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Father’s Day, that wonderful day when we celebrate our dads, is a time when all of us who have terrific dads need to feel sorry for atheists. It’s not such a happy day for them.  That’s the take-away from a book called Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism by New York University psychology professor Paul Vitz, who says that what often lies at the core of militant atheism is a disappointing and sometimes abusive experience with the atheist’s earthly dad. 

Vitz, who was himself an atheist until his late 30’s, examines the lives of over two dozen famously influential and often belligerent nihilists and atheists  from the 18th Century to the present, like Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell,  David Hume, Albert Camus, Voltaire, and Mr. God Is Dead himself, Friedrich Nietzsche.  Ironically, these were the “fathers” of the atheist movement, cheerleaders for Sigmund  Freud’s theory that belief in God is an illusion, just wishful thinking invented by the childish part of our psyche that craves security and protection: in short, Big Daddy to the rescue. Freud’s theory over the years has evolved into the writing and ranting of today’s atheist God debunkers who like to brand religious believers as fools, ignoramuses, and Neanderthals.

But Professor Vitz does a neat switcheroo on Siggy: he finds that non-believers are the ones who are prisoners of their psychology because their personal bad dad experiences have led them to reject the ultimate Father.  (Freud too!)  Having felt no love from their own dads, they just can’t believe in a God who loves them. Of course, Vitz is not contending that every single atheist out there is a result of a problem with pater.  But there’s lots of fascinating evidence in the biographical sketches he presents that a relationship with dad is a strong influencer.

For example, many of these big-time atheists had no father in their life at all. Sartre’s father died when he was only one, as did Camus’ dad. Hume’s father passed away when he was two, and Russell, one of the really notorious atheists of all time, lost his father when he was four.  H.G. Wells, Josef Stalin, Freud himself, and others all had very difficult and troubling relationships with their fathers.  

Intriguingly, the book also covers the lives of a similar number of prominent believers from the same eras, including Soren Kierkegaard, Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, G.K. Chesterton, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The bio sketches reveal that while the atheists had weak, mean, or absent fathers, the theists had strong relationships with their good fathers or father substitutes.  

This book can serve as a warning to parents: if you want your children to have a strong, secure faith, make sure that they have a strong, secure relationship with a loving father.  Pew research also shows that the single most determining factor in a child retaining religious faith in adulthood is whether the father has an active faith. The book also suggests that militant atheists’ rejection and even hatred of the very idea of God may be largely rooted in their childhood psychology and dad-deprivation rather than in any rational or intellectual basis, as they would have us believe.

So while you’re celebrating Dad this weekend, find an atheist and give him or her a big hug – they need it!

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  I John 4: 7, 8


Joy Overbeck is a Colorado author and journalist; her site with a sampling of her magazine articles: www.joyoverbeck.com
Tweet her: @joyoverbeck1

 
 
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This was first published at breakpoint.org: http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/articles/entry/12/25348

I've been reading some blogs about Nature in the first blush of springtime.  The writers rhapsodize about blossoms bursting forth from winter’s gray shroud, and the dry bones of the trees overnight breaking out in their green chiffon prom dresses. Or something like that. 

What’s amazing to me is the writers never attribute any of these wonders to God.  But where does all this marvelous bursting forth, this prodigious display of glory, come from?  As intelligent secularists, they must know that everything must have a cause; nothing has ever come from nothing.  One day the branches are bare, and then we see the tiny dabs of green that in a little while unfold into a leafy explosion.  How does that happen?  Where does all this surging life come from?

This is what humanity has pondered from the very beginning.  We only know that the invisible stuff that makes the leaves is cunningly hidden in those barren sticks that have been frozen for the last many months. This is the mystery that turned ancient humans into nature worshippers and the reason why pantheism, or nature worship, was the very first religion. People saw the annual awakening of winter’s death into spectacular new life and recognized it for the miracle it is. For them, God and nature were one and the same. Instead of a personal God, they saw multiple gods everywhere; trees and rocks and streams had their own spirit-souls. Everything in the universe was a little slice of god, spiritually alive.

Pantheism is undergoing a modern religious revival in today’s nature worshippers, New Agers and earth worshippers, for whom the Creation and nature, rather than the Creator, is god.  They seem content to believe the spectacular display all around us comes literally from nothing.  There’s no design or supernatural cause or great eternal mind behind spring’s marvels – they all just happen.  But isn’t belief in something-from-nothing more unlikely than believing in God? 

Nature worship is appealing precisely because it allows one to feel “spiritual” without the pressing ethical demands of “religion.” There’s no moral force known as “God” to answer to, just a beautiful world to appreciate.  No pressure, no expectations – everyone can be comfortable with their own personal revelation.

Unbelievers demand proof of God, but if they would just look around they would find God saying “hi” everywhere.  The problem with God is he’s so good at what he does that his miracles seem unremarkable to us; just everyday stuff like the marvels of springtime. Miracles become dumbed-down when there are too many of them, much like the word “awesome” today is used to describe everything from a brilliant meteor shower to a tasty dill pickle.  

