Trinity Western University’s law school and the battle over free thinking

Trinity Western University

Trinity Western University

It is clear that the debate over Trinity Western University’s proposal for a law school is no longer a debate over homosexuality and religious freedom, but a debate over intellectual competency.

Take the recent article in the National Post from legal scholars who oppose TWU’s proposal for a law school as an example. While arguing for increased Chartered protection for gays and lesbians, they are also very clear in stating that the real issue is TWU’s ability to teach law:

“The crux of the issue is how the discrimination and institutional environment at TWU impacts the ability of the school to teach law. In order to permit entry into a provincial or territorial law society (as determined by the Federation), the law degree program must meet national standards in its curriculum. Those standards require critical thinking about ethical and legal issues. No person can truly think critically from one pre-determined lens, in this case, a lens mandated by TWU.”

Furthermore, look at how Don Dutton, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, responds to not only TWU’s proposal for a law school, but its status as a university in a letter to the National Post:

“[TWU] should not only not have a law school — it should not be called a university. Universities in Western tradition support free inquiry. Hence, at a university one could study archaeology and learn, through carbon dating, about human hunter gatherers or early settlements that predate the Christian view in Genesis. One could study anthropology and learn of myriad religious beliefs or study social psychology and learn that these other belief systems had as much grounding in empirical evidence as has Christianity — none. A school that demands faculty believe a certain dogmatic way is incompatible with free inquiry. Not a law school, not a university.”

The ironic part about this whole debate is that opponents of a TWU law school end up appearing much more narrow-sighted in their dogmatic beliefs than TWU’s religious beliefs ever did.

The opponents of TWU argue that a law school should not be “hindered” by religious beliefs that are, in their estimation, merely dogmatic beliefs that cannot be supported on neutral, or as Dutton said, empirical grounds. My question, and the question that many have asked, “is where is the neutral or empirical ground that everyone keeps referring to?” I haven’t found it, and I don’t believe the people who claim to stand on such ground have either.

John Carpay, a Calgary lawyer and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argued in the Vancouver Sun that this neutral ground that Dean Flanagan and other opponents claim to stand on is actually a “government-enforced ideology” that is the opposite of a free society. A free society, Carpay argues, is one that,

“protects atheists and agnostics from government coercion as much as it protects theists. To insist that all law schools (or other institutions) must subscribe to a particular set of beliefs about sexual behaviour threatens the freedom of everyone — including Flanagan’s freedom.”

Similarly, Barbara Kay points out that we can’t find this neutral ground because it simply doesn’t exist. Religious beliefs function in the same way as a secular beliefs – namely, that they do not discourage free-thinking or free inquiry because they is no neutral ground on which such thinking can take place. She says,

“If what these legal scholars say were true – if a “pre-determined lens” actually shuts down the ability to think critically, and that is the rationale for disallowing TWU’s law school – then by the same logic, pretty well every law school in Canada should be closed.”

Identifying our pre-determined lens is half the battle in pursuing free inquiry and free thought. To not even acknowledge that you have a pre-determined lens – whether it is biblical or not – is to be an unwitting slave to that worldview, and an unwitting slave is certainly not the model for free inquiry and intellectual competency.

This is why, as Barbara Kay quipped, “I am betting TWU students will be taught the actual law more objectively than many other schools in Canada.”

Rethinking Purgatory: C.S. Lewis on the controversial doctrine

Why C.S. Lewis believed in purgatory – and why Protestants need to think about it.

LewisC.S. Lewis may be best described as a “mere” Christian in search of a “mere” Christianity. In the preface to his appropriately titled book, Mere Christianity, Lewis describes himself as “a very ordinary layman of the Church of England” whose intention in the book is to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” In his attempt to explain a mere Christianity, Lewis often avoids controversial topics that Christians typically disagree on. This is why it is ironic that Lewis is not silent about his belief in purgatory, given that purgatory is a doctrine that has created strongly divergent and controversial views within the church from the time of the Reformation.

Believing in Purgatory

So why would Lewis profess to believe in a doctrine that Protestants nearly universally object to? The answer revolves around Lewis’s understanding that purgatory is a process more than a place. Lewis viewed purgatory as a continuation of the process of sanctification that began before death. Therefore purgatory, like sanctification, was voluntary and therefore not a means for retributive punishment.

