The Question of the Dishonest Question

“Can’t I lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” That’s the question posed by many people. Is it an honest question or one that simply seeks to avoid truth? C. S. Lewis deals with it in his short, yet insightful, essay, “Man or Rabbit?” It can be found in God in the Dock.

Lewis clears away the unhelpful underbrush of the query and reveals the path such a person asking the question is attempting to follow. As he does so, he sheds light on the essential dishonesty in what at first appears to be an honest question.

Anyone who asks this question already knows about Christianity and is really saying, “Need I bother about it? Mayn’t I just evade the issue, just let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with being ‘good’? Aren’t good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn’t someone inside?”

Lewis is blunt: “The man is shirking. He is deliberately trying not to know whether Christianity is true or false, because he foresees endless trouble if it should turn out to be true.”

Pulling no punches, Lewis continues,

He is like the man who deliberately “forgets” to look at the notice board because, if he did, he might find his name down for some unpleasant duty.

He is like the man who won’t look at his bank account because he’s afraid of what he might find there.

He is like the man who won’t go to the doctor when he first feels a mysterious pain, because he is afraid of what the doctor may tell him.

This avoidance of truth gets to the heart of what is behind the question of whether one must be a Christian to be good. Someone who asks that may be looking for an “out.” At bottom, it’s not genuine honesty at all; the question is not a real question but a hope that one doesn’t have to hear the actual answer.

The man who remains an unbeliever for such reasons is not in a state of honest error. He is in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of his whole mental edge, will result.

He has lost his intellectual virginity.

Lewis knows that God will forgive anyone who has mistakenly rejected Christ and then repents of that rejection. But that’s not the kind of person he is addressing here.

But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter.

You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand.

Even if you can get a person to acknowledge his avoidance of finding the truth, there is another issue that Lewis says is an indication of the lowering of intellectual honor: the plaintive cry of “Will it help me? Will it make me happy?” Lewis challenges that approach with more bluntness:

Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal “sell” on record.

Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?

Faced with such an issue, can you really remain wholly absorbed in your own blessed “moral development”?

What’s needed, Lewis explains, is the realization that we can’t ever be “good” in the sense that God intends for us. “Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that.”

What, then, is that “something quite different”?

We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear. . . . We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. . . .

Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished.

For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to fly.

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

A Line That Should Not Be Crossed

Because I take Scripture seriously and consider it God’s direct Word to me for my life, I cannot ignore what I find in 1 Timothy, chapter 2:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I have to acknowledge, though, that this instruction is not easy for me. It’s not that I don’t want to pray for those in authority; I certainly want a tranquil and quiet life; and I have the same desire mentioned here that all would come to the knowledge of the truth.

What I seem to be lacking, if I may be completely open, is a solid hope that some of those I’m supposed to pray for can be spiritually awakened.

Have you ever felt that way?

What if, I tell myself, the one I’m supposed to pray for is so old and set in his ways—ways that are manifestly and overwhelming self-centered—that it would be a miracle for him to change?

What if the one in authority is so bound by an anti-Christian ideology that his policies aim to undermine Christian faith and practice, and that any change in that ideology is highly unlikely?

Those last two examples, in case you haven’t made the connection, relate to our current and previous president.

Yes, I know what God requires. Sometimes I do pray for them, but not as much as I should. I guess I lack faith that it will do any good.

What a horrible admission.

Yet the requirement remains nevertheless, and I will do my best to obey.

A distinction must be made, however. Sincerely praying for someone in authority who is not grounded in the truth and whose attitudes and actions are often contrary to godliness is not the same as becoming an apologist for that person no matter what he does.

There is a line that should not be crossed, but I’m seeing many of my Christian brothers and sisters crossing that line continually.

Whenever we excuse sin or whenever we torture Scripture to make ungodliness seem acceptable, we fail in our Christian witness to the world.

Whenever we shut our eyes and ears to facts, we align ourselves with dishonesty and falsehoods—and that is never the Christian thing to do.

He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. . . .

The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18: 13, 17

We need to check our hearts. Do we automatically assume innocence for our “side” in a controversy and immediately ascribe evil motives to others? Do we find it too easy to accept a vast conspiracy as an explanation for charges we don’t want to believe but cannot bring ourselves to investigate honestly whether certain accusations might be true?

God calls us to honesty and integrity. He will settle for nothing less because He is the very essence of honesty and integrity. It’s well past time that we align ourselves with Him.

The Clintons & Character

Shouldn’t one’s history matter? What is it about the history of Bill and Hillary Clinton that would give anyone confidence in their character? I know some people will be upset with me for focusing on that. They will say that policies are what matter, not personal character. Well, I have a lot to say about the policies of both, but I won’t back down on the significance of personal character.

It was during Bill’s presidency that we heard the constant refrain from his backers that private character is not the same as public character, and that we should only look at what happens publicly in assessing someone. I respond that that is not the Christian way. What one is privately will ultimately bleed over into what one is publicly, and we need to be discerning.

We know, for a fact, that Bill Clinton did have sex with Monica Lewinsky, regardless of his protestations at the time. We also know this was not just a rumor fueled by some imagined “right-wing conspiracy,” as Hillary alleged. It was a revelation of the character of her husband. And frankly, I don’t see much difference between the two when it comes to character. Both can stand before cameras and tell blatant lies without blushing:

Honest

Some commentators, listening carefully to Hillary’s statements at her near-disastrous press conference last week, picked up on wording that was eerily familiar:

Is

Sadly, this lack of character may not derail her from getting the Democrat nomination, despite the growing fears from some in her party:

On Cliff

Even those on her side of the political aisle are beginning to say she doesn’t have any better qualification for running for president other than being a woman. We recently chose another “first” as president. How is that working out? A candidate has to have more going for him/her than just identity politics. Might I suggest we take a long hard look at character? For some voters, that would be a “first.”

