Apologetics: Why We Believe What We Believe

Apologetics (from the Greek apologia) is a type of rhetorical writing in which the proponent of a tenet, theory or religious doctrine presents reasoned arguments or writings in justification of his or her belief. In the days of the Greeks, when someone was summoned to court to face a charge, he would present an “apology” or a defense. Specific to Christianity, apologetics is said to be “the defense and confirmation of the Gospel,” and includes putting forth basic principles that guide the believer in defending the faith. In other words, it involves expressing the truth of the biblical message. This could be described as proving Christianity. A better concept is that it involves persuading others.

Thinking Well

It is critical that an apologist learns to think well or logically. This is important for several reasons. Logic aids in putting together various pieces of the Christian faith to form a cohesive whole. The Bible does not always speak directly to a particular issue. Of paramount importance is learning to deduce true beliefs or proper courses of action from what is known of Scripture.  Sound, logical thinking is especially important for an apologist. On one hand, it helps prevent shoddy arguments. On the other hand, it helps evaluate the beliefs of the antagonist who is challenging Christianity. Too often believers stumble at criticisms leveled against Christianity simply because they sound solid as expressed by the opponent. On closer examination, the arugment stands on logically shaky legs.

An opponent might say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” If that individual really thinks there is no absolute truth that is, truth that stands for all people for all time, that person at best can only say, “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as absolute truth.” To claim there is no such thing as absolute truth is to state an absolute; the statement actually refutes itself. It is faulty logic to conclude that no belief system can claim final truth simply because there are so many belief systems. Postmodernism is fond of saying that truth is relative rather than absolute. Truth, according to a postmodernist, is what the individual thinks it is. Really? What does the existence of many points of view have to do with the true value of any of them?

I’ve had someone say to me, “Look at all the terrible things Christians have done through the centuries!” How should I respond to such an objection? While it is true that what Christians do influences non-Christians’ responses to the Gospel, such actions have nothing to do with whether Christianity itself is true. If part of the Gospel message was that once a person becomes a Christian that person absolutely will never sin again, the non-believer would have grounds for questioning the truth of Christianity. But the Bible doesn’t say that.

Answering the Charge of Elitism

I recently watched a debate between Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza and the late Richard Hitchens, an anti-theist (as he liked to call himself). During the Q&A at the end of the debate, a young college student said the notion that Christians have the only truth is “elitist.” She believes that because there are so many different beliefs in the world, it is not possible for any one group of people to claim they have the only truth. She, and many others, consider such thinking to be arrogant. Non-believers across secular college campuses today are accusing Christians of being elitist and narrow-minded, if not backward and old-fashioned. It is considered intellectually “uncool” to believe in the supernatural in the 21st Century.

How should a Christian respond to this charge? First, note the name-calling. The real issue is passed over in favor of a put-down. This is just another example of how ideas and issues are dealt with in our society today. What is most important is that Christians not react in kind. Too often in our society battles over issues and ideas are fought with name-calling and throwing slogans at each other. Not only is this is unbecoming, it is unprofitable in apologetics and evangelism.

Making the Case for Christianity

Believers are being asked to prove that Christianity is true. It is important to realize that a determined will can ignore even the best of evidence. Since we’re not talking about mathematical proof, we have to remember that what constitutes proof varies among individuals. It has been said that a Christian worldview is a matter of the heart and not the head. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Admittedly, merely throwing this Scripture at a non-believer is not an effective means of practicing apologetics.

At first blush, this seems to relieve us of the pressure of establishing an argument that convinces everyone. In any event, we cannot rely on a “one-size-fits-all argument” in defense of Christianity. Belief, indeed faith, is an individual matter. Certainly, we believe that because God created the universe, there is plenty of evidence in what is called general revelation. That is, nature and the universe. In addition, God has given us special revelation in the form of Scripture.

Today, modern scientific methods are used to recover the remains of the past in order to achieve a better understanding of ancient people and their practices. The Middle East has been the subject of many archaeological excavations because of its continuous history. Josh McDowell said, “It is important to note that archaeology without history is meaningless. All that archaeology can tell us is a sequence of cultural development, not give us an exact chronology. History gives us the chronology, the events, people, places.”

