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Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hyper-Creationism - A Great Shame

A was a beautiful clear mid-Spring afternoon in the late 1980's. We were at a Christian Conference Weekend which was held annually at the Links Hotel in the East Sussex resort of Eastbourne. Being Saturday, it was a couple of hours after lunch when we took a rest from ongoing worship, sermons, and note-taking. Whilst many in our group decided to visit a farm nearby, I preferred a lone stroll along the top of Beachy Head Cliffs, just west of the town. These chalk cliffs, being 162 metres (531 ft) high, making these the highest cliffs in Britain. From the summit I was able to look westwards over a wide expanse of sea to see the spine of the Isle of Wight, more than sixty miles away (100 km). This was possible by the coastline receding slightly northwards between Beachy head, itself a promontory jutting into the Channel, and that of Ballard Down, a chalk cliff at the start of the Isle of Purbeck (a peninsula) some eighty miles (approximately 130 km) as the crow flies, west of Eastbourne. The Isle of Wight, unlike Purbeck, is an island proper with ferries linking it from the mainland.

Beachy Head dwarfs the Lighthouse.
If it wasn't for the ridge of the Isle of Wight, there was that distinct possibility of just making out the summit of Ballard Down from where I was standing. Nevertheless, I was still impressed with the island itself within visibility across sixty miles of uninterrupted water. Then as I walked on, the cliff got lower until I wasn't that far above the beach. When I turned towards the where the spine of the Isle of Wight is located, it was gone. It was as if the entire island had just sunk beneath the sea.

This of course, isn't true - or was it? A repeat of history: the sinking of the island-continent of Atlantis? Or maybe the Isle of Wight remains exactly as it always has been - with myself moving in relation with the curvature of the Earth? If the latter explanation is correct, then this might explain the odd phenomenon I have noticed in the sky. Where I live, I have always been familiar with the Constellations of Orion, the Big Dipper and the Polar Star. Then how I could forget such a magnificent sight as I stared up into the night sky from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in 1995? (That was on the second trip - during my first trip in 1978 the sky was overcast with rumbles of thunder echoing through the vast natural chasm.) A magnificent display of countless stars, the vast majority I had never seen from where I live! My home in the UK is about 51 degrees North of the Equator. The Grand Canyon is 36 degrees North. So not surprising that from where I was standing near the Colorado River, all the stars appeared to have shifted North by about fifteen degrees. So where angle is concerned, it's not much of a difference to write home about. However, far more astonishing was when I was backpacking Australia in 1997. Right above my head was the Southern Cross, immediately recognisable by the same pattern on the Australian and New Zealand flags. Also a misty band of the Milky Way crosses the entire sky. The sight was stupendous, and there were many nights during that trip when I stood on the beach with my neck craned to stare into the heavens.

But all these experiences I had strongly suggests a curvature of the Earth. In other words, our home is a spinning ball orbiting the Sun, as the third Rock in the Solar system. And that was the belief held by the ancient Greek philosophers, at least that the Earth was round rather than flat. One Greek, by the name of Eratosthenes, who lived around 200 BC, not only knew that the Earth was round, but he actually calculated the circumference of the Earth without leaving his homeland of Egypt. He did this by measuring shadows during the Summer Solstice, when the sun was directly overhead at an Egyptian city of Syene, very close to the Tropic of Cancer, and comparing the length of a shadow cast by a vertical pole driven into the ground at the port of Alexander, some 500 miles (810 km) to the north, and by measuring the angle of the shadow's tip from vertical, which was just over seven degrees, an angle which was 1/50th part of a circle of 360 degrees, which gave an approximate answer of 25,000 miles (because 500 miles - the approximate distance from Syene to Alexander - times 50 {that is ~7 degrees} equals 25,000 miles). The actual mean circumference of our planet is 24,900 miles (40,075 km). I can't help but stand back and gasp in astonishment at this ancient Greek's intelligence, his mathematical and astronomical abilities, who was also able to work out the angle of the tilt of the axle from vertical.

Another Greek of superb intelligence was Pythagoras, who was living around 520 BC. He was the one who calculated that the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle was equal to the square root of the two adjoining sides squared. To take a school-level example: a triangle with one angle of ninety degrees has one side three cm. squared, and the adjoining side four cm. squared. The combined total of the two areas - that is one square measuring nine square cm. and the other measuring sixteen square cm. is equal to 25 square cm. The square root of 25 is five, which is the length of the hypotenuse. However, although it was Pythagoras who made the calculation, many scholars are aware that this theorem was well known by the Babylonians long before Pythagoras' day.

