The Terrible Swede has posted a communion hymn, apparently a new addition to hymnody, that I thought was well worth the link. The third stanza took my breath away -- though it makes its point better if you've read the previous stanzas before you get there.
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- Communion hymn
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After three years, several drafts, plenty of late nights, and valuable feedback, my article, A Discussion of the Genre, Historicity, Authorship, and Date of Acts, is now available at Peter Kirby's Christian Origins.
Special thanks to the Cadre's own BK and Nomad for comments on earlier drafts, to Peter Kirby for his valuable comments and for placing the finished product on his website, to my Mom who is one of finest editors in the business (or out of it), and to my wife Jenny, who also provided excellent feedback as well as having a high tolerance level for my distractions and research budget. Thanks to the others who along the way have given feedback or encouragement regarding my thoughts and ideas regarding Acts.
I fully realize that in many ways my inquiry into Acts is still maturing. I hope that through additional research and by interacting with the inevitable and welcome comments and criticisms, I can continue learning about this fascinating piece of ancient literature.
Part I: Answering Muslim Questions
It’s past time that we should be ready, but many of us are still under-prepared. The opportunity to evangelize Muslims has been growing for a long time – but now the time is more urgent. Certain Muslim groups have prepared conversion campaigns targeted at Christians, and those who are not knowledgeable about the Bible, the atonement, the Holy Spirit, and the nature of Christ may find their own relationship to God at risk. Those in Christian leadership positions would do well to do more than simply know and defend their own stands. They would do well in guarding their sheep to make sure that their people are also prepared to understand and defend their faith. In this first part, we will look at general preparation, then a number of specific Muslim attacks commonly made against Christianity. In a future post, I hope to review other points of spreading the good news to Muslims.
Before discussing apologetics, it is necessary to look at one thing first: commitment. Many Christians have grown up in cultures that are Christian in name only, and too often we let ourselves be dragged down into the godless lifestyle of the atheists and agnostics around us. If you are a Christian who has let sexual temptation drive his life into sin, who has let greed or selfishness or worldliness drive his life away from God, the first thing to do is to turn back to God. Someone who has turned away from God cannot witness to him effectively. If you want to effectively witness to people who pray five times a day, fast 40 days a year, and have large portions of their scriptures memorized, each of us then has an obligation to make sure his own life is in order. Each person must examine himself before presuming to instruct others.
Still reading? Even if you realized that you have some work to do on your own life – no one is sinless – it would be good to be aware of some of the basic Muslim attacks against Christianity. And the first thing to be aware of is this: it is often truly an attack. Muslims often consider apologetics to be an extension of the jihad, and trying to spread the faith by word as a jihad of the tongue. The Christian ideal of calm and reasoned debate where the truth shines is very different from the jihad ideal of swift, decisive victory over humiliated opponents. Just as confusion is seen as a valid tactic in warfare, a certain percentage of Muslim apologists – including some prominent and respected figures in the Muslim apologetics scene such as Ahmed Deedat – do not have any moral problems with taking advantage of peoples’ ignorance, selective use of the facts, or various other tactics which Christians would see as less than honest. Knowing your facts is your best defense against this guerrilla-style apologetics.
So which facts should you know? Let’s start with areas which Muslims frequently attack, and look at Christian responses. The questions below are likely to come up in apologetics conversations with Muslims. Of course, as with any conversation, each person will bring unique questions to the table; it’s also necessary to have a general background of knowing and understanding the Bible. The suggested answers below are examples with notes given on why that response was chosen. I’d encourage people to work through the questions on their own and make responses which they believe are best. Solid knowledge of the Bible, and of who Jesus is, will allow the Christian to respond flexibly to different attacks.
Common Muslim attacks on Christianity
Q. Where did Jesus say, “I am God, worship me”?
A. Jesus did not even say, “I am the Messiah, bow before me.” He said that he shared glory with the Father before the world began (John 17:5), that who has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9), that he would be the judge of the world on the Last Day (John 5:22-23, Matthew 25:31-46), and that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). He accepted worship from his disciple, who called him “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28-29).
Notes: The shortness of the answer is important. I started with Jesus not saying “I am the Messiah” because the Qur’an calls Jesus the Messiah, therefore Muslims are obliged to accept that. Then I move forward to what Jesus did say. The Muslims accept that Jesus was a prophet and what he says should carry some weight. This approach will only go so far in that Muslims typically distrust the Bible, but it is an opening that stays with Christian principles of honest and respectful answers while still giving a strong answer to the Muslim attack. The citations are given for reference but it would be awkward to memorize them for recital. It might be good to bookmark them. Where there are too many words, the point can easily get lost. In most of the later responses, I often rely on the reader’s familiarity with the Bible.
Q. “Why do you worship three gods? How are you better than idolaters? Repent and acknowledge that God has no equals.”
A. Of course there is one God and he has no equal. Jesus did not say he was another God, but that he was one with the only true God. He is the Word of God, come down as truly human so we could see and hear him plainly, so we could understand what God is like.
Notes: It is important to quickly and clearly make the point that we are not polytheists and idolaters, as many Muslims falsely believe about us. From there, I chose to take the conversation towards the nature of Christ, using the common ground that the Qur’an also calls Jesus the Word of God, though without any acknowledgment of what that really means as far as being eternal, unchangeable, and of the same essence as God himself. I also move the conversation towards the reasons why God would reveal himself this way. Many Muslims hold that it is not possible to know or understand God, only to submit to his will.
Q. “How can you demean God and say he begets a son? God has no female partner that he should have a son. Begetting is an animal act that is not fit for the holiness of God.”
A. When we call Jesus “Son of God”, we mean two things by it. The lesser one is that as a human he has no human father, but that he alone of all mankind was born of a special miracle from God. The second is that Jesus is the Word of God, the only kind of “Son” that is fitting for God, who is Spirit and is “begotten” not in an animal way, but by Spirit alone. The Word of God is eternal and cannot change, and was with God before being born into the body of Jesus.
Notes: The Qur’an acknowledges that Jesus was born of a virgin, and the Bible calls this one of the reasons Jesus is known as “Son of God” (Luke 1:35), though I pointed out this is the lesser reason. I worked in the fact that Jesus alone was honored in this way because it can allow future building on Jesus being greater than Mohammed and on Jesus being the beginning of a new creation, as the Qur’an also notices Jesus is the first since Adam to be created by a special act of God. I also go back to the “Word of God” since that is in the Qur’an and Bible both, and try to bring out a little what that means. Here I’ve also left some openings for later discussions about the word of God: eternal and unchanging, which will come in handy both for discussions on the eternal nature of God’s Word incarnate as Jesus, and for discussions on whether the Qur’an is really the Word of God, since Mohammed revealed some verses and then later retracted or abrogated them, which no true prophet would ever do. I have not yet launched into that conversation because I first want to let the Muslim see that his objections have no real weight, and that the questioner can expect fair and reasonable responses even to questions which may not be fair or reasonable questions. With a little practice in an apologetics conversation, it’s often workable to let the “attacker” ask most of the question. If the questions are on a decent topic, then honestly answering those questions is usually the same as showing why we believe what we believe, and in asking the right question, they have invited us to share Jesus’ teachings with them.
Q. The Bible has so much evil in it: murder, rape, incest, prostitution, adultery. It is immoral. How can you believe it is the word of God?
A. The Bible condemns all such evil, but records what happened because it is true and because we are taught by it. From the records of evil we learn how much evil stains even holy men like Noah and David, how justified is God’s rage against us, the extent of God’s patience and mercy. We also see that God redeems and forgives some horrible sinners, restores the humble and repentant such as David to great honor as his servants.
Notes: Christians and Muslims have very different ways of thinking about the Word of God. Some patience is called for as they explore a different way of looking at inspiration. For a Muslim, it is shocking and evil even to suggest that Lot slept with his daughters, that Noah got drunk, that David was an adulterer and a murderer; it is scandalous to imagine that “immoral stories” like these should be in a holy book. Here I focus on why God would want us to know about those evil acts. I also introduce the idea, common amongst Christians, that even the prophets such as David are prone to evil, and that God redeems even those who have done great evil. This idea typically is not fully trusted by Muslims and seems a dangerous blurring of the line between “the good guys” and “the bad guys”. It provides us a chance to talk about the mercy of God, which Muslims all claim to believe in principle, but often shy away from when it comes to great sin on the one hand and to holy men on the other. I’ll address a few more questions about the Bible next, but your questioner may switch straight over to questions about redemption, discussed below.
