Thursday, January 29, 2015

Corporal Punishment Update


From the November 2011 E-Block.

***

Some years ago, we wrote the following in response to a Skeptic (it was Farrell Till, for those interested):

Finally, there is this, focussing on Deut. 25:11-12 --

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

One critic connects this to the laws regarding crushed testicles in the previous laws; but as we have seen, there is neither social nor linguistic basis for this argument. On the other hand, this is also said:

"Today, if a woman's husband should be attacked, shoe would probably know that a swift way to rescue him would be to administer a quick, hard blow between the attacker's legs, but that's today. back in the Twilight Zone of biblical times, a woman dared not do this unless she wanted to run the risk of being known the rest of her life as Lefty." The Skeptics may not think so, but they do not live in an era when having heirs is particularly important: Ancient people did not have Social Security to keep them afloat, nor did they have government programs; there was no Meals on Wheels to deliver food to the elderly and infirm. If you wanted to survive, you needed heirs; there was no other way.

This law should be understood in the context of what precedes it, for it makes the matter quite clear:

Deut. 25:5-9 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line."

Neither a man nor a woman of this period would want to live without heirs. This loss of a hand is hardly to be construed as a severe punishment for someone who kept you from having descendants. It has nothing to do with the rule of Deut. 23:1, since that involved self-inflicted damage with a cultic purpose. It has everything to do with destroying a couple's means of support beyond a time when they could fend for themselves properly.

It is also probable, given the context of the previous verses, that the "brothers" fighting here are actually brothers in a physical sense, and are fighting over the very issue of Deut. 7-10. If this is the case, then the wife's actions are even more in sense with the context, and that would mean that this is not just any old fight -- and, it is probable in that case that a rescue attempt is not forbidden in principle where a continuation of heirs is not at stake.

And thus is it appropos that a hand be lost -- for it matches equally the loss of ability to provide descendants to be one's "hands" in old age. That it is thought of as equitable under the "eye for an eye" rubric is demonstrated by the fact that the phrase "your eye shall have no pity" also introduces the lex talionis laws in Deut. 19:21.

Furthermore, if our critic still thinks this rule unreasonable, he should compare it to this Middle Assyrian parallel: "If a woman has crushed a man's testicle in an affray, one of her fingers shall be cut off." That's just for one testicle. There's a second rule if both testicles are crushed, and the punishment is that "both" of something of the woman's will be cut off -- we don't know what, since the text is damaged, but you can take a guess if you want. - Crai.Dt, 315.

We should point out, too, that the Assyrians apparently didn't differentiate between a "rescue" situation for the husband and a woman fighting a man that is beating up on her. If the Israelite law were truly "anti-woman" it would prescribe the punishment under any circumstances. As it is, it seems clear that a kick to the gonads was NOT forbidden when, say, a man attacked and raped a woman.

Our article today will be an update on the above, as derived from William Webb's excellent Corporal Punishment in the Bible. I am pleased to have noted that Webb's own explanation for this passage is the same as my own. However, he also adds some very helpful comparisons to other ANE laws showing that by comparison, the OT is a significant advance on other ANE codes with respect to bodily mutilation as a punishment. Here we will present a summary of Webb's findings and our own commentary.

Sumeria. Only two laws prescribe mutilation, but this may be because we lack a great deal of evidence; we have failed to recover an indeterminate amount of legal material from Sumer. The two laws however are bad enough as is: a peg driven through the mouth for real estate theft, and a woman's teeth being smashed with bricks for making an offensive comment to a man.

Compared to the above, there is little or no sense of equitibility in these punishments. In the first case, there isn't even a clear relationship between the body part affected and the crime. One might also wonder if there is gender inequality in the second -- does a man who makes an offensive comment to a woman get a brick mouth? Perhaps not; though the same charge might be raised against Deuteronomy: What of a man who hits a woman in her "reproductive zone"? There may be an equitable punishment, assumed to be an extension of the didactic expression of the code. Or, it may be that there is no expectation of a woman being in a comparable situation (eg, a fight); or, it may just be expected that the man can produce heirs through some other means (eg, polygamy).