Then whatever happened some time after the Crucifixion, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? How could the Roman Catholic Church usher in the Dark Ages? Could the Bible be so scientifically ignorant as to teach that we are living on a flat world? This blog is written after a website link came up out of random from a You-Tube advert slot, and it was titled Celebrate Truth, whilst browsing the main video website. It was a serious two-hour documentary detailing by means of interviews with serious-looking professional men who wholehearted believe in the historicity and the truthfulness of the Bible. And this included belief of a gigantic Satanic conspiracy to deceive the entire human race, getting us to believe that NASA has lied to us about sending men to the moon, and the photo-shopping every photo taken of earth from space to deceive us that the Earth is round. This conspiracy affecting the whole of the Media, through all television, newspapers, and textbooks alike to make us all believe that we are accepting a lie. Celebrate Truth was certainly hostile to Pythagoras and Eratosthenes, as well as assigning numbers and mathematics in general as the work of the Devil to keep us from knowing God.

Celebrate Truth is by no means the only website available. Just type in Flat Earth on You-Tube, or simply Google Flat Earth, and a long list of websites and videos advocating the Flat-Earth theory comes up on the screen, from five minute clips to two-hour documentaries, all favouring the idea being linked to what the Bible teaches. Celebrate Truth lashes out against Darwinism, and fair enough, I'm a Young-Earth Creationist myself, who don't have a problem with the six literal days of Creation some six millennia ago. Nor do I have a problem with believing in Adam and Eve being our first parents, and the non-existence of death before the Fall. But to advocate that NASA has deliberately lied to us, along with labelling "Satanic" great men such as Pythagoras, Eratosthenes, Aristotle, and for that matter - Galileo - is what I have labelled Hyper-Creationism. Don't bother to Google it, it was a title I coined up myself for want of a better description. 

Of the documentary Celebrate Truth, I felt so discouraged that I turned it off after about ninety minutes. There was nothing edifying about the documentary, nothing to rejoice about, nothing to praise God for. There was nothing about God's love for a helpless race of mankind, and nothing about the Atonement Jesus Christ has made by dying on the Cross and his bodily Resurrection. On the contrary it was all about a worldwide Satanic conspiracy of universal deception, and I felt my spirit deflate as one interview followed another, and even feeling a sense of condemnation for believing in a round Earth and in a way, calling God a liar. It was also rather boring to watch, with no drama to illustrate their opinions. Other Flat-Earth videos I have watched has enabled me to build a picture on what they believe the Bible teaches. Much of this is based on Isaiah 40:22 which reads:

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its peoples are like grasshoppers. He stretches the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

Fig 1. The Medieval interpretation of the Universe. 

Fig 2. The modern Flat Earth Model
Flat-Earth advocates links this verse of Scripture to that of the first chapter of Genesis, where on Day Two, when God separates the waters above from the waters below, with what the King James version calls the Firmament, implying a solid shell-like dome over the Earth. The Septuagint, which translated the Hebrew into Greek between the third and second centuries BC, translated the Hebrew word Raqiya, which has a meaning for expanse, into the Greek word Stereoma, which implies something solid. And since these Christians believe that the Bible is infallible to the extent that every scientific evidence and proof are all Satanic lies and deception, the concept of the entire Universe contained in a solid dome as illustrated in Fig 1 is held as Biblical truth above everything else.

And here is something I consider an issue with the model depicted in Fig 2. The modern concept does not look at all like in Fig 1. First of all there is no dome, or firmament covering the flat disc, and secondly, all the other heavenly bodies are spread out across the vastness of the Universe, as taught by modern science, and not all contained within a solid dome. And thirdly, Fig 2 shows the Sun and the Moon orbiting each other on a fixed plane some distance above the disc. The sunlight distribution would have posed massive problems in defining day from night, as well as looking at a completely different sky over Australia from over the United Kingdom or from over America. Yet Fig 2 is as much Biblical truth to the Flat-Earth advocates as in Fig 1, although how will all the stars fall to Earth in the Fig 2 model, I cannot even speculate. Yet rather than thinking that our Earth is flat and is covered by a solid shell and the entire Universe is within that shell, I have always accepted that the firmament depicted in Genesis is merely a zone of the antediluvian atmosphere, enveloped by a sphere of dense water vapour, or expanse, as translated in the New International Version of the Bible.

It is this vapour which may, in my opinion, be the reason why man was able to live as long as 960 years, and the canopy might have made the antediluvian sky red rather than blue during the daytime. If this is true, then there was the likelihood that all the colours of creation were enhanced to a level we cannot experience at present. I wonder if this was why the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge looked so appealing to Adam and Eve? The collapse of the canopy, probably caused by volcanic dust particles thrown up when the fountains of the deep were opened, and the condensation which resulted, brought on the Deluge. And a quick read of post-Diluvian genealogy listed in Genesis 11, revealing the rapid shortening of human longevity. Put in proper scientific context, I find the Bible verified by Science when put into context of a spherical Earth orbiting the Sun within a vast Universe.

