Tag Archives: atheist

The Gospel on Mars

Does God want humans to go to Mars?

Serious question… sort of. But it’s possibly going to make my atheist readers’ heads spin off, because these are actual discussions Christians sometimes have.

I read a news story recently about some of the folks volunteering for the Mars mission. One is an Army 1st Lieutenant, and–being in the military–this caught my attention. Another is this fantastic article about the man behind SpaceX, Elon Musk and his vision for the future of space exploration. (Warning to my more sensitive readers: there’s strong language right off the bat.)

I mentioned the Army lieutenant and the Mars mission to a Christian friend, and was surprised by their off-the-cuff response.

“I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.”

I was shocked. I saw no issues with it. I was excited that it’s even a possibility. That humanity could take the first steps to go beyond this little ball of rock spinning around in the vast dark, and propel itself across the expanse to land on another spinning ball of rock in order to start the process of some day establishing human colonies on other planets, and to think I might see that happen in my lifetime? Amazing!

“Why not?” I asked.

“Jesus isn’t coming back to Mars. He’s coming back to Earth to reign for a thousand years.”

My evangelical Christian upbringing wanted to agree. <em>That’s true, that’s in Revelation. What do you think about that? Why</em> didn’t <em>you think about that?</em>

But of course I couldn’t let myself be wrong in any way.

“Is it really wrong to go to Mars? Is that even a topic the Bible attempts to address? No.”

I already knew the answer to my argument. There are a great many topics the Bible doesn’t specifically mention, yet we Christians take various principles and statements contained within, and figure out ways they might apply to those cases. Take the Christian concept of the Trinity: nowhere is that word found in Scripture, yet it’s a central tenet of the faith.

We went back and forth a bit. My friend thought 1) this was reaching beyond the scope of authority humanity has been given, 2) that the debate was fairly silly because there are resources and space aplenty as yet untapped on Earth, and 3) that the point is probably moot because it’s pretty clear from all the signs that the various prophecies of Scripture are coming true and the end is near.

I countered with some optimism both ‘rational’ and religious, like:
“think of what great technological advances the space program has brought about thus far,” and
“why did we explore Antarctica? God didn’t put people there either but we still went there to learn and discover more of the world around us,” and
“Imagine two astronauts on the surface of Mars, and one of them shares the Gospel with the other. Does it not have power to save because they’re not on Earth?”

Seems appropriate to this post.
Seems appropriate to this post.

But most of all, my defense comes down to one question, a question I realized I don’t think my friend is willing to consider.

“What if I’m wrong about this whole faith thing?”

We talked about the end times, but it struck me that Paul and others in Scripture wrote about the end times like they were already happening, like it would all be over in <em>their</em> lifetimes. I recall listening to Christians as I grew up, hearing their proclamations about the end, and thinking it would all be over before I became an adult.

(Ok, let’s be honest, I was afraid I’d never get married… because I was a teenage boy and I was afraid I’d never get to be with a girl. And while going to Heaven would have to be totally awesome, maybe God could hold off on the End of the World thing a little bit?)

Now, I think there are some interesting points about Scriptural prophecy. We’re living in the first time in human history where the Gospel could actually reach every people group on the Earth (Matthew 24 makes that out to be a requirement before the end comes). We’re living in the first time in human history when technology and economics make it feasible that some one-world government could mandate the use of a “mark” worldwide in order to have access to conduct business (Revelation 13 talks about the Mark of the Beast and what all that entails). We’re living in an age of “wars and rumors of wars” and natural disasters aplenty… and though it’s possible they seem to be increasing only because of worldwide 24-hour media coverage, it certainly feels like this world is going through the “birth pains” described by Christ in Matthew 24.

Yet here we still are. And it’s been 2000 years of Christians saying “the end is near.”

I’m not sure I can fault the skeptics for being a little skeptical.

Elon Musk makes the argument that for humanity to thrive, we can’t have all our eggs in one basket. He wants to make sure we get off this planet and start the process of reaching others. His view comes from reasoning about evolution and the risk of catastrophes on a planetary scale which could render this world devoid of life (or at least kill off the vast majority of living things and no doubt cripple or destroy civilization permanently).

