Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 2 Revisited: You Are God

In the original Part 2, I dealt with Rhonda Byrne's claim that each one of us is God and I contrasted that with what the Bible says about who we are and who God is. But I really left something out that further refutes Byrne's belief about 1) her own deity, and 2) The Secret's alleged compatibility with Christianity.

The following three verses emphasize God's omniscience:

Psalm 139:1-4

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

Proverbs 5:21

For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths.

Matthew 10:29-31

Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.

So, if Rhonda Byrne (or anybody else) believes that a) she is God and b) The Secret is compatible with Christianity, then they ought to be able tell me how many hairs are on my head (a task which, I admit, is getting easier and easier every day) and she also should be able to tell me when a sparrow has fallen to the ground. And she should be able to know my thoughts from far away and she ought to know every word I speak before I speak it.

If she (or anyone else with her understanding) does not know these things then her belief that she is God is false. Now if she were to insist that she IS God in spite her obvious lack of omniscience, then she has a view of God that is, by definition, contrary to what Christianity (via the Bible) teaches about God.

So if she claims to be God, but lacks omniscience, then either she is not God or she has an understanding of God which is incompatible with and contrary to Christianity. She can't claim that "The Secret" is compatible with Christianity and then claim that she is actually God while at the same time demonstrating that she lacks the Christian God's attribute of omniscience.

Rhonda Byrne is not God, and neither are you.

Do Demons Tremble? James 2:18-20 Part 2

The obvious question, then, is what DID James mean by this and why is it there?

The third problem with James 2:19 revolves around this question:

Are the words in James 2:19 a reflection of James' own thoughts? Or do they reflect the thoughts of someone else?

To see this problem you need only look at verse 18 which says:

"But someone will say, you have faith, and I have works. show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

So, James is sort-of role-playing here. He's conjured up a hypothetical speaker, (we'll name him Fred, okay?) someone who is challenging him. It's not an actual person… James is anticipating a certain kind of challenge and then he responds to it. It's easy enough to see, in verse 18, where Fred begins speaking… Fred's first words are:

"You have faith, and I have works…"

But it's not quite as easy to see where Fred's challenge ends and James' rebuttal begins.

At this point it's important to understand two things: 1) The original Greek text contained no punctuation marks, no quotation marks. 2) We believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God in the original languages. We do not necessarily believe that the translations are inspired. This is one reason why it's so important to look at the original languages.

Also, I should say that I got this understanding of this passage from Pastor Robert Dean at West Houston Bible Church.

So the issue here is, where should we place the quote marks? Where does Fred's challenge end and where does James' rebuttal begin? What you'll notice is that different English translations place the quote marks in different places. To see this, look at the screen shot below, taken from blueletterbible.org:

The English translations here are New King James and New American Standard. I've highlighted the extent of the quotation in each, and you can plainly see the two versions do not agree as to the placement of the quotes. In some English translations, quotations are left out altogether and problems like this are precisely the reason. The quotes weren't in the original text, so they shouldn't be in the translation, either.

So, we have two different ideas about where Fred's challenge ends and where James' response begins. Since we reject post-modernism, we cannot conclude that both are right. But we could safely conclude that both are wrong, or that one is right and the other is wrong as long as we had good reasons to reach that conclusion. But how can we decide?

It turns out that we can use other passages in the Bible as a guide, and this is where it gets really interesting. First, take a look at Romans 9:19-20:

You will say to me then, why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, why did you make me like this, will it?

Then look at 1 Corinthians 15:35-36:

But someone will say, how are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.

Notice, first of all, that I've removed the quotations from these passages. Also notice that these verses are structured very similarly to James 2:18-20 in that the author (in this case Paul) is anticipating some sort of challenge from a hypothetical person. And also notice that it's possible, and I would suggest even easy, to figure out from the grammar in the sentence where the quote marks belong. It turns out that there are other cues besides quotation marks that mark the beginning and end of a quote… there were no quote marks in Greek because they weren't really necessary… they could figure it out. It wasn't really that difficult.

In each case, the beginning of the quotation is obvious. But the end is actually pretty easy to spot as well… there's a change, a shift at a certain point and it's signaled by something contrary-an adversative… a thought that's flowing against what's just been said. In the Romans passage, (in the NASB translation) the signal is "On the contrary, who are you, O man…"and in the 1 Corinthians passage the signal is "foolish one…" Notice that both seem rather derogatory toward the speaker, almost mocking him. Especially in the 1 Corinthians passage. "Foolish one" is not exactly a compliment.

So, the question is, can we use these two NT passages to instruct us on where the quotes should go in James 2? The answer is "Yes!" Look at James 2:18-20 with no quotes:

But someone will say, you have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

Look at where the adversative conjunction "but" is, and then look at the insult that follows, just like in Romans 9:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-36. It follows the same pattern. This signals the beginning of James' response to Fred, and the whole "demons also believe and tremble" line is part of Fred's challenge to James… it doesn't reflect James' own thoughts!

So now, having seen where the quotes most likely belong, the first two problems seem almost moot… actually, they just serve to reinforce the conclusion that the quotes in our English translations are not in the right place.