Over forty years of being a Christian myself, I have never come across a single brother or sister who believed in a Flat-Earth theory. Conversely, the majority of graduates I knew personally over those years were advocates of Theistic Evolution, which is Darwinism under the supervision and direction of God in opposed to being by chance alone. This line of reasoning is no doubt an attempt to present the Christian faith to the unbeliever without sounding or appearing out of touch with reality, or to feel foolish or ridiculous. But if death was not brought into the world through the Fall of Adam, but instead existed for countless pre-Adamic generations, then the Atonement made on the Cross by Jesus Christ would be totally ineffective. Really, it is impossible to be a true Christian and still believe in Evolution, theistic or otherwise.

But the rise and revival of Flat-Earth theories is just a click away on the Internet. It is so easily accessible. And it is dangerous. Dangerous because these videos and websites have followers by the multiple thousands. If there is a Satanic conspiracy going on around us, it is through these videos themselves promoting a flat Earth. The conspiracy is to make the Bible appear all so more ridiculous in content in the eyes of unbelievers - whether they be scientists or laymen. And the more ridiculous the Bible appears to unbelievers, even honest enquirers, the less likely for conversion and faith in God. Far more of the unsaved would scorn the Bible if they thought it taught a domed flat Earth. It would be flammable fuel for the fires of Richard Dawkins and other noted atheists.

The result will be that the scientific truth of a spherical Earth will always be advocated by unsaved academics to a vast crowd of unbelievers, confining the Bible and its believers to a realm of pseudo-science and crackpot ideas on the level of ancient space-god theories and the like. Indeed being a true Bible-believing Christian may be a source of shame and embarrassment within a well-educated and science-based world.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Taking the Mickey?

Last week I shared an incident which took place in Downtown Los Angeles whilst backpacking the USA in 1978, back then as a 25 year old. This week I like to open on that same trip, when I arrived into Los Angeles after an overnight Greyhound Bus journey from Flagstaff in Arizona, the base station for the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and the start of the hiking trail to the Colorado River which flows through the bottom of this fascinating natural ravine. So here I was, having alighted from this cross-country coach and exited the Terminal, to find myself looking at Hotel Cecil, literally across the road. I managed to book a room at this hotel, and afterwards noticed whilst going up in the elevator that there was no 13th floor - a 12th floor with the 14th being the next one up - on which my room was awaiting my arrival. Then, having settled in, I made my way back to the bus station across the road to catch a local service to Disneyland. 

Everything was very straightforward back in the 1970's, when the Los Angeles Bus Station was within the Downtown area, with just a short walk to Broadway and Pershing Square. When I returned to Los Angeles seventeen years later in 1995, I had discovered to my dismay that the Greyhound Bus Station had moved a couple of miles away from the city centre along East 7th Street, making the walk through a dodgy residential estate a challenging experience.

Disneyland! After securing a room at the hotel that morning in 1978, I felt like an excited schoolboy as I sat in the bus heading south-east towards Santa Ana. Once within the park turnstiles, I would meet up with Mickey Mouse and his pal, Pluto the bloodhound.

Whenever I think about Disneyland California, I have discovered that it wasn't all fantasy and make-believe. After all, a species of Rodentia does exist in real life. I recall primary school where we kept two mice in a cage in our classroom. Unlike Mickey, whose humorous conversation with Pluto constantly flowed from the cinema loudspeakers, neither of the mice at our school had ever talked - as far as I recall, neither to us or even to each other. And even as a boy, each of the rodents fitted well on the palm of my hand. In turn, Mickey, when compared in size whilst standing next to Pluto, is so huge that without a doubt, any pussy-cat out on a rodent hunt would have sprinted away in terror of such a sight of an enormous mouse!

There is a true story of a mother who took her son on a day out to Disneyland. On one occasion the boy tripped and hurt himself. Mickey Mouse, who was standing nearby, took off his headgear to assist, only for the youngster to discover that Mickey wasn't a real mouse at all, but a man in a costume. And yes, the mother sued Disneyland in Court for distressing her son with the awful truth of reality, and I believe, had won the case. It was the start of the dreadful compensation culture with the growth of political correctness and health-and-safety regulations, which didn't hesitate to cross the Atlantic to hit our shores.

Whilst I was spending the day there, I was impressed on how Walt Disney had designed a roller-coaster ride that was meant to educate as well as enjoy. Well, why not? As I saw it, this method of learning had a far greater impact on dispensing knowledge than a dusty school textbook. I'm referring to a ride at Tomorrow-land, the Inner Space roller coaster. Whilst waiting at the queue, I was able to see a glass tube with a row of seated riders inside, all of them shrinking to microscopic size. And that was the point. The ride was to take us into the world of the water molecule and then further into the oxygen atom and the two hydrogen atoms, all making up a freshly-fallen snowflake. Just after the start of the ride we did pass through a glass tunnel as I allowed my imagination dwell on those at the queue gasp in amazement. Eventually the ride had to end in time before the snowflake started to melt.

