crossing the line

interrogating boundaries

Is there a cure for the disease of hatred?

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Poison treeHatred, a disease?

We haven’t been able to eliminate the scourge of hatred, so perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong.

In “Finding A Cure for Hate” Jennifer Yang reports on a University of Toronto initiative that looks at understanding and preventing hatred by “treating it as a public health issue.”

Experts from a variety of fields discussed the problem of hate, “touching on everything from Hitler to 9/11 to the Rwandan genocide.”

The meeting was initiated by U of T associate professor Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who “likes to think of hatred as a disease or mental disorder.”  His idea is that people “are not born with hatred, [rather] they acquire it from the environment, just as people are exposed to bacteria or second-hand smoke.”

Not everyone is on board.  Although not at the conference had he attended, British neuroscientist Semir Zeki, a professor at University College London would have disagreed with Abuelaish.  He believes hatred is a part of our biology–put there by evolution:  “We would not have had this capacity to hate to the degree that we have — and all humans have it — if it had been a negative evolutionary force. It would have petered out.”

I find it interesting that both of these approaches to hatred completely remove the responsibility for hatred from humanity.  If it’s a product of Nature, then we can blame it on evolution.  If it is a result of Nurture, then we can blame it on the environment.  The scariest part of all this is the next bit–where the logical solution to hate is the controlling of the environment; my question is, “Who will have the control?”

Both these perspectives take the responsibility for hate away from the one who hates.

William Blake does not:

A Poison Tree.

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright,

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine -

And into my garden stole

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

I’m sure folks over at the U of T have honorable intentions, but by removing responsibility for hating from the human agent, I fear that they will do a lot more more harm than good.

Written by Trent

April 6, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Can a school discipline a student for behaviour outside of school?

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Home and schoolApparently not.

Riley Stratton from Minnesota won her lawsuit against her school claiming that they violated her constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

She was forced to reveal her Facebook password to her school.

When she was 12 she typed some things on Facebook expressing her dislike/hatred for a hall monitor named Kathy.  A few days later the school received a complaint that she was talking about sex with a boy.  Consequently, she was asked by the school for her password, which she surrendered because she feared a detention.  Apparently the school officials searched her Facebook account.  Importantly, she did not use a school computer.  I think it is also important that her parents weren’t consulted.

She sued the school and won a $70,000 settlement.

It boils down to the question: Does the school have any right to discipline a student for something they do outside of school?

On the one hand, students ought to enjoy freedom of speech and privacy that we enjoy as adults.

My concern here is that, although we talk about various aspects of students, schools must deal with and educate whole persons.

  • Some schools have breakfast programs because students can’t learn when they are hungry.
  • Schools have counselors to help students deal with a wide variety of issues.  Everything from the loss of a loved one the death of a family pet, from relationships with friends to bullying.
  • Schools are very concerned, not just with a student bringing drugs to school, but in using drugs at all.
  • Some schools exist just because they recognize the importance of spirituality in the life of all people.
  • Family income, cultural or religious heritage, level of parents education, etc. are all part of who the student is as a whole person.

Although it is possible to make a distinction between life-at-school and life-not-at-school, it isn’t realistic.  The school has to nurture, educate, stimulate, and, yes, discipline, whole persons.  Parents, school, church (if applicable), community, etc. are all interested in the flourishing of each individual student.  Each deals with the individual as a whole entity, albeit with different aspects.

Therefore, it is conceivable that the school would, for her sake, be interested in the ways that Riley is using her Facebook account.  The integrated whole, that is Riley, might have been best served by being forced her to surrender her password and helped, with the involvement of her parents, to understand her responsibilities to others and appropriate boundaries regarding talking with boys about sex online.

Riley says she no longer trusts adults.

I’m sure she no longer trusts them not to invade her privacy, but this is not the same thing as not trusting them to look out for her best interests?

Riley has learned a lot through this experience, I am sure, but I worry that with this precedent students will learn a lot more about their personal rights and freedoms, and very little about their responsibility for how they treat others and how they use the powerful tools of social media.

