Two More Paintings and Thoughts Behind Them

Gods army, christian soldiers

Army of God, by Scott Freeman, 20×30

Today I want to show you a couple of recent paintings, for a couple of reasons:
1) They’re not the sort of thing I usually do, or am known for doing, so I’m kind of curious as to what people will think of them.
2) It would be helpful to me if I could sell them as I’m waiting for responses on some large potential commissions.

From the National Day of Prayer, 2018
The first one was painted during a local National Day of Prayer event in Loveland, on May 3, 2018. I was invited by the organizers to paint during the entirety of the event, and the subject matter was left open to me.

I’ve (reluctantly) called the painting, The Army of God. I say “reluctantly” because for years I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with using war metaphor to describe the church of Jesus. I’m not uncomfortable with it because I disagree with the truth of the metaphor, I’m uncomfortable with it because of how I know it sounds to the ears of skeptics and critics of the church. Therefore, I never use war terminology with reference to the church unless I can explain that I am referring to spiritual warfare.

As followers of Jesus, our weapons, our armor, and our enemies are explicitly described as not physical in nature (Eph 6:10-18; 2 Cor 10:3-5). All of the physical terms and conditions of the former Mosaic Covenant have been fulfilled and translated into spiritual terms in the new covenant of Jesus. So there can be no justification for a Christian religious war. There can be no justification for human governments physically slaughtering their enemies in the name of Jesus. There can be no justification for human beings setting up a theocratic Christian state. Yet this all seems to be a continuing concern for secularists.

Many biblical metaphors are used to describe the church: a body, a family, an army, a bride. Those of us in the church understand them and are accustomed to using them. But I think we have an obligation to be clear to those outside of the church, especially when using the army metaphor, especially in the divisive, hysterical, irrational cultural climate in which we now find ourselves.

As a worship leader I wouldn’t even sing Onward Christian Soldiers without a disclaimer. To a Jewish or Muslim listener, for example, the first line of that song would sound like a perfect description of the Crusades, (which were biblically unjustified.)

So…having said all of that, calling this painting The Army of God underscores the point. It’s a picture of biblical, multi-ethnic community, planting and watering and praying. Jesus said that His kingdom is different from the kingdoms of the world in that His message comes, and His kingdom is spread, not by means of the sword but through the proclamation of His good news of restoration. Jesus said that gospel is like seed planted in the world.

This is a first stab at a painting I’ve been wanting to do or years. Years ago I was inspired by the story of several young Christian boys who were kidnapped by radical Islamists, and who refused to recant their faith in Jesus, even under torture. Eventually one of them escaped, minus a limb. I thought of the irony that this is the army of God; not composed of ruthless warriors but rather, courageous young boys in this case, willing to suffer harm and refusing to hate their captors, even praying for them, just as Jesus instructed.

 

parable of Jesus as sower

Sower, by Scott Freeman, 20×24″

Northern Colorado Worship and Prayer Event
The second painting has some similarities to the first and was painted at the last NOCO Worship & Prayer Night in May of 2018. These monthly events were envisioned to bring diverse church congregations together in worship. Everyone is welcome, and if you haven’t been to one, they’ll be starting up again in August. There is always live worship painting going on at these events, (usually including my lovely wife). You can stay posted at http://www.loveonfireworship.com.

This painting is a variation of an earlier oil painting of Jesus as a sower. In this smaller version His arms are outstretched in a sort of crucifix gesture. The seed is red, representing His blood, but particularly the blood of the martyrs, which has so often resulted in many coming to faith. (Since the news media so often fails to draw a distinction between murderers and martyrs, here I must clarify that a martyr is not someone who kills others for God and dies in the process. A martyr is someone who willingly suffers for God, even unto the point of death.)

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me about the birds. In one sower parable, Jesus explains the birds this way: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil (one) comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart…” (Matt 13:19). This is the world we live in for now – goodness, redemption, and life always face spiritual opposition, even in addition to our own apathy and distractedness.

Prices
Both of these paintings are painted on canvas that I pre-textured, and both are painted with up-cycled latex paint. This not the type of painting that I have shown in galleries over the years, or, I assume, that my current gallery would be interested in. So here’s what I’d like for these unframed paintings if anyone is interested:

God’s Army, 20×30” – $300
Sower, 20×24” – $250

Since these paintings are medium size, I would like to charge shipping to the buyer as well. (I think shipping will come to around $30 in the US.) If you live in northern Colorado, (Loveland, FC, Windsor, Johnstown, -ish,) I would be happy to deliver these to you free of charge.

If you’d like to purchase one of these, contact me at scottnmollie@yahoo.com .
Thanks again for your support! I’d love to hear your feedback on these – positive or negative.

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In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr quote

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. For many, King’s assassination marked the end of the civil rights movement’s strategy of non-violence.

Some believe his assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving the United States government. King’s family eventually even filed a wrongful death suit against the government, which it (sort of) “won.”

As news of his assassination became known, riots broke out in over 100 cities across America. For many fighting for the cause of civil rights and racial equality, King’s death must’ve signaled a loss of hope that the entrenched white power structures could be reformed through peaceful means.

So…fight fire with fire. Fear with fear. It seems that violence is what works. Force gets things done.

But does it?