Egypt. Here, there was no effort made to connect the bodily part to the offense either; losing nose and ears was a standard for several crimes ranging from "encroaching on field boundaries" to "repeated offense of libel." Sometimes added was "50 open wounds" as well, with no location specified (though with that many, you could probably cover the whole gamut).

Babylon. These guys had more variety, but there was again often no connection between the body part and the offense. In some cases there seems to be a connection, especially where the hand was involved in some action. But the offenses were often quite trivial, even in the ANE:
  • If an adopted child disowns their parents, his tongue was cut out. The same child who ran away would lose an eye.
  • A slave who hits a free person loses their hand. So does a physician whose patient in surgery either dies or goes blind.
  • Did you break a contract? Expect to lose your nose -- and as a bonus, you get half your head shaved and parade around the city with your arms outstretched.
Assyria. More of the same -- some. There are also a few that do at least make the direct body-offense connection. Samples:
  • If a man touches a woman in a sexual advance, he loses one of his fingers -- plus his lower lip if he stole a kiss.
  • A prostitute who wears a veil in public gets 50 blows and a hot tar shower.
  • Did you steal a sheep? Expect 100 blows, your hair torn out, and a month in the king's service. And you have to replace the sheep.
  • A eunuch or palace attendant who eavesdrops on a palace woman loses his ears.
It doesn't take much to see that compared to these codes, the OT makes virtually no use of mutilation as a punishment -- and the single example ties the act of mutilation directly to the nature of the crime. (I should note that this takes for granted that the passage is rightly interpreted; there is also a minority reading that understands it to refer metaphorically to shaving of the pubic area -- a shameful punishment, not a physical one.) Webb notes that in proportion to other codes, we'd expect at least 20 OT laws prescribing mutilation as a punishment -- yet we have only one. The superiority of the OT law in this context -- that of the world in which it was written -- is manifest.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Suffiency and the Bible

From the November 2011 E-Block.
**

There is a doctrine called the sufficiency of Scripture (SoS) that is generally formulated as saying that in the Bible, God has given a revelation that gives mankind everything that is necessary to live a godly life. In one sense this is certainly true, but there is an abusive form of this doctrine that mirrors the abuse of sola scriptura, and the doctrine of perspicuity: namely, an abuse in which external defining contexts -- things which help us interpret and understand Scripture and what it means -- are excluded under the premise that Scripture is "sufficient" as is to relate the truths that we need. 

The refutation of this abusive form of SoS is as straightforward as it is for the abuses of the other doctrines: Namely, Scripture is written in certain languages (initially, Hebrew and Greek); Scripture itself does not teach us these languages; hence, Scripture cannot ever be regarded as "sufficient" in the overarching way the abusers of the doctrine proclaim. Indeed not even a KJV Onlyist can escape this conundrum; the Scriptures also do not teach us English! The moment this one exception to sufficiency is engaged, the floodgates open to any and all valid defining contexts external to Scripture, and it becomes utterly impossible to declare that Scripture is self-attesting and self-authenticating to this extreme extent. 

A related abuse may be expressed as follows: God’s holy and perfect word can never be scrutinized for accuracy and truthfulness by corrupt, wicked men. In other words, man cannot criticize the Bible and put God "in the dock." But how is this the case, practically speaking? First of all, if men recopied Scripture, changing only a few words and replacing them with synonyms so that it became their own production, it is a product of men; how is it that the derivative work can be scrutinized, but the former cannot be? Moreover, many of the claims of Scripture are far from transcendent: If Scripture says that a certain city was beside the Jordan River, and neither archaeological evidence nor literary evidence testified to this, but testified that this city was on the coast of the Mediterranean, then what in "corrupt, wicked man" is causing this reputed truth to be missed? Are they simply not able to read maps or find pottery because they are too evil? It is manifest that such claims as that, "man is too evil to judge the accuracy of Scripture" result in either absurdity or else contrivance (e.g., no evidence is found for the city because it just so happened that all the evidence washed away; or every other piece of literature promulgated the same error putting the city elsewhere). Such a viewpoint is simply not honest, and endangers faith needlessly. (It will do no good to further suggest that doubters are themselves wicked for not accepting the truth of the city's location as revealed by the Bible; such merely sets the contrivance one step further away.) 