Next, I'll try to explain Fred's challenge to James and make sense of what we now know is James' rebuttal.

Do Demons Tremble? James 2:18-20 Part 1

As we've seen, the second chapter of James can be tricky. There is another verse in this chapter which is often used, I believe, incorrectly. The verse is James 2:19:

"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!"

This is commonly used to suggest that believing (in Christ, presumably) is not really enough for salvation… that we, like the demons, might also tremble if all we do is believe.

This understanding has three basic problems which reveal that this usage is a misapplication and misunderstanding of this verse.

The first problem might already be obvious: "You believe there is one God… even the demons believe…" This might be useful for understanding our salvation if our salvation was contingent on us believing there is one God. But this is not the case… our salvation is contingent only on believing in (trusting in) Jesus Christ. In other words, the person who "merely believes" that there is one God isn't saved. So yeah, I guess they could tremble. Big deal. I don't see how this is helpful at all if that's a proper understanding of the verse.

The second problem is that there is no plan of salvation for demons… certainly not a plan of salvation that involves faith in Christ. Christ died for the sins of humans, He didn't die for the rebellious angels. With this in mind, it's hard to imagine how this verse informs us about our own salvation at all. The demons tremble not because their belief that there is one God isn't "enough" to save them. They tremble because they know good and well that their days are numbered and that there's no way out for them. Their trembling has nothing to do with what they believe or don't believe. And I would say, based on Luke 4:41, that demons know full well who Jesus Christ is, also:

"And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of God!" And He, rebuking [them], did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ."

So the demons believe and tremble. Considering what is required of us for salvation (faith in Jesus Christ) and considering that salvation isn't available at all to demons, it's clear just based on these two ideas that this verse tells us nothing about how we are saved.

The obvious question, then, is what did James mean by this and why is it there?

Well this brings us to the third problem… were these words a reflection of James' own thoughts? It turns out there's good reason to question that. I'll begin a new post here to deal with that, as this does get a bit tricky.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Faith Without Works is Dead? What Does It Mean? Part 2

James 2:17 is commonly used to argue that if you don't add works to your faith, or demonstrate your faith by your works, then you are not saved. The logical implication is that salvation ultimately is determined not by our faith, but by our works instead.

So the question is, if this isn't what James meant by "faith without works is dead", then just what does it mean?

There's a trap here waiting for us in this verse because when we read "faith" we tend to immediately equate that faith with the faith you have in Christ specifically. But it turns out there's no good reason to make that particular leap. We have a whole bunch of verses in the NT which explain that we are to "believe in" (as it's commonly expressed in English translations) Jesus Christ. The following is a slew of verses as examples:

John 1:12, John 3:14-18, John 3:36, John 5:24, John 11:25, John 20:31, John 6:29, Mark 16:16, Acts 13:39, Rom 10:9, Rom 3:22, 1Cor 1:21, 1John 5:13, Acts 16:31, Rom 10-9

In these verses, the word that we could translate as "have faith in" is the Greek word "pisteuo" which means "to rely on." Note that this word is a VERB. In most English translations, however, it's written as "believe in" which is also correct, but slightly more ambiguous. Also note that you could "have faith in" a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons and the same words would communicate that idea. A skydiver "has faith in" his parachute, for example.

Also notice that in the previous post we dismantled Don Johnson's view that Paul meant something different when he used the word "ergon" than when James used the same word. Well, my argument here is based also on slightly different meanings of our English word "faith" but before you think that I'm making the same mistake as Mr. Johnson, understand that the Greek word behind the idea of "having faith in" (as in John 3:16, for example) is NOT the same Greek word as James uses in James 2:17. That's a huge difference in my approach… in other words, I actually have good reason to believe that James 2:17 is not referring to our having believed in Christ of salvation. A different word is used with a different meaning. In James Chapter 2, the Greek word for "faith" is "pistis", not "pisteuo" and it's a noun, not a verb. Yes, the two words are related, but their meanings are different. "Pistis" refers to the 'content' of one's belief. You might say it's the "stuff" that you believe or know. What you believe, what you know, in other words. But notice how vague that is. James doesn't need to be speaking of our belief in Christ (admittedly, that is part of what we believe, so the word "pistis" certainly would include that particular belief). But, by no means is "faith" here limited to any particular belief. It's a very broad category. So when you think about this verse, replace "faith" with "the stuff you believe."

Now, what about works? Well, again, this is the same word that Paul used… "ergon", which means to work, toil, effort, deed, labor. Simple enough, right?

But what about "dead"? That's the Greek word "nekros" which does mean "dead" but also has the connotation of "useless" or "worthless". And if you look at James 2:14, James asks:

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?"

"Profit" here in the Greek is the word "ophelos" which means "gain" or "advantage". Do you see the contrast here? Something that's "useless" provides no gain or advantage. It is without gain or advantage. And in fact in some English translations, when James expresses the same idea again in verse 20, the word "nekros" is translated "useless."

Now read the verse again:

"The stuff you believe, if not accompanied by effort, provides no advantage."

