Archive for the ‘Faith Matters’ Category

So, This Is Where I’ve Landed

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

boat-landingIt’s been several months since leaving the church I had attended for ~12 years. Part of me thought that I would do more reading and studying during this absence. But I haven’t. In truth, I’m no closer to resolving questions I have regarding the nature and character of God. Whether it should be or not, the concept of unconditional election within Calvinistic doctrine is a huge stumbling block. That so many adhere to this doctrine just baffles me. If anything, what seems to make the most sense regarding Christian faith is contained within the Apostle’s Creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven.

He is seated at the right hand of the Father and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Seems rather black and white. Which is, frankly, how I view my faith – rather matter of fact. And not much else. Perhaps it’s enough.

A Difficult but Necessary Decision

January 22, 2017 4 comments


mismatched-connectionDear Pastor,

It’s no secret that I’ve been a “conflicted Christian” since coming to this church more than twelve years ago. Perhaps “Fragile Christian” better describes my current state. This faith-struggle emanates from (what are to me) the diametrically opposed perspectives on the nature and character of God. On one side is Calvinism. On the other side is Arminianism. To be blunt, I hate the concept of Calvinistic determination and how I view God through the Calvinist’s lens. Perhaps foolishly, through study and writing, I thought it’d be possible to make sense of Christian doctrines despite the differing perspectives. With a bit of surprise, I’ve discovered multitudes of smart and good-willed people on both sides putting forth persuasive arguments. And the conundrum for me is that many of the same scriptures are used to argue both sides of the spectrum. Christianity, then, is no longer about the “known”. Rather, my faith has devolved into little more than opinion. And I readily admit that my opinion on Christian doctrine is largely based on my antipathy toward Calvinistic thought. Still, having “bad feelings” toward Calvinism doesn’t make it wrong.

Prior to a recent service, I was thumbing through a book given out to first-time visitors; “Things That Cannot Be Shaken”. Page 105 states:

Those given to Christ by the Father are those who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. They are the people of God, picked out from eternity and secured in the work that the Son accomplished in history.

These authors obviously have Calvinist leanings. However, when I couple the concept of Calvinistic election with earlier sermon comments regarding Psalm 139 (being planned, known and wanted), I am suddenly struck with the undeniable reality that God (per Calvinist doctrine) has not only chosen some for grace, he’s intentionally chosen some for destruction. Frankly, if total depravity is indeed true and humans lack the ability to understand their own sin and are incapable of seeking out a savior, then I want no part of a god who intentionally kills off some of his creation that he could otherwise save.

I wanted to speak with you regarding your sermon example of God breaking the leg of a sheep. I’m not doubting what you said. However, in the years that I’ve been aware of this verse, I’ve never once heard anyone explain the rationale from a shepherd’s perspective. Instead, I’ve always understood the verse within the context of God “disciplining those he loves”. To which, if God thinks it necessary, he’ll break your legs. How often have I heard something along the lines of: “How can we mere mortals understand God? He’s omniscient and sovereign. And he’ll [insert catastrophic event here] if he deems it best. And it’ll be for your betterment so just shut-up and suck it up.”

What it comes down to, Pastor, is that I’m nothing more than a pretender. I’m tired of pretending and coming to Woodcrest under what I can only define as a false pretense. I’m tired of pretending to understand that which continues to allude me. I’m tired of arguing with Calvinists – whether at church, at work or on blogs. I’m tired of my inability to discern the truth. For the longest time, I’ve been doing little else but “playing church”.

Sermons ought to be like sweet music to believers – Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. To me, however, the messages coming through my thick skull only seem to bore deeper into the already open wounds of trying to rectify Calvinist doctrine with the notion of a loving heavenly father. The reality is that I’m not attending Woodcrest for worship, or service, or preaching, or small-group studies, etc. Rather, I come for the fellowship. Period. And it would be fair to say that I’m playing avoidance games by not dealing with the issue and hoping my angst disappears. But I’m not fooling anyone – least of all me. I haven’t taken communion in a long time. I’ve often left church after the service has started. I haven’t followed in obedience to believer’s baptism because I have no confidence that I am one of God’s elect. Nor have I assurance of my own salvation. I’m just a big phony – playing a game as it were by showing my face, serving in the greeting ministry and pretending that all is well.

Unfortunately, I believe it’s best for me to step away – at least for a while as, simply put, I’m not comfortable participating in worship-related activities and service at Woodcrest.

Sincerely (and with regret),


Plumbing the Depths of My Faith

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

water heaterA couple of weeks ago we noticed water leaking out the bottom of our water heater. NOT good. Trips to various plumbing and home improvement stores ensued to price out a new water heater. Yikes, these things aren’t cheap! However, we got at least twenty-one years of service out of the old unit. So, I can’t complain. Or, at least, I shouldn’t complain.

Price points for various units and installation all seem about the same. Hmmm – really? There must be some collusion going on. Still, we purchased a new unit for $430. Installation is $300. However, it’s clear that installation could cost “a little” more in order, if required, to bring something up “to code”. The installation includes delivery and the haul-away of the old unit. I remind myself to get that in writing. In addition, the city requires a $60 permit. Total price is $790. Note to self – adjust budget to add $10/mo to house maintenance for replacement of this water heater in ten years.

