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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

It was the strangest of exchanges, the prepared remarks of President Obama and Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House.

One man referenced Scripture and the Good News; he highlighted the ministry of the Catholic church to the homeless and poor, spoke about the persecution of believers around the world, and called for the defense of religious freedom. The other man, after the usual salutations, made a passing reference to religious liberty, and then spent the rest of his podium time talking about environmental emissions and climate change.

If you think the former was the pontiff and the latter the president, you would be wrong. It was if, after shaking hands, the leader of the free world and the spiritual leader of 1 billion Catholics swapped speaking notes.

What the president said

“Here in the United States,” the president assured Francis, “we cherish religious liberty. . . . We stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and intimidation.”

I wonder what Kim Davis would say about that? Or the photographer who declined to shoot a same-sex wedding and was told by a federal judge that ignoring one’s religious beliefs is “the price of citizenship?” Or the Little Sisters of the Poor who, along with over 100 other religious groups and institutions, are embroiled in a legal battle over the Affordable Care Act, with its requirements to provide insurance for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs against their religious beliefs? Or an administration that has been busily advancing the president’s “freedom of worship” rhetoric with dozens of actions, including the following:

  • Supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that interferes with the right of religious employers to choose their employees. 
  • Arguing, in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOCthat the government can interfere in decisions about who can serve as a minister in religious organizations and churches.
  • Overturning HHS conscience exemptions for healthcare workers opposed to participating in abortions and other activities against their religious convictions. 
  • Repealing the military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with no conscience exceptions for military chaplains.
  • Revoking a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for combating sex trafficking because of their objections to abortion. 

The president also acknowledged that “around the world at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith.”

Including Christians? The world’s oldest Christian communities in the very cradle of the faith are disappearing at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Many of the atrocities committed by ISIS and other jihadist groups involve Christians, and only Christians, as in the one claiming the lives of 140 Christian college students in Kenya.

In sentiments that could have issued from the lips of the late Mother Teresa, Obama spoke of our duty to care for the “least of these” and the “powerless and defenseless.” However, the least of the least and the most powerless, defenseless, and voiceless of all are the unborn, a people group that has received little concern or compassion from the current administration.

In whole, the speech was downright Orwellian, as if it were the work of some Minister of Information intent on papering over seven years of history with 1000 words of rhetoric. The president then turned the podium over to Pope Francis. Read more.

Admitting, ever so modestly, that he can't disprove the existence of God, atheist popularizer Richard Dawkins explains why God almost certainly does not exist. His argument, presented in chapter 4 of The God Delusion (2008), is intended to expose the fallacy of intelligent design. It goes something like this:

• The more complex a thing is, the more improbable it is (absent a designer).

• God must be more complex than anything he created.

• Therefore, God is more improbable than anything in the universe.

The argument (and entire chapter) can be reduced to the "zinger" fashionable among budding atheists testing their forensic chops: "Who created God?" Fancied a debate-winning retort by Dawkins and his acolytes, the go-to comeback kicks off a line of reasoning that sends the discussion headlong down a black hole of infinite regression. For if "God" demands an explanation, so does any ultimate cause (material, immaterial, intelligent, or otherwise).

In cheekier fashion, Dawkins has said he disbelieves all sorts of things that cannot be disproved: the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Flying Spaghetti Monster (his own rhetorical creation), and other childish myths and imaginary figures; God is just one more thing he adds to the list.

On another occasion, when asked what defense he would summon if, after dying, he came face-to-face with God, Dawkins replied, "Not enough evidence, God. Not enough evidence."1

Riddled with Errors

These arguments, which play well to folks inclined to disbelief, share some fundamental errors.

First is the error of category. Unlike God, the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and Flying Spaghetti Monster are not necessary beings. That is to say, the universe, life, and the fulfillment of man's transcendent yearnings are not contingent upon their existence. Simple and great thinkers alike have been entertained by the exploits of Odysseus and Peter Pan, but they have been transformed by the story of God.

Next is question-begging. By insisting that anything presumed to exist, including a necessary cause, demands an explanation, the argument presupposes naturalism, the very premise under question.

Then there's confirmation bias. By criticizing theism for its lack of empirical evidence, while ignoring the unproven and/or unprovable devices of naturalism (for starters, the multiverse, cosmic inflation, and macro-evolution), which collectively defy Occam's razor and which individually, at least in some cases, defy known physical processes, the argument betrays a blinkered consideration of the facts.

And that brings up the fourth error. Contrary to the claims of Dawkins and his ilk, there is evidence, sufficient evidence, for the existence of God... Read on

In case you haven't noticed, Tinseltown is turning out biblical films on a scale not seen since the 1950s. With the showings ofNoah, Heaven Is for Real, Son of God, God's Not Dead,Left Behind,Exodus,andMary, Mother of Christ, 2014 has been called the "year of the biblical movie." It is a genre and trend traceable to the cinematic influence of Cecil B. DeMille.

Box office hits likeQuo Vadis(1951),The Robe(1953), andBen-Hur(1959) made the fifties a golden era for the biblical epic. But it was DeMille'sSamson and Delilah, the number-one moneymaking movie of 1949, that launched the era, and hisTen Commandments(1956) influenced filmmaking well into the next decade, which saw the release ofThe Story of Ruth(1960),King of Kings(1961), andThe Greatest Story Ever Told(1965).

A Filmmaker's Filmmaker

Arguably the most successful filmmaker of his time, Cecil B. DeMille made over seventy movies in a forty-year career that began long before the "talkies."

Wearing his signature outfit of jodhpurs, knee boots, riding crop, and sometimes side arm (for snake protection, he claimed), C. B., as he was known in the industry, directed "casts of thousands" on elaborate sets that were trendsetting for their authenticity and grandiose scale.

Because he began in the early days of motion pictures, over fifty of DeMille's films are silent, and nearly sixty are "pre-code" (i.e., pre-1934). Fans who remember him for his biblical epics may be surprised to learn that many of his pre-code films contain much that is salacious and anachronistic. EvenSign of the Cross(1932), a love story set in the early Christian era, includes nudity, sexual images, and an orgy complete with a lesbian dance.

DeMille made the first of his seven religious-themed films in 1920.Something to Think Aboutstarred Gloria Swanson as a woman who, through the religious faith of a housekeeper, is motivated to honor a promise she made to a handicapped suitor. His last religious film,The Ten Commandments, was the most spectacular, most critically acclaimed, and highest-grossing picture of his long, illustrious career.

A filmmaker's filmmaker, DeMille's body of work is a testament to his ambition, creativity, and skill. But it is also evidence—or, perhaps, a product—of a certain tension between the faith he professed and the life he lived.

Read more here