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Sunday, September 30, 2007

I Know That My Redeemer Lives, by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is still familiar is "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," usually sung to music by Handel. These are the words posted by the Cyberhymnal:
I know that my Redeemer lives,
And ever prays for me;
A token of His love He gives,
A pledge of liberty.

I find him lifting up my head,
He brings salvation near,
His presence makes me free indeed,
And He will soon appear.

He wills that I should holy be,
What can withstand His will?
The counsel of His grace in me
He surely shall fulfill.

Jesus, I hang upon Thy Word;
I steadfastly believe
Thou wilt return and claim me, Lord
And to Thyself receive,

Joyful in hope, my spirit soars
To meet Thee from above,
Thy goodness thankfully adores;
And sure I taste Thy love.

Thy love I soon expect to find,
In all its depth and height;
To comprehend the eternal mind,
And grasp the Infinite.

When God is Mine and I am His,
Of paradise possessed,
I taste unutterable bliss,
And everlasting rest.

The bliss of those that fully dwell,
Fully in Thee believe,
’Tis more than angel tongues can tell,
Or angel minds conceive.

Thou only knowst, who didst obtain,
And die to make it known;
The great salvation now explain,
And perfect us in one!

As the hymn was written 1742, it is public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Billy Graham on origins

Billy Graham is not necessarily divinely inspired, of course, but his views have been widely respected, and rightly so. I was led to a passage where he was asked his views on origins.

David Frost says that he wished to know how Billy Graham interpreted scripture, and what he thought of evolution. Graham responded that he didn't think anyone could be an absolutely strict literalist, and gave the example of Lazarus, who couldn't have been in Abraham's bosom. Then Graham went on to say this:
Oh, I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, and I think we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book.
The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or this being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man.

Frost asked a further question, and Graham indicated that he hadn't finished his response to the previous one. Graham went on:
. . . I personally believe that it's just as easy to accept the fact that God took some dust and blew on it and out came a man as it is to accept the fact that God breathed upon man and he became a living soul and it started with some protoplasm and went right on up through the evolutionary process. Either way is by faith and whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God.
Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997. (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Cook Communications, 1997. p. 72-74) The book indicates that this is taken from the transcript of an interview of Graham by Frost on BBC-2, in 1964. Frost is given as the author of the book, which is said to be excerpts from interviews with Graham over three decades. The first one was in 1964, and may have been the interview above.

I plan no posts, except maybe a Sunspots, and a Charles Wesley Hymn, over the next couple of weeks, because of travel and church responsibilities.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

October 14, 2007: I have just discovered a post by Steve Martin, entitled "Made in God's Image or Evolved from Apes?" which is related to the quotations from Billy Graham (but makes no mention of Graham).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Extraterrestrial Religion

Are there planets where there is life? Is such life self-aware, and/or able to communicate ideas to others? Are there religions on other planets? I wish to muse about these things. (I recently mused about a similar topic, namely the religion of robots.)

Some authors have supposed that there is such life on planets in our own solar system.

C. S. Lewis, in Out of the Silent Planet, the first novel of his space trilogy, described Mars (Malacandra) as a planet with water, and life, in canals on the planet's surface. There were three intelligent species living there, all three worshiping the Oyarsa of Mars, approximately an archangel. They had some knowledge of Maleldil, Christ, and his redeeming sacrifice. Lewis also supposed that Venus (Perelandra) was inhabited by an intelligent race, human in appearance, who were subjected to a temptation similar to that described of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

At least one author, Zenna Henderson (see also the Wikipedia page on her) had her aliens, who were indistinguishable from humans in appearance, living on earth, among us, but with a religion that was central to their culture. This religion seemed to be compatible with Christianity.

Harold Myra supposed that the Fall had made our part of the universe into antimatter. He had several unfallen worlds in his galaxy.

Dolphins, chimpanzees, and perhaps other terrestrial species may be self-aware, and have some power of communication, enough to develop a religion, perhaps. So far as I know, there is no evidence that they have such. There are a number of works that suppose dolphins or whales to have such capacity. I am not aware that any of them propose that these creatures have any religion.

Other authors have also considered these themes.

Does the Bible say anything that would preclude intelligent life elsewhere? I don't know of any such thing. Conversely, it doesn't say anything that proves that there is such life.

If there is intelligent life elsewhere, is it necessary that it have a religion? I suppose not, but would be surprised if there were no such, if other species with intelligence exist.

Did the Fall affect other planets? Did Christ die for other planets? Probably, as I read the scripture, although I don't think the Bible is absolutely conclusive on these matters. Romans 8:18-25 may mean that when it says that the "whole creation" has suffered until the time of Paul's writing.

Thanks for reading these musings.

*  *  *  *  *

Note added June 23, 2011: A recent post by a Christian author of fantastic literature claims that there can be no non-human intelligent life in the universe. Some other Christian authors disagree, in the comments.