Over the past 100 year, archaeology has been busy verifying some of the history contained in the Bible. For instance, for many years Sodom and Gomorrah was considered by non-believers to be mythological. Recent excavations at Tell Mardikh, now known to be the site of Ebla, uncovered about 15,000 tablets. Some of these writings mention Sodom and Gomorrah. Other archaeological confirmation includes proof that there was a ruler named Belshazzar, the Hittites existed and had a vast empire, King Sargon’s rule is fact, and events described in the Book of Acts are demonstrably accurate. Archaeological findings have verified, and in no case disputed, historical points of the biblical record.

In Conclusion

The key verse for Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which states, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (NASB) [Italics mine.] Eugene Peterson, in his translation, says it this way: “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” (The Message) Every Christian should be able to give a reasonable accounting of his or her faith in Christ. Not every Christian needs to be an expert in apologetics; however, he or she should know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it with others, and how to defend it against lies and attacks.

There are two primary methods of Christian apologetics. The first, commonly known as classical apologetics, involves sharing proof and evidence that the Christian message is true. The second, commonly known as presuppositional apologetics, involves confronting the presuppositions (preconceived ideas and assumptions) behind anti-Christian positions. Christian apologetics is simply presenting a reasonable defense of the Christian faith to those who disagree. Apologetics is a necessary aspect of the Christian life. We are to be ready and equipped to proclaim the gospel and defend our faith.

Recommended Reading

D’Souza, Dinesh. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity?
Strobel, Lee. (1998). The Case for Christ.
Zacharias, Ravi. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists.

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Riding the Coattails of the Morning Sun

Like a knob-kneed colt
with wild mane flying
I galloped carefree through my youth.
Muddy potholes and thorny hedges
were no obstacles but welcome challenges.
Sparks bounced off my radiant body
as I rode on the coattails of the morning sun.

Now I sit by candlelight,
a crocheted comforter around my shoulders,
recalling old wrongs and shortcomings
as well as the delicate beauties of my life
—and tell stories.

©2017 Ute Carson

Retrieved from: http://www.longshotisland.com/2017/02/08/momentary-poems/

 

The Molecule

Andy Coop very nearly spent his career watching paint dry. The son of a machinist and school cafeteria worker, Coop hailed from Halifax in Northern England. He finished his undergraduate work in chemistry at Oxford University in 1991. He was given a choice of where to continue his studies. At Cardiff University was a professor whose specialty was the chemistry of paint. Industry at the time was aiming to find a new paint that dried at a certain temperature. At the University of Bristol was John Lewis, who studied the chemistry of drugs and addiction. In the 1960s, Lewis had discovered buprenorphine, an opiate that he later helped develop into a treatment for heroin addicts.

Coop didn’t remember giving the choice much thought. Drugs sounded more interesting than paint, so off to Bristol and John Lewis he went. It was there, in 1991, in a lab at Bristol, that Andy Coop encountered the morphine molecule – the essential element in all opiates. In time, Andy Coop got hooked on the morphine molecule – figuratively, of course, for he only once took a drug that contained it, and that was following surgery.

Like no other particle on Earth, the morphine molecule seemed to possess heaven and hell. It allowed for modern surgery, saving and improving too many lives to count. It stunted and ended too many lives to count with addiction and overdose. Discussing it, you could invoke some of humankind’s greatest cultural creations and deepest questions: Faust, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, discussions on the fundamental nature of man and human behavior, of free will and slavery, of God and evolution. Studying the molecule, you naturally wandered into questions like, Can mankind achieve happiness without pain? Would that happiness even be worth it? Can we have it all?

In heroin addicts, there is a certain debasement that comes from the loss of free will and enslavement to what amounts to an idea: permanent pleasure, numbness, and the avoidance of pain. But man’s decay has always begun as soon as he has it all, and is free of friction, pain, and the deprivation that temper his behavior. In fact, the United States achieved something like this state of affairs during the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. It was first observable in widespread obesity. It wasn’t just people. Everything seemed obese and excessive. Massive Hummers and SUVs were cars on steroids. In some of the Southern California suburbs, on plots laid out with three-bedroom houses in the 1950s, seven-thousand-square-foot mansions barely squeezed between the lot lines, leaving no place for yards in which to enjoy the California sun.