As an experiment in perception, try to think about the following phenomena as if you didn’t know they were all just common, ordinary occurrences. Try to see the supernatural hand of God hiding behind what seems completely routine.   

Can it be random chance that Earth is an all-you-can-eat buffet brimming with plentiful free food and drink, so the animals – from giraffes and gazelles and hippos to cows, sheep, and pigs – have everything they need to thrive? And that somehow another happy accident has given the meat-eaters this well-fed menu of critters to subsist upon?

How can it be a coincidence that Earth happens to be packed to the very crust with exactly the stuff that we humans need to power our complex civilization of convenience and comfort: coal, natural gas, oil, even sunlight, water and wind energy, all free for the taking?

Or in a world without flowers, if a rose appeared on a bush, seemingly from nowhere, wouldn’t it be acclaimed as a wonder and a miracle? They’d put a fence around it and charge admission, then create a TV reality show based on it. 

Or imagine that every human appeared fully grown as adults and there was no such thing as a fertilized egg or gestation. Then one day, there’s headline news around the world: the birth of the first baby! What – a couple of microscopic cells began to grow in a woman’s body and after a few months suddenly popped out as a miniature human? What a phenomenon - think of the sensation! And it happens every day.

Speaking of the egg --a single fertilized human egg the size of a pinhole has enough information to fill a thousand books, each 500 pages thick, with print so small you would need a microscope to read it. And if we were able to print in books all the DNA information in the entire human body, it has been estimated that they would fill the Grand Canyon 50 times. Has there ever been even a single book without an Author?

                He sends the springs into the valleys;

                They flow among the hills.

                They give drink to every beast of the field…

                He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,

                And vegetation for the service of man,

                That he may bring forth food from the earth…

                         Psalm 104: 10, 11, 14



 
 
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Many emails the last couple of weeks reminded me to send Norma the flowers and candy I usually send her on Mother’s Day. But I didn’t order them. I haven’t spent that 45 minutes or so picking out the exactly-right Mother’s Day card. And I’ve made no Mother’s Day phone call to tell her how much I love her and talk about my next visit. There will be no next visit in this life because my Mom, Norma, went to be with her Jesus on December 19.

How I miss her: her mischief smile that came at special times, her Delft blue eyes and the sudden surprise of her laugh!   

I don’t think I will ever get used to using the past tense with her. How to describe her, the one who inspired my major passions for God and country? All her life she’s been known as a whirlwind, a firecracker – feisty, totally unstoppable, completely irresistible. She radiated her bright spirit and love of her Lord wherever she went, even on her answering machine: “Leave a message, I’m out spreading the Word!” Even with the debilitating health problems of the last year, ask her how she was and she’d flash a grin and chirp, “My cup runneth over!”

She was born Norma Louise Nordlund, second child of Karl and Selma, two hard-working Swedes who immigrated here in their teens. They instilled in their daughter their fierce love of America, their proud work ethic, honesty and integrity. These values guided her all of her life and she passed them on to her family. I learned from watching Mom how to become a voice for those values as she lobbied for phonics in the schools when we were kids, later demonstrating at Tea Party rallies for smaller, more responsible government, and writing so many letters to the editor that she was at one time actually banned from the paper in Naples, Florida where she lived -- but only temporarily.

Her reverence for the English language and expressing oneself well she passed on to me and to the other writer in the family, my daughter Meredith. Mom’s views were never restrained by political correctness and I’m the same way – that must be a gene because most of her children and grandchildren share that frankness. She and I also shared a love of skiing—she learned when attending Colby Junior College in New Hampshire, getting an education uncommon for women in that era.    

 But her major passion was Jesus. “The Lord will provide” wasn’t just a Bible verse she constantly stressed to us, we could see it every day in her life – even to the mysterious way she always found the best parking space nearest wherever she was going – so predictably it became a family joke. Whenever a child or grandchild had a disappointment or didn’t get a desired job, Mom would always say, the Lord has something better in mind for you, sweetheart and she was always right. And when I was just a girl, she was the very first person to tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do.

What a talent she had for people. She visited every week at the Care Center in her community and used the saving Gospel of Christ to lift the spirits of those who were ill or lonely or depressed. She befriended strangers in the grocery line or at the next table in a restaurant and touched their hearts. Throughout her short illness we heard from so many she encouraged and prayed with through the years. How comforting it was to hear these people talk of how Mom had helped them.

Her energy often seemed supernatural and was surely God-given. For years she walked about three miles around her community daily, at a pace so brisk that her neighbors said their dogs never barked at her because she had sped past before they even knew she was there.

She was a force of nature in so many ways. But even though she had many saintly qualities, she was as fully human as any of us. She could be difficult and prideful, insisting on her will. She never let any of her three grown daughters drive her car – only her son. How annoying! And she was sometimes prickly about little things, inflating them into big things. But these sticky wickets, common in all families, never lasted long.