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis’s book on prayer and the last book that he wrote, Lewis describes purgatory with the help of the dentist’s chair. He says, “My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round’, a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be Purgatory.”[1] The mouthwash that Lewis describes is not separate or distinct from the pulling of a tooth, rather it is necessary and intrinsically part of the process. In the same way, Lewis believed purgatory was necessary in the continuing process of individual sanctification after death.

Lewis places emphasis on individual sanctification because he believes that the goal of our lives is to be in full union with God and that we cannot be in full union with Him until we have been made perfect. In the Problem of Pain Lewis says, “Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved.”[2] Full intimacy and full union with God requires our being made perfect which, according to Lewis, does not happen in this life: “Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect – perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality. The change will not be completed in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment.”[3]

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis elaborates on how purgatory is a decision on our behalf to be made perfect:

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy.’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’[4]

Lewis does not believe we are subjected to purgatory against our will, and he also does not believe that we can be fully sanctified apart from our will. Both processes are intrinsic to the way that God imbued creation with free will. For free will, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”[5] After all, God cannot ravish, “He can only woo.”[6]

Protestant Objections

However, believing that sanctification continues after death is difficult for most Protestant believers. Protestants traditionally reject purgatory with three major objections: first, purgatory allows the possibility of universalism; second, purgatory offers a kind of salvation through works; and third, purgatory lacks scriptural support. And yet Lewis, aware of all of these objections, still chose to believe in purgatory.

On the first objection, if purgatory is a process that continues after death it may open the door to universalism where all, given enough time, will be saved. The concern is certainly apt when it relates to Lewis. George MacDonald, a significant influence on Lewis and his guide through purgatory in The Great Divorce, never believed in the finality of hell because he did not believe that individuals would choose to remain in hell once they understood what hell is really like. Lewis however does not follow MacDonald in his universal understanding of salvation because he believes that finality is possible. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis says, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given… Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.”[7]

For Lewis, this finality comes before death because the destination of heaven or hell is not dependent on a single decision; rather it is dependent on a long series of choices, which Lewis would define as our character. For example, Lewis says, “what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature.”[8] In other words, it is the formation of our character that determines whether we will find ourselves in heaven or hell. Sean Connolly sums up Lewis’s point well when he says, “At death the myriad choices we have made will crystallize to form our fundamental choice: we have either chosen to allow God to love us as he wills, or we have not. Purgatory, far from being any process of additional choice on our part, is rather the painful procedure by which we give up self-love and let God love us more.”[9] This is why Lewis can believe in purgatory without believing in universal salvation.

Secondly, traditional Protestant thought rejects purgatory because entrance into heaven is not dependent on an individual’s ability to make themselves perfect. Instead, the process of sanctification is completed at the moment of death. As Jonathan Edwards has eloquently said: “At death the believer not only gains a perfect and eternal deliverance from sin and temptation, but is adorned with a perfect and glorious holiness. The work of sanctification is then completed, and the beautiful image of God has then its finishing strokes by the pencil of God, and begins to shine forth with a heavenly beauty like a seraphim.”[10] This is a beautiful picture of the fate of a believer at the moment of death, but it is Lewis’s contention that this picture is also not complete.

Lewis departs from the traditional Protestant understanding because, as mentioned earlier, he believes that death is part of the process of sanctification and not simply the fulfillment of it. Lewis does not deny that individuals cannot receive salvation or become sanctified on their own, but he does acknowledge that there must be “two-way traffic” in the process.[11] Lewis understands that the danger of a legal declaration of righteousness at the moment of death means that an individual could easily disregard transformation as essential to the Christian life. Instead, Lewis insists on the necessity of free will to choose to be surrendered to God, where the individual freely chooses to say ‘I am not my own’ instead of ‘I am my own.’

Finally, and perhaps most contentiously, Protestant theology generally rejects the doctrine of purgatory because the experience of pain after death is not supported in scripture. John MacArthur argues that “nothing in Scripture even hints at the notion of purgatory, and nothing indicates that our glorification will in any way be painful.”[12] This view is undoubtedly in the spirit of the Reformers who correctly challenged the aberrant Roman Catholic use of scripture to support an oppressive and exploitive doctrine of purgatory. For example, in reaction to the doctrine of purgatory put forward by the Roman Catholic Church, John Calvin said, “we must cry out with the shouting not only of our voices by our throats and lungs that purgatory is a deadly fiction of Satan, which nullifies the cross of Christ, inflicts unbearable contempt upon God’s mercy, and overturns and destroys our faith.”[13]

