Tag Archives: Wisdom

If you’re going to be a Christian, you need to be as smart as you can be

C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you
C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you

I guess I will start this post by linking to something a friend of mine named Joel Furches wrote about an atheist engineer. (link is dead)

He writes:

As an Aerospace Engineer for the U.S. Navy, Jason Pratt is not inaccurate when he describes himself as a rocket scientist for the government. He has flown F-14 Tomcats and the F/A-18F Super Hornet. He was a test pilot of the FA-18B and D Hornet, the FA-18F Super Hornet, and the T-45 Goshawk. His pedigree with all things aeronautical is well established. As was his atheism.

Pratt grew up in a single parent home. He and his sister were raised by their mother, who felt it was her duty to introduce them to church in their teenage years. The church Pratt attended was a religious shell: a ritualistic facade with little reference to actual scriptural teachings. He went through the ceremonial steps as a matter of form, and the moment he was confirmed by the church, he confirmed himself an atheist, and left the church in his dust. His family took this with barely a nod, and as soon as she was confirmed, his sister followed his example.

After High School, Pratt entered college to study engineering. Academically, he proved himself quite brilliant, and flaunted that brilliance at every opportunity. He describes himself as very much a “self-righteous atheist” in college.

He found his atheism very freeing, morally, living by the code of “do whatever you want as long as nobody gets hurt.”

Says Pratt:

“I started to meet other students, and some of them were claiming to be Christians. I even had some of them as roommates. Having had some church background, I knew the type. They were hypocrites, deluded by the silly book that they claimed they believed in. And so I frequently took pleasure in ridiculing them. I would mock them. I would look for any reason to bring out things that they would claim they believe and I would just make fun of them, and mock their God and the Bible that supposedly guided them.

“I generally enjoyed playing the intellectual superior, and I enjoyed challenging what they believed.”

Not much surprise to Pratt, most of the Christians he met had no ability to defend their faith against his ridicule.

[…]One day, however, Pratt met a fellow engineering student named John Thatcher. Thatcher had a perfect GPA, which was somewhat intimidating to someone like Pratt, who took such pride in his own intellect. Thatcher was a very likable guy. He was also a Christian. This made things difficult for Pratt.

At the same time, Pratt discovered that his Academic Adviser – a leading authority in the field of Thermodynamics – was a Christian. This discovery was made when Pratt went to his adviser’s office one day in order to request some help from the brilliant man. As Pratt approached his office, he was shocked to find a scientific article, arguing Thermodynamics from a Christian perspective, hanging from his office door. Pratt was so infuriated, he stormed away and never spoke to his adviser again.

Confused and upset that these two very intelligent men would believe in superstitious nonsense, Pratt made it his goal to truly examine the claims of Christianity for the first time.

This reminded me of a quote from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel.

He says this:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

I think in general, it’s a good thing when Christians strive to be different from the culture around them. Obviously, that means having different moral values and different goals than what’s popular and acceptable for non-Christians. It means not openly engaging in activities that are forbidden to Christians, like not getting drunk, not having premarital/extra-marital sex, etc. And I think it also means being as smart as you can possibly be about about areas that touch on your Christian worldview. Why? Because like the story above says, being informed and having the answers is attractive to people who are searching.

It doesn’t help God for you to be wild and stupid

In my life, I have sometimes tried to lead other Christians to study harder things and to get better jobs. Most of the time, this works. I can get young Christians to not study English or Drama or Art History, and instead get them to study Engineering or Computer Science or Nursing. And if they already are studying hard things, then I encourage them, I buy them books, I play games with them and ask them how things are going. Once they have the degrees, I encourage them to get jobs, to work in the summers, to open investment accounts, and pay off their loans.

The point is this – what you study and what you do for work and how good you are at your job plays a massive role in whether you will get into conversations with non-Christians at all. It is not good service to God to bungle your education and career because you were more interested in feeling good, having fun and seeking thrills. You will lose opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others that way.

Managing your money – paying off debts and investing early and often – is part of that signal of maturity that you send to others. And don’t underestimate the importance of marriage and children – something I don’t have. If I had a successful marriage, and lots of well-behaved children, that would help a lot as well. Especially if people could come over to a warm and happy home. It sends a message. However, if you’re going to stay single, then keep your self-control and be content with it. That sends a message, too.

Life is short. Don’t do what feels good. Do what works.

Alistair Begg preaches on practicality and initiative in the story of Ruth

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

I finished listening to Alistair Begg’s series on Esther, and I’m now on to his series on Ruth. Sermon #3 stood out to me, because it touches on the important issues of free will vs determinism as well as the two methods of seeking God’s will: mysticism vs wisdom.

The discussion centers around Ruth’s decision to go to the barley fields to work, in order to get something to eat.

The MP3 file is here.