Now, let's bring this down to Earth and see how we can apply it:

I you know and believe it's a good idea to wear a seat belt while driving in a car, but you don't wear your seat belt, what advantage is that knowledge (that belief, you might say) to you? It's useless, isn't it? If you believe that you should lock your front door at night, but you do not, what advantage has that belief provided you? Nothing.

Now okay, so James isn't talking about seat belts or front doors. I get that. He is talking about the things that the believers whom he's addressing believe, and whether they actually put that belief to good use. For example, they ought to believe that they should "do unto others as they would have them do unto them." But if they don't actually DO IT, that belief, that knowledge, is useless. They might believe that they should avoid sinning. But if they don't avoid sinning, what good is that belief to them? None. And wouldn't you know it, but this is exactly the sort of example he gives in verse 15:

"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

See, it's got absolutely no connection with salvation by faith in Christ. It has only to do with applying what you've been taught, applying what you know.

But what about that last part of verse 14 where James says "Can that faith save him?"

Well, the question is, save him from what? Hell? Is James talking about salvation from Hell? The word "save" doesn't always have to refer to salvation from Hell. There are other things we can be 'saved' from and the word is used elsewhere in the New Testament where it clearly does not mean salvation from Hell. In this case, James is referring to a believer's sanctification… the process of becoming spiritually mature after salvation from Hell. This is sometimes referred to as "second tense" salvation. James' audience, after all, are already believers. They are already saved from Hell. We know this in part because of James' continual reference to his audience as "beloved brethren."

So, the popular understanding of James 2:17 and 2:20 is, well, a misunderstanding. In no way does James mean that faith in Christ is not enough to save us, and that we have to add our works to seal the deal. That Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons use these verses in this way ought to clue us in to the error here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Faith Without Works is Dead? What Does It Mean? Part 1

James 2:17 is commonly used to argue that if you don't add works to your faith, or demonstrate your faith by your works, then you are not saved. The logical implication is that salvation ultimately is determined not by our faith, but by our works instead. If you can't be saved without works, then salvation is by works. No two ways about it. And if this is the case, then James contradicts Paul who said that salvation is by grace, through faith and is a gift from God, not of works, so that no one may boast.

How are we to reconcile these ideas and resolve an apparent contradiction? In Don Johnson's book "The Road to Heaven: A Traveler's Guide to Life's Narrow Way", the author proposes one way of reconciling these ideas, but it ends up being no reconciliation at all. By Mr. Johnson's understanding, James and Paul mean two different things when they use the word "works." He writes:

"At first glance James seems to contradict Paul. He does not. The key is to understand the difference between works as Paul defined them and works as James defined them. For the purpose of my argument I will refer to Paul's term as "works" and James' term as "work." We are not to do works, but we are to work."

He goes on to say that "works" (as Paul defined them) are tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature, while "work" (in James) is undertaken to raise God's stature.

He comes to this conclusion simply because, in his view, it's the only way to reconcile the verses in question. I guess I'd have to accept that if there was no other way to understand the passage. But I think there's a much better way to understand the passage.

The word "works" in the New Testament is most often translated from the Greek word "ergon". It's important to note that in Ephesians 2 and James 2, the occurrences of the word "works" all come from the Greek "ergon", a noun that means labor or toil. So there's nothing right there in the text that would necessarily indicate that Paul meant something different than James. But, admittedly, context can reveal different meanings in common words. And also, it is clear that James 2 is a different context than Ephesians 2. Don Johnson is claiming that Paul defines "ergon" differently than James. So, I would think this would become clear looking at how Paul uses that word in other passages.

So, reading in Ephesians 2, you only have to read one more verse to get your first clue. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul says this:

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

In this verse, Paul uses "ergon" with the adjective "agathos" in front of it, which is translated "good works." Right away, it seems that Paul is concerned with making sure the reader understands what KIND of works he's talking about. Interesting. And then in Ephesians 5:11 he writes:

"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

In this verse, Paul uses the adjective "akarpos" to tell us what kind of works he's talking about. And in this case, it's works that are "unfruitful". So here are two instances where Paul uses the word "ergon" but insists on using an adjective to tell us more about those works… to be more specific. But in Ephesians 2:8-9 when he writes, referring to our "by-grace" salvation, that this salvation is "not of works." No adjective there. Is it reasonable to think that if Paul was referring to a particular kind of works that he would have used some sort of adjective to clue us in? I think the answer is "Yes".

I think there are further problems with Mr. Johnson's resolution to the apparent contradiction. Notice in Romans 11:6 where Paul says:

"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."

Here Paul is contrasting "works" against "grace", and notice he has no adjective describing "works" either. More interesting than that, Mr. Johnson says that a certain kind of work is necessary for salvation, as opposed to a certain other kind of works. If this was the case, then you would think that Paul would take this opportunity to clue us in on it. But he doesn't distinguish between two kinds of works at all here… only between Grace and works. No qualifier, no adjective. I think that's a big problem for Johnson's view.

Also, look at 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 where Paul writes:

"Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

"…Shall try every man's work of what sort it is"? Here the word is "ergon" as well, and yet clearly Paul is using it in a general sense… either works approved by God or works not approved by God.

Here's another example in 1 Thessalonians 5:13, where Paul writes:

"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves."