Mom acted out Jesus in her giving spirit and taught us so much about what it looks like to have him as a best friend. We knew she had special clout with him because her prayers were so powerful. We laughed that she would outlive us all and we half believed it.

But written in her worn Bible in her tiny perfect hand is this: “Death is moving day.”    
Mom’s moving day came much too soon for us.  On this first Mother’s Day without her I have many tears and so very many memories that my heart hurts with them. But then I think of her glorious entry into God’s presence – greeted by the love of her life, our Dad, along with her Mom and Dad, her brother -- and the crowd, the enormous crowd of souls she actually helped to save and the people she touched with her love. I see them all coming toward her hands outstretched to clasp hers, huge grins on their faces, and the choir of the heavens singing their sweet rainbow harmony – and I can hear the trumpets sounding. Mom looks just over the heads of the crowd and sees a golden  glow, a spectacular radiance full of power and grace and there suddenly is -- Jesus. God says hi.  


 
 
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This was first published at the Chuck Colson Ministry website:                                                                      
http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/articles/entry/12/25168

The boy just kept singing. He was singing words full of praise for God, a catchy, infectious song he had learned in Sunday school at his Baptist church:  

Every praise is to our God
Every word of worship with one accord
Every praise, every praise is to our God  Sing hallelujah to our God
Glory hallelujah is due our God
Every praise, every praise is to our God 

The kidnapper who had yanked the boy out of his own front yard yelled at him to shut up, cursed him and swore at him. The boy just kept singing his praise song.  After three hours of the sweet-voiced nine-year-old’s nonstop God-praising, the angry kidnapper just couldn’t stand it another minute. The man opened the car door and threw the boy into the street.  Soon he was back in the arms of his grateful Mom.

You probably have heard about this. It was all over the media recently, and many hailed it as a miracle.   Indeed, how amazingly does Almighty God prove his love in this rescue.  But there’s even more here for believers. Without knowing it, this beautiful Atlanta boy, Willie Myrick, was summoning the same spiritual power that 2000 years ago the Apostle Paul had called upon when he was locked in a Greek prison for preaching salvation through Jesus Christ.  Acts 16: 25-26 tells the story: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.”

Just like Paul, little Willie Myrick continually worshipped God even though he was in terrible danger. While adults often blame God for their troubles, Willie’s young heart turned instinctively to praising his Lord. I can imagine his fear and total helplessness, imprisoned in that car as the kidnapper yelled curses and threats at him. Still, somehow he knew his God had not deserted him and, knowing that, Willie never deserted his God.  He never stopped singing.

The singing of praise is a sacred act with power to summon the spirit of the living God. The Psalms are literally songs of praise that uplifted and sustained King David and the nation of Israel in their trials throughout the centuries before Christ appeared.    

What a lesson for us all in this precious boy’s faithfulness. What if we were to joyfully praise our God even in the midst of our pain and uncertainty, even through the deep despairing times of our lives?  We could tap into the freeing power of Jesus Christ, the same power that opened the doors of Paul’s prison and made Willie’s kidnapper open that car door and release him. Our chains would be loosed and the very foundations of our personal prison shaken.  

Souls can come to God through our praising him, too. Not only were Paul and Silas freed from prison, but in witnessing their supernatural rescue their jailer came to believe in Christ, and he and all his family were baptized.  It’s a certainty that the whole city heard about the miraculous story, and many more pagans were saved.

Similarly, God has used Willie’s incredible story to reach millions with his message of love and rescue, and we can be sure that many will be led to Christ. Although the boy’s kidnapper hasn’t been captured yet, wouldn’t it be just like God to save him too?

There was even a happy ending for Willie when Hezekiah Walker, the singer-songwriter who wrote and performs “Every Praise,” was so touched that he traveled to Atlanta to help the boy celebrate his tenth birthday.  Walker, along with Willie, his friends and family and the whole congregation at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church sang the song together as tears rolled down Willie’s cheeks. 

Said Walker, “I really believe that God spoke through me to save that young man’s life.”

Sing hallelujah!  What do you have to sing hallelujah about even in your darkest moments?



 
 
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(first published in The Washington Times 4/18/14: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/17/overbeck-easters-message-to-the-secularist/)

Now that a CEO can be forced from his job because he once contributed to a pro-heterosexual-marriage campaign, and a baker cannot legally refuse to bake a cake celebrating a "wedding" that he believes violates God's law, don't look for secularists to pause from their labors on Good Friday. Rather, expect them to continue to pummel a
religion they think rejects diversity, not only by upholding bride-groom
marriage, but also by insisting there's only one way to God. That would be
Christianity.       

