Tuesday, April 30, 2019

State and other persecution of religious people

In last Sunday's lectionary passage from the book of Acts, the apostles are arrested for preaching that Christ is risen. They are questioned before the Jewish priestly Sanhedrin. The high priest reminds them that they had been ordered to stop such preaching.

Peter, speaking for all the apostles, responds, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." Acts records that had not a Sanhedrin member named Gamaliel argued otherwise, the apostles would have been executed that day.

Fast forward to today, and understand that there are still human authorities who will not countenance any resistance to their authority. China, for example, this month:

This was the destruction of one of the largest church buildings in the country. The Guardian reports,
Witnesses and overseas activists said the paramilitary People's Armed Police used dynamite and excavators to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church, which has a congregation of more than 50,000, in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province.

ChinaAid, a US-based Christian advocacy group, said local authorities planted explosives in an underground worship hall to demolish the building following, constructed with nearly $2.6m (£1.9m) in contributions from local worshippers in one of China's poorest regions.

The church had faced "repeated persecution" by the Chinese government, said ChinaAid. Hundreds of police and hired thugs smashed the building and seized Bibles in an earlier crackdown in 2009 that ended with the arrest of church leaders.

Those church leaders were given prison sentences of up to seven years for charges of illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic order, according to state media. 
And it is not just Christians. Muslims who have lived in China for centuries have suffered even worse: "Before-and-after photos show how China is destroying historical sites to monitor and intimidate its Muslim minority."
China is waging an unprecedented crackdown on a Muslim minority called the Uighurs, who live in the country's western frontier region, Xinjiang.

Muslims have for centuries settled in the region, sometimes referred to as East Turkestan.
As part of its crackdown, which has seen the installation of facial-recognition cameras and seemingly arbitrary detentions, China's government has also destroyed traditional Uighur architecture including mosques and large parts of an ancient city called Kashgar.

Before-and-after images show the extent of some of the destruction of these historical locations.

When the state is the religion, it will always crush or suborn all others. Could never happen here, though, right? Oh, the ground is being tilled already. I give you Harvard University, April 25, 2019, and the keynote speaker of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences "Diversity Conference."
We are pleased to announce that our keynote speaker will be Tim Wise, prominent anti-racism writer, educator, and activist. A moderated discussion with Tim will be led by Renee Graham, an associate editor and columnist at the Boston Globe.
This is the same Tim Wise who posted on his Facebook page in 2015:

This is America…people basing their beliefs on the fable of Noah and Ark, or their interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah…rather than science or logic…If you are basing your morality on a fairy tale written thousands of years ago, you deserve to be locked up…detained for your utter inability to deal with reality…NO, we are not obligated to indulge your irrationality in the name of your religious freedom…but we will provide you a very comfortable room, against which walls you may hurl yourself hourly if your choose. Knock yourself out….seriously, knock yourself out, completely, for weeks at a time…I’m sorta kidding but not by much…I don’t believe lunatics like this should be locked up, but I do think they have to be politically destroyed, utterly rendered helpless to the cause of pluralism and democracy …the world is not theirs. They have no right to impose their bullshit on others. They can either change, or shut the hell up, or practice their special brand of crazy in their homes…or go away. Their choice. And this argument applies to any fundamentalist religionist of any faith who thinks they have a right to impose their beliefs on a secular, pluralistic society. Go away.
That is not only no problem for Harvard, it is positively commendable. However, persecution of Jews in America (though thankfully, not by the government) is growing. Not only the violent kind, such as the anti-Trump, anti-Jew gunman, John Earnest, who killed one and shot two others in the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California. Take for example, this cartoon published by The New York Times in its overseas pages this month:

Yes, that infamous propaganda rag of the alt-right, The  New York Times - oh, wait, you say, the NYT is not alt-right? Really? How can you tell?

No wonder that this week Serge Klarsfeld, France's most famous Nazi hunter, said, "There is no safe place on earth right now for Jews." In Washington to receive the Elie Wiesel Prize, the highest award given out by the United States Holocaust Museum, Klarsfeld told reporters,
... the cartoon was "insulting," for Trump as much as for Netanyahu who was "treated like a dog."

"It is an anti-Semitic cartoon, that is to say that Jews are guiding the world and that corresponds to a stereotype very common among the far right, which one also finds on the far left," he said.

Klarsfeld, who spent decades working to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, is worried about the future of Europe and called on centrists to mobilize ahead of the next European elections.
 "Never has a far-right or far-left regime made its people happy and prosperous, inevitably the extremes of power lead to misery and barbed wire."
In rhetoric, the far left and the far right differ only in whom they identify as class enemies. Religiously, the alt-right hates Muslims. The alt-left hates Christians. And they both hate Jews even more. So in practice, there is no distinction with a difference.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

What the Judicial Council's rulings mean

An excellent, non-partisan summary by the rev. Katie Dawson, pastor at Immanuel United Methodist Church, which I have simply pasted below.


