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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Church & State: Will Religious Institutions Render Unto Caesar?

    After the U.S. Supreme Court gave its ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, opponents of the ruling began fretting about the possibility that religious institutions might have to pay federal taxes should they maintain a private ban on same-sex marriage.

     A New York Post editorial states, "The ruling may throw into question issues like tax exemptions for some religious groups that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage."

     The day after the Court's ruling, the Tulsa World newspaper published a story that discusses the tax exemption enjoyed by religious institutions. Here is the beginning of that story:

"Many Christian colleges and universities, including Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, have codes of conduct for their students and employees that forbid sexual relations outside of traditional marriage. 
As had been expected, on Friday the U.S. Supreme Court voted to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. 
How that decision will affect the enforcement of those codes of conduct is a growing concern to officials in Christian colleges, according to Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan, which has a Tulsa campus.
“A lot of Christian college leaders are concerned and frightened,” Piper said this week. 
Their biggest fear, he said, is that they will be forced to choose between staying true to their biblical values and losing their tax-exempt status, a loss that to most schools would be devastating."
     That Christian institutions fret over taxation is odd considering what the Bible says about it. The New Testament book of Matthew contains the following passage pertaining to the paying of taxes:

"Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him [Jesus] in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” "

     Every piece of American paper money has on it the words "Federal Reserve Note", indicating that the money was issued by the federal government, just as the likeness and inscription of Caesar on the First-Century denarius indicated that the denarius was issued by the ancient Roman Empire.

     If Jesus told people to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, then why would Christian institutions balk at paying taxes to the federal government if required to?

(Whether or not religious institutions should pay federal taxes is a topic for a separate discussion.)

Bible Quote Source:  Matthew 22:15-21
Scripture quotation is from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Featured Image is a combination of two public-domain images located in the Wikipedia Commons at the following web addresses:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

God & Science


     The relationship between theism and science has been debated for generations. All too often, people are given the impression that one cannot believe in the existence of God and at the same time believe what science says about nature. In reality, science does not require atheism, as indicated by the following statements by scientists.

     Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values –subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate but can never resolve.”
     “Darwin did not use evolution to promote atheism or to maintain that no concept of God could ever be squared with the structure of nature. Rather, he argued that nature’s factuality, as read within the magisterium of science, could not resolve, or even specify, the existence or character of God, the ultimate meaning of life, the proper foundations of morality, or any other question within the different magisterium of religion.”

     “The universe, for all we know, may have an ultimate purpose and meaning . . . and these ultimates may be set by a rational transcendent power legitimately called God, but the resolvable subject matter of science falls into another realm below the purview of such philosophical (and probably unknowable) generalities.”

     Ian G. Barbour, nuclear physicist: “Another way of separating theological from scientific assertions is the distinction between primary and secondary causality, which is common in Catholic and neo-orthodox thought. God as primary cause is said to work through the secondary causes of the natural world that science studies. God is omnipotent and uses natural laws to achieve particular goals. Primary causality is on a totally different level from the interactions among entities in the world.”

     Kenneth R. Miller, biologist: “Does evolution really nullify all world views that depend on the spiritual? Does it demand logical agnosticism as the price of scientific consistency? And does it rigorously exclude belief in God? These are the questions that I will explore in the pages that follow. My answer, in each and every case, is a resounding ‘no’.”

     “My friends and colleagues in nonscientific disciplines will often claim science as their authority. Clearly they believe that scientific inquiry has ruled out the divine. Unfortunately for them, as I will argue, nothing of the sort is true. Their attitude towards religion and religious people are rooted not so much in science itself as in the humanist fabric of modern intellectual life.”

     Mark Buchheim, biologist: “Science is indeed a powerful tool, but science is, by default, mute with regard to anything outside the natural world. The late Stephen J. Gould introduced the concept of NOMA, or non-overlapping magisteria, to describe how science and faith co-exist in “mutual humility.” The point I’m making here is that science, stripped of any philosophical assumptions about the exclusivity of the natural world, can tell us nothing about our faith. Therefore, anyone who tries to link an acceptance of evolutionary theory with atheism or agnosticism is promoting a false dichotomy.”

     Mark A. Foster, sociologist: “Because a scientist recognizes the operational limitations of science does not make her or him an atheist.”

     “Like virtually all scientists (physical, biological, or social), I am a methodological naturalist. However, I am not an atheist (an ontological naturalist). As a methodological naturalist, I reject that science can be used to demonstrate the existence of God. I do not reject that the existence of God can be demonstrated through other means.”

     “There is as much evidence for evolution (most of it genetic) as there is for the heliocentric model of the solar system (that the sun, not the earth, is its center). There is no other side of the coin. Accepting evolution, however, does not mean that one rejects of God or the soul.”

     Scientists are not the only people who acknowledge the fact that atheism is not a requirement of science. Non-theist philosophers also acknowledge it.

     John Wilkins, agnostic philosophy professor: “A final form of naturalism is ontological naturalism. This is the opinion that all that exists is natural. Many scientists are also physicalists. They argue that if we do not need to postulate the reality of non-physical processes for science, then we can conclude that there are no such things. This argument is too quick. The claim that ‘if A then B’ explains B may be true, but there may also be a C that explains B. Moreover, many things in the physical world are cause by many things together rather than just a few. So, we might say that a physical event is caused by both God and by physical causes, without being logically inconsistent.”

     Keith Augustine, atheist philosopher: “In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don't really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural.”

     In short, a person can believe in God and still be a good scientist.

Quote Sources [In order of appearance]

Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of ages: Science and religion in the fullness of life (Ballantine: 1999), p. 4.

Ibid., p. 192.

Ibid., p. 199.

Ian G. Barbour, When science meets religion (HarperSanFrancisco: 2000), p. 19.

Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s god (Cliff Street Books: 1999), p. 17.

Ibid., p. 19.

Mark Buchheim, “Letter to the editor: an educated response”, The Collegian Online (University of Tulsa: 2005), .

Mark A. Foster, “The Captain’s Personal bLog”, My Looking-Glass Selves (Sociosphere: 2001), .



John Wilkins, Naturalism: Is it necessary? (TalkOrigins: 1997), .

Keith Augustine, Naturalism (Infidels: 2009), .

Public-Domain Image Source:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Social Justice is an oxymoron.


    A common cause of the Religious Left is something that they call "social justice". According to the Christians of the Religious Left, social justice is a part of the Gospel message.  I disagree with that claim.

     To understand why I disagree with the Religious Left, one merely has to read the commentary The Injustice of Social Justice written by Templeton Fellow Ben O'Neill. Here is what O'Neill has to say about the promoters of social justice.

For such people, the notion of "rights" is a mere term of entitlement, indicative of a claim for any possible desirable good, no matter how important or trivial, abstract or tangible, recent or ancient. It is merely an assertion of desire, and a declaration of intention to use the language of rights to acquire said desire.

In fact, since the program of social justice inevitably involves claims for government provision of goods, paid for through the efforts of others, the term actually refers to an intention to use force to acquire one's desires. Not to earn desirable goods by rational thought and action, production and voluntary exchange, but to go in there and forcibly take goods from those who can supply them!
     Nowhere does the New Testament promote the idea of making the government take away one person's goods and giving them to another person. What the New Testament promotes is the voluntary donation of one's goods in order to aid people trapped in poverty. 

     The irony about the Religious Left's demand for "social justice" is that it can result in keeping people trapped in poverty. Forcibly taking goods from those who can supply them results in the loss of economic freedom, which is necessary for people to rise out of poverty.

Scriptures That Aren't

     Several years ago, I became amused while reading a letter to the editor of a newspaper. The letter began, "Because the Bible says that cleanliness is next to godliness . . ."

     The entire letter was based on the writer's belief that the expression "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is somewhere in the Bible. However, it is not there. That letter to the editor was based on a false belief.

     I was reminded of that letter when I read the article "Actually, that's not in the Bible" written by CNN reporter John Blake.  In the article Blake discusses phantom Bible verses and their origins.

If nothing else, Blake's article should be a wake-up call to people who claim that they adhere to the Bible's teachings.

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Featured Image is in the Public Domain.

Featured Image Source:

Christianity is not a political system.

     Every now and then, a columnist will equate the Christian faith with her or his particular political beliefs.

     One example of such equating is the column "Tea Party Report: I Met a 15-Year-Old Christian Girl With More Nerve Than Most Ministers" written by Doug Giles.  In the column, Doug Giles says, "Somehow, somewhere pastors have decided not to speak out against political corruption and instead retreat into their quaint Christian ghetto on the sidelines of life and remain silent as our nation sinks into socialism."

     Well, I have news for Mr. Giles.  Nowhere in the New Testament is socialism forbidden.  Indeed, the New Testament neither endorses nor forbids any kind of civil government.  Like it or not, the New Testament is politically neutral.

     Please don't get me wrong.  I am opposed to the USA being turned into the United Socialist States of America.  I enjoy the rights that I have under the U.S. Bill of Rights, and want the federal government to abide by the Tenth Amendment.

     Yet, I keep in mind that my constitutional rights aren't biblical rights.  Despite what the Declaration of Independence says, nowhere in the Bible does God grant unalienable rights such as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".   The only right mentioned in the Bible is the one mentioned in the first chapter of the New Testament book of John, and that right is purely a spiritual right, not an earthly right. 

     A promotion of political causes isn't the same thing as a promotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the latter - not the former - is the job of pastors.  Apparently Doug Giles has forgotten that fact.

There is nothing wrong with a Christian supporting a particular political cause.  However, there is something wrong with a Christian getting a political cause confused with the cause of the Christian faith.  Getting the two confused helps neither.

Deliver Us from Evil

     In Ephesians 6:11-12 the Apostle Paul writes, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”(ESV)

     Residents of the USA, in general, don’t encounter evil on a daily basis. As a result, they live as if evil were not real. Then, evil rears its ugly head in a dramatic way, such as when individuals use firearms to massacre people in a shopping center, a movie theater or a school, or when individuals use bombs to maim or kill people.

     How people respond to such displays of evil varies. Some people overlook the evil that produced such events and instead focus on the means that was used to carry out the events. Some people overlook the evil and instead seek things that may mitigate the responsibility for the evil actions.

     In contrast, Jesus taught people to pray “deliver us from evil”, not “deliver us from weapons” or “deliver us from poverty or anything else that might result in having a bad childhood”. 

     We need to respond to evil by praying the way that Jesus taught, not by putting into practice the expression “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.”

Gay vs. God?

     Nowhere in the Bible do I see it said that the mere possession of homosexual feelings is the unpardonable sin. Indeed, a person who has homosexual feelings does not necessarily choose to have them. 

     Nowhere in the Bible do I see it said that a person with homosexual feelings cannot receive the free gift of eternal life offered through faith in Messiah Jesus.

     Here is what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-13 (NIV) :

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

     In short, a person who has homosexual feelings does not have to stop having those feelings in order to be born again, in order to be a Christian.

     Granted, the Apostle Paul describes sexual activity between two people of the same gender as being sinful (to put it mildly). However, there is a difference between behavior and feelings. A person can feel the desire to do something that is sinful and still refrain from doing it.

     If Christians with heterosexual feelings can make the mistake of engaging in sexual sin and then have their sin forgiven after they repent, then Christians with homosexual feelings can receive forgiveness for any sexual sin on their part if they repent.