Q. Jesus prophesied the coming of Mohammed: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Why do you not believe Jesus?
A. Jesus promised that the Counselor would come while his disciples that he was speaking to were in Jerusalem, and that after his ascension to God they were not to leave the city until the Counselor came. When the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, came as Jesus said, hundreds of years before Mohammed was born, he gave them power to explain the wonders of God in every language, because the message of Jesus is for all mankind.
Notes: Sometimes the Muslim ignorance of the Bible is so profound that it boggles the mind; we struggle to remain respectful in the face of some of the outrageous nonsense that is claimed. But Mohammed claimed that Jesus had foretold him, which leaves Muslims inventively trying to fit Mohammed onto prophecies of the Holy Spirit, or of the Messiah of the tribe of Judah and line of David. It’s important for us to remember what Jesus taught us: Jesus foretold only false prophets and deceivers after him and said we should not listen to another’s voice. When John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the awaited one or whether to expect another, Jesus answered by pointing to his many miracles which had fulfilled the prophecies; there is no record of Mohammed healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, making the lame walk, or raising the dead as the prophesies required of the one who was to come. Once I even saw a Muslim web-site claim as a prophecy of Mohammed, “The prince of this world is coming” which, in the Bible, refers to the coming power of the devil. Your response will need to start with the specific passages that the Muslim tries to bring forward and then (this is important) show how it was truly fulfilled, so that they can appreciate the power of God in foretelling Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is good to be familiar with how the various prophecies are specific to someone coming from the line of Isaac and Jacob (not Ishmael), of the tribe of Judah, of David (descended from Jacob through Judah). For Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit – this prophecy has been a favorite of Muslims in many lands for centuries – it is good to mention that Jesus instructed his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, which was received in the year that Jesus rose from the dead, centuries before Mohammed was born. One difficult part of this conversation on prophecies is to refrain from ridiculing them; our goal is to show them the truth of God, and many will no longer listen if offended. Our goal is to explain that Jesus alone was God’s promised one: of the line of Jacob, Judah, and David; performed miracles; died as a covenant for the forgiveness of sins; rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God; and said we were to expect only his return and not listen to another voice.
Q. The Bible has been corrupted. How can you trust it?
A. Mohammed trusted the Bible of his day, calling people to check what Moses and Jesus had said before him. The Bibles we have now are older than the day of Mohammed, and Mohammed trusted the Bible of his day. How can you distrust it when Mohammed trusted it? Mohammed said Jesus was a prophet, and no word of God should be ignored. Have you read Jesus’ teachings? May I recite one for you?
Notes: Mohammed spoke with respect and reverence of Jesus and Moses and of the books that came before, as Mohammed called the Bible. This can create an opening to get them to hear Jesus’ words. Jesus’ great sermons and parables leave Mohammed’s teachings in the dust; but it is best simply to let the Muslim see it for himself so that he can see that you are not attacking anything holy, but leading to what is better. It may come in handy to have any of Jesus’ short and memorable teachings truly memorized – whether the beatitudes, or the “Love your enemies” section of the Sermon on the Mount, or the teaching about the evil of sins in the heart, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan, the sheep and the goats – the list goes on. It is better to have any one or two well-memorized, especially when dealing with someone from an Arab culture where memory-work is held in high value. If you memorize only one passage, please memorize where Jesus is asked what is the greatest command of the law, and answers that the greatest is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that the second is like it, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Neither of these commands is found anywhere in the Qur’an, and it is important that they should hear the word of God.
Q. Your Bible says that God “rested” on the seventh day. Your “god” is weak. The Qur’an says God never grows tired. God cannot be tired! How can you believe in such a weak god?
A. Jesus said that God made the Sabbath for mankind (Mark 2:27). The Bible says God does not tire or slumber or sleep. The Sabbath is part of God’s plan of creation, the blessing of rest that God made not for himself but as a gift for us. It is a foretaste of paradise, of the world to come, where we rest from our work, where we are humble about how little all our work really accomplishes, and are glad for the blessings God gives us.
Notes: Muslims usually imagine that Christians have a very low concept of God. Also, Muslims typically have a very law-oriented, power-oriented approach to the world. An emphasis on gladness and blessing is not completely foreign to Islam, but Christianity holds a much larger place for these things. Many Muslims are thirsty for news of God’s love and God’s blessing, for an approach to God that is not completely rooted in law and submission, for God using his power in a way that calls for gladness in addition to humility and submission.
Q. The Bible says not to eat pork, and that men must be circumcised. Why have Christians turned away from the commands of God?
A. Circumcision was given as a sign of the covenant only to the children of Abraham, not to all the nations. The command to refrain from pork was given only to the Israelites, not to all the nations. In the Bible, we find that all nations are called to have circumcised hearts, hearts which are devoted to God and refrain from evil; this command is given to all nations and not just the children of Abraham. Jesus said that what a man eats does not defile a man but what comes out of his heart: evil thoughts, hatred, lust, and deceit make us truly unclean before God. We must honor God with our hearts. This command is for all people of all times.
Notes: As commonplace as Jesus’ teachings are among Christians, the ideas are often new to Muslims who are still used to evaluating holiness and cleanness in terms of what can be seen of a person’s actions: what can be eaten, how we have washed. Jesus said not to neglect smaller things, but to pursue the greater: justice and mercy. Now, I’d like to bring a complaint against ourselves: that our emphasis on internal cleanness is sometimes, against Jesus’ teachings, used by some people as nothing more than an excuse for living horribly on the outside and still pretending we are ok. This is nothing but self-deceit. In order for us to explain Jesus’ teachings well, we must also live them as well as we possibly can. We must lead holy and reverent lives so that Jesus’ teachings will be seen as Jesus meant them and not be subject to slander. I brought up the part about Jesus’ teachings being for all people of all times first because the teachings of circumcision and pork were not, second because the Muslims suppose that Jesus’ teaching was only for Israel and that Mohammed was the prophet for all people of all times. If the conversation starts going this direction, it is useful to note that an authoritative early Muslim source records that Jesus’ followers were given the power to speak in different languages, as the Bible also records. Mohammed’s followers were not given the power to speak in different languages. Everyone can draw their own conclusion about which message God meant for the whole world.
Note with caution: I have not found anywhere that the Qur’an teaches refraining from pork or being circumcised, and have heard some anti-Muslim apologists say there is no such passage. It is likely that these parts of Islam are borrowed from Judaism. I would only mention this last bit if I were in a conversation where the person was so hardened in enmity and dedicated to attack that he needed to be surprised, where openness to Jesus’ teachings was not going to be done in the current state of hardness of heart, and the attacker needed to think more about his unquestioning assumption that the Qur’an is God’s word. In a conversation with an especially dedicated anti-Christian, I would issue a counter challenge: John the Baptist and Jesus taught baptism, and Jesus commanded baptism for all nations. Why are you not baptized, and why did Mohammed not teach baptism? This approach could be useful because the Qur’an acknowledges both John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets. I’d only recommend going this route if you are faced with a hostile opponent who needs to stop and think a little and if you are also comfortable defending the theology of baptism if challenged.
Q. Why does the Bible show Jesus drinking wine, and even using a miracle to create wine? Why all this moral decadence?
A. Why do you say it is wrong for Jesus to create wine by a miracle, but not wrong for God to make a world where there is wine? Wine is not evil, only the misuse of it is evil, and the Bible condemns misuse of it. There are many things that are not evil of themselves, but their misuse is evil. For all the many people who misuse wine, it would still be wrong to forget that wine is a good gift from God.
