Millions of Muslims are becoming Christian

The National Catholic Reporter has a fascinating essay about the recent increase of Muslims converting to Christianity. Researchers estimate that there were between 5 million and 16 million “Muslim Background Believers” in 2010. In the US, it is estimated that 20,000 Muslims convert to Christianity a year.

Dudley Woodley, a Fulbright scholar of Islam, published five primary reasons why Muslims are drawn to Christianity, based on interview with 750 MBBs:

  •  The lifestyle of Christians. Former Muslims cited the love that Christians exhibited in their relationships with non-Christians and their treatment of women as equals.
  •  The power of God in answered prayers and healing. The Jesus portrayed in the Quran is a prophet who heals lepers and the blind and raises the dead. Often, dreams or visions about Jesus or a man of light were reported. (Some also have dreams of the Bible or of the Virgin Mary, who is revered within Islam.)
  •  Dissatisfaction with the type of Islam they had experienced. In his article “How ISIS Is Spreading the Gospel,” David Cashin of the Zwemer Center observes, “I have often referred to Islamic radicals as ‘proto-evangelists’ for the Christian faith.”
  •  The spiritual truth in the Bible. Muslims are generally taught that the Torah, Psalms and the Gospels are from God, but that they became corrupted. These Christian converts said, however, that the truth of God found in Scripture became compelling for them and key to their understanding of God’s character.
  •  Biblical teachings about the love of God. In the Quran, God’s love is conditional, but God’s love for all people in the Bible was especially eye-opening for Muslims. These converts were moved by the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus.

As exciting as it is to see Muslims convert to Christianity, I confess that my excitement is tempered because those who have converted have had to live through hell because of the U.S.’s insane foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The U.S.’s counter-terrorism policies in the region in general, and its policy of regime change in Libya and Syria in particular, has caused untold suffering among countless innocent people. Those policies are the key drivers behind the refuguee crisis swarming Europe. Further, the U.S.’s indirect support of ISIS has caused unnecessary havoc within eastern Syria and western Iraq. But for our involvement there, many of those who have converted would have lived far less traumatic lives.

And yet.

It is indeed hopeful to see new blood in the Christian faith. The article shows many MBB’s continuing to have peaceful relationships with Muslims in their communities. They do so “as a witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ”.

That is beautiful.

May we Christians learn from them, and always act as witnesses to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet.



Memebuster no. 7: A New Atheist’s charitable criticism of Christianity

Well, not really.

jewish zombie

I don’t mind snarkiness when it is well informed. As you can see, I can get pretty snarky myself. However, I really don’t like snark when it isn’t well informed. What can I say? I’m funny that way.

I could talk about how the Bible ought to be read, how theology helps interpret it, how the Bible includes different types of literature to communicate various religious truths, what those truths actually are, and so on. Yet in the back of my mind I have to ask myself if I would be wasting my time if I was talking to the writer of this meme? Looks like that person’s mind is already made up.

In the interest of time, all I’ll say is that there is a way that the Bible ought to be read, that theology helps interpret it, that the Bible includes different types of literature to communicate various religious truths, and there are particular religious truths. To those who are interested in learning more about what Catholicism actually believes in, read this. To those who aren’t interested, don’t.

Just don’t expect me to take uninformed snark seriously.

Memebuster no. 6: Conservatives are today’s scapegoats

The author of this meme makes it abundantly clear what he thinks of convervatives.

demonic conservatives

I’d like to address than from a different perspective than the point-by-point rebuttal approach that I’ve done in the past.

The author wants to give the reader the impression that there is this group of people that are called “conservatives” that have been so wrong in their thinking that, at a minimum, they should not even be considered worthy to be involved in political debate. After all, look at that track record!

It doesn’t really matter whether the statements in the meme are correct or not. What matters is whether the reader feels indignant towards conservatives after reading it. From that perspective, it’s a pretty effective meme.

The best way to interpret it is through the mimetic theory developed by René Girard. Mimetic theory holds that individuals develop their desires through observing the desires of others, namely models who they admire and emulate. Conflicts arise when the model and the model’s imitator desire the same particular goal that cannot be shared between the two. If neither gives up the goal, the desire of one becomes the mirror of the other. The conflict will be resolved only through the death of one or the other.