Decisions of the 2019 General Conference
Timeline for Implementation in Central Conferences
  • In general, when legislation before a GC is approved, it goes into effect on January 1 of the following year.
  • Central Conferences (outside the U.S.) have additional time because they are allowed to adapt and change the Book of Discipline to fit their context. These groups will not be meeting until after the 2020 General Conference.  This legislation gives them until May of 2021 to implement any of the legislation we approved at this special session.
 WESPATH Pension Liabilities and CRSP amendment.
  • These two pieces of legislation give guidance for if a local church leaves the UMC or if a clergy person terminates their conference relationship regarding pensions. The local church that leaves has to pay their share of unfunded pension liabilities.
  • An amendment was made that also notes that nothing in this legislation prevents the Annual Conference from collecting other obligations.
  • Clergy that terminate their relationship will have their pension benefits converted to the actuarial equivalent balance, which can continue to be invested in their personal defined contribution account through Wespath.
Traditional Plan
  • The eight petitions that will be implemented as of January 1, 2020 are:
    • 90032 #1 Update of the footnote that describes what a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is according to recent Judicial Council decisions. This does not essentially change our Book of Discipline, rather notes current rulings.
    • 90036 #5 Expands episcopal responsibilities by adding that Bishops are prohibited from consecrating, commissioning, or ordaining people who are self-avowed homosexuals. (NOTE: Everywhere else in our Book of Discipline we use the word “practicing.”  This word was inadvertently left off of this piece of legislation, but it was never amended by the body.  This means that if someone is openly gay or lesbian, even if they are celibate, they cannot be consecrated/commissioned/ordained.)
    • 90042 #11 Mandatory Minimum Penalties for clergy who have been convicted of conducting same-sex weddings or celebrations of homosexual unions: First offense – one year suspension without pay. Second offense – termination of conference membership and revocation of credentials.  (Note: this is the ONLY mandatory penalty we have in the Book of Discipline)
    • 90043 #12 The District Committee on Ordained Ministry and Board of Ordained Ministry cannot approve/recommend for candidacy, licensing, commissioning or ordination, someone who does not meet the qualifications for ordained ministry (which include being a self-avowed practicing homosexual). The bishop shall rule unqualified candidates out of order.
    • 90044 #13 When a complaint/charge is brought to the Bishop regarding a violation, the Bishop has discretion about how to proceed. Now, the Bishop cannot dismiss the complaint, unless it has no basis in law or fact.
    • 90045 #14 One of the results of a complaint/charge is a Just Resolution. Now, Just Resolutions have to name all identified harms and how they will be addressed. The unconstitutional part is that it has to also include a commitment not to repeat the violation.  This line is removed and the rest remains.  
    • 90046 #15 One of the results of a complaint/charge is a Just Resolution. This changes the process so that the complainant has to be part of the process and has to agree with the resolution.
    • 90047 #16 One of the results of a complaint/charge is a church trial. Previously, the Church could not appeal those decisions.  This legislation allows the Church to appeal to the committee on appeals or to the Judicial Council.
Disaffiliation – Taylor/Minority Report Version
  • If a local church wants to disaffiliate over matters of human sexuality this is the process that can be used from Feb 27, 2019– Dec 31, 2023. It requires a 2/3 majority vote of professing members present at the charge conference.  Terms will be negotiated with conference Board of Trustees w/ advice of cabinet, and other conference officers. Standard terms will include: being able to leave with property with the exiting church paying for legal/transfer fees, any unpaid apportionments from the previous 12 months plus an additional 12 months of apportionments, its share of unfunded pension liabilities, and payment or assumption of all debts/loans/liabilities prior to departure.  The annual conference has to approve such an exit by a simple majority.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Gendercide and the problem of millions of extra young men

Science Alert:
A deep-rooted preference for sons over daughters has skewed the world's sex ratios more than we thought.

A massive five-year analysis has found that since 1970, sex-selective abortions in a dozen countries have resulted in 23 million 'missing' girls.

These are women that were never born, and yet today, their absence is palpable, especially in eastern Europe and Asia. In China alone, the study found there were 11.9 million missing females, and India had 10.6 million.
Males are normally born at a rate of 105 males birth for every 100 female births. It evens out over the next 20 years or so because males die at a higher rate before maturity than females. But now females die in the womb at a much higher rate than males.
After years of a controversial single-child policy, China was unsurprisingly at the top. At one point in 2005, the authors found that the most populated country in the world actually had a male birth ratio of 118.
So what do you do with tens of millions of young, virile and frankly horny young men who have zero chance of getting married because there are zero women available to marry them? Maybe more importantly, what do those men do? The question practically answers itself.
Today, in China and India, men outnumber women by 70 million, and it's causing an epidemic of loneliness, a distortion of labour markets, and an increase in female trafficking and prostitution.

Not only that, but those nations will lose one of the natural restraints of going to war that inhibited prior generations, though of course not always successfully: the fear of massive casualties. China could invade Taiwan and if it lost three million men conquering the country, so what? It still has 30 or 40 million more that can die invading somewhere else.

More insight is provided by the US National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health in, "Abnormal sex ratios in human populations: Causes and consequences."
In parts of China and India, there will be a 12–15% excess of young men. These men will remain single and will be unable to have families, in societies where marriage is regarded as virtually universal and social status and acceptance depend, in large part, on being married and creating a new family (45).

An additional problem is that many of these men are rural peasants of low socioeconomic class and with limited education (46). When there is a shortage of women in the marriage market, the women can “marry up,” inevitably leaving the least desirable men with no marriage prospects (47). For example, in China 94% of all unmarried people age 28–49 are male and 97% of them have not completed high school (48). So, in many communities today there are growing numbers of young men in the lower echelons of society who are marginalized because of lack of family prospects and who have little outlet for sexual energy. A number of commentators predict that this situation will lead to increased levels of antisocial behavior and violence and will ultimately present a threat to the stability and security of society (31, 45–49).

There is some empirical evidence to fear such a scenario. Gender is a well-established individual-level correlate of crime, and especially violent crime (50). It is a consistent finding across cultures that an overwhelming percentage of violent crime is perpetrated by young, unmarried, low-status males (50–52). In India, a study carried out between 1980 and 1982 showed a strong correlation between homicide rates in individual states across the country and the sex ratio in those states, after controlling for potential confounders such as urbanization and poverty (53). The authors concluded that there was a clear link between sex ratio and violence as a whole, not just violence against women as might be assumed when there is a shortage of females. These analyses were repeated by Hudson and Den Boer (46), who showed that the relationship between sex ratio and murder rates at the level of the Indian state persisted through the late 1990s. In China, young male migrant workers are thought to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of urban crime, especially violent crime. It is reported that migrants account for 50% of all criminal cases in the major receiving cities for migrants, with some cities reporting up to 80% (54).