The store contracts out plumbers to do the installation. We set a date for the installation. Unfortunately, I have to be home all day as it’s not possible to set up a two-hour window as to when the guys will show up. Whatever.

Today’s the day. Sometime. Whenever. At some point. Maybe in the morning? That would be most convenient for me.

1:37pm – The truck just pulled into the driveway.

1:40pm – Quick introductions at the front door and we head downstairs to see where the water heater will be installed.

1:41pm – “No thanks, I’ve had enough coffee for the day.” Dang! My first attempt at bribery has failed.

1:42pm – Uh oh! Apparently the existing gas-isolation valve isn’t “code” Already it’s going to cost me an additional $90 to change out the gas isolation valve. Obviously, the PPMP (Plumber’s Profit Maximization Process) is in full working order.

1:43pm – I argue that I could buy the same valve for $15 at Home Depot to no avail. These guys have heard similar complaints before. “Mr. Martin, we don’t set the prices. We just do the installation. Would you like to call our manager?” I wimp out and agree to pay for the valve.

1:44pm – Oh dear, this is going to be interesting. The old unit was about 50” tall. The new unit is closer to 60” tall. It appears the wrong unit has been shipped. But that’s okay. There’s sufficient room and these guys can make it fit. However, I make it clear that there’s not going to be any additional installation costs.

1:45pm – “Ah, excuse me, please. I have to call my boss and check something.”

1:47pm – “The boss says we delivered the unit you purchased.”

1:48pm – I show my receipt indicating the unit I bought.

1:49pm – “Okay, no problem. We’ll deal with the warehouse people later. We can make the taller unit fit. And, we can install it for no additional cost.” I claim a small victory.

1:51pm – Uh oh. There appears to be so much sediment in the tank that it isn’t draining. Never fear, I’m told, “We have ways of dealing with this.”

2:00pm – “Ah, Mr. Martin in looking at my work-order, you haven’t paid for the haul-away of the old unit. You weren’t wanting to keep it, were you?” I’m adamant that the installation fee included haul-away. I again produce my receipt. A second phone call is made to the boss.

2:04pm – “The boss says he’ll work it out with the store.” I claim a second small victory.

2:17pm – Sawing. Torching. Banging.

2:19pm – Uh oh, just heard swearing.

2:20pm – Much louder banging now.

2:28pm – Ooh, just heard a nasty scraping sound.

2:32pm – “Hey! You sure you turned the water off? It’s still coming out!”

2:33pm – “Okay, I’ll crank harder on the main water valve.”

2:52pm – Ouch, just heard a big thump.

2:54 pm – Went downstairs. The guys had laid the old unit on its side. They were lifting the bottom end of the unit up a couple of inches and then letting it drop to the floor hoping to break up some of the sediment still inside. According to Adam, “This sucker is really heavy!” At least, it sounded like ‘sucker’ to me.

2:55pm – I asked if it might be desirable to drag the unit out the lower level back door and take it around the side of the house.

2:56pm – Still no response.

2:57pm – Three of us standing around looking at the old unit. I decide I don’t need to be here.

2:58pm – Just heard something about breaking balls. Not sure what that means.

3:00pm – They’re dragging the old unit up the flight of stairs – one grunt at a time.

3:10pm – Only had to pay for the valve. I guess they’ll figure out who’s going to “eat” the haul-away fee and deal with the wrong unit being delivered back at the office. Not me! Final instructions on getting some initial dirty water, air in the lines and being religious about draining out 2-3 gallons of water twice a year to prevent sediment build up. I promised I would.

3:14pm – They’re gone – or, as any of the Robertson clan from Duck Dynasty would say, “They gone.”

All in all, everything worked out okay. The guys were pleasant enough, efficient and did a good job on the installation. I don’t think we realized how, over the course of time, our access to hot water had been diminished. Now, there’s LOTS of hot water. We can wash clothes, run the dishwasher and take a shower simultaneously without running out of hot water. And, I didn’t have to deal with the backside of a toilet. I may be a little poorer for not having done the installation myself. But, sometimes the hassle just isn’t worth it.

I suppose in a similar way, perhaps one reason why I haven’t written for so long about my continuing struggles with reformed doctrine – and in particular the concept of election – the hassle just hasn’t been worth it. My “source of hot water” (as it relates to matters of faith) has certainly diminished. Have I really noticed? And friends, too, have tired of my faith challenges. It’s just been easier not to deal with it.

I only seem to pick it up the Bible in order to frame or otherwise buttress an argument – not as an act of worship or fellowship with God. I feel myself going through motions and I lack the desire to engage. Years ago, I thought it possible to determine whether Calvinist or Arminian doctrine was correct. How naïve I was (and am). If anything, my attempts to differentiate the arguments made by the likes of James White and Dave Hunt or John Piper and Greg Boyd, have only brought about dissolution with the Christian life. More than anything else, I’ve morphed into a deistic perspective as to the nature of God and his interaction with his creation. God is there. But, what difference does it really make? Live by the Golden Rule and use Proverbs as a guide for decision making.

It seems awkward to put those thoughts on paper. But I guess I just did.

Declaring Intangible Religious Benefits

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m filing stacks of paper that have surrounded my desk and noticed an odd disclaimer on our church’s quarterly giving statement. It said, 

[This] Church provided no goods or services in return for these contributions except intangible religious benefits.

