CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In an election cycle that is dominated by Bush bashing, anti-Iraq fervor, and over-hyping of the current financial crisis, some think that some of the other social issues are irrelevant. Yet, for those like me who are not huge Sen. John McCain fans, I find that I cannot, in good conscious, vote for Sen. Barack Obama, a candidate whose abortion views are so extreme as to make his views completely unacceptable.

Let me make this clear: I am not a one-issue voter. If I thought that Sen. McCain's economics would send the United States into financial free fall, while Sen. Obama's views were the only things that could save the economy, then I might be forced to vote for Sen. Obama even if he were pro-choice/pro-abortion. But even in these troubling financial times, abortion remains an important factor in determining which candidate will receive my vote.

However, even if I believed it would be economically disastrous to elect Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama's extreme views on abortion make him a non-viable candidate for the highest executive office of the United States.

Why do I believe this? Well, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, and former member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, has recently published an article on Sen. Obama's abortion views based upon a thorough examination of Sen. Obama's voting record. His conclusion, as found in Obama's Abortion Extremism, reads:

Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.

Going step by step through his record, he points out that Sen. Obama has

(1) supported "legislation that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life citizens from having to pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the mother and are not the result of rape or incest";

(2) promised to immediately sign the "'Freedom of Choice Act' (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed 'fundamental right' to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, 'a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined 'health' reasons'";

(3) "opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature and condemned the Supreme Court decision that upheld legislation banning this heinous practice";

(4) failed to endorse the "Pregnant Women Support Act, the signature bill of Democrats for Life, meant to reduce abortions by providing assistance for women facing crisis pregnancies";

(5) "as an Illinois state senator Obama opposed legislation to protect children who are born alive, either as a result of an abortionist's unsuccessful effort to kill them in the womb, or by the deliberate delivery of the baby prior to viability".

And the article goes on and on and on giving more gruesome details of Sen. Obama's abysmal record of abortion rights extremism. I don't use the word "extremism" lightly here. There is no question that Sen. Obama is way, way outside of the mainstream of American society on this issue. He is far, far to the left of his own party.

After reading this article, I have no doubt that Sen. Obama would do everything within his power to promote the pro-abortion/pro-choice agenda while in office. I have no question he would work to unwind the many gains by the pro-life community that a broad spectrum of Americans have wisely put in place to limit this heinous procedure. In accordance with his general views of government, Sen. Obama will nationalize the issue through FOCA making many state laws that differ from the extreme views in this legislation void.

For those reasons, Sen. Obama has made himself someone for whom I cannot vote. I encourage all thinking pro-life people in this country to read Professor George's article before entering the voting booth because it spells out clearly and convincingly why Sen. Obama would be catastrophic to the pro-life cause for years to come if he is elected president.

HT: Stand to Reason Blog (Melinda Penner)

Archaeologists in Israel, lead by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, report finding what is perhaps the oldest Hebrew text on a pottery shard at a site near Jerusalem. The site is an ancient fortress city in the valley were David slew Goliath. The shard and text are 3,000 years old. This would by far be the oldest discovered use of the Hebrew language. There is dispute over whether the language on the shard is "proto-Cannanite" -- used by people other than the Israelis, or Hebrew. One factor that Garfkinkel finds determinative is the presence of a common verb that is typical of Hebrew but not found in any proto-Cannanite writings (of which there is a fair amount).

Carbon dating places the shard in the reign of King David. The "minimalist" approach to Israeli history doubts that such a figure, or people, existed at this time. If the ceramic is Hebrew, it would be weighty evidence against this school of thought. The site is a fortress city indicative of a broader support system. As explained by the AP article:

Garfinkel believes building fortifications like those at Hirbet Qeiyafa could not have been a local initiative: The walls would have required moving 200,000 tons of stone, a task too big for the 500 or so people who lived there. Instead,it would have required an organized kingdom like the one the Bible says David ruled.

Sounds persuasive to me if it holds up. The study of the shard, however, is ongoing and no doubt further information will be forthcoming.

Dependably, Israel Finklestein, a leader of the minimalist school, warned against "a revival in the belief that what's written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper." He has not been to the dig site but warned "[t]his can be seen as part of this phenomenon." Talk about the fallacy of the excluded middle! It is certainly possible that King David existed but the Bible is not a newspaper account of his actions. Yet his first inclination appears to be skepticism based in a fear that someone might take this find to add weight to the authority of the Bible.

One tangential point to all of this is how long these kinds of stories take to germinate. The announcement by Garfinkel was made today. But I heard Dr. William L. Craig discuss this find on a podcast I listened to several weeks ago. He knew someone connected with the dig who had reported the possible importance of the find. Yet the story just broke today in the main news outlets.

Rob Bowman, author of The Religious Researcher, has posted a rather tongue-in-cheek blog in which he reveals some common debate tactics that are used on both sides in arguments about religion generally when one party is losing the debate. As the introduction to the aptly named Twenty Ways to Answer Someone If You Have No Case notes:

Finding someone’s argument too tough to handle? Over your head in a matter of biblical exegesis, scientific evidence, or logical validity? Don’t despair. Now you can always respond to those smart-alecks and put them in their place. These are field-tested methods for diverting attention from the lack of substance in your argument. Never be stuck again for a snappy comeback!

He then identifies twenty common tactics, including The Amateur-Status Violation, The Evil Nun / Mad Scientist Defense, The Hoagland Hustle, The Moroni Maneuver and The Sextus Empiricus Switch.

Very good.

Over at Debunking Christianity, Harry McCall responds to those who claim that he and other apostates just don't 'get' Christianity with a challenge: for Christians to come up with a succinct description of what they take Christianity to be. What is it exactly that apostates misunderstand?

It goes without saying that the word 'Christianity' can have many different connotations. Here I take it the challenge is to elucidate the cognitive content of Christian theism: what beliefs does it entail about the world, human beings, about history, etc.? Which of these are necessary and sufficient for someone to be labeled a Christian, and which are still important but peripheral? Obviously there is broad disagreement over this, just as there is over what makes someone a liberal or a conservative in politics or economics, what makes someone a naturalist or materialist in philosophy, etc. This disagreement is to be expected due to the way human cognition works (see for example George Lakoff, Moral Politics, pp.3-11) and is not in itself a bad thing. Still, belief systems are not entirely in the eye of the beholder. There are concepts and beliefs which most people would agree are central to particular worldviews. For example, you would not expect to find a conservative in favor of big government, higher taxes and nationalized health care. There are certain concepts and beliefs with a greater degree of 'entrenchment', which should not be abandoned lightly if one identifies with that particular worldview.

So what is Christianity? Is there a bare minimum, a least common denominator which can allow us to answer McCall's challenge, to educate him about what he doesn't get? One of the best definitions of 'minimal Christian theism' that I have found is that of Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp: their 'proposition X' concerning Christian theism is "the proposition that, at a minimum, the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth provide an important, and possibly unique, set of insights into the nature and purposes of the divine reality; as well as an important, and possibly unique, means of spiritual access to that reality."

Many Christians, including myself, find this minimal articulation of Christian theism all too minimal. It correctly emphasizes the importance of the person and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, but is not at all specific as to what exactly are the insights into the nature and purposes of divine reality that Jesus provides. Nevertheless I think it is clear that one cannot be a Christian and at the same believe that there was nothing really distinctive about Jesus, that he was just a man who lived and died in a particular cultural context, a product of his times. His teaching must somehow get closer to the way things really are than that of other great teachers such as the Buddha or Muhammad. His ministry must somehow reflect the fact that he was in touch with the true potential of human beings and the real 'technology' of the Universe (where technology means an intentional application of the conditions and powers built into the fabric of reality to achieve certain ends; thus if one prays to God, and that prayer is effective, one is using technology in a certain sense).

