I wish I could recall the scholarly work from sometime in the last century. The poor fellow had devoted his entire professional life to proving the scientific possibility of each miracle in the Bible. He hoped to demonstrate to an increasingly skeptical world that Christianity was a sound belief system.
As a youth, I talked with my father about the man. We wondered if he had ever realized that he was working at cross purposes with faith. One theory the fellow had proposed was intended to make plausible the image of Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee toward the boat of disciples. There could have been a lot of driftwood, the scholar had speculated. Jesus could have made his way by carefully choosing his steps. My dad told me of a comment from a friend that summarized the entire approach. He had closed his eyes, visualized the argument, and saw Jesus on a surfboard.
I greet the apparent conclusion of the long standing religious debate on this site with some regret. The exchange between T. Paine, the devout defender of faith, and John Myste, the confirmed agnostic, elevated and educated. It contributed to two long standing hopes I have held for years.
One is that we who are Christians will find, or perhaps confirm, a clarity that is often missing from religious debate. Sometimes we grasp at the most shallow of interpretations, failing to recognize profound insights. Too often the shallow extends to an embrace of raw bigotry.
Another hope is that this same clarity will clear away some of the failures of pop-Christian leaders promoted by a sometimes hostile or lazy media. When bigots are offered as representative of faith, faith is very properly rejected by those very people who might be most attracted to the real message of Jesus.
The requirements of bigotry vary from age to age. Today we must disbelieve evolution. We must hate gay people. We must hate Muslims. In other times we were required to torture Jews or endorse slavery.
I generally try to avoid defining social policy requirements for spiritual law. I confess to a certain smug satisfaction in watching a committed Christian chasing down Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican who transforms the Oppenheimer quote. "Now I am become death, destroyer of Medicare." The young Christian running after Ryan demanded to know why Ryan based his political philosophy on the atheistic Ayn Rand rather than the Jesus we learn about from the Gospel of Luke. (See below)
If I have one religious difference with T. Paine, it is that he speaks pretty much exclusively from a Catholic perspective. "Peter is thus realized by Catholics as the first leader of Christ's church on earth; the first pope." When you think about it, this is an understandable tendency. Most Protestants might take exception. But he does a more than reasonably good job of explaining God's love for all humanity. Complain as we might about some religious standards, abortion rights, marriage equality, or other church positions, they have this love thing nailed.
And the love thing is what Jesus implicitly and Paul directly say spiritual law is all about. T. Paine, conservative as he is, does seem to enjoy a unique ability to show us a rejection of the media definition of Christian theology: that Jesus loves you and joins in your hatred of Muslims, gays, Obama, and liberals.
Our friend, the ever witty and enlightening Mr. Myste, tends to blur the distinctions between literalists and non-literalists. That is understandable. He sees both as specifically ignoring, rejecting, or explaining away scripture that happens to be inconvenient. His view instructs the true believer. This is indeed one great danger to a thinking Christian. Prayer, meditation, and study are required, and we still will get a lot of it wrong. God, as Paul points out, is beyond our ability even to imagine. More generally, in my friend's view, Christians of all stripes share the twin flaws of editing scripture and accepting what to a clear thinker is an unacceptable faith.
It is mostly on this last that John and I part. Too much a gentleman to say so directly, he seems to hold, although regretfully, the philosophical ethic that it is sad or intellectually dishonest or possibly even immoral to believe what cannot be supported by evidence. I plead guilty to the offense and challenge the judgment.
The debate, while it lasted, never degenerated into the surfing-Christ level. Both debaters evidence a mutual respect and enjoyment of jabs from the other. Now that the debate has died, hope still lives.
Resurrection is possible. Our faith teaches that.
In response to T.Paine's Crooked Rivers, Crooked Men
T. Paine: “That said, until Martin Luther came around some 1500 years after Christ, the ONLY Christian church was the one founded by Jesus Christ himself.”
Correction. Christ was Jewish. If He were alive today, he would not belong to the Catholic Church or any of the other heretical cults that followed.
T. Paine: “It is why Christ often spoke in parables to teach lessons in the New Testament.”
Correction. He probably did that because parables are more slippery, more open to interpretation and safer. He implied that this was the reason in the New Testament. I think you missed it His point, because He said it with a parable. I am sorry I don’t have time to look up the passage right now. With parables, He gets crucified later in time, assuming the Father does not forsake Him. Wouldn’t that be horrible? He would be baffled if that happened. We would certainly hear about that.
T. Paine: “That in no way eradicates my points made, but simply points to the truth that my lack of imagination in coming up with a better analogy was lacking.”
Your imagine was good. I was impressed. I love analogy. The point was as valid as any other Christian point. I targeted it to entertain myself. I made no real attempt at a logical rebuttal, though I am happy if one found its way in.
I know I am going around in circles, but the non literalists have decided that the words of the father are not the words of God (unless they want them to be). They kept the good part and discarded the bad part. They repeat some of the words, but attach meaning to them that God would have never endorsed. They reject the words that are not flexible enough to contort into something sane. They love the Father in concept, but they forsake the angry lunatic the “inspired” authors of the Old Testament tell us He is. They teach us how the “inspired ones” were inspired to completely misrepresent God, to defame His character, and to propagate ancient lies that even endure into the modern world.
Though their reasoning is pitiful, I still find myself saying: “God bless the non literalists.” Without them the Father’s inquisition mentality would survive today. We can and should use any wisdom we find in the Old Testament where needed. We should not be bound to the tyrannical philosophy of its authors. The words we cull from the Bible become our own, not the Father’s. We humbly deny ourselves proper attribution. The Father inspired the Old Testament authors and He inspires us. We get to decide what it all means, unless of course, Jesus said it, in which case we cannot disregard it, because the word of God is final. The Father, however, was not so articulate.
As the Great non literalist T. Paine once said:
"There is a God, and He thinks just like me!"
Logic: If people can lose their jobs for vile language against gays and women, people should be put in prison for offending the Lord.
Question: Can T.Paine and Burr Deming get JMyste rehabilitated in time?
In response to JMyste's Misty Biblical Morality
John, I have a distinct feeling that I could make a career just arguing point and counter-point with you each and every day, my good friend! (At least until you finally had that inevitable epiphany and came to the full realization that arguing against conservatism, capitalism, and Christianity is simply counter to common sense and ultimately from the truth!) :-) That said, I realize the futility of my arguments against yours at this point in time, as I am certainly not going to change your mind now. Nonetheless, I feel obligated to make at least a few comments in the short time I have available to write.
First, you state, "The non literalist completely creates God in his own image. The literalist tries to follow God, to create Him less." My response to this, while obvious and true to my tortured mind, may upset some folks. Such is definitely not my intention. That said, until Martin Luther came around some 1500 years after Christ, the ONLY Christian church was the one founded by Jesus Christ himself. That church was and is the Catholic Church. Christ placed St. Peter, his apostle, as the head of this new church according to scripture when he said, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)
Peter is thus realized by Catholics as the first leader of Christ's church on earth; the first pope. Now bearing with me please, it was the Catholic Church that determined which books were indeed divinely inspired and warranted being a part of the scriptural canon that became the Bible. That said, many of the teachings of the church were passed down orally and through repetition in practice long before the Bible's existence. Just as a father would teach his trade of carpentry or masonry etc. to his son, so would the apostles pass down the sacraments of the breaking of the bread and the prayers and parables that Christ taught them.
Catholicism by its very nature teaches that scripture is often not meant to be taken literally, particularly as applied to the Torah and the Old Testament. Rather, many of the concepts and stories told there are meant to teach lessons. It is why Christ often spoke in parables to teach lessons in the New Testament. I used the analogy of a child and parent before, which you did an amazing job of finding a few holes in my analogy accordingly. That in no way eradicates my points made, but simply points to the truth that my lack of imagination in coming up with a better analogy was lacking.
