The Self-Contradictory Nature of Godlessness

I recently read a blog post on Godless in Dixie regarding the supposed anti-human theology that is part of the Christian worldview.  The gentleman writing makes the argument that Christianity inspires self-loathing and that Jesus of Nazareth engaged in what amounts to psychological torture.  You can read the post for yourself.

http://godlessindixie.com/2014/04/25/anti-human-theology-and-cultivated-self-disgust/

First, I’m saddened by his story, because while the whole thing seems like a straw-man, I don’t think it is necessarily a straw-man of his own creation.  The word Christian is rarely used in the Bible.  We throw it around now in a way that means very little.  It is often seen only as some sort of cultural heritage.  As such, people calling themselves Christians, but failing to actually follow Christ in thought or action in any meaningful way can do great damage.  Still, one cannot look to the worst representatives of an enterprise to build a case against the values of that enterprise.  I fear people who have this perception that Christianity encourages self-hatred have had some very poor examples of people in their lives who call themselves Christians.

What does the Biblical narrative teach about people though?  Are we fundamentally garbage?  Should we regard ourselves with guilt and shame?  Do we invent special types of crimes for ourselves?  Can we do no good?  Well, the only way to know what the Bible teaches about such a thing, is to actually look at the Bible in context.

This fellow seems to base his objection to Christianity on a false understanding of who people are, and what they’re relationship is to God according to Biblical teaching.  He says, “Rather than affirming what is good within humanity, it begins with a condemnation of all that is bad”.  This is patently false though.  In the beginning, God created.  The creation included people, who were designed in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  He blessed them, and saw EVERYTHING that had been made, and it was VERY good (Genesis 1:31).  That is the fundamental teaching about people.  Everything that follows (ie the history of the universe) must be understood in this context.

God did not create robots though.  He created free moral agents.  This sort of freedom is fundamentally necessary for the expression of love.  It cannot be achieved through coercion.  We can choose good, or we can reject it and choose otherwise.  God has left this choice to us.  What is good, really, though?  Jesus said that only God is good (Mark 10:18).  What did he mean by that?  I think he meant a couple of things.

First, I think he meant to subtly suggest, as he did many other times, that he was, in fact, God.  He was being addressed as good, so he pointed out that only God embodies the foundation of goodness.

Second, he meant that God alone is the foundation of all that is good.  Without God, real good and evil simply just do not exist.  We can try to base our understanding of good in ourselves, but the fact of the matter is that this sort of relativism only leaves us with no foundation at all.  It leaves us with mere opinions and confusion.  In the video embedded in this post, the fellow there says, emphatically, that “you are not a sinner!”  He goes on to say though, that he hopes you make “good” decisions and you don’t have free license to be a jerk.  Well, why not? He seems to think that there is some standard of “good” that I ought to be following.  Who’s though?  His?  On one hand these confused ideas say there is nothing wrong with me, while on the other they seem to affirm there is a certain way the universe should be, and I shouldn’t violate that.  Sounds familiar!

Sin is, simply put, the violation of this ordained state of affairs.  It’s straying from Good.  While Biblical teaching says we’re fundamentally God’s creation, it also teaches we have a selfish streak that seems to want to go it alone.  If we deny God’s goodness, we end up following the desire to be our own god by defining “good” in any way we see fit.  Allowing such a thing is, again, a necessary feature of free-will.  God would prefer for us to return to the very good state of affairs in Genesis 1, but he doesn’t do it by asking us to despise ourselves.  I’m not even quite sure how somebody calling themselves a follower of Christ would come to this conclusion, and worse, how they would teach it.

The most cited part of the Bible seems to be John 3:16.  As important are John 3:17-18.  It’s quite clear that Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to pardon.  It seems pretty clear to me (NIV):

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Now, the fact is that there does seem to need to be some steps taken to right our course, but does that necessitate self-hatred?  I’m not sure how you even come to that conclusion.  If it does, and Godless is suggesting that I need to right my course and come to his way of thinking, then he also must be suggesting that I ought to hate myself for my mistaken thinking because there is something wrong with me.  That’s a silly conclusion that does not follow.  People can be well-aware of things about themselves they’d like to change, without hating themselves.  People can even suggest things about other people that might need changing and have only the best of intentions.