*  *  *  *  *

Added November 11, 2012: Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, claims that, if there is intelligent life on other planets, "any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but they can’t have salvation." Ham is responding to statements by a Vatican astronomer, to the contrary. That is, the astronomer claimed that intelligent extraterrestrials could be redeemed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sunspots 127

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Velociraptor, the predatory dinosaur, seems to have had feathers.

An excellent post on what design means.

I saw former President Clinton interviewed on the Comedy Channel last week. He wasn't being funny when he put forward an interesting thesis on the nastiness in Washington: Congress is sleep-deprived. Many of them fly to their home districts and back every weekend during Congressional sessions, and the result is that they don't get enough sleep, and that some of them are chronically jet-lagged. No wonder they are grumpy. Clinton is on to something, no doubt.

Version 2.3 of OpenOffice is available, for those interested, which might well include those who can't afford Microsoft Office, or who choose not to use it, but still need one or more of a word processor, spreadsheet, drawing program, presentation program. It is freeware -- there's no charge for it.

OSHA, a US government agency has advice on monitor placement, so as to avoid eyestrain.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sodom and homosexuality

The story of the destruction of Sodom is told in Genesis 18:16 - 19:29. It is not a pretty story. God sent two angels to the city. They spent the night with Lot, Abraham's nephew. While they were there, all of the men of the city surrounded Lot's house, and demanded that he send out his guests (they, and Lot, thought that the angels were males) so that they could rape them. The next day, the angels took Lot and his family out of the city, and it was destroyed.

It is often stated that Sodom (and its neighboring city, Gomorrah) was destroyed because of its homosexual sin. It is also implied that homosexuality is the worst possible sin. That's not consistent with what the Bible has to say. Here's what Ezekiel said about Sodom:

16:48 As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (ESV)

Ezekiel listed pride, gluttony, and sloth, and inhospitality, and doesn't directly refer to homosexuality (unless the "did an abomination" refers to that.) Ezekiel also said that the Jews were worse than Sodom. (they "have not done" as the Jews did.)

Jude 1:7 does refer to homosexuality:
7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire*, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. *text note: Greek other flesh (ESV)

But that can't be taken to make homosexuality the worst sin. Christ, Himself, said, in Matthew 11:20-24, when Capernaum rejected His teaching, that they were worse than the inhabitants of ancient Sodom, and, in Luke 10:1-12, that any town that did not receive the seventy-two disciples, was worse than Sodom.

Pride, according to Ezekiel, was the besetting sin of the inhabitants of Sodom. Here's what John Calvin said about that, in his commentary on this passage: ". . . but we must see how Sodom rushed forward to that degree of licentiousness so as to be horrified by no enormity. God says that they began by pride, and surely pride is the mother of all contempt of God and of all cruelty."

I conclude, therefore, that homosexual behavior is not the worst sin, now, nor was it in Sodom's day. Putting ourselves pridefully up as gods probably is.

For more on this topic, see the last part of this post, from Parableman.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Article on social networks

There's a thoughtful article in The New Atlantis about social networks, mostly MySpace and FaceBook.

As the author concludes: "Social networking websites may make relationships more reliable, but whether those relationships can be humanly satisfying remains to be seen."

This blog isn't part of a social network, or, if it is, it's a small network that's seldom used. Some blogs, using Blogger, or similar services, are more so. Nonetheless, I am always grateful when anyone comments on a post.

Thanks for reading, whoever you are (if you are anyone!).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Give Me a New, A Perfect Heart by Charles Wesley

This is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley. The Cyberhymnal has posted over 100 hymns by him. I had never heard this one, but it is on a theme which was central to the message of John and Charles Wesley.

Give me a new, a perfect heart,
From doubt, and fear, and sorrow free;
The mind which was in Christ impart,
And let my spirit cleave to Thee.

O take this heart of stone away!
Thy sway it doth not, cannot own;
In me no longer let it stay;
O take away this heart of stone!

Cause me to walk in Christ my Way;
And I Thy statutes shall fulfill,
In every point Thy law obey,
And perfectly perform Thy will.

Within me Thy good Spirit place,
Spirit of health, and love, and power;
Plant in me Thy victorious grace,
And sin shall never enter more.

O that I now, from sin released,
Thy Word may to the utmost prove!
Enter into the promised rest,
The Canaan of Thy perfect love.

Now let me gain perfection’s height;
Now let me into nothing fall,
Be less than nothing in Thy sight,
And feel that Christ is all in all.

The original, which was written in 1742, and hence is in the public domain, had 28 verses. I believe that this poem could be sung to familiar tunes such as "Old Hundredth," or "Duke Street," which have meter.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

DNA evidence in murder trials, but not in origins?

DNA contains, therefore, the ultimate forensic record of evolution.
This presents an interesting irony. Juries and judges are relying on DNA evidence to determine the liberty or incarceration, and life or death, of thousands of individuals. And it appears that citizens in the United States are 100 percent supportive of this development. Yet, in the court of public opinion, some 50 percent or more of the U.S. population still doubt or outright deny the reality of biological evolution. We are clearly more comfortable with DNA's applications than with its implications. Sean B. Carroll, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution. New York: Norton, 2006. (p. 14)

I have begun reading the book indicated. Carroll's thesis seems to be as indicated by the quotation.

