-Muslim world and Jews in particular, to little effect. saudi_in_the_classroom.gifThe Saudis have mouthed words about moderation, but the proof is in the pudding. ISIS, since its inception, has used Saudi school texts as its own training tools until it was able to print its own starting in 2015. Even the former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Adil al-Kalbani, admitted candidly in a January 2016 TV interview that the ISIS leaders “…draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, our own principles.”

The pace at which Saudi authorities are moving against extremism seems slower than a snail on ice. Yet even if we give them the benefit of the doubt that they are truly working to reform their educational materials and to oust “extremist imams,” the $64,000 question remains: Where did these radical imams receive their training, and how did they get placed in Saudi mosques? The answer is: They were trained in Wahhabi-based universities located (where else?) in Saudi Arabia! From there, they were farmed out into the thousands of mosques serving the Saudi public.

The extremism of which they were accused and for which they were subsequently fired is the orthodoxy of Wahhabi Islam, which the government of Saudi Arabia exports shamelessly to the rest of the world. It is estimated that since the Saudi oil era began in the early 70s, the Saud family has funneled some 100 billion dollars into the spread of Wahhabi Islam both inside and outside the Muslim world. This may not be out of conviction but rather out of a tactical arrangement with Arabia’s powerful clerics, who have the power to either foment rebellion against or demand peaceful obedience to the ruling family. As long as the government is pumping billions into exporting Wahhabism, the clerics are seemingly content with the arrangement.prestidigitation

So, in an amazing feat of prestidigitation, the Saudi government waves one of its hands with grand flourishes, directing the world’s attention to “all” it is doing to combat terrorism. Meanwhile, out of the audience’s sight, the other hand is working overtime to plant thousands of centers of Islamic radicalism around the world.

Islamic_Center_of_America -Dearborn.jpg

Islamic Center of America — Dearborn, MI

And like every good patsy, our Western leaders follow the first hand and ignore the second. “Look,” they say, “the Saudis really are our allies in the fight against terror! See how they are cleaning their own house! Look at the resources they are committing to the fight against ISIS. We need to cement our partnership with them even more firmly.”

Meanwhile, we refuse to pull back the curtain on Wahhabi Islam — the religion faithful to the life and teachings of Muhammad — to discover that the radicalism we fear is not an aberration but an essential element of orthodox Islam. Expelling thousands of imams who follow the Islam of Muhammad will not solve the problem, as long as the ideology and practices of Muhammad remain as the model for all “true” Muslims to embrace.

So when you see reports claiming that “Saudi Arabia Leads the Fight Against Terrorism,” remember to look for the hidden hand, After all, Muhammad did say, “War is deceit.” He would have loved P. T. Barnum’s dictum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”








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Open Borders! Heaven Takes the Lead.

Not being Roman Catholic, I have no vested interest in defending papal declarations as infallible. While I have no reason to doubt that Francis is a well-meaning follower of Jesus, many of his statements regarding migration and the requirement of nation states to tear down border obstacles and welcome all who wish to come strike me as naive and short-sighted. This, of course, is just my opinion, which I would normally keep to myself, except that Francis supports his exhortations theologically: “…Christ himself asks us to welcome our brother and sister migrants and refugees with arms wide open.”

There is certainly some biblical justification for this statement generally — Israel is commanded to welcome the sojourner in her midst, and the followers of Jesus are called to exercise the virtue of hospitality (the Greek word used most often in the NT, philoxenia, means literally “a love of strangers”).

However, unless Pope Francis has received new revelation from the Lord, it seems unlikely that God would be calling nations to commit societal suicide by welcoming the tidal wave of those who refuse to integrate into their host culture and who claim as their right the free benefits normally limited to citizens and legal immigrants.

But perhaps Francis has a new revelation to share which makes clear that Jesus indeed intends for nations to erase their borders and welcome all who wish to come. Since Jesus would not require of human beings something he himself would refuse to do, I am hoping that Francis will soon tell us that the landscape of heaven is changing.

St. Peter is out of a job as Director of Immigration Control — no longer is there a booth at the Pearly Gates where an applicant’s paperwork is checked and either stamped or rejected. heaven-atheist-pearly-gates.jpgThe Gates stand wide open. In fact, the unscalable walls of heaven are now being dismantled, and those outcasts formerly rejected and huddled in hell are now free to stream across once secure borders and take up residence in heaven, even though they have no interest in embracing the ethos of the Kingdom of God. Heaven’s residents are thrilled to welcome the denizens of hell because, after all, their Lord Jesus has now thrown open his arms to all reprobates and rebels, showing his refusal to bar any from entry to the Celestial City.

