The Clergy Project

I am a very thankful and proud member of The Clergy Project. TCP is made up of a public site, a safe-haven “dark” site and a public Facebook page. It is the brain child of Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola thanks to a grant from The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. TCP went public on October 6 although it had been active since March of 2011. It’s purpose is to provide support for current and former Clergy who are now unbelievers as they transition beyond faith to a life of reason.

http://clergyproject.org/

 

A Hair’s Breadth….

Judgment Day has come and gone and Harold Campings prophecies have once again been proven false. This time he was “100% certain” as were his other primary spokesmen, Chris McCann of eBible Fellowship and Robert Fitzgerald a retired MTA worker who spent his retirement savings to promote Campings message with his own twist.

 

Their proclamations and their certainty created a backlash in the rest of the conservative, fundamentalist Christian community which received more press as the Day of Judgment came closer. These other preachers and adherents complained they were being made to look foolish AND please note, that when the Day DID ACTUALLY APPROACH sometime in the near but indeterminate future, NO ONE WOULD LISTEN TO THEM. It’s a theological “Boy Who Cried Wolf” syndrome.

Certainly Harold Camping’s “date setting” created a good deal of the mockery and derision leveled at his view, that and the complex numerology by which he arrived at his date setting.

 

What is not evident to most people is the degree of infighting and mutual derision that was taking place behind the scenes with members of the one “non-date-setting” fundamentalist leveling accusations of false prophecy and false Biblical teaching at the other “date-setting” fundamentalists. It’s like watching gang members shoot each other. One might decry the violence and bloodshed (in this case the vociferous arguments and vitriolic name calling) yet find in it a certain poetic justice and “rightness”.

 

You see despite the chasm each group THINKS exists between them there is really only a hair’s breadth of difference. Apart of the date-setting, Harold Camping’s detractors in the conservative and fundamentalist camps believe ESSENTIALLY THE SAME THING Camping does about the end of the world and it’s Divine driven apocalypse. What Camping’s detractors are missing in their whining and tantrums about being painted with his stripe is that the criticism and mockery is ABOUT WHAT THEY BELIEVE will happen, not simply WHEN THEY BELIEVE IT WILL HAPPEN.

 

Harold Camping espouses what is called Dispensationalism. Like many interpretations of the Bible there are different flavors of Dispensationalism and a great deal of “texture” and complexity but it’s basic outlines are simple. This view is taken from a particular interpretation of passages in Daniel and the Revelation of John. Other passages in the NT which speak of the end of the world and the Second Coming are then read in the light of these interpretations. Although these passages from Daniel and Revelation are recognized by their interpreters to be “poetic” and “prophetic” in style they are still taken “literally” in that they are seen to predict truthfully, accurately and with precision what will occur at the “end of the age” and how the world, in fact the entire universe will end. Further these passages are taken as the very Word of God providing people with a warning and a description of how the God of the Bible and Jesus will bring the cosmos to an end and mete out justice rewarding the faithful and punishing their (his) enemies (that would be the rest of us who do not believe).

 

Non-Dispensationalist do not adhere to these particular interpretations. However, if they are conservative they DO believe the Bible reveals God’s plan to end the cosmos and redress the wrongs of the Garden of Eden. They DO believe the Bible presents prophecy that tells how that will happen and what events will occur AND that, understood correctly, they present a relatively specific and accurate order of events. They DO believe in the basic events Harold Camping was predicting. Jesus will come down in clouds of glory to gather his elect from the four corners of the earth. All the dead in Christ will be raised when their graves are opened and rise to meet him in the air after which Jesus will come and judge the whole of mankind. Those who are not believers will be sent to eternal torment out of the presence of God and God will create a New Heavens and Earth, a sort of Garden of Eden on steroids, in which the faithful will live. The whole of the cosmos will be “resurrected” as it were, purified and raise to new life.

 

However, these prophecies are interpreted they both share one very common and significant belief. God will bring this cosmos to an apocalyptic end in which the Second Coming of Jesus in judgment is the significant event. What’s more they believe “we are living in the “end-times”” so that this event whose date is indeterminate will be “soon”. They both believe the basic fundamentals. One important facet of this belief is that believers are to “watch”, to anticipate and live in accordance with this expectation of Jesus’ return and the final apocalyptic end of the world. For them this is the best thing that could possibly happen. While they might mourn the death of the wicked they revel in the return of Jesus and the meting out of justice.

 

It is clear to anyone who takes any of this seriously this belief is NOT compatible with human efforts to create a viable and sustainable future for humanity and this orb on which we live. As Jim Shimkus so directly stated, we don’t need to worry about Global Warming or perhaps even nuclear proliferation since man will not destroy the earth, God will!

 

The mockery and derision heaped on the followers of Harold Camping is not simply due to their specific dating of the end of the world but their beliefs about HOW it will end and WHY they believe in that apocalyptic conclusion. Those are beliefs in broad outline, that most, if not all, conservative, evangelical believers who hold the Bible to be the very word of God, share.It is those beliefs and the reasons they are held with such fervor that is dangerous and worthy of criticism and derision. As long as you believe God is going to come down and pull your fat out of the fire you are less likely to take care not to drop it in to begin with.