So it all comes down to specifying the insights which the person and teaching of Jesus provides into the nature and purposes of divine reality. Again there is a considerable range of views on this, but certain concepts and propositions stand out as being held in common by the majority of thoughtful Christians: God is personal in the sense that we can meaningfully ascribe intentions and purposes to Him, He can act in this world in ways not restricted to ordinary natural processes, He raised Jesus from the dead, etc. There are a variety of good systematic theologies that develop the content of Christian theism. An especially good one which interacts fully with the scientific and historical disciplines is that of Wolfhart Pannenberg.

But having said all that (and obviously it would take much more than a blog post or even 20 to sketch even minimally what the Christian faith entails cognitively with sufficient rigor), it is not the cognitive content of Christian belief that I believe Harry McCall doesn't 'get'. Anyone with a modicum of education can spout off the Nicene creed, recite Bible verses by heart and give a decent summary of basic Christian beliefs. What I think agnostics and ex-believers perpetually misunderstand is the epistemology of religious belief, how conversion (and by implication deconversion) reorients your basic stance on the world. It is not just a matter of adding extra beliefs to an already existing personal worldview ("Flowers are beautiful and oh by the way God exists"). Accepting or rejecting theism changes the parameters of that worldview, usurps its fixed points and replaces them with new ones. This reorientation works retroactively as well, causing you to see your path toward it in a new light: Before St. Augustine, for example, converted to orthodox Christianity he saw himself as wandering aimlessly from place to place searching for the good. But after his conversion, he speaks of God providentially guiding his steps and making sure that he met the right people and had the right experiences to lead him to the truth. Ex-believers similarly lose their understanding of what made Christian theism compelling and wonder to themselves how it was that they could ever have fallen for such obvious nonsense.

Does this mean that rational conversation is impossible between believers and ex-believers? Of course not. Both sides can offer insights and arguments that can influence the other (although rarely will these arguments alone cause someone to radically change their beliefs). We can reach agreement on what certain passages of Scripture imply, or what theologians mean when they refer to God as personal. Understanding is possible. But progress will not have been made unless both sides come to a better understanding of the epistemology of conversion and how it changes one's basic cognitive stance. And on the whole, I would say that in this field theists have made more progress than atheists, at least those currently posting on Debunking Christianity. As a good starting point I would recommend that they read Basil Mitchell's Faith and Criticism and William J. Abraham's Crossing the threshold of divine revelation.

Many atheists react strongly against the idea that God is judgmental. They balk at the idea that God is a God of justice as well as mercy and will reward everyone according to their works. How can God be both a God of love and of judgment? What kind of insulated, utopian world do they live in?

In Congo, a doctor keeps helping as rape victims keep coming

When I read stories like this I hope with all my heart that God is a God of justice and that the wicked will not go unpunished. When an army uses gang rape as a weapon of war, this is not a matter of poor upbringing or having the wrong genes: this is cold, calculated atrocity designed to humiliate, traumatize and keep people under control. Those who perpetrate it are in full, rational command of their actions, and deserve the harshest justice one can imagine.

This is not to say that the motive of God's justice is revenge. God's justice is fundamentally corrective, not retributive. But something has to happen to balance the moral books on this tattered, war-torn planet. The greatest injustice of all would be for gang-rapers to simply be admitted to Heaven free of charge. First they must atone somehow for their misdeeds.

So to atheists who don't like the idea of a God of judgment I say this: I hope one day you have the chance to look into the eyes of one of these rape victims and see if you have the guts to complain about the justice of God. Try telling them that it wasn't really the rapists' fault, it was their brain circuits that were to blame.

Richard Dawkins, blowhard stalwart of the New Atheist movement, has made a rather stunning and significant admission in a recent debate. According to Is Richard Dawkins still evolving? by Melanie Phillips in the Spectator:

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.

Personally, I think that is a move towards reality and away from his fantasyland that he has been advocating recently. He is moving in the direction of Antony Flew, and I encourage him to explore this admission more carefully.

HT: Apologetics 315

A claim that is made is that a portion of the Biblical book of Proverbs is actually copied from an Egyptian source, Amenemope. According to Introduction to the Old Testament by Georg Fohrer, Abingdon Press, 1968, p. 321:

As has long been recognized, the first subsidiary collection (22:17-23:11) is closely related to the Egyptian Instruction of Amen-em-opet, which probably dates between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The introductory poem (22:17-21) and the ten themes discussed (22:22-23:11) follow--often word for word--their Egyptian source. Even the division of this source into thirty chapters ("houses") seems to have been borrowed by the Israelite redactor for the entire collection 22:17-24:22 (cf. 22:20, where the RSV correctly reads "thirty sayings" for the Hebrew "day before yesterday" or "adjutants").

Now, Benjamin Shaw, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has written a series of short blogs answering this accusation on his personal journal, gptsrabbi. His analysis can be found in the following places:

Teaching of Amenemope -- A brief introduction to the problem.

Amenemope, Part 2 -- Prof. Shaw sets forth a complete list of the various verses which are alleged to have been from Amenemope to Proverbs.

Amenemope 3 -- Prof. Shaw sets forth some brief arguments that challenge the notion that Proverbs was copied from Amenemope.

Amenemope 4: "Excellent Things" or "Thirty?" -- Prof. Shaw compares two alternative translations of Proverbs 22:20 and determines whether the reading that the writer had passed along "thirty sayings" rather than "excellent things" is driven by the paradigm that Proverbs was copied from Amenemope.

Amenemope 5: Thirty Chapters -- Prof. Shaw takes a brief look at the question of whether Proverbs, following Amenemope, is actually divided into thirty sections as the paradigm suggests.

Amenemope 6 "Literary Dependence" -- Prof. Shaw looks at the question, "what constitutes literary dependence of one work upon another," in light of the question of the similarities between Amenemope and Proverbs.

I don't know if the series is complete, but the ending paragraph of part 5 actually sums things up rather nicely:

In short, a comparison of various translations that uses "thirty" in 22:20 shows that there is no consensus in how the text should be subdivided, and most do not even achieve thirty sections. But clearly the attempt to find thirty (or almost thirty) sections in this material is driven by the assumption that Proverbs is dependent on Amenemope. Once again, the question, based on the evidence, becomes, "Is such.a dependence really likely?"

The point that Prof. Shaw is raising is that while some similarities arise between Amenemope and Proverbs, the idea that the latter was copied from the former is not necessarily borne out because the discrepencies between the two are quite numerous. In fact, it appears that some of the supposed parallels are quite forced and may constitute efforts to shoehorn the facts into the theory.

One commenter to Prof. Shaw's fifth post raises an interesting question in my mind: Assuming for the sake of argument that the earlier books of the Bible (Genesis through Deutoronomy) are historical in nature (meaning that they are based on historical fact even if legends and myths have crept in over time), then the Israelites were in Egypt and the Exodus occured prior to the writing of Amenemope. Isn't it possible that the Proverbs (which may be wisdom handed down and collected by Solomon) that are similar to those found in Amenemope were originally devised by the Israelites while dwelling in Egypt with both the Proverbs and Amenemope simply representing different recollections of the original Hebrew proverbs?

Through the Amazon Vine program I received a review copy of Churched, by Matthew Paul Turner. The subtitle is "one kid's journey toward God despite a holy mess." Part of the description on the back reads, "He spent his childhood trapped within the confines of countless bizarre, strict rules. And lives to tell about it." It ends describing the author as "a young man who, amidst the chaotic mess of religion, falls in love with Jesus."

As you may have figured out, the author was "trapped" in a fundamentalist church. To be specific, an "Independent Fundamentalist Baptist" church. His family left the Methodist church when he was four and joined an IFB church where he attended until his graduation from high school. The author writes from the perspective of his younger self, immersed in a fundamentalist church. This is a clever way to make the church he attended and his family and friends look more bizarre and clueless than they likely were, but it is not meant to give the church, his family and friends a fair hearing. From the perspective of a four year old or a seven year old, any organized human endeavor is going to have some bizarre appearances (think, for example, of a jury trial or AA meetings). This perspective plays to the humor angle of the book but detracts from its substance.

