Theblogogy - The Blog of Theology and Questions

The Blog of Theology and Questions

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"House of Cards" Abraham

House of Cards has long toyed with religious themes. And as I've written elsewhere, "Modern culture is woefully ignorant of the Bible and Christian thought. Please stop making us even more ill-informed." This continues to today. There is a scene at the end of Season 3, Episode 4 which was simply so ... bad? misleading? almost something? filled with potential? ... whatever it was, I felt it important to rant about it for a bit.

The video above is long. Sorry, I ramble when I get excited.

The episode continues to return to the theme of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and God giving His Son to die. Frank, battling some inner demons, asks a religious leader about justice. "What is it?"

The guy replies that there are two kinds: The justice man follows/creates by interpreting the 10 Commandments and the two central commands that we love God, love others.

Frank isn't convinced we need that much interpretation considering "Thou shalt not kill" is pretty straightforward. The religious guy isn't convinced. "There's lots of killing in the Bible," he counters. "Ultimately, it's either us who do the killing or someone else will." ...which sounds like the beginning of a good followup to the how should we respond to threats? question we considered a while back. There's an even deeper problem. The command that we should not kill is better said, "Do not murder." Why? Because killing is not the same as murder. Murder is the rectangle to the "kill" square. Murder is the malicious/premeditated killing of someone. This is different than, say, accidentally hitting someone with your car. Even the Bible provides a clear distinction between these two causes of human death. This is why, way back in the Old Testament, God commanded that there be cities of refuge (if you don't know what those are, click the link and read the 10, or so, verses; it won't take long).

They don't mention any of this in the show even though it fits perfectly with why Frank is asking about justice. Thematically, technically, philosophically, and ethically, this discussion would have been just what Frank needed to hear. But, no. The guy simply mentions that even Kind David was a warrior (not to mention murderer and adulterer).

"You can't love the people you kill," Frank says.

The religious guy counters that you can. And you need to even love those who are trying to kill you, just as Jesus asked God to forgive the Romans as they crucified Him.

"Why didn't He fight?" Frank asks.

Rather than answering the question -- you know, with passages from the Bible -- this religious character says, "I ask myself that same question."


Frank then says that he understands the vengeful God of the Old Testament who rules through fear. But Him..." and here he turns to look at a crucifix.

And this I like. Here we get to see the utterly bewildering aspect of Jesus, the radical display of God's love, and how incomprehensible it can be. There's a bit more to the scene, but it ends with Frank alone with the statue of Jesus. "You're selling love? Well," Frank scowls, "I don't buy it." Which is perfect. Exactly. It's very difficult for people to understand this crazy thing called love. But what I don't like is that we never get to see how there isn't a violent God of the Old Testament and this buddy-Jesus of the New. I get how people get that impression, but it's simply not the case.

Anyway, after spitting on the crucifix -- like people did to Jesus during the crucifixion -- the ceramic Jesus falls off the cross and smashes on the ground, echoing -- I guess -- the Dagon statue. This ends with Frank picking up a piece of the broken figure and saying to the audience, "I have God's ear now."


This scene isn't shocking -- especially considering the graveside scene at the start of the season -- because there have been far better scenes before it ...such as the crucifix burning sequence in Amadeus.

Why go through all this? Well, because the scene is such a great opportunity to interact with religious ideas in a culturally relevant way. There's also some very good stuff in here, along with really terrible oversights.

Anyway, let's learn more together. Any input?


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Infinite Love

Some people -- especially in the courtship/anti-dating crowd -- have cautioned against falling in love. "Don't love people," the thinking goes, "or you'll keep losing bits of your heart." One such author went so far as to say that the more people you love, the less "sticky" your love is, like duct tape placed on the skin and ripped off again and again until it is useless and your arm smarts.

Painful simile aside, I disagree with this idea. We should strive toward infinite love; put another way, the more we love others, the bigger our heart becomes, increasing our capacity for loving others. And, no, I'm not promoting polygamy ... but that has much more to do with marriage than love. What I'm suggesting is that we grow in love, not fear love, and seek to ever love people better.

We're familiar with the four kinds of love: Family, Friendship, Romance, and this crazy notion of "Unconditional Love." As we exercise our heart muscle, we should find ourselves moving in the direction of the kind of love usually relegated to the divine. Ultimately, we should find ourselves loving not just our friends and those near us, but developing a heart for the world.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Worms Loved by God

We are but worms, made in God's image; sinners, dearly loved; fallen, redeemable. Contradiction, or paradox?

I don't think it's either.

The "worm" side is a reminder of what we are without God. The other a reminder of who God is. The purpose of both ideas is to point us to God. But I think we tend to think about these ideas as about us. Am I a worm? Am I lovely? Yes. Yet your wormness or worthitude come from who you are. And you, you are a beloved child of God, constantly being urged to act like it.

