Friday, October 29, 2010

Here's a vote for a Christian voice
April 2006

By Paul Viggiano

After six months of regular church attendance, the atheist/attorney finally called for an appointment. I was thrilled! Was there a transformation? Had the Lord touched his heart? People come to church for all sorts of reasons. Why had he been coming so consistently? I was more than happy to meet with him; a bit curious, too.

He sat across from me in my study. He had listened to me for hours. Now I would listen to him. A thinker, he had pondered Christianity, but there were roadblocks. He voiced them.

"Why do Christians insist," he asked, "on forcing their political and ethical beliefs upon others?" I hadn't anticipated this question. He just didn't understand why something as personal and intimate as one's faith, had to spill over into politics. After all, faith is so holy and politics is so ... political.

I'd heard this before.

As a Christian, I am often bombarded by some undefined segment of our culture chastising me for seeking to "force" my beliefs on others and, as a March 15 letter to the editor asserts, "insist that they live by morality."

There seems to be legitimate confusion and even frustration. Here's my explanation:

I asked my lawyer/friend if he thought I should vote. He said I should. To him, voting was serious business. People ought to vote! Good Americans vote! But isn't it logically necessary that, in the very act of voting, one is seeking to force his beliefs upon everyone who is voting against whatever he is voting for? (You may wish to read that sentence again ... I'll wait.)

It doesn't seem consistent to tell me I should vote and then tell me that I shouldn't seek to force my beliefs upon others. That is exactly what voting does.

Walk with me into the booth:

The propositions and candidates stare at me from the confusing little punch-card booklet. Vote "Yes" vote "No" vote for "ME!" It seems I have some decisions to make. Should marriage be only between a man and a woman? Should it be illegal to terminate babies prior to birth? Should murderers be put to death? Should creation be taught in schools? Should the Pledge of Allegiance include some reference to God?

These decisions lie before us. Can you hear the question begging? When we vote, whose beliefs should we be seeking to force upon others? I believe the reasonable and conscientious vote to all of the above should be "Yes." It's someone else's belief that the vote be "No." Either way, somebody is seeking to force his beliefs on somebody else. In a society where people vote, this is simply unavoidable.

Since voters necessarily seek to force their beliefs upon others, it would appear that the actual objection is against those who have a religious genesis for their system of ethics and beliefs. People don't want religion forced upon them. If by saying this people mean they don't want to be forced to attend church against their will, I say "Amen."

But people fail to understand that Christianity is a world view. My faith is not like my health club or butcher who I visit and then forget about when I move on to a different category in my life. My faith informs every aspect of my life, including politics.

Why is it appropriate for certain people to vote in a manner consistent with what they learned from their parents or tabloids or sit-coms, but it is inappropriate for me to vote in a manner consistent with what I've learned from reading sacred scripture? After all, I think the scriptures are the zenith of truth and wisdom.

Why does the origin of my ideals somehow disqualify them (or me) from playing a part in the public arena? Why are the teachings of Moses and the Apostle Paul considered unacceptable influences in the venue of civic conscience, while the sentiments of Reiner, Moore and Penn are deemed admissible? It seems hardly fair to disqualify my opinion because you don't like its origin.

My attorney/friend's confusion was assuaged. I'm not sure if he was convinced. But if he wasn't, it's not because there was no reasonable answer to his question.

People should vote in a manner consistent with their highest beliefs. The Christian source for the highest ideals is the Bible. It trumps all human wisdom. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart," the Proverbs teach, "and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." That includes politics.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Afternoon at the Mosque

Dialogue and - delightfully - definitions at mosque open house
By The Rev. Paul Viggiano
Posted: 10/24/2010 05:31:42 PM PDT
Updated: 10/24/2010 09:58:49 PM PDT

In an effort to assuage the general discomfort many Americans' experience vis- -vis the Islamic religion, the Islamic Center of South Bay (along with numerous other mosques in Southern California) hosted an open house. I attended and, for the most part, it was a profitable and illuminating event.