It’s not a simple issue.  What do you think?

The Cosmos

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CosmosCarl Sagan’s The Cosmos was one of my favourite television shows of all time.  It wasn’t just that it was intellectually stimulating, there was also an emotional or even spiritual dimension that drew me in.  I was in awe of the beauty and complexity of the cosmos and caught the thrill of being a part of it.

The show has been rebooted, this time hosted by Sagan admirer, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  After watching the first few episodes, I can see already it’s got the same intellectual and emotional appeal as did its predecessor.  But this time I’m finding myself trying to understand what story it’s trying to tell.

Perhaps the title, The Cosmos, offers some clue.

The ancients saw the divine where ever they looked.  The divine was in everything.  The Greeks called this everything the cosmos (κόσμος).  To the ancients, the cosmos was animate, aware and intelligent.  This animating principle was the divine–the logos (λόγος).

This idea of the cosmos was transformed by Christianity where the divine is no longer located within the cosmos, but outside of it.  This is obviously a huge change from the ancient understanding , but not as great as the shift to the modern conception of the universe.

The modern view is quite different than both the ancient and the Christian ideas of all that is.  Philosopher Charles Taylor uses the terms “universe” and “cosmos” to distinguish the post-Christian outlook from that of the pre-Christian/Christian view in which the order of the cosmos “was a humanly meaningful one” (60).  In the ordered whole of the cosmos, all things found meaning because all things were grounded in a higher reality:  human beings are “embedded in society, society in the cosmos, and the cosmos incorporates the divine” (152).

Unlike the cosmos, the universe is an infinite, cold and anonymous space governed by “exceptionless natural laws” (60).  In the universe, humans “are no longer charter members of the cosmos, but occupy merely a narrow band of recent time” (327).

But the makers of the TV show The Cosmos are not despairing.  They seem to be rejecting the idea that humanity is adrift in the “dark abyss of time” in the cold, vast universe.  As if in response to the inadequacy of modern materialism to explain our encounters with the cosmos Sagan said,

Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Episode 1 pretty clearly shows us how small and insignificant we really are in context of the universe.  If there is any meaning, it’s up to us to generate it.  Clearly, one of the ways we might do this is to make a television show that celebrates the human ability to comprehend of the vastness of the universe and be inspired by its beauty.

Not only is the cold deterministic universe rejected by the show, so too is the rejection of the Christian view of the cosmos.  Sagan’s famous quote remains central and doesn’t leave any room for a transcendent God.

The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.

I think The Cosmos attempts to dismantle both the pessimistic Modern and the fantastical Christian conceptions of the universe by resurrecting, with the power of our imagination and scientific knowledge, the ancient idea of the divine within the cosmos–transcendence within immanence.  Carl Sagan said,

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.

This is a more optimistic picture of the universe than that which is offered by the materialists because it sees it as, once again, more  humanly meaningful.  Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “Our molecules are traceable to stars that exploded and spread these elements across the galaxy.”  Human meaning comes from our participation in the “great unfolding of a cosmic story.”

More optimistic still is the idea that the wholly transcendent God created the cosmos for human beings and then became physically present in it in the person of Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection make possible a deification where, when we die, we are not just incorporated into the eternal cosmos, but where we continues on as a person in (or out of) relationship with the person of God.

Of course, the degree of optimism is not the criteria by which we decide which of these conceptions of the universe is true.  For Christians, truth comes to us, not only through imagination and scientific knowledge, but also though a personal encounter with the logos become flesh–Jesus Christ.

Written by Trent

March 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Queue Cutters and Moral Retardation

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Border lineupsI live near the Canada/USA border.  At several of the crossings, there is a side street that, when border lineups are very long, can take you a long way toward the front of the line.

These occasions afford us an uncomfortable glimpse into the human soul.