Notes: It is important to establish that wine itself it not evil, while still condemning the immoral uses of wine and noting that the Bible also condemns them. It may be useful to follow up with your own approach to the topic. For some Muslims, it is news that one cup of wine does not lead to intoxication and that it only takes self-control to be able to drink without becoming drunk. Do not encourage or pressure a Muslim to drink; this would be an affront to them and completely unnecessary. Remember that many Christians also abstain from alcohol. As a side note, it is possible that the Muslim will still claim that wine is evil and that God created evil to test us. We need to insist, along with the Bible, that all that God made is good. This leads directly to our next point.
Q. How can you say God did not create evil? Who but God can create?
A. I will tell you who can create, and who can destroy. God alone can create, but anyone can destroy, and this is the cause of evil. Evil is not a thing where you can point at a place in the universe and say, “There it is, there is evil! Let’s destroy it and be rid of it once and for all.” Evil is a turning away from God. God is clear of us, and is holy. God is good all the time.
Notes: More than once I have met Muslims who firmly insist that God has created evil, though it may be that there are Muslims who do not believe such a thing. In this, Christians typically think the Muslims are blasphemers making God the author of evil and no better than the devil but only more powerful. We have to explain our view of the holiness of God, and how unfitting it is that God, who is holy, who alone is truly good and the source of all good, should be accused of being the source of evil. For their part, Muslims may imagine that we are blasphemers and imagine that we ascribe creative powers to someone besides God. Christianity has long said that evil is not a created thing but a corruption, a destruction, and a turning from God, but this is sometimes a new idea to Muslims. “God is good all the time” has been used as a greeting amongst Christians living in Muslim-dominated countries. It may be that our brothers are seeking a way in everyday conversation to bring to mind the differences in their views of God.
Q. Jesus did not die, neither was he crucified. Why do you believe God would abandon Jesus to such a death?
A. Jesus’ disciples saw him die. His mother Mary saw him die. The Roman executioner stuck a spear in his side to make sure he had died. David prophesied about Messiah, even that his clothes would be taken and the guards would cast lots for them, just as happened when Jesus died on the cross. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he showed the wounds of his torture and death to his disciples as proof that he was not a ghost. The prophet Isaiah – a true prophet who foretold that Messiah must be born of a maiden – also foretold that Messiah would die horribly and be raised from the dead. Isaiah foretold that Jesus is our covenant with God. Jesus’ covenant is for the forgiveness of sins.
Notes: Even though it is very plain that Jesus was crucified, you’re going to meet tough resistance on this one because the Qur’an says that Jesus did not die and was not crucified. A Muslim simply cannot admit that they are wrong on this point because it truly amounts to acknowledging that the Qur’an is human, simply from Mohammed and not from God. The fact of Jesus’ crucifixion directly calls into question Mohammed’s claim to have been a prophet. Because the Muslim cannot concede this point and still be a Muslim, there will probably be follow-up attacks against Jesus’ crucifixion. Some Muslims will bring up the “Gospel of Barnabas”, a late forgery which seems to have been written by a Muslim and has Mohammed as the Messiah. A good basic article is here; you can read more for the price of a search on most search engines. Some Muslims argue that God made Judas Iscariot look like Jesus and Judas was crucified in Jesus’ place. But then why would Judas call for the forgiveness of his executioners, or arrange for Jesus’ mother Mary to be placed in someone’s care? Why on the third day later does Jesus have wounds from nails and spear? Some say Jesus survived crucifixion, but this disregards the fact that his executioners had taken a spear and rammed it into his side to make sure he was dead; it also misses the fact that Jesus being on the cross at all goes against the Qur’an which says he was not crucified. When it seems productive to you, use the cross to introduce some of the ideas of redemption: a covenant or God’s own guarantee that he will do a certain thing, a covenant guaranteeing forgiveness of sins, and resurrection of the dead. Do not hold out for an admission that the Qur’an is wrong. Allow them to think about the facts, and give them some time by introducing why the crucifixion matters: the covenant and forgiveness, so that they remember their other objections to Christianity that you want to address. While the idea of covenant is found throughout the Bible, Mohammed did not receive a covenant from God. This does not need to be pointed out except to the hard-hearted. For most, it will be enough if we explain what a covenant is and how through the Bible God has revealed his covenants with us – and that Jesus is our covenant with God for the forgiveness of sins.
Q. No one can atone for the sins of another. No one can carry another’s sins. When you live sinful lives and trust Jesus to save you, are you not just kidding yourselves?
A. No one who rebels against God, unrepentant, has forgiveness. But Jesus alone had no sin. Of all people ever born, even of all the messengers of God, Jesus alone had no sin of his own. The prophets foretold that one alone in all the world would be born of a maiden, and would come as a special creation of God for a special purpose. This purpose was to be a covenant with God for us, for our cleansing, for the forgiveness of sins. All of us need forgiveness and God does not owe this forgiveness to any one of us. Without forgiveness, all of us alike would be lost. God binds himself and makes a covenant for us in Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins. We do not trust our own goodness, and think of this as nothing but pride. We trust God’s goodness, and trust God through Jesus’ sacrifice.
Notes: This answer works with the fact that most Muslims acknowledge that Jesus was sinless; it is another point which he has over Mohammed, though it is probably best if you let them figure out that by themselves. The news that all are sinners in danger of hell is frightening to many Muslims, who often believe that a good life will earn heaven and that they themselves may not be guilty of much sin. These points may need some attention; calling attention to our own sins of thought using Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may be a good path to take if it seems necessary to convince someone that “all have sinned”. By this point in the conversation, you should have some idea whether the Muslim is open to hearing about Jesus. If you have some parts of the Bible memorized – or at least learned well – you might explain what Jesus taught. You may wish to give them a copy of the New Testament. If they struggle with English as a second language, there are places where you can order Bibles in a variety of other languages.
If you plan to have any serious discussions with a Muslim, please read a copy of the Qur’an. There is no better way to begin understanding Muslim culture. It is also good to familiarize yourself with the basic issues. I hope this post has been a small starter, but other sites are available.
Answering Islam is usually a moderate site.
Answers to Islam is not always moderate. You may find useful material here and useful background knowledge. Please consider well what tone you would like to use in your own approach. It will likely depend on the topic. Some Muslim anti-Christians are over-the-top outrageous in their claims, and this site answers them as fast as it can. This site occasionally has the "shocked outrage" voice of those who have recently discovered that Islam was not, after all, just sweetness and light before the foundation of modern Israel and that its tendency towards violence does, after all, trace straight back to Mohammed.
For our part, it is important that we should conduct ourselves in a way worthy of Christ. Their questions – even attacks – show what they do not understand and what we need to show them. Among the most important things we need to show is love. While answering with truth and reason, we need to be sure the conversation does not slide down into mere argumentation, which gives the illusion to any argument that both sides are the same. Christianity is true and loving, but more than this: it is good news. The best apologetics will cross that line to evangelism and explain the goodness of God.
A friend of mind who goes by the name GakuseiDon has written a powerful rebuttal to Earl Doherty's ideas about the second-century Christians and their attitudes about the historical Jesus. To Doherty, there were many Christian leaders in the second century who denied that Jesus existed historically. As GakuseiDon shows, Doherty's arguments are wholly unpersuasive, based on misreadings, misunderstandings, and mistranslations of the text, as well as contradicted by several more persuasive explanations. My personal favorite is summarized by Mr. Don here:
Most of the second century apologists’ ire was directed towards Marcion and the Gnostics. Strangely enough, even MJ authors like Theophilus wrote against Marcion, though his work is not extant. But in no case is there any mention of heresies involving a group of Christians who believed that Christ never walked the earth.
Doherty briefly notes the lack of writers who openly and in unmistakable words rejected the figure of a historical Jesus, and puts this down to “2000 years of Christian censorship” as well as to the inaccessibility to materials in the ancient world for anyone who might attempt such a thing.
But this hardly explains why such views were not noted by the anti-heretical works of the day. At a time when the Gnostic views on the nature of Christ’s physical body were being vehemently fought against, the lack of any reference to heretics who believed that Christ didn’t walk the earth at all is a significant gap.