Where Tomorrow-land taught us a thing or two about Science, New Orleans Square touched on History. Sure, it featured the Mississippi Steamer, the Haunted Mansion - where another adult standing right in front of me let out a yelp of fright - also featured was the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride, an attraction from which the movie of the same name was made, starring Johnny Depp as fantasy pirate Jack Sparrow. Fantasy as it might be, it does touch on real history. There were pirates in the Caribbean during the 17th Century, with French pirate Jean Lafitte, whose name featured at the attraction, being a real historical figure along with his older brother Pierre, based in New Orleans during the thick of the slave era.

I sat at the front row of the boat, and as it slid down a ramp and splashed into the canal which would voyage us through history, I too got a little wet, just as the others in the front row did as well. But far more intriguing was further along the ride, where we passed a slave auction, with the banner reading: AUCTION - Take a wench for a bride. Although romanticised, this is real history. Although it was set at a Caribbean port with loud singing, guffawing and laughter, with cellars of rum barrels in abundance, it was based on a war which broke out in 1812, The War of New Orleans, which was an historical conflict between Britain and the United States which lasted more than two years when American general Andrew Jackson defeated the British forces early in 1815.

It is adventures such as this which prompted me to think back on history - the stories of piracy for example, personalities such as Jean Lafitte, Edward Teach - also known as Captain Blackbeard - Calico Jack, Henry Morgan, and Captain Kidd, to name a few who plied the Atlantic Ocean in their day. If the scenes of the Disneyland attraction did reflect life in 17th Century Caribbean, together with life in the Deep South, albeit with a good dollop of romanticism thrown in to enhance fantasy for the enjoyment for the modern family, it has made me wonder how such a society could have possibly existed under the banner of Christianity, where Negro slavery was the backbone of the economy. 

Considering that in the Caribbean, Roman Catholicism held full sway, with its soteriology on works being the means for salvation, instead of faith in Jesus Christ alone as Saviour. Really, the Pirates of the Caribbean can be regarded as the end fruit of salvation by works. Coming to think of it, such a lifestyle is only a portion of the disastrous consequence of false doctrine. Other horrors include the Spanish Inquisition lasting the 350-plus years from 1478, when "heretics" were tortured at the Rack and other punishing instruments. Then to add to this, there are legions of stories about Popes, Archbishops and the rest of the clergy becoming involved in adultery and prostitution, particularly during the Middle Ages. Indeed, a quick glimpse into history has convinced me that nothing can be more harmful and destructive as when false doctrine percolates into a church.

And false doctrine has always to do with three main issues of the faith: Denial of the Trinity, other books equal in authority to the Bible, and salvation by works, or more subtly, partially by faith with the need for good works to help us along to Heaven. There seem to be various examples of works-aided faith going around, some so subtle that these are often passed off as orthodox and Biblical, and not given any serious consideration. Arminianism is one of these. This is the belief that a born-again Christian can still lose his salvation if he departs from the faith, accumulate unconfessed sin, or become discouraged. Every non-Christian religion, along with every Christian based heresy such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, and Christian Science, along with Seventh Day Adventists, as well as those who teach Baptismal Regeneration - all have Arminian leanings in their theology.

The subtleness of works-assisted salvation, as I have blogged about in December of last year, can be as little as semantics - the usage of words - which is to my mind is as dangerous as it can get. It has to do with the words Repent, Repentance. The Greek for Repentance is Metaneo - a change of mind. But in 386 AD St Jerome inserted another word when he translated the New Testament into Latin, the words Paenitentiam Agite were used instead, which simply means Do Penance, a Roman Catholic teaching meaning to perform works proving that you have turned from sin in order to be saved.* I find it rather hard to believe - even fantastical really - that such a mistranslation would eventually lead to such a godless culture depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean, under the banner of Christianity.

Another form of false doctrine, and one which appears so Biblical in its orthodoxy, that it takes good knowledge and discernment to figure it out, and that is Lordship Salvation. Let's take an example: Colossians 2:6, which reads:
So then, just as you received Jesus Christ as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Lordship salvation is about making Jesus Christ your boss in order to be saved, or to prove that you are saved. To receive Jesus Christ as Lord does not mean merely to make him your boss. Rather it is to believe in your heart who Jesus of Nazareth really is: The Risen Christ. This is what the apostle has so emphasised in the whole of the first chapter of his letter, that Jesus is the supreme Head of all Creation, and in Him all things hold together, and He is the Head of the Church, and through Him we live. For a sinner to change his mind (metaneo) from thinking that Jesus was an imposter who was deservingly executed for his crimes of blasphemy, to that of Jesus being the Christ, risen physically from the dead after atoning for sinful mankind, is repentance. Paul exhorts us to be rooted in faith who Jesus is, and not to be swayed from such a heart-felt conviction, and such faith in this triune Godhead is what our daily living is built on. To receive Jesus as Lord is to accept him as God, the risen Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead. To receive him merely as boss in a sense of an employer, at least to my mind, is lowering his status to someone on the level of aristocrat or successful businessman and moralist.