You might be able to blame the teaching of your parents or your “Christian” community for your self-loathing, but if you want to build a case that the teaching by Jesus of Nazareth is to blame it will be quite flimsy, since he placed free grace on the table if you’d like it.  The alternative is to willing drift away from true Good.  It’s your choice.

Anti-Bullying Bullying Makes Me Barf

Recently, MTV personality, newspaper columnist, gay-rights activist, and supposed anti-bullying advocate Dan Savage was invited to speak at a high school journalism convention.  Through a series of inflammatory remarks and fallacious rhetoric, Savage proceeded to verbally bully Christian students in the audience.  Some of these kids chose to walk out in protest, at which point Savage verbally assaulted them with name calling and claimed it was self-defense.  Not very “anti-bullying” of him, but this sort of special pleading seems to be par for the course where the “tolerance” movement is concerned (as I’ve previously discussed).

Let’s take a look at what Mr Savage had to say on the Bible.  If you watch the video linked below to get the context, you may want to make sure there are no small ears around first, as this fellow doesn’t prefer to stick to societal conventions on etiquette in public discourse.  On the other hand, if you have Jr High or High School kids that are mature enough to watch this critically, I highly suggest viewing it with them to show them what they’re up against.  They’re going to be challenged to be tolerant, all the while being bullied for their beliefs.

http://youtu.be/ao0k9qDsOvs

0:15 – Good start Mr. Savage!  You’re right, the Bible does say homosexuality is wrong, along with a host of other sexual sins, and things like murder, stealing, false gods, arrogance, corrupt conversation, hatred, bitterness, etc.

0:25 – Wait, what now?  The BS about gay people in the Bible?  You mean the part where it says it is wrong?  I don’t mean to straw man Mr Savage’s position, but he seems to be implying that things being in the Bible invalidates them somehow.  Does this mean that the part about murder being wrong is also BS because it is in the Bible as well?  That would just be committing the genetic fallacy.  An argument cannot be dismissed simply in light of its source.  You need to actually make a positive case for your side, otherwise it looks like you’re just ignoring the Bible simply because you don’t want to live according to its standards, not because there’s actually something wrong with the standard.  Simply not liking the claim it makes on your life does nothing for your position.  If he’s not implying it’s position in the Bible is what invalidates it, then it’s simply a foundationless claim, and I have no reason to believe the Bible’s claims that God has high standards for acceptable sexual relationships are BS.

0:37 – Shellfish? Shellfish were covered under the theocratic rule of God over Israel in the old covenant.  It is no longer relevant, nor is this argument (if simply saying a word is an argument).  We’re no longer living under the old covenant, or its dietary restrictions.  Perhaps a Jewish person would like to have that debate.

0:39 – Slavery? You realize slavery in antiquity wasn’t the antebellum slavery we see in the American south, right?  Biblical “slavery” was more of an indentured servitude.  A person might sell himself as way to have him and/or his family taken care of, or for forgiveness of debt, in exchange for his service.  In fact, what you see happening in Israel in terms of Biblical law is vastly different from what is seen in the pagan cultures around them. For instance, in the Code of Hammurabi we see slaves were clearly treated as property.  If you put out the eye of a slave, or broke his bones, you were to pay half the value of the slave to the master.  On the other hand the Old Testament of Israel affirms the personhood of servants.  In the same circumstance in Hebrew culture, the slave would be allowed to go free (Exod 21:26-27).  The servant was given justice in God’s theocracy, not the master.

0:40 – Dinner?  This is a new one to me.  Honestly I’m not sure what he’s referring to here.  If it is having to do with dietary restrictions see the comment above about shellfish.  We ignore those laws because they applied only to Jews living under the theocratic rule of God, not because there is something wrong with them.  At the time, some of them were largely symbolic, and others provided health benefits.

0:41 – Farming?  Presumably this is reference to Deuteronomy 22 where the Israelites were not supposed to plow with an ox and donkey together.  In fact, they had several restrictions about combining differing things.  This is likely symbolic, as a reminder that they were a people set aside for God.  They were not to mix with the pagan cultures, and therefore were given several reminders to keep themselves separate, like mixing seed in the field, mixing fibers in clothing, and plowing with a mixed team.  Again, this was special to Hebrew law under theocratic rule, and does not apply since Jesus fulfilled the old covenant.

