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Islam Examined, Part 2

Part 1 of this essay discussed the analysis of Islam presented by Nonie Darwish in Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. Darwish defines Islam as “less a religion and more a totalitarian system of government by terror,” and she claims that “To be a Muslim is to have a relationship not with Allah but with the Sharia-run State.”

Sharia is a “fundamental religious concept of Islam” that combines ethics and law on the principle that both express the will of Allah.… Read More


Islam Examined, Part 1

If Westerners were to stop looking at Islam through the lens of Political Correctness, they would fear for the future of Western civilization. That is the message of Nonie Darwish’s Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic law. Darwish lived the first thirty years of her life as a Muslim in Egypt and her father died in jihad against Israel. She was still a child at the time and remembers a government official asking her and her siblings, “Which one of you will avenge your father’s blood by killing Jews?” That remark made her begin wondering about her religion’s teachings.… Read More


Ted Cruz’s Missed Opportunity

Ted CruzSenator Ted Cruz is a born-again Christian and the son of an Evangelical pastor who exhorts his congregation to “tithe mightily” and to be “biblically correct.” The senator has ignored the first exhortation and missed a singular opportunity to demonstrate the second.

According to his tax records, Ted Cruz ‘s tithe is not the biblical 10%, but a paltry 1%. Contrast that with Bernie Sanders’ 5%.… Read More


Has Salvation Lost Its Meaning?

FullSizeRender (14)Salvation has always been the most important concept for Christians. Their core belief, regardless of denomination, is that from the beginning human sinfulness barred us from heaven, but God in his mercy sent his Son to atone for our sins and make possible our salvation.

Most Christians still hold that belief and live by it. But a growing number have abandoned it or embraced an understanding that in times past would have qualified as heresy.… Read More


Trump’s Christianity . . . and America’s

Trump PhotoDonald Trump says he is a Christian—more specifically, a Presbyterian. Should we believe him? Our first answer may be, “We can’t read his mind and heart, so charity demands we take him at his word.” But a more thoughtful response would be, “It depends on whether he speaks and acts in a way that is consistent with Christian principles and values.” Does he do so? Let’s see.… Read More


Overcoming Religious Triumphalism

BIBLE, 10924261_sReligious triumphalism is the conviction that one’s religious beliefs are superior to other people’s. Ironically, triumphalism violates the virtue of humility that is extolled by virtually every religion. It is the theological equivalent of sports’ fans chanting “We’re number one.” In sports the practice is innocuous, even somewhat charming. That is certainly not the case in religion.

Unfortunately, religious triumphalism is most common among the staunchest religious believers.… Read More


Obama’s Conflicted Faith

Obama SpeakingIs Barack Obama a Christian? His answer has consistently been, “Yes,” yet his critics continue to doubt his veracity. I believe it is pointless to keep asking the same question again and again. Instead, we should ask the more meaningful question, How can his Christianity best be described?

Suppose a friend claims Coors is his favorite beer but drinks Budweiser. Suppose another extols Fords but buys Chevrolets.Read More


Sharia Law and Muslim Morality

Mosque, 26639710_sTo people raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the punishments called for in Sharia law are shocking. And even more shocking is the widespread approval of those punishments by Muslims around the world.

The punishment for adultery is stoning people to death, typically by burying the offenders in sand up to their necks and then having others throw large stones at their unprotected heads.

The punishment for theft and robbery is severe whipping or cutting off offenders’ hands.… Read More


A Christian View of Self

Pensive Woman 15890414_s“That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues . . . But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and . . . that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then?” Psychiatrist Carl Jung raised this question, and then answered as follows:

As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us ‘Raca,’ and condemn and rage against ourselves.

Jung found this reversal of attitude lamentable because, in his view, “the acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.” Before deciding whether Jung’s view is compatible with the Christian perspective, we should acknowledge that the Christian perspective is not as simple as many people assume.

On the one hand, Christianity teaches that humans are created “in God’s own image” (Genesis 1:26), only a little lower than the angels and “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). On the other hand, it teaches that humans possess a “fallen nature” that makes them prone to sin. The first teaching invites pride; the second, humility.

