Russell and Duenes

Archive for July 2013

Paragraphs Change People: The World Needs a Righteous Man

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“Books don’t change people – paragraphs do; sometimes even sentences.” – John Piper

Perhaps my favorite movie is The Chosen, based on the novel by Chaim Potok. The movie explores many themes: friendship, faith, familial relationships, and Hasidic Judaism. But most profoundly, it addresses the place and value of suffering. For that, I have loved it. And there are few paragraphs that have had the emotional and spiritual staying power than the one below. Daniel Saunders, the brilliant son of Rabbi Saunders, has spent the entire movie in a seemingly non-relationship with his father because, well, they don’t speak to each other. Thus, the viewer is left with the impression that Rabbi Saunders is a cold-hearted, distant father, with no true love for his son. Which is often the way people assume that God relates to them: silent, cold, distant and uncaring. Yet we then come to the end of the film, and these words by Reb Saunders, still not spoken directly to his son, Daniel, but to Daniel’s best friend, Reuven Malter, with Daniel sitting beside him in the Rabbi’s study.

So, you’re going to a become a Rabbi, and my Daniel…my Daniel will go his own way. [Daniel & Reuven look at each other.] Reuven, I’m going to tell you something. When my Daniel was four years old, I saw him, he read a book. He didn’t read the book–he swallowed it. He swallowed it like one would swallow food. And then he came to me, and then he told me the story that was in the book. And this story was about a man whose life was filled with suffering and with pain. But, that didn’…it didn’t move Daniel. You know, Daniel was happy. He was happy because he realized, for the first time in his life, what a memory he had. “Master of the Universe,” I cried, “what have you done to me? You give me a mind like this for a son? A heart I need for a son. A soul I need for a son. Compassion and mercy I need for my son. And above all, the strength to carry pain. That I need for my son.” How was I to do this? I mean, that was the question. How was I to…to teach him? How was I going to be able to do this to this son that I love…and not lose the love of my son? When Daniel was young, I used to hold him close. We used to laugh together. We used to play together. We used to whisper secrets to each other. We played. Then as he became older, and he became indifferent to people less brilliant than he thought he was, I saw what I had to do. I had to teach my Daniel that way: through the wisdom and the pain of silence…as my father did to me. I was forced to push him away from me. He became very frightened, he became bewildered, but slowly, he began to understand that other people are alone in this world, too. Other people are suffering. Other people are carrying pain. And then, in this silence we had between us, gradually his self-pride, his feeling of superiority, his indifference began to…to fade away. And he learned, through the wisdom and the pain of silence, that a mind without a heart is nothing. So, you think that I’ve been cruel? Maybe. Maybe, but…but I don’t think so…because my beloved Daniel has learned. O, let him go, let him become a…psychologist. You see, I know-I know about that. I should know. The books and the universities…the letters. Become a psychologist, already. But you see, now I am not afraid. I have no fear because my Daniel is a tzadik. He’s a righteous man. And the world needs a righteous man.

Behind the veneer of “carrying on” or “getting on with life,” most people are carrying pain at one level or another. Perhaps due to betrayal by a friend or spouse, a wayward child, a sickness, stress from work or ill-treatment by co-workers, grinding poverty, socio-political oppression, sexual degradation and abuse, and ten-thousand other things. People carry this pain, and our Lord Jesus Christ entered this pain-filled world, and took upon Himself the most excruciating pain possible: the wrath of God directed toward sinners. As Reb Saunders says, the world needs to see and know the love of Christ, administered primarily through his people, and in order for that to happen, God’s people need to walk with others in their pain. And how can we do this if we are aloof, prideful and indifferent, not knowing anything of their pain ourselves? So God must teach us, and most often, he must do it through other people. It is a great grace, though it seems not so at the time. For as the author of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Yet later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11).



Written by Michael Duenes

July 29, 2013 at 10:39 am

A Fetus is Not a Living Person with a Soul Until After Drawing Its First Breath

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A friend sent me a piece entitled, The Bible Tells Us When a Fetus Becomes a Living Being, and I was greatly saddened by it. I cannot read the author’s mind, but I can read his or her words (it’s an unsigned article), and I can surely read the Bible’s words. And having read them, I can conclude either that the author does not read very well, or has willfully distorted the Bible’s teaching. I find it amazing that a blog which headlines itself under the banner that “the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Ps. 140:12), would define out of human existence the most poor, vulnerable and needy human beings among us.