Paul says we are to esteem very highly those who labor among us because of their WORKS or "for their work's sake". Well if Paul defines "works" as "tasks undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature", then just why is it that we are to esteem these people so highly?

And there's a bigger problem yet with Johnson's view: Johnson says that when Paul says salvation is apart from works, he means works that are "undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature" as opposed to glorifying God. Well, why would anyone suspect that we COULD be saved by works undertaken for the purpose of raising our own stature? Why would Paul need to tell us that? Seems like a no-brainer to me. It makes far more sense that Paul was talking about ANY and ALL works, including those that people might easily assume COULD get them into Heaven.

So, Johnson's resolution to this apparent contradiction between Paul and James seems to fall flat. I think there's a much better way to understand these passages, particularly James 2 (since Ephesians 2:8-9 seems clear enough). So next post I'll explore that.

Faith Without Works is Dead?

Yesterday I was visited again by two Mormon "missionaries". I launched the discussion by asking them whether they could be certain, right now, that they would enter the "Third Heaven", which is the LDS church's expression of salvation. After much side-stepping, I finally got them to admit that they weren't certain at all, that there was no way they could be certain. Then I showed them 1 John 5:13 which says:

"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."

I pointed out to them that in the Greek, the word "know" there is in the perfect tense, which means that it's an event that happened in the past with results that continue forever. And that "have" is present tense, meaning right now. We can know that we have eternal life, and looking forward, there's absolutely no reason for us to ever doubt it.

This took us into a discussion about what it means to believe in Christ, and about Grace. And in a fashion typical of the cults (Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses) they claimed to believe in God's Grace, that they are saved by Grace, etc. But I asked them what it was that God was going to look at in their lives to determine whether they can enter that "Third Heaven". And their answer was that God was going to examine their works. That their entrance to Heaven would be determined by their obedience, keeping the commandments, etc. Of course, with that admission, they betray their belief in Grace. They don't believe in Grace at all. They believe in earning their salvation.

I pointed this out to them and I used my skydiver illustration to demonstrate that their reliance on their works means that they don't trust Jesus Christ; that they trust themselves instead. Their works, their performance. They're wearing a reserve 'chute when God wants them to jump out of the plane with only one 'chute. I explained to them the concept of eternal security and that, while God doesn't want me to be a schmuck the rest of my life, He wants me to obey, He wants me to do work in this life, the fact is that I'm saved whether I'm a schmuck for the rest of my life or not. That's Grace. I said "Some people hear that and say 'That's not fair!'" and I said "They're right. It's not fair. That's what Grace is. We don't earn it, we don't deserve it. By definition, Grace is not fair." It would be a contradiction in terms to say that Grace had to be "fair".

But here's where we get to the real issue… One of the "missionaries" feigned agreement on much of that but revealed his disagreement by whipping out James 2:17. He said "Yes, but James says that 'faith without works is dead.'" In other words, if you don't do works, you can't be saved. And if that's what James meant, he would be contradicting many other passages in the New Testament which clearly state that salvation is not of works.

We have a huge problem within Christianity today, and that problem is that many Christians' understanding of salvation works out to be indistinguishable from how Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons understand the concept. I've had JWs and Mormons both deploy James 2:17 to assure me that works have to be in there somewhere… that shouldn't surprise anyone. But I also have CHRISTIANS using James 2:17 to make exactly the same point!! Does anybody else see a problem here? If the cults are using James 2:17 to teach that works are actually required for salvation, and Christians are using the same verse in the same way, then don't you think we should look at James 2:17 a little closer? If the cults are using it to teach their works-based salvation, shouldn't that tell us that we should not use it that way and that maybe that's not even close to what James meant when he wrote it?

Recently I've been trading e-mails with the hosts of a call-in Christian radio show, "The Don Johnson Show". I heard a show they did where they make it very clear that they believe that works are required for salvation, even as they claim to believe that salvation is by Grace and not works. So I sent them a polite e-mail asking for clarification and, well, they confirmed to me that, while they claim to believe in salvation by Grace apart from works, they do believe that we must do works to be saved. That doesn't really clarify anything, now does it?

The host of the show, Don Johnson, sent me his book entitled "The Road to Heaven: A Traveler's Guide to Life's Narrow Way" and I received it a few days ago. The chapter in which he discusses his view of "work" as it relates to salvation leads off with… guess what verse? That's right: James 2:17.

This is a major problem because "popular" Christianity has abandoned Grace and has a gospel message that is essentially no different than that of the cults. This is a disaster, I'm afraid.

Grace means "undeserved, unmerited favor." The only concept of salvation that is consistent with Grace is a salvation that happens even if we do diddly-squat. And again, in order to be consistent with Grace, salvation cannot be something that we can lose. If we can lose it, then we're doing something to keep it and it no longer depends upon Christ, but rather on our own works. That is not Grace.

In my next post, I'll explain what James 2:17 actually means and how we should use it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Secret Subtext: I'm a Liar; Don't Believe Me

In Rhonda Byrne's book "The Secret" there are a lot of very bold claims. Rhonda Byrne claims to know, for example, that Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell employed "The Secret" (Law of Attraction) even though, quite obviously, Rhonda Byrne has never met these men and, of course, they're not around anymore to defend themselves. How convenient for Ms. Byrne.