Sage Advice from C. S. Lewis

God in the DockC. S. Lewis was a professor of literature, not a historian. That doesn’t mean, though, that he didn’t have some sage advice for those in my line of study. For instance, here’s a bit of solid guidance for historians in an essay called “Horrid Red Things,” found in a volume called God in the Dock:

A historian who has based his work on the misreading of a document may afterwards (when his mistake has been exposed) exercise great ingenuity in showing that his account of a certain battle can still be reconciled with what the document records.

But the point is that none of these ingenious explanations would ever have come into existence if he had read his documents correctly at the outset. They are therefore really a waste of labour; it would be manlier of him to admit his mistake and begin all over again.

Although he’s applying that directly to people like me who deal with historical documents, it’s really a principle that applies to everyone in any walk of life. Honesty . . . integrity . . . a willingness to acknowledge when we have been wrong . . . should be the hallmarks of one’s character. Christians, in particular, have an obligation to model these traits.

That’s a deep enough thought for today. If we take it seriously, we transform our relationships.

The Redistributionist President

Barack Obama was in full socialistic, redistributionist mode yesterday. At a speech before an audience at the “progressive” Center for American Progress, he called income inequality a “defining challenge” for the U.S. Memories of his comments to Joe the Plumber flood the mind. First of all, one must ignore the fact that income inequality has only increased on his watch; so if that’s what he calls a defining challenge, he’s obviously failed at meeting it.

For someone like Obama, it is a fundamental tenet that some people just have too much, and it’s the government’s job to take from the wealthy and give to those further down the economic ladder. This recalls comments he made back in 2010, when he argued, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Well, is it his responsibility to determine who has reached that point, if indeed such a point exists? There are some rich people I would like to see making even more money because they use it to promote the Gospel. Should the government step in and stop them? Let’s go back to a basic Scriptural principle—it’s not money that’s evil, but the love of money that leads us astray.

The president’s speech yesterday was full of all the progressive buzzwords and hobby horses: education spending; collective bargaining; minimum wage; Social Security; Medicare; and of course the omnipresent Obamacare. The progressive vision of how to create prosperity for all is for the government to shift the wealth around and get more of the wealth for itself so it can help us spend our way into prosperity. If that sounds a trifle contradictory to you, it only means you can think clearly:

Buck Would Stop Here

And don’t expect this administration to be honest about how its policies are working. We now know they fudged the unemployment numbers right before the 2012 election to make it appear things were rosier than everyone thought they were:

Fabricated Lie

Trust is not the hallmark of this White House. Honesty and transparency are in short supply. Why should we ever believe anything that emanates from that source? And given the progressive ideology that dominates, why would we want to give them even more funds to carry out their income inequality project?

Obama began his term of office with a national debt of $9 trillion; it’s now more than $17 trillion. How’s that spending-our-way-into-prosperity approach working out?

Honesty, Integrity, & Spurious Quotations

Those who read this blog regularly know that I believe America had a strong Biblical basis at its founding. The evidence is pretty overwhelming. Those of us who believe that, though, need to be careful in passing along quotations we have read in secondary sources to back up our belief. Let me give a few examples of spurious quotations we should avoid using.

George Washington was an Episcopalian who had his own family pew at the Pohick church near his Mount Vernon home. He served as a vestryman. I’ve read minutes of the vestry that show he even purchased the communion plates for the church. There are also a number of solid quotes that indicate his faith was genuine. There is one, however, that always comes to the forefront, but has no original source. He is often quoted as saying, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world [other sources say “a nation”] without God and the Bible.” Just the fact that there is a discrepancy in the exact wording should be a tipoff that something is amiss. While this is a wonderful statement, unfortunately, it cannot be traced back to anything Washington either spoke or wrote.

Then there’s this supposed quote from Patrick Henry: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was not founded by religionists but by Christians. . . not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” As it turns out, this is actually a statement from the author of an article about Henry, and wrongly attributed to the Virginian of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame.

James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution, allegedly commented, “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” This one fooled me for some time as it was just so perfect for the principle of self-government that I teach in class. I even used it in my book about Biblical principles and civil government until I had to face the reality that this statement doesn’t appear anywhere in Madison’s writings. Consequently, I removed the quote when it came time for a second edition.

We need to be honest. When I authored my book on the Clinton impeachment, I said the following in its preface:

My presuppositions are first and foremost Biblical in orientation. The grid through which I see the world—my basic worldview—is grounded upon Biblical principles. These principles form the basis for my values, my decisions, and my analysis of right and wrong. These principles also inform my understanding of the role of civil government, placing me on the conservative side of the political spectrum. . . .

But I am also an academic. The training I receive in academia requires that I follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I must be honest and cannot, in good conscience, misrepresent the facts. Properly understood, there is no dichotomy here. My Christianity and my academic training require the same standard. Academic integrity rests upon moral integrity, which I believe flows from Biblical faith. Consequently, when I undertake any research and writing project, I must be true to that faith.

That is my practice, and that is why I thought it important to shed some light on those false quotations. We undermine our position when we latch on to falsehoods to prove a point.

I have another one I want to highlight tomorrow. This one is actually a genuine quote, but it has been twisted out of context. It involves Thomas Jefferson.

See you back here tomorrow?