The emphasis is mine but the argument is Don's. Excellent point. Okay, maybe if there were ever any Mythical Jesus Christians in the second century their writings were not preserved (though plenty of gnostic writings were), but how on earth could they escape the notice of those gung-ho Christians so offended at the notion that Jesus walked the earth but was made out of different stuff than we were (as advocated by Marcion and other gnostics)? The answer is obvious, they would not have. Surely Tertullian or Iranaeus would have not have spared such heresey, much less all of the second century Christian apologist who even Doherty admits affirmed a historical Jesus.
This is just a taste, Don is thorough and convincing. He did the homework Doherty should have done.
The following is a short story about a trial with a not-too-hidden analogy. In the trial, the judge is asked whether certain testimony will be allowed to raise a reasonable doubt about the guilt of a defendant. The testimony proposed, to my knowledge, has never been permitted in a criminal trial, but then I don't know of any case where anyone has ever tried to have it admitted. I am asking you to sit in the place of the judge in the case and give me your opinion as to whether the case should be admitted.
Judge Pohler sat back in his chair almost disappearing behind the large oak bench spread before him, removed his wire-framed glasses and rubbed his aching eyes. He had been up most of the previous night working on his rulings on the pre-trial motions in this second degree murder case, and found it difficult to remain focused on the opening statements. The trial was expected to be relatively short for a capital trial due the presence of three eyewitnesses to the murder.
According to the charges, William Robert Johanssen, a well-liked local resident, with only a couple of shopliftings on his slim criminal record, had killed 19 year old Mary Kate Evans on the cliffs of an oceanfront park approximately one year ago, and three members of a local bird-watching group had witnessed the murder. Even with three eyewitnesses, the case presented several problems for the prosecution. The first and most formidable problem resulted from the fact that the victim’s body had never been found. Mr. Johanssen had reportedly killed her on the cliff top and thrown the body over the edge of the cliff into the rocky waters below. Thus, before getting a conviction, the assistant district attorney on the case had to convince the jury that a murder had been committed without the body to establish that the victim was actually dead. Of course, such difficulties had been overcome in the past, and the judge did not view this as an insurmountable problem in light of the three, apparently unimpeachable, eyewitnesses.
The assistant district attorney, Ms. Jaclyn Wilson, an attractive woman in her early forties with her brunette hair pulled back into a long ponytail that extended halfway down her back, was summing up the evidence she expected to present to the jury which sat in various states of attention. The judge did not expect anything unusual to happen.
"All three witnesses," assistant district attorney continued, "will testify that the defendant rushed toward the victim yelling, quote, 'I’m gonna’ kill you,' unquote, grabbed her by the head and twisted her neck at a gruesome angle. The witnesses will all testify that they heard a loud snap as he twisted young Ms. Evans’ neck, and that he then picked up the limp, lifeless body and dashed it over the edge of the cliff into the churning waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The witnesses will all testify that they had good views of the defendant at the time of the murder, and he even ran into one of them as he fled the scene. Moreover, all three of the witnesses in this close community knew the defendant personally, and can positively identify the defendant as the murderer."
"All of this evidence will be presented to you, and it will be your obligation to review this evidence and, if you are convinced by a standard called ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ – a standard of proof that will be explained to you in full in the jury instructions you will receive at the end of the trial -- that the defendant committed this murder, you should convict this man. Thank you."
Ms. Wilson’s opening statement had been devastating. The jury and the audience in the crowded courtroom murmured back and forth as Ms. Wilson returned to her seat with a muted look of triumph on her face. If she could prove what she claimed, there was no doubt that William Robert Johanssen would be convicted of second degree murder. The defense attorney, a young man in an oversized, blue double-breasted suit, quickly glanced over his yellow legal pad, patted his client on the hand and approached the podium. Brushing back a loose strand of hair that had fallen across his pale forehead, he addressed the court.
"Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Albert Dodd, and I represent the defendant William Robert Johanssen –- 'Billy' as he is known to his friends -- who you see sitting to my right. Obviously, you understand that Ms. Wilson’s statements do not constitute evidence, but merely present the state’s summation of its case against my client. If Ms. Wilson is able to prove that three witnesses actually saw my client, Billy, murder young Ms. Evans beyond a reasonable doubt, than you should convict him of murder in the second degree." The crowd murmured again. "However, that is the question, isn’t it? Did the witnesses actually see what they now claim to have seen? Yes, testimony will be adduced that all three are well-respected members of the community with excellent reputations, and my client will not dispute their forthrightness. Billy acknowledges that these three witnesses believe that they saw him kill Ms. Evans. But did they really?
"Our defense is very simple –- the witnesses that claim to have seen the murder were suffering from a mass hallucination."
The courtoom erupted at the unanticipated turn of the trial. Ms. Wilson sprang to her feet screaming, "Objection, your honor!" Judge Pohler grabbed his gavel and began to bang it on the bench calling repeatedly for order.
When the din had quieted down, the judge lay down his gavel and called for the attorneys to approach the bench. When the two had made their way to the bench, he leaned forward, turned off his microphone, looked the defense attorney directly in the eye, and said, "Mr. Dodd, what is this nonsense? Mass hallucinations?! Tell me why I shouldn’t declare a mistrial right here and now and not sanction you $1,000 for this impossible claim."
"Well, your honor," the counselor began, "it is a fact of modern psychology that people can suffer from hallucinations, and since I don’t believe my client committed the murder, it must have been a mass hallucination that caused the witnesses to see him commit the murder. I intend to produce expert witnesses on my part who will testify that these three witnesses suffered a concurrent hallucination that caused them to see Mr. Johanssen commit the murder when, in fact, he did not."
The judge was angry, yet knowing that the jury would be able to hear him if he began to yell at Mr. Dodd, he restrained himself. Instead, he asked in a low, accusing tone: "Sir, accepting for a moment your claim that people hallucinate –- a claim that this court knows to be true from prior commitment hearing I have held -- what evidence do you have that the three witnesses to this murder suffered a mass hallucination?"
"Actually, your honor," Mr. Dodd continued, "by the very nature of mass hallucinations, there cannot be any direct evidence of a hallucination. By definition a hallucination is seeing or hearing something that really isn’t there. But we can establish hallucinations based upon the surrounding facts. For example, if a widow sees her dead husband in the next room having coffee, we know she is hallucinating because her dead husband cannot really be there. If a man hears the voice of a friend when that friend is nowhere around, we know he is hallucinating. Thus, while I cannot produce direct evidence of a hallucination, we can conclude that a person is having hallucinations based upon the probability that what they see or hear is real.
"Look at what we have in this case, your honor. We have three witnesses who claim to have seen a murder when we cannot even find a body. We have a defendant who has a minimal criminal history, and who I am personally convinced would never have killed anyone. The three witnesses have unimpeachable reputations and are all very convinced that they really saw my client kill this woman. If, as I believe, my client is innocent, the only possible explanation for the fact that these otherwise qualified witnesses claim to have seen the murder is that they experienced a mass hallucination. I intend to produce expert witnesses who will testify that that is a real possibility given the evidence in this case."
The judge sat back for a moment and considered Mr. Dodd’s statements. He wondered if he was mad, or whether there was really any sense at all in Mr. Dodd’s position that he just wasn’t seeing. He turned to the assistant district attorney and said, "Ms. Wilson, what are your thoughts on this matter?"
"Your honor, with all due respect to Mr. Dodd who I consider to be a very bright and able attorney, this is nothing more than an attempt to divert us from the real inquiry. What he is doing is trying to raise doubts about the nature of direct testimony. We have three witnesses who are, as he admits, of unimpeachable reputations. They have no cause to lie about what they saw, and they are all very clear about what they saw. It appears that his only reason for doubting their testimony is his personal belief that his client is innocent. But that shouldn’t be enough to forward. If he is able to raise questions about whether the witnesses had a mass hallucination based solely on his own conviction that his client didn’t do it, where does it stop?
"Your honor," she continued, "I am also familiar with hallucinations in trial courts having handled a few of the commitment hearings you earlier mentioned. In those cases, we had clear evidence that the respondent who we were seeking to commit was hearing or seeing things that didn’t happen based on eyewitnesses testifying about the true state of affairs and diagnosis of the respondent from competent psychologists. What Mr. Dodd is suggesting is that where three witnesses all witness the same event, and where no other party other than the accused claims that they didn’t see what the witnesses say they saw, that somehow it is the defendant who is seeing reality and the three, independent witnesses who are having a mass hallucination. These witnesses have not been evaluated by psychiatrists to see if they have been having hallucinations and there are no otherwise disinterested witnesses who will say that they were hallucinating in this circumstance."
