Archive for September, 2011

Uncle Sam?

September 30, 2011

I listened to an interesting editorial on NPR this morning.  I’ve searched all over their site and our local affiliate’s site and can’t find a link to the story.  Frustrating.

It was basically talking about the state of California’s struggle to try and convince people to drive less.  The writer was making the analogy of a parent to a child, in terms of the various options the state has to try and elicit a desired behavior from citizens.  There was a mother and an 11-year old girl talking about various tactics for the mother to get the girl to do what she wanted her to do.
There were several things that came to mind as I listened.
Is the analogy of the government as a parent a good one?  I tend to think not.  Government is an arrangement of convenience and mutual consent.  As a citizen, our Constitution guarantees me the theoretical right to a different government entirely if the one I currently have is not fulfilling it’s duties properly.  The relationship of government to governed is one of consent, not one of nature.  However my children are mine.  Their relationship to me is not dependent on anything.  If I turned out to be a terrible dad and the state decided I was not fit to raise my children, I would not cease to be their father in both a biological and even a relational sense.  
My duty as a parent is to raise my child to be a healthy, functioning, God-fearing, contributing member of society.  The duty of the state is to protect the rights and liberties of people who are – at least in theory – healthy, functioning, contributing members of society.  As a parent I begin with a child that is in every respect dependent specifically upon me for the fulfilling of their needs, and I raise them to be independent and capable of functioning without my direct oversight or care.  This seems to be a role that is antithetical to a system of government, which in almost every way depends on people remaining more or less as they are, and therefore more or less continually in need of the state.
I don’t assume that the role of government is to direct me as to what sort of person I ought to be.  Is that a reasonable assumption?
Another concern was more logistical.  The story lamented that people continue to drive solo in California rather than take public transit, despite the fact that lots of money has been spent to improve public transit.  The author acknowledged that people like the idea of a certain kind of public transport – namely subway transportation.  But they don’t appear to care for buses.  An expert was aired, lecturing us that California is too spread out in terms of population centers for subway to be a reasonable solution.  It’s not like the concentrated population centers of New York City or downtown Chicago.
Granted.  This is the blessing and curse of the west – we have a lot of room and we grow outwards rather than upwards.  
But then the expert goes on to decry that people drive everywhere.  In other words, it’s not practical to provide the type of public transit that people seem to like and would be more inclined to use.  But people are bad for driving themselves everywhere and – like a wayward child – they need to be brought into line.
Huh?
Parents elicit desired behavior through punishment or reward, and various options were discussed.  But none of them address the fact that the expert himself had identified the real problem it’s not that people are bad, it’s that the layout of our cities is not conducive to effective, ubiquitous public transportation.  And if we can’t have such a system, why do we insist on penalizing people for driving in order to reach their destinations?  
Finally, all of this discussion was couched within the framework of ‘right behavior’ – or something along those lines.  It assumes that, as a parent ought to know the right thing for the child to do, the state knows the right thing for people to do, and has the duty of bribing or punishing people to get them to comply.  Driving less is inherently some sort of ‘right behavior’, and those of us who don’t go along with this in practice are wayward and need to be corrected.  
Maybe I’m just grumpy in the mornings, but does the overall tone the author was trying to convey make sense?  
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Ruthless Love

September 29, 2011

I’ve been mulling over this article for a few weeks now.

The author ponders the implications of the book of Ruth, and particularly, the possible implications of the plan that Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, comes up for Ruth to secure a husband for herself and a future for them both.  It involves some eyebrow-raising behavior that may or may not involve direct seduction and even sexual behavior with a man who is not her husband.  
This tends to generate a lot of gasps of indignation.  We prefer our Biblical heroes – particularly ones who are ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth – to be a bit more polished.  Sure, they may have character flaws.  But we want their good qualities to outweigh their moral failures.  
We’re less comfortable with the fact that throughout Scripture we are provided with key figures who are faithful but also quite flawed.  Men and women who certainly would not serve well as role models, yet who play key roles in the story of God’s salvation plan for creation.  David the murderer and adulterer is still a man after God’s own heart.  Moses the murderer still had a special place in God’s plan.  Abraham, who undertook a variety of questionable practices to protect himself or help God in fulfilling God’s promises is still Abraham the Patriarch.  
But Ruth the promiscuous ancestor?  That takes a bit of getting used to.
I like to distinguish between events that the Bible merely describes or narrates, and things that the Bible explicitly indicates that God commands or condones.  Plenty of things happen that are nowhere indicated to be commanded or condoned by God, but are merely reported as part of the overarching story.  Lot’s conduct in offering his daughter in exchange for his visitor’s lives is a good example.  Does the story say that God told Lot to offer this option?  Nope.  Does Scripture indicate that God condoned this offer?  Not that I can recall.  Yet the offer is recounted as part of the story – perhaps a feverish and undoubtedly a poorly conceived of option on Lot’s part.  
So do we have to read Ruth and assume she was chaste and guiltless in her behavior with Boaz – or that Boaz was in his behavior with her?  Not by the text’s standards.  Does this mean that God condoned Naomi’s plan and Ruth’s conduct?  I’d argue no.  It’s just another example of broken, sinful human beings taking things into their own hands, and God continuing to love them and work through them all the same.  Just as He does with you and I.  Messy, to be sure.  But forgiven.  Disappointing, yet still redeemed.
That’s a very hopeful message for you and I.  Even if it’s not a prescription for how to secure a husband.

