Straw God

I don’t want to sound like a jerk about this, but I probably will anyway, so here goes.

cosmic-christThe vast number of oh-so-clever arguments that I see and hear from atheists are, at their core, straw man arguments.

“Straw Man” is a logical fallacy used to reach the desired conclusion, in this case, that God doesn’t exist, because He doesn’t meet your requirements.

For instance, “God doesn’t exist because no all-powerful being who is truly good would create evil and suffering.”

If you’re going to argue against the existence of God logically, you have to argue against the existence of the God that believers believe in, the God of the Bible, the God who not just created everything, but redeemed it after the fall of mankind at the cost of His Son’s life.

But He didn’t create evil. Someone else came up with that, and He knew it would happen from the beginning, and He had a contingency planned for it in advance. That’s what scripture says.

Work within the mythos, if you you believe it to be mythic, but work within it as a matter of integrity.

You can have all kinds of theodicy-based problems with God — believers do too; welcome to the club — but if you’re going to argue against His existence logically and honestly, then argue against the same God that believers believe in.

If you accuse God of being evil because He allows heinous evil in the world, you’re not accusing the God of scripture. The God that believers know embodies good and yet allows evil to exist because He is good. It’s not an oxymoron: He gives His created children a real choice between good and evil because having a real choice is good for them.

We chose wrong, and hideous evil infests the world to this day because we continue to choose it — to choose self; to be our own gods in our own lives — and He allows it so that we can learn from the real consequences of our real choices to wise up and choose good instead.

The God of scripture doesn’t delight in suffering, but He does suffer along with His children when they perpetuate suffering. He became human to experience it first-hand. He loved His children enough to suffer the consequences of sin — including death itself — just as we do, even when He had not sinned at all.

But there’s the sticking point: That word “sin.” If you’re an atheist and there is no god in your life beyond yourself, there can be no “sin,” can there? Whatever you choose is right and good, because you’re in charge of your own life and you determine where the moral high ground is.

And that pretty much vanishes if you turn that job over to Someone infinitely more qualified than yourself.

So, the thing to do is create a god in your own image and discredit that god according to your moral code, which is better that Straw God’s code. And that justifies your choice.

Sorry, your logical slip is showing.

I know, because I’ve made it and worn it myself, a hundred times, even as a believer in the real, genuine God of scripture and grace and the universe.

Been there.

Done that.

It doesn’t work.

Just trust me on this. Be honest. Argue with the God of scripture, and if He still doesn’t measure up, be willing to dive in deeper and study more cogently and accept it if you get an answer that doesn’t elevate your code of morality above His.

And let me share with you what always brings me back the real, genuine God of scripture and grace and the universe:

When He was tortured to death at the hands of those He loved, He forgave, and died, and death could not hold Him because ultimately death is a consequence of self-indulgence that He could never deserve — because He created us, and loved us more than Himself even though we love ourselves more than Him.

God is ever so much more than any attempts to make Him a Wicker Man of straw.

He is God, and though we may never fully grasp what that means, He is also Jesus of Nazareth, scourged within an inch of death, pinioned to a cross, buried in a tomb, raised to guarantee that life need not end.

And that is His argument for Himself that you must discredit, if you discredit Him at all.

Sorry if it makes me a jerk to point this out.

But not very sorry.

The threats we don’t see coming

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the sixth installment.

(originally published September 20, 2002)

Most of us parents, I think, do our best to protect our kids from the threats we can see coming. We have them fingerprinted at a table set up by the police department or a parents’ group in front of Wal-Mart. We attach a school picture to it, maybe even a lock of hair for a DNA sample — if we’re willing to envision a worst-case scenario.

We restrict them to the part of the neighborhood visible from our doors … buy them helmets and shin-guards and elbow-pads … try to get them to eat nutritious meals … make sure they brush their teeth.

Maybe even install protective software on our home computers and program v-chips on our TV sets.

I’ve even seen little black boxes for sale that filter out a fair percentage of objectionable language from the television.

But recently I’ve become concerned about some threats I haven’t seen coming; threats broadcast to my kids’ minds and hearts, so subtle that no little black box can filter them out:

Greed. I know commercials are there to sell stuff. (I used to write them.) I’m glad that advertising gives us free television programming. I don’t think my kids need — or truly even want — most of what they think they want. So I’ve started countering with “Well, if you’re still talking about it by Christmas (or your birthday), I’ll know you really, really want it.” It scares me when I hear myself repeating my mom, but sometimes I can’t do better.

And I still see too many characters in kids’ TV programs who live for nothing but accumulation, for better or worse.

