Listen To What They’re Not Saying

Millions of people each election cycle are swayed by news clips and TV ads to vote for a particular candidate. To be honest, it’s not easy to do any hard research these days because the candidates for the top offices are all “handled.” I don’t know if they themselves hire these people or if the political parties foist them upon their representatives.

Regardless, the result is that very little gets said outside the approved lines written for stump speeches. I suspect this is why third party candidates seem so refreshing to voters. They actually answer questions put to them, and they don’t sound like bad actors parroting lines someone else handed them.

On top of the canned content, however, we are battered with attack ads telling us why we should not vote for the other guy. Those, and the articles in the newspaper or the news blurbs on TV, are the ones we need to deconstruct so we aren’t influenced by false impressions.

Yes, we need to be especially wary about news outlets. The negative ads come to us, telling us their bias. The news media, however, comes to us purporting to be fair and balanced. The truth is, people write the news stories—people with preferences. In every story, the writer gets to pick and choose from a collection of facts he has researched. Some of those facts can show a candidate in a favorable light, and some may have the opposite effect.

Take, for example, the California race for governor between former governor and present attorney general Jerry Brown and former eBay executive Meg Whitman. Not once have I seen a story about Attorney General Brown’s refusal to back the people in the court case attempting to overturn the twice-passed definition of marriage. To point out his insistence on governing by his own beliefs while ignoring the will of the people would cast him in a bad light. So we don’t read a story about this very news-worthy fact.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve read or heard a single news story about Meg Whitman that doesn’t tell how much money she has spent on the campaign. News worthy? Perhaps. But it could be written in a way that commends her as someone so committed to the state of California she is willing to spend her own dollars. Instead the stories seem to play neatly into the hands of the attack ads that suggest she is trying to buy the election.

Recognizing story slants is important in order to protect ourselves from their influence. As soon as a propaganda technique is unmasked it becomes harmless. We can sit back and say, Oh, look, they’re trying to make him look xxx by saying yyy. At that point we can ask, Is he really xxx?

Another technique to watch for are the ugly pictures—the opponent captured with an angry expression on her face, on a bad hair day, or with her mouth open. Without saying a word, those ads or news clips can characterize a candidate as easily angered, slovenly, or a little dim-witted.

Watch, too, for things like black and white pictures that have a bleak feel versus sharp, clear, bright color pictures that give a more hopeful tone. Similarly, pay attention to settings. We have one showing the candidate talking about environmental issues with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean as the back drop. It reinforces the message silently.

Association is another trick. Senator Barbara Boxer is a master at this. She reminds voters at every turn (and the media plays the clips to prove it) that her opponent, Carly Fiorina, was endorsed by Sarah Palin. But she goes further. Because Ms. Fiorina has taken a position for a certain proposition that would ease some of the environmental regulations imposed on small businesses until the economy is healthier, Ms. Boxer says her opponent is in the pocket of out of state oil companies (which have helped finance the ads in favor of the proposition). Guilt by associate, even if there is none.

As I said yesterday, I believe voting is a civic duty, one a Christian should embrace, but I also think we should be as informed as possible. Attack ads aren’t worthless in our quest for knowledge about candidates as long as we pay equal attention to the silent part of their message.

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 5:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Christian And Politics

For me, stepping into that voting booth the first time was a sort of rite of passage. I was, at last, really and truly, grown up. At least enough to vote.

And back in that day, we were taught in school that voting was not a privilege. It was a responsibility—a civic responsibility no less important than following the laws of the land. Voting was nothing short of doing the bare minimum for the community in which I lived.

Still, that first time punching a hole into the computer ballot didn’t feel weighty due to a sense of duty. It made me feel empowered. After all, I was transitioning into the world of adulthood. I now had a say in Things.

Unfortunately, that attitude didn’t last long. First came the results reporting—radio and TV routinely projecting winners before the polls closed on the West Coast. Often I would be driving home from work, planning to vote on the way, only to hear who would be the winners. So why should I bother?

Eventually such premature reporting was banned, but by this time, I’d seen a trend. In the gerrymandered district I lived in, nearly all of the local and state offices went to the candidate I opposed. My vote was not changing anything. My vote wasn’t really counting for anything.

And still I voted. Because I learned it is my civic duty.

The more I have come to understand my role as a Christian, the more I am willing, even eager, to do my duty.