The human problem is the human heart. King was a remarkable leader because he understood the problem. As a follower of Jesus, King rightly saw that the solution to the human problem was the strategy of changing hearts for good. Violence never does that. Unfortunately, violence has its place in our broken world, but only when there is no hope for understanding and empathy.

I don’t believe we are at that place yet. I think understanding and empathy have barely been tried. But violence and intolerance can seem easier, faster, and more satisfying to hearts that are hurting.

Following is one of my (reluctantly) favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe these words are true, but they are extremely difficult to carry out. This is a hard saying. It is even difficult to read. But I think he is right. His strategy transcends conspiracies, governmental power, intolerance, and hatred:

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.    — A Christmas Sermon for Peace on Dec 24, 1967

These words, spoken 4 months before his murder, echo the words of Jesus and the apostle Paul: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21.)

It’s a messy business living in a broken world with broken people, and we are still far from the destination that King envisioned. I believe our hope must ultimately come from outside of ourselves; from the Savior who made inward transformation possible through spiritual rebirth. Regardless of how much progress we make in this corrupt age, He promises unity and justice in the age to come. Jesus invites us to experience the realities of that future age right now, in this present age. I think Dr. King, the Baptist minister and activist, would be pleased if the occasion of his death would spur some to accept the invitation of Jesus to step into His kingdom of light.

Do Loving Families Create Inequality in Society?

social justice-parenting

Sometimes it’s astounding to hear the ideas that smart people will entertain.

I thought it would be fun to start off the year by joyfully ignoring some smart people’s wisdom. My hope is that you too will be encouraged and confident in your parenting by taking care to do the precise opposite of what certain smart people recommend.

In 2015, a couple of philosophers, Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse, released some of their thoughts on social justice. To be fair to them, their hearts are in the right place. Unfortunately, they seem to have the hearts of robots. I believe they are still at large.

Swift turned his blinking antennae toward the disturbing fact that certain parental practices can create an “unfair advantage” for kids who come from loving homes. He sees this as a problem.

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

Well…I’m interested in equality of opportunity too. But somehow it never occurred to me to discourage good parenting as a way to level the playing field.

Swift muses, ‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’   

Why even entertain this idea? The family is not “the source of unfairness in society.” That’s like wondering if food is the source of eating disorders. Or if cars are the source of auto collisions. Or if water is the cause of drowning.

Shouldn’t the possibility of user-error be considered here?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to wonder if it’s bad parenting and dysfunctional family dynamics that disadvantages kids? So much societal good comes from good parenting that it would necessarily harm society to “create a level playing field” by abolishing the family. Maybe Swift could direct his time and energy toward supporting and equipping disadvantaged families.

I can’t find the source of the following quote, but I think it explains a lot:

“Progressives seek to create a system that is so good that individual goodness and responsibility are no longer necessary.”

Swift’s comment goes to show how decisively one’s worldview will guide one to a particular destination, for better or for worse. Fortunately, he and Brighouse do reject the notion of abolishing the family. But unfortunately, they instead favor the “mere” redefining of marriage, family, and parenting.

Swift continues,

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

Here he has in view economic advantages such as private schooling for kids. He’s against that. However, he is willing to allow parents to read bedtime stories to their kids at night, so long as they feel at least a little guilty about it sometimes:

‘I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’

I wish I were making this up.

Since this is my blog, I get to state the obvious: Benefiting your children through loving and attentive parenting does not “disadvantage other people’s children”! Please DO benefit your children to the very best of your ability! Daily! Use wisdom! Pray for them! Work at having a great marriage for the sake of your kids! These things will also not disadvantage or hurt anyone!

Yes, it’s true… Reading to young children does indeed benefit them in many ways. Notably, it helps to build empathy in them, and can transmit good values to them. The compassionate course for compassionate parents is to raise “advantaged”, well-adjusted kids who will become compassionate adults. Somebody is going to have to care for the disadvantaged in society, after all.

Not surprisingly, in his quest for equality Swift ultimately lands in the same place where our culture increasingly finds itself bobbing like a cork in the ocean with no anchor – the redefining of marriage and parenting:

‘Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,’ says Swift…Politicians love to talk about family values, but meanwhile the family is in flux and so we wanted to go back to philosophical basics to work out what are families for and what’s so great about them and then we can start to figure out whether it matters whether you have two parents or three or one, or whether they’re heterosexual etcetera.’

While I’m thrilled that these guys are working on figuring out all this stuff for us, I’m not super confident that they will arrive at the truth.

In fact, regarding his basic questions, natural law, empirical research, and the teaching of Jesus all coincide nicely:

“What are families for?”
Even from a non-religious standpoint, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage benefits society in a way that no other type of social arrangement does, (to borrow a thought from Ryan T. Anderson.) If a man and a woman make a baby together, and they fail to raise that baby, then the costs to that child and to society can be great. If this happens on a large scale, pathologies will increase to the point where a free society will begin to disintegrate.

On the other hand, there is a mountain of research showing that children raised in a low conflict home with a married mom and dad statistically reap benefits, across the board. If society has an interest in seeing children grow up to be contributing citizens, then the traditional family is crucial for healthy society.

“What’s so great about families?”
Love. Love is great. Security. Acceptance and belonging. Identity. An environment where vulnerable children are cared for by adults who are utterly invested in their lives. The village and the state may or may not help, but they are a pale substitute for a married mom and dad.