 

 

Is God a Moral Monster?

This question forms the lead title for a book written by Paul Copan. The subtitle is “Making Sense of the Old Testament God”. I find the title and subtitle curious as Dr. Copan seems to segregate “God” as he supposedly presents himself in the Hebrew Bible and as he presents himself in the New Testament. I’m sure that’s not his intention but that is certainly the way it came across to me. I think it illustrates very clearly something which resonate in most readers of the Christian Bible, that somehow the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New need some reconciling and some serious explanation. This is what Copan attempts to do in the 306 pages that follow specifically in terms of the “ethics” or “morality” of the actions attributed to “God” in the Old Testament. Obviously there is an issue here or there would be no topic for such a book.

Dr. Copan is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University and holds an M.A. Diploma in Philosophy of Religion as well as an M.Div. Diploma in Divinity both from Trinity International University. He also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy with an emphasis in the Philosophy of Religion from Marguette University. From reading his curriculum vitae it is fairly clear Dr. Copan focuses on morality and ethics. I came to this book from a recommendation by Dr. William Lane Craig in his debate with Dr. Sam Harris on whether there can be an objective ground for morality entitled “Does Good Come From God”. Generally speaking I have been impressed with Dr. Craig’s skill at the strategy and tactics of debate but thoroughly unimpressed with his arguments. All you have to do is watch a few of the debates to see how he attempts to manipulate the debate to gain a technical victory in the absence of substantial arguments. Nonetheless I thought if this book contains what he thinks is the best argument for the morality of God in the Old Testament I would give it a try.

Although I have not yet finished the book by Copan it is clear early on the sole basis for his answer to the question “Is God a Moral Monster” is that “God was morally justified”. This is the one and only argument which he applies to a number of topics. More specifically it goes like this and I paraphrase, “If you understand what is really going on and what is really at stake then GOD IS MORALLY JUSTIFIED (emphasis mine) in doing what he did (fill in the blank). For example, Chapter 4 is titled “Monumental Rage and Kingly Jealousy” where he spins off comments and accusations made by the “new atheists” as he does throughout the book. He goes on to deal with the issue of “jealousy”. He defines jealousy in such a way as to allow for both “good” and “bad” jealousy and spills a great deal of ink on the “marriage analogy” in the Old Testament which as a description of the nature and character of God’s relationship with Israel. He attempts to portray God as a jilted and rejected lover who has opened his heart to Israel, who has bared his soul and made himself vulnerable to the emotional hurt of rejection and betrayal. God is “engaging and relational “and his love is that of a “passionate husband”. The anthropomorphizing flies fast and furious and is limited to only one side of the “relational” activities of God; what he considers the emotional vulnerability of God as he relates to Israel in his love and commitment to them.

He then paints Israel’s religious “apostasy” as being a religious “slut” and “whore” who “opens her legs” to any and all in the most heinous acts of “spiritual adultery imaginable. However, this is in the context of a marriage covenant in which Israel becomes “Mine” and in which their adultery is really the act of failing to worship the husband and refusing to consistently and absolutely obey what the husband says and requires of Israel even down to the most minimal requirement. What we have here is the infinite epitome of marriage as male dominion and the wife as “owned” with divorce only possible at the hands of the husband and the wife obligated by her husband’s giving to her lavishly of his wealth. Many of these requirements and obligations carry with them the penalty of death if violated.

Copan goes on to say that Israel’s idolatry was like “a husband finding his wife in bed with another man–on their honeymoon!” Here is the climactic conclusion in Copan’s own words.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that God wanted to wipe out Israel after the golden calf betrayal: “Let me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you [Moses] a great nation” (Exod. 32:10)””

Frankly I would hope, in my finite flawed human way, if I were in that situation I would be more high minded than for my mind and emotions to immediately contemplate slaughter and to have to be deterred from acting on my impulse. But then thankfully, I’m not God.

I suppose you could take up angel dancing and argue that God didn’t really mean to destroy Israel as Moses prevailed up him not to and God can’t after all change his mind so he didn’t intend to to begin with. Exactly what the purpose and meaning of this exchange would be in that context I don’t know. It is a test I suppose of some sort, the sort of which the God of the Old Testament is very fond. However, taken at face value we have a volatile, jealous, domineering husband enraged by his wife’s infidelity and ready to kill her for it. Moses is able to prevail on God’s vanity “What will the nations think, how will you appear if you kill them in the desert?” and God appears to relent. Taken at face value Moses has managed to appease a volatile, jealous, changeable deity. It is only with forced attempts to impose consistency and more “high minded” views of the divine on this narrative that one can make it anything more than it clearly appears.

Unfortunately Israel isn’t able to gain a divorce and take out a cosmic restraining order. Nor can they, according to another analogy often used, get out of the suzerain treaty to which they are bound with Yahweh. Basically Yahweh has chosen them, he is obsessed with them, he has offered them “protection” in exchanged for loyalty and obedience and they have little other alternative. They are, like the lowly shopkeeper caught between the thugs and extortionists. In the milieu of the Middle East it is either Yahweh or any host of more powerful kings and countries who would force tribute. This is a patriarchal abusive marriage. Yahweh loves them as long as they are prepared to be the obedient, worshipful spouse otherwise they curry his wrath. The history of Israel could be viewed as the repeated beatings of an abusive husband attempting to enforce abject submission on a spouse with whom he is obsessed and over whom he is determined to exercise power and dominion.

