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.

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Books Make Me Barf: Cold-Case Christianity

“The answers are available; you don’t have to turn off your brain to be a believer. Yes, it is possible to become a Christian because of the evidence rather than in spite of the evidence. Many of us have done just that. ~J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity

I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic in that I have a tendency to question things. I’ve said this before, but I guess I’ll say it again. I’m interested in believing true things, not necessarily popular things.  Subjective feelings are not, necessarily, good indicators of truth.  Moreover, emotion is certainly inadequate, in most cases, to allow us to make a compelling case to somebody else for our beliefs. We must learn to responsibly follow and present objective evidence if we’re to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The good news is that we all seem to be predisposed to follow evidence.  We use evidence to make decisions all the time without even thinking about it.  I look out the window every morning and, based on the evidence, decide if I should wear a jacket today or not.  In fact, I may just use circumstantial evidence to conclude it is raining outside when I see one of my kids come inside wet.  Sure it’s possible that they may have just been playing in the sprinkler, but if it is winter time and they’re fully clothed, I can infer the most reasonable conclusion is that the weather is inclement.  Evidence is important for forming our beliefs about reality.  We should all be skeptics to some degree, having sound reasons for why we believe what we believe.  Enter J. Warner Wallace.

J. (Jim) Warner Wallace is a vocal atheist turned vocal Christian apologist.  Having worked in law enforcement for many years, Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective in the Los Angeles County area. You may have seen his work featured on Dateline. In his recently released book “Cold-Case Christianity“, he tackles the case of the historicity of the life of Jesus using the techniques of his trade, applying the same principles he uses to solve cold-case homicides where witnesses are gone, physical evidence is slight, and it is solid circumstantial cases that bring the truth to light.  Detective Wallace takes you through his own journey from atheist to follower of Jesus of Nazareth via careful evaluation of the historical evidence, training you to think critically about things like evaluating witnesses, conspiracy theory, and the chain of custody in evidence gathering.

With this book J. Warner Wallace makes a significant contribution to the defense of the reasonableness of the Christian faith.  In recent years the vocal “new atheist” movement has been aggressively attacking religion, and specifically Christianity, with a newfound hostility, often claiming that the enterprise of reason stands solely with their position.  Tearing down strongholds and demolishing arguments against the knowledge of God, Cold-Case Christianity makes it abundantly clear that a belief in the Biblical text is not only reasonable, but even more reasonable than any of the other ancient documents which we accept at face value in our pursuit of knowledge about the past.  When evaluated objectively, as any good jury member with an open mind ought to, the historical case for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is successfully prosecuted by J. Warner Wallace.  It is only if one comes to the case with the pre-existing conclusion that supernatural events can’t happen that the case can be dismissed.

Undoubtedly, the charge against Wallace from some Christians will be that he takes the “faith” out of faith (by the way, fideism makes me barf).  They’ll likely say that this evidential approach to Biblical investigation puts God on trial.  I’d ask these naysayers to refer to their Bibles in places like 1 Peter 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and Jude 1:3 (among others).  The Biblical authors were clear that reasoning with people and defending faith in Christ was a virtue, not a vice.  J. Warner Wallace has taken these mandates seriously, carefully arranging a book that is useful to both Christians and non-Christians alike in their pursuit of understanding.

Not only does Wallace build a successful case for the reliability of the eyewitness gospel accounts, but he does it in a way that is appealing to any fan of the whodunit genre of books, movies, and television shows.  Weaved into J. Warner Wallace’s investigation of the biblical accounts, are real world examples from his cold-cases that are used to reinforce the subject matter of each chapter.  Cold-Case Christianity is one of the most accessible apologetics books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  This is a book anybody can, and should, pick up and read not only to educate themselves, but for the pure enjoyment of it as well.  Kudos to J. Warner Wallace who has put together a book that is both educational and fun!  Thorough, winsome, and entertaining, this is the first book that should be recommended to any skeptic who levels a charge against the reliability of the gospel accounts or the historical figures that penned them.

What’s So Great About Jesus Anyway?

