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“A personal relationship with reality”?

In When Atheists are Right on March 16, 2015 at 6:29 am

Billboard 1This billboard communicates an important truth: it’s good to have a relationship, personal or otherwise, with reality.  It is, however, contestable that atheism brings us into this relationship.  It does so only if there isn’t a God.   If there is a God, then this is false advertising.

 

 

 

The Bible Supports Slavery?

In Rants, When Atheists are Right on January 19, 2014 at 4:20 am

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.

Does Religion Divide us?

In When Atheists are Right on January 4, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Religion dividesJohn Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion.  I think the reason he wanted a world of no religion was because religion divides us.

 Debate.org asked the question: Does religion divide the world?

73% of those responding said yes.

Why does religion divide?  One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that “Religion is another form of categorizing” :

Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .

It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.  Whenever someone claims and exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.  The thing is, everyone makes truth claims

–even “non-religious” people:

“All religions lead to God”

“There is no God”

“Truth requires evidence”

“The ends justify the means”

So the issue is not whether or not one will hold a exclusive belief; the issue is to which exclusive set of beliefs will one hold.

In the spirit of unity, why not the one that will most likely lead to unity?  Let this be our standard.

In a sermon entitled, “Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion?” Tim Keller identify three key differences between Christianity and every other religious beliefs.  Keller contends that it is in these differences that we find the basis for unity.

The differences:

  1. The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity it is God himself.
  2. This God became flesh–he became a human being.
  3. In all other religions the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never      deserve it.

These very things, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth.

  1. Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin “the whole process of giving definition and categorization” described by           AbdulRaufw4lr6s.  Keller points out that both the secularists and moralists look down their noses at others, but people who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than any one else, probably worse.  If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
  1. All other religions, (according to Keller) point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity.  Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life.  By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world.  He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us.  If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about the environment, for instance, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have  misunderstood the gospel.
  1. Jesus is God.  Keller admits this sounds a little arrogant.  But Jesus came into the Jewish/Roman world which was very divided.   There were      tremendous divisions between Greeks and Jews and the rich and poor. The early Church gives testimony to the inclusive nature of the gospel.  Christians mixed races and socioeconomic classes.  This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God, not just a man, who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever.  How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?

Is Atheism a Religion?

In When Atheists are Right, Worldview on December 14, 2013 at 5:55 am

AthesismBill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

A lot of discussion (argument) comes after we have agreed on this point.  For instance, we’d have to talk about upon whom the burden of truth rests, but it is important that we accept the fact that there is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally.

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'” who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

In one sense, Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.  Maher’s transcendent ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

There is nothing wrong with belief in transcendent meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

. . . the line between faith and reason

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence based belief” and my “faith based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw ones that don’t really exist.

Only Good People Deserve Heaven

In When Atheists are Right on November 15, 2013 at 4:23 am

There are good people and there are bad people; we are the good people and if you aren’t like us, you are bad people.

Atheists rightThis idea has been around for millennia.

I get the impression that this is considered a typically Christians attitude. In my experience, not very many, but some certainly think this way.

They divide humanity up into categories of good and bad, and then stick themselves in the good category. This sort of thing is easy if you make the categories.

The bad people are people who get divorced, have affairs, abortions and/or are homosexual. They certainly drink (more than the occasional wine with dinner) and often smoke–perhaps even drugs. And the clincher is, they don’t do any of the things good people do.

The good people go to church weekly and listen to Christian radio. They are considered “wise” if they avoid thinking. They pray, sing and read the Bible. They go nuts about “family values.” They vote Conservative in Canada and Republican in the States.

Although often attributed to Christians, these categories wouldn’t work for Christ. But if you’ve got these categories in your head, you might actually misunderstand what Jesus taught it in one of his best known stories.

Everyone is familiar with the parable of the “Prodigal Son” or the “Lost Son” — this is what it was called when I was in Sunday School.

These are actually completely inaccurate titles for this story; they reflect a complete misreading. This version presents two sons, one “good” and one “bad.” The bad son squanders his inheritance on parties, loose women and going to R-rated movies. The good son stays at home, works hard and goes to church, etc. The bad son finally sees the light when his money runs out and repents of his evil deeds and is welcomed back into the family. The moral of the story is that God will forgive us if we repent of being bad and become good.

Although this it is true that God will forgive, this is not at all what the parable is about.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller, says this story would better be titled “The Parable of the Lost Sons” because both sons are lost. Neither son loves the father for who he is; both are just after his stuff. They represent two different strategies for getting ahold of it. By the end of the story, one son is saved. Interestingly, it’s the “bad” son who is saved. The “good” son is remains lost.

The older brother has two problems. His first problem stems from his motive for being good. He leverages his good behavior against his father–his attitude: “I’m ‘good’ so you owe me!” His second problem is that he’s measuring his goodness against the standard set by his younger brother. In this comparison he comes out pretty good, which is why he does it. This guy is exactly the sort of guy that many accuse Christians of being.

So there’s good news and there’s bad news and, then, there’s good news.

The good news: Jesus audience was exactly the sort of “holier than thou” hypocrites that drive us crazy, and even keep us out of church. This self-righteous bunch of Bible thumpers were the target of his story and he nailed them, big time!
Here they are, creating some random criteria and then measuring themselves against how poorly others live up to their arbitrary standard.

The bad news:  Yes, the older-brother-types receive some major chastisement from Jesus in this parable. But if you identified with the younger brother, you aren’t off the hook. Both sons were lost because they both wanted the blessings of the father, but not the father himself. Unlike the older brother, he realize how wrong he had been, and he came back home. You can’t come home unless you turn around and walk in the other direction.

The good news: There’s lots of good news in this parable. The father loved both his sons, even though they weren’t very nice to him. And when one son appeared in the distance, the father ran out to meet him. This is not the sort of thing a respectable middle eastern patriarch does–and Jesus’ audience knew it. Further, he gives him the robe and a ring and kills the fatted calf in celebration of his return. He had already given this son half of what he had, and now he gives him even more.

The prodigal in this story is the father — Keller defines this term as “recklessly spendthrift.” This is God the Father as Jesus presents him. This is the accurate representation.

Those in the faith have the obligation to present our heavenly father as he is. The last thing we want is for people to think our heavenly father is like the older brother in the parable.

Those who are inclined to walk away from God, need to reject him as he truly is. Not as a false representation.

 

When Atheists are Right

In When Atheists are Right on November 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Atheists rightThere are a bunch of reasons to be an atheist. 

Certainly one of them could be

the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God

(2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV).

This would probably be the first reason offered by many believers, and the last reason offered by the atheist.

Consider this: Perhaps some that have walked away from God are actually rejecting a misrepresentation of God.

If someone rejects a misrepresentation of God, are they not actually walking toward God?

There are many misrepresentations of God.

There is one true representation of God and that is Jesus Christ.

That’s not just my opinion–he said it.

I will write a series of posts under this new category.  Stay tuned.