There is also evidence that, when single young men congregate, the potential for more organized aggression is likely to increase substantially (45, 53). Hudson and Den Boer, in their provocative writings on this subject (45, 46), go further, predicting that these men are likely to be attracted to military or military-type organizations, with the potential to be a trigger for large-scale domestic and international violence. With 40% of the world's population living in China and India, the authors argue that the sex imbalance could impact regional and global security, especially because the surrounding countries of Pakistan, Taiwan, Nepal, and Bangladesh also have high sex ratios.
It will get worse until 2050, when the number of "missing girls" will peak at present trend lines.

What about the United States? Wikipedia:
While the majority of parents in United States do not practice sex-selective abortion, there is certainly a trend toward male preference. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, if they were only allowed to have one child, 40% of respondents said they would prefer a boy, while only 28% preferred a girl.[107] When told about prenatal sex selection techniques such as sperm sorting and in vitro fertilization embryo selection, 40% of Americans surveyed thought that picking embryos by sex was an acceptable manifestation of reproductive rights.[108] These selecting techniques are available at about half of American fertility clinics, as of 2006.[109]
But I guess that's okay because abortion on demand is a woman's sacred right. Kidnapping young girls and women into sex-trafficking rings for unmarriageable men? That's a crime. That it occurs at increased numbers because of abortion does not matter - because abortion? That's medical care.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Muslim wants to know

Muslim writer Dr Rakib Ehsan:
Following the mosque massacres in Christchurch, political figures across the Western world did not hesitate in accurately describing what they were – white-supremacist terrorist attacks on Muslims in their places of worship during Friday prayers.

In the aftermath of Christchurch, Hillary Clinton expressed her solidarity with the global Muslim community – the Ummah – and said ‘we must continue to fight the perpetuation and normalisation of Islamophobia and racism in all its forms’. Former US president Barack Obama tweeted that himself and his wife Michelle were grieving with the people of New Zealand and the ‘Muslim community’. Our own prime minister, Theresa May, correctly labelled Christchurch as a ‘horrifying terrorist attack’.

Now, contrast this with the language used by the same three figures following the coordinated series of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka. Affectionate expressions of solidarity with persecuted Christian communities have been missing. The Christians killed in their own churches have been referred to by Clinton and Obama as ‘Easter worshippers’. Despite the clearly sophisticated, well-planned nature of the terrorist attacks, which very much had the aim of killing a large number of Christians, the British PM – a vicar’s daughter – referred to them as ‘acts of violence’.

The differences in tone and nature between the condemnations of the Christchurch and Sri Lanka terrorist attacks are striking. After Christchurch, there was no hesitation about stating the religious backgrounds of the victims and directing emotion and affection towards Muslim communities. Politicians took no issue with categorising the events in Christchurch as terrorism.

In contrast, the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘Christianity’, along with their associated terms, have so far failed to feature in much of the reaction to the attacks in Sri Lanka. ...
The fact is that the persecution and victimisation of Christians continues to take place in many parts of the world, often at the hands of Islamists.
Would that we had such clarity from our own religious and political leaders.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

As Jesus lay lifeless

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who as on this day rested in the sepulchre, and thereby sanctified the grave to be a bed of hope to Your people: Make us so to abound in sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of Your passion, that when our bodies rest in the dust, our souls may live with You; who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.” – Titusonenine

Friday, April 19, 2019

Execution Day - The Case Against Christ

"The Three Crosses," by Rembrandt

Sometime on the Friday after Passover, almost 2,000 years ago, Roman soldiers, acting on orders of Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, took Jesus of Nazareth to a low hill outside Jerusalem and crucified him to death. As crucifixion deaths went, Jesus' death came pretty quickly, within a few hours. It was not unusual for victims to linger on the cross for days.

There were two criminals also crucified alongside Jesus. Because it was Passover week, emotions ran high among the Jews who had made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the holy observances. There were many thousands of pilgrims there, some historians say more than 100,000. At sunset on Fridays the Jewish Sabbath began, and even hardened Roman soldiers were uneasy about the execution of these men continuing when the Sabbath began during this particular week. So they decided to break the victims' legs in order to make quick their suffocation to death. Crucifixion is, after all, a form of hanging, killing by suffocation. With their legs broken, the victims could not push up to take a breath and so would die a quicker, though still brutal death ("excruciating" derives from the same root as "crucifixion," and it is no accidental relationship).

But when they came to Jesus to break his legs, they discovered he had already died. Another soldier, probably more experienced and thus leaving nothing to chance, took his long spear and plunged it into Jesus' side, almost certainly penetrating his heart, since that would have been the whole point of spearing him to begin with.

Before sundown, the Romans permitted some of Jesus' friends to retrieve his body and entomb it.

One of the vexing problems about Jesus' execution is that we really don't know exactly why Jesus was crucified. Of course, we know why the Romans crucified people - sedition against the empire - but just what Jesus did, or was accused of doing, relating to that is not fully clear. Even stipulating that the Jewish high council, the Sanhedrin, wanted to be quit of Jesus, they could have ordered him stoned to death for religious offenses without getting the Romans involved. The Gospels are clear enough that religious charges against Jesus not only could easily be made, they were made.

"Ecce homo" - Behold, the man.
Pilate, we know from Roman historians, was a weak man, inclined to violence to solve his problems, and was unskilled as a procurator. In fact, most modern historians have concluded that Judea had the singular misfortune among Roman provinces to suffer uncharacteristically inept Roman governance for several decades, including those on both ends of Jesus' life.

Certainly, Pilate thought almost nothing of crucifying Jews; during Jesus' own lifetime Pilate had sentenced hundreds of Jews, perhaps more, to the cross and had killed numberless more by other means. So one more was not even a statistic. (Jesus himself spoke of a time when Pilate had sent his cavalry, swords swinging, into a group of men making sacrifices, killing the lot of them, for reasons not related. Pilate seems to have been extremely paranoid about crowds of Jews who gathered for any reason.)