Here is the description:

When we’re facing a future devoid of prospects or possibilities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. Ruth could relate. She was a penniless widow in a foreign land seeking a way to provide for herself and her widowed mother-in-law. Her future was totally dependent upon someone showing her unmerited grace and favor. Instead of giving up, she gives us an example of humility, initiative and faith as she seeks work and sustenance.

As things in the world spin out of control, it’s important to remember that you must always have a plan and be working on that plan. Even when things look very bleak, you have to do something reasonable and practical, and then pray to God for “favor”. That God will do something unexpected that will make your reasonable action bear unexpected fruit.

If you want to listen to sermons #1 and sermon #2 in the series on Ruth, you can find the whole series here. So far, I have listened to 5. The first two were also very good, so if you listen to the first 3, you will definitely benefit. Each one is 35 to 40 minutes.

Are Christians responsible for making plans and making good decisions?

Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. In his post, Neil explains the Biblical model for making good decisions.

Excerpt:

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

He has a helpful picture posted as well:

This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)

Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.

Who is Rifleman Dodd?

A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.

Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:

It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.

I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.

There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.

We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend – and his objectives. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person completely disregards the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends. Maybe it’s time to remember what this is all about.

New study: women seeking to have a child should start before age 32

Brain vs Heart, from: theawkwardyeti.com
Brain vs Heart, from: theawkwardyeti.com

Dina sent me this sobering piece of research from the New Scientist which is perfect for all the young feminists who have been taught in college that marriage should be put off, and women can easily get pregnant after age 40.

Excerpt:

It’s a question many people will ask themselves at some point in their lives: when should I start a family? If you know how many children you’d like, and whether or not you would consider, or could afford, IVF, a computer model can suggest when to start trying for your first child.

Happy with just one? The model recommends you get started by age 32 to have a 90 per cent chance of realising your dream without IVF. A brood of three would mean starting by age 23 to have the same chance of success. Wait until 35 and the odds are 50:50 (see “When to get started”).

The suggestions are based on averages pulled from a swathe of data so don’t give a personal prediction. And of course, things aren’t this simple in real life – if only family size and feelings about IVF were the only factors to consider when planning a family. But the idea behind the model is to help people make a decision by condensing all the information out there into an accessible form.

“We have tried to fill a missing link in the decision-making process,” says Dik Habbema at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, one of the creators of the model. “My son is 35 and many of his friends have a problem deciding when to have children because there are so many things they want to do.”

It’s a scenario that will be familiar to many; the age at which people have their first child has been creeping up over the last 40 or so years. For example, the average age at which a woman has her first child is 28 in the UK and has reached 30 in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. In the US, the birth rate for women in their 20s has hit a record low, while the figures for those over 35 have increased over the last few decades.

The decision is more pressing for women thanks to their limited supply of eggs, which steadily drop in quantity and quality with age. Female fertility is thought to start declining at 30, with a more significant fall after the age of 35.

[…]The new model incorporates data from studies that assess how fertility naturally declines with age. The team took information on natural fertility from population data collected over 300 years up to the 1970s, which includes data on 58,000 women.

I have often tried to talk to young women about the need to get their lives in gear. I advise them to work summers during high school, obtain a STEM degree in university, minimize borrowing money by going to community college for the generic prerequisites, don’t have premarital sex, get a job related to their STEM field straight out of college, pay off their debts, move out of their parents’ house, start investing from the first paycheck, marry between age 25-30, and then start having children after the first two “stabilizing” years of marriage. This is sound advice, rooted in my careful reconnaissance of the things that human beings care about and need in their old age. This advice is not bullying, it comes from reading many, many relevant papers. It comes from putting the knowledge gained from reading the papers into practice, and seeing results where appropriate.

I am giving you the numbers. Straight out of a peer-reviewed study. Don’t follow your heart. Don’t listen to your friends. Follow the science. Make your decisions within the boundaries of reality. God will not save you from foolish decisions.

Related posts

The surprising pro-masculinity message in the “Far From the Madding Crowd” film

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

So, I have about a half-dozen older and/or experienced Christian women who advise me and assist me in various ways. The wisest and most experienced is calm and thoughtful Dina. She has a very stressful job dealing with demanding women, and what she admires most in men is “masculinity”, which she defines as a man’s ability to tell a woman what is right and wrong, what God expects from her, what she should be doing with her life, and guiding her and providing for her through the steps to get there.

What makes Dina angry is when a man makes a fool of himself for youth and beauty, abdicating his role as moral and spiritual leader because of attraction / lust. According to Dina, men who have self-control think about what a woman should do that is morally right, with the goal of her producing a return for God. Men who are swayed by youth and beauty are willing to give up that leadership role in exchange for attention and/or sex.

