Rhino Horns and Poachers

Rhino Horns and Poachers

There’s an amazing balance in the design of living things in this world. Many times humans throw the system out of balance. The rhinoceros is endangered not because of natural predators, but because of humans. Rhino horns can sell for thousands of dollars for their collectible value and their use in traditional Asian medicine, so poachers take advantage of that.

People are willing to pay a high price for the rhino horns for decorative or medicinal purposes. Killing these animals to use their horns for decorative trophies is shameful. Killing them for medicine is useless. Their horns consist of only keratin, which is the same as human hair or fingernails. In reality, the rhino horn is one really tough bundle of nose hairs glued together by material extruded from sebaceous glands in the animal’s nose. Superstitious beliefs have caused people to grind the rhino horns into powder and drink the powder in water or inhale it for supposed health benefits.

Wild rhinos numbered over half-a-million at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today there are fewer than 30,000. The International Rhino Foundation reports that three rhinos are killed each day by poachers just to obtain their horns. Trying to catch the poachers and stop them in the act is nearly impossible. Sawing off the rhino’s horn to make it unattractive to poachers is not a good solution. Science is looking for a better way.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have designed fake rhino horns that look and feel like the real thing. More than that, they have similar material properties to the real horns. They used hairs from the tails of horses (close relatives of rhinos) and cemented them together with a silk-protein based organic filler. Molding the structure into the shape of a rhino horn, you get a realistic imitation. Even examining the internal structure on cross-section reveals identical characteristics. It also handles grinding and high temperatures like the real deal.

These fake rhino horns can be manufactured rather economically, so the rhinoceros horn market could be flooded with them to disrupt the black market. Furthermore, when the horns are ground into powder for medicinal purposes, they will be just as effective real horns, meaning not effective at all.

Education doesn’t work as long as people have superstitious religious beliefs about the power of rhino horns. Perhaps the fake horns will help. The best answer to the problem of human abuse of this well-designed world is to realize that the Creator has given us the job of being caretakers of the creation. (Genesis 2:15) If we believe there is a Creator who holds us responsible, we have good reason to handle the Earth and the life on it with care.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Death of the Marlboro Man

Death of the Marlboro Man

As science began to show the harmful effects of smoking, cigarette companies tried to dissuade fears by adding filters to their products. The Phillip Morris Company initially marketed the Marlboro brand as a cigarette for women. In 1954 the Leo Burnett advertising agency set out to reach a broader market by introducing the Marlboro Man.

Originally the ads featured rugged-looking men in various roles, but in the early 1960s, they settled on cowboys in “Marlboro Country.” The idea was to appeal to young men, “post adolescent kids” by using a masculine cowboy in a ranch setting. One of the men who played the role was a real rancher in Colorado by the name of Robert Norris. Executives at the advertising agency saw him in a newspaper picture with his friend, actor John Wayne. Norris had the looks and the ranch, where the agency took hundreds of photos of him for use in the ad campaign.

The Marlboro Man campaign was so successful that by 1972, Marlboro cigarettes were leading the industry. Robert Norris was not the first, or the last, Marlboro Man. But one interesting thing about him is that he didn’t smoke. In fact, according to his son Bobby, he told his children, “I don’t ever want to see you smoking.” Eventually, one of his children asked, “If you don’t want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials?” That day he called Phillip Morris and resigned from the job.

What can we learn from this? For one thing, as we have said before, human greed causes human suffering. Companies often follow the “survival of the fittest” mentality looking to enhance their bottom line at the expense of the public. Also, as every parent should know, our children will follow our example more than our words.

Norris was the Marlboro Man for 12 years, but he was not the only one. The campaign lasted until 1999. A major reason for its ending was the death of the actors who played the role and actually smoked. Five of them died of smoking-related illnesses. The cowboy theme of the campaign earned Marlboros the nickname “cowboy killers.” Robert Norris, who didn’t smoke, died in November of 2019 at age 90.

Norris’ friend, “six-pack-a-day” smoker John Wayne survived lung cancer in 1964 but died of stomach cancer in 1979. According to the “John Wayne Official” Twitter page, Norris and his wife “spent many Thanksgivings” with John Wayne. Perhaps John Wayne should have followed the example of Robert Norris. My father died from the effects of smoking more than 35 years ago, and this week I lost a friend because he was not able to kick the habit. Meanwhile, those who profit from smoking and vaping continue to demonstrate that they care more about money than people. They need to learn something about the concept of repentance.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Attitude of Gratitude

Attitude of Gratitude

When we read the teachings of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, we see how different they are from any other religious teaching in the world. Following those teachings would benefit all of the inhabitants of this planet. Jesus taught an essential attitude toward possessions and wealth. I have always enjoyed the phrase “attitude of gratitude.”