Still, as you look from one of the spectrum to the other, a hardcore Total Depravity girl is going to seem completely opposite of a God Loves Me for Me guy. And, in reality, both are are a little wrong. But both are on to something. And that unity is something I think Christians should foster and those interested in religion should consider.

Which end of the spectrum resonates more with you?


Saturday, January 31, 2015

God of the Gaps

The idea of a "God of the gaps" betrays a profound confusion about the nature of God. If you define God as a place-holder for stuff we can't explain, then, yes, a theistic worldview is going to be very weak. The problem is that we have failed to make it clear that God isn't about filling in for stuff we can't understand.

Put another way, "God of the gaps" is a secular argument that is not aligned with reality. Rather, we have found that reality -- including science, mathematics, history, archaeology, etc -- all offer supporting evidence for God. Our faith in Him encourages us to keep looking for answers. In other words, the Christian view of God is the opposite of the God of the gaps as it pushes us to find answers.

This came from a few comments from the God, Science & the Big Questions discussion at Biola University. More to come!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Will-Based Religion

There isn't a distinction between faith- and works-based religions. Right? "In both cases," this one guy challenged me, "you ultimately have to do something. So stop saying that Christianity is somehow superior to other religions because it is 'faith-based' and not 'works-based.' All religions are rooted in works."

I don't disagree, but I do believe we have to take a step back. The distinction is real because the point of contact is deeper. I suggest that all religions are "will-based." At some point in time, you must make a choice, an act of the will. You choose to accept salvation by faith, or your choose to work for it, or you choose to live your life following something else, or whatever. So, yes, all religions are will-based.

But from there, the distinctions are huge and important. If you choose to believe that only faith can save you, you have one focus. If you believe that you must measure up to a standard of behavior, you'll act a certain way. And if you decide that all this religion stuff is hogwash, well, you're on that path. And each is very different from the other. But they are all rooted in a decision you make.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

What are Miracles?

We talk about miracles differently than we think about them. We say things like, "The miracle of birth," or, "It's a miracle he survived." But when we think about miracles, they tend to be impossible, fantastical things that require divine intervention. What struck me about the miracles in the Bible is how anti-climatic they are. In fact, some scholars argue that all the plagues brought as judgments against Egypt in Exodus can be attributed to natural phenomena.

So what are miracles? Are they natural or supernatural?

Does it matter? Because -- as C.S. Lewis points out -- these miraculous things are often little more than natural things sped up. Water into wine is linked to rain falling, being sucked up with a grapevine, coming out in grape juice, and ultimately being fermented. It just happens in an instant. Same with stones into bread (rocks into soil, growing wheat, ground into flour, and baked). Even the resurrection of Jesus Christ fits, in a way, with a philosophical naturalistic worldview, which requires that life spring from non-life (or death).

There is much more to discuss when it comes to miracles, so I'm sure we'll return to this topic many times. I look forward to your insights, input, and questions.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Chicken or the Egg?

This content is ripped largely from C.S. Lewis' "Two Lectures" essay in God in the Dock. But the general idea is something I've been thinking about for a while, and ties in nicely with our discussion of Abiogenesis vs Common Descent.

In general, we think of things progressing. Prehistoric man etched scratches on cave walls which have been eclipsed by today's artistic masterpieces. This line of reasoning certainly makes sense, but are we really more wise, skilled, intelligent than someone 50, 100, 10,000 years ago?

No. In fact, each element -- a society, a piece of art or technology, an idea -- begins rather imperfect. Over time, these develop, but they do not spring forth full-formed. Babies come from adults. These babies do, in fact, grow up to be adults, but they started from the fully mature parents and only gradually became adults themselves. Thus, the "chicken or the egg" question is answered equally well by either starting point.

But we can't stop there. For the question of origins and beginnings begs the question of which came first. The trouble is that all our current knowledge and observations tell us that chickens come from eggs which are laid by chickens. In short, all our scientific knowledge tells us that whatever started it was beyond the scope of the every day, natural order of things. It was, in a literal sense, supernatural (or, perhaps, subnatural, springing from an element deeply embedded in nature that does this on occassion -- the magical DNA everyone keeps talking about).

Thought that was cool. What do you think?


P.S. And, yes, I can google. I am aware of this video which asks specifically about the literal chicken / egg combo. But the idea is bigger here ... or smaller (depending on how you define things).

Saturday, January 17, 2015


I read an article about how religion makes you an exclusive, group-thinking nitwit who accepts all manner of hooey in the name of belonging. You will, this article suggests, turn off your brain, adopt hate, and generally ruin lives.

