Category Archives: Politics and Culture
From the New York Times, an article by Eric Weiner: “Americans: Undecided About God?”
For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?
The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones….
Nones don’t get hung up on whether a religion is “true” or not, and instead subscribe to William James’s maxim that “truth is what works.” If a certain spiritual practice makes us better people — more loving, less angry — then it is necessarily good, and by extension “true.” (We believe that G. K. Chesterton got it right when he said: “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”)
This is certainly my experience. Young people I know are looking for a life path that will help them be better people. They are often very interested in mystical, reflective paths, which they have often seen very little of in Christianity. Buddhism holds some attraction because it looks like it will help them to be calm and focused, and to roll with the punches. They are not interested in preventing homosexual marriage, are increasingly moderate in their abortion views, and would like to see real help for the poor and the sick. You could possibly sell them on some specific Christian doctrines, but not until they have seen that there is a form of lived Christianity that appeals to them. If you lead with praxis, you can eventually move into theology. I, for one, don’t see this as a step backward. Aren’t we supposed to be inculcating virtues anyway? And aren’t things like peace and patience supposed to be the fruit of the Spirit? The American church needs to make some major adjustments here, but nothing that isn’t the right thing to do for other reasons.
I’ve been reflecting for a while on three different literary passages. The first is from the Grapes of Wrath, a dialogue between poor tenant farmers and the wealthy land-owners and bankers. The farmers have been trying to scrape a living farming a land that has been hit hard by drought. The powerful wealthy folks are now about to remove them as tenants, and hire them as workers on larger, consolidated farmers. Their small grip on autonomy is over–now they will work for wages determined by profit-driven land owners. This is what Steinbeck wrote:
The owners of the land came onto the land, or more often a spokesman for the owners came…Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves…If a bank or a finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank-or the Company-needs-wants-insists-must have-as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. These last would take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because they were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and masters all at the same time. Some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to such cold and powerful masters. The owner men sat in the cars and explained.
“You know the land is poor. You’ve scrabbled at it long enough, God knows.”
The squatting tenant men nodded and wondered and drew figures in the dust, and yes,they knew, God knows. If the dust only wouldn’t fly. If the top would only stay on the soil, it might not be so bad.
The owner men went on leading to their point: “You know the land’s getting poorer. You know what cotton does to the land; robs it, sucks all the blood out of it.”
The squatters nodded-they knew, God knew…
Well, it’s too late. And the owner men explained the workings and the thinkings of the monster that was stronger than they were. “A man can hold land if he can just eat and pay taxes; he can do that.”
“Yes, he can do that until his crops fail one day and he has to borrow money from the bank.”
“But-you see, a bank or a company can’t do that, because those creatures don’t breathe air, don’t cat side-meat. They breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don’t get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so. It is just so.” …The bank-the monster has to have profits all the time. It can’t wait. It’ll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can’t stay one size.”
The squatting men looked down again. “What do you want us to do? We can’t take less share of the crop-we’re half starved now. The kids are hungry all the time. We got no clothes, torn an’ ragged. If all the neighbors weren’t the same, we’d he ashamed to go to meeting.”
And at last the owner men came to the point. “The tenant system won’t work, any more. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don’t like to do it. But the monster’s sick. Something’s happened to the monster.”…
The tenant men looked up alarmed. “But what’ll happen to us? How’ll we eat?”…
“We know that-all that. It’s not us, it’s the bank. A bank isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either. That’s the monster.”…
“Sure,” cried the tenant men, “but it’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours. That’s what makes it ours-being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.”
We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.
Yes, but the bank is only made of men.
No, you’re wrong there–quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.
The second is a speech from President Eisenhower, delivered in 1961–the speech where he coined the term “military-industrial complex.”
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
I have been reading those passages in connection with a third passage, from chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
The monstrous bank. The misplaced powers of the military-industrial complex. The elemental forces and authorities of this world. In different ways, all three passages are warning of the same thing. When humans combine in organizations, something sometimes emerges that is no longer human, and no longer cares about humans. It’s made up of men and women, but it isn’t interested in them. The men and women who keep it running, cogs in the machine, may even hate what they are doing, but still it gets done. No person wants war, but munitions manufacturers need clients. No one wants to remove people from their livelihoods, but the bank must turn a profit. We gather together–bankers and analysts and manufacturers and generals–and together something is formed greater and more terrible than the sum of its parts. The elemental forces.
