In 1891, a magazine called Youth's Companion hired Francis Bellamy to help with a promotion aimed at selling American Flags to public schools. The Civil War was still a vivid memory and the idea went beyond a business scheme.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
It seems clear the pledge was a reference to national unity and the defeat of state secession. A few months later, Bellamy added another "to" to the pledge for the sake of grammar and clarity, I suppose.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The pledge was to be spoken with a straight arm salute and it quickly became popular. Bellamy later wrote that he considered adopting the slogan of the French revolution into the pledge: Liberty, equality, fraternity which, he said, "meant so much to Jefferson and his friends." He rejected it as too lofty, too far off to realize for thousands of years. So he settled on "liberty and justice for all."
During World War II, Americans didn't much like the way the straight arm resembled Hitler's Nazi salute. So it was replaced by the hand over heart salute we use now.
In 1954, Congress added "under God" to the pledge. It took some adults a while to get used to the change. I remember growing up with a sort of informal transition as those leading the pledge kept screwing it up, leaving out the "under God" part. Sometimes, more than 50 years later, some still manage to mangle it. A conservative acquaintance once wrote in a chat room about how unpatriotic we liberals are. We don't even respect the Pledge of the Legions.
Most mistakes aren't quite that basic. Occasionally someone leaves out the under God. That's about it, and even that's rare. This recently happened on national television during a montage presentation of the pledge at the beginning of an important golf tournament.
"We began our coverage of this final round just about three hours ago, and when we did it was our intent to begin the coverage of this U.S. Open championship with a feature that captured the patriotism of our national championship being held in our nation's capital for the third time," announcer Dan Hicks told viewers. "Regrettably, a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance that was in that feature was edited out. It was not done to upset anyone, and we'd like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it."
Here in Missouri the leading Republican candidate for the Senate, Congressman Todd Akin, attacked NBC and liberals in general.
Well, I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they’ve had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country.
One of the temptations that seems occasionally to afflict conservatives is the exaggeration of patriotism into hyper-jingoism and the denigration of non-conservatives as unpatriotic.
Something similar can come into our faith. Every once in a while we witness a conservative Christian reading others out because of insufficient conservatism. Jesus loves you and joins in your hatred of Obama and gay people. I don't encounter it much among even my most conservative brethren, but it does happen. And we see it pretty much all the time on television.
Congressman Akin does seem to succumb to both temptations in a single statement. It is an unfortunate habit. The main danger is not that conservatives who join us in faith believe Akin and are encouraged to newer, higher levels of intolerance. It is that some young folks may believe the good Congressman. Being of good will, having compassion toward others, these are the very people who might be most sympathetic if they could hear the words of Jesus undiluted by ideological passion.
We might start with the truth about the writer of the same Pledge that Representative Akin ostentatiously defends. Francis Bellamy was an ordained minister who regarded himself as a Christian Socialist. That's what they called liberals back in the 1800s. Francis Bellamy was a liberal.
You know ... one of us possessed with "a hatred for God", a Baptist minister with a "long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country."
Not at all like Mr. Akin.
It is certainly not impossible for a fundamentalist Christian organization to violate the Ten Commandments. Examples are easy to find. We don't even need to go back to Jim Bakker's PTL club, although our search can end there. It can be argued that the sex scandal was not organizational, being the downfall only of individuals. But the organizational defrauding of loyal contributors would seem to be a violation of the prohibition against stealing.
In some interpretations of the Talmud, this is actually a commandment against kidnapping, not against the taking of anything material. This might leave some evangelic organizations in the clear, except for more earthly authority, like Chuck Grassley (R-IA) or the the IRS (Pitbull from Hell).
Lesser offenses like false witness are more common. They just carry fewer civil penalties when directed against public figures. When President Obama was still candidate Obama, he was accused by angry evangelicals of distorting the beliefs of conservative professional Christian James Dobson. Obama had suggested that Christians of good will could have differing interpretations of scripture. Here was the Obama libel:
And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount -- a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our Bibles now. Folks haven't been reading their Bibles.