In Northern California’s Humbolt and Mendocino Counties, 1960s hippies became the last great American pioneers by escaping their parents’ artificial world. They lived in tepees without electricity and funded the venture by growing pot. Now their children and grandchildren, like mad scientists, were using chemicals and thousand-watt bulbs, in railroad cars buried to avoid detection, to forge hyperpotent strains of pot. Their weed rippled like the muscles of bodybuilders, and growing this stuff helped destroy the natural world that their parents once sought. Today, great new numbers of these same kids – most of them well-off and white – began consuming huge quantities of the morphine molecule, doping up and tuning out.

What gave the morphine molecule its immense power was that it evolved somehow to fit, key-in-lock, into the receptors that all mammals, especially humans, have in their brains and spines. The so-called mu-opioid receptors – designed to create pleasure sensations when they receive endorphins the body naturally produces – were especially welcoming to the morphine molecule. The receptor combines with endorphins to give us those glowing feelings at, say, the sight of an infant or the feel of a furry puppy. The morphine molecule overwhelms the receptor, creating a far more intense euphoria than anything we come by internally. It also produces drowsiness, constipation, and an end to physical pain. Aspirin had a limit to the amount of pain it could calm. But the more morphine you took, Coop said, the more pain was dulled.

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For this reason, no plant has been more studied for its medicinal properties than the opium poppy. As the mature poppy’s petals fall away, a golf-ball-sized bulb emerges atop the stem. The bulb houses a goo that contains opium. From opium, humans have derived laudanum, codeine, thebaine, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and heroin, as well as almost two hundred other drugs – all containing the morphine molecule, or variations of it. Etorphine, derived from thebaine, is used in dart guns to tranquilize rhinoceroses and elephants. [Amazingly, Etorphine has hit the streets of America as an opiate which teens and young adults are taking to get high, only to be dropping dead due to its potency.]

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Tobacco, coca leaves, and other plants had evolved to be pleasurable and addictive to humans out of the gate. But the morphine molecule surpassed them in euphoric intensity. Then it exacted a mighty vengeance when a human dared to stop using it. In withdrawal from the drug, an addict left narcotized numbness and returned to life and to feeling. Numbed addicts were notoriously impotent; in withdrawal they had frequent orgasms as they began to feel again. Humans with the temerity to attempt to withdraw from the morphine molecule were tormented first with excruciating pain that lasted for days. If an addict was always constipated and nodding off, his withdrawals brought ferocious diarrhea and a week of sleeplessness.

The morphine molecule resembled a spoiled lover, throwing a tantrum as it left. Junkies say they often have an almost constipated tingling when trying to urinate during the end of withdrawal, as if the last of the molecule, now holed up in the kidneys, was fighting like hell to keep from being expelled. Like a lover, no other molecule in nature provided such merciful pain relief, then hooked humans so completely, and punished them so mercilessly for wanting their freedom from it.

Certain parasites in nature exert the kind of control that makes a host act contrary to its own interests. One protozoan, Toxoplasma gondii, reproduces inside the belly of a cat, and is then excreted by the feline. One way it begins the cycle again is to infect a rat passing near the excrement. Toxoplasma gondii reprograms the infected rat to love cat urine, which to healthy rats is a predator warning. An infected rat wallows in cat urine, offering itself up as an easy meal to a nearby cat. This way, the parasite again enters the cat’s stomach, reproduces, and is expelled in the cat’s excrement – and the cycle continues.

The morphine molecule exerts an analogous brainwashing on humans, pushing them to act contrary to their self-interest in pursuit of the molecule. Addicts betray loved ones, steal, live under freeways in harsh weather, and run similarly horrific risks to use the molecule.

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It became the poster molecule for an age of excess. No amount of it was ever enough. The molecule created ever-higher tolerance. Plus, it had a way of railing on when the body gathered the courage to throw it out. This wasn’t only during withdrawals. Most drugs are easily reduced to water-soluble glucose in the human body, which then expels them. Alone in nature, the morphine molecule rebelled. It resisted being turned into glucose and it stayed in the body.

“We still can’t explain why this happens. It just doesn’t follow the rules. Every other drug in the world – thousands of them – follows this rule. Morphine doesn’t,” Coop said. “It really is almost like someone designed it that way – diabolically so.”

