I like memes and all, but…

12507253_10205680946209473_2214562383714930349_n
I like memes.  Seriously, they are kind of fun.  I like seeing people being witty and often wish that I myself were witty. But alas, I’m not witty.  So, I like memes.

The meme beside me here was one my son showed me on Facebook.  It was posted by one of his pastors.  I don’t personally know the pastor, and if he came up to me on the street I’d have NO idea who he was.  I tried to limit my comments to the Facebook post, but not being a social connection of his, I wasn’t able to.  Then I thought hey, I haven’t blogged in a while.  Let’s use this there!  And so… here we are 😀

get why this supposed to be entertaining.  Or funny.  Or maybe illicit deep conversation amongst fellow believers.  I get that this is a way to make people think about their convictions, and so I thought to myself, sure, I’ll play along.

If I asked you “Hey reader of my blog whom I have never met, what does the color blue taste like?”, chances are, the reaction would not be a pleasant one.  You might think I’m crazy.  You might wonder if I had too much medication.  But, you aren’t going to think “Oh wow, you are ONE BRILLIANT THINKER GUY!”  And see, my problem with this is that I’m having the same reaction to this meme.

You see, I get that to the creator of this over-used Maury Povich meme, this is supposed to make people who claim to follow the teachings of Christ think about the “odd juxtaposition of their protectiveness of the unborn with their desire to see the wicked be destroyed.”  In the pastor’s comments, he said something to the affect of “Well, Jesus didn’t resist arrest or fight back when He was being arrested and killed, so why should we?  Now, don’t you feel bad about supporting war and capital punishment?”

No.  I don’t.  In. The. Least.

Here’s why.

You are morally and ethically asking what the color blue tastes like.  This entire meme, and the line of thought betrayed by it, equates our government with our own personage.  I SHOULD find the death of the unborn morally repugnant.  It SHOULD bother me that we can discuss idolatry as though it is a foreign concept to today’s society and is a relic of the days of “Molech and Chemosh” when the reality is, we sacrifice children every day to the god of self.  Over 80% of abortions are because of reasons other than “necessity.”  According to the CDC, over 25% of abortions are purely out of “this is a hindrance to my career.”  So no, we don’t NEED Molech or Chemosh to sacrifice our children to.  We have our own ambitions.  Pathetic.  50 million children have been sacrificed to OUR idols over 40 years time.  I can ASSURE you, those numbers dwarf any number you can imagine in biblical times.
On the flipside of this, I SHOULDN’T revel in the death of the guilty.  And indeed, I DON’T revel in the death of the guilty.  And I don’t think any Christian who loves and follows Christ WOULD.  But there is a dividing line between what we feel is our own personal obligation and the obligations of our governments.  What I find odd is that the pastor seems to forget Genesis 9:6:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
    by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.”

Now, before we get carried away into “But that’s the Old Testament and doesn’t apply to us as believers (this is a nice way to make vomit well up in my throat, by the way), let’s realize that God’s decrees also, in a  way, lay His feelings and thoughts bare for us all.  God is clearly, in this instance, declaring that it is an imperative to shed the blood of those who shed the blood of others.  So if this is a COMMANDMENT, which it is (it’s revisited with the Israelites in Exodus, so it’s obviously a command), then at the very least, it reveals a God whose heart is for justice.  Certainly not for wanton bloodshed, but for justice.  And so while He is not commanding Noah or his family to enjoy the capital punishment of the murderer, He is most definitely commanding it from a governance standpoint.

And so just in case we like to still try to escape from the burden of governance, we still have this to contend with:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

That’s from Paul.  It’s Romans 13, for those of you playing at home.  Just in CASE you missed Genesis 9 and the responsibilities of government to protect the sanctity of life, here is a little passage from Paul to remind us that the government’s responsibility is, in fact, to protect the innocent and to be an extension of God’s wrath.  In seeing both this and the Genesis passage, it should be pretty simple to understand that force is, in fact, the prescriptive response to the endangerment of innocent life.  So it’s sad, in fact, that a pastor would try to equate the protection of the innocent with the just application of God’s wrath on the guilty.

One of the arguments that the pastor used for his position was that Jesus did not fight back when He was being arrested.  That sounds great, but there are two problems with that response.  First and foremost, Jesus was MEANT to go to the cross to die, it was His MISSION, and He did so… WILLINGLY.  I’m not sure that Pastor Oblivious thought this through, considering that Jesus, being an omniscient, omnipotent being, would necessarily HAVE to allow Himself to be killed.  It’s like playing your five year old in a game of horse.  You can lose, sure, but you have to put the effort into losing.  So, quite simply put, if Jesus WERE to accomplish His unique MISSION on earth, it was, in fact, necessary for Him to not resist, and that was the point He was trying to get Peter to understand.  Secondly, there is a big difference in defending YOURSELF versus defending someone who is NOT you.  One is self preservation, one is not.  In the case of abortion, Christians disagree with it because it is the taking of an innocent life.  In the case of capital punishment, it is protection of OTHER innocent lives combined with an expression of the value of the life already lost.  In the event of a Just War, it is for the protection of those innocent lives who are being oppressed by a far superior force.  But in NONE of these situations are the combatants protecting themselves.  So Pastor, maybe rethink that meme.

Now, my son responded to this pastor’s meme, and his response could be paraphrased as this “I wanted to take a serious situation and kind of make it a joke so that people could laugh at themselves and think their way through their positions.”  You know, I’m all for people thinking.  I have a good feeling that if this pastor had done the same, then perhaps this meme would not exist.  But alas, that was not to be.