This analysis can be expanded to look at conflicts within a broader society. A societal conflict, which culminates in community-wide violence, will only be resolved when the community believes that the death of one of its members led to the resolution of the crisis and eventual “peace”. The scapegoat usually is an outsider, a weakeling, who doesn’t fit the mold of everyone else within the community. The scapegoat is usually dehumanized before being killed. Therefore, the death of the scapegoat usually doesn’t lead to a great deal of regret to those who murdered him or her. This scapegoat mechanism underlies the mythologies, rituals, and prohibitions of primitive religions.

Now let’s go back to the meme and apply Girard’s mimetic theory to it. Today, liberals and conservatives have been fighting over one thing: control over the federal government. Nothing else matters. As for the statements within the meme, it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. What matters is the impression this long list leaves to the reader. The goal is for the reader to ask to him- or herself, “Why should I listen to someone who has been so wrong for so long?” After all, all conservatives have is fear, no reasoning.

This meme reflects the mirror image of the very fear that conservatives supposedly have a monopoly over. It demonizes them and sets them up as scapegoats. If we could only get rid of those fearful conservatives, liberals plead, we would finally have peace. Yet the argument, when brought to its logical conclusion, will only lead to the very opposite of its intended objective: civil war.

P.S. A good way to get introduced to Girard’s thinking is to read I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening.

Memebuster no. 4: Nobody can deviate from the norm

I’d like to make two points before I begin. First, this will be more of a rant than a refutal. Second, I am in no way a Trump supporter. (I’m more of a “none of the above” kind of guy.) Nevertheless, this meme just can’t be ignored.

Stoopid voters

What stuns me about this quote is the sheer hubris behind it. Like most hubristic thought, it is an obnoxious mixture of extreme arrogance, and, frankly, sheer stupidity.

Mr. Borowitz is aghast that so many people are “ignorant enough to vote for Trump.” But the same question can be asked about those who vote for Bernie Sanders. After all, history has clearly shown that socialism simply doesn’t work, and never will. Ludwig von Mises demonstrated this as far back as 1920. Yet as far as this quote shows, Mr. Borowitz doesn’t seem to be the least bit interested in avoiding socialism. But then again, his words put far too much weight in placing the only factor in creating Trump voters on the “educational system,” whatever the hell that means.

But what’s particularly galling is that Mr. Borowitz apparently believes that there are people with sufficiently superior minds who know how to fix the educational system. In this case, it is to avoid people from voting for future Trumps. The totalitarian instinct behind such a perspective is astounding, not to mention thoroughly dangerous. Under this view, kids are no longer children of parents but inputs into a “system,” from which come adults who would think in a particular way. That way, presumably, would prevent them from considering a Trump-like candidate as someone to seriously consider.

The next question, though, is what would this system consider as a worthy candidate? Given our incredibly narrow left-right dichotomy (I refuse to call it a spectrum, which presumes a breadth of opinion) in American politics, it would be fair to think that an appropriate candiate would be a progressive. Never mind the immense damage progressive policy has done to American life in general and American politics in particular, the goal of this system would be to create a progressive voter who, at the very least, would not be “ignorant.”

So to prevent people from thinking of Trump as a viable candidate, one would need to create “an educational system” that will instruct (not inform, let alone educate) people to think, then vote, in a very specific way. Anyone who deviates from the norm would be considered an ignorant rube who needs to be shut out of proper society.

Such thinking should be considered terrifying and uncivilized. However, it is held by far too many who consider themselves among the elite.

Memebuster no. 3: That pastor is a selfish SOB, so let’s punish all Christians

The creator of this meme is apparently indignant of mega churches and their rich pastors.

tax the pastors

First of all, it can’t even get its facts straight. According to US census data, one in five – not three – children live under the U.S. poverty line. Also, notwithstanding a church’s tax-exempt status, the IRS has clearly stated that a minister’s income is subject to income tax.