Are the roles of “mom” and “dad” dispensable?
If one wants to think about what will disadvantage children, this is the place to look.

It is now fashionable among smart people to believe that family structure is not important; that what matters is loving adults, regardless of gender. This is an ideological fabrication that ignores science and research.

I don’t intend to be unkind here. I’m simply saying that biological connection matters, and that kids tend to yearn for relational connection with their biological parents. Adoption is wonderful. We all know many single parents who work heroically to raise their kids well. Gay couples can be just as capable as hetero couples when it comes to parenting. But this issue is not ultimately about love or competency; it’s about what kids are wired to need. Specifically, what a single parent or a gay couple cannot be to a child is a mom and a dad. These roles matter:

A boy simply cannot have his masculine identity imparted and affirmed by his mom. Not because she is incompetent but because she is female. At the same time he cannot experience and appreciate the unity-in-diversity of the deep emotional connection of maternal love with his dad. Not because he is unloving, but because he is male.

A girl cannot receive non-sexual masculine attention, affirmation, and acceptance from her mom. Because mom is female. She cannot receive intimate knowledge and shared, comfortable connection around her innate femininity from her dad. Because he is a dude.

This is simply the shape of reality. I might even agree that it’s not fair.

No one is advocating chasing down gay parents and taking away their children, or shaming single parents, or stoning step-parents. We should all support each other in our parenting and create community to whatever extent possible. But parenting should ultimately be for the sake of children, and it is right to advocate for what is best for them when it comes to public policy. Redefining marriage necessarily redefines parenting, and intentionally denying the unique and complimentary roles of mothers and fathers will inevitably disadvantage kids.

 

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Preview: Upcoming Kids’ Storybook

kids book illustration funny cars

This month I want to give you a glimpse of the new kids’ storybook on which I’ve been working.

But first, you may have noticed that it’s been well over a year since I’ve released a new storybook, so here’s a brief personal update:

Over the past couple of years, due to the deaths of some very close family members, some other family events, as well as the need to pay off some debts, I’ve been working a “real job” 4 days a week. I feel this is necessary for now in order for Mollie and me to get our financial house in order. Frankly, it’s been a nice break from having to generate self-employment income after 15 years of pursuing a fine art career.

The downside is that it’s making book production much slower.

Nonetheless, my next storybook, The Friendly City, is well under way. Following is a summary of the story:

The story is about a town called New Burbia. New Burbia is home to the best, safest, and most polite drivers in the world. One of the best things about living in the town is that the citizens drive fun and fanciful cars. Everyone follows the rules of the road and is able to get where they want to go. All of this makes New Burbia a great place to live.

One day a new mayor is elected and he has an idea that will make New Burbia even better. Since New Burbia is home to the best, safest, and most polite drivers in the world, he reasons that there is no need for the road signs and traffic lights in town. (Road signs are for bad drivers.) He has the signs removed and tells the people that they are free to drive how they feel is best. Of course, chaos ensues and the town becomes less friendly.

Eventually, some citizens come together and form The Caring Drivers Group. They commit to remembering the rules of the road and to treating other drivers with patience, respect, and kindness. Even though most drivers don’t join them, their presence makes New Burbia a better place to live.

Here are some of the New Burbian cars that were driven before the Mayor’s plan was implemented:

illustrated kids storybook

storybook illustration

illustration, rockets, vikings, hamsters

The Caring Drivers Group is a metaphor for the Church. The Church of Jesus exists, in part, to be God’s manifestation of His kingdom in the midst of a corrupt age. Rather than attempting to “fix” our broken world, the church exists as a light and an example as we invite people into relational unity with God and His people.

I thought it would fill a need to have a fun storybook that reinforces for kids the idea of a body of people that is not trying to fix the world, or forcibly impose a political or otherwise utopian solution onto society. Rather, we live as “aliens” within a broken culture, creating a subculture of love, caring, and truth, inviting people to join us.

I expect that The Friendly City will be released early next year (2018.) Of course I will keep you posted!

Please share your opinion with me on upcoming books!
I’d love to have your input as to future planned book releases. My plans include:

  1. The Drinkan original metaphorical story about a boy wandering the desert, checking out various water wells as he searches for “the living water” he has heard about. Based on Jesus’s description of himself as the living water.
  2. A New Familya storybook that positively articulates God’s design for marriage as described by Jesus. This story is narrated by a little girl who is watching a wedding ceremony.
  3. The Emperor’s New ClothesAn updated/revised version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. I remember how this story made an impression on me as a child, and it remains as relevant as ever in a culture that seeks to pressure children to accept false assertions about life.
  4. An Easter/Passover storybookNot written yet, but as a parent I found it difficult to find great picture books that celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
  5. A Kingdom of God storybook Also not written yet. I would love to do a storybook for kids that explains in simple terms the kingdom of God that Jesus preached. This would include explaining His kingdom parables and other statements about the kingdom.
  6. The Kingdom of Light (Not to be confused with the previous book) An original story about a stained glass window maker who lived in a dim kingdom. The villagers can’t see the beauty of the windows until light shines through them.

I would value your feedback on which of these storybooks you would like to see made available first. Do any of these in particular stand out as being more important to you, or as being more helpful to you as a parent, grandparent, or person of influence?