Whose Line Is it, Anyways?

September 28, 2011

Interesting note on a recent move by Vanderbilt University to require student organizations to come into line with it’s nondiscrimination policies.

First off, this is not surprising.  This will more and more become the norm unless there are some pretty fundamental reversals in cultural philosophy.  Quickly.
But what interests me is the rationale.  “We are committed to making our campus a welcoming environment for all of our students.”  
What does that mean?  It would seem to mean that the university desires to eliminate anything that might possibly offend or contradict what potential and current students already seem to think is right.  The university exists now not to be a place where people encounter divergent attitudes and understandings about the world, but rather a place that reinforces the narrow confines of personal comfort that people are expected to already have in place.  What sort of an education is this?  
All manner of very controversial student groups have found homes on university campuses over the decades under this understanding that the university environment – of all places, perhaps – is one where people ought to have the ability to express themselves and for others to hear what they are saying.  Political groups, sexual groups, social groups, and religious groups have all enjoyed a level of acceptance on college campuses not always experienced in society at large.  
But that apparently isn’t what higher education is to be about any longer.  That’s troubling.
I attended a huge public university for my undergraduate degree.  I was aware that there were many, many people who held views either divergent or completely contradictory to my own.  I knew that there were student organizations devoted to causes and beliefs that fundamentally contradicted my own deeply held convictions.  I never felt ‘unwelcome’ because these groups existed, however.  I was free to investigate them or ignore them as I saw fit.  My expectations of the university was that it provide the context within which exposure to new ideas and conflicting viewpoints could take place in a somewhat mature and intelligent fashion.  The idea that the school should act so that I never be offended, never be challenged, never be forced out of my comfort zone never crossed my mind.  Wasn’t that what large portions of the previous twelve years of my education were about?  Wasn’t college coming into the real world, in a limited fashion?
It seems to me that a university sponsors official student organizations not because it agrees explicitly with what they say and do, but because the existence of divergent attitudes and beliefs is ultimately a benefit to the student population.  That seems to no longer be the case, now.  

Telluride

September 26, 2011

I sat today with some of my parishioners.  Being Lutheran, we will gather around food at the drop of a hat, and if no hats are present, we will come up with another excuse.  We had a good enough excuse today, though.  A couple who have been vital parts of our congregation’s history over 40+ years are moving out of town and retiring several hours north of town.  This is a couple who helped build our current facility in 1969, and who were instrumental in much of the grunt labor and raw negotiation skills necessary to renovate much of it in the past three years.

So I sit at a table with three ladies and one gentlemen, most of whom are probably close to twice my age – some more and some less.  Wonderful folks.  We got to talking about one of our members who had surgery last week, and how she was from Colorado, and people were sharing memories of trips to that beautiful state.  One of the ladies brought up the beautiful mining country of southwestern Colorado, dotted with tiny, hopeful towns in the midst of intimidatingly huge mountains.  Silverton.  Ouray.  Telluride. 
I asked if they knew the history of the name Telluride, and they indicated they didn’t.  I told them that when I was driving Jeeps on 4×4 trips back and forth through the mountain passes in that area, someone explained that the quickest way down from the mines high in the mountains, to the town in the valley below, was on a type of zip line.  They would set up a load on a cable, and one of the miners would ride down with it to the valley below.  As the load (and miner) were pushed on their descent, the miners behind would yell To Hell you ride!  