Anyway, as I continually digress, let me return to topic and point out that the perhaps in-aptly named "non-literalists" were indeed the ONLY Christians present for a millennia and a half, until Martin Luther threw out certain books of the Bible and re-structured part of the Christian faith into a Protestant schism from the universal Christian church. My point is that if the very church that Christ himself established was never intended to necessarily have a literal interpretation of the tenets of the faith thereof, how can one assume that a literalist interpretation two thousand years later is the correct path and one more faithful to God?
You yourself point out the tortured contortions that the literalist must make in trying to remain faithful to God in obeying and abiding by seemingly contradictory texts and passages due to their lack of understanding or context of the reason for those challenging passages. While it is true that mankind does try to create God in his own image, particularly for many non-literalists, that is not necessarily due to a lack of understanding of what Christ and scripture was intended to convey.
I realize that there is a slippery path here though, when one is inclined to speak for God and what He meant. Indeed the new atheism today seems to manifest itself as, "There is a God, and He thinks just like me!" That is a path I try not to ever start down. If I don't understand something scripturally or supposedly taught by Christ, I don't try to twist it into something different with which I am more comfortable. That is something that many a literalist and non-literalist do attempt though. I try to follow and worship God as He wishes me to do, not as I would like to do. That, I hope, is the difference.
Lastly, I would submit that God, even in the person of the Father, does not hate homosexuals as you asserted. It is not the person, His creation, that God abhors, but rather the sinful actions of the person that God detests. Not unlike someone stricken by a disease or having a propensity for addiction, I think that God gives each of us our own crosses to bear in order that we may turn to him in trying to overcome or learning to live with these things. So too, in my humble opinion, is the case with homosexuality. It is not the sinner that God hates, but rather the sin itself. The task that we as Christians have is not to condemn our brothers and sisters because of the burdens, the crosses, that they bear, but rather to love them anyway, even when they fall into sin as we all do, myself absolutely included.
After all, it is these challenges, these born crosses, that if we are able to overcome through Christ's love and mercy that teach us and strengthen us in courage and spirit. Succumbing to the sin or laying down one's cross without even fighting to struggle forward is where we fail to learn the lesson. After all, like the old saying,: taking the path of least resistance makes for crooked rivers and crooked men.
The guest chaplain, Bradlee Dean, opened the Minnesota legislature with a prayer. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, he closed the prayer thusly:
I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this Chamber and it’s not about the Baptists and it’s not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans. Or the Presbyterians the evangelicals or any other denomination but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus, as every President up until 2008 has acknowledged. And we pray it in Jesus’ name.
The pastor is an anti-gay activist. The reason President Obama is not a Christian seems to be that he does not hate the requisite people. I understand this from personal experience. Someone who had been a life-long friend has not spoken to me in years because I do not share the same hatreds in which every good Christian should partake.
My deepest emotional reason for cringing at the spokespeople often chosen by popular media to represent the Christian faith is that the bigotry expressed is likely to turn away just those folks who otherwise might be most attracted to the actual words of the Prince of Peace. This case was so far off the deep end, even that irritation is not worth feeling. Conservatives did not cheer. The Republican majority leader said the prayer was inappropriate. The House Speaker apologized to the legislature. His words were blunt concerning the pastor. He used the word "denounce."
I respectfully apologize to all members in the Minnesota House of Representatives and all citizens of this state for today’s morning prayer. As Speaker of the House, I take responsibility for this mistake. I am offended at the presence of Bradlee Dean on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. I denounce him, his actions and his words. He does not represent my values or the values of this state.
Most Christians hesitate to read others out of the body of Christ. When Jesus was asked to pass judgment as a crowd gathered to stone a woman to death for adultery, it was a sort of trick posed by literalists to see if he could be pushed into breaking with scriptural law. He calmly suggested that any without sin throw the first stone. The old joke is that the poor sinner was lucky there were no fundamentalist Christians present. It's a bad rap. With a few extremist exceptions, Christians do not feel ourselves to be perfect. We do not expect it in others. And there is enough self-doubt in our ability to divine the faith with precision to allow for diversity of thought. We tend not to presume on what is between a sinner and God. We debate vigorously, but few among us declare others to be non-Christian unless we know.
The determination is pretty easy. We go by self-declaration. My agnostic friend JMyste, with whom I agree on many issues, is a non-Christian because he says he is. My conservative pal, T. Paine, and my fellow leftist, Jack Jodell, say they accept Jesus as their personal savior, which pretty much makes them Christians. There are a host of controversies among Christians, but that is seldom one.
The Republican who arranged for the guest chaplaincy was regretful. He should have checked the fellow's background. He explained "My input was, I’d seen his presentation, he does a good job of talking to students, talking about the Constitution, talking about we need to understand how our country was formed, how important it was to know about the Founding Fathers."
The guest chaplain was all innocence. What, all this over little old me? "I said a prayer. If a prayer starts a firestorm, so be it."
The shocking thing, the neglected part of the controversy still concerns the phrase "as every President up until 2008 has acknowledged". Education levels have gone so far down in this country.
The poll test that was used to keep black folks from voting in Jim Crow days would be brought back if a proposal by Newt Gingrich is accepted. Perhaps it could simply be applied to those wanting to become chaplains of the Minnesota legislature. Especially those who impress legislators while "talking to students, talking about the Constitution."
The first qualification might be that an applicant knows George Bush was President up to January 20, 2009. And maybe whether he hated the correct people while in office.
“The distillation of morality and the law as Christ said was to love God and love your neighbor. If we TRULY were to do both, we would all be living moral lives and the world would know peace finally. Unfortunately every last one of us falls short on this to one degree or another, and I am absolutely included as a huge transgressor. It is for this reason that morality seems to be some amorphous mist which we are unable to grasp and hold on to accordingly.” – T. Paine
I just re-read this. It is very profound and contains an excellent line. I am compelled to adjust it only slightly:
"Morality is an amorphous mist which we are unable to grasp and hold onto accordingly."
That is very well said. I edited it to make it apply more to the modern world. I like it very much now. It is highly quotable and I suspect I will be quoting it often.
I will not plagiarize, though. I will give proper attribution to T. Paine. I will confess that I am borrowing his words with no promise of his intention, but with people the way they are and all, it may end up becoming a known "T. Paine" idea.
I am one man who admires the words, but must use them for my own purpose, which changes the meaning only slightly. If I had lived in a different time and you were a little more famous, the use of a phrase I admire, coupled with proper citing of the thought's originator, would result in the world forever seeing T. Paine's idea on the subject as something other than what it is.
Can you imagine if the same thing were going on 2000 years ago, but with decades, sometimes centuries, of oral tradition separating a quote from the use of a quote by its admirer?
Though it seems I defended the literalists in previous commentary, I was not. I challenged the notion that the non literalists were guilty of anything less than the literalists are. They also believe and quote the words of Jesus, because they like them. They reject selected words of the Father, because they are abhorrent. They accuse the literalists of cherry picking, but the literalists are trying to remain aligned with the teachings of the Father on all the issues they see as the main ones that were important to the Father, such as hating homosexuals. They believe, and I think justly so, that hating homosexuals was more important to God than avoiding wearing the wrong kind of fabric was.