A preoccupation with things that are just plain gross. I’m not talking about Gak or Slime coating the willing participants of kids’ game shows. I mean the almost-constant references on the new cartoons to rotted food and excretions that only ear, nose and throat specialists should have to deal with. I guess it’s harmless now … but where will programming go when those references seem tame?

Gender prejudice, and a disturbing portrayal of virtually all adults as completely incompetent. Adult television, in many ways, has become so self-conscious about not offending minorities of any description that it suffers from “Stupid White Male Syndrome” — the only people portrayed as dumb are white men. Kids’ TV shows, and especially those Saturday morning “teen” shows, seem to get around that conceit by pitting one gender against the other in a never-ending smarter-stronger-cooler-better competition. In these shows, all grown-ups are idiots. Which leads me naturally to ….

Smarmy attitudes; smart-mouth insults and put-downs. This staple of “grownup” TV humor is now the rule for kids’ TV, too … as well as young characters with that attitude that once only Eddie Haskell had and nobody admired. They act as if they respect adults, but only when adults are around. The insults, though, are not restricted to adults, and they are as biting and acerbic as anything H.L. Mencken could have generated.

And have you noticed that the items hawked by the commercials on these shows are too young for teens?

I really see only one defense against the onslaught. I have to sit down with my kids when they watch. Occasionally, I have to let them know where I sit on an issue: “Gross!” “That comment was unnecessary.” “Is that really the way people ought to talk to each other?”

Sometimes my kids respond, “Dad! It’s just a TV show.”

That’s fine.

As long as they know that.

When we’re not sure, there’s always the “off” button.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Unstuffing rooms takes a Labor Day

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the fifth installment.

(originally published August 16, 2002)

Maybe it was because we’ve been reading “Little House on the Prairie” with Matthew.

Maybe it was because we’ve been reading “Bearenstain Bears: Too Much Stuff” with Laura.

Maybe it was because we had gone to one of those prairie settlement recreations with the kids the Saturday before and saw how little the pioneers got by with.

Maybe it was just because Angi has been vowing to do this for months.

Whatever the reason, we spent most of our Labor Day un-stuffing the kids’ rooms. We laid out the big black lawn-waste bags in the hall. Matthew made signs for them reading “Toys Only” and “Trash Only.” And we dived in head-first, because that was really the only way to get into their rooms.

It’s incredible how much stuff accumulates there, because our kids not only want every toy they see on television, but also to keep it forever, plus the box or blister it came in. When the accumulation gets past a certain point of diminishing returns, it’s too intimidating for a grade-schooler to tackle alone.

We knew that The Great Un-Stuffing would take coaching, so we split up: Angi with Matthew and Laura with me. I mention them in that order because little Laura is better about divesting her stuff than I am. Only once did she ask if we could keep something: her doll stroller, and in the garage.

“There’s no room in the garage,” I said. “You know that.”

She just looked at me. She knows whose stuff fills the garage to overflowing: mine.

While I worked at organizing and weeding out trash, Laura filled one of those lawn-waste bags with her working (but outgrown) cast-offs in pretty short order. No tears, no wailing. We didn’t hear any from next door, either, where Mom and Brother were working.

In fact, he filled two of those bags with his toys and one with trash.

We labored nearly all of Labor Day.

In the end, they had vacuum-able, navigable floors … desk space they could actually use for writing and drawing … accessible toys and clothes.

— As well as a lot of pride in what they had accomplished.

Mom and I were proud of them, too. Though we were tempted, we didn’t offer any kind of reward — edible treat, swimming or museump trip, or (heaven forbid) new toy — for their work. Our instincts were on-target this time: having the clean room was its own reward for them.

I wish I could have taken the kids with me when dropping off their stuff at the Goodwill collection center. But they’ve been there before, and have seen the smiles and heard the thanks given back by the folks there.

We used to put our unwanted stuff in a garage sale. We’ve done pretty well at that, too. I don’t think we’ve ever made less than $400. One of those garage sales in a toasty garage on a blistering August afternoon in Abilene made us swear them off for good. We always ended up donating the unsold stuff anyway, so now we just skip the part about having the garage sale first.

I think the best reward for me was overhearing the kids react to a commercial the morning after The Great Un-Stuffing.

“I want that,” Laura giggled. “Matthew, do you want that?”

He thought. “Not really,” he said. “I can do without it.”

“Yeah,” she replied.

Excuse me, please.

I’ve got to go un-stuff the garage.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Children without heroes perplex Dad

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the fourth installment.

(originally published September 6, 2002)

Dear Readers,

I know it shouldn’t be the parenting columnist asking for advice in the column, but I can’t help it.

I’m completely distraught. My children have no heroes. At least, none that they’re willing to tell me about.

