Sunday, June 16, 2013

Three Temptations

On comparing the three temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11 to John’s three aspects of worldliness in 1John 2:16, I was challenged with what should be our response when in similar situations. Just reviewing, John identifies worldliness as the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does (NIV), and the Lord Jesus’ temptations were for food when hungry, for recognition of who He was, and for all the wealth and power of the world.  His answers help us to respond to opportunities to act contrary to the character of God, and go beyond a list of do’s and don’ts.
When faced with hunger (the desires of the flesh -ESV), Jesus reminded Himself (and the devil) that clearly hearing and taking in every word that God says takes precedence over satisfying our physical wants. In fact all the physical realm including our senses to enjoy it, came into existence by the word of God. (Heb.11:3)  When faced with the opportunity to be recognized as being the Son of God (the boasting of what he has and does), He observed that wanting to be exalted is usurping the place of God. And He recognized that the desire for wealth and power was idolatry, as He later remarked, “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Mt.6:24) Paul also observed that a greedy person… is an idolater.(Eph.5:5)

We will likely be faced with any one, or all three, of these types of temptations today. With the power of the Spirit of God, it is possible to answer them as the Lord did rather than struggling with our list of legal requirements that are so easy to talk ourselves  out of. We will still struggle, but can rightly see it in light of every sin being: not trusting God to provide for our physical needs, wanting praise that is rightly His, or worshiping created stuff above the Creator.  –philw- June 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Agnostic Diagnosticians

At a Mayo Clinic lecture, we were challenged to be “agnostic diagnosticians”, or “unknowing knowers”. That is to approach each question with openness to all the facts available before coming to a conclusion and acting on it.
It struck me that we can have this same approach to philosophical and spiritual questions. Our inclination may be to land prematurely on a religious assumption, and seeing it as holding to our convictions, refuse to seek and recognize truth. This mindset feeds religious hatred, irrational presumption, and the self-righteous arrogance that speaks louder to onlookers than any pious platitude the adherent might attempt to convey. This one makes a “diagnosis” without having to be humbled by not knowing.
On the other hand, the sophisticated liberal minded religious philosopher might take so much pride in being open-minded that he is content with remaining “agnostic”. Since we are mortal and finite, and can never know the whole truth, he reasons that it is delusional to hold on to anything as true. While not taking security in religious dogma, he yet finds it in the fact that no one can prove him wrong, and that he is free to turn any way his fancy takes him, while being consistent to his premise that no one can know if there is a right way. Without ever making a “diagnosis” he does not have to defend a position, nor act on it.  
So we are challenged to consider all of the information available, and recognizing that we only see in part and are encumbered with biases, still arrive at positions that we are willing to defend and act upon. –philw- May 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Distractions and Conspiracies

It’s remarkable how the news media can obsess for weeks over the personal indiscretions of a politician, while ignoring world-changing international events that are more difficult to encapsulate, less titillating, and probably more truly frightening. Sometimes it appears that national leaders deliberately  encourage focus on these trivialities in order to more freely make large moves that might otherwise attract criticism and debate. It’s the classic strategy in games as well as war: do a feint to distract the opponent while you are moving in with the real offensive.
So, considering some of the high profile concerns now in the socio-political scene and proportional media coverage, we see world leaders being whipped into basing energy policy on the possibility of a 2° temperature rise over the next 100 years while their citizens are invited to consume more resources and produce more garbage. We see a public grieving over potential shifts in the polar bear population while passionately defending the practice of killing our own unborn. We have complex laws to punish what are determined this year to be sexual offenses, while every sexual deviance imaginable is openly offered to people of all ages as entertainment.  We identify “bullying” as a prime cause of social ills and alienation, while we see systematic dismantling of sacred marriage and parent-child relationships. Meanwhile we are bullied into being “tolerant” to whatever marginal practice we might disagree with, with the underlying premise that disagreement is irrelevant because there are no moral truths.  And free speech against what is sacred is praised while speaking out against violations of the sacred is punished.  We fret over young adults emerging from the educational system with a low esteem for self and others, and regarding life in general as meaningless, while requiring by law that the educational system teach them exactly that we are irrelevant accidents in a meaningless universe.
If these are strategic feints, then what is the actual agenda? It is entertaining for little people to think about the powerful conspiring to manipulate everything for the gain of the elite. But the above social phenomena, while useful at times to economic powers, are too pervasive to be systematically initiated by them.  The apostle Peter noted that we have an enemy who prowls about like a lion seeking to devour. Although any conspiracy theory verges on paranoia, I would still suggest that what our social engineers are viewing as in the best interest of all, is, without their awareness, consistent with a supernatural strategy to lead us into worshipping and serving the creation rather than the Creator. –philw- April 2013