Now we come to the failing of this “moral justification” argument. It is simply another circular argument being palmed off as reason. First there is a clear appeal to revelation. The account and perspective of the Bible is taken for granted. We are asked to accept not only the narrative but the whole biblical world view to make this moral argument even capable of being advanced. Further we are asked to accept the theological assumption that all of the Bible must be read in terms of the whole of the Bible as though it were a unified work.

However, the Bible after all is NOT one book. It is a collection of ancient manuscripts whose date and authorship is essentially unknown. Whats more, it is actually TWO collections, one in the Hebrew Bible and one in the New Testament which arose out of radically historically dis-separate religious communities. We are being expected to accept this assumption and to view it as though it were a consistent whole rather than what it far more arguably is, a patchwork quilt. It is a collection of manuscripts held very loosely together by the history of a religious community, selected to be as consistent as possible considering the widely divergent representations they contain and the significant historical distance they have both from the events they purport to recount and from each other.

The main argument fails on the very point it’s proponents are anxious to promote and indeed on which the “objective ethics” argument relies; the aseity of the God of the Old Testament. Here is a little introduction from Wikipedia:

Aseity (from Latin a “from” and se “self”, plus -ity) refers to the property by which a being exists of and from itself, or exists as so-and-such of and from itself.[1] The word is often used to refer to the Christian belief that God contains within himself the cause of himself, though many Jewish and Muslim theologians have also believed God to be independent in this way.[1] Notions of the aseity of the highest principle go back at least to Plato and have been in wide circulation since Augustine, though the use of the word ‘aseity’ began only in the Middle Ages.[1]
Often, as a part of this belief God is said to be incapable of changing.[1] Many, (St. Thomas, for instance) have also thought that aseity implies divine simplicity: that God has no parts of any kind (whether spatial, temporal, or abstract), since complexes depend on their individual parts with none of which they are identical.[2] A further implication often drawn among classical theists has been that God is without emotion or is “impassible” for, it is said, emotion implies standing as patient (pass-) to some agent – i.e., dependence.[3]

Basically God is a law unto himself. There are no standards outside of or apart from God by which he may be judged. He and he alone defines everything. This is the argument put forward by Dr. Craig. God is the ground of morality. Objective morality arises from and is a reflection of the very nature of God (by God he means the God of the Bible not the god he claims to be referencing and whose existence he claims to be able to prove by “natural religion”). As an aside this is part of the slipperiness of what he and other apologist do here. They claim no appeal to revelation. They claim they are proving their claims based on reason and natural religion only but then use the term God in the sense in which only revelation, the Christian revelation, could determine. The god of natural religion and the arguments from reason flawed as they are, is a far cry from the God revealed in the Bible or more specifically created by Biblical and Systematic Theology out of the raw Biblical material. The apologist blithely gloss over this point and hope you will not notice.

So the argument runs, God defines what is moral by his nature. God can only act consistently with his nature, therefore everything which God does is moral because God defines what is moral. Basically God is just, why? because he just IS, that’s why. It’s that simple AND that ridiculous. Further they want to have their cake and eat it too. They argue that the moral sense we as humans have is derived from being created in the image of God and therefore is a reflection of the God’s nature and God’s morality. However, if you question the actions of God as immoral they will quickly tell you that you cannot use you sense of morality to judge God’s actions because your sense of morality is flawed. It is not a reflection of an objective standard by which God can be judged. Rather it is a “sinful” rendition of the morality which arises out of God’s nature and must be “informed” by the actual actions of God, which, remember, as always moral despite what you might think. After all everything God does is moral by definition. This essentially makes the use of the words, justice, love, and compassion meaningless when applied to God.

Justice is whatever God does, Love is whatever God does, Mercy is whatever God does, Compassion is whatever God does and so on. If you disagree then go back to the beginning and repeat, Love is whatever God does, Justice is whatever God does, etc. Once again you could also apply the rule of falsifiability (although apparently Logic and Reason are also what the Bible say they are and NOT what you might think they are as are the standards of historical proof but that is for another day). You cannot falsify the claim God is Loving, or God is Just, or God is Merciful. There are no conditions, no actions of God that if they were uncovered would demonstrate the falsity of those assertions. As a result they are not claims about the real world which can be taken seriously.

Isn’t this fun??

I was disappointed in Dr Copan’s book. He offered nothing which I had not heard and employed decades ago in the defense of the actions of the God of the Old Testament. This is not a sophisticated argument, it is not new and it is not compelling and most of all it’s not rational except within the theological box in which he is working. I was disappointed but not surprised that Dr. Craig recommended it so highly and is apparently parroting it in his own published work.