So, just what is an intangible religious benefit? This phrase was on the last giving statement as well. I didn’t notice it at the time – but that’s not the first time I’ve missed something blatantly in front of my eyes. That said, this phrase nor anything similar was on any giving statements from 2010 or 2011. I’m not aware of any attorneys who attend this church. My mind wonders – who got to the senior pastor and advised him to put such a disclaimer on a giving statement? Is there now a legal requirement for churches to provide such a disclaimer? Are we living in such a screwed-up politically correct separation of church & state et al legalistic society that a church’s giving statement to its congregants must state the obvious? Or, am I missing something? I’m able to apply my church offering towards all charitable giving for tax purposes. Maybe there’s some sort of VAT (value added tax) coming that will offset the deduction? 

Happy 103rd Birthday, Gramma!

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went

(source unknown)

How do I know that my youth is all spent? Well, my get up and go has got up and went.
But in spite of it all I am able to grin. When I think of the places my get up has been.

Old age is golden, So I’ve heard said. But sometimes I wonder, as I get into bed.
With my ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup, and my eyes on the table until I wake up.

Ere sleep dims my eyes I say to myself, “Is there anything else I can put on the shelf?”
And I’m happy to say as I close the door, “My friends are the same, perhaps even more.”

When I was a young thing my slippers were red, I could kick my heels as high as my head.
Then when I was older, my slippers were blue, but still I could walk the whole day through.

Now I’m still older, my slippers are black. I walk to the store and puff my way back.
The reason I know my youth is all spent, my get up and go has got up and went.

But really, I don’t mind when I think with a grin, of all the grand places my get up has been.
Since I have retired from life’s competition, I busy myself with complete repetition.

I get up each morning and dust off my wits, pick up the paper and read the ‘obits’,
If my name is missing I know I’m not dead, so I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

Dear Gramma,

It is always such a joy and delight whenever I visit you and I regret not being able to help celebrate your 103rd birthday. There are so many fond memories of good times spent together. To me, you’re the epitome of graciousness and a gentle spirit. You’re always pleasant to be around. There couldn’t have been a better grandmother in the world. Even though the eyes don’t see as well, and the ears don’t hear as well, and the fingers aren’t as dexterous, your mind is just as sharp today as it was 50 years ago. Back then – it’s a pleasant place for me to go where we’d sit on the front porch and watch the trolley cars go by. And you’d let me ‘help’ you push the lawn mower in the back yard. I once stepped on a bee and you had the best medicine – a Popsicle! We’d walk to the park and you’d give great big pushes on the swings and dig deep tunnels with us in the sandbox. Getting dirty was never a problem. A bouquet of dandelions always delighted you. You liked it when we’d ‘help’ in the kitchen and so you’d pull up a chair next to the counter. My favorite jobs, of course, were cracking the eggs and licking the batter off of the beaters. You’d climb up onto the top bunk bed and read us stories. Upon hearing the doctor’s advice to limit yourself to two beers a day, I still laugh at your decision to go from 12oz to 16oz cans! You taught me about honesty when, after having sent me to the grocery store to buy pancake batter, I (somehow) managed to not come home with the correct amount of change. You knew right away that I had ‘pilfered’ the cash and bought candy for myself. And too, you weren’t too pleased when you discovered me in the basement using matches as ‘indicator lights’ on my Tonka Toys. Even so, it was always comfortable to have you around. I always knew that you loved us. You still give us great big ‘bear hugs’ and squeeze us hard. I love it. I love you. And I look forward to seeing you again soon. All the very best on your 103rd, Gramma.



The Nature and Effect of Grace in the Life of the Christian

December 29, 2010 3 comments

I recently had a conversation with an atheistic Facebook friend about the nature of grace. By his own account, “JH” isn’t too keen on Christianity in part because of the hypocrisy he sees between the stated views of many Christians and the observable actions of those same Christians. If Paul’s contention is correct wherein, “It’s no longer [I] who live, but Christ who lives in [each and every Christian]” (Gal 2:20), then perhaps it only stands to reason that outward behaviors and actions are the result of inward belief.  As such, perhaps it’s fair to make judgements regarding the validity of the Christian life based on the disconnect JH sees as to what Christians say versus what those same Christians do. To me, the problem is misdirected attitudes about a holy God based upon the behaviors and actions of God’s creation who nevertheless are saved from their sins but still exhibit a sin nature.

In any event, JH is always good at bringing up thoughts and considerations I would not have otherwise entertained. He forces me to think about and defend my faith. I enjoy my periodic chats with him and thought I’d post a portion of a conversation centered around the grace of God.

JH: It’s my opinion that grace would likely be a combination of good deeds and right actions in the pursuit of Christianity. Grace isn’t some fat slob driving around in their Ford-F150 with a bumper sticker that says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I’ve always had the impression that Jesus would demand more of people than simply getting a membership sticker for their soul. That can’t be all that Christianity requires of its adherents.

