The Week magazine (April 3, 2020, page 20) published an article about various studies done on the success stories of substance abuse. Researchers studied 10,565 individuals who were being treated for alcohol abuse. They found that Alcoholics Anonymous was “the most effective tool to help people with alcohol addiction achieve sobriety.” We commend the work of AA and CASA.
From a Christian perspective, the CASA program has had great success in helping people with substance abuse issues. NewLife Behavior Ministries of Corpus Christi, Texas, has a course called Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA). Buck Griffith has been the leading promoter of this work, and we got involved through our prison work. We have over 4000 students in our “Does God Exist?” courses, and 95% of them are people who are incarcerated.
One of the central tenants of AA is “to learn to look to a higher power.” Many of the people in our correspondence course program have been victims of substance abuse, and most of them have some history of alcohol abuse. Learning to look to a higher power involves having faith in that higher power. Our courses on how we can know there is a God have been useful to many going through the AA and CASA programs.
Studies have shown that AA and CASA have been 60% more effective than alternatives, and that has brought national attention.The Week quotes Dr. John Kelly from Harvard Medical School as saying, “From a public health standpoint, this is good news. It means that we’ve got a freebie out there that works.”
For prisoners or anyone else, we offer a basic course and a college-level course free upon request. Check our website, doesgodexist.org, or contact email@example.com. Our mailing address is 1555 Echo Valley Drive, Niles, MI 49120. You can also contact NewLife Behavior Ministries and CASA at firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 270720, Corpus Christi, TX 78427-0720.
Why did God create the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? The short answer is that He didn’t.
That question of disease applies to every human ailment caused by a virus, be it malaria, a common cold, or one of the SARS viruses. A virus is a microorganism that is smaller than a bacterium, and that cannot grow or reproduce apart from a living cell. A virus invades living cells and uses their chemical machinery to survive and replicate. Viruses are not all harmful. They exist in the body to help cells change and adjust to allow reproduction, digestion, and respiration. The problem is that viruses, like everything else, can be mutated by external forces – radiation, pollution, etc.
Built into our bodies is an immune system designed to help reject destructive viruses. This system uses antibodies that attack the proteins in the virus and stop it from reproducing. The problem comes when a virus the body doesn’t recognize as an intruder can multiply and crowd out the normal function of cells. What causes the body not to detect and eliminate a virus? The immune system may not recognize a virus that is different because it has mutated. That usually happens when the virus was in an animal where it caused no problems because the animal’s immune system recognized and controlled it. The problem occurs when the animal passes the virus to a human. In the case of the Marburg virus and the Ebola virus, the source appears to have been bats. In the case of HIV, the virus was from chimpanzees.
The use of chemicals to fight insects has been a source of many changes in the insect population. Bats eat insects, and the chemicals cause changes in the viruses in the bats. In the current coronavirus outbreak, human interactions with bats for food apparently brought the virus into the human population. The results have been disastrous.
So why did God create the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? My preacher friends will simply say that Satan created the virus. Without getting into the theological difficulties with that explanation, how would Satan have done it? The point to remember is that God did not do it.
In theory, at least, the cure for virus problems is simple. Find a way to help the body produce antibodies that can recognize and attack the invading virus. We can do this, but the process is complex and will take time. We can do it because we have some understanding of God’s design of the human body and the immune system. Meanwhile, we need to avoid pathways for the virus to get from person to person. Washing our hands, social distancing, being careful about what we eat, and how we prepare our food are the best defense strategies for now.
The Bible is very clear in teaching that the best way to conduct oneself sexually is to have one partner for life. As people have veered away from God’s teaching and instruction, sex has lost its meaning, and people with multiple partners do not find the joy and satisfaction in sex that God intended. We are now learning that the consequences of multiple sexual partners are more than just a lack of satisfaction and joy in sex. There is also a strong connection between cancer and sexual promiscuity.
