Charles Moore's Mailbag

Letters on Living, Dying, Religion, and Truth

Charles Moore - 2005.07.07 - Tip Jar

Note: I have received several responses to my commentary on Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement address as well as last Wednesday's mailbag column, particularly Farewell to LEM by Christy. - Tip Jar

DMP Mini Leader and Intelligent Design

From: Ron Bishop

Mr. Moore,

I enjoy reading your columns. Steve Jobs may be ambiguous about his religious beliefs, but the DMP (DealMac Project) Mini Leader recently "saw the light"....

http://homepage.mac.com/krbishop/comiclife/index.html

  • Part 1. DMP Presents: Tales of the Insanely Great
  • Part 2. DMP Presents: Tales of the Insanely Great, Too

For further information on the DealMac Project:
http://homepage.mac.com/pronaholic2/dmp/

Ron Bishop

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the comments and links.

Going up the in the next mailbag.

Charles

RELIGION ALERT: If religious discussion offends you, time to stop scrolling. Since I'm aware that some readers are not enchanted by discussion of religious topics on Mac Websites, I am accommodating their sensibilities with this convenient Bypass Religious Discussion link, which will safely transport you back to the Low End Mac home page where you can find a huge selection of exclusively Mac or IT-related topics. CM

Great Article

From Sam Kawesa

Hi Charles

Thanks for your article on Steve Jobs' speech. I listened to it through a website whose link I forgot. I downloaded it and listened to it with my wife and kids (14, 12, 10, and 8 years old). We wanted to show our kids that it's not how you start this race but how you end it. Encouraging as Steve's speech was, the same questions you had came up, and we had to explain to the kids what the real truth is. Your article came in as a help to this end - thanks.

This is not the first time you have professed your faith in your writings, and though I forget the last topic when your confessions were made, you were unmercifully attacked then also. Even then, you stood your ground. I love perusing your website if for nothing but the kinship I feel when I click on Low End Mac.

In your article you said:

"Not so long ago, most people died at home - not out of sight in hospitals or nursing homes. Death and dying were witnessed firsthand by most people, even the very young. Remains were customarily laid out in the family home, not the remote institutional setting of a funeral parlor. It wasn't unheard of for relatives to participate in preparing a body for burial."

Actually, that is still true in other places, and yes it brings love back to the dying. It is a very Christian way of saying good-bye to a person, say after a long battle with AIDS, cancer, and what have you. I am Christian originally from Uganda, and so I guess I also tend to "put all of the elements of Uganda-brand Christian dogma into . . . sentences for pomp and ambiguity."

Whatever that means, Christy, talk about ambiguity.

In the West, the baby is welcomed with pomp by parents, but in the last hours of life, usually there are no loved ones in sight and the majority die looking at hospital gadgetry and white walls. Maybe that's why Steve has such a view of death and dying.

Hey, I am neither Canadian nor American (I live in America), but if I were Chinese, Arab, Indonesian, Sudanese, or any other Christian, I would be happily guilty as charged. As a teenager, my wife and her whole church languished in one of Idi Amin's jails for three months charged with the threat of death for being Christians associated with a Canadian/American church. They stood their ground and were released (a rare occurrence under Amin). So I encourage you to stand your ground even on a technical website like yours. After all, do we have anything that we have not been given? 

I am a pharmacist addicted to Macs, and I find myself many times defending my faith to other healthcare professionals. It helps me and trains me to defend the Mac, too, in a Windows world. You don't have to publish this reply, because I realise it's long, It's just to encourage and support you.

Keep on and God bless,
Sam Kawesa RPh

Serving Him Thru Tech

Hi Sam,

Thank you for the excellent letter so full of wise observations and insights (at least I think so). :-)

I do endeavor to stay on topic 99% of the time while writing for Mac websites, but if comments by Steve Jobs are not topical subject matter, I don't know what is.

I'm delighted to hear that you found the article interesting and helpful.

Charles

Respect

From: "John R. Helms

Hello Charles,

I would like to rebut Christy's remarks to a certain degree here. I am on most political issues an extreme liberal. As one who lives too geographically close to Pat Robertson to control my gag reflex at the uttering of the word Christian from time to time, I have to take issue with the insulting tone of her letter.