But there are quite a few examples in the book of claims made or stories told that seem, well, let's just say "hard to believe" and leave it at that. So the question is, do we have any good reason to believe anything in this book? Do we have any reason to trust Ms. Byrne at all? Do we have any reason to assume, by default, that she's attempting to communicate truth? Well, it seems that Ms. Byrne herself has answered that question for us when she writes on page 179:

“Be happy now. Feel good now. That’s the only thing you have to do. Whatever you choose for You is right.”

I cited this quote earlier when I compared her teaching that morality is relative against the Christian doctrine that morality is absolute. But it's appropriate to this issue because it reveals that Ms. Byrne, assuming she believes what she teaches and practices what she preaches, feels no moral obligation to tell the truth about anything. She believs that whatever she chooses is right for her. She never says "except for lying… you should always tell the truth no matter what."

So essentially what she's saying here is that you, the reader, should NOT believe her. You should assume that everything she says is a lie because she's just told you that she is under no moral obligation to tell the truth.

And a year or so ago when I attended the Paul Martinelli Law of Attraction seminar, I wrote down this quote, from Paul Martinelli:

"Don't ask whether something is right or wrong. Just ask whether it will help you achieve your goals."

Here again, Martinelli is admitting that nothing he says should be taken seriously. Anything he says could be a lie because he's not concerned with whether it's right or wrong to lie. He's only concerned with whether it helps him achieve his goals.

It's always nice when the fraudsters tell you up-front that they are fraudsters.

Dinosaur Mummy?

I found an interesting article over the weekend while doing some light dinosaur research for my daughter's 4th birthday party. I wasn't aware of this, but apparently back in 2000 a very well-preserved, mummified dinosaur was found in Montana… skin included. Now I don't care who you are, that's pretty cool. But it raises some interesting questions:

This story can be compared with another story from 2003 or so, when the fozzilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex were found, also in Montana. No skin on this specimen, though, just rockified bones. But something interesting happened… the paleontologists handling the fossil broke the T-Rex's femur, and discovered that there were soft tissues inside those fossilized bones.

The mummified specimen was a Brachylophosaurus, and is said to have roamed free about 77 million years ago. The T-Rex supposedly had its reign about 65 million years ago. Apparently Brachylophosaurus and Tyrannosaurus never met. But do these finds not call into question the alleged ages of these dinosaurs? And note my wording there… "call into question" doesn't mean absolute denial. Healthy skepticism doesn't require out-and-out denial… it just means asking critical questions that must be asked, and SHOULD be answered. And perhaps there are good answers… I'm open to that. But it seems to me that we ought to be asking some critical questions about the ages associated with these finds. Take the T-Rex for example:

With the T-rex femur, there was an expression of disbelief that soft tissues could remain after 65 million years. But there was never any hint whatsoever that maybe the presence of soft tissues might mean that the fossil isn't nearly that old. No, they wouldn't dare call that dogma into question, would they? No, the fossil simply IS 65 million years old, and therefore we now know that soft tissue CAN survive for that long. See what I mean? Now maybe T-Rex's really did live 65 million years ago and maybe soft tissue really CAN survive that long. I'm not claiming to know that such a thing isn't possible, but I must admit it seems like a stretch to me.

In the case of the Brachylophosaurus, which they named "Leonard", it does seem that finding a dino this well preserved was quite a surprise. These guys are looking for fossils, not flesh, but flesh is what they found. What does that tell you? That nobody expects dinosaur remains to be preserved for 77 million years tells me that prior to this finding, nobody believed remains COULD be preserved for that long. Obviously, with this find, that thinking has changed. But again, the thinking that this species is 77 million years old hasn't changed. That is "carved in stone" as it were.

The question is, how can a person demonstrate that dinosaur remains can survive the elements for 77 million years? Can you just point to the remains and say "We know this animal lived 77 million years ago and therefore we know that remains can survive that time period?" Of course not, that's circular. You still haven't proven that the animal is that old. Maybe it's NOT possible for remains to resist the elements for that long. Maybe the existence of these mummified remains and soft tissues demonstrate that these animals aren't anywhere near that old. Is that impossible?

Another interesting thing comes out of this find. Consider this exerpt from the article:

"Leonardo's last meal consisted largely of leaves, which included ferns, magnolias and conifers. Additional analysis has confirmed at least 40 different types of prehistoric plant pollen preserved in his stomach."

Yes, this dino was so well-preserved that his stomach contents were available for examination. That is incredible. But look at the contents… this dino ate magnolias. Really? Do they mean to tell me that the plant we call "magnolia" existed and was recognizable as a "magnolia" when you rewind the evolutionary clock by 77 million years? Does that seem hard to believe to anyone else? But again… evolution is simply a fact, so I guess the answer is "yes."

These two ideas… the age of the Earth and Darwinian evolution are inexorably linked. Everybody knows, even the Darwinists, that their theory cannot work in a young Earth. They need DEEP time (in reality, even deep time isn't enough) If it were ever discovered that "deep time" was not available, the theory would self-destruct. So the long estimates of fossil ages persist and any evidence that might challenge those estimates is simply re-interpreted in the interest of preserving deep time. Same with Darwinism… here we have a snapshot 77 million years back in time (supposedly) and we still have something called a "magnolia." Somehow evolution hasn't touched the magnolia… it's immune.