This argument does nothing to erase the great Bogey Man of Christian apologist when discussing morality, the great Bogey Man of SUBJECTIVITY. All it serves to do is move that subjectivity to the divine and out of the realm of human thought. By so doing it becomes about the most subjective subjectivity possible, the definition of something by only one; the mind and nature of God which ultimately, according to Dr. Craig, we cannot possible really know. That is why God has to tell us what to do without any real offer of justification. Human being are, in his view, incapable of coming to the right conclusions regarding morality and apparently would not even know it if we saw it as is the case when we attempt to critique the morality of God in the Old Testament.

Musings on the Moral Argument for the Existence of God

It seems, listening to debates between theist (primarily Christians) and non-theist, one issue arises over and over again and that is the question of morality. Whether the debate is about the existence of God or about morality proper (can one be good without God), morality comes up over and over.
 
With regard to the debates about the existence of God the argument seems to be that without God there can be no objective (read, I believe, universally obligatory dictates of behavior) morality. God is the source and, more importantly, the “ground” of what is “good” and therefore of the dictates of “good” behavior and “not-good” behavior. They then either argue that there is a necessity to have dictates of “good” behavior or that our “sense” of an objective morality prove the existence of God, God being the only guarantee of or explanation for such objective morality. Otherwise on the one hand,  there would be an outbreak of “not-good” behavior which everyone agrees would not be pleasant. If not a descent into immorality there would at least be confusion about what to do in specific situations because we are concerned about what we “must” do, that is we are concerned about “good” and “not-good” or “right” and “not right”. Thus there must be a God. On the other hand, the argument might run that there is a sense of “good” and “not-good” even if we don’t know what is “good” and “not-good” or that we do seem to have some sort of universally accepted idea of what is practically “good” and “not-good” thus there must be a God for this sense or practical knowledge to exist.
 
However, if God does not exist and therefore is not the source or “ground” of what is “good” then the only approach left to us is a non-theistic, non- “divine command” approach. It doesn’t matter whether such an approach is desirable or undesirable, it is all that is left. Just because we think we “need” objective, universally obligatory dictates to behavior does not justify manufacturing a source and “ground”. This is akin to the “usefulness” of religion argument. Whether it’s true or not true is secondary to it’s usefulness. If it is useful then why not acknowledge that it might be true and indeed it’s usefulness may be an argument that it is probably true. This is of course ridiculous. What is true is our primary concern regarding the existence of God. Whether we like where that leaves us morally in the even God does not exist is beside the point, that is our reality.
In addition to the above argument often then there is thrown in the critique of “naturalistic” morality that you cannot get an “ought” from and “is”. This is given credence by quoting the epitome of empiricism and naturalist philosophy, Hume. Other philosophers have followed suit, like G.E. Moore to argue that Hume is right. So, it would seem that non-theist are left with no method or path to universally obligatory dictates of behavior. This is used to strike fear into the hearts of any insipient non-theist or to argue that non-theist are really theist when it comes to “morality”. You can’t throw away your cake and have it too was it were.
 
It seems to me that this argument has a number of issues in terms of hidden assumptions. First there is the assumption that there must be Objective dictates, meaning they arise outside of and apart from the minds and consciousness of human beings. It is assumed that if it does not arises outside of human beings it must be individualistically relative, that is that it cannot be universal (similarly held ideas or dictates). It is also assumed that there must be “obligation” and obligation cannot exist unless the dictates arise from some source to which one is obligated presumable external to oneself and to humankind in general. So the assumption is that you must have an “ought” which is imposed from outside, not arising from human beings or human society or human development and you must have a source which is unchanging so that the dictates do not change. Only then can you have “morality”.
 
Lying deeper is the assumption that human beings are incapable of determining what to do in these special “moral” situations and that there is some special category of “moral” behavior which is more than practical. Apparently you cannot have principles unless they are not practical and unless they never change and never admit to exceptions. Much ink has been spilled by Christian apologist to deal with exceptions which are clear but which are unpalatable, to show they are really not exceptions. A classic example is the “hiding-Jews-in-your-basement-when-the-Nazis-coming-knocking” problem. The argument regarding Objective Morality falls apart if even one of these assumptions proves false.
 
Another issue is the question of “good”. What exactly is “good”? They argue there must be an Objective (coming from outside human beings) definition of “good” or “not-good” otherwise there can be no definition of “good and “not-good”. They then argue that God is the very definition of “good” and “not-good”, that God is the “ground” of “good” and “not-good”. So that the very nature of God is “good”. However unless you allow for there to be a sort of ideal outside of God by which God is judged then you simply move the relativism from human consciousness to God. “Good” and “not-good” become relative as they are determined by divine fiat based on divine nature. In this sense what is “good” is “good” simply because God says so. Just because it is a reflection of the “divine” nature does not make it any less a fiat. Is it not possible that what we accept generally and mostly universally as “good” actually arises from human consciousness from which the “goodness” of God has been created. So, the aseity of God becomes an issue but cannot be given up. Otherwise “good” becomes god and God is no longer supreme. Obligation is simply based on God being more powerful than we are and perhaps having created us.
 