Americans have moved from an attitude of gratitude to an attitude of entitlement. There is no reason to give thanks for something if it was owed to us in the first place. We seem to jump from one “gimmie festival” to another as we go through the holidays. The result of this is stress, worry, anxiety, and all of the physiological disorders that go with this self-induced pressure.

Many years ago, Dr. Stephen Post, a physician at Case Western Medical School, shared some data on how people benefit from an attitude of gratitude in Guideposts Magazine (November 2007, page 78):

  • Just 15 minutes a day focusing on things you’re thankful for will significantly increase your body’s natural antibodies.
  • Naturally grateful people are more focused mentally and measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression.
  • A grateful state of mind induces a physiological state called resonance that’s associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Caring for others is draining. But grateful caregivers are healthier and more capable than less grateful ones.
  • Recipients of donated organs who have the most grateful attitudes heal faster.

How do Christians develop a natural gratitude that affords them these benefits? In the Psalms, the Hebrew word for thanks occurs 31 times. Psalms is a worship book that concentrates on praise to God. Thanksgiving is a vital part of the praise and worship of God. In the New Testament, there are 50 occurrences of the word “thanks.” The Hebrew word “towdah” and the Greek word “eucharista” convey pure worship and are translated “thanks.” Giving, being thankful, feeling gratitude for our blessings is pure worship, and it culminates in service to others.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV). Materialism is a serious source of pollution to our spiritual living. An attitude of gratitude can help to clear that pollution.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

This post is adapted from an article in the Does God Exist printed journal in 2009. You can read the entire article HERE.

The Concept of Repentance

The Concept of RepentanceOne of the most misunderstood aspects of the Christian faith is the concept of repentance. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, view repentance as a negative, oppressive act in which an individual is forced to verbally deny some pleasure that the religious establishment condemns. The fact is that the biblical concept of repentance is a positive, progressive movement toward the future.

The Old Testament refers to God repenting. Genesis 6:6-7 says, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Exodus 32:14, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11, and many other passages speak of God repenting. There is a Hebrew word “nacham,” which expresses God’s repentance. God is immutable in His being but changes his relationship and attitude.

The concept of repentance in humans uses the Hebrew word “shoob,” describing a positive, progressive change. Second Kings 23:25 says of Josiah that “there was no king before him which repented to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.” Many versions translate this concept to “turn” from destructive behavior to a positive one.

Repentance is a major theme of the New Testament. Examples are Acts 17:30, Mark 1:4 and 6:12, Luke 5:32 and 24:47. The word is also used in reference to congregations, as in Revelation 2:5,16 and 3:3. The Greek word used to describe this process is “metanoia,” with “meta” meaning change and “noia” referring to the mind. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words defines repentance as “a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook, and direction.”

Biblical examples give us a clearer picture of the concept of repentance. The city of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5-10 changed from a corrupt, immoral, violent, destructive place to one of peace and care. Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9 changed from a corrupt tax collector to an honest and generous supporter of the poor. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:19-21 changed from a drunken customer of the pleasure industry to a responsible citizen, and the Jews in Acts 2:38-41 changed from hypocritical, selfish legalists to benevolent Christians.

Repentance is not religious enslavement of humans, but a positive change. Jesus said in Matthew 3:8, “Bring forth fruits which prove your repentance.” Ephesians 4:22-24 speaks of “being mentally and spiritually remade … with a new nature made by God’s design.” Colossians 3:9-11 speaks of “putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is being remolded in knowledge.” Repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a positive change that we all need to make. Who would not like to see repentance in the politicians and rulers of the world, especially if that change involved the love and peace of Matthew 5 – 7?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Godly Love

Godly Love
The Bible describes godly love:
“God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. It is through this that love has attained its perfection in us in our being fearless on the day of judgment, for we realize that our life in this world is actually His life lived in us. There is no fear in love, for love, when perfect drives out fear because fear involves punishment. If a man fears, there is something imperfect in his love.” 1 John 4:16-18

I believe that the most misunderstood word in the English language is “love.” For most of our 21st-century population, love refers to sexual activity, and more and more, the music industry fosters that idea. Young people today speak of “making love” because the sexual concept is all that they have ever heard. The Bible is unique in its presentation of what love is about. You can’t make sense of “love your enemy” (Matthew 5:43-44) or “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) if the sexual notion of love is all you understand. The whole idea of loving God cannot be comprehended by a culture that has a sexual fixation on the word love.

The Greek language is far more useful in focusing on the complexities of love. There is a sexual connection to “love” in the Greek word “eros,” but that word is never used in the Bible. When discussing a wish or want, the Greek word “thelo” is used in Mark 12:38. When talking about the love of brethren, the Greek word “phileo” is used as in 1 Peter 3:8. The word “phileo” is used to describe something material or emotional. For example, “philarguros” refers to the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), while “philedonos” refers to the love of pleasure (2 Timothy 3:4) and “philautos” refers to the love of self (2 Timothy 3:2).