Interesting, is it not?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fasten Your Seat Belts

We may be on a collision course with some very rough times here in America, as our new administration apparently aims to put the U.S. on Israel's "enemies" list. Keep in mind the Abrahamic Covenant, which marks the beginning of the Jewish race and God's commitment to that people:

Genesis 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

As a nation we've still hung in there as a supporter of Israel, although somewhat tentatively at times, but now it appears that Barack Obama will swing us over to the opposition side. And this does not bode well for the U.S.

For more about this, read the articles here and here, but media reports--which cite National Security Adviser James Jones as the source--indicate that the US is planning to build an anti-Israel coalition with the Arabs and Europe to compel Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

I'm afraid that if these reports are accurate, our nation is really in for it. And God only knows where that will lead.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 6: Life is All About What You Want

If I had to "back up" the claim that "The Secret" is all about you getting what you want, I'd have to type the whole book in here. That theme must occur at least twice on every single page. To describe "The Secret" as narcissistic would be a vast understatement. Consider the following, from page 177:

“So your purpose is what you say it is. Your mission is the mission you give yourself.”

Or this, from page 92:

“Decide what you want. Believe you can have it. Believe you deserve it and believe it’s possible for you.”

Or how about this from page 119:

“Many of us were taught to put ourselves last…it is imperative that you tend to You first. Attend to your joy first. People are responsible for their own joy. When you tend to your joy and do what makes you feel good, you are a joy to be around…”

As we ask again whether "The Secret" is compatible with Christianity, consider 2 Timothy 3:1-9 where Paul writes (emphases mine):

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

Whoa. And do I really need to bring up the whole "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" kind of thing? Do I really need to explain how the Bible says we should live for others and not ourselves? I don't think I need to explain that even to Rhonda Byrne… this is like the ten commandments. You'd have to be living under a rock for 2000 years in order to have never heard that phrase and not realize they are taught by Jesus in the New Testament.

And what about the story Jesus told about the good Samaritan? Was the Samaritan tending to what he wanted? Was he tending to his joy? What about the other people who walked by the beaten man and ignored him? Who's joy were they tending to?

Rhonda Byrne knows full well what Christianity teaches about this, and yet she would have us reject that and embrace something completely different. I conclude from this, again, that this claim that Christianity and "The Secret" are somehow compatible is not merely a mistake made from ignorance. It is a lie. And again, that's okay for her to lie because, well, it's right for her.

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 5: Word of God vs. Word of Byrne

On page 172 Byrne writes the following:

“If you are seeking an answer or guidance on something in your life, ask the question, believe you will receive, and then open this book randomly. At the exact place where the pages fall open will be the guidance and answer you are seeking.”

Does Christianity teach that we should consult Rhonda Byrne for guidance in our lives? Really? This is compatible with Christianity? I wonder… did Jesus ever defer to Rhonda Byrne?

I guess I might have overlooked Matthew 33:7 where Jesus says:

"Gee, y'know, that's a really tough question. I'm not sure about that one. Why don't you hang around for a couple of thousand years and see what Rhonda Byrne has to say about it in her fabulous book called 'The Secret', published by Beyond Words Publishing and available on amazon.com for only $9.95"

I don't think this needs further explanation, do you?

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 4: No Day of Judgment

Rhonda Byrne writes, on page 177, this:

“Your life will be what you create it as, and no one will stand in judgment of it, now or ever.”

Well, is that what Christianity teaches? We will never be judged? Really? Is that compatible? As a Christian, should I have no problem accepting "The Secret"? Look at Revelation 20:12-15:

And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

And consider Matthew 12:36, where Jesus Himself seems to contradict Byrne:

“And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.”

Obviously, Jesus (whom Byrne doesn't mind quoting in other places) disagrees with Byrne on this point.

But again, my point here is not to argue for the truth of the Bible and Christianity (although I certainly do believe it's THE truth) but rather to point out that there really is no reconciliation, no compatibility, between "The Secret" and Christianity. None whatsoever. And the differences are so stark, so obvious, that I have to conclude that Byrne knows this completely but wants to convince people that a lie is the truth.

The Secret vs. Christianity: An Interlude

In the introduction, I made a claim which my wife points out that I did not back up. She doesn't dispute the claim, she's just pointing out that I failed to back it up, and that I should back it up. Thank you, Aprille, for that because it is valuable! I claimed that Rhonda Byrne claims that "The Secret" and/or the "Law of Attraction" (one and the same) are "entirely compatible" with Christianity. Now, this was a paraphrase and a summation of several statements, but I thought it wise to point to those here just so it's understood that I'm not mischaracterizing Ms. Byrne. I wrote:

One claim put forth in Rhonda Byrne's incredibly popular book "The Secret" is that the "Law of Attraction" is entirely compatible with Christianity, and not just compatible, but is even taught in the Bible and used by Jesus Christ.