Here’s my take on that.  You are a pastor.  You are held to a higher standard than John Q. Public in regards to the body.  The image of a pastor consistently presented in scripture is one who is willing to protect his sheep.  Using your meme wizardry skills to thoughtless provoke your flock into a poorly thought through moral conundrum doesn’t count for that.  Also, a pastor is held to a higher standard because they are a teacher:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

I didn’t come up with that.  James, the brother of our Lord, did.  It’s in his letter in the Bible, in the third chapter.  Look, you can be offended all you want as a pastor by the expectation that you should be held to a higher standard.  My advice is that if you don’t like, or feel that it should be some other way, find another line of work.  By being irresponsible with your flock, demonstrating a lack of biblical thinking and insight, and then passing it off as “fun,” you are demonstrating to me that, while you may WANT to be a pastor, you might be in the wrong line of work.  Maybe it’s a maturity issue, I don’t know, but that is certainly inappropriate for a pastor.  It’s your job as a pastor to lead with dignity, and to teach the word of God in a way consistent with biblical application, not entertain the masses with your ability to copy an already overplayed Maury Povich meme.

6 Comments

The Caricatured Christian

Ned-Flanders-003Hi there.  That’s Ned Flanders sitting beside this paragraph.  He’s Homer Simpson’s neighbor, and he hides a dark secret, though not necessarily very well. His secret?

He’s an absolute caricature of the Christian faith.

He’s what Hollywood and the mass media (and quite possibly some of your non-Christian friends) like to think of Christians as when they are being their most charitable.  This is the non-threatening version of Christianity.  It says funny things like “Okilly-dokilly!” or “Hey-Diddly-Ho!”  This version of Christianity suppresses anger, is timid, easy to push around, enjoyed for its charity, vilified for its strict morality, and ultimately used for comic relief.  It clings to the minutiae of Christianity, is ultimately toothless in nature, and can best be admired for it’s love of sweaters and cats.  Think “little old lady” Christianity.

This is the best you can be thought of as a Christian by a large majority of non-believers or adherents to other faith, and sometimes even within your own faith community by those who have been enlightened as to the reality hiding behind life, that Christianity can not be the religion of the lion-hearted, but it’s a crutch for the timid and well-meaning that can at best be seen as innocuous, at worst as simple minded, feeble, and dangerous in spite of its best intentions.

Fred_Phelps_10-29-2002And this guy?  This is Fred Phelps.  you may know him as the late hate-mongering, sign carrying, funeral protesting pastor of the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church, who for whatever reason, felt it better to spew hate even within their domain name.  I won’t print it here because it’s fairly detestable, but google it for yourself and make your own decisions.

See, if Ned-diddlely Flanderino up there is the best Hollywood/media/pop culture view Christianity as, this is the worst we’re viewed as.  We’re viewed as sharing in Phelp’s anti-gay, anti-islam, anti-darn-near-everything-ever inflammatory hatred.  When he did something stupid, or said something stupid, we’re viewed by everyone around as as at least equally culpable in the stupid.  So much the case that, people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins go so far to say that religions are dangerous and should be banned.  People say things like that partly because of the bad ole’ folks like Fred Phelps here who strangle out truth beneath an oppressive brand of hatred that causes everyone to see them, and you, and me, as Right Wing NutJobs.

 

Sam_Harris_01Speaking of Sam Harris, that’s this guy here.  See the smirk?  It’s permanently attached.  It comes because he is, in his own disturbing little opinion, far more intelligent than religious people.  He’s kind of your average militant atheist.  They like to do things like argue minutiae, the same kind of stuff that the Ned Flanders style Christians described above freak out over because they don’t have any answers to questions like the ones posted in this debate here: Sam Harris Vs. Bill Craig.  Watch it for the fun of watching Bill Craig semantically draw and quarter Sam Harris, but linger over it for the full effect of Christianity at it’s least Ned Flanders/Fred Phelps caricaturistic goofiness.  It’s pretty awesome to watch.

Why bring up Sam the Sneer?  Well, he’s one of the guys spearheading the new view of Christianity.  He’s one of the guys that takes guys like the late Pastor (using the term VERY loosely) Phelps and redraws each and every Christian in some shade of cruelty and heartlessness, and then makes the Ned Flanders Christians cower in horror because they can’t answer his questions.  And if you look very closely at his questions, they really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for a believer to answer.  But we don’t, for the most part, and ya know why?  Cause… you know… Christians.

For every Sam Harris, there are 1000 Sam Jrs who like to say things without any knowledge or wisdom whatsoever, who like to paint pictures of Christians that are dangerous, foolish, uninformed, and ultimately far too insipid or stupid or BOTH to occupy any useful space in the dialog. And for every 1000 Sam Jrs, there happen to be probably 10,000 Christians who are either too timid, too asleep, or too preoccupied with not providing an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love to actually be able to… well… provide an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love.

isis-army-700x430This is ISIS.  They’re just crazy.  But a lot of people like Sam Harris use their craziness as an analogy for Christians.  It doesn’t work really well because we’re not pyscho.