You can name the forces easily enough: Money. Power. Adulation. Strike down any one of these demons in one place and it will shift form and come back somewhere else. You can’t destroy it, because it’s made of people–people who are each doing the thing that seems sensible at the moment, and who together are pillaging the world.
Such monsters, our modern idols, demand sacrifice, just as much as Molech or Baal ever did. We must give the bankers their bonuses, and we must keep them afloat–they are too big to fail. If we have to cut unemployment benefits or Medicare to do it–well, that is the sacrifice we make to feed the monster. In return, the monster promises that this will somehow create jobs. War is expensive, in many, many ways, but the monster need new planes and new missiles, and new brave young soldiers, and so we feed it. In return, it promises to safeguard our freedom.
It is the nature of nations (and none more than America) to present themselves as gods. We won’t let a president claim divine status (though sometimes we edge near that line), but letting America herself be our God seems like the right thing to do. America, and Capitalism, and Our Brave Men and Women in Uniform Around the World–our holy trinity.
Gods appear where questions cease and myths arise. America has many potent myths. They have titles like “The Military that Only Fights to Protect Your Freedoms,” “The Greatest Healthcare System in the World,” and “The Land of Opportunity.” To question is heresy; just bow and nod. Write your check; send your sons and daughters.
Humans are highly susceptible to these myths and monsters. If the powers tell enough people in the loud enough voice that Exxon shouldn’t have to pay any tax, because they stimulate our economy; or that mega-rich Walmart should get a subsidy from our city so that they can sell us cheap things, then we tend to believe and fall in line. My gods provide the fuel that makes my car run. My gods give me cheap toys from China and cheap shirts from Mexico. Who am I to question their benevolence? Cut their taxes again. My gods kill people in Afghanistan so that I can have freedom of speech here. How that works is a divine mystery, but it is the story we live. Goodbye, my son; we thank you for your service.
Steinbeck and Eisenhower warned us, but it made no difference. Everything they feared has come to pass, and more. No one wanted it to. The monsters are made of men, but they aren’t like a man.
What Christianity should do is provide us a myth to believe that breaks the power of the other myths. When your story is “The God Who Rejected Power Even Though It Meant His Death,” or “The God Who Shows His Love Through Service To The Weak and Poor,” then the world-shaping abilities of the elemental forces have met their match. What Christianity ought to do is give us an alternate story to live–the story of the cross. And from the vantage point of Calvary we can see how sick and shameful the monster-idols of the world actually are. We can expose the true names of Money, Power and Adulation: Greed, Oppression and Deception. It may–may–be possible to do that without an alternative story, but I’m not convinced that there is any such thing as a person who isn’t living out a story, consciously or not. And if we are going to choose a story, better to choose the one that stands against and breaks the power of the stories that keep breaking us.
And here the church has failed miserably, shamefully, horrifically. Rather than rejecting and denouncing the monsters of national pride, military conquest and corporate greed, the church has partnered with them, supported them, and fought for them, spending so much time dining with idols that she has cheapened herself and drained her own power. We set the flag on a pedestal beside the altar, pray for our troops and curse our enemies, support the machinery of torture and death, and do our best to be sure that we have our share of Money, Power, and Adulation. Tacking Jesus’ name on to that prayer only adds blasphemy to the heresy we’ve already adopted. By leaving the path of the cross, the members of the church become cells in the ever-expanding bodies of the monsters. We may hate what they do, but they are us.
Ever since the publication of Christopher Hitchens book, The Missionary Position, I keep hearing from people who believe that Mother Teresa was twisted person who intentionally perpetuated poverty rather than relieving it because she believed things were better that way. I attended a discussion for an unrelated book last night in which one of the audience member commented that Teresa kept people poor because she thought it would help them get to heaven. The moderator pushed back at that idea, but it obviously had some currency with those present.
I’m not an expert on Teresa, and I haven’t gotten around to Hitchens’ book. So no answers here, but I do have this question. I wonder whether its the case that Mother Teresa’s admirers and detractors would all essentially agree on the facts of what she did, but interpret them in almost opposite ways. Could it be that she chose to focus on comforting the sick and dying rather than relieving poverty because that was her calling, her charism, and she needed to focus on bringing a personal touch to as many people as possible in Calcutta? Those who fell under the influence of her ministry certainly seemed grateful. Hitchens, whose vision goes no further than the material comforts of this life has no appreciation for a touch of grace to the dying because it doesn’t solve anything he can see. It has no tanglible results. But with every hug, every bath, every spoonful of soup brought to the lips of an invalid, Teresa was sowing grace amidst despair.