There are no notes from the trial of Jesus before Pilate. The accounts of the Gospels were written down many years later, decades, in fact. Even so, some historical facts are not disputed. The Sunday before Passover, 33 AD, Jesus and his disciples arrived in Jerusalem. The crowd that greeted them joyfully soon dissipated. Jerusalem was packed with Jewish pilgrims in the city to celebrate Passover. Having been under Roman (hence pagan) occupation for many decades, and the pagan Greeks before that, the Jews' nationalistic fervor ran high during the holy season, so high, in fact, that Pilate abandoned his offices in Caesarea, seventy-five miles northwest, to come to Jerusalem along with a couple of thousand soldiers.

Pilate was a very violent ruler. He had little compunction about sentencing people to death. Many hundreds of Jews, if not more, had already died by his command. The first-century Jewish historian Philo wrote that Pilate was not much worried about niceties of the law such as a proper trial for the accused.

The level of collusion between the Jewish high council (the Sanhedrin) and Pilate is unclear. It was mediated by the high priest, Caiaphas, in any event. All four Gospels present Jesus as being hauled before the Caiaphas at his house and three say that there were other Jewish leaders present; Luke calls them "the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law." Whomever they were, they are only presented as an echo board for Caiaphas.

What did Caiaphas have against Jesus? The synoptic Gospels indicate that Caiaphas's charge against Jesus was blasphemy. Matthew 26 records that after he was arrested and was brought before Caiaphas,
… the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." 
Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." 
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?" 
They answered, "He deserves death."
I think the Gospel of John's explanation, which differs from the others', gives important insights to the dynamics of Caiaphas's relationship with Pilate, showing that the high priest was primarily concerned with preserving the lives of the people. John presents a more nuanced case of Caiaphas against Jesus that makes Caiaphas more concerned with politics with Pilate than internal affairs of religion. Chapter 11 records that Caiaphas was deeply fearful of Pilate's propensity to violence, so much that Caiaphas was willing to plot Jesus's death in order to prevent Pilate from slaughtering the crowds who followed Jesus and then turning his soldiers loose to ravage the country itself.

There was Roman precedent for this. A few years after Jesus was born, a would-be revolutionary named Judas the Galilean led a rebellion against Rome centered in the city of Tzippori (Sepphoris) in Galilee. This was before Pilate became prefect, but the Roman response was crushing. According to Tacitus, the Roman Syrian governor sent two legions who laid waste to the entire city, crucified up to 2,000 men and sold the rebels' families into slavery. The shock of this savagery would have been vivid in Caiaphas's mind. It was the sort of thing, or worse, that he reasonably feared Pilate would render to Judea if Jesus continued unchecked.

The crowds Jesus drew were particularly worrisome because they signified that Jesus was gaining a growing following. There were royal politics involved here. The last king of the Jews had been Herod the Great, who had died in 1 BC (references that he died in 4 BC are incorrect). He was never accepted by the Judeans as a proper king because there was question of whether he actually was Jewish at all. Herod the Great’s throne was at the time vacant – when he died his territory was divided by the Romans into four parts, each ruled by a different descendant. What if, with the masses supporting him, Jesus attempted to claim the throne of David, to which he was by descent from David entitled? A power play by Jesus for the throne would have been brutally extinguished by the Romans.

To both the Jewish leaders and the Romans, a Jew with messianic intentions was foremost a political figure and in the minds of many Jews (and certainly Pilate), a potential military leader as well. That Jesus had said and done nothing to demonstrate such intentions would have been of no comfort to Caiaphas; as we say today, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. After all, what insurrectionist or revolutionary announces his goals before acting on them? Jesus knew that such suspicions were harbored against him. In Mark 14, when Jesus is arrested, he demands directly, "Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?"

On Thursday evening of what would become known as Holy Week, Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, traitorously brought the Temple police to Gethsemane, just outside Jerusalem. They arrested Jesus and bound him. Jesus’ disciples fled, leaving Jesus isolated.

The simplest narrative of events from then on is John's. Jesus was taken to the home of Annas, a former high priest, also Caiaphas’ father-in-law. Whereas in the synoptic gospels Jesus appears before a council of some kind and is found guilty of blasphemy at a drumhead court, in John no such council is present nor is there any sort of trial. Jesus, remaining bound, speaks only to Annas, who instead of pronouncing him guilty of some crime, "questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching." Jesus doesn't play along. An official present struck him on the face for responding insolently to the high priest.

Annas dispatches Jesus to Caiaphas, who quickly sends Jesus to Pilate. John 18 records,
Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.
Pilate’s response strikes me as entirely reasonable. Here is a Jewish man, Jesus, charged with – what? Well, he’s guilty of something or he would not be here. Pilate sees no Roman interest here so he tells the Jewish leaders, you can take care of that yourself. They protest that they have no right to execute anyone.

But of course, they do have that right – for capital offenses under Jewish law. Their response to Pilate reveals to him that they are claiming Jesus is an offender against the imperium, for which only Pilate could adjudge death.

Pilate was personally despicable but that doesn’t mean he was stupid. Any Roman prefect would have relied on an extensive network of Jewish informers, probably paid, and his own Roman soldiers and officials to stay apprised of developments and rumors among the ruled. Pilate would have not been caught flat-footed when Jesus was brought to him. He would likely have known that the crowds hailed Jesus as a messiah, or deliverer, when Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday, but deliverer from what? In Pilate’s mind, it could only be delivery from Roman rule.