 

 

 

jesuskingofkings

See this guy?  Yeah, it’s an artist’s rendering, but this is Jesus.  He’s the King of Kings.  Ultimately, no matter what any of these other people think, see, or do, He’s the guy that’s in charge.  You can disagree all you want.  You can do whatever you want.  But, at some point, you’re going to be accountable to Him whether you find that pleasing or not.  So, really, if you’re a Christian, the Hollywood stereotypes aren’t really what applies to you.  Because you follow this guy.  And part of following this guy is being able to and willing to stand for truth, although the cost can be your life:

36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Did you catch that?  It’s not our job to be timid.  We’re supposed to be unashamed of the gospel.  We’re supposed to be willing to give our lives and our hearts.  Being a Christ follower doesn’t make you a pushover.  It makes you an obedient servant to the King of this universe.  The hard part for us to grasp is that that lies somewhere in between.  We can’t be pushovers and Ned Flanders, but we can’t spew hate and BE hateful to those who disagree with us like Fred Phelps. Because our fight is not with the Sam Harris’s and the Kathy Griffins and Bill Mahers of the world, but our fight is with powers and principalities outside of our realm.  Our job in that fight is to prepare ourselves to share truth, share our hearts and our compassion, and prepare for the imminent return of Jesus Christ!

So hey!  Don’t be THAT guy.  Don’t be Ned Flanders.  You can be offensive to others just by doing your job as a Christian because hey, the Gospel is offensive!  You can go find the answers to those hard questions, and you can be quick to share them without fear!  It’s more than just a right, it’s your duty!

And also.  Don’t be that OTHER guy.  You were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not your own merit.  Jesus didn’t save you because you’re a special little snowflake.  He saved you because of His own love and grace.  So don’t assume that your salvation comes with the ability to spew hate.  It doesn’t.  It comes with the ability to marvel at your Maker, love others, be forthright in truth, and let your own life be a guidepost for others, that they might see the redemptive work being done in you.

, , ,

Leave a comment

Eliminating the heart strings from the same-sex marriage debate

marriage_spaceshipThe Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Same Sex Marriage must be legalized in all 50 states across America, thus bringing to a close the country’s debate on the legality of Same Sex Marriage in America.

While many celebrated the ruling, others were less celebratory.  Several Christian leaders came forth to declare that they will engage in civil disobedience if necessary.  Mike Huckabee went so far as to say that he doesn’t see Christian leaders having much of a choice if they are going to be obedient to God.

While it would be easy to turn this into a religious forum, or tug at heart strings, which is typically what happens (if anyone would like to see this in action one need only read this statement from Justice Kennedy:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Awwww.  Pass the kleenex here, I’ve sprung a leak.

Ok, so I’m being sarcastic.  But there is a reason for my sarcasm.  It is essentially rooted in the nature of public policy and the welfare of the public versus the desires of the few.  And while this may sound particularly callous, it’s not coming from a place of callousness, but rather a deep concern for the future of our country.

Let me start with a few things about my own personal opinion.  I do not agree that homosexuality is congruent with a biblical worldview.  And while I say that openly and candidly, I also say that knowing that so are many other behaviors that people engage in frequently, such as adultery, bribery, theft, murder, slander, gossip, etc. and etc.  Since I don’t hold a special measure of condemnation for those people who engage in those behaviors, neither do I hold a special measure of condemnation for people who engage in homosexuality.  Instead I love them just like I would anyone else.  So this isn’t coming from a position of condemnation (If anyone is curious, I DO hold a special measure of condemnation in my heart for University of South Carolina fans, and it’s very real.  I don’t believe they actually have souls.  Kidding.  Mostly.)

That being said, I don’t believe there should even be a measure of religious view necessary in evaluating the Same Sex Marriage debate, because ultimately, we live in an environment that fosters the separation of church and state.  So while I have my own views as to why homosexuality is wrong, for the intents and purposes of the Same Sex Marriage debate, I don’t even want to lay them out as argument.  However, I do believe that the equality of Same Sex Marriage is a dangerous step towards destabilizing our country, and while I do believe those engaging in homosexuality should have access to certain marital benefits, I believe that extending all of the same rights to homosexual couples is simply a bad choice.  Here’s why.

Public policy is not meant to be rooted in our emotions.  It’s meant to be what’s rooted in the best for society.  For example, we have policies against drug use and the sale of drugs precisely because it’s not rooted in what’s best for society.  We have policies against drunk driving because it’s dangerous to society.  That being said, when we make decisions, especially unilaterally comprised decisions that eliminate the people’s right to autonomously decide, we trust our Supreme Court to make those decisions with what’s best in mind for society.  If it can reasonably be proven that Same Sex Marriage is best for society, then so be it.  I’m fine with it.  And while we have been given studies previously that would seem to support this concept, it’s been sufficiently called into question such that in my opinion, it is academically dishonest to claim that there are no substantive differences between homosexual and heterosexual couples for the purposes of child-rearing.  In fact, quite the opposite has been shown, that there are very substantive differences between the two.  It would be ridiculous to re-state what has already been stated, but here is the study for anyone interested that casts doubt on these aspersions of  “no differences” .

Ultimately the problem lies in the fact that, in declaring Same Sex Marriage as valid as Heterosexual Marriage, we have necessarily said that they can be equally successful in all facets of married life, including child-rearing.  As such, there is now no legitimate reason to exclude gay couples from the adoption process even though studies have shown a large and verifiable body of work that says that Same Sex couple situations do, in fact produce drastically inferior outcomes in parenting.  The very fact that children in lesbian couples were 11 TIMES more likely to experience sexual abuse should have given pause to our otherwise inexorable march towards same sex legalization.  The fact that both gay and lesbian couples produced children who were more likely to be involved in crime should have been enough to give us pause.  If those weren’t enough, surely the finding that the children of lesbian couples were 4 times more likely to have been forced to be involved in sex against their will should be a giant red light.  I’m ultimately not going to quote every statistic from the study because it’s pretty sobering and rather bludgeoning in its findings, but continuously, children of gay and lesbian children showed that they fared worse in society and in terms of being productive parts of society than children of their biological parents.