I’m not opposed to poverty relief efforts–quite the opposite! But I do recognize that there is more than one kind of good work in the world. I’d be cautious about criticizing someone for doing a kind of good work different than the one I prefer. There’s room for both.
And I’m definitely of the opinion that Teresa is just too tempting a target for my atheist friends. There’s a little too much glee in the criticisms. What a delight it is to show that the woman so admired around the world was a fraud! If the iconic holy woman of the modern age was really a pathological deviant, then there can’t be anything to that Christianity stuff after all, can there?
For many people, awareness of modern slavery—especially slavery in America—began with John Bowe, when his article “Nobodies” was published in the New Yorker in 2003. That was subsequently followed by a book of the same title, part of which became the basis for This American Life #344 “The Competition.” Here’s Bowe on NPR’s Marketplace as well.
Now ethicist David Batstone (interview) is devoting his time to abolishing slavery, through his book Not For Sale, and through co-founding the Not For Sale Campaign, which “equips and mobilizes Smart Activists to deploy innovative solutions to re-abolish slavery in their own backyards and across the globe.” Here’s an excerpt from the book.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
I Samuel 8:4-18
In this text, God sees a human king as a rival, a false god. The king will claim divine prerogatives for himself. Notice that the problem here isn’t exactly that the king will institute a tax, but that the tax is, overtly, presented in the language of a tithe. He wants a tenth, and he wants the best that the fields produce. But the best is supposed to go to God! The people will have to choose–who gets our best now, God or the government? Your sons will be caught up in the military-industrial complex, and your daughters will be perfumers and cooks and bakers for the king–the same kinds of servants that the demigod Pharaoh was surrounded by.
I know that the force of this text is somewhat ameliorated when David comes along and is the apple of God’s eye. But we shouldn’t let the force of this critique slip away from us too easily. This is God’s initial reaction to the idea of human governance. And he says people won’t be able to serve both him and a king. It’s a long way from here to the current evangelical position, which is that serving government and serving God are almost always the same thing.
At what point does participation and support of government become idolatry? Or do we think that isn’t possible any more? After all, in the West, we are democratic. The people themselves hold the reigns (in theory). And we would never set ourselves up as gods, would we?
From Greg Boyd’s blog:
I am passionately convinced that if Mennonites will hold fast to (and in some cases, return to) their historic vision of a non-violent, self-sacrificial, counter-cultural Kingdom that transcends nationalism and politics, and if they are willing to become very flexible with their distinctive cultural traditions, Mennonites are positioned to provide a home for the increasing number of people such as myself who are discovering this vision of a beautiful Kingdom and who therefore are repudiating “Christendom” (the traditional “church militant and triumphant”). Many of us want to be rooted in a historic tradition and fellowship that espouses this vision, and this makes becoming a Mennonite very appealing.
I only know one Mennonite–a local pastor in town who was raised in a different denomination (Baptist, I think) and wanted to be part of a church that would understand and support his vocal pacifism. He found that among the Mennonites. We had lunch a while back and I was telling him about the peace tradition in Churches of Christ, folks like James Harding and David Lipscomb in the 1800’s who believed that human government was inherently corrupt, and worse, idolatrous. They knew that the tendency of government–any government–was to exalt itself to rival God, and demand blood sacrifice. Governments would send their young men to die and to kill others.
Lipscomb wrote things like this:
The children of God are so mixed and mingled with the kingdoms of the world, that God cannot destroy the wicked kingdoms, without destroying his own children. Hence the call of God is:
“Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers of
her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues.” (Rev.
This is spoken of the Babylon of human government. We cannot find one word of ground, in all the New Testament, for the children of God participating in the kingdoms of the evil one. The practice weakens the church of God; deprives it of the service, the talent, time and devotion of its children, gives its strength to the building up of what God proposes to destroy. It brings the spirit of the world kingdoms into the church of God, corrupts the church, drives out the spirit of God, destroys the sense of dependence upon God, causes the children of God to depend upon their own wisdom and devices, and the arm of violence, and the institutions of earth rather than upon God and his appointments; weans them from trust and faith in God, and from service in his kingdom, diverts their minds, means and service from the church to the kingdoms of the world, and so defiles and corrupts the church that God cannot bless that church.