He is, clearly, on to something, but it isn't quite that simple. In the most famous murder case involving DNA evidence (that of O. J. Simpson) there was little question about the evidence, but the interpretation of the evidence was questioned, so much that the jury acquitted Simpson. In other words, his DNA was there. The question was "how did it get there?" (I claim no expertise as to what really happened -- I just want to make a point.)

Even if the evidence that humans share a great deal of our DNA with other primates, or some of it with, say, soybeans, is pretty compelling (and it seems to be) it is possible to suppose other explanations than a common descent. How plausible these explanations are is the question, of course.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Select your Candidate

Someone sent me a link to a web site that takes your opinions and matches them to those of the Republican and Democratic candidates for President of the United States. The web site, which seems to be from some TV station, is based on a tool from Minnesota Public Radio.

It's interesting, but it has several flaws.

1) There aren't any candidates from other parties. Some of them, I suppose, have just as much chance as some of the many current Democratic and Republican candidates, all of whom (I think!) are included.

2) Some issues aren't included. I missed these:
Funding Social Security and Medicare
Fixing the nation's infrastructure
Bringing down the deficit, and the national debt
Doing something serious about global warming (there was an item about ethanol, but I understand that it takes more fossil fuel to produce ethanol than it replaces)
Public transportation
The boundaries (if any) of Presidential power
Toning down the level of partisanship in US politics
A military draft

3) It assumes (I guess) that people vote solely based on issues. Some people are likely to vote for or against Obama and Clinton because of their race or sex, with little regard for their stands on the issues, I think. And some of us will (I hope) vote based on our perception of the person's character. We (for example) suspect candidate X of changing opinions so as to court votes, or like McCain's integrity (or stubbornness), or don't trust a candidate who has been divorced.

Nonetheless, it was interesting, and only took a couple of minutes.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

C. S. Lewis on how to read as a literary critic

To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work 'in the same spirit that its author writ' and to avoid chimerical criticism. C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost, p. 64. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964) The book is criticism (mainly positive) of John Milton's work.

Interesting. I wonder if Lewis had thought of fantastic literature, not just literature from the past, when he wrote this? (The book was originally published in 1942, and I don't believe Lewis had written any fantastic literature at the time, and I'm not sure that he had heard Tolkien reading any of his aloud, either, at that point.) The book is dedicated to Charles Williams, because of his own analysis of Paradise Lost, but Lewis had read at least one, and probably more of the novels by Williams, which are, I believe, somewhat fantastic. I tried reading one of them once, but couldn't get into it.

By his logic, then, you would need to become, as far as possible, a rabbit to criticize Watership Down fairly, or a hobbit to criticize Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. And, perhaps, a talking animal or a faun to criticize Lewis's own Narnia books. Good authors help us to do just this, I think. No doubt there are a few million people, some of them older than Rowling, who have temporarily become students at Hogwarts, for example. The hard part would be to fairly criticize an author who doesn't do that for us. For some people, apparently no author of fantastic literature draws them in in this way. I guess they shouldn't criticize it, then, according to Lewis. As usual, he was on to something.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sunspots 126

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

(or something) See the latest in fancy fake eyelashes.

The Human Genome Project has published educational materials on genetics.

A thought-provoking post on a blog I hadn't heard of, but plan to explore, entitled "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution."

A high school football game had to be postponed because someone stole copper wire connected to the lights. What times we live in.

He Lives offers definitions of philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Is calling a Bible translation a "Perversion" blasphemy?

I have previously posted on Kent Hovind, here and here. I have been mostly critical of him, and I'm not alone in this. Some of the criticism comes from a leading Young-Earth Creationism organization, Answers in Genesis.* Hovind spoke in many churches, on young-earth creationism, and his group has produced several videos on this subject.

*Correction, September 19, 2007. See the comment below. A more correct statement would be "came from." Here's a direct link to a detailed criticism of Hovind by three prominent young-earth creationists.

I encountered Mr. Hovind again recently. I was using the Blueletter Bible, an excellent reference, which has, among other things, several Bible versions which can be compared, Hebrew and Greek text, and links to various commentaries. I was preparing to teach a Sunday School class on the Fall, and noted that a video by Hovind was included in the list of commentaries. (The particular tape was the 2nd one in the list on the page, and shows Hovind presenting a seminar at a church in California.) I didn't watch all of this video. There were reasons why I didn't.

A few minutes into the presentation, Hovind, who is a young-earth creationist, made light of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible. (Hovind says that he uses the King James Version, but looks at what other versions say.) He called the RSV the Reversed Standard Perversion. I was offended by that. He was taking issue with the translation of Genesis 1, which, he said, was favorable to the gap theory, which he opposes. He gave some Biblical reasons for this opposition, and it is possible that the opposition is valid. I didn't appreciate his attitude.

No doubt, the RSV has its problems. There is no perfect translation of the Bible, and there may be legitimate reasons to question the treatment of various passages in the RSV. But to call a version a "Perversion?" That strikes me as dangerous, and bordering on blasphemy. It probably isn't, but it seems close.

In Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:8-10, Jesus said that His Jewish opponents were committing a sin of blasphemy that could not be pardoned, when they accused Jesus of serving Satan, instead of God. I don't guess Hovind did that, but I suppose that many people have been inspired, and even brought to conversion, through the RSV, and it strikes me as a dangerous and irreverent thing to ridicule that translation.

The Blueletter Bible offers the RSV as one of its versions. I don't know if they are aware of what Hovind had to say about it.

A few minutes later, Hovind said, correctly, that language has changed. He gave the example of "cool," which, as he said, used to mean "not hot," and now, as he said, we aren't sure what it means. Yes, language does change. So why make a Bible translation that was made nearly 400 years ago your main translation?

My second objection was to his sources. Hovind seldom, or never, used scientific literature in dealing with supposed scientific discoveries, such as the claim that humans used to be larger than they are now. He used newspaper articles, instead. Newspaper articles may impart correct information, but they are not refereed like scientific papers. I suspect strongly that there were no credible scientific sources for many of his ideas. (And most of them, as far as I can tell, are not central to his main thesis, namely that the earth is but a few thousand years old. They are peripheral.)

I'm sorry, but this video gave me two more reasons to criticize Mr. Hovind.

Thanks for reading.

Congratulations, Phoenix Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury handily defeated the Detroit Shock yesterday, the first Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) team ever to win a championship on their opponent's floor. They only used 8 players. It was a team effort, but Cappy Pondexter deserved, and got, the Most Valuable Player award. Pondexter thanked God and her teammates.

The Mercury played good defense, and were better shots, among other things. The team made 29 of 30 free throws, and shot over 52% from the field. Tangela Smith made all 4 of her shots from the field. The other players, Diana Taurasi, Penny Tayor, Kelly Miller, Belinda Snell, Kelly Mazzante, and Kelly Schumacher, also played well. (I guess the Mercury had too many Kellys for the Schock!) The Mercury had 9 turnovers, compared to 17 for the Shock. Six of their players scored 10 or more. A team effort, indeed.

Paul Westhead becomes the first person to win both an NBA and a WNBA championship as head coach. Both he, and the Shock's coach, Bill Laimbeer, are said to want other jobs. In Laimbeer's case, an NBA head coaching job. If Laimbeer gets such a job, I hope that he brings his female assistant, Cheryl Reeve, with him to the NBA. She seems to have expertise, and is respected by Laimbeer, the players, and the media. If men can coach women, and do a good job at it, why can't women coach men?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Forth in Thy Name, O Lord by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth.

Here is a hymn, which I have never heard, but with good words, from over 100 by Wesley posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labor to pursue;
Thee, only Thee, resolved to know
In all I think or speak or do.

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Preserve me from my calling’s snare,
And hide my simple heart above,
Above the thorns of choking care,
The gilded baits of worldly love.

Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes mine inmost substance see,
And labor on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray,
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day.

For Thee delightfully employ
Whate’er Thy bounteous grace hath giv’n;
And run my course with even joy,
And closely walk with Thee to Heav’n.

This hymn was written in 1749, and is, therefore, in the public domain.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Marriage and divorce at Hogwarts

In an earlier post, I commented briefly that no one at Hogwarts, the school where Harry Potter was trained as a wizard, seemed to be married. All the professors, or teachers, were single. Can anyone think of an exception? True, Hagrid had a courtship with a giantess, but didn't marry her. Also, Remus Lupin married after he was a professor. But no professor was professor while married, as far as I can recall.

It's not that Hogwarts is immune to physical attraction. There is plenty of that among the students.

It's not that J. K. Rowling didn't include married couples in the Harry Potter books. She did. The Dursleys, and Harry Potter's parents, both seemed not only married, but in love. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are important characters, and they are married, and in love.

One thing that Rowling doesn't seem to have included is divorce. There is no mention of divorce among wizards, nor even among muggles (non-wizards). That's remarkable! Probably Rowling's own status as a single mother influenced this aspect of the book, but I'm not at all sure that it was the determining factor. The Dursleys, and the Weasleys, have some disagreements, but that's realistic. Would that wizardly influence, or good choices, would stamp out divorce in our real society.

On an unrelated topic, why do Rowling's wizards travel over much of the Old World, but they are not mentioned as being in the Western Hemisphere?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Are the Harry Potter books Christian?

Are the Harry Potter books Christian novels? I'd like to muse about that. This post isn't exactly about the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but some important plot details may be given away below. You have been warned.

I have dealt with the subject of what makes a novel Christian at some length, here, setting forth criteria, etc. There are links, from that post, to analyses of some works of fantastic literature. I've been surprised at how difficult it is to assess some works of fine fiction, using my own criteria.