In my experience (I've read your column weekly for almost two years) I've never seen any truly inappropriate use of this forum to discuss politics or religion. Many columns do discuss these topics, but there has always (if memory serves) been a disclaimer in the topic headings. So, when I have been in too bad of a mood to even consider reading political or religious opinions that differ from my own . . . I just don't scroll that far down.

While I would personally not hold it against you to express your political/religious views throughout your columns, I feel the need to point out that you have shown great restraint in this regard.

Part of the problem with the tone of religious conservatives in my part of the world is that they have rather a lack of tolerance. Sadly, this too seems to be Christy's (and many of my liberal friends) problem. If you wish to be accepted and respected as a person with unusual or no religious beliefs, it is important that you accept and respect people who have dogmatic or even more unusual religious beliefs . . . no matter how much it galls you sometimes to do so. We are all people worthy of respect as individuals.

As regards your technical expertise: In my experience, when confronted with a question beyond your understanding you always own up to this and submit the question to the readers of the column for a solution. I am of the opinion that this is a great service to your readers. Furthermore, your readers are a savvy lot who do not seem to hold back when they spot a technical error in your column or in other readers' letters. This forum is not free Apple technical support. I think most of us know that and take it for what it is.

Thank you for all of your work . . . even the political and religious stuff that annoys me to no end.

JH

Hi John,

While it appears that our religious and political views are widely divergent, we are on the same page when a comes to the need for respect, civility, and tolerance.

It is unfortunate that Christianity has become associated in so many people's minds, with intolerance. If one examines carefully the principles of functional Christian belief, the opposite would obtain.

To give a concrete example, when the Christian church pioneered the establishment and operation of hospitals in the Western world, they were open to anyone, not just Christians. The same would apply today in many relief efforts operated by Christian organizations in the less developed world.

That is not to say that tensions are not inevitable, particularly on issues of public morality, some of which literally involve life and death questions.

However, it is crucial to always regard even our ideological adversaries as fellow human beings worthy of dignity and respect. Unfortunately, the culture wars, as with other forms of human conflict, tend to have a coarsening effect on even the best of us, so the ideals of civility sometimes fall by the wayside. The best we can do is to try to practice them to the best of our ability.

Charles

Absolutely Brilliant

From Jack

Charles.

Just read your "bon voyage" reply to Christy. Absolutely brilliant! Never have I read such a well thought out and delivered rebuttal. Bravo! I will continue to read you as long as you publish.

Sincerely,
Jack Buccellato

Hi Jack,

Thanks for reading and for the positive comment.

Christy is, of course, entitled to her opinion, and I have no problem at all with her disagreeing with me. What I found mildly annoying was her supercilious attitude.

Charles

Regarding the 'Farewell to LEM" Retort

From Dan Harmon

Mr. Moore you have done it again.

This was absolutely priceless:

"Ergo, your broad brush ad hominem critique of my general intelligence and insight, well beyond the topic at hand. So typical. Surely no one gullible and unsophisticated enough to actually believe the Christian Gospel could possibly have a lucid and analytical grasp of much of anything."

Very nicely done Charles. The only thing missing was the hand emote at the end, but frankly after reading that powerful response you didn't need it.

Take care,
Dan Harmon

Hi Dan,

Thank you for the thumbs up. I guess my response reflects some 35 years of being involved in Christian apologetics and having encountered critiques like Christy's with monotonous frequency.

Charles

Insecurity and Doubt

From: Viswakarma

Dear Mr. Moore,

I read your commentary on Steve Jobs' Stanford University Commencement Address and the letters from your readers. I am not surprised at the content of either your commentary or that of the letters. All of them show the limited world of the Desert Religions. There is something wrong with the Desert Religions and their practitioners. They have to wear their religion on their sleeves and talk about it at every occasion. This shows a sense of insecurity and doubt about the religions they practice.

Sincerely,
Viswakarma

Hi Viswakarma,

Thanks for your comments.

I can't speak for the other desert religions, but Christians are instructed by Christ's Great Commission to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:14) and by the Apostle Paul to "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2)

Charles

From Viswakarma

Dear Mr. Moore,

Thanks for your reply.

There lies the problem. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and became a martyr, and his disciples were all born in the desert and moved around the desert. They have not seen anything beyond the desert of the middle east. There is a much larger world out there.