Pilate would have known long before this day that Jesus was a celebrated teacher and preacher, reportedly a miracle worker, who was drawing ever-increasing crowds. So he got straight to the point and asked Jesus directly: “Are you the king of the Jews?” The dialog on John 18 is succinct:
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
Luke’s Gospel is more specific about the charges related to Pilate by Jesus’ Jewish captors, who tell Pilate, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” This does explain why Pilate asked Jesus whether he was a king. As for Jesus opposing paying taxes, it was (a) false and (b) even if true would not exactly have set him apart from 98 percent of all the Jews in the country. “Subverting the nation”? That’s nothing but Luke’s equivalent of their claim in John that Jesus was simply a criminal.

In any event, Pilate is unpersuaded but attempts to placate the accusers by having Jesus scourged. But Caiaphas and his allies want death. All four Gospels agree that Pilate attempts to grant Jesus amnesty by letting the crowd either pick either Jesus or a cutthroat insurrectionist named Barabbas to be executed. But that crowd had been hand-picked by Caiaphas and allies and so, “... the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead,” reports Matthew.

(NB: the people that joyfully greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday were not the people who yelled, "Crucify him!" to Pilate on Friday. Ninety-nine percent-plus of the people in Jerusalem had no idea that Jesus had been arrested.) 

Finally, Pilate caves and order Jesus crucified. But why?

For someone whom Caiaphas feared would decimate the whole country because of Jesus, Pilate seems awfully peaceable when he had the chance to get rid of Jesus. He had to be cajoled, even threatened, into it. In John, "the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” They were almost openly accusing Pilate of incipient treason for not dealing with this accused kingly pretender!

However, Pilate might have been trying all along to shift the blame for Jesus's execution from himself onto the Jewish leadership. It was Passover week, remember, when Jewish religious-nationalist passions ran high. Passover was the Jewish celebration and commemoration of their liberation from chattel slavery in Egypt, and here they Jews were in their own ancient homeland, under foreign occupation and rule.

Pilate himself had personal experience with such passions. Unlike previous prefects, Pilate ordered the imperial standards into Jerusalem with the symbols and images of Caesar Tiberius and had them planted on the Temple Mount. The Jews naturally saw this as a direct affront to the Second Commandment (Exodus chapter 20), which was,
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them … .”
Being ruled by Caesar was bad enough, but for images, or idols, of Caesar (whom the Romans claimed was divine) was intolerable, period. A crowd of angry Jews gathered in Caesarea, where Pilate lived and did most of his work. They demanded removal, which Pilate refused. After five days, he ordered his soldiers to surround the demonstrators and told them he would have them all slain if they did not disperse. The Jews replied they would rather die than submit to the desecration of the holy city. Finally, Pilate had the images removed.

Later, Pilate had gold-plated shields set up in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem, though not with graven images. Again the Jews protested and when Pilate refused to relent, they sent a letter of protest to Tiberius. Tiberius sent a letter to Pilate, rebuking him harshly for such offenses and violations of precedent, and ordering the shields' prompt removal to Caesarea.

On the day Jesus was brought to him, Pilate surely thought his standing with Tiberius was shaky. Pilate knew that Jesus' devotees in the city could number in the thousands. Might they riot in protest? It was a real danger, as Matthew explicitly records the chief priests realized; it was the reason they decided not to snatch Jesus during the daytime. 

If a riot there might be, Pilate might have thought, best to preemptively divert its rage away from the Romans and onto Caiaphas and company. Pilate would not be able to sit it out but reporting to Rome that the people were rebelling against their own religious authorities, not Pilate, was infinitely better than the other way around.

But while Pilate was trying to play Caiaphas, the high priest, knowing well Jesus's popularity among the masses (as well as his allies among some members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus, for example) may well have been trying to set up Pilate to take the heat for him, also. Both men probably wanted to put the monkey on the other's back. This would help explain why Caiaphas gave Jesus such a cursory hearing before trundling him over to Pilate and the resistance to executing Jesus that Pilate gave right back to Caiaphas.

Caiaphas finally played his trump card. Caesar Tiberius was one of the greatest generals Rome ever produced, which, with family connections, led him to become Caesar in AD 14. But he had checked out of affairs of state in 26, moving to isle of Capri to live in debauchery as only wealthy Romans knew how to do. He had left state affairs to Praetorian Prefect Lucius Sejanus. It was Sejanus who had appointed Pilate to his prefecture.

Tiberius learned in 31 that Sejanus had begun actively plotting to assassinate Tiberius and seize the emperorship. Tiberius sent word to the Roman Senate ordering the arrest and execution of Sejanus, which was done after a kangaroo court. Returning to Rome, Tiberius then began executing Sejanus' partners and political appointees, starting with the most recent ones. Pilate had been appointed by Sejanus. Pilate escaped the purge probably because his appointment was made very early in Sejanus' rule, long before Sejanus had turned traitor. 

Pilate knew that his political, and perhaps physical survival depended on demonstrated devotion to the emperor. This was Pilate's political Achilles' Heel and it was there that Caiaphas aimed a nearly-explicit threat: if you free Jesus we will report to Rome that you failed to defend Caesar against an insurrectionist, a pretender to the still-vacant throne of Herod the Great, who was a Roman vassal we did not recognize as legitimate in the first place, but that matters not, for, "We have no king but Caesar," Pilate. How about you?

It is a baseless and grievous error to blame "the Jews" categorically for Jesus's death, but there is no way to get around Caiaphas's deep involvement. Pilate, fearing Caiaphas might start a riot against him, yielded to Caiaphas’s political machinations and attempted to announce that the whole sordid affair really had nothing to do with him or Rome (“he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ …” – Matthew 27.24).

He sent Jesus to be crucified and, over Caiaphas’ protest, ordered a sign affixed to Jesus's cross identifying him as "King of the Jews," a sign probably intended to implicate Caiaphas directly in Jesus's death, for whom else could have made such a charge?

