Saturday, May 20, 2006

Chuckling at the Pompous

The insufferably self-important NYT columnist Thomas Friedman gets skewered here.

Flew's Move Toward Theism

Antony Flew, who formerly argued that miracles do not happen, recently participated in what many regard as little short of a miraculous event:

Biola University awarded Antony Flew, 83, formerly an outspoken debater for atheism, with the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. Flew, a British philosopher, drew much criticism for deciding in 2004 that natural sciences supply evidence for an intelligent designer. Biola granted the award for Flew's "lifelong commitment to free and open inquiry and to standing fast against intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression."

Here's some background:

Antony Flew and Gary Habermas [a Christian philosopher and theologian]met in February 1985 in Dallas, Texas. The occasion was a series of debates between atheists and theists, featuring many influential philosophers, scientists, and other scholars.

A short time later, in May 1985, Flew and Habermas debated at Liberty University before a large audience. The topic that night was the resurrection of Jesus. Although Flew was arguably the world's foremost philosophical atheist, he had intriguingly also earned the distinction of being one of the chief philosophical commentators on the topic of miracles. Habermas specialized on the subject of Jesus' resurrection. Thus, the ensuing dialogue on the historical evidence for the central Christian claim was a natural outgrowth of their research.

Over the next twenty years, Flew and Habermas developed a friendship, writing dozens of letters, talking often, and dialoguing twice more on the resurrection. In April 2000 they participated in a live debate on the Inspiration Television Network, moderated by John Ankerberg. In January 2003 they again dialogued on the resurrection at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

During a couple telephone discussions shortly after their last dialogue, Flew explained to Habermas that he was considering becoming a theist. While Flew did not change his position at that time, he concluded that certain philosophical and scientific considerations were causing him to do some serious rethinking. He characterized his position as that of atheism standing in tension with several huge question marks.

Then, a year later, in January 2004, Flew informed Habermas that he had indeed become a theist. While still rejecting the concept of special revelation, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, nonetheless he had concluded that theism was true. In Flew's words, he simply "had to go where the evidence leads."

There is a fascinating record of a lengthy dialogue between Habermas and Flew at the link. In it Flew makes it clear that he is not so much a theist as he is a deist, but the fact that he is no longer an atheist is all by itself a very remarkable thing.

All Religions Aren't the Same

There's been much in the news in the last couple of years that causes us to take a doubtful view of the merits of Islam. Here's a good reason to be likewise repelled by Hinduism:

Her parents told her the devadasi marriage ceremony was just a religious ritual, but she quickly learned otherwise. Six months after the "wedding," Ningamma was back in the temple, serving the first of countless men ... and ultimately contracting HIV.

Today, she has much in common with the other women in the room. They are all former devadasi, all HIV-positive, all serving World Vision as peer counselors to current and former temple prostitutes. And they all have a common purpose: to end a tragic Hindu tradition that began centuries ago.

Originally, devadasi were celibate dancing girls used in temple ceremonies. They entertained members of the ruling class. But sometime around the 6th Century, the practice of "dedicating" girls to Hindu gods became prevalent.

What was once a high-caste and socially honorable responsibility eventually degenerated into another variant of the world's oldest profession. Despite being outlawed, the practice of ritualized prostitution continues, though to escape detection the "dedications" or "weddings" often occur in the middle of the night or in private homes. Humanitarian organizations estimate as many as 5,000 Indian girls become devadasi each year.

Ningamma relates that during her life as a devadasi it was impossible to say "no" to any man. "My parents told me, 'If you stop, god will punish you,'" she says.

But even without such pressure it can be hard to persuade devadasi to seek alternate employment. Many make as much as 5000 rupees (about $120) for a day's work, which easily trumps the few dollars they could make as a seamstress.

So what gives Ningamma and the other former devadasi the strength or motivation to serve as peer counselors? "We've learned lessons and we want to pass on what we have learned," she says, looking around the room as other women nod in agreement. "Why should girls be sacrificed and traumatized?"

When atheistic communists commit atrocities they're acting consistently with their belief that there is no right or wrong except insofar as the act promotes the revolution. When Muslims commit atrocities they're acting consistently with their belief that Allah wants them to butcher infidels. When Hindus commit atrocities they are acting consistently with their belief that the gods desire the service of young women.

When Christians commit atrocities they're violating everything their religion and their Lord teaches about love, mercy, and justice.