The youth perspective is accompanied by an avalanche of snarky asides and comments the author adds to his anecdotes throughout. Some made me smirk and a couple made me laugh. Most were so-so. Although the writer is not without talent, the onslaught of snarkiness proves unrelenting.

Also, the childhood anecdotes left me wondering how, as a child, the author knew the inner thoughts and motivations of so many adults. For example, when his Mom lectured him on this or that subject, he knew exactly what her unspoken motivations were. As another example, the author also knows that the ushers in his church only volunteered for the job so they could avoid listening to the sermon. Indeed, all of the church members who volunteered to do something that occurred during the service only did so to avoid hearing the preacher preach. Perhaps this was true of some, but it seems far fetched -- based on my own upbringing in a conservative Church and service as an adult -- that this was true for all of the volunteers. Thinking back to when I was four and five and even seven, I would not trust myself nearly as much as this author to accurately gauge the hearts of so many people.

Does the book work as a caution about a fundamentalist upbringing? I doubt it. The church the author was raised in, if accurately portrayed, goes much further in its fundamentalism than most fundamentalists I know (and I have known plenty). The author apparently was exposed to teachings and ideas that were unsuitable for him and with which I disagree. While I can relate to some of his complaints (such as the focus on the "end times" discouraging hope for joys in life, such as marriage and children), overall, I do not see that this book offers much guidance on the subject. There is no real discussion of doctrine or exploration of how early is too early to stress even undisputed doctrines to children. Churched will likely reinforce negative stereotypes for those who already have them and result in a "my church is not nearly that fundamentalist" from conservative Christians.

Will the book speak to people who suffered like the author did but want to know Jesus in a vibrant new way? Sadly, I do no think so. There likely is a market of people who had too harsh of a religious upbringing and want to know and love Jesus in a new way. However, this book does not deliver. The back cover suggests an explanation of how the author "falls in love with Jesus" despite the travails of his upbringing, but the author seems to feel distant from Jesus even in adulthood. There is no "growth" in the book. We follow the author from four to seven, then kind of jump to high school briefly. Then he is an adult wandering from church to church. Did he really get to know Jesus? If so, how? These things are not explained or -- that I could tell -- narrated by anecdote. There may be hints, but nothing more.

Is Churched effective as a piece of humor? Not in my opinion. The author has some talent in that regard and some of his asides and commentary are funny. Perhaps a magazine piece rather than a book on the subject would play to the author's strengths. The sheer number of so-so or ineffective asides and comments prove so relentless that the effectiveness of the ploy is diminished and even the funny lines grow tedious.

In conclusion, you will not find within the pages of Churched any substantive discussion of doctrine, the Bible, religion, philosophy, politics, sociology, theology, etc. There is also no discussion about how the author "falls in love with Jesus." You will encounter some funny comments but will find many more a chore to read through. Churched is mostly a lament combined with relentless but failed humor and a glimmer of hope offered at the end that feels a little forced.

This November, the people of the State of California will be voting on Proposition 8 which could ban homosexual marriage in that state. On a site that I ran across called "Gather" (which I gather is a gathering site for gay rights people), an author (Troy W) published a short essay entitled Why California’s Proposition 8 Would Make Jesus Weep in which he said:

In the name of “traditional family values” and spearheaded by conservative Christian groups a measure has been put on the California ballot to, for the first time in California history, add discrimination to the state constitution. This measure has no other purpose than to limit the rights of human beings to legally acknowledge their love for one another and make a binding commitment to one another.

Now, I don't particularly want to get into the merits of this proposition. Needless to say, I disagree with the opinion of Troy W. both as to the purpose and effect of the proposition. I will say that it seems apparent to me that the reason for this proposition is that a lot of citizens of California don't share the same ethical worldview as Troy W and felt that the California Supreme Court overstepped its Constitutional boundaries in dictating as a matter of equal protection that gay marriage should be equated with non-gay marriage. Certainly, there are those of us who disagree that the highest and most important ethical obligation is to promote pleasure.

Most of the essay is the usual pablum against Proposition 8 and limits on homosexual marriage, but what caught my eye was Troy W's statements about Jesus. He said:

In the Bible Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and embrace those whom others would cast out. Jesus led by example when he embraced the lepers and brought the pariahs of his time to sit at his side. He embraced those who others disparaged and ridiculed. He never said that homosexuals were evil. In point of fact he never spoke on the subject anywhere in the Bible. He taught love and acceptance of all even those whom have wronged you. He forgave those who crucified him as he died on the cross. He never said he hated anyone. Truth be told you have to go to the Old Testament to find anything about homosexuality and even then you have to look pretty hard, unless of course you are one of those for whom that passage of the Bible is more important than the actual teachings of Christ in which case you can find the dog-eared page most quickly more than likely.

If you accept that the New Testament is the chronicle of the teachings of Christ then as a follower of Christ you should be opposed to any law that would subjugate a segment of the population for who they happen to love. One of the few times Christ was ever cited as showing real anger was when he went into the Temple and saw people perverting the church for their own gain. Now the so-called followers of Jesus are using religion as a club to scare people into making laws that cause God’s children to be excluded and feel emotional pain unnecessarily. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” That is what Jesus taught. Hate and exclusion is the realm of darkness. Do you think telling people their love is illegitimate is what Jesus would do?

This is part of the typical parsing of the Bible that I have seen coming out of the gay rights movement, and it is an example of really poor thinking. Allow me to break it down by pointing out faulty reasoning in the writing. In doing so, I do want to point out that my writing here is based upon my conservative understanding of the Bible. I know that not everyone who I readily acknowledge as a Christian agrees with this understanding, but that is an in-house discussion that will be going on for years (and in which I am confident the conservative reading will ultimately prevail).

(1) Jesus never said that homosexuals were evil. This is a variation of the argument from silence (argumentum ex silentio). Looking at the argument in syllogistic form reveals the missing term and the flaw in the argument:

Premise One: Jesus never said that homosexuals were evil.
Unstated Premise Two: Whatever Jesus didn't discuss is not evil.
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus didn't find homosexuality evil.

Now, I don't particularly like the use of the word "evil" here because of the connotation that is carried into our present day society. When people think "evil", they think Halloween or Friday the 13th which are extreme examples of evil. I prefer to make the argument using the word "unethical" because the word "ethic" implies an actual objective moral code, and it puts the argument into a more realistic context using today's vernacular. So, substituting "unethical" for "evil" the syllogism reads:

Premise One: Jesus never said that homosexuals were unethical.
Unstated Premise Two: Whatever Jesus didn't discuss is not unethical.
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus didn't find homosexuality unethical.

Obviously, Premise One is true (as long as one understands that we are dealing with what Jesus directly said), and the conclusion is the conclusion that Troy W wants the reader to reach. However, to get from Premise One to the Conclusion, one must pass through Premise Two (or something similar). Is there any reason to believe that Premise Two is true? Jesus never mentioned rape, does that mean he thought it isn't unethical? Does the fact that Jesus never mentioned torture mean that it isn't unethical? Obviously, It doesn't follow from Jesus' non-mention of something (either approving or disapproving) that He approved of it. It means, rather, that it wasn't something that we can say he addressed in his three year ministry. To assume that Jesus' non-mention of homosexuality is some sort of silent affirmation of homosexuality is to make an unwarranted leap to a not-so-certain conclusion.

In fact, isn't it true that if Jesus' non-mention of homosexuality could be seen as affirmation of the practice then it's equally valid to argue that Jesus' non-mention of homosexuality can be understood as rejection of the practice? After all, Jesus spent a great deal of time pointing out how the Jewish Priests and Pharisees had distorted God's law, which means that Jesus' failure to address this particular "distortion" proof that Jesus approved of the practice? Obviously, if the failure to mention homosexuality can be seen to support Troy W's position, then the failure to mention it can equally support condemnation of the practice.