Please reply in the comment section. Thank you for your input!

Kids storybooks steam punk car

Looking for gift ideas for the kids you love? Visit my online BOOK STORE and order before the December deadline!

Thoughts on “Religion,” and How Not to Fix the World

Maxfield Parrish Humpty Dumpty, fall of man

Before the Great Fall

Does anyone like getting asked the question, “Are you religious?”

When asked this, does anyone ever enthusiastically answer, “YES!”

I only like getting asked that question because it gives me a chance to explain my faith.

One of my earliest insights as a young follower of Jesus was that Christianity is not about a religion; it’s about a relationship. In college I pretty much abandoned the use of the word “Christianity” altogether because it is so broad as to be practically meaningless and confusing.

This is not an uncommon way of thinking in evangelicalism. It is widely understood that our faith has primarily to do with the person of Jesus, not about some system of belief or ritualistic practice. At a minimum most would agree that a religion is not “the answer” to the world’s problems. Most would recognize that one can be scrupulously religiously observant and yet completely miss God. There is good and bad religious practice. I think most people would agree that there are bad religions in the world.

So it’s kinda weird to speak of “religion” in general as either good or bad.

You’ve probably heard evangelicals say,

“Religion is mans’ attempt to reach God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.”

Or “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

I’ve tended to argue that religion can serve as a positive cultural force, but I’ve tended to personally reject the observance of religious rituals, traditions, and practices as baggage. Yes, I pray regularly, but as a part of relationship with God – not as religious ritual. In the same way, I don’t consider talking with my wife to be a marriage ritual.

All in all, the word “religion” has been a pretty distasteful word to me for all of my life, even though, ironically, people who don’t know me well may tend to think of me as religious.

But…Hmmm…Maybe I don’t despise the word “religion” after all

I recently read some thoughts on the origin of the word “religion” that ring true to me.

…Etymologically, [religion] means something like tying back together – re-ligion:
re-ligamenting, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness…

(Michael Ward, Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University)

This sounds right to me because, for better or for worse, all the religions of the world seem to be concerned with restoring unity to our broken world in some way. There seems to be a universal recognition that things are not as they should be in the human situation, and that the problem is separateness – division between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

However, conflict arises between religions and ideologies because there are vastly differing opinions as to how to accomplish the restoration of unity in the world. Unfortunately, history shows us that human beings are vulnerable to the temptation to externally impose unity onto each other. Of course this doesn’t work, but apparently many ideologues feel there is no other option. Current examples include ISIS and the American left-wing Antifa.

The brilliance of spiritual rebirth

Among authority figures, Jesus is unique in His approach to unity and restoration in that He offers voluntary, internal change for the individual. He offers this to all people in the form of spiritual rebirth:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3)

Here’s an apostle of Jesus pithily describing God’s plan for unity and restoration:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
(Eph 1:7-10)

This describes the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures taking merciful initiative on our behalf, and providing a means for us to be reconnected to Him first, and ultimately to each other and to all of heaven and nature. In the very next chapter Paul refers to this salvation as a gift from God – not something that can be earned. (Eph 2:8,9)

Isn’t this what we all want? We really should tell people about this.

(Original image by Maxfield Parrish, circa 1921. Modified by the author.)

 

How Wounded People Have Shaped Culture

fatherless atheists, defective father hypothesis

Have you ever wondered about the personal histories of people who have influenced the world in negative ways – philosophically or politically? I have. I’ve harbored a long-held suspicion that influential people who have shaped the world for the worse have generally done so from a position of personal woundedness.

The point of the question is not to establish a reason to judge people or to create division. But I think it’s an interesting and significant question. If anything, establishing such a connection may help foster understanding.

It may also shed light on issues that we may assume to be intellectual issues but which may in fact originate with psychological issues rooted in personal history.

In my opinion it also underscores the importance of marriage, loving family, and the meeting of the relational needs of our fellow human beings.

I’ve finally gotten around to doing a little research, and what I’ve learned is fascinating. We know the names and contributions of world-shapers, but what is less well known is that the stories of those who’ve made a negative impact are very often deeply tragic.

Who is to Say What is “Negative”?
This is a fair question. Let me hasten to add a caveat here. I am unapologetically biased in my opinion about what constitutes a “negative influence” in the world. Justifying my opinion is probably a topic for a separate post. I recognize that some of you may consider what I see as a negative contribution to be a positive one. I also recognize that the contribution of many the folks mentioned below is mixed.

However, I don’t believe it matters. Regardless of what you think about a person’s contribution to the world, the facts of their personal history remain, and, I believe, shaped the course of their lives.

Following is a list of people who have shaped the world in the modern era; especially in the world of academia. There is overlap in these categories as most of these people are/were atheists.