That there is a special category of behavior called “moral” seems to beg the argument and essential come from the assumptions of religion and of Christianity in particular. They then define this special category as by necessity requiring obligation and universality of a non-relative sort. This obligation must be “objective” and the universalism must also be “objective”, the only alternatives are said to be no obligation and total individual relativity. They also insist on a category of behavior called “good” and “not-good” which like morality is a special category or behavior which does not arise out of human nature or consciousness and is not perceivable by that consciousness. It must be revelatory or infused.
 
The latter is the explanation of the “Presuppositionalist”. Any universal consciousness of “good” does not arise from human nature or consciousness but rather was infused by God and continues to be witnessed to by God in creation and revelation. In fact they go further and claim that while one might expect mankind to descend into utter wickedness (as they define it) they do not because God prevents them from being as bad as they could and “ought” to be by his “Common Grace”. So, the world outside the box is explained by arguments in the box so that the world within the box continues to “sync” with the world outside the box.
 
Another issue is the assumption of Free Will but that is another argument.
 
Suppose this is all just a self-created problem which then, from their view, admits only to their answer. Suppose there is no special category called moral behavior there is just behavior. Suppose it is possible to have universally held ideas of behavior which arise out of human nature and consciousness. Suppose then that people are naturally inclined to behave that way. While there are exceptions generally people do. 
 
Suppose further there is no need for a category of “good” and “not-good” in a moral sense. Suppose that there need be no other obligation other than common social and cultural obligation or obligation to “humanity” as a whole. Why would it not be sufficient to determine behavior by what promotes well-being for example unless they impose restrictions like those imposed above by hidden assumptions. Is this not similar to the issue of uncertainty and unknowing but in the realm of behavior and not cosmology or ontology? Being fearful of that which one cannot know and of what is inevitably uncertain there is an insistence there be knowledge and certainty in areas where there is and can be none. In this case, a wrong answer is better than no answer.
Perhaps there is no need to go from Is to Ought. Perhaps is, is enough. Most likely “is” is what we have.

God’s Ethics

This is supposed to be a justification and explanation of the God’s ethics in the Old Testament

by Dennis Smith on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 1:57pm
The Author’s answer to his own question “Did God Order the Killing of Babies” is yes, he did, but it was okay! Anyone who can be horrified by the genocide of man yet blink and turn a blind eye to the genocide of God is just not taking the biblical narrative seriously. If you read this in the news and the name of the perpetrator was not “God” but “Gaddafi” any rational, feeling human being would be revolted to the point of vomiting. However somehow because it is in the bible and the perpetrator is God, it’s okay. What sort of warped ideas must you accept and must become part of your psychology for them to justify God’s behavior in the Old Testament. You just can’t possibly be treating it as a “real” event. There must be some mental and emotional abstraction and distancing taking place.

The God of the Old Testament on the one hand condemns the actions of the worshipers of “pagan” gods then does the same thing himself. Perhaps these deaths were not performed on his altar but as the author makes out, they were a “sacrifice” to a holy and righteous God because of sin. That makes it okay. Once again you must accept the presuppositions of the bible about God and the reality he has supposedly created in order to then accept the portrait of God the bible draws. We are then told that we cannot understand or accept that reality in the bible, indeed the reality in which we supposedly still live, unless we first accept the God who created that reality. Once gain we are dancing around a circle. The problem is that no matter how fast and sprightly you dance it is still a circle and does not lead to the truth.

It isn’t just the Old Testament. Any believer who accepts the Bible as the very Word of God, inspired, inerrant and infallible must accept this portray of the Old Testament God and carry that same portrait into the New Testament for indeed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New are one. In fact, if you believe the doctrine of the trinity, Jesus is the incarnation of the God of the Old Testament. Jesus as the Son was fully and completely “on board” with the actions of the God we see in the Old Testament. No slight of hand of asserting the one in three and the three in one, one God in three persons can slip past this conclusion. Even if one was to question that association, indeed that identity, Jesus has enough words of judgment of his own. The Jesus who, writing in the dirt, encourages the Pharisees to “cast the first stone” and then sends the woman caught in adultery away with a simple, “go and sin not more” hides the executor of the Final Judgment riding on the White Horse, wearing a white robe soaked in the blood of his enemies.

So concludes the author himself.

“Those who reject the ethics of God’s destructive activity in the Old Testament, to be consistent, must reject Jesus and the New Testament. Over and over again, Jesus and the New Testament writers endorsed and defended such activity (e.g., Luke 13:1-9; 12:5; 17:29-32; 10:12; Hebrews 10:26-31). The Bible provides the only logical, sensible, meaningful, consistent explanation regarding the principles of retribution, punishment, and the conditions under which physical life may be extinguished”

I believe he has made his case but the verdict is not what he intended.

Did God Order the Killing of Babies?
by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Skeptics and atheists have been critical of the Bible’s portrayal of God ordering the death of entire populations—including women and children. For example, God instructed Saul through the prophet Samuel to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:3-4, emp. added). Other examples include the period of the Israelite conquest of Canaan in which God instructed the people to exterminate the Canaanite populations that occupied Palestine at the time. However, if one cares to examine the circumstances and assess the rationale, the Bible consistently exonerates itself by offering legitimate clarification and explanation to satisfy the honest searcher of truth.
The Hebrew term herem found, for instance, in Joshua 6:17, refers to the total dedication or giving over of the enemy to God as a sacrifice involving the extermination of the populace. It is alleged that the God of the Bible is as barbaric and cruel as any of the pagan gods. But this assessment is simply not true.