0:42 – Menstruation? Again, I’m not sure Mr Savage has made an attempt to understand the Biblical narrative rather than just reading single phrases and attacking them out of context.  First, a menstruating woman was not morally unclean (if that’s what Savage is getting at), just ceremonially unclean.  There were a lot of other health-related distractions that put both women as well as men in this ceremonially unclean condition.  Second, blood was a symbolically sacred thing to the Hebrews, so there are numerous regulations regarding it. It doesn’t strike me as especially controversial.  Coincidentally, it is the narrative of blood as the source of life via atonement that is taken right up to the last sacrifice made, which was Jesus, the Messiah, on the cross.  The only thing required to be ceremonially clean now, is acceptance of the Messiah as a sacrifice on behalf of all people.  It’s a lot easier!  Again, this sort of ceremonial law regarding menstruation is part of the old covenant that God had with Israel.  There were similar laws that applied to men.  Not really relevant to Mr Savage’s point unless he’s talking directly to Jews who don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah.  It doesn’t seem that way though.

0:43 – Virginity?  See 1:45 when Mr Savage brings this back up, but I think he’s confused about his details again.  Peculiar for a journalism conference!

0:44 – Masturbation? Actually the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about this in and of itself.  Catholics in particular might try to use the account of Onan in Genesis 38 to say it is there (as well as using it to lobby against family planning), but in context Onan was simply punished for being wicked in light of his refusal to obey the law of levarite marriage which protected a family’s inheritance rights in the event of the untimely death of a husband.  A male relative of the deceased, in this case a younger brother, was directed to marry his brother’s widow and carry on the family line.  He stubbornly chose to ignore the law.  Coincidentally we later see a similar law applied successfully with Ruth and Boaz, which eventually leads to David, and finally Jesus.

0:50 – Mr Savage and I can’t agree that what is in the Bible is BS, but we can agree that we do, in fact, ignore things in the Bible about all sorts of things.  This is not the question though.  The question is SHOULD we ignore things in the Bible, and does the Bible contain a real claim on our lives and the way we should live, or just a bunch of ancient made up mythology?  Savage seems only interested in the former and not the latter.  His logic is that because we, as a culture, seem to be already ignoring some things, we might as well ignore them all.  His reasoning, doesn’t seek to determine what is right or wrong, but merely appeals to the culture to define what we should or should not do.  Relativism!  Taken to the absurd like our mothers always did, Mr Savage, if all your friends were to jump off a bridge, sir, would you follow?  This is the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum, or the appeal to popularity.  Just because a bunch of people are doing something, it does not follow necessarily that it is the right thing to do, otherwise we’d have to conclude Hitler’s Germany was justified in its actions.

0:55 – The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document because slave owners waved Bibles over their heads during the Civil War?  Again, Mr Savage seems to be a big fan the genetic fallacy.  If Hitler waved a chocolate bar over his head during WWII saying, “Chocolate made me do it!”, would it follow necessarily that chocolate lovers are anti-Semites?

1:02 – Again, since Mr Savage is just throwing out unsubstantiated rhetoric and bald-faced assertions with no explanation, it’s difficult to tell what he’s referring to.  He refers to “the shortest book in the New Testament”, but that is 3 John, which obviously was not written by Paul and has nothing to do with slavery.  I think he must be referring either to Paul’s letter to Titus, where he addresses how Christian slaves should behave, or the 3rd shortest book of the New Testament, Philemon, where Paul request that Philemon release his dear friend Onesimus.  It almost seems like he’s just hodgepodging them together.  In the first case Paul only talks about what Titus should teach slaves, not how Titus should own slaves.  In his letter to Philemon Paul IS clearly asking Philemon to release his friend Onesimus.  Paul is in the position to make demands of Philemon, but appeals to Philemon to consult his relationship with Christ, and his relationship with Paul as a friend, and do the right thing.  Contrary to Mr Savage’s claim, Paul IS asking his friend to set his servant free.  However, it’s quite plausible given the culture that Onesimus owed some sort of debt to Philemon, and so Philemon would be under no obligation to do so.  Paul even suggests as much, and offers to have the debt charged to himself instead (Philemon 1:18) rather than Onesimus, so that Philemon might see Onesimus as the brother that he is.  Further, while ranting from the pulpit about how apparently he doesn’t like the way some Christians tell other people how they should live, Mr Savage is saying Paul should be more forceful in the way he tells other people how to live.  Your circular logic confuses me, sir.  I can’t tell what you really want.

