My Weekend Chat with Atheists

Last Saturday afternoon, I replied to a post by @GammaAtheist on Twitter. The reply sparked a two day-long discussion in which about 10 other atheists and pro-evolutionists jumped in. We went down the proverbial rabbit hole, discussing at times theology, archaeology, history, and science. The questions were exhaustive. The answers were not.

The discussion was fast-paced at times and rather frenetic. I’ve “storified” the gist of our chat below starting with the initial few tweets from all sides. After that, all of my tweets are listed in chronological order. To see the conversation that directly preceded a reply, click the time and date link.

You can get a better sense of the direction of the overall discussion by viewing the conversation page on Twitter here.

[View the story “My Weekend Chat with Atheists on Twitter” on Storify]

Ashes and Tombs

Mohammed’s remains are in a mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The remains of Buddha were cremated and placed in several different monuments, some of which survive to this day. Abraham’s remains lie in a cave in Hebron in the Judean hills.  What is left of Confucius is in a large cemetery in Qufu, Shandong Province, China. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had his remains cremated and scattered in the Pacific Ocean. Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, is buried in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The tomb in Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was laid, is empty. There are no bones. No remains. No ashes.

No adherents to any world religion can say its founder is still alive. But followers of Christ can. His tomb is empty. He appeared multiple times to His followers after He rose from the dead. He talked to them. He ate with them. They touched Him.

Navigating the ‘Sea of Monsters’

They may be demigods, but they’re far from invincible.

In the film adaptation of the second book in Rick Riordan’s bestselling Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson set off to the Sea of Monsters, better known as the Bermuda Triangle, in order to find and retrieve the Golden Fleece which will restore the health of the mystical shield that protects the demigods’ home, Camp Half-Blood. With the safety of the creatures living at the Camp at stake and a bevy of monsters to fight, Sea of Monsters is one grand adventure. But, amidst the melee of mechanical fire-breathing bulls, Luke’s treachery, and Kronos’ frightening attempt to rise from his prison in Tartarus, the filmmakers packed some important lessons into the mythical storyline.

Here are four takeaways for successfully navigating your own monster-infested waters:

1. No arrogance allowed.
Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin) learns a lesson in humility. Here she brings back the Golden Fleece.

Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin) learns a lesson in humility. Here she brings back the Golden Fleece.

At the end of The Lightning Thief, Percy is Camp Half-Blood’s hero who has successfully retrieved Zeus’ lightning bolt and prevented a war between the gods of Olympus. But when Sea of Monsters opens, Camp Half-Blood has a strapping new hero who seems to want to take Percy’s place. That new hero is Clarisse La Rue who has “a serious humility deficiency.” She is arrogant, stubborn, and has a deep dislike of Percy. Even though the quest for the Golden Fleece is given to her, Percy & Co. go off in search of it on their own. And, it turns out that Percy and his friends have to rescue Clarisse after she gets swallowed by a monster. (Remind anybody of Jonah?)

It sounds like Clarisse could have used this advice from Proverbs: “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.”

Later, Percy demonstrates his own humility by allowing Clarisse to take the fleece back to Camp and get the credit for retrieving it.

2. Stay happy and helpful.
Tyson (Douglas Smith), Percy's half-brother, goes on the quest.

Tyson (Douglas Smith), Percy’s half-brother, goes on the quest.

Tyson is the newcomer who joins Percy & Co. on their quest. He’s Percy’s half-brother, but Percy nor Annabeth really take to him right away. Despite that fact, Tyson is constantly optimistic and helpful throughout the quest. He tries to win his half-brother over, and eventually makes a great sacrifice for him. Like the Bible says, ‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for times of trouble’ (Prov. 17:17).

People like Tyson are the kinds of folks you want to have around when you’re going on quests of your own. Whether it’s surviving high school, getting through your first semester at college, or finding a new job, the doom and gloom crowd will do nothing but dampen your spirits. Stay as far away from them as sailors would from sirens.

3. Keep your crew close.
Percy & Co. stick together in Sea of Monsters.

Percy & Co. stick together in Sea of Monsters.

In Sea of Monsters, lots of emphasis is placed on the importance of family. And when it comes to family issues, the demigods of Camp Half-Blood really have it bad. One of their parents is never around due to their status as Greek gods or goddesses, and their children have to sometimes leave their other parent — their human one — because they have to train to fight and stay safe. It’s hard out there for a demigod.

Percy, seeking for some sense of family, frequently goes down to the sea to talk to his father Poseidon. Mostly, the sea god remains silent, and Percy is tempted to believe that he really doesn’t care about his son. Percy’s nemesis, Luke, son of the god Hermes, feels pretty badly about his father. One of the reasons why Luke is such a villain is because he is extremely angry that his father was never there for him when he needed him earlier on in his life. Even though he lives for a time at Camp Half-Blood, Luke’s anger towards his dad and the other gods grows, and he eventually betrays them all and becomes loyal to the Titan Kronos.

In the film, Hermes acknowledges his mistakes and tells Percy, “If there’s anything I’ve learned in 3,000 years, it’s that you just don’t give up on family.”

Your family and friends won’t be perfect. They’ll have their quirks and weirdnesses. They’ll get on your nerves. But, whatever you do, don’t give up on them. Love them and keep them close.

4. Make others feel like they belong.
Percy (Logan Lerman) gets in fighting mode.

Percy (Logan Lerman) gets in fighting mode.