Bob: Here’s the definition of grace found in my NIV Topical Bible: “Grace is God’s life-transforming gift of his favor to those who don’t deserve it. The gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins is available for all who through faith accept his grace revealed in Jesus Christ, but so many miss the gift because they rely on themselves and try to earn grace by keeping the law.” As such, grace can’t be earned through actions, good deeds, tithing, or anything else. However, as it says in James 2:17, “Faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” I therefore think it’s more accurate to say that one’s actions, deeds, behaviors, etc. are the outward expression of God’s grace from within.

JH: I have to believe that there’s more effort [required] than simply announcing you’re Christian and then continuing with the same crappy behaviors as you did before. If that’s true, then Christianity truly would be a club I’d never want to belong to. I’d never want to spend an eternity with the likes of the scummy people who’d be there.

Bob: The Bible is pretty clear in saying that according to God’s standards, all of our righteous acts (good deeds et al) are like filthy rags (translation: used toilet paper). Christ came to bridge the expanse between a holy God and a sinful creation. It’s a free gift and one can accept or reject it. When one accepts that free gift, it IS a life-changing event and the good deeds (which I believe should naturally follow) come about because God’s love is the “fuel” to motivate believers into actions. Something IS wrong if one claims new life in Christ and continues with their crappy behaviors as before.

JH: I just can’t see that grace is that simple. If one isn’t living up to their beliefs, then one is a crappy Christian.

Bob: Perhaps the feelings I experienced when watching my kids being born are some small semblance of how God feels towards us. There was NOTHING I wouldn’t have done for that child the moment they entered this world. That child hadn’t earned or done a blessed thing. But there I am, loving it with all my heart and willingly giving that child everything I have. And even when one of them grew up and became an angry and drug-filled alcohol-laden teenager (which is true), I still loved him in spite of the heartache that he brought. Through all those difficulties and disappointments I only wanted the best for him and I was more than willing to do whatever I could to help him even though he continually rejected me. Put another way, God’s grace to us is perfect and unwavering. However, because of our sin nature, our response to God’s grace is, well, most of the time disappointing and leads to the hypocritical examples you’ve previously sited. Admittedly, Christian hypocrisy is an open sore. Everyone sees it. Everyone hates it. But the cure isn’t to “try” and “do” better. That’s nothing more than “works”. Rather, the solution is to submit to the love of God and allow God’s love to permeate through one’s life and flow out of the believer into the actions, behaviors good deeds, etc that people see.

JH: What non-Christians want most from Christians is simply to be left alone. We know about Jesus. We know about Christianity. We have a good idea as to what Christians think the “rules” are. But we aren’t interested. Is Christianity making you happy? Is your life better off because of it? If the answer is “yes,” then we’re happy for you and we might even be willing to take a closer look. However, if the answer is more along the lines of what is seen in Christians most of the time, we have to wonder why – trade the thing I have for something that looks like that? Christians range from very good people all the way down to the Westboro Baptist Church types.

Bob: Reading your last comment, an analogy came to my mind regarding Westboro Baptist Church. Think of it this way – the Christian faith is the absolute most delicious and plentiful food imaginable. And, it’s always available. Unfortunately, there’s something utterly gross, rotten and stinking to high heaven in the fridge. And, when we’d love to open the fridge to get a chunk of Christian faith, we can’t get past the smell of Westboro. On that point, I don’t think the Westboro types diminish the Christian faith – even if their actions truly stink up the place. Rather, I think the actions of the Westboro types more accurately reflect a lack of Christian virtue within their lives.

JH: There are many of us who aren’t Christian who’d be more willing to think about Christianity. But we remember the last thousand times Christians have tried to inflict their morals on us, called us devil worshippers, harassed us at work, knocked on our doors, left us tracts, wrote letters to the editor, or called for our death or imprisonment. I think everyone agrees that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. I still can’t see that grace is that simple. Or rather, as you imply, grace just IS – by definition. I still think if one isn’t living up to their Christian tenants, then one is a crappy a Christian like, well, most of the Christians out there.

So, how best does one follow-up or otherwise continue this conversation? I’ve heard Bob George, author of Classic Christianity, give an analogy how it’s the same sun that both hardens clay and melts wax. His inference, I think, was that God’s mercy tends to harden some individuals while at the same time it also has the effect of humbling others to their own sin and the need for a savior. Are discussions such as this counter-productive? Maybe JH’s heart is hardened against Christianity to a degree that he can’t contemplate that peace that passes all understanding because of what he sees as the outward behaviors and actions being the definitive “result” of “being a Christian”.

Thoughts, anyone?

Identifying Absolute Truth; My “Relatively” Feeble Attempt

December 29, 2010 5 comments

I while ago I responded to an atheist friend’s Facebook comment about blaming Republicans for (at the time) the failure of congress to pass the 911 first responder’s (Zadroda) bill allocating money to those first responders experiencing continued health issues from the response and clean-up efforts on the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.  We went back and forth as to some political thoughts highlighting our respective positions.  I’m definitely conservative and JH is definitely liberal.  Eventually, the discussion weaved its way through the concept of grace and we ended up with my being challenged to support the notion of absolute truth.  I initially thought this would be a relatively (pun intended) easy task.  But as I began, the reality set in that I’m unable to defend absolute truth apart from the doctrines of my Christian faith.  That’s clearly not what I intended to end up with.  For me, however, this was a good exercise and after all was said and done, I thought readers of this blog might be interested in my $0.02 worth regarding absolute truth.  I don’t intend for this ‘paper’ to be the end-all of my philosophical thoughts related to the concept of absolute truth.  However, it’s a start and we’ll see where we go from here.