It drives me crazy to see people make this simple right turn in front of me.  I have often wondered, after I finally get across the border and stop raging at my windshield, what goes through the minds of those who seem to have no problem cutting into the line in front of others who have been waiting for an hour already.

Then I found out.  I was down at a Seattle Mariners game talking to another Canadian who also drove down for the game.  He admitted that he bypassed a long border lineup by using that side street.  “You don’t have a problem with cutting in line ahead?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he answered.  “If those people are too dumb to circumvent the line, that’s their problem.”  I don’t think he used the word “circumvent” but that was the idea.

I didn’t point out that I thought he was morally retarded.

I did some more research to figure out what was going on here. According to a guy named Lawrence Kohlberg, there are six levels of morality.  If everything goes well, as you grow up, you will move up the ladder, hopefully, to the highest level, but for one reason or another, people can get stuck.

The first level is called “Obedience and Punishment” where people will simply obey the rules because you could be punished if you don’t.

The second stage is called “Individualism.”  At this stage people make moral judgements  based on self interest.

The next level of morality is based on “Interpersonal Relationships.” Here one is concerned with living up to social expectations and roles.

Some face moral choices based on a perceived duty to “maintain social order.”  This forth level begins to consider society as a whole in moral decisions, but sees the rules and laws as coming from an authority.

The fifth level is “Social Contract and Individual Rights.”  At this stage moral questions are less black and white because there is an understanding of differing moral values and opinions.  And rules and laws ought to be negotiated  with others in society.

The last level approaches moral judgements with ” Universal Principles” in mind.  These abstract principles are arrived at through moral reasoning.  Then they are internalized and followed even if they come into conflict with society’s rules and laws.

I will concede the border-cutter has achieved level one, because there is not a “rule” that says you can’t drive on a legitimate street and make a legitimate right turn.  Further,  his decision to jump the queue is definitely based on self interest, so I think we can congratulate our subject for clearly having advanced to stage two.  Everyone in the line also wishes, out of self interest, that they were further to the front.  They just resist it.  At level three, our subject would be taking into consideration how his behaviour would influence his relationship to others.  On the one hand, this appears to have no effect on his behaviour because there are a lot of people who are really unhappy with him, and who would never allow him to date their daughters.  But perhaps he has achieved this level; I don’t know if he would cut in front of his mother, for instance, because she might get mad and stop making his lunches and ironing his shirts.  Although there is no law that he has broken, I still don’t think he has achieved level four, because there is a blatant disrespect for the “authority” of society.  If everyone behaved as he did, social order would be moved toward chaos.  Because his behaviour can only work if there are a few who do it, it is, in principle, a behaviour that is immoral at this level.

The last two levels actually allow for some flexibility in ones approach to rules and laws, but, ironically, neither would accept cutting in line under these circumstances.

My diagnosis is that people who cut in lines at the border (and at the slide on your elementary school playground) are stuck in the second stage of moral development.  And that’s probably fine if you are six years old.

Written by Trent

March 11, 2014 at 9:20 pm

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The Myth of Progress

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Progress myth“People tend to confuse the words, ‘new’ and ‘improved’”  — Agent Colson, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. (pilot episode)

In the modern world, we assume progress.

We do so because, among other things, we see it all around us.  The iPhone 5S was better than the iPhone 5C, which was better than the iPhone 5, which was better than the iPhone 4S, which was better than the iPhone 4, which was better than the iPhone 3GS, which was better than the iPhone 3G, which was better than the 1st generation iPhone.  I remember the dial telephone with a three foot coiled cord.

It could be our infatuation with technology that underlies our assumption that civilization is forever progressing.

But it’s wrong.

Interestingly, the ancients actually assumed the opposite.

Book five of The Iliad follows Diomedes’ busy day on the plains before the city of Troy.  This was my favourite part of the story the first time that I read it.  He has just killed boastful Pandarus with a spear shot that severed his tongue.  Aeneas is attempting to recover the body, but has to face Diomedes who “picked up a stone, a massive rock which no two men now alive could lift. He threw it all by himself with ease.”