Since this is now the stance of heaven, mass immigration from hell is well underway. Francis, deeply impressed by this, is undertaking a reform of the Vatican, leading the way for other nation states to follow his example. vatican walls.jpgHe has ordered that the roughly two miles of 40 foot high walls surrounding the 110 acres of sovereign Church territory be torn down so that whoever wishes to come and build homes there will not be impeded. Likewise, he is putting up on the market all the treasures of the Vatican so that the monies raised will cover all the living expenses of those who come, as long as they last.

Given that heaven has taken the lead, and that the Pontifex Maximus has modeled God’s will before an unenlightened world, what recourse do the stubborn leaders of the Western world have but to tear down walls, open borders and empty their coffers for all comers? If they refuse to do this, they will one day pay the consequences for their sins, facing the judgment of God and banishment from heaven.


All will be well in the borderless afterlife!


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The Line in Las Vegas — the One Between Good and Evil…

As America mourns and seeks answers to make sense of the carnage inflicted on innocent tourists in Las Vegas, some have been quick with offering solutions to prevent similar slaughters in the future. Unfortunately, such outcomes will never be possible, even if every gun were magically removed from the world. good evilThe problem is found not in the hand that pulls the trigger, or guides the steering wheel, or pushes the remote control detonator, but rather in the human heart and its seemingly infinite capacity for hatred. A soul filled with malice can invent a thousand ways to inflict mayhem on its targets.

As I listened this week to newscasters ask their talking head experts, “Why is it that the number of mass murders has been increasing recently?”, and to their guests’ befuddled responses, it became clearer to me that in the quest to “solve this problem,” we are only treating symptoms while remaining ignorant of the disease. The debate on gun control, background checks, bump stock modifications and high-capacity magazine clips, while a good exercise (in my opinion), will at the best lead to banning one method of mass killing. Of course, that is nothing to sneeze at, but a human heart filled with seething rage will find other means of destruction (think of Timothy McVeigh, the Boston Marathon bombers, the Nice truck driver, and of course the 9/11 hijackers).

In doing a bit of research, I discovered that the newscasters’ pressing question was actually based on a false premise: There is actually no statistically significant increase in the number of mass murders committed in the USA since 1970. But there certainly is a growing sense that our country is a more conflicted and less safe place to live. No doubt the relentless 24/7 worldwide news cycle has much to do with this perception, and the ensuing reality.

As a solution, some have proposed more laws and law-enforcement, and greater government surveillance in order to protect the public from evil plots. Even though no one likes to give up some freedoms to privacy and easy access to public space, some sacrifices are necessary in such an age of violence and insecurity, so the argument goes. Others say that these freedoms are too precious to sacrifice, and we must just get used to an increased threat matrix in our lives.

How do we find ourselves in this downhill slide? I think the answer, to quote the words of Carl Sandburg, is that we have forgotten where we came from:

When a nation goes down or a society perishes, one condition may always be found; they forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what had brought them along.

Why today do we see such a willful disregard of life, where far too many human beings are casually snuffed out before they even exit their mother’s womb, where innocent children become the victims of sexual predators, where teenagers die from gang violence or drug overdoses in such large numbers that their deaths become simply “more statistics,” where mature adults are targeted because the skin they are wrapped in is of the “wrong color,” or their belief system somehow disqualifies them from inclusion in the human race? Why does our society see the elderly and infirm as civic detritus, to be swept aside or quietly ignored rather than cherished and appreciated?

The incivility among our political leaders seems epidemic today, but it only reflects what is found in our larger culture (have you checked out the comments sections of controversial news stories reported on the Internet, or been of late to any public lectures on hot-button topics?). Debate descends into name-calling and vilification.