James and Peter tipped the balance in favor of humility—both wrote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5) Moreover, the story of the centurion and the parable of the Pharisee and the publican reinforce that teaching. (Matthew 8:8, and Luke 18:13) Not surprisingly, Christians have embraced that emphasis throughout the centuries.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, however, the practitioners of the then-new field of psychology, including Jung, noted a correlation between some patients’ emotional problems, notably feelings of unworthiness and guilt, and their Christian faith. Over time, many psychologists went far beyond Jung’s position. They postulated that emotional well-being depends not only on accepting ourselves, but also on loving and esteeming ourselves unconditionally, a well as on overcoming guilt.

That perspective remains dominant in our culture and is responsible, together with other factors, for many people abandoning their Christian faith. Meanwhile, many other people remain faithful but are intimidated by the supposedly scientific arguments opposing their faith. They cannot help but wonder whether the traditional Christian view of self is mistaken.

The best starting point in addressing that concern is Jesus’ statement of the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving our neighbor. His phrasing of the latter—“love your neighbor as yourself”—is significant because it specifies not only what we are to do but also the manner in which we are to do it. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The clear implications are that we already love ourselves and that self-love comes naturally, whereas loving others requires effort.

We should note that Jesus did not direct us to love others either more or less than we love ourselves, but “as we love ourselves”—that is, as much as we love ourselves. This suggests the need for a balance in our loving. If we love others less than ourselves, we are in danger of neglecting our neighborly obligations. On the other hand, if we love them more than ourselves, we are in danger of neglecting our own human needs.

Everyday experience reveals that relatively few people love others more than themselves and that the reverse is quite common—indeed, is the norm. We humans tend to be self-absorbed and not infrequently selfish. Thus, Christ’s directive to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is a more balanced and reasonable psychological guide than the self-love and self-esteem model of contemporary psychology.

But that leaves us with Jung’s point that self-acceptance is “the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.” Is this idea compatible with the balanced view Christ expressed? Before answering, we need to clarify the terms self and acceptance.

The word self seems so simple as not to need definition, but in fact there are more than a dozen different definitions, including “an inner core that dominates,” “a perceiver of things,” “consciousness,” and “a center of perception.” The definition I propose in Corrupted Culture incorporates these but is simpler:

Self is synonymous with human being and person and has two dimensions— physical and metaphysical (intellect, emotion conscience, will). Together, these dimensions produce behavior (words and deeds). When behavior is habitual, as Socrates noted, it defines one’s character, and therefore can be considered a quasi-dimension of self.

The word acceptance may seem unobjectionable, but it denotes approval, and when applied to individuals, it clearly implies that they are completely acceptable just as they are. However, that is false. To be human is to be imperfect and therefore open to improvement. (Incidentally, though many psychologists and psychiatrists use the term self-acceptance, their professional activity contradicts it because it is directed toward change, in least in the matter of accepting or rejecting oneself.)

In light of the above analysis, Christians should not be comfortable with psychology’s emphases on self-love and self-acceptance. Traditional Christian thought regards self-love as something already present in us (except in aberrational cases of self-hate). Therefore, it does not need emphasizing; our emphasis should instead be on loving others. The same tradition regards self-acceptance as an invitation to emotional, intellectual, and spiritual stagnation.

What emphases on self, then, are compatible with Christianity?

First, the one that Socrates famously recommended and the Christian intellectual tradition has consistently affirmed: self-knowledge—seeking the truth about ourselves, especially our intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths, weaknesses, and potentialities.

Secondly, self-improvement—maintaining efforts to cultivate our strengths, overcome our weaknesses, and realize our potentialities.

These emphases are as positive and life-enhancing as modern psychology’s, yet they enjoy the advantage of avoiding the twin dangers of narcissism (in the case of self-love) and stagnation (in the case of self-acceptance). Moreover, when pursued in the context of perceiving ourselves as created in the image and likeness of God and being recipients of God’s love, they provide a surer path to an emotionally healthy and meaningful life.

Copyright © 2014 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved



What Does “Blessed” Mean?

Jesus Preaching (Checked TinEye)The answer to this question may seem obvious, but it isn’t. “Blessed” has a number of meanings, depending in part on its pronunciation. And this has led to confusion about what Jesus was really saying in the Beatitudes.

When used as a form of the verb “to bless,” blessed has one syllable, is pronounced blest, and means treated with great kindness, as in The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us (Psalm 67:6).” (When used to refer to God, it means praised, as in “Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore (Psalm 113:2).”

When used as an adjective, however, the word blessed has two syllables, is pronounced bless-ed, and means holy.… Read More