Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Movies

Christmas, as I heard Dennis Prager say recently, is the source of an entirely novel genre of art. Secular art inspired by a religious holiday and secular artists who often make it. This is obviously true of music, but it is particularly true of movies. So I thought we could talk a little about some of the classic Christmas movies, which are the good and bad, and of course which are your favorites.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WW--Capital Punishment Should Be Abolished

~Innocent people can be executed.
~The method is cruel and unusual.
~Jesus taught us to not judge other people.
~Jesus taught mercy to the mob with the woman caught in adultery.
~Forgiveness, not justice, is the centerpiece of Christian morality.
~You don’t teach people that it’s wrong to kill by killing people.
~God spared Cain and David.
~Hateful, bloodthirsty, and vicious people all like capital punishment, too.

~We are supposed to love our enemies, which probably means not killing them.

Post-Show Thoughts: I'll be writing a series of columns on this issue as soon as I can.

Bible References: Gen 1:26, Gen 4:1-16, Gen 9:6, Exodus 20:13, Exodus 21:12-25, Lev 20, Num 35:31, Deut 19:15-21, Deut 32:35, 2 Sam 12:5, Matt 5:17-19, Matt 5:38-39, Matt 5:44-48, Matt 26:52, Mark 7:10, Luke 9:53-56, Luke 19:27, Luke 20:9-16, Luke 23:41, John 8:3-11, John 19:10-11, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 25:11, Rom 12:14-13:4, Titus 3;1, Heb 2:14-15, Heb 10:28, 1 Peter 2:13-14, Rev 13:9-10

Links on Capital Punishment:
Capital Punishment by Wikipedia
CP Debate by Wikipedia
Religion and CP by Wikipedia
Catholicism and CP by
Life For a Life: The Bible and CP by
What About The Death Penalty? by
CP and The Bible by
CP Bible Quiz by
The Bible Teaches About CP by
Pro CP Page by
The Bible and CP by
Executions at 13-Year Low by New York Times
UN Calls for CP Moratorium by Boston Globe
Press Release and Text of CP Resolution by United Nations

WW--Zero Tolerance Policies Are Wise

~They’re really popular among administrators, so there must be something to it.
~You can’t make exceptions without undermining the whole concept of having rules.
~People just take advantage of leniency.
~This protects authorities from the consequences of making disparate decisions.
~You must treat all people the same.
~This is a really good example of the rule of law in operation.
~Some things are so awful that there can be no tolerance of them at all.
~The safety of our kids has to come first.
~If there’s any wiggle room, people will think they can talk their way out of whatever it is.
~Doesn’t God sort of have a zero-tolerance about sin?

Post-Show Thoughts: ZTPs are an abdication of the responsibility to use judgment wisely by those we put in positions of authority. They are a response to fears of litigation and tragic precisely because they remove individual thought from discipline, a process which must always remain distinctly humane. Exceptions do not destroy rules. Exceptions validate rules. And no rule can ever cover all of the contingencies enough to justify eliminating human judgment from contributing. They are a symptom of the nonsensical idea that all things can be neatly categorized by labels and measured by simple tests which is corrupting all of modern education. We can call them Zero Thought Policies, Zero Intelligence Policies, or Zero Flexibility Politcies, but the main problem with them is that they wind up treating wildly disparate behaviors the same under the false notion that equal treatment is equitable treatment. Equal and fair are not the same word. A society that replaces oral and essay exams with multiple choice/fill-in-the blank tests will always eventually establish ZTPs for a very simple reason: it has already acknowledged that human thought is not worth preserving or teaching.

Links on ZTP:
ZTP: A Report by American Bar Association
ZTPs Lack Flexibility by USA Today
ZTP (Schools) by Wikipedia
Losing My Tolerance for ZTP by
ZTP and Alcohol by

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is Waterboarding Acceptable?

Waterboarding is an interrogation technique which simulates the sensation of drowning without actually risking physical harm to the person being interrogated. It has come under tremendous scrutiny precisely because it seems to fall between what we ordinarily think of as torture and legal methods of inducing cooperation. With renewed interest by Congress as well as the disclosure that tapes of this method being used were destroyed by the CIA, I thought we should talk about whether this method is ethical or not.