I know about this, and at one point, a bunch of people did. And they respected it. There’s a university named for Lipscomb in Tennessee, and one named for Harding in Arkansas. These guys weren’t outliers, they were in the mainstream of our movement.
I’m not enough of a historian to know when those views lost currency. When I was growing up, I never even heard of non-government involvement and pacifism as faithful options. Good Christians were supposed to vote Republican and support the troops. I suspect it was World War II that sounded the death knell for the radical kingdom of God versus kingdom of the world theology in Churches of Christ. I’ve aligned myself with that strain of our tradition, but as a movement we’re so far away from our pacifist roots that it’s like I’m speaking a foreign language when I try to talk about this stuff.
Which is a real shame. I would like for Churches of Christ to be appealing for a guy like Greg Boyd, but most people aren’t going to think of Churches of Christ the same way they think of Mennonites. Because that’s just not us anymore. Maybe we’ll recapture the pacifist tradition. I know some younger people who are attracted to that posture. But most of them are on their way to a different denomination. I don’t know if they’ll stay among us long enough to help us change.
Which is fine. We’re far from the only outpost of the kingdom. Peace be unto them.
A side note: a couple of weeks ago the associate minister at our church asked for suggestions for what message to put on the church marquee. I recommended “Praying for the Peace of Iran.” He thought that would be controversial. Which is right. But that’s wrong.
How many times did Jesus tell us to pray for our enemies? How often do we?
How many times did Jesus tell us to pray for our troops?
Here’s a picture that appeared in the Kansas City Star:
This is another example of a proof-texted verse that whose use is refuted by that larger context. Here’s Galatians 6.7:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
The folks at Spirit One Christian Center, who make their pro-life politics a centerpiece of their identity, seem to think that this verse means that God was ultimately responsible for George Tiller’s murder. He sowed murder and therefore reaped it. Of course, you get a different sense when you read a bit more:
1Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5for each one should carry his own load.
6Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
So, I should restore sinners gently, bear other’s burdens, not compare myself to anyone, do good to everyone (especially, but not exclusively Christians) and gun down doctors who perform abortions. Or, at least, applaud those who do as God’s servants. Something about that just doesn’t hang together for me.
I am theologically pro-life across the board, meaning that I can’t reconcile war, euthanasia, or abortion with the eschatological vision of Christ. Self-sacrifice is the only meritorious form of death in the kingdom of God. But (as you know already if you’ve been following this blog), and am also opposed to Christians using political power to force their agenda on others. As Jesus said:
25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20)
It just doesn’t do to amass political power in the name of Jesus. That’s inherently self-contradictory. I’m very concerned that Christians have spent enormous energy on trying to curtail abortion through political actions–a misguided approach that has garnered no results except to hurt our credibility and make a lot of enemies unnecessarily. What would it look like to approach the abortion question while shunning power and claiming humble self-sacrifice as our highest value? I think it would mean widespread adopting underprivileged children, housing young mothers-to-be, and making sure that pre-natal care is available to everyone. How would it change the conversation in America if evangelicals were widely known as the folks who put their money where their mouth is on this topic, making sure that there is not a single abortion that is deemed necessary due to economic hardship or lack of emotional support? Isn’t something like that what it must mean to be fathers (and mothers) to the fatherless in this age?
Yeah, I know–a fair number of Christians are doing just that. But not with nearly the visibility or numbers as the believers who are tackling this one almost exclusively in terms of political power.
So recently, when I was still a christian, I decided to do a morning devotional bible study. I started as I usually did, with a short prayer asking god for guidance and wisdom through his word. That day I came across the story of jesus’ anointing at Bethany in john 12. This is the story of how Mary (sister of Martha) poured oil into jesus’ head during a meal, which was met by indignation by the disciples and a subsequent rebuke from jesus. But that’s strange, I thought. I had remembered it was some unknown, unnamed woman who poured the oil and got rebuked. I decided to do some research on the internet. This was the beginning of the end of my faith.
I found out that the anointing at Bethany is detailed three different times in the gospels: john 12, Matthew 26, and mark 14 (there is a similar account of anointing in luke 7 but it is different enough to be considered a separate incident). In Mark and Matthew, the name of the woman is not given. However, the stories in all three accounts are almost identical: the woman, supposedly Mary, approaches jesus and his disciples at a dinner table and pours an alabaster vial of expensive perfume of nard on him. The disciples, seeing this, say something to the effect of: “Why are you wasting this expensive perfume? It could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.” And jesus rebukes the disciples, telling them to leave her alone, that she is preparing him for burial, that the poor would always be with them, but he wouldn’t, etc.