CaptureSo he was God incarnate and died a horrible death.  He was God, so he knew he was not ultimately going to die, right?  So what’s the big deal?  Or so one might ask.  Especially this time of year when people seem to drag Jesus out, dust him off, and place him in their nativity scene.  I’ve used to ask myself this question on occasion.  It wasn’t until I came to better understand the triune God of the Bible that I really felt I had a satisfactory answer.  I think for a lot of my life, I got that the historical Jesus was fully human, and at least on the surface recognized that he was fully divine, but never really thought much about the ramifications of such a being.  I used to think to myself, that if I had to lay down my life for my friends, or my family, or even for strangers, that I could do that.  If somebody said to me, “You choose.  Will you die a horrible death, or all your friends and family die a horrible death?”  Could I exercise the kind of love that would allow me to trade my life for theirs.  Isn’t this basically what Jesus did?  So what makes him so great?  I hear stories about soldiers in battle jumping on grenades for their buddies all the time!  If they can take pain and death for somebody else, what’s so great about Jesus?  Isn’t it the same thing?  This is really a wrong-headed view of what Jesus did though.

First, it must be recognized that the God of the Bible is the source of objective Good.  If you have perfect goodness on one side, and some badness, say murdering somebody, on the other side, how much difference is there between the goodness and the badness?  It turns out that infinite anything against finite anything leaves you with an infinite difference.  This applies even against a finite badness of a lower magnitude, like stealing a pack of gum.  It also turns out that when you measure these things against infinite goodness, that the stolen pack of gum and the murder start to look a lot the same in relation to the perfect goodness.  It’s even an infinitely greater magnitude of difference in moral equality than, say, between Mother Teresa and Jeffery Dahmer, though we’d typically say the two were separated by an unfathomable moral chasm.

Now, keeping this vast difference between goodness and badness in mind, understand that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t sacrifice himself for his friends and family.  The sacrifice he made was more akin to trading himself as ransom for the population of San Quentin.  This guy who had done absolutely nothing deserving of death, or even after-school detention, was tortured in unimaginable ways in the place of the worst mankind has to offer.  That’s you and I by the way.  Sure it may look to us like we’re vastly different from Jeffery Dahmer, but in scale it’s a bit like us equating the size of the beetle to the size of the ant.  In relation to each other one is much larger, but from the perspective of a human being, the difference is fairly insignificant.  Measured against complete goodness, morally speaking, I’m that beetle compared to the ant that is Jeffery Dahmer.  Now this being the case I’m forced to amend my comparison from earlier, and ask myself a new question.  Would I sacrifice myself for the likes of a bunch of Jeffery Dahmer, Adolf Hitler (you didn’t think I’d leave Hitler out did you?), Charles Manson, and Joseph Stalin types?  Not only that, but would I be willing to be unimaginably tortured before being killed so that they could have a get-out-of jail free card?  I’m afraid this is where I’d take a pass.  But this still isn’t really the complete picture.

The God of the Bible is triune.  Three persons (ie minds) in one being.  Yes, this is a mind bender, but this is the Biblical view of God.  Jesus is one of these ontological persons, keeping in mind that we’re not talking about human persons, but centers of consciousness.  The pre-incarnate Logos (Word) existed prior to Jesus the man.  The most straightforward scriptural data to this is in the first sentence of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)  John goes on to say that all things that have been created, were created through Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t just some guy, he was with and, at the same time, was the eternal uncaused first cause of all things.  Now, if I’m God (which I’m not) and I created some beings, gave them freedom to do as they please, and it turned out what they want to do is lie, cheat, pillage, rape, murder, and turn on me, do I really want anything further to do with them?  It turns out God did.  He tried all kinds of things through history to turn people around, which the way I read it seems as though it was largely to prove to us that none of those things work.  We’ll never be able to meet God’s standard directly.  It’s like asking a beetle to become the size of a human being.  Finally, he decided he (Father) would send himself (Son) as a mediator (Merry Christmas by the way), leave perfection, and take on the form of one of us in order to lead us back to himself.

Now, given this fact that Jesus pre-existed as God and with God, having no particular need of human beings, I have to amend my question even further I think.  I have to ask myself, as a human being, would I be willing to lower myself ontologically (ie change my very existence) and take on the form of…a beetle?  And be tortured and killed in order to save a bunch of rebellious insects (imaging for a moment that insects were free moral agents)?  Now not only would I take a pass, I’d laugh in your face.  Explain to me that after I am tortured and killed that I’ll be restored to glory as a human being, and ask me if it matters to my decision!  I see no good reason why I would submit to condescending to the status of an insect to be tortured and killed, even if not doing so meant the extinction of every beetle and ant on Earth.  Why should I care enough that I’d suffer even a hangnail’s worth of discomfort for such nonsense?  I see no reason for the general to step into the battle and throw himself on the gernade…to save the lives of the opposition.

That’s what is so great about Jesus.