While I have my faith, and I have personal experiences and I daresay <strong>reason</strong> backing my beliefs, I have to wonder.

Why wouldn’t humanity go to Mars? Why wouldn’t we reach for the stars? Why shouldn’t we work toward a better future for mankind in whatever time we have?

Because, well, what if I’m wrong?

Is that too serious a question to consider? Can that thought even occupy a corner of my faith-based brain without toppling the house of cards?

So Help Me God

An atheist Airman was denied the right to reenlist in the United States Air Force recently. It’s been my experience that everyone had the option to say the phrase if desired, or omit the phrase if desired. But that changed late last year.

The Air Force cites US law that supersedes its previous guidance on the matter as the reason for a change in Oct 2013 that took out the option to say – or not say – “so help me God.” Title 10 Section 502 covers the oath of enlistment, and it makes no provision for omitting the phrase in question. So the Air Force has a justifiable position for its argument, which boils down to “We have to follow the law. If the law needs to be changed, then Congress has to change Title 10 Section 502 so that we can then change our regulations which fall under it.”

My experience has been that most people say it or omit it as applicable to their personal stance, and no one really cares. But the case, linked above, is proof that if someone wants to fight on this issue, the religious language is clearly going to win.

But that doesn’t make it right.

There’s a petition in the works to change the code to the very reasonable, already-done-in-practice-for-years method of “say this part if you want, and don’t say it if you don’t want.” I hope you’ll support it.

Everyone loves Top 10 lists, so I thought I’d toss one in.

Top Ten Reasons to Change Section 502 of Title 10:

10. Yes, there are atheists in foxholes. I’ve served alongside many atheists who were among the hardest-working and most skilled in my almost 20 years of military experience. I count it an honor to have served beside them, and denigrating their choice to reject a religious belief is actually unlawful, just as it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against me based on my Christian faith. I mean, the whole “unlawful” part should be enough to require no other reason. Article VI of the Constitution states: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” While this clause at the end of the oath might not exactly meet the standard of a “religious test” it certainly sits in a very grey area. But since this point is clearly not enough, let’s move on:

9. There are plenty of other faiths in foxholes too. The military needs bodies, and so we take all kinds. That means that we’ve got Buddhists, Catholics, Druids, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Protestants, Sikhs, Wiccans… to name a few off the top of my head. Half of those belief systems – to my knowledge – don’t recognize a monotheistic God. So the “so help me God” doesn’t work for them. Yes, they may be a small minority, but the law has to protect the rights of everyone, not just the special people.

8. This would take us back to our roots. Now, some of my Christian friends and many of the inane comments on the Interweb talk about going back to our identity or roots as a Christian nation by keeping this phrase mandatory. News flash: much like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, this “so help me God” was a recent addition. Prior to 1962, you wouldn’t be prompted to say any such thing if enlisting into the Armed Forces. And honestly, I hope going back to the 60s is not what the Christians have in mind. (Side note: the Internet, it turns out, is a wonderful source of information. Using it before stating opinions and misinformation as fact is a very considerate course of action.)

7. This is not a Christian nation. Again, contrary to many comments on social media declaring it so, America is a secular nation by design, with a Judeo-Christian culture making up an arguably large part of past influences, along with deism and humanist philosophy. God didn’t pen the Constitution on stone tablets that George Washington brought down from Mount Vernon. However, many of the colonials were inspired to come to the New World to escape persecution and mistreatment on the basis of holding minority religious beliefs. That helps explain why American law and government was designed to ensure no requirement for religion would be enforced upon the people. Yes, there are quotes from Founding Fathers who speak about the need for faith in God. But they clearly didn’t intend an enforcement of one religion over every other.

6. We can use all the proud, honorable service we can get. I’ve served with atheists who are quite honorable and some who are jerks… just like there are Christians who are quite honorable and Christians that I wouldn’t trust to hold my Bible outside of my sight. Our nation has a large number of military commitments and missions, and we are striving to keep up that pace (if not increase it) while reducing the number of people in uniform available to execute the mission. If an atheist Airman is volunteering to serve, I’m happy to stand beside him. Because what matters on the flightline or the frontline is that we both swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.