The practitioners of Judeo-Christian-Islamic follow books, written by some "xyz" as to what God "told" them. Basically this is second- or even third-hand information. Books are static. The world is dynamic. Anybody who follows a book essentially should live in the environment and time where and when the books were written. They are not fit to live in more connected and diverse.

More atrocities were committed and more people were killed by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed than anybody else.

I think the Christians have a lot of issues. Their whole religion starts with "sin". When you tell people that they are born sinners, they end up with very low self-esteem and psychological problems. They have to constantly prove to themselves that they are better than others and end up being slave owners, child molesters, rapists, murderers, war mongers. In general, they create more havoc in the world than anybody else. It is the so-called Christians who killed Jews, Gypsies, and others by the millions; dropped the atomic bombs on innocent civilians; fire-bombed Dresden where the innocent German women, children, and sick took shelter; and pillaged colonies in Africa, Americas, and Asia. Look at the atrocities committed by these Christians on the natives of the Americas. The list goes on and on.

There are a whole lot of wisdom that comes from the Eastern world, that the Christians need to take heed -

  1. A frog that is at the bottom of a well has a very limited view of the world.
  2. One has to keep one's bottom clean before he/she cleans others.

There is much more wisdom out in the world on how to live in harmony with one's neighbors and surroundings than can be contained between the two covers of a "book".

Sincerely,
Viswakarma

Hi again Viswakarma,

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is not only a martyr, but is God who created the universe (John 1:3 "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made"), so from our perspective your assertion that Jesus was limited in vision and experience seems rather quaint.

And, of course, the Christian position on this rests on faith. The essence of the Christian faith focuses on the person of Christ. If Christ was God Incarnate, as the Christian Church has maintained for two millennia, then there is no possibility that evolution will ever produce a greater human being than Him, and no moral or philosophical progress past His teachings will be possible either. If Christ is who he claimed to be, then his authority over creation and everyone in it is absolute.

The sentimental notion that Christ was merely a charismatic teacher of nice ideas about love and human brotherhood simply doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny. On the basis of Jesus' own sayings recorded in the Bible (outside of that we know little of Him at all) we are faced with a clear-cut set of alternatives: Jesus was either a madman with paranoiac delusions, or he was indeed who he said he was.

No founder of any other significant religion ever claimed that he was, in his own person, the One True Living God. Mohammed didn't. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) didn't. Ali Muhammad (the Bab) didn't. Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri (Baha'u'llah) didn't. Lao-tzu didn't. Only Jesus Christ claimed to save the world because he himself was God, and that he had personally defeated sin and death. The quintessential Christian challenge is: "What think ye of Christ?" - "Who do you say that I am?"

If Jesus was not God and there was no literal resurrection, then all of Christianity is a fraud and not worth bothering with. If he was God and did rise, as Christians believe, that changes the complexion of things enormously.

And you are correct that sin is the central focus and raison d'etre of Christian belief. Humanity wrestling with sin is the dominant theme of the Christian Bible from Genesis chapter three through Revelation. The problem of sin was the whole reason for God incarnating himself as a man. Jesus himself sweated blood in his struggle with the original sin that was part of the human nature he took on, and he was the only human being in history to be successful at defeating it. ("For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." - Hebrews 4:15)

However, you are sorely mistaken in your notion that functional, faithful Christians imagine that they are better than others. Even St. Paul, who described himself as "the chief of sinners" lamented:

"For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Romans 7: 22-25)

You are correct that those who perpetrated the atrocities you cite were/are "so-called Christians". Anyone can call himself a Christian, and being in captivity to the law of sin, as Paul noted, we will all fail to live up to the Christian standard to some degree, but that is an indictment of sin, not of Christianity.

A very wise friend of mine, who spent most of his life serving as a missionary in Africa, commented this week,

"What God has, and what we have, is the Church that actually is and has been for the last 20 centuries, and it has fallen very far short of any ideal . . . 'Worldliness' in its widest possible sense - including striving for political power - has infected the visible historical Church almost from the earliest days. (Perhaps from the earliest days if we consider Ananias and Sapphira.) The Church's history is the history of an institution that in many ways has been utterly worldly and unspiritual and unbelievably unChristlike. Perhaps marginally better than institutions outside the Church, but that is no excuse. Of course the Church has also included innumerable men, women, children, clergy, and even popes of great holiness of life, but that does not alter the fact that the Church as a visible organisation in many ways has been terribly wicked. However, catholics would say that even so it is still the Bride of Christ and Christ cannot have any other Bride . . . There is an ancient collect which summarises the catholic position beautifully: 'O God of unchangeable power and eternal light, look favourably on thy whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; and by the tranquil operation of thy perpetual providence carry out the work of man's salvation; and let the whole world feel and see that things which were cast down are being raised up, and those which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to perfection through him from whom they took their origin, even through our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

I have nothing useful to add to that.