Few could defend the 16th century Roman Catholic use of purgatory, as Lewis himself does not attempt. Lewis says, “Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on ‘the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory’ as that Romish doctrine had then become.”[14] What Lewis wishes to do here is to distinguish the Romish doctrine of purgatory from purgatory properly understood. The Romish doctrine of purgatory, put forth most strongly by writers like Thomas More and St. John Fisher, was a place of torment and a place of retributive punishment. This understanding had strayed far from the writings of Dante, so that “the very etymology of the word purgatory has dropped out of sight. Its pains do not bring us nearer to God, but make us forget Him. It is a place not of purification but purely of retributive punishment.”[15] Lewis, like the Reformers, is rejecting the Romish doctrine of purgatory.

Nevertheless, the question of whether purgatory is scriptural remains. For example, Article XXII of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Anglican Church clearly states that the Romish doctrine of purgatory was rejected because it was “vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture.”[16] Are the post-mortem pains that Lewis ascribes to purgatory scripturally justifiable? Perhaps, but probably not in the way most Protestants wish. The difficulty is that the history of biblical interpretation goes beyond the literal interpretation that many Protestants currently hold. Many parts of the Christian church throughout history, like the Roman Catholics, have used a spiritual or allegorical interpretation as part of a tradition of biblical interpretation because “the message of revelation is opened to the reader by the operation of the Spirit and not directly by the text of the Bible.”[17] As a result, Lewis’s emphasis on tradition and the role of the Spirit in his treatment of topics like purgatory and the Eucharist have prompted many Roman Catholics to ask, “Why then wasn’t C.S. Lewis a Catholic?”[18]

So, although Lewis himself remained a Protestant in the Anglican Church to the end of his life, the point to be made is that Lewis’s treatment of purgatory should not be simply passed out of hand because it does not fulfill the Protestant requirement of a literal interpretation of scripture. This undoubtedly simplifies many of the Protestant approaches to interpreting scripture, but I think this identifies the primary reason upon which purgatory is most commonly rejected among Protestants.

Theological Consistency

For Lewis, what matters most is the internal consistency of our theology. He is not quick to dismiss the possibility of post-mortem pain just because it cannot be read literally. Instead, Lewis is willing to accept the doctrine of purgatory and the idea of post-mortem pain because he found it to be consistent with all aspects of his theology and scripture reading and experience, which is why he says rather emphatically, “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they?”

If it is true, that our souls do indeed demand purgatory because of its logical consistency as Lewis argues, should Protestants look to reconsider the doctrine of purgatory as Jerry Walls has tried to do in his recent book, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation? Maybe, maybe not. Important objections and issues like the interpretation of scripture still remain. However, we must not dismiss purgatory out of hand just because the word “purgatory” is not found in scripture. These issues require thoughtful care, not hasty judgment. But, if at any point we feel like we are treading into controversial territory, even Lewis, the mere Christian himself, ends Letters to Malcolm, with these words: “Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be.”[19]


[1] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (London, UK: Geoffrey Bles Ltd, 1964) 141.

[2] The Problem of Pain in C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2002) 573.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) 207.

[4] Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer  140.

[5] Lewis, Mere Christianity  47-48.

[6] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) 39.

[7] The Problem of Pain in Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics  624.

[8] Lewis, Mere Christianity  119-120.

[9] Sean Connolly, Inklings of Heaven: C.S. Lewis and Eschatology (Leominster, UK: Gracewing, 2007) 25.

[10] Jonathan Edwards as quoted in Jerry L. Walls, Heaven (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002) 53.

[11] Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer  71-72.

[12] John F. MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth About Heaven, Angels and Eternal Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996) 125.

[13] John Calvin quoted in Walls, 52-53.

[14] Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer  139-140.

[15] Ibid.  139-140.

[16] Anglican Church of Canada, “39 Articles of Religion”  (accessed October 29 2011) Available from http://www.anglican.ca/about/beliefs/39-articles/

[17] Zachary Hayes, “The Purgatorial View,” in Four Views on Hell, ed. William Crockett (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992) 102.

[18] Joseph Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2003) xx.

[19] Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer  158.

Opposition to Trinity Western Law School because of anti-homosexual rules

Epp-Buckingham

Janet Epp-Buckingham

As reported in the Vancouver Sun, the Council of Canadian Law Deans oppose Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposal for the country’s first religious law school because of the university’s long-standing requirement that faculty and students abstain from homosexual relationships.