A related rationalization is that Scripture nowhere calls upon men to test it for truth, so we have no right to do so. This is plainly false. While there is no direct statement that says, "test Scripture," the Deuteronomic prophet test clearly invites an evaluation of ALL prophetic productions to ascertain which is true and which is not. From this it is apparent that even true prophetic oracles were expected to be judged against the evidence to see if they were true. At the same time, it is invalid to argue that Scripture must speak explicitly to an issue for us to make a decision. This reasoning is the sort used by the Church of Christ to exclude musical instruments, on the grounds that Scripture nowhere explicitly states they may be used. It is also clearly a case of modern, low context readers assuming that Scripture is itself a low context document; when in fact, Scripture was written in a high context setting, in which much is related not explicitly, but is taken for granted. The only alternative is to contrive the convenience that Scripture just happened to be a low context, explicit production isolated in a world in which is was surrounded by high context persons and documents -- and this is too obviously a case of presuming modern values imperialistically, remaking God's Word in our image. 

In contrast, there is a more reasonable form of SoS that declares that Scripture is deemed sufficient only in certain specific aspects -- for example, how to live life, and how to be godly. Such a view will readily admit that categories such as language involve things beyond which Scripture speaks, and will also admit (if consistently held!) other defining contexts. The unreasonable version of SoS, however, will put the matter in stark, combative terms: Either you think Scripture is sufficient for ALL areas, or you place yourself in a position of judging God and usurping His authority. It is hard to take this seriously as anything more than a vain threat intended to polarize and avoid the issues rather than engage them head on. 

Now what is SoS in relation to apologetics? The SoS extremist will say that Scripture is sufficient to persuade men of the truthfulness of the gospel, and thereby deny the value of evidential treatments. Here as well will be added in the loaded language of, "men are too depraved to know the truth," and "appeal to evidence gives men autonomy that belongs to God," points dealt with above. Beyond this, however, it is evident that while Scripture may be sufficient in broad outlines in this respect -- as what we might call the "final answer" after a long line of argumentation and reasoning -- it cannot be regarded as sufficient in addressing details and variations. Scripture affirms that Jesus existed, and that is the end of the argument; but it will not give us any reason to suppose that Annals 15.44 is not a forgery. 

There is then an argument of SoS extremists that is essentially ad hominem: Those who seek to use reason and arguments to convince others of the truth of Christianity are seeking to take credit for what they do and are showing a lack of trust in God. Such arguments may approach the matter from a strong Calvinist perspective and will involve some of the same interpretive assumptions as Calvinism. As such, we will leave them aside for the time being when we will do further study on Calvinism; suffice to say for now that my earlier studies found insufficient grounds for such interpretations, and that ad hominem renditions which accuse others of pride or lack of trust have no place in serious discourse. Such accusations are just as readily turned around -- and are just as readily provable. 

In the end, again, the idea that with SoS as expressed in the extreme, we are "contributing" something to God's Word -- which should need nothing contributed to it -- fails at the simplest level: God's Word is given to us in languages used by humans. To that extent, how did humans not "contribute" to God's Word being relayed to men? Unless one is prepared to argue that the Hebrew and Greek languages were somehow designed by God --an outlandish proposition unsubstantiated by any evidence -- then the SoS extremist is trapped. They will say everything human is tainted by sin; well, Hebrew and Greek, then, are tainted by sin. The fall has distorted human nature and intellect beyond the ability to receive God's will; well, human intellect designed the Hebrew and Greek languages. As with similar arguments with sola scriptura and perspicuity, extreme SoS collapses under the weight of a most fundamental contradiction.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Is To Be Done?