5. This doesn’t take God out of anything at all. Some Christians worry that this is a case of persecution, or an instance of taking God out of the public sphere. But the language of the petition is clear: If you want to keep “so help me God” in your oath, do so. If you don’t want to say it, don’t. Nothing is lost for the believers, but the same level of equality and freedom to choose would be granted to those of other faiths or no faith.

4. This upholds equality. We don’t want to live in an American version of an Orwellian fable. “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others” can’t be permitted or upheld here. That’s not what our servicemembers–religious or atheist–are fighting to protect and defend. How can some people rejoice that Hobby Lobby gets to stand on its religious beliefs, and then rejoice just as loud when someone else’s freedom is tread upon? Well… I know how they can do so. But it’s still vile and wrong.

3. Yes, it is a big deal to “just say it.” Imagine showing up to work on Monday and being told unless you deny your faith, you’re fired. Just a few words. No big deal, right? Just say it, and keep earning a paycheck. Who would stand for this? I can’t. So if I’m not okay with the hypothetical, then I can’t accept when it is really happening to someone else.

2. Defending the rights of the atheist means defending my own right as well. If the government can mandate someone to swear an oath contrary to their belief, then that has far-reaching implications. I cannot be okay with that so long as it’s done to “them” without realizing that the government then has the same power to someday inflict such a requirement upon me. Call it the Golden Rule, call it common sense, call it sticking up for the underdog, or whatever you want. Sadly, I saw hundreds of comments of “Amen!” “Praise God!” and other passionate expressions of joy on this subject. If that’s your initial reaction, take a moment to think about how it would feel to be told you must deny your faith, or swear to Allah or something similar in order to serve your country. Why would anyone be okay with this?

And finally, my overall reason to change Title 10 and do away with this enforcement of “so help me God” in the oath is:

1. Nothing is gained but hypocrisy. The atheist has no faith in this God we are demanding he or she call upon. It forces the enlistee to lie while swearing or affirming a solemn oath. I’m not accusing the atheist here; I’m accusing the enforcers and defenders of such a requirement. Those four words mean nothing at all if forced upon someone who doesn’t believe. This serves no purpose. It is wasted breath. What should matter to a Christian isn’t whether these four words are said, but rather are they being lived out? Plenty of people, Christians and atheists and whatever else, have said “so help me God.” But apart from sincere faith informing and motivating devout action, who cares? It’s empty. No one’s life has been transformed to emulate Christ by the addition of “so help me God” in their oath of enlistment. Instead, we have a vast majority of people saying something that means absolutely nothing to them, and the political Christians will call it a victory. “We defended God in public,” they’ll say. “We kept God in the oath!”

No, all you did was create hypocrisy, forcing lips to say what hearts don’t believe.

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.'” (Mark 7:6 NASB)

'Murica! If only we could remember what that stands for...
‘Murica! If only we could remember what that stands for…

So, please, whether you’re a believer or not, go to Whitehouse.gov and sign this petition. You’re not just defending the freedoms of others, but also your own.

If you think I’ve missed a key point in my top ten, or if you think I’m way off base on this one, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know in a comment below! Thanks for taking the time to read, and even more so if you’ve signed.

Where Were You?

One of my atheist friends on FB shared a powerful and challenging picture.

It's a challenging question, but "the problem of suffering" is not my point today.
It’s a challenging question, but “the problem of suffering” is not my point today.

The obvious question is, “Where’s God in the despair and devastation that affects so many in the world? And why do we think God is concerned with petty details of our lives while we ignore human tragedy?”

Here’s a bit of an answer to that.

For a few weeks in a row, I’ve been playing the keys for our church band. It’s something I love to do, because 1) I’m good at it, 2) I enjoy it, and 3) helping the congregation worship is exciting. The practice and the early showtime to get ready for two Sunday services means a bit of extra effort during the week. Sunday becomes a long day, almost a day of “work” when everything in me wants a weekend to relax before returning to the office grind on Monday.

The joy of being part of something greater in the band is well worth the hard work. The impact of seeing people abandoned in worship is even more fulfilling. It’s pretty awesome.

But this Sunday, I was reminded how small my focus can be.