Atheist thinkers
In a recent movie review I mentioned the connection between well known atheists and the “father wound.” Psychologist Paul Vitz has written a book on this connection entitled, Faith of the Fatherless, which I recommend. Here are arguably the most notable atheist names in history:

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Popularly known for his pronouncement, “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s father, to whom he was very attached, died just before his fifth birthday. After his father’s death he lived in a religious household consisting of his mother, sister, paternal grandmother, and two paternal aunts, until he went away to school at age 14.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Prominent British atheist philosopher and author, notably published a collection of essays entitled, Why I Am Not a Christian. From an aristocratic family, Russell’s mother died when he was two years old. His father died two years later. Russell was then raised by his paternal grandparents, Lord John Russell and Lady Russell. However, his grandfather died when he was six years old, leaving him to be raised by his puritanical grandmother and a succession of nannies.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Influential 20th century French atheist philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Sartre’s father died when he was 15 months old. He grew up very close and emotionally invested with his mother. When his mother remarried in Sartre’s 12th year, she moved into an apartment with her new husband, and Sartre stayed with his grandparents with whom he was not close.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French atheist philosopher, author, and journalist. His father died in battle during World War 1 when Camus was 1 year old. Camus was raised by his mother, who was illiterate and cleaned houses for a living, and subsequently grew up in an economically depressed environment. In 1937 Camus was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the French Communist Party, at which time he joined the French anarchist movement.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995)
Perhaps America’s best-known atheist before her death, she led the lawsuit to successfully ban prayer in public schools during the 1960s. According to her son, Madalyn hated her father and unsuccessfully attempted to kill him on at least one occasion. The reason for this intense hatred has not been disclosed.

Richard Dawkins (1941- )
British “New Atheist,” evolutionary biologist, and author. A critic of all religion and especially Christianity, Dawkins is on record stating that the teaching of Christian doctrine to children is child abuse. He attended a religious boarding school at age 9 and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his Latin master while separated from his parents.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
British “New Atheist,” journalist, and author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens grew up in an intact family and also went off the boarding school at age 8. His father was a naval officer and Hitchens claims to have “few clear memories of him,” referring to him as “the Commander.” He was close with his mother, who eventually had an affair with a former Anglican priest. The two lovers subsequently ended their lives together in a suicide pact.

Daniel Dennett (1942- )
American “New Atheist” philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist. Dennett’s father worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the US government. The family moved to Lebanon during World War 2. His father died in an unexplained plane crash while away on a Middle East mission when Dennett was 5 years old.

Political leaders
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect of the Soviet state. Third of six children in a happy family, when Lenin was 16 his father died of a brain hemorrhage. He renounced his belief in God soon thereafter. 5 months later his elder brother was hanged for his part in conspiring against the Tsar.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Soviet dictator, orchestrator of the Great Purge against political rivals, and perpetrator of the worst man-made famine in human history. The precise number is unknown, but by some estimates Stalin presided over the deaths of 20 million people. Originally trained for the priesthood, in his 30s Stalin rejected his family name (Djugashvili) and changed it to the Russian word for “man of steel.” Stalin had a very harsh upbringing. His father was an alcoholic and often severely beat him and his mother.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Communist leader and father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao presided over the Great Leap Forward of 1958 (the ensuing famine of which caused the deaths of some 30 million peasants,) and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 (which resulted in some million and a half deaths and destroyed much of China’s cultural heritage.) Mao reportedly hated his father, who was a tyrant and regularly and severely beat him and his three siblings.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945)
Leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor and fuehrer of Germany, and initiator of World War 2. Hitler presided over the Nazi Holocaust during which 6 million Jews were executed – nearly two thirds of Continental Europe’s Jewish citizenry. Additional victims included communists, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political opponents. As a boy, Hitler’s father severely and regularly beat him; “every day” according to his sister. He was one of 6 children, 3 of whom died in infancy. As an 11 year old boy Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother, Edmund. Hitler’s antagonistic relationship with his father ended 3 years later when his father died unexpectedly. There was no father figure in his life after this.

Opinion shapers
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. While his father was not abusive, apparently Freud considered him to be a weak man and a disappointment; lacking in courage and unable to provide for his family. Furthermore, according to Paul Vitz, in two letters as an adult Freud writes that his father, Jacob, was “a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s own children suffered as a result.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
British naturalist and author of the vastly influential On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The pure naturalism of microbes-to-man evolutionary theory made materialism (atheism) an intellectually respectable option. Darwin’s mother died when he was 8. He was raised by his sisters until he went off to school at age 9. His relationship with his imposing father was ambivalent. He once wrote, “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’.”

Feminist leaders
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
American birth control activist, sex educator, author, nurse, and racist eugenics proponent. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US and founded the American Birth Control League, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger grew up in an impoverished home headed by an alcoholic father. She was the 6th of 11 children. Her mother went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, (including 7 miscarriages,) before dying at the age of 40.

Gloria Steinem (1934- )
American feminist, political activist, and journalist. Steinem was a leading figurehead for the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s and co-founder of Ms. Magazine. Perhaps her best known quote is, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” When Steinem was 10 years old her parents divorced and her father left, leaving her to care for her mentally ill mother.

Bella Abzug (1920-1998)
American feminist, lawyer, congressional representative, and social activist. Abzug was also a leading activist during the 60s and 70s. In her later life she became an influential leader at the United nations working to support womens’ equality around the world. Abzug’s father died when she was 13. She went to the synagogue every morning for a year to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer. This was in defiance of the orthodox synagogue’s tradition that only sons recite the prayer.

Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012)
American feminist thinker and author. Firestone is less well known than the others listed here but she was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism. Her book, The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970, has continued to be influential in feminist thought, and is also considered to be an early “post-genderist” work. In the book she argues that it is the biological role of pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing that keeps women oppressed. She envisioned the abolition of the nuclear family with its oppressive parent-child relationship, and doing away with the maternal instinct. She envisioned artificial wombs, and collective child-rearing. Not surprisingly, Firestone’s relationship with her controlling, orthodox Jewish father was wildly antagonistic.

Summary
One would be justified in asking if fatherlessness was typical in past centuries, or if the family dynamic was dysfunctional for most people. Author Paul Vitz answers this question by providing a contrasting list of theistic thinkers and influencers. In virtually every case these theists were raised in nurturing, loving environments. When a parent was lost at an early age, relatives or friends stepped up as affirming father figures. Examples Vitz gives include Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It would be wrong to assume that all atheists today grew up with a dysfunctional parent relationship. Atheism has now become a mainstream and academically respectable option. However, I remain convinced that children have a God-ordained right to be nurtured by their married biological parents whenever possible. If you are a parent I hope these stories will strengthen your resolve to stay a loving course in your marriage and parenting.

Happy Father’s day to all the dads reading this! May you be a blessing to your children!

Excerpts: Dialogue Between a Trump Voter & Distraught Progressives

disagreeing respectfully
As promised in an earlier post, below are excerpts from an online dialogue I initiated after the Trump election of 2016. I joined a liberal, “safe persons” discussion group, not to gloat or be a troll, but to help foster understanding.

The possibility of mutual understanding now seems almost hopeless to me. From this discussion I learned that much of the left actually believes that half the country really is hateful and immoral, or at least does not care about oppressed people. This discussion was 3 weeks after the election, and many of these people were truly hurting, depressed, and afraid. This Instagram post sums up their reasoning more concisely than anything else I’ve read:

T Madoff anti-Trump rant

Instagram post by Tanya Madoff

On the bright side, this discussion gave me hope that some people can be brought to a place of seeing a different perspective. It was not easy. It required overlooking a lot of insults and condescension; a small price to pay in my opinion. My aim was not to convert people or to justify myself, but to simply enable “progressive” people to see outside of their own frame of reference.

The discussion was quite lengthy. I’ve tried to keep only the meatiest parts. If you’re here to see mud-slinging and insults you’re at the wrong place. I see this as an attempt at a respectful discussion between caring, intelligent people.

THE DISCUSSION (My comments in bold)

I began with this comment, in response to a group member who authored and posted an article in Forbes. Here I asked the admins if they thought it would be helpful for me to post my why-I-voted-for-Trump blog. No one thought it would be helpful:

ME: It is very helpful for me, a “religious conservative” to hear about the deep, negative, emotional impact that this election has had on others.

It is helpful to me because I had been misreading the motives of the left, (at least the rank and file left,) for the past 8 years. I confess that I suspected that the progressive campaign to label everyone who disagreed with progressives as “hateful,” “bigoted,” “anti-gay,” “racist,” and “anti-woman” was simply a political ploy to get religious conservatives to shut-up and leave the public square. In other words, I didn’t think liberals/progressives actually believed that half the country was morally clueless. Now I see that many people actually do believe this.

I would be depressed too if I believed this. I want to take care that I do not attempt to invalidate the feelings of those who are hurting. I see and understand that the feelings are real. At the same time, is it fair to assess the beliefs behind the feelings? Would it be helpful to offer evidence that half of American voters are not KKK-supporting misogynists?

I don’t see how comfort and healing are possible if the only possible comfort is political agreement with those who are hurting. I believe the solution for America is a return to pluralism within the constraints of constitutional government. Within those constraints I believe we can at least trust each others motives, even if we respectfully disagree on public policy.

This quote from the above article breaks my heart:

“I cried for a long time because I got hit hard with the realization that so many people would choose a man who is hateful, anti-Constitution and wholly unfit to head, just to keep a woman from being in charge,..”

Not only am I saddened that she apparently actually believes this, but that her feelings are based on something that is so far from the truth.

If it would help to foster understanding, I would be happy to post my blog post wherein I explained why I felt like I had to do the unthinkable and vote “for” Trump.
Admins? Would this be helpful?

Here is one of the “no” replies that was well stated:

PAMELA: No, echoing Annie, it would not be helpful for this simple reason: those who chose to vote for DJT either (a) didn’t care about what he said about nearly every group in society other than straight white men or (b) decided he wasn’t actually serious and something else was more important than acknowledging others’ basic humanity. This is why it hurts so deep, to me, and why it still does, three weeks later. As someone else put it: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

The distrust was so deep that someone accused me of going ahead and linking my blog post against the wishes of the admins, when in reality the link was to the Forbes article to which I was referring. One woman was fair minded enough to point this out:

ELYSIA: I think it is fair to point out that the link on the post above is not to his blog, but to the article he referenced as being helpful for understanding others’ emotions. But Scott, I think the feedback you received on the other group was accurate. Don’t expect to convince people here that your vote was justified.

ME: Elysia – Thank you for clarifying what I linked.

While I don’t believe the dichotomies that were set up in the feedback from the other group are accurate, I understand why people would feel the way they do. But I do agree with you in that I don’t expect to convince anyone here that my vote was justified. It remains to be seen if even I believe my vote was justified. I have not been trying to justify myself here. My hope was to simply foster understanding. I thought it might be some small comfort for people to be able to understand how, for many, voting for Trump had nothing to do with hate, bigotry, etc; that the picture is not as dark as it seems. But I see now that this would not answer their concerns. I asked a question. The answer is no. I accept that.