It is true that the literalists cherry pick. The non literalists cherry pick far more than the literalists and they reject far more important ideas than the literalists ever would. My whole position was that the literalists are NOT more hypocritical in the way they practice religion than the non literalists are. They are simpler, more gullible, and probably more faithful in their devotion to God. I think it is all interrelated. The non literalist completely creates God in his own image. The literalist tries to follow God, to create Him less. The non literalist thinks the literalist uses God to justify his hatred of homosexuals. I suspect this could be false. I think some literalists hate homosexuals because they think God does. I think if the Father exists, He hates homosexuals. I am not sure how anyone could draw any other conclusion. Yet, the non literalist will attack this literalist on this issue by trying to show that Jesus loved homosexuals, and since Jesus is God, the literalist must be wrong. There is another, very simple explanation, but neither group will use it. The political council of Nicaea convened by Constantine, not God, was issued the authority to decide the truth themselves. Where is the Book of Constantine in the Bible? Did God give him this authority?
Both groups use the Bible to support what they believe is right. In the case of the literalists, much of their beliefs are inspired by the Bible. I think most of the non literalists’ beliefs are based on “common sense” morality, and they use the Bible to back it up as best as they can.
I am a non literalist. If I were a Christian, I would still be a non literalist. I would not, however, be completely intolerant and reproachful of the literalists for trying to adhere to more of God’s words than I do. I would understand and try to talk them out of it, but if I believed in the Christian God, I would try not to lose respect for someone who believed more of the tale than I accept.
Each group is ultimately doing the best they can to live the way God wants. With all the Biblical contradictions, it is a difficult task to really know what is divinely right. As the great T. Paine once said: “Morality is an amorphous mist which we are unable to grasp and hold onto accordingly."
Don't you have brains enough to see that Paul set the groundwork for Marcion with his faith onlyist bullcrap? Jesus didn't teach that. Jesus was much closer to the Old Testament, and clearly believed in justification by works not faith apart from works.
I have known T. Paine for a long time and I have witnessed him go to intellectual battle against a stack of capable liberals and survive (he is a conservative). He is definitely not short on brains. Admittedly, he chooses to use them supporting nonsense more frequently than we would like.
However, I want to congratulate you on getting it. Paul created the Jesus Christians know. Jesus was a card-carrying Jew and was not a Christian, and I doubt would have ever agreed to become a Christian. Paul was a Christian and would never have endorsed the Jewish religion Jesus observed.
I have long intended to write an article virtually proving this. I never have time. I am always responding to T. Paine and others, and that zaps my supply of creative energy. It is a full time job.
Responding to T. Paine's Two Testaments, One God
I really don’t have the time to commit to a proper rebuttal of your well-written rebuttal of my non rebuttal. I would like to give you an analysis of the New Covenant and the Trinity (which I consider very related), but that would be at least 20,000 words and more time than I have available. I do have a few pithy thoughts, however.
“Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
I thought about mentioning that myself. I decided not to, since those words were probably spoken to defend against specific charges of rebellion and did not really match the tone of the rest of the New Testament.
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus was responding to personal attacks by personally attacking. He was not defending the law. He was attacking the Pharisees while trying to answer their charge that His intention was to overturn God’s law. He had to take this position for political reasons. It was Jesus versus those who attempted to adhere to the laws of the Father.
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
It is kind of like when conservatives say: “You sound like a liberal,” and then continue an attack on some position. “You must be better than Pharisees” is an attack on Pharisees and a defense of the fact that He is not really honoring God’s law. Christians cannot read it that way, because they do not realize that Jesus lived in a very political time. God’s “absolute truth” has not fully tricked down to Christians yet.
Of course, if we believe Jesus claim that He did not come to destroy, but to fulfill the Father’s law, then we are forced back down the path of embracing the Father’s barbarism, which is easy to do because our minds are small and His is really huge.
However, if we understand the political climate in which Jesus lived, it is easy to forgive Him for taking a moment to suspend His message. Today, we would say something like: “and now, these words:” Our political ad would air, and then regularly scheduled programming would resume.
T. Paine says: “As the ancient Jews finally started understanding what God wanted of them and became better at obeying His word, God’s disciplinary hand softened accordingly, just as a human father will do as his children get older and begin to understand the rules. At that point, God began to allow them to make their own mistakes thus allowing them to learn the consequences of their actions.”
God’s second commandment instructs us not to worship graven images. If we do, God threatens not only to spank us, but to spank our descendents for generations. He means “Don’t bow down to false Gods,” or to put it another way, “He will not tolerate freedom of religion.” Later, he orders us not to tolerate freedom of religion either, and to stone anyone who tries to practice any other religion. The God who issued this command would have certainly Stoned Jesus. Before you taught me how God works, the second commandment seemed a little insane. I understand now that God is spanking the first several generations so the latter generations will have the freedom to choose not to make graven images. If T. Paine chooses to make a graven image, he will be spanked for his choice, just as his ancestors were spanked because T. Paine may be inclined to make a graven image and spanking his ancestors gives T. Paine the freedom to choose not to make one.
“In my opinion, God is the ultimate example of good parenting.” – T. Paine.
Now, you state that our bipolar God expressed His “spanking” acts as “the Father.” As “the Son,” God showed greater love and kindness because by then man had matured. You suggest that the Son would have readily endorsed the following spankings and would have considered them just:
1. In Numbers 16, God gets Mad at Korah, and so he kills 250 princes and their whole households. The act of senseless murder angers the “whole” Israelite community, so God orders Moses to kill all of them for protesting, which it would seem was a capital offense. While Moses was walking among the crowd randomly killing them, Aaron burnt some incense, which, of course, absolved them all of Korah’s sin. Only 14,700 innocent people died before the incense reached the Lord’s nostrils and solved the problem. The chapter ends with God letting us know that the 14,700 and the first 250 princes were all that “died because of Korah.” God takes no responsibility whatsoever. Spanking complete.
2. In numbers 31:17, God orders the execution of “all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man.” In verse 18, he orders that the virgins be saved to rape. Spanking complete.
3. In Jeremiah 11:22, God promises this fate for the people of Anathoth: 1. Kill their young men by the sword. 2. Starve all their children to death. When the last child dies in agony, the spanking of Anathoth’s children will be complete.
4. Isaiah 15: “Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated.” Spanking complete.
If I were to tell you that Jesus did these things, you would be shocked and disbelieving. Are we sure the Father is the Son?
Your explanation goes beyond wisdom. Let me summarize, just to make sure I understand:
1. Individual children of God were irrelevant when God was acting as the Father. He had to deal harshly with certain people back then, so people today would have freedom of choice.
2. We know that the Father routinely practiced guilt by association, often torturing children to cause pain to the parents. We accept this because it was necessary in order to give human kind today (perhaps humans in their teenage years), the freedom of choice. People back then were not especially relevant on an individual level. Their purpose was primarily to rear mankind to its current state. We are what really matters. Jesus (in his Father form) tortured, executed and condemned eternally, the biblical pre-humans and their innocent children because they were not ready to “choose to be good,” but they did understand the behaviorist model of reward and punishment. Though their minds were not developed in such a way as to allow them the choice a teenager would have, Jesus would still eternally condemn them for their actions (using His Father Persona).
3. “Little kids must be forced to behave themselves.” We do not mean specific little kids, but human kind in its little kid form. This benighted human only understands pain and suffering. Jesus (in His Father form), therefore tortures and kills innocent people routinely so that this human little kid will see it and become afraid and will act right. The individuals that make up this human toddler are irrelevant where justice is concerned. God needed to prepare the world for self-determined teenagers like T. Paine and He had a long way to go and a short time to get there.
4. In the early years, “God had to be strict and firm in establishing absolute truth.” Absolute truth. It all makes sense now. I will revisit this in context, just to make sure I understand.
You said: “Little kids must be forced to behave themselves, but older children must be allowed to choose, and suffer the consequences for wrongly-made decisions.” You did not say that the younger children were suffering the consequences of their own decisions. As we learn from incidents like those listed above (and from your analysis of why they must suffer), the younger children must be pay for the decisions of those with whom they live. God tortured these children to death so T. Paine would have the freedom to choose not to worship a graven image, thus averting his own torture. It is a difficult concept, but I am learning.