According to Trinity Western community covenant, any sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman could lead to disciplinary measures that include expulsion.

Bill Flanagan, president of the Canadian Council of Law Deans, considers this a “matter of great concern” because “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unlawful in Canada and fundamentally at odds with the core values of all Canadian law schools.”

According to Douglas Todd at the Vancouver Sun, Jonathan Raymond, President of TWU, responded to Flanagan’s concerns in a Nov. 29th letter in which Raymond said that forbidding homosexual relationships and sex outside marriage is “consistent with federal and provincial law.” Raymond noted the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2001 which stated that a religious school can be exempt from indictment for homosexual discrimination.

Attention regarding TWU’s position on homosexual relationships will no doubt increase scrutiny in other areas for this evangelical Christian university. Flanagan even questioned whether TWU fosters real intellectual freedom because the faculty are required to agree to particular Bible-based standards instead of open inquiry.

Janet Epp-Buckingham, associate professor at TWU and one of the leaders in developing the law school proposal, remains positive that TWU will eventually receive accreditation for a law school.

In a previous article for this site that detailed the motivation for establishing a Christian law school at TWU, Epp-Buckingham explained that faith is often and unhelpfully left out of the classroom. Students of faith are often advised by Christian lawyers to “keep your head down and your mouth shut” when entering secular law schools because if you do otherwise, as evidenced here, the powers that be will not be pleased.

How TWU and the Council of Canadian Law Deans move forward on this issue in the coming months will be a good indicator of the current role of religion in the Canadian public sphere. A conversation that is certainly worth following.

Charitable status of Winnipeg Christian group revoked

An evangelical group based in Winnipeg has lost its charitable status after an audit revealed that its director misused donated funds in order to benefit himself and his family.

According to the story filed by CBC News, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) found that Harold Reeve, director of the evangelical group Gospel Outreach, spent more than $76,000 in 2009 toward personal expenses – more than half of the $124,000 the charity spent in total in 2009.

The CRA document attached to the CBC story made note of Reeve’s illegitimate use of the charity’s money, which included: two trips to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic; a ski trip to Montana; payment of property taxes on his family cottage; uncharitable distribution of grocery store gift cards; and the illicit use of four vehicles and one boat under the charity’s name.

Reeve was unavailable for comment, but wrote in a letter to the CRA that,

What I have done and do is for the charitable benefit of others. I used the organization to pay for the expenses as I deemed them to be part of the service of the organization.

Gospel Outreach board member Paul Jenkins told CBC that poor bookkeeping may be to blame for many of the discrepancies. The boat, for example, was apparently used at a Bible camp in Manitoba, and Reeve’s trips to the Dominican Republic were taken in an effort to preach the gospel to the poor.

Jenkins said, “I trust Harold and I feel that he’s been judged wrongly. As far as I know, the money that was given went to people in need or it went to furthering the gospel.”

Gospel Outreach, which claims to send children to Bible camps and help people in need, can still operate as a charity, but it can no longer issue tax receipts for those wishing to claim them as deductions because it has lost its charitable status.

Measuring Religious Experiences

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Religious experiences have long been mysterious events that only the mystics have understood. However, whether you are a mystic or not, how do you explain a religious experience? How do you account for life-altering religious conversions, near death experiences, or simply worship and prayer? And, can these experiences even be measured or explained in any way?

Richard Gunderman addressed some of these questions in his recent article on The Atlantic entitled “Sensing God and the Limits of Neuroscience.” In the article, Gunderman responds to an article posted by neurologist Oliver Sacks on why religious or “other-worldly” experiences can be explained in material or “this-worldly” terms. Sacks argues that any religious experience is merely a neurologic abnormality or a misfiring of electrical activity in the brain, meaning that anyone who has a religious experience is simply mistaking abnormal neurologic events to be spiritual or transcendent occurrences.

Gunderman, in response, seeks to debunk this understanding of religious experiences. Gunderman argues that associating religious experiences with misfirings in the brain really doesn’t tell us anything new or unique about the nature of any sort of transcendent reality. Gunderman asks,

What if the transcendent is no different from any other aspect of human experience, in at least one crucial respect? Namely, that there are both false and true experiences of the transcendent, just as there are false and true experiences associated with the senses, with reason, and with feeling.