Now, Troy W's argument may not be fallacious if the argument can be made that Jesus didn't condemn homosexuality when he was confronted with the issue. However, nowhere in any of the four Gospels is there any account that Jesus was confronted with the opportunity to either affirm or condemn homosexuality. It simply isn't there. Thus, the fact that Jesus never addresses homosexuality cannot be seen as some type of silent affirmation of the practice.

2. In point of fact he never spoke on the subject anywhere in the Bible. It is certainly true that Jesus never directly addressed the subject of homosexuality. However, the Bible as a whole is not silent on the subject. It does refer to it as a sin -- in fact, it identifies it as an "abomination" (Leviticus 18:22) and as "shameless lusts" and "indecent acts" (Romans 1:26-27). Jesus Himself said that he had not come to abolish the Law (including Leviticus), but to fulfill the law. (Matthew 5:17). In other words, Jesus did not say that the law does not identify sin anymore, but rather that he had come to free us from the consequences of that sin.

Consequently, the fact that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality does not mean that the Biblical teachings on the subject as a whole are void and without effect. They are still binding, but the punishment has been taken away because of the work of the cross.

3. He taught love and acceptance of all even those whom have wronged you. He did teach love, and He did teach that all people can attain the Kingdom of God. However, Jesus did not teach acceptance of the actions of all people. Yes, He sat down with the sinners, but the limited times that the Bible discusses Jesus' interactions with these sinners they are identified as people most in need of God's forgiveness. Jesus points out that those who are healthy don't need a healer (Matthew 9:10-13). The woman who cleaned Jesus' feet with tears was also identified as a sinner. (Luke 7:36-50). If anything, Jesus teaches that those He went to (and who came to him) were most in need of His mercy and forgiveness -- not that he accepted what they did.

4. Jesus never said he hated anyone. True. However, the Bible says that God hates those who do wrong (Psalm 5:5) while at the same time loving them enough to offer forgiveness if they turn from their evil ways. Moreover, Jesus didn't hesitate to show His contempt for those who distorted God's Word for their own purposes (Matthew 23). Make no mistake -- God is a God of love, but that does not mean that God is equally accepting of all activity as either acceptable or sin-free.

5. You have to go to the Old Testament to find anything about homosexuality. No, despite attempts by some to have the verses in Romans (Romans 1:26-27) apply only to cultic prostitution, these efforts are largely baseless (in the opinion of many). There are also references to homosexuality as a sin in one of the other letters which I can't find that quickly because my edition of the Bible isn't dog-eared to those pages.

6. If you accept that the New Testament is the chronicle of the teachings of Christ then as a follower of Christ you should be opposed to any law that would subjugate a segment of the population for who they happen to love. If I believed that love was the highest and only ethic, I would agree with this statement. However, a solid understanding of the Biblical teaching requires a synthesis of the teachings as a whole. Christians are not free to ignore the remaining teachings of the Bible about sin and leading Godly lives and still be consistent with the teachings of the entire Word of God.

7. One of the few times Christ was ever cited as showing real anger was when he went into the Temple and saw people perverting the church for their own gain. Yes, he saw people perverting something that was holy. Since God has set his imprimatur on marriage between a man and a woman (Genesis 1 and 2) but has never done the same for homosexuality (which a conservative reading would say has clearly identified as sinful and not blessed), it seems to me that it is the people who are trying to claim that Jesus would support homosexual marriage who are "perverting the church for their own gain."

8. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Christians are not to judge whether a person has sufficient saving faith. Christians are to judge actions and behaviors as either consistent or inconsistent with the teachings of the church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5). Almost immediately after saying "Judge not lest ye be judged" in Luke 6:37, Jesus states that Christians are to identify good trees and bad trees by its fruit, i.e., they are supposed to judge a person's heart by their actions (Luke 6:43-45). Moreover, God has judged and will judge (Romans 2).

9. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This phrase from John 8 is an admonition to be merciful and forgiving in light of our own sin. This verse is usually cited as a club against Christians not to identify sin, but the people who cite this verse always forget the end of the account. There, Jesus tells the woman who was a sinner and about to be stoned, "Go now and leave your life of sin." The account does not say that Jesus wanted her to continue in her sinful ways, and Christians, likewise, warn about sin and oppose its casual acceptance.

10. Do you think telling people their love is illegitimate is what Jesus would do? I think that Jesus would tell the truth. If the overall Biblical teaching on this subject is accurate (and I strongly contend that it is) then Jesus would not lie and say that He approves of homosexual marriage. Rather, he would say, "Go now and leave your life of sin."

These are truly momentous times we live in. The world is caught in the grip of the worst financial crisis in decades, governments and individuals are just beginning to come to terms with a future of diminishing natural resources (peak oil being just one example of the more general trend) and uncertainty and anxiety seem to pervade the cultural milieu. All these factors have renewed interest in the possibility of a systemic collapse of civilized order, whether through resource depletion, economic catastrophe, military escalation or all three, and the concomitant question of what life would be like on the other side of this collapse. Can we in the developed world really imagine a situation in which basic services like electricity, running water, medical assistance and food delivery to supermarkets were greatly reduced or non-existent? More importantly, what would be a proper Christian response to such a situation if it ever came about? What does Christian faith look like in a situation of perpetual crisis?

I want to frame this discussion with a theological critique of the so-called 'survivalist' movement. It goes without saying that survivalism is not a monolithic or even broadly consistent body of beliefs and practices, but it is possible to isolate certain common features. Examples: 1) the emphasis on developing self-reliance by stock-piling food and learning how to grow it for oneself, teaching oneself basic skills like first-aid, carpentry, etc. 2) the emphasis on the need to withdraw from mainstream society, to 'live off the grid' as it were and 3) the emphasis on the right to self-defense, the importance of learning how to use guns and the psychological readiness to protect oneself, one's family and one's stockpile of resources from those who failed to prepare and consequently become desperate enough to turn to violence and plundering to feed and clothe themselves. 

Of these three the first is undoubtedly the least controversial. In our overspecialized, overtechnologized world too many people have grown up without skills which were once considered essential to survival. We get our food dressed, packaged and ready to microwave from the supermarket or deli. We go to clinics for the diagnosis of the most common ailments and rely on over-the-counter drugs to soothe headaches, stomach-aches, colds and fevers and control our moods, completely ignorant of how and why they work. We call on plumbers and electricians whenever something in the house breaks down. (What's perhaps more important and troubling, we have divorced these services from any human connection. The cashier at the deli is a cypher to us. He/she just packages our food, mumbles how much it costs and swipes our card or hands us back our change. The electrician or plumber comes into our home, does a very specific job and then leaves, again without our learning anything about him/her. We have become so individualistic that extensive social interaction can become annoying or even aggravating, whereas it is still the norm in many parts of the world. But this is a topic for another post.) It certainly would not hurt anyone to learn some basic skills which relieves their dependence on an artificial and fundamentally vulnerable economic system. It should be praiseworthy from a Christian point of view to work with one's own hands and serve the community with one's skills and talents.

We start running into trouble with the other two tenets of survivalism. Though there certainly have been Christian monastic groups which felt it was their calling to withdraw from the world and its messiness, the mainstream theological consensus has always been that Christians were to be salt and light in a world drowning in darkness (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus warned his followers against hiding their lights (i.e. the good news of the inbreaking Kingdom of God) under a bushel, and in his final prayer did not ask God to take his disciples out of the world, but that He would protect them from the evil one (John 17: 15). Adherence to these principles was what motivated the Christians to remain in the cities to care for the sick when plague erupted in Roman times, whereas the other citizens would flee for their own safety (see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pp.73-94 for documentation). The result was that many Christians did in fact succumb to plague, but overall because they cared for the sick Christians had lower mortality rates, leading outside observers to conclude that the Christian religion had the support of Providence. 

Christians are called to be God's emissaries in the thick of things. If civil order collapses and there is violence, hunger and sickness in the cities, Christians should be on the front lines, tending to the sick and wounded, organizing relief efforts and continuing to spread the Good News (indeed in times like this people are usually very open to hearing about God and salvation). Even if it means risking getting caught in the crossfire or succumbing to disease or accident, Christians have their mandate.