Jean Lafitte, a historical figure featured in Disneyland 

It's not to be confused with intellectual belief. Atheist Richard Dawkins, for one, is fully aware about the Resurrection of Christ, he knows all about it fully. He also knows the Bible very well. He knows fully well what Easter is all about. He knows what Christmas is all about, as he does Whit Sunday. But he does not believe in his heart. Instead he treats such testimony with utter contempt, pushing the truth away to his own detriment. Richard Dawkins, although he knows the Bible well, is not a regenerated believer.

No doubt, Jean Lafitte, Edward Teach, Calico Jack, along with all other pirates who plundered other ships sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, all these men knew about the Christian faith, and may even profess to be nominally Christian in religious outlook. But I doubt very much that they believed in their hearts that this risen Jesus is the Christ, and that salvation is believing in him entirely without works. Instead, they were under the grip and deception of false doctrine.

Yet despite of that, I still thoroughly enjoyed the voyage along that underground canal.


*You can read more of this by Clicking here. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

What a Contrast!

A homeless man stands in the street of Cambridge, one of the two world-famous University Cities, the other city being Oxford. It was a cold and dark February night. Presently, a passing student, having one drink over the top yet still dressed in a smart suit and bow-tie, approaches the homeless beggar and offered him some change. As the would-be recipient held out his hand in grateful anticipation, the student pulls out a £20 note and sets it on fire in front of him, either with matches or a cigarette lighter, with the words to the effect:
There you are, a change from £20 to a flame!

The student was Ronald Coyne, who was a member of the Cambridge Union Conservative Association, who also held Right Wing political views, and a supporter for Scottish independence. An ex-Public Schoolboy, he was also noted for his remarkable intellect. Upon publicity of such unbecoming, arrogant, and childish behaviour, his mother, who is living in Edinburgh, vigorously defended his son's personality, saying how lucky she has always been to have such a calm, charitable offspring for a son, and that particular incident was "so totally out of his character."

Cambridge student Ronald Coyne.

Echoes of the Bullington Club in Oxford?

The ultra-posh, aristocratic social club at the University, where membership is restricted to the very cream of English society, and initiation into membership involving the burning of a £50 note in the street in front of a cold, hungry homeless beggar. One former member of the Bullington, George Osborne, was until recently Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most important politician in Government after the Prime Minister, and who was also responsible for ushering austerity, including cutting back on life-sustaining benefits for the struggling poor, even among those who manage to hold down a low-paid job, and forcing the crippled and infirm to seek work. Why not admit it? There is something unique about British culture!  

Perhaps I can go on. Just supposing that in the extreme unlikely odds that these two were close friends, and our charitable student invites the homeless beggar to accompany him to a church where neither has ever visited. Let's say it was a Baptist church set in a smaller town some distance out of Cambridge. Or it might be a Anglican church, or a Methodist church. Really, it does not matter which label the church names itself, nor its variations of theological teachings. The contrasting reactions by members of the congregation and its leaders between the two newcomers will be all but universal. And so would their reaction of the Gospel if presented to them.

Everyone in the church would be fully attentive to the student, not only as a potential member to add a degree of prestige, but a hopeful candidate for future leadership. If the student asked if he could give a talk, the minister would not hesitate to find a timeslot for him. The beggar, on the other hand, would be ignored, and woe to him if his days spent on the street resulted in body odour percolating through his untidy clothing. A large unoccupied area would grow around him. As for response to the Gospel, of course Ronald calls himself a Christian, and he plainly says so. And so a timeslot is assigned to him for the following weekend, and with his high intellect, he preaches rather eloquently, impressing everyone. He is held dear to all - until a couple of weeks later when he is pictured in the national newspaper about an incident where he was seen cruelly mocking another homeless tramp and setting fire to a £20 note right in front of his eyes. All in the church who read the report would be shocked and disappointed. And the student would never return, let alone preach. Because no matter how eloquent and deeply academic his preach might have been, he knows that he will never regain the respect of the congregation ever again. His faith has died, and it will remain dead in their sight forever, with no potential hope of resurrection.

As for the beggar, who was formerly an interested enquirer of the faith, he returns to his favourite spot in the Cambridge street feeling very disillusioned. What a hollow, hypocritical sham this "Christian" stuff is all about! His heart hardens, and takes the road to atheism. Was the student's dead faith able to save the beggar? (James 2:14). His anger towards his former friend's childish and arrogant behaviour will not only set his heart rock-hard against organised religion or even anything spiritual, but it's the start of his health gradually deteriorating. The time will come when he will by lying on the bed of a hospital ward, even if still a good few years away.