USNews.com carried a study of 5722 men and women with an average age of 64. It showed that women who had ten or more sexual partners were 91% more likely to have cancer than those who had either one or zero partners. Men who had multiple partners had a 64% higher risk of cancer. The sample size is too large to just blow off this data. However, some researchers suggest that those with multiple sex partners also had habits that elevate cancer risks, including drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. But the research shows a strong connection between cancer and sexual promiscuity.
We would suggest that God gave us moral laws for our good. The Creator who designed us knows what behaviors will benefit us and which will not. In Matthew 19, some Pharisees asked Jesus why Moses allowed men to have more than one wife. His response was, “Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed you to put away your wives: but from the beginning, it was not so” (Verse 8). When we violate God’s plan, the consequences are not just emotional and mental, but there are physical health issues as well.
There are a vast number of things in our bodies that we take for granted. Perhaps at the top of that list is our tooth design.
Our teeth have to withstand chewing motions that spread forces around. They must be able to hold, fracture, and fragment food items without being broken themselves and do this millions of times over a lifetime. Their opposing surfaces must align to a fraction of a millimeter. They also exist in an environment that is teeming with life. Our mouth is populated by some 700 different species of bacteria, some of which produce lactic acid, which attacks the enamel.
The bacteria are essential because they fight disease, help with digestion, and regulate various body functions. In ancient times the bacteria were limited because of the diet of ancient humans. Now with massive amounts of sugar in our diet, the bacteria are catalyzed in their reproduction. Our saliva buffers teeth against the lactic acid and bathes them in calcium phosphate, which remineralizes their surface.
Teeth have hard enamel caps made up of calcium phosphate. The material is composed of thousands of rods called crystallites, which are 1000th the width of a human hair. These are grouped together in bundles called prisms with tens of thousands of prisms per square millimeter. These prisms run parallel to each other, weaving and twisting as they go from the surface of the tooth to the underlying dentin. Dentin is made of tiny collagen fibers that run between structures called tubules. This tooth design resists cracks and gives toughness and impressive durability.
So if these things are true, why do I have cavities, problems with wisdom teeth, and expensive trips to the dentist? The answer to that question is diet. When we study ancient humans, we don’t see decays in their teeth, impacted wisdom teeth, or evidence of gum disease. In the animal world, it is rare to see a cavity or a decayed tooth. The struggles we have with our teeth is because we have softer and more sugary foods than our ancestors ate.
In my lifetime, I have seen several disease epidemics. I find it interesting how differently people are responding to this than they did when I was a child, and polio was running wild. Polio was a much more serious issue than COVID-19 ever thought of being. If you got polio in 1952, you were either going to die, be paralyzed, or be in an iron lung for the rest of your life. For those who are younger, an iron lung was a huge tin can that breathed for you, because polio could stop you from breathing on your own. If you were put in an iron lung to preserve your life, the chances are that you would be in that large tin can until you did die. It was awful, but we did not have the pandemic fear.
Even though polio was much worse than the current virus, my classmates were not absorbed with fear and extreme measures to avoid getting polio. We were told that flies carried polio. I remember my mother stringing flypaper all over the place, and going bonkers if she saw a fly in our garage. I was not allowed to go to outdoor events for fear of polio. Still, there was no panic from the media and no cancellations of anything. That is a huge contrast with what has happened in 2020 as we face this virus. That is even though most people who get the virus do not die or have any long-lasting effects. What is the difference?
In my childhood years, being an atheist was unique. I was the only openly atheistic person in my high school class. Our family went to Brown County State Park every Sunday to swim in the park swimming pool. We had the pool to ourselves because everyone else was in church. I had friends who did contract polio. Outside of a sign which said “quarantine” being placed on their front door, not much else happened.
The panic that has gripped our culture today is amazing. According to the CDC ordinary, run of the mill flu killed 61,000 Americans last year and over 12,000 this year so far. But the pandemic fear of COVID-19 far exceeds the fear that has been with us before.