Thanks for the discussion, which hopefully serves to enhance mutual understanding, if not agreement.

Charles

Self-Evident Truths

From Alarik W. Skarstrom

Dear Charles,

I've been following your discussion and am finally moved to participate. Thanks in advance for the hearing.

The truth of Christianity (by which I mean the Christianity you espouse) is self-evident only to those for whom the truth of Christianity is already self-evident. The problem is that once this truth becomes self-evident it is, by definition, superior to all other truths. I assume that all sincere fundamentalist Christians of whatever stripe must believe that the truth of their faith trumps human systems, which would include philosophical, scientific, legal, and political systems.

To the degree that is the case, to that degree many would see the articles of their faith as essentially superior to all other sorts of articles. How one is to reconcile that to, say, the articles of the Constitution I do not know. Why should church and state be separate if the former represents a higher truth? Is it only a constitutional habit in America? One that we could or perhaps should get over?

One could distinguish, I suppose, substance and process. That is, the state would be about process, procedure; the "church" (meaning here the one true faith, whichever it happens to be) about substance. Liken it to a jury trial, where the jury system is the procedure, but the verdict is the substantive conclusion or truth, which is the ultimate purpose of the process. But 1) that sort of distinction is perhaps a mere legalism, and 2) it still leaves the truth of faith in a superior position - it is, after all, the verdict. More significantly, given this superiority there is no reason, no rationale, apart from the fact that it is in the Constitution, to separate church and state. If "church" is true and right then they ought not to be separate.

I do not understand how the true believer can believe in the separation of church and state. And indeed, if you look at countries and nations where there is no constitutionally mandated separation, there is indeed no other sort of separation; hence, the theocracies.

I think, Charles, that is the inevitable logic that underlies much of the inarticulate resistance of the non-Christians you encounter. The position to which you adhere - by definition - puts you in a superior position, and it is from that view, sub species aeternitatis, that you appear to view the rest of us. You know more about our possible redemption, or lack thereof, than we do. It is troubling, indeed, irritating to know that others view one this way. It has a look of arrogance and autocracy that makes those who are the objects of such looks angry and resentful. The non-Christian does not prosper under the yoke of disapproval in quite the same way that, say, the "primitive Church" did (as you know, by primitive I mean the evangelical church of the early Christians).

I will leave it at that.

Thank you for the web site, which I have always enjoyed.

Regards,
Alarik W. Skarstrom

Hi Alarik,

Thank you for the thought-provoking, insightful, as eloquently articulated observations.

As Pontius Pilate rhetorically queried Jesus, "What is truth?

Whether it is objectively true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead or not is more than a theological question. If Jesus didn't rise on Easter morning, then Christianity is a fraud and a pointless delusion. As St. Paul put it, "If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ is not risen, and if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is empty . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable." (1 Cor. 15: 13-14, 19)

On the other hand, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, the implications are profound. Christianity is either the truth, or it is a lie. It can't be both. Anyone who purports to believe the Gospel of Christ must consider it the absolute and final truth.

And that's it in a nutshell. Other religions may or may not claim exclusive and unique authority in defining truth, but that is not an option for Christians. Christ claimed to be God the Creator incarnate, and Christianity is based upon the claim that he rose bodily from the dead. These claims are either true or they are not true. If they are not true, then Christianity is a fraud and a sham. If Christ was a madman with delusions of being God, and if the Apostles were a bunch of liars, why would any sensible person what to be part of the religion they founded?.

However, if their claims are true, the notion that there can be contradictory or dissonant "truths" that are equally valid and morally equivalent to the truth of Christianity is nonsensical.

As you observe, such assertions are likely to give the impression of "arrogance and autocracy". Those qualities are certainly not the intent of faithful Christian witness, but the inference is understandable. However, I'm inclined to think that the dynamics of this are unavoidable, and that there is no logical or coherent way for Christians to avoid them, although many try to out of dysfunctional politeness. The concept of absolute objective truth is unpopular in a culture increasingly steeped in the dogmas of relativism, to say the least.