Miracles do happen. Big miracles. Because despite the beggar's hardened attitude against posh churchgoers, some time later, another passer-by arrives and stops to where the beggar is sitting. He too takes out some pound coins and hands them over to him. No fire this time. The benefactor, unlike the student, is dressed casually with denim torn at the knees as if deliberately, and with a plain tee-shirt. When the beggar thanks him for the gift, the giver, instead of merely walking away, decides to sit next to him for a chat and to find out how the beggar had gotten into this state after all.

The two had chatted for maybe up to an hour before they agree to visit a coffee shop nearby, where the beggar is treated further. Then the moment arrives when the beggar asked what the motive was behind the donor's generosity. He explains that God loves him so much that he has put into his heart to show generosity and compassion, especially to those worse off than himself, after realising that God sent his Son Jesus of Nazareth to die a cruel death to atone for all his shortcomings, was buried, and three days later rose physically from the dead, leaving behind his clothing lying undisturbed in an empty tomb, proving that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God.

Suddenly the beggar believed, also realising that it was God who brought this kind donor to take an interest, to talk and to spend time together. It was the living faith of this rather scruffy benefactor which saved him, and not the dead faith of the immaculately dressed Cambridge student.

Although I have fictionalised a true incident recorded in a newspaper article, the story isn't far from real experience. Before I go any further, I have to confess that I do have some reserve towards the "homeless" in our streets, because some of these people do have a place to stay, so I read. I have even heard that some of these beggars, especially in London, actually having day jobs. But the worst experience took place in Israel 1993. In Jerusalem I took pity on someone who looked to have a serious leg injury. So I gave him some money - and not just a few coins either. It wasn't until some time afterwards that I became aware that I have been taken for a ride. Since then, if I want to give, I always make sure my donations passes through a recognisable charity, especially a Christian one. 

Nevertheless, the above story does reflect my conversion way back in December 1972. Having been dumped by my girlfriend earlier of that year, indeed I felt like a beggar myself, in want of something - a loving wife and a family of children growing up. Like any other young man in his right mind, I suppose. Like in the story, I too was approached by not just one but two benefactors. Or at least that how I saw them. And like in the story, I too was atheist. The only difference was that it was I who had invited them to a nearby bar - to get out of the rain - and bought them drinks. But in the warmth of the saloon bar table, they did open a Bible and showed me the appropriate Gospel verses, mainly in the Gospel of John and perhaps oddly enough, in the book of Revelation too (3:20). Then I knew that it was God who brought this two young guys to me. It was from this moment of believing in divine providence that I was acquitted, justified (imputed with the righteousness of God) and became a newborn babe in Jesus Christ.

That the conversion in that bar off the Strand in Central London was genuine was confirmed, I believe, some seven years later in 1978, when I had some free time in Downtown Los Angeles, strolling through Pershing Square with its central fountain whilst preparing for the overnight Greyhound Bus trip to San Francisco. It was near here that I was approached by two pretty young females who eventually encouraged me to visit a Christian church which was holding a meeting at a certain address which was nearby. We entered the building through the door facing the street, and climbed a flight of steps which led into a fair sized upper room full of young people. Presently, a thin, spindly man sporting a moustache and goatee began to deliver his lecture. However, there was nothing edifying about his preach, something which raised my concerns. So I confronted him and looking directly at him, I asked what he thought about Jesus Christ. Did he come in the flesh? That means: Was he crucified, buried, and on the third day rose physically from the dead? The lecturer could not answer. Instead, he summoned another guy to escort me out of the room, down the stairs, and out onto the street. It was a lucky escape.

In 1978 I was on guard. A contrast to Ronald Coyne, upper.

A very lucky escape. For this particular group was not a Christian church at all. It was the cult of the Moonies, better known as the Unification Church of God, founded by the late far Eastern entrepreneur Sun Myung Moon, who arrived into the States from his birthplace in North Korea a few years earlier in 1972, and who was also a firm supporter of President Richard Nixon, especially during the Watergate scandal which caused the President to resign before his term was through. You can read my other blog on this experience which gives greater detail by clicking here - Signs of the Times. (But do finish this one before clicking on the link!)

Supposing that I was in the same spiritual situation as that beggar in Cambridge, assuming that he was an open-minded enquirer of the Christian faith? And was approached by the same two women in the same way I was approached in 1978? Instead of being on guard to test the spirits, instead I would have been sucked in to undergo a strict recruiting process at some remote location. From Los Angeles, this would have been at a mansion miles away in remote mountainous country somewhere in California, making any attempt to escape very difficult if not downright impossible.