The most unique and spiritually important word for love in the New Testament is the noun “agape” and the verb form “agapao.” This is godly love—a love that values and esteems, an unselfish, serving love that has no sexual implications. This word is used 114 times in the New Testament and is described in passages like 1 John 4:7 to 5:3 and 1 John 3:16-18. The most touching example of the use of this word is in John 21:15 – 17, where Jesus keeps asking whether Peter loves Him by using the word “agapao” and Peter keeps answering with the word “phileo.”

A non-Christian cannot have or comprehend the agape type of love that Jesus expects from His followers. The teachings of Jesus are hard for many of us because we don’t have a concept of what it means to “agape” someone. Look at the passages in Matthew 5:43-44, John 15:12, Ephesians 5:25, Hebrews 1:9, and 1 John 4:12 and realize how we struggle with those teachings. God’s Spirit helps the obedient Christian, and we can learn to love spiritual things (John 3:19-21). We can build the new life described in Romans 6:4-14 and 1 John 4:15-19. John 3:16 makes perfect sense when we understand what godly love is all about.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Decline of Faith in God

Praying to God in spite of Decline of Faith in GodOne of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.

Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.

Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.

DOES GOD EXIST? has worked to fight this decline of faith in God since this ministry started in 1968. We help people build their faith in God, and we do it 24/7. We encourage you to go to our main website doesgodexist.org and see what we have available to help individuals and congregations. You can read all of Phil Sanders’ article at THIS LINK.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How to Become More Spiritual

How to Become More SpiritualWe recently received a question that perhaps all of us need to consider. The questioner wanted to know how to become more spiritual. We don’t find the word “spiritual” in the Old Testament of the Bible or in the gospels. It doesn’t refer to someone walking around piously, or a person who is in constant verbal prayer to impress others. It is not a “goody two shoes” word, and in fact, it can refer to evil and Satan. Ephesians 6:12, for example, says: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against SPIRITUAL wickedness in high places.”

Vines Dictionary of Biblical Words says that the word “spiritual” refers to “Things that have their origin with God and which, therefore, are in harmony with His character.” Romans 7:14 tells us that the law is spiritual, but it could not make humans spiritual. James 2:10 points out that if you are guilty of breaking one part of the law, you are guilty of the whole law. If you get arrested for stealing, the fact that you didn’t murder anyone will not exonerate you. The only way we can become more spiritual is through the grace of God and the power of the blood of Christ. First John 1:6-10 how to become more spiritual by “walking in the light,” and having a unique relationship with God through Christ.

Much of the New Testament instruction is aimed at helping Christians become more spiritual. Galatians 6:1 talks about using whatever strength we have to help each other, and verse 2 talks about bearing each other’s burdens. We can grow in sympathy, understanding, compassion, and all that goes into being a more spiritual person. Music can help us grow spiritually. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:13-17 talk about “spiritual songs.” Songs like “If I Have Wounded Any Soul Today” and “Trust and Obey” sung in our car as we drive or in our homes as we do our daily chores can help us. Praying to grow in spirituality is another excellent tool.

Learning and increasing in our knowledge of God and His Word can help us become stronger spiritually. Second Peter 3:18 states this directly, and 1 Peter 2:2 speaks of having a desire to grow. Ephesians 4:11-15 says that knowledge is a part of spiritual maturity, and Colossians 1:9-12 speaks of learning to know God. All of these Bible passages tell us how to become more spiritual.

Skeptics and atheists who follow “survival of the fittest” as the core foundation of their lives have no interest and no capability to be spiritual in a positive sense. “Spiritual wickedness in dark places” is well defined as “Things having their origin in Satan and which, therefore, are in harmony with his character.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Presenting Alternative Lifestyles to Young Children

Presenting Alternative Lifestyles to Young ChildrenWe have frequently pointed out that the teachings of Jesus Christ make it clear that we must love and respect those with whom we disagree. Matthew 5:39-48 is hard to misunderstand. We must not attempt to harm anyone, including those who might be teaching things that oppose what the Bible says. There is no excuse for those who claim to be Christians to physically attack anyone because they are a part of the LGBT movement. At the same time, we have to be concerned and vocally oppose those who promote immoral behavior, especially when it involves presenting alternative lifestyles to young children.

Recently the popular children’s show “Arthur” on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) ran an episode entitled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.” It featured a wedding ceremony between Mr. Ratburn and a character named Patrick. This program is funded by tax dollars and is aimed at preschool children. Disney has placed LGBT characters in the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast and its television cartoon series Doc McStuffins. Drag Queen events have been held in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, in programs aimed at preschool children.