The above is taken from Sam Quinones’ best-selling nonfiction book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” ©2015, New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Woodland

Let me be
amongst your trees
for when you write
upon the sky
like poems
my thoughts come
to life
in the stillness
of your wood
and I must travel
again and again
through this forest
and listen as
your myriad leaves
sway
in leisured dance
and you sing me
songs of
olden days and
whisper secrets
through the wind
so I go
into the woodland
to lose my mind
for here
is rest

From the blog of Little April Shower
Retrieved from https://littleaprilshow.wordpress.com/author/littleaprilshow/

Childhood Dream

Long ago
Long before the dawn of his youth
Lived a boy, a young boy
A boy who had a dream
A childhood dream.
He would lay at the forest glade
And gaze, gaze in wonder
At the peculiar workings of the earth.
He would count all the birds of the sky
Wander into the dark forest deep
Stroll by the humming river
And paint with all the colors of the earth.
The night’s inner glow,
The wild’s cheerful tune;
All of earth’s splashy marvel
Would prompt his thoughts
To travel the world
In search of a secret.
The blue waters of the Pacific seemed a decent start, he thought
Perhaps a swim in the depths of Waikiki Beach
Or a hike up Mt. Rainier
A stroll in the scenic wonderlands of Northern Idaho
Maybe a nice dinner in Broadmoor Hotel at Colorado Springs
Or build a cabin in Minnesota’s lake country
A day picnic at Mt. Chocorua
A quick walk down Boston Common
Or a Tulip time at Bronx,
Drifted his mind.
Bend of Susquehanna, Cayuga Lake, Chesapeake Bay, Rehoboth Beach
Flashed upon his sight.
Then one day, not long ago
To his surprise
He found the secret
Veiled in one who owns his heart.

©2016 Marrion Kiprop

Predictable

He’s about as predictable as a wasp on speed!

There is a commercial running on broadcast television that defines predictable as the comfort in knowing where things are headed. That’s a very lovely yet very narrow definition. Generally, it is defined as “able to be predicted.” If you’re talking about trading on the open market, the comment typically is “the market is volatile and never predictable.” A derogatory definition is “behaving or occurring in a way that’s expected.” Unfortunately, this is a definition I am personally familiar with. A predictable person is one for whom it is easy to anticipate actions; easy to foresee or anticipate what he or she will do. An example of a predictable person is someone who always shows up drunk.

In fiction, we find the predictable boring. In real life, we find the unpredictable terrifying. I’ve heard it said that an artist should paint from the heart, and not always what people expect. Predictability often leads to the dullest work. In comparison, in The Art of War Sun Tzu said, Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”

When Predictability equals Immutable Truth

Unlike us, God is totally unchangeable, and has revealed to us many things about His immutable character. He is ultimately and fundamentally predictable. I can predict, for instance, that God will never leave me, nor forsake me; that He will work all things out to good for those who love Him; that He will hear and save all those call on His name. To doubt these things or fail to depend on them would be a great insult. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” 

The naturalist believes naturalism is a logical conclusion for atheists. Naturalism maintains that all things in the universe are the byproducts of natural laws, behave according to natural laws, and that such laws cannot be violated. Accordingly, atheists believe theism grants power to an omnipotent being who, by definition of being “all powerful,” could cause the universe to operate in any manner they choose. Here’s an interesting thought: What if any laws we might think we observe are merely the coincidental result of God’s choice to make things happen that way at the exact moment when we’re looking?

Routine versus Schedule

Predictability isn’t something you could say I’ve aspired to embody. It sounds sort of boring, doesn’t it? Not something the Cool Kids are into. I’ve never sought it out. That is, not until after a decade of stumbling around the chaotic territory of bipolar disorder, and, before that, nearly thirty years of active addiction. And when the two met, it was the “perfect storm.” As I struggled to manage my mental illness, and get clean and sober, my father told me I was addicted to chaos. That I needed to live on the edge. I think he was right.

I found it helpful to create routines rather than schedules. (Besides, there would be plenty of time for schedules and punching a clock once I got well and was able to return to full-time gainful employment.) Routine smacks of lifestyle, and I was certainly in need of changing that. For me, stability comes from routine.  I did find benefit, however, in ritual, no matter how contradictory that might sound. For example, morning meditation and regular time in my “war room” like in the movie of the same name. Prayer seemed almost meaningless to me for a long time. I realize now that this was rooted in poor self-image and thinking I deserved nothing of value from God or anyone.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Take some time to think about a few concepts, such as what the term predictable means to you. Where do you think this definition or concept originated for you? What do you think the difference is between schedule and routine? Can routines be healthy? What are your daily Dos and Don’ts? What are some of the meaningful or constructive rituals you use daily? What new habits might you be able to cultivate to help you reach your goals?