But it was God himself who rescued me from this cult through faith in Jesus Christ. It's the power of the Holy Spirit within me to enable me to "test the spirits to see whether he is of God or not" (1 John 4:1), and when I found him wanting, it was through the grace of God that had me escorted out of the building. This is the very same kind of faith that this beggar is in dire need of, and not the arrogant, childish behaviour of a snooty, over-educated ex-Public schoolboy, who has never experienced hardship, let alone poverty, and has a very dim view of the valuable things in life - smart dress not withstanding.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

A Load of Bull

I grew up with a partially correct thinking that a bull is that particular species of beast which can be found at the arena of any Spanish city, both chasing and evading the smartly dressed Matador who is there to torture the life out of it with his use of decorated spears. Personally, I believe that the term Bullfighting is a misnomer. The type of bull in question is the male gender of cattle, of which the more familiar female cow provides us with our daily supply of pasteurised milk. I have actually visited a bullfighting arena whilst on a package holiday with a college friend way back in 1972, the first ever trip abroad without my parents and a year before my first ever backpacking trip into Italy in 1973.

Mt college friend refused to join me for that day trip to Barcelona. Instead, he preferred to remain in the growing popular Mediterranean resort of Tossa-de-Mar on the Costa Brava, just south of the Pyrenees, where our hotel was located. I think he had a point. I was keen to sample some foreign culture, which to my mind was the foundational basis for future backpacking. He was more aghast with the thought of witnessing torture as a source of pleasure. And torture it was. Bullfighting? The animal has always been herbivorous. A bull will only charge when its territory is invaded and its harem of females are under threat of competition or harm. In the ring, the bull's attempts to charge was always frustrated by the far greater agility of the slim-built matador, who watched the beast's life slowly ebb away in full sight of the cheering crowds. I went away having just learnt that the matador wasn't the star hero that the Spaniards make him out to be. Now had he fought a hungry lion or tiger like the ancient Roman gladiators did, then I guess that would have been more of a nerve-tingling, edge-of-the-seat entertainment. 

It was during the years that followed when I became aware that the word bull was not just reserved for male cattle. Rather it applied to other male species of mammal, mostly herbivorous, which include the rhinoceros and the elephant. Plant-eater the rhino may be, but having one of those charge at you has been proven fatal, as without the spears and a crowd of cheering spectators, a cattle bull can also gore a human to death as well. Among marine life, the male whale and dolphin, both mammals, are also referred as bulls. It looks to me that the bull is the male of any large, bovine-type mammal often having the capacity to kill a human. Going by what I have seen throughout life, the bull looks to be synonymous with masculinity.

During my school days, male respect was based on physical strength, an athletic prowess and the ability to co-operate well in team sports. Throughout the year, three team games were played by all the boys - Football, Rugby, and Cricket. The snag was that I did not have good team co-operation, although I did enjoy playing cricket to a certain extent. But attempting to play rugby was nigh impossible when I wasn't even taught the object of the game - to score a try by passing the ball over the touchline without passing the ball forward, and then convert the try by kicking the ball over the crossbar of that H-like structure at both ends of the pitch. In addition, the goal-kick, aiming the ball randomly over the crossbar without having to score a try beforehand, also added points to the score. Indeed, if only I knew all that whilst at school. Chances that I might, just might, have performed better.

The culture of the day was that rugby was a he-man's game, the ultimate of masculine team sports, especially if rain has muddied the pitch. Aside from a determination to win, perhaps together with performance enhanced by a degree of aggression, the display of all other emotions on the pitch was well off the cards. When a try was scored, there was no congratulated hugging from team mates. If one got hurt, unless his injury was serious enough for treatment, the player just got back up and continued playing. In rugby, British stoicism and stiff upper lip reigned supreme. After all, the game originated here in the English town of Rugby in Warwickshire. So it was not surprising that the game, throughout my youth in particular, carried such English characteristics. This was emphasised not long after leaving school, by a national newspaper which published a thesis of the game as a whole. The article opened with a bold headline which read:

The British bulldog. Yes, it's back to the bull again, although I can't exactly equal the bulldog in strength and prowess as the bull of a rhino, elephant, cattle, or for that matter the Blue whale bull, the largest ever living animal of any kind existing on this planet, or that of the orca, perhaps living right on the top of the marine food chain. Against such creatures, in conflict the bulldog wouldn't stand a chance! And that despite that the bulldog was originally bred for bull-baiting, which peaked around the year 1800 before its abolition in 1835. As such, this dog has always been the symbol of British masculinity, particularly in the portraying of Winston Churchill.