Post-Show Thoughts: I go back and forth every time I think about this. On the one hand, it must work or else I have trouble understanding why the CIA and the Administration want it. To argue that it doesn't work makes them out to be sadists, which is uncompelling. On the other hand, obviously this manner of treating other human beings made in the Image of God seems really at odds with what we all think it means to be American. This simply isn't the sort of thing we do, it's the sort of thing the people we aren't would do. Clearly our enemies do far worse, but we do not define our standards by the way our enemies violate them. So I'm left not sure what to say, which means it's a dilemma. And the way to resolve dilemmas is to first ask who has the authority to decide them. Find a person whose character you trust, who has as much information as possible, who will wrestle with the decision, and who prays. Then let that person make the decision, and then, unless you are truly certain they have done something atrocious, trust them. I'm not convinced enough that this is awful to conclude that our government has done evil here. There are many things the military does that I am grateful I don't have to decide to do, and I also understand there are limits to what they may be allowed to do. About waterboarding, I tend to say that we must go no further beyond this line, but if those in charge believe this is useful, so be it. And for Congressional leaders who knew and approved of it in 2002 to now use it as a political point, shame on them.

Links on Waterboarding:
Waterboarding by Wikipedia
Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002 by Wash. Post
Is Waterboarding Torture? by CS Monitor
Bush Admin. Blocked Critic by Wash. Post

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ethics: Gift-giving and Gift-receiving

Every year, we do a show on this topic because it’s such an important part of Christmas. Why, exactly, do we give gifts? What are the key ingredients to a good (and a bad) gift? What should you do when you get a gift you don’t want? Should you be honest with the person? Aren’t Christians supposed to tell the truth? Would you want to know if you failed at giving someone else a gift?

Post-Show Thoughts: Honesty is key. When someone gives a bad gift, they have really violated the purpose of gift-giving and done something immoral. This requires an appropriate response, which is usually tactful honesty. Lying always leads to a breach in the relationship and later lies, most likely. Real love pursues honesty and seeks to help them become wiser at giving gifts. I intend to write a longer article on this topic because I think it's so important. If gifts are meant to be a blessing, then we are obligated to do everything we can to make them not be a burden. Bad gifts show we don't know others and, therefore, can't really love them.

Two articles by Andrew on this subject
Bad Christmas gifts part 1, How not to give them
Bad Christmas gifts part 2, What to do when you get them

Bible References: Prov 21:14, Eccl 3:12-13, Eccl 5:18-20, Matt 5:21-24, Matt 5:40-42, Matt 6:9-15, Matt 7:6-12, Matt 10:8, Matt 19:21, Luke 6:30-36, Acts 2:37-38, Acts 20:35, 1 Cor 12, Rom 5:15-18, Eph 2:8-9, James 1:17, Rev 11:10

Links on Gift-giving:
Parent Alert: Video Games To Avoid by ABC News
What To Do WIth Bad Gifts by
Top Ten Worst Gifts From Last Christmas by
Anatomy of a Bad Gift-Giver by
Bye-Bye, Bad Gifts by USA Weekend
Humor: Things To Say About Bad Gifts by
The Gift That Keeps On Being Given by Orlando Sentinel
Growth of Holiday Gift Cards by USA Today
Regifting by Wikipedia
Regifting 101 by
The Regifting Debate by CBS News
12 Rules For Regifting Without Fear by

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WW--We Should Not Celebrate Christmas

~It’s hopelessly bound up with things we oppose or should oppose like materialism and fables.
~It’s origins come from pagan worship rituals.
~Christmas was actually illegal in America for a long time. Do you know why?
~Jesus never told us to commemorate His birth, and the disciples didn’t do so. We are told to commemorate His death with communion.
~By saying, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” He was implying that we ought not do anything else in remembrance of Him.
~Is this a Biblical phrase?
~Christmas isn’t even really all that important to the faith, compared to Easter anyhow.
~It’s only in one Gospel and wasn’t celebrated by the early Church.
~Birthdays are not a Biblical thing to celebrate anyhow.
~Christmas and all the traditions sets people up for great depression when they are alone or when they don’t have a “good one,” whatever that means.

Post-Show Thoughts: Many of these arguments are spurious. Most notably, the Bible clearly depicts a massive celebration at Jesus's birth by angels and shepherds and the Magi. Are we to be the only ones who do not celebrate His birth? Also, the way we know that Jesus is Messiah is because He fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies concerning His birth. If His birth were not important to God and our theology, why would the OT point to Him so clearly and then show those promises satisfied in Him? As far as the roots issue, I evaluate a practice based on what it is, not based on what it was. Whether America was a Christian nation originally tells us nothing about whether it is so today. Likewise, whether Christmas was a co-opted pagan holiday (and I think it was not, actually), that's not what it is now. And what something means to the people celebrating it is the key thing. Having a statue doesn't make me guilty of idolatry, unless I bow down to it.

