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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, chosen by president-elect Trump to be national security adviser, again finds himself in the crosshairs of liberal ire. This time for calling Islam a political ideology masked behind religion.

A registered Democrat, Flynn served in the Obama administration until, in his words, “the stand I took on radical Islam,” led to his early retirement.

Liberal aversion to the phrase, “radical Islam” is a symptom of what psychologists call, the “false consensus bias”—the belief that, in the global brotherhood of mankind, everyone shares the same wants, needs, desires, and values.

However, while everyone wants peace, the Western liberal and the radical Islamist promote vastly different means of achieving it—the former, through an ethic of universal tolerance and the latter, through the universal “purification” by the sword.

Waste Not a Crisis
Under the false consensus, a liberal in the West, for whom religion is largely irrelevant, cannot conceive that it could be any different for the shooter who goes on a killing spree in a crowded night club, screaming “Allahu Akbar!” Or, as just happened recently, an Ohio State freshman and Somali Muslim refugee who drives his car through a crowd of students injuring nine. Such a person can’t be motivated by religion, because religion is an outward expression of our primal longings, making every variety, even that of the jihadist, a “religion of peace.” Thus, televised beheadings and crucifixions are not acts of religious devotees, but of madmen given to fear, anger, xenophobia, depression, or the increasingly fashionable, “causes unknown.”

The tragic consequence is that each terrorist act becomes a crisis, not to be wasted, for politicians eager to mount their hobbyhorses of gun control, mental health care, and military action—measures that are ineffective at best, and counterproductive at worst against the “enemy that won’t be named.”

Consider gun control. Even if all the ammunition and firearms in the world were rounded up and destroyed, the person intent on purifying the world will attempt to do so, be it with explosives, incendiaries, chemicals, biotoxins, knives, and vehicles, all of which have been used to great effect. On July 14, 2016 one of the most efficient terrorist attacks occurred in Nice, France. In only a matter of minutes, one man, armed with a 19-ton cargo truck, was able to kill 84 people and injure over 300 others.

As for mental health care, while some psychological problems have been exhibited by some jihadists, mental illness is not a common factor in Islamic terrorism. Thus, contrary to common depictions, the typical jihadist is not some deranged psychopath, but a religiously informed foot soldier who believes he has a divine commission in the imminent apocalypse.

The Enemy is Not Terrorists
Then there’s military action, which has not, and never will, defeat the “enemy that won’t be named,” because “enemy that won’t be named” is not the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other jihadist group...continue reading here.

In an episode of Antiques Roadshow, a furniture expert was presented an unexceptional-looking table, one that struck me as something I could put together in an afternoon.

Although the piece had no decorative embellishments or maker’s mark, the expert immediately identified it as the work of George Nakashima, an innovative furniture maker of the last century. I was amazed, for somewhere in the table’s stark simplicity was information sufficient for the trained eye to identify the craftsman with the certainty of a DNA analysis.

The universe, also a crafted work, is information-rich. And as trained eyes have plumbed its depths and probed its expanse they have unveiled, if unwittingly, the fingerprints of its Maker.

The Fundamental Ingredient
From the spooky behavior of subatomic particles, communicating instantly over galactic distances, to the biological software of cellular machinery, to the host of delicately balanced parameters that govern the cosmos, information, as scientists are coming to learn, is the fundamental ingredient of the universe. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler put it this way, “Every physical quantity derives its ultimate significance from bits, binary yes-or-no indications.” In computer-ese, that’s information.

Paradoxically, the stuff that makes up the material world is not material. While its transmission depends on material means—sound waves, electromagnetic signals, ink and paper, photographic images, and the like—information neither consists, nor is a product of, matter.

Consider the cells of our body. During the course of a normal life span, every cell in the body is replaced many times over; the molecules that make up our brain turnover about once every year. However, those changes have no commensurate effect on the instructions that govern cell activity or on our library of knowledge, memories, beliefs, and aspirations.

The existence of information is evidence that reality is more than matter moving under the influence of physical forces. At the root of nature is order, an order we neither invented nor imposed. So where did it come from? Find out here.

A recent survey (August 2016) by the Pew Research Center reveals that American churches have produced a generation of spiritual consumers who want little more from their religious community than a good pulpiteer, a satisfying worship service, and a congregation filled with nice, friendly members.

esearching the habits of U.S. Christians, Pew found that nearly one-half have changed their church membership at some time as adults. Of those, only about one-third changed because of relocation—the rest did so for things like “social reasons,” “practical reasons,” and “problems with old church.”

Pew also found that the top four factors Christians consider in shopping for a church are: quality of sermons (83 percent), feeling welcomed by leaders (79 percent), style of services (74 percent), and location (70 percent). The remaining factors are: education for kids (56 percent), having friends/family in congregation (48 percent), availability of volunteer opportunities (42 percent), and “other factors” (29 percent).

A Troubling Omission
I suspect many—if not, most—churches will respond to the survey in one of two ways: churches providing the things that shoppers are seeking will be pleased that their thumb is on the spiritual pulse of the culture; those that aren’t will be anxious to catch up to the demands of the market.

However, for discerning churches, the findings will be a wake up call. For absent is anything suggesting the desire for personal spiritual growth in a gospel-centered, mission-driven, discipleship-oriented church. The possible exceptions are “volunteer opportunities” and the “quality of sermons.” However, the former is available in any number of civic organizations and the latter can mean vastly different things to different people.

I was once contacted by a pastoral search committee about a former pastor who listed me as a reference. The first criterion on the list was, “Are his sermons uplifting?” To which, I replied, “Uplifting is not the word that comes to mind. Rather, biblically sound, spiritually challenging, and sometimes downright uncomfortable are how I remember them, much like the letters of Paul.”

At best, the question betrays the notion that an essential, if not the essential, need of members is a pastor who can deliver a soul-soothing message week after week. At worst, it is indicative of a market-savvy church, responding to the desires of the consumer.

A Perfectly Designed Result
This is not to suggest that such things are unimportant in the hunt for a church. But it’s a bit like job hunting and elevating the rhetoric of the CEO, affability of the managers, feng shui of the office, and commute time to work over a company’s vision, mission, strategic goals, business model, employee development program, and industry track record.

Nor do I want to imply that their felt importance is primarily the fault of church members, but of the Church itself.

A common adage in the marketplace is, “your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting.”

Take the Hostess Cupcake Company, for example. If every tenth Hostess Twinkie comes off the line without cream filling, then the production process of the Hostess Company is perfectly designed to get that result. To get a different result—every cake produced with cream filling—the company must change the process.

Likewise, Christians, whose desires for church have little to no bearing on the objectives of discipleship found in Sacred Scripture, are products of a church’s spiritual formation process. To get a different result—Christians whose priorities are spiritual development and discipleship—a church will have to change its process. To find out how, click here.