         The defining event of the faith takes place at Easter, when the God-man Jesus voluntarily gave His life to mend the love bond between a fallen humanity and its perfect Creator. The Christian Bible many times plainly states that belief in Jesus’ sacrificial act is the one and only way to reconciliation with God. Jesus himself said it: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 His disciple Peter said it: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.  His disciple John said it: “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” I John 5:10, 11

            But the secular world asks: how can a loving God be so mean-spirited and elitist as to limit His favors so narrowly? Wouldn’t a fair and forgiving God welcome into His heaven anybody whose personal bad behavior falls short of murder, rape or theft? Shouldn’t God join in the modern moral crusade to give everybody a trophy just for showing up, and an “E” for effort even if they don’t complete the test?   

            Many voices, even from the pulpit, today agree that God needs a lesson in tolerance from our all-accepting culture. They’re editing and often eliminating the words of Jesus and his disciples to make Christianity more marketable by making it more inclusive. If God’s requirement for salvation through Jesus Christ seems too harsh, it’s gentled down to some mellow version of “God’s grace accepts everyone,” or “All God asks is that you try to be a good person.” And in the pews of the Church of Anything Goes, all the people said, “Amen!” 

            Just one problem: if Jesus’ death and resurrection aren’t absolutely necessary for humanity’s salvation, then Easter Sunday becomes one big hideously purposeless bloodbath. If there are many ways to God, the deity is either a fool who made a terrible mistake or a sadistic child-murderer. We can probably agree that the Creator of the Universe is not a fool. And why would God put His only child through a horribly cruel death if indeed there were any other way to bring humanity back to reunion with Him?  

Obviously, there must be no other way than to accept that: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

Despite secularists’ complaints, God’s invitation is not sexist or ageist or genderist or nationalist or restricted in any way; in fact He generously offers it to the entire world. Still, many who say they believe in the Christian God find Jesus to be a deal-breaker.

But why? Certainly most of us would rather think we’re not so bad that God’s Son had to die in agony to save us. And for today’s enlightened secularist who believes that man is basically good and utopian perfection just a few more government edicts away, the idea of a Redeemer is not only unnecessary, but highly insulting. Yet simply consulting the headlines from around the world on any given day should dispel the notion that humanity has no need of God’s rescuing love. Now, more than ever, we need Easter.


 
 
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First published in The Washington Times 12/23/13:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/23/celebrating-christmas-without-christ/

Every year we Christians look forward to the cherished Christmas tradition of atheist groups buying gigantic billboards around Times Square to openly advertise their Jesus envy.   They just don’t get why they can’t have their jolly little Christmas minus Christ. This year the American Atheists has a towering sign whose lit-up graphics ask, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A giant hand crosses out “Christ” and writes “Nobody.” Of course most people who celebrate Christmas without Christ are atheists or agnostics. So here they are admitting to all the world on a colossal 40x40 foot sign that they are actually nobodies. Poor atheists -- even when they think they’re insulting Christians, they’re really insulting themselves.

Though it seems impossible for them to top this unwitting self-mortification, it gets even better with the next message on the billboard.  “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas,” it says and lists helpful suggestions of how to do so. These include ice skating, charity, fun, parties, Chinese food, and the Rockettes.  Although one of my favorite Yuletide films, A Christmas Story, indeed features Chinese food I always thought of it as a fallback to be used only in emergencies like when the local dog pack makes off with the turkey.   

Yet David Silverman, the president of AA, is endearingly intent on making his case. “This season is a great time of year for 100 reasons – none of them having to do with religion,” he asserts.  “This year, start a new tradition: don’t go to church. You hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated…” 

Guess he’s describing the new “atheist churches” that reportedly are sprouting up in dank basements practically nowhere.  What is the world coming to when atheists go to church? Sounds like more evidence that they yearn to be just as religious as we, but without the actual religion part.  They’re even trying to co-opt our day of worship by calling their day of non-worship “Sunday Assembly.”   

And just what do they do in these assemblies?  According to a Washington Post article, at one meeting they had a rock music sing-along with a live band. How derivative of them:  we do that in today’s Christian churches, too. They also watched an atheist poet perform a piece on his idea of life after death. But how entertaining is some guy stretched out in a box clutching a bunch of daisies? Or did he magically disintegrate himself and Become One with the Cosmos?  

Obviously atheists are looking at happy church-goers and asking, how can we get some of that?  They’re tired of being isolated and angry and much more likely to attempt suicide than God-believers (according to the American Journal l of Psychiatry.)  They think that getting together and singing some tunes and maybe eating Chinese food and watching old Rockette videos will make them less miserable.  Maybe they’ve read the studies -- hundreds of actual scientific studies and surveys over the last 40 years or so -- that say practicing Christians are mentally and physically healthier, live longer, and are twice as happy as unbelievers.  And so naturally much less likely to commit suicide.

When people are asked, “how happy are you, really?” the folks sporting bigger grins than anyone else in America are Evangelical Protestants, committed Christians who attend church weekly. A hefty 49% of them declare themselves “very happy”, while only 26% of the seldom-to-never churchgoers – like atheists and agnostics -- checked the “very happy” box. Numerous Pew Research studies have confirmed these numbers for a very long time.