Second, the meme makes the incredibly brazen assumption that mega churches do nothing to help those in need. While the pastor’s house does look grand, we know nothing of what he and his congregation have done to help the poor. In fact, David Beito’s book From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967 makes the compelling case that before the welfare state, there was a vibrant culture of mutual aid societies to assist the poor and the working class. (Listen to Beito’s discussion with Tom Woods about his book here.) To presume a lack of charity is itself uncharitable.

Third, there is no reason to believe that taxing churches would actually alleviate poverty. If anything, a strong argument can be made that the opposite is true. The welfare state traps the poor into a state of dependency.

Finally, the concept of poverty in America is a relative one. As Thomas Sowell points out:

Most Americans with incomes below the official poverty level have air-conditioning, television, own a motor vehicle and, far from being hungry, are more likely than other Americans to be overweight.

This isn’t the grinding poverty that people think of when considering the poor. It would be great if the poor became less so, but taxing churches would do nothing towards pulling them out of poverty.

So what’s the key argument behind the push to tax churches? Envy. For those who make this argument, it is wrong when people who have “too much” exist when there are people who have too little. What makes it particularly galling is when the “wrong” people, like pastors, have it so good. Yet taxing churches would do nothing to alleviate the anguish of those who are truly in need, and would hurt church members who have either done nothing wrong or who have been doing the hard work of reaching out.

Jesus calls Christians to find him in the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40). While we all can look in the mirror and see if there’s more that we can do, the meme calls for nothing but the satiation of the emotions of the envious.

Memebuster no. 2: Silly mommy. God is for kids!

It has been a while since I’ve posted a memebuster since the opening post of this blog. Fortunately, I’ve found a doozy to tackle:

Where did faith go

Isn’t that cute?

Yup, we know  that there is no god because there are molecules. And solar systems. And monkeys that evolved into humans.

With memes like this, perhaps we should have stayed as monkeys.

Just because God can’t be observed through scientific method doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. In fact, as smart as New Atheists claim to be, one would think that they would recognize that no one can prove the negative of anything!

New Atheists like to claim that they won’t believe in anything unless there is EVIDENCE that what they believe is true. While on the surface this may be seem reasonable, in the end it’s a ridiculous notion to live by. We all must live our lives with some preconceived notions of how the world works, why certain relationships (like family relationships) are important, and so on. To think otherwise is to have a permenantly sceptical relationship with reality, which is impossible, if not unhealthy.

Furthermore, NAs discount evidence that are inconvenient to their world views. NAs aren’t unique in this deficiency, but that doens’t discount the importance of their mistake. For example, NAs love to claim that the Bible doesn’t provide sufficient proof that God exists. However, that means that they are unwilling to accept the testimonies of the disciples of Jesus and their followers as provided in the four Gospels. The claim is that the Gospels aren’t “scientific,” and yet as Brad Pitre points out in his important book The Case for Jesus, the Gospels were written in the same manner as biographies of important people during that time. One may dispute the veracity of those testimonies, but to be intellectually honest, one must take into account as many sources as possible, and logical reasoning, when doing so. To flippantly call the Gospels lies without any basis serves no one, particularly the one making this claim.

It is true that the Bible includes many books from a wide variety of sources over long period of time. It would be impossible to think that there wouldn’t be inconsistencies among these books. That’s where theology comes in. That’s where the Catholic church comes in to sort out and interpret all of these scriptures in a consistent manner. After all, the Catholic church claims that it was founded by Jesus himself, and that he gave Peter authority over it. The doctrines and traditions of the Church seek to communicate that the Son of God came down to earth to save humandkind. Thus the saying the Old Testemant informs the New Testament, and vice verca. To mock Catholic doctrine without understanding it serves no one, particularly those who are doing the mocking.

Finally, far too many NAs hold the view that religion feels threatened by science because it somehow competes with religion over understanding reality. Nothing can be farther from the truth. As John Polkinghorne demonstrated in his little book Science and Religion in Quest of Truth, science and religion can co-exist with one another because they seek to understand from different perspectives. Furthermore, Bishop Robert Barron has mentioned in countless occassions that God seeks to be in the world without competing with humans in the process. Unlike pagan gods that battle humans and each other, the very fact that Jesus is both God and man shows that God can be in the world in a noncompetitive, nonviolent manner.