So, with that said, Dina asked me to watch a recently-made movie called “Far From the Madding Crowd“, based on a novel by Thomas Hardy. I immediately said “no” because I know about Thomas Hardy from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, where he presents Tess as the helpless victim of Providence. I really hate that view of women, where they can do reckless, selfish things and then blame everyone but themselves for the destructive consequences of their own free-will decisions. But Dina said “wasn’t I right about the debate between David Robertson and Matt Dillahunty?” I said yes, and watched the movie. And of course, she was right, as she almost always is. This movie is a punch in the face to the radical feminism that seems to have infected so many young women, even in the church.

Here is a review of the movie by Rebekah, posted at her blog.

Rebekah writes:

What does this 19th century tale offer to modern audiences?  This latest rendering emphasizes something actually surprising and unexpected given that it is made in our age of radical feminism.  It is Gabriel Oak’s character that shines the most, not the proto-feminist Bathsheba.  […]In Bathsheba and Gabriel we see how men and women support one another in such a way as to ensure a flourishing in any role that fate might thrust on them.

[…]The relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba, though unequal in earthly terms of authority and wealth, is one of mutual dependence.  We see Oak taking on a role of both counselor and conscience with Bathsheba – roles that in her striving towards independence she struggles to admit her need for.  She is not unlike the modern feminist in this regard, nor is she unlike all of us in our relationship with the Lord.  Her struggle is best seen in the various times she repels Gabriel only to find herself in desperate situations in which only he can help.  The filmmakers’ clever use of a recurring theme of Bathsheba galloping after Gabriel on a horse when he is needed is particularly moving (and surprising) here.  In the end, the film resists the urge to pander to our more extreme modern views on what women require to thrive.

Gabriel Oak also seems to be an embodiment of the biblical virtue of selflessness.  We see in his actions towards Bathsheba the Philippians admonition to refrain from “being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity,” but rather “in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” Indeed, vanity itself can be seen as a fateful character flaw of every major character apart from Gabriel.  He alone is able to move past rejection and carry on.  In fact, he is required to go so far as to be under the authority of the very woman who rejected his offer of marriage and, despite his continuing affections for her, witness her being courted and then married by another far less worthy man, Frank Troy.  No other major character is able to accomplish this challenge to their pride.  Though Bathsheba does eventually overcome the rejection of her husband, she only does so after tremendous tragedy and with the selfless and steady support of Gabriel.

Gabriel respects her independence, but, like a good shepherd, stays close by to protect and guide her.  Though he cannot protect her from her free-will choices, he does warn her.  He then remains faithful to her in the midst of the trouble she brings upon herself.  In this, he is not unlike our God, for he allows her to stray, all the while letting her know of a better course when asked.  And, she does ask.

In an important scene at a party, where Bathsheba must decide whether or not to marry a particularly obsessive suitor, when she asks, “Tell me what to do, Gabriel,” he simply tells her to “Do what is right.”  Is that not like our Lord?  Gentle shepherd, indeed, for our wild, independent hearts.  In this, I see Gabriel as most suitable for the role as the husband written of in the epistle to the Ephesians.  He loves Bathsheba “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…”

Men and women both struggle with self-centeredness, but men usually work themselves out of it by studying hard things in school, and doing hard work that pays. Men have a natural desire to provide for others, and it is actually a duty laid out for them in the Bible. As a result of studying and working at things they don’t like, men typically are better at resisting their feelings and desires. In fact, if you ever want to make a woman less self-centered and emotional, leading her to study STEM and work a demanding job is a good plan. Dina has multiple STEM degrees, and a very difficult, challenging work history.

I would be suspicious of men who don’t prioritize providing, (as in 1 Tim 5:8), because working and saving gives a man practical experience at self-denial. When a man gets accustomed to working to share with others, it helps helps him to lead a woman to do the same: deny her feelings and desires, and make prudent decisions that will allow her to love and serve others – including God – in a sustainable way. Over the long-term, this practice of effective, self-sacrificial love will be worth more to the woman than the short-term pursuit of fun and thrills. To provide for a woman means to look into her future, and make a decision today to set aside something that will help her to deal with what the future has in store for her.

Dina’s advice to young women

I asked Dina to take a look at the draft of this post before I hit “Schedule” and Dina said:

What I would advise to all young women is not to expect a Gabriel Oak to be waiting for you at the end of your reckless years of hooking up, partying and wasting your youth on fun and men who have no desire to lead you to God or guide you to goodness. Don’t expect the hot stud that your friends approve of to turn into someone with the character of Oak with the magic powers of your premarital sex life. Find a man who doesn’t give in to your every whim, because if he does, you will only resent him for it, and blame him, for being what you thought you wanted him to be.  Find a man who leads, one who demonstrates self control, self denial, who can provide and protect. And most importantly, respect him for doing it.

Emphasis mine.

Sound advice from the Dina, young ladies. By the way, Dina’s favorite drama is the BBC production of “North and South” from 2004. I also give it a 10/10.