The piece begins with a rather incredible statement, asserting that the living sperm joining up with the living ovum does not become “a living human being,” at least according to the Bible. This is erroneous from a biblical standpoint, but it is surely erroneous from a scientific standpoint. The sperm is a living human sperm; the ovum is a living human ovum; thus, what else could the joining of these two living human things be? All of the DNA is there. Everything necessary for the human being to grow and mature is present. The oxygen is there, even if it doesn’t come through the lungs (HT: Randy Alcorn). All that’s needed from conception onward is nutrition and a safe environment. Surely it would be odd for science to credit a living being as a human being, but for God to think him or her no different than the placenta, a mere “living tissue.” Further, are we to believe that 2 minutes before birth, when the baby is still in the birth canal and has not drawn a breath, he is still just “tissue.” This is absurd scientifically and theologically.

Then we get to the author’s interpretation of Scripture. The author says that because Adam was not a living being until God breathed the breath of life into him, (Gen. 2:7) then the unborn are not human beings because they have not drawn breath. Yet, a little more care with the text would show that, 1) Adam is unique in that God formed him as an adult out of the dirt, so he never lived in the womb, and 2) God’s breathing life into Adam does not tell us when God breathes human life into each one of us.

Then the author moves to passages in Job and Ezekiel which explain that what gives us human life is the breath of God. Well and good. But how does the fact that God’s “breath” allows me to live tell me that I’m not a human being, a human person until I take my first breath? Is this author truly reading the text? The author is no more careful with difficult texts like Exodus 21:22. At the least, one should consider that it might not say what, at first blush, one thinks it does. (See Greg Koukl’s attempt to understand this verse). Psalm 139 at the least teaches that God is knit us together in our mother’s womb. Yet the author just blows right past this.

And then consider the biblical texts this piece leaves out. It does not mention John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb at the sound of the pregnant Mary’s voice (Luke 1:41). Also not mentioned is Job 3:3 (“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘a boy is conceived.'”) David intimates that he was a sinner from before his birth (Ps. 51:5). Mere tissues are not sinful; human beings are.

Ultimately, the piece descends into innuendo and name-calling. Those who believe that we are full human beings from conception are called “extremists” and accused of being “politically motivated.” We’re told that this is simply about “reproductive choice,” and implicit is that pro-life people are being judgmental by opposing abortion. The author serves up platitudes such as “if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” Yet this is like saying, “if you don’t like infanticide, don’t engage in it,” with the implication being that it’s OK to let others engage in it if they choose to. Of course the author would say that infanticide is different, because the baby is now “breathing.” But this simply puts us back to the question: What is the unborn? The author’s answer is badly wanting. Also served up is the common trope that opposing abortion will lead to “back alley butchery” and the like. After Kermit Gosnell, does anyone truly believe that legal abortion clinics are paragons of hygiene, health and safety for women?

But what is saddening about this is that it purports to give us the heart of God on the unborn. No pro-life advocate denies the difficulties attending to abortion. None I know simply casts off the mother as a murderer, with no compassion and desire to love her and see redemption in her life. But to make it out that the unborn are simply nothing more than living tissue, and that those who believe otherwise are villains and judgmental extremists is disheartening. To offer up that Jesus is not grieved by abortion simply because He did not use the word “abortion” means that He does not consider anything grievous which He did not mention explicitly: Chattel slavery, sex trafficking, beating one’s spouse, or being judgmental of women who have abortions, among them. This is perhaps most saddening of all. May God have mercy on us and give us his heart, lest we walk the walk of death.


Written by Michael Duenes

July 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Paragraphs Change People: None of Them is a Psychopath

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Books don’t change people, paragraphs do. – John Piper

Weekly Standard columnist, Andrew Ferguson, wrote a piece entitled The Heretic, wherein he reviews Mind and Cosmos, the recent book by atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel. The reason Ferguson’s piece is called “The Heretic” is because Nagel dissents from the orthodoxy of the materialist naturalism that characterizes the neo-Darwinian position on evolution. In other words, the evolutionary view of the cosmos is that material beings and processes are all that exists, and thus, there can by definition be no God, no soul, no eternity, no morality, no human will, no anything that we take for granted as human beings. Yet Nagel is villified by his neo-Darwinian peers for pointing this out, and finding such a worldview to be untenable. More popularly, this materialistic naturalism that has taken over the sciences is called “scientism,” and I have sought to expose it and its logical consequences in great detail on this blog. Yet Ferguson says something better in a paragraph than I have been able to in almost all of my writing on the topic. He concludes:

You can sympathize with [materialists] Leiter and Weisberg for fudging on materialism. As a philosophy of everything it is an undeniable drag. As a way of life it would be even worse. Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath. Say what you will about Leiter and Weisberg and the workshoppers in the Berkshires. From what I can tell, none of them is a psychopath. Not even close. Applied beyond its own usefulness as a scientific methodology, materialism is, as Nagel suggests, self-evidently absurd…Materialism can only be taken seriously as a philosophy through a heroic feat of cognitive dissonance; pretending, in our abstract, intellectual life, that values like truth and goodness have no objective content even as, in our private life, we try to learn what’s really true and behave in a way we know to be good. Nagel has sealed his ostracism from the intelligentsia by idly speculating why his fellow intellectuals would undertake such a feat.