Related to this is of course the issue of gun ownership and self-defense. There is here wide disagreement in Christian ethical circles. Many ethicists embrace a radical pacifism which excludes meeting force with force, even in the face of great harm to oneself or loved ones (prominent supporters of this approach include John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas and Gregory Boyd). They can claim support for this position from the master Himself: "You have heard that it was said: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) But there are also many Christians who, based on the constitutional right to bear arms, insist on the legitimacy of owning guns and using force to prevent harm to oneself or loved ones. 

Personally I feel that, if one is to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously, one must embrace a certain kind of pacifism, but that is too big a topic for this post. What I want to focus on instead in my critique is the presupposition of individualism which underlies the survivalist movement. This is not just limited to the emphasis on self-reliance mentioned above, but extends to a deeply troubling perspective on human nature which contains a kernel of truth but also stands in serious contradiction to basic Christian beliefs. The kernel of truth is well summed up by Satan in the Book of Job. When God insists that, whatever Satan assaults Job with, the latter will continue to trust in God, Satan confidently replies with, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life." (Job 2:4) This includes any sense of decency and of common cause with one's fellow beings. There are certainly heroic examples of people who sacrificed their own safety and life to help others in a crisis, but there are also appalling examples of people resorting to violence and depredation to avoid starvation or death in a catastrophe (the Bible itself contains particularly grim images of parents cooking and eating their own children during long, brutal sieges, and even selfishly withholding that food from their starving neighbors!). The Joker confidently informs Batman in The Dark Knight that "When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other. They're only as good as society allows them to be."

That human beings can become very nasty in the fight for survival does not need argument. But survivalists often combine this recognition with a particularly chilling utilitarian calculus of the value of human life which exalts the survivalist (and perhaps his loved ones, if they are wise enough to pay attention to him and prepare in advance) over the benighted, foolish masses of people who do not pay attention to the signs of the times and will thus be purged in the coming catastrophes (if this sounds religious, that's because it is: survivalism can easily be conceived as a religious movement; see here). Great emphasis is laid on learning to outwit and subdue the poor simpletons who try to raid your stockpile of food. The survivalist becomes a Nietszchean uber-mensch, standing above conventional morality, or rather beneath it: the circle of benevolence which expands in a time of peace and prosperity to include those farther away from one's immediate family contracts back in on itself: it's every man for himself for the survivalist, and he takes that notion very seriously. 

Christians simply cannot subscribe to such a view. The Christian life is a communal one, and Christian ethics is fundamentally universal in scope, as indicated by the quotations from the Sermon on the Mount. If God makes the sun shine on both the evil and the good, and lets his rain fall on both the just and the unjust, we as Christians are called to such all-encompassing benevolence as well. Who is my neighbor? Not just the one who shows me favors. As Jesus rightly challenges us, "What reward do you have [for only being good to those who are good to you]?" Instead, our neighbor is anyone who needs our assistance and to whom we show mercy. Who are our loved ones (father, mother, brothers and sisters)? Those who hear the word of God and keep it. The Christian response to a crisis situation must be one, not of running off to the hills in our gun-protected bunkers, but of helping people come together as a community to face the problems which arise. In the end, that's the only practical response as well. Holing up in the mountains is only viable until you run out of food and supplies or are over-run by hungry crowds who didn't see it coming. Even if you have a homestead with land for growing crops, animals for meat, cheese and wool, a source of clean water and other amenities, that only makes you a more conspicuous target and in any case it is nearly impossible to imagine complete self-sufficiency in the context of a single family on a single homestead. Only a community of people working together has the potential to maintain a decent standard of living and defend itself against external dangers. Christians should be aware of this and be on the front lines of any such endeavor, even if it means giving up our lives to bring people together or defend the helpless.

There is much, much more that should be said on this issue, but let me close with an interesting observation on the Sermon on the Mount. Few people realize that the context for this challenging, perfectionist code of ethics was apocalyptic (see here, pp. 5-7): whatever Jesus believed about the imminence of the final judgment and confrontation between the forces of light and darkness, his ethics presupposes a crisis situation for his followers: the formation of a radical new community through the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God and the possibility (even inevitability) of confrontations between the kingdoms of this world, and of those kingdoms with the Kingdom of God. Jesus' disciples are to expect persecution, hardship and martyrdom for their trust in him. But in spite of that, they are called to be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect. A collapse of civil order is the occasion for an even greater display of Christ-like sacrificial love, precisely when it seems hardest to envision (and make no mistake: it is hard to contemplate; I myself am not yet fully convinced that I could display such love in a situation where my life or that of my loved ones was threatened). The outcome, though, as history makes abundantly clear, is that God's name is glorified and His Kingdom advances. The Church has always flourished in times of crisis, and if a time of crisis is indeed upon us (I don't think it's inevitable, but it's certainly plausible) that memory should sustain and encourage us to take up the work of God's Kingdom in an uncertain, troubled, fallen world.

P.S. Here are some helpful reflections for Christians facing a time of trouble due to resource scarcity (the article is framed as a Christian response to peak oil, but it can apply to any widespread crisis situation)

Cross-posted with Quodlibeta

Last October (which tells you how far behind I am in my posting schedule {g}), I was having a correspondence with someone who referred to a fringe theory (in the sense that most scholars don't advocate it or think much of it, in at least one sense of that phrase) concerning the 153 fish caught by the apostles in the final chapter of GosJohn in a sort-of-repeat of the Lukan big-catch incident. (John 21:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)

This theory, is that the author (editor/final-redactor/whatever) of GosJohn completely invented the anecdote by, in effect, copy-pasting it over from a story about the Greek philosopher Pythagoras that was having a bit of a revival in its popularity thanks to a book about Pythagoreanism, written by Plutarch more-or-less contemporaneously with GosJohn. (Obviously it helps if one has already decided GosJohn was written in the final quarter of the 1st century, or later. But that's another discussion, and is probably still a majority opinion across the ideology boards among scholars anyway.)

Even for historical incidents, it isn’t unusual for authors reminiscing about their importance to apply geometria to spice up a number value. Moreover, it might be impossible to find any real number of fish that this game couldn’t be played with in reverse to find the ‘real’ reason the author ‘invented’ the number! But of course, in this case it looks (at first glance anyway) like there's a specific connection between the works. So let's take a look at it as a theory.

For those who don’t know, the theory goes something like this:

1.) Jerome (the famous Vulgate-Latin Biblical translator, writing many centuries after the composition of the canon on any dating scheme) claimed that the Greeks had identified exactly 153 species of fish in the sea, when commenting on John 21.

2.) Pythagoras (centuries earlier than the canon's composition) had discovered that the ratio of 153:265 was the closest known measurement to the square root of three.

3.) In Iamblichus’ biography of Pythagoras, a story is told in Chapter VIII about an incident one day during a walking trip from Sybaris to Crotona. Pythagoras meets some fishermen pulling up their heavily laden fishnets. He tells them he knows the exact number of fish they had caught (the implication being he had calculated it in his head from the basic size of the fish, size of the net, etc.) The fishermen declare that if he is right, they will do anything he asks. His request is that, if he is correct, they will return the fish to the sea unharmed. He turns out to be correct (no number recorded here), and so they keep their part of the bet. (Pythagoras was well-known to be a vegetarian and didn’t want any animals harmed.) To be fair, Pythagoras pays the fishermen the value of the catch and goes on his way to Crotona. The fishermen later discover his name from some children while telling their story, and so they spread the account abroad.