It was the only reference Obama made to Dobson in the disputed speech. To be fair, those false-witness conservatives were not speaking for Dobson's organization. And it should not be surprising that conservatives can be inflamed by political passion into distortions that occasionally cross the line into falsehood. But Dobson himself accused Obama of ... well ... having an incorrect interpretation of the Bible. Okay, actually, Dobson went a little farther. Obama had deliberately distorted Biblical teachings. Well, this could be defended as an innocent misinterpretation by a rigid old man. Or it could be dismissed as a violation of the 9th Commandment by an individual, rather than an organization.
What about when an organization lies about policy debate? Would that count as false witness?
Dobson's organization, the Family Research Council, recently did a Breitbart style editing job on a document issued by the Congressional Budget Office. They put ellipses to clip out part of the document in order to change the meaning. They were attempting to reinforce their position on morality, that work on reducing debt must never ever reduce tax breaks for the extremely wealthy. The part they edited out is highlighted:
To restore investors' confidence, policymakers would probably need to enact spending cuts or tax increases more drastic and painful than those that would have been necessary had the adjustments come sooner.
They then omitted completely the words immediately following:
To keep deficits and debt from climbing to unsustainable levels, policymakers will need to increase revenues substantially as a percentage of GDP, decrease spending significantly from projected levels, or adopt some combination of those two approaches.
The CBO then cautioned against acting too quickly while the economy is still in recovery. This was also left out by the Dobson organization.
Making such changes while economic activity and employment remain well below their potential levels would probably slow the economic recovery.
Here is the CBO document. And here are the Dobson organization claims. The altered bit that was left in was placed within a series of quotes from prominent Republicans so that it seemed to validate their veracity.
Certainly this is is an example of false witness. But is false witness always against God's word? The commandment, in most translations, reads "Do not bear false witness against your neighbor." This would seem to exclude lying that is not against someone. The classic hypothetical case involves lying to Nazi authorities looking for hidden Jews.
And truth telling is not always right, Wikileaks notwithstanding. When Tom Foley (R-FL) was outed for making sexual advances to young boys serving as Senate Pages, angry conservatives published the youngsters' home addresses in retaliation for tattling. When two seriously ill children, siblings, survived with the help of a government program, they served as examples of why the program needed expanded funding. Fox contributor Michelle Malkin defended the publishing of their address and driving directions to their home. Both times, conservatives were completely truthful. In both cases, the conservative ethic was reprehensible.
Some translations of the Ten Commandments show the prohibition against false witness as applying only to formal testimony in a legal forum. This interpretation would liberate even Andrew Breitbart clones. Lying is okay, even smearing innocent people. God does draw the line at perjury.
It could be that religious conservatives violate none of the Ten Commandments when they lie, smear, or publish the home addresses of children. There may indeed be divine loopholes. Besides, they believe themselves to be untruthful in the service of the Lord.
But the case they are making, and conservatism itself, may be seen more skeptically if they do not have enough confidence in their beliefs or themselves to defend that case honestly.
When Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) holds a prayer event in a couple of months, non-Christians apparently will not be excluded. They will, in fact be explicitly invited. News reports say people of all faiths “who will feel the love, grace and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall,” should come. Presumably that is a hope rather than a commitment.
The reasonable interpretation, the one offered by some reports, is that the invitation to others is evangelical. Come and we will convert you. The image that comes is a cartoon visit to a church. As the non-Christians leave, the cry begins and is picked up by the extremely friendly congregation: "The heathens are getting away!" My experiences in churches were quite different, before I became a Christian, but that is the image portrayed by popular media.
It is an exaggeration of a lessor tendency. The premise of some encounters is that they should be a one-sided conversation. Why listen to other views, or even to questions, if you have the one-size-fits-all answer? It is the sort of encounter that many will tend to greet with all the enthusiasm most of us would show at a visit to a beehive. That other faiths, or those with no faith at all, might be regarded with respect is a foreign idea to some.
That is not always the approach. A large church in the Kansas City area sells in their bookstore works by noted atheists on the order of Richard Dawkins. Their invitations to those who do not believe in God have been for the purpose of dialogue. Their own predisposition is apparent, but they do not require it of their guests. Most striking is their willingness to listen and consider, if not accept. They have grown from a church to a mega-Church.
The Rick Perry approach is opposed by some as a matter of principle. People for the American Way have been among the critics:
Gov. Perry has every right to practice his own faith, but he has no right to use his official position to try to convert others.