It’s doubtful that the non-religious will reap these very real benefits even if they become atheist “church-goers.” Because it’s really not about the singing or the pot stickers, it’s about the Jesus. Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson in his book Darwin’s Cathedral, theorizes that religion provides people with a sense of transcendent purpose that those with a secular mindset simply can’t match. Seems that God-believers enjoy a zest for life and hopefulness about their future that translates into better health and happiness.

It should come as no surprise that believers are enjoying life more; think about it. If Christianity didn’t improve the day-to-day lives of believers and bring them help and comfort in their darkest hours, would there be over two billion of them making it the most popular religion on the planet? Would nearly 80 percent of Americans declare themselves Christians? (Pew Research)  Who in our modern enlightened and pragmatic age would believe in a God and a spiritual system that just doesn’t work?

So good luck atheists, trying to scrub Christ out of Christmas. That baby in the manger has proven far more powerful than you for over two thousand years now .

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I didn’t actually see my first episode of this much-awarded mega-hit until a few days before the finale.  One episode and I was tragically hooked.  Having never binged on a TV marathon before, I’m embarrassed at all the hours I watched, unable to turn the thing off.  It became an epic overdose that reduced my eyes to tiny red stinging slits. But it was worth it to see ancient Biblical principles of right and wrong hiding in plain sight, brilliantly worked out in this contemporary morality play that was so  adored by our increasingly amoral culture.

Breaking Bad follows the descent into hell of one Walter White, an everyman, blend-into-the-crowd kind of Walter Mitty-esque (gee what a coincidence) guy who over five seasons becomes a raving psychotic murderer and criminal rock star presiding over his very own methamphetamine empire.  As Walter says in the opening of every episode, “chemistry is the study of transformation.”  Yes indeed.

This show resonates with its huge audience because its creator, Vince Gilligan, and his fellow writers are strumming an ancient universal theme that we all recognize in our bones. It’s the story of Lucifer, the beautiful angel who challenges God for dominance.  It runs throughout Greek tragedy and most of Shakespeare’s plays, echoes of a story first set in motion in the Garden of Eden as the fount of man’s endless struggles with his Creator. In Eden’s paradise the serpent hissed, “You can be like God!” tempting Adam and Eve to defy the deity’s supremacy.  In Breaking Bad it’s decent-guy-turned-monster Walter White hissing at his long- suffering wife, “All of this is about me!”  Everyman trying to be Superman.

Like Walter, most of us act like little gods, arbiters of our own highly fluid, guilt-and-judgment-free morality that’s ruled by the code of feel-good and hubris.  Breaking bad is all about the destructive power of this most original sin: human pride.  

Walter starts out as a sympathetic character, even more so after he learns he’s got advanced lung cancer and only two years to live. A high school chemistry teacher who moonlights working in a car wash to support his family, he’s desperate knowing he has no funds for expensive cancer treatment and nothing to leave his family after his death.  But his pride won’t let him accept a lucrative job at the firm he helped found because he thinks he was dissed by his former partners.  Walter decides that a better course of action is to cook meth, first in an old trailer, and later in a sophisticated lab supplied by a maniacal drug overlord.

That initial decision triggers the downward spiral of the entire epic. Walter’s first murder victim is Krazy-8, a drug dealer who Walt and his young assistant, Jesse, keep in the basement chained to a post.  Walt just can’t stomach killing him, and delays the inevitable. He brings Krazy-8 sandwiches and as they chat, finds out Krazy-8’s family owns a furniture store where Walt and his wife Skyler bought the crib for their new baby.  Walt’s ethical aversion to homicide plus this growing personal connection stay his hand, until he discovers that Krazy 8 plans to stab him to death the moment he’s unchained. Angry and betrayed, Walt brutally strangles the man in the basement. There’s a kill-or-be-killed aspect here that justifies Walt’s savagery, and then too, the guy was a p.o.s. drug dealer. So the audience is still rooting for Walt even as he crosses over to killer.

As he realizes he can make mind-boggling millions with his chemical expertise, Walt gets high on the drugs of power and greed. The bodies and the unintended consequences pile up. When instead of saving Jesse’s heroin-addled girlfriend Jane, he watches her die choking on her own vomit, he’s protecting his money stash and thus protecting his family from ruin. But now he’s killing for reasons disconnected from his own survival. His cruelty leads to Jane’s grieving air traffic controller father making a mistake that results in two planes colliding, killing 167 people.  Walt stands looking up as flaming parts of planes and bodies plummet into his back yard, much as the Lord rained fire and brimstone down on the sinful inhabitants of the wicked city of Sodom.

Decades ago the enlightened high-foreheads of Western culture rejected stuffy Biblical morality for the “it’s all good” philosophy prevalent to this day. If bad behavior such as alcoholism, drug addiction, even gambling, or homicidal tendencies couldn’t be rationalized away by an errant gene, it was the fault of a toxic environment or uncuddly parents.  Guilt and shame weren’t just downers, but unfair punishment because our lives are determined by fatalistic forces beyond our control.