God said: “Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities.” – Isaiah 14:21. Yes! “God had to be strict and firm in establishing absolute truth.”
“I will rise up against them, declares the LORD Almighty. I will wipe out Babylon’s name and survivors, her offspring and descendants, declares the LORD.” – God Isaiah 14. Absolutely!
“God’s seemingly harsh punishments became fewer and further between. He allowed his “teens” to grow by sometimes making the wrong choices, but He was always there guiding them.” In Deuteronomy 17 God guides his pre-teen humans to absolute truth, by ordering their execution if they make a mistake about which God is real:
“Suppose a man or woman among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, has done evil in the sight of the LORD your God and has violated the covenant by serving other gods or by worshiping the sun, the moon, or any of the forces of heaven, which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then that man or woman must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death.”
So, in Deuteronomy 17, God teaches me that the truth is not something you discover, but something that is thrust upon you, by whomever is strongest. If you seek truth instead of believing what you are told to believe, then God will put you to death in a painful way. (Jesus rejected God’s truth and was crucified. Promise fulfilled). God teaches me that he who seeks truth will find death and only he who submits to the will of the government can survive. At the time God was deciding on what the absolute truth is, he was the supreme ruling government. His rule was as certain as the rule of the Greek and Roman gods before him, and also as eternal. People had to acknowledge this and obey, or die.
“As they grew in the maturity of their faith, God’s seemingly harsh punishments became fewer and further between. He allowed his “teens” to grow by sometimes making the wrong choices, but He was always there guiding them.” -- T. Paine.
God did not change His mind. I know this now. The Father administered harsh justice in order to rear the child properly. He showed that if your father sins, there is nothing you can do to avoid punishment. He showed that if the father sins and you cannot adequately torture him alone, then we should attempt to torture his baby if one is available. He showed that if you do everything in your power to live a righteous and noble life, then you will escape His wrath, so long as everyone around you is also living a righteous and noble life. He showed that if you love your neighbor as yourself, and treat your neighbor with kindness, it means nothing. He often orders the execution of your neighbor, your neighbors children, and everyone your neighbor knows. The Old Testament gives us no message more powerful than this: obey God’s word without question, no matter how barbaric. Do not seek justice or truth. It is given to you and your baby will be tortured if you do not take it. Your baby will be tortured if Bob down the street, whom you have never met, does not also take the Father’s spoon-fed truth. Why? Why?! Oh, yeah, because this gives T. Paine the right to choose to commit sin or not commit sin. It’s worth the cost, I suppose.
“Indeed it is not a different or changing God that is seen from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Rather, it was mankind’s growth and change that dictated how God responded to us accordingly, my friend.” – Yes, the well developed, God’s truth-knowing children, crucified God as He preached love and kindness. God did not revert to His harsh tactics though. Even from cross, He knew His plan of switching from austerity measures to tolerance and love had succeeded.
“God had to work with fallen man in a corrupt world in such a way that we would be able to gain an understanding of what He wanted of us.” The Old Testament tells us exactly what He wants from us. The New Testaments tells us something completely different. I think God would have done better if he had left the Old Testament out completely. Indicating that hate, fear and vengeance is the way to live in order to convince us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves was probably a miscalculation on the Father’s part. I don’t think He realized just how little our minds were (and are). My mind is still too small to see how that plan could work. Sounds like a good way to find Oneself fastened to a cross.
It deserves repeating: “God is the ultimate example of good parenting.”
I am an aspiring parent. Based on my new found wisdom, here is my parental plan: If my son spits up I will kill him. I do not like foul infant discharges. That is ok, because he will not be my only child. My first child will suffer that my next child will know my “absolute truth.” It may sound harsh on the surface, but I want to live a life Jesus would have endorsed. I am just developing the truth. The welfare of my first pilot child is not really important. I care about the development and welfare of my children, but not of any specific child.
After killing a good number of children and hanging their dead bodies on my trophy wall, my next child will be sufficiently indoctrinated with terror. Only then will he be able to rise above behaviorism and make decisions on a cognitive basis. I will suddenly switch my methodology and teach him that hurting other people is wrong. He will point to my trophies at first, but I will reprimand him for not accepting my absolute truth. I will tell him, NO! I don’t mean not to hurt those people. I mean we not hurt us. We should love each other and treat one another with kindness, love and tolerance. Torturing those people to death was OK. My child will adore me and the sacrifice my previous children made, that he may choose.
It may sound like a dangerous strategy. I could end up a trophy on my own wall. However, if all goes according to plan, I should end up with a virtuous child in the end, and that makes it all worth it. No sacrifice is too great for my child.
Some less intellectual readers may think that I ought to teach love and kindness to my first child. Fools! If I start out teaching love from the beginning, by the time I have lots of children, I could have a real mess on my hands. I have a good parental model, God himself. I do not dare deviate from His teachings. I cannot. It will anger Him and I would hate to see anything bad happen to my innocent wife.
“You do a disservice to God, Judaism, and Christianity to imply that the old covenant of Judaism was a faith based on a God of rules and fear, while the New Covenant of Christ is all about forgiveness and turning the other cheek.” – T. Paine
Oh, I sincerely apologize. Let me rectify this immediately. Here is my new position: There is no such thing as the “New Covenant” as it is represented by Christianity. It is a fabrication by the early Church. The new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah, simply meant a renewal of the God’s covenant with the Jewish people. The Father ruled with an iron fist for two reasons: the Jewish people who invented Him believed that this was the most effective way to control those in His earthy kingdom; the people who invented Him created Him in their own image, and they were constantly fighting: bitter, bloodthirsty and angry. The Son taught compassion and tolerance for two reasons: He learned that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar and He needed to catch a lot of flies. The people who invented His persona needed to appeal to the Jews and the pagans and Gods tyranny was not going to work; He was probably genuinely disgusted with the teachings of Judaism and did not see the Father’s vision as anything an enlightened people could embrace. I hope this confession of my new opinion adequately restores my service to God, to Judaism and to Christianity. I think it does. If not, I am sure God will understand that I am work in progress, and smite me accordingly. God may still have some leftover absolute truth to dispense, assuming He did not use it all up on earlier victims.
Responding to JMyste's Non-Rebuttal of the Entire Bowl of Cherries
Mr. Myste, I want to address this Old Testament barbaric God versus New Testament loving God argument you keep making. It is something that I have been meaning to address for awhile now and just haven’t had the time to do it.
Your implication that it would be better to throw out the Torah and all of those stifling rules of the Old Testament given by that danged unloving and unyielding God reminded me of Marcion.
Marcion was the son of a bishop and even was a bishop himself back in the mid 100’s A.D. Marcion promulgated a heresy that ultimately caused a schism in the early Christian church because of his teachings. According to one knowledgeable expert by the name of Mark Wheeler to which I was long ago referred,
“Expounding on Paul's characterization of the Mosaic Law as the cause of sin, Marcion desired a Christianity untainted by any elements of Judaism. He saw the God of the Old Testament as cruel and vengeful, an embarrassment and a stumbling block in the evangelization of the Gentiles.
How could the God who commanded adulterers to be stoned be reconciled with the God who let them go free? This was overcome by postulating the existence of two gods. Marcion concluded that the tyrannical Creator-God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, was in opposition to the merciful and loving God of the New Testament.
He began to amass a following in Rome, and in July of 144 he was called before the presbytery to explain his teachings. He steadfastly maintained his dualistic beliefs and was promptly excommunicated. He charged that the Church had erred in clinging to the Old Testament, that the gospel had completely superseded the Torah, and that the apostles, except Paul, had allowed their Jewish notions to corrupt the message of the loving God.”