I appreciate the chance to think through and reflect on aspects of my Christian faith that for all intents and purposes I’ve simply taken for granted.  If nothing else, I’ve had to delve into a somewhat shallow aspect of my beliefs and I thank you for that.  Well, on to the matter at hand.

First, we need to dispense with the boilerplate stuff.  These terms and definitions come from one of the books noted below:

  • Absolutism: Principle standards, which are objective rather than relative.
  • Objectivism: Moral values and principles exist independent to individuals thereby providing norms to which something can be judged as either true or false.
  • Subjectivism: Emphasizing the individual self or subject as the creator of meaning, truth or values.
  • Relativism: Claiming there’s no such thing as absolute truth because what is regarded as true varies from person to person.  Truth, therefore, is seen as relative to a person’s time, place or circumstances.

I like the definition of “absolute truth” as a fixed point of reference that doesn’t change with respect to situations or circumstances.  An easy visual example is that of a chair placed in the center of dark room such that, even if blindfolded, one can navigate throughout the room always knowing where they are with respect to the chair.  However, if the chair moves when the person moves, there’s no longer a fixed reference point.

You’d asked for some examples of absolutes.  The only thing I actually had in mind when offering to provide “some” examples of absolutes was gravity.  However, a little brainstorming brought the below list of absolutes that are at least within the physical world:

  • Gravity – Irrespective of something’s size or mass, the object will fall to the ground at the same rate of speed because of gravity.
  • Ohm’s law – Apply one volt through a one ohm resistor and you’ll have one amp of current which equates to one watt of power.
  • A traffic light – green light means “go” and a red light means “stop”.
  • Airplane/marine external indicators – green means starboard (right) and red means port (left).
  • Food – if one doesn’t eat, they’ll (eventually) die.
  • Mathematics – 1+1=2
  • Measurements – A meter is a definitive length.  Four cups (8oz) of water will always equal one quart.
  • Reganomics – This is just to give you the ‘needle’!  {;-P
  • 2nd law of thermodynamics, which identifies the impossibility of perpetual motion.
  • Friction generates heat.
  • Boyle’s law of chemistry.
  • Infants wet their pants.
  • Time – or at least intervals thereof.
  • Nothing moves at absolute zero temperatures.
  • Water boils at 212F/100C – well, at sea level anyway.
  • The earth rotating around the sun and the moon around the earth.
  • Speed of light.
  • The Periodic Table of the Elements.
  • Dogs make better pets than cats – This is to again just give you the ‘needle’!  {;-P
  • Nobel metals don’t oxidize and thereby don’t corrode.
  • Any house project I set out to do costs >2x what is planned and takes >3x the time expected.  I have empirical evidence to prove this!
  • Cold air makes snot flow out of my nose.
  • Brain cells deprived of oxygen will die.
  • Men are XY, women are XX in their chromosomal makeup.
  • The cost of any given item is predicated on its supply and demand.

Granted, many of the above examples would certainly be considered more along the line of a “definition”.  Even so, they’re constants in that they’re true for everyone.  Given that there are absolutes in the physical world, it’s conceivable to me that absolutes exist within an intellectual and/or moral perspective.  There’d be chaos if no one played football, baseball, or any other sport for that matter by the same rules.  And too, confusion would reign supreme if we didn’t use the same language structure and word definitions.  Well, perhaps language is a weak example considering that new words are created over time and sometimes definitions change; words such as ‘mouse’, ‘head banger’, ‘weed’, ‘Google’ and ‘gay’ immediately to mind.  Nevertheless, I think the point is still valid.

It may appear simplistic, but I do believe our lives literally depend on the belief that absolutes exist and that everyone plays by the same rules in order to “get-along”.  I would submit that horrible historical events such as the Holocaust came about because absolute moral values were predicated on relativistic terms.  Didn’t Nazi leaders in WWII use Darwin’s principle of survival of the fittest?  In light of that, it could it not make sense that Germany saw themselves as a superior race to the Jews and therefore began “the final solution”?  If there’s no ability to define absolute truth, then it stands to reason that any outcome could conceivably have its own justification.  As such, should the subsequent Nuremburg trials and death sentences meted out have ever been conducted?  Other horrible events with terrible repercussions also come to mind including the Sudanese genocide, modern-day suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere, Stalin’s purges in the USSR, the Crusades during the middle ages, Pol Pot, the Dresden bombing, the intentional starvation in Darfur, etc.

The above is obviously from a “dark side” of humanity.  But consider something thing from a different perspective.  Perhaps Mother Theresa should have been burned at the state for having been nothing more than a little pimp hussy with her young Indian charges.  Truly, there needs to be some sort of objective in which to define actions and behaviors as either wicked or good – or even somewhere in between.  To me, then, the implications of not having a “foundation” or a “truth gauge” can ultimately lead to disastrous applications.