Ms. Wilson took in a breath, and finished, "If Mr. Dodd is able to submit this evidence under these facts, you will be giving carte blanch to all defendants to claim that the witnesses, no matter how many or how qualified, are all suffering from a mass hallucination based solely on the claim of the defendant that they must have been seeing things. That, your honor, would devastate the burden of proof in criminal cases by adding an entirely new dimension to the idea of 'beyond a reasonable doubt'."
Mr. Dodd jumped in, "Your honor, with all due respect, there are only three possibilities for the witnesses seeing Billy kill Ms. Evans: (1) he did it and they witnessed it, (2) he didn’t do it and they are lying about witnessing it, and (3) he didn’t do it but they imagined he did it. As I have said, I am convinced that Billy didn’t commit the murder, and despite my efforts at deposition to come up with motives for lying, the witnesses appear unimpeachable. Thus, it must be that they are hallucinating. I have experts prepared to testify that will establish that a larger percentage of people -- sane everyday people –- experience hallucinations than you would expect. They will also testify that hallucinations are more likely to occur in certain circumstances, and one of these circumstances, grief, is present in the present case. Moreover, even though the witnesses have not been evaluated, the evidence will show that the witnesses have a background of hallucinations."
The judge looked sharply at Mr. Dodd. "You have evidence that the witnesses experienced prior hallucinations?"
Mr. Dodd looked over his notes. "Yes, your honor, I believe that I do. For example, in 2000, the first witness claims to have witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary. Since it is obvious that he didn’t really see the Virgin Mary, he has a history of hallucinations. Likewise, the second witness claims to have seen a UFO in 1987. Obviously, she is having difficulty discerning reality."
At first, the judge sat looking at his desk. Slowly, a wry smile crept across his face. He looked up at Mr. Dodd and asked: "Mr. Dodd, I may be able to agree that people who see UFOs are hallucinating, but do you really expect me to rule that everyone who has had a religious experience is hallucinating? After all, what you are suggesting is that because some sane people have hallucinations, than I should allow evidence into a case that witnesses may be suffering hallucinations if the circumstances are right. That alone would not justify my ruling, unless I have a background that these witnesses have suffered hallucinations in the past. But you are suggesting that the background event that would justify the introduction of such evidence at all and establish that a person has a history of hallucinations can be a religious experience. Are you expecting me to rule in your favor on that point?"
Mr. Dodd looked at the judge and said in a stern, unwavering tone, "of course."
Okay, you're now Judge Pohler. How would you rule? I will give my analysis in a couple of days.
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.
Following a link provided by dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos, I read this article, entitled “The Christian Paradox, How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong.” The point of the article appears to be that although America is predominantly Christian, American Christians are bad Christians.
The author of the article, Bill McKibben, is a writer for Mother Jones and appears to be coming from a political rather than a religious perspective. He begins by noting that although many Americans claim to be religious, only about one-third of Americans attend church on a weekly basis. That is a fair enough criticism. I too wish more American “Christians” regularly attended services. But it seems like something of a concession that Christianity has lost, not gained, influence in America. As we will see, however, McKibben nevertheless seems to lay the blame for most of America's ills at American Christianity's doorstep. He never seems to consider the possibility that many of the social ills he identifies may be a result of a lack of American Christianity rather than its presence.
In any event, McKibben sets forth his criteria for what makes someone a real or a good Christian:
Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?
Here is the scripture to which McKibben refers but does not cite:
Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' Matthew 25:34-40
I agree that Jesus here is teaching that part of being a Christian is to provide for the poor and the downtrodden. But the core flaw in McKibben’s indictment of American Christians is that he takes Jesus to mean something other than what he said. Jesus said that his followers should give to the poor, but nowhere in the excerpted article does McKibben ever explore how much American Christians are giving. Instead he beats the long dead horse of the American government’s supposedly stingy foreign aid. McKibbens states, “In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid.”
There are many flaws in using the relative amount of government foreign aid as an indicia of how Christian are American Christians. The most basic flaw is that government foreign aid does not measure how much money American Christians are giving. In fact, it does not measure how much money any Americans are giving. It only purports to measure how much foreign aid the U.S. government provides.
Of course, many Americans are suspicious of government aid in general, not because they are stingy but because they are skeptical that it is effective. Speaking only for myself, I believe that much foreign aid is funneled to and/or through corrupt and/or incompetent government or NGO entities that do not actually help the people that are intended to be helped. I also think that foreign aid can sometimes have the unintended consequence of discouraging economic development and/or crowding out private charity. I might be empirically wrong about this, but my skepticism is not born out of a lack of charity. Just the opposite in fact.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, it is fallacious to equate supporting a certain level of government giving with personal giving. Jesus told his followers that they were to give to the poor, not that they were to take self-righteous satisfaction in taking other people’s money and giving it to the poor. Confusing the latter with the former seems to run afoul of Jesus’ teachings on giving: “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4.
Remember, as a practical matter, a small minority of Americans pay the vast majority of the taxes. 1% of American wage earners pays over 33% of all taxes. The top 50% of American wage earners pays 97% of the taxes. So, the fact is that there is little if any self-sacrifice on the part of most people advocating greater foreign aid. Even setting aside the effectiveness of government aid versus the effectiveness of charity, the sacrifice and personal involvement of the latter was exactly what Jesus spoke of.
We should also consider that there is persuasive evidence that the more government social spending one supports the less likely one is to give to charity. In a study by a Professor Brooks discussed more fully below, he shows how increased government involvement in social welfare actually can discourage chritable giving. In Europe, it appears to have done just that.
Additionally, measurements of U.S. “foreign aid” are misleading. The fact remains that the United States government gives more money in foreign aid than any other nation. More to the point, private charitable giving in the United States for overseas assistance is double that of U.S. foreign aid. McKibben is dismissive of this fact, but surely this is the point. It is what the Christians themselves that are giving which is the best measurement of their fidelity to Jesus’ teaching. “Most developed countries in Europe lag far behind the United States when it comes to charitable giving by individuals. Philanthropy Magazine reported a German study that found the average American contributing around seven times what the average German contributes.”
Also, the definition of “foreign aid” is underinclusive and especially slanted against real U.S. contrinbutions to combating poverty and international lawlessness. For example, when the tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed hundreds of thousands and left millions homeless and vulnerable, the United States provided the most immediate practical assistance of any nation by sending more than 20,000 soldiers and sailors, including a Naval fleet, to help. That fleet included(s) the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (a nuclear-powered Nimitz Class aircraft carrier), the hospital ship U.S.S. Mercy, and the U.S.S. Essex (a helicopter aircraft carrier). The U.S. Pacific Command delivered over 24 million pounds of relief supplies, flew almost 4,000 missions including delivery of supplies and damage assessment recon, provided thousands of gallons of drinking water, thousands of tons of food, and medical care for thousands of victims. How much does this assistance add to the off-cited calculations of of U.S. foreign aid? Not a dime. And when the United States under President Clinton’s leadership lead NATO in its military intervention to stop genocide in the former Yugoslavia at a cost of billions, how much of that counted as foreign aid? Not a dime. In fact, whatever one may think of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, the fact is that the U.S. uses its military, at a high cost of treasure and lives, in peacekeeping and nation building efforts throughout the world.
The rest of McKibben's assault on American Christianity is similarly flawed. He claims that America does not care for its needy, but again focuses only on government social welfare programs. The fact is that American Christians are tremendously generous in giving their own money to charities. A study by Professor Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University reveals that 91 percent of religious Americans donated money to charities whereas only 66 percent of secular Americans did so. When it comes to volunteering time for charitable efforts, 67 percent of religious Americans did so and only 44 % of secular Americans did. They also gave more. Average annual giving among the religious is over $2,200, whereas for secular Americans it is less than $650.
