I can sympathise with Peter. In so many ways he is just like us. If you have grown up in the church, as I have, you will know what I mean when I say that “being on fire for God” is regarded as the optimal state of being for any believer. In other words, the church equates faith with zeal. And who can blame them? That is an age-old belief that is woven tightly into our cultural fabrics: fight for what you believe in. Peter’s heart is in the right place, but his zeal makes him a guided missile just waiting to be pointed at a suitable target.
That is the problem with zeal – it is easy to mistake it for devotion. But devotion builds; zeal ultimately destroys. I think the reason Paul converts on the Damascus road is that he is finally able to uncouple the two – remember that the question that shifts his perspective is the risen Jesus asking him: why do you persecute me? I think that deep down, we see the truth of the matter: that we ought to be suspicious of zeal. We can recognise that zeal is admirable and praiseworthy when it is demonstrated in the name of our own causes, but we decry it as radical and myopic when the missile is aimed at us. We are capable of seeing, as Paul did, that zeal and terrorism are two sides of the same coin.
I don’t think that zeal has a place in the Kingdom. There is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry, described in Matthew 16, which is illustrative. Jesus has informed his disciples that he is travelling to Jerusalem and that there the Chief Priests and teachers of the Law will have him killed, but that he will rise again on the third day (Matthew 16: 21). Peter’s response is the response of the zealot:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22)
Now bear in mind that this revelation by Jesus directly follows the disciples’ affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. What is happening in this discussion is directly related to Jesus’s adoption of that title, and it is Peter himself who ascribes it to Jesus in verse 16. Now, recognising that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter confronts Jesus on this prophetic foresight of his impending death. It is inconceivable to him that the Messiah should die. In Peter’s mind the Messiah is a Davidic warrior come to liberate the faithful, probably from both the Roman oppressors and the unfaithful Jews, and that is a cause for which Peter is prepared to fight. For Peter, faith and zeal are the same. What follows provides tremendous insight into the theology and the mission of Jesus:
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)
First note: Jesus does not have an anthropomorphised understanding of the satan. If he did, we would need to conclude that somehow the devil had possessed Peter and motivated him to challenge Jesus (I like that he took Jesus aside instead of questioning him publicly – there is something quite endearing about the bloke). It is far more likely that Jesus was using the word ha-satan in the context it is, in fact, used throughout the Scriptures: as a word meaning adversary or accuser. Peter is satanic only in the sense that by proposing violence as a viable alternative, he is opposing the will of God. Peter wants to fight, yet Jesus has spent the last three years of his ministry arguing that God is essentially non-violent. And Jesus is so moved by this challenge from Peter that he goes out of his way to make sure that this fundamental misunderstanding of who the Messiah is does not spread to the entire group:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)
The way the Messiah saves, argues Jesus, is by refusing to be complicit in violent relationships. Violence may be the way of the world, Jesus says, but it is not the way of God. You are infinitely