Jesse, the druggy punk who’s so much smarter than Walt in all the important ways, is the only character showing remorse over his dastardly deeds. At his addiction group therapy meeting, feeling guilty after murdering on Walt’s orders, Jesse invents a story about killing a dog. When the group’s I’m-okay-you’re-okay leader trots out the need for self-acceptance and non-judgmentalness, Jesse angrily calls bullshit, reminding the leader that he accidentally killed his own daughter when high on cocaine and vodka.  How can we really accept anything and everything we do? 

Walt’s evil acts place him squarely in the grim crosshairs of – not fate, not destiny -- but the results of his own vicious behavior. This also is biblical – you reap what you sow. At the end, Walt gets the illusion of control by forcing the Schwarzes to funnel his ill-gotten $80 million to his family. But he doesn’t win. In the end, his family despises him and he dies alone, caressing a cold steel meth-making tank. In the ultimate irony, the bullet that finally finds him is shot by a machine gun of his own clever devise. At the end, Breaking Bad rejects conventional moral squishiness to say: your life is what you do to yourself.

This piece was first published at Breakpoint.org: http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/articles/entry/12/23567


 
 
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My last atheist fixed me with a look through his Harry Potterish glasses: “So you believe in God?” I nodded. “Well, do you also believe the U.S. government brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11?”

Somehow I knew this would not end well. “I don’t appreciate being insulted,” I answered. “You’re saying that if I believe in God I’m a nutso conspiracy theorist.”  
Temporary denial and backpeddling ensued, but then came his next salvo: “You believe in one God, right?”  I clarified, “Three Gods in one, actually.”  I knew this was personal for him because we had both just emerged from a memoir and nonfiction workshop he taught at a big annual writer’s conference. In the class, he had revealed that he was raised Catholic and having a hard time writing his memoir owing to his miserable childhood.

“If you believe in one god, then why can’t you believe in a thousand, or even ten thousand gods?” he asked. Long pause as I just stared at him……….. ”Why would I believe in ten thousand gods?” Of course he meant that the same addled mind gullible enough to buy any form of god could easily believe in any idiotic thing at all.  That sort of mind could believe in mobs of Gods, unicorns, azalea bushes that talk, any old kind of Disney phantasmagoria. So here’s the first thing about atheists: they use loopy arguments to prove us believers loopy. We must restrain ourselves from reacting with anger or sarcasm, though it can be difficult not to do unto them as they do unto us.

Sensing he had some personal angst, I asked him about his experience with Christians and as I expected he said some had been vicious to him, unbelievably mean.  So this was an opportunity for me to be his ally while offering genuine sympathy. I said I was truly sorry that they had treated him badly, but they were obviously fallen-away Christians since they weren’t following Jesus’ commandment to love your fellow human and treat your neighbor as yourself.  

Momentarily thrown off balance, he asked how I had become someone who was writing a book about Christianity.  This is how: I was raised Christian like he was, but when I moved to the Colorado countryside I found a gaggle of Christian horse-owners with whom I shared many a horsey camping and riding adventure. These were believers with a depth of personal commitment I had never encountered. Although heartache and tragedy and the resulting doubts about God had often stalked their lives, they’d come back with a faith even stronger, forged in the furnace of many trials. And they were so much fun!

My atheist’s response to my story of deepening Christian life was to ask: if my neighbors were Muslim, would I have become a Muslim?  I would think even a nonbeliever should know the answer.     

Then our conversation bounced from evolution to the Big Bang theory and swerved to whether God needs to “prove” that He exists. When I said I believe God created everything fully formed as the Bible describes but maybe He invented evolution to tinker with specifics, he flung out a wide arc with his arm and accused me of a circular argument. When I quoted Nobel Prize winning cosmologists and physicists who say the Big Bang is the very picture of nothingness exploding into everythingness just as originally described in Genesis, he said some scientists disagree.  Even when I offered up Albert Einstein’s wisdom: “I want to know how God created this world…I want to know His thought, the rest are details,” this atheist was unmoved.

Whenever I made a point, he stabbed his finger at me while sneering out his response. The finger was getting quite the workout by the time we reached the “proof” issue: if God exists, this atheist demanded He give us an explanation, as if the Creator of the Universe were a perp in a CSI episode. I said, “God isn’t interested in proof -- He’s interested in faith. If He made His existence totally obvious, there would be no need for faith; everyone would believe. That would rob God of the ability to work the hearts of humans to trust in Him.”    

From my conversations with atheists, I can divide them generally into two categories: those who can’t believe because they’ve been damaged by “religious” people; and those who won’t believe because their massive logical brains tell them God is a silly fairytale. Some, like my last atheist, are a winning combination of the two.