I don't think the Governor crosses that line. Public officials are also private citizens. They should not only be free to practice faith, but to proclaim it as well. People for the American Way have a second observation that does concern me, although my concern may come from a different direction. Perry has intimately involved noted firebrand Bryan Fischer in his project.
Fischer’s unabashed bigotry is on full display throughout his writings and on-air rants. His entire career is based on leveling venomous attacks against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans, progressives and other individuals and groups he detests. He wants to redefine the Constitution to protect only Christians, persecute and deport all American Muslims, prohibit gays and non-Christians from holding public office and impose a system of biblical law.
While Fischer’s views are undeniably shocking, what is most disturbing is his growing influence within not only the Religious Right but also the Republican Party.
They have a point. Fischer does not disguise his various hatreds. And he does indeed want to redefine the Constitution.
Certainly, we should work to protect basic American freedoms as the GOP lurches out of the mainstream. But I am comforted by the larger trend. The end result for our nation may well be improved as the Republican party, cloaked in the comforting cocoon of FoxNews and right wing radio, marches itself off the electoral cliff.
But what strikes me as more damaging is that Fischer, and those of similar mind, want to redefine our faith to incorporate their deepest hatreds. Those who should be most attracted to the radical message of love from the Prince of Peace are the very ones most likely to be repulsed as it is distorted into a message of hate.
Popular media join in an unwitting ad hoc alliance, generated by a lust for ratings, as they push forward those who hate as representatives of the faith. Governor Perry strikes me as joining the alliance in a more calculated way.
His lust is for conservative votes.
It was in a chat room a few years ago. A pompous, judgmental personality was busily condemning those who were not professed Christians. Of those who were Christians, many were condemned for not holding the right hatreds. "Apostasy" was a favored word.
Chat rooms are often dens of overstatement and bravado. Anonymity allows a level of daring that polite company might otherwise inhibit. His boasts were, at least in part, an attempt to goad his opponents into anger. For him, an insufferable persona was a weapon.
So I began posting. I asked him if he took full credit for his evident moral superiority. No, he responded, he was much too humble to accept full credit. I speculated how grateful he must be.
BurrLand: You must offer prayers of gratitude fairly often.
Mr. Z: I am grateful that I can pray in humility.
BurrLand: Not like others of inferior morality.
Mr. Z: yes, the inferior do resent my greatness.
And so I posted an obvious scripture from the Gospel of Luke:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
What held my interest was Mr. Z's furious answer. It was as if my screen was about to be flecked from the inside with angry spittle. As a Christian, I had no right, no right at all, to use scripture for the unholy purpose of rebuking a fellow Christian.
I am reminded of that indignant reaction of years ago by a couple of appearances, both on television, by self-proclaimed Christian historian David Barton. Barton famously holds to the discredited belief that the founding fathers intended the United States to be an explicitly Christian nation. One famous tactic by the relentless Mr. Barton is the partial quote. He often quotes a passage written by John Adams which proves that Adams wanted Church and State to be intimately involved.
The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered, but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop upon the heads of candidates for the ministry. ... There is no authority, civil or religious; there can be no legitimate government, but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it; all without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.
Well, there you have it. Adams really objected to any separation of Church and State! Right?
Except for one little detail. Adams was summarizing a view to which he was opposed. In fact he thought it was kind of silly. Two sentence Mr. Barton likes to leave out immediately follow the misleading passage he likes to quote. Adams laments that weak and ignorant people believe the view he just summarized, the view Mr. Barton says Adams believed. The weak minded, says Adams, believe it so much they would be willing to face the executioner's ax or be burned at the stake for what he regards as a silly artifact.
Although this is all artifice and cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lie down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagot for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe human nature.
Mr. Barton does to the historical record what Andrew Breitbart does to video tapes of innocent people. The fellow, not to put too fine a point on it, falls short of the truth. On television, interviewed by Jon Stewart, he protested that he could not possibly be misleading anyone, because the original letter can be found on his website by anyone who looks enough to drill down to it. The interview was exceptional. For the most part, no mention of the inconvenient sentences are to be discovered in his public pronouncements.
But now he comes up with another tale. The founding fathers, he insists, rejected Darwin's theory of evolution. Oh my. It is true that some form of the idea of natural selection goes back to Aristotle, but it was not accepted or even widely discussed in scientific circles until the second half of the 1800's. That is because, until Darwin, scientific evidence simply hadn't been gathered. Mr. Barton insists a full Evolution vs Creation Science debate took place during original Constitutional deliberations.
