Saturday, March 31, 2007


Unsurprisingly, there is a movement afoot to grant apes 'human' rights:
They need greater protection in the eyes of the law, says Ian Redmond of the UN's Great Apes Survival Project, who believes welfare groups could use guardianship as a way to rescue ill-treated apes.

Some rights are conferred on apes but only because they are endangered. And the international trade ban is flouted in Africa and South-East Asia, where mothers are shot and their infants shipped off as pets, circus performers or lab animals. Vivisection on apes is banned in much of Europe but still goes on in the US and Japan.

"Apes are special because they are so closely related to us," says Mr Redmond. "Chimpanzees and bonobos are our joint closest living relatives, differing by only one per cent of DNA - so close we could accept a blood transfusion or a kidney. Gorillas are next, then orang-utans."

But there is a stronger cognitive argument, he says, because the apes' intelligence and ability to reason demands our respect.

The move is a result of evolutionary theory, of cours, but such things have always puzzled me as evolution is by definition the survival of the fittest. In such a world on what basis can any being have 'rights'?

Professor Steve Jones argues for a little perspective:
But Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University of London, says human rights are a construct which can't be imposed on animals.

"Where do you stop? It seems to be that being human is unique and nothing to do with biology. Say that apes share 98% of human DNA and therefore should have 98% of human rights. Well mice share 90% of human DNA. Should they get 90% of human rights? And plants have more DNA than humans."

Chimps can't speak but parrots can. Defining creatures and allowing them rights based on criteria invented by one group is itself an enormous breach of human rights, he says, and one need look no further than Austria in 1939 to see why.

"Rights and responsibilities go together and I've yet to see a chimp imprisoned for stealing a banana because they don't have a moral sense of what's right and wrong. To give them rights is to give them something without asking for anything in return."

There is a moral case to make about animal welfare, he says, but it has nothing to do with science.

Yes, care for an animal has to do with man's responsibilities rather than the animal's rights. Proverbs 12:10 tells us: "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel."

Friday, March 30, 2007

CURRENTLY READING...Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham. I'm just starting, but this appears to be a wonderful book, which addresses a very important topic, the reliability of the Gospel accounts. Under attack for over a century, there is renewed scholarly vigor in affirming the eyewitness testimony behind the four Gospels. I'll likely have more to say about this one.

Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed the literal existence of hell while his aids aren't so sure:
Pope Benedict XVI said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to "admit blame and promise to sin no more," they risked "eternal damnation — the Inferno."

Hell "really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more," he said....

Vatican officials said that the Pope — who is also the Bishop of Rome — had been speaking in "straightforward" language "like a parish priest." He had wanted to reinforce the new Catholic catechism, which holds that hell is a "state of eternal separation from God," to be understood "symbolically rather than physically."
Well, is hell symbolic or isn't it?

Now I think we can distinguish between the idea of hell itself being symbolic and the language used to describe it being so. When we read of heaven having streets of gold I would think few would insist that this spiritual 'place' actually has physical streets made of the actual element gold. I believe it to be language used to convey the wonderful spiritual reality that is heaven in physical terms we can grasp. As material beings we are limited in what we can understand about spiritual 'places', but heaven has been described in language that makes it clear to me that I want to be there. Likewise, hell is described in physical terms that make it clear to me that I do not want to be in such a place or condition. Is there literal fire that burns in the same way we understand fire? Well, there is certainly some difference as the fire of hell is neverending. The Holy Spirit reveals it in terms of eternal fire, which means that is the best way for us to understand it. Just as I believe a material description of heaven can never truly capture the full glory of that spiritual place, I think it also the case that a material description of hell cannot capture the full impact of the eternal misery, pain and hopelessness that accompanies condemnation.

In other news, it appears the pope isn't so sure about limbo:
In October the Pope indicated that limbo, supposed since medieval times to be a "halfway house" between heaven and hell, inhabited by unbaptized infants and holy men and women who lived before Christ, was "only a theological hypothesis" and not a "definitive truth of the faith."
It looks like he and I are on the same page, because I missed the reference to limbo in my Bible, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


As preachers in predominantly black churches 'evolve' and 'grow' in their understanding of Scripture, particularly as it applies to homosexuality, they are finding their flocks are moving on:
When the Rev. Dennis Meredith of Tabernacle Baptist Church here began preaching acceptance of gay men and lesbians a few years ago, he attracted some gay people who were on the brink of suicide and some who had left the Baptist faith of their childhoods but wanted badly to return.

