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Den of Lambs

Christian Defense of the Faith

Month

November 2015

Who Are We Thanking?

Thankful for what?
Though originally a Christian holiday, Thanksgiving has become a secular institution in America. As with most other Christian holidays; Christmas is more about Santa than Jesus, and Easter is more about the bunny than the resurrection, the reason why most people fail to see Thanksgiving as a Christian holiday is that most people know nothing about its origins.Thanksgiving2

The first thanksgivers

The beginning of the chain of provision which ends in, “my parents have given me everything that I have to be thankful for (or the government…)” goes all the way back to the founders and settlers of this fine country. Did the early migrants to this country see themselves as the last object of thanksgiving, or did they bestow their thankfulness on yet another?

Who Did the Pilgrims Thank?

The pilgrims who came over from England in 1620 were members of the English Separatist Church (a Puritan sect of Christianity). These Separatists originally fled England and sailed to Holland to escape the religious intolerance and oppression of their homeland. In the early 17th century, the Church and the State of England were one, and independent congregations who desired to explore their own, differing relationship with the Christian God were unable to practice their faith independent of the State Church. Separatists had come to the conclusion that membership in the Church of England violated Biblical teaching. A group of reformers set out to “purify” the church doctrines and fled their homeland so that they would be able to pursue God in a way that they considered to be truer to the teaching of the Bible. This group in Holland successfully escaped religious persecution from the Church of England, but eventually became disenchanted with the Dutch way of life. They observed the lifestyles of those around them and believed that they were in an ungodly land. Hence, these reformers pushed on toward a new place where they could both worship the Biblical God of Christianity and live in a way that honored that same God; the New World.

The Mayflower held more than just the Separatist Puritans. The ship also contained other pilgrims who still remained loyal to the Church of England but came to the new world for economic reasons or because they sympathized with the Puritans in one way or another. The consistent thread that wove its way through all of the travelers on that ship was that they shared a fervent and pervasive Protestant faith that permeated all aspects of their lives. December 11, 1620 not only heralded the grounding of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock but also the grounding of the Christian faith in the New World.

In less than a year, however, the pilgrims suffered the loss of almost half of their original 102 members from the Mayflower. These Christians remained staunch in their faith and at the end of the harvest of 1621, they decided to celebrate. The pilgrims brought with them both religious and secular customs from their homeland. Among these customs was the tradition of a secular harvest festival and the tradition of a religious holy day of thanksgiving. Both celebrations had strong religious overtones which included a religious component of thanks to the Christian God who had provided the harvest.

The pilgrims, with the assistance of a Patuxet native american named Squanto, also known as Tisquantum, celebrated the harvest and a day of thanksgiving. Both of these days offered thanks to the Christian God.

*An interesting aside; on his deathbed, according to William Bradford, Squanto said, “Pray for me, Governor, that I might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.”

Edward Winslow, who described the Pilgrim’s thanksgiving celebrations, wrote extensively on how these early immigrants relied on God and His benevolence.

Acts 14:17
Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

Psalm 23:1
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Winslow, as he describes the first Thanksgiving setting, evokes what he knew was true from these scriptures:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling [bird hunting] so that we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as… served the company almost a week… Many of the Indians [came] amongst us and… their greatest King, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought… And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are.. far from want”

The original pilgrims knew who was responsible for all that they had. They understood the nature of the true Provider, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Host of Hosts.  Let us not forget the real meaning of Thanksgiving and who it is we’re thanking.

 

A Day Of Thankful Prayer

The Thanksgiving we celebrate today is a combination of two very different New England traditions: the purely religious day of thankful prayer and the harvest feast. The harvest feast is still with us and so, in subtler ways, is the religious spirit.

The Sabbath, days of fasting and days of thanksgiving were the only religious holy days celebrated by the Pilgrims. A religious day of thanksgiving would be called only after the community had benefited from a single significant act of Divine Providence. The event we know as the “First Thanksgiving” was a secular harvest feast and not, as far as we know, an official religious day of thanksgiving. (This does NOT mean that the Pilgrims did not give thanks to God; the Pilgrims were a deeply religious people and every activity in which they engaged was influenced by their deep reverence for Scripture.)Thanksgiving

As a deeply religious people, the Pilgrims undoubtedly prayed at the 1621 harvest feast. Their prayers were spontaneous, however, and the exact words not known. A typical prayer might be:

O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us, hast provided meate and drinke for the nourishment of our weake bodies. Grant us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful hearts: let Thy blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustentation: and grant we humbly beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we doe hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our soules may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Amen.