I would suggest to you that as our culture has drifted away from God, the fear of the unknown has grown exponentially. At least part of the pandemic fear is our lack of faith as a society about life and death and who or what is in control.
One fundamental message of Jesus Christ is that Christians should not be driven by panic and fear of the unknown. In Mark 4:36-41, we read the wonderful story of Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm in a small boat. Jesus is asleep, and they wake him up. Christ quiets the storm and says to the disciples, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (verse 40).
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible calls believers not to be driven by fear. Joshua 1:9 tells us not to be afraid. Psalms 23:4 talks about walking through the darkest valley. Psalms 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “…the Lord your God will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5-8 tells us that the Lord is our helper, so we should not be afraid. Jesus tells us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
If you believe that this life is all you will ever have, then you will fear anything that threatens this life.If you believe that there is something better coming, then nothing that happens in this life is of great consequence. However, I have an instinct to survive and knowing that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), I will do what I can to avoid premature death. I am washing my hands, avoiding crowds, and following the other guidelines. Still, I can relate to Paul’s discourse in Philippians 1:21-24, where he says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am in a struggle between having a desire to leave and be with Christ, but I know I should abide in the flesh, which is more needful for you…”
In our March 16, 2020, post, we discussed the issue of suicide, and the Federal Communication Commission’s efforts to create a suicide hotline. We discussed the problem of assisted suicide or euthanasia in our February 24 and 25 posts. The March 20 issue of The Week magazine carried an article (page 11) titled “The Spread of Assisted Suicide.”
In addition to the data showing how much assisted suicide has increased, the article in The Week points out that assisted suicide is now available to people for various reasons. It is being made available to those who are in psychological pain, those who don’t want to go into a nursing home, and to minors with their parent’s permission. This is a significant problem with large numbers of people involved. In the Netherlands alone, there were 6585 assisted deaths in 2017.
Our biggest concern in this growing trend is the misinformation that the public is receiving. Dignitas, which is a Swiss organization assisting in suicides, says that assisted suicide is “far preferable to letting ill people make a lonely, risky suicide attempt.” Those are not the only choices available to a person who is depressed, in pain, or fearing dementia.
As life expectancy continues to climb, more and more people will struggle with emotional and physical pain. Our focus needs to be on solving those issues, not just in finding ways to destroy the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The Federal Communications Commission is working to establish a three-digit suicide prevention hotline. It will use the number 988, comparable to 911 for other emergencies. The reason for this new emergency number is a surge in deaths by suicide over the past ten years. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and more than 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt to kill themselves annually.
You might think that the reason for an increase in suicide is poverty or hunger, but that is not the case. According to the experts at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the common denominator is a lack of hope. As a former atheist, I can verify that kind of thinking. As an atheist, when I no longer was the “fittest,” my moral foundation built on “survival of the fittest” collapsed. That’s when I reached the point of attempting to end my life. There is no hope when everything around you is collapsing, and you are no longer in control.
The word “hope” occurs 135 times in the Bible. Life has meaning when we have faith in Christ and believe that this life leads to something better–even when we are not the fittest. Christ’s teaching and the New Testament repeatedly refer to joy. That joy leads to loving life and looking forward to the future no matter how bleak our circumstances are now.
The 988 number of the suicide prevention hotline is good because just having someone to talk to may help a person contemplating suicide. But it may be 2021 before the number is in service. The greatest message of hope comes from the Bible, and it’s available now. The real source of hope comes from finding new life in Christ, as Romans 6 describes in glowing terms.
Listening to the media, you might conclude that we have a new threat to our survival in the COVID-19 virus, but that is not the case. Viral diseases have been around from the earliest days of human existence. Recorded history tells us that in 430 BC, a virus took root in Athens and killed two-thirds of the city’s population. Seventy-five million people died from the Black Death in the 14th century. One hundred million people died from the Spanish flu of 1918, and 500 million people were infected. In modern times entire native populations have been wiped out by virus infections. We have all heard of HIV, MERS, SARS, Ebola, H5N1, Nipah, and Zika virus epidemics and their massive numbers of victims.