In other words, the fact that electrochemical activity in the brain takes place does nothing to help us distinguish between right and wrong, or non-religious and religious experiences. Sure, some individuals seem to have a greater propensity for certain religious experiences, but this does not mean that such experiences are necessarily abnormal or “wrong.” All experiences, whether religious or not, are associated with patterns or changes in the electrochemical activity in the brain. Even ethereal experiences such as love, beauty, and goodness are associated with changes in brain activity. Therefore, to explain an experience on the basis of neurochemical activity in the brain is neither to affirm nor discount that experience, it is simply to describe the experience. If one wants to affirm or discount a religious experience based on neurochemical activity in the brain, it would require a proper definition of that experience, which is more difficult than it sometimes appears.

Gunderman uses music as an example of something that is, like religious experiences, difficult to define because it is a material reality that can invoke a sense of the transcendent. In describing music, Gunderman says:

A physicist might come along and say that what I call music is merely the scraping of horse’s hairs across cat gut, a mechanical vibration in a particular frequency range. A neurologist might come along and explain that I am merely experiencing the transduction of kinetic energy into electrical energy as processed by neurons in the auditory and higher associative cortices of the brain. And yet, there is something about the music that is hard to reckon in such terms. It would be like saying that a passionate embrace is merely the pressing of flesh on flesh.

Therefore, even though things such as religious experiences, music, love, beauty, and goodness can be described to a certain degree in scientific terms, they cannot be fully understood in those terms alone. Many of the greatest scientists, including Newton and Einstein, knew this. They understood that humans only know in part what the divine knows in full. Science is extremely helpful and necessary in showing us the part that we can know, but we should not begin to think that science can show us the whole of what can be known.

Top Religion Stories of 2012

Sandy Hook Memorial

Sandy Hook Memorial

Despite popular conception, religion continues to remain relevant and does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. A look back at the big religious stories of 2012 makes it clear that many of the religious issues today will remain religious issues tomorrow. Religious news will change, no doubt, but it is not likely to disappear.

“Nones” on the rise

  • A good case in point was the research published by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that observed a rise in the US in the religiously unaffiliated people called the “nones.” However, even though the “nones” make up the fastest-growing religious group in modern America (approaching 20 percent of the population) and the third-largest faith group in the world, the study also found that Americans are attending church just as regularly as they have for the last 80 years. In addition, a report from the Gallup group called “God is Alive and Well” suggests that “religion may become increasingly important in the years to come.”

Sandy

  • Unexpected tragedies like the Sandy Hurricane and the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School remind us that we have a desire for something more than this world. For better or for worse, these tragedies remind us that this world is not perfect, and religion remains the primary way that we wrestle with the imperfections of this world, which will unfortunately, undoubtedly remain in 2013.

“Innocence of Muslims”

  • The anti-Islamic film “Innocence of Muslims” was initially uploaded to YouTube in July 2012 and sparked many demonstrations and violent protests against the film in Egypt and other Arab and Muslim nations that resulted in an estimated 75 deaths. The film was originally posted by someone using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile, but it is now reported that the film was written and produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Egyptian living in LA. The film has sparked numerous debates around blasphemy, freedom of speech, and internet censorship.

Mitt’s Mormon Moment

  • When Mitt Romney first ran as a Presidential nominee for the Republican party in 2008, he was open about his controversial Mormon faith. But in 2012, when he won the Republican nomination, he barely talked about his faith, and Christians didn’t seem to care. American evangelicals supported Romney more strongly than they did John McCain in 2008 and seemed happy, in concert with Billy Graham, to remove the “cult” label from the Mormon faith.

Emergence of Sharia Law

  • The election of Mohamed Morsi as the President of Egypt virtually ensured the unavoidable rise of an Islamist government in Egypt. Morsi is a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to establish Islamic Sharia law as the governing constitution of the nation. Unfortunately, Sharia law also ignores the rights of women and religious minorities, including Christians. Egypt is currently in the midst of establishing a new constitution that would officially make Egypt an Islamic state.

Sex-same union

  • Same-sex unions continue to be an issue inside and outside religion. In the US, Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota chose to affirm same-sex marriage, and the Episcopal Church has adopted a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. But in Uganda, there has been much controversy over the proposal for an anti-homosexual bill that would make homosexuality illegal and represent an unwelcome form of Christendom in the 21st century.

Study: Christianity Faces Extinction in Middle East

Middle East and ChristianityAccording to a new study by the British think tank Civitas, Christianity is in serious danger of becoming extinct in the Middle East.