If the critic would take the time to study the Bible and make an honest evaluation of the principles of God’s justice, wrath, and love, he would see the perfect and harmonious interplay between them. God’s vengeance is not like the impulsive, irrational, emotional outbursts of pagan deities or human beings. He is infinite in all His attributes and thus perfect in justice, love, and anger. Just as God’s ultimate and final condemnation of sinners to eternal punishment will be just and appropriate, so the temporal judgment of wicked people in the Old Testament was ethical and fair. We human beings do not have an accurate handle on the gravity of sin and the deplorable nature of evil and wickedness. Human sentimentality is hardly a qualified measuring stick for divine truth and spiritual reality.

How incredibly ironic that the atheist, the agnostic, the skeptic, and the liberal all attempt to stand in judgment upon the ethical behavior of God when, if one embraces their position, there is no such thing as an absolute, objective, authoritative standard by which to pronounce anything right or wrong. As the French existentialist philosopher, Sartre, admitted: “Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist…. Nor…are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimize our behavior” (1961, p. 485). The atheist and agnostic have absolutely no platform on which to stand to make moral or ethical distinctions—except as the result of purely personal taste. The mere fact that they concede the existence of objective evil is an unwitting concession there is a God Who has established an absolute framework of moral judgments.

The facts of the matter are that the Canaanites, whom God’s people were to destroy, were destroyed for their wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4; 18:9-12; Leviticus 18:24-25,27-28). Canaanite culture and religion in the second millennium B.C. were polluted, corrupt, and perverted. No doubt the people were physically diseased from their illicit behavior. There simply was no viable solution to their condition except destruction. Their moral depravity was “full” (Genesis 15:16). They had slumped to such an immoral, depraved state, with no hope of recovery, that their existence on this Earth had to be terminated—just like in Noah’s day when God waited while Noah preached for years, but was unable to turn the world’s population from its wickedness (Genesis 6:3,5-7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:5-9). Including the children in the destruction of such populations actually spared them from a worse condition—that of being reared to be as wicked as their parents and thus face eternal punishment. All persons who die in childhood, according to the Bible, are ushered to Paradise and will ultimately reside in Heaven. Children who have parents who are evil must naturally suffer innocently while on Earth (e.g., Numbers 14:33).

Those who disagree with God’s annihilation of the wicked in the Old Testament have the same liberal attitude that has come to prevail in America just in the last half century. That attitude has typically opposed capital punishment, as well as the corporal punishment of children. Such people simply cannot see the rightness of evildoers being punished by execution or physical pain. Nevertheless, their view is skewed—and the rest of us are being forced to live with the results of their warped thinking: undisciplined, out-of-control children are wreaking havoc on our society by perpetrating crime to historically, all-time high levels.

Those who reject the ethics of God’s destructive activity in the Old Testament, to be consistent, must reject Jesus and the New Testament. Over and over again, Jesus and the New Testament writers endorsed and defended such activity (e.g., Luke 13:1-9; 12:5; 17:29-32; 10:12; Hebrews 10:26-31). The Bible provides the only logical, sensible, meaningful, consistent explanation regarding the principles of retribution, punishment, and the conditions under which physical life may be extinguished.

REFERENCE
Sartre, Jean Paul, (1961), “Existentialism and Humanism,” French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, ed. Leonard M. Marsak (New York: Meridian).

Genocide of the Amorites

The Future of Things….well at least this blog

Recently I’ve become interested in the morality of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. This interest has been awakened while listening to some debates and talks by Sam Harris (Home-Boy Sam) particularly but not exclusively having to do with Morality without God. He deals with this question often and at length in his most recent book “The Moral Landscape”. Specifically of interest to me is his clear and unapologetic advocacy that morality does not require God or any religion. People can, as one other author entitled his book be “Good without God”.

It seems that in the past those who found they could not adopt the irrational beliefs of religion or come other dogmatic system were rather apologetic or sheepish when it came to dealing with morality. The yielded the field and acquiesced that, yes, indeed, religion seemed to have cornered the market on morality and ethics. They admitted outright or seemed to, that religious people were indeed by definition more likely to be moral, that religion was, without question, an aid in adopting and maintaining admirable ethics and morality. Some even acknowledged that many if not most of our moral systems served mankind well and owed much to religion. The morality and ethics of the Bible were lauded as among the highest and most admirable of all the ethical systems available even even by those who did not believed it was created by God but rather by man. Even those who questioned and criticized the God of the Bible on other counts, particularly the Old Testament vision of God, seemed not to make the connection to the ethics and morality of the Bible but only to how questionable it is to embrace such a “vengeful” God as Yahweh for example.