Following is a reply from a progressive PhD student and adjunct professor at a Presbyterian theological seminary:

MIKE: Well, you’re half-way there. It’s nice of you to finally accept that people’s beliefs and fears are actually genuine and not just a “political ploy.” Now you just have to just take the additional step of accepting that their fears and moral judgments are based on legitimate concerns and not just “based on something that is so far from the truth.” Because right now, by trying to tell people that their fears are not based in reality, you are basically engaged in gaslighting.

The reality is that people’s fears and moral judgments about people who voted for Trump are based on the ACTUAL things that he and his supporters have said. Actual policies, actual words, actual intentions. These actual things are what we are afraid of. These actual things are what we are judging to be morally reprehensible (“clueless” is way too soft to cover the things being advocated). Yes, we are saying that if one supports such things, one is acting immorally.

Now maybe you don’t support those things personally. Maybe, as you say, you and millions of others Trump voters supported him for other reasons *in spite of* these other immoral things. But even if that is the case, your vote still indicates that those other things did not seem bad enough to you to be deal breakers. And, like it or not, THAT is what we are still judging to be immoral, and THAT is why we are still afraid of you.

ME: Mike – Thank you for your critique. If I may, I’d like to clarify a couple of points here as I feel you’re misreading what I’ve said.

Please note that I never said I believed people’s “beliefs and fears” were a political ploy. I said that I had believed that the tactic of publicly shaming/labeling anyone who disagreed with progressives was a political ploy. I still believe it was and is for many activists – clearly they see this as a way to shape public opinion, (not a very good or effective way, in my opinion.) What is different is that I now see that many people really believe that those who disagree with them must be doing so out of hatred, bigotry, etc.

Secondly, believe me, I grasp your point about Trump’s “actual” reckless and divisive comments. I can’t defend Trump’s character. I think he’s a horrible presidential candidate and a jerk. My comment about the woman-in-question’s feelings being “based on something so far from the truth” was addressing her specific comment. She is “terrified,” and suffering panic attacks and crying fits because she assumes people voted for Trump “just to keep a woman from being in charge.” That’s wildly incorrect, and it’s not gaslighting to say so.

I’ll respond to your point about moral judgment to the group because I think it eloquently addresses the concerns of the entire group.

I’ll post that response next, but first I want to briefly post an exchange with a self-described queer woman. She shared her experience at length. She was well educated, articulate, polite, and obviously hurting. It was no joke. I think these few sentences sum up the heart of what she shared:

ERIN: … Sir. Your belief that the sincere beliefs and advocacy from people like me was all an attempt to silence you is… honestly, just painful for me to hear. It is painful for me because it mirrors the responses I have heard from my own family about my future in this country. It is painful because it says that you hear the genuine fears of Americans and assume that we are lying when we ask to be protected and welcomed here… Sir, I am heartbroken. I don’t want to listen to you justify yourself now…You are not helping me by justifying yourself. You are not listening to me or to my fears. You are helping me still less by insisting that you were okay, you really respect me,..

I felt there was no appropriate response to this except to acknowledge her pain, to validate her feelings, and to quietly leave. Though she misrepresents my stated beliefs, and even though those misunderstandings are causing her pain, a mere online discussion would not help her at this time…

ME: Erin – Thank you for taking time to explain your story. It is good for me to hear you, and your words do make an impact on me. I cannot wave off your concerns and I see that they touch you at the deepest level. I don’t feel free to dialogue with you since you say you can’t listen to me right now. I accept that and I wish you all the best.

This was followed by yet another exhortation urging me to listen. I feel we can all learn from this. We have to stop talking past each other. We do need to listen to each other. I joined the group in hopes of being understood. These people were open to me listening to and understanding them, so that’s where I started.

ANNIE: Scott, I dearly hope you are listening. The people posting on this thread are pouring out from their pain and working hard to craft the words they share.

ME: I am listening. If I may reply to what I’ve heard, Amber, Erin, Marie, and Mike have all articulated a similar argument that I believe gets at the crux of the issue that is causing so much fear and pain.

Mike stated that even if a Trump-voter doesn’t support Trump’s actual policies/words/intentions, a Trump vote “…still indicates that those other things did not seem bad enough to you to be deal breakers… THAT is what we are still judging to be immoral…”

Amber linked a perfectly articulated, concise summary of this idea. [The Instagram shot I posted above.]

Erin asserts that “This is not a case of there being two equal sides with equal concerns and fears… (My) “two sides not communicating” concept is wrong because it assumes that the fears of the two Americas have equal basis and grounds.

Marie points out what love is not, and ends with, “…we’ve learned that “respectfully disagreeing” is often code for “not wanting to listen, because then I might agree.”

My concern, and the reason I joined this group, is that I am deeply concerned over how divided the nation has become. My hope is that this group can accomplish something unique in this climate. (Yes, I recognize that I am an outsider, and I don’t expect people to warm up to my beliefs.) When I look down the road, I see two options:

1) A permanently divided, polarized nation, wherein the pendulum continues to swing back and fourth every 4 or 8 years. The pendulum increasingly becomes a wrecking ball as the party in power seeks to force its agenda onto the people, only to have its “gains” undone when power shifts parties. Anger, bitterness, and resentment continue to grow, as one group in power seeks to marginalize the other. I think this option sucks. Force does not change hearts. Totalitarianism always creates an underground.