Materialist naturalism is the gaping abyss of atheism which no one owns up to. It’s all well and good to hear Carl Sagan on NPR today, “waxing poetical” about the universe and man’s place in it, but given Sagan’s atheism, there’s no waxing about anything. His awe is nothing of the sort. He is simply uttering noises because his body has reached a certain temperature and the atoms in his brain are moving around, firing neurons mechanically, as they are wont to do under such biochemical conditions. Thus, even Sagan is not consistent in his atheism. It entails too many things which common sense says are intolerable. Closer to consistency were the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Friedrich Nitzche. They at least spoke as though their existence and that of everything else was a senseless void and a howling wilderness of nothingness, even if their lives betrayed such a belief.

There is no law requiring one to be consistent in what he thinks, says and does. No one, short of our Lord Jesus Christ, does it close to perfectly. Yet we serve ourselves well to think about what our worldview entails, to see what it entails when truly carried out and lived. We may even come to see that much of what we hold to is our attempt to suppress the truth of God in our unrighteousness (Rom. 1), and we may ultimately come to bow the knee to the One who holds out for us the world as it is, and we as we are, and offers us the path to everlasting life.


Written by Michael Duenes

July 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

Paragraphs Change People: The Triumph of the Supermarket

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Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences.  ~ John Piper

I have found this to be true in my own reading. John Piper surely proves the point with his sentence: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” There’s a sentence by which to head into eternity. Piper’s little aphorism came home to me as I thought back upon a book I just finished, The Abolition of Britain, by Peter Hitchens. You may think this a strange title for a Yankee on this side of the Pond, but having thoroughly enjoyed Hitchens’ The Rage Against God, I was eager to read his thoughts on Great Britain, thoughts which I take to be a cautionary tale for Americans. Anyway, back to the paragraphs changing people bit, I certainly found many great paragraphs in Hitchens’ book, and thought I’d share some of them over the course of several posts. I take the first paragraph from Hitchens’ Introduction, where he provides a general overview of the changes that have blasted the gourdes of his country:

Other physical changes have propelled and exaggerated these new ways of thinking. The atomization of society by new types of housing has broken up the old sense of belonging. The crazed over-use of private cars and the triumph of the supermarket over the personal service grocery store have kept us from meeting our fellow-creatures as effectively as any strict regime prison, and often reduced us to the level of objects rolling along someone else’s production line. Greater than all these is television, which has replaced individual imagination with images provided and selected by others, but also, and perhaps more importantly, destroyed the old forms of social sanction, a fear of the neighbours’ opinion or the even greater fear of upsetting the family. Television provided new judges of our behaviour, who were wittier, cleverer and more open-minded than anyone we knew in person. It also transformed child-rearing and narrowed the horizons of childhood itself. (p.7)

I remember once flying into LAX. On final approach, one can look out the plane’s window and see houses jammed together on grid-like streets for miles and miles. And I thought, “Think of all these strangers living right next to each other.” Rarely do we ponder how vastly our lives have been altered by this “atomization of society” of which Mr. Hitchens writes. I often wonder about the nature of lives where we rise, go to work, come home, shut the garage door, and don’t come out again. My old home town, Los Angeles, is the epitome of the “crazed over-use of private cars.” You can’t get a public transportation system into L.A. because people must have their cars, and must be free to drive them wherever and whenever they want, because this is “freedom,” even if it takes two hours and an increase of twenty numbers in your blood pressure to get across town. As children, we played outside unsupervised with our neighbors, who were our best friends. Virtually all of the adults on our street knew who we were. But this was before cable TV, and I believe that were I a child on my street today, things would be radically different, even if my neighbors had kids.

