On Standing Up to Bullies

Fighter with boxing gloves

It’s been a while! When I shared the news last year that I was heading to seminary, I said I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have for writing between then and now, as I spent a year transitioning out of teaching, getting to know the little girl who joined our family last June, and starting work as a web developer to pay bills over the next few years of seminary. I wasn’t sure what the year would be like, and it turned out to be pretty challenging. I’ve written a good deal about the importance of putting family and the local church first when events start to pile up and overwhelm our other priorities, and at times it has felt like the Lord wanted to see if I could follow my own advice. The past year became something of a perfect storm of busyness, both in ways which I had expected and others which were quite unexpected. However, our Father saw us through and provided all we needed (though not, it turned out, enough time to do much writing on the side).

And now that season is behind us. I just taught my last class of the school year and I’m looking forward to a less intense summer schedule, then seminary in the fall. I told you last year that I planned to go to Reformed Theological Seminary in my hometown of Charlotte, but over the past year I’ve changed my mind and am now excited to be heading to Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary as a distance student. I look forward to doing more writing and recording over the summer, and I have fond aspirations of continuing on a somewhat regular schedule even during the school year. I suppose we’ll find out together whether that is realistic…

In the meantime, I thought I’d dive back into blogging with a response to an interview I came across recently which captures a sentiment which is very common in American Christianity, yet also quite dangerous to the health of the church.

It’s an interview with Anthony DeStefano, author of a new book titled, Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There Is No God. I’m not familiar with Mr. DeStefano or his work, and it would be unwise to base any broad conclusions on a few words, but I think there is something profoundly wrong with his explanation of why it is important “to frame the ‘new atheists’ as bullies.”

It’s important because it’s the truth. Bullies are usually cruel, arrogant, ignorant, intolerant, selfish, self-centered, often cowards and liars — and when you try to correct them, they usually throw temper tantrums. Well, that’s the perfect description of modern atheists. And these particular bullies are at war with us, plain and simple. For the last 20 years, they’ve been waging an all-out, media-driven attack on believers — especially Christians — in the form of anti-Christian books, movies, TV shows, articles, speeches, billboard campaigns, blogs, anti-religious civil litigation, and government legislation — and it’s been relentless. Their goal has been to totally eradicate religious beliefs from the public square. As I say in my book, there’s only one way to deal with bullies — and that is to stand up to them and fight them. Ultimately, that’s why it’s so important to define the “new atheists” as bullies right from the start — so we don’t waste any more time and start countering their attacks in the most effective way possible.

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Puzzlement at Pence: How the World Lost Intimacy and Doesn’t Know It

Initials on a tree

Last week, the Washington Post reported that vice president Mike Pence avoids dining one-on-one with women other than his wife, and the internet erupted. Pence’s policy was puritanical, silly, sexist. It might, in fact, be “rape culture at work” according to one writer, because it shows “we still live in a culture that produces vice-presidents who ardently believe women are a wellspring of possible sin.”

The obvious rebuttals are, well, obvious. There’s the fact that Pence might possibly be avoiding extended social time alone with other women not because he believes women are the root of all evil but because, of the two genders, only one of them can offer any temptation to compromise his marriage. (If an influential woman avoided dining alone with other men, would that be sexism against men?) Then there’s the cynical amusement of listening to 20-something singles earnestly pontificate about healthy relationship boundaries. And there’s the hypocrisy angle: Apparently Bill’s serial adultery is no one’s business but the Clintons’, but Pence’s attempt to avoid adultery is a threat to the republic which demands endless think pieces.

But as I perused the flood of commentary which followed the revelation of what was dubbed “the Pence Rule,” I was struck by something else: the amount of sheer puzzlement over why such a self-imposed restriction might be needed or helpful. One journalist wondered whether “social conservatives actually have higher libidos on average, hence the greater perceived need to control sexual desire.”