(The one-paragraph story can be found here. An even shorter one paragraph version can be found in a biography of Pythagoras by the great neo-Platonic anti-Christian apologist and philosopher Porphyry, though his account has no connection to his counter-apologetics. Porphyry and the other great counter-apologists do however forget to mention that the Christians invented their history only lately, and instead treat the basic character of the story as being history + wicked invention. Doubtless this is due to mere censorship on the part of the Christians who report them to dispute with them, and who then invented things the counter-apologists did not say in order to make the claim seem to be about non-disputed historical events... {cough} {g})

4.) Plutarch, in the Eighth Question of his Eighth Book to the Symposiacs (aka "Convivial Questions"), is going to a lot of mystical trouble to explain to his readers why Pythagoreans don’t eat fish. Along the way, Plutarch (briefly) emphasizes that it isn't because Pythagoras hated fish; on the contrary, it was because he he was kind to them. And so the fisherman story is introduced--and in some wording that has some interesting topical relevance to the overall story of Christ: finding the fish to be prisoners, Pythagoras bought their liberty and set them free back into the ocean, as if they had been his own kinsfolk and good friends.

Plutarch lived and wrote between the mid-40s and around 120 CE.

5.) Therefore, the catch of 153 fish in GosJohn is (or may be) intended to be a reference to Pythagorean geometry (i.e. the measure of the fish). Having borrowed the reference, and then trying to come up with a number, the Evangelist either just happened to remember an obscure factoid concerning Pythagoras (153:265 == ancient square root of 3), or decided to borrow the Greek numbering of fish species. (Neither Plutarch nor Iamblichus connect a number to the fish saved by Pythagoras.)

Aside from some dodgy logical connections, the problem from a narrative-analysis standpoint is that the story doesn’t net up very well. Jesus actively helps His disciples catch a miraculous haul, and has nothing at all to do with the counting (that’s just mentioned as a detail in passing). Nor is He exhorting His followers to set the fish free--which one might have thought would be the whole point for an overtly redeeming character being saddled with a Pythagorean anecdote borrowed from Plutarch! (Notably, in the Lukan account of a miraculous catch of fish, which happens much earlier in the story of Jesus under rather different circumstances, Jesus emphasizes that from now on instead of catching fish Peter and the others will be catching people to live.)

One could suppose on the other hand that the story was invented to compete with Pythagoras (and/or with Apollonius, the neo-Pythagorean?) via borrowing from Plutarch and flipping things around.

But it’s a deeply clumsy borrowing if so! If Jesus is being presented as a greatly superior alternate ‘savior’ to Pythagoras, then why is he eating the fish?! And expecting the disciples to do the same! The souls aren’t freed allegorically--they’re diabolized!!

If a theory is supposed to involve a mythic innovator who manages to run completely against his supposed intentions at every conceivable turn, in his borrowing and mythical coding, then I would suggest this might perhaps be considered evidence that this particular mythic innovation theory needs more work. {s!}


And now for today's discussion in metaphysics.

Consider the following claim (from this philosophy paper from Spencer Lo, provided for context--the original statement can be found in the second paragraph of Part IV, "Empty Resolution"):

"The fact that all phenomena are dependently arisen, entails that all phenomena, without exception, come into being in dependence upon prior phenomena, remain in existence dependent upon prior phenomena, and cease to exist dependent upon prior phenomena.”

A.) How cogent is this claim, as it stands?

B.) Would it cohere well enough with an attempt to deny the existence of an independently existent reality with at least some intrinsically fixed, unalterable characteristics?

C.) Would such a claim, if true, be any protection against, or any denial of, an attempt to claim that phenomena may come into and go out of existence completely uncaused?

D.) Would any failure of (A), (B) and/or (C) be remedied by replacing the occurrences of the phrase "prior phenomena" with "conditions"?


In a recent post, I discussed some weak objections to Christianity that were highlighted on Austin Cline's site. There, Mr. Cline posted the following question (among others) which he apparently believes will cause the typical Christian to stop dead in his tracks with that deer-in-the-headlights look:

Free Will. Freedom to choose is given to man by God. Man has two main choices: 1) accept the Love of God and, upon death, go to paradise for eternity, 2) Refuse God and, upon death, just die, be utterly damned. How is that freedom of choice when it is the same thing as a gun to your head?

At the time, I didn't challenge the analogy, but merely commented, "If people truly lacked free will in the sense used in this question, there would be no skeptics." It now appears that at least one reader didn't understand my point. Hence, this post is intended to break this comment down a bit more.

Freedom of Choice vs. Free Will

The title of the objection Cline posted is "Free Will." This appellation suggests that the objection that follows is that people don't really have free will to choose or reject God -- or Jesus Christ, as the case may be. Instead, whether a person accepts or rejects God has been predetermined. But the title doesn't jive with the content of the objection which asks, "How is that freedom of choice when it is the same thing as a gun to your head?"

Let's be perfectly clear here: Having free will is not the same as freedom of choice. If a person lacks free will it means that the person has been determined and does not have the ability to act independent of the predetermined course. Thus, in a deterministic universe where people have no free will, people cannot choose a course contrary to what was laid before them. If they were predetermined to believe or not believe then they are constitutionally incapable of choosing to the contrary. Freedom of choice, on the contrary, means that the person has more than one choice and can choose between them. The lack of freedom of choice means that the person has the functional capacity to choose one thing over another, but cannot do so because the choices have been limited by some outside force. Thus, while the title says that the objection is about free will, the actual content of the objection is the lack of freedom to choose.

Non-Christians Prove Free Will

The non-Christian is obviously claiming that God is using coercion to force him or her to believe. In effect, God is holding his gun to the head of the non-Christian saying that if that person doesn't believe in Jesus then God will kill him. But that viewpoint is illogical if the objection is really talking about free will rather than freedom of choice.

Unless there is something that I'm missing, the very idea of holding a gun to one's head presupposes that the person being threatened has free will. No one threatens a person to force an action if that person is not free to choose whether or not to do the action demanded. Why put a gun to one's head if the person cannot do anything different regardless? This reminds me of the old National Lampoon magazine cover: "Buy This Magazine or We'll Shoot This Dog." In the National Lampoon cover, the dog is being threatened in an effort to sway the consumer to purchase the magazine. However, if the consumer has no free will and is predetermined to either buy the magazine or not buy the magazine, the threat is pointless -- the consumer will do only what he has been pre-programmed to do.

Thus, if God had created reality such that people had no free will then there would be no non-Christians. Alternatively, threatening non-Christians who lack free will would be pointless because the threat would have no ability to change the non-Christian's mind. This is necessarily true because people, being without free will, would either already be in the state of belief which God desires (1 Timothy 2:3-4) or they would be constitutionally incapable of changing their minds in response to the threat. There are no other alternatives. The existence of non-Christians establishes that people must have free will.

Hell Is Not a Threat

So, if the "gun to the head" doesn't work if the objection is to free will, does it work on the "God is limiting freedom of choice" objection? After all, if God is using coercion to force people to believe in Him, isn't that an actual limit to the freedom of choice?

Again, the existence of so many non-Christians establishes that if God is using this as coercion, it isn't particularly effective. Despite this hypothetical gun, more than a billion people (including many that have heard the Gospel and been raised in the church) have rejected Christianity. If more than a billion people ignore the coercion, it isn't particularly coercive, is it? After all, people are free to simply disbelieve in the existence of the hypothetical gun. That, in fact, was the one reader's comment in response to my original post. The commenter, Brad, first quoted my post and then added his own comment:

BK: I mean, the author apparently doesn't feel like having this so-called gun to his head has compelled him to accept Christ.

Commenter Brad: That's because the author doesn't believe there's a gun to his head. Obviously.

Now, maybe I'm a little slow but it seems to me that if a person is free to ignore the gun because there is no immediate consequence, the freedom to choose has not been a real factor in the choice being made. Thus, this hypothetical gun really has not adversely affected the non-Christian's choice at all.

Looking at this from another angle, it is back to the National Lampoon magazine cover. The dog on the cover is threatened if the consumer doesn't buy the magazine. If the person looking at the magazine cover doesn't believe the threat is real then that person is not coerced to buy the magazine. Even if the dog is really threatened, if the consumer doesn't believe it she retains full freedom of choice to either buy or not buy the magazine.