And yet we seem amazed and shocked when hatred breaks out into real-life violence. Our entertainment industry pumps out thousands of highly graphic, virtual reality video games where players enact blood-spattering violence onscreen for hours on end. Hollywood produces blockbuster “action flicks” which rake in money as they expose viewers to casual carnage. I’m not talking slasher movies and “film noir” offerings, but mainstream movies seen by millions. Die hard.jpgAccording to info I dug up on the Internet, if you sit through the five “Die Hard” films, you will see some 374 killings; Last Samurai – 558 deaths; Troy – 572 deaths; Olympus Has Fallen – 131; White House Down – 135; the latest James Bond offering Spectre – 235 deaths; and the movie glorifying the Hellenic army of ancient Sparta, 300 – some 600 deaths. All of these in around 120 minutes per sitting. And these are just a random sampling. Add to that all the movies and television shows featuring gratuitous, non-lethal violence, the normalization of rape and sexual objectification of women, the demonization of whichever group is the social outcast du jour and still we wonder why our society is so filled with malice and cruelty toward others. We fill our minds with images of destruction and malevolence and then wonder why our culture shows so little kindness and unity? I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’ words in The Abolition of Man, written 70 years ago but still so pertinent:

We make men without chests [i.e., unable to express courage and principle] and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

How can such evil as the recent Las Vegas massacre happen in America? Well, as the saying goes, you reap what you sow. After seeding our minds and hearts with endless images trashing human beings as inconsequential and glossing over piles of murdered bodies as trivialities, how can we be surprised when people act out what they have come to see as normal? We blur the line between good and evil and then act shocked when people cross it so easily.blur the lines

As a nation we seem to have squandered the collective virtue spoken of in our Founding documents, virtue which or course grew (and still grows) out of the luxuriant soil of a biblical worldview. Not all our Founders were Christian theists, but all were weaned on the revelation we know as the Bible, and all the central pillars of our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights rest on the fundamental understanding of human nature and purpose as taught in the Bible. When Thomas Jefferson (a deist) wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he could say that with certainty because Western civilization was still steeped in the biblical teaching that to be created human was to be created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and that ultimately we answer not to ourselves but to our Creator for how we live and how we treat others. While the Founders undoubtedly failed to fully understand and apply this truth (allowing the continuation of slavery for another three generations), nonetheless the truths by which they crafted our founding documents were and continue to be a shining light to freedom-loving peoples here and around the world some 250 years later.

Our earliest political leaders knew, however, that for a democracy to succeed its people must have a strong moral compass. John Adams wrote:

Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. And also, Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Likewise, George Washington said in two places:

Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government, and

Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.

Likewise, Benjamin Franklin:

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.

Even that Founding Father best known today for the beer named after him, Samuel Adams, wrote:

Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.

Why today does American culture seem to be circling the drain of extinction? Why do we see such degeneracy of moral and communal purpose, and the rise instead of a brutish, self-centered lust to stomp on others to sate our private passions? Perhaps because we have lost sight of what brought us to the pinnacle of our past greatness, measured not by shining cities or innovative technologies or material wealth or even our form of government, but by our goodness as a people. This goodness did not arise by accident, nor is it something inherent in all societies, but rather it grew out of our once common understanding, now all but lost, that our only hope for reining in the evil within the human heart is to be found in the transformative goodness of the God who commanded us to love Him with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his Democracy in America:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

Some may counter that human goodness can come from sources other than the God of the Bible. Perhaps. But I have never seen a worldview capable of inspiring human beings in a lasting way to treat others (especially those seen as outsiders) as brothers. No other religious or philosophical system teaches that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and thus are to be treated with the dignity and respect that God Himself deserves. No other religion carries within its Scripture the Golden Rule (though many follow the Silver Rule: “Don’t do to others what you wish them not to do to you”). No other commends so strongly a love willing to go the second mile, to give the shirt off your back, to sacrifice even your life for the welfare of others, even to love your enemies.

What ails America is a darkening of our heart – a relapse into the unfettered evil of our fallen human nature. This cannot be corrected with new legislation. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Laws can restrain the heartless, but cannot change the heart.” whistle in the dark.jpgNor can we heal our moral wounds simply by looking to the good deeds we see in those around us, as if somehow the evidence of good in some places can eradicate the evil in others. Wishing away evil by turning a blind eye is merely whistling in the dark.