Even though Percy initially gives the cold shoulder to his half-brother Tyson, after Tyson demonstrates how much he cares for Percy, Percy is given a second chance at making things right between them – and he make the best of it. He also makes sure that Tyson is accepted at Camp Half-Blood. You see, Tyson is a cyclops — he only has one eye in the middle of his forehead, and he wears sunglasses to hide what he sees as a deformity. But, Percy encourages him not to hide who he is and helps him fit in.

Meeting and working with people who are different than we are is a part of life. When they act or look different than we do, we have to remember that somewhere out there, there is a place where we would be who they are – we would be the freak, the outcast, the one who gets looked down on or passed over. So, while you’re in your comfort zone, reach out and make someone else feel like they belong.

Navigating the Sea of Monsters is no easy task. But these four lessons can help us avoid the sharks (and getting shipwrecked!) and be successful on our quest.

Pacific Rim: Together is Better

To the delight of fanboys (and girls) and anyone who has an affinity for gigantic things that smash other equally gigantic things, Guillermo del Toro’s epic action film Pacific Rim premiered in theaters (in the U.S.) today. (Watch the trailer here.)

A Jaeger and a Kaiju face off.

A Jaeger and a Kaiju face off.

In the film, the year is 2020 and the denizens of earth are several years into a battle against “200-foot-tall dinosaur-like terrors known as Kaiju—Japanese for monster.” In their terrible rampages, the Kaiju destroy whole cities, especially those around the volatile Pacific Rim. In their bid to crush the alien monsters (which come from “deep beneath the sea — a portal between dimensions in the Pacific Ocean”), humans initiate the Jaeger project.

Each Jaeger (German for hunter) is a mechanical behemoth which is controlled by two human “pilots” who are neurally linked with each other. With their minds melded, these two humans control the massive machine from inside its head (or cockpit). For a while, the use of the Jaegers was successful against the Kaiju, but ‘the invading Kaiju got bigger, faster, and worst of all, smarter.’

Some humans are ready to give up on the Jaeger project, but Marshal Pentecost believes that all he needs are a few good pilots to man the four remaining Jaegers and together they can “cancel the apocalypse.”

Marshal Pentecost (Idris Elba) believes Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is the man for the job.

Marshal Pentecost (Idris Elba) believes Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is the man for the job.

Enter Raleigh Becket, who Pentecost believes is one of the men for the job, if only he were willing to allow himself to be linked to another pilot again in order to control a Jaeger. Raleigh had previously been linked to his brother who died in an attack while their minds were melded. The experience is emotionally devastating for him. Eventually, a young Japanese woman, Mako Mori, who has her own difficult past (thanks to the Kaiju destroying Tokyo when she was a child), gets Raleigh to change his mind. Together, Mako and Raleigh meld minds and join with three other Jaeger teams to fight back when the Kaiju attack Hong Kong.

Of course, you know the outcome of the story. After a fair amount of battle between monsters and machines, humanity is saved from utter disaster and the Kaiju are defeated.

Pacific Rim demonstrates a great principle that the Bible encourages us all to emulate — the principle of togetherness. Notice these words from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.

Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?

And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him.

A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Katniss and Peeta survived the Hunger Games together.

Katniss and Peeta survived the Hunger Games together.

In life, it’s so easy to think we can go it alone. Our pride makes us believe we can do things on our own. But some of our greatest heroes show us that together is better. The Autobots would not have been able to defeat the Decepticons without the help of Sam Witwicky and other human allies. Katniss and Peeta survived the Hunger Games by sticking together. And, despite their differences, the X-Men always work together as a team in the end. Even the greatest hero, Jesus Christ, didn’t go it alone when he came to earth. He selected twelve men to join him at the outset of his mission.

No, I’m not simply saying there’s strength in numbers. But, when people (no matter how few or how many) unite in a common purpose fervently holding to a simple belief, they are unstoppable.

Nothing stands in the way of determined togetherness.

You may never face a Kaiju head-on, but you will face some monsters in life. (And, trust me, some them can be downright nasty beasties.) So, when you do, make sure someone you trust is around so you can face the monster together. Because together is better.

Together, Mako and Raleigh meld minds and join with three other Jaeger teams when Hong Kong is attacked.

Together, Mako and Raleigh meld minds and join with three other Jaeger teams when Hong Kong is attacked.

Reminder: This is War

When Muhammad Ali was getting ready to fight Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship in 1964, he summarized his strategy for winning the match by saying, “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.” The idea he was getting at is that he would move so fast in the ring that Liston wouldn’t hit his target because he wouldn’t be able to pin down his position.

Mali Music’s latest single, “Ready Aim”, is a fresh reminder that we face invisible powers in the daily boxing match of spiritual warfare. We can’t see the dark forces swirling around us, but they are there, and they are gunning for our souls. They whisper sinister thoughts into our minds and attempt to cause us to go against everything we believe in. They oppose everything we do that is good and try to make us to stumble when we take a stand for Christ. As Mr. Mali himself puts it, “When you’re doing what God calls you to do there’s going to be resistance.”

These powers take up positions against us everyday. It can be overwhelming trying to fight this invisible enemy. But, we do not have to be afraid.

The enemy has weapons that slash and burn. So do we. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). As shown in Ephesians 6:10-18, Christ has also supplied us with armor that we have to put on each day that will protect us against the never-ending attack of the enemy who is like a ‘roaring lion, prowling about, seeking anyone he can devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).

The good thing about this war is that we already know the outcome. In the end, Jesus wins. And we win. On the side of the Saviour, we are invincible. Nothing the enemy can do will affect our eternity.

So, each morning, as we prepare to face a new day, we can put on our armor, and tell the enemy, “Ready, aim, fire!”