The Greeks thought that the great men of old were better than we are today.

The modern story is much more optimistic. The increase of knowledge in the area of science and the achievements which follow as knowledge is converted to power through technology certainly can give the impression that civilization is advancing.

Philosopher John Gray, author of The Silence of the Animals: On Progress and other Modern Myths, suggests that growth of scientific knowledge and  technological power is not the same thing as ethical development.  We do not become more civilized, rather we merely produce new forms of civilization as well as new forms of barbarism.

He points out that we don’t unlearn scientific knowledge, but we regularly forget the moral lessons of the past.  Errors in science don’t come back, but we regularly resurrect and repeat the moral errors of the past.  Progressives tend to believe in gradual and incremental progress, but this idea assumes we retain what has gone before.  This is not the case; we destroy our ethical foundations and without the stability of the past we can never improve.  Gray says, we are constantly changing what is good and what is evil, consequently what appears to be moral evolution is always a short upward movement toward whatever the fashionable idea of the day.

I’m currently reading Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings.  In the beginning of hostilities in WWI, the Germans were so angry at the French francs-tireurs (guerrillas of sorts) in the Franco-Prussian war over 40 years earlier, that the leadership authorized the execution peasants and the burning of villages.  Consequently, in the opening days of the war, almost 6,500 civilians were executed (often without even meager evidence) and many thousands left homeless in Belgium and France by the Kaiser’s armies.  In The Iliad, Homer tells the story of Achilles, so violently despondent over the death of his cousin that he profanes the body of noble Hector after slaying him in combat.  It’s the same story, separated by millennia.  100 years of tremendous technological advancement separate us from the German atrocities of World War I, and the same scenario is reported everyday in the newspapers all over the world.

Human cultural, ethical, moral progress is a myth.

Scientific knowledge and technology doesn’t make us better, it just give us more power to do what we do–whether that be good or evil.

The Olympic Spirit and Human Goodness

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OlympicsAre human beings basically good, or are they more inclined to do evil?  There is plenty of evidence for both sides of this long debated philosophical question.

There is a lot of evidence for human goodness–we see it in the so called “Olympic Spirit” where individuals dig so deeply to find incredible resources that we all admire.  Athletes of different nations come together, despite so many differences (some of them very serious), and show the world that unity might be possible.  There are many stories coming out of the Olympics that show the good humanity is capable of, like Justin Wadsworth, a Canadian Coach, who helped Russian skier, Anton Gafarov with his broken ski.  Or Gilmore Junio who gave his position in the  1000m event of men’s speed skating to Denny Morrison who fell in the Canadian trials and did not quality.

But each of these athletes must undergo a rigorous regimen of testing because it is certain that some will resort to drugs and sophisticated doping methods to win.  Judging scandals are also not uncommon. Cheating is exactly the opposite of what the games stand for, yet we expect it will occur as surely as we are of the Dutch winning a lot of speed skating medals.

Where modern manifestations of liberalism are a little more mixed in their ideas of human nature, classical liberalism has a positive view of human nature.  Historically, more liberal political parties, starting from a position of human goodness, would work very hard to eliminate things like poverty and oppression or to promote things like education, for they believed that the evil men do comes from environmental factors.

This is another reason I might not be a liberal, at least not a classic one.  I don’t have a lot of faith in human goodness.  While environmental factors can certainly play a role, I think people are evil regardless of environment or education.  To a large extent I suppose I agree with Hobbes.  Not the Calvin’s side-kick, the stuffed tiger, Hobbes.  Although these two explored this idea as well . . .