I do understand the same feelings that Justice Kennedy referred to in his speech.  But while those words tug suffocatingly at the heart strings, they do precious little to insure that the best outcome of society was on the minds of the five justices who desired to approve of Same Sex Marriage.  Rather, they reflect a disturbing trend in society where public policy is fueled by a public opinion that is far too concerned with our own narcissistic desires for life to be “our” way rather than how we integrate into society.  In this maelstrom of public policy fueled by “feelings,” we are slowly watching as the desires of the few now significantly outweigh the well-being of the many.  And while I do agree that homosexuals have every right to legitimize their relationship in a way that offers some relational benefits (the ability to share insurance, the ability to have access to health information, etc and etc) legalizing and normalizing Same Sex Marriage was a step in the wrong direction that now allows for the very real possibility that we are going to create a generation of adults who will never experience life in the fullest as it comes with being raised by a mother and a father.

, ,

4 Comments

Racism, Gun Control, and Depravity

Once again, I’ve had my usual sabbatical from writing.  Kids… work… kids… it all adds up, especially with a non-sleeping two year old in the mix.

That being said, I wouldn’t write now were it not for the disturbing events in Charleston.  It’s inconceivable in this day and age, that there are still fools like Dylann Roof floating around.  To try to wrap my head around his ignorance and foolishness, it just befuddles me.  Perhaps that speaks to a great part of the problem in dealing with racism, is that those of us who don’t swim in the murk and muck of the insipidly preposterous and stupid world of racism fail to notice that there is a problem until it careens onto our doorstep via the morning newspaper when someone commits some heinous, stupidity-fueled act.  Until then, we’re all blissfully unaware that there is a problem.

Well there is a problem.  There is a big problem, and we could call it racism.  But that wouldn’t really convey the real issue here, and until we stop pointing that finger, we are going to continue to run into the same issues and prove John Stewart right.  Because we like to treat symptoms in America.  We like playing doctor.  I would be absolutely unsurprised to one day find out we have a cure for cancer that is stunningly simple that no one knows about because there is no money in the cure.  And just like cancer has symptoms, the bigger problem here has symptoms.  Racism is one of them.

We could call the problem “gun control” or lack thereof.  We all know the statistics… the US has 30,000 gun related deaths yearly.  The US placed 103rd out of 195 countries in terms of gun deaths per capita, so at least we’re middle of the pack.  But we rank well below other countries like Canada or Italy.  And we could point the finger at guns all day long, and many people would argue that the finger was accurate and well-deserved, that guns, indeed, are the problem.  Of course, when you look at the UK, which has very strict anti-gun laws, doctors are trying to ban long-pointed kitchen knives because long-pointed kitchen knives have now become the weapon of choice among criminals.  And when that ban is enacted, perhaps Duran Duran CDs will be used to kill people, which will result in a ban on Duran Duran CDs (I’m just wishing, hoping, and praying here, folks). But you get my drift, hopefully.  Because yeah, we can point the finger at guns all day long, but we miss the point.  And enacting stronger gun legislation will eventually show itself to be a pyrrhic victory at best when the blood of so many has been spilled, only to enact a solution that saves so few.

So what’s really the problem?  You know, what’s the real issue here?  When Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Lindsey Graham, or any other talking sound bite machine from Washington or civic leaders such as Jessie Jackson, or Al Sharpton, or Mike Huckabee or insert name of commentator here, speak on the issue, what should they really say if they really want to get to the heart of the problem and enact real change and healing?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

There.  God said it best.  We can look at this as a gun control debate, or we can look at it as proof of how racism is still alive and well, and even though both may be correct, until you deal with that one issue, nothing else is really going to affect change.  The human heart is deceitful and sick.  The KJV denounces the human heart as “desperately wicked.”  And you know what?  If anyone is going to be an expert on human behavior and solutions to human behavior, it’s probably going to be God.  So you see, fill the newspapers with pro gun and anti gun rhetoric.  Fill the airwaves with discussions on how to eliminate racism.  Until you deal with that one issue, the one of the human heart, neither of these problems will go away.

Why is that one so hard?  It’s really simple when you get down to it.  We’re depraved!!!!  The second recorded sin was murder.  The first was pride.  Seriously, did we not learn from that?  And yet, here we are, millennia later, and STILL we haven’t learned.  If I had to guess the reason why, it’s because that one truth hurts the most.  Because then, this isn’t something that some fool like Dylann Roof does, while the rest of us, both black and white, are simply better than that.  Then we have to realize that the roots of evil that took hold in Dylann Roof are not so different from the evil and depravity we find in ourselves.  The fight against racism, the fight against senseless murder, is less about the Dylann Roofs of the world, then it is the fight in our own daily life against the chains that continue to bind all of us to our depravity.  Then we would all have to swallow the bitter pill that is the fact that we all are capable of great evil.  Then, in that fearful moment when we have to realize that the dividing line between us and a deranged neo-nazi wannabe is dental floss thin, we finally realize that the answer to all of this senseless violence, murder, and foolishness can be found at the foot of the cross.