At the same time, Tabernacle Baptist, an African-American congregation, lost many of its most loyal, generous parishioners, who could not accept a message that contradicted what they saw as the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex relations. Over the last three years, Tabernacle’s Sunday attendance shrank to 800, from 1,100.

The debate about homosexuality that has roiled predominantly white mainline churches for years has gradually seeped into African-American congregations, threatening their unity, finances and, in some cases, their existence.

Historically black churches have been quite conservative morally, but the hangover from the civil rights movement was an alliance with the Democratic Party by many black 'leaders' (eg, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton). As the Democrats moved left, many black leaders knew they had to move left to if they wanted to keep their power. But many in the pews weren't there for a political handout, they actually wanted to worship God. Many of these historically black churches are going the way of the American mainline denominations. And considering their continual rewriting of Scripture to fit the the prevailing cultural milieu, I won't shed a single tear for them.

[Thanks to Wild Bill for the link.]

Monday, March 26, 2007


Unlike much of the rest of America, a survey finds that Alabama rates well in biblical literacy:
For example, nearly 70 percent of respondents to last week's Press-Register/University of South Alabama survey correctly named all four canonical Gospels. "They don't call it the Bible Belt for nothing," said Keith Nicholls, a political scientist and director of the USA Polling Group, which conducted the poll.

Most Americans, however, can't identify even one of the four Gospels, according to polls cited by Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, who has received national acclaim for his recent book titled "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- and Doesn't."

The Press-Register/USA poll of 404 adults statewide has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. The survey included some questions that were similar to ones that Prothero has asked his Boston University students.

More than 70 percent of the Alabama respondents knew the location that the Bible identifies as Jesus' birthplace (Bethlehem) and nearly 90 percent correctly stated that a famous phrase from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount -- "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God" -- comes from the Bible.

It's nice to be in Alabama!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

PREACHING THIS MORNING...'Appointing Elders In Every Church', a look at the need and qualifications for elders in the local church as our congregation begins to revisit the appointment process. The church here has tried and failed twice to appoint Scriptural leadership, once since I have been here. We must keep trying until we are in full compliance with God's expectations of local church organization.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Just Add Coffee, a coffee shop in Taylorsville, Utah, has run afoul of the Mormon church because of an ad showing the angel Moroni with coffee pouring into his horn:
T-shirts being sold at the coffee shop feature an image of the angel Moroni, the golden statue of a male figure in a robe blowing a trumpet that sits atop many LDS temples. In the Just Add Coffee version, Moroni's trumpet is angled upward as coffee from a pot is poured into it.
"It was a spoof," Beazer said. "It was meant to be fun."
It apparently didn't amuse the LDS Church, whose members are discouraged from drinking coffee.
In a letter sent to Beazer's home last week, the shop owner was informed that the image of Moroni is a registered trademark of the LDS Church. The letter also requested that Just Add Coffee discontinue use of the image in advertising campaigns.

Ah, well. I guess you can trademark an angel. Apparently the shop is discontinuing the shirts. It sounds like someone missed his morning cup.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


The Bible study tool everyone has been waiting for is finally out: Jimmy Carter's Bible-Study Teachings:
Jimmy Carter has been a Sunday-school teacher his entire life, and this week, Simon & Schuster releases “Sunday Mornings in Plains,” audio recordings of the President’s Bible-study classes at his church, Maranatha Baptist Church, in Plains, Ga....It is also a jolt, for those of us who remember hearing his voice in our homes three decades ago, to hear it again, both folksy and a little bit prissy, full of humor and some sanctimony. Carter knows his Bible...
I'm sure. It's just too bad that I just made a CBD order. I guess I'll have to wait for the President's instructive words for next time. I'm also eagerly anticipating Bill Clinton's book on building healthy marriages.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The Anglican-Episcopalian rift has been complicated by that root of all kinds of evil, the love of money:
The truth is, the Episcopal Church bankrolls much of the Communion’s operations. And a cutoff of that money, while unlikely at this time, could deal the Communion a devastating blow.