Read morePuzzlement at Pence: How the World Lost Intimacy and Doesn’t Know It

Power, Privilege, and the Christian Perspective

Tiananmen Square Tanks

As I’ve watched the news and read social media over the last few weeks, I couldn’t help thinking about an article I wrote a couple years ago. I decided to put my series about the Sabbath on hold this week and repost this instead. –DV

Who has real power over you?

Our culture is increasingly obsessed with questions of power, privilege, and oppression. It is a focus which originates in leftist academia and is rooted in Marxist social and political theory, but the language and ideas have flowed into how we talk and think about just about any social conflict. For many thinkers today, our world is primarily interpreted in terms of who has power and privilege and who doesn’t, and that distinction has grown into an individual’s single most important and defining feature.

Read morePower, Privilege, and the Christian Perspective

Oversampling the Darkness

Game of Thrones iron throne

A week ago, an 18-year-old Somali immigrant named Abdul Razak Ali Artan rammed his car into a crowd at Ohio State University, then attacked bystanders with a knife before being shot dead by campus police. As investigators dig into his motivates, it is clear that Artan’s understanding of his faith helped to motivate the attack, as he left behind a Facebook post praising the al Qaeda-aligned cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and warning that lone-wolf attacks by Muslims would continue unless the US made peace with ISIS. But it appears that Artan was motivated by more than allegiance to the Islamic State.

Artan believed that his attack was justified because he and his fellow Muslims were persecuted and oppressed by Americans. He wrote, “I am sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim Brothers and Sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE.” Bizarrely, the only example he cited was Burma, where persecution of Muslims is real and appalling, but also somewhat more directly linked to the nation’s Buddhist majority than to anyone associated with Ohio State University. However, Artan appeared to feel persecuted at his school as well. He was quoted in the OSU campus newspaper in August saying he was afraid to pray in public because, “If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen.”

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After the Election

"Make America Great Again" yard sign

Tomorrow, Americans will decide whether they want to install a crook or a fool as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. It will be a dispiriting day to cap a shameful election season.

And then the next day will come, and we’ll have a crook or a fool as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world and you and I will still have our family and our church and our job and our little place in the world, and things will go along very much as they were.

Everyone swears that this election is the most important in our lifetime (as they swore in 2012, and 2008, and 2004, and 2000, and most elections since roughly 1800). The contrarian in me wants to agree with David Harsanyi that this is the least important election in our lifetime, but the truth most likely lies somewhere in between. As with the rest of life, we will know the election’s true import only in hindsight and only partially.

Read moreAfter the Election

Making Men

Father and son

The article is called “The Fear of Having a Son” and it is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. Andrew Reiner, an English professor, begins by describing his response five years ago when a student asked him how he felt about having a son: “‘Terrifying,’ I blurted. ‘All I can think about is bullying.'”

He feared his son would be bullied, he explains, because “this boy’s going to be raised to feel and express his vulnerability. That’s a curse in this culture.” But in addition to fearing how his son would be received by a hostile culture, he also dreaded the appeal of that culture, worrying that his son would be drawn into the “alpha domination” and “tight-lipped John Wayne ethos” that form “the limiting script of traditional masculine norms.” Small wonder that raising a son felt like a terrifying journey.

Read moreMaking Men

Sin Cannot Justify Sin: A Response to the Charlotte Riots

Charlotte riots over Keith Lamont Scott

I am hesitant to write a critical word about the Charlotte protesters against a backdrop of centuries of sin against people who look like them by people who look like me. I am hesitant to mention a speck in the eye of black America when white America has not yet fully dislodged the log from our own. If I was merely writing as a white person addressing black people, I would be silent. But our Savior tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), so I write as a Christian addressing Christians.

We have all seen the now-familiar images of broken windows, looted stores, and angry rioters these last few days. They come with a sad sense of familiarity after Ferguson and Baltimore and the other protests-turned-riots of the past couple years. But I am actually less troubled by the violence and property damage of a few—often agitators arriving from out of town, causing damage that affects the black community more than anyone else—than by the permissive attitude taken by many others, both black and white.