So, let's look at a few passages from the book and see if I made anything up:

On page 4, Byrne writes:

"Religions such as Hinduism, Hermetic traditions, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and civilizations, such as the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, delivered it through their writings and stories."

She's claiming here that "The Secret" is actually taught within Christianity. Totally false. Here's another from page 47:

"The Creative Process used in The Secret, which was taken from the New Testament in the Bible, is an easy guideline for you to create what you want in three simple steps.”

"The Secret" is so compatible, in fact, with Christianity (according to Byrne) that it was actually taught in the New Testament.

On page 54 she hi-jacks the words of Jesus by using two verses from the NT and uses them as support for "The Secret". She cites Matthew 21:22 where Jesus says:

“…whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive"

And then she cites Mark 11:24 which also quote Jesus as saying:

“What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them”

The clear implication here is that Jesus taught "The Secret". This is how she's using these two verses. Now without going into too much detail here, looking at the context of these respective verses will quickly exclude Rhonda Byrne's interpretation and use of these verses. Briefly, note that Jesus is not a pantheist. He believed in, and in fact WAS, the God of the Bible. And Jesus made it very clear elsewhere that He is the only way to salvation. As we'll see shortly, Rhonda Byrne denies that salvation in the Biblical sense is even necessary. But since Jesus is not a pantheist, we know that when He teaches the disciples here to ask for something in prayer, He's telling them to ask God the Father, the God of The Bible. He's not telling them to ask "The Universe" for anything and He's not telling them that whoever they think God is is fine with Him. There's no pluralism here.

So, I think it's pretty clear from these statements that I represented Ms. Byrne's claims accurately. And once again, thank you to my wife, Aprille, for the excellent suggestion.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 3: No Objective Moral Standard

On page 179, Byrne writes:

“Be happy now. Feel good now. That’s the only thing you have to do. Whatever you choose for You is right.”

And on page 178, Byrne writes:

“If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.”

Well, this seems problematic. Christianity teaches pretty clearly that a transcendent, absolute moral standard is given to us by God, that we should aim for that standard, and that we continually fall short of that standard.

Now most folks in civilized society have heard of the Ten Commandments. This is the most obvious example of where moral standards are laid down. For example, Exodus 20:14 says:

"You shall not commit adultery."

Now I think it's safe to say that folks who have committed adultery thought that doing so was "fun", even if they suffered for it later. Fortunately, I don't speak from experience on this one. But the question is, how is Exodus 20:14 compatible with what Rhonda Byrne says?

In addition, consider Romans 3:23 which says:

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"

"Sinned" really means nothing more than to fall short of a standard. To miss the mark. Notice that not only does this verse teach that there is a standard that should be met, and that we've missed it, but it also teaches that we're not God. We fall short of that standard.

Once again, we see a stark contrast between "The Secret" and what the Bible teaches. And once again we see that we don't even have to accept one book or the other as true in order to see this contrast. We don't have to, for example, believe we must obey the ten commandments in order to see that the ten commandments do set a moral standard which Christians (and Jews) should adhere to and that Rhonda Byrne denies that any moral standard actually exists… you can just do whatever you feel is right for you.

But as for the question of deception, up to now I've given Byrne the benefit of the doubt… but I can't do that any longer, because I find it impossible to believe that any adult in civilized society has not heard of the ten commandments and doesn't know that these commandments are taught in The Bible and are part of what Christianity teaches, even if they themselves don't feel compelled to obey them. I don't believe for one second that Rhonda Byrne doesn't know this and yet she says that Christianity and "The Secret" are compatible even as she writes that "whatever you choose for you is right."

This is not merely an oversight or mistake made from ignorance. This is a lie. I've become convinced that she knows good and well that all three of these points conflict directly with what Christianity teaches, but she just doesn't want her audience to know it. She wants to convince her audience that there's nothing wrong with what she's teaching them. She is intentionally deceiving them.

But hey… she chose to write it, so even if it is a lie, it's "right" because she chose it. And she is God.

Stay tuned for Part 4

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 2: You Are God

On page 164, Byrne writes:

“You are God manifested in human form, made to perfection...You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator.”

I alluded to this earlier. Since you are in the universe, and since (according to Byrne) the universe is God, then it follows that you, actually, are God. So, the question is, is this teaching compatible with what Christianity teaches?

Again, we need only go as far as the twenty-sixth verse of the first chapter of Genesis to see a conflict:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

Once again we have a conflict. God created man. In the same way that God cannot be the universe if God created the universe, God cannot be man if God created man. God must be something distinct from man and man must be something distinct from God.

Now I can see where someone might get hung up on the part about making man "in God's image", but it's not hard to understand what is meant by this. The word "image" here is from a Hebrew word which means "likeness". It doesn't mean that man is an exact duplicate of God. It merely means that man has attributes which are similar to God's, or that correspond to God's attributes in some way.

Let's see what other conflicts we can find:

Romans 5:6 says men are "ungodly":

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Jeremiah 17:9 says men are desperately wicked: (far from perfection, I'd say)

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

Mark 7:21-23 says that man is full of evil. Again, not exactly "perfection".

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

4. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that man cannot know spiritual things without God’s help:

“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

And Numbers 23:19 makes it all too clear:

“God is not a man.”