The families and loved ones of the victims in Charleston realized this.  Notice that the one city that probably should have erupted into racial violence and hatred instead fanned the fires of the Holy Spirit in their city.  This didn’t happen anywhere else in the face of such tragedy.  The reason it happened here is that the members of Emmanuel, the citizens of Charleston, the families and loved ones of the fallen realized that the answer to this problem is not found in legislation, but in prayer and supplication.  I have never been more amazed and more proud of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ than I am right now in the believers in Charleston, the believers in Emmanuel church.  So fitting it is that the very name of that church means “God with us,” for He most certainly has been, teaching us all that far separated from the rhetoric and dead end solutions is the solution of His gift of salvation and His love for His children.  Maybe if we all paid a little more attention, the problems of racism and gun control would be seen for what they are… a symptom of a terribly depraved heart.

Leave a comment

On Sam Harris’ “New Atheist” Diatribe in a Can Part 2… The Exclusivity of Christianity

So in moving forward, we see from last time that first difficulty with Harris’ rejection of Christianity based on suffering is a fundamental misunderstanding of suffering being necessarily a function of evil.  So, moving forward, let’s speak to Sam’s rejection of the exclusivity of Christianity.

The argument is a common one.  The point of the argument essentially boils down to this:  It is absurd for Christians (or any other religion for that matter) to assume or interject that they, and they alone, are correct.  It’s the height of arrogance, in fact, to make such a claim based off of the scant evidence for any religion.  The attitudes of many can be summed up like this…

I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another.  I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism.  It’s a way of saying that we are closer to God than you, and that’s what leads to hatred.

~ Rabbi Schmuley Boteach

toleranceReligious racism.  That’s an emotionally charged accusation that is somewhat akin to throwing red meat to a pit bull.  How should one address the exclusivity of Christianity?  Is it foolish?  Evil even?  Rabbi Boteach, Sam Harris, and many others would agree.  The folks driving around with “coexist” and “tolerance” bumper stickers would absolutely agree.  President Obama would agree.  So, what is the right answer here? And how would you deliver the right answer in such a way as to not incur the wrath of the “Tolerant Coexisters?”

The problem is a fundamental misunderstanding between the cornerstones of truth, opinion, and evidence.  What am I saying here exactly?  Well, let’s start at the nature of truth.

Think back to when you were in school.  Imagine you have just been given a chemistry exam (I hated chemistry, so it seemed the perfect choice), and imagine, given a multiple choice question with the correct answer of ‘D’, you choose ‘A.’  Do you, at any point, feel that you should have been given credit for giving the correct answer?  Of course not!  That would be foolish.  Did you accuse your teacher of being “bigoted towards those students who chose the letter ‘A’?  NO?  Why is that?  Because in this particular instance, you have a distinct grasp of one of the fundamental tenets of truth, which is this:

Truth is necessarily exclusive.

The nature of truth and its exclusivity precisely mean that answer D is not equal to answer A.  In no possible world will answer A equal answer D.  So, it is unreasonable and irrational then to assume that if I answer ‘A’, I should get the same credit as thought I had answered ‘D’.  The two are in fact exclusive of one another.  Consider these two statements:

“I am sick.”

“I am healthy.”

It would be a logical fallacy to equate these two sentences.  I could not declare both at the same time and not be contradictory.  There is of course the possibility of that if we were to assume that the two were not speaking in the same context, such as if I was saying I am mentally “sick” and physically “well,” but if the two are located in the same domain, they can’t both be true.  That is to say, I can’t say “I am not currently suffering from a disease brought on by microbes”, and then in the next sentence say “I am currently suffering from a disease brought on by microbes.”  The two are contradictory and can’t possibly both be true.

So where am I going with that?  Well, first, I hope we are okay with saying that truth is exclusive.  Otherwise, everyone should get 100 on their multiple choice tests since every answer is just as good as another (Oh if ONLY that were the case).  The reality is that in the realm of truth, there is a right answer and a bunch of wrong ones.  What does this have to do with religion?  One’s faith is in essence a truth statement.  Of course you believe what you believe to be true IS true.  Otherwise, why believe it?  So, if we are discussing religion as a truth statement (I don’t really believe it can be looked at in any other way), then it is not only acceptable to evaluate one’s truth claims as exclusive, it is reasonable and rational and IRRATIONAL to do otherwise.  So, making a truth claim on what you believe to be true is not religious racism, or foolish, but the proper thing to do.

Where the debate turns askew is of course on the value of these truth statements, or “why does Christianity claim to be true?”  This of course is an argument in the context of evidence for Christianity being equal to the evidence of all other religions.  So, the crux of the question is not “is it reasonable to be exclusivistic in regards to religion,” but rather, “does Christianity have a right to claim exclusivity based on its evidence.”  I will therefore spend the rest of this post arguing why Christianity is a superior revelation of truth compared to all other religions.

First, let’s consider the reliability of the Bible in regards to history.  In doing so, I think it is important to deal with the Bible in light of its attempt to root itself within the confines of human history.  Put another way, “is the Bible long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away or is it meant to fit itself within archaeological verifiable confines?”  Secondly, I think it best to examine the Bible in light of the reliability of its manuscripts, which is to say, “Does it say exactly what it’s supposed to say, or has it been hopelessly botched by years upon years of scribal error.”