The Real Situation

To this point, I have been writing as if the "gun to the head" analogy is a fairly accurate analogy of the Christian belief regarding hell. It's not. The gun to the head analogy is a bastardization of Christian teaching. God doesn't ever say, "Believe in Jesus or go to hell." That's what people who don't believe want others to believe God is saying so that God sounds pernicious and arbitrary.

According to the conservative understanding of the Bible (to which I subscribe), what the Bible actually teaches is that people who are righteous will go to eternal life with God. However, if a person chooses to act in a manner that is unGodly, even once, then that person has made himself impure and God, due to his holy nature, cannot allow an impure/unholy person to spend eternity in his presence. The person must first be cleansed of the unholiness. If the person is not cleansed of the unholiness, the place that the unholy person will spend eternity is apart from God -- a place denominated "hell" in the Bible.

In this understanding, what the Bible essentially does is warn others that there are consequences to their actions. If someone engages in unrighteousness, that person is destined to spend eternity apart from God, the source of all life, love, goodness and mercy. So, what God has done (the Gospel or Good News) is provided us with the means to be cleansed so that we can spend eternity in joy with God. God isn't threatening non-Christians with hell if they don't believe -- you, me and everyone is already headed towards hell. Instead, he is offering everyone the chance for life merely by accepting His gift.

The Better Analogies

The problem with the analogy is that it pretends that God is somehow holding a gun against people's heads saying "believe or go to hell." That's not an accurate analogy. The more accurate analogy would be that the person who the bad analogy sees as being threatened with the gun has already been shot and is lying on the floor dying. God is standing there holding out his hand offering life to the dying.

And do you know what the sad part is? The person who held the gun and who fired the fatal shot is the person lying on the floor dying. It is a self-inflicted fatal wound. We are the cause of our own unholiness -- not God.

That is quite a different outlook than the viewpoint of the question as posted by Austin Cline. It is the same difference one might see when a mother tells her child, "Don't play in the street because you'll get hit by a car." In one view, a cynical person can see those words as a threat, but that would be looking at a mother's love in an ugly and limiting fashion. In the fuller view, it's a statement to the child that there are consequences to actions, and the mother is warning of the consequences out of deep love and concern for her child's well being.

What the objection sees as a threat, Christians see as concern rooted in love. Certainly, it isn't the kind of objection that should leave any Christian feeling puzzled if they simply understand that the question contains flawed assumptions.

And yes, that title is supposed to be confusing. It represents my state of mind after picking up last week’s copy of Entertainment Weekly Tuesday night, and reading Owen Gleiberman’s review of Bill Maher’s recent documentary-slash-humor film, Religuous. (The review can be found at’s site, here.)

Before I go any further, let me try to make clear that I am not about to review the movie: I haven’t seen it, and I haven’t read enough about it from pro-and-con directions to think I have much right to even a second-hand opinion about it. Nor am I trying to review Owen’s review. Exactly. I think.

Okay, in hindsight, having written my article: maybe I am reviewing the review. {lopsided g} Because the review leaves me wondering just what in the heck I-the-reader-who-hasn’t-seen-the-film am supposed to think about the film.

One the one hand, Owen gives us statements like the following; call them Category A: Maher is “curious” and “inquiring” about religion, with “childlike logical glee”. The film “isn’t an attack upon God”. Maher, “for all his showy atheistic ‘doubt’... truly wants to know what makes [religion] tick,” and toward that end “leaves no stone tablet unturned”. {rimshot}

So, how does Maher go about this process of curious, childlike (innocent?) logical inquiry into all aspects of what makes religion tick?

According to Owen, in the following statements (call them Category B): Maher is a “wryly contemptuous... bombs-away provocateur” who gleefully engages in a “blasphemous detonation of all things holy and scriptural”, “grilling” people about their religious faith (including his mother, whose own faith stance is somewhat confusingly reported: she “was a Jew”, but isn’t decribed in the review as a professing Catholic although Maher was raised that way), “scathing” at “worm[ing] his way into the niggling contradictions” of cherished belief systems, “attacking” the “vain, deluded things human beings say and do in [God’s] name”, and who is at least “trying to crucify religion” while propagating his view that the Big Three Theisms are only “fairy tales for adults”.

Uh. Yeah. Because those are the kinds of things innocently playful but logical people do, who truly want in their inquiries to know what makes something tick.

I could see writing Category A remarks about an objectively agnostic or even a sympathetic-yet-atheistic inquiry that looked into the positive as well as the negative side of the ledger of “religion”. In fact, I personally know agnostics and atheists who do that kind of thing.

And I could see writing Category B remarks about either a zealous but well-intentioned witch-hunt (so to speak), or a egotistical vanity project, or an attempt at cynically milking audience reaction in order to score some ticket sales (and more likely book and eventual DVD sales or rentals.)

But I have trouble imagining myself writing both kinds of statements about the same piece of work.

Perhaps Owen thinks Bill Maher is at least being fair in his criticisms and targets? Uh... (“[Maher is] only too happy to be the skunk at the garden party”, “[the film] may be on some level indefensible”, “Does Maher take cheap shots? More than you can count.” “[concerning the film as a whole] he doesn’t [even] really pretend to be fair”) Apparently even Owen doesn’t think Maher is playing fair.

Perhaps Owen doesn’t care because he thinks being unfair is what ‘religion’ (and/or the Big Three Theisms in particular) overall deserves? Uh... (“If you believe, as I do, that religion has been the prime civilizing force in our world, then Religulous may on some level be indefensible.”), not that either.

I suppose I could conclude that Owen’s admiration of the film (he rates it ‘A-’) is due largely to his admiration of Maher’s “prickly honesty” in “putting his idiosyncrasies right out there, even when they tick people off”. Thus, in regard to Owen’s own explanation for why he thinks the movie “may on some level be indefensible”: “But that’s why I’m glad Maher made it.”

Or I might conclude Owen is glad Maher made a broadly unfair and at some level indefensible movie, because “It’s also galvanizingly topical, since Maher’s view is that anyone who is powerful enough to have his or her finger on the nuclear button should not be overly eager for the Rapture.” (Thus making the film “the first movie jape of the Sarah Palin era.”) Hm. Hadn’t heard that Sarah Palin was overly eager for the Rapture, on a par with, say, various politically activist clerics in Muslim theocracies; but then I don’t keep up with politics much. (Though enough to know there are plenty of things that people on the nuclear button should not be overly eager for.) And maybe the defensibility of an indefensible movie, is that at least Maher doesn’t resort (I suppose??) to broadly fictional satire like David Zucker’s recent neo-conservative An American Carol (also reviewed this week at EW, sort of.)

I dunno. I don’t want to be unfair to Owen Gleiberman. Maybe there was plenty of fair criticism and/or appreciation in the film, too, but Owen didn’t think readers would find that interesting or relevant. Or maybe his editors cut it out in order to save room for this week’s “Critical Mass” report (sidebarred on the same page as the Religulous review) or for EW’s interview of the film’s writer/director Larry Charles (sidebarred at about the same length as the film’s review on the previous page. He doesn’t give any evidence of trying to give a balanced as well as entertaining film, either; though he does nevertheless have a goal of “reaching the people that would never dream of seeing a movie that questions their religion” and showing them “how absurd the foundations are”, rather than talking “to the people that agree with me”.)

But I have problems with the idea of an indefensibly unfair film being given a grade of A- because the reviewer admires the indefensible unfairness of the film (finding it frequently hilarious) and/or because such indefensive unfairness suits his political preferences. So, I’m hoping there was more to the film than that, in its substance, and for some reason Owen didn’t report that.

For discussion: would any of our readers think it appropriate either to highly grade a film you yourself think is indefensibly unfair to its target due to your admiration of its prickly unfairness (or maybe because it takes swipes at the political/ideological party you oppose); or else to give it high grades for other reasons, but not focus very much on those reasons when writing a review of the movie for people who haven’t seen it? (Note that this could be asked from your standpoint as editor/publisher of such a review, instead.)