Wikipedia disagrees with this source for the name, but I find it far more interesting all the same.  There is something far more beautiful about the defiance of a band of smelly, dirty, desperately hopeful men holding out for beauty and riches in the midst of a brutal climate and dangerous mountain passes.
My week began with a trip back to the county jail.  A wonderful time of sharing, teaching, and praying with men incarcerated for things I don’t know about.  The next day was a flight to Las Vegas to catch up with a high school buddy after his retirement from the Navy.  Wednesday I was back in town, racing to catch up with everything for the weekend.  Saturday I was in the ER visiting with someone ill from a few too many aspirin.  Not enough to kill, but enough to scream for help.  This afternoon I spoke with them by phone from the observation facility where they’ll spend the next few days, being assessed, having doctors and other – God-willing, highly competent people – try and figure out the help this person needs to better live their life in hope rather than despair.
In between, I spent time talking with a man battling his own demons of doubt and uncertainty, of anger and frustration with the world and a life that never seemed to materialize for him the way it did for others.  A man who I trust believes in a God who loves him, created him, redeemed him.  But whose belief is tempered by the disappointment and frustration of powers beyond his control that have driven his life this way and that, seemingly without reason or rhyme, a sailboat in the grips of irresistible winds, without even a rudder to steer with.  He voiced repeatedly in several encounters this week his desire to trust this God, but his uncertainty, his doubt, and his frustration with being unable to have his questions answered for certain, to have all of the doubt laid aside and put to rest once and for all.  He wants a faith more solid and certain than anything else in his life has apparently been, and he is angry that he seems expected to trust once again, when whatever trust he’s had never seems to have panned out.
What to tell someone like that?  Someone honest enough about their brokenness?  A man not unlike Gideon in that respect, perhaps.  Uncertain, but desiring certainty.  Wanting God to meet him in the midst of his uncertainty, to dispel his doubts, to prove to him beyond his own ability to doubt.  A man on the ledge of mountains where his life has been dashed one too many times, clutching on to a thin cable and unable to throw himself off on that long ride to wherever.  
I don’t have the answers to his doubts.  To the men in the prison who share with blank faces the sorrows of their family and their lives outside.  To the friend in the grips of despair and depression so deep that they can’t ever believe it could get any better than death.  I don’t have the answers.  The fleece now drenched, now dry.  I don’t have the ability to assure them that the long ride to the valley below will be safe and smooth.  It hasn’t been given to me to provide that sort of knowledge about the future.  Theirs or mine.  
All I can do is launch myself along that small thin thread.  Not so much by my strength or force of will, but by generation after generation of others who launched themselves similarly and passed their stories down to me.    Who handed me what has been handed to others, a lifeline that seems impossibly frail compared to the overwhelming struggles and powers around me.  By the truth that echoes in their words in ways I can’t pin down, but simply know.  But launched by that innumerable host, I grip, eyes closed, teeth gritted.  It looks some days like to hell I ride.  But I choose to hope that this is not the case.  To hope that the cable holds, the trust bears true, and that He who is within me truly is greater than that which surrounds me – including myself.  
I can’t answer all the questions that are asked of me, or that I ask myself.  But the choice seems either to stay in the mines, waiting for the soft winter snow to fall and bury.  Or to hope.  To trust.  To be launched, and to live each second as though the line will hold, and my feet will be brought to solid ground once and for all.  May this be so.  For me.  For the men in jail.  For the friend seeking a new direction in life.  For the person seeking freedom from the ghosts that haunt them.  And for Gideon, waiting for his fleece.

Choice Careers

September 16, 2011

Do you like your job?  These folks typically do.  Do you hate your job?  If you’re in one of these fields, you aren’t alone in your distaste.  

Something to consider during that time of year when folks march off to be educated towards a vocation…

Book Review: Mudhouse Sabbath

September 15, 2011

I’m cheap.  

