Trying to reason with an anti-theist can be a real ordeal

I reacted to a rather recent blog post written by a former Christian fundamentalist turned into an anti-theist.

Anti-theism: religion is not an incredibly diverse phenomenon but an UNIFIED loathsome entity which ought to be obliterated as soon as possible.

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According to The Bible, God (Not Satan) Is Both Evil And a Moral Failure

By Harry H. McCall at 5/16/2015

Damn, these facts are in the Bible!

(Disclaimer: Let me say from the start, I’m an atheist . . . I consider the Bible a literary fraud and that the characters discussed below never existed.)

Based on a general reading of the Bible, especially the section labeled the Old Testament, the Hebrew god Yahweh (given the Christian title God from the LXX) is portraited as a debauched immoral character, often lacking any ethical conscious while theologically (not Biblically), the figure of Satan unjustly condemned.

To illustrate my point, I’ll breakdown the Bible’s own characterizations God and Satan so the reader can see for him or herself who is really morally debauched  (I have left out the Book of Revelation due to the fact that the narratives in this Biblical Book have not taken place, being projected to some apocalyptic future which is theological speculation). Below, is a short list, though any student of the Bible who has a concordance or Bible dictionary will be able to find many more.

  1. Murders men, women, children, babies and the unborn indiscriminately (The Flood of Noah: Genesis 7)   God:  Yes   Satan:   No
  2. Commands the Israelites to rape, slaughter, steal / pillage and enslave men, women and children.  (The attack on the Midianites in Numbers 31)  God:  Yes   Satan: No
  3. Demands sexual mutilation as a sign of an agreement (Exodus 4:24 – 26 = Genesis 17: 11 -14)
    God:  Yes   Satan: No
  4. Demands rape of female children and babies. (Numbers 31: 18  But all the young (טף) girls ( נשים) who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” God:  Yes   Satan:  No
  5. Loves precious metals over the lives of humanity.  (Joshua 7: 15 & Joshua 7: 25) God:  Yes    Satan:  No
  6. Attacks and curses a talking snake for telling the truth then lies to Adam and Eve.  (Genesis 3)  God:  Yes      Satan: No
  7. Demands individual human sacrifice.  (The AkedahGenesis 22:1-2;  The murder (sacrifice ?) of Jesus;  See Gospels)  God:  Yes    Satan: No 
  8. Demands the burning of entire cities (שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”) so he can enjoy smelling the smoke of human flesh.  (Thus Joshua  6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual  / sacrificial burning in Joshua 6: 24 could take place.)   God: Yes   Satan: No
  9. Is never presented in the Bible as a murderer. (Despite Jesus’ assertion in John 8: 44. In Job, (in Job 1: 6 ) tells  us that fire fell from God and destroyed Jobs animals. In verse 19, wind causes the house to fall  on Job’s young people and, just like the fire from Heaven, God controls all these acts of nature.  While Job clearly states in 42: 11 thatit was God who did all the harm to Job, his wealth and his family: “Then  came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance  before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all  the evil that the LORD had brought on him.”  This is again backed up by Job’s statement in 1: 21: Job  said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there.The LORD gave and the  LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”)  God: No   Satan: Yes
  10. Has a divine son who lies as bad as the father.  (See my post: The Biblical Lies of God and Jesus)  God:  Yes   Satan: No 
  11. Commands a following spirits (be they Angels or Demons) to carry out the mass murders in a nation. (The PassoverExodus 12:29)  God:  Yes   Satan: No
  12. Will torture people forever in the name of love.  (Mark 9: 44, 46, & 48)  God: Yes   Satan: No

    M. Lies to his own believers in order to kill  off anyone stupid enough to to trust him. (The longer ending of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9 – 20).  God:  Yes   Satan: No 

    N. Presented generally in the Bible as a known lair and murderer.  God:  Yes   Satan: No 

***************

I think that in order to show that a Biblical passage is immoral, you’ve got to engage in a thorough exegesis (interpretation) of the text revealing that all likely meanings are morally problematic.

It is worth noting that Harry did nothing of the sort: he rather assumed that his interpretations portraying God as deeply evil are the correct ones without explaining us how he got there.

I do not believe that the Bible is free of errors and agree that the texts I emphasised in green are indeed very morally problematic..

Deuteronomy 20: mighty Isrealite riders are ready for genocidal assaults.
Atrocities in Deuteronomy 20.

I find his other examples (which I left in black) much more questionable.

For instance, I don’t believe that male circumcision is necessarily harmful. There are many ways of interpreting Genesis 3 and I see no reason to believe that the silliest meaning (involving a speaking snake being cursed) is the correct one.

Depending on how one understands the nature of Jesus (i.e. the incarnation) and what his sacrifice means, the concerned passages are not necessarily immoral.

I believe that hell ultimately means ceasing to be rather than being eternally tortured.

__________

I did not, however, chose to go into an endless dispute over the meaning of the passages I do not view as immoral.

Instead, I decided to point out the main flaw in Harry’s logics, namely his fundamentalist assumption that the Bible must be judged as an inerrant self-consistent Scripture rather than as a set of religious books written under various historical, cultural and theological contexts.

As I explained elsewhere, this is something that anti-theists and religious fundies share in common.

*************

Lotharson (me)

Harry, is the “Biblical” portrait of God’s moral character internally consistent? Or do the Biblical authors speak with conflicting voices?

You seem to be convinced that the first option holds.

Given the results of historical-critical scholarship, this seems to be an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence .

Apparently you’re still rejecting them as a good fundamentalist.

Here’s a great book you should read: the human faceS of God

What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (And Why Inerrancy Tries To Hide It)
The human faces of God:
the Bible is a culturally conditioned book arguing with itself.

I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.
Of course, ancient writers had much more wrong conceptions concerning science, morality and reasoning than we have now.

Yet, that’s hardly a reason to mock their writings or consider them as deeply wicked people.

If we were born under the same circumstances, we’d certainly have thought and behaved like them.

I did mock some beliefs of ancient Greeks as I was an immature teenager. But since then I’ve fortunately grown up.

***********************************

Harry

I find your response very odd.

First off, there is no proof that the Biblical history from Genesis to Solomon is pure fiction. William Propp’s commentaries on Exodus, along with the works of John Van Seters and TL Thompson on the Patriarchs with the fate of King David and Solomon sealed by the Tell Dan Inscription (reading it correctly using the supplied word dividers proves it does not mention “House of David”) has re-enforce the fact that (unlike an ancient Greek texts), the Hebrew alphabetic Semitic script is late; thus there is no trace of one Old Testament verse prior to 250 BCE.

Tom Stark is little more than a liberal Christian as both his writings and lectures reveal (after all, he still teaches at Emanuel School of Religion . . . ). If Stark comes down too hard on the Hebrew Bible, he’ll find that a secular job will be his only finical salvation. His Seminary clearly states: “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These churches are known for their continued commitment to biblical preaching and teaching.

Though Stark’s book was published in 2011, he fails (more likely, refuses) to cite Propp’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Exodus (final volume published, 2006) or any of TL Thompson’s or John Van Seter’s works from the 1970’s and 80’s. More importantly, while his book deals with human sacrifice in chapter 5, he seems to be totally unaware of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s major 2002 Oxford dissertation: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, Walter de Grutyer, Berlin, 2004. I could go on, but I’ll let these books expose his real methodology . . . how to keep his God (with egg / evil on his face) looking good. Stark is a good P.R . man, but not good enough!

You stated, “I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.” How would you know? From your comments on other blogs, and, like Thom Stark, you seem to be a liberal Christian. The last minister I talked to who was a member of Stark’s Churches of Christ was dogmatic in telling me that his church is the only true church founded by Jesus himself! Since Thom Stark links himself with this church on his book’s website ( http://humanfacesofgod.com/ ), he and Father Tom of the Greek Orthodox Church should fight it out for a cash first.

If you have a problem with my post, then, using the Biblical text, I would challenge you to point out where it’s wrong; after all, I simply based it on the Bible.

Finally, this blog is called Debunking Christianity for a reason. I rest my case.

********************

Lotharson (me)

Hey, thanks for your answer.

Sorry if I sounded rude.

My main problem with your writing is that you keep talking about THE God of the Bible which entails that the Biblical authors never contradict each other about the moral character of God.

For example, I consider it very far-fetched to pretend that vindictive psalms where the authors pray for the violent demise of the children of their foes are compatible with the command to love our enemies in the New Testament.

Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Jewish woman: certainly he doesn't mean the Romans? Jewish man: I hope not.
Jesus preaching love towards our enemies. Has there been any progress during the last two thousand years in that respect?

To the best of my knowledge, Christian fundamentalists and anti-theists are the only ones who make that claim.

Finally, I consider it very problematic to judge ancient people according to our modern criteria. As theologian Randal Rauser put it:

“I’m willing to concede that there are vestiges of tradition in the
ancient Hebrew scriptures that take an affirmative position toward human
sacrifice. Does it follow, as Loftus (a militant atheist leading the blog DebunkingChristianity) claims, that we can learn nothing from the cumulative Hebrew tradition as recorded in Scripture? Of course
not. Indeed, the claim is completely ridiculous.

To see why, switch your focus from the ancient Hebrews to the ancient
Greeks. Let’s take one Greek, the great Aristotle, as our example, and
let’s just consider a couple of his beliefs from science, politics and
ethics. To begin with, Aristotle believed that the human brain
functioned to cool the blood, venting heat like the radiator in a car.
Today we would consider this belief wildly false, even laughable. Second
example, Aristotle also defended the use of slaves, describing them in
his Politics as useful in the manner of domestic animals. This
is a shockingly crude and immoral position. Does it follow that we
should conclude we can learn nothing from Aristotle? Of course not. The
very notion is absurd. What we do, instead, is judiciously read
Aristotle, appropriating the wheat and sweeping away the chaff.

Sadly, it is common to find atheists like Loftus crudely dismissing
the Hebrew tradition, even as they selectively read and appropriate the
Hellenistic tradition. This is completely inconsistent and shows a deep
bias against the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Do Aristotle’s wrong beliefs about slavery mean he didn’t have deep moral insights in other respects?

https://i0.wp.com/www.returnofkings.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/aristotle.jpg

I think not.

*************

Thanks for your reply.

For me, the difference between Aristotle and Jesus is that, Aristotle existed, while Jesus didn’t. See my post: We Know From Hard Evidence Dinosaurs Existed 66 Million Years Ago Yet We Have No Objective Evidence Jesus Existed Just 2 Thousands Years Ago

**

If you feel frustrated after having read our exchange, you’re not alone.

https://i1.wp.com/shoprto.com/wp-content/mediafiles/2013/02/frustrated.jpg

Good scholarly debates advancing our knowledge break down the cause of the disagreement into smaller problems which can then be specifically analysed.

Rhetoric and propaganda involve picking and choosing whatever serves your purpose while switching the topic whenever you no longer feel advantaged.

There are certainly respectful and kind atheistic philosophers out there who criticise religious beliefs in a scholarly manner. They should be considered very seriously.

Anti-theists engage in propaganda and emotional bullying with the hope of deconverting as many religious believers as they can. But if you manage to separate their real arguments from the hateful rhetoric enveloping them, they often prove to be incredibly weak.

Are all atheists wicked fools hurtling towards hell?

Atheism: a consoling delusion for people who can't handle the reality of God's existence.
The “atheistic delusion”? Is this a fair and intellectually responsible look at the situation?

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser wrote a very relevant post about some widespread harmful beliefs held by many Christians in America.

******

Randal Rauser

A few days ago Jeff Lowder of “The Secular Outpost” started a new series on “stupid atheist memes”. His first installment was:

If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”

Four years ago I did my own series along similar lines titled “How to Confound Christians with Bad Arguments.” The first installment was: “Compare Santa to Jesus.” Needless to say, naming and shaming this kind of ignorance is an important way to maintain the health of a belief community.

While I think it is worthwhile to point out the problematic memes in another belief community, it is even better to commit some time to pointing out the problems in your own community. And that’s why I’m doubly appreciative for Jeff’s new series.

I have always aimed to do the same thing by extending at least as much criticism to elements within my own belief community as I direct outside it. As a case in point, in a few weeks my new book will be in the marketplace. In Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I launch a book-length critique of a particularly pernicious Christian meme, namely the idea that deep-down atheists really do believe in God and they are sinfully suppressing this belief so that they may live with impunity.  I believe this is a very harmful meme which has left much misunderstanding, pain, and suffering in its wake. (Incidentally, the book also features an interview with Jeff Lowder. Bonus!)

So how ought we to respond to harmful memes? Must we always speak out against them? The Book of Common Prayer includes the following confession: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Note in this confession that there are two distinct sins. Yes, there is the sin of commission, namely those things we have done. But there are also the sins of omission, those things we ought to have done but failed to do. To propagate memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice within your belief community constitutes a sin (or if you prefer, an “error” or “indiscretion”) of commission. But to fail to censure memes of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice also constitutes a sin, namely a sin of omission.

In other words, there is no neutral place to stand with respect to this pernicious nonsense. Can you imagine the impact if every time one of these memes was posted or tweeted a chorus would rise up in indignation? Things would begin to change pretty quickly. To sum up, you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.

*************

My interaction with an atheist

Epicurus wrote an interesting comment:

I look forward to reading the book. I’ve always felt that Christians are trapped and must believe that non christians are suppressing belief because of Paul’s writings and attitudes on the matter.
It will be interesting to read Randal’s examination of the topic.

To which I answered:

******

Lotharson

Not all Christians believe in Biblical inerrancy.

What’s more, Paul can be quite ambiguous on that very topic.

Saint Paul redacting one of his numerous letters.
The Apostle Paul writing one of his numerous letters.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are
storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the GENTILE. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”

A straightforward interpretation of this passage would be that Paul did believe that HEATHENS were able to strive for good works, thereby inheriting immortality.

Consider further this parable of Jesus:

“31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you
gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the
least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I
was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you
did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after
me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

White-dressed Jesus, sheep, malovelent goats
Jesus, the sheep and the goats

Were the righteous ones people who put their faith in Jesus during this lifetime and were “saved by grace”?

I think it’s a terribly convoluted interpretation of this passage.

A likely interpretation is that Jesus (and possibly also Paul) believed in a kind of virtue ethics according to which salvation comes through the cultivation of a just and humble Christ-like personality while sincerely acknowledging one’s sins and need for salvation.

Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more.

I certainly know quite a few atheists who are much closer to the spirit of Christ than many of his followers.

Cheers.

**************
Epicurus
“Therefore, I do think it is quite possible for a Christian to believe that many persons dying as atheists will inherit eternal life whereas self-righteous bigots of all kinds will be no more”.That all sounds fine, but what do you do with verses that suggest differently? Because you don’t believe in inerrancy you can ignore them and use the ones you like?
********
Lotharson

Hi.
My point was that, at the very least, Christians aren’t compelled to have such an attitude towards atheists.
While the Bible can often speak with conflicting voices, I do not think we can find anything telling us unambiguously that unbelievers are immoral but many things clearly asserting the contrary.

I grant your general point, however.
It would be terribly question-begging to base doctrines on verses we arbitrarily pick and choose, once we’ve already concluded that the Biblical Canon isn’t internally coherent.

Ultimately, I base my faith on God defined as the greatest Being which can exist.

In the end, I think this is a hope which cannot be proven through rational arguments. Neither can atheism or materialism.
(Many mainstream Christians in Europe consider “faith” as an existential decision to hope in God rather than as a set of knowledge claims).

I also think, however, that EVERY belief system must be grounded through unproven presuppositions.

Consider for example the possibility that we are living in a simulation which was created ten minutes ago.

Brain in a vat:
A brain in a vat: what if we’re all deluded?

I’ve no doubt that (almost) all of us find this completely absurd on an emotional level.

Yet I do not think that you can show this to be rationally implausible without begging the question in one way or the other.
(You can try to prove me wrong if you so wish).

Ooops, I might have gotten a bit too far from the original topic 🙂

******
Epicurus
I want to agree with you, but when I read things like Romans 1:18-32, or Psalm 14:1, etc, I can’t
***************

My interaction with a Conservative Evangelical

A little bit later, a Conservative Protestant criticised my views on salvation:
Rob

So you’re advocating Pelagianism? There’s no need to go that far.

Rom 2 is tricky. Thee point isn’t salvation by works. If you read the whole chapter, the gist is to jolt Jews out of complacency in thinking that they can sin and be saved, merely because they possess the Torah as a birthright, and that many gentiles are actually closer to heaven than they.

As to the sheep/goats parable, note the word “brethren”. This does not refer to generic acts of charity, but to good deeds done to Christians, so the doer would in some sense be considered Christian (ex. he who gives a cup of cold water, etc.)

None of this contradicts Rom 1, which seems to suggest that unbelievers hold (“suppress”) the knowledge of God’s existence, out of base motives.

******
Lotharson

Hi Rob.

I could as well say that Roman 1 is “tricky” and use Roman 2 to interpret it as meaning the collective sin of the culture rather than that of all individuals belonging to it.

Suppose that both Jesus and Paul believed that the deepest truth of the universe is that you have to believe in Christ on this side of the grave in order to be saved.

I think they would have said something like that:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For you did put your faith in me before entering the grave

Roman 2:
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed. 6 IF He “will repay each person according to what they have done.”, WE WILL ALL BE DAMNED. 7 To those who CONSCIOUSLY BELIEVED IN HIS SON DURING THEIR LIFETIME, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM: first for the Jew, then
for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good THROUGH BELIEVING IN HIM: first for the Jew, then for the gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism.”

The fact that Jesus and Paul used very different words and phrases is a terrible fit to the classical Protestant view of salvation.

At the very least, I think that what I described earlier is a not unlikely view of salvation in the New Testament, regardless of whether or not you call it “Pelagianism“.

**********
I might add that Rob’s answers are pretty far-fetched in other respects as well.
While Paul’s main point in Roman 2 was certainly to criticise a belief in Jewish supremacy, the way he expressed himself makes it pretty likely he believed that humble heathens striving for a righteous life will inherit immortality and glory.
So, Rob’s remark concerning Paul’s main intention while writing this fails to engage with my reasoning.
As for Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, Rob’s argumentation sounds really bizarre to my subjective ears. It appears to go like this
1) The word “Brethren” in the parable refers to “Christians in need”
2) Thus, those who inherit salvation are those who helped Christians in need
3) A person helps a Christian in need if and only if she is herself a Christian
4) Therefore, all Christians will go to heaven whereas all unbelievers will go to hell.
 That’s the only way I can make sense of it.
While I cannot judge Rob as a person, I think that this particular argument wasn’t particularly convincing.
1′) As Jesus taught this, there wasn’t yet any Christian around and it seems quite clear that “Brethren” referred to his fellow Jews trying to do the will of this Father while he was preaching  in Israel. And whenever “doing the will of the Father” is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, it means good works towards God and one’s neighbour and not faith in Him as the only possible “fire insurance”.
3′) involves that, whenever confronted with a Christian in need, all Christians will help the person in question whereas all non-Christians will selfishly refuse to do so. This is truly an extraordinary claim which can be all too easily refuted by reading testimonies of Christians in areas of armed conflict.
Saying that these passages teach “salvation by faith only” nonetheless means that Paul and Jesus were quite sloppy in their choice of words and examples. Given their extreme ambiguity, it would have been then quite legitimate for the Church before (and after) Luther to interpret this in good conscience and perfectly legitimately as supporting the “false teaching” of salvation by works.
This comes over as a desperate attempt at salvaging one’s dogmas no matter what.
 
I believe that honestly leaving every Biblical text speak for itself instead of imposing a predefined pattern on it leads to two important conclusions:
A) The Bible is not inerrant: it can clearly speak with conflicting voices
B) The large majority of texts go against major doctrines held by Conservative Protestants. Indeed,
they’re at odds with the doctrine of hell understood as eternal conscious torment
they fail to teach that God cursed us all with a sinful nature because our first parents ate the wrong fruit.
– they’re at odds with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone and grace alone (as seen in this post)
they’re at odds with the belief that homosexuality is a far more serious sin than failing to help the poor.
and I could add many others.

Conclusion

So, this was doubtlessly a terribly chaotic post 🙂
During these two interactions, I obviously touched on a lot of topics. I hope that my readers have found some of this interesting, regardless of whether they’re Christians, atheists or belong to an entirely different species altogether.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

Divine genocides and Biblical inerrancy

The moral problem of Genocide within the Bible

The presence of apparently genocidal texts within the Bible (where God allegedly ordered soldiers not to spare children) is arguably one of the strongest challenges faced by Conservative Evangelicals who believe that the writers of the Bible never made any mistake with respect to everything they wanted to convey.

Difficult moral issues: the genocide of the Canaanites.  On the picture, shouting bearded men are fighting and swinging their swords.
Moral problem for Biblical inerrantists: the genocide of the Canaanites.

I already went into the problem while responding to an email from an atheist.

Peter Enns besides his book: the Bible tells me so: why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it.
Progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns.

Recently, progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns started out critically examining a new Conservative Evangelical book (“Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God” by Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan) aiming at alleviating the moral tensions caused by the problematic texts.

Book available on Amazon: Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God
Copan and Flannagan:
Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.

Here is my response to his post which is really worth reading.

Conservative Evangelical apologetics defending Biblical inerrancy

I once interviewed Matt Flannagan himself about his views on the conquest of Canaan.

Matt Flannagan with a neutral facial expression.
Evangelical apologist Matt Flannagan.

I must say I largely prefer his approach to that of William Lane Craig who defends the killing of babies by untrained soldiers as perfectly moral (while he is passionately opposed to such an act if it is committed against a yet unborn child by a trained physician).
To his credit, Craig does recognize it is an option for Christians disagreeing with him on that to reject Biblical inerrancy. This is a point almost no Conservative Evangelical grants.
Here, I can only mention Randal Rauser’s excellent criticism of his arguments.

In a sense, this is a real pity. Craig is an extremely brilliant man. While I don’t think he’s ultimately successful in proving Christianity, I think he is by no means inferior to sophisticated defenders of atheism out there.

He’s also a kind person and tend to be a very agreeable and respectful conversation partner.

William Lane Craig with a nice suit and a charming smile.
William Lane Craig, leading Evangelical apologist.

So it is truly disappointing he holds such indefensible views owing to his belief in Biblical inerrancy.
He gives anti-theists powerful rhetorical ammunitions for refusing to take seriously anything he has to say.

When the Bible is at odds with facts from the external world, Conservative apologetics fall into two categories:
– fundamentalism: denying the facts and clinging to the literal interpretation of Scripture (as typically Young Earth Creationists do)
– concordism: accepting the reliability of the external facts and trying to find an interpretation of the Bible matching them (as typically progressive creationists do).

With respect to this specific question, Craig has chosen a fundamentalist approach.
The apologetic strategy of Copan and Flanaggan is more in line with our basic moral intuitions and as such they can be regarded as concordists.

I generally think that concordists are successful for SOME moral difficulties found within Scripture whereby they offer a plausible alternative interpretation no longer strongly offensive to our fundamental ethical intuitions.

Atrocities in the text and some very implausible assumptions

But there are countless other “Biblical difficulties” and oftentimes I cannot help but think that their interpretation of the text is far-fetched and certainly not in accordance with what the original authors meant.

While reading Deuteronomy 20 explicating the difference between war inside and outside Canaan:

“When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labour. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here.
(first part).

“But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.”
(Second part)

Deuteronomy 20: mighty Isrealite riders are ready for genocidal assaults.
Atrocities in Deuteronomy 20?

it seems extremely likely that the Biblical author wanted to convey the idea of literal killings in both cases

Or consider the war against the Midianate:

“Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

Women are being seized by men against their will.
(Virgin) women as war booty.

It is very plausible (if not almost certain) that Mose (according to the authors of the book of Numbers) wanted his men to kill male infants, married women and widows while taking virgin girls as war booty .

It seems extraordinarily hard to avoid the conclusion that the Biblical authors attributed barbaric commands to God.

Conservative Evangelicals having troubles

Coupled with all examples of scientific and historical inaccuracies in the Bible, it appears that the Chicago Statement of inerrancy (the Biblical writers never erred in what they wanted to convey) can only be salvaged by resorting to a flurry of extremely unlikely ad-hoc hypotheses and distortions of the text.

This is why I think that the Conservative Evangelical faith has an incredibly shaky foundation which can be all too easily shattered once one begins to honestly read and examine the Biblical texts.

Among all these seeds of doubt, the description of God as an immoral being seems to be the main factor leading young Evangelicals to give up Christianity altogether, as an email to which I responded illustrates.

Antitheism as a legitimate child of religious fundamentalism

As a consequence, we get plenty of angry anti-theists who view the Bible as an entirely wicked book which should be burnt.

They have kept a fundamentalist mindset in so far as they think that:

1) the Bible should be judged in every respect according to modern criteria (thereby disregarding the strong influence of history and culture on moral beliefs)
2) the Bible is always entirely consistent in relation to its moral message.
Thus, if we can show that in one book soldiers are ordered to slaughter children, we must conclude that the WHOLE Bible endorses and advocates infanticides.

Over 90% of those who identify themselves as "Christian" admit they have never read the entire Bible...which ironically is the way you become an atheist.
How fundamentalism produces antitheism.

Far from protecting the Church, Conservative Evangelicalism is causing a mass desertion which could be avoided.

Progressive Christianity means embracing uncertainty.

On a personal level, the results of historical-critical scholarship have led me to give up the concept of a divine Canon set apart and more inspired than other books outside of it.

Frankly speaking, there is no meaningful way in which we could say that the imprecatory psalms (where a man prays for the atrocious death of the children of his enemy) is more inspired that sermons of Martin Luther King or books of C.S. Lewis (who by the way recognized the existence of errors within the Bible).

If one reads the Bible as a collection of book reporting the experiences and thoughts of people concerning God (i.e. in the same way one reads other Christians and Jewish books including apocryphal books in the Bible), many moral problems disappear completely.

I can even find moral beauty in many texts which fall short of perfection.

Of course, Evangelicals find my approach terribly unsettling because they’ve been raised to think that a Bible free of mistakes is the only way we have for knowing how God truly is .

There is no easy answer I can give them. I think that by definition, God has to be morally perfect and therefore higher than the most noble person who has ever lived under the sun.
For me, being a Christian means hoping in a God who revealed his ultimate face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I find Hans Küng’s book “Christianity”  (which I originally read in German) excellent and think that he did a very good job showing that ultimate worldview commitments (including the contrast between hope and despair, nihilism and meaning, atheism and theism, Christianity and non-Christian religions) involve choices which go far beyond what is warranted by the evidence and rational considerations.

Hans Küng. Christianity: essence, history and future.
Hans Küng: Apologist for progressive Christianity.

So I view faith as existential hope in the face of uncertainty and think that religious fundamentalists and Conservatives should come to terms with the fact that our ambiguous world hasn’t anything better to offer.

Is there such a thing as “Biblical” marriage?

Rachel Ford recently published an article on the website of the “Friendly” Atheist arguing that the Bible is a morally consistent evil book presenting marriage coherently as a man possessing several wifes as objects to be used and maltreated.

**********************************

Biblical Marriage Isn’t About One Man and One Woman

Don’t fall out of your seat, but in an interview with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson (below) had even more to say about homosexuality, premarital sex, and the Bible.

Most of it is his usual schtick of sex gives you cooties unless you’re married (presumably to a 15- or 16-year old?) and I won’t bore you with the details. What I do want to draw your attention to, however, is the blatantly false assertion he makes about what “God says” about marriage:

God says, ‘One woman, one man,’ and everyone says, ‘Oh, that’s old hat, that’s that old Bible stuff,’” he said.

Robertson was kind enough to erase any doubt as to which “God” he might be referring to: naturally, the God of the Bible. And since that God doesn’t grant interviews, the Bible is our only source for what God (allegedly) said.

The problem is that the Bible never claims that God said marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

Christians often turn to the New Testament to justify that claim. Paul writes about marriage in a seemingly singular (and often decidedly disdainful) fashion, such as in 1 Corinthians 7, and Jesus refers to two people when discussing divorce in Mark 10 and Matthew 19 (which is to be expected, presuming a husband doesn’t divorce more than one wife at a time). Despite that, it’s worth noting that nowhere is a clear proscription against polygamy given — Jesus referred to — but did not “correct” — first covenant law, which clearly allowed polygamy. Corinthians — written in a time when Pagan culture had already introduced the concept of monogamy — might use singular language to describe spouses, but it doesn’t actually define marriage as being between one man and one woman. In fact, nowhere does the Bible declare, on behalf of God or anyone else, does it use that precise definition.

So Robertson gets his Bible wrong when he claims to know what “God says.” Even if he had meant to say “the Bible says” one man and one woman, he would have still been wrong.

But “wrong” is too generous. He, in fact, settles on the opposite of what the Bible tells us about marriage. The Bible is full of specific examples of marriage — some of them allegedly directly sanctioned by God — that contradict the fairytale version of marriage that Christians claim as “Biblical” nowadays.

What follows is a list of types of marriage defined in the Bible, often by God. I have purposely avoided examples or marriage in the Bible that were supposed to have ticked God off, so as not to misrepresent the joy that was true Biblical marriage:

  • Biblical marriage is a man arranging to buy a girl from her father for an agreed upon purchase price (Genesis 29:18)
  • Biblical marriage is a wife “giving” her servant to her husband as a “wife” for sex and procreation, regardless of her maid servant’s wishes (Genesis 16:2-3, Genesis 30:3, Genesis 30:9, etc.)
  • Biblical marriage is a raiding party murdering the fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters of a people but saving the young virgins because they want “wives” (i.e. women to capture and legally rape) (Judges 21:10-14)
  • Biblical marriage is a raiding party lying in wait to capture more women as “wives” (Judges 21:20-24)
  • Biblical marriage is God commanding the massacre of every male and non-virgin, and handing over the virgin women to his followers. Like the 32,000 women counted among the “spoils” in Numbers 31
  • Biblical marriage is a victim being forced to marry her rapist with no hope of divorce (but don’t worry — her father is suitably compensated in cash for the trouble, and this is only valid if the woman is not already another man’s property… so relax! No property rights are violated by this arrangement) (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
  • Biblical marriage is selling your daughter as a slave to be given to her owner or owner’s son for sexual exploitation as a “wife” (though denied even minimal protections) (Exodus 21:7-11)
  • Biblical marriage is one man taking multiple, even hundreds, of wives and concubines (see: David, Solomon, Jacob, Abraham, etc)
  • Biblical marriage is a woman as property whose own happiness is inconsequential, but whose property status is absolute (see: David and Michal)
  • Biblical marriage is for those who “cannot control themselves” and so must opt away from what is “good for them”: unmarried celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)
  • Biblical marriage is a woman marrying her dead husband’s brother (whether either party wishes it or not) so that she can have a kid in the dead husband’s name (Deuteronomy 25:5). Sometimes, it manifests as a woman seducing her former father-in-law in the guise of a prostitute in order to fulfill her God-ordained obligation (Genesis 38, Judah and Tamar). Sometimes, it manifests as a husband getting struck down by God, for refusing to impregnate his dead brother’s wife (Genesis 38, Onan and Tamar). Even according to the Bible, it doesn’t seem to have been a very happy implementation of the institution
  • Biblical marriage is neither partner being able to refrain from sex without the consent of the other (1 Corinthians 7:4-5)

That’s what the Bible actually says about marriage. In fact, when it comes right down to it, Biblical marriage is almost always two or more men deciding between themselves what woman an individual will take as a wife — be it a father selling his daughter into sexual slavery, a husband-to-be arranging with a father an agreement suitable to both parties (irrespective of the wife-to-be’s wishes) on how to dispose of/acquire the female in question, a party of soldiers or raiders murdering a woman’s entire family in order to claim her (sometimes supposedly at the direct command of God), a rapist grabbing an unattached female and at the same time getting himself a new wife, etc.

Marriage according to the Bible isn’t love and romance and butterflies in the pit of your stomach. It’s very, very far from it. You have to wonder whether Robertson ever reads the book he holds in such high esteem.

***********************

Fundamentalist assumptions

My answer follows.

http://theantitheistdotcom1.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/the_holy_bible1.jpg
How about this: the Bible does NOT speak with one voice but many conflicting ones?
Apparently anti-theists are utterly unable to grasp this basic result of historical critical scholarship as soon as ethical problems are addressed.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies, one of the psalmists taught us we should pray for the violent and atrocious death of their children .
No rational person can agree that both statements are consistent with each other.

The only ones who do this are Christian fundamentalists and English-speaking anti-theists, who interestingly enough most often turn out to be former fundies.

You’re light years away from a scientific study of religionS (which form an extraordinarily DIVERSE phenomenon).

What’s more I also strongly doubt it is meaningful to judge ancient texts according to our modern enlightened standards. After all, the fact that most writings of ancient Greek philosophers are full of scientific mistakes isn’t a reason to mock them, is it? So why should it be any different when morality is concerned?

Fortunately, the responses weren’t aggressive at all.

Someone retorted:

Two things. I think the anti-theists (as you call them) know that the Bible comes from many sources, but they argue as if it is one voice because Christian fundamentalists insist that the Bible is of one voice.
Second, it is Christian fundamentalists that insist that the Bible conveys immutable timeless moral laws. (I presume that some Muslims do the same with the Koran). So to pluck a Biblical moral lesson and to ask if it is still true, is to challenge the idea that the Bible provides these timeless immutable moral lessons.

To which I replied:

Thanks for your thoughtful answer, Rob.

As a progressive Christian, I also use this kind of arguments against fundies or generally Conservative Evangelicals. I certainly don’t believe that everything found in the Bible is “timeless and immutable”, although one can find such truths within its pages (like in other Wisdom Traditions).

But I find that most anti-theists present things as if showing that one book in the Bible contains wicked stuff attributed to God is sufficient for concluding that the entire Bible is hopelessly evil.
Worryingly enough, Nazi historians and scholars during the Third Reich used precisely the same tactic for showing that Judaism is irremediably wicked and egregious. They picked and chose the very worst passages in Jewish writings and interpreted them in the worst possible light.

For Reason’s sake , one has to be very careful. Going about this scientifically requires making a distinction between the incredibly diverse religious sects, movements and ideas out there and steering clear from overgeneralizations, binary thinking and prejudices.

I’d be delighted if anti-theists were to begin to act like that but they’d probably choose a new name pretty soon then 🙂

In hindsight I realize I should have directly emphasized that the authors of the old Testament itself don’t agree with each others about women and love.

I consider it extremely hard (if not impossible) to seriously argue that the author of the erotic and romantic “Song of Songs” just saw women as camels to be exploited.

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for your love is better than wine.” Song of Songs 1:2

“Take me away with you. Let us hurry. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will be glad and rejoice in you. We will praise your love more than wine! They are right to love you.” Song of Songs 1:4“Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you graze your flock, where you rest them at noon; For why should I be as one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions?” Song of Songs 1:7“Behold, you are beautiful, my love. Behold, you are beautiful. Your eyes are doves.” Song of Songs 1:15“Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, yes, pleasant; and our couch is verdant. “Song of Songs 1:16

“As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” Song of Songs 2:2

“He brought me to the banquet hall. His banner over me is love.” Song of Songs 2:4

“Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples; For I am faint with love. “Song of Songs 2:5

“My beloved spoke, and said to me, “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. “Song of Songs 2:10

“The fig tree ripens her green figs. The vines are in blossom. They give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” Song of Songs 2:13

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love. Behold, you are beautiful. Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is as a flock of goats, that descend from Mount Gilead. “Song of Songs 4:1

“You are all beautiful, my love. There is no spot in you. “Song of Songs 4:7

“How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine! The fragrance of your perfumes than all manner of spices!” Song of Songs 4:10

“I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride. I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, friends! Drink, yes, drink abundantly, beloved.” Song of Songs 5:1

“I was asleep, but my heart was awake. It is the voice of my beloved who knocks: “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, and my hair with the dampness of the night.” Song of Songs 5:2

“Let’s go early up to the vineyards. Let’s see whether the vine has budded, its blossom is open, and the pomegranates are in flower. There I will give you my love. “Song of Songs 7:12

“Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; for love is strong as death. Jealousy is as cruel as Sheol. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a very flame of Yahweh. Many waters can’t quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man would give all the wealth of his house for love, he would be utterly scorned.” Song of Songs 8:6,7

The Song of Songs: A Photographer

Should an inerrant Bible be the very foundation of Christianity?

Eric Reitan, a progressive Christian philosopher (having written an excellent book on the New Atheism and one defending universal salvation) gave several arguments against the central place of the Bible for our faith.

 

How Does God Reveal? Five Christian Reasons to Doubt Biblical Inerrancy

 
The Patheos website is currently hosting a multi-blog conversation about progressive Christianity and Scripture which has generated numerous engaging and thoughtful contributions–such as this one by James McGrath. Because the relationship between progressive Christian faith and the Bible is one of my enduring interests, the sudden flood of interesting essays on the topic has inspired me to take a few minutes to reflect on the issue myself. 

As a philosopher of religion, the way I approach this topic is in terms of a philosophical question: What theory of revelation fits best with the Christian view of God? Put another way, if there is a God that fits the broadly Christian description, how would we expect such a God to reveal the divine nature and will to the world?

Many conservative Christians take it for granted that God has revealed the divine nature and will in and through a specific book. More precisely (although they aren’t usually this precise), they believe that God inspired certain human authors at various times in history to write texts that inerrantly express divine truths–and then inspired other human beings to correctly recognize these texts and include all and only them in the comprehensive collection of Scriptures we call the Bible.

Let’s call this the theory of biblical inerrancy.

Does this theory fit well with broader Christian beliefs? Is this a good Christian theory about divine revelation, culminating in a good Christian theory about what the Bible is and what sort of authority we should attach to it? I think there are a number of reasons to be skeptical.

Put more narrowly, I think there are a number of reasons why Christians should be skeptical, given their Christian starting points. Let’s consider at least some of these reasons.

1. Christianity holds that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God

Traditional Christian teaching holds that Jesus is the Word made Flesh, the incarnation of God in history. And this means that for Christians, the primary and monumental revelation of God is in the person of Jesus, not in any book (however inspired). It is this fact which motivated George MacDonald to say of the Bible,

It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him.

Biblical inerrantists might argue that nothing precludes God from both revealing the divine nature primarily in Jesus and authoring an inerrant book as a secondary revelation. This is true as far as it goes. But there are reasons for concern.

First, there’s a difference between the kind of revelation that Jesus represents, and the kind that a book represents. A person and a book are different things, and we learn from them in different ways. Consider the difference between having a mentor in the project of becoming a better person, and reading self-help books.

Doesn’t Christianity teach that God’s preferred way of disclosing the divine nature and will is through personal, living relationship rather than fixed words? The problem with throwing in an inerrant book as a “supplemental” revelation is that it can lead to Bible-worship. Given human psychology, there is something alluring about having a book with all the answers. But if God primarily wants us to find the answers through personal engagement with the living God, as discovered in Jesus, isn’t there a real danger that fixation on the Bible will distract the faithful from God’s primary mode of self-disclosure?

None of this is to say that human stories–witness accounts of divine revelation in history–aren’t important. They can motivate a desire to seek out the one whom the stories are about, and they can offer tools for discerning whether you’ve found the one you seek or an imposter. But once they are seen as secondary, as valuable as a means to an end, the need for inerrancy dissipates. If what really matters is my friendship with Joe, and if I sought out and formed a friendship with him because lots of people told me stories about him that revealed him as an awesome guy I wanted to meet, do I really need to insist that those storytellers were inerrant? Why?

2. The Jesus of Scripture was not an inerrantist

In John 8:1-11, we have the story of the teachers of the law coming to Jesus with an adulteress, and asking Him whether they ought to stone her to death as the Scriptures prescribe. The passage itself declares that this was a trap: If Jesus came out and directly told them not to stone her, He would be defying a direct scriptural injunction.

He avoided the trap: He didn’t directly telling them to act contrary to Scripture. Instead, He told them that the one without sin should cast the first stone.

It is a stunning and powerful story (no wonder someone decided to write it into the Gospel of John, even though it didn’t appear in the earliest versions). But notice that Jesus didn’t tell them to do what Scripture prescribed. Instead, He found a powerful way to drive home exactly what was wrong with following that scriptural injunction–in a way that avoided their trap.

In short, Jesus disagreed with some of the teachings in the Scriptures of His day. In the Sermon on the Mount, he offered gentle correctives to earlier teachings–teachings which started in a direction but didn’t go far enough. The lex talionis command to punish evildoers eye for eye and tooth for tooth may, at the time, have served as a restraint on retributive impulses: don’t punish beyond the severity of the crime. But for Jesus, that level of restrain was insufficient. It was a start on a path, perhaps, but only that. Jesus followed the trajectory of that path to its conclusion, and enjoined His listeners to turn the other cheek.

In short, it’s clear Jesus didn’t have the inerrantist view towards the Scriptures of His day that conservative Christians have towards the Christian Scriptures of today. Conservatives might argue that Jesus would view the modern Bible–or maybe just the New Testament?–in the way they favor, even if the approach to Scripture that He actually modeled is at odds with their approach.

Allow me to treat such a speculative claim with suspicion. If Jesus is the primary revelation of God in history, then it strikes me as appropriate to follow His model for approaching Scripture, and respectfully look beyond the letters on the page to the deeper intentions that finite human authors might have missed, noticing trajectories and exploring where they might lead.

3. In the New Testament, Paul distinguished between his views and the Lord’s

 In 1 Corinthians 7:10-12, Paul says the following:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her…

I’ve talked about this passage before, so I won’t go into details. What interests me is the distinction Paul makes between his own views and those of the Lord. In this passage, it’s clear that Paul did not see Himself as taking dictation from God. He made a clear distinction between his own opinions and those of the Lord, and by making the distinction explicit was signaling to his readers that they should treat the injunctions differently–as if he didn’t want to claim for himself the kind of authority that he took to accompany Jesus’ explicit teachings.

But if inerrantism is true, then Paul’s teachings are the inerrant word of God, and so have the same kind of authority as Jesus’ words. In other words, if inerrantism is true, then Paul was wrong to make the distinction he made. But that distinction is made by Paul in a letter that’s in the Bible. And if inerrantism is true, a distinction made in a letter that’s in the Bible has to be accurate. But if it’s accurate, inerrantism isn’t true. Zounds!

An exercise in creative interpretation might offer the inerrantist the wiggle room to escape this logical trap, but inerrantists are routinely skeptical of such creative interpretation of Scripture. At best, then, this amounts to a difficulty for inerrantism, the sort of difficulty one often sees when trying to force a theory onto subject matter that doesn’t quite suit it. Theories can perhaps weather some such difficulties, but if they become too common it is hard to reasonably persist in endorsing the theory.

4. Efforts to overcome apparent contradictions in Scripture lead to a false view of Scripture

Speaking of difficulties of this sort, the Bible isn’t a neat, orderly, systematically consistent treatise. The Gospel narratives, for example, aren’t identical. They tell the stories of Jesus’ life in different ways. Details differ–for example, in accounts of the resurrection. Bart Ehrman does a fine job of cataloguing  many of these in Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible.

Mostly, these tensions aren’t explicit contradictions but rather what might be called apparent ones: they don’t seem as if they can go together, because you’d need to tell a rather convoluted story to make them fit.

Inerrantists have not been remiss in offering such convoluted stories. But if you need to tell enough of them in order to make your theory map onto what it’s supposed to explain, the theory becomes increasingly implausible.

And there’s another problem, one that should be of concern to Christians who care about the Bible. The convoluted tales that you have to tell in order to make disparate biblical narratives fit together end up leading you away from an honest appreciation of the message of the biblical authors. As Ehrman puts it, “To approach the stories in this way is to rob each author of his own integrity as an author and to deprive him of the meaning that he conveys in his story.”

When you do this, you care more about preserving your theory about the Bible than you do about understanding and taking in its message. For me, this is one of the greatest tragedies of an inerrantist approach to Scripture: It makes it difficult for readers to engage with the Bible on its own terms. It’s like someone who is so devoted to a false image of their spouse that they can’t see their spouse for the person they really are. Likewise, the steps that need to be taken in order to preserve the doctrine of inerrancy in the face of the Bible’s actual content means that it becomes impossible to have an intimate relationship with the Bible as it really is. This is not taking the Bible seriously. It is taking the doctrine of inerrancy seriously at the expense of the Bible.  

5. God is love

Christianity teaches that God is love. In fact, it is the closest thing Christians have to a scriptural definition of God:  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).

If God is love, then we experience God when we love. If God is love, then the primary way we can encounter God is through loving and being loved–that is, through cultivating loving relationships with persons. This may help to explain the Christian view that a person–Jesus–served in history as God’s fundamental revelation, rather than a book. Books can’t love you. And you can’t love a book in the sense of “love” that Christians (and the author of 1 John) have in mind when we say God is love.

When we feel the profound presence of the divine showering love upon us–or when we feel the joy of being loved by others–we are encountering the divine nature as something coming to us from the outside. But when we love our neighbors as ourselves, we are channeling divine love, and experiencing it “from within” (so to speak). The divine nature is moving within us, more intimately connected to us than any mere object of experience. I think this is what the author of 1 John means when he says that whoever does not love does not know God. To love others is to be filled with the spirit of God. It is to let God in.

If any of that is true, then it is by encouraging us to love one another that God makes possible the most profound revelation of the divine nature and will. And while the Bible does encourage us to love one another, the theory about the Bible which takes it to be the inerrant revelation of God may actually be an impediment to love.

We end up focusing more attention on the Bible than on our neighbors. We are more committed to “doing what the Bible says” than we are to loving those around us. Out of a desire to be connected with God, we insist that homosexuality is always and everywhere sinful–and when the gay and lesbian neighbors we are supposed to love cry out in despair, their lives crushed by these teachings, we stifle our compassion, shutting out love in fear that loving them as ourselves might lead us to question the inerrancy of the Bible.

If God is love, then any theory of revelation that tells us to find God by burying our noses in a book is a problematic theory. If God is love, we must look for God in the love we see in the world. The Bible, understood as a flawed and finite human testament to the God of love working in history, can be a deeply meaningful partner in our quest to encounter God and live in the light of divine goodness. But as soon as it is treated as inerrant, it is in danger of becoming a bludgeon used to silence those neighbors who want to share experiences that don’t quite fit with this or that verse.

The Bible points away from itself. Respect for it demands that we look up from the page and engage with our neighbors and the creation. God is alive in the world. The Bible tells us that God is alive in the world. In so doing, the book is telling us that if we want to find God, we need to look into our neighbor’s face with love, and at the natural world and all its creatures with love.

Because God is there. God is there, revealing Himself in the vibrancy of life and the child’s laugh and the mother’s tender kiss. God is there, in the gay man who sits by his longtime partner’s hospital bedside, gently stroking his brow. God is there, in the joyous wedding vows of the lesbian couple that can finally get a legal marriage after years together.

And any time a too-literal allegiance to the letter of the biblical text causes someone not to see the face of God in that tenderness and joy, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has blocked divine revelation, impeding God’s effort to self-disclose to the world.

 

 

Here follows my own response.

 

Dear Eric,

it would be a terrible understatement to say that this post of yours was extraordinarily amazing 🙂

Here is a major problem for the Conservative Protestant position: it cannot merely be that their Bible is inerrant, but also that people who first recognized it that way were as well. If they weren’t, what give us the guarantee that their decision was correct?

Therefore, I view the doctrine of Solo Scriptura as rationally extremely problematic.


I also agree that God’s revelation was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and that it is not propositional knowledge, even if it logically entails affirming certain truths.

I think that Biblical inerrancy is IMPOSSIBLE in the first place, due to the presence of many conflicting voices in the collection of books having been gathered under that name.

Therefore, ironically enough, inerrantists themselves have constantly to pick and choose which texts they take at face values and which they necessarily have to distort because they contradict the former.

The real danger here is that according to the doctrine of inerrancy, if you find some Biblical verses describing God as commanding moral atrocities, you HAVE to conclude that the God experienced by ALL other Biblical writers endorsed them as well.

Tragically, nasty fundamentalists considerably water down Christ’s call to love our enemies to make it match the theology of the imprecatory psalms.

And many of them will give up Christianity altogether, become bitter anti-atheists while keeping the same fundamentalistic mindset.
So a New Atheist recently wrote he wants to burn the whole Bible because of the presence of atrocities within it, ignoring the obvious fact there are many other Biblical authors who did not approve at all of them.

As you expressed it so well, the priority of Conservative Evangelicals is NOT to become more loving persons and turn the world into a better place BUT to combat heresies and frenetically defend particular verses having been empirically refuted.

This explains rather well why they’re so obsessed with homosexuality while utterly ignoring (or even upholding) crying social inequalities.
I have come to see books within the Biblical Canon in the same way I view other Jewish and Christian books, and offered a parallel between C.S. Lewis and the apostle Paul writing down their experiences with God.

I think that the basis of a progressive Christian theology should be the idea that as a perfect being, God has necessarily to be much more loving and just than any (purely) human being could ever be.

Thus, if your theology teaches that God predetermined countless babies to grow up for being damned and eternally suffer, you’ve made a reductio-ad absurdum of it.

I think you’re an incredibly bright person and defender of our faith, and I wish much more people would read your writings instead of those of William Lane Craig.
His evil view of God is one of the main reasons why Conservative Evangelicalism is increasingly collapsing.
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Keep the good work!

 

 

 

 

Renewing the Evangelical mind: an interview with Peter Enns

Renewing the Evangelical mind: an interview with Peter Enns

 

In what follows, I had the immense privilege to interview Peter Enns (links), who is undoubtedly the leading progressive Evangelical theologian in the whole world.

Here are the topics we touched upon, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.

 

1) Where Peter Enns comes from and how his thoughts evolved with time

2) How is evolution currently perceived among American Evangelicals?

a) Young Earth Creationism

b) Old Earth Creationism and Concordism

c) His own approach

3) What were likely the intentions of the original authors as they wrote the text?

4) One of the very foundation of Evangelicalism is the idea that God cursed us with a sinful nature, making misdeeds deserving an eternal punishment inevitable.
Can we find this concept in the very text of Genesis?

5) If Paul thought it was the case but the authors of Genesis 2 and 3 didn’t hold this view, what should we believe as modern Christians?

6) What is inerrancy and why is it viewed as the very foundation of Christianity by so many people?

7) What about God inerrantly gathering errant texts for His own purposes, as Professor Randal Rauser thinks it’s the case?

8) Many people say that if there is only a small mistake in one obscure book of the Old Testament, we can no longer trust the resurrection. What’s Peter’s response to this?

9) Problem of divine hideness:

Why would God not have given us an inerrant text rather than leaving us stabbing in the dark?

Why did He allow so many people to mistakenly assume its inerrancy?

10) What did God REALLY do during the history of Israel? Did He reveal Himself to a real Abraham and a real Mose?

11) Given the results of modern critical scholarship, what makes the Protestant Canon so special?
What does it mean to say that the imprecatory psalms were more inspired than books of C.S. Lewis on pain and love, and writings of Martin Luther King on non-violence?

12) Currently, there is a massive exodus from young people out of Conservative Christianity?
What are the causes of this?

 

https://i2.wp.com/randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Peter-Enns.jpg

 

For those interested by our conversation, I recommend the following resources:

 

Peter’s blog containing many insightful posts and Peter’s website full of great academic writings.

The following books are also worth looking:

The Evolution of Adam : What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology).
Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.
Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible (Telling God’s Story).
Ecclesiastes (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary).

UPCOMING: The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.

 

Is fundamentalism destroying Christianity?

The great liberal Biblical Scholar James McGrath just wrote a nice post about this troubling question.

 

Biblical Literalism’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

David Hayward’s cartoon above illustrates the reason why I consider Biblical literalism to be an attack on Christianity, rather than an expression of faithfulness to it. No matter how much they insist otherwise, no one actually takes the Bible literally – not even all the bits that are “clearly” non-poetic.

But that doesn’t stop preachers from telling people they have a stark choice: either accept everything the Bible says, or toss the entire thing aside along with any faith, beliefs, and values they associate with it.

If that were indeed the choice that confronts us, then there would be no alternative to walking away, other than increasingly feigning faithfulness and consistency while hiding one’s hypocrisy.

Both options are detrimental to a healthy spiritual life.

But they aren’t the only options. Christianity flourished before it had a Bible, and when the collections of texts that Christians had could not be read by most of them. And even among those who could study and interpret the texts in question, what we see them doing with those texts is anything but literalism.

It is time to make clear to the world that the situation is not one of faithful Biblical literalists and then others who are compromising “sort of” Christians. If anything, the situation is one of progressives who are seeking to continue the dynamic interplay between tradition and novelty to which the Bible and the entire history of religion (not just Christianity) bears witness, and people who deceive the gullible into first believing, and then pretending, that they are being faithful in ways that they aren’t, at least not consistently.

But the above two options are not the only ones. There is an enormous range of others in between them and beyond them. While there are choices we sometimes need to make between two options, rarely are those two options the only ones.

Despite what fundamentalist preachers will tell you.

 

You can read my response just below.

Dear James,

words almost fail me to express my deep admiration for this wonderful post who expresses so many profound truths at the same time and in a seamless manner 🙂

I am convinced that fundamentalism (and more generally Conservative Evangelicalism) are destroying Christianity by leaving us no other choice than sacrificing our intellectual honesty or giving up our faith in Jesus altogether.

fundamentalist-Bible-david-hayward

I started blogging in order to contribute to show that this is a false dichotomy , that one can be an enlightened religious believer hoping in the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

Conservative Evangelicals (CE) keep saying that progressive Christians pick and choose from the Bible in an irrational manner.

But as I have (hopefully) made it clear, THEY are the very ones who are guilty of this inconsistency.

There is nothing wrong about selectively approving good parts of a book you don’t view as inerrant, everyone (atheists, deists, pantheitst, Marxists…) do that all the time.

On the other hand, Conservative Evangelicals are constantly PLAYING DOWN the conflicting character of the different voices in the Bible and they themselves decide

– which texts they properly interpret
– which texts they necessarily have to distort because they contradict the former ones.

And they delude themselves into thinking that extraordinarily implausible harmonizations are acceptable if they are just logically possible.

I don’t hate or despise Conservative Evangelicals but think it is my duty to strongly oppose their positions, because they are really destroying our faith and are building a house of cards which is all too ready to collapse.

It is certainly no coincidence that a great number of militant atheist in America are former fundies who have never given up their bigoted mindset.

They have kept (to an important extent) the habit of thinking of the Bible as having ONLY ONE VOICE on moral issues, as the following dialogue with an anti-theist illustrates.

I think that the best apologetic strategy an enlightened Christian should take is :

recognizing that there really are Biblical atrocities attributed to God
showing that the Bible does NOT speak with one voice on most issues
– pointing out that the central message of Jesus was progressive .

I’m really looking forward to reading similar posts of yours 🙂