The idea that Christians can affirm the teachings and beliefs of other religions or atheistic philosophies as being "equally true and valid" is logically absurd. According moral equivalence to mutually contradictory religious views is the product of doubt and rationalization - not faith. I hasten to emphasize that the essential Christian belief that everyone needs to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that those who reject him are in grave spiritual peril, neither implies nor condones coercion or disrespect. It is impossible for someone to become truly Christian against their will in any case. Christians must respect and scrupulously affirm the right of adherents to other religions or no religion to be mistaken (in our analysis) and to practise their beliefs in peace, but we must never flinch from affirming what we believe to the the truth if we are sincere when we recite the creeds and claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Affirming the unique truth of Christianity does not mean that other religious traditions and disciplines have nothing useful or important to say to us. For instance, University of Wichita religion professor John Carmody notes:

"Any Christian whose theology of grace is up-to-date will suspect that . . . classical East Asian views have been potent revelations. Through them millions of human beings have found consolation and peace. These ways are far from the whole story of God. For Christians they will always be less eloquent than Jesus. But they are essential chapters in the story...."

Indeed, more then a few Christians have found Christ by way of the Eastern disciplines. Psychiatrist/author F. Scott Peck affirms that "I came to God through Zen Buddhism, but that was just the first stretch of the road. The road I have chosen for myself, after twenty years of dabbling in Zen, is Christianity. But I doubt that I could have made that choice without Zen."

As C.S. Lewis noted,

"If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth . . . But of course, being a Christian does mean that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic - there is only one right answer to a sum, and other answers are wrong: But some of the wrong answers are much nearer to being right than others."

It must also be emphasized that while devout Christians believe that Christian religion embodies and articulate absolute truth, it is, and always has been, practised by poor sinners who at their best can only reflect Christ's Truth to the world with varying degrees of distortion. Christ is infallible; Christians are all too prone to failure. If you're looking in at Christianity from outside, look for Jesus - and remember that the human shortcomings of Christians are ours, not his.

As for separation of church and state, the very concept implies that religion is at best an optional extra that can be safely dispensed with. I profoundly disbelieve this. To deny religion as something necessary and indeed intrinsic to human experience is to pretend that one-third of the wholistic triad - body-mind-spirit - does not exist. It goes hand in hand with the erroneous but popular belief that human beings are merely smart, highly-evolved animals, and that belief in the existence of a human soul is a superstitious construct of borne of fearful ignorance that we may blithely cast aside now that we are so much more knowledgeable than our poor, naive ancestors who cowered in caves and lived without television.

Modern humanist conventional wisdom holds that while religion, "spirituality", and "the sacred" are all well and good "in their place", that place is not the public square. This premise has become a rigid dogma, especially among liberals, that religion and the freedom supposedly afforded through scientific enlightenment are in essential conflict.

What people who buy into this notion fail to grasp is that Christianity was instrumental to creating the sort of civilization that allowed liberal ideas to develop and scientific investigation to flourish in the first place. You can have civilization without Christianity, but what we recognize as modern Western civilization cannot be sustained without continual reaffirmation of the Christian principles that created it.

Economic structures, technological innovations, and secular ideologies are too thin a glue to hold functional societies together, because their values and theories aren't backed by objective moral authority. As G.K. Chesterton warned: "if people won't believe in God, the danger is not that they will believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything." Values substantial enough to sustain democratic culture and a functional social order must derive from something more profound than the variegated subjective suppositions of human reason. If people think they want to revert to a paganized, non-Christian culture, they need to be aware of the inevitable consequences of such a policy.

Even Nietzsche, who was driven by a hatred of Christianity - with one of his chief objectives being to purge human consciousness of belief in Christian ideas, which he considered a hobbling inhibition to the realization of human greatness and superiority - was intellectually honest and consistent enough to acknowledge that if Christian faith was to be denied, then Christian morality must also be spurned.

Societies and cultures cannot continue to function sustainably without a consensus on what constitutes moral order and addresses the issues of good and evil, right and wrong. Perfectly functional societies have been built around various religions. However, ours was founded and built on the principles of Christianity, which I don't believe are dispensable without dire consequences ensuing.

Charles


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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