I hate to spend money even on things that I know are going to be useful to me.  Which means that spending money on things of uncertain value is even harder for me.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lifelong reader, it’s that there are far more books of no value than there are books of good value (in terms of me – others might find them highly valuable, in which case, I’ll sell you my copy!).  
Sometimes though, my cheapness requires me to take risks.  Paying $80 a year to join Amazon’s Prime membership club and get free shipping is questionable, as I can never be *sure* that I will save at least $80 in shipping charges in any given year.  Particularly since Amazon offers free shipping on many of their products if you are willing to have them shipped slower.  This option requires a minimum $25 purchase though.  
So it was that I came to purchase Lauren K. Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Disciplines because it enabled me to get free shipping on some other stuff that I needed to get.  I grabbed it spontaneously.  I’ve been fascinated with Orthodox Judaism since falling under the spell of Chaim Potok in high school.  And I find that the almost total break that modern Christianity has made with traditional Judaism seems at the least regrettable, if not outright problematic.  How do we understand almost 70% of Scripture if we have no functional link to our Jewish theological heritage?  And how do we understand best the New Testament – written by Jewish converts to Christianity – without this heritage? 
So I took a chance that Ms. Winner would have something of interest to say on this topic, and I was pleasantly surprised.  She does.  She writes well.  She’s charming and engaging in a young womanly sort of way (you can almost hear her giggling as she discloses first her dating relationship with one of the characters in the book, and then her eventual engagement to him).  But this isn’t a book that needs to be categorized by gender.  She writes well and what she has to say and share can be beneficial to anyone.
Her basic idea is that having grown up as an observant Jew, some of the traditions and rituals and practices of Judaism have some useful application to Christian devotional life.  I agree.  I agree in large part because I was already familiar with many of the traditions she discusses.  But also because I believe that we are created as kinesthetic creatures.  Our hearts and minds and bodies are bound up together, and if we focus merely on intellectual or devotional practices without engaging our bodies and senses, we’re missing out on a great deal.  
Ms. Winner’s Christian faith seems well-rooted.  She doesn’t present these spiritual disciplines in a legalistic or pietistic fashion.  They are helpful for her.  Perhaps they can be helpful to others.  She offers her experiences and observations in the spirit of Romans 14:1-12, neither judging nor despising.
If you feel that your devotional life and spiritual disciplines could use some freshening up, this might be a useful contribution towards that process.  If you’re curious about aspects of the Christian faith that have been informed by our status as basically a Jewish sect, this book might be helpful to you.  It’s a short, easy read that provides a lot of food for thought.

Gravy Train

September 14, 2011

A thought-provoking article from The Atlantic on the less glamorous side of the locavore movement.