The study, entitled ‘Christianophobia,’ claims that half to two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left or have been killed over the past century. In 1945, Christian made up 20 per cent of the population in the Holy Land, but today the figure stands at 2 percent. Similar trends have been seen elsewhere in the Middle East, like in Iraq, where there were between 1.2 to 1.4 million Christians in 1990, but less than 200,000 today.

Rupert Shortt, a journalist and author of the study, says that the removal of Christianity from the Middle East has been influenced by political upheaval, Israeli nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, and the rejection of Christianity as a vehicle for Western values or Western expansion, even though Christianity originated in the Middle East and has been integral to the region’s belief systems for 2000 years.

Shortt also points out that Christians and public authorities in the West have developed a “blind spot,” which has encouraged the discrimination or persecution of minority religious groups and could lead to further infringements of human rights. As Shortt explains, “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

But the issue of Christian oppression goes beyond the Middle East. The study also examined the treatment of Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China, and concluded that Christianity suffers more hostility across the world than any other religious group. The study estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.” For example, there are more Christians imprisoned in China than in any other country in the world, with some estimates saying that almost 2000 house church members were arrested from May 2004 to May 2005 alone.

The study, while unavoidably limited in some respects, is helpful in identifying a problem that has been in the “blind spot” of the West for too long. As Catherine Pepinster from the Independent said,

Shortt has done a remarkable job in compiling this book when so little attention has been given in the mainstream media to the plight of Christians, apart from the most high-profile cases. Even those of us who have reported on this persecution week by week over the past decade have not realised quite how vast a problem this is: Shortt’s account reveals that Christians are oppressed in greater numbers than members of any other faith.

The oppression is, of course, not new to Christianity because, as Shortt notes, Christianity is “the only major monotheistic faith to originate in an explicit repudiation of religious violence.”

‘Tis the Season for Dogs

Therapy Dog2

flickr / Marvin Kuo

Dogs have long been known as man’s best friend, but it seems they are also becoming man’s best therapist.

Pets have been found to help individuals deal with stress and health related issues – studies have found that pets reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and depression while increasing endorphins and dopamine – but they are now being used do so in new and creative ways.

The Lutheran Church Charities in Illinois, for example, recently sent a group of dogs as part of their K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry to Newton, Connecticut to help grieving children and adults cope with the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. The ministry, which began four years ago after a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University, currently has 60 dogs in six states to help individuals deal with traumatic events.

Furthermore, Dalhousie University, similar to the University of Ottawa and McGill University in years past, created a “puppy room” to help students cope with the stress of exams and end-of-term assignments. There is even a Kingdom Dog ministry that uses dogs to teach the biblical truths of obedience and submission in the Christian life. (Evidently they have never watched Marley & Me.)

So, are you stressed about family get togethers over Christmas? Well, just grab a couple dogs and you will be fine – as long as you aren’t hosting of course.

Guns, Tragedies, and the Recovery of Common Sense

The Newtown Bee / Shannon Hicks

The Newtown Bee / Shannon Hicks

Tragedies don’t make sense. They are an assault on how we expect the world and our lives to unfold and they don’t make exceptions or play favourites.

Take the most recent mass killing in Newtown Connecticut that left 28 people dead, 20 of them under the age of 7, as an example. This event is a tragedy not because we don’t understand how it happened, but because we don’t understand why it happened.

We do understand, at least in part, how this happened. It happened because gun-control regulations in the U.S. are much too loose, giving individuals far too much power to commit horrendous acts of violence.

It happened because society has exalted the individual and lost the community in the process. If an individual loses the relationships that gives him or her perspective, what then will prevent this isolated individual from becoming cold-hearted to those around him or her?

It happened because technology has given individuals unprecedented power over nature and over other individuals. When technologies like guns or weapons are made available to individuals who become detached from their surroundings and cannot handle the power of such technology, violent tragedies will no doubt occur.

It happened because the media often sensationalizes these tragedies so that a detached individual who has lost any sense of purpose feels a sense of power, which is understood as violence, over others.

Ultimately, it happened because we are broken people who have lost a common understanding of what makes sense. Policy, individualism, technology, and sensationalism are only a few factors that have led to the fracturing of common sense in today’s world. This fracturing does not create tragedies, but it allows tragedies such as the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut to occur at an increasingly alarming rate.