Read moreSin Cannot Justify Sin: A Response to the Charlotte Riots

Denying Sin and Rejecting Facts Left Us with Baskets of Deplorables

That's racist

A week ago, Hillary Clinton set political alarm bells ringing by consigning “half of Trump’s supporters” to “the basket of deplorables” in what was either a monumental gaffe or a brilliant strategic coup, depending on who you ask. (Time will doubtless tell, but he hasn’t yet.) Less discussed was the second half of her quote, as she elaborated on the nature of the “deplorables”: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic…”

Personally, I liked the quote. It was neither gracious nor accurate, but the imagery is perfect. For many on the political left, these assorted phobias and ugly -isms function exactly as Clinton described—a basket into which any unwelcome sentiments can be cast and ignored. Worried about the potential of unlimited immigration to change Western culture? You’re a xenophobe. See some value in the definition of marriage which has been assumed for thousands of years? You’re homophobic. When “That’s racist” is a joke in high schools across the country, it may be a sign that your favorite condemnatory labels have been a bit overused.

Which is a pity, because racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia really do exist; are even, in fact, bigger problems than many on the right might like to admit. But instead of serving a useful purpose by calling out true wrongs, these labels and those who use them often just muddy the waters. The reason our phobias and isms are so imprecise and overused is because we have jettisoned the two most necessary criteria for moral condemnation: the categories of sin and objective fact.

Read moreDenying Sin and Rejecting Facts Left Us with Baskets of Deplorables

Romantic Pagans, True Religion, and True Love

Whitney Houston album cover

“I have nothing, nothing, nothing
If I don’t have you…”

I was listening to the radio the other evening when Whitney Houston’s 1993 hit “I Have Nothing” came on. I would gladly listen to Whitney Houston sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” so I always smile to hear her voice come through the speaker, but I could not help being struck as the singer’s amazing voice soared out the chorus, “I have nothing, nothing, nothing / If I don’t have you…”

It’s a line that could have come from a million different songs, movies, and books in a world where romance is one of our favorite idols. How many movies have you watched where the essential struggle and the key to lasting happiness is whether he ends up with she? How many songs mourn lost love, celebrate new love, or narrate the search for love?

Now, a good romantic story is a wonderful thing, but even a good thing can turn unhealthy. The lines in Whitney Houston’s ballad caught me because they hint at the sad, cold side of Hollywood-style romance: I have nothing if I don’t have you. I don’t want to read too much into a lyric that does capture well the breathless and passionate single-mindedness of being in love, but I wonder if the songwriter didn’t accidentally capture something else too—the grey emptiness of being out of love when romance is your god.

Read moreRomantic Pagans, True Religion, and True Love

A Practical Guide to Saving a Nation

Praying hands

I cannot count how many times I have heard someone say about the upcoming election, “2016 is our last chance to turn this thing around.” It’s the right instinct, the right sense of urgency, but the wrong focus. In the grand scheme of things, presidential elections just don’t matter that much. Yes, yes, I know: Supreme Court nominations, etc., etc. But in the grand scheme of things, the Supreme Court doesn’t matter that much either.

Take Roe v. Wade. It is true, more than 50 million unborn children have been massacred since 1973, but which is the bigger problem: That millions of mothers chose to kill their unborn children, or that the court let them do it?

We have to get out of the mindset which sleeps through the battle for hearts and minds and then tries to win a last-minute victory in the court system or the Oval Office. Secular liberalism controls education, entertainment, and media, but we imagine we’ll fix things by casting a ballot. Ultimately, the problem isn’t political at all—it’s a matter of cultural decay, because “the salt has lost its taste” (Matt 5:13). If you feel a sense of urgency about the direction of our country (and you should), the ultimate answer is gospel, not politics.

Read moreA Practical Guide to Saving a Nation