A Prayer for Reuben

This is a prayer I wrote out for my son, Reuben, with Michelle’s blessings.  We dedicated Reuben to God on February 26th, 2017 at Seed Church.  I forgot the below transcript at home while going to the baby dedication service but prayed the spirit of the below in front of our church family.

Lord Jesus, we are grateful that you have brought Reuben into our family and our lives. Thank you that our son is healthy and has the early strength to withstand getting hit in the head with a book by his big sister, Naomi.  Beyond that, thank you that Naomi is so protective and sweet with Reuben.  We will never forget the first meeting between Reuben and Naomi in early October when he first came home.  Your grace is evidenced in so many ways.

We pray today that Reuben would have an understanding of your love, Jesus, now and as he grows older. In the future, we pray that he would have a strong faith in God and a hunger to learn more about the Bible.  We pray that Michelle and I would consistently model your love, grace, and thoughtful discipline with the extraordinary task of being parents.

Looking forward, we anticipate the many adventures together including: learning (both him and us), sporting events (if he likes them), church community events, hikes, family travel and prayerfully great conversations…eventually. May we always recognize life’s many blessings as being gifts from You.

Thank you Jesus for loving us, being with us and being for us as we have welcomed our son, baby Roo, into our home.

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Why Belief in God Matters: Genesis 1 Sermon Transcript (Part Two)

This is a message I preached at Seed Church on January 15th, 2017.  Here is the link to the audio.

Continued from Part one.

Matter:

Ancient Israelites were drawing the attention of the culture of the day and all cultures down through the ages of how vital it is to believe in the existence of God. For Israel, theoretically as they were in Babylonian captivity and recounting how Elohim or Yahweh provided for them in the past, this became their hope. A way to radically connect their lives to a higher meaning.

That meaning and hope can still be found today.  In our world, western civilization in the 21st century, we hear a lot about the rise of the religious ‘nones’. Some of you probably read the Pew Research Study and subsequent articles about it and heard how many people are not associating with church or organized religion anymore. I won’t get into the specific numbers but this is one of the fastest growing groups in America.

Here at Seed Church, we have seen great friends go through this haven’t we? Sometimes, they have a crisis in life or they come to a place where they don’t believe anymore for whatever reason and leave our community here at church. Now, we still have friendships with these people and we don’t shut anyone out at all but there still is a sadness to see people we care about abandon faith in Jesus.

A popular phrase is often muttered, ‘I’m spiritual but not religious.’ We hear this a lot in Seattle. So, what is interesting is it doesn’t seem like people are going to a hardcore atheism (like the New atheists) but still maintaining an open position to God and spirituality.

Here is the big question for us: Why does belief in God matter? Why does belief in this God that we heard about in Genesis 1 make a difference? Does belief in God make us merely feel better? Is belief in God just something we have always done or done for a very long time? What is the point? Why is this important?

Since I’m speaking, I should make a confession. I’m kind of a fan of the late Christopher Hitchens, the new atheist. I have read 3 of his books and I just finished a book by Larry Taunton, a pastor, which was about his friendship with Hitch (as his nickname was). In this book (which sadly wasn’t very good), Taunton describes a theorem that Hitch had that he used in debates all the time. Hitch would say (paraphrase) ‘Tell me one thing, morally speaking, that you Christian can do that I cannot do as an atheist?’ Now, his question is flawed because if we are basing Christian morality on the 10 commandments (though there is certainly more to it than those tablets Moses brought down), the first 2 commandments have to do with worshipping the true God and not having idols. By definition, an atheist cannot worship the True God so that is one thing that a believer can do that an atheist can’t. Hitch’s point though is well-taken: he can choose not to commit adultery, he can choose not to steal, he can choose to not kill anyone just like a believer can so what difference does belief in God make?

Thesis: By connecting with the true God that is testified to in Genesis 1, we can find a transcendent meaning and purpose to our lives.

Struggle:

Let’s face it and be real. Faith in God in the fallen world we live in can be extraordinarily difficult. When we look around at the world, read the news, and learn about the things going on out there, trusting in God can take just about everything within us. People who have tremendous faith in Christ suffer horribly right along side those who have no faith at all. The inverse is also true. People of faith sometimes have mostly comfortable and fun lives right alongside those who don’t believe at all. What difference does it make?

We could spend a bunch of time on apologetics, which is valuable to do and discuss, no doubt. We can talk about the cosmological argument related to God being the First Cause in a universe of cause and effect or what Aristotle called the ‘Unmoved Mover’ or ‘Prime Mover.’ I think this is an effective argument for me. Nothing cannot create something so that means something must be eternal, right? Or we can talk about the design argument and the fine tuning of the universe. This can also be effective to a certain extent.

These are merely intellectual arguments though (that again can be helpful) but do they really speak to why the existence of God matters?

1) Belief in God matters because it gives us a way to see the world. A foundation to sift information through and solid to construct our worldview and values upon. In Genesis 1, God brings order out of chaos. Believing in God helps us do this same thing. The world can seem random and chaotic. Trusting in God and helping us to see the world like He does can order this chaos.

2) Belief in God helps us to look outside of ourselves to others and challenges us to love without condition. This is not based on the ever changing sentiment about love in pop culture that is shallow and fake. God’s love is transcendent and rooted in firm commitment’s (covenant). Do we really meditate on the fact that God loves us or has it just become a phrase that we sing and pray with empty, cliche words? Believing that God loves us changes everything. That God loves our kids, our families, our communities, our country, our world. Really believing that God loves us and is for us changes our outlook as we go through this world. It affects everything about our lives.

3) Belief in God helps us to have unity when our society and culture is bitterly divided. In our country, we see this partisan outrage everyday. People literally hate other people because they have different political beliefs. The cool thing about Seed is we have people from all across the spectrum. What God can create in this community is a unity among us, with all our differences, around Him and His kingdom values. This can be a big difference that belief in God can make in our community and with our friends.

4) Belief in God can inspire and empower us to be free from things that may entrap us. God did not cease to be a Creator after the 7th day. He can create in you a new heart and new desires to conquer addictions, to be free from guilt or shame from the past. He can free us to have a deep seated joy through the difficulties of life that Jesus also faced when He was a man.

