Friday, July 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus 'my hope': he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. 'Christ my hope' means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfilment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity."

--Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Address, Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012

Monday, July 18, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Genuine human rights are inalienable and must be universally respected and advanced. In consequence, however, the term 'human right' must be strictly and prudently applied, lest it become a rhetorical catch-all, endlessly expanded to suit the passing tastes of the age. Such an elastic approach would discredit and undermine the very concept of human rights. A responsible exercise of human rights necessarily implies a faithful fulfillment of their corresponding responsibilities."

--Archbishop Bernardino Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, July 12, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Starmus v. Festival of Creation

This month, a bevy of prominent astronomers, former astronauts, and other noted scientists from around the world joined up with rock musicians to collectively present the Starmus conference-festival in the Canary Islands, which was attended by hundreds of wealthy science and music enthusiasts from the United States and other countries. This interesting two-week event, which has been held in the same location every two or three years since 2011, was co-founded by Armenian astrophysicist Garik Israelian and his British friend, Queen guitarist Brian May, who conceived it as an attractive blend of science and music (the name, Starmus, is short for "stars and music"). During the last few years, this exclusive summertime conference-festival--which was initially considered a bit eccentric--has grown increasingly popular, drawing an ever-larger number of touristy attendees. It features talks by individual astronomers and scientists, roundtable discussions on specific issues related to science, and meet-and-greet sessions with participants during the daytime hours, and ear-splitting rock concerts by May and company in the evening hours. The genius behind the concept of putting scientific presentations and musical entertainment together in a single event, held at a popular tourist destination to boot, is evident from the fact that this festival is resonating with a rapidly growing audience. People want to take a break to travel and enjoy God's creation during the summer; they want to learn something about the latest science and astronomy discoveries from the leaders in those fields; and they want to listen to music. And these wants are not just whims or preferences, but fundamental human needs for relaxation, education, and entertainment. There is a basic hunger for these things, and Starmus is out to fill it. The question is whether this particular scientific gathering and rock festival, which is now an accepted part of twenty-first century Western popular culture, really satisfies these basic human needs.

For me, the major problem with Starmus lies in the ideological and philosophical thrust of the event, which is decidedly Darwinist, materialistic, and atheistic. One of the best-known keynote speakers at multiple events has been Richard Dawkins, the infamous evolutionary biologist, religious bigot, and spokesman for the Darwinist worldview, which is the opposite of the Christian worldview. By contrast, no devoutly Christian astronomers and scientists--not even award-winning and world-famous ones--are ever invited to speak at the conference-festival. There has been very little talk about God or the relationship between science and religion at Starmus thus far, and when such discussions do occur, God is treated mainly as a curiosity, as an aside, and religion is generally viewed as a private, subjective matter subordinate to science, which is hailed as the real and only source of accurate information about the world we live in. Basically, there is no real room for God on the stage at Starmus, where the organizers and VIPs dismiss God the Creator as unnecessary and irrelevant and thus dare to exalt themselves above their Maker. This essentially atheistic guiding philosophy also dictates the type of music offered at the event, which--as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote--is "the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship" (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, 2000, p. 148). And then there is the relatively minor issue of the exclusive nature of this event; only those who can afford to travel to the Canary Islands can participate in it.

Yes, unfortunately, Starmus is a highly secularist and elitist event that accurately reflects the  ideological drift of our contemporary Western culture. It denies God, the Creator of the universe and of humanity, the acknowledgement and glory that rightly belong to Him, replacing rational faith in God with irrational faith in blind evolutionary forces that supposedly shape all of reality with no ultimate meaning or purpose whatsoever. Whatever nuggets of good may be found in the Starmus festival, as a whole it is an event profoundly steeped in the darkness of error, a product of human arrogance and foolishness.