One contention leveled against the Bible is that it is, for all intents and purposes, mythology.  A telling admission comes from Iron & Wine singer Sam Beam when, in an interview, he says in reference to Christianity…

That was my mythology as a kid. Those were the stories that we learned how to live life (from). I didn’t have Zeus and Athena. We had Jesus and Job.1 

But is that really all that Christianity is?  Is it just a cleverly crafted set of mythology that we have transitioned from Mount Olympus to Jerusalem?  I would wholeheartedly disagree.  First and foremost, mythology has consistently been, throughout history, a metaphysical attempt to explain heretofore inexplicable physical events.  For example, “Why does it rain?”  “Baal, the storm god, brings rain.”  Or “Jupiter, the god of thunder and weather, has brought us rain.”  In either instance, the desire is to explain natural phenomena.  The aim of Judeo-Christianity is not, in fact, to explain inexplicable natural phenomena.  Rather, it’s purpose is to explain and reveal God’s relationship to man and vice versa.  For example, concepts in Judaism and Christianity exist that are absolutely foreign to mythology.  Concepts like salvation and damnation have no real counterpart in mythology, because again, the primary aims of the two are entirely different.  Yes, mythology does have a certain “afterlife concept,” such as the Elysian Fields and Hades.  However, the similarities stop there, because the afterlife in mythology (and any other religion outside of Christianity that I can think of) is only attainable by one’s merit.  Christianity and Christianity alone invite the practitioner to participate in a meaningful personal relationship with a God who has created them and brings them to leave in everlasting peace based not in personal merit but in a right relationship with that God (incidentally, I think this is a major stumbling block to a lot of atheists, because the concept of a rewarding afterlife that you don’t EARN is anathema.  God’s grace is that we don’t get what we earn.)  So, hopefully we can agree that mythology and Christianity are separated from one another by CONTENT and INTENT.

Now, to fully answer the question of the Bible’s pragmatic relevance in regards to being verifiable and testable within real world conditions, the Bible consistently tries (and succeeds) to root itself within human history.  We have real, existing humans (Pontius Pilate, Tiberius, Darius, Cyrus, Xerxes, David, Jehu, and the list goes on) who have appeared in human history both within the timeframe and within the context that they were represented biblically.  That is to say, Tiberius was accurately portrayed as the Roman emperor at the time in which he was acting as emperor.  Additionally, places and events were described accurately.  For example, the Pool of Siloam, mentioned in the Gospel of John, has been found and matched the biblical description.  The city of Jericho has been found and studied.  The Hittites, who were previously thought to not exist, have been verified and studied.  The historical veracity of the Bible has been so persuasive an argument that many an atheist has set out to prove the Bible hopelessly inaccurate only to leave the endeavor as a believer in Jesus Christ.  So, unlike other world religions such as Hinduism, the Bible tries to firmly root itself in history and offers itself as a historical document to get the reader to test its words for truth.

The second point is the relative health of the text.  There are, again, two factors I consider in the “health” of scripture.  One, has it been accurately passed down to us?  Bart Ehrman, a textual critic of the Bible, says that it has NOT been accurately passed down to us.  Ehrman likes to claim that there are more errors in the New Testament than there are WORDS in the New Testament, and he is right.  What he doesn’t admit, however, is that none of the errors affect a single major doctrine of Christianity, and they only slightly affect some minor doctrines.  Ultimately, all of the errors end up being scribal in nature and are totally inconsequential in nature to the essential doctrine and faith of Christianity.  In the same way, the Dead Sea Scrolls find allows us to be much more confident in the reliability of the Old Testament since it contains copies of nearly every book of the OT (except for Esther) and the differences are minimal between them and already existing manuscripts.

Another portion of the argument for the veracity of the text is the number of manuscripts and the length of time passed between when the events occurred and when they were written down.  We have over 5600 manuscripts of the New Testament.  In fact, if all of our existing NT manuscripts were stacked upon each other, the stack would be over a mile in height!  That equates to a very strong witness.  In addition, the earliest writings of the New Testament can be reliably dated due to existing manuscripts to about 90 AD.  It is even within the realm of possibility that the entire NT was completed before AD 70 (seeing as how no one mentioned the destruction of the temple, which surely would have necessitated some kind of mention seeing as how the temple was the very symbol of Jewish sacrifice, which served as the typology for a thorough understanding of Jesus and His sacrifice.).  As such, the entirety of the NT witness could have been compiled within 40 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This would be the equivalent of a push notification in the ancient world!  When we consider that the earliest existing copies of writers such as Plato and Homer date from up to 1000 years after the author would have written them, why do we assume that what we have from them is what they meant for us to have?  In addition, this kind of manuscript evidence simply isn’t available in other religions, and especially in cultic offshoots such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who have both continuously revised their holy books.

So, sure, if the witness for Christianity were no better than for Hinduism, or Sikhism, or Islam, then absolutely it would be absurd religiously for anyone to declare Christianity superior revelation of truth over the others.  However, that simply isn’t the case.  Christianity has every right to declare that it has an exclusive grasp on truth based on the reliability of its manuscripts combined with its compatibility with archaeological study.  No holy book can even come close in terms of exposing itself for open dissection and study.

 

1.  The Mythology of Iron & Wine, http://iamdeclan.blogspot.com/2010/05/mythology-of-iron-wine.html

Leave a comment

On Sam Harris’ “New Atheist” Diatribe in a Can

So a friend of my wife’s on Facebook posted this to his wall and invited Christians and non Christians alike to discuss and ruminate on Sam Harris’ soundbite from his debate with William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame.  The fundamental argument of said debate was the question “Is Good from God?,” meaning of course, is God the foundation of our objective moral framework or is there some other entity that could possibly be the bedrock of our moral underpinnings.  I find it interesting that Dr. Harris did not feel the need to include anything else from the debate, such as his inability to answer Dr. Craig’s questions in regard to the false synchronicity Harris tries to create between the “moral landscape” and the “continuum of well-being,” or any of Harris’ other failings to address the arguments that Dr. Craig posed, while feeling that it would be best to add this particular diatribe to his soundcloud page.  I say that because this argument is ripped directly from the typical “New Atheist” playbook circulated between such “luminaries” as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and others.  So while I applaud Dr. Craig for not following the “red herrings” being laid out by Dr. Harris, I am intellectually “slumming it” today and decided I would take a shot at Dr. Harris’ angry “Atheist rant.”