Within this context, I sense the opposite of absolute is relative.  Perhaps a good example of someone claiming an absolute perspective versus a relativist perspective is Ann Landers.  Years ago, Ann advocated that sex before marriage was wrong.  Later, however, when asked why she had changed her mind, Ann’s response was, “Times have changed [and] we have to keep up with times.”  Speaking with regard to sex before marriage always being wrong (I can’t confirm that’s what she meant, but for the sake of argument we’ll assume so), Ann spoke as an absolutist.  That Ann changed her mind with respect to keeping up with the times would then indicate that she really had no absolute values regarding sex before marriage.

If it feels good, what the heck – do it!  Without a basis for values, can there be a basis for morality?  In addition, without morality, can there be societal standards that govern behavior?  Rape 10 year-old girls – what’s the problem?  Who’s to say that it’s right or wrong?  Questions pertaining to individual or corporate morality, it would then appear, have to be made relative to a stated source for the governance of that morality.  Legalize marijuana – is there a right or wrong here?  Do the benefits of legalizing marijuana for medical use outweigh the potential of more people getting hooked on drugs?  And again, perhaps that’s not the best example – but for now, it’s the best I can come up with.  Put this way, if one’s values are relative, then one’s own sense of morality is by definition relative.  Can there be a definitive right or wrong or only assumptions based upon one’s own perceived values of right and wrong?  Collectively, then, what a corporate people group would agree to as right or wrong would have to be their definition of what constitutes right and wrong.

Given that there can be no absolutes for a relativist (at least as I see it), I’d submit that the philosophical aspect of relativism is at best confusing considering:

  • If a relativist thinks something is true for everyone, then he believes in an absolute truth and can no longer call himself a relativist.  Therefore, hasn’t he just taken an absolutist position?
  • Billy Graham believes God exists.  An atheist, however, doesn’t believe God exists.  For both to be right, God would have to exist and not exist (which I believe to be untenable because I believe God does exist).  In a similar manner, how can we state that a cup of coffee is either hot or cold unless we have a reference?  Perhaps there’ll have to be arguments made later to justify the existence of God – but for now I’m trying to keep things close to the surface.
  • Everyone knows the math statement: if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  However, in regard to Billy Graham (A) believing in God (C) and the atheist (B), denying God’s existence (D), I think the logic would go something like: if A=B and C=D, then A=C, A=D, B=C and B=D.  But this can’t make sense because by definition of (A) & (C) are opposites as are (B) & (D) aren’t the same.  As such, these statements would have to be considered not true – or at the least, undefined.
  • If there’s no “standard”, no one can ever be wrong since there’s no way of determining right and wrong.
  • If something is true for one, does it remains true even if it’s considered wrong by someone else’s “standard”?  Suddenly we’re back to a lot of undefined statements.
  • If one claims no such thing as absolute truth, haven’t they then assumed that no “view” can be true?
  • On what basis can such claims for the opposites of right and wrong coexist?

How is it that those who don’t believe in any form of absolute truth or objective morality insist on making objective moral statements against those who do?  Can a relativist insist on using terms like “wrong” and “evil” instead of something more “relativist” such as: “It’s neither right, wrong, good, bad, or indifferent.  It just is.”  Or, perhaps the relativist could say, “I don’t like it but if you do, I’m okay with that.”  This thought seems consistent from the title of a book written in the early 1970s, I’m OK, You’re OK.

So, if truth isn’t subjective, the next question has to be how do we know what truth really is?

  • Most people will not deny they exist or that they can reason.
  • We know we exist because we’re aware of our existence.
  • Truth corresponds to facts.
  • We’re aware of some facts such as matter and reality.
  • Is there a way to know the source of this reality?
  • Even agnostics will admit to the “logic of cause and effect”.
  • What was the “first cause”?  How did the universe begin?  Is God a logical concept?
  • Without God, where did matter come from?

Descartes famous line, “I think therefore I am” is interesting in that it illuminates one’s own existence and that we have the required capacity to reason.  We know we absolutely exist and therefore if someone were to say to us that we didn’t exist, rationale thinking says that it’s impossible for both of these claims to be right. Then again, things can appear to be true at some times and not at others.  Around the time of Columbus, many people believed the earth was flat.  Today, however, we know the earth is a sphere.  Someone might infer that the truth has changed.  But in reality, it didn’t.  The earth has always been a sphere even when people believed it was flat.  The truth of the earth’s physical shape did not change but I think it’s safe to say that people have changed from holding a false belief to a true one.  In essence, our beliefs with respect to the shape of the earth now correspond with the facts.

In summary, then, for someone to then say that there’s no such thing as absolute truth is to state an absolute and from my feeble understand, this is a contradiction of terms.  Yet, everyone seems to have an innate sense of right and wrong.  Who hasn’t been “cut-off” while driving?  The immediate reaction is anger and rage, flipping the ‘bird’ at the other driver and shouting out, “You stupid %#$@&% idiot!”  Even small kids understand the unfairness of an action when, say, someone cuts in front of the line for an ice cream cone.  Lying in legal court proceedings is perhaps a violation of another absolute and courts have laws regarding perjury in order to ensure compliance to the law.  From where do we get this innate sense of right and wrong?

Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to state that there are absolutes.  The question, then, becomes whose absolutes do we follow?  How, then, do we know that one’s absolutes are indeed absolutes?  On this point, I think we get to the crux of the issue.  Being honest here, I’m sympathetic to those who’d say the Christian idea of absolute truth is intolerant, narrow-minded, bigoted and even exclusivist.  Christianity’s claim is not that it’s one truth among many.  Instead, Christianity claims to be the only channel through which truth is communicated.  I’ll concede, that sounds rather exclusive.  In reality, though, Christianity isn’t the only faith-belief doctrine that claims to be exclusive.  Even a cursory examination of, say, Islam reveals its exclusive claims of truth through Allah and the necessity of Jihad.  It’s fascinating to observe the degree to which Western people generally condemn Christianity for its self-proclaimed tenants.  Yet the adherents of Islam are in essence given a pass for their self-proclaimed tenants that are in my mind much more punitive to the non-Muslim infidel.  However, that’s probably a different subject altogether.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore a “diminished evaluation” of other beliefs (faiths?) when biblical scriptures such as John 14:6 state: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”  The thought occurs to me as I’m thinking back on our conversations about ‘grace’ – I fully agree and understand that if the truth the Christians professes to possess is only proclaimed for others to live by but not those within the “Christian community”, who would want to believe Christianity’s message?  Along the same line, even if Christians fail to live up to the standards of their faith; do those failures necessarily illuminate false doctrine?  Perhaps those failures are better defined as ignorance of the Christian faith or the inability of Christians to uphold to their faith?

To that point, I think C.S. Lewis said it best when he concluded that everyone has to come to a point where they determine that Jesus is either lord of the universe, a liar, or some kind of lunatic.  Cultural trends come and go with the passage of time.  Hey, if nothing else, thank [our supreme being] that we aren’t heading back to the disco days anytime soon.  Those colorful bell bottomed polyester leisure suits, fat belts and heeled shoes were the pits!  However, I do miss the hair!!!!  Nevertheless, the basic message of Christ as ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ has remained for nearly two thousand years.

My daughter once explained to me that the concept of absolute truth might be more clearly defined by the concept of non-truth (or falsehood).  Intolerance is (to me) a good example.  Are people who believe in absolute truth intolerant?  Wouldn’t tolerance be putting up with error and not accepting all views as true?  So, if tolerance is putting up with error, doesn’t that assume that there is truth?  You can’t have error without the concept of truth much like you can’t identify whether a cup of coffee is hot or cold without a reference. To me, a belief system composed of objective truth that claims to be founded on a fixed point of reference is the only consistent way of living and thinking.  I would therefore submit that absolute truth gives a firm foundation for decision-making and the implementation of principles into our daily lives.

The End

I apologize that it’s taken me a lot longer than I expected to piece this little ditty together.  Yet, after reading through this “tome”, I’m not sure that I’ve adequately answered your question or provided sufficient reasons or examples as to the existence of absolute truth.  I think I devolved into what I already have believed for some time.  and, maybe that’s okay.  That’s where I am – believing that absolute truth exists both in the physical world as noted above and within the intellectual world as I’ve tried to argue here.  It was my intent to prove absolute truth exists apart from having to lean on my Christian faith.  Nevertheless, I ended up where I did if for no other reason than because I see my Christian faith as the epitome for absolute truth which is best exemplified through the life of Christ.  Christ’s life and teachings are the basis for my standards of morality et al in spite of the fact that Christians (and certainly myself include) all too often aren’t examples of living a life predicated on Jesus’ teachings.  Maybe it’s possible to understand partial absolute truth with reason and logic apart from Christianity.  Then too, maybe I’m concluding that the ultimate source for absolute truth is beyond our finite abilities of reason and logic and perhaps for that realization of truth to be found, we have to be open to the source of absolute truth.

Well, agree or disagree – there you have my $0.02 worth.  Feel free to comment, question or challenge anything said.  As you’ve perhaps sensed, I enjoy healthy debate, deep discussion and having to dig deeper into things about which I really ought to have a better understanding.  Without your gentle prompting, this would not have happened.  So, thank-you.

Final note: I regret not having done a better job sourcing quotes, logical constructs, and miscellaneous thoughts that aren’t my own.  It wasn’t my intention to plagiarize per se. What I thought was going to be a relatively simple explanation got exceedingly complicated rather quickly. And, I’m guessing people who’ve studied philosophy are not at all surprised. Still, looking through a couple of philosophy books and checking out some web sites I visited, miscellaneous notes were scribbled down here and there and it didn’t take long before I lost track of what came from where. I should have done better in this regard – if only to go back to particular sources for further consideration. But I didn’t. Even so, a couple of books I drew from for definitions and some lines of reasoning in compiling this piece are Philosophical Issues and Problems, by Joseph Bien & William Bondeson and Understanding the Times, by David Noebel.

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob: The Hallelujah Chorus

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

As I understand it, a lunchtime crowd at a Canadian shopping mall food court was surprised and delighted when over 100 members of a local choir participated in something called a “Christmas Flash Mob”.  This really is a must see and so I’m doing my part to help this video go “viral”.


James Walter Martin 1928-2010

November 10, 2010 2 comments

Even though my father suffered from Alzheimer’s for nearly 10 years, it’s still  a surprise when I’m told that dad has died.  I always hoped that my dad’s heart would soften towards faith matters and that he might have a “Letters to a Skeptic” experience re Greg Boyd seeing his elderly father accept Christ late in life.  But such was not the case.  Nevertheless, he was my dad and I loved him.  As his mind deteriorated, names and memories faded and for the last three years or so, dad didn’t remember much of his own life or recognize immediate family members.  But I take comfort now in re-reading a letter I wrote to him last year regarding the impact that he had on my life, and for better or worse, being part of the fabric for the man that I have become.