What then is the solution? We need a revolution of the heart to take hold in a significant portion of the population – a cleansing and transformation from inside out. In America’s relatively short history this has happened a handful of times. Historians speak of the Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, the Businessman’s Revival, Azusa St. Revival and so on. In each of these movements worthy of its salt, “revival” did not mean first and foremost the addition of new people to the church rolls. Instead, these divine, sweeping movements brought the transformation of human character, leading to societal reforms and the exhibition of newfound goodwill and harmony across ethnic, economic and class lines. As a fresh spiritual tide rolled in, all boats rose. It is not necessary for all society to turn to God in order for all to benefit from a revival’s impact. But it is necessary for the Church to cry out for God’s mercy, to commit to prayer for a rekindling of her love for Christ and his Kingdom, and to reflect his life and love increasingly to the surrounding culture. Jesus’ disciples need to take seriously his words, “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world…” (Mt. 5:13-16).

There are no short fixes which will prevent another Las Vegas style massacre. But there is a long-term solution, and it begins with the Church taking seriously its mandate to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. A primary step in demonstrating this love is the fervency of our prayers for His presence to permeate our lives and the lives of those around us.

One last thought. It is easy to think the problem is “out there” in someone else’s heart, and not in my own. How many times have you heard Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas killer, referred to as “pure evil,” “a monster,” “an animal,” or some such term which removes him from the realm of every day evil by which we are all tempted? line betweenWe do well to remember the ancient teaching that our human nature is flawed – originally good but presently spoiled and in need of restoration. That same capacity for evil which motivated Paddock is also in my heart, and yours. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote so eloquently in The Gulag Archipelago,

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

The disease of evil infects every human heart. Only God possesses and offers the cure. But the medicine must be taken in order to be effective.

May we drink deeply the elixir of His grace and mercy!

May God remind us where we came from as a nation!

May any greatness to which we aspire be grounded in moral goodness born of His Spirit!

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Women Free to Drive in Saudi?! Not So Fast….

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia broke some big domestic news about two weeks ago — women are finally going to be able to drive! Everyone was all smiles; many were publicly rejoicing; heather-nauert-us-spokespersoneven the United States State Department spokesperson could hardly contain herself: “We’re happy — it’s a great step in the right direction for that country,” Heather Nauert gushed.

But before anyone faints from giddiness, let’s remember that this ruling was possible only because religious authorities finally determined (after rejecting the thought for decades) that the act of driving for a woman does not in fact violate Shari’a law. It’s hard to imagine that it could, since Shari’a was enshrined as divine law some 1100 years before the first horseless carriages puttered down dirt roads.

The big issue, of course, was not so much a woman’s aptitude for handing a car but rather the freedom a car might allow her in open society. That is where Shari’a speaks with censure, because women are not to be out in public without the approval and oversight of their male “guardians”, and are not to mix “unnecessarily” with those of the opposite sex. Saudi-Arabia-Women-Drivers-Cartoon.jpgSo, how can the Saudi authorities now justify allowing their female citizens the right to drive?

The answer is, “With restrictions.” One might have thought that this announcement meant emancipation for women, that the cell doors had been flung open and women could go anywhere, do whatever they pleased, enjoy driving with the top down, hair blowing in the breeze, relishing the sun on their bare shoulders as they motor down Main Street Boulevard in their tank tops and shorts (well, that’s certainly too much even for a dreamer to imagine…). This announcement does certainly mean that the cell doors have been opened at least for some women, but they can leave their prisons only with relatively long chains and shackles attached to their ankles.

While this new law allowing women to get driver’s licenses is due to go into effect in June, 2018, there are many restrictions either already agreed upon or under consideration for enactment before that date arrives. The Shura Council for Women’s Leadership, which proposes what the king ultimately disposes, has already set down certain basics:

  • Only women 30 or older will be eligible for licenses
  • Any eligible woman can apply for a license, but only from a Women’s Leadership Learning Center; she does not need anyone’s permission to learn to drive.
  • Even with a license, a woman will only be permitted to drive with the express permission of her mahram (male guardian)
  • Any female driver must wear a particular uniform that is unadorned
  • She may drive alone within her city limits, but to drive into the suburbs or on the open road she must be accompanied by her mahram (male guardian/custodian)
  • She must observe a curfew: weekdays (Saturday through Wednesday) she may be out and about between 7 am and 8 pm; weekends (Thursday-Friday) only from 12 pm to 8 pm.

These proposed regulations may be changed before next summer, but it is clearly their intent to ensure that women will be kept securely under the watchful eye of their male minders. women drivers.jpgNo doubt this will feel like freedom to Saudi women for a while, in the same way that those in longterm solitary confinement feel a rush of joy the first time they are let out into the prison yard for one hour of “freedom” among other inmates walking around breathing fresh air and relishing blue skies and bright sunshine.