There is no either-or. When it comes to religion and science, there is no reason to think that it is anything but both-and.

Book review no. 2: The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, by Brant Pitre

The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre is a fascinating, step-by-step analysis of the claim that a first-century Jew named Jesus was neither a prophet nor a madman, but in fact the Son of God.

Before addressing that claim, Pitre had to clear out a great deal of intellectual deadwood. Specifically, he took on the current fashionable thinking that the stories about Jesus were not true, and should merely be thought of as legend.

The Case for Jesus

The primary basis for thinking the Jesus stories as legend is what Pitre calls the “theory of the anonymous Gospels.” According to this theory, all four Gospels were originally published without any titles identifying the authors; circulated for almost a century before being attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; and the titles were added to give the Gospels “much needed authority” since Jesus’s disciples had been dead and buried.

Pitre finds three major problems with this theory. First, there are no copies of anonymous Gospels. Pitre shows the names of the ancient manuscripts that attribute the four Gospels to the four authors. Second, there is no trace of disagreement among the manuscripts circulating around the Roman Empire as to who were the authors of the four Gospels. Third, if providing the Gospels “authority” was such a priority to ancient scribes, Pitre asks why they would attribute two of the Gospels, Mark and Luke, to men who never even knew Jesus.

Pitre carefully demonstrates who the Gospel writers were and why we should believe that their authorship is authentic. He also shows that the Gospels were written in the same manner as biographies during that time. The purpose of ancient biographies were to document an important person’s life, albeit not in a verbatim manner. Finally, Pitre destroys the notion that the Gospels were written four to six decades after the death of Jesus. In fact, he clearly shows that there are compelling historical reasons to conclude that all four Gospels were written within the lifetimes of the disciples and their followers. Once he addressed concerns that the Gospels had been written by anonymous authors, Pitre then tackled the question of who Jesus claimed to be.

Pitre argues that many contemporary Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t necessarily know why, let alone understand why his first followers that he was. For Pitre, the interpretive key is using the perspective of a first-century Jew who would have heard and seen what Jesus said and did.

When Jesus came onto the scene, religious Jews were very mindful of prophecies in the Book of Daniel that pointed to the Messiah coming at some point during the reign of the Roman Empire. In fact, Jesus hinted to careful listeners that he was indeed divine, but in a very Jewish way. Jesus used riddles and parables to indicate who he was, but not in so blatant a way so as to be killed before he could complete his mission.

Basically, his mission was to be executed so that he could be resurrected. He did all of this so that all of humankind, Gentile and Jew, can turn to Him for salvation. Pitre shows that all of this, particularly Jesus’s resurrection, fulfilled Jewish Scripture. Pitre also demonstrates that Jesus said that Gentiles will believe in Him not only because of his resurrection, but also because of the inexplicable and rapid conversion of the pagan nations.

I’m only providing a high level overview of Pitre’s arguments. What’s particularly impressive is the careful manner in which he builds them. He provides tremendous detail and mindful exegesis to support each argument. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested is understanding more fully the case that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God.

Why Mary being immaculate matters

…[W]e need to understand that Mary’s purity was far, far more than her remaining a virgin throughout her life. Saying she is “pure” is to say she is natural and whole and complete. She is a “virgin” as an unspoiled forest or a spring of mountain water. She is pure with a fullness of humanity and life and love that our soiled and spoiled natures cannot understand. This is why the Fathers of the Church call her “the second Eve”–because she was re-created at her Immaculate Conception as the new creation by God’s grace and by virtue of her Son’s saving work.

This purity is power. It is what conquers evil. We must understand therefore that evil is not defeated by evil means. Yes, sometimes people must use force against force in self defense, but this is not the primary way to battle evil. The primary way to battle evil is by being good. The way to overcome darkness is to light a lamp. The way to overcome cold is to light a fire. Likewise, the way to overcome evil is not to rage against it, not to establish yet more rules and regulations to force people to be good by virtue of the law. Instead it is to become more like Jesus and Mary: to be pure.

Read Father Longenecker’s powerful post here.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.