Today we have a guest post by Tekton reader and voice actor "DLAbaoaqu".

****

After the announcement of the 2015 Razzies, I was noticing that the Nicholas Cage version of Left Behind (espousing an eschatology that I haven’t subscribed to in years, and I will it not discuss it beyond this point) and Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas had been nominated for a good chunk of awards. While I have no qualms about the choice of either making the list (they both stink), the latter makes me think: “Why do people only pay attention to Christianity when those allegedly subscribing to it do stupid stuff?”

In the case of Cameron movie, the greater of the two evils, I feel the man is unwittingly furthering token portrayals of our people. As one can predict, when someone who identifies as Christians — the pieux — does something outrageously stupid (like Comfort’s banana speech and the like) it serves to give the fundy atheists — the athée — ammunition to portray us as inferiors.

You know what I’m talking about: “Sky Daddy” this, “Bronze Age” that.

So I went browsing through the IMDB message boards for Cameron’s insipid opus for terrible events to describe. Naturally, I found them.

Rather than destroying the arguments of the athée, as Cameron claimed, the film merely gave said group something to laugh about (“If you don’t get the biggest tree or the richest butter, you aren’t honoring Christ,” seriously!?). It is little more than adding fuel to the fire, giving the fundy atheists more to “enjoy” and reasons for painting religious types as stupefied masses while they are the chosen ones.

Rather than abandoning their position and letting the pieux make their voices heard in an intellectual argument, the athée will continue to exploit beliefs long held dear as superstition and fairy tales.


On that same subject, in academic discussions, the stances of the pieux are seldom welcomed. To the world at large, Christianity is seen primarily as a spiritual or moral position, never an intellectual one. 


In discussions of the Bible and its history, the minds of the intelligentsia are inclined toward hearing the skeptical side and their side only. Jackson J. Spielvogel, in his textbook Western Civilization, Vol. I: To 1715, says:

Many scholars today doubt that the early books of the Hebrew Bible reflect the true history of the early Israelites. They argue that the early books of the Bible, written centuries after the events described, preserve only what the Israelites came to believe about themselves and that recent archaeological evidence often contradicts the details of the biblical account.

This is no mistake. Academia, in general, tends to be biased toward ideas such as these. When discussing the conquest of Canaan, particularly Jericho, you are not likely to hear the athée discuss anything beyond Kathleen Kenyon.


Spielvogel goes on to say that the Israelites were probably indigenous people living in the region. This is a stance the FAs would most likely agree with. As far as they are concerned, there is no evidence whatsoever for the forty-year exodus through the wilderness or that the Jews were ever in Egypt. Of course, they willingly ignore the Scythians of Russia — a nomadic people who were around for much longer and left next to nothing. They also neglect the Egyptians’ habit of trying to hide the things they were embarrassed about, like Hatshepsut and Akhenaten.

The idea of how to interpret the first chapters of Genesis, though, is not settled. Even as far back as the Church Fathers, there was debate on the subject.

This kind of stuff even spills over into New Testament studies, with men like Ehrman attempting to discredit the authenticity of the text we have at present. You have the Jesus Seminar and their pipe dream, Q. The only good thing I can say about this state of affairs is that at least the Christ Myth/Pagan Copycat Thesis is still considered an idea only accepted in Bedlam. You would never even know that the date of Herod the Great’s death is being debated.

Why does it seem like the pieux is not allowed to speak their part on such matters, or at least ignored? You can argue that they can get their voices heard, but men like Plantinga, Strobel, Collins, Miller, Wood, Craig, Witherington, Habermas, Wright, etc. are not as out in the open as the popularizing skeptic. Instead of those figures, the most commonly heard names among the pieux are Osteen, Hinn, and Meyer, among others; people advancing the stupefaction of the common Christian by way of bizarre teachings and fluff instead of realism and hard information.