The new approach by Harris and others does not yield even an inch of ground. They boldly assert that the morality and ethics of the Bible and particularly of the Old Testament are actually at best unimpressive, and rather mundane or at worst deplorable. They have, in my mind rightly, refused to isolate the more palatable aspects of Old Testament ethics from the rest of the narrative of the Old Testament and New Testament. They have taken the whole of the narrative and brought a justifiable critique. The reality it seems is that most Christians are indeed rather selective in what they choose to embrace, or at least attend to, in the Bible even while fiercely advocating it’s Inspired, Inerrant and Infallible nature. Most believers are not really aware, I think, of many of the problematic passages in the Old and New Testament or have not seriously faced their implications. There are sweeping generalizations made in conservative circles about the nature of the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament in terms of the latter representing a “New Covenant” superseding the Old, none of which really address these difficulties but nonetheless allow many people in-the-pews to simply ignore what they would otherwise, I think, not be able to stomach.

As a result I’ve decided to begin what will most likely be a VERY long series of posts on the morality of the Old Testament. I intend to once again read through the entire Old Testament and comment on passages which I believe relate generally to what one might view as the morality and ethics of the Old Testament and by inference the morality of Christianity. I’ve chosen to use the Jewish Publication Societies translation of the Old Testament published by Oxford Press called the Jewish Study Bible. I figure if anyone has reverence for the Old Testament it would be those who produced this translation, not to mention it’s scholarly reputation.

Although it has been many, many years and my Hebrew is long forgotten, my emphasis when in Seminary was the Old Testament even when working on my M. Div. degree. Later when I decided to continue to pursue my studies I choose to do so in Old Testament Biblical Studies when working on an M.Th. degree. I never completed the thesis for that degree but did complete all the other requirements for classes, languages and oral examination. So, I have something of an affinity for the Old Testament and more than a passing familiarity with it. The Seminary I attended required the study of Koine Greek and Classical Hebrew. The latter was a love of mine while there. I even took Ugaritic at the University of Pennsylvania and Biblical Aramaic at Seminary to enhance my understanding of the text. I am no expert, but I’m also not simply shooting from the hip.

My other concern in writing these posts is to be fair. While I do not hold to the conservative view of the Bible or it’s authorship, I DO think many times critics approach it as if they were shooting fish in a barrel. They do not give serious considerations to the text and context but rather take the passages in isolation often in order to make their content seem as absurd as possible. They do not often give consideration to the reasonable attempts to deal with the difficulties in the text. In essence they erect Straw Men the better to knock them down and trample them under foot. Even having said this I’ll be clear at the outset, it is my conviction and overall perspective that even taking the texts seriously in the context of the whole Old Testament will still not change the unpalatable nature of the morality of this book. In fact I think it will only enhance the deplorable nature of it’s moral content. However, I’m willing to be persuaded and will make every effort to deal fairly with the text.

So, I will begin with Genesis and read all the way through commenting as I see fit. So, stay tuned!

The Historical Jesus….or not

Okay, this is not a place for diplomacy nor do I feel much like being diplomatic. I’ve used up all my tact for the year.

People who say of Christianity that “it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was an historical person or not” don’t know jack-sh*t about Christianity. Yes, I know, there are many attempts to “reincarnate” Jesus and get back to the “real” Jesus, the one that was supposedly the “historical” Jesus. If you’ve never read any of that literature you just don’t don’t know the limits to which intellectual gymnastics can be taken. I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile endeavor. The claims of Christianity or any dogmatic belief need to be examined and questioned. It just seems to me the speculation on both sides is rife.


Let me tell you a story. Where I work some of my fellow employees of a liberal and free thinking bent found out I had once been a Presbyterian minister. Yes, that’s right. I thought myself to have been “converted” from a rather marginal and lukewarm Methodist tradition to a full blown, born-again, Bible Believing, Calvinistic “fundamentalist” in 1970 and continued on that path until around 1999 or so. I was ordained in 1981 and relinquished, or rather had my ordination credentials taken away in 1997. They were not taken away for “apostasy” although recently I was accused of being “lead astray by the Devil”, that’s Devil with a big “D”, and perhaps even being an incarnation of his Infernal Majesty. It’s too bad that’s not the case, perhaps I could arrange to win the lottery if it were.

In that tradition Fundamentalism is taken to mean what Harry Fosdick of Union Seminary meant when he coined the term in 1922 [http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5070/] which is believing in the “fundamentals” of the faith. These are enumerated as the Virgin Birth,  Verbal Inspiration of the Bible, Vicarious Atonement, Bodily Resurrection of Jesus and the Second Coming (which is sort of bodily). Some would add the Divinity of Jesus to that list. Here is what Fosdick has to say.

“It is interesting to note where the Fundamentalists are driving in their stakes to mark out the deadline of doctrine around the church, across which no one is to pass except on terms of agreement. They insist that we must all believe in the historicity of certain special miracles, preeminently the virgin birth of our Lord; that we must believe in a special theory of inspiration—that the original documents of the Scripture, which of course we no longer possess, were inerrantly dictated to men a good deal as a man might dictate to a stenographer; that we must believe in a special theory of the Atonement—that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner; and that we must believe in the second coming of our Lord upon the clouds of heaven to set up a millennium here, as the only way in which God can bring history to a worthy denouement. Such are some of the stakes which are being driven to mark a deadline of doctrine around the church.”