I asked Laura, 6, who her heroes were — hoping, expecting to hear “The Little Mermaid” or even “Barbie,” but she just shrugged, “I dunno.”

I asked Matthew, 9, and his eyes just twinkled; a smile quivered at the corner of his mouth and he said, “Ed from ‘Ed, Edd and Eddy’ ” — a carton on Nickelodeon that he knows I don’t particularly like because all of the characters are doofuses.

When I was a kid, I had heroes. I made do with “Batman” until “The Green Hornet” came along — he was much cooler — and I discovered “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” in its last season. Napoleon Solo was okay, but Ilya Kuryakin had the patent on cool. The guy with pointed ears on “Star Trek” could neck-pinch them all to oblivion, though.

I still have heroes, though my definitions of “cool” and “hero” have changed over the years. (Matured, I like to think.)

Now I have heroes like Richard and Linda, folks with ordinary jobs who pretty much put their two kids throug hcollege at ACU, and — at the same time — a student from Africa who had lived with them throughout his high school years.

I have heroes like Bob and Kathy, who — with their natural children pretty much grown — are foster parents for babies in transition for adoption. They fell in love with two special needs children and adopted them, rearing them to ages 9 and 14 now, I think.

I have heroes like Robert and Michelle, whose son Riley suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at two weeks of age. Now 3, he’s learning at Easter Seals to communicate the only way he can — with American Sign Language. Did I mention he has two older sisters and a younger brother?

I have heroes like Angela, a single parent who for years desperately waited for a kidney transplant while rearing her three kids — now teenagers — from her wheelchair. She couldn’t even make herself pray for a transplant, because she was afraid the price would be some other children’s parent. Her friends prayed for her. But the transplant never happened, and she passed from this life last spring.

So I have some ordinary heroes, too: people who check that little box on their drivers’ licences to donate their organs.

You can understand why I’m distraught, can’t you. I’ve always had heroes. I thought every kid had heroes, needed heroes — those brave, super-powered unconquerables whose secret identities you would never, ever share. Not with your friends, not even with your best friends, especially not with your … parents.

Oh. Yeah.

That’s right. If you leaked their secret identities, they’d lose their super powers … their abilities to do mighty deeds … because they’d never have time off from being heroes. Come to think of it, my kids know all of the heroes I’ve described.

Never mind, dear readers.

Forget I asked.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Shameless spanker admits to the practice

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the third installment. It was not controversial.

(originally published August 30, 2002)

I spank my kids.

There. I admit it, you can hate me for it, and that’s fine. I’m convinced that my kids don’t, and that’s all that matters.

So I have to take issue with the detractors of spanking. That includes one former Reporter-News parenting columnist who recommended that when a child misbehaves to the point of driving you crazy, you should take a hot bath, light some candles, and play soft music.

While the child — in this case it was a two-year-old — parents himself … possibly by giving himself permission to tear the house apart or otherwise endanger himself.

To clear up any misconceptions, I don’t beat my children. I don’t abuse them. I spank their bottoms. I use my hand.

In my book, to hit anywhere else would be insulting, disrespectful, abusive. In my book, to hit with anything other than the hand would be the same, at least in this time and culture. My hand is a good gauge of how much pain I’m inflicting and gives me pretty good indication of when to quit.

And I think my hand should hurt when the punishment is applied, because my child’s failure to obey almost always means that I’ve failed — at least in part — to communicate to them that the punished behavior is unacceptable, and why.

I can still remember the last time my mother spanked her disobedient, only son — even though I’ve long since forgotten why. She turned me across her knee and administered the spanking with such frenzy that she hurt her hand badly, popping a small blood vessel.

I was too old to be physically hurt, but it broke my heart to see my mom crying because she was hurting so much. I remember promising her I would never make her want to punish me like that again. Then I hugged her and went to get her an ice pack.

I usually warn before I spank, unless the behavior is so heinous or so defiant that the shock of immediate punishment would make the warning less effective, rather than more. Two misbehaviors invariably warrant a spanking from me: Insolence, and hurting someone else. Hypocritical? I usually follow it with the explanation: “You seem to have forgotten that when you hit, it hurts the other person.”

I don’t have to spank often. Just often enough to convince my children that I will, in fact, do it when I’ve warned them.

One good swat will usually do the job. No use overdoing it. I’ve made my point.

Those of you who are rolling your eyes and trying to think of a way to file suit against me are probably thinking, “Now he’s probably going to say that his children respect him for it.”

Well, yeah. In part. I think the other part is far more important: that I let them know that I unquestionably, undeniably, unchangingly love them no matter how they behave.