When we compare the level of charitable giving in the United States to a more secular country, say Spain, the results are revealing. Spaniards give half as much to charity per capita and volunteer their time 1/5th of the time. And, tellingly, “Spain has the highest level of charitable giving per capita in Western Europe (and has church attendance rates that are among the highest as well).” Yet when the most religious and charitable Western European nation’s charitable giving is compared to that of the United States, there is no contest. American Christians, therefore, are head and shoulders above the rest of the West in their following of Jesus’ teachings on the poor. This is not to say that they give enough, or as much and in the ways that Jesus would like, but it does show the shallowness of McKibben’s assault.
McKibben next claims that America is the most “violent rich nation on earth.” This is oft stated but seldom examined closely. And, of course, McKibben does not show that it is American Christians comitting the crime. And in reality, America’s violent crime rates have declined dramatically while other Western nations are seeing surges in increases in such crimes.
In a 2001 study, the British Home Office (the equivalent of the U.S. Department of Justice) found violent and property crime increased in the late 1990s in every wealthy country except the United States. American property crime rates have been lower than those in Britain, Canada, and France since the early 1990s, and violent crime rates throughout the E.U., Australia, and Canada have recently begun to equal and even surpass those in the United States. Even Sweden, once the epitome of cosmopolitan socialist prosperity, now has a crime victimization rate 20 percent higher than the United States.
Americans, on the other hand, have become much safer. Preliminary 2001 crime statistics from the FBI show America's tenth consecutive year of declines in crime. While our homicide rate is still substantially higher than most in Europe, it has sunk to levels unseen here since the early 1960s. And overall crime rates in this country are now 40 percent below the all-time highs of the early 1970s. In 1973, nearly 60 percent of American households fell victim to property crimes. In 2000 (the most recent data available), only about 20 percent did. Among the economically powerful democracies in the Group of Seven, only the Japanese now have a lower victimization rate than the United States.
Additionally, this argument ignores the fact that America’s increase in violent crime in the 60s and 70s came about as religion was losing ground and secularism increasing. In other words, the less Christian America has become, the more violent it has become.
I do not take seriously the notion that the United States is not a Christian nation because it has a prison population. At most this is related to America’s higher crime rates which we discussed above. I do find it ironic that McKibben snidely refers to having more opportunity to visit prisoners in the U.S., while he completely ignores the fact that there are many American Christians who do just that (most notably, Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries).
McKibben also brings up the fact that the United States still executes first degree murderers, but he cannot manage to bring up any saying of Jesus forbidding governments from using this form of punishment. Indeed, opposition to capital punishment per se has not been a significant part of Christian teaching. To the contrary, Christians have long recognized that the government is God’s instrument on earth to impose justice on evil doers: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Romans 13:3-4.
McKibben’s best point is the divorce rate in America. But even here his analysis is lacking. While it is true that the divorce rate in America is higher than most European nations, it is also true that the American marriage rate is much higher than the European one. In Europe, more and more couples simply live together and never get married, whereas in America, some of those couples get married and then divorced. Still, this is one of the greatest areas of hypocrisy in the American church and I do not want to minimize how problematic is the situation.
Finally, McKibben overlooks other areas of Christian morality with which American Christians often concern themselves. American Christians are particularly Pro Life and active in opposing abortion on demand. This is in accord with longstanding Christian advocacy for the unborn. Christians are also active in opposing redefining marriage to include same-sex unions. Christians have also been particuarly active in spreading the word about slavery and civil rights abuses of minorities in Africa. American Christians also strongly oppose anti-Semitism and support the nation of Israel. Nor does he mention Christian efforts to allow for more government support of faith-based initiatives to help the poor and downtrodden. Perhaps McKibben does not mention such efforts because he does not share their political goals. Fair enough, but that is not the issue. These efforts and attitudes are tied to Christian morality and teachings. McKibben cannot bring himself to give any credit to these Christian efforts by American Christians.
All in all, McKibben’s points are the usual shallow ones made to score political points. Which is unfortunate. American Christianity has it faults and certainly has need of reform. It is far from what I am sure Jesus wants it to be. But it is not as far down in the gutter as McKibben would have us believe. Nor is it somehow responsible for the negative effects McKibben highlights. In fact, when it comes to his main argument – the supposed stinginess of American Christians – he stands utterly refuted.
Disclaimer: Any political views expressed are strictly my own and do not reflect those of the Cadre. Specifically, just as I do not think that my skepticism of the efficacy of government social welfare programs is unChristian, I do not think that faith in such programs is unChristian. This is an empirical question, not a spiritual one. Also specifically, I do not mean to imply that some Christians are not prompted by their faith to oppose capital punishment. My point was only that opposition to it is not strongly attested by the history of Christian teaching.
Clearly, standard fetology and embryology textbooks confirm that after fertilization takes place, a distinct human being exists. In light of this evidence, pro-abortion advocates rely on other appeals to "choice", "women's rights", and "privacy" as the foundation for their arguments. As you will see later on, these appeals do not substantiate the claims being made for their justifications for taking precious and defenseless human life.
1.) O'Rahilly and Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001): p.88.
The British police certainly don't have a reputation for violence. Living in Southern Texas as I do, where the neighboring state of Tamaulipas finds a large percentage of the police force on the payroll of the drug lords, where inquisitive reporters and honest police are killed with near-total impunity, British police have occasionally seemed like boyscouts on a not-particularly-challenging assignment. That's been changing for years, of course; stunningly rapidly in the last few weeks.
Which raises the question, "What the blazes happened last week?" An article in the Independent about the British police's execution-style killing of a Brazilian national has a picture captioned, "Wrong place, wrong time." Deep buried in the article, only an oblique reference to the other thing: wrong color.
It would be an inexcusably selective use of the facts to imagine that the British -- or whites -- or Westerners -- have an exclusive on prejudice; that's a universal. Read this next sentence once with a straight face: One thing that makes this especially shocking and tragic is that the British are an enlightened people, a civilized country ruled by law and decency; they're supposed to be better than that.
That was intended as irony. The punch line: the reason we think it so shocking that "we" would act that way is because we are deeply convinced that we're better than "them" and that those types of problems could never happen in Britain. Another level to our prejudice. We just acted like a third-world country. Because third-world problems have come to our shores. How much do "third-world" government tactics come from having to face this type of problem? How much do the same tactics aggravate the problem? Some people may not be looking at olive-skinned people in the same way they did a few years ago; now some people may not be looking at "bobbies" quite the same way either.
Fairness check: in general, I have been very impressed with the speed and accuracy with which British law enforcement has made progress. But it is right that we stop and evaluate when an innocent life is taken by those whose true aim is to protect innocent life.
How deep do prejudices go? Well, take literature as an index. How many people actually noticed that, say, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fantasy world, the farther south you go, the darker skinned people are, the more evil they are, until at the furthest south and darkest-skinned there is no reasoning with people, only killing them? How many noticed the irony of Peter Jackson's attempted solution in the 3rd rings movie: he needed a prominent light-skinned orc to offset the perception of that prejudice, so he gave the dark-skinned characters a white boss to show he's *not* a racist, if you can follow that. The point: even the best-intentioned of us are generally prejudiced on a level so deep that we hardly even perceive it. One of the surest signs of prejudice is that we think the prejudiced people are "not us, but them" -- never noticing the self-contradiction inherent in that thought.
What am I trying to do with this post? For the love of God and neighbor, to make sure we do not fail to ask ourselves those questions.
In Weekend Fisher's (WF) last post on slavery, WF pointed out that when it comes to social issues, "Jesus did not set himself out as a political change agent on a "social reform" platform to target one of them at the expense of others." In fact, Jesus primarily addressed the concerns of the time: idolatry, hypocracy in the Jewish leadership, love for your neighbors/enemies, and the need to lives in accordance with the will of the Father. (Oh yeah, Jesus also spent some time on that bit about salvation through Him, but that is another matter.)
Of course, another issue that draws the same type of accusation is the idea that Jesus never addressed abortion so it must be alright. This argument is usually advanced by those who believe in abortion on demand, and starts with the contention that abortion was legal at the time of Jesus' ministry, and therefore if He was really concerned about it, He should have mentioned it. But His failure to address the issue means that He was in favor of the then-current practices of abortion in the Jewish community.