First and foremost, let me be real about the first premise.  We, as Christians, don’t really spend enough time ruminating over this first objection to Christianity and the God of the Bible.

If there is a God who is all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving, why does He allow suffering to happen?

It’s a valid question.  I think about it at almost every funeral I go to.  I think about it when stories like the tsunami of 2004 appear in front of me, or the devastation in Haiti from several years ago.  I think about it when dealing with the implications of child slavery in the chocolate trade, or the idea of clothing being made for consumption by americans being made by children in another country who are often totally devoid of the creature comforts I give my children.  Dr. Harris does a good job of pulling our focus to the question of suffering and addressing it with a huge question mark and furrowed brow.

I guess the first place to start in this is to dissect a few premises here.  Dr. Harris used the argument of these things that “ought not to be” as an argument against God.  The general premise here is that

“If there is a God, and this bad stuff happens, then He can’t really be real or good or all powerful because of seeing the bad stuff.”  

The problem with this argument of the denial of God via the presence of evil is multidimensional.  For one, the very ability to understand an “oughtness” or “should be” is to express that there is some standard by which we understand that which is good and that which is evil.  We become outraged at the problem, and rightfully so, because we understand these things to be “not right.”  But, in the absence of some objective standard, how would you know this?  I would posit that the reason why we even have these kind of debates in the first place is because our Western, First World mentality has given us the luxury of riding on the coattails of God’s goodness without actually thinking through the origins of our understanding of good and evil.  So, we are essentially spoiled children.  But, I digress.  Back to the original argument, as Dr. Craig put it, if a police officer tells you to stop your car, you are, by law, obligated to stop.  Why?  The police officer has a grounded position of authority that is upheld by the law.  So, there is an authority to what he says.  If I tell you to stop your car, there is no reason to.  In the same way, the absence of an objective moral standard that is put in place by a higher authority would leave no grounds for moral authority to begin with, much less questions regarding the dichotomy between good and evil.  What one man would consider good could possibly be considered then evil, the same way pointing with your first finger is considered inconsequential by Americans, yet offensive by Chinese (or so my wife says.  I’m not sure myself.)  Objective moralism, just as objective good and objective evil, would be impossible without some standard upon which to base it.  Outside of God (or insert higher being of choice here for the current premise of the argument), there is NO standard of good and evil.  So, I would begin with the fact that the very conversation Dr. Harris is having about what we consider “good” and “evil” is a very poignant argument for the existence of God and against his own premise.

Secondly, it is a fool’s errand to sum up the problem of human suffering with a simple pat answer that covers everything.  Dr. Harris’ argument is based around natural disasters specifically, so we can stick there if necessary.  There is a fundamental problem with Dr. Harris’ argument, and it’s this:

While we view volcanos, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters as just that, disasters, we also need to understand that we are, in essence, riding a giant spaceship that requires maintenance and upkeep that tends to happen.  So, to put this into perspective a little better, let’s think of it this way…

I have a car.  That car has lots of moving parts.  Some of them present the possibility of laceration injuries, such as the radiator fan.  Others present the possibility of thermal injury, such as a nice hot exhaust manifold.  Still others present the opportunity for puncture wounds and the like, and we haven’t even discussed the possibility of grave injury from a car accident.  Now, I could look at my car and complain that there are so many things that could hurt or injure me and demand it be re-designed, or say that there could not have been a designer of the car because it was so poorly designed with obviously no thought given to how dangerous parts of it were.  But changing any of those things would drastically affect its ability to do that which it was designed to do, namely, get me from point A to point B.  Take away the engine, and suddenly I have no possibility of laceration or thermal injuries, which is great, but then the car doesn’t run.  Add an electric motor, and now I don’t have to worry about those either, and the car still runs, but I’ve introduced the possibility of being injured by electric shock.  Ultimately I have to be resigned to the fact that, in order for my car to be operational, I have to be aware that there are some precautions and possibilities that may occur.  In order to avoid injury, I don’t do some obviously stupid things, like grab the exhaust manifold when it’s hot, or allow my children to ride in the engine bay.  I obey the rules in terms of traffic (mostly) and then, at the end of the day, I still have to be aware that there is the distinct possibility of getting killed or mangled by another driver.

In the same way that my car can be dangerous, yet must necessarily be so in order to adequately function, so too is the earth.  Natural phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanos are simply part of the mechanisms that have been put into place for earth to be a habitable planet.  Plate tectonics is necessary for altering and regulating our climate and in fact contributes to the biodiversity and habitability of this planet.  So, yes, we can bemoan the tragedy of people being killed by a tsunami or an earthquake or volcano, but to use it as an argument against God would be the same as me being angry at Chrysler for the exhaust manifold burning me on my van and then saying “this thing couldn’t have been designed because I was hurt by it and that’s just EVIL.”  Of course it would be ridiculous.  So it is with using natural phenomena that happen to be dangerous as an argument against God.  Of course there is a possibility of a tsunami hitting the beach.  Of course there is the possibility of Mt. Saint Helens erupting and spewing hot ash and lava all over Washington.  But all of these things are inherently necessary for the survival of the world at large.  Could you or I envision a world that works better?  We think so, but that’s doubtful.  Limited by laws of nature, being allowed only to work within the confines of a logical and rational universe dictated by the precepts of physics and chemistry, it’s doubtful we could ever, ever, ever, ever come up with anything better.  So, we are left again, being whiny, spoiled children insinuating that we could have done far better, while never really understanding every facet of the equation.  How do we eliminate all natural phenomena and still have a world capable of supporting life?  In short, I think that’s unreasonable.  Should we mitigate the possibilities of collateral damage and loss of human life?  Absolutely.  That’s why I don’t own land near Mt. Saint Helens.  Should we be aware that, in spite of our best efforts to avoid disaster, they do still occur?  Absolutely.  But to fault God for not wrapping His creation in bubble wrap for us is to then argue against the very rational and logical properties that make our earth distinctly capable of supporting life in the first place.