I want my kids to fear me in the same way that I think the biblical writers enjoin their audience to fear a loving God. I want them to know right from wrong while they’re young.

Because if they misbehave when they’re older, law enforcement officials will not go sit in a bath surrounded by candles while listening to soft music.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Parental pride takes form of a party

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the second installment.

(originally published August 16, 2002)

A couple of weeks ago, families in our small group at church gathered in our living room to have a “parental blessing.” We’d been studying Christian parenting every Wednesday evening since September of last year and had come to the conclusion what we didn’t tell our kids often enough just how much we’re proud of them and why.

So six pairs of parents told our 15 children — ages 2 through 9 — exactly that. Together we gobbled down a potluck dinner where every family had contributed ingredients to curry chicken. The kids played together for a while, as they always do. Then we collected everyone.

The dads read a short scripture that has special meaning for them when they’re interacting with their kids. Every reading was different, and each one gave a little more insight about that family. Since our two children are adopted, I read from Romans 8 and told them that not only is the whole creation on the edge of its seat waiting for God’s adoption, but that I’m sure He is, too — because I know how their mom and I felt, waiting for those who calls from our adoption agency.

Each parent, in turn, told each of their children one or two reasons why we are so proud of them, right there in front of their friends and family. And every kid beamed when hugged and kissed and given a simple white ribbon that said, “#1 Kid.”

The reasons were as varied as the kids’ natures and interests. It took a while … 45 minutes or more. There was a little squirming, but for the most part the children were riveted by the events. Parents expressed pride in athletic and academic achievement … in hobbies and interests … in sweet natures and curiosity and compassion. The very youngest one — a precious little blonde-curled toddler — gave her daddy extra pride “because she’s always singing happy little songs about Jesus.” When she heard that, she giggled and did a little dance of joy.

We briefly thanked God for them and prayed His blessing on them throughout their whole lives. Then we let them go play together again. (While romping, one 7-year-old girl fell on our sidewalk and knocked out two loose front teeth. We all scoured the walk for the missing teeth so that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t pass her by.)

Nobody complained that it took too long. None of the kids asked how they could all be “#1 Kid.”

Maybe curry chicken isn’t your taste. Maybe you could do without the prayer and the scripture. Maybe six or seven families and 15 kids is too many for your house. But I can’t help but think that every family would feel as uplifted as we did, just by getting together with dear friends and having a little parental pride party for the kids.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Despite flood, kid’s a happy camper

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the first installment.

(originally published August 16, 2002)

A few weeks back, nine-year-old Matthew went to camp. It was one of life’s milestones for him, and for us — his parents — too. For the first time ever, he was miles away from Mom and Dad and little sister for an entire week where phone calls to us are possible only in the gravest emergency; surrounded by a hundred or more diverse mentalities in a range of two years above and below him; supervised by other, slightly-older kids with whom I entrust my son but might not entrust my car.

We dropped him off Saturday afternoon. It was raining as we left. By Sunday morning, Mom was already fretting: “I hope he’s getting along okay.”

The weather forecast was for more rain in the camp’s area. She sent him a letter Monday morning.

By Wednesday afternoon, she was calling me from work. “Do you think we should go up to camp and go to church with him? I talked to some of the other parents and they said there are always a few who live there in town who drop in for assembly Wednesday night.”

Diplomatically, I said, “I’ll be glad to do whatever you decide. What I’m more concerned about is not that he’ll want to come home, but how you’ll react if the first thing he says is ‘Can I stay another week?’.”

We drove to the campground Wednesday night. It rained most of the trip, and when we got there the kids were gathered in the dining hall rather than outside. I dropped off Mom and little sister and parked. When I walked up, as far as I could tell, we were the only parents there.

Matthew was already telling Mom how he rode a horse that ran off with him and that his cabin had flooded and all his towels for the pool got soaked and the counselors found some more for him and how he and his cabin-mates were crowded into another cabin and could he show us now?

We asked his counselor if we could go see the new cabin, and he said sure. It felt funny, asking a high-schooler’s permission. We ducked between the raindrops. Matthew showed us the soaked, smelly old cabin and the clean, dry new cabin. He pointed and named each kid’s bunk. We took his soppy towels so they wouldn’t mildew.

It was time to go. The moment of truth had arrived. He opened his mouth, and I held my breath. “Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad. See you Saturday.”

The other shoe failed to drop. I can’t say the same for my jaw.

On the trip home, Mom turned to me. “The first thing he said was, ‘What are you doing here?’ The second thing he said was, ‘Can I stay another week?’.” I grinned.

She added, “I feel better now. You think I’m silly.”

“I don’t think it’s ever silly for you to be a Mom,” I said.

I should have told her that I felt better, too.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.