George Webb, “Short direction for the daily exercise of the Christian,”
London 1625. Courtesy of Plimoth Plantation

The Pilgrims’ first recorded religious day of thanksgiving was held in 1623. Plymouth had been stricken with a severe drought. “Upon which,” said William Bradford, “they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress.” That same evening it began “to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God… For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”

Proclamation Of Thanksgiving – President George Washington

George WashingtonBy the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks–for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”

George Washington

Proclamation Of Thanksgiving – President John Adams

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness can not exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty or of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity, are a loud call to repentance and reformation; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation by the unfriendly disposition, conduct, and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredations on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow-citizens while engaged in their lawful business on the seas – under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.
John AdamsI have therefore thought fit to recommend, and I do hereby recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next, be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens of these States, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction; that it be made the subject of particular and earnest supplication that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it; that our civil and religious privileges may be preserved inviolate and perpetuated to the latest generations; that our public councils and magistrates may be especially enlightened and directed at this critical period; that the American people may be united in those bonds of amity and mutual confidence and inspired with that vigor and fortitude by which they have in times past been so highly distinguished and by which they have obtained such invaluable advantages; that the health of the inhabitants of our land may be preserved, and their agriculture, commerce, fisheries, arts, and manufactures be blessed and prospered; that the principles of genuine piety and sound morality may influence the minds and govern the lives of every description of our citizens and that the blessings of peace, freedom, and pure religion may be speedily extended to all the nations of the earth.

And finally, I recommend that on the said day the duties of humiliation and prayer be accompanied by fervent thanksgiving to the Bestower of Every Good Gift, not only for His having hitherto protected and preserved the people of these United States in the independent enjoyment of their religious and civil freedom, but also for having prospered them in a wonderful progress of population, and for conferring on them many and great favors conducive to the happiness and prosperity of a nation.

Given under my hand the seal of the United States of America, at Philadelphia, this 23d day of March, A.D. 1798, and of the Independence of the said States the twenty-second.
By the President : JOHN ADAMS.

Proclamation Of Thanksgiving – President Abraham Lincoln

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been Abraham Lincolnmaintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence [sic], have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

What The Qur’an Says About Women

IslamThe following quotes are from Yusuf Ali and can be found at the Qur’an online.

I. On Divorce:

  1. “Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise,” (2:228)

II. On Marriage:

  1. “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice,” (4:3).

III. On Inheritance:

  1. “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children’s (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half,” (4:11).

IV. On Punishment:

  1. “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all),” (4:34).

V. Reward:

  1. “In them will be (Maidens), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched,” (55:56).
  2. “We have created (their Companions) of special creation. And made them virgin–pure (and undefiled),–Beloved (by nature), equal in age,- For the Companions of the Right Hand,” (56:35-38)
  3. “Verily for the Righteous there will be a fulfillment of (the heart’s) desires; Gardens enclosed, and grapevines, And voluptuous women of equal age,” (78:31-33).

What Evolution Can’t Explain

Many people seem to think that evolution disproves the existence of God. It could be argued that evolution undermines design arguments but, the assertion that evolution is an all-encompassing argument for atheism is wrong.

The existence of life

I realize that evolution isn’t meant to explain the existence of life, however, biological evolution requires life to exist in the first place before it can get to work, so clearly it cannot explain the origin of life. Alternative explanations for the origin of life face enormous challenges in accounting for even the simplest living organisms. Chemical evolution is often used to refer to the proposed processes involved in the production of life from non-living molecules, however, while biological evolution is generally accepted by scientists, there is no such agreement about the processes involved in chemical evolution. The origin of life involved a unique set of circumstances and even in the most optimistic scenarios, the development of life is highly improbable. Perhaps more extensive research in this area will yield more plausible origin of life scenarios but, as of now, science highlights the fact that evolution requires, but once again does not explain, the origin of life.Evolution

Luck

It is clear that evolution faces enormous challenges. Most scientists do not think evolutionary processes made the existence of complex, intelligent living organisms inevitable. Consider the transition from prokaryotic to eukaryotic life, which was crucial for more complex life. Even Richard Dawkins seems to think this required a remarkable stroke of luck, suggesting that it may have been “an even more momentous, difficult and statistically improbable step than the origin of life.”[1] If this is right then it, along with other improbable evolutionary transitions, means that it is entirely possible that nothing more complex than bacteria would ever have evolved. As British biochemist Nick Lane explains “never-ending natural selection, operating on infinite populations of bacteria over billions of years, may never give rise to complexity. Bacteria simply do not have the right architecture…”[2] This point is accepted by many evolutionary biologists and so it is not intended as a criticism of evolution, but it does highlight limitations in terms of what evolution explains.

Consciousness

Attempts to explain the origin of consciousness in purely physical terms, let alone evolutionary terms, face serious problems.  Many atheists agree, including the eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel. In his book Mind and Cosmos (OUP, 2012, pp. 44-45) he writes:

“… since the conscious character of these organisms is one of their most important features, the explanation of the coming into existence of such creatures must include the explanation of the appearance of consciousness … An account of their biological evolution must explain the appearance of conscious organisms as such.”

Nagel’s point is essentially that because consciousness is an important aspect of life on Earth, evolution cannot claim to adequately explain life on Earth unless it can explain not just the physical aspects of living organisms but also consciousness. Even if one wishes to claim that science will explain consciousness in the future, it is clear that it is another example of a phenomenon related to life that evolution does not explain and so it provides another limit on its scope.

My argument here is not intended as an attack on evolution; after all, my God can create life however He wants. My point is  to highlight some of the deficiencies of evolution as a complete explanation for life, which also shows why it is an extremely weak reason for rejecting God.

1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006),  p.140.

[2] Nick Lane, “Life: Inevitable or fluke?” New Scientist, 21 June 2012.

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