The concept of doing ones’ duty is quite unpopular these days. In its place we have admonitions to be true to ourselves. Presumably that means, if I don’t feel like voting, then by all means, I shouldn’t vote. To do so when I had no desire to, would be hypocritical. 🙄

Interestingly, Christians seem to be at a divide when it comes to the issue of politics. What should be our role?

Some have jumped on the Focus on the Family bandwagon to transform the “Moral Majority” from silent to vocal. Others have rallied around preachers like Alistair Begg who says our efforts should be toward making disciples and our focus on things eternal. After all, this world is not our home; we are renting space, not buying.

Today the Campus Crusade sponsored program, Family Life Today discussed this issue. Author and guest Wayne Grudem discussed his book, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture.

What I liked most about the discussion was the admonition to take our place in the public arena when it comes to discussing issues of morality and ethics. Why should Christians be silent? Why should we withdraw?

Mr. Grudem made an excellent point about the various people in the Bible—from Esther and her uncle to Daniel and Nehemiah—who had influence and responsibility in foreign governments. Not just in the theocracy or even the monarchy of Israel. These various individuals held sway over kings and governors (think Paul). They held high office. And God used them in significant ways.

What I liked least was Mr. Grudem hedging by saying he thinks the Bible is saying this or that about our role. In other words, he admits some of his positions are formed by his own interpretation of the Bible.

I realize it is harder and harder to reach a consensus when it comes to declaring what the Bible says. But some things are clear. For instance, God says in Proverbs that He hates lies. The gospel writers record Jesus as saying that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. It would be contradictory, then for a Christian to formulate a principle that says lying is expected behavior. In other words, the Bible is clear on this point.

I would like to have seen Mr. Grudem restrict his positions to those things we can say unequivocally are clear in the Bible. Nevertheless, he gave me lots to think about when it comes to the idea of voicing our opinions in the public arena.

What is your view of the Christian’s role in politics?

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Comments (11)  
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Pride Is The Fall

For years money received a bad rap in America. A particular verse in the Bible (I Timothy 6:10a) was misquoted to say “Money is the root of all evil.”

In fact the verse actually says in the New American Version, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps money taking the blame for all evil, explains why pride seems to have skated off our radar screen. I won’t say it’s received a free pass. After all, the adage Pride goes before a fall has become a cliche in America.

That line also stems from Scripture—Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (KJV). Apparently somewhere along the line, the verse morphed into that shortened version.

The heart of the statement remains true to the original, though I wonder that we haven’t taken the point to it’s logical conclusion. If pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, then didn’t pride and a haughty spirit go before The Fall?

Or was Pride more accurately The Fall itself?

Before Man sinned, Satan rebelled against God, and Scripture clearly shows that the pride of his heart was the real issue:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.‘ ”
– Isa 14:12-14 (Emphasis mine).

Is it any wonder, then, that when Satan approached Eve, one of the things he said to her was

“You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
– Gen 3:4b-5 (Emphasis mine).

Eve took Satan’s words into consideration. She saw that the fruit was tasty, attractive, and desirable to make her wise. Whole-heartedly, it would seem, she bought into Satan’s shtick. His desire became hers.

Adam fared no better. He openly chose to side with Eve against God, basically saying he knew what he needed more than God did.

Eve, he understood, would die, just as God said. Then what would happen to Adam? He’d return to that pre-helpmate state, and he didn’t want to do that. He must not have believed that God could, or would, fix things. So Adam had to take on that role. He had to stave off separation from Eve.

In short, he played God.

Isn’t that the definition of pride? From a heart that wants to be God, we act as if we are God. We put ourselves—our wants, our wishes, our well-being—above all else.

We rarely hear the old Pride goes before a fall adage any more. We apparently no longer believe that pride is such a bad thing. In fact, the real problem we face, society says, is not loving ourselves enough, not believing in ourselves enough, not taking enough “me time,” not pampering ourselves, not drawing from the power within.

I think we’re missing it. Pride doesn’t just come before a fall; it is The Fall itself. The hunger in our hearts to be God, forever separates us from He who actually is God.

But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. In other words, God has the answer even for pride.

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 2:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Knows

I find myself saying “God knows” a lot these days. God knows about the person who is living an immoral life style. God knows about the unfair treatment the church person is meting out. God knows about the corruption in our government and the lies from the politicians. God knows about the problems I see at so many different levels.

I am comforted by the fact that God knows. It’s a reminder to me that even the things that seem so out of control actually aren’t.