A lot has been written on the topic of the present post, and you can find wildly different answers. In part, I think, the authors are seeing themselves here. Dave Bruno, in Christianity Today, claims that "Harry Potter 7 is Matthew 6." Conversely, Christopher Hitchens wrote this in The New York Times Book Review:
Most interesting of all, perhaps, and as noted by Orwell, “religion is also taboo.” The schoolchildren appear to know nothing of Christianity; in this latest novel Harry and even Hermione are ignorant of two well-known biblical verses encountered in a churchyard. That the main characters nonetheless have a strong moral code and a solid ethical commitment will be a mystery to some — like his holiness the pope and other clerical authorities who have denounced the series — while seeming unexceptionable to many others. As Hermione phrases it, sounding convincingly Kantian or even Russellian about something called the Resurrection Stone: "How can I possibly prove it doesn’t exist? Do you expect me to get hold of — of all the pebbles in the world and test them? I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist." "The Boy Who Lived." (Posted Aug 10, official publication date Aug 12.) The Wikipedia article on Hitchens says that he is a determined atheist and antitheist.

Now to my criteria.
1) Is there a Christ-figure in the Harry Potter books? In the sense of sacrificing oneself, even offering one's life, for others, yes. Harry's parents seem to have done that. In the sense of giving one's life to atone for evil in others, I'm not so sure. Possibly Dumbledore, Snape, and even Harry might have done that, but it seems that they were fighting for good against evil, more than trying to redeem evil in others.

2) Is there belief in orthodox Christian doctrine?
The two verses mentioned by Hitchens are Matthew 6:21 and 1 Corinthians 15:26. Apparently Dumbledore had one, or both of these placed on gravestones. They are certainly about orthodox Christian doctrine, and Dumbledore must have believed them.

3) Practicing monotheistic prayer to a divine being is scarcely there, if at all. Harry says "Thank God" in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and seems to mean it. (p.74) Molly Weasley says the same thing a few pages later. (p. 78) That's as close to prayer as I recall in the entire series, and of course it may not have been exactly prayer.

The inhabitants of Godric's Hollow are mostly wizards. Harry and Hermione come to the village, and some of them are at church. However, it's Christmas Eve, and lots of non-believers go to church in that season.

I don't recall any other evidence of worship (except the evil worship of the evil Voldemort) throughout the series.

4) Expressing a relationship with the God of Christianity seems to be entirely absent.

5) Consciousness of supernatural guidance seems also absent, unless Dumbledore is conscious of this as he watches Harry's life.

6) There is rejection of evil. The most dramatic is Snape's life as an agent of Dumbledore among the Death Eaters, in spite of his earlier loyalty to Voldemort. In the seventh book, several other characters show unexpected turns to the good, including Percy Weasley and Wormtail, and even Narcissa Malfoy and her son, Draco. Draco pretends not to know if Harry is really Harry, and Narcissa doesn't tell Voldemort that Harry is alive, when she knows that he is.

So, there are some elements in the Harry Potter books that might qualify them as Christian novels. But some elements seem entirely lacking. That's hardly surprising. At least two of these missing elements, the 3rd and 4th, are also missing in The Lord of the Rings, which many people say is a Christian work.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

On April 2, 2009, E Stephen Burnett wrote an essay, asking questions about how far a Christian author could go in writing fiction which has a God who is significantly different from the Christian God, and whether a Christian could legitimately create a fictional character who is in defiance of God. I posted tentative answers to these questions, which are related to the subject of the post above, on April 13, 2009.

* * * * *
In November, 2010, a writer, on the Christianity Today web site, suggests that the Harry Potter franchise is like Paul on Mars Hill -- engaging the culture for Christian values.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sunspots 125

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Humor: A video from The Onion on training disadvantaged high school students for military service.

Science: Wired, on 30 years of imagery from NASA (Voyager started sending photos 30 years ago).

Politics: Mitt Romney's campaign ads are playing now in South Carolina. I was amazed that they said nothing about the adoption of universal health care in Massachussets, while Romney was governor. This, for me, is Romney's major selling point. Why was it left out? Possibly because he worked with Democrats on that, and the ads are for the Republican primary?

The Wikipedia article on the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified in 1797, which said, in part: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; . . ." As the article says, this has been the source of some controversy!

Sports: NBA veteran Derek Fisher asked to leave his team, the Utah Jazz, and Christianity Today explains why.

Computing: CNet on some of the awful things that criminals can do to commercial web sites.

Literature: Robert Sawyer, Canadian science fiction author, is popular in China, and says that the Chinese (like other societies) can explore social issues that aren't usually discussed publicly.

Christianity: Susan Palwick on how Luciano Pavarotti, the operatic tenor, took the news of his pancreatic cancer. Palwick is a hospital chaplain.

K's Cafe has 31 Biblical remedies for fear.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Musings about September 11th

Some musing about September 11th, 2001, posted on September 11, 2007.

1) The attacks were a disaster for the US, certainly. However, although I can't find statistics on this, I'm pretty sure that more people die each year because they don't have health insurance than the total of those who died in the attacks, plus the US military who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* * * * *
Added September 12th: A commenter says that this is comparing apples to oranges. I guess so. My point was not that being attacked by terrorists is the moral equivalent of not having universal health care, but that we responded massively to a few thousand deaths from a terrorist attack, but aren't responding much to an equivalent number of deaths because we don't have a good health care system. We also don't seem to respond much to other things that kill thousands of people, such as gang violence and drunken drivers. We just accept these deaths as normal. I wish we would do something about these three killers, too, or instead of, our "war on terror."