Perhaps Heather Nauert and others are right that this is a step in the right direction. But until the inequalities of Shari’a law are confronted squarely, women in Muslim societies will never be granted freedoms equal to those of their male counterparts. After all, Shari’a is divine law, not something to be tinkered with or improved upon. As the Qur’an says:

Men are managers of the affairs of women because Allah has made the one superior to the other. (4:34)

Saudi women may have been granted the “right to drive” by King Salman, car in burkabut as long as Allah has his way, they will never be granted equality with men, and Allah is All-Powerful and knows best, as all Qur’an readers know only too well. Only if Shari’a is dethroned as Allah’s Perfect Law and the Qur’an demoted from its role as Allah’s Perfect Revelation will women have any chance at equality with men in orthodox Islam. And the chances of that, sadly, are slim to none, in my humble opinion.

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Big Ideas in Big Sky Country


A few weeks ago I was in Billings, MT, as the guest speaker for the Big Sky Worldview Forum. The theme, of course, was Islam and my four topics included:

  • Human Nature in the Qur’an — Slavery, Women’s Rights and Dhimmitude
  • Peace — What Does It Mean in Islam?
  • Allah and Abba — One and the Same God?
  • The Middle East in Turmoil — What Forces Are at Work?

What a pleasure to speak to some 175 folks who are hungry to understand more about the issues increasingly impacting our world, and whose questions reflect their desire to understand how a Christian worldview can effectively challenge competing perspectives and bring solutions to seemingly intractable problems!

Prior to the Friday-Saturday Forum, I enjoyed a 45 minute interview on “Voices of Montana,” a daily morning call-in radio show that covers the state of Montana. The host gave me complete freedom to share how Christ has transformed my life, as well as how I presently view the Islamic world and why. The time went quickly, and judging from the calls coming in, there was considerable interest in this subject, as there is in most parts of America.

I hope, as God wills, to be able to return to Montana for follow-up events, and of course, for some fly-fishing!

P.S. If you are part of a group that would be interested in having me speak on the above topics or other issues related to Islam and Christianity, please contact me on this site or by email. I’d love to be of service!


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Forgotten Treasures — the Fatherhood of God

George Walton was a rare coin collector, who in 1945 purchased one of five existing 1913 Liberty Head nickels for the sum of $3750, roughly equal to $50,000 in today’s dollars. It remained in his possession until 1962 when he died in a car crash on his way, ironically, to a collectors’ exhibition. In 1963, Walton’s family put his rare coin collection up for auction, and all his coins were sold except for the 1913 nickel, which the auction house had concluded was not genuine and thus returned to the Walton family. The coin became the property of Walton’s sister, Melva Givens, who put it in a box with other knickknacks, stored the box in a closet and forgot about it for forty years. liberty head nickel.jpgUpon her death in 1992, her son Ryan likewise gave it little thought until a coin collector approached him asking to buy it for $5,000. He refused, but concluded it must be worth more than he had thought. Four years ago, in April 2013, Ryan and his three siblings put the coin up for auction. It sold for $3,172,500.  Definitely worth more than a plugged nickel!

Sadly, there are many times in our lives when we overlook things of exceptional value, and relegate them like trinkets to a box in the closet of our hearts: the faithful love of a spouse, the efforts of our children to draw close to us, the health of youth squandered by cigarettes, drink and drugs, the beauty of nature just a glance away.

This morning, I was with a remarkable group of men, whose friendships are of exceptional value to me. For years, our lives have been shaped by reading the Bible together. Today was no different. The text today was John 5. Of the many powerful lessons from that chapter, one stood out above them all. It was a reminder of how for many of us the greatest treasure of all has been treated as commonplace, taken for granted, and locked away in a forgotten place in our souls. It is the treasure of knowing God as Father, or better, as Abba – “Papa” or “Daddy”. Millions of people today, especially those shaped by a Judeo-Christian past, have grown up with the assumption that God is of course to be addressed as Father, and that He is merciful and approachable by anyone at any time. We often hear the bromide that “We are all children of God,” regardless of our beliefs, lifestyles or protests to the contrary. This is a vestige of “Christian liberalism,” which divorced relationship with God the Father from relationship to God the Son, and thus promised anyone listening that we are all brothers and sisters to one another because God is our universal Father.