A few years ago, as I was reflecting about this, an inspiration came to me: Why not start a different kind of scientific conference and music festival based on the Starmus model, but shaped by Christian faith and traditional values? Such a conference-festival could be called the Festival of Creation, and unlike Starmus, which lasts two weeks and is held every two years on the same remote island, this event would be a few days to a week long and would be held annually each summer right here in the United States, in a different city and state each year, to give people all over this country the opportunity to attend at some point in their lives without having to spend a fortune on travel. Ideally, this event would not be held in a major metropolis, but rather in a medium-sized city surrounded by the natural beauty of God's creation, with the necessary facilities to accommodate up to about 10,000  participants in the first few years. Opening with a prayer, the conference would feature talks and presentations by believing scientists and theologians from across the denominational spectrum, all of whom would be free to speak openly about their faith in God and Jesus Christ. It would also feature informal roundtable discussions that would examine such topics as  science and religion, faith and reason, weather and climate change, environmental issues, good stewardship of creation, the development of sustainable energy resources, and space exploration. The roster of invited speakers would include creationists and Intelligent Design proponents as well as theistic evolutionists (those who believe God used evolutionary processes to develop his creation gradually over time). Some great keynote speakers to invite would include planetary scientist and Carl Sagan Medal winner Brother Guy Consolmagno; renowned DNA geneticist Dr. Francis Collins; well-known creation theologian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn; and noted creationist Ken Ham, founder of the Answers in Genesis theme park in Kentucky. On the basis of their shared faith in the Creator, these speakers would hopefully engage in respectful and charitable dialogue with one another both on and off the stage concerning their different perspectives on how God created everything. This conference would also feature religious testimonies by former atheistic and agnostic scientists who have since come to belief in the Creator (hint hint: former Starmus stars who see the light would be most welcome!). And in the evenings, uplifting and entertaining concerts would feature praise and worship music offered by popular Christian soft rock and pop bands as well as classical music performances with creation-inspired themes by talented artists, all for the glory of God.

While the Festival of Creation would be primarily a Christian event organized by Christians and for Christians, other people of good will who share our faith in God the Creator would also be welcome to attend. Unlike the expensive, exclusive, and worldly shindig in the Canary Islands, this event would be a wholesome, accessible, family-friendly gathering of like-minded believers to celebrate God's creation and enjoy some good fellowship and inspirational music, all while giving the Creator the worship and honor and glory He deserves. And unlike Starmus, which wallows in the darkness of human error, the Festival of Creation would bask in the bright light of revealed truth. Finally, in contrast to Starmus, which discourages and weakens faith in God the Creator, the Festival of Creation would encourage and strengthen such faith while offering an attractive and needed witness to the growing ranks of nonbelievers of the true origin and purpose of their existence. People need a good vacation, they need to relax and enjoy God's creation, and they need to be entertained; but above all, amid this ever more radically secularist culture, people are starving for the truth, and that is the most important thing the Festival of Creation would deliver: the truth that all the goodness and beauty of the cosmos is the handiwork of a great, wise, infinitely powerful and loving and awesome God, who created everything through his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, and who holds everything in existence, ceaselessly guarding and mysteriously guiding creation at every moment with His providential care.

Is anybody with me on this? What do you think? Please let me know by leaving your comments and suggestions below.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Quote of the Day

"The people who are persecuted for righteousness' sake are those who live by God's righteousness--by faith. Because man constantly strives for emancipation from God's will in order to follow himself alone, faith will always appear as a contradiction to the 'world'--to the ruling powers at any given time. For this reason, there will be persecution for the sake of righteousness in every period of history. This word of comfort is addressed to the persecuted Church of all times. In her powerlessness and in her sufferings, she knows that she stands in the place where God's Kingdom is coming."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 89

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Little History You Probably Didn't Know

"Contrary to a widespread misconception, the 56 signers did not sign as a group and did not do so on July 4, 1776. The official event occurred on August 2, 1776, when 50 men probably took part. Later that year, five more apparently signed separately and one added his name in a subsequent year. Not until January 18, 1777, in the wake of Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton, did Congress, which had sought to protect the signers from British retaliation for as long as possible, authorize printing of the Declaration with all their names listed. At this time, Thomas McKean had not yet penned his name.

"The most impressive signature is that of John Hancock, President of Congress, centered over the others. According to tradition, Hancock wrote boldly and defiantly so that King George III would not need spectacles to identify him as a 'traitor' and double the reward for his head. The other Delegates signed in six columns, which ran from right to left. They utilized the standard congressional voting order, by colony generally from north to south: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

"Those who signed on August 2 undoubtedly did not realize that others would follow them and thus allowed no room to accommodate the signatures of the later six men. Two of them, George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee, found ample room above their fellow Virginians. One, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, crowded his name into the space between the Massachusetts and Rhode Island groups. Two of the others--Thomas McKean and Oliver Wolcott--signed at the bottom of columns following their State delegations. Only Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire needed to add his name separately from his colleagues--at the bottom of the first column on the right at the end of the Connecticut group."

--from the book Men of Freedom: Profiles of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (Pathmaker Books, 1975), pp. 23-24 (Note: In addition to biographical sketches of all fifty-six of the signers, this wonderful old book includes the historical background of the Declaration of Independence and tells what happened to the original document of the Declaration in the two hundred years following its publication. Unfortunately, this treasure has been out of print for many years and is now very difficult, if not impossible, to find.)