5) Belief in God gives us a present and future hope especially related to justice. To dive deeper into this enigma, I want to compare and contrast two people. I don’t know if these two have ever been compared before but I’m going to give it a shot. On one side here, we have Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr….a noble person, civil rights leader, Christian pastor, and one of the most consequential people in American history. On the opposite side, we have film director Woody Allen. Woody has made some really great films and some lousy ones.His personal life is a mess reportedly and he has been accused of extremely awful things. Have you heard of anyone comparing these two? Let’s see how this goes.

Woody Allen, in 2005, made a movie called ‘Match Point’. The theme of the film is that there is no cosmic justice. Everything is absurd and meaningless. If justice happens in this world and existence of ours, it is nothing but fateful chance.

In contrast, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Had the famous saying, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ This implies that there is a progress of justice toward a final conclusion.  A reckoning. A direction that justice and morality are headed in while being orchestrated by a Higher Being. Even if we don’t see justice in this life, justice will eventually prevail because God will bring it to us.

Gospel:

And this belief about justice from these two personalities and the tension that we feel wherever we are in between those two points. Eventually in the life of a true believer in God, these intellectual concepts move from being just in our heads to the core of our being. Jesus not only inspires us toward His Kingdom values of ‘Love God with all your heart mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself’ but He empowers this work in us. Purpose. Meaning. Mission. Hope.

Hope comes because even if we don’t see the gospel and justice take root in our lifetimes, we know they eventually will come upon the creation being brought to completion by the True God who created the heavens and the earth. God did not cease to be a Creator after Genesis 1. He still is creating and one of those acts of creation is giving those who want to follow Him a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26 states, ‘And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.’ For those struggling with addictions or entrapped by sins that you feel are getting the best of you, God can work and change your heart. For those struggling with apathy or a sense of being overwhelmed at the craziness of our world, God can create in you a new heart and guide you to the things you can do to help build His Kingdom and pursue justice even if they are the littlest of steps.

When cultures, governments or other groups perform evil acts, we follow a transcendent moral code given to us by Jesus. When we fall short of our own moral code, we are offered God’s grace and Christ continues to embrace us. To view others, with the Spirit’s help, through Jesus’ perspective which includes upholding them as bearing the image of God, we can be kept from getting carried away by a poisoned, evil ethical system of thought advanced by our society. All people, from unborn to the elderly, both sexes, all races, are valuable to God as they bear His image. Another difference that belief in God makes. Not only helping us to have an intellectual framework to discern truth and morality but we are given His Spirit to be empowered to live according to His truths in the manner of love.

At the end of the day, arguments and debates can be made from any position. If any of you have been in a debate class, you already know this. The thing about taking debate is that we learn by often getting assigned viewpoints we disagree with and then we have to defend them.

All information can be spun around and used for whatever purpose. Same with the debate about God. Here is the question: how do you want to see the world? What do you want to place your trust in? Do you want to see the world as random chaos? According to this view, we are all extremely lucky to be here (against all odds) and morality and ethics are simply human constructs subject to adjustment and change depending on who is in power. Another way to see the world is that in the beginning God created. He brought order out of chaos. He created all things: sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, animals and human beings.  All of these things are beautiful and inspire awe and wonder because they come from the true Creator’s hand. And this Creator came into history as Jesus, a poor carpenter from Nazareth, to speak the truth and ask us to follow Him.

May we see the world through the poor carpenter from Nazareth’s eyes. The brutal death He suffered and the empty tomb on the third day. And may we see from the testimony of John’s Gospel (chapter 1) that at the beginning of the creation of the universe and earth, this homeless carpenter was there (present in the creative act) and was even there even prior to the creation to eternity past. ‘In the beginning was the Word….’

 

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Why Belief in God Matters: Genesis 1 Sermon Transcript

This is a message I preached at Seed Church on January 15th, 2017.  Here is the link to the audio.

New Year everyone. I thought we would go back to Genesis here toward the beginning of the year. Check in on the beginning of beginnings a couple of weeks after the onset of 2017.

As I was thinking about Genesis, and specifically Genesis 1 where we will be this morning, I have been considering various messages and sermons I have heard on the passage throughout my life. I cannot think of one example where I did not hear Genesis 1 spoken on in the context of the creation/ evolution debate. Not that there is anything wrong with having a discussion about that but it struck me that the interpretation of Genesis as something akin to a scientific play-by-play book has really not been around that long.

Charles Darwin, of course, published ‘On the Origin of the Species’ in 1859 and Christians reacted by kicking off a defense of Genesis. Science versus faith.  Before Darwin though, how was Genesis 1 interpreted? How has the church read this creation account throughout the ages and even more importantly, why did the ancient Israelites feel it was important to write this passage describing God’s creation of the cosmos down and preserve it for generations of people to read and experience?

My belief is that Genesis 1 is a poem and is not meant to be a scientific play-by-play. Some of you may disagree. Here at Seed Church I’m sure we have young earth creationists, old earth creationists, theistic evolutionists and people who may be somewhere in between any of those views. If Genesis 1 is a poem, that does not take away from the passage’s ultimate truth that God created the universe and everything in it. Also, the theological meaning of this passage still holds true such as that people bear the image of God, the world is beautiful and good and that we have a 7-day, ordered week with a Sabbath day.

We are going to dive into this passage this morning and I’m going to try and stay away from the creation/ evolution debate as much as possible to simply get at the incredible understanding and truth we can mine when we really dig into the words of Genesis 1.

Say:

1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The Hebrew word for God here is Elohim (other places in the Torah, it is Yahweh). This means ‘Power of powers’ or ‘God of gods’. The writer of Genesis does not use any apologetics or arguments for God’s existence. Rather, the existence of God is self-evident. He is announced as the Author and Creator of all created reality. He is transcendent, beyond the creation including space and time.