We had a guest from India, a missionary who has lived most of his life as an offering for the benefit of others. He shared some powerful stories of how difficult circumstances have brought about tremendous change in the churches of India and in their relationship to their own culture. He talked about God’s heart for the widow and the orphan, and how the Church-at-large has been able to positively touch the lives of those the Indian caste system considers untouchable.

Then he recounted the unexpected events which led to the start of an unconventional ministry. About 15 years ago, one of his associates happened to lead a group of believers into a red light district in their city. The response from the “working women” was overwhelming. But more than commitments and conversions, these women sought assistance that the Christians were not prepared to provide.

The women were victims of human trafficking and the sex trade. They were not in their situation by choice, nor were they free to leave. But they brought out their daughters, small children and infants living in the brothels. The women begged, “Can you take my child away to a safe place? If she stays here, she will grow up as a slave and will be treated the way we have been. Please help us. Please take our children out of here.”

That day, 37 children were brought out of the red light district, and the missionaries started a makeshift shelter with no plan and no idea how to proceed. All they had was the firm conviction that this act of compassion was what God would desire of them.

Soon, they learned the extent of the slavery in the sex trade around them. They learned that in the city there were perhaps two thousand more children just like those they rescued. They discovered that across the country, there are approximately one million young women and children connected to the sex trade as slaves or victims. Their mission focus changed in a flash from simply “reaching the nation” to extending a hand to those in such deplorable conditions.

15 years later, Project Rescue is spread over 6 nations ministering to thousands of victims. At first they tried to buy some of the women out of these brothels, but very quickly saw that the money was going to bring in more young girls. So now, they reach out a hand to HIV positive women and children, providing shelter and recovery, or providing compassion and care to those not yet freed. They have established churches outside the traditional comfort zones of Western Christianity, and they hold Bible studies right in the midst of the red light district. They’ve taken in women who have been mentally and emotionally shattered by daily sexual brutality and physical abuse. Those women are learning job skills and getting new opportunities to escape the hell they’ve known most of their lives.

The small amount of money given by some in our church provides for many of the needs of this ministry and others like it around the world. A mere $20 bought a cheap t-shirt advertising the project website, but that money also paid for the expense of putting one of these women through a college program. I sat overwhelmed next to my teenage daughter, considering that there are a million more young women just as precious and valuable as her, who are suffering abuse and abandonment.

There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.
There are a million girls in India not much different from my daughter who are in terrible situations and desperate need.

I didn’t have much at the moment, but giving up a $20 bill meant impacting someone’s life around the world in a positive way. The deep need and the vast challenge posed by international sex slavery is beyond me, beyond my church, beyond a logical approach or easy fix. But we must respond as best as we are able, for religious reasons or for simple human compassion.

I was reminded of my time on a medical mission in a rural area of the Philippines, and the poverty and need that I witnessed first-hand. I thought of the streets of Thailand, and the desperation I saw there. I remember the homeless in California and Okinawa, and my wife’s efforts to provide food and warmth where we could.

Some of my atheist friends have discussed this with me in the past. “Why do these missionaries have to go do all this with the religion sales pitch? Why not just do it for the sake of helping out?”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t need a book to tell me to love others as I love myself or to do for them what I’d want done for me if our situation was reversed. Perhaps I shouldn’t need the excuse that “God said to go.”

Then I look for the massive efforts of atheists and agnostics to reach the poor and needy around the world, and I find them severely lacking. There are organizations, yes. There are people far more compassionate than me, no doubt. But there is not an effort on the scale of the charity work being done by churches around the world to reach into the darkness and pull a hurting soul into the light of day.

Jesus taught that His people would be judged based on their response to Him:

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”  (Matthew 25, MSG)

They ask, “Where were You? When did we see You? When did we do this?” He responds, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

And the converse is true. When we’re the ones doing the overlooking, when we’re turning our eyes from the need and ignoring them, He says we’re ignoring Him.

Should I need this reminder, this solemn warning? I suppose not. But the point is that I am interested in being a part of reaching the overlooked and ignored with practical love that meets their real needs. Can we help everyone and rescue all who suffer? No. But we’ll try, and we’ll reach as many as we can.

When people are suffering, I’m not surprised by the question of “Where was God?” But when people are suffering, for those not doing anything to help, don’t be surprised when I ask “Where were you?”