We’ll take a look at Dr. Harris’ next premise, the evil behind the exclusivity of the Gospel, next post.

, ,

Leave a comment

Scripture as a Weapon…

My kids just went to watch the second installment of the new Amazing Spider Man series.  I refuse to go because I thought (with the glaring exception of the third movie) that the original Spider Man series with Tobey Maguire was absolutely fantastic and this reboot is just a cheap way to make more money.  But, I’m reminded of something out of that movie (and the comics) that always sticks to me.

With great power comes great responsibility.

I wish everyone could have chestnuts of wisdom like that lying around in the ol’ cerebrum.  I say this because, as an irritated Christ follower, it bothers me that so many pastors place themselves on a pedestal that seems to toss this little bit of wisdom out the window.

I’m reminded of a Sunday at Southbrook Church several years ago.  The pastor at the time was in the middle of a sermon that basically amounted to this:

I am the lead pastor/visionary/vision caster.  Failure to agree with me means you need to leave.  God has spoken to me specifically about what to do here in this church.

FYI, that pastor is no longer at Southbrook.  But the attitude there is one that can be found in many churches.  One (I think) unintended side effect of the mega church is the new model of “pastor as rock star” that is unquestionable in his vision for the church, that is unapproachable, and by proxy, is unaccountable.  These things add up to dangerous propositions for the church, and the reason is pretty simple.  By placing a man in a place of utter lack of accountability and approachability, we place into complete power someone who is the subject of these bible verses:

Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:22)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3)

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

Get the picture?  Do you think it’s honestly a good idea to set yourself up as unquestionable when this is ultimately the picture scripture paints of mankind?  That’s just a recipe for disaster!!!!

Hey!  Way to take that scripture out of context.  Do you do that every Sunday?

Hey! Way to take that scripture out of context. Do you do that every Sunday?

I recently came across this story at apprising.org that made me really consider the situation the body of Christ is in with regards to this new breed of unquestionable pastors. At Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, the little kiddos of the Children’s ministry were given coloring sheets that depict Elevation Pastor Steven Furtick preaching, carrying the message of unity behind the obvious church visionary, Pastor Furtick.  The scripture being used to promote this unity is Romans 13:1.

The problems here are many.  First, all of the body of believers are united under a single visionary, Jesus the Christ.  Mankind is not visionary.  We are finite and are but a breath and then swept away.  Only Jesus is the true visionary.

Perhaps more irritating than the sheer pomposity of calling oneself a visionary is the use of scripture as a cattle prod for the masses.  That may be worded a little harshly, but much deserved.  Here is the issue:  That portion of scripture has nothing to do with reinforcing authority within the church.  That passage has everything in the world to do with the Christian’s role in secular civil government.  Ultimately, this passage has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with a Christian’s need to submit to “church authority!”

It’s bothersome to me (and it should be to anyone who is a believer) that scripture is being taken entirely out of context and being used as a “Holy Ghost cattle prod.”  To abuse the Word of God and use it to force your flock into obedience is deplorable as a pastor.  It becomes even more deplorable to me when one of the main arguments leveled against Christianity by the secular crowd is that scripture is used by those in power to maintain their power!  How terrible that there actually would be a group of believers where this would actually happen!  This merely serves to reinforce the skeptical notion of “bible as a weapon.”  Whoever is responsible for this should repent immediately, and the congregation of believers in which this happened should be on guard against future occurrences.

Sadly, neither of those things will happen.  We have raised a generation of “spiritual lemmings” who are all too willing to go for whatever their pastor/prophet/holy man would tell them, despite the warnings of scripture not to do so.  It’s sad that we have developed a culture of people who are biblically illiterate and are simply unable (more likely unwilling) to examine for themselves what scripture has to say about this kind of behavior.  Of course, anyone listening to a Steven Furtick sermon will at some point likely hear what amounts to derogatory comments against anyone willing or desiring to study scripture more thoroughly.  Apparently, it would be dangerous to these congregations for their members to start reading scripture and being discerning, because they would eventually see their shepherd this way…

Then the LORD said to me, “Take once more the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs. “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!” (Zechariah 11:15-17 ESV)

While Zechariah’s passage is not in reference to any pastor’s in particular, it is important to see the qualifications of a foolish shepherd.  They abuse their flock.  They don’t care for those being destroyed. They devour the flesh off of the fat ones.  They tear them apart and ultimately they shepherd only for their own gain.  If you don’t think that using scripture out of context, converting the God-Breathed Writ of Scripture into a weapon to bludgeon people into blindly following you is a terrible wrong that must be stopped, you are a fool.  If you think that bullying your flock by holding God’s word over their head is being that foolish shepherd, you will find out the truth all too soon and all too painfully.

 

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: