Tag Archives: morality

Is X sinful? Some thoughts on why the answer to this question is almost always yes (and what to do about it)

Is it possible that Christians spend far too much time trying to decide whether a particular action or thought is sinful, and not enough time thinking about what sin really is, or what goodness really looks like as an alternative? We’re worried about our hands and eyes, where perhaps we should be more worried about our hearts. Is it possible that we’re obsessively worried about sin, when perhaps we should be excited and thankful that despite our inability not to sin, God forgives us and changes our hearts through Jesus, and invites us to follow his example. Is it possible this worry comes through in the way we present the ‘good’ news of the Gospel?

isxsinful

Sin and defining ‘good’

In the beginning, God looked at the stuff he made in this universe and declared it ‘good’ — but what does ‘good’ mean?

I’ve always injected a bunch of my own understandings of the word ‘good’ into the first chapter of the Bible, which typically revolve around my fairly modern assumption that goodness is a sort of material quality, perhaps even an aesthetic quality. God made a good world like IKEA does not make a good table. God made a good world like an artisan specialty coffee roaster makes a good flat white. It’s good because of what it is, and how I experience it.

But what if ‘good’ means something other than that the universe was, as declared by God, materially excellent? John Walton is a guy whose looked at what the ancient world understood the existence of a thing (the nature of ‘being’ — the fancy word is ‘ontology’). He suggests that if you were trying to define something in the ancient world, the world in which Genesis was composed, you would define a thing in terms of its function, and a declaration by someone who made something that this thing was ‘good’ would be caught up with it being able to perform a function. When God declares the world he makes ‘good’ he is declaring it good for the purpose for which he made it. Walton thinks that Genesis invites us to understand the world being created as God’s cosmic temple, with Eden functioning as the sanctuary in the Temple, and us humans functioning as God’s living images in that temple. The creation of the Temple later in the Old Testament has huge echoes of this creation week, this isn’t a controversial proposal, but it does significantly alter the way we have to read the early chapters of the Bible. Walton’s proposal is one I spent a fair bit of time interacting with in my thesis, and one that I am convinced by (and convinced has massive implications for what it means to function as God’s image bearers, or what being made in God’s image actually means). It’s interesting because our first response as modern readers is to, like I always have, read Genesis as answering ‘material’ questions about the universe, when in fact we should be answering ‘functional’ questions about the universe if we want to treat the text as a product of its world, answering questions its earliest readers were asking (as well as answering questions we should be asking).

When we’re repeatedly told that “God saw that it was good” in Genesis 1 we’re being told that the world God makes is meeting the function he has designed for it. When God makes us humans he gives us a vocation — described in Genesis 1 — which outlines the function of humanity (our function is also caught up in the word used for image, and how that word was understood, and in the description of how he forms and places Adam in Genesis 2). We have a good job to do, ruling God’s good world, according to its inbuilt purposes, for and like God. Presumably being fruitful and multiplying, and extending God’s presence as his image bearers also meant extending the garden sanctuary across the whole world. What’s important here is that the nature of what it means to be human — at least in the Genesis 1 sense — involves a created function or purpose. Our own goodness is a product of whether or not we achieve that purpose.

If you had to answer the question “what is sin?” from the first two chapters of the Bible it would be a failure to be ‘good’ in the sense of failing in this divinely appointed vocation. A failure to bear God’s image and represent him. In Genesis 2 we see Adam bearing God’s image by naming the animals (just as God has named the things that he made). All is good in the world. Except that Adam is alone.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

This aloneness doesn’t fit with the Genesis 1 picture of ‘goodness’ — or the function God envisages for humanity. In Genesis 1 God describes humanity’s image bearing capacity, our ability to represent the loving triune God, and ability to be fruitful and multiply caught up in us being made male and female. Not alone. So this ‘not goodness’ is fixed in Genesis 2 when Eve is introduced. Eve is also introduced in the narrative because none of the animals is suitable for the function God’s purposes require. The declaration ‘not good’ is a declaration that God’s created purpose is not being met. So God fixes things.

Proposition 1: God defines what ‘good’ is.

Then we break them. If part of God’s purposes for the world was to defeat evil — especially evil as it is embodied in Genesis 3 by the serpent — by creating and spreading his temple and presence in the world through his image bearing people then things seem to go very wrong in terms of God’s purposes in Genesis 3. Genesis 3 is where we get our first picture of sin. Our first sense of how to answer the question ‘is X sinful’ — but Genesis 3 also massively changes the playing field for answering that question because it massively changes us. Presumably prior to Genesis 3 everything about who we are as people is aligned with God’s function — our hearts, our desires, our thoughts, our actions — after this point, it seems none of those things line up with the idea of being fruitful and multiplying God’s presence as we live out his purposes. At least according to the way the story of the Bible works, from this point on, we all live out our own purposes. Our hearts and desires become evil, oriented to ourselves and to things other than God.

So if ‘goodness’ is about God’s purposes being met by the things he has made, and ‘not goodness’ is a frustration of those purposes, then what is at the heart of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3? I think there are actually a bunch of things they do wrong in Genesis 3, but the fundamental ‘wrongness’ is actually a failure to live as image bearers of God when push comes to shove. When the serpent enters the scene what he tempts them with, and what they display, is a life where its their own purposes that define ‘good’… and this, is sin.

Proposition 2. God defines what good is, sin is when we come up with our own definition of good, apart from God.

The classic answer to the question of ‘sin’ in Genesis 3 is to identify the specific act of transgression. Adam and Eve disobey God’s clear instruction and eat the bad fruit. And that’s certainly a sin. But sin is more than simply a disobedient act. I think we get into massive problems as the church — and massively confuse people about what sin is — if we run around looking for equivalent acts of transgression, rather than talking about the hearts that produce those transgressions. Here’s something interesting in Genesis 3.

Notice here, in the same words we’ve read already in the first two chapters of Genesis, it’s now Eve deciding what “good” is, and its the opposite of what God tells Adam to do in order to be meet his purposes.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Adam and Eve desired what the Serpent promised — that they would be like God (a thing they already had). I reckon they’ve failed to ‘guard and keep’ the garden, the literal instructions God gives Adam in Genesis 2:15, simply by letting the Serpent in. I think they’ve given the Serpent’s lies more weight than God’s truths, and before they eat the fruit — which is where most people think they sin — they’ve already replaced God with themselves and are living and making decisions according to their own purposes. This becomes evident in their actions, which are the fruit of their hearts. But its their hearts that are oriented away from God and his purposes first. And any action from a heart like this is an action of a person not living according to God’s purpose for humanity.

According to the rest of the story in the Bible, the result of this Genesis 3 failure is that we’re now genetically predisposed to be just like Adam and Eve. To not live like God, but to live for ourselves. Their mistake repeats in every human life, but now its because we’re born inheriting this pattern of life, and born outside the sanctuary of Eden, not image bearers formed in the garden-temple, but people with hearts ready to reflect whatever it is in God’s world that we want to replace God with. The image we’re made to carry, and God’s purposes for humanity, aren’t totally wiped out by our autonomy, that’d give us too much power. His common grace, and his love for people, means that there’s something written into our DNA that means we live and breath and love and do things that seem good, even though our motives always have something of our own interest or desire to autonomously define ‘good’ involved.

Proposition 3. Hearts that define their own ‘good’ define their own gods (and are defined by those gods).

Sin is any product of a disordered heart — a heart that sets its own agenda and produces actions according to that agenda — even if the things we do appear to be obedient to God’s purposes, even if we look like we’re living, breathing, images of the living, breathing, God, if our hearts are pointed towards our own ends as we do those acts, are those actions not infused with and given life by our disordered hearts? In the Old Testament these disordered hearts lead us to produce idols in Isaiah this is literal… and its a parody of Genesis 2 which leads to dead images (and ultimately dead people). Images and idols are conceptually linked through the Old Testament, because when God made us we were meant to be his living images that represented him in his temple — which is exactly what other religions did with their dead idols.

All who make idols are nothing,
    and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
    they are ignorant, to their own shame.

The carpenter measures with a line
    and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
    and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
    human form in all its glory,
    that it may dwell in a shrine.

They know nothing, they understand nothing;
    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
    and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 

Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
    he cannot save himself, or say,
    “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”— Isaiah 44:9, 13, 18, 20

The “they” here is a little ambiguous, and speaks both about the idol and the idol-maker. Psalm 115 makes this connection explicit.

But their idols are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
    eyes, but cannot see…

Those who make them will be like them,
    and so will all who trust in them. — Psalm 115:4-5, 8

In Ezekiel we’re told idols aren’t just physical things a person carves, but the product of hearts turned away from God.

“‘When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet to inquire of me, I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them and make them an example and a byword. I will remove them from my people. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” — Ezekiel 14:7-8

In Romans 1, Paul talks about the human condition in this way too, suggesting that our hearts are darkened because we turned away from God and worshipped the things he made instead.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. — Romans 1:20-21

In Paul’s logic in Romans all the things we might use to classify different Xs as ‘sin’ — the moral categories we might use to assess our actions— are said to flow from this fundamental cause. Us exchanging God for stuff God made.

Proposition 4. Hearts that are turned away from God are hearts that are darkened and turned towards death.

All our hearts do this. It’s why God promises to step in and replace hearts shaped by stone idols with living hearts shaped by his Spirit. Interestingly, the sort of process  described here (washing, restoring, and a sort of ‘re-breathing’ ritual) is what countries in the Ancient Near East did if their idols were taken during conquest by another nation to re-establish them in their temples. This is a promise to restore God’s people to their created purpose.

“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. — Ezekiel 36:24-27

Focusing on symptoms rather than the disease

Just to be clear, I think the answer to the question “is X sinful” is always yes, in this world.

So long as our hearts are still tainted by sin.

Some acts that are clearly disobedient to God and his revealed standards are more clearly sinful than others, but any failure to live as image bearers of God, any failure to appropriately imitate God are failures to live up to the purpose we were made for, and that failure is caught up in the idea of autonomy, or living as though we’ve replaced God, where we live as though we get to make declarations about what the ‘good’ for a thing God has made is (including defining what we think is good, according to our own desires). These failures which definitely include those moments of direct disobedience to specific commands, but will also include disobedience to general catch-all commands like ‘be perfect,’ ‘be holy,’ and ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ In Genesis 3, immediately after they’re caught, but before they receive God’s response  — the curse — the way Adam and Eve speak about their bad decision, and each other, shows that their hearts have already changed. They are acting out of self-interest, and not according to God’s purposes. They’ve defined their own good, and their judging each other accordingly.

Proposition 5. From this point on our hearts are a mixed bag. Humanity is still made in the image of God, but we keep remaking ourselves in our own image, and conforming ourselves into the image of our other gods.

A good summary of the Old Testament’s view of humanity (a fancy word here is anthropology) is that we’re a complicated mix of people made by God to do one thing, and we know what that thing looks like, but our hearts have been so frustrated by evil so that we do another. God is patient and good though, and merciful, so he keeps providing guidelines to help people try not to be evil (this just keeps looking like a to do list though). It’s unhelpful, then, to say that sin is simply not obeying the list of rules in the Old Testament law, as though its all about a moral code, when the defining principle for God’s people, following in the footsteps Adam and Eve should have walked in is to “be holy because I am holy”…

I think we get sin massively and unhelpfully wrong when we try to write a list of actions that are, or aren’t, sinful. Our actions indicate our hearts, and whose image we’re bearing, but its this question of whether or not our lives are aligned with God’s purposes that actually determines whether or not we’re sinning.

If all this is right, there are interesting implications in this for how we answer this question, especially in how we deal with the difference between experiencing the results of a broken and cursed world, and deliberate decisions to express our autonomy through actions that have no redeeming features. I can see how this could be heard as being massively pastorally unhelpful when people ask the question “is X a sin?” with an agenda or with a lack of self-insight (such that asking the question is sinful). Often this question has been used to demonise, rather than humanise, another person (and often the people answering the question have not been particularly ‘human’ in their responses). A couple of examples are when people ask “is same sex attraction a sin” or “is anxiety a sin”… it is massively unhelpful to say “yes” to these questions without the massive caveats that “all human sexuality as we experience it from autonomous broken hearts is sinful” and “all views of life in the world from autonomous hearts are sinful”… but I think its safe to say that the diagnosis of the human condition in the Old Testament is pretty consistently a diagnosis that our hearts are fundamentally oriented away from God’s purposes, and that orients us as people away from God’s function.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. — Genesis 6:5

Proposition 6. Sin is: taking a good thing (including people and abstract things like love) that God has given a good function and created to serve a good purpose and using it for some purpose other than the purpose God created for us, in line with our own hearts.

I’ll get to this below, but I think the human reality everywhere, in every heart, this side of the new creation God promises at the end of the Bible, is that every thing we do will involve some bit of our self-seeking, sinful hearts as a motivating factor.

Proposition 7. This is a universal problem and a description of the human condition for all people.

It becomes less and less a motivating factor as we’re conformed into the image of Jesus, but it’ll still be there. Everything we do on our own steam is sin. This is true for things we do for ourselves, and things we do for others. It’s true for things we do by ourselves, and things we do with others. Our collective actions will be a mix of the goodness God made in us raging war with the self-seeking (or not-God seeking) desires of our hearts.

Proposition 8. Because this is a universal problem, and we are affected, we can’t perform heart surgery on ourselves, neither can other sinners. 

 What wretches this means we are. Who can save us?

How Jesus both cures our sinful hearts, and shows us what healthy hearts looks like

Proposition 9. The answer to Paul’s question posed above — who can save us? — is Jesus.

I think, according to the above framework and the way Paul’s use of Adam seems consistent with it in Romans, that Paul’s description of human thought and life in Romans 7 is about the dilemma we experience as people made in God’s image who are infected with sin — and his cry for help is the cry of the human heart to be restored.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. — Romans 7:22-23

Paul wants out of this way of life.

Which happens when Jesus makes it possible for us to be children of God again through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8), as we are transformed into the image of Jesus.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

One of the fundamental promises of the Old Testament is that God will intervene with the human condition to give us ‘new hearts’ — reoriented hearts — hearts not shaped by the ‘stone’ dead idols we worship, but by the living God (cf Psalm 115, Ezekiel 36:26), hearts that allow us to obey God — or meet his purposes again (cf Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 31).

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. — Ezekiel 36:26

Proposition 10. Jesus came to fix our hearts because our hearts are the heart of our problem, and make what we do sinful.

Proposition 11. The way Jesus talks about the problem of sin shows that it is a problem of the heart not properly loving God, not a question of a list of rights and wrongs, or Xs that are sinful, or not sinful.

Some people who operate with the assumption that sin is specific transgressions against a particular rule have a hard time accommodating Jesus’ ‘new ethic’ in the Sermon on the Mount. For these people, suddenly thought crime is a thing. But what if Jesus isn’t bringing a new ethic to the world, what if he’s showing people that they’ve got the old ethic wrong, that the way to understand the Old Testament law was that sinless humanity required imitation of God, and what if this is why the Old Testament had a ritual of atonement built into the law, because imitating God and fulfilling God’s purpose for the law is impossible for sinful us. So the rich young ruler who says “I’ve kept all the laws” might be right, but this doesn’t make him sinless? What if Jesus as God’s real image bearer, the one who sees God truly, does fulfil the law in terms of its purpose by ‘being perfect’…

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:8, 17, 48

What if the point of the Sermon on the Mount is that X is always sinful, but its the wrong question? What if Jesus isn’t worried about answering the question “is X sinful” at all, but about offering the transformed heart promised by the Old Testament so that “is X sinful” is the wrong question? What if the other bit where Jesus talks about the law and the prophets is related to this idea of fulfilment, and Jesus is the one who perfectly loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and loves his neighbours as himself?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:37-40

Just remember, the point is not that any individual action is not sinful, but that every action from a heart that doesn’t truly imitate God is sinful. The point of the picture of humanity in the Old Testament is that nobody loves the Lord their God with all their heart, and soul, and mind. Even in their best moments. Even the best of people. And this is the ‘greatest commandment’ which helps us understand the purpose of all the other commandments, and the law, and the prophets, and so, the purpose of our humanity. This is what living life in God’s image looks like, and its what Jesus does — and in doing so, what he secures for us in him through his death and resurrection (as well as making payment for our failure as a substitutionary sacrifice. We still need atonement, just like people in the Old Testament. Because there’s a gap between how we live and how we were made to live that is expressed in our every action.

Here’s a cool thing. I’ve been grappling with this sin question for a while and wondering how what I think fits with this emphasis on the heart fits with a verse like:

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew records this bit of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, where it fits with this idea that we are imperfect from the inside out, it comes right after Jesus says:

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The heart, mind, eyes and hands are all connected in this picture of what being a person looks like. Matthew puts it in the Sermon on the Mount, Mark puts this bit in some of the things Jesus teaches on his way to Jerusalem. He says:

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.” — Mark 9:43-47

The word behind ’cause to stumble’ in the NIV which is often translated as ’cause to sin’ (see ESV etc) is the Greek word which transliterates as scandalise (σκανδαλίζῃ), it means what we think it means in English, carrying a sense of causing offence. One thing to remember is that the Bible describes sin using a bunch of different words, and we lazily translate them all as ‘sin.’ These passages might seem to support the idea that sin is simply a wrong action (or thought) and leave us legitimately trying to solve for X. So that we know what to chop our hands off for, and pluck our eyes out for… except… in both Matthew and Mark Jesus lays the blame for sin somewhere else. Both Matthew and Mark record this as Jesus answering the Pharisees questions, and correcting their understanding of, the point of the law… The Pharisees are playing the “is X sinful?” game and coming up with some incredibly stupid things to ask the question about, leading them to add stuff to what God has commanded that leaves them imitating man, not God.

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” — Matthew 15:6-20

Mark doesn’t do much more with this, he too records Jesus quoting Isaiah, and then saying:

 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” — Mark 7:14-23

We don’t need to chop off our hands, or gouge out our eyes. These don’t actually cause us to sin at all, they are instruments controlled by our hearts. Defiled hearts cause scandalous hands. We need to chop out our hearts. Or rather, we need Jesus to do that for us.

Jesus’ judgment on the Pharisees and their approach to the law — predicated on deciding that X is sinful, but missing the point of the law — is that their hearts are hard. That’s why he says Moses wrote the law (he’s specifically answering a question from the Pharisees about why the law allows divorce) in Mark 10, and again shows they’re missing the point when they essentially ask “is X sinful” (where X=divorce) and Jesus’ answer is essentially that they should be looking internally for sin…

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. — Mark 10:5

Matthew says plenty about the heart too — and the link between who we are as people, and what we do being a reflection of who we are (though also being that which indicates who we are).

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” — Matthew 12:33-37

What we do comes from who we are — if we’re what Paul calls “in Adam” or reflecting the image of Adam, this means we’re a mix of autonomous God-replacing desires and people who bear the image of God, if we’re in Christ it means we’re a mix of this and the Holy Spirit, which is conforming us into the image of Jesus, a transformation that will ultimately be completed in the new creation.

Jesus also rebukes the Pharisees and their approach to their God-ordained purpose in Matthew, but he makes it clear that he is the way back to a new heart he quotes Isaiah and puts himself in the picture as the solution to the problem with our humanity:

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ —Matthew 13:15, which is a slight adaptation of Isaiah 6:9-10 that presents Jesus as the answer to the question “how long O Lord?”

Proposition 12: Jesus came to heal calloused, idolatrous, sinful hearts, and to offer a way for people to be ‘good’ living images of God again, representing him in his world.

A healthy approach: getting the balance right between disease treatment and health

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. — Colossians 1:13-15, 19-20

There’s a bit of a conversation happening online in Aussie circles at the moment about whether we adequately present the Gospel when we emphasise penal substitutionary atonement at the Cross — that’s the thing Colossians 1 describes above, where Jesus swaps his perfection for our imperfection at the Cross, making atonement for us. The Cross certainly does this. But it does a little more than this, and simply treating the Cross as an antidote for sin leaves us emphasising sin as our problem, and may leave us asking the question “is X sinful” as we live in response to the Cross. But what if the Cross isn’t just about a substitution? One other stream of thought is that the Cross is also our example — often this is held up against substitutionary atonement, almost as an alternative Gospel. But what if we’re actually meant to hold them together, and what if our emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement is caught up in our obsession with the wrong thing? Not sinning, rather than imitating God. They’re linked. Obviously. Because God doesn’t sin, but sin is also, if the above is correct, the result of not imitating God.

If sin is a heart disease, our emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement is like fighting heart disease by emphasising the need for a heart transplant. But when you get a heart transplant you also need to know how to live. You need to know the pattern of life that comes from a healthy heart, and keeps it healthy. We can’t hold our need for atonement apart from what the ‘good’ life is meant to look like. Our version of Christianity sometimes feels more like “don’t be sick” than “this is what it looks like to be well” — and I think that’s because we tend to focus on penal substitutionary atonement, rather than holding it alongside the example of Jesus (what, in latin, gets called Christus Exemplar). Sometimes the thing we emphasise when we talk about the good news of the Gospel as substitutionary atonement is the Gospel’s implications for us (typically as individuals) rather than the Gospel being centred on Christ. It is good news about him, first, isn’t it?

Proposition 13. The Cross is where Jesus gives us new hearts to re-shape us and recommission us into God’s (and his) image bearers again while taking the punishment for our darkened hearts, and where he shows us what it looks like to live ‘good’ lives as image bearers. 

The story of Jesus’ life and his mission for hearts and minds as recorded in Matthew and Mark culminates in the ultimate expression of humanity defining its own good, of humanity rejecting God’s vision of ‘the good’ and what his plans for the world look like. The story of Jesus is not a different story to the story of Genesis 1-3. Jesus is the real image bearer, and we see Adam and Eve’s behaviour fulfilled at the Cross, where humanity collectively (but especially Israel and Rome) rejects Jesus, God’s king. God’s image bearer. We kill God’s divine son. This is Adam and Eve’s autonomous redefining of the good writ large.

Proposition 14. The Cross is sin in its purest form. This is the desire of our hearts being expressed — life without God. But it’s also God’s heart being expressed in its purest form, and his ‘good’ victory being won. It’s where the good purpose of the world is revealed.

The Cross is why Jesus came. It’s, at least according to John (see below), and Peter, the moment the world was made for. And it’s where God’s offer of healing and a new heart is made reality, the Spirit arrives in people’s hearts because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Cross is Jesus imitating God. God’s character is defined by this act of self-giving love for one’s enemies. This voluntary sacrifice —the giving up of everything — is Jesus showing what it looks like to love God, and his neighbours — with all his heart. Perfectly imitating God and fulfilling the law. It’s also where Jesus defeats evil, and through the resurrection and its promise, Jesus re-kindles the hope and promise that God’s kingdom will spread all over the earth.

The Cross is humanity being evil, and Jesus being good, simultaneously. It is victory. It is where God defeats evil. And its an incredible picture of God’s temple harking back to creation as his image bearer dwelling in his world to give life. It’s the moment the world was heading towards, and the moment the serpent is defeated. Jesus succeeds where Adam and Eve fail. John describes this aspect of God’s plan as Jesus being “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) and in the picture John paints of the significance of the Cross he sees this being the decisive moment that guarantees that the serpent, the Devil, loses and God wins (see Revelation 20).

I wonder if the question “is X sinful,” while well-intentioned, misses the point that in this life our hearts are still tainted by sin, and still a work in progress. We’re fairly constantly called to flee particular sorts of sin in the New Testament, but every one of the sins we’re called to flee is linked to idolatry, which is linked to the orientation of the heart. The sins we’re called to flee are products of our poisonous hearts, and really fleeing this behaviour actually requires us to live life — to act — out of the new part of our heart, not simply to stop doing that other stuff. Christians are post-operative heart transplant recipients. The permanent internal change has taken place but still working their way through our bodies and our lives. I wonder if we’re better off asking questions about what the fruits of our new nature look like — the part of our humanity that is now the product of the Holy Spirit transforming us into the image of Christ.

Paul describes this new aspect of our humanity in 2 Corinthians 3. The internal work of the Spirit on our hearts is different and better than the Old Testament law, because human readers of the Old Testament law miss the point of the law without the Spirit, because our nature — our hearts— get in the way.

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

… Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. — 2 Corinthians 3:2-18

We’re no longer simply a bifurcated mix of image of God and sinful heart — we’re people whose hearts are being transformed by the Spirit into the image of Jesus. To fixate on the broken bit of our humanity misses the sense that we’re also called to imitate Jesus as he imitates God, not just by not doing bad things, but also by doing good things. This, I think, is the right way to think about the social implications of the Gospel (for this to make sense, read Stephen McAlpine’s excellent review of a book by a guy named Tim Foster who suggests the key to reaching urban Australians is to move away from substitutionary atonement and towards what he describes as a telic Gospel (it’s also worth reading Tim Foster’s reflections on some of the reviews of his book, especially this one). This series of posts essentially asks what the Gospel is, and how we should preach it in our context. I know some people (like Richard Dawkins) say substitutionary atonement is an ugly doctrine, but I think our problem is that its an incomplete Gospel. It’s not ugly. It’s too individual in its emphasis, and to focused on the disease and not enough on the cure and the new life the cure brings. The life we’re inviting others to find, the life God created them for. We get Jesus’ perfect life in exchange for our diseased one, and we’re invited to join him in living it. Forever. That process starts now. We’re reconnecting with God’s vision of what ‘good’ is. This is an invitation to have a ‘good’ life.

I think, given the above, I want to go back to Martin Luther, who was big on a Christian anthropology being simul justus et peccator (which in English means simultaneously justified and sinful). I think our anthropology is threefold, and we’re calling people in our world to rediscover God’s purpose for the bit of them that still reflects his image, by connecting themselves to Jesus. In a letter to a preacher friend Luther suggested preachers need to express their real humanity in their preaching. Including their sin (rather than obsessing over is X sinful, perhaps).

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.

I’d want to add, as Paul and John do, that justice does reside here a little, in the form of the love of the justified. In us. As we imitate Christ. Especially the Cross. Through his death and resurrection, and the heart-changing gift of the Spirit, Jesus frees us to bear God’s image again as we bear his image. As we imitate him.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. — Ephesians 5:1-2

Or, as John puts it in 1 John 3… What “not sinning” as God’s children looks like is loving like Jesus loved…

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. — 1 John 3:2-11, 16-24

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What do you do when Goliath kills David? William Lane Craig v Lawrence Krauss

Tonight was the long awaited first instalment of three public debates between Christian apologist Dr William Lane Craig and scientist-come-new-atheist Prof. Lawrence Krauss.

It confirmed most things that I thought about adversarial public debates between the religious and the irreligious – they aren’t very useful. Nuance is lost. People talk past one another. And everybody goes home more entrenched in their own position.

Except.

This time, unlike other debates I’ve watched, I felt like the atheist, Prof. Krauss, got the better of the Christian.

In the story of David and Goliath – an unlikely champion goes up against a big and powerful enemy and scores an unlikely win. He slays the powerful enemy.

In the gospel story an unlikely figure – a Jewish carpenter-come-Messianic figure – Jesus – goes up against the religious and political establishment and secures an unlikely win through the mechanism of a likely loss. The powerful enemy slays him. Only he is victorious in death. That’s the sublime paradox of the Gospel.

Tonight – William Lane Craig was trying to imitate David. He wanted to slay the giant. He brought some pretty impressive stones – his well-oiled set of philosophical axioms (though he certainly tried not to engage in the snark that Krauss brought to the table from the opening bell) – but he was the David you’d expect to see in most mismatches of this size. He was crushed. Blitzkriegged. Beaten from pillar to post.

The debate titled “Has Science Buried God” became, very quickly, “Krauss Buries Lane Craig.” Krauss barely touched on the debate topic, and when he did, it was to offer inane and debunked comparative cliches about Christianity in comparison with other ancient religions, or to over reach on science’s behalf – inconsistently attempting to suggest science is just a tool, but also suggesting that it is synonymous with rationality, rather than a tool for the rational. He was patronising, he treated the audience like children, he read his slides – word for word – he barely touched on his field of expertise. He also pretty constantly talked over the top of Lane Craig, relied on crass one liners like “forcing religion onto children is child abuse,” and was generally cantankerous. Despite a 10 minute opening plea from the moderator for a civil conversation between humans who held different opinions, Krauss was on the attack from beginning to end.

Where Krauss scored points, and where he took the argument away from Lane Craig, was on the unrelated question of Lane Craig’s moral theology, his account of the Canaanite genocide employing a Divine Command Theory argument – that God is always right to kill children, in judgment, on the basis that he also necessarily saves them in order to be a loving God.

Now. I’m not going to expand on why this argument is poor, theologically – except to say that both William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss need to reconsider what it means to read a passage in context, with a bit of literary and historical sensitivity. Why was the text written? What rhetorical purpose did it serve? Does it match the account of history found in subsequent parts of the narrative? Why did the text remain the way it did, not get edited, after the fact – when the Canaanite children (and adults) were intermingling with Israel and causing all sorts of domestic destabilisation? These are questions neither of these guys answers.

I’d suggest the violence in Canaan requires a fair amount of historical sensitivity, an understanding of where Israel was coming from – if they are fleeing slavery, a slavery where the king of Egypt slaughtered their male children on a cruel whim, if they were a people without a land in the Ancient Near East, and if they did believe, and had marked out previously, their own land that had since become occupied – then they were confronted with a bit of a dilemma. Then you’ve got to consider that similar commands to kill all the Canaanites are coupled with commands not to marry the Canaanites. Something complicated is going on.

Unpacking that sort of complication is probably out of the question in a format like this. Impossible even. That it took up so much of a debate that, by title, had nothing to do with the topic, is a failing of the debate – and especially a failing of William Lane Craig, who like a punch drunk boxer, decided to hang out on the ropes and let Krauss pummel him.

But William Lane Craig’s bigger failing. In my mind. Was that he didn’t ever really go beyond providing a philosophically cogent case for theism. Here he was as Christianity’s champion (it possibly didn’t help that the moderator kept including Islam and Judaism in the discussion – which was odd given the event was sponsored by the City Bible Forum). And instead of championing Christianity, a robust Christianity centred on the historical person of Jesus, he was championing abstract concepts of a loving God who can carry out genocide.

I’m not going to pretend the genocide question is easy. It’s not.

But Christian morality isn’t based on Divine Commands from Deuteronomy or a “developing morality through the New Testament and over the next thousand years” as moderator Scott Stephens put it. Christian morality and ethics are based on Divine Example. The life and death of Jesus Christ, historically, on behalf of his enemies. As an act of love.

And here’s where I think Lane Craig’s biggest failing came – and I think it’s the big failing most Christians fall into when we’re thrust into adversarial positions.

He tried to imitate David. Not Jesus. He set out to slay the giant. And he didn’t even do that right… In the story of David and Goliath, David rejects the conventional weapons of warfare and uses a sling. So ultimately David’s bizarre method of ancient near eastern giant slaying has more in common with Jesus taking it to the Roman establishment by being crucified than it has with playing a power game.

This might be a little simplistic – but giant slaying in improbable situations is nice in theory. But it’s not, I would argue, paradigmatic for Christ shaped interactions with the world, nor is it particularly conducive to presenting a gospel of weakness – the story of a king killed on a cross.

While I reckon God is capable of using small and inadequate people to win great victories – David didn’t beat Goliath by wearing armour and taking the fight to him. I don’t think we win people over by engaging in this sort of debate where you’re using the verbal equivalent of the Queensberry Rules and talking past one another, not to one another.

Lane Craig was gracious under fire. Don’t get me wrong. But didn’t really try to reach across the divide to Krauss in a particularly winsome way. He didn’t simply turn the other cheek and cop the flogging that Krauss dished out. And he certainly didn’t get to the cross – even when he was specifically asked about an ethic that cares for the vulnerable he went to Jesus’ words, not his actions at the cross.

I understand that I’m essentially advocating that Christians go into these situations to essentially deliberately lose the fight but win the war. With dignity. But that’s the only way to, I think, faithfully embody the gospel in an adversarial situation. You don’t imitate Jesus by landing the most telling blows on your opponent. You imitate Jesus by how you take the blows, while pointing people to the gospel.

It would be cliched and anti-intellectual for me to just run to 1 Corinthians 1 at this point…

“18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

I think philosophical thinking, and being prepared to give an account for the hope that you have, is important. I’m not suggesting we abandon the field of apologetics – there just has to be a way to shape the way we do apologetics through the example of the cross, and with the message of the cross. I guess I am suggesting that in some sense, our philosophy, for it to be properly Christian, not simply defending theism, monotheism even, we do need to take the rest of 1 Corinthians 1 seriously…

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

It’s hard to do this in a debate. But Paul managed in similar setting throughout Acts – and he paid the penalty for his refusal to play Corinthian debate/oratory games – we see that in the way he defends his approach to public speaking in 2 Corinthians. It’d be nice for those engaging in discussions with the New Atheists, or even just with run of the mill atheists, to be trying to present God’s wisdom. Not man’s.

The Bible and Women

So, the comment thread in that post I linked to from the Friendly Atheist yesterday has just about descended into anarchy. But there are some people in there intent on pushing the line that “the Bible is nasty to women.” Now, some nasty things happen to women in the Bible – but this doesn’t mean that the Bible affirms them. There are a few stories of rape, and a few cases where servants and concubines are used to produce children – that to our 21st century sensibilities look a little archaic. That’s because they are archaic. The Bible is an old book. It’s a product of its times. But let me introduce you to one of my favourite words – anachronism. According to Wikipedia, anachronism is:

“is an accidental or deliberate inconsistency in some chronological arrangement, especially a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other. The item is often an object, but may be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a material, a custom, or anything else so closely associated with a particular period in time that it would be incorrect to place it outside its proper domain.”

Now, this relates to the issue of the Old Testament law – because it is anachronistic to read our modern ideas about law and order back into Israel’s situation, and to find it wanting by our standards. We can’t measure their fairness or rightness using our standards. What we can do is look at those stories and laws and see what principles underpinned them in their time, and their place.

One of the current favourites in this sort of debate is to bring up Deuteronomy 22, which says:

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

The Bible is pretty clear that adultery is ruled out for God’s people – both Israel, and Christians. It’s in the Ten Commandments – rape is a breach of these Ten Commandments – so it’s clear from the outset that these three occurences are dealing with people who have broken God’s law. They’re essentially a retrieval ethic. They’re dealing with how to punish wrongdoers – it’s not a guide for how to get a wife.

These laws also bear certain similarities to ANE contemporaries  – from what I’ve read so far, only forcing the woman to marry her rapist is different, and I’d argue that’s a retrieval ethic aimed to protect the victim from a life of miserable poverty (or worse). Assyria had almost identical punishments and rules about rape in the city (I don’t know if that link goes straight to the page on Google Books – but its on page 131 if it doesn’t). In Assyria the rapist of a married woman was given whatever punishment the husband inflicted on his wife. The Assyrian laws about a betrothed woman, or virgin, were similar – the father could take the rapist’s wife as punishment, he could swap the rapist’s wife for his daughter, forcing his daughter to marry the rapist. If the rapist was single he had to pay three times the bridal price and marry the daughter. Sound familiar? But the father could also punish his daughter however he wanted for her offense…

Atheists don’t like the first Deuteronomic law above because they like to suggest a woman is being punished for not screaming loud enough. Because they are unable to read anything with nuance, or accept that even the laws are written with a little bit of artistry that requires actually thinking in order to properly interpret a passage. The man in this case finds a woman, and “he sleeps with her” – there’s no violence described. The judgment suggests that were she not complicit she would have said so – it’s a pretty calcified reading to suggest that it’s dealing with circumstances where the woman would have called for help, but couldn’t.  The plainer reading seems to me that the woman in this instance is being stoned as an adulterer, not as a rape victim. I’d have serious questions about how this stoning would be carried out – there isn’t a description of court proceedings prior to stonings, and it’s an argument from silence to suggest such proceedings happened or didn’t, but I suspect the Israelites were pretty concerned about not spilling innocent blood (and fine with spilling the blood of the guilty. The second prohibition makes it clear that rape is a problem – a crime punishable by death. And the third presents an ethical dilemma.

Here’s a slightly edited version of how I tried to tackle it on the Friendly Atheist – I’d be interested in others thoughts on this, kicking off with the comment I was responding to (I had suggested that most references to submission and intergender relationships in the Bible are in the context of marriage (ie. that other women I know don’t have to submit to me because I am male, that Biblical submission is in the context of marriage, with reference to creation, and linked to the husband’s sacrificial role as a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church) :

…may I add, that gender is mentioned plenty of times in the bible outside of the context of marriage, including calling for stoning for wearing masculine garments, rapes, kidnappings and enslavements of women of other groups, murder of pregnant and non virgin women, killing women for not screaming loud enough while being raped, forcing women to marry their rapists, etc…

The reason you do not object to the sexism and homophobia in the bible is because you are a homophobic sexist, glad we cleared that up.

Can you find me a place where I’ve said anything that makes you think I fear gay people? Or that I negatively judge women (or men) on the basis of their gender?

Homophobia and sexism aren’t in the Bible they are in the actions of people wrongly using the Bible. The Levitical laws regarding rape sound nasty, but they were a retrieval ethic trying to salvage some good from bad. Rape was also illegal. It’s not as if the law said “run around raping whoever you want, just so long as you marry them afterwards.” Read the story of Dinah in Genesis to see how Israelites treated rapists (and this story formed part of the Torah). Her brothers convince the rapist’s village to get circumcised – all of them – and then they come in with swords and put them to death. Primitive. Yes. But it shows that rape wasn’t taken lightly by the men.

Do you know what happened to a raped woman who fell pregnant in the Ancient Near East? She was either killed as an adulterer, exiled from her people and her home (which was also essentially a death sentence), or forced to live a lonely and sad existence in her fathers household as an economic burden. Here’s an Ancient Near Eastern (and Jewish) account of the ethical problem presented, and the plight of the victim, the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 (again, just because it’s in the Bible it doesn’t mean the Bible affirms the narrative, most of the Old Testament is about how people fail at living God’s way and can’t keep the law).

12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate[a] robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

Absalom ends up killing his step brother Amnon for his crime – and the whole episode pretty much destroys King David’s family. The story highlights man’s inability to keep the law, and the heavy price paid for transgressions. There are no winners. Would the situation have been better for all involved if Amnon had met his legal obligations, owned up to his crime, and treated Tamar better? Yes. Would it have been much better if he hadn’t raped her in the first place? Absolutely. But the law exists to deal both with trying to prevent the crimes and trying to provide solutions for human sinfulness. Insisting that actions have consequences.

Forcing a rapist to marry the woman probably saved her life, and definitely provided for her material needs – poor recompense, yes, and we’d certainly do it differently today. But these were primitive times, and evil people existed then as they do now. Seriously. What do you think “law” does now? It seeks to protect and recompense victims and punish wrongdoers.

The law in the OT was the minimum standard. We’re talking about the criminal code. Israel was meant to act with love to their neighbours and surrounding nations. It might not look like justice to our modern eyes – but that’s some sort of anachronistic superiority complex. There aren’t many cultures from the past that look good in our eyes. Nor were non-Christian cultures any better with how they treated women. In fact, they were worse.

That’s what I said there. I commend this article from a blog called M and M that I just discovered while looking for some evidence to back up my statement about ANE rape victims (Hammurabi’s Code also punishes adultery (and the perpetrators of rape) with death, though it ties the adulterers together and drowns them), I read it somewhere, can’t remember where… Anyway, these paragraphs from that post are worth thinking about when approaching this question:

Deuteronomy is an Ancient Near Eastern Legal text; it therefore is part of a literary genre from that period of time. We are aware of other texts from the same genre such as the ancient Hittite Laws, Middle Assyrian Laws and Code of Hammurabi, and its important to note that legal codes written in this Genre differ significantly from modern legal codes.  Hiller notes,

[T]here is no evidence that any collection of Near Eastern laws functioned as a written code that was applied by a strict method of exegesis to individual cases. As far as we can tell, these bodies of laws served educational purposes and gave expression to what was regarded as just in typical cases, but they left considerable latitude to local courts for determining the right in individual suits. They aided local courts without controlling them.[5]

The same point is made by Raymond Westbrook in his comparative study of Ancient Near Eastern Legal Codes. He notes that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts.”[6] The method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples.” Christopher Wright calls this “paradigmatic law,” which he explains as “the detailing of specific circumstances with the view to giving judges basic principles and precedents on which to evaluate the great variety of individual cases that may come before them.”[7]

Some of these passages in the Old Testament present prickly questions and handling them without bringing our modern views to bear on them is hard – how do you answer that sort of question and accusation? To see just how nasty the comment I was responding to hit the Friendly Atheist link in yesterday’s post (if I link it here it appears in the comment thread as a trackback and will create all sorts of angst). And I’m meant to be studying.

Some reflections on violence in the Old Testament

I’m writing an essay at the moment on the following: Violence, Joshua, and the Christian. Quite apart from the fact that literary criticism of the Old Testament means we have no real sense of who wrote Joshua or when it was written, the question of what role the violence plays in the narrative is vexing. Did the Israelites actually carry out God mandated genocide of those in Canaan? And if they did, is that really a problem?

I’m going with no, and no.

Is God ordering genocide a problem?

Tackling the second question first – I have no problem with God carrying out judgment on his creation. The earth is his, and everything in it. If we all deserve death, and God is infinite, then who are we to quibble about the timing and manner of the inevitable and deserved end we face. Because death is the punishment for sin we’re all essentially facing genocide at that point.

The Canaanites were by all accounts particularly wicked people whose practices were frowned on by those in the nations around them (let alone God) their practices included incest, bestiality, child sacrifice and a fairly murderous militant culture. Presence in the promised land – for the Israelites – depended on them acting rightly, but their entrance into the land was due to the occupants acting wickedly.

Other people have a major problem with this notion – one scholar goes so far as to suggest that commands to kill the Canaanites came from Satan and the Israelites were too theologically illiterate to be able to tell the difference. Richard Dawkins calls the God of the Old Testament the nastiest character in fiction. Another school of thought thinks the violent rhetoric was just a tool to help Israel establish some (rather late – in the time of King Josiah) national identity. Which brings us to the second question.

Did the Israelites carry out genocide on the Canaanites?

No. They didn’t. They certainly killed some Canaanites as they moved into the promised land – but these would appear to be those Canaanites who stayed to pit their might against the people of God. Rahab’s little dialogue with the Jewish spies suggests the Canaanites knew full well what was coming. They had plenty of time to leave (forty years of wilderness wandering for the Jews). And God’s promises of possession for Israel were almost always coupled with a promise to “drive the people out” with only those who remained destined for destruction. This was not genocide – it was the destruction of a national identity. An identity that was synonymous with evil and loathed by the surrounding nations. We also see plenty of Canaanites appearing throughout the Old Testament after they’re meant to be wiped out. Clearly no genocide actually occured.

So what do we make of the commands for genocide then?

What I’m sure of is that we can dismiss the idea that these commands were somehow Satanic misdirection. Ordering the punishment of death for sin is completely consistent with God’s character in the New Testament. If we’re going to go with the notion of one God in both books – not a bipolar happy God/angry God then we need to read these passages in the light of Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23 – we all sin, and thus we all deserve death. The Canaanites were no exception.

There is some merit in seeing the book of Joshua as some sort of identity building missive for the nation of Israel – an answer to the question of why they are God’s people living in a land God promised. At that point the theory that the language of violent conquest was a common sociological phenom is useful, but I don’t think it’s the primary purpose, because that essentially removes the need for some form of historical conquest, and doesn’t actually explain Israel’s presence in the land.

Questions about the historicity of a complete and total conquest – and people do ask those questions – are a bit silly, because Joshua demonstrates, in the narrative, that the conquest was neither complete or total. But it also shows Israel occupying the promised land – alongside those they were meant to wipe out.

The question I keep asking when I come back to passages like this is what theological purpose does it serve? I think this is my rubric for assessing every passage in the Bible, it comes before the question of “what historical fact does this teach”… and so, when I read Gary Millar’s commentary on Deuteronomy (Now Choose Life) I resonate more with his treatment of the issue than with the sociological view (Sociological readers of the Bible seem to have an incredibly low view of God’s sovereignty or ability to intervene – interpreting theological writings by looking for natural causes seems dumb to me. They almost always dismisses any miraculous intervention from God in establishing any identity – Israel’s identity, in their view, stems from their own self identity rather than from identity through God’s election). Millar even goes so far as to suggest some rabbinic hyperbole. Which is one of my favourite expresssions… here is his commentary on the instructions in Deuteronomy to wipe out the Canaanites (so that the Israelites may stay true to God. If they fail the author clearly says the Canaanites will lead the Israelites astray).

“This is theological preaching, urging Israel on to wholehearted obedience. In this context we should expect some hyperbole, at least.”

He argues that the Hebrew word הרמ (I can’t figure out how to do a final מ on my keyboard) – or herem – is a pointer to the theological nature of this destruction. Israel is to wipe out the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites, and their identity, rather than the people themselves.

Millar says:

“The intensification of the command to disposses the nations to destruction is not primarily about warfare at all. It is a theological conviction, arising from recognition that the Canaanites will be a snare in the land; their influence must be purged from the land if Israel is to survive.”

Deuteronomy 7 itself points to this sort of interpretation. Verse 1 says God will drive the nations out ahead of Israel, verse 2 that he will deliver them and the Israelites “completely destroy them” (that’s that Hebrew word), and verses 3-5 are instructions for what to do with the survivors (ie don’t marry them or worship their Gods). Why are there instructions for dealing with the survivors if they are to be completely wiped out?

Millar again:

“Throughout this chapter, it is clear that the Mosaic Preaching is concerned to bring the Israelites to the conviction that shattering the structures of Canaanite society is a theological necessity. This is expressed not in terms of driving out or dispossessing the Canaanites, but of destroying them.”

Regarding further instructions about the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20 Millar acknowledges that the “leave no survivors” command is “startlingly literal” – but again suggests that the instructions are not simply about military victory but the annihilation of a way of life.

In the case of the Canaanites it seems the adage of “hate the sin, love the sinner” can’t really be carried out – because the two can’t be separated.

Violence: a natural selection

I wrote this in the car today while mulling over a talk we listened to yesterday. Why do some new atheists hate the Christian faith?

I was going to use the word “religion” in that question. But I hate religion too. Jesus spends a whole lot of time rebuking people for their religion. Religion, for those scratching their heads, is the idea that one’s actions win them salvation. It is what distinguishes Biblical Christianity from any other form of faith. For the sake of clarity I should have probably used “antitheists” rather than atheists in the title. But I’ll stick with the label the people I am thinking of apply to themselves.

At the heart of almost every objection to faith that I read from atheists is that people of faith use their beliefs to stymie the desires and actions of people with different faiths. Which is kind of a fair enough criticism. Until you think about it.

What would happen if the new atheists were in the majority and their moral framework (which basically comes down to “if it feels good, do it”) was the yardstick?

Morality is always the standard of behaviour set by the highest power one chooses to acknowledge – be it the individual, community standards, government or a deity. To suggest that morality is set internally is disingenuous and results in a really odd and selfish decision making.

The moral outcome and conclusion of natural selection is either violence or submission. How else does one survive? As soon as one entity, be it an individual or a community, acts in a way that threatens the survival of another the only natural response at that point is to act violently – or to submit and possibly die.

Richard Dawkins has famously suggested that our culture is beyond the “evolutionary” need for religion. That we’ve somehow moved past the need for our behaviour to be moderated by a higher power. Hogwash.

Even if the higher power is a figment of the collective imaginations of believers throughout human history, even if each “imaginary friend” causes their fans to act in an irrational manner towards the other teams, and even if morality that flows from a position of faith is an arbitrary and less “good” moral framework than one’s own “harm based” equation – the alternative to a planet with faith looks much worse than the current state of affairs.

People would no doubt find other reasons to kill one another. Believers must admit that religious codes have caused conflict (and continue to) since the beginning of time. This says nothing about the truth of the beliefs.

I think the reason the new atheists hate faith is not that they think faith is harmful – that cannot possibly the reason. If faith is an evolutionary survival mechanism then people are simply outworking their inherent and instinctive violent natures.

Until the New Atheists come up with a system of morality that curtails this inner violence better than religion they should shut their mouths, to deconvert people can in fact do more harm than good.

It is illogical to operate with a harm based ethical framework and a philosophical framework grounded in nihilistic survival (protect one’s ability to do what feels good) and to call for the removal of the influence of faith from public life. It is irrational, and stems from prejudice.

It can be logical to decide that oneself, on an individual level, does not need to believe God to survive and prosper – but to apply your own personal moral framework to everybody else is dangerous. It only works until someone wants something different to what you think they should want and they decide to take it for themselves.

For many antitheists the question isn’t so much of morality but that they find posited gods immoral. With their superior internal moral framework. These slightly more consistent atheists hate the God they don’t believe in for sending bears to render injustice to intemperate youths. They hate the God they don’t believe in for committing genocide by flooding the world. More accurately they hate that people are willing to describe such a God as loving.

How can a loving all powerful God allow or cause suffering? How can a loving God send people to Hell?

I commend this talk (MP3) by Tim Keller to those asking that question (he touches on the natural selection = violence idea in this talk).

The key to both these questions hinges on the unjust suffering and death of Jesus for his enemies.

I don’t understand how antitheists can be angry at a belief that calls for this sort of action – John 15 says…

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Where Jesus did not just walk the walk – he ran it – Romans 5 says…

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That’s what, in my mind, makes Christianity impossible to hate. How can you argue with a person who is willing to follow that same model? (Luke 9).

“Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

It’s completely counter-instinctive to take that position. Particularly if instincts are defined as actions that contribute to one’s survival under a natural selection model. Christianity doesn’t seem to bear the hallmarks of a tool of natural selection because it rails against the basest element of natural selection – selfishness, and works against our natural inclination to violently defending our rights. I can’t see how the continued existence of such a mindset can be bad for society – even if some believers use their faith to call for different standards of behaviour.

Seriously – if you can’t tolerate a little bit of moral criticism – or persecution – from those with opposing views to you (just because you don’t have evidence to support their deity) – then move to France. It’s really not that bad – and the moderate Christian voices will eventually gain traction as they try to encourage other Christians to put Jesus at the centre of the gospel not religious acts.

I don’t want to go down the path of the “no atheists in the foxholes” fallacy – but how many atheist martyrs are there? How many atheists are dying in Christian nations? I’m sure there are atheists dying for their lack of belief in Islamic nations – but they’re not getting special treatment, the Christians are dying there too.

That is all.

Oops, I did it again…

Yesterday’s quest to comment on 100 different blogs had an unexpected side effect. I became embroiled in a “discussion” on a post on the Friendly Atheist. One where a contributor suggested that the heinous acts God allegedly commits in the Old Testament should be rewritten as a Mafia drama.

Here are some of the things the “friendly” atheists at that site had to say about me during the discussion…

“The man’s an ass. A potentially dangerous ass who seems to admire Hitler.”

“Your view is just asinine.”

“I was gonna feed the troll but thought the better of it, especially since he’s shown his psychopathic nature. Besides there were some beautiful arguments put forth here that he ducks instead of addressing so I don’t see much point. Instead, he’s rather like Linus clinging to his blanket but not as benignly.”

“Nathan your arguments have been nothing but equivocating, never answering the questions you were asked, and when you do (and attempt to explain something) you shovel out contradictions one after another.”

“As I said Nathan is hopeless. lol, this only makes me laugh now. sigh.”

Reading back through the thread there were plenty of things that I said that I probably wouldn’t in hindsight. The stuff about Hitler was dumb. And I probably strayed off message a little too much.

I find atheists who get in a huff about how a God they don’t believe in did evil things to be one of the oddest inconsistencies. They’re so passionate about the actions of a being they don’t believe exists. If they’re right, and God is a delusion, then shouldn’t the people who committed the actions be the ones they’re angry at?

I wonder if atheists would take their position on the actions of the deluded (or those thinking they are doing God’s bidding) to the natural conclusion and move to remove the defence of insanity from all criminal proceedings.

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Benny on Hitler and the question of evil

Nathan often uses Hitler in religious discussions.

From what I know Europe at the time was a generally disjointed, unhappy place, and everyone knew that war would eventually outbreak, it was just a matter of when. So I wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting at between Hitler’s religion and religion’s involvement in war.

So I got Nathan to explain his point:

“It’s not that wars are based on atheism – it’s that atheism doesn’t rule out wars.
Atheism is not a cause of war any more than Christianity is.
The fact that people are sinful – greedy, power hungry, angry, evil – is what causes wars.”

I would like to make some points:
1. I don’t think evil exists as a being, thing or intangible presence. Evil is a description of behaviour.
2. Hitler didn’t do the things he did because he was evil. Some of the things he did were abhorrent, terrible, disgusting and/or evil.
3. When people do bad things, its not because they are inherrently evil, or were overtaken by momentary evilness. They did it because they were human, and humans make bad decisions for whatever reasons, are prone to being inconsiderate, to certain extent, and have different utility functions, such that some believe risking other people being injured is outweighed by the benefit of robbing the bank.
4. Morals don’t need to come from an external source. People are perfectly good at developing them themselves.

From my understanding, the French/English civil revolutions weren’t uprisings against God, they were class wars, where the poor and oppressed wanted better. I think this could be said to an extent about communism and the disputes in the first half of the 20th century.

Most recently, the war on terrorism has been labeled as a war against evil. I don’t like terrorism, but I also don’t like the way it has been discussed at times. I have always wondered, without being particularly knowledgeable of the situation overseas, if by labeling terrorism as acts of pure evil results in more harm than good, as it fails to address the root causes of offshore grievances.

Further military action in the region is not going to help in the healing of decades-old wounds, which stem from military action of the West into these regions for the past century plus. Dare I say, I think many people within these regions would hold grievances against the West. Further, relying on non-western media, these nations would also have different perceptions of why the West was involved in these regions (I am not necessarily talking about purposeful distortions of history here either, historical accounts and perceptions would likely be different between those who lived through it and those who lived back in the invading country). We can’t expect to be able to interfere with any of these regions, and not step on a few toes.

The remnants of America’s war techniques in Korea and Vietnam still remain to impact the general populace. Many of these people no doubt hold some anger towards the techniques that were used during these disputes that have a continuing legacy.

So, in summary, it may not be best labelling terrorism as acts of evil, which seems a simplistic excuse. It may be that more effort should be made to recognise that the seeds for these peoples anger were sown a long time ago, and that the West played a larger role in creating this anger than we are willing to acknowledge. What we perceive as terrorism could be the remnants of a group of people fighting a decade-old war the only way they have available. They may be cowardly tactics, attacking easy targets of civilians. But they didn’t agree to any war conventions, nor have any large military budgets or technology.

Going forward, hopefully leaders will acknowledge these lessons, and realise that you can’t interfere with a country and expect it not to have repercussions in the future. The conflict doesn’t end with the end of the fighting. More needs to be done to rebuild international relations.

Driscoll on the “good” question

Mark Driscoll’s column in the Washington Post is a delight to follow. This time around he tackles the question of goodness without God.

His answer is worth reading in full.

It clarifies the Christian position in a way that tackles the offence atheists take when we make the claim that God is the root cause of goodness.

“Therefore, right and wrong are ultimate standards rooted in the character of God and revealed in the teaching and life of Jesus Christ. Even those who do not believe in a god, or worship Jesus as the only God, cannot altogether erase the deep imprint of right and wrong because God stamped it on their very nature so that, despite being marred by sinful rebellion, it cannot be denied or ignored. In fact, we each appeal to this moral law every time evil is done against us; we appeal for something more than merely the survival of the fittest, where might makes right and morality is determined by those holding power. Therefore, we image God by respecting all of human life, particularly the weak, oppressed, sick, elderly, poor, unborn, and racial and cultural minorities because God values them as his image bearers.”

Why Hitler is actually a problem for atheists

Atheists rightly get angry when Christians make arguments about “morality” on the basis that Hitler was an atheist (by most accounts). It’s a stupid argument by an extreme and is the equivalent of people arguing that Christianity causes war on the basis of the Crusades.

No, Hitler is not a problem when it comes to atheists being able to act morally – but he is a problem for atheists when it comes to the question of evil.

I don’t know if this is true for all atheists. It’s probably not. But the ones I talk to, who are pretty smart, and cover a spectrum of “moral” approaches to life, are pretty consistent on the question of the existence of evil. They say there’s no such thing.

I asked them, out of curiousity, to define evil.

Here’s a mix of responses I got…

I find evil is a helpful word to describe abhorrent things. "Evil" is not a noun, it’s an adjective. What does exist is broken people and randomness… I don’t like it when Kevin Rudd uses it to describe something. My immediate reaction is negative because it makes me think of spiritual absolutes which I really just see as a lazy guide to morality. When I use the word "evil", I would use it with the knowledge of the religious overtones to give the word more impact.

It’s much better to view the world is terms of Harmful/Not Harmful.

Was Hitler harmful, yes.

Is homosexuality harmful, no.

That’s more meaningful than:

Was Hitler evil, yes.

Is homosexuality evil, yes.

Is abortion harmful? Yeah, I guess, but then is not-abortion even more harmful? I think so. Talking in terms like that is a lot more helpful than absolute evil.

And another response:

Evil is just a lazy shorthand way of simplifying things.  Evil exists in stories not in reality.  I also think it’s harmful as an idea.  Let’s go Nazi’s since it seems appropriate.  Humanising a Nazi or Hitler is something that will get the public up in arms.  But all "evils" are perpetrated by people not by some strange creatures of darkness and we can’t ignore this.  To understand them is not to excuse actions but it can inform how these things happen.  The Nazi’s, paedophiles, murderers, dance music producers, etc are just people.

And another…

I think the word "evil" creates more problems than solves it. I suggest a movement toward more specific terms, like "malicious", or "malevolent", or "unfortunate", depending on context and circumstance.

It seems there are a few of problems these guys have with the label. It’s got theological, and semantic baggage that make it unappealing – but in this discussion there’s also a question of relativity.

I personally find comfort in operating in a binary world of good and evil. I think it explains lots of things. I think Christianity provides a framework for understanding this binary that atheism doesn’t.

I think atheism is at its weakest when it tries to address evil, or bad, behaviour and explains away the purposeful actions of malevolent dictators as “insanity”, or the acts of the crazy. It’s more than that. There’s rationalised intent involved.

Reading any atheists (not just these specific friends of mine) trying to define how they decide if a behaviour is “positive” or “negative” is like watching someone trying to nail jelly to a wall.

There is no atheist apologetic for evil that sounds even remotely convincing to someone who believes in “good” and “evil” as absolutes. Which is a shame for the atheist – because all of our popular entertainment perpetuates the idea of such an absolute. Actually, it seems that the exceptions to that rule are the truly exceptional and intelligent, more nuanced, shows like the West Wing, The Wire and The Sopranos.

Good and evil come in degrees – and particular actions are nuanced by context. Shooting someone and killing them is not always evil. Similarly to these atheists I would support a harm v benefit process when deciding whether or not to shoot a dictator. But murder (defined as unjustifiable killing) is always evil, or bad. It doesn’t matter what rationalisation the perpetrator uses as a justification. If it’s truly justifiable then it’s not murder.

The Bible has a fair bit to say about evil, and about sin – and I think it’s where the Bible intersects the best with the human experience, along with the evidence of careful design in creation. I also think it’s the point where atheism is at its weakest when it comes to alternative explanations for why things are the way they are.

What do you reckon?

Update: one of my atheists pointed out that I haven’t really made a clear point about why I think atheism struggles with Hitler/evil.

Here’s my argument…

Most of atheism’s arguments from a scientific standpoint make sense if you remove the idea of God from the picture. You can observe most of the things atheists observe. And come to a conclusion ultimately based on how you think things came to be…

When it comes to giving any rationale about why people behave in evil ways – you’ve either got a compelling and consistent theological picture (evil is the result of rejecting God’s rule) or you’ve got the atheist’s answer – “some people do stuff that other people don’t like.”

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Dialogue with Atheists

I love my atheist friends. Not only do they brighten up my work days with interesting emails, the also get me thinking quite a bit about what we do right and wrong as Christians.

The Internet Monk has entered into his own little dialogue with an atheist – it’s interesting reading.

That old “morality” chestnut comes up. One of the things atheists seem to find profoundly annoying (apart from being generalised and slandered as a bunch, and references to Hitler) is the idea that you can’t be a moral person without God.

This is a communication breakdown. When I say “you can’t be good without God” it’s because I believe in God, believe humanity to be totally and naturally sinful, and believe that God graciously allows sinful people to act morally. Other people mean something different – they mean that you can’t be moral without “believing” in God. They’re different. And I think we need to be careful to express the difference in meaning. Non-theists are capable of moral behaviour. Theists believe that’s because God lets them, atheists don’t feel that compulsion because they don’t believe God is there to do it.

The internetmonk article also brings up the question of indoctrinating children and whether or not this constitutes “child abuse” – which it can’t possibly, if God is there. And I believe he is.

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Morality play

If you haven’t been keeping up with the interesting and constantly evolving debate on morality occuring on this post… then perhaps you should be.

After our Westminster Confession session finished last night conversation turned to this same topic – a discussion of morality, with particular reference to gay marriage.

I suggested that, consistent with my stance in that other thread, Christians shouldn’t be imposing our moral standards on others – and that in fact this is a strategically bad idea because the greater the gap between Christian behaviour and social standards the more powerful the witness of our difference becomes – which I see as one of the essential roles the Old Testament Law played (it marked Israel as different).

One of the counterpoints to that argument was that God’s judgment against nations follows immorality (eg Sodom and Gomorrah). While this can, taken to extremes, lead to church groups picketing soldier’s funerals – there may be a point.

Though I wonder if the lack of general morality is in fact part of the judgment – rather than there being cataclysmic consequences there are societal consequences where we pay the price for our actions.

I also wonder why those Christians who believe that the “judgment against the nations” means hastening the rapture, tribulation and judgment day aren’t arguing for the sort of behaviour that would bring things to a hasty end. It seems inconsistent.

However, this is essentially an incredibly long preamble to today’s slightly crass XKCD comic – which perhaps makes the point… morality is a slippery slope.

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At liberty

For those of you reading from the top of the page down – in the last post I mentioned some comments from Dave on a previous post, you should read that… anyway, he also had this to say:

“I think it taps into broader questions of what the role of the government is. Liberalism says the role of the government is to provide as far as possible for the liberty of its citizens and should interfere as little as possible with the choices citizens make. This depends on a shift from ‘government’ to ‘individual’ as the centre of moral decision making.”

I’d be interested in your thoughts on whether or not the government ever had a role to play in “moral decision making”… I would have thought that always essentially occurred via the individual because the government is not operating behind closed doors.

I probably lean towards classic “liberalism” but not so far as libertarianism as suggested by others in previous clean feed debates.

But you know who is a libertarian? WWE’s Kane. That’s who (or at least the guy who plays the character – Glenn Jacobs) – don’t ask me how I know this, but if you’re political views align with a guy who looks like this it’s probably time to reassess…