1:2 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. When Scripture says the earth was without form and void, this means that things had not taken shape. There was chaos and God was bringing order to this chaos. The Earth was an empty place, unproductive, inhospitable to life and God was shaping His creation so life could come about. The text talks about ‘darkness being over the surface of the deep’ which sounds like a dark abyss. The Spirit of God (Hebrew word: ‘ruah’ which can be translated wind of God or perhaps mighty wind) was hovering over the waters beginning to form and shape the creation.

Verse 1:3-5 And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Now, you will notice that we have light being created on day one and then a separation of light from darkness. All of this is happening when the sun had not been created yet. The sun comes on Day 4 in this chronology. ‘Light’ in Scriptures as a term also symbolizes life and blessings of various sorts. The earth was barren and void and lacking form. With God introducing light, life and everything that we know on this planet is now coming forth.

God separated the light from the darkness. These are two things that do not and cannot belong together. However, they both have their distinctive tasks in the creation.  God saw that this separation was good. Commentator Bruce Waltke explains the term ‘good’: ‘Although the eggshells of the precreated state, darkness and seas of abyss, are still present, they can now be called ‘good’ because they are bounded by light and land, respectively, and serve useful tasks. Creation is imbued with God’s goodness…’

Then we come to the end of the first day.  The Hebrew word for ‘day’ is ‘yom’. The word ‘Yom’ in some contexts can mean an extended period of time and not a 24 hour period. Psalm 90:4 is a popular verse to illustrate this point. It reads: ‘For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.’ That is the ESV. The NIV reads: ‘A thousand years in Your sight are like a day…’ It is truly trippy to try and contemplate God as being above time and space. Transcendent to those things that bind us as people. God is not confined in time like we are and so periods of time can get extremely hazy when we are talking about God being the only One in existence prior to any other life coming forward.

Some of these phrases are common to the remainder of the passage so I thought I would explain them at the outset here so we have the foundation to build upon. Verse 1:6-8 And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven, and there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

God creates an expanse between waters. This again communicates an idea that the earth was a watery abyss and on this day, God separates the waters. One of these ‘waters’ is the oceans and seas of our world. The other ‘waters’ reference is declared to be ‘heavens’ by the ESV but can also be translated skies.

The Hebrew word for expanse is ‘raqia’. The expanse separating the skies from the seas of the earth is apparently a part of the sky. Interestingly enough, this word for expanse can be translated ‘firmament’, ‘dome’, and ‘vault’. More than likely, the text is referring to the skies where water/ rain falls from clouds.

Verses 9-13 And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth and the waters that were gathered together He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.’

On the third day, we have another separation. This time between the lands and the seas. Vegetation and fruit trees come upon the land. Plant life. What is the issue here? We do not have a sun yet. Have you ever heard skeptics point this out?

Verses 14-19 And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens toseparate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.’

God creates the sun and the moon on day 4. These lights to help measure seasons, days and years. They give light upon the earth. There is another separation (notice the repetition of language being used throughout the passage and recalls of verses all throughout the stanzas of this passage). This separation is of the sun and the lesser light (the moon) which separates the light from darkness.

Now, the writers of Genesis were not dumb people. They were human beings like you and me. Their brains had the same mass and weighed the same as ours. These ancient Israelites who wrote the Genesis account planted crops and knew about fruit trees. They may not have understood the complexities of photosynthesis but they knew about the connection between vegetation, fruit trees and the sun. Most certainly they did.

So, we have some sort of light on Day 1 and vegetation and fruit trees on day 3. Then we have the sun on day 4, instrumental to life on earth. If these writers knew of this connection (no matter how scientifically limited in that day and age), why would they have vegetation go before the sun ? Not only that, but the moon and stars were created on this day. I’m still going to leave you hanging just a little bit longer but with the way that this is written and the Genesis authors crafting the narrative in the way they did, this is intentional and is driving at the deeper point and meaning. Stay tuned.

Verses 20-23 And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created great sea creatures and every living creature that moves with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.’

Sea creatures and birds are created on this day and given the charge to reproduce which is in the DNA of every animal.

Verses 1:24-31 And God said, ‘Let the Earth bring forth living creatures according to the kinds- livestock and creeping things and beasts of the Earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own Image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and morning, the sixth day.’

God creates animals and there is a contrast between domesticated animals and wild animals (livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth). And it was good.

Then God declares ‘Let Us…’ which is probably similar to a royal decree, a plural of majesty from a ruler. Having the New Testament now and being aware that God is a Trinity, many Christians read the ‘us’ as the three persons of the Godhead shaping the creation and forming humanity from the dust.

God makes male and female in His image. The ‘Imago Dei’. The animals were not given this designation. Humanity specifically was. It means that we are God’s representatives on the earth. He charges us (the first command) to take care of the earth (have dominion over the creation). God had just got done shaping and forming the creation. God brought order out of chaos. He creates humanity to further shape creation and bring order out of chaos. Bearing the Image of God is why all people are sacred. They are loved by God- all people, all races, both genders. We may not physically look like God, that is not what this necessarily means, but it does mean we share characteristics with Him. God hears so we have ears. God sees so we have eyes. God has fun so we have fun. God laughs so we laugh. God pursues justice so we can pursue justice. God gets angry so we can get angry without sin. God loves and bestows grace so we can love and bestow grace. All of these characteristics are a part of our lives and are a part of bearing the image of God.

Transition: This is the creation account. The very beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures and the beginning of our Bibles. If this passage was not read as a scientific play-by-play for most of history, what is this passage’s purpose beyond communicating the deep truths of God creating the universe and breathing the breath of life into humanity? To explore this, we should talk a little bit about when Genesis was written, who it was written by and the cultural context that scholars believe the account was written in.

Meaning:

First off, the authorship of Genesis is hard to determine. Traditionally, Moses has been designated as the author of the Torah. This could very well be the case. There is virtual unanimous scholarly consensus that there was a lot of oral tradition passed down by the Israelites and probably some writing as well. A lot or most of this may have had a source in Moses. At some point, ancient Israelites put together these teachings and writings into the Scripture we have today including Genesis 1. There may have been a few editors. By the way, this does not at all change our commitment to the Bible being the inspired Word of God. God worked through all the personalities who wrote the Bible down through history via the Holy Spirit and preserved His Word.