Calvin and Hobbes - evil nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . but the philosopher.  In his Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes said that without the authority represented by government or any transcendent moral authority, human beings will behave very badly.  For Hobbes, the natural state of man, which exists outside the context of society, is one of war.  According to Hobbes, all men are essentially equal in their vulnerability and weakness.  This natural equality and our conflicting desires result in a state of constant war with our fellow man.  He also argues that competition, diffidence and desire for glory are in our nature, as we seek gain, safety and reputation.  We, therefore, live in constant fear because we realize that at any moment we can have everything taken from us, including our life.  This is a reasonable fear, for Hobbes says that we have a natural right to everything, “even to one another’s body,” but to avoid the constant state of war that would ensue, we create contracts in which we mutually transfer these rights.   To ensure that these contracts are performed, a society needs an authority who will compel adherence to the contracts through force or through institutional constraints.  We willingly subject ourselves to this authority because it protects us from the state of constant war with others.

Because of humanity’s basic nature, Hobbes says that the “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

OK, I’m not completely in agreement with Hobbes.    I believe that human beings are capable of amazing expressions of altruism, but I think our default is to be selfish.

When I look at myself in the best possible light, I find, that even my best behaviour is usually motivated by selfishness in some way.  I won’t even begin to talk about those times when I behave badly.

Written by Trent

February 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I Think the Bible is True

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BibleMost liberals like parts of the Bible–they usually like what Jesus said, but there are other parts of the Bible that many reject outright.

I am not like most liberals because I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and, as such, it’s true and it’s relevant, and it’s also authorative.

But let me say that there are certain parts that I am really uncomfortable with as well.

But, I can’t easily reject them for two reasons.

One reason is past experience.  I have frequently misunderstood what the Bible is saying.   This is most often the case with the parts that I don’t like.  It frequently happens that realize I had been misreading the Bible my whole life.  I’ll be reading something or listening to a sermon and I find a beautiful resolution to these puzzling passages.

Take, for example, the problem of hell–how could a loving God send people to hell.  That really bugged me for a long time, but then I read C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” and saw that God’s role is not so much sending people to hell as allowing people to choose to walk away from him–we were made to be with him, and to not be with him will be hellish.  This idea of God allowing human beings to choose is central to the teachings of the Bible (and I might point out, liberal democracies).  The problem of hell is still with me, but I’ve discovered enough through reading the Bible and other folks much smarter than I am that it is not necessarily incompatible with a loving God.  By the time I got to reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, I benefited from his critique on the Christian approach to the idea of hell, without accepting many of his conclusions.

Yesterday I came across another thought in Dr. John  Patrick’s keynote from last year’s Apologetics Canada Conference.  The idea was this:  It’s not too hard to accept that God is both pure Love and pure Justice.  Just as it is inconceivable that a loving God allow people to be in hell, it is also just as inconceivable that a just God would allow people into heaven, but nobody argues about that.  It is a puzzling paradox, but it makes some sense if God is both living AND just.

There are still passages that are puzzle me, or that I just don’t like.  But I am no longer tempted to reject the Bible because of them, because perhaps I am misinterpreting it.

The second reason why I don’t reject the Bible because I don’t like what’s in it is–If the Bible were truly the word of God, then I doubt it would say only things I agreed with.  I doubt it would only say the things that citizens of 21st century  liberal democracies liked.

If the Bible really were the word of a transcendent God, it is highly doubtful that it would present only those ideas that are palatable us, only here and only now.  That wouldn’t make any sense, especially since we keep changing our idea of what is right and wrong/good and evil every few centuries, or decades, or years.  I haven’t been on this planet for very long, yet in my mere 50 years I have seen a lot of change.  If the Bible perfectly conformed with culture, it would be reasonable to assume that authors of culture were God, and not the ultimate author of the Bible.

One of the arguments in favour of the Bible actually being the word of a transcendent God is that there are parts I am very uncomfortable with.

I understand that a significant barrier to acceptance of the Bible in (some) African cultures is that it demands we forgive each other.  In North America, we have no problem forgiveness, but apparently this is as hard for them to accept as, say, sexual constraint is for North Americans.

I think the Bible is true, even though there are some parts that we have a lot of trouble with.