In this vein this was not an anti-intellectual exercise for red-necks with only a sixth grade education. The seminary where I learned this fundamentalism had been founded, and it’s first teachers taken from the ranks of, Princeton Theological Seminary. These were not dumb people. Nor are they in some backwater pocket of isolated thinking. This is, at heart, the theology of modern Evangelicalism with only minor exceptions. This is just simply and plainly traditional Christianity the way it has been believed and practiced for centuries. You can argue all you like about what Jesus thought of himself if indeed he existed. You can argue about the sources of the Gospels and later accretions and additions to the text. You can argue about alternate Christianities and the Gnostic gospels, but ever since the Council of Nicaea what I have described here has been Christianity. Central to that faith is the historicity of Jesus, and not just ANY Jesus.

If any Biblical “author” has influenced the gentile manifest ion of Christianity it was, without a doubt, the man known as “the Apostle to the Gentiles”, the former Saul of Tarsus, the infamous Paul. The writings of Paul have done more to formulate the theology of Christianity than any other author of Biblical texts (assuming of course HE existed and actually wrote the documents attributed to him). Leaving that aside for the moment, the views expressed in the extent documents included in the canon and attributed to Paul have all but made Christianity what it is. So here is the pitch, 1 Corinthians 15, 12 – 19.

“12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. “

Basically, if Jesus wasn’t actually bodily raised from the dead after a vicarious atoning death on the cross, Christianity is worse than just wrong, it is a waste of time, it is a pitiful futility and useless. The core teaching of historical Christianity (meaning that which has been taught and believed for centuries) is the bodily resurrection of the perfect God-man Jesus after the atoning sacrifice of the crucifixion. Anything else is not Christianity. You can like it or lump it, that’s the skinny. Obviously, if Jesus was not an historical person, none of this happened, none of it is true. You can’t have traditional, historical Christianity without an historical Jesus, you just can’t. Not only do you need an historical Jesus, you need a PARTICULAR historical Jesus. All this claptrap about “it doesn’t matter whether he lived or not it’s what he taught” is just bullshit. Yep, bullshit!

So, back to my story. After my co-workers found out I was an atheist and had abandoned Christianity they went on a quest to find some incarnation of Jesus I would find palatable. For some reason they seemed to think I had thrown the baby out with the bath water and there was some way to reclaim the baby Jesus (pun intended) while throwing out the dirty water of traditional Christianity. My response was “why?”. Any Jesus other than the one in the Gospels later expounded in the Epistles and accepted and worshiped for centuries as the founder and leader of Christianity was not Jesus and had no more claim to being the “historical” Jesus then the one presented in the New Testament. It’s all speculation and dancing on pin heads.

As much as I applaud Jefferson’s attempt to excise from the New Testament everything he found onerous and retain only that which he found acceptable (probably one of the first people to practice Literary Criticism of the Theological variety) and thus recapture the “pure”, “historical” Jesus stripped of supernatural superstition and religious mythology it is a futile quest. It is pointless. There is no need. I mean really, is Jesus WORTH trying to reclaim? Other than as an exercise in the history of religion and religious text, of Textual and Literary Criticism of an attempt at Historical reconstruction, why bother? This was the error of my colleagues. Somehow they thought I NEEDED to hang onto Jesus somehow, someway. All they were proposing was another fantasy.

Here I have to admit that Sam Harris is my new “home boy”. This guy is awesome, not perfect, but really, really awesome. Why is he awesome? He is saying out loud, in public and righteously defending the ideas I’ve had in my head for a decade (now is that narcissistic or what?). Seriously, I like what this guy has to say and the way he says it. I applaud his approach and manner. From what I understand of his background he is someone with whom I resonate. Hitchins, Dawkins and Dennett are fine but give me Harris any time!

The argument to which I refer is “Why do you think the Bible is so profound”? Is this really the best we can do? Are the words and sayings of Jesus and the edited events of his life so unique and laudable that he needs to be held up as such a paragon of religious innovation and wisdom? Frankly, I would say no. There really isn’t anything Jesus said or did that can’t be found in profusion from other moral or religious thinkers who proceeded him. Okay, sure, it’s great to see yet another person advocating some high moral values and perhaps elevated religious ideas (however fallacious those religious tenets might be) but really, is he really the epitome of the evolution of moral and religious thought? Even if you excise out everything else and try to get down to “The Best of Jesus”, I’m not impressed.

So, Christianity without an historical Jesus, in fact without the Jesus of the unedited New Testament is not Christianity, it’s something else. You can call it whatever you like but it’s not really Christianity. Call it Neo-Christianity or whatever you may but you’re not foolin’ me folks you’re just foolin’ yourselves. What you really need to ask is why you’re so stuck on Jesus that you can’t just jettison the whole mess and find something else or make up your own. Is the mythology of Christianity so compelling you would rather believe it and hang on to it even as a symbolic, metaphorical expression of some truth, whatever you think that might be, than try to go out and find the truth? Are you so enraptured by the pagentry that you can’t pull your eyes and mind away from the distraction long enough to see the wonder of the real world?

Merry Christmas!