How does this argument look in practice? Consider the following posted as a comment by Susan on a blog named Jesus Politics in an entry entitled "Christians for Kerry/Edwards":
It seems like all of us who are Jesus followers, before we decide about candidates should focus on what Jesus teachings are and I believe Jesus himself never said ONE SINGLE WORD about abortion or being gay even though we know such things existed long before Jesus was walking around here on earth. He did however say PLENTY OF WORDS about the poor, the outcasts, the hungry, the imprisoned, etc. Therefore, it seems that we should be focusing on what Jesus focused on - trying to address hunger, homelessness, poverty, prison reforms, etc.
But, of course, this claim begs the question about what the Jewish view of abortion was at the time of Jesus' ministry. Quite simply, the record concerning abortions in ancient Israel is vague and uncertain. One cannot gather from the data available under what conditions and how often abortions occurred. While it is certainly probable that some abortions occurred, it is far from certain that abortions would be considered such a common event that Jesus would feel the need to address this practice.
Simply because Jesus didn't speak about an issue does not mean that Jesus would have found them to be morally neutral. Jesus never spoke about incest, rape, environmental destruction or child sacrifice -- all of which certainly occurred around Him in some degree or another -- but it is hardly appropriate to draw from His silence moral acceptance of the practices. Of course, we cannot say for certain that Jesus didn't address these issues -- rather we can only say that the apostles did not record in their Gospels what Jesus said about these issues. Certainly, it is possible that Jesus addressed these issues in His three years of ministry but that the apostles (who admit that they did not write down everything that Jesus' said and did) did not include his statements about these practices because they were already in line with what most people would expect, i.e., consistent with the Jewish scriptures.
Of course, the issue isn't whether Jesus said something about abortion or not. The question is whether we can glean his position on issues from what He did say. It is also important to note that since Christians believe that Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John, when speaking in the Epistles, were doing so with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then it is equally important to work into the analysis what these said which can be applied to the issues before concluding that God is silent on the issue. I think that His position would have been clear given the moral logic of the pro-life position (as nicely summarized by Greg Koukl), and I leave it to the reader to decide whether that logic is accurate following their own investigation of the facts.
But there is one final point on this issue that is easily refuted: the idea that the early Church did not take a stand against abortion. Take, for example, this quote from the Democratic Underground Forums as an example of this way of thinking:
See, for 1,800 years, the Catholic church believed the same thing as the Jews, atleast that is my understanding, then that changed in Vatican 1, in the 1800's, when a bishop wrote a paper saying life begins at conception.
So the basis for life begins at conception is not biblical.
Perhaps the church did not state in so many words that life began at conception, but they certainly recognized that abortion was wrong from the very beginning. Consider the following from the Saint Pachomius Library containing quotes from the Early Church Fathers on the subject of abortion:
From the Letter to Diognetus
(speaking of what distinguishes Christians from pagans):
"They marry, as do all others; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring" (literally 'cast away fetuses').
From the Didache
"You shall not slay the child by abortions".
From the Letter of Barnabus
"You shall not destroy your conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born".
From St. Clement
"Those who use abortificants commit homicide".
"The mold in the womb may not be destroyed".
From St. Basil the Great
"The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. The hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us".
From St. Augustine
"Sometimes their sadistic licentiousness goes so far that they procure poison to produce infertility, and when this is of no avail, they find one means or another to destroy the unborn and flush it from the mother's womb. For they desire to see their offspring perish before it is alive or, if it has already been granted life, they seek to kill it within the mother's body before it is born".
From St. John Chrysostom
"Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gifts of God, and fight with His laws? What is a curse you seek as though it were a blessing. Do you make the anteroom of slaughter? Do you teach the women who are given to you for a procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?"
More such quotes exist, but I fear that I am already engaging in overkill on this point. Quite simply, it may be that the reasons that conservative Christians oppose abortion is wrong. It may be that Jesus would have spoken out in favor of the pro-choice movement. But at present, there is no reason to infer from Jesus' silence that he would have favored abortion or that any of the Church Fathers thought Jesus would have either.
The topic of slavery is always a hot-button topic, but in many cases the charges are made simply against Christians. Anyone who is paying attention already knows that Christians are fallible enough, sometimes failing to pay any attention at all to the teachings of Christ.
Recently, atheist activist Michael Martin has joined the numbers of those who claim that Jesus himself is immoral because we do not find him calling out specifically to abolish slavery, which Martin calls "one of the most heinous practices in the history of the human race".
Actually, the human race has quite a wide variety of heinous practices. Jesus did not set himself out as a political change agent on a "social reform" platform to target one of them at the expense of others. War, hatred, killing, all forms of crime, corrupt governments, corrupt economic systems, systematic oppression -- the list goes on of all the heinous practices and institutions with which we have filled our history. Jesus' teachings of "love your neighbor" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" have led his followers to lead the world in abolishing slavery -- even in the face of some self-justifying opposition from other Christians who had not grasped the fundamentally unloving aspects of slavery. It has also led Jesus' followers to fight for the rights of the oppressed and lead the world in matters of care for the sick and needy. Plainly, some of Jesus’ own followers have not followed Jesus’ teachings on loving others, but this is hardly Jesus’ fault if people do not keep to his word.
Jesus did not make the mistake of thinking that evil was something confined to one institution, or even to unjust institutions in general. The injustice in the world tracks back to a failure to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The face of hatred and oppression will keep changing. Note that after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., it was another century before blacks in the U.S. had more than minimal improvement in their condition. Even after the institution of slavery was gone, there still remained the contempt for other people which had been a root cause of this country's slavery and many other injustices. Only when the contempt and indifference were much reduced – and this led by a Christian preacher – was any real improvement made.
Jesus knew that hatred, contempt, and even indifference are not problems that can be addressed politically. You can't ordain a change of heart. The response Jesus gave to injustice is universal, not limited to one cause, no matter how worthy.
Yesterday, while discussing Christianity in a chatroom, the discussion turned to the question of the Trinity. Now, I have an approach to the question of the Trinity that begins with a "no-brainer" question. "No-brainer" questions are questions that anyone should be able to answer immediately and without much thought because the answer is intrinsically obvious if you know anything about the subject – questions like, "Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?" or "In what town was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?" or "Which weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?" My no-brainer question for opening discussion with the Trinity is "Does the Bible teach that there is one God?" My usual proof text is Deut. 6:4: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."
Yesterday, a woman answered that the Bible teaches there are many gods, and the proof is found in the First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20:2-3).
Now, this isn’t a bad argument. She argues that since God says that there will be no other gods before Him, that there must, in actuality, be other gods. This conclusion is not unreasonable, but it is wrong. Here’s why.
When God uses the word "gods" in this text, it had a very plain meaning to the people who had just been led out of the land of Egypt. In Egypt, there were a pantheon of "gods" including gods for the sun, the Nile, the crops, etc. These "gods" were everywhere, and the people of Israel knew exactly what God was speaking of when he said that they should have no other "gods" before Him. He was saying that He was the supreme God and no one should ever set up one of these other "gods" as superior to Him.
Does that mean that the other "gods" are real, living beings? Does the fact that God referred to other "gods" mean that the other "gods" existed beyond being stone or wooden idols? Without doing any research, it is obvious that there is nothing intrinsic in the wording of the commandment that would require a conclusion that the other "gods" were living beings of some sort. God could simply be saying "don’t set up 'gods' like the Egyptians did and worship them in place of me."
But perhaps you are saying, "but it is also possible, is it not, that God did mean other living beings existed who were 'gods' and that is who He is referencing." Yes, I agree that the wording allows both possibilities. The language used could reasonably be interpreted to be understood either that "gods" means "idols" or that "gods" means "other living beings who are deities." So, which is it?
The answer is to understand that the Bible, like other books, is subject to rules of interpretation. One rule of interpretation which applies to all writings regardless of whether they are religious or secular, is that the writing should be used to interpret itself. In other words, if a writer uses a term that can be interpreted in one of two ways, then it is fair to look to the rest of that author’s work to see how he or she uses the term elsewhere to help give meaning to the use of the word in a place that is disputed. To use a rather silly example, but one that makes the point, when Einstein says that time is "relative", he could mean that it is relative to the observer, he could mean that it is relative to the place, or he could mean that it is relative to the task at hand (the "watched pot never boils", after all). To know what he means in a particular sentence or paragraph, we have to read the rest of his writings so as to give context and fullness to his use of the word in the sentence that we are examining.