An example of high predictability would be a mouse who was trained to push a lever after it sees a light. It receives food after it pushes the lever. After the mouse has been trained and repeated this task hundreds of times there will be a high predictability that the mouse will hit the lever once it sees the light again. Do you have a high level of predictability in a particular area that is bad for you? Something that might be sabotaging your goals? Remember, there is absolutely no shame in seeking help for those serious, dangerous or predictable behaviors you just can’t seem to quit on your own.

Failure Through Folly

“Failure through folly,
that’s what I worry about,” I told Molly.
Conjecture on my part
can lead to lecture on his
as he seeks simply to enlighten
me, redirecting my silly sideshow of
dizzying daydreams and lack
of capacity for responsibility;

how easily I’m distracted without
thinking how impacted everyone
else can be when I fail to
nail reality on the head;
you know, like when I misplace
my hammer;

how could I know it would snow
on the same day I’d leave the window
up a smidgen and my furry feline
would wander, thinking the whiteness
was merely bright softness
and not deadly coldness?

©2017 Steven Barto

For Jimmy, Who Bruised By Ribs and Busted My Nose

I had a bully who pursued me nearly every day during middle school until one day I’d had enough. I round-house punched him in the face, bloodied his crisp white t-shirt. His dad came to the house and threatened to beat up my dad because I beat up his son. “See, this is why I hate fighting,” I said to my dad. The following poem by Brian Fanelli is dedicated to anyone who has ever had a bully.

In our neighborhood, Fat Jimmy descended the mountain,
his chest heaving like a bull,
ready to maul a matador.

He cracked his scarred knuckles, hunted scrawny prey,
curb stomped our basketballs
like heads he wanted to bash,

or ghost rode our bikes
down the garbage trail dump,
until one day I gripped my handlebars

like a soldier clinging to a rifle,
refusing defeat as Jimmy knocked me to my back,
clocked me in the chin.

Numbed, I laughed as he pounded and pounded,
until my nose gushed, my ribs throbbed,
my skin swelled faster than his heated cheeks.

This poem is for the bully who never cried,
who hid belt lashes from us, who ran from the sound
of his father’s battered Ford tracking him down,

the son whose hands tightened to fists like his father’s,
who uncurled his fingers to study my blood,
and then extended a hand to lift me up.

Pale As Milk

I live in a constellation of memories
of visits to Grandpa Roy and rides on his bulldozer,
visits to the hospitals where Uncle Jeff insisted on illness
for the free room, free meals, the free cable TV,
visits through the phone line after midnight
when Uncle Culby wanted to play me a song
by The Who after a few days off his meds—
we never visited him
in the psych wards or in jail,
we never visited Jeff on the skids,
we never visited our own Pop
aside from Sunday afternoons,
and I wonder now
where he spends his Sundays,
or if his last was spent alone.

We never visited our family’s men for any celebration
until we collectively broke the law
when we broke into that golf course by moonlight
to scatter Grandpa Roy’s ashes
and I sat there in Pop’s driver’s seat, sixteen,
permitted to drive only with an adult
but only my thirteen-year-old brother beside me

as I gripped the wheel and squinted at the shapes
approaching from the darkness—the strangest
figures in full stride—my uncles,
wet from the golf course sprinklers, laughing,
and then Pop’s boots crunching gravel—
the first time I’d seen my father run.
And he too was wet, but also pale as milk,
not laughing, not even in the neighborhood
of a smile,
as I turned the key
and he shoved me from the seat
to drive.

Jason Allen

Jason Allen is a poet and prose writer with an MFA from Pacific University. He is currently living in upstate New York and pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing at Binghamton University, where he is an editor for Harpur Palate and at work on his first book of poetry, a memoir, and his second novel. His work has been published or is forthcoming in: Passages North, Oregon Literary Review, The Molotov Cocktail, Paterson Literary Review, Spilt Infinitive, Cactus Heart, Pathos, Life With Objects, and other venues. He hopes to one day meet Tom Waits and buy him a cup of coffee.