I submit to you that is an egregious misunderstanding of the New Testament to throw out the Mosaic law of the Old Testament in the assumption that Jesus repudiated that law. Indeed, Christ himself stated, “"Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Mt 5:17).
As for the seeming incongruity between the God of the Old and New Testaments that you note, I would further submit to you that God has always been consistent. He has only adapted his treatment of mankind as we have matured over the centuries though. God’s seeming change in behavior is akin to that of a how a good father acts with his children. When a child is little, much of what they are taught is via positive and negative reinforcement. This is seen in the Old Testament in numerous places in the forms of great rewards and severe punishments for our child-like Jewish ancestors. And not unlike a small child who thinks his world is destroyed when he is justly spanked for some transgression by his father, God’s Old Testament punishments may indeed seem overly harsh to our earthly and human minds.
As the ancient Jews finally started understanding what God wanted of them and became better at obeying His word, God’s disciplinary hand softened accordingly, just as a human father will do as his children get older and begin to understand the rules. At that point, God began to allow them to make their own mistakes thus allowing them to learn the consequences of their actions. By the time the Jewish people had reached the spiritual equivalent of their teenage years, God gave them their final instructions and then gave them the room to leave the nest, as it were. In my opinion, God is the ultimate example of good parenting.
Little kids must be forced to behave themselves, but older children must be allowed to choose, and suffer the consequences for wrongly-made decisions, otherwise they can never truly grow up. God hasn't changed; we have.
Despite all of this seeming harshness to our temporal eyes, God has a reason and a salvific plan for us, therefore in times like in the beginning, God had to be strict and firm in establishing absolute truth.
What I suspect many folks fail to see when reading the Old Testament and the Mosaic law, was that it was absolutely a means of grace for the Israelites and not meant as a strict list of do's and don’ts. In other words, the Mosaic Law was given by God as a means for the Jewish people to recognize their sin and thereby hopefully avoid future sin. As such the Mosaic law was indeed a grace given by God.
Just as a good parent teaches his children right from wrong, so God did with his people. As they grew in the maturity of their faith, God’s seemingly harsh punishments became fewer and further between. He allowed his “teens” to grow by sometimes making the wrong choices, but He was always there guiding them. Indeed it is not a different or changing God that is seen from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Rather, it was mankind’s growth and change that dictated how God responded to us accordingly, my friend. God had to work with fallen man in a corrupt world in such a way that we would be able to gain an understanding of what He wanted of us.
You do a disservice to God, Judaism, and Christianity to imply that the old covenant of Judaism was a faith based on a God of rules and fear, while the New Covenant of Christ is all about forgiveness and turning the other cheek. One can find myriads of examples of warmth, love, joy and celebration of God in the Jewish scriptures of the Old Testament, just as one can find passages describing the incomprehensible majesty and even terror of God in the New Testament. One only needs to open the Bible to the book of Hebrews or Revelation to confirm this, sir.
I can hardly wait to read how you will poke holes through this commentary, John! Cheers, and may the God of the Old AND New Testament bless you, my friend!
(Mr. Deming, hopefully this once again overly-long response won’t be a source of annoyance to you, sir, and you will continue to enjoy this exchange.)
Responding to T. Paine's Morality, Scripture, and Literalism
I don’t actually have a rebuttal for anything you said. It is for the best. Why should I want to rebut? However, if I were forced to at gunpoint, I would say this:
Herodotus, the Father of History, knows that the gods were fearful of man because he heard it from some townspeople in Delphi.
Your explanation is very good. We KNOW what Christ taught because we heard some rumors from men who claimed to be inspired by God. The literalists do not know what the Father thought, because, they merely mistook the word of man as the words of God. Surely the Father was not really that barbaric? Surely He was more like the Son?
I do agree with you that if we only use love as our guide (and the assumed behavior we would expect to accompany it), and throw the Torah out, we do get a good moral guide. Perhaps the rumors are wrong, and Jesus really did distill it to this. Perhaps Jesus thought the Ten Commandments were just a set of false rumor. Perhaps Jesus thought the commandments to keep the holidays he observed were nothing more than a divine message an inspired man garbled 2000 years ago. He did not say “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” He said: “I remember the Sabbath, Holy Moley.”
I do find the rebellious message of Jesus / Paul appealing. Sons always rebel against the words of their Father. I think Jesus held the Torah in high esteem and would not have admitted to throwing any of it out. Literalists try to follow Jesus in this way. They are mistaken, if I understand you, the Torah is not the Torah. It is a rumor about the Torah. The gospels are the gospels, however. We know because we heard it from some townspeople in the Middle East.
In the interest of full disclosure:
Burr is enjoying this entire exchange - - the Owners
Responding to JMyste's Merrily Picking Biblical Cherries
John, I truly admire your intellect as you often challenge my own far beyond its limited capabilities. That said, I will attempt a feeble commentary on your excellent post.
First, as you probably well know, I am a non-literalist in the Roman Catholic rite and tradition. This also means that I reject the notion of many literalists and their dependence on the Bible only for their enlightenment in their attempts to gain Christ’s salvation of them via sola scriptura. This is not meant as a slight, but rather as an explanation of my current level of understanding.
Indeed, it seems incongruous when one considers that most of the Hebrew scriptures in the Old Testament were originally promulgated via oral tradition for untold generations. Further, Christ himself did not write scripture for the Bible. In fact the Gospels, and indeed the entire canon of the New Testament, were written well after His death and resurrection (sometimes by hundreds of years) by His apostles and various disciples that followed. In other words, much of the inspired word of God that is the Bible is the result of oral tradition and teaching, first from the early Jews and then from the early Christians. Consequently, if one were to reject non-literalism and refer ONLY to the literal meaning of God’s word as written in the Holy Bible, one would seem to be dismissing the oral traditions and teachings that were the foundation in the formation of the Bible itself.
Indeed Christ himself often spoke in parables in order to make his points with his teachings; something which doesn’t necessarily often lend itself well to literalism. Further, Christ acted and spoke out against the Scribes and Pharisees who were so worried about following the “literal” word of the Jewish law at the expense of abiding by the spirit of it.
At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I find that the definition of a literalist to be someone that takes scripture literally always, until they find something with which they disagree. Case in point, Christ said in several various places throughout scriptures when the occurrences of the last supper are described as Him having said when breaking bread and giving thanks that, “This is my body given up for you!” This is the reason why Catholicism in all its various rites believes in the real and actual presence of Christ in the Eucharistic feast of the consecrated host. The typical literalist’s response to this is that Christ really didn’t mean that the bread was literally His body and the wine literally His blood. It was just a figure of speech in this case and the celebration of the last supper in church is just a memorial celebration accordingly. A literalist takes scripture literally, until he doesn’t, in other words.
“Here is where the problem comes in: the non-literalists then start talking about what Jesus thought and what God said. They do believe they know, just as the literalists believe they know,” you write. I will be so arrogant as to presume to speak for the typical non-literalist; we “know” (as much as any human is capable of knowing) what Christ said and thought because of the writings, teachings, and traditions in the early Christian church that those who actually walked, lived, and learned at Christ’s feet during his three year ministry taught us, before the Bible was actually written and canonized.
If I wanted to know what the great prophet John Myste thought, I would ask him. Now if Myste had died and gone on to greater glory, I would have ask someone that was a student of his, or perhaps a student of a student and so on, depending on how much time had elapsed since prophet Myste’s leaving of us. This akin to how the early Christian church and scripture was formed. In other words, we know because the disciples of the man we revere, often the very ones who traveled with our God, told us that these were His teachings for us.