On the subject of the New Atheist movement, I only have one thing to say: Dawkins discovered the meme. Since the advent of the internet, the athée have lapped up what their “high priests” have regurgitated for them. The athée loves to toss terms like “rational”, “reason”, and “logic” around like a Frisbee. In reality, they are just words written on the wall. You don’t really have to practice it!

Because of the underrepresentation of the pieux in intellectual circles, they are often stereotyped as angry, stupid, Bible-thumpers with ramrods up their spines. You know it’s true. When was the last time Christianity was depicted as a positive thing on TV, in the movies, and online? It is because of this lack of assertiveness.


The pieux have the capacity to prove themselves to be a formidable position in philosophy and academia. They just need to be assertive. The athée will not stand idly by and just let them make their cases. The faithful needs to stand up for themselves.

The global pieux needs to abandon ineffectual things such as televangelism — a haven for heresy and scammers — and focus more on apologetics. They will not make their case with a testimony or devotional. The first members of the Christian church did not rely on those two methods; we must not either.

On the internet, the athée upload videos attacking the pieux and what they stand for. The only goal of the athée is to dominate the pieux. They want to do this in the form of humiliation and slander. The pieux, in the past, took “turn the other cheek” to mean do nothing about this; in reality, the usage familial language relegates that teaching to bickering with other pieux. Sadly, this gave the athée the ability to walk all over them with little to no repercussions.

In this case, I have one thing to say: “Eye for an eye”; if the FAs can pillory Christians for beliefs they have held for ages, the faithful has every right to retaliate with as much mockery as they can muster. On his movie, The Producers, Mel Brooks said that the most effective way to destroy the legacy of Hitler was through satire. The same can be applied to radical internet atheism.

If the pieux can show some backbone and stand up for themselves, they can earn their voice and make their stances known on a broader level.

When the athée retweet stuff from Tyson or Maher in order to look cool and logical, they neglect to realize that such “saints” as those two have gone onto propose that unhackable computers are possible and that germ theory is a crock, respectively. Make people like them live up to their own standards.

Only when the pieux can fight back for what they believe in can the billboards fall and the online memes shatter. Otherwise, it will be business as usual: neglect, stereotypes, and continued exploitation.

What will be their choice?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Bigger Barns Update

In the interest of fairness I'm going to devote today's post to an update on a prior post here.

Here's what I wrote back in August:

**
This is a story of three buildings.
The first one is on a corner lot less than a mile from my home. It’s an unfinished concrete-block structure, surrounded by weeds, and it’s been that way for a while – a year or more. 
It started out as just an empty lot, and one day a sign popped up: “GOD DID IT!” For a while we weren’t sure what it was God had done (Mowed the weeds? Fertilized them? Picked up the trash?), until another sign popped up indicating that a local church was growing an expected to expand there soon. OK, I figured, that’s nice.
The lot stayed that way for a year or more, longer. 
Then someone started doing some construction. Concrete blocks began to pile up in the shape of a building. A new sign appeared naming a pastor.
Then it all stopped. And it’s been stuck at “bare concrete block” stage for more than a year now. The sign naming the pastor disappeared. A new one naming a different pastor popped up. And that’s where it stands as of today.
 
***
Well, in the last month or two, some things have changed on this. They've made significant progress on this building; it's now to the point where they've painted the outside. They also had a revival meeting on the grounds.

I'm not saying this changes my basic point in the post, especially since the other two projects mentioned remain with little or no progress. But I do feel I should be fair and let everyone know that this particular one, at least, is getting closer to completion.


 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Musicians' Gambit: Mandisa


From the November 2011 E-Block.
**
The singer designated Mandisa might well be regarded as a typical American success story: Featured on (but not a major winner on) the American Idol television program (which -- sorry! -- I have yet to see an eposide of), she parlayed her success there into a recording career in Christian music. A sample of her lyrics makes it fairly easy to understand why: With this singer -- who will be the last examined in this series for the time being -- we come full circle to yet another entertainer for whom the Gospel has been transformed into therapy. 