The Episcopal Church’s 2.3 million members make up a small fraction of the 77 million members in the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest affiliation of Christian churches. Nevertheless, the Episcopal Church finances at least a third of the Communion’s annual operations.

Episcopalians give tens of millions more each year to support aid and development programs in the Communion’s poorer provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America. At least $18 million annually flows from Episcopal Church headquarters in New York, and millions more are sent directly from American dioceses and parishes that support Anglican churches, schools, clinics and missionaries abroad.

Bishops in some foreign provinces that benefit from Episcopal money are now leading the charge to punish the Episcopal Church or even evict it from the Communion. Some have declared that they will reject money from the Episcopal Church because of its stand on homosexuality.

The Americans insist they have no plans to shut down the money pipeline, but one doubts funds would keep flowing if the Anglicans worldwide severed the communion. The Mainline Meltdown continues.

[Thanks to theosebes reader Wild Bill for the link.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


P&G apparently had taken all it intended to about the satanism rumors that had circulated for years. A jury has awarded $19.25 million in a suit against four Amway distributors for spreading the rumors:
The company alleged that Amway Corp. distributors revived those rumors in 1995, using a voice mail system to tell thousands of customers that part of Procter & Gamble profits went to satanic cults.

The company’s claim was based on the Lanham Act, which prohibits unfair competition and false advertising.

“This is about protecting our reputation,” Jim Johnson, P&G’s chief legal officer, said in a statement Monday. “We will take appropriate legal measures when competitors unfairly undermine the reputation of our brands or our company.”

The former Amway distributors thought they’d be exonerated and were shocked by the jury’s verdict late Friday, said Randy L. Haugen, one of the defendants.

Yes, as the defendants lawyers point out, P&G is a big corporation using their vast resources against four regular joes. But I can understand why P&G would get tired of the false rumors. See for a refutation of a variation satanism charges against P&G

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NO SURPRISE that General Peter Pace is trying to calm things after his downright shocking statement that homosexual sex is immoral. Both Democrats and Republicans were distressed at Pace's moral judgment:
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was "disappointed in the moral judgment" voiced by Pace and the military should consider changing policy on allowing gays to serve in its ranks.

"We need patriotic Americans who exist across the board in our population," the California Democrat said. "We don't need a moral judgment from the Chairman of Joint Chiefs."

Republican Sen. John Warner, a veteran member of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, said through a spokesman: "I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral."

We are now on Day 2 of the official Pace Resignation Countdown Watch.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Historian Ephraim Lytle examines the movie '300', and, well, at least there really was a Battle of Thermopylae.

Following Marine General Peter Pace's comments about homosexuality...
“I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” Pace said in the audio recording of the interview posted on the Tribune’s Web site. “I do not believe that the armed forces of the United States are well served by a saying through our policies that it’s OK to be immoral in any way.”
...Theosebes is now on official countdown to his forced resignation or reassignment.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

watching the mental bell 'ding'

It has occured to David Gushee that there's a problem with the 'Sinner's Prayer'. It isn't in the Bible:
In reading through Luke, I had discovered that twice (10:25, 18:18) Jesus is asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

In the first passage, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer who asks it. The lawyer replies with the Old Testament commands to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Mt. 22:34-40). Jesus affirms his answer: "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." The lawyer then tries to narrow the meaning of neighbor. So Jesus tells the unforgettable parable of the compassionate Samaritan, who proved to be a neighbor to a bleeding roadside victim.

In Luke 18, Jesus responds to the same question, this time from the man we know as the rich young ruler, by quoting the second table of the Decalogue, forbidding adultery, murder, theft, and false witness, and mandating honor towards parents. His questioner says that he has kept these commandments, and Jesus proceeds to call on him to "sell all … and distribute to the poor." Jesus assures him, "You will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." The "extremely rich" ruler won't do this, and Jesus goes on to teach his disciples about how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.

Trying to be an honest expositor of the texts in front of me, I told the chapel students that morning that on the two occasions in Luke when Jesus was asked about the criteria for admission to eternity, he offered a fourfold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan loved his neighbor), do God's will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him.