LGBT leaders claim that these promotions of their lifestyles are no different than a PBS program on Christmas music, or Christmas events held in public venues. It would seem that presenting material to preschoolers about drag queens and gay marriage is far more complicated than historical stories. Since tax dollars fund PBS, and religious programming is constantly refused by the same media, it seems that promotion of the LGBT lifestyle should also be prohibited.

The bottom line is that parents need to monitor what their children are exposed to. You can’t rely on PBS or Disney to offer only factual and moral material and avoid presenting alternative lifestyles to young children.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Family Research Council, October 2019 newsletter pages 1-4.

Most Difficult Issues of Life

Most Difficult Issues of LifeI believe that one of the most difficult issues of life is what to do when…
…you have been told you are going to die
…you are in enormous pain
…there seems to be no hope of recovery
…your care is using up the inheritance of your children
…and quality of life for you is absolutely zero with no hope it will ever get better.

I have seen friends and family in that situation and observed it in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This issue is a growing problem because our population is aging. At my age, I find that when I read the obituaries in the South Bend Tribune, there is someone I know listed nearly every day. We are not talking about “pulling the plug,” where a mechanical device keeps a body technically alive. We are talking about physically doing something to a patient that will result in death.

In 2019, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Hawaii, and New York all passed laws that either allowed medical aid in dying or made it easier to get help to die. Hearings that will lead to medical assistance bills were conducted in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada. An organization called “Compassion and Choices” has spearheaded a national movement to promote physician assisted suicide, and they have enormous support from celebrities and academics.

The fact is that death remains one of the most difficult issues of life. The arguments against physician assisted suicide are especially emotional. By choosing that path, we are trusting human judgment about whether death is close at hand. There are cases where someone who was expected to die made an amazing recovery. Psychological and spiritual healing sometimes results when a person knows that they are about to die. Support as friends and family rally around a dying person can rebuild relationships and restore family unity that is rare in today’s world. Many believe that leaving the time of one’s death in the hands of God is a necessary spiritual responsibility.

There is no question that we need to make changes in the laws and practices concerning the most difficult issues of life and death. Dealing with Alzheimers and dementia is very different from dying of cancer. Huge medical strides are making judgment difficult in all of these cases. Making a person comfortable throughout the last stages of life should be a priority for geriatric medicine. Limiting the use of medications and devices to relieve pain for a dying person is not only cruel but unnecessary. We should be able to win life’s final war with pain without resorting to terminating life.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Objective Moral Values Are Impossible Without God

Objective Moral Values Are Impossible Without GodMany of my atheist friends will bristle at any suggestion that objective moral values are impossible without God. I want to make it clear that I am not saying that atheists are bad people. However, there are two things followers of the Bible have that those who reject God and the Bible do not have: a standard to go by and motivation to follow the standard.

The Bible gives a solid, clear, workable set of values. If a follower of Christ needs to know whether something is right or wrong, they can go to the Bible and find out. As we have pointed out before, the teachings of the Bible work. For a person who rejects the Bible, what standard do they use to make decisions on right and wrong? Any answer to that question is based on current human understanding. It may be the person’s feelings, the values of the peer group, the opinion of a particular philosopher or psychologist, the latest law, or the values of family or friends. Whatever the source, it is going to be a current human’s view. It’s going to be subjective, not objective.

Yesterday’s expert authority is today’s idiot. Charlatans exist in such enormous numbers that we can never be sure of the motivation for the advice they give. Following Ayn Rand’s advice as a college student destroyed the lives of many of my college friends and associates. The list of destructive leaders of the past is endless – O’Leary, Heffner, Russell, etc. All of these offered marvelous alternatives to biblical teachings that did not work. They failed because objective moral values are impossible without God.

It is not difficult to follow a moral standard that allows you to do anything and everything you want to do. Objective moral values are a far different matter. Many atheists would agree that promiscuous sex is not a good thing, but what motive would exist for not engaging in it if you think it will bring you great pleasure? Why would I find it a moral necessity to give food to a starving person when I might be faced with hunger?

As a Christian, my relationship with God and my faith in God provide me with motivation to do things and give things that might not be in my own self-interest. It is not that I am afraid God will send me to hell if I don’t do them. It is that the teachings of Jesus tell me that my life’s goals revolve around serving and bringing good things to others. I have learned to find joy in doing this and to trust God to make things work. One frustration I have with the media is that they will put the failure of a Christian on the front page while ignoring the work of churches in soup kitchens, relief efforts, alcohol recovery programs, and the care of children, senior citizens, and AIDS patients. No other religion or philosophy on Earth does as much good in all areas as the people who are expressing their love for Jesus Christ.

Faith in God and the Bible does make sense and gives humanity the only workable guide for life. Objective moral values are impossible without God, and faith in God gives us the motivational tools to follow them. Jesus has given us the standard to live by.
— John N. Clayton © 2019