In some cases, we are troubled because we think it’s saying what it actually isn’t.  In others, it’s actually putting its finger on an area where the Creator of the Cosmos is telling us we have strayed from the path of righteousness.

The trick is knowing which we are dealing with.

 

I Might Not Be a Bigot (or a Commie)

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IndividualismIndividualism is so strong in the United States, that if you suggest any sort of limitation of individual freedom you might be called a bigot (by the left) or, worse yet, a socialist (by the right).

I think this might be the reason I find myself feeling more at home in Canada where, it seems,  individualism is softened a bit.

Individualism arises from a particular view of the self–the self is first an individual, and second, a member of a group.

Individualism is not just liberal thing.  Both Liberals and Conservatives enthusiastically support the tenets of the liberal democracies, of which personal freedom is one–they just tend to emphasize different ones.  The liberals tend to be more interested in political and social freedoms and the conservatives are more insistent on economic ones.

I sometimes catch myself wondering if individual freedoms are the ultimate good, or if there might be some merit to sacrificing some of those freedoms for the common good.

I am not a liberal because I question the primacy of individual political and social freedoms.

My ideas about marriage, for instance, lean toward common good at the expense of individual freedom.

If the self is an ultimately an individual (I don’t think too many liberals would argue that this is pretty central to their beliefs) then the primary purpose of marriage is to serve the needs of the individual–it should contribute to happiness and aid in the flourishing of the individual.  If the marriage is no longer achieving this end, then one might legitimately get a divorce and move on.

If the community takes primacy over the individual, then communal flourishing is more important than that of the individual.  Under these conditions the purpose of marriage is to benefit the greater community in some way, say, by providing a secure environment for the nurturing of children.

It seems to me that in our culture we are unbalanced toward the side of individualism and showing no sign of moving toward equilibrium.  Liberals are not responsible for this shift, but  in the area of political and social freedoms, they tend to push that direction.

Abortion, euthanasia, divorce, free speech are complicated issues and many Christians, and other groups who have a more collective mentality, are at odds with those who lean toward the individualist side of the continuum.

Importantly, it is sometimes ones view of the self–whether it is primarily individual or communal–that determines one’s position on these issues and not, simply, ones bigotry or communist leanings.

Paul Tillich wrote that there is a “polar tension” between individuals and community because you can’t have one, without the other.  A community needs individuals to challenge the identity of the community in order to keep it alive, and the identity of the individual is derived from the greater community.

I am a little worried that we are in danger of losing the tension.

Written by Trent

February 7, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Why I Am Not a Liberal

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Liberal or ConservativeThe main reason I am not a liberal is because liberalism leans toward naturalism.  This is not to say that one who identifies with liberalism always rejects a supernatural explanation for anything, but the idea of freedom is so fundamental in liberalism that it often means freedom from most external authority, and this almost always includes the authority of tradition and religion, and often the authority of a transcendent (supernatural) God.

If there is a rejection of all things transcendent, the naturalist liberal will have some difficulty finding an ultimate purpose to life.

This is not to say that they find no purpose to life.  Life can have lots of purpose and meaning within naturalism:  Enjoying family and friends (and our animal companions), sports and recreation, the arts and culture, seeking beauty and working hard to make the world a better place.

Purpose, is not the same as ultimate purpose.  Many naturalists will accept that their philosophy does not offer an ultimate purpose or meaning to life.

Having no ultimate purpose does not mean living in profound despair.  Some live with a defiant courage in the face of oblivion.  Others embrace humanity’s natural desire for meaning as a bit of a cosmic joke and just delight in the irony of it all.  Many focus on the process and not how it’s all going to end; the process can be a lot of fun.  Making cookies with a friend can be very meaningful without the final reward of eating the finished product.  For the honest naturalist, these and other approaches are preferable to believing in a supernatural source of meaning.

The least acceptable philosophically, but probably the most common way of avoiding existential despair is to borrow meaning from our Christian heritage.  Like the neighbour who borrows our leaf blower then stores it in his garage so long he thinks its his.