1:20 – The Bible got slavery wrong?  The Bible doesn’t particularly take a position on slavery itself, only how to treat slaves.  I know I already said this, but I’ll say it again.  It also is definitely not referring to slavery like we think of when we imagine it in the antebellum South, which seems to be where Mr Savage is likely still trying to make a connection.  The Bible merely addresses the master/servant relationship that exists in both ancient near-eastern and then, later, the Roman empire.  Frequently a voluntary contract of servitude, or a necessary contract of servitude to pay off a debt.  I have no doubt that just like other institutions people establish (like high school journalism conventions) that people abused their position of authority.  However, in both cases the Bible defends the servant’s right to be treated with fairness and dignity, which was unheard of at the time.  In Titus 2 he’s addressing Christians who are slaves, not saying Christians ought to take slaves.  In Philemon he’s appealing for the release of a slave.  Mr Savage, again, resorts to logical fallacy by setting up a straw man for use in his rhetoric. He changes Paul’s position to be that Christians support slavery and then attacks that position, rather than addressing what Paul really said.  It’s poor form.

1:25 – Mr Savage’s fallacious appeal to authority with reference to Sam Harris’s book does nothing for his argument.  Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, not an ancient history or Biblical scholar.  Two unqualified people making naked assertions and taking the Bible out of context doesn’t make the position any more defensible.  In fact, to see the weakness of Sam Harris’s position on morality without God, watch his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig.  It’s a couple of hours, but well worth the investment no matter where you currently stand with regards to your view of theism.  http://youtu.be/yqaHXKLRKzg.

1:40 – I don’t agree that the Bible “got slavery wrong, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Bible did get the slavery issue wrong.  How do you arrive at the conclusion that it got sexuality wrong with 100% certainty?  This just seems to be affirming the consequent.  If the Bible was wrong on the issue of slavery, does that mean it follows necessarily that it was also 100% wrong on other issues?  Perhaps because it was wrong on slavery (for the sake of argument) it was also wrong on theft and it is okay to steal from people?  Or perhaps this form of reasoning could be used like this: If a gay person has ever molested a child, then gay people are dangerous.  A gay person has molested a child.  Therefore, gay people are dangerous.  The conclusion does not follow necessarily from the premises, even if we were to accept premise #1 (which I don’t in either example). It’s logically flawed.

1:50 – If a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night she should be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death?  Mr Savage’s failure to bother with details about the thing he’s so against shows through apparently here, as it appears he is combining two distinct laws from Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 in order to create one law of his own.  In the former case, the engaged virgin woman AND the man are both stoned outside the city gate, because they’ve consentually committed evil by violating a marriage under the theocracy of God. A good example of the high regard God has for marriage, and why it should be taken seriously. The latter circumstance is similar, except in this case the virgin woman is not engaged, so there was no marriage that was violated.  In this case the man is to pay a bride-price (50 shekels) to the father of the girl and he is to marry her.  This is for the woman’s protection, as a woman who was not a virgin would likely not be easily married.  Again, neither of these laws apply outside of God’s direct and personal rule over Israel.  If Mr Savage were to take even a moment’s time to attempt understand what is going on in the theocracy of ancient Israel, perhaps he would at least get his facts straight.  If this the sort of accuracy they’re promoting at journalism conferences, its no wonder the media is so inept.

1:55 – I don’t get the reference to Callista Gingrich.  Savage’s faithful seem to appreciate the comment, but I’m not sure what he’s driving at there.  Could somebody please explain this one?

2:10 – There’s no efforts to make stonings legal…at least not yet because we don’t know where the GOP is going?  More ridiculous rhetoric!  Here Mr Savage resorts to the slippery slope fallacy. This can actually be a valid form of reasoning if you can logically tie related events together to arrive at the conclusion, but Savage makes no attempt to do so, because it would not be possible. He’s made the statement based on his previous strawman account of the Biblical text in order to solicit the shock value and get laugh.  Again, perhaps it would be good fodder from a super PAC sponsored political attack ad, but not very responsible reasoning from a public platform.