This is, unfortunately, largely true. Religion, when defined as "man's attempt to reach God" or tied to politics, is going to be a highly negative thing.

But the Bible defines pure and good religion as taking care of those who don't have anything and not being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

Christians -- and, I'm guessing, a few others -- will tell you something more. Their religion isn't a system as much as it is a relationship. And what practices and disciplines are in place help them keep their eyes off themselves and provide reminders to love others.

Granted, it is easy to find examples -- even in my own life -- where we haven't been loving and done things for the wrong reasons. How many people actually look outward and love? If I'm any indication, not many; I've got a long way to go. All the more reason to share the good news of what religion should be and what ideas we should follow.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Responding to Threats

In a Business Ethics class, the professor asked, "If someone demands you sleep with them or they will kill your girlfriend/wife, do you do it?"

The ethical answer is obvious: No. Similar to our response to terrorism, we don't do things that are wrong because someone threatens us.

The more important question, and the one that belongs in a class on business ethics, is: What do you do if someone threatens you or a loved one? That question is up for discussion because there is no obvious ethical response.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Infinite Agnosticism

One of my friends is a "Mathematical Agnostic" where he doesn't say "I don't know" but rather asks, "How could I know? With the infinite number of possible beliefs and ideas out there, how could I choose the right one?"

Given that, he doesn't choose any.

As we talked, I suggested that he could easily disregard certain ideas that are just plain wrong. From there, I'm confident we could further narrow things down to a point where we have a general direction to walk. The good news? By moving forward and testing ideas against reality, we can make course corrections. And if we find we've been wrong entirely, we can turn around. On top of that, for me, I believe that there is grace for the missteps, the wrong headings, the mistakes we make; this urges me ever onward.

My friend, however, is stuck in one place. When I ask him about purpose or pursuits, he shrugs. "Right now, the best I can offer is that I want to maximize the serotonin levels in as many people as possible. Why? Because that feels right to me, so I pretend that's right and pursue that. Total agnosticism is simply not livable."


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bible??? - Lot's Daughters

I saw the Lot's Wife salt shaker and I realized I need a "Bible passages that make Luke go ???" series here. So...

Gen 19:26-37

Lot and his family are fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah as God is setting up to destroy it. Lot's wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt. Okay, sure, here's a punishment for not simply leaving everything behind. Or something.

Five verses later, however, we have the start of an incestuous relationship where Lot's daughters get him drunk so they can sleep with him.

Six verses after that, we learn that one of the children from this is the forefather of the Moabites. ...Ruth came from Moab. She's in the lineage of King David, and so, ultimately, Jesus.



More to come.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Do You Have Choice?

Playing The Stanley Parable reminded me of a question: If you come to two doors and choose to go out one of them, does it matter if the other one was locked?

This question is important because it helps you figure out if you're a determinist or believe in free will.

My fatalist/determinist friends point out that it is impossible to make the other choice; you could not have gone through the other door. Thus, there is no true free will. For me, such a response sounds like a failed Sally-Anne test. As far as you know, you made a choice, and that's what matters.

But this question is really important. What you believe about choice impacts your ideas about responsibility and will. So, take a few minutes to think through your thoughts on this.

I'd love to hear what you think.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Abiogenesis vs Common Descent

Question from the Define Evolution video: Aren't Abiogenesis and Common Descent the same thing?


If we found a mechanism for Abiogenesis and repeated the experiment three times, we would have a total of four points of origin. Suddenly, our framework for descent looks a lot more like the "Orchard of Life" we mentioned when we talked about descent with modification. Ironically, doing experiments to demonstrate abiogenesis would make common descent obsolete.

Great question. Keep 'em coming so we can learn more, together.


Friday, January 2, 2015

The Question of Drowning Children

Peter Singer has an article about a lecture he gives his ethics class. "On your way to class, you notice a child drowning in a lake. Do you have the ethical responsibility to jump in the water, ruin your shoes, and miss class to save this child's life?"

His class says yes.

"Why don't we go to the same effort and expense to save a starving child's life, then?" He goes on to talk about our "Global Ethic," but I encourage you to read the whole thing here.

The problem with this question is that is misses the real questions of morality and our responsibility to help people.

By jumping into the pond, you can literally save the child's life by moving them from the water to dry land. The same is not true of sending aid to a foreign country. Some nations have been at war for decades, making food a pressing need but not a resource that changes the position of the children living there. For that, we need a cultural change. Singer's question should be asked like this, "Do you have an ethical responsibility to dive into a lake and breathe into the mouths of a hundred children all day, every day, for the rest of their lives?


This is also why a "Global Ethic" is paralyzing. We may have a role to play in changing that situation, but the situation is the problem, the position. More on this to come.

Thanks for reading. Let's keep learning, together.