Next you write, “You cannot reconcile the Bible with mankind’s current understanding of morality.” Perhaps this is so, and in most ways, I would submit to you that this often more of a failure of mankind’s lack of “evolving” morality rather than shortcoming’s in the Bible on the issue. The distillation of morality and the law as Christ said was to love God and love your neighbor. If we TRULY were to do both, we would all be living moral lives and the world would know peace finally. Unfortunately every last one of us falls short on this to one degree or another, and I am absolutely included as a huge transgressor. It is for this reason that morality seems to be some amorphous mist which we are unable to grasp and hold on to accordingly.
The main objection non-literalists seem to have is that the literalists are narrowly defining God and saying we all have to worship their definition. They then allege that the narrow definition is cherry-picked and point to the portions of God's literal word that the literalists throw out for practical reasons. This implies that the literalists are hypocrites.
I think the argument is very good. However, the counter argument would be that the non literalists also claim to worship God, while admittedly discarding even more of God's words than the literalists do. That would be OK. The words of God are not literal, which is the argument, right? God did not speak them. Man recorded his understanding of whatever God actually said. So far there is no problem.
Here is where the problem comes in: the non-literalists then start talking about what Jesus thought and what God said. They do believe they know, just as the literalists believe they know. Both sides are accepting a portion, but not all, of the reports of God's word. Therefore, both sides are cherry-picking to a degree, so what is the difference?
The difference is that the literalists cherry pick less and they try to reconcile the cherry-picking with the word of God. They try to be true to His words in most cases and they remember the backward ideas that God's word seems to justify, so they hold on to them, even though they are backward. For example, when the literalist despises homosexuals, he really is trying to be true to God's intention. God made his contempt for homosexuals very clear on numerous occasions.
When the non literalist ignores this, he really is trying to shape God into a mold more befitting modern man.
I think the literalist is wrong and cannot win. If it does not bend, it eventually breaks. You cannot reconcile the Bible with mankind’s current understanding of morality. That is the goal of both the literalist and the non literalist. The non literalists simply gave up trying, whereas the literalists still believes. The implication the non-literalist makes is that the cherry-picking literalist is a hypocrite. Ironically, I don’t think this is true. If anything, it is the reverse. The literalist is trying to think like his God did and trying to hold onto the broader ideas his God promoted, such as contempt for homosexuality. The non literalist rejects God's original ideas outright because he knows them to be barbaric.
The non literalist is more enlightened for sure, but he is certainly not less hypocritical than the literalist. The literalist is trying harder to be true to ALL of God’s words. The non literalist follows Paul, who rejected the majority of God’s teaching in favor of a more workable message of tolerance and brotherhood. I agree with what Paul did. However, I find it hypocritical to claim to be a follower of the Father if you refuse to follow Him, and at the same time, to denounce those who claim to be followers of the Father and mostly do follow him, as hypocrites. I don’t mean this as an attack on you, personally, but rather as an attack on the position of the non literalist. In so much as I am a student of Christianity, I am also a non literalist, so I am partially attacking my own position. This is a game I play often.
I can hear it now: “Name one place where Paul disagrees with the Father!” What I have done?
My agnostic friend JMyste critiques my critique on literalists. Kind of a poetic justice in that. His writing is so good, it is usually not worth the effort to summarize. Too much might be lost. So, this time, I won't even try.
Very good article. I love it when you express the silliness of the literalists. But...
There is an old saying: If it can’t bend, it’ll break. Jesus did not start a new religion, but rebelled against the parts of the one He did not like. Paul did help start a new religion, without ostensibly giving up the old one. Paul kept the old God, but threw away His message (the parts he didn’t like), and also brought in a new, fully redesigned God. We say this New God, Jesus, is the same as the Old God, the Father. We must. This was necessary to bring the New God online.
“The literalists of today are not literalists in the sense of following all the strictures of Biblical law.”
No Christians follow Biblical law. The non-literalists follow the part of the Bible that Paul liked and throw out the rest, which is mostly understandable, since the Old Testament was written by maniacs. The literalists are not literalists either, as you repeatedly prove. They choose to keep a greater portion of the Bible than Paul did. The non-literalists find it hard to respect the literalists for picking and choosing, but leaving some of the most patently absurd parts out. They believe the literalists should do like them: pick and choose a smaller sub-set: leave more out, in order to more finely tune the word of God to a philosophy they can accept.
The Father and the Son thought nothing alike. Christians cannot accept that these two entities, if they both exist, disagree about most things. Until Christians can admit this, the whole debate seems a little like a pot and kettle game where denial and sanctimony rule.
Both the literalists Christians and the non literalists Christians reinvent the word of God to match a philosophy they can tolerate. Paul led (and continues to lead) the pack of non literalists). The non literalists are more intelligent about it, admit to knowing less, and so need to make up less. The only thing they know for sure is even though the literalists do overlook some of the most absurd statements in the Bible, they are adhering way too closely to the only documented word of God we have, the hypocrites.
I can see my friend's point of view, I think. He believes Christian literalists and those of us who read the Bible as inspired writing have equally invalid positions. Both pick and choose which scriptures to accept. Conservatives accuse non-literalists of exactly this, terming it "Cafeteria Christianity."
I am not uncomfortable with the terminology. Each of us has a different set of spiritual needs, joined by a common separation from our true home with God. Different parts of the Bible address those different needs at different points in life.
I imagine spirituality as analogous to a fine restaurant. Three of us enter together. I look at the menu and find the selections that will fit my hunger and my medical dietary needs. My friend JMyste refuses to look at the menu, since he sees it as useless fiction. He wonders aloud if the establishment itself is really there.
A literalist takes his seat. He glares at both JMyste and me. Then, to our astonishment, he eats the menu.
He was not crucified by scriptural literalists. He was not crucified by the religious authorities installed by the occupiers. Jesus was executed by the Roman occupation force after a Kabuki dance interaction with a Jewish crowd ordered up by Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the fifth Prefect of the Province of Judea, more ruthless by quantum leaps than his predecessors.
The notion of Pilate being bullied by a Jewish crowd is a little silly on the face of it. There had once been a crowd who really did appear before the prefect to petition him. The large, peaceful group begged him to relent his harsh treatment of the people. Pilate had the crowd infiltrated by his agents. On signal they drew clubs and slaughtered the unarmed protestors around them. Some of the crowd escaped. More were killed in the mad rush to get away.
After many such incidents, Pilate had been summoned to Rome. The Emperor himself told the man that the next blood spilled in that captive territory would be Pilate's own. Given the brutality of the Roman state, the warning was extraordinary. And it puts in context the necessity of being able to demonstrate his own lack of culpability. "I am innocent of this man's blood; you will see," he later yelled to a paid-for crowd as he washed his hands before having Jesus killed.
Pilate may well have been angered by the calculated affronts by this preacher from the outskirts. By tradition, on the Jewish Passover, the governor would enter Jerusalem surrounded by a military force. This would demonstrate the supremacy of Rome, the military power that stood at the ready, and the tolerance and encouragement of local religious ceremonies. But on that final celebration before the execution of Jesus, there was a counter demonstration. As Pilate entered in grand style from one side of the city, this preacher entered on a donkey from the other. Adoring crowds screamed their loyalty to him, for Jesus was becoming quite popular. It had to have seemed a deliberate insult to Pilate himself.
But Jesus was not the target of Pilate alone. Religious authorities felt his challenge, and literalists of the day were outraged that he would violate Holy Scripture in the name of God.
This last historical fact seems to escape literalists of today. His followers broke laws about gathering grain on the Sabbath, the same holy day he broke himself, healing the sick he could have healed another day. It was a direct violation.