2) Osama Bin Laden is still at large. Why?

3) Except for those in the military, and their families, there has been little sacrifice in the so-called "War on Terror." The President, with the complicity of Congress, has not called upon US taxpayers to pay for our activity in the Middle East, at least not directly. The expenses for the war, as I understand it, have just been added to the national debt. We haven't had to ration things we need, and, although gas prices have risen, this doesn't seem to be mostly due to the war. I saw a TV new program, where they interviewed the wife of a soldier, and she said that most of us weren't sacrificing. We are at the mall, or Starbuck's, she said.

4) Quoting from an article in Slate: The surge will be over in April 2008, when the U.S. Army and Marines run out of deployable troops, and therefore at least a quarter of the 20 brigades now in Iraq will inevitably be withdrawn and not replaced. This is by now common knowledge. At the same time, nearly all politicians, including most Democrats, have come out against a total withdrawal and have recognized that we will have some military presence in Iraq for a long time to come.
If that's the case, what's the political furor all about? Posturing and trying to get votes, I guess.

5) "Support our Troops" is, unfortunately, partly a sound bite, a cruel joke. A recent USA Today report, which I read, but cannot locate, indicated that several members of Congress, from both parties, had felt it necessary to take some extreme steps, such as contacting defense contractors to encourage them to hurry, in order that our military have up-to-date equipment, because the Pentagon wasn't doing enough. It is well known that the troops were not sent to Iraq with adequate armor. Health-care in the military, especially for those with various kinds of mental illness, is in trouble.

6) For many Christians, the "War on Terror" is problematic. (Some Christians are against all wars.) See this post on the subject. I attended a large group discussion, shortly after September 11, 2001, which was supposed to consider a Christian response. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that what most of those present wanted to do was to state their plans for pursuing attacks against the terrorists. In other words, they wanted revenge. That didn't strike me as a Christian response. Besides, the direct perpetrators had all died in the attacks.

7) I wonder, but don't know, if Iraq and Afghanistan are more open to the gospel than they were six years ago? I hope so.

8) Although President Bush has been criticized for a lot of things related to the war in Iraq, and, no doubt, some, maybe a lot of this, is deserved, he would probably have been impeached if he hadn't done something pretty drastic in response to the September 11 attacks.

9) The moral standing of the United States has suffered because of our actions in the Middle East.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Some Questions about Noah's flood

The great flood in the time of Noah was God's flood, not Noah's, but it has often been given Noah's name.

I am well aware that there are debates about the authenticity of the story of Noah, which is told in Genesis 6-10. There are also Bible scholars that believe that Noah was a historical figure, but who doubt that the flood was truly world-wide. (Humans might have been located in a relatively small area at the time of Noah.) I do not have resolutions for such debates. I pose them, and some other questions, below. I'm not sure that any view of Noah and the flood is without serious weaknesses.

1) Why is the story of Noah in the Bible?
Only God can answer that question, of course, but the story emphasizes God's hatred of evil, His love for the righteous, and His concern for not just humans, but for all of his creation.

2) Did Noah really exist?
New Testament passages, as well as the Old Testament, seem to indicate pretty clearly that the answer is "yes". They include at least these: 1 Chronicles 1:4, where Noah and his sons are included in the genealogies of the ancestors of the Hebrews (Noah is also listed in the genealogy in Luke 3); Isaiah 54:9, where God, through Isaiah, promises comfort to the Israelites, as He made a promise to Noah; Ezekiel 14, where the prophet lists Noah as an example of righteousness, along with Job and Daniel; Matthew 27, where Jesus compares the surprise that will attend His return with surprise at the destruction in the time of Noah (this is repeated in Luke 17); Hebrews 11, where Noah is listed as one of the heroes of faith; 1 Peter 3, where Peter speaks of Noah (I'm not clear on the meaning of that passage); and 2 Peter 2, where Peter uses the story of Noah as a warning to the wicked, and a comfort to the righteous.

3) Was the flood world-wide?
Maybe. Maybe not. The description says that it covered the whole earth, but 1 Kings 10:24 says that the whole earth came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Surely not inhabitants of the New World? Australia? Daniel 8:5 says that, in a vision, Daniel saw a goat coming across the whole earth. Perhaps, in both these cases, especially the first, the whole known earth is meant. Perhaps not. Perhaps that is what is meant in the case of Noah's flood. I don't know. There are Bible scholars who believe it was world-wide, and those who don't.

4) Where did all the water come from? Where did it go after the flood?
Especially if the flood was world-wide, there is no good natural answer to that question. There doesn't seem to be enough water to cover the mountains all over the earth. God could, of course, have specially created the necessary water, and removed it after the flood. If the flood was local, the amount of water required would have been much less, depending on where humans were living at the time. Some have suggested that they were living in a large valley, which, after the flood, became the Mediterranean, or the Caspian, Sea.