Bible References: Gen 40:20-22, Lev 18:21-29, Matt 1:21, Matt 14:6-10, Matt 15:7-9, Luke 1:1-2:38, John 18:37, Romans 14:5-6, 1 Cor 10:31, 1 Cor 11:23-26

Links on Celebrating Christmas:

Should Christians celebrate Christmas? (Must-read) by
A Defense of Christmas (Another Must-Read) by
Should we celebrate Christmas? by Cobblestone Ministries

Should Christians celebrate Christmas? by
Was Jesus born on Decmeber 25? by
Christmas: Pagan origins? by
Should we celebrate Christmas? by
Let the pagans have the holiday by Christianity Today
Christmas by Wikipedia
The Real Story of Christmas by
The Origin of Christmas by
Origin of Christmas: Controversial Roots by

WW--We Shouldn’t Decorate For Christmas

~Name a Christmas decoration that isn’t Biblically problematic.
~Christmas trees are pagan. Haven’t you read Jeremiah 10?
~Mistletoe was thought to be a magical wood.
~Christmas lights waste energy (lots and lots of it) and don’t have anything to do with the birth of Jesus.
~Stockings are about Santa, which we shouldn’t emphasize.
~Nativity scenes: Really? Statues of Jesus?

Bible References: Isaiah 44:9-20, Jer 10:2-4, Matt 5:14-16, Luke 2:32, Luke 8:16, Luke 11:33, John 1:5-9, John 3:19-21, John 8:12, John 9:5, 1 Cor 8:4-6

Links on Christmas Decorations:
Christmas shame by Christianity Today
In defense of Christmas trees by
Should we have a Christmas tree? by
Christmas trees on college campus by
The Jesse tree (neat idea) by
Christmas house lights by

Monday, December 10, 2007

Best Campy TV Shows and Remakes of Them

I was recently excited to see the return to network television of a remake of the old (1980’s) television show, American Gladiators. And it got me thinking about how many television shows get remade either as new television shows or (more commonly) as movies and how often it doesn’t work. So, I figured we could have fun talking about our favorite campy TV shows and whether we would or would not want to see them remade.

Links on TV Show Remakes:
Please no, not another remake by Times Online

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

WW--“In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” Should Go

~It’s wrong to compel children to espouse religion of any kind.
~Religion should be private.
~This country was founded on religious freedom in opposition to religiously oppressive countries in Europe.
~How important can they be since they weren’t added until later in our country’s history?
~Are we really so worried about “Godless communism” these days?
~How would you feel if the pledge said, “One nation with no supreme authority?” or “One nation under thirty-eight gods.” That’s the parallel.
~How about if the money said, “In Allah we trust?”
~Isn’t there something sacrilegious about putting God’s name on money…almost like it’s a violation of some Commandment or other?
~The government is supposed to be neutral to religion.

Post-Show Thoughts: It may well be the last vestige of an overwhelmingly Christian culture, but that doesn't mean it's nothing at all. The opponents here are between two problems: on the one hand they want to say that these things are significant violations of Constitutional principle but they also want to say they aren't really meaningful. Which is it? To say that these are violations of the establishment clause is to really belittle the meaning of that clause. I like reminders that God is the source of morality which is the source of law.

Links on mottos:
History of "In God We Trust" by U.S. Treasury
In God We Trust by Wikipedia
Pledge of Allegiance by Wikipedia
Pledge of Allegiance criticism by Wikipedia
Should "Under God" be in pledge? by

WW--We shouldn't say, "Merry Christmas."

~You can’t simultaneously argue that Christmas is a secular holiday deserving of protection and then maintain that the heart of Christmas is Jesus.
~Christmas was originally a hijacked pagan holiday. It’s now come full circle.

~You’re imposing your beliefs on other people.

~If it offends them to say Merry Christmas, why would you want to do it?

~If you’re honest, you say it because you want to rather than because you think it’ll really be a blessing to others.

~Is this a Biblical phrase?