I have to admit more than a passing fascination with the whole growing-your-own-food thing.   Our kids have loved caring for the tomato plants this summer, and have dutifully plucked each little strawberry off of our plants, washed it, cut it into thirds, and duly enjoyed it.  And while they aren’t willing to sample the jalapenos we’re growing for me, they are just as excited in caring for them as if they were.  Our little herb garden has made many good meals even better.
That’s all beautiful stuff.  They learn a bit more about what food is and what is required to produce it.  In the process they are inadvertently learning about vocation and all the ways that God provides for our daily bread (literally) through people from farmers to truck drivers to grocery store workers.  And they are learning the joy of being able to produce some of this – and hopefully more and more each year – themselves.    
Much to the chagrin of my wife, though, my fascination with this doesn’t stop there.  At least not hypothetically.  I like the idea of raising poultry or rabbits – not as pets, but as food.  The idea of eggs fresh daily, produced on a diet of healthy scraps and scratchings is appealing.  And most of all, the idea of being closer to the food I eat, closing the mysterious, yawning gap between being able to pick up a 10-lb bag of neatly cut and frozen chicken breasts from Costco and realizing exactly what it took to raise those and process them – that’s something that seems healthy to me.  
Much to the relief of my wife (and our landlords), I haven’t had the time, energy, or ability to follow through on these grander designs.  Yet.  This article made me think about that goal though, and recognize that it isn’t without problems.  Certainly I’m no farmer or rancher.  There will be a learning curve that I will have to master.  I will approach that learning curve seriously and intelligently.  Not everyone necessarily will.  
James McWilliams’, (the author) basic assertion is that allowing people to raise certain types of animals specifically for slaughter, with the ability to slaughter them on their own, on their own property, is problematic.  It can and does create suffering for the animals when novices attempt to slaughter.  He also sees that allowing this might create loopholes for others to abuse or neglect animals in general.  His final argument that the psychological trauma of this sort of reality eating is dangerous, that we need a buffer between the slaughter process and the eating process.
Dealing with these in reverse order, psychological trauma seems to happen constantly, according to experts today.  Birth itself is now suspect as a psychological trauma, and I’m sure someone, somewhere, sooner rather than later will argue against traditional pregnancy because it’s just too darn traumatic for the child.  I have no doubt that should I come to the point of killing my first chicken or rabbit, there will be a level of shock to me, and I certainly am not going to invite the kids (or the wife!) to watch until that shock has worn off and I know what I’m doing.  And that’s just the point.  The shock will wear off.  I don’t believe that human beings have ‘evolved’ to the point where we are unable to deal with the death of an animal, or the very real link between that animal’s death and our life.  We aren’t used to it.  The sights and smells and sounds and feels of the process will be jarring at first.  But as with most things, we can accustom ourselves to it.  Arguing otherwise is only made possible by the financial buffer that allows us to have others do distasteful things for us.  A stunning percentage of the world’s population does not have that buffer.  They seem to cope.  I trust that I – and my kids, and possibly even my wife – will also, in time.
I’m not sure how he sees allowing home slaughter as a means for allowing other abuses.  Most places I know of don’t require permits to own animals (outside of zoning issues).  Any moron can (and often does) go out and purchase or find an animal to bring home with them, whether they are able or qualified to care for it properly or not.  I don’t see how this is much different.  If abuse seems to be an issue, neighbors are still free to call.  Frankly, I imagine there will be a lot more calls as neighbors figure out how to deal with the reality of small-scale slaughtering on the other side of the fence.  
Frankly, I would have expected McWilliams to make an argument based exactly on this – there are sights and sounds and smells and residue from slaughter, and neighbors will have to deal with that.  I’d be far more convinced to rethink local slaughter based on communal respect and love for my neighbor. 
The suffering of animals is something I am Biblically called to try to minimize.  However I’m sure that on the massive farms across our country, quite a few animals suffer a great deal in the routine of humane slaughter.  Human and mechanical failures, as well as the overall living (and dying) conditions of these animals would likely turn my stomach.  Arguing that the locavore push for allowing people to raise & slaughter their own animals would somehow be creating suffering that doesn’t exist on a far larger scale seems problematic.  
And if McWilliams is willing to rely on regulation as a means for preventing these issues from ever being raised, I would think he could see regulation as a means for preventing these issues while still allowing people this freedom.  If you have to get a special license and prove basic competency to be allowed to drive, why not for slaughtering your own animals?  While I doubt that there would be enough interest to make this a municipal money-maker, it could allow people freedom while ensuring that they are able to exercise this freedom maturely.  It is possible to legislate in more ways than simply banning practices.  
I hope to someday follow through on my quest to raise chickens or rabbits.  It’s not necessarily a moral or theological issue – at least not on the surface.  But I think that being more closely linked and responsible for the food I eat will somehow make me think more about eating.  I tend to think that’s a good thing.  Food for thought, as it were.

Quick Look

September 13, 2011

Here’s an interesting graphic describing the massive rise of home schooling in America.  Clearly, people are looking for other answers to the traditional public school system.  Do you know anyone that is home schooling (other than me!)?

You Never Know…

September 11, 2011

The coffee shop is not far from the church.  They happen to serve very good iced tea and a phenomenal blend of hot tea they call Jasmine Fancy Black.  I sometimes feel like I’m ordering the tea-equivalent of Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n Fruity, but it’s worth the marginal embarrassment for the amazing aroma and flavor of that tea!  