And by reading national newspapers such as the daily Mail, columnists such as Richard Littlejohn, only a couple of years ago criticised the BBC for firing Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson for throwing a punch at programme producer Oisin Tymon, as well as calling him "Irish" and "lazy" when he failed to come up with the roast beef dinner Clarkson had hoped for after a full day's work. Littlejohn, along with fellow columnists Amanda Platell, Kate Hopkins, and perhaps Piers Morgan as well, all in their own way expressed the promotion of the great British Bulldog in which these writers saw Clarkson as an ideal candidate - courageous, stoic, unemotional, strong-minded, as characteristic of national pride, self confidence and optimism. As an example, Littlejohn has not only criticised the BBC over Jeremy Clarkson's dismissal, but also poured heaps of praise on the presenter for being characteristically British - rough, tough, sometimes crude but always fair, and something of a bigger-than-life hero not unlike John Wayne of Western legend.

And as one who has voted Remain in last year's Referendum, I now belong to a larger group known as the Remoaners, and even the editor of the Daily Mail newspaper now refers to us with such a title. Maybe the paper has a point. After all, the British are reputed worldwide as being a nation of moaners. We even have an edict here: Mustn't grumble. Instead, according to these writers, we are now a generation of snowflakes, of which columnists Amanda Platell and Melanie Phillips described us as emotional, mawkish, sentimental, and lacking of masculinity, courage and principle. Indeed, I now wish I was good at rugby at school, and maybe even joined a rugby club as a young adult.

It goes to show what a misconstrued meaning of masculinity these writers have. The Biblical meaning of the word is quite different. There is just two words making up a whole verse in the Bible, and those two words are Jesus wept (John 11:35). And surely, if there was ever the finest example of what masculinity really is, one has only to look to Jesus of Nazareth. And Paul reflects the human nature of Jesus Christ when he exhorted the churches of Galatia in his letter:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control 
Galatians 5:22.

This means that true masculinity is about love and concern for the welfare of others, which is quite a contrast to having pride and confidence in self. And with such other fruits as gentleness, the total opposite of the "rough, tough and often crude" mentality which is erroneously defined as masculinity. True masculinity involves self-control - a virtue lacking in Clarkson when he punched Tymon - just because he did not get what he wanted. Self-control is the ability to remain calm when wronged. But this virtue is not to be confused with the stiff upper lip. Self control involves showing love and kindness despite being wronged.  The stiff upper lip is nothing more than keeping anger and frustration bottled up - which is detrimental to health and can lead to suicide. Clarkson would never have struck out at the producer if he also had the virtues of kindness, goodness, faithfulness and patience. These are definitions of true masculinity.

The fruit of love contains all eight segments of the Holy Spirit. 

A real man is someone who doggedly journeys to work each day at a job he hates because of a neurotic and foul-tempered boss - in order to keep up with his mortgage payments and to feed and clothe his family. It is the love he has for his wife which motivates him to climb out of his bed early on a cold winter morning to head for his car for the drive to work or attend to his outdoor job. His love for his wife is a fruit of true masculinity.

True masculinity involves fulfilling the vows made at the wedding altar. It means staying with her even if she falls ill and permanently loses her mobility and ends up in a wheelchair, and as such, he finds it too inconvenient to take foreign holidays he once so loved. True masculinity is refusing to leave his wife for a far better lifestyle - even if staying with her means the loss of his children to Social Services. True masculinity will always see his wife as beautiful as the day he married her, even after age has taken its toll. True masculinity is showing love and compassion which can be costly. True masculinity is offering friendship to someone who has a different opinion. As such, for example, I have at least two friends, and no doubt, others whose friendship I value highly, yet who are patriotic and have voted Brexit. It means showing kindness, goodness, patience and faithfulness to someone who differs in theological issues. That is masculinity, which also involves not un-friending someone on Facebook and then blocking him and his wife too, just because they perceive life in a different manner. To block someone on Facebook is not masculine at all. Rather it is craven cowardice.

True masculinity can only come with a true love-relationship with God. The Bible even delivers an acid test - that anyone who loves God loves his fellow believers too, and anyone who claims that he loves God but hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9-11, 3:15). With still the flesh at work within me, it is true that I can, and do get impatient and angry with somebody else, whether believer or unbeliever. That could be the reason why John exhorts his readers to love one another (e.g. 1 John 4:11) - which corresponds with Paul's letter, especially to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13). This love can only come with the residence of the Holy Spirit within. My own experience in life has shown a strong desire for forgiveness and reconciliation whenever I fall out with someone, especially at church. This desire for reconciliation and friendship restored can only come from the Holy Spirit within, which I find far more beneficial to mental and physical health alike, than pride - the insistence that I'm in the right and therefore sticking to my guns. Pride is not masculinity. Admitting that I was wrong is masculinity.

You want to be controlled by the Holy Spirit within? Then read your Bible everyday, and allow the Word of God to dwell richly within you (Colossians 3:16). Here lies the real power source for true masculinity - without the British Bulldog spirit.