So, here we have a second fundamental conflict between what is taught in "The Secret" and what is taught in the Bible. And notice once again, you don't have to accept either book as true in order to see the conflict. One book teaches that you are God, the other book teaches that you are not God. No compatibility.

As for the other question, I still think it's a bit premature to accuse Byrne of intentional deception here, but I must admit it's getting more difficult to give her the benefit of the doubt. At this point, I'm really just trying to be charitable.

Let's see what's next, though…

The Secret vs. Christianity Pt 1: Who and What is God?

On page 160 of "The Secret", Rhonda Byrne writes:

“All that exists is the One Universal Mind, and there is nowhere that the One Mind is not. It exists in everything. The One Mind is all intelligence, all wisdom, and all perfection, and it is everything and everywhere at the same time.”

Okay, so in Rhonda Byrne's mind, there's essentially no distinction between what she might call "God" and the universe itself. In other words, God is the universe (and everything in the universe) and the universe (and everything in it) is God. (And note that you are in the universe… more on that later)

How far do you have to read in the Bible to see this issue clarified? Well, it turns out that this is actually the very first issue addressed.

Genesis 1:1 says:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The Bible says God is distinct from the universe. He isn’t the universe, He created the universe. If God is the universe, then He could not have created the universe. This is a serious, fundamental conflict between what is taught in the Bible and what Rhonda Byrne says in "The Secret." She says there's no conflict between "The Secret" and Christianity, and yet here is a serious conflict.

And notice that recognizing the conflict doesn't depend on your acceptance of Genesis 1:1… we're only dealing with Rhonda Byrne's claim that there is no conflict between the Bible and "The Secret". And we see clearly that, even if you are inclined to reject Genesis 1:1, you would still have to conclude that the Bible is incompatible with "The Secret" right out of the gate.

But the other question is this: Does Rhonda Byrne know this about Christianity? Does she understand that according to Christianity God is distinct from His creation? Well, I suspect it would be premature to judge that with just this one conflict. Seems to me that as we pile up the conflicts (and we will) we might be able to come to a more reasonable and confident conclusion about whether or not Rhonda Byrne intends to deceive people or whether she's merely ignorant.

Stay tuned…

The Secret vs. Christianity: Introduction

One claim put forth in Rhonda Byrne's incredibly popular book "The Secret" is that the "Law of Attraction" is entirely compatible with Christianity, and not just compatible, but is even taught in the Bible and used by Jesus Christ.

These are bold claims, so I thought it might be useful to explore the things taught in "The Secret" and compare them with things taught in the Bible and see how Byrne's claim holds up. This post is just the intro… I'll attack this according to the basic claims of "The Secret" and deal with each claim separately. I'm actually not sure how many "parts" this will be… could be ten or so.

In the end, I intend to answer the following question(s):

1. Is "The Secret" a philosophy that is compatible with Christianity as Rhonda Byrne claims?

And if we find that it is NOT compatible, we should answer this question along the way:

Does Rhonda Byrne's claim that it IS compatible merely a mistake made from ignorance (lack of basic knowledge) or is it actually a lie, where she is intentionally trying to deceive her readers?

Please stay tuned…

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hoisting the "Law of Attraction" on its Own Petard

We continue to 'bone up' on this Law of Attraction stuff, with an eye toward maybe being able to effectively pull someone away from it if they have been drawn toward it at all. And a lot of people have, lemme tell ya.

My focus for now is to be able to quickly and effectively illustrate the self-refuting nature of the entire enterprise. Aprille and I are re-reading Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret" and I've come up with a nice way to illustrate this. And by the way, in my first post about "The Secret" I had Ms. Byrne's first name wrong. It's Rhonda, not Robin. My apologies.

Now let's get out of the way and let the "Law of Attraction" refute itself. I've taken 3 examples right from Rhonda Byrne's book and created a simple illustration. These are examples (page 14) that are used to illustrate what relationship "negative" thoughts have to events in your life. In my diagram, the negative thought is placed in a white thought bubble and the negative consequences of that thought (according to Rhonda Byrne) is in a black thought bubble.

Notice the pattern here. "I don't want _______." and "You get ________." Clear enough, right? And I've only given three examples. Byrne's book gives 9 examples on page 14, and they all follow this same template.

Now, the idea behind the Law of Attraction is that you must train yourself not to have these sorts of negative thoughts because those thoughts result in precisely what you don't want. But what kicks off a person's effort to train out such negative thoughts? Seems to me the only way to get that going is to have this thought:

But notice that this thought follows the same template as all the other thoughts! And according to the LoA, this will bring you exactly what you thought you didn't want, whatever that may have been. In this case, negative thoughts.

Now if the LoA works as advertised, the thought you had about not wanting negative thoughts will deliver to you the negative thoughts which you did not want, and those negative thoughts (bad haircut, catch the flu, lose your table, etc.) will deliver to you exactly those things. So, in effect, the "Law of Attraction" (if true) actually should produce nothing but negative circumstances in your life because there will be no escaping the negative thoughts which bring you all these negative circumstances.

In other words, you're really, really screwed.

Case closed.