When was the Torah including Genesis compiled and put together? A great number of scholars believe (although this is certainly debatable) that the Torah was put together during the Babylonian exile and post-exile period. Israel, the chosen people of God, were again going through hardship but they longed to remember the relationship they had with the True God, the One who had rescued the from slavery in Egypt.

Now, what does this have to do with Genesis? We are talking about the cultural context that Genesis was first written or the account was compiled together. When the Israelites were in Babylon, they probably had heard different creation accounts. Those creation accounts involved many gods. One of the most famous archeological discoveries related to Old Testament scholarship was done in 1847. They dug up King Ashurbanipal’s library and found 7 tablets. On those tablets was the Enuma Elish. This is a Babylonian account of creation involving the gods Marduk and Tiamat at war.

In this account, Marduk rips Tiamat apart and from the two halves of her body he creates the world. One half of her body is the heavens and the other half is the earth.

Now, the Israelites probably heard that account in the Babylonian captivity and said, ‘No. That is not what happened and those were not the gods involved.’ In the beginning, there was one God- monotheism (virtual unanimous consensus again that the Israelites were the only tribe who believed in one God). And there weren’t wars between gods and violence. There was the. Mighty wind of God shaping and forming creation. There was peace, harmony, it was good and this God- the true God- delighted in His creation.

The Genesis creation account is a polemic against other near eastern religions. It is a beautiful poem but it also is subversive. The text challenges the religions of that time and calls people to worship the true God that is depicted in the creation account. Do you see that when we treat Genesis as a mere scientific play-by-play book, we completely miss the point about why it was written? The point is not science here or stating exactly how God created the world in step-by-step format. It is establishing Elohim as the only God, who alone should be worshipped, and is throwing all the other gods of the age under the bus.

Genesis challenges not only the account of Enuma Elish but other Mesopotamian myths as well.  This is why we see that the sun and moon were created in Day 4 with light and vegetation preceding this day. In ancient times, the religions around Israel worshipped gods based on the sun and moon. The Sumerian god of the sun was Utu. Nanna was the god of the moon. For Egypt, Ra was the God of the sun and Khonsu was the god of the moon.

The writer of Genesis was correcting the record. The author was communicating that the true God’s light (Day 1) was all the creation needed. Subversively, they argued that vegetation and plants came before the sun and moon (on day 3) as if the ancient Israelite author was suggesting that sun gods and moon gods are nothing compared to the true God who sustains everything. The Giver of life who is One and the ultimate power in the universe and in all creation is more powerful than any gods that human beings can create.

We could go on and on with all the ancient civilizations around Israel. They all were polytheistic believing in many gods. The creation myths that these other civilizations come up with are violent and involve war among the gods. Notice the difference of Genesis 1. It was radically different. Gods, war in the pantheons, bodies being ripped apart. In Genesis, Elohim is bringing order out of chaos. His mighty Spirit or wind is shaping and molding creation. There is peace, harmony and joy. There is an intention and a purpose that is glorious.

Israel, always claiming to have a special connection with the true God. One God created the heavens and the earth. He alone is to be worshipped and sought after and He alone is the sustainer of life, of reality.

-To be Continued…

 

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Books Read: My January Reading List

Don’t call this a New Year’s resolution because I do not make those.  However, one of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 24 books (not including children’s books I read to Naomi and Reuben though that would be nice).  I’m planning on keeping a running list month-to-month and doing small (or larger) reviews.  Join in on the 2017 reading train if you would like.  Feel free to make comments below on what you are reading or publish your own blogs and link to your site.

January was overtaken by sermon preparation for my message on Genesis 1 so a lot of books I read were related to that (I only counted books I read all the way through).  Here is what has been rattling around in my mind:

“The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins” by Peter Enns

What is tragic related to contemporary study of Genesis 1 is how most messages on this passage of Scripture are often framed as a creation versus evolution debate.  Science versus Faith.  A lot of people are led to believe they have to choose between two disciplines of knowledge.  Enter Peter Enns who is a very good Old Testament scholar.  His work in “The Evolution of Adam” is to completely free Genesis 1-2 from the creationism and evolutionism debate by exploring what should be a very obvious question:  how did ancient Israelites read Genesis?

This book is very approachable for a lay person.  The paperback is only 148 pages.  Enns summarizes the discussion very well by laying out scholarly consensus with the ability to revolutionize how people read the very beginning of the Bible.  Enns’ argument is that the opening chapter of the Word of God has nothing to do with a scientific play-by-play of creation or even a step-by-step on how God created.  Rather, he argues that Genesis 1 is a polemic against other Ancient Near Eastern religions and their creation accounts.  Where most of those accounts involved many gods (polytheism) and those gods at war, Enns contrasts the Genesis account as being monotheistic and filled with an orderly harmony and joy (God declared things good).

He also delves into the debate about Adam in the second half of the book.  The primary questions he addresses are whether Adam and Eve are actual historical people (DNA evidence suggests that there were not a first two human beings but thousands) or archetypes representing theological truth.  Enns also floats an interesting idea that Adam and Eve may not have been the first two human beings but rather were the first two proto-Israelites.  The notes from this perspective entertain easy explanations for those age-old Sunday School questions like “Where did Cain get his wife?” or “Why would God put a mark on Cain when he cast him out to spare him if there was no one else on the earth yet?” To be sure, both of these ideas have problems and Enns freely admits that in the book as he hashes them out.

Some conservative readers may be uncomfortable with a few of Enns theses and theology.  That being the case, I feel like this is a very important book to read as an introduction into views on Genesis that haven’t been presented as much as “science versus faith” motifs even though scholars have been at this for quite some time.

A quote:  “For many, it is important for the future viability of faith, let alone the evolution-Christianity discussion, that we recognize and embrace the fact that the Bible is a thoroughly enculturated product.  But it is not enough merely to say so and press on, with a quaint nod or an embarrassed shuffling of the feet.  It is important for future generations of Christians to have a view of the Bible where its rootedness in ancient ways of thinking is embraced as a theological positive, not a problem to be overcome.  At present there is a lot of fear about the implications bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on.  Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.”