Scientists studying each of these diseases have determined that they came to humans from animals. HIV originated in chimpanzees. MERS came from camels. SARS originated from bats and civet cats. We can trace COVID-19 to bats and soldierfish. The massive concern about the current coronavirus is that there are far more humans to contract and spread the virus than at any time in the past. Also, we are more concentrated in cities, are more mobile, and have close interaction regularly with animals. In the past 50 years, more than 300 pathogens have emerged. With the use of more animals as pets and as food, there is an increase in the diseases they bring to humans.
From a historical standpoint, the biblical injunctions about hygiene and animal husbandry avoided much of the viral disease problem. The identification of clean and unclean animals reduced human interaction with animals that carry disease. The elaborate rituals of washing and handling animals used as food not only had an aesthetic appeal but reduced the opportunities for disease transmission. The acts of quarantine for anyone showing symptoms eliminated the spreading of disease from one person to another. Pandemics in an isolated farming population was not likely.
As the human population increased, and cities became population centers, the incidence rate of viral diseases increased. Advancing science and technology gave brought the ability to control some diseases. Selfishness, greed, carelessness, and poor hygiene provide easy ways for viruses to spread. Instead of following God’s rules for cleanliness and the preparation of food, humans have employed destructive methods. This is especially true in cultures that have no connection to God’s instructions. It is no accident that the coronavirus for COVID-19 originated in China and in a food market there where food handling and animal managing is limited. It is also no accident that many of the viruses that have decimated human populations were spread because of sexual practices that ignore God’s instructions for sexual relationships.
Television, books, movies, and pop psychology have all tried to offer alternatives to the biblical concept of the family. From Genesis 2:24 on, the Bible gives instructions to build what modern social scientists now call “the nuclear family.” Scientists define a nuclear family as “a unit headed by two loving, married parents.” In today’s society, more nuclear families are needed.
In the first two centuries of America’s existence, people were embedded in a group that included aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and grandparents. That meant there were always people available to care for a child or a senior who needed help. With the movement to the cities and the emphasis on self-fulfillment and individuality, the nuclear family has disintegrated. Parents now pay people to perform child-rearing tasks. Kids find themselves in single-parent homes, which leave them alone a vast percentage of the time. Seniors are often isolated because their children have moved away.
Research shows that the collapse of the nuclear family has produced terrible consequences. In 1960, 77.5% of children lived in nuclear families. Today that figure is 48%. The rise of suicide, depression, and income inequality can be linked to family disintegration. Robert Samuelson writing in the Washington Post said that we can’t go back to the way things used to be because of “geographic mobility, the need and desire of women to work, or high divorce rates.” Despite the challenges, nuclear families are needed to create a healthy society.
We live in a time in which many people who wear the name “Christian” are being killed. Various groups who keep track of Christian martyr data have wildly different counts of how many have died for their faith.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity says that 90,000 Christians were martyred in 2019. The International Society for Human Rights says that 10,000 were martyred. Open Doors puts the number at 4,305. The problem here is that the definition of a “martyr” is not the same for everyone.
The Nazis killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer in World War II because he was involved in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. His Christian faith was the reason he became involved in the plot. Does that make him a martyr? Christians were killed in civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Should they be classified as martyrs? There is a monument in Bicknell Park in Montebello, California, in memory of one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1921, the Turkish government killed 1,500,000 Armenian Christians. Does that make all of them martyrs?
Martyrs have always been held up as examples of faithfulness. In today’s world, there are many countries where converting to Christianity is a sure way to be executed. The early Roman persecution of Christians is undeniable and uncontested. Determining Christian martyr data in our modern world varies by how we define “martyr.”
Those of us who live in the United States should be thankful that, so far, we don’t have to be worried about being singled out or killed by the government because of our worship. That may change, but we should thank God for the freedom Christians enjoy now in the U.S. and other countries.