I was delighted at the panel of Muslims who were willing to address politically charged questions without the normal political equivocations. There was an open and unanimous denouncement of the actions of terrorists committing atrocities in the name of Allah. One professor on the panel, Dr. Jamil Momand, explained that a fatwa (an Islamic decree) had been signed by the Islamic community uniformly branding the terrorist activities as heinous.

Significant disparity arose during the afternoon regarding the history of the Islamic religion. The panel had a different view of history than many of the visitors. Several guests saw Muslims as the perpetrators of great evil, whereas the panel saw Muslims more in the role of victims - especially over who has a right to the land in the Middle East. Clearly, the different communities have conflicting resources regarding actual historical events.

What I found particularly helpful and instructive were the panel's answers to the religious distinctions between Muslims, Jews and Christians. One panelist, Hafez Hafez, was quick to point out that Muslims believe in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But further analysis showed that the Muslim's view of Christianity differs from a Christian's view of Christianity. Whereas they believe Jesus was a prophet, they do not believe Jesus to be the son of God and vehemently disagree with the notion of Jesus dying on the cross to deliver men from the guilt of their sins.

According to Islam, men are saved from hell by acknowledging their sin and stopping it. This is substantially inconsistent with the Christian's view of salvation, which is obtained by the grace of God through faith in the cross and resurrection of Christ - good works following as evidence of true faith.

The virtually impossible question that couldn't be answered by the panel was: Does anybody ever truly stop sinning and just how good does one have to be to escape hell? It was here that the words of the late John Gerstner rang true, "the Christian faith is the only religion where men don't save themselves."

The source of the disagreement about the person and work of Christ, according to the panel, arose from variants or errors in the Bible. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are respected by Muslims who view themselves as descendants of Abraham through Ishmael (whereas as Jews and Christians would identify more with Isaac) and men of "the book." Nonetheless, their respect for the Scriptures only goes so far. They were very clear that the Bible has errors but the Quran does not.

Arguments for the veracity of the Quran were given by panelist Adeel Syed. These arguments included the beauty of its writing, its effect upon people, its fulfilled prophecies and its consistency with science. Similar arguments are often made for the Bible.

It may sound odd for a Christian minister to find this kind of dialogue refreshing - I certainly do not agree with the Islamic religious propositions. But living in a society where so few are willing to make any clear authoritative statements whatsoever becomes nauseating - as is evidenced by today's political campaigning.

Dialogues are reduced to meaningless drivel if people aren't willing to make, and seek to defend, some form of propositional truth.
Truth loves a definition. And though I do not agree with the truths espoused by the Islamic religion, at least they had the courage and integrity to state them, which made the event profitable.

The Rev. Paul Viggiano is pastor of the Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Torrance (e-mail:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where in the Constitution?

I do not know the Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell at all, other than the hype over her supposed First Amendment debacle. But in her defense:

Separation of church and state is not mentioned in the constitution.

The clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is not synonymous with the phrase ‘separation of church and state.’ In context this clause means the government would not (as it literally states) make a law respecting the establishing of a religion. The most obvious example they were seeking to avoid being something similar to The Church of England. There would be no Church of America.

Demonstrably more foolish than anything Christine O’Donnell said was Ken Paulson’s drivel (even when he had time to think about it). The President of the First Amendment Center said the First Amendment “means that creationism cannot be taught in America’s public schools.” Now this is what should have made everyone laugh.

Blinding flash of the obvious moment: The Declaration of Independence states: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” If, Mr. Paulson, the First Amendment means that creationism cannot be taught, how is it that the Declaration of Independence refers to a Creator (with a capital ‘C’)? Acknowledging a Creator necessarily supposes a creation. And I’m pretty sure the Declaration of Independence is a government document.

Who made you president of the First Amendment Center? I declare myself president of the First Amendment….ummm….Alliance, yeah, Alliance.