2) A free, pluralistic society wherein competing ideas respectfully coexist and compete in a free marketplace of ideas, within the constraints of constitutional government. I contend that the US Declaration and Constitution answer all basic questions about American governance, and we should leave the rest to pluralism and freedom. Any legislation must constitutionally address the legitimate concerns of ALL sides or else there will always be backlash. Addressing Erin’s assertion in the current debate, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism are NOT legitimate concerns. I agree with her in this. However, both equal treatment under the law, and religious liberty ARE legitimate, explicitly stated constitutional concerns. If we cannot all agree on this then our situation truly is hopeless.

Hearts are not changed by attempting to force ideology onto people, either by governmental means, marketing, or by shaming/labeling/judging. There must be freedom to dissent. There must be the right of legal conscientious objection. At the risk of triggering some, I have to point out that the current [Obama] administration has been unbending in its refusal to allow dissent regarding its new policies around social issues. Hillary promised to continue the same strategy. (Examples provided upon request.) This overrides virtually every other concern to me, because if we get constitutional government – freedom, pluralism, and conscientious objection – then every citizen gets a voice and a safer America..

Many here seem to be appalled and offended that I saw the hate-shaming, labeling, and name-calling from the left over the past 8 years (well before Trump entered the picture) as a political ploy. Yet the left has widely assumed that religious liberty concerns are simply a political ploy and a cover for bigotry. I would be surprised if anyone here finds this widespread assumption to be appalling.

I don’t have a problem with the moral superiority of the left. I would hope that we all live according to a morality that we consider to be the most sound. What I have a serious problem with is using the irresistible force of government to force an ideology onto an unwilling population, and refusing to allow conscientious objection. It hasn’t worked, obviously. Apparently close to half of American voters, if forced to choose, would choose an unqualified asshole over a skilled totalitarian politician.

I am listening, but since this is a discussion group, I would suggest that I am not the only one here who needs to listen.

The power of a preconception is very strong. My favorite person in the group took THREE TRIES before she finally understood my point. She is the best at conflict resolution in the group. Here is where she gets it:

ELYSIA: Thanks, Scott. I’m still having a hard time understanding. I’ve reread the first comment, and know somehow you are tying this into constitutionality and legislation, but I’m still unclear. Might this be a workable paraphrase : “Racism, bigotry, xenophobia and sexism are troubling, but if we try and legislate them there will be a backlash, so we shouldn’t. Likewise, we shouldn’t legislate religion.” ? Additional correction/clarification welcomed.

ME: No, I’m simply saying that
1) both sides need to hear and understand each other, rather than trying to “hit back harder,” because
2) both sides have legitimate moral, constitutional concerns.
3) bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are not conservative values. They are not morally and constitutionally “legitimate concerns.” The legitimate concerns of which I am speaking from the conservative side are 1st amendment concerns. Yet my position is continually portrayed as a political ploy to enable bigotry and hate. I refuse to wear that label because it’s no more true for me than it is for you.

Thank you for bothering to attempt to understand. The practice of offering a paraphrase, and asking if it works is a great way to create mutual understanding. You are a shining example.

ELYSIA: OH!!!!! Seeing your recent reply to Annie, I think you are saying “Being racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic is not legitimate.” But, whew! I sure wasn’t hearing that. Thanks for being patient with me.

With respect to the items outlined in this most recent comment:
1) I agree
2) sure
3) I know they aren’t codified as conservative values. I fear they are positions shared by far too much of the population, irrespective of political affiliation, and ignored by many more. And (as I imagine you’ve realized in this group) plenty of people feel like ignoring is tantamount to supporting. Having a president-elect who makes statements that align with these “values” sullies the water for all conservatives, whether fair or not…

We’re all flawed. And we all have fingers to point. And somehow we’ve got to find a way to work through all this muck anyhow, so we can be better neighbors, friends, allies, and people.

ME: Agreed. I would suggest that it needn’t even necessarily be about finger pointing. We may simply have differing worldviews from which our beliefs and actions flow. I submit that the way that we live together is to promote pluralism and freedom within the constraints of the Constitution. This precludes the government, regardless of party, from imposing an ideology or religious belief onto the population. I think that anyone, from either side, who goes with “wrecking ball option #1” (above) may find themselves getting unexpectedly bit in the butt eventually by an intrusive government as mores continue to change.

Bigotry, judgmentalism, and discrimination are not tendencies that belong to conservatism alone. They are universal human tendencies that exist wherever deeply felt opinions exist. For those who don’t believe that, here are 3 examples:

[For brevity I’ve edited out the descriptions, but my three examples of judgmentalism and discrimination were: 1) “new atheist” Sam Harris, 2) a conflict between the trans community and radical feminism, and 3) the Obergefell decision.]

My point is that this not a simple liberal vs conservative debate. I can easily live with and value people who disagree with me, or who are different from me. The conflict comes when people attempt to force me to participate in their political ideology or religion.

After this the discussion ended. Thanks for enduring an unusually long post. I hope it was worth your time! I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

talking into can