I think of young Joseph, gang tackled by his older brothers and hauled to a pit, even as he pleaded for his life. Did he think in those darkest moments when he was fished out of the hole and pushed into the hands of the slavers, that God knows?

Certainly, years later Joseph knew that truth. God knew and as a result had the whole circumstance under control. In fact, all the evil directed at Joseph, God turned to the good for … well, the world.

Because He sent Joseph ahead to preserve the lives of his entire family, He set in motion so many things related to Jesus—His lineage and numerous important types that show the story of salvation. There would have been no exodus if Joseph hadn’t gone to Egypt. There would have been no passover lamb, no passing through the sea on dry land, no giving of the law, no priestly office, no serpent lifted up for the sick to look at and be healed, no daily portion of manna, and on and on.

After the fact, Joseph could tell his brothers that he got it—God knew, and what was evil, He made good. And we can read the story and see too, the way God worked it all out. But what was Joseph thinking at the time? Wouldn’t he have been comforted if he could have glimpsed the end?

Of course, God had graciously given him just such a glimpse. Remember the dreams? God had shown Joseph his family bowing to him. Not once, but twice.

Did the memory of those dreams comfort Joseph when all seemed so horribly wrong? Did he think, I don’t know how this will happen, but God said He would put me as a ruler over my family. He knows I’m a slave now instead.

I suspect Joseph did hold onto the truth because he clearly held onto God. When his master’s wife wanted to sleep with him, he didn’t say, Your husband might find out. He said, How can I sin against God?

That’s the answer of a man who understood that God knows.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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Publishing Success

Recently Harvest House acquisitions editor Nick Harrison concluded a blog post with the following:

In my workshops I often mention that success for a writer is only about 60% writing ability. The other 40% is knowing the market, meeting editors and agents at conferences, and generally keeping up with what’s going on in the publishing world. Writers who do that will have an advantage over more talented writers who don’t or won’t do that.

In this article, Nick also says that a writer needs to tailor his writing to the particular needs of the publisher with whom he is seeking publication. Zondervan, for instance, he says, does well with suspense while Bethany and Harvest House do well with romance and Marcher Lord Press specializes in speculative.

Interesting observation. I know editors often say what they are looking for, but I don’t know that I had zeroed in on the idea of exclusivity before.

So I wonder, is it a wise decision to put all the eggs in one basket? Is it ideal to be In-and-Out specializing in burgers, fries, and milk shakes, or is it better to be KFC and start branching out past your niche?

For writers, is it better to seek publication with a house that specializes or one that diversifies? For some do. I thought of Thomas Nelson, a house that includes a wide variety of fiction. And WaterBrook, one of the publishers not afraid of speculative fiction (and doing quite well with at least some of their authors).

Earlier today I read author friend Mike Duran’s post about his path to publication. I found these lines refreshingly honest [note to Mike: you see? More than one person finds what you write refreshing 😉 ]:

Even after I’ve signed a two-book contract, I am still in the dark as to how I actually got here.

Part hard work. Part luck. Part divine guidance. I dunno.

I tend to think Mike falls into the paradigm that Nick Harrison described. He is a good writer, so he’s 60 percent there. He’s begun attending writers’ conferences and has been involved in the writing business for a number of years as an editor at Midnight Diner, as a guest blogger at Novel Journey, and any number of other activities. Plus he writes the kind of speculative fiction that Strang (his publisher) seems to prefer and the market currently favors (a darker, urban kind of supernatural fantasy—though I may be wrong about characterizing Mike’s work in those terms since I haven’t actually read his book yet).

But here’s the thing. As the Dilbert cartoon I posted a couple days ago says, marketing is part guess work.

Nick Harrison suggests that a writer might be talented enough to study trends and figure out what readers will want in three years. But that’s a guess. No writer will know if another 9/11 will hit before their book goes to press or if another economic event will change the climate of the publishing industry or another technological advance or … or … or …

So I’m not buying it. We writers don’t know enough, I don’t think. We can’t know enough.

I’ve seen some writers publish (with great elation since they’ve been working for years to perfect their writing) only to have disappointing sales and no additional contract. Initially when they got The Call, it looked as if they’d crossed the magic line and had “made it.”

But I think the line keeps moving. At least if “the line” refers to the same way the rest of our culture measures success.