~I can be a blessing to everyone by saying “Happy Holidays”

~It’s lazy evangelism. If you really want to bless people evangelically, say Jesus loves you. Jesus was born for you.

~Would you wish someone a happy Easter so promiscuously?

~Imagine Jews saying to the Egyptians, “Have a happy Passover.”

~It’s impolite to make assumptions, particularly religious ones, about people you don’t know.

~Doesn’t it seem odd how defending this phrase seems to rob so many people of the joy this season is supposed to be about?

Post-Show Thoughts: When you say, "Merry Christmas," to strangers in America, you are going to bless and bring joy to at least 90% of them, have no impact on perhaps 5-10% of them, and irritate 1-2% of them at most. Therefore, simple common decency and wanting to bless others leads you to say something pro-Christmas at Christmas. On the other hand, if you get all angry about this, you probably are missing some component of the joy and peace that Christmas should bring.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who Is Jesus? What’s The Gospel? How Do You Know?

“God loves you. Sin separates you from Him. Jesus died to restore you. If you receive Him as Lord, you will know God again.” That’s a fine plan, but who is this Jesus anyhow? People say different things. Savior, healer, messiah, teacher, miracle-worker, lord, prophet. So who Is He really? And given all the evidence about Jesus in the New Testament, what is the best way to think about His identity?

Post-Show Thoughts: Jesus is King. When you start with this particular label, I think you get a lot of the things that He did and was trying to do in the process. He was establishing a Kingdom, showing how His Kingdom would operate, and demonstrating His Kingship through miracles, healings, casting out demons, ministering to all, forgiving sins, and rising from the dead. What particularly strikes me about this metaphor, however, is that it immediately obligates us to something. We either are loyal to the King or we are not. And salvation is a matter of declaring your allegiance to King Jesus. Another reason I like it is that it avoids the over-familiar, nice-nice Jesus that many people think of. It doesn't encompass everything, but it synthesizes much, and I found it useful to think of Him as my King.

Are Science And Religion Compatible?

We just finished watching the movie, The Reaping, (my review is posted here) and something in that movie made me really think. In the movie Hillary Swank’s character gives an account of how the Ten Plagues of Egypt could have occurred scientifically, which is expanded in the DVD extras. Does such an account threaten faith, reinforce it, or have no impact? Should we expect science to tell us things that fit with the Bible all the time, or should we expect areas of conflict? And what means more to us in our religious belief: faith, experience, or reason?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Best (And Worst) Toys For Children

What’s the difference between a great toy and a not-so-great toy? What are the toys that really serve our parenting goals with our children? Which toys are most appealing to children themselves? Which toy do you consider a “must-have” for children growing up?

Toys I like and recommend:

For Toddlers
Mega Blocks, Wood Puzzles, Balls, gloves, bats, Magna doodle, Shape sorter ball, Board Books, Little People, Stacking blocks and cups, Play tools, Dinosaurs, Push popcorn and music, Little Tykes car or motorcycle or grocery cart, Play food, Bowling pin set, Vacuum cleaner, Stuffed animals, Jack in the box, Mr. Potato Head

Wood Blocks, Duplos, Dominoes, Lincoln Logs, Bicycle, Chalkboard, Etch-a-sketch, Play-doh, Crayons, Tumble tower, Matchbox, Shake and go cars, Fire truck, Jacks, Silly Putty, Tinker toys, Various board games, Wooden trains, Animal game, Frisbee, Viewmaster, Dress-up stuff of any kind, Slinky

Grade School
Barbie, Legos, Train, Slot cars, Army men, Skates, Marbles, Fake guns, Chess, Erector Set, Jigsaw puzzles, RC car, Yo-yo, Pogo stick, Paddle ball, Action figures

Ethics: Who Should Be Allowed To Vote?

In America, our system is simple: every citizen over 18 can vote as long as he isn’t a criminal or insane (generally). But these rules seem much more like a practical system than a theoretically coherent system. Should illiterate people vote? They haven’t read the Constitution. Should people who don’t pay taxes vote? They don’t suffer the consequences of their decisions. Should women vote? They can’t be drafted. Should the elderly vote? They have wisdom, but they won’t have to live with the consequences very long. Should children vote? They certainly have the most to lose by bad decisions. We require all sorts of tests before we let someone drive a car, but any old idiot can influence all of our lives by voting. So lets pretend that we are setting up a new system for voting…what would that system require of someone, if anything, before voting?