He seemed to be assuming the power to interpret spiritual law himself, relying, he said, on two founding principles: love God, and love your neighbor. He actually seemed to be relying on principles that were above the scriptures, as if the scriptures were subordinate to more important, more directly God-governed laws. He was not there to destroy the law, he said, but to fulfill it. Later, the Apostle Paul was even more direct. All law is founded on love. With love, all law is fulfilled.
And so, the collaborators, the literalists, the authorities, and the occupiers conspired. They recruited a crowd designed to make Pilate look less like the blood thirsty vampire Rome believed him to be. "We will have no King but Caesar," was the unlikely shout that no real Jewish gathering would have produced. And, so, the "reluctant" Pilate released Barabbas and ever so sorrowfully sent Jesus to be tortured and killed. What else could he do?
The literalists of today are not literalists in the sense of following all the strictures of Biblical law. They don't condemn people who eat shellfish, an abomination in Leviticus. They don't keep short people or those with poor eyesight from approaching the altar, as Deuteronomy demands. They don't execute children who mouth off to their parents. They don't sell their daughters to new masters with a money back guarantee as Exodus instructs. It doesn't even take interfering liberals to prevent all that. These are part time literalists, picking and choosing their scriptures. Biblical law applies to those they hate.
Like gay people.
Today's literalists are having a rough time of it. Just this week the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted to allow gay people to be ordained. They are not alone. They follow in the footsteps of the Episcopal Church. Others may soon follow. Michael Youssef speaks for many conservatives. "These denominations have chosen darkness, and they need to experience what true darkness is all about by not having any believers inside their walls." And that is what Dr. Youssef believes "true darkness is all about": having no followers to dote on every word.
He quotes scripture to back him up. He has several passages to choose from, beginning with Leviticus (no, not the part about shellfish). Oddly, he picks one about some fellow sleeping with his step mother. "To modify slightly the words of the apostle Paul," he begins this scriptural cite.
Many of us believe the Bible is an inspired work, inspired by God, written by flawed humans, limited by their own understanding. Although they got a lot of it wrong, prayer, meditation, study, and sober contemplation can reveal much to the faithful follower.
Dr. Youssef, however, has no need for all that. He can take scripture and "modify slightly" to make his point. He is, after all, a busy man: a literalist.
"If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat," says our conservative friend T. Paine, as he quotes Article Twelve of the 1936 Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In the U.S.S.R. work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: "He who does not work, neither shall he eat."
It was not the first time the words appeared in Soviet literature. Vladimir Lenin regarded it as the first principle of socialism and it figured prominently in the fifth chapter of his 1917 book the State and Revolution. Lenin was quoting from Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians from which, in fairness, T. Paine was also attempting to borrow.
Lenin knew, as it would seem our friend does not, that, as we are taught in the Acts of the Apostles, early Christian communities were organized as communes. In fact, the phrase "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" most probably originated with those early adherents to our faith. This may have been one of several reasons Christianity survived, and eventually thrived, in an increasingly hostile Roman world. Paul reacted to those would-be aristocrats who were too gentlemanly to get their hands dirty. Lenin regarded them as capitalistic bourgeoisie. Captain John Smith encountered a similar problem in early Jamestown, when former "gentlemen" from England were too good to toil. As with Paul, this was a matter of practicality, not value.
One key difference, of course, between the Apostle Paul and the Communist Vlad was that Paul saw intrinsic worth in every individual person. Vladimir saw human worth as inexorably dependent on productivity. In fact, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx joined him, explicitly rejecting the Christian formulation, changing it: "to each according to his contribution."
The change away from early Christianity was applauded in those days by Communists, today by Republicans.
It was not always like that with conservatives. It is true they tended toward active hostility to those starving to death along roadsides during the Great Depression and even in later years. It was unremarkable in those days that a teenaged Dick Nixon would be photographed at a school event in old clothes and darkened cheeks, a caption congratulating him on his appearance as "a bum." But Republicans also went through a Jack Kemp period not too many decades ago. Programs to help those in desperate need were greeted as well meaning but mistaken. There were, they said, better approaches. Kemp himself pushed for assistance but with incentives, regarding those who needed help as deserving a more thoughtful, responsible effort.
Today, the old conservative pattern reemerges, unfazed by actual conditions. When those actively seeking work number 6 times the number of open jobs, our friend discards the evidence. He knows the score, having been instructed by tales of long ago told to him by his mother-in-law. It seems she once worked in an unemployment office. We cannot temporarily rescue the many desperate for work for fear of contributing to the delinquency of the few who might latch on.
Other conservatives do not need even that wafer thin veneer of evidence. "Is the government now creating hobos?" asks Representative Dean Heller (R-NV). Representative Steve King (R-IA) dismisses the social safety net as having turned "into a hammock." They are not at all alone in this new overt hostility. The unemployed are all suspected drug users who should all be tested, says one Senator.
Even the very sick are open to attack. Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) articulates the new conservative theology as he regards Medicaid recipients. “We have people pull up at the pharmacy window in a BMW and say they can’t afford their co-payment.” Now, a couple with one child in Mississippi can't qualify for Medicaid if they earn more than $8,150 a year. A used, very old, BMW might be gotten for about $4000.00 if you scour the state, someone checked. So, if a recipient earned the top amount and spent half their income, they could get an old, beat up BMW, although they would also be arrested for child neglect.
Republicans have always promoted policies that hurt folks. Sometimes they even quote scripture to back it up. We ought to be used to it. What is renewed, listen here Mr. Paine, is the open hostility, and a value system that says human worth itself is measurable only economically.
Paul's letter to the Thessalonians notwithstanding, Jesus had a few things to say about wealthy folks and poor folks. As Al Franken once said, before he began running for office and had to watch himself: "From what I understand, if you cut out all the passages in the Bible where Jesus talks about the poor, about helping out the least among us, you'd have the perfect container to smuggle Rush Limbaugh's drugs in."
One sign of the acceleration of the Republican Party to the right is their evolving public attitude toward those needing help. GOP policies have always been hostile, but the public face had, at times, trended toward a kinder, gentler, compassionate conservatism.
There have, since the beginning of conservatism, been variations of the same comfortable myths. Non-existent welfare queens collect astonishingly excessive welfare payments through brazen fraud. That such stories were untrue did not deter those who told them. Welfare Cadillac was requested when Richard Nixon hosted Johnny Cash in 1972. Cash refused.
But such attitudes represented a caricature of the conservatism of the last quarter of the 20th century. Most national politicians tried to avoid the image, insisting they actually wanted to help folks down on their luck. They just wanted to do it more thoughtfully, more responsibly.
In fact, Jack Kemp devoted himself to finding conservative solutions to poverty and unemployment. He described himself as a "bleeding-heart conservative" and his rhetoric matched the description. "To his credit," said the New York Times, "he may have brought more zeal to America's poverty problems than any national politician since Robert Kennedy. Kemp may be the only official to have won standing ovations in black ghettos by calling for a capital gains tax cut."
Kemp was never representative of conservatives in general. His political base remained small. Still, enough conservatives bought the "bleeding heart" part to make them palatable to political moderates. Robert Dole chose Kemp as his Vice Presidential candidate when he ran against President Clinton in 1996.
The rhetoric, the ideas, and the bleeding are gone today. Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) describes Medicaid recipients with his own myths. “We have people pull up at the pharmacy window in a BMW and say they can’t afford their co-payment.” Uh huh.
Working mothers are also a target. Head Start should be eliminated because it violates Biblical principle. “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families," says Paul Smith, (R-MD). "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” Kirby DeLauter (R-MD) agrees and adds, “education of your kids starts at home, okay? I never relied on anyone else to guarantee the education of my kids.”
Other political figures have similar thoughts about unemployed workers. "You basically keep an economy that encourages people to, rather than go out and look for work, to stay on unemployment." "In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work." "Is the government now creating hobos?" "We shouldn't turn the 'safety net' into a hammock."