I concluded by suggesting that the contrast between how Jesus answers this question and how we usually do is stark and awfully inconvenient.

Yes, Mr. Gushee is not far from the kingdom of God. If he discovers the book of Acts in his Bible who knows what conclusions he might reach.

Darwinian Scott Atran is desperately trying to find out how belief in God evolved:
Religion seemed to use up physical and mental resources without an obvious benefit for survival. Why, he wondered, was religion so pervasive, when it was something that seemed so costly from an evolutionary point of view?
Or maybe, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)

Ben Witherington has the Discovery 'Jesus tomb' documentary post-mortem. His blog is the best I've seen for detailed (and I do mean detailed) refutations of the Jesus tomb nonsense. Witherington writes:
You can tell things are coming unraveled when every Biblical archaeologist, save possibly one, interviewed either in the Discovery Channel special or in the hour long debate thereafter repudiates or is unpersuaded by the findings of the show. Both William Dever and Jonathan Reed were not merely dubious about the findings of the show. Reed actually called it archaeo-porn, the worst sort of misuse of archaeological evidence to support a tendentious theory that is so speculative it requires linking one weak hypothesis to another to another to reach a conclusion.

In addition, both Amos Kloner and Joe Zias, two of the original archaeologists involved in the project, have openly on television and in the public forum repudiated the findings of the show in strong terms. I have had a strongly worded email from Joe Zias in the last 24 hours saying that the data was deliberately manipulated at various points.

Take some time and read this latest post, as well as scroll back for some of the earlier ones (The Smoking Gun and Problems Multiply).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

PREACHING THIS MORNING...'Surpassing Righteousness', a look at Matthew 5:20-26 from my series on The Sermon on the Mount. To enter God's kingdom we must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. This is only possible with a religion of the heart that moves beyond a 'sacramental' understanding of religion.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Archaeologists have uncovered ruins in Athens:
Archaeologists have discovered extensive remains of what is believed to be an ancient marketplace with shops and a religious center at the southern edge of Athens, the Culture Ministry said Friday. The finds, in the coastal neighborhood of Voula, date from the 4th or 5th century B.C.

"It is a very large complex," the ministry said. "It was a site of rich financial and religious activity, which was most probably a marketplace."

Marketplaces - or agoras - teemed with shops, open-air stalls and administrative buildings, and were the financial, political and social center of ancient Greek life.

Archaeologists believe the complex belonged to the municipality of Aexonides Halai, among the largest settlements surrounding ancient Athens.

Earlier, an ancient theater was uncovered as well:
Officials say an ancient theater has been discovered during construction of an apartment building in northwest Athens.

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis called the find a "a major discovery" and announced immediate expropriation of the site, the Athens News Service reported.

Fifteen marble stands were discovered during excavation at the site in Menidi last week. Officials say it appears the theater dates back to the fourth century B.C.

While antiquities experts say it is too soon to tell if it is the renowned ancient theater of Acharnes, there are "significant indications that it could be," the news service said.

I know I've said this before, but it's remarkable that things like these could remain uncovered in such a heavily settled area until now. One thing it means is that there is always more to find.

Friday, March 02, 2007


One of America's most famous historians, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. died Wednesday. I can't say that I agreed with much of what he wrote as court historian for the Kennedys or his perspective on American history, however I did have the opportunity to spend some time with him some 15 years ago. I was working on my Gaines thesis at the University of Kentucky during my senior year when Schlesinger visited. Dr. Raymond Betts, director of the Gaines Center, pulled a few strings, and was able to arrange a few minutes for me to sit down to interview the visiting historian. Although I was an undergraduate of no consequence, Schlesinger was gracious to me, patiently answering my questions. He even complimented my bow tie, a sartorial indulgence both of us shared. Schlesinger certainly demonstrated the good manners so often lost in discourse today.
JONATHAN MORRIS ASKS what if James Cameron were honest about his Jesus 'discovery'?

Meanwhile, TIME does a rundown of what the critics are saying.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


In the face of today's storms and tornadoes that passed through Alabama words of wisdom from Molly Katherine, age 4: "Of course it is more importanter to go to church than to be safe because if you die you will surely go to heaven if you obey God."

For the record, we did go to church and we were safe.