The atheists in the first group got a grim lesson in God from folks who wielded religious rules and regs like a lash. Early on, they learned about a dark and forbidding God who was seriously considering sending them to hell. Or the future unbeliever, like my last atheist, may have been mistreated by religious hypocrites who cheated or abused them. This ungodly behavior by people who pretend to be godly can permanently ruin a person for God.  The mistreated atheists deep down think they were rejected by God way before they rejected God yet they’ll still insist their unbelief is based entirely on “intellect.” Really, it’s nothing but raw emotion and festering hurt.      

The second variety of atheists thinks they’re smarter than God. They often write books ridiculing the very idea of belief in anything as irrational as an unseen Deity. I recommend not standing next to these people in a lightning storm. You can quote all the Einsteins and astrophysicists and Nobel Prize winners you want at them and they’ll just give you a superior smirk. (Physicist Steven Hawking: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe would have begun in just this way (the Big Bang) except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”)

Sadly, the arrogant, big-brained atheist probably can’t be reached because his hubris will always be a dark cloud between him and a God who demands humility.  But there’s hope for those like my last atheist.  As Christians we must reach out with heartfelt compassion for them. We must show them Jesus’ words of love and renewal in the Bible, proving that the people who wounded them got the message of Christ exactly backwards.  Gently, we can offer assurance that Christ came for the very sinners that we all are.  

I probably wasn’t all that gentle with my last atheist. Now I regret sometimes reacting sharply when he pushed my buttons instead of asking him more about his experiences. I missed an opportunity to start breaking down his hurt and his misunderstandings about Christianity. Still, I know how powerful is Christ’s message of faith, hope and love. And I know the Lord is even now planning to bring him others who can help him find his way to back to his Father.     

How have you responded to atheists who attack your faith?



 
 
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It’s been a popular dance for decades in America among militant unbelievers who get their exercise by trampling vigorously on Jesus Christ.  But some ingenious new moves surfaced recently with the story of the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) student who says he was suspended from his “intercultural communications” class when he refused to stomp on a piece of paper bearing the name “Jesus.” Junior Ryan Rotella, a devout Mormon, said the assignment made him feel “deeply offended” according to reports from dailycaller.com and mediaite.com.

Predictably, the choice of Jesus’s name was deliberate. The teacher’s manual that comes along with the course textbook actually suggests telling students to write JESUS on the paper. The manual notes, “This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings.”  

How is this a revelation? That symbols take on emotional meaning is so obvious as to probably not require college classroom time to demonstrate. But also the premise is glaringly disingenuous.  It’s ridiculous to say Jesus’s name is in any way “arbitrary:” after all, He is the source of and reason for the Christian religion, the faith of more people on the planet than any other. His name is sacred to the dominant culture in America and worldwide, so stomping on His name is far more likely to generate student refusals and thus suspensions than any other. Maybe Rotella should have written the name “Martin Luther King” on a piece of paper and asked his professor, who is black, to stomp on it. That would be a handy “intercultural” way of demonstrating to Prof. Poole the meaning of disrespect.  

It’s no mystery why Jesus was selected: textbook writers and liberal professors know that Christians don’t fight back. If the exercise had involved doing the tango all over a picture of Mohammed, there’s always the risk of beheading.

These Christian-stomping activities have been going on for so long that they’ve become simply asinine. Religion-hating atheists are forever suing to remove a Christmas crèche scene, to erase In God We Trust from our money, to stop a valedictorian from thanking Jesus in a speech, or a football team from praying before a game. Memo to anti-Christians: yawn.  You are incredibly boring and have been insufferably so for decades.       

Two thousand years ago Jesus warned us this would happen; after all it happened to Him: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. “ John 15: 18, 19   

Christ is saying the world despises us because we don’t buy the materialistic values that most everyone else live by. Instead, Christians try to live “out of the world” -- by God’s values as articulated in His Word -- which inevitably puts us in conflict with the I’ll-do-it-my-way culture of Christ’s day, and ours.  Christians mostly disapprove of adultery and sexual immorality while the world revels in it – every single hour on TV and on the big screen too.  Christians believe God created each human uniquely in His own image and so don’t favor abortion and suicide, also putting us at odds with much of the world.

Our moral beliefs somehow “offend” unbelievers. But anyone who reads the news online or in the paper or watches TV or films can see that Christianity’s moral influence on the culture is dwindling.  Everything is going the secularist’s way. Why then do atheists seem to be ramping up their stomping attacks on our faith?

I think they’re just jealous.  Jealous of our Jesus and the peace of mind He gives us with His perfect love.  We’ve got a champion who has promised never to leave us, but to guide us with His Spirit while we live and then take us to be with Him when we die. What do the atheists have but a cruel and random universe, a body and brain that are just a hash of cells, and when they die -- the cold, black nothingness of the grave. No wonder they are much more likely to commit suicide.