But this is the problem: the episode in John happens BEFORE jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, while in Matthew and Mark the anointing happens AFTER the triumphal entry. So there is no way it could have been the same event… yet the stories are so identical, that I found it IMPOSSIBLE to believe it happened twice, within the space of a few days!
My research led me to skeptical sites listing bible contradictions and absurdities, and I discovered the bible contained many other contradictions, some I had noticed before (and tried to ignore) and others that I had not. The death of Judas Iscariot is another example. Matthew 27 states that after Judas had betrayed jesus, he became remorseful, flung the 30 pieces of silver into the temple and hanged himself. Acts 1 says he bought a field with the silver, then somehow fell headfirst into it, and died when his guts spilled out after his stomach burst open. So the “Field of Blood” was purchased by the chief priests according to Matthew, and by Judas according to Acts. The cherry on top of this whole confusing contradictory episode is Matthew’s reference in 27:9 that Jeremiah is the prophet foretelling the whole 30 pieces of silver incident; the problem is, there is nothing about 30 pieces of silver anywhere in the book of Jeremiah!
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other contradictions in the bible, such as the conflicting genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, the conflicting accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb, the conflicting accounts of how the disciples were first gathered, etc. (and I haven’t even gotten to the old testament). So basically, my deep investigation of the anointing story opened the floodgates to my skepticism and doubt of the bible, and my faith in the book began to crumble and did not stop. For quite a few days I was in distress, trying to find a way to reconcile all the errors. The entire worldview I had developed and lived for the last few years was breaking down! Eventually, I remember flinging the bible on my table, looking at it, and saying something like “You are full of errors. You are not reliable”. The next day I prayed my last real prayer, where I asked god, that if he was really there, to give me or show me an explanation of why his supposed book had so many contradictions and confusions, otherwise I could not keep on believing. I think the reader knows by now whether there was an answer to that prayer.
I understand now why fundamentalists always insist that the bible is inerrant. It is because once you concede that the bible has errors, it is a slippery slope. Who decides then what is an error, what is sound doctrine, and what is not? Biblical interpretation becomes very subjective, and christianity becomes a salad bar for each individual, who chooses what to take literally and what to take as metaphor depending on their own reasoning and sensibilities. Salad bar christianity is much of what I see today among christians, and partly why there are so many different christian denominations and schools of thought. John 16 says the holy spirit guides believers into all truth, and 1 Corinthians 14 says god is not the author of confusion, but these exhortations are false and ridiculous considering all the divisions and differing interpretations of scripture among christians both now and throughout church history. No book has created more confusion and conflict than the bible, because there is no holy spirit guiding anyone who reads it.
Now when I look back, I wonder how in the world I ever convinced myself that a serpent/devil deceived Eve and cursed the world, or that Noah took all the animals into his ark to save them from a flood that covered the entire earth, or that languages were uniform before the tower of Babel, etc. etc. I was so taken by Jesus and what I perceived to be his wise and other-worldly teachings, that I chose to ignore the other parts of the bible that probably deserve as much belief as Santa Claus. As a christian, when I would encounter unbelievable stories in the old testament or statements that seemed to contradict each other, I would often push it out of my mind, reassuring myself there must be an explanation, or that things were different in those days, etc. But now my faith no longer exists and I see the bible for what it really is. I still think that the bible is a remarkable piece of literature that has had an enormous impact in western history and thought, both for good and ill. But it is also no longer a book I can base my life on.
Suppose JohnK had been able to talk with a really good inerrancy apologist about the contradictions he was seeing in the Bible–could an excellent apologist have kept him in the inerrancy (and Christian) fold?
What if instead of insisting on inerrancy, someone had told John that the Bible doesn’t work quite like that?
What if he had been instructed that the Bible never intended to be 21st century style historiography?
What if he was told that the scriptures themselves were not his model, but that they, like the Holy Spirit, were designed to point the way to Jesus?
What if someone said that our faith isn’t in a book, it’s in the Christ, and the Bible is just one of our resources for knowing the Christ, along with orthodox church tradition, worship practices, and the faithful lives of the community of believers?
Would John’s experience have been different if he had been told from the start that we wouldn’t be able to make an historical timeline of Jesus’ ministry out of the gospel accounts?