So, what does the Bible say elsewhere about these "gods" that could give us context for the statement in the First Commandment? I suggest 1 Chronicles 16:25-26. Verse 25 uses the same type of language as used in the First Commandment:
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods.
Notice how closely this language echoes the language of the First Commandment. Verse 25 begins by pointing out that God is great, while the First Commandment begins by pointing out the great things that God has done in leading the people out of Egypt. Verse 25 continues that God is to be feared above all gods which is very similar to the commandment to have no other gods before God. In effect, Verse 25 is a restatement and reaffirmation of the First Commandment. But then Verse 26 continues by further telling us about these other "gods":
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens.
If Verse 25 is a restatement and reaffirmation of the First Commandment, then Verse 26 clarifies what the word "gods" means in the First Commandment: idols. The Hebrew word used in Verse 26 which is translated as "idols" is "eliyl" which means "of nought, good for nothing, worthless, . . . of false gods."
So, the Bible, when read together consistently with the correct rules of interpretation of all literature, shows undoubtedly that when God says in the First Commandment that "you shall have no other gods before me", the gods to which He is making reference are good for nothing, worthless, false gods. It couldn’t be any clearer.
P.S., although it couldn’t be any clearer, the woman with whom I was discussing this issue contended that I just simply didn’t understand that the word "gods" meant "gods" and I was trying to muddy the waters. *sigh* As I have said before, I don’t ever expect someone to say "Wow! You convinced me that God is real," when I speak to them about the Good News. I just hope that I gave her some food for thought that will bug her later because, deep down, she must know that I am right. If I can plant doubts about her own belief system, perhaps one day she will be open to the Spirit. I will pray for her.
Google has refused to enroll a self-avowed Christian organization known as Christian Exodus the ability to participate in a Google-run advertising program known as "Adsense". According to the News Report from WorldNetDaily:
Despite accepting advertisements for such groups as homosexual singles sites, Google is coming under scrutiny again for allegedly banning commercials for a Christian organization.
ChristianExodus.org, the group looking to have like-minded people move to one state to help restore godly values to government, says it's been rejected from placing ads on Google AdSense.
I think that we need to be real careful here for a couple of reasons. First, I am not certain that this group is necessarily being discriminated against. Second, I have concerns about this group being identified as a Christian organization.
On the first point, I am certain that Google has some smart attorneys working for it. These attorneys are certainly aware of the laws relating to non-discrimination against religious viewpoints in a public forum, and are aware of the myriad of court cases that help fill out the boundaries of what is permissible basis for rejecting a particular website for its advertisements. So, the first question is: on what basis did Google reject the ad? According to the WorldNetDaily report:
An e-mail from the Mountain View, Calif.-based company cited "sensitive content" as the reason for the rejection, though it was not specific in what specifically was considered sensitive.
"After reviewing your application, our program specialists have found that it does not comply with our policies," the Google AdSense Team wrote. "We have reviewed your site and found that many of the ads that would appear on your site would not be relevant to your site's content. As the ads would not provide a valuable experience for your site's users or our advertisers, we feel that your site isn't a good fit for the AdSense program at this time."
Let's break this down: Adsense is a program where, probably for a fee, Google will provide ads for a webmaster's site that are specifically directed to that website's target audience. For example, if the website is a website for cat lovers, the ads would probably be directed with ads for catfood, vets, cat toys, and Garfield comic books. If the website is a Christian site, the ads provided by the Adsense program would be for such things as Christian music, Christian postcards, Christian counselling, etc. Google, in its explanation, seems to suggest that they would not have a sufficient number of ads relevant to the Christian Exodus site's content which would make the program inefficient for both Christian Exodus and the advertisers who are paying Google to have their ads placed on "relevant sites", i.e., sites likely to result in their ads being clicked.
Personally, I have reviewed Google's policies and online standard terms and conditions for some restriction on the placement of ads on the basis of relevancy or "sensitive content." The policies do have restrictions on content of the website (which includes such things as "excessive profanity", "violence, racial intolerance, or advocate against any individual, group, or organization", "illicit drugs and drug paraphernalia" and "pornography, adult, or mature content" which are all prohibited), but nowhere does it mention that the website must have a general requirement that the website needs "relevant" or "non-sensitive" content to participate in the program. So, although I understand the concern that Google has that it will not be able to provide a significant return to the advertisers (who are certainly paying to be part of this service) for ads placed on the Christian Exodus website, I wonder about their failure to include that as a restriction in the Google policies.
But the bigger question is "why don't they feel they can find relevant ads for the Christian Exodus website?" After all, it seems as if there are hundreds if not thousands of Christian businesses, websites, etc., that would all be good fits for virtually any Christian site. This brings us to the second question, is "Christian Exodus" a "Christian" organization.
According to the Christian Exodus website, Christian Exodus is an organization of Christians seeking to move people to South Carolina to take over the state by means of the ballot box.
ChristianExodus.org is moving thousands of Christians to South Carolina to reestablish constitutionally limited government founded upon Christian principles. This includes the return to South Carolina of all "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States." 1 It is evident that the U.S. Constitution has been abandoned under our current federal system, and the efforts of Christian activism to restore our Godly republic have proven futile over the past three decades. The time has come for Christian Constitutionalists to protect our American principles in a State like South Carolina by interposing the State's sovereign authority retained under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Note, this is not an effort to take over the state by force, but rather by the ballot box. Thus, there is nothing illegal about this effort (at least, not that I can see from their webite) -- calling on people of a like mind to move to a particular area to change the political climate of an area through the ballot box is not illegal in any way that I have ever seen.
Is this really a Christian site or is it a separatist site? Keep in mind, Christians can be separatists, but is separatism Christian?
Let me be clear: I am not questioning whether the people involved in Christian Exodus are Christian. Their Statement of Faith appears to be very orthodox, and I do not doubt in the slightest their devotion to God as revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. But the question isn't whether they are Christian, the question is whether their efforts in following this effort to overtake the government of South Carolina to establish a community of Christians which will more closely reflect their view of Christian government is a Christian endeavor. Using more Biblical language, does the Bible call on people to separate themselves from society or does Christianity call on us to be part of the society and be a witness to that society?
I think that this is a very difficult question to answer, and I don't expect to be able to answer it fully in a short blog. All I can do is make a couple of comments, and see what our readers have to opine (if anything). I certainly agree with their overall view that a government based on some of the principals they advocate would be preferable to the present state of the law. But is the answer to separate ourselves from the rest of the states, gather in one state, and leave Christian viewpoints underrepresented in other states? Is the answer to gather as a special community? Won't this type of separatism result, ultimately, in an effort to secede from the Union when the federal government imposes the will of the people of the other 50 states on the now-"Christianized" South Carolina?
I personally think that the efforts of Christian Exodus are misdirected and mistaken. I think their hearts are in the right place, but the problems associated with their proposed solution does not seem to me to make the project viable. But simply because I think that the project is a bad idea, or simply because Google thinks that the goal of Christian Exodus is a bad idea, does not mean that they should not proceed to allow their Adsense program to run on the Christian Exodus webstie absent a more transparent violation of their policies. I am sure Google can find some ads that would fit on their website, if pressed, and its denial of the benefits of the Adsense program to the Christian Exodus website sure appears to be more of an objection to the content to the Christian Exodus site than to the actual lack of relevant advertisers.
Scholars have long believed that early Christians were the first to bury their dead in Roman catacombs. But Dutch experts from Utrecht University who dated organic material from a Jewish catacomb in the city say it appears that early Christians inherited the practice from Jews.
"Perhaps it doesn't clinch the argument, but it makes it very likely," said Leonard Victor Rutgers, an antiquities professor who led the university's team.
This bit of news, while interesting to those who follow early Christian history, seems to have no real impact on historical Christianity. Am I wrong?