What are our lessons from the latest Jesus-stompers?  First, don’t send your college-age kids to FAU. In fact, chose their college very carefully since about 51% of college professors say they’re Democrats, who are much less likely to believe in God than are Republicans according to Pew Research Center surveys.  Only about 14% of college teachers are Republicans. As a result, for decades institutions of higher education have been liberal propaganda factories working tirelessly to turn our children away from traditional Christian values and into secular “progressives.” True to form, FAU’s Professor Poole is in fact the co-chair of his local Democrat Party.   

The other lesson is to turn even more jubilantly to God this Easter, rejoicing in His redemptive grace through His Son, who is also Him. We are very blessed to worship a God who loves us so much He sacrificed Himself so we could be with Him in eternity.  We have everything and the atheists have nothing.  Their silly little God-stomping dance will always be found out and exposed for the pathetic nihilistic exercise it is.


You can also read this piece at Breakpoint: http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/articles/entry/12/21841


 
 
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The epic History Channel series, The Bible, started a couple of Sundays ago. It was quite good I thought, though everyone’s teeth sure looked white and sparkly in those pre-toothpaste days, and I'm always annoyed to hear ancient Israelites speaking in plummy British accents.

Also the first episode left out little details like the Ten Commandments re-play the Lord was forced to do when Moses smashed the first copy of the Big Ten upon discovering the Israelites worshipping a golden calf the minute his back was turned. Oh, and the film also left out even a mention of the 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and why that happened.  

But editing the Bible seems to be rampant these days since so many of us carbon-based life forms are so much smarter than its Author. Bill O’Reilly set himself up as Biblical editor when he had the film makers on his show recently and freely opined that the Good Book is chock full of allegory. How, he asked the movie folks, could they possibly believe stories like Jonah being swallowed by the whale and surviving, and Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? Obviously couldn’t have happened so you can’t take the Bible literally, insisted O’Reilly, a devoted Catholic.

Based on O’Reilly’s editorial standards, nearly everything in the Bible is suspect. If God is just being metaphorical about Lazarus, what about the resurrection of Jesus, the central faith tenet upon which all of Christianity is based? If Jonah and the whale are just a campfire story, doesn’t the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus), being saved from devouring lions (Daniel), felling a city’s walls by marching around blasting on trumpets (Joshua) and lots more fall into the same ya-gotta-be-kidding category?

These events seem to be outside what we know of how the natural world operates, and that’s why some who pride themselves as rationalists object to them. But if God created the natural world, doesn’t He make the rules and can’t He break them if He wishes to achieve the results He wants? And if He can’t how could He be God?

Many can accept His miracles but they want to edit God because they disagree with His moral judgments. Think of that: people actually think God is wrong about right and wrong. Personally, I try not to stand next to any of these audacious types in a lightning storm.
Yet I know committed Christians who say they believe the Bible is mostly God’s inspired Word, but still feel entitled to cross out certain chunks because they disagree with God’s morality.  For example, friends have told me I’m a bigot for noting that through the Apostle Paul in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Tim. 1:10) as well as the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the visiting angels,(Gen. 19:1-5) God clearly says homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus18:22).

So is God a bigot? Is Paul, Christianity’s one-man public relations firm who wrote nearly half the New Testament, a bigot? Neither God nor Paul ever said that homosexuals themselves are an abomination, just that this behavior violates God’s morality. Since Christianity is all about forgiveness and reaching out to sinners, those who say God hates homosexuals couldn’t be more wrong.
Editing God has gone so far that some religious “leaders” even write very popular books decrying hell as a total fiction; just another fantasy from the crowded stable of God’s metaphors.  But hell comes up so often in the Old Testament and Jesus talks so specifically about hell as an actual place where unbelievers suffer eternal punishment (Matt. 5:22, 10:28; Luke 12:5; and more) that it’s hard to wish it away, even to entice new churchgoers in the door.

And please don’t say the Bible can’t be taken literally because Leviticus forbids shrimp cocktails as Bible-mockers love to point out. (Also not on the menu: oysters, lobster, and any finless sea creatures.) If you’ve ever eaten shrimp on the beach – in Mexico, or in Greece for instance -- you know that God in His mercy created this dietary law to spare us an inevitable 24 hours of gut-wrenching misery and an epic bathroom clean-up. In a steamy hot, refrigerator-less place like ancient Israel, the wily crustacean could even claim human lives.  

When you’re tempted to get out the red pencil and revise the Bible to your liking, first consider:  what exactly are your qualifications to correct and improve the work of the Creator of the Universe? And second: once you start, how do you stop?


 
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    Joy Overbeck says hi !

    I'm a Colorado-based journalist and author who has written articles for national mags like Redbook, Reader's Digest, Parents, TV Guide, Cosmopolitan, Health and others, as well as local pubs like 5280 Magazine, Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine, LUXE, Vail Valley Magazine, and others. I've also authored three books, two of them humor books published by Pocket Books, Simon&Schuster. I have a couple of horses and ex-husbands, a lovely cat, and a huge curiosity about God and politics, all the stuff we're not supposed to talk about.

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