5) Where is the geological evidence for the flood?
Although some claim that there is geological evidence for a world-wide flood, few, if any, academically trained geologists believe this. One practicing geologist, trained by young-earth creationists, came to doubt that the geological evidence was there, and asked some other geologists, also trained by persons who believed in the influence of the flood, how what they had learned about the flood from this training was useful in searching for petroleum. None of them could give a positive response.

6) If the flood wasn't world-wide, why didn't God just tell Noah to go somewhere else?
I don't know. He was a witness of God's righteousness while he and his sons were building the ark, and perhaps God's mercy wanted his work, and his righteousness, to bring about repentance in his neighbors.

7) Were there any dinosaurs on the ark?
See previous post.

8) What happened to all the plants that were exposed to water for a long period of time?
This page attempts to answer that. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.

9) What happened to the salt-water fish during a world-wide flood?
This page answers that, or tries to. Maybe that answer is correct, maybe not.

10) How did slow-moving animals, like sloths, and some turtles, get to the ark, and how did they get back after the flood, if it was world-wide?
God may have started them earlier than, say, zebras, I suppose.

11) How about amphibians (frogs, salamanders, and the like), which would have been expected to dry out if they had to travel long distances over land?

12) Presumably the ark was built in the Middle East, or in East Asia. How did animals from North and South America, and Australia, get to the ark, and how did they get back after the flood, if it was world-wide?
It is possible that there were land bridges between all the continents, that aren't there now, but this flies in the face of the geologic evidence, and scientific evidence is part of God's revelation to us (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20).
It is possible that God directed their footsteps (or flight), and transported them to the vicinity of the ark, and back. Note that, especially in Australia (and other smaller isolated land masses) there are animals that don't live anywhere else. Did they leave the ark and go straight home, without leaving any offspring behind?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions for sure. Some people claim to. Perhaps they are right.

See my previous post on the question of whether or not dinosaurs are still alive.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee, by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth.

Here is a hymn, which I haven't heard lately, from over 100 posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Father, I stretch my hands to Thee,
No other help I know;
If Thou withdraw Thyself from me,
Ah! whither shall I go?

What did Thine only Son endure,
Before I drew my breath!
What pain, what labor, to secure
My soul from endless death!

O Jesus, could I this believe,
I now should feel Thy power;
Now my poor soul Thou wouldst retrieve,
Nor let me wait one hour.

Surely Thou canst not let me die;
O speak, and I shall live;
And here I will unwearied lie,
Till Thou Thy Spirit give.

Author of faith! to Thee I lift
My weary, longing eyes:
O let me now receive that gift!
My soul without it dies.

The worst of sinners would rejoice,
Could they but see Thy face:
O, let me hear Thy quickening voice,
And taste Thy pardoning grace.

(1741, hence public domain. My source is here.)

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

Madeleine L'Engle passed away on September 6th. L'Engle wrote for many years, with books published from 1945 through 2005. Her works included a considerable variety of material, autobiographical, devotional, "ordinary" novels, and fantastic literature, the latter mostly aimed at young people.

I first read L'Engle because her A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery award (It also won other awards). I have tried to read all the Newbery winners. I didn't expect the book to be infused with Christianity, as I chose to read it because it was award-winning children's literature, but it is so infused.

As a Books and Culture article, reprinted to honor her memory, says, some Christians weren't comfortable with L'Engle, because she didn't speak their language. Some non-Christians weren't comfortable, because they felt she was too Christian. She was, simply, a very good writer, and she honored God.

L'Engle was interviewed in 2006 when A Wrinkle in Time was made into a movie. (She said that the movie was bad, as she had anticipated.)

I haven't read everything L'Engle wrote, but I'm glad I read some of it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Matthew Henry on Worry

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has posted the entirety of Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, published in the 1700's, hence public domain.

Here's the first part of what he had to say about Matthew 6:25-34:

There is scarcely any one sin against which our Lord Jesus more largely and earnestly warns his disciples, or against which he arms them with more variety of arguments, than the sin of disquieting, distracting, distrustful cares about the things of life, which are a bad sign that both the treasure and the heart are on the earth; and therefore he thus largely insists upon it. Here is,

I. The prohibition laid down. It is the counsel and command of the Lord Jesus, that we take no thought about the things of this world; I say unto you. He says it as our Lawgiver, and the Sovereign of our hearts; he says it as our Comforter, and the Helper of our joy. What is it that he says? It is this, and he that hath ears to hear, let him hear it. Take no thought for your life, nor yet for your body (v. 25). Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? (v. 31) and again (v. 34), Take no thought, me merimnate--Be not in care. As against hypocrisy, so against worldly cares, the caution is thrice repeated, and yet no vain repetition: precept must be upon precept, and line upon line, to the same purport, and all little enough; it is a sin which doth so easily beset us. It intimates how pleasing it is to Christ, and of how much concern it is to ourselves, that we should live without carefulness. It is the repeated command of the Lord Jesus to his disciples, that they should not divide and pull in pieces their own minds with care about the world. There is a thought concerning the things of this life, which is not only lawful, but duty, such as is commended in the virtuous woman. See Prov. xxvii. 23. The word is used concerning Paul's care of the churches, and Timothy's care for the state of souls, 2 Cor. xi. 28; Phil. ii. 20.