Such a view was never part of the ancient world’s attitude towards God or “the gods.” Their favor was to be curried, their wrath to be placated. One did not take liberties with heaven, or presume to “draw close” to the divine Throne. wrathIt was unthinkable that a mere worm of a human could have fellowship with the “Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime”! How much more unfathomable the notion that one might rightly shoulder the title “child of God.” Even among the Jews, that nation favored by God who had revealed to them His personal name, God was not addressed by the intensely personal and intimate term “Abba.” He was known as the “Father of Israel (the nation),” and as Father of the King of Israel, indicating Israel’s favored status, but never was He addressed in the cavalier, thoughtless way that many in the Church or culture vainly babble this title today, assuming an inherent intimacy between the all-holy God and the unholy, flawed human being.

This explains why when the Law-hugging Jews remonstrate with Jesus in John 5 over his healing of an invalid at the Pool of Bethesda and then commanding the healed man to take up his makeshift bed and head for home, bethesda healing.jpgthey accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by doing work and making the healed man do work as well. They are satisfied with shaming Jesus as a Law-breaker, until he justifies his actions by saying, “My Father is working still, and [so] I am working.” At this, Jesus’ opponents break into a murderous frenzy. John comments (5:18), “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

It was not kosher in the ancient world to call God “Father,” even among the Jews. Yet today the term rolls off our lips like rain off a hot tin roof. It has become so familiar that we rarely pause to consider how it became possible for human beings to begin to confidently address God in this way.

It was Jesus who introduced this understanding of God his Father to the world. It was he, who when his disciples asked him how to speak to God, said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, may your name be treasured….’” It was Jesus who painted word pictures of God as a loving father in parable after parable, culminating in the beloved Prodigal Son story, where a father’s unrelenting love refused to write off a rebellious and impudent son. It was Jesus who taught that human beings could know God as their Father, but only through knowing him – “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Paul (formerly the industrious, Law-loving Pharisee, Saul) understood this in the core of his being. When writing to the Ephesians, he writes in 2:4-5 “…we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” In verse 18, he declares that whether Jew or Gentile (together comprising the whole of humanity) “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

Much like the average nickel, the term “father” doesn’t stir up a lot of interest in many, even when applied to God. But when we realize that the door to true intimacy with God has been flung open wide by the initiative of God Himself, and that He welcomes us into His presence not as slaves who quail and scurry at His booming commands but rather as children beckoned to His lap and emboldened by His love, then the title “Father” is no longer an overlooked nickel, but the priceless 1913 Liberty Head – a title of inestimable value because it is ours only by grace, and because it points to a secure destiny far beyond anything a human being could naturally hope for.

The reality of the fatherhood of God is appreciated by relatively few in the world today. For many Christians, it is a treasure gathering dust in the attics of their souls. But for many others, it is a term of blasphemy still today, as it was among the Jews of Jesus’ day. For 1.5 billion Muslims, any talk of God as Father is a sin of the highest degree, an intolerable arrogance. The Qur’an declares time and again that Allah has no offspring. He is too lofty and dignified to trouble himself with direct interaction with human beings. timothy george book.jpgHe uses angels as his messengers, buffers who communicate his revelation so he doesn’t have to lower himself to the level of insignificant mortals. Allah is the Master of all; human beings find whatever dignity they can as his slaves. Allah is not a being of love but of power. Islam offers no relationship of intimacy with Allah, only a willing subjection to his commands with the hope that if he is pleased, one may be rewarded with an eternal paradise where all earthly lusts are forever fed.

Muslims must be forgiven for refusing to embrace God as Father – they have been taught that such a stance is a terrible offense in His eyes. But what can one say about us Christians, who have been taught the truth, and are encouraged continually by the words of Jesus and by the prompting of the Spirit to address God as Abba, Papa? What excuse can we offer, other than we have taken for granted the greatest treasure God has ever offered the world?

Maybe it’s time we rummaged through our spiritual attics and dusted off this most precious of relationships, making it once again the centerpiece in our collection of treasures of exceptional value. Perhaps if we truly do that, and live in the light of the full love of our heavenly Father, the rest of the world will sit up and take note of the gospel: at the center of the universe is a God of love who makes human beings into children of God, not an indifferent God who cares for nothing, nor a God of power who demands unquestioning obedience a human race created to be his slaves.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” – 1 John 3:1

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