2:15 – People are dying because we can’t clear this one last hurdle?  Really?  That’s weird.  I’ve never agreed that homosexuality, nor any form of heterosexual sin was right, yet I’ve never killed anybody.  That would seem to suggest to me, that the problem is not the belief that a certain action is objectively morally wrong, but only that there is another objectively morally wrong action being perpetrated that is the root of the problem.  Let’s say I hate the hiccups (I do)…a lot (really)…and perhaps I murder my neighbor because he has a bad case of the hiccups. Does anybody, even for a second, believe that my problem was really that I disliked the hiccups? This is a red-herring. Nobody is being harmed because of a belief that homosexuality is sinful. They’re being harmed because people believe it is okay to harm somebody verbally or physically with whom they disagree. That is the fundamental character flaw in play. Moreover, this is not unique to people who try to hide behind the Bible for their moral crimes. Some people might try to hide behind, for instance, the cover of a high school journalism convention to harm people they disagree with. That doesn’t make high school journalism conventions objectively wrong.  It just means somebody abused their understanding of its purpose.

2:50 – Beatings justified by the Bible?  I could also attempt to justify beatings using, say, the words of an anti-religious zealot from MTV.  That however, would not necessarily be his intent.

2:55 – More name calling from the speaker who is there to present on anti-bullying.

3:00 – Snarky apology fixes his rhetorical bullying.  Yay!  He’s just defending himself, but the kids that removed themselves from his assault are “pansy-assed”?  He’s just pointing out the hypocrisy of being “anti-gay”, while spewing anti-Christianity during a supposed anti-bullying speech?  Sneaking in yet more fallacious reasoning to wrap it up by throwing in some special pleading: it’s okay for him to be a bully from the stage because he’s been bullied, but Christians ought not do it or they’re hypocrites. Reality check Mr Savage – hypocrisy is wrong from all sides!

3:14 – Don’t even get me started on calling people who disagree with you bigots!  That’s just more straw men!  It’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with people’s positions without attacking them personally. Not everybody who disagrees with you is out to get you. Sure Ford and Chevy truck owners can’t relate to each other in this way, but I see no reason why people can’t disagree on other important things without the name calling.

Conclusion:  Listen, I’m no pastor, or Bible scholar, or historian.  I’m simply another random internet dude trying to make the best sense of reality as it appears to me.  It takes me only an evening of effort not only to figure out what Mr Savages obscure references are supposed to be too (since he doesn’t want to point them out specifically, or even get their literal gist accurate), but to also discern some real meaning within the context of those passages’ place in scripture and history.  Make an effort!  Both theists and atheists need to quit with the rhetoric and actually try to understand the other side’s position.  Dan Savage clearly doesn’t have an accurate view of the Bible, but then again, neither do many Christians so how would he!  This type of fallacious reasoning is rampant on both sides.  Get rid of it and have a real discussion!  Also, take some time to understand the context of these difficult parts of Scripture that people throw around carelessly.  I recommend a book by Paul Copan called “Is God A Moral Monster?”  It addresses many of the issues skeptics have that Savage brings up here.  Clearly much of his position is based on misinformation and/or misunderstanding of the text and/or history.  In the end, many people are going to reject the Bible outright, simply because the don’t like the claim it might have on their life if it were to be true, or their pre-supposition that supernatural events do not occur and never have.  This is the precarious position Mr Savage finds himself in.

Finally, our kids need to understand that no matter what the claims of the opposition, Christianity is not the unreasonable nonesene that some skeptics claim it is.  Even though they claim it with certainty, the claims are typically laden with poor logic, poor facts, and grand rhetoric.  It will be our kids’ job to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) respectfully, but diligently, and bring the dialogue back to reality.  This sort of rhetoric isn’t unique to the growing militant side of atheism.  Christians fall into it frequently as well.  Teach your kids to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.  Regardless of our beliefs, we’re all able to disgree without resorting to personal attacks.  I’ve heard plenty of atheists who are very good at this sort of constructive dialogue.  They need to be encouraging their brethren to do the same, perhaps starting with Mr Savage.  Jesus used sound reasoning to debate his opponents, we need to do the same.

I heard one discussion recently between a Christian and an atheist, where they agreed on the central tactic of interactions with other people.  The theist presented it as Jesus himself presented it…”Love they neighbor.”  The atheist’s way of summing up the same sort of thought, though lacking the active quality of love, was also quite good…”Don’t be a jerk!