I think God measures success differently. Sometimes He brings the kind of success the world hankers after as a residual of the real kind of success. Sometimes not.

Gideon experienced both. In spite of—or maybe because of—insurmountable odds, he lead a handful of fighters to a stunning victory against Israel’s oppressors. But the real victory came when he believed God and obeyed His call to go, to par down his army, and to employ tactics that can only be called strange.

The point was, no one, least of all Gideon, could miss the fact that God gave him the victory. It really wasn’t possible any other way.

Maybe, just maybe, God wants to do more impossible things today if we’re willing to give Him that first victory—our trust, our obedience.

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Success Without Overkill

I don’t know if all successful authors avoid overkill, but in her comment yesterday, Morgan named one who seems to have found a positive way of promoting her works without making her target audience feel spammed.

Debbie Macomber at Mount Hermon in 2008

The author Morgan mentioned is Debbie Macomber. I haven’t done any serious investigation to learn this, but Debbie’s blog gives a picture of how she interacts with the public.

A quick glance at her blog sidebar tells me Debbie posts two or three times a week. Here are some of the latest titles of her posts. “Footbal Sunday” (about expensive meals at her favorite football team’s stadium), “Going green–or would be that orange?” (telling how much work it is and how expensive to grow and use your own pumpkins instead of buying the canned variety), “Weekend Contentment” (re. enjoying everyday fall doings), “Young Writers” (about plans to teach a writing seminar in New York).

You get the picture—not a single mention of one of her book titles or how many words she wrote on any particular day. In fact, the only mention of her work came as a part of an announcement earlier this month that she will be changing publishers after twenty-eight years with the same house.

Well, that seems like big news, certainly something significant enough that readers would want to know. But unless you click on the “Books” tab, or a much smaller “Buy Debbie’s Books” link at the very top of her home page, you aren’t going to find a lot about her work.

She seems to adhere to her tag line – “Wherever you are Debbie takes you home.” Her short paragraph posts are conversational, personal, void of the hard-sell of campaign ads. In fact, void of an form of sell.

Granted, her Facebook page is different–she is clearly intending to use that spot to discuss her books, but even in so doing, there is more of a soft-sell tone. For example, in her last post she says

A final reminder, my friends, to sign up at for my online event on Friday, October 22nd at 3pm EST. I promise to quit making pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie long enough to answer all your questions! (Who knew my pumpkins would grow SO big?!)

First, the tone is personal. Debbie has over 32,000 people following her on that page, yet she is talking to “my friends.”

Second, she makes it clear she is viewing this event as something she wants to do for others. She’s putting aside her activities and will focus on those who want to ask her questions.

Third, she uses humor and a blog tie-in (remember the post about the effort and expense of growing and using pumpkins?) to eliminate any commercial feel.

No doubt about it, promotion is something authors should consider as part of their job these days, but what a difference between the pounding some do and the service others offer.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Success Without Overkill  
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Learning About Marketing From Politics

Last night a friend of mine from Colorado phoned. I was screening my calls, but picked up when I realized who was on the other end. She laughed and asked me if I was trying to avoid the blitz of political messages that invade our homes.

For the next few minutes we commiserated about the flood of political ads delivered through the airwaves, over the phone, and in the mailbox. So many are negative. Here’s what’s bad about the other guy—bad policy, bad performance, bad presentation.

In fact, my friend and I both said we could hardly wait for the election just to stop the flood of commercials.

Even while we were talking, though, I realized that these candidates for office are simply marketing themselves to the public. In fact, I told my friend about a recent Dilbert cartoon about marketing. Except, typically, I got the punchline wrong, so here’s the real thing:

I think I said “liquor and luck” instead of “guessing.” Guessing is the better term, though. Most professionals in the book business, when they discuss marketing, admit there is no way to know what will work to capture the public’s attention. How many ads, which print reviews, interviews with whom?

Yes, publicists make “educated guesses” and set up as many media contacts as possible, but the author is expected to pitch in, too. Book signings, online reviews, guest blogs, Facebook and Twitter presence, newsletters, email loops …

But here’s the question. Does there come a point when those with whom the author is communicating say, Enough already!

I’ll be honest. I’ve reacted that way from time to time.

As I think about my irritation with the political ads and my reaction to writers marketing their work, a few commonalities surface.

1. Ads that seem invasive are a turn off. How can an author seem “invasive”? For one, I’ve started receiving unsolicited e-newsletters from authors I “know” through email loops. That feels invasive.