Many have critiqued the influence of television, but rarely have I heard the claim that “television provided new judges of our behaviour.” In other words, television has had a massive “conformist” power in the moral and social spheres. (see p. 9) We are not to think and speak in ways contrary to the ways approved by and conveyed to us through the TV. Hitchens observes this conforming phenomenon in Britian in the “unshakeable . . . certainty that personal righteousness is reserved for those who share [the politically correct] views about South Africa, landmines and the homeless,” which constitutes “the most intolerant system of thought to dominate the British Isles since the Reformation.” (p.3). Here in America we are witnessing television’s conforming and judging power by its portrayal of the “inevitability” and “rightness” of gay marriage, the gagging and denouncing of dissenting views. We are seeing TV’s conforming power in the Zimmerman trial as well, where the “officially approved” viewpoint was fed to us 24/7, before the arrest and trial even began. If you’re not in line with the latest Time/ CNN poll, your moral bona fides may be in question. But all of it goes down so easily, and we seem to be missing any alternatives. We might just think the alternatives weird anyway.




Written by Michael Duenes

July 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Public Schools: What If the Public Schools Go Out of Business?

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school busIf we do not support the public schools, we essentially abandon poor and minority families who cannot afford private schools and who do not have parents who can afford the time to home-school. What will these indigent poor do without a public school system?

Here I am not addressing Christians who would give their children an explicitly Christian education, but simply cannot afford to. Rather, this question could be put thus: Suppose Christians decide to get biblical and abandon the public schools. What then will happen to those who are left in the abandoned public schools? If the public schools collapse, which they would if Christians pulled their support from them, what will those left in the public schools do? There are several ways to answer this.

First, getting the government out of the public school business does not mean getting them out of education. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 said that government should forever be “encouraging” education, not administering it. So let them encourage. Indeed, let the government provide subsidies to families for education, to be spent on education the way health savings accounts are spent on health care. Of course this is appalling to the statists who want to run other people’s lives, based on the soft bigotry which holds that “other people,” particularly the poor and minorities, are too stupid or irresponsible to know how to best direct funds toward the education of their children. No, this must be left to the technocrats and Harvard suits in the government who “know what’s best” for your children. But many a parent in Washington D.C. would love to spend tax dollars currently going to abysmal public schools at the school of their choice, were they given a choice.

People somehow assume, without evidence, that if the current public school system collapsed, we’d be surrounded by illiterate hobos running wild in the streets. We are credulous enough to believe that, but for the government taking care of our educational needs, we’d all be clueless about how to educate our children. But this is just a cover for the real argument, namely, that if the government got out of the schooling business, who would turn our children into reliably left-wing citizens? Who would teach them that “sex as recreation” is the most liberating thing on the planet? Who would teach them to believe, as Peter Hitchens puts it, “that education should be used to eradicate privilege and elitism, to spread the gospel of the new society in which everyone (and everything) is equal, a sort of concrete embodiment of that hideous song ‘Imagine,’ which has become the hymn of sixties boomers.” (The Abolition of Britain, p. 64).

Instead of the public schools, what we need is “a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.” (Milton Friedman, Public Schools: Make Them Private). This means that entrepreneurs will enter the educational business, id., which in turn will drive down costs while increasing accountability because failing schools will simply go out of business. This could not all be done at once, of course. Id. But we underestimate American ingenuity and creativity if we think that we cannot do better than our current public school system. Where there is a need and desire for education, there will be those willing to provide that service with excellence; and if they don’t provide excellence at one school, there will another one down the road that will provide it.

The objection is raised that privatizing education will lead to “poor kids . . . go[ing] to poor-kids’ schools and well-off kids . . . go[ing] to well-off-kids’ schools.” In other words, private schools will cater to rich kids and the poor will be kicked to the curb. However, one should like to see the evidence for this argument. The assumption that there will be no educational options for “the poor” is baseless, for there are right this moment private schools that are dedicated to giving the poor a better education. (See Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy). Would these just go away were we to privatize education? Might we not simply adduce examples of how the free market has led to increased access to goods and services by the relatively poor, say, for example, auto insurance and airline tickets? Further, would there be no response from the churches to fulfill an educational function that the Church historically filled?

Fact is, the sky would not fall were there no government schools. Doomsaying grabs headlines, but rarely leads to the predicted doom (e.g., overpopulation and running out of food serve as prime examples of such folly). As a nation, we value education too much, and we have too much resourcefulness to let large swaths of the country go without an education. But education is not a “one size fits all” enterprise, and therefore, our schools should not conform to such a system, as they do now. The fact that there is money to be made in private education in no way besmirches those who would attempt to offer it. Indeed, it may motivate them to provide a superior product, as it has done in so many other industries. And in principle, it will expand freedom in education, of which we could use a great deal more.


Written by Michael Duenes

July 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education