Here’s a bright person, articulate and thoughtful, who lost his faith because he read the Bible. There are thousands more out there like him. Can the evangelical churches in America undergo the paradigm shift it will take to cultivate faith in people who currently leaving our churches because they’ve read the Bible carefully and it didn’t turn out to be what they had been told it was?
From the comments section of this article:
On the subject of Theism, I’m in 99.9% agreement with you. That is, I believe there’s insufficient evidence to support the existence of 1,000 different gods and religions. You believe there’s insufficient evidence to support the existence of 999.
Please accept my sincere best wishes that you manage to gain that last one-tenth of one percent understanding. I’ll cheerfully accept your best wishes (or call them prayers) that I receive evidence that would let me believe that your 1 of 1000 gods proves true, however unlikely I think that may be. (commenter Malis)
Remember, if you cling to a particular religious belief, you are by definition atheistic to all the other myriad religions in the world… and thus, you have that in common with me. I simply deny one more religion: yours. (commenter Spinoza)
This argument is clearly working for the atheists–I encounter it about every seven and a half minutes these days. I suspect Dawkins is the one who popularized it, although I think I’ve seen ancient versions of it. It’s pretty clever, in that it gives every conceivable religion equal standing (so Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism are given the same status and likelihood as a cargo cult or the Hale-Bopp UFO cult), and thus argues “You have good reasons for believing that the 999 other religions are bunk, and therefore you already understand why I think yours is, too. You are almost an atheist, you just have one more illusion to break.”
Nine hundred ninety nine is probably an inflated number, although I won’t pretend I know exact what the actual number of religious systems in the world is, and I don’t think you could really quanitify that very easily. It obviously works in the atheists’ favor to say “you think 99.9 % of possible religions are wrong,” rather than “you think that only the two billion people who are Christians have it right.” Of course, Christianity has much greater standing than the Hale-Bopp suicide cult, and to take a religion espoused by one third of the world and treat it as just one option among 1000 isn’t really being honest with the situation as it stands.
And, of course, Christians don’t think that all other religions are purely bunk. We can affirm that we agree almost completely with Judaism. We can affirm all that Judaism does, but in additionwe affirm that Yahweh was seen on earth in the form of his incarnate son. We can affirm a great deal of Islam as well. For a great many faiths we say “yes, yes, yes, and yes” to significant doctrines, mixed in with our “but no, not that” to other propositions. Atheists see all religious people as completely deluded, but Christians see all religious people as partially correct, and sometimes mostly so.
I simply reject this kind of black and white thinking that wants to divide the world into “completely wrong” or “completely right.” There are a lot of” mostly wrong”, “very mixed”, and “mostly right” systems out there. To say that I oppose 99% of the world when I affirm Christianity is badly in error. I affirm the third of the world who are my co-religionists and partially affirm a great many more besides that. It is much more honest to say that the atheist disagrees with me and the other 90% of humanity who believes there is some sort of God.
As C.S. Lewis wrote: “And it should (at least in my judgment) be made clear that we are not pronouncing all other religions totally false, but rather saying that in Christ whatever is true in all religions is consummated and perfected.”
From the new GQ article “And He Shall Be Judged” by Robert Draper.
On the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”
This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”
These cover sheets were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. In the days before the Iraq war, Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers in an attempt to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle. Then, as the body counting began, Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages more suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout—as one Pentagon staffer would later say—“would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”
But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”—JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself—appreciated the cover pages.
Let’s give those verses a little more context:
16 No king is saved by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for safety;
Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
19 To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart shall rejoice in Him,
Because we have trusted in His holy name.
22 Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
1 Peter 2:11-17
It’s almost too easy, you know?
I am surprised and delighted to see this. He’s in a good position to push on this issue, and while I wish we’d heard this a bit earlier, I’m still glad to see it today. It doesn’t surprise anyone when the Methodist bishops come out against torture, but a message from the SBC could attract some attention.
There is no room for torture as part of the United States’ intelligence-gathering process, Richard Land said today. He also said he believes the practice known as “waterboarding” is torture and, as such, is unethical.
Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said there is no circumstance in which torture should be permissible in interrogations by U.S. officials, even if the authorities believe a prisoner has information that might involve national security….
“I don’t agree with the belief that we should use any means necessary to extract information,” said Land. “I believe there are absolutes. There are things we must never do under any circumstances….”It violates everything we believe in as a country,” Land said, reflecting on the words in the Declaration of Independence: that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”