But the thought here forbidden is, 1. A disquieting, tormenting thought, which hurries the mind hither and thither, and hangs it in suspense; which disturbs our joy in God, and is a damp upon our hope in him; which breaks the sleep, and hinders our enjoyment of ourselves, of our friends, and of what God has given us. 2. A distrustful, unbelieving thought. God has promised to provide for those that are his all things needful for life as well as godliness, the life that now is, food and a covering: not dainties, but necessaries. He never said, "They shall be feasted," but, "Verily, they shall be fed." Now an inordinate care for time to come, and fear of wanting those supplies, spring from a disbelief of these promises, and of the wisdom and goodness of Divine Providence; and that is the evil of it. As to present sustenance, we may and must use lawful means to get it, else we tempt God; we must be diligent in our callings, and prudent in proportioning our expenses to what we have, and we must pray for daily bread; and if all other means fail, we may and must ask relief of those that are able to give it. He was none of the best of men that said, To beg I am ashamed (Luke xvi. 3); as he was, who (v. 21) desired to be fed with the crumbs; but for the future, we must cast our care upon God, and take no thought, because it looks like a jealousy of God, who knows how to give what we want when we know not how to get it. Let our souls dwell at ease in him! This gracious carelessness is the same with that sleep which God gives to his beloved, in opposition to the worldling's toil, Ps. cxxvii. 2. Observe the cautions here,

(1.) Take no thought for your life. Life is our greatest concern for this world; All that a man has will he give for his life; yet take no thought about it. [1.] Not about the continuance of it; refer it to God to lengthen or shorten it as he pleases; my times are in thy hand, and they are in a good hand. [2.] Not about the comforts of this life; refer it to God to embitter or sweeten it as he pleases. We must not be solicitous, no not about the necessary support of this life, food and raiment; these God has promised, and therefore we may more confidently expect; say not, What shall we eat? It is the language of one at a loss, and almost despairing; whereas, though many good people have the prospect of little, yet there are few but have present support.

(2.) Take no thought for the morrow, for the time to come. Be not solicitous for the future, how you shall live next year, or when you are old, or what you shall leave behind you. As we must not boast of to-morrow, so we must not care for to-morrow, or the events of it.

Some things haven't changed much in 300 or so years.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Presbyterian Church of America on Genesis 1-3

The Presbyterian Church in America (I am not a member of that body, not that that matters) commissioned a report, which was given to their 28th General Assembly in 2000. The report considered several possible interpretations of the days in Genesis 1, including:
Calendar-Day view (6 literal consecutive 24-hour days)
Day-Age view (each "day" represents a long period of time)
Framework (the 6 "days" are a framework for portraying God's creative work)
Analogic (similar to the day-age view, but not identical to it)

Each of these were considered in detail, and the report gives the strength of each view, and the objections to each. A few other views were considered briefly.

The report also considered the views of ancient authorities, including Augustine, Calvin, and more.

The recommendation of the committee, which was adopted by the Assembly, was:
That since historically in Reformed theology there has been a diversity of views of the creation days among highly resected theologicans [sic -- undoubtedly meant respected theologians], and, since the PCA has from its inception allowed a diversity, that the Assembly affirm that such diversity as covered in this report is acceptable as long as the full historicity of the creation account is accepted.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sunspots 124

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Humor: President Bush is going to stop drug addiction among seniors.

Science: On the importance of the first kiss to a relationship.

Humans may have left Africa about 70,000 years ago, because of a drought.

Politics: Henry Neufeld on Senator (or is it ex-Senator?) Larry Craig's alleged encounter in a men's room. It's a complex issue, and Neufeld doesn't over-simplify.

Sports: Sports Illustrated says that there will be a worship center in China's Olympic Village.

Jan on Southwestern Baptist Seminary's courses for women only. This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Come Thou, Almighty King, perhaps by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth.

Here is a hymn, from over 100 of Wesley's, posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Come, Thou almighty King,
Help us Thy Name to sing, help us to praise!
Father all glorious, o’er all victorious,
Come and reign over us, Ancient of Days!

Jesus, our Lord, arise,
Scatter our enemies, and make them fall;
Let Thine almighty aid our sure defense be made,
Souls on Thee be stayed; Lord, hear our call.

Come, Thou incarnate Word,
Gird on Thy mighty sword, our prayer attend!
Come, and Thy people bless, and give Thy Word success,
Spirit of holiness, on us descend!

Come, holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear in this glad hour.
Thou Who almighty art, now rule in every heart,
And ne’er from us depart, Spirit of power!

To Thee, great One in Three,
Eternal praises be, hence, evermore.
Thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see,
And to eternity love and adore!

(1757, hence public domain. My source is here. That source indicates that someone, other than Wesley, may have written the words.)

Thanks for reading!