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I have often tried to understand why a whole culture, with its politicians and media out front, is so content to naively wade deeper into debt. Somewhere at the root of the thinking behind this is the philosophy of “progressivism”, that is that we just gotta be getting better and better. I hadn’t thought of this until I noticed my son always referring to the “left” as “progressives”. It seems like a good thing to be, just as being “gay” or “liberal” or “pro-choice”. Of course this is all marketing spin and rhetoric, as is most of the election process. (following the US debates just convinces me again of this latter thought). But the idea that we can have today whatever we want, and that it will be paid for down the road has to be linked to an underlying assumption of how the world works.
Last year I finally got around to Darwin’s Origin of Species, and was interested to see this philosophy of “progressivism” permeated the work. Darwin essentially seemed to believe that all environmental change was good because it must ultimately result in species that were more fit. Of course every environmentalist today would cringe at that, but in that thought is the notion of “progress”. Marx took the same idea, and applied it to social and political processes. And these assumptions are rooted in us generally in the West.
The other assumption, which is linked to the first, is that people do what we do as a reaction to our environments. This is social Darwinism, but is so ingrained that there seems little reason to challenge it. I’ve been reading recently some creationist arguments regarding how environments do not produce adaptive change in creatures, but rather it is the built-in engineering of creatures that allows them to modify both themselves and their offspring to make the best of changing environments. “Progressives” believe that we will produce more humane people by legislating an optimal social environment for them. When there is a deviation of behaviour, it points to a failure of the social engineers to design the perfect social environment.
I appreciate the first premise in the local conservative candidate’s brochure, that is that (even though a just society tries to care for the weak) each individual is first responsible for their own provision and actions.
Collective bargaining, whether for mill-workers or doctors, seems to try to impose an artificial pressure on what goods and services should be worth. This gives the illusion that the workers are getting more return for their time, whereas in reality it just fuels the necessary inflation to keep people buying stuff we don’t need today, hoping it will be easier to pay for tomorrow, and somehow convince us all that the emperor’s clothes are indeed beautiful. -philw