What then can one say about these tragedies that simply do not make sense? Can we speak sense into the senseless?

It would be wrong to impose meaning or purpose on such events. To do so would deny the senselessness of the tragedy.

But, it would also be wrong to say that such senseless tragedies do away with the possibility of a sensible world. For, the thinking goes, how can there be meaning or purpose in a world that is so full of evil and pain? This concern is real and should not be taken lightly.

However, the overwhelming response to tragedies like the Newton shooting makes it clear that even if the world does not always give us much reason to believe that the world makes sense, we still know that it should. We know that our kids should be able to grow up, to finish school, to discover what they love and to discover who they love. We know that innocent lives should not be taken and that there should be justice for those who are wronged.  We know, intrinsically, that the world and our lives should make sense, because when it doesn’t, we know something is not right.

The fact that tragedies do not make sense implies that there are things that do make sense. For if the world at its core did not make sense, if there was no purpose, no meaning, or no significance, then our yearning for something sensible, something just, and something that answers our questions would just be another clanging gong in a universe of clanging gongs. But our senses don’t allow this. Our common sense – the sense that there is meaning in the world, that evil should not prevail over good, and that we are all in some way common – does not allow us to be satisfied with a world that simply does not make sense.

Now, here’s hoping that our common sense can do something for the common good.

Christianity and Creativity: Why Christians need to Make Stuff

(This article is made up of entirely a mixed collection of quotes on the creative process from the perspective of many of the artists who contributed to the recently released book, WeMakeStuff. WeMakeStuff seeks to explore how God made humans creative and desires to provide an open dialogue for creative people to express and present their work. The following quotes were taken from the accounts of the following artists: David Vandas, Ron Reed, Ian Sheh, Chris Loh, Stefan Brunhoff, Carolyn Arends, Fiona Moes, Michal Tkachenko)

WeMakeStuff_FrontCover“And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9, NIV, emphasis added)

I read this once in the Bible and it struck me. Why is this relevant? You’ve got all the epic matters of life and death depicted in the Bible, and then you’ve got this: beauty.

Created beauty that doesn’t seek to be debated or contested. It just wants to be, and from this posture, provoke a subconscious response from those who bear witness. Creation is scientifically amazing to comprehend, but it wields the power to go deeper than intellect and physical senses. It touches the senses of soul and spirit – whether or not we are aware of it.

The life of a creative person is a unique odyssey and creativity is a fluid entity. It changes with the weather, the time of day, our moods, and experiences in life. It doesn’t usually wait for us to catch it, and comes at the most inopportune moments.

For me, the urge to create is like the furnace in the house, the pilot light inside me. And it doesn’t matter what else happens in your house in the dead of winter, what rooms you have to close because you can’t get heat to them, you must keep the pilot light going because that heats the whole house. If it goes out, everything is lost: the pipes freeze, everything freezes.

As creative people, we take from the invisible and push the boundaries of our reality, both internally and externally. Art opens our eyes to the richness of the unknown and obliges us to see what we might not otherwise have seen. True creativity is being able to make the audience see the beauty that is already present and already exists. True creativity finds beauty in the broken and does not elevate the ugly and the evil.

In the act of creativity, whatever that may be and in whatever context, there is a sense of responding to the glory of God’s creation, wholeness, rightness, and flow, which elevates the ordinary to grace. It is part of what we are created as, and created for, by God.

When we witness the transformation of raw material into something beautiful, we are encouraged to remember that other new realities can be made – that perhaps justice can be created where there is injustice, wholeness can be wrought where there is disease and poverty, and community can be made even from discord. Beauty not only suggests these ideals are possible; it also awakens a longing for them.

I believe our Father in heaven is most proud when his children pursue all he has made them for. Doing nothing is actually going backwards. So we move forward. Creating new. New everything. Art. Design. Music. Inventions. Social justice. Business models. It’s the unfolding of what has never been before.

Art is not meant to be an escape from this world of pain but a mission into it. Through creative acts, we attempt to give hope, meaning, and orientation to all that is beautiful and all that is broken in this world we live in.

Creativity can make people see the same old thing in a very new way. It can shock people with truth. It can be a way to love.

(WeMakeStuff Volume 01 is available for purchase at www.wemakestuff.ca. Join the community on Facebook.com/WeMakeStuffVancouver and be the first to hear about upcoming events by following @WeMakeStuffVAN on Twitter.)