When I go in early on Sunday morning, I’m always  a little self-conscious.  I’m in my clerical and collar, and the employees in this place are all very friendly, but I suspect not many of them find themselves in church very often these days.  The Sunday morning girl is very pleasant.  We’ve discussed Paul Simon’s music, which she’s had playing a few weeks in a row.  I am conscious of the responsibility I bear when wearing the uniform of a Lutheran pastor.  Perhaps that’s why I only wear it for a few hours on Sunday morning.  Whether I should wear it more often is a debate I often have in the safety of my head.
She’s talking to someone else as she gets my order this morning.  As I round the corner to doctor my iced tea to a greater sweetness level, I smile at the gentleman.  Wiry, with dreadlocks, dressed in comfortable pants and shirt.  He meets my gaze and we smile in greeting.  As I’m pouring the last of the sugar into my tea and stirring, he comes over to alter his own drink.  
“Everybody else is taking today off and you’re just getting ready to go to work,” he observes.
I chuckle, “Yes, this is my Friday afternoon.”  We laugh politely.  
“I’m a street musician,” he offers.  “So I play every day in the evenings.  Down on State Street, in front of the World Market.”  
There’s that moment of panic in the depths of my head, as I size up the situation and the man.  His clothing is fine but not fancy, presentable but not pressed.  He’s admitted to being a street musician.  Does that mean he’s homeless, too?  Is this going to be an elaborate workup for a pitch for a few bucks?  There are all sorts of possible warning flags that go up.  The desire to run, to politely excuse, to move on to understandably Important Things is almost overwhelming.  
But he’s willing to engage.  And the girl behind the counter who is willing to talk with me about how Paul Simon really sounds awful compared to 40 years ago is probably listening in.  What do the two of them expect from a middle-aged white pastor?  What excuse are they looking for, what assumptions do they have ready to confirm?
I turn my body to face the man, leaning against the counter casually, resisting the temptation to slide my hand into my pocket to fish out my car keys.  “What instrument do you play?”  There’s no need to end the conversation yet.  Isn’t this part of who I am called to be, the one who is hospitable even when it’s not my turf?  The one who is willing to engage despite the cultural warning flags?  And if I don’t, how can I expect anyone else to?
He plays the djembe and seems pleasantly surprised I know what that is.  We discuss how I’ve played around with them before, but that it couldn’t be called playing proper, not in any actual musical sense of the word.  He shares that he likes to play later at night, after 9 pm when the stores are closed and it’s just the people out looking for a good time.
“A lot of them are drunk,” he explains, which isn’t necessarily surprising to me, having wandered the streets at that hour once or twice, “but I’m not.  I spend my time out in nature, absorbing positive energy.  And then that’s what I bring there.  I think that’s what people pick up on, even more than the drumming.  I love being able to interact with them, and really show how we have to be tolerant of all different types of people.”  Is that a veiled poke?  Is he looking for a response?  Is he calling out what my collar and shirt represent, seeing if I’ll take the bait and step up onto the soapbox?  Do I respond?  Clarify?  Correct?  Rebuke?  
“My name is Paul,” I offer along with my hand.  
“I’m Naki,” he says as we shake in parting.  It’s not a long conversation.  I haven’t shared the Gospel with this man, and I’ll undoubtedly wrestle with that for the next few hours and days.  But I pray that what I’ve offered to Naki as well as to the girl behind the counter is a witness of love.  Of respect.  Of being willing to not judge Naki by what he is wearing or what he does for a living or even his philosophical or theological views.  But being willing to see in him and in her a child of God worthy of the dignity of a handshake and a conversation.  It is not the Gospel, but hopefully it is love.  And hopefully that love is one piece of the Creator’s puzzle that is this man’s life, and that the presence of that piece in his life will make it possible for someone else to share the Gospel with him more directly.
Perhaps even me.  It probably has been too long since I’ve walked State Street after 9pm.  I hear the music is good.  

Bertrand Russell

September 9, 2011

I’ve had this transcript of a Bertrand Russell speech saved in my favorites for a long, long time.  I wanted to address it, but always got bogged down and distracted.  At long last, a response.  