The repeated theme of many songs we sampled is essentially that God brings victory and joy in life. Sin? Not even mentioned. Doctrine? Never heard of it. Instead, what we have is what might happen if Joel Osteen put his sermons to music:

Look at my life
And I still can't believe it
How did I make it
To where I stand now?
You don't understand
I was up against the whole world
And all I could feel was it breaking me down
But out of a hopeless situation
There came a song of redemption
Life may push my heart to the limit
But I won't let go
Of the joy in my soul
‘Cause everything can change in a minute
And the world may try
But they're never gonna steal my joy
So get up, stand up
And rise above it
If every plan
That you've made goes so wrong
You don't have to give in to the struggle
You may be down
But don't stay there for long
In every hopeless situation
There is a song of redemption
The world may say
You're never gonna make it
The world may say
You're not strong enough to take it
But I don't care
‘Cause the joy of the Lord is real
And they're never gonna steal my joy

In this, "the Lord" becomes a tacked on sentiment that rounds off a paean glorifying in how wonderful life is when it is fixed. Indeed, if the last two lines were lost for good (after the manner of Mark's Gospel) we might now know whether the object of affection was the Lord, a Hindu avatar, or maybe even caffieneated drinks.

The bit of theology I found in our sample isn't particularly heartening -- here we find the bankrupt epistemology of divine communication -- which we have seen in, for example, Joyce Meyer, in past articles -- put into verse:

Have you ever heard a love song
That set your spirit free
Have you ever watched a sunrise
And felt you could not breathe
What if it's Him
What if it's God speaking
Have you ever cried a tear that
You could not explain
Have you ever met a stranger
That already knew your name
What if it's Him
What if it's God speaking
Who knows how He'll get a hold of us
Get our attention to prove He is enough
He'll do and He'll use
Whatever He wants to
To tell us I love you
Have you ever lost a loved one
Who you thought should still be here
Do you know what it feels like
To be tangled up in fear
What if He's somehow involved
What if He's speaking through it all
His ways are higher
His ways are better
Though sometimes strange
What could be stranger
Than God in a manger
God is speaking
I love you

Though less tragically trivial than Meyer's profession that the Holy Spirit told her to make her husband fruit salad, or Charles Stanley's claim that God told him to eat chicken soup for a cold, the epistemology of divine communication is basically the same: God's voice can be in just about anything -- because it has been in some unusual things before (e.g, the manger reference); so why not just about anything we can think of otherwise?

And yet again here, we have the God not of the Exodus, but the god of Counseling Session:

If what you thought was the truth is a lie
And what you fought to keep on breathing has died
You face the lonely nights and wrestle with the dark
And you reach to find the love to fill the space inside your heart
It's hard to put it into words the way you feel
It's an ache and emptiness that lingers still
Are you a victim of the past without a trace of hope in sight?
And it all goes by so fast without a way to make it right
If you worry, don't worry
God will come and wrap His arms around you
It wouldn't be too much
For Him to love you as He found you
And it may seem like you're too far gone
But He loves you like His only Son
And He will come
He will come
From the bounty of a river there's a flow
And from the beauty of the Father's heart's a home
It never leaves you empty no, and never leaves you bare
So come and bring your guilt and shame
Come and leave it there
If you're willing, He is willing
Oh, you don't have to be worthy
You don't have to be anything but willing to fall into His arms
Willing to fall into His arms

The latter stanza has a theme we have seen in modern preaching, probably too much so: That of not needing to be "worthy" for God to accept you. While that is of course quite true in one sense, the modern sense now relates to themes of self-esteem - a concept unknown in the Biblical world. Biblical peoples considered themselves unworthy in the sense of not having sufficient honor to match God's honor, and thereby warrant His patronage. This is about as far from a therapeutic faith as one can get.