Also, when Facebook or Twitter messages are always and only about the new book, that feels spam-ish.

2. Ads are clearly one-sided. Well, they should be, shouldn’t they? We expect that from a commercial.

But what about blog posts or e-newsletters (ones I have subscribed to)? If those only carry content about the author and/or the author’s work, I feel they are nothing more than a sales pitch rather than beneficial communication that offers me, the reader, some take-away (other than an opportunity to be sold to).

3. Ads may be untruthful—and often that fact is apparent without any need to do any checking.

Case in point—here in California Senator Barbara Boxer has an ad running on TV that vilifies her opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, because she laid people off in California while shipping their jobs overseas. In this particular commercial, three or four supposed former employees tell their sad tale of being laid off. And right after one decries the jobs going to places like China, another laments that they even had to train their replacements. What? I thought, HP sent them to China to train Chinese workers?

And of course there’s a little editorializing. The commercial narrator says that Carly Fiorina “proudly stamps” her products “Made in China.” As if somehow this omniscient narrator knows what’s in Ms. Fiorina’s heart and can see just how proud she is.

I could go on and on about the nuanced misrepresentations. But here’s the point—authors can do that too. Only instead of giving a slanted view of a competitor, the view is slanted to give the impression that all readers only love the new release.

I don’t quite know how to handle this one because fans do write in gushing terms at times. But perhaps when reactions are solicited, they don’t hold as much credibility.

I’m not talking about authors asking reviewers to post their reviews at places like Amazon. I’m talking about things like saying, I’ll publish your comments (on a blog, newsletter, or in the next book) if you say nice things. Well, somehow, those nice things don’t seem so genuine any more.

And how about this. When a friend bravely and kindly tells a writer maybe they don’t need to market so hard, the author should listen instead of blogging about why they disagree.

Sometimes more is actually less. Much less!

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Can Beauty Co-exist With Truth?

Some of the most artistic photographs are of human misery or community blight. Not beautiful, certainly. But truthful and “artistic.” The composition is original, or at least inventive. The point of view is distinct. In fact, the picture is more than its subject because of what the photographer brought to the scene.

Is “artistic” the best that novelists can do, given the fallen world we live in? If we tell the truth, beauty of necessity will inhabit a small place in our art or it will be painted in shades of black and gray. Dulled down. Muted.

Because of Truth.

Man sins, so there is crime and hatred, politicking and greed, immodesty and lust. Ugly stuff.

And even in the story of redemption, there is blood-sweat and beatings, betrayal and cursing, nakedness and forsakenness.

Where’s the Beauty in Truth?

Perhaps the problem is in thinking that what is true is Truth. It isn’t. It is true that Man sins in horrific ways, but Truth is Jesus Christ. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6). Consequently, in showing what is true in the world, we may omit the Truth eternal.

In the same way, what we think of as beautiful is so incomplete, so imperfect, we’ve concluded it’s universally unknowable (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”)

Because of Creation, I have no problem believing that Jesus is Beauty, even as He is Truth, though Man may well miss what that actually means.

The fact is, we see through a glass darkly, so we cannot see Truth purely nor can we see Beauty exclusively.

Since we are hindered regardless of our efforts—whether to create a true work or to create a beautiful work—maybe it’s worth the effort to try to do both.

Is that possible?

If we create a work of beauty, are we not of necessity leaving out an element of truth? And if our writing is true, will we not of necessity have to include the ugly?

When it comes to art, it seems beauty and truth might be incompatible.

Do we not smudge out the sublime in order to convey the mundane?

If we retain the lofty, do we not lose the honest scrutiny of a wayward heart?

Believe it or not, I think there’s a practical point to these ramblings. I suspect the way a writer answers some of these questions may determine what kind of writing he does.

Some writers want to communicate Truth while some want to create art. Some believe what you say is most important; others believe that how you say it counts more.

When it comes to fiction, is Beauty actually incompatible with Truth, and the writer must simply pick a side?

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Addiction Of Freedom

Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

So noted Pastor Tim Keller in a 1997 article in Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.”

Interestingly, Pastor Keller identified a shift in attitude regarding freedom in the postmodern era akin to the attitude C. S. Lewis ascribed to those destined for hell in his classic work The Great Divorce.

The attitude is one that puts freedom above all else.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’s bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness.