This is not about policy. Conservatives have always been able to find arguments, however unlikely, to justify harsh policies without making it personal. It used to be "for your own good" or even "it hurts me but it's necessary." The new approach is hostility. Mothers who work are neglectful, those who don't are lazy. As lazy as workers who have been working for decades but now find themselves unemployed. The ill are faking it.
The philosophy itself has been around since Atlas Shrugged. Although I suspect most Republicans, even most Tea Party folks, have never heard of her, the underpinnings come from Ayn Rand. She viewed human worth itself to be measurable by economic productivity. Children, the unemployed, the ill are without worth unless they find a way to be productive.
Rand saw the contradiction between her measurement of worth and religious values taught to us as children. That is one reason she was unalterably hostile to Christianity, indeed to any religion. Her devotion to militant atheism remains an important part of the movement she began: "Objectivism."
Jesus teaches the intrinsic worth of every human being. That worth is inalienable, without addition or detraction by deeds. Or production. Republicans have not yet gotten to a rejection of Christianity specifically and all religion generally. That may come later. Right now, they are still wrestling with what is becoming a rejection of the intrinsic value of people.
Most of us are familiar with at least some form of soft attack. "I love you but..." just before the breakup. Or "Some of my best friends are black but..." just before some racial slur. Sometimes the soft attack is heartfelt. Conservatives have had an uneasy relationship with General David Petreaus over the years. When he seemed to be on the verge of becoming a Bush/Cheney partisan in 2004, he was embraced. But he since has had a bad habit of pointing out obvious truths. That burning the Quran tends to put American soldiers in danger from inflamed locals. That Afghanistan did not have important elements in place for a successful effort during a Bush administration preoccupied with Iraq. And, most recently, that torture does not work, is counter-productive, and is morally wrong.
"Petraeus is a hero to many for his bold leadership of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan—and I count myself among his most ardent admirers in this regard," says conservative Mark Thiessen. Can you sense where Thiessen is going next? "He might well have been an outstanding chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But..." The "but" is that General Petreaus opposes the use of torture. And he is about to be put in charge of the CIA.
Thiessen uses a peculiar form of what he imagines to be a reductio ad absurdum argument in his own soft attack on General David Petraeus. If Petreaus is critical of the use of torture, then he must believe torture has occurred. If that is true, then Americans assigned to fight terrorism must be guilty of criminal acts. Since that sort of criminality is not what those who defend our nation would do, Petraeus is wrong, wrong, wrong.
When Petraeus declares that CIA officials did so, he is effectively calling them war criminals. That is not encouraging to the men and women he may be about to lead.
The we-are-not-criminals-so-what-we-do-can't-be-a-crime reasoning uses the desired conclusion to interpret evidence. Similar Queen-of-Hearts thinking informs much of conservative argument. Global warming, economic theory, military policy, attacks on President Obama's eligibility for office, and now the definition of torture apply a uniform logic. We have the verdict, now let's see what evidence might fit.
Conservatives criticize Obama for his soft approach to terrorism. Then evidence is produced that the number of terrorists killed has gone up dramatically as local populations disclose their locations. So conservatives criticize the President for killing terrorists rather than capturing them and producing information. When evidence is produced showing that the number of terrorists captured has also increased, the attack moves on. Obama is soft on captured terrorists because he will not allow them to be tortured. Since it now appears that more usable information is being extracted than ever before, conservatives become more creative.
Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, endorses water boarding on purely utilitarian grounds. It has worked ever since it was introduced during the Spanish Inquisition. "I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work."
He is correct. Once torture was introduced during the inquisition, the number of confessions to witchcraft dramatically increased. And that is not the only historical proof that torture works. If you want to generate confessions, and you don't much care if they are true, history shows the way. If you want usable information, experts say there are better interrogation techniques.
It is a sad, sad fact that a substantial number of Christians, at a slightly greater rate than non-Christians, endorse torture as a matter of principle. It is human nature to strike out at those we hate. And whom do we hate more than those who target the most vulnerable?
It is easy for us, too easy, to torture our own faith, our own principles.
A few weeks ago, the Obama administration's legal experts at the Department of Justice determined that the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, is unconstitutional. That meant not only that prohibiting gays from marrying is morally wrong, but that it is legally indefensible for one state to deny a gay marriage performed in another state. The legal argument comes in two parts. One is kind of technical. The other is really, really technical, esoteric to the point of becoming arcane.
The technical part is actually clear as crystal. The US Constitution has a provision that says arrangements made under the laws of one state have to be honored in all states. It's called the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Ever lie awake at night worrying about why so many companies are incorporated in Delaware? Yeah? Then you probably have problems that cannot completely be addressed here. But let's at least remove that one issue from the nocturnal meanderings of your restless mind. Delaware taxes corporations at such a low, low rate that establishing a corporation in those borders is very advantageous to profit making enterprises, even if they do no business at all in Delaware. In fact, it's a steal. Delaware makes a lot of money by engaging in what pastors call sheep stealing. Other states would grind their teeth in anger over it, if they had teeth. But there is nothing they can do about it. The Full Faith and Credit Clause would hit them between the eyes if they tried.
A few decades ago, several states made it against the law for interracial couples to marry, a legal status quo ante a plurality Republicans in Mississippi want us to return to. Before that sort of discrimination was outlawed by the feds, such states were compelled to respect interracial marriages between couples originally married in another state. "You can't do that in these parts," racists said. Interracial couples answered "Full Faith and Credit. So there." Racists said, "Huh?" then burned crosses and lynched some folks. But, hey, the law is the law. And federal troops can be pretty tough. So the arc of the moral universe was helped by the same Constitution that once protected slavery.
Fast forward to 2011, where the legal folks at the Justice Department told the Obama administration about Full Faith and Credit. They pointed out that it meant DOMA is unconstitutional. Technical, but real clear law.
The other argument, the Ethereal Cereal that obscurity eats for breakfast, holds that the definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" are problematic. Attorney General Holder issued a stirring declaration that will ring through all of American jurisprudence. "...given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny," and defining a spouse as a member of the opposite sex "fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional." Wow. Gay activists were joined by people of good will in celebrations and marches, as a new contrapuntal chant was joyfully sung:
"What do we want?"
"A more heightened standard of scrutiny!"
"When do we want it?"
In essence, Holder was telling us that you can't just deprive someone of a basic right without some compelling reason. And that reason had better be seriously compelling.
The Obama administration is obligated to decline to defend a law it has determined to be unconstitutional. But Congress can take on the defense itself. In fact, a lot of conservative groups demanded exactly that. The Southern Baptist Convention was typical, urging Congress to instruct "its own legal team to take up the administration’s vacated role in defense of DOMA in the federal courts."
Problem here is the argument was too hard for the Republican Leadership's own legal team to make. The most seriously compelling reasons are:
- It's tradition, and we cannot change tradition no matter who gets hurt.
- God told us to condemn gays right there in Leviticus, right next to where it says to kill disobedient kids.
It would take some extraordinary legal talent to make those arguments into compelling reasons to deny basic rights. The Republican legal team simply wasn't up to it. So they hired outside help. They didn't settle for big guns. They went with the Guns of Navarone in legal talent. The firm of King and Spalding is the mushroom cloud of legal representation, an international partnership operating in the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The Republican leadership hired them for a cool half million dollars. It was worth it. These pinstripes can argue that a house fly is actually a flying house and make it stick in court.
But yesterday, King and Spalding gave it up. They announced they just can't do it. The very best and brightest of shyster lawyers aren't up to it. They simply cannot make the necessary presentation in court.
Not without laughing out loud.