January 7th, 2010

Dear Dad,

This has been a cold winter in Minnesota.  It’s hard to believe that we’ve lived here for nearly 26 years.  We had a fun time over Christmas although only Hannah was able to be with Nancy and I.  Brian and his wife spent Christmas with her family in Oregon.  And Becky, who is now a registered nurse, married and living in Louisville KY had to work – such is the life of a first year nurse.

I hope all is well with you.  Mom has told me that some of the problems you’ve had with your feet and shoulders are getting better and that now you’re working on your balance to start walking with more confidence.

Not too long ago I was reflecting about my relationship to my son, Brian (who, like you, was in the Marines) and I couldn’t help but think about you.  Regrettably it has taken me some 50 years or so to appreciate and understand many of the things that you imparted to me as a young lad.  You taught me a lot, Dad – perhaps more than I understand and can appreciate.   Maybe it wasn’t possible to understand many of the things you passed on to me until I had my own kids.  There’s something about a shared experience that, I believe, enables us to connect in ways that we otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t.  I recently heard a sermon where preacher was talking about the importance of passing down a heritage.  As I thought about some of the things that I’ve tried to pass down to my kids (Brian 28, Becky 22, and Hannah 20), I can’t help but conclude that many of the things I’ve taught my kids – directly or indirectly, are a result of you being my father and doing your best to raise me into the man that I’ve become.  And the truth is – had I more eagerly grasped the principles, concepts, and values you taught me, things would quite frankly have been a lot easier for me in my teenage years and young adult life.  To that end, as my kids are now into their adulthood, growing in their self-confidence and taking on greater levels of responsibility, it seems like a good time to reflect and think about some of the things you taught me.  I thought you’d appreciate knowing some of the ways in which you’ve influenced my life.  Below is a list of some of the things that you’ve passed on to me:

Honesty is the best policy

It brings about respect for one’s self and also the respect of other people.  You were umpiring a little league baseball game in La Grange and called me out on strikes.  At the time I was crushed.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that you played fair with me and that you played fair with everybody else.  You called it as you saw it.

You can’t lie your way out of trouble

I recall the “little incident” regarding the coin-collection books when we were living in La Grange.  I’d stumbled onto the “mother-load” and couldn’t believe the “good fortune” that allowed me to buy all the candy I wanted.  You taught me through that incident that stealing is obviously wrong.  I suppose I already knew this.  However – and even more importantly, lying about it was even worse.

Apologize when you’ve done wrong

That’s pretty self-evident and sometimes it might be hard to swallow a little pride.  But who we are is reflected in what we do and how we act towards others and when we have offended or wronged someone, apologize.

You must make amends

You and Mom made me pay back the face value of coin-collection money I’d stolen through house-hold chores. And there was no TV until I’d paid back the full amount!!!!  It was 9 months before I could to watch TV again.

Effort matters

I don’t recall you ever requiring perfection – whether grades at school, doing homework, washing dishes after dinner, mowing the grass, or even picking up rocks in the backyard by the pond in Indiana before the grass was seeded.  I’m sure you, as I did with my kids, understood that there was a certain ability (or lack thereof) to do a task.  However, the effort put into the task was more important than how successful was the end result of that task.

Don’t worry about winning

Just do your best, give it your best shot, and let the details take care of themselves.

Just do it

You didn’t like it when any of us kids whined.  From my own raising of children, I certainly understand.  Something I picked up along the way was getting a task over and done with quickly beats long term complaining anytime.

Consequences make the best teachers in life

Learn from other people’s mistakes.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Honor your commitments

After only one year of college, I enlisted in the Coast Guard without your knowledge.  I know Mom wasn’t too keen on this and inquired about getting me out of my enlistment. You argued against Mom interceding.  I had to follow through.  The decision was made and it was pointless to look back.

Go for the good stuff

Don’t be cheap.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Take pride in independence and self reliance

When you had the time, tools, and talent, you built stuff.  I remember various things you did in that regard – painting the house in La Grange, cutting steel table frames to height with a hacksaw, adding the veranda on the back of the house, installing the privacy fence around the pool in Tucson, etc.

Don’t throw out good shoes:

Actually, it was Mom who taught the lesson.  You were definitely the pupil – albeit perhaps not a very good one right then.  So, if nothing else, I learned that even if I don’t think something has value, someone else might and therefore I need to be sensitive to their feelings on the matter.

Thanks for being my dad.  Thanks for teaching me all that you did about being a man, honor, commitment, follow-through, and doing my best.  I would hope that in some small way you’d be able to look at me and realize that I turned out okay and to know that much of who I am is directly attributable to you.

I appreciate you.

I love you,


It could have been much, much worse

April 18, 2010 4 comments

Thankfully, neither my daughter who was driving this car or the driver of the other vehicle were seriously injured.  However, slightly higher speeds, or the other driver hitting my daughter just a fraction of a second sooner – and the outcome could have been much, much worse.  Cars can be fixed or replaced.  Nothing can replace my daughter.