Here is the link if you would like to read along.  It’s not an enjoyable read by and large, either stylistically or for content, but it’s definitely worthwhile in that it draws on a number of arguments to support Russell’s theological stance.  The title of the piece is “Why I Am Not a Christian”, and you can read it at http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html.
This speech was given nearly 85 years ago.  That should be taken into account in certain discussions of science.
I appreciate the Russell takes time to define terms, firstly.  He defines a Christian for his purposes as someone who believes in God, immortality and believes Jesus to be fully divine or at least the “best and wisest of men”.  He doesn’t think that you have to believe in hell to be considered a Christian.
Here below is a very brief response to each of the arguments Russell invokes against Christianity.  Firstly, Russell addresses the typical philosophical and moral arguments used to justify the existence of God rationally.
First Cause Argument – Russell does not properly summarize the first-cause argument, which is rather unfair considering the argument has been around for over 2000 years.  Properly stated, the first-cause argument says that all effects must have a cause.  It does not state that all things have a cause, but rather that all things that are effects must have an original cause, and the original cause of all other things can be described as God.  
Natural Law Argument – Russell attempts to argue that the existence of natural laws seem to somehow refute the existence of God, since their ubiquity would seem to indicate that God himself is bound by them and therefore not the all-powerful entity He claims to be.  Russell doesn’t seem to consider that God could arbitrarily declare the existence of, say, gravity, without being bound by some sort of objective gravitational law.  Basically, Russell’s argument here doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.  
Argument From Design – Russell resorts to the assumption that God created the best possible world.  And since we all know how awful and cruel and violent and capricious this world is, if this is the best God can do, we can hardly consider him to be all-powerful or all-knowing or all-present.  Russell’s assumptions about God’s intent in creation as well as Russell’s complete ignoring of the Biblical explanation for our current state of affairs (Genesis 3) is quite unreasonable.
Moral Argument for God – Russell discounts the idea that right and wrong are definitive, objective realities that are created by God.  He basically resorts to Plato’s arguments of Socrates in Euthyphro – is good good because God says it is so, or because it intrinsically is in and of itself, by it’s very nature?  Russell feels that it’s unreasonable that goodness is defined by God as part of his nature, as this could mean that everything we hold to be right and wrong is, in fact, arbitrarily so.  This is not a necessary conclusion however, from the idea that morality comes from God.  
Argument for the Remedying of Injustice – Russell asserts that some people claim there must be a God in order to address injustice, to balance the scales that are so often out of whack in this world.  This isn’t an argument I’ve heard much of – probably due to the philosophical shift that has occurred in the last 80 years.  Regardless, this argument doesn’t so much disprove the existence of God as demonstrate how deeply ingrained in human beings the sense that we ourselves and the world around us are not as they are supposed to be.  Frankly, I think that points towards the existence of God and a prior, perfect existence – which is exactly what we find described in Genesis 1 & 2.  
Russell then throws out a few other miscellaneous arguments against Christianity:
The Character of Christ – Russell’s argument here is not actually against the character of Christ, but rather an observation on how nobody is capable of living up to the morality demanded by Christ.  As a Christian, that’s hardly a surprise, since Scripture has a fair amount to say about our inability to live as we ought.
Defects in Christ’s Teaching – Russell confuses his inability to understand some of Christ’s teachings as demonstration that they are defects.  Russell assumes that his interpretation of Christ’s words is authoritative and comprehensive, and that doesn’t seem to be a reasonable assumption.
The Moral Problem – Mostly a rejection of the idea of hell.  Russell doesn’t see eternal punishment as reasonable.  He doesn’t seem to admit of the possibility of factors he doesn’t know or understand, and he seems to assume the penitence of the condemned.  These factors weaken his objections significantly in my opinion.  The same applies to his brief mention of Jesus casting out demons into a herd of pigs (Matthew 8), as well as his mention of Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree in Matthew 21.  
The Emotional Factor – Russell argues that faith is more of an emotional issue than an intellectual one.  Unfortunately for Russell’s argument, the fact that emotions are often involved is not in and of itself disproof of God.  That would only be true if emotions were relied on in contrast to our experience of reality or intellectual understanding.  Russell concludes this section with an attack on Christian churches as active agents against improvement & change in the human condition, which leads to:
How the Churches Have Retarded Progress – Another philosophical argument by and large from another philosophical era, but one we still hear from time to time today.  He constructs a hypothetical (but certainly not unrealistically possible) situation and decries it as unfair.  He seems to forget that it is not simply in the teachings of the church that one finds unfairness, disappointment, struggle, suffering, etc.  Russell opts not to discuss this topic in any actual specificity.  Which makes rebuttal rather difficult and superfluous.  The church as a human (as well as divine) institution has made many mistakes, continues to do so and will continue to do so until it is perfected in Christ.  Once again, this does not demonstrate that God could not exist, unless of course Scriptures somewhere asserted that the Church can and must be perfect.  
Fear, the Foundation of Religion – Speculation on what drives people to religion.  Assuming that it can’t possibly be true, Russell hypothesizes that it’s fear of death and the unknown that drive people to religion.  Again, the motivating factors in someone’s faith are not in and of themselves adequate to disprove the object of faith.  Russell believes that science will eventually be the undoer of religion, an idea still popular today.  As such, he assumes that science is capable of doing so – which has proven false beyond heated rhetoric.
What We Must Do – The alternative to God and religion is (and really can only be), ourselves.  Russell evinces an amazing faith and trust in human nature – something that was popular in intellectual circles of his time.  Prior to World War I.  Pr
ior to World War II.  Prior to the incredible abuses of those societies that set themselves up in opposition to and power over God and religion – the former Soviet Union, Communist China, etc.  
Overall this is a very light piece that seems to trade on the assumption of an audience already familiar with and friendly to these ideas.  Given that he was speaking to the National Secular Society, this makes perfect sense.