As many times as the above themes are repeated, we need say little more, but will close with a look at the one song I did recognize as having been on the radio:

Some people try to listen to the bottom of a bottle
Some people try to listen to a needle in their arm
Some people try to listen to the money in their pocket
Some people try to listen to another's arms
You and I are not that different
We got a void and we're just trying to fill it up
With something that will give just a little peace
All we want is a hand to reach to
Open arms that say I love you
We'd give anything to hear
The voice of a Savior
Some people try to find it with blind ambition
Some people try to find it where no one else has gone
Some people try to find it in the crowns of victory
Some people get defeated lose the strength to carry on
Some people try to find it in the shadow of a steeple
Some people try to find it in the back row pew
Some people try to find it in the arms of Jesus
That's where I found it, how about you?

The theme of therapeutic closeness to God or Jesus is again obvious; but beyond that is revealed a core accuracy: Yes, it is all done to fill a void. But the desire for the god of Therapy is, in its own way, as bad as the bottle or the needle. In commenting on the many books by writers like Meyer, Lucado, Stanley, etc over the past several years, we have occasionally asked whether Christians might not be addicted to the self-help genre. If they are, then it is little surprise that Christian music now produces so many singers like Mandisa whose own productions reflect service to that deity.

In close: Obviously I am not saying such persons are at risk of damnation. However, they will indeed find that their rewards have already been received -- and may well be shocked to find that the reaction to their works on earth would have been more favorable had Simon Cowell been their judge rather than Jesus.

Yes....I know that much about American Idol, at least!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Nativity Displays as Social Opportunity

I've never had much interest in the whole debate over allowing displays of things like Nativity scenes, or the Ten Commandments, on public property. As far as I can see, that sort of thing is little more than an empty gesture that only addresses a symptom, not the real problem. It also doesn't help much because once you render such things unto Caesar, Caesar will have his own ideas.

A case in point has to do with this account from here in Florida (link below) about how a group called the "Satanic Temple" has arranged to have a crude diorama placed in our Capitol rotunda as a sort of answer to a Nativity scene that was allowed to be placed there.

Now first of all, forget the "Satanic Temple" name. It's not a true Satanist group, but pretty clear some atheist group's idea of a joke. So are some other competing displays like one for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Festivus pole. They're all nothing more than attempts to mock the religious displays (which also includes a menorah).

That said, although I still think public Nativity displays are pretty much useless, I do think the atheists have done us a public service with it in spite of themselves -- because they've made themselves out to be childish whiners who think any thrown-together hunk of junk is suitable to make a statement.

You can see for yourself that the "Satanic Temple" display looks like something a 5 year old would put together for a class project. The other displays aren't much better and certainly don't send a message that sounds anything like, "We care for what we do and believe." No, the message is more like, "Nyah nyah, we can do this too!"

I'll use that to segue into a point for a project that I put on the 2015 planning list, and which alludes to a post I made here some time ago (Link 2). On the one hand, we have groups like the ACLJ who go after groups like Barker's FFRF (Freedom from Religion Foundation) when they make a fuss over things like Nativity scenes. We also have apologists like me who go after FFRF and Barker for promoting garbage like, "Jesus didn't exist and was based on Mithra!"

Why aren't the two being connected? Wouldn't ACLJ do well to make use of that "Jesus didn't exist" stuff as part of a public relations war? In other words, since the atheists humiliate themselves with these childish public displays, why not make the most of the embarrassment?

That's a thought for the New Year.


Link
Link 2

Friday, December 19, 2014

Evaluating the Evangelists: Billy Graham


From the November 2011 E-Block.
***
Evangelist Billy Graham is one of the most trusted figures in the world, and I am pleased to say that after surveying a sampling of his works below, I believe that trust is justified:
  • Ask Billy Graham (ABG)
  • Facing Death and the Life After (FDL)
  • The Key to Personal Peace (KPP)
  • Angels (A)
  • Answers to Life's Questions (ALQ)
What differentiates Graham from so many other popular Christian authors -- Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado, and so on -- is an overlay of cautionary humility that prevents Graham from (for the most part) overextending himself. (I know few people who, like Graham, will say that they do not like to be called "doctor" when what they have is an honorary degree -- ABG95). He does not allow excitement and emotion to let him say more than is warranted: For example, in A, he reports anecdotes of angelic interference in the world, but does so with a cautionary tone and occasional acknowledgments that he cannot absolutely vouch for a supernatural element, only suggesting that there may be one.