Despite their antagonism, both Caiaphas and Pilate came to see that executing Jesus was win-win for them. By giving up Jesus to Pilate, Caiaphas would prevent the Jesus movement from getting out of hand before it was too late to prevent the unspeakable horror of Pilate's superior in Syria from sending a legion or two to teach Judea to stop raising up such troublesome sons. Jesus himself had showed he would not yield in his demands of religious and social reformation. When Caiaphas brought Jesus to his house Thursday night, Jesus swatted away any potential compromise with finality. Faced with such intransigence, Caiaphas handed Jesus over to Pilate and made sure that Pilate never gave him back.

As for Pilate, his win would be twofold:

1. Stop an incipient Jesus-centered political movement cold by the very simple, effective expedient of killing Jesus. After all, he could not continue to send taxes and goods to Rome by destroying the country that produced them.

2. His loyalty to the vengeful Tiberius would not be challenged.

Jesus, it seems, had become too threatening to be allowed to live. Both Caiaphas and Pilate had the motive and the opportunity that week to stop him but only Pilate had the means to stop him permanently. There was a meeting of minds between Caiaphas and Pilate, antagonists though they were, and Jesus got caught in the middle.

But here's the kicker: Jesus cooperated with what they had planned for him because he understood that his own fate was inextricably linked to the collusion between them. That Jesus could have effectively defended himself seems of little doubt; there are many clues in the Gospels of what he might have said. But instead, he let himself be found guilty because he knew that Golgotha was the reason he was there. And so, he carried a cross to Golgotha and the world has never been the same.

My homiletics professor once said that one thing the Easter story proves is that sin, and the will to sin, is more deeply rooted in human beings than we really can imagine. Roman justice, he pointed out, was the best system of justice the world had ever seen until then; after all, it still forms the basis for most Western jurisprudence today. And among the lands and peoples of the empire, he said, the Jews were enormously respected for their religion, which was considered ancient even then. In the case of Jesus (his point being), the best justice and the best religion somehow, and not altogether clearly how, came together to cause the execution of a man entirely innocent of every capital charge brought against him. "Even the best we can do has no promise of freedom from sin."

So Joseph of Arimathea and the women disciples of Jesus (the men having gone into hiding) took Jesus' corpse and began to prepare it for burial in Joseph's own tomb. They did not finish the job because of the beginning of the Sabbath, a day on which they could do no work. They laid the body in the tomb, had it sealed, and left. The women agreed to return on Sunday morning to finish anointing Jesus' body, that being the first daylight hours after the end of the Sabbath at sundown Saturday.

The sun set and mercifully brought an end to execution day.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What draws people to church services?

A Gallup survey reported just two years ago:

  • Three in four worshippers say sermons a major factor in why they go
  • Youth programs, outreach and volunteer opportunities also important
  • Preferring to worship solo is main reason non-attenders eschew services

Belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque provides people with important social benefits that Gallup research shows improve personal well-being. While social benefits are clearly important to majorities of those who worship regularly, what most motivates them to attend is learning more about the tenets of their faith, as well as connecting that faith to their lives. Protestants, who have more control over their church leadership and flexibility in where they worship, place even greater emphasis on the quality of sermons than do Catholics, although both groups rate sermons highly.

Fulfilling these expectations could be critical in order for religious organizations to survive. But to expand their ranks, reigniting the interest of lapsed members should be a priority. Converting those who say they aren't very religious or who don't like organized religion may be futile. But churches and others may find some success with the message that worshipping in communion with others has benefits that can't be achieved worshipping alone -- addressing the No. 1 reason non-attendees give for not attending.
Much more at the link.

There is growing realization today that "attractional" church worship is not working in drawing people wither to long-term attendance or to personal commitment to Christ. "Worshiptainment," as we call it, is a failure in leading people to discipleship.

Commentator Jonathan Miltimore writes,
The poll made me wonder: When and why did music became such a prominent part of evangelical services? And are these churches missing out by focusing on music at the expense of other aspects of church life?

I suspect the former question might be linked to the increasing need for people in our culture to be entertained.

“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other," Neil Postman famously wrote in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. "They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images.”

I’m not suggesting churches need to stop playing music. I’m merely wondering if dedicating nearly half of a church service to musical performances is the most efficient use of time.

One wonders if people in pews would not receive more spiritual nourishment from other church-led activities: An extended reading of scripture? Silent prayer? A longer sermon?
The Gallup survey corresponds to other research I have seen that reports that the fabled and much-derided Millennials are drawn to traditional or orthodox services far more than "contemporary" or attractional services.

I think the real bottom line is this: What are people finding, experiencing, and learning in a church that they cannot find in secular culture?

Pew Research has a lot more, "Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services."

More Gallup commentary of these trends, "Church Leaders and Declining Religious Service Attendance."

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A little retirement advice (but not from me)

I do not remember signing up for a retirement newsletter via email, since I am not retiring any time
soon. I was about to hit the spam button but decided at least to look at the story index first. As it turns out, it's not bad.

As I am told that at least two dozen of my colleagues will retire this summer, here are three retirement-related links that may be of interest - not only to my ministerial colleagues, but to every other working stiff.

First, for those like me who are still saving for retirement, some good news: It’s going to get easier for some Americans to save for retirement, although the "some Americans" concerned are those working for small businesses. Still, a pretty good deal for them.

Second, for those trying to figure out what financial goal to set for retirement, there are 8 Levels Of Financial Freedom you can choose from both in retirement and en route. I would say that getting to level 4 is the minimum to achieve while still working.
Level 4: Freedom of Time

What many people desire is more flexibility with their schedules. Freedom of time and financial independence go hand in hand. Together, they are about leaving the rat race to follow your passion, or spend more time with family, and not going completely broke doing it. It could come in the form of more paid time off, flex time or perhaps working remotely on occasion. Not having to take a day off from work just so you can visit the dentist or take your kid to the doctor could be a huge benefit for some.
In retirement? Get at least to level 6. (Frankly, Level 8: More Money Than You Could Ever Spend, does not really appeal to me because, what's the point?)