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Residential School Abuse

Aboriginals in Canada continue to make issue of the abuses suffered by them or their parents in the residential school system, and continue to receive apology and financial compensation for them. The basis for the complaints involve being forcibly taken from their homes and villages to be placed in the residential schools, having a worldview forced upon them which was contradictory to that of their families, being forced to learn and speak in a different language, being treated harshly physically and emotionally by teachers, and being subject to sexual exploitation by both school staff and fellow residents. The claim is that this treatment has resulted in a lifetime of self-abuse, alcohol and drug dependency, and family break-up.
While recognizing that real and egregious abuses have occurred in all social structures throughout all cultures, and need to be exposed and corrected, the above scenario of systematic subjugation and abuse should be interpreted with some caution. The original intent was to create one new country with a common language (actually two), a common law and government, and a common identity. Aboriginals, originally protected as “status Indians” on reserves, were expected to learn French or English, become literate, receive religious education, learn a trade or profession, and learn to live under a democratic rule of law, in order to become Canadian citizens. Of these goals, one might question the religious education part, but still need to recognize that our very successful western common law was, and still is, based on Judeo-Christian worldview and principles, even if individuals do not accept the spiritual religious aspects.
Immigrants to Canada in the early 1900’s also were forced to learn French or English, were treated harshly emotionally and physically, and to learn the same things expected of aboriginals. The whole approach to instruction and discipline in that culture was much more rigid than today, with harsher consequences for those who would not comply. While our current culture of relativism and pseudo-tolerance recoils at this, it was a process that provided this generation with the comforts and prosperity unimaginable to previous generations. Children of all backgrounds continue to be required to leave their families and forcibly learn the prevailing dogma, even if it conflicts with their home culture. Rather than religious education, it is now secular humanism which demands total allegiance in all aspects of the educational system. Rather than unruly children being physically disciplined (which was the experience of all school children, not just aboriginals), those students who would have been interested to learn, now have to compromise to accommodate those who are not, dumbing down the whole system.
Sexual abuse is a unique aspect, although it is frequently brought in to add to the emotional impact. Incestual sexual abuse is not uncommon in aboriginal communities, just as in other communities where it is not effectively controlled. Claims that this practice was in fact learned from residential schools are unfounded. Having children living in group homes does provide an extra opportunity for early sexual experimentation and abuse by the older ones on the younger, providing the same for adults responsible for the care of these children. But inappropriate sexualisation of children has not stopped, and is now systematized in public education. Children are subjected to sexual content through media from their earliest memories, and commercial interests exploit this for their own gain. The state education system teaches children that all forms of sexual expression are equally valid provided they are not perceived to be forced on someone or take advantage of those who are younger or vulnerable.
Taking children from their parents’ homes to live in such a setting for the purpose of education is questionable, but at times the only realistic way of providing that function. Many parents today send their children, not always happily, to residential schools, with all of the risks and benefits intrinsic to that system. A big difference in the case of Canadian aboriginals is that the parents were often not in agreement with the process. The alternative would have been to allow aboriginal communities to continue as illiterate hunting and gathering societies, dwindling to extinction, while the surrounding world advanced technologically through the 19th and 20th centuries.   A similar argument would be applied today, with universal public support, on any family who wanted to raise their children off the grid, to just enjoy nature and forgo modern education and technology. Home schooling is still allowed in this country, provided that the parents demonstrate the children are receiving an education which surpasses the public system, which is not hard to do. That was not an option in Canadian aboriginal communities a century ago.
Rather than self-righteously condemn practices of previous generations according to our current perceptions and norms, we would be better advised to recognize and correct perversions and abuses that our own culture is fostering.
-philw July 2012
See also "Boarding School Syndrome" on British kids' experiences.

Sold His Birthright

See to it … that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Heb.12:16

It’s amazing how a man, in any phase of his life, could risk everything he has ever worked and hoped for, his wife and family, his job, his respect in the community, his respect for himself, his relationship with God, his very health and life, for the sake of one brief sexual encounter. Yet it does not seem so unusual to hear of politicians or pastors suddenly brought to the end of a promising career in just this way, not to mention the countless painful personal disasters that never make the news. While the story of Esau trading his birthright for a bowl of stew might make us self-righteously shake our heads in disbelief, this comment from Hebrews uses it as a warning against sexual immorality rather than eating stew, although the two issues are not unrelated.
How should we respond to this? It must evoke humility in men in particular. When we see others fall in this area, we can only assume that we have the same potential. It also gives reason for great care as we work alongside others in leadership, to be aware that they too are susceptible. Since it is so risky to get oneself into that crucial moment of temptation, we can be circumspect about being aware of the risks, and avoid even contemplating getting ourselves into a situation where men stronger than we have failed. Women as well can have a vital role, not growing in contempt for men, as self-contempt is part of the dynamic that gets men into risk behaviour, but rather increasing in respect for themselves, for their relationship with men, and for this powerful aspect of our human experience.
-philw- july 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pastors and Priests

If a pastor were to perform all the functions that everyone in his congregation desired, he would likely have two or three full time jobs. Not only are there unrealistic expectations for what the pastor is to do, but also what he is to be. We all have a desire to have a priest somehow helping us make it through. These priests are supposed to have some special connection, if not with the Living God, then with whatever metanarrative resonates with us, the true meaning of life, or the "other world". As such he/she can be a traditional church priest, or any other religion priest, a scientist, politician, therapist, or even celebrities that people fawn over believing that they have risen to the next level and know what it’s all about. Having assigned this role with or without the priest's knowledge, we can also take on the role that we would like our “priest” to perceive us to be, and can be as dishonest about who we are as we pressure him to be about himself. But it’s a terrible thing to make our pastor our priest, and then pile expectations on him to be something he can never be. The pastor is then tempted to put on an act to conform with the expectations of those who are paying his salary and telling him he is doing a good job. -philw-