Many of us oppose mixing up religion with government support for a simple reason that goes beyond Mr. Barton's parsing of words. It is simply unfair to use government to support religion. Religion should be voluntary. Period.
But the tolerance of some Christians for demonstrable falsehood is still jarring. The ethic seems to be that of my chat room buddy, Mr. Z. Christians should never call other Christians on the carpet when a lie is told in the service of the Lord.
In response to T. Paine's Bats vs. Nukes - A Fair Fight
Are you sure it was the Unarmed Man that defeated the Roman Empire? I seem to remember something about Goths and Vandals.
As for Mr. Deming's provocative methods, it's OK, because you were and I were intellectual rivals long before you were a twinkle in Mr. Deming's eye.
As for your bat and its use, I am impressed. It would have worked if I had nuke. It turns out I had nukes and your whole supply of bats is now part of a cloud of debris.
I am pleased as more Christians join the scientific debate and try to support their faith with scientific arguments. Their arguments are huge targets that they are ill-equipped to defend. To speak in terms of Mixed Martial Arts, it is like a boxer who has never heard of Jujitsu trying to out fight a well-rounded mixed martial artist. He lasts a few seconds. He would have a chance if the mixed martial artist would stand and box. The boxer hears of jujitsu, looks up a kimura. It is very technical and the theist cannot execute it, but he tries. The jujitsu artist is delighted as he tells the vanquished boxer that he should have stuck with boxing.
I know I have said this before, but Paul’s vision was a religion based on brotherly cultish love and faith. You cannot challenge it with reason, so it is indestructible. When we deviate from that plan, we run the risk of derailing a religion that has stood for a few thousand years. You cannot convert a successful faith into a successful science; moreover, you should not want to.
In response to Burr Deming's Jesus Catching the Wave
Ah Burr, you are exceedingly clever, sir! Mr. Myste, you of course realize what Mr. Deming is doing with his excellent and yet goading article towards us here, don't you?
Burr, let me start by saying that, like you, I am horrified at the thought of Christ "walking on driftwood" or other such nonsense to explain the miracle of him walking on water. If one accepts the premise that Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity and therefore God, how small one's understanding must be of our Lord to think that the God that created all things and is beyond and outside of time could not possibly walk upon the Sea of Galilee simply by choosing to do so.
That said, there are absolutely mysteries of our universe that are becoming more and more understandable to our limited human minds where science does indeed explain what faith teaches us in the creation of all that is. Myste is correct that I have indeed argued that science and God are absolutely compatible and indeed one helps to explain the other often times. If I may be so boorish, here is a link to my blog on just such a topic: http://savingcommonsense.blogspot.com/2011/02/duality-of-god-and-science-in-creation.html Somehow, I was still unable to convince JMyste of the existence of a Divine Creator though.
As for that whole "love thing" that Christ teaches, well that was the very purpose of his coming to be with us on earth as fully man and fully God. He spoke of and taught us that we should indeed love our neighbor regardless of whether he is a Jew or Gentile, and I would submit that this absolutely applies to Muslims and gays as well. Indeed, are we not all creatures of God that are endowed with His divine spark, whether we each choose to acknowledge it or not?
Now, John Myste, I find myself chuckling at your analogy of a debate between Atheism and Christianity as being akin to one side having nuclear weapons and the other having a baseball bat. The thing is though, that if one takes that baseball bat and smashes the trigger mechanism of the nuke weapon, then Atheism is required to sit there and marvel at its magnificent piece of impotent hardware that might as well now be a coffee table while they are pummeled repeatedly by that bat of love about their head and shoulders.
I would submit to you that to the secular mind, one might initially find the sides of the debate to be even more unbalanced than nukes against bats though. You see one can have the most horrific weapon of mass destruction of all in one's possession and yet still be defeated by an unarmed man. Indeed, the most powerful force on earth at the time, the Roman Empire, was ultimately defeated along with sin and death, by the love of one unarmed man that gave his human life for us all. But of course, this is just my axiom and therefore not one to which you are subjected, my friend, despite the fact that is the God honest truth. :-)
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.