Finally, Here Are the Top Risks to Your Retirement Savings. Here's the bullet list, read the explanations at the link.
  • Longevity, 
  • Healthcare costs and 
  • Expenses/inflation.
By actuarial tables, my life expectancy is to age 92, and my wife's is to age 100! So in my retirement planning, I have to plan for her expectancy, not mine. Furthermore:
  • As you age, your actuarial life expectancy rises because the tables "life expectancy" for a man or woman of any given age simply means that half the men or women who are, say, 63 years old, will die before they reach age 92. But that means that half live longer - and as years pass, you are steadily sliding into the half that lives longer as others, but not you, die.
  • Ignore the old canard that retired people can live on 70 percent or so of their last working-year income. Expenses do not magically drop simply because you retire, especially if you still have to pay rent or mortgage, and as the article explains, medical costs rise, probably sharply. Plan to match or exceed your working income in retirement.
  • Along the same line, married couples should structure their retirement income so that the surviving spouse continues to receive income equal to that received while the deceased spouse was still living. In retirement-account parlance, this is known as "Life Plus 100" retirement, meaning that your personal retirement account will continue to pay 100 percent of your retirement pay to your spouse after you die. If both spouses are covered by a pension, they should each select this when they retire. (Other typical options are Life Plus 70, which pays more while you are living but only 70 percent after you die, or Life Only, which means your spouse receives nothing after you die.) It will not be cheaper for a surviving spouse to live than both of you because fixed expenses stay fixed, and at about age 85 or older, fixed expenses dominate retirees' expenditures. 
A word about inflation. Let us suppose that you retire this year with a retirement income of, say, $75,000. Since 1913, inflation, which simply means the rate at which a dollar decreases in value over time, has had a yearly average of 3.22 percent. As Inflation Data points out, "That doesn't sound too bad until we realize that at that rate prices will double every 20 years."

Here is the chart by decade.

So if you retire comfortably this year on a level income of $75,000 per year, in 2039 it will be worth just under $39,000. Pension fund managers know this risk, of course, so typically, pension funds offer a payout plan that annually accounts for inflation, at least to some degree.

But overspending is just as damaging as inflation or recessive returns on your funds.
The next risk identified by the panel was the expense risk, or the risk of a change in value caused by the fact that the amount of expenses incurred over the course of retirement outpace expectations.

"If you have expenses early on in retirement, large expenses, then your portfolio balance goes down just as fast as if you had a really bad sequence of returns," Dirk Cotton, a retired executive, and a retirement adviser and author of The Retirement Cafe blog.
That is why it is imperative to have a plan for retirement. When I was a student pilot, my flight instructor told me, "Plan your flight and fly your plan." Of course it is unreasonable to think you can plan expenditures all the way from, say, age 66 or 68 or so to your mid-90s. But if you have a plan to start, then you will assess the necessity of changes much better, the extent of needed changes more comprehensively, and the recovery from changes more thoroughly.

So, here are Don's Official Retirement Planning Tips:
  • Plan for a specified constant-dollar income all the way to the end of your life, or if married, to the end of the surviving spouse's life. 
  • Save as much as possible as early as possible. Playing catch-up is a poor way to retirement security. 
  • Trying to get rich quick will result in getting poor even quicker. 
  • Follow Jesus and tithe and you will almost automatically stop worrying about money. 
And finally, from day one, get as much of your retirement investments and savings into tax-free accounts. Here is why:

One more note: Motley Fool offers 3 Ways to Calculate How Much to Save for Retirement, which includes a handy inflation calculator link that lets you compute the effects of different inflatiuons rates.

Final note: It might be good to remember that the finances of the United States are basically just a house of cards, and the GAO has said that the Current Federal Fiscal Situation Is 'Unsustainable'.
America will face "serious economic, security, and social challenges" if the national debt keeps growing at this rate. ...

Just hours after Congress postponed a budget vote because lawmakers wanted even more spending, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 67-page report warning of the "serious economic, security, and social challenges" that will face this country unless immediate action is taken to bring the national debt under control.

The share of debt held by the public currently stands at about 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), a shorthand measure of a country's economic output in a single year. The GAO estimates that it is on track to surpass the all-time high of 106 percent of GDP within the next 13 to 20 years. (The numbers are actually worse than that, because "debt held by the public" accounts for only $15.8 trillion of the $21 trillion national debt. The rest is held by parts of the federal government, such as the Social Security trust fund.)
How long can this continue? No one knows. But as Herbert Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and economics professor at the University of Virginia, put it, "When something can't go on forever, it won't."

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Why Christian faith is not blind faith


A scientist refutes the religion of science

Ian Hutchison is a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. Here he rebuts the idea that science is the ultimate way of knowing about the Real.


"Scientism" is used to describe faith in science. Prof. Hutchison is a Christian. In an address at the Veritas Forum, he spoke of three hypotheses to explain why he believes in the resurrection of Jesus:

Hypothesis one: We’re not talking about a literal resurrection. Perhaps it is just an inspiring myth that served to justify the propagation of Jesus’ exalted ethical teachings. A literal resurrection contradicts the known laws of nature. Maybe scientists can celebrate the idea of Jesus’s spirit living on, while his body remained in the grave.  
Hypothesis two: We really believe in the bodily resurrection of the first century Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth. My Christian colleagues at MIT – and millions of other scientists worldwide – somehow think that a literal miracle like the resurrection of Jesus is possible. And we are following a long tradition. The founders of the scientific revolution and many of the greatest scientists of the intervening centuries were serious Christian believers.  
Hypothesis 3: I was brainwashed as a child. ... But no, I did not grow up in a home where I was taught to believe in the resurrection. I came to faith in Jesus when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge University and was baptized in the chapel of Kings College  on my 20th birthday. 
Hypothesis two wins:
        To explain how a scientist can be a Christian is actually quite simple. Science cannot and does not disprove the resurrection. Natural science describes the normal reproducible working of the world of nature. Indeed, the key meaning of “nature”, as Boyle emphasized, is “the normal course of events.” Miracles like the resurrection are inherently abnormal. ...
Today’s widespread materialist view that events contrary to the laws of science just can’t happen is a metaphysical doctrine, not a scientific fact. What’s more, the doctrine that the laws of nature are “inviolable” is not necessary for science to function. Science offers natural explanations of natural events. It has no power or need to assert that only natural events happen. 
So if science is not able to adjudicate whether Jesus’ resurrection happened or not, are we completely unable to assess the plausibility of the claim? No. Contrary to increasingly popular opinion, science is not our only means for accessing truth. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we must consider the historical evidence, and the historical evidence for the resurrection is as good as for almost any event of ancient history. 