Robert Bowman, a very informed apologist and one of the researchers behind the Institute for Religious Research, has now started his own apologetics blog. The new blog, entitled The Religious Researcher, will seek to answer questions about Christianity.

Today's blog is entitled FAQ on the Trinity, 1: Must one believe in the Trinity to be saved? In responding to the question, Mr. Bowman notes:

The short answer is that it is not quite accurate to say that belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is essential for salvation. Doctrinal accuracy on any theological subject is in any case at most a litmus test or barometer of the genuineness of a person’s salvation, not a prerequisite for receiving the gift of salvation. There is no theology exam on which a person needs a passing score before God will accept that person’s trust in him for salvation. We are saved by God’s grace through faith, that is, through our trust and reliance on God’s gift of salvation in Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:5-8). On the other hand, deviation from the basics of sound Christian doctrine can be evidence that a person is either immature in faith (see Acts 18:25-26) or has not genuinely come into a saving faith relationship with Christ (Rom. 16:17-18). Resistance to doctrinal correction would generally be a tip-off that the latter problem is the case.

It looks like an excellent addition to the Christian blogs available on the Internet.

("What do you mean...? 'Flash Gordon approaching'?" {cue Queen's underlying bass theme} {g})

I've been off-site working on other projects since June, mostly to do with writing the third in my series of novels (the first of which, Cry of Justice, won 2007 Novel of the Year in a retailer poll sponsored by the Christian Small Publishers Association. The self-critical side of my head hastens to add that for all I know one retailer sent in a vote for me and no one did for the other guy. {self-critical g!})

But, since I've been in a creative slump for the past month (thanks to a main character deciding to do something that makes perfect sense for her character but of which the back of my mind can't figure out what effects this will have for the grand finale plot elements {inhale}), I've decided to take a hiatus from my hiatus and start posting up some material I've been gathering.

I have a number of one-shot posts and limited series queued up, on a wide range of topics (mostly on historical apologetics, but with some metaphysic entries mixed in, too); and then after those, if I'm not back to my hiatus for novel composition, I'll be working on editing and posting up the missing Second and Third Sections from my galumphing huge synthetic metaphysic series. (Links to all of the First Section, and the vast majority of the Fourth Section, can be found here.)

As usual, I'll be trying to post on Tuesdays and Fridays. (Thus starting tomorrow, Oct 6.)

ETA (10/8/08): but then I got busy at work and after work and never got around to posting on Tuesday after all! ARRGH! Might be more like Friday, though if I can get back to the house at lunch I'd like to grab this week's Entertainment Weekly and post up a not-a-review-of-a-review-of-a-movie... {g}

In the last blog peace I said that Morality is progressive.We evolve into higher understandings of morality, and since I see God as in process with the universe then i have no trouble thinking that creates the opportunity for evolution and things evolve. This goes for societies as well as physical evolution. Now anyone who has half a brain would be able to understand that this view is not a fundameentalist view. Its' a going to be concieved as very anti-fundamentlist and most fundies will be very angered by it and I'm expecting to get a lot of flack for it from the supports of the CADRE. I'm expecting certain people to say "O relatives look at this blog I don't want them to be ashamed of me or think I'm liberal." Yet a good number of atheists tag this notion as fudie. One even made some sarcastic comment that it was good imitation of a fundamentalist.

They hate fundies and they talk about how stupid they are incessantly and yet, they have NO concept of what fundies believe.No one with any knowledge of theology at all would think a fundamentalist would say this. The fundie would say "god handed down morality int he ten commandments and its' etched in stone, it never changes it's totally objective." But speaking of that, you would think these atheists are fundamentalists. Everyone of them is accusing me of saying that killing and oppression is progressive. I just have to conclude that they have not read the piece. They don't understand what I said because they didn't read it.

I have no idea how anyone could not understand the distinction between what makes something moral and how we understand what is moral. To put it another way, my statement was not about meta ethics it was about the social understanding of meta ethics. In other words, I did not say killing was good and then it became bad. Only a moron who didn't read the article would think this. I said society evolves into an understanding of right and wrong. God didn't climb on a soap box and lecture the Israelis about everything in morality from saving the whales to using energy saving light bulbs. He allowed their moral understanding to grow over time with influences and little pushes in the direction instead of trying to hand it all down on high.

Another aspect of the article that these guys don't get is that it assumes a non verbal plenary view of the Bible. In other words it assumes the bible is not literally "the word of God" handed down from on high, but is written by humans who encountered the divine and reflect their views of those encounters in their words. That means it encodes their cultural constructs. Now I do there are exceptions. The prophets speak "thus says the Lord" I tend to pay attention to that as their transmitting of the Lord's word. But I also understand redaction. I have evidence that the passage about wiping out the Amelikite babies was redacted. So naturally I'm not including that as part of the moral evolution.

Suddenly they have begun to think of themselves as supporting an objective morality. they somehow have slipped their moorings and starting thinking morality as relative.They think they supporting some rock solid moral precepts against some kind of Biblical relativism. Holy negative Batman, that's about as mixed up as you can get. Atheists have to be relativists. They do not believe in a fixed moral standard. They want to condemn the old Testament as "immoral" but they can only do so relative to modern times and modern views from American culture and Western culture. They do not have a foothold in any kind of universal moral grounding. This is the wired Negative world of atheist thinking; like being in the negative of a picture.

Some atheists have begun to think that they can ground moral axioms in feelings. But that shows how deeply mixed up they are. Feelings are not a universal standard, everyone doesn't feel the same way. the ancient world people they condemn for being oppressive and believing in "evil Bible God" had feelings. There is no reason why the atheist feels are sacrosanct and not the ancient Hebrew's feelings. Feeling is not a moral grounding.It's relativism! Atheists have no basis for condemn any decision of God because they having nothing to over against God as the moral standard. Nothing can turn to is anything but retaliative.

these guys are so deeply mixed up they will applauded as Christians are marched off the anti-Christ death camps and all the way they will be saying "that will teach them for being immoral killing people." do I really think this will happen? Yea, when Bigfoot rides into Washington on Nessy's back with Elvis. But if it did you can be quite sure they would never understand their inconsistency. They do not have the right to ste themselves up as some kind of little judges as they are the keepers of universal morality.

What I said was nothing really different than saying "they didn't know any better, they had to group to find out it was wrong to do that." but the little dummies want their excuses to hate God. Too bad they can't be bothered to actually read things. I think some of them could actually learn something if they would actually read.

Here's an example of the deep lunacy the atheists resort to to answer my argument:

It is rather a stretch to say that Adam and Eve weren't ready for Morality WHATEVER_#_WE'RE_AT.0 as though anything you could tell them from 6,000 years of revelation is really that complicated. You don't think they were ape people, do you? Hence, it is an argument to the better explanation, in my opinion, that the at face value progression of ethics across the "big picture" of the Bible is more explicable with the understanding that people just found better ways of adapting to their own moral ideas over time and gave it a theological spin.

where in the word did I say an

y of those things? Did I say Adam and Eve weren't ready for morality? where? Obvious they weren't since they didn't even know they were naked. If he misses that he's missing major feature of the narrative. But I didn't say that in the piece. Where did I say it? This guy's writing is pretty bad so it's hard to get what he's saying.

"You don't think they were ape people, do you?" what?

Hence, it is an argument to the better explanation, in my opinion, that the at face value progression of ethics across the "big picture" of the Bible is more explicable with the understanding that people just found better ways of adapting to their own moral ideas over time and gave it a theological spin"

all that polavor just to say "it makes more sense to think they found better ways." well first of all, now that you've had a writing lesson, that's exactly what I did say genius! I guess he means he thinks I am saying God sat around waiting "Ok guys, (to the angels) just a few more generations and I can tell them the one about not killing." If these guys can't imagine a more create way to understand the idea of progressively unfolding social evolution as part of revelation then they no business even talking about this stuff. What makes this a "theological spin?" It's a simple recognition of the fact that modern Christians are not bound immaculate late bronze aged literature. Is that such terrible "spin?"

What did Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor always say about his henchmen?

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