These “liberal” ideals borrowed from Christianity can include:

  • Attending to the needs of the sick and the poor,
  • Taking care of the environment,
  • Being hospitable to people who are different than we are,
  • Fighting for justice for the oppressed,
  • And freedom for the enslaved,
  • Recognizing dignity and of all human beings.

There really is no philosophical foundation for these ideals in naturalism.  This critique of liberalism is not just mine, actually, it’s Nietzsche’s–so if you really disagree with what I am saying, you might want to take it up with him.

One might ask, “If these are Christian ideals, why does it seem like so many Christians oppose them?”

Good question.

I suggest there are a couple of things going on here.

For one thing, it “seems” as if Christians oppose Christian ideals, but in actuality lots of Christians and Christian organizations work very hard in all these areas.  These things don’t receive as much attention as the those, who work contrary to these Biblical ideals, especially if they are religious.

But unfortunately it is not just a misconception.  Some Christians are obviously working against what I have called Christian ideals.  But, just as there are many naturalists do not live lives consistent with a naturalist worldview, there are many Christians who do not live lives consistent with Christian ideals.

In the first instance I would call it common sense, in the second, sin.

The Bible Supports Slavery?

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Slavery and ChristianityI don’t care who does it; it makes me crazy.

The sacrifice of truth for the sake of argument.

This billboard is a case in point.

In an attempt to discredit the Bible, the makers of this billboard equate first century slavery with its 16th – 18th century version.  Further, this billboard illustrates the hermeneutical crime of “proof texting,” and therefore missing the entire point of Colossians 3:22.

The device presented on the billboard was used in the Americas a few hundred years ago.  The hooks protruding from the collar “are placed to prevent an escapee when pursued in the woods, and to hinder them from laying down the head to procure rest” (reference).  This is one of the ugliest faces of one of the ugliest periods of human history.

Many centuries separate this slavery from  that of the first century slavery:

 In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.          —Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.

I am not saying that slavery in the Roman world was equivalent to staying at an all inclusive resort, but it is irresponsible to evoke all the repugnance of post-Enlightenment slavery when talking about the ancient practice of bond-servanthood.

Although this comparison is unfair, it really isn’t the point, because Paul is not advocating slavery even of the Roman variety.

When I was in grade school and I felt that the teacher had treated me unfairly , my parents weren’t nearly as concerned with the unfairness of the teacher as with my response to it.  They made it clear to me that the general principles regarding my relationship with those in authority were still in play.  Like my parents, Paul has other priorities and they are not really all that obscure for those who which to find them.

The billboard suggests that if Paul were against slavery, he would have said done something about it.  But Paul’s purpose in Colossians is to explore the implications of a life in Christ, not to reform society.  Paul knew that once a person experiences the love and grace of God in Jesus, everything changes.  One is no longer a slave to sin, but received as a child adopted into the family of the King.  We move from slaves to sons and daughters (even if we remain slaves in society).

This message was such a big deal to Paul that he endured treatment worse that most slave would have.  He was beaten and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Obviously, Paul had other priorities than simply being free.

The makers of the billboard are proof texting: taking isolated passages of the Bible and use them to justify one’s own views .  In Christian circles, proof-texting is considered lazy and irresponsible.  When Christians use the Bible in this way they can come up with some of the worst forms of religious evil possible.  A case in point, the Christian slave owners in the American south (We’ve seen this recently in the film, 12 Years a Slavemy comments here).  Ironically, just like the slave owners, the makers of the billboard are proof-texting; they are taking a verse completely out of context to justify their views.

The “Christian” slave owners are an example of the great evil that can be done when the Bible is used irresponsibly.  This type of Biblical misreading results in reprehensible behavior that held justifiably condemned, but also results in charges leveled against Christianity by the critics of religion.  I don’t see how it helps the conversation when the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Non-Believers engage in the same behavior as the worst of their religious opponents.

Written by Trent

January 19, 2014 at 4:20 am