By his own account he consults others when his own expertise is not sufficient, and is also willing to change his views when more and better information comes to his attention. To that extent, I would say that Graham's works are overall good choices for a new Christian.

Is there an "on the other hand"? Yes, but I don't think Graham is to be blamed for it. As a trusted leader, Graham has either been called upon -- or felt a call -- to write many books on subjects that one would not ordinarily expect an evangelist to write about. His book on death (FDL) is mostly common sense advice and commentary on death-related issues (euthanasia, wills, etc). But why should Graham have written such a book, and why would anyone read it, rather than a book by, saying, an attorney specializing in such matters? And in ABG819, why would anyone write to Graham asking for his views on public debt? One can only suppose that it is precisely because Graham has a sterling reputation of trust -- for that reason, he becomes like a trusted father figure to whom one may turn for any perceived need.

On that account, it is on the one hand a very good thing that Graham does not overextend himself. Indeed, in ALQ, we see him frequently telling readers to seek someone qualified to counsel them. This leaves me with only two significant reservations.

First, Graham also sometimes tries to segue some concern into an evangelistic message; the artificiality of his appeal is too often transparent, and may do more harm than good. In ALQ240-1, for example, he has a question from a reader about organ donation, which, after his answer, he turns into a reminder that Jesus gave the gift of life through the cross. That seems rather too much of a stretch. But such "stretchy" instances are rare that I found.

(In this respect, I am reminded as well of Franklin Graham, who during CNN interview answered every question by appending the same rote mini-sermon each time. I also reminded of a Wittenburg Door parody I once saw, titled "Dear Abbott," in which an advice columnist did the same thing to every letter. I now know that ALQ, a compilation of Graham's answers to readers in what was apparently an Ann Landers style column, is what they were parodying!)

The second reservation is more serious. Although Graham indeed does wisely not overextend himself, he has been put into an awkward position in which people expect him to have answers he does not have. Graham indicates, for example, that he won't get into issues like the reliability of the Bible; he gets results by just saying, "the Bible says" (ABG481) . He also refuses to discuss theological issues like inerrancy (ABG105). Now this is not problematic in itself; Graham is an evangelist, and explaining such things is not his job. However, he has been put in an awkward position in which he will be expected to give answers to a wide array of such questions, which end up being inadequate. For example:
  • KPP: In this he does well to emphasize the essential historicity of the Resurrection; but he has one of his rare overextensions and says that there is more evidence for it than there is for Alexander the Great dying at age at 33! In a sense I agree, but to make such a statement requires much more than a few sentences of affirmation.
  • ALQ103: Asked about Sabbath observance, Graham offers sound -- but vague -- warnings against legalism, then advises the reader to make up their own mind to honor God as they think should be done.
  • ALQ108-9: Graham is asked about a religious group that came to someone's door (it is not specified what group), and his advice is to ask: What does this group think of the Bible, Christ, and salvation? Do they have books or Bible translations not recommended by scholars? That's actually spot on advice, but it comes at the end of what should be a much longer string of argumentation. (It would have been sufficient had he offered at least a short list for further reading.)
  • ALQ284: Asked if Jesus claimed to be God, Graham, offers only 3 passages from John's Gospel, with no explanation.
Beyond this, Graham's attitude towards scholarship is, thankfully, overall positive. He indicates that he wishes his education had been more complete at times. On the one hand, though he says (ALQ291) in response to a request for a book or commentary to explain the Bible that the Bible "is its own best commentary," he also (294) says that some Biblical scholarship has helped in understanding the Bible better. We may be thankful that Graham was at least somewhat positive in this regard rather than sharing the offer of many modern writers towards scholarship.

In sum: It is a pleasure to offer an overall positive assessment of Billy Graham as an author, one who handles his material, in general, responsibly.