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science by Mike McHargue

Deconstruction is all the rave these days and this very raw, honest book tells the story of how Mike McHargue (“Science Mike” for those who have listened to the “The Liturgists” Podcast”) was a Southern Baptist Christian for most of his life, was challenged by an atheist friend to read Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and eventually found his faith in Jesus being chipped away.  He gruelingly describes in this book reading Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” one evening when he stopped believing in God and felt a tremendous sense of grief.  What would he tell his wife, Jenny?  How would he be viewed at his church where he was heavily involved?  Quickly, he decided to be a closet atheist for 2 years and try to carry on with his life (his wife eventually noticed something really wrong).

The central aspect of Science Mike’s book is a mystical experience he had at the ocean in California.  Attending a Christian retreat via a friend’s recommendation, he was strangely moved to go forward for communion and heard an audible voice stating that God was with him.  He ran from the room and later that evening found himself on the shores of the Pacific Ocean when he had his encounter with what he believed is Jesus.

The second half of the book focuses on Science Mike philosophically working through how to lay a foundation for his faith to be built upon.  He came up with some axioms such as:

-“Faith is at least a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and to find meaning in the face of mortality.  Even if this is all faith is, spiritual practices can be beneficial to human cognition, emotions and culture.”

-“God is at least the natural forces that created and sustain the universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases.  Even if that is a comprehensive definition of God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.”

-“Jesus is at least a man so connected to God that He was called the Son of God, and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around His teachings.  Even if this is all Jesus is, following His teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.”

There are more axioms for sin, salvation, the afterlife, etc.  Christian orthodox peoples (such as myself) may be taken aback by some of the language in these axioms but remember, Science Mike’s approach here is coming out of atheism and finding very basic, foundational blocks to rebuild a faith upon.  He is not necessarily saying that faith, God and Jesus are totally surmised in his axiom.

A quote to close out the review:  “God.  I keep finding God in the waves- the waves of the Pacific, the waves of gravity, the waves of electromagnetic energy, and the waves that move through our brains.  I find God in the sound waves of ancient hymns, of children laughing, and in the quiet sobbing of those who say under impossible assault, ‘I can’t breathe.'”

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Feel free to comment about the books you have read or write your own blog about your literary adventures.

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Farewell 2016: Another Fading Year

Thinking about this past year is quite the endeavor.  The world on a macro level seems even more dangerous than before.  Russia has been accused of committing cyber warfare against our country and interfering with our elections.  President Obama has refused to veto a United Nations resolution which called Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.  Donald John Trump shockingly won the Presidential election and many are pessimistic about the direction and future of our country.

Celebrity deaths were in the news, seemingly, the whole year:  David Bowie, PrinceMuhammad AliAlan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, and others (certainly not a comprehensive list).  These included one of my childhood heroes Carrie Fisher (tragically at age 60) and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, a few days later who heartbreakingly stated, “I want to be with Carrie.”

If we take a step back though, famous personalities die every year.  On this fallen planet, there are always narcissistic, megalomaniac personalities or lying bureaucratic politicians competing for leadership roles.  Refugees will still struggle to escape national hells.  Israel and the Palestinians will continue to fight.  There will be war, brief moments of peace and then more conflict.  When I think that way, 2016 doesn’t seem like such an outlier.  Greed, partisan rage, violence, poverty, refugee crisis’, oppression, abuses of leadership and other injustices still dominate our headlines.  There is a decent chance that the media will print similar headlines next year which will still reflect a similarly troubled reality.  Besides the international calamity, many people I know personally have also had a hard year in their more localized universes.

I feel a little guilt, thankfulness, and a heaping fortune of luck that my year (and my family’s) has been good.  A day before my birthday, on January 20th, I found out that we were expecting our son.  Michelle couldn’t wait till my birthday( the 21st) to tell me.  Reuben (or Roo) joined us on September 30th and while bursting into the world did not even cry.  Not a symbol that anything was wrong, he cried later when doctors removed him from his mom and examined him on a nearby table (per the protocol or whatever).  This was by far the highlight of the year.  Meeting my son for the first time at Northwest Hospital was a staggering moment in my life and one that will be with me as long as my brain neurons are functioning.

Along those lines, when we brought Reuben home in the afternoon of Sunday, October 2nd, Naomi was just waking up from her afternoon nap.  Emerging from her bedroom at the end of a hallway leading to our living room, she walked slowly, thumb in mouth, and looked suspiciously at me and the grandparents with phone cameras at the ready.  I called out:  ‘Naomi, would you like to meet your baby brother?  He is here.’  Her pace down the hall quickened and she came into the living room laying eyes on Michelle and a new little person sitting on the couch.  ‘I want to see him,’ Naomi exclaimed, ‘I want to kiss and hug him!’  She did just that and we have the pictures to prove the moment.

For those reasons alone, 2016 will be a year that I will always come back too.  In the future, I can know this span of time will become a period that I wished I could go back too in order to experience these moments again.  That time of reminicising is already upon me.

Other highlights of the year include:

*********

In March, for Michelle’s birthday, we took a trip to San Diego (Oceanside to be more specific) without Naomi.  Aunt Jane was gracious enough to let us stay in her condo which was extremely close to the beach.  We explored the Safari Park seeing many different kinds of animals in very large spaces.  We also saw a cheetah run where the animals ran at full speed which was humbling to witness.  Drama was in the air at the gorilla cage when we got there late in the day.  A younger male had slept with a female which was designated for an older (more dominant male).  The older male gorilla stalked the younger male for probably a good 30 minutes while we were there.  I thought there was going to be a serious beat down but turns out this was all more intimidation than anything else.

Back at Aunt Jane’s place, we swam in her pool and enjoyed the hot tub on a warm SoCal spring evening.  We awoke to enjoy a breakfast at one of Aunt Jane’s favorite places where we met her son (Ben) his wife (Chara) and their child (Jackson) as well as an energetic Yorkie.

The trip was over to quickly.  Walking the beach and then the Oceanside Pier, we had lunch at the greasy spoon of Ruby’s Diner and could see up and down the coast as people swam and surfed in the waters below.

Our final trip was to La Jolla (a little ways south) where we saw the latest Coen Bros farce in the theater (‘Hail Caesar’) and then walked along the unique coastline in the city.  Where the city meets the Pacific Ocean is a mixture of sandy beaches and rocky terrain.  There were also many seal congregations giving the air an original smell.  We ate dinner (I had steak) about three stories up from the beach, overlooking this scene, with the ocean sprawled out beyond.

Easter was out at my parent’s house aka Lester Park and we were joined by Michelle’s parents (or Nana and Papa) and my Uncle Ron.  There is always a good, home-cooked meal to be had in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection but this year would feature a memorable Naomi episode.  I call it “happiness convulsions”.  The grandparents had placed several colored Easter eggs in the grass of the backyard.  Naomi, upon stepping outside for the festivities, saw the Easter eggs and began running around exclaiming, “Oh my goodness sakes”, laughing continually, and making other happy sounds.  At times, I thought she may pass out from sheer otherworldly joy.  Come to think of it, I don’t know if I have ever seen another person that happy before.

In what is becoming an annual family tradition, our crew (myself, Michelle and Naomi) went north to a friend’s cozy condo that is literally the last development of civilization before driving up the Mt. Baker.  I wrote about past experiences at this place here.  Besides going up to the summit and frolicking in snow that was still hanging around in late May, we went on a gorgeous hike through a valley with mountain ranges on both sides of us.  We arrived at the trail summit after miles of driving on a pothole-laden dirt road which seemed to go on forever.  I’m always surprised at how being in nature really can reset one’s mind and put us at ease.  Science actually backs me up here.

During the evenings, when Naomi was asleep, we went through the entire “11/22/63” Hulu series starring James Franco.  I was a huge fan of the Stephen King book which I called a masterpiece.  The series did not at all live up to the towering bar set by the book but was entertaining enough for late nights at the base of the mountain.

Another tradition we partook in (one that we have been doing for 3 or 4 years now), is going out to Fox Island for the 4th of July.  Family and friends gather at a very humble rambler for a meal and hanging out by the Puget Sound waters.  The home is near the bridge to arrive on Fox Island from the mainland and is on the shoreline of Hale’s passage.  One of Michelle’s best friends usually makes the trip from her home in Texas and this is always a fun social time.

Michelle and I’s anniversary is during a perfect time on August 25th toward the end of summer.  Some generous friends at church let us go to their cabin at Ocean Shores (for free!).  We stayed a few days with Naomi hanging out with grandparents back home.  I have always complained about the restaurants in Ocean Shores (let me know if anyone knows of other good places) but Michelle and I experienced Galway Bay Irish Restaurant and Pub on one of the evenings there.  It was excellent and had a great ambiance and vibe.  The only disappointment is that we had missed a live Celtic music performance which had happened the night before.

While we were at the ocean, we did the predictable walk on the beach, saw “Pete’s Dragon” (which was a fun remake) and explored around town.  The highlight of the time away though was kayaking along the Ocean Shores Freshwater Ways (the cabin is on the shoreline of this water way).  Exciting to be out on the water, paddling around in narrow channels with mostly humble homes (for water property anyway) on either side of us.  We actually went a fair amount of miles around the channels.

At night, we sat on the dock and bats flew all around us.  That was pretty great.

The remainder of the year was enjoying the presence of Reuben in our home and adjusting to life with an infant and two year old running around.  Definitely a decent amount of hardwork (and Michelle has been the best mom imaginable) but we are thankful.

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Going into an unpredictable world in the New Year, we have a place where we can place our hope.  Politics and macro-happenings in the world we obviously don’t have much (if any) control over.  We have a say about how well we love our neighbors around us and contribute generously (in whatever way we can) to our local communities.

Ultimately, I still believe we can find joy in the risen Christ and trust in Him regardless in what direction our nation or the world at large travels.  I hope we all can find that hope and joy as we start our journey into 2017.

 

 

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The Commercialization of Christmas

Packed and well-lit shopping malls.  Traffic jams.  Massive holiday ad campaigns.  A scorched earth debate about whether or not there is a “war on Christmas”.  The time of year has arrived again.  Santa Claus and his elves arrive in our most vivid of imaginations.

An Episcopalian, Thomas Nast, basically invented the American incarnation of Santa Claus with his 1823 poem, “A Visit from St Nicholas“.  In the 1890s (and maybe before that) Santa Claus started appearing in malls and parades and other functions.  I love and enjoy the character of Santa Claus but there is a certain poetic irony within a capitalistic society about one of the patron saints of American dwelling in department stores in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Within me, there is a tension regarding Christmas (done American style) that I contemplate seemingly every year now.  How much does our enormous addiction to materialism in America obstruct a genuine meditation or encounter with Jesus Christ at the time of celebrating His birth into the world?

Christmas, in our larger society, has become massively consumeristic.  I don’t even have to necessarily give examples.   People take this fact as a given because that truth is all around us in the aforementioned department stores, shopping malls and articles we read about increased internet vendor traffic.  Bloggers even write defenses of the “commercialism” surrounding Christmas which I run across every year.  Rod D Martin, describing himself as a “philosopher capitalist”, is one of those blog writers and at the end of 2015 published an article entitled “The Wonderful Commercialism of Christmas”.

He begins: “Since long before I was born, people have been decrying, bemoaning, lamenting the so-called commercialism of Christmas.  Stop it. Right now.”  He continues later in the piece:  “Our culture’s celebration of Christmas – like that of the Wise Men – entails working long hours entirely for other people’s gain. It focuses even unbelievers upon ‘doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It emphasizes the goodness in out-giving others, frequently anonymously, not for any gain of your own but for their pure benefit and joy.”

At what point does commercialism (and the materialism that it directly implies) threaten to overshadow the core of what Christmas is about?  Indeed, in the core of ourselves, when does commercialism become an idol that threatens to derail our minds from a more substantive meaning to Christmas?

Are Americans (and we’ll say middle to upper class) really brought happiness by the accumulation of more and more material possessions?  Is the stated goal in “out-giving others” that I’m going to bestow more physical items on another person then they give to me and therefore, I should feel happier?

The blog article continues:  “What is decried as commercialism is actually a great service: first, promoting Christian thought and action, and second, helping me to actually serve in an effective, thoughtful way.  Some who accept my assessment of their effect will still question the advertisers’ motives. But a system that encourages right action even when the heart is impure is an incredible achievement, a brilliant advance upon the savage selfishness of most of human history.”

Yes, the advertiser’s motives are a question and a system that encourages right action out of people with impure hearts is bankrupt.  All throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus taught us that the heart (and thereby center of a person) is the most vital aspect of their morality.  Why people do what they do (axiology) is of primary importance in defining righteousness.  In other words, if I have hated someone, I have murdered them (Matthew 5:21-26).  If I have lusted after a woman who is not my wife, I have committed adultery even without a physical action (Matthew 5:27-30).  The entire point is the heart of a person.

I want to be clear.  I’m not saying Martin is totally wrong.  His note on giving anonymously squares with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-4).  He also writes: “It (Christmas) particularly highlights ‘the least of these’: children certainly, and in an age when the very young are routinely discarded once born or murdered even before that; but also on the jobless, the homeless, the shut-in, the widow, all of those whom society normally might ignore.”  Certainly, this strikes me as important that this time of year we remember those who are on the margins of society or dehumanized by culture to varying degrees.  This elemental idea was a core of Jesus’ ministry all throughout the gospels.

There is another teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that I will quote here:  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:19-21 and 24, ESV)

One of my friends, Brian Davis, a few years back told me about a movement called “The Minimalists“.  There are many different trails of what they talk about related to American materialism and the many ways this can leave us soulless, dissatisfied, carried away from truly meaningful things and empty.  In the brief parts that I have read, their compelling philosophy mirrors Jesus’ wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount.  There are sacred ideals and experiences that transcend the shallow accumulation of junk that myself and our culture often pursues.

So, yes, I still give physical presents to my children, wife and other family members and they to me.  Yes, we all still enjoy the towering magic that is Santa Claus.  I wrote this post not to invent a legalism that suggests that “thou shalt not give material gifts” or “thou shalt get rid of the American incarnation of Santa” but to ask myself (and anyone who reads this) to be more mindful about how we can be distracted from the most crucial and fundamental realities of our lives.  Let us ask ourselves the question:  when does American materialism, that has infected Christmastime, distract me from a powerful encounter with Jesus, precious time with my family including my kids and celebrations with my friends?

Before the crowded department stores, the well-lit malls, and the color coordination of Christmas lights in suburban residences, the first Christmas happened on a dark night.  Most scholars believe Mary was 12 or 13 years old when she became pregnant with the Son of God.  An out-of-wedlock pregnancy that could have cost her life at the hands of religious oppressors.  A man (Joseph) she was betrothed too planned to divorce her quietly as to not subject her to public humiliation.  Then came angel visitations and visions of what was happening.  With child, Mary and Joseph set out for Bethlehem as a murderous, despotic King ordered the murder of babies under the age of 2.

There was no room at the inn and so Jesus was born in the most lowly of circumstances, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger.  A scene that probably has encompassed millions of impoverished families for ages that never makes the headlines.  Yet, the identity of this baby, God in human flesh, was (and is) the hope of the world.  A helpless infant who could not speak but could only cry.  Whose brain, like every other child’s (like my son Reuben), was in the process of laying down those neural pathways which would develop his cognition and inform his perception of the world as he grew older.  The dark world, ensnared by its own trappings, would have the opportunity for spiritual freedom.

Christmas reminds me of these sobering truths as I still struggle to grasp with all the rich meanings that the holiday represents.

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Memorializing Hitch: “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens” A Review

Christopher Hitchens (Barging through the door while smoking a cigarette and drinking Johnnie Walker): The Archbishop of Canterbury has effectively endorsed the adoption of Sharia Law. Sharia means law. Seems redundant to say ‘Sharia Law’, doesn’t it? Anyway, can you believe that? The Archbishop! Whatever happened to a Church of England that believed in something?

 

Pastor Larry Taunton: Believed in something? Why, Christopher, you sound nostalgic for a church that actually took the Bible seriously.

Hitch: (Considering Taunton and smiling) Indeed. Perhaps I do.

So goes the first encounter that Pastor Taunton had with the legendary Hitchens in a hotel room in 2008.  Their first meeting, ahead of a scheduled debate between Hitchens and John Lennox through Taunton’s organization Fixed Point Foundation, took place at the Edinburgh International Festival.  Taunton interviewed Hitchens before the event which you can listen to right here.  This began a most unlikely friendship and association between a fire-breathing atheist (atleast publicly) and an Evangelical Christian pastor.

The book begins with the scene of Hitchens’ funeral which Taunton described like a wedding but packed with stars and other celebrities.  This being an affair described by the author as ‘a celebration of misanthropy, vanity, and excesses of every kind.’ An interesting parallel is that ‘Hitch-22’, Christopher’s autobiography, has the famed atheist beginning his story by talking about death.

The main thrust of Taunton’s book is that Hitchens, of course, was a bombastic atheist publically and hater of religion in general. However, Taunton boldly claims that Hitchens in private was different toward him and other Evangelical pastors (such as Douglas Wilson).  His claims involve Hitchens probing about the nature of Taunton’s faith and even, according to Taunton, the consideration of becoming a Christian.

Contrary to reports, Taunton never makes the claim in the book that Hitch converted to Christianity or had a deathbed experience with God.  Merely that Hitchens was thinking about the gospel of Jesus after the New Atheist was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.  Hitchens’ widow, Carol Blue, recounted that in the journalist’s last days the topic of God did not even come up.

Even though I disagree with Hitch on a wide variety of things both metaphysical and political, I would count myself as a fan of his.  I have read 3 of his books:  “God is Not Great” in the summer of 2008 and mostly in Discovery Park as I was living in Magnolia (Seattle neighborhood) at the time, “Thomas Jefferson: Author of America” where Hitch argues that Jefferson would have been an atheist if he had lived till 1859 (the year of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species”), and “Hitch-22” via audiobook when I was doing my rancid work commute from Edmonds to Kirkland and back again.

Naturally, I was curious about Taunton’s book and his unlikely friendship with Hitch.  That is why I’m sad to report that “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens” is not great.  Taunton’s writing style didn’t capture me at times but what really annoyed me was, what appears on page to be his condescending attitude toward Hitch and his dismissive comments toward some of Hitch’s good friends.  Taunton writes that author Salman Rushdie is “the serial blasphemer Salman Rushdie” and Hitch wrote often of Rushdie especially in his autobiography.  Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, is called “the smarmy little physicist Lawrence Krauss” and Stephen Fry is not a writer and actor (as is true in real life) but is a “homosexual activist”.  All of this adding up to a snooty sounding piousness.

On top of that, all throughout the book, Taunton writes like a motherly lecturer against Hitch’s smoking and alcohol use.  In a biography, we would definitely expect the author to describe the subject with as much accuracy as possible and Hitch certainly had his vices.  However, the overwhelming use of moralizing language in regard to these vices moves the proceedings to sermonizing at points rather than trying to authentically describe his association with the New Atheist titan.  (To be fair, Hitch did mention to Taunton that his daughter, Antonia, was mad at him because she felt his smoking and drinking directly corresponded to robbing her of further time with her dad.  Hitch died from the cancer when he was 62 years old.  These items would be in-bounds of course but Taunton spends to many other sentences driving this aspect of Hitch into the ground.)

In his chapter, “Honor Thy Father”, Taunton’s book turns into irrelevance for a portion.  He seeks to psychoanalyze Hitch based on the atheist’s relationship with his father.  A couple of points on this:  1)  Taunton never knew Hitchens’ father (Eric Hitchens) whom Hitch called “Commander”.  2)  Far better to read Hitch’s autobiography to hear the actual man describe his relationship with his father versus someone who may have been a friend but was also a business associate to a degree.  3)  It will occur to the reader that most of the conclusions Taunton draws in the father chapter are pure speculation.  He has no way of knowing if most of this stuff is true.  4)  All of this seems to stray from Taunton’s stated purpose of his work which was describe his relationship with Hitch, not perform a Freudian analysis.

The next chapter finds Taunton dialoging about Hitch’s relationship with his younger brother Peter who is a Christian and member of the Church of England.  Describing Peter Hitchens as a private individual, Taunton launches into a not-so-privatized discussion on how this relationship affected Hitch.  Again, this seems to stray from the larger narrative which Taunton is attempting to craft.

There is an attempt by the author to make Christopher Hitchens into an American conservative (politically) entirely based on Hitch’s support for the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq.  Hitch certainly recognized that radical Islam (he believed Hussein to be a radical Islamist) was a grave threat to the world and challenged many liberals on this point.  He famously flipped off Bill Maher’s audience when they booed him for his support of the war.  In his heart though (and this according to his autobiography), Hitchens was a Marxist and if he did soften on Marxism in the 2000s, he wrote in his autobiography that the Marxism of his youth came back to him in the wake of the housing crash in the fall of 2007.

Hitch’s politics were complicated further by his absolute disdain for famous Democratic politicians.  JFK was a sociopathic narcissist who Hitch says he felt a sense of relief when Lee Harvey Oswald shot him.  Bill Clinton was a ‘liar’ and a sellout whom Hitch accused of leaving gays behind (the defense of marriage act) and not having any adequate defense for women accusing him of rape and sexual harassment.  While these statements may have warmed the hearts of political conservatives, like Taunton, they need to keep in mind Hitch’s view of religious conservatives as the epitome of hypocrites.  The atheist notes in his autobiography that whenever he saw a conservative politician on television pontificating about morality he would make a note and set his watch waiting for the fall or the hypocrisy to be exposed.  What I have come away with in reading Hitch is that, while he certainly had Marxist leanings, he was a rabid independent and critical thinker.

The readable parts of the book are back to, what I thought, was the original goal and that is Taunton describing what his friendship with Hitchens was like.  Of course, they did the debates together but Taunton also gives us a glimpse into a road trip that he and Hitch took through the Shenandoah Valley on the way to a function.  Both men had apparently been speaking about doing a Bible study of the gospel of John together.  Hitch was sitting in the passenger seat with a cigarette in one hand, the Bible open to the gospel of John in another and his Johnnie Walker whiskey between his legs.  We obtain insights into the conversation which at one point has Taunton describing that Hitchens put the Bible down and recited several John verses from memory.  By reputation, he knew the Bible very well.

If the book has a strength, it is the descriptions of the encounters between Taunton and Hitchens.  One particularly rich episode is on the road trip through the Shenandoah:

Their car was stopped by state troopers who were checking licenses and looking for drunk drivers.  Hitchens had awoken from a nap, saw the patrol cars remembered the whiskey between his legs and exclaimed, ‘Oh, fuck!’  Their car was waved through and they were not stopped like others.  Hitch had been diagnosed with cancer at this point.

Taunton:  Christopher, I can’t help but see a fitting metaphor in this.  Here you are, hurtling toward eternity with blinders on, and I fear that you will have a similarly startled reaction when you finally meet the God you say does not exist.

Hitchens:  Why do you think I don’t believe?

Taunton:  Do you really want to know?

Hitchens:  Yes!

Taunton:  I think that you have established a global reputation as an atheist.  It has come to define your public image.  And it would take extraordinary courage to admit that you are wrong.  I don’t envy that.

Hitchens:  (saying nothing)

I wish Taunton would have stayed more focused on the friendship and conversations like these.  A pity that he didn’t as there seemed to have been an interesting acquaintance between the two men.  For me, I miss Hitchens’ writing and essays.  If only he were around to comment on this 2016 presidential election and result.  If only.

 

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