It is refreshing that a scientist understands the principle of "limit questions." Limit questions are those that are outside the realm of a particular field of knowledge. For example, suppose you attended a concert by the London Symphony. As you are leaving afterward, you overhear a man in front of you say, "Speaking as a cardiologist, it is my medical opinion that this was the finest performance of Saint-Saux's Symphony Number Three in C Minor ever presented anywhere."
Immediately you can see that such a statement is simply nonsense. It may well have been the best-ever performance of the symphony, but true or false, it is not a medical question and so his opinion "as a cardiologist" has no authority at all. The quality of a concert is a limit question for physicians. It is outside medical science’s realm of knowledge and expertise.
This is exactly the mistake that many scientists, such as the late Stephen Hawking, make. When they denounce Christians for affirming the resurrection, they claim that science has proved it was impossible. But as Prof. Hutchison explains, miracles are inherently limit questions for science.It gets worse. Comes now Wharton School professor and forecasting expert J. Scott Armstrong, whose research shows that fewer than one percent of published scientific papers published in scientific journals actually follow the scientific method
“We also go through journals and rate how well they conform to the scientific method. I used to think that maybe 10 percent of papers in my field … were maybe useful. Now it looks like maybe, one tenth of one percent follow the scientific method” said Armstrong... .
Scientific integrity requires scientists and non-scientists alike to recognize that there are limits to scientific knowledge. Failing this is the main error of the New Atheist movement, whose advocates insist that,
·       only science reveals the Real, 
·       only science can discover truth 
·       scientific knowledge is exhaustive and inherently unlimited. 

But these claims are themselves not testable with the scientific method. They are not scientific claims at all, but claims of faith in science, or scientism. Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist, explained in The New York Review of Books in 1997 (link) that scientism has a…
... prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations ... . Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

This is not evidence of an inquiring mind. The intellectual atheists' veil was further pulled back by Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University:
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.  My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.  One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind… This is a somewhat ridiculous situation… [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist. (The Last Word, pp. 130-131, quoted by fellow philosopher Edward Feser.)

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, put it this way:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption…. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. … 
For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was …liberation from … a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…. There was one admirably simple method in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. Similar tactics had been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reasons. (Ends and Means, 270-273)

However, affirming the resurrection of Jesus is not wishful thinking, it is the most reasonable conclusion based on the non-supernatural facts and circumstances surrounding the issue. Note well, please: that the resurrection of Jesus did occur is the ending point of examination of the facts, not the beginning point.
The resurrection of Jesus is foremost an historical question, not primarily a scientific one or even, really, a religious one. And so there will be limits of what science can declare about it just as there are limits on what science can declare about any other historical event. For example, it cannot be "scientifically proven" that Gen. George Washington led his army across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, to attack Hessian forces at Trenton, N.J. That is an historical question, not scientific one.
I posted about alternative explanations of the historical events just recently, so I'll not revisit them. Today, let's just deal with one, which is the claim by many scoffers and skeptics that Jesus never really existed in the first place. But what happens when, live and on the air, an atheist holding that position runs into a non-Christian, world-recognized scholar who says that position is silly? Well, this.

Update: Michael Polanyi, a Fellow of the Royal Society and former professor of physical chemistry at the University of Manchester: "Any account of science which does not explicitly describe it as something we believe in, is essentially incomplete and a false pretension. It amounts to a claim that science is essentially different from and superior to all human beliefs which are not scientific statements, and this is untrue... ." Read more.
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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Why do we trust our own thinking?

John Lennox is emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. He has also gained fame as a defender of the rational basis of Christian faith. "In his view, religious belief is entirely compatible with the scientific quest."
... he argues that the scientist’s confidence in reason ultimately depends on the existence of a rational and purposeful Creator. Otherwise, our thoughts are nothing more than electro-chemical events, the chattering of soul-less synapses. “If you take the atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic view, you’re going to invalidate the reasoning process,” he says, “because in the end you’re going to say that the brain is simply the end product of a blind, unguided process. If that’s the case, why should you trust it?" 
The materialist view inevitably gives birth to a form of determinism that appears to mock our essential humanity. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and atheist, expresses the modern scientific outlook thus: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its tune.”
Dawkins routinely falls into confirmation bias: he examines the universe expecting to find purposelessness, and voila! That is indeed what he finds. And he says that his determination is scientific. Yet such a claim is not at all scientific because there is no "scientific" proof of any kind that the universe is purposeless.

To claim, as Dawkins does (along with other atheists) that there is no God is to claim, really, that one possesses infinite knowledge - enough to claim that no being exists that has infinite knowledge! But this kind of militant atheism is not a rational stance, it is a rebellious, emotion-based  stance, as openly admitted by atheist Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University:
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.  My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.  One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind… This is a somewhat ridiculous situation… [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist. (The Last Word, pp. 130-131, quoted by fellow philosopher Edward Feser.)
Personally, I do not insist that atheism is either irrational or non-rational, though as Nagel points out, that is a very common stance among self-described atheists. I do say, however, that atheism is very unwise, as mathematician Blaise Pascal rather decisively demonstrated.

Pentecost - Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-21 1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.   2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound lik...