Once again I couldn’t help but think of atheist Christopher Hitchens and his dread of “celestial tyranny.” How sad that he does not realize the tyranny of his own desires. But unfortunately, he is not so different from the majority of people in western culture.

Freedom, we cry, let us voice our opinions, choose our own path, chart our own life. So we legalize abortion and a good deal of pornography. We outlaw spanking and prayer from school and tell parents Johnny needs medication, not discipline.

And then we wonder why children no longer respect authority, why tolerance is the end-all of our society, why child abuse is on the rise, and human trafficking is rampant, why greed runs Wall Street and corruption keeps cropping up in Washington, or City Hall.

Somehow we’ve missed the connection points. Freedom, when it becomes more important than salvation, enslaves just like any other idol. And freedom to pursue sex without consequences makes a person addicted to lust. Freedom to pursue wealth without restrain makes a person addicted to greed. Freedom to pursue unbridled power over others makes a person addicted to bullying.

If we would open our eyes, we would see the trap to which the pursuit of freedom can lead. It currently holds Christopher Hitchens tightly in its jaws. No one, most certainly not God, is going to tell him what to do with his life, not even in the last hours as he hurtles toward death. Why? Because he wants to enjoy humanity.

Sadly, he’s chained himself to the ephemeral rather than to the eternal. For, yes, the option is also slavery.

But what a difference. Rather than slavery to that which would destroy, becoming a bond-slave of Jesus Christ is freeing.

What a contradiction, but that’s in line with what we learn from Jesus. If we lose our lives, we’ll find them. If we are last, then we’ll be first. If we become His slaves, He’ll set us free. Then, and only then, will we be free indeed.

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Folly Of Moral Conviction

Columnist Michael Gerson recently wrote a piece that appeared, slightly abridged, in my local paper today, “The Atheist As Moralist” (this link appears to give you the entire article). The subject of his commentary is Christopher Hitchens, famed atheist who has recently published his memoir, Hitch-22.

In essence, Mr. Gerson sees in Christopher Hitchens’ constancy and courage and “delight in all things human,” something worth commending. He has, after all, lived, and apparently will die, clinging to his moral convictions because he disdains deathbed religious conversions. “The idea ‘that you may be terrified’ is no reason to ‘abandon the principles of a lifetime,’ ” Mr. Gerson reports him as saying.

These moral convictions of his are the repudiation of tyranny—even “celestial tyranny”—and the championing of the underdog. And for this Mr. Gerson holds Christopher Hitchens up as one who accomplishes what his beliefs cannot—the provision of a moral compass.

How sadly empty! To praise a man for sticking to his guns, even in the face of terror and encroaching death, is meaningless unless he’s holding to something worthwhile. You might as well praise a terrorist suicide bomber for his example of “courage, loyalty and moral conviction.”

The fact is, Christopher Hitchens can be as dedicated and sincere, as tenacious and unswerving in his beliefs as he wants, but if those beliefs are wrong, his conviction is foolish, not admirable.

In addition, by including God in his hatred of tyranny he exposes the fact that his real hatred is having an authority over him. He doesn’t want God to have the final say, or any say, when it comes to Christopher Hitchens.

But perhaps he is closer to faith than even he realizes. When asked what positive lesson he’s learned from Christianity, Mr. Gerson reported him to say, “The transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human.”

Human power and life on this side of the veil is indeed transient and ephemeral. In his letter included in Scripture, the apostle James says our lives are just a vapor. The prophet Isaiah says that we are like grass and the flowers of the field, withering and fading away.

Here’s the thing. Christopher Hitchens has apparently put all his trust in humanity. He delights “in all things human—in wit and wine and good company and conversation and fine writing and debate of large issues.” But in the end, he realizes it is passing. His moral convictions are grounded in vapor. He’s invested his life in nothing more solid than dry grass that shrivels in the desert wind.

And he refuses to rethink his options. After all, he’s a man of moral conviction! Does that make him a great example for the rest of humanity, as Mr. Gerson seems to think?

Hardly. It makes him a sad figure, a wasted intellect, a man destined to get what he has most feared—the wrath of a Sovereign—and what he most desires—to go it on his own.

I can’t stop there. As long as Christopher Hitchens has breath, he can repent. If the thief dying next to Jesus can turn from his sin, so can Christopher Hitchens. May God penetrate his hard heart and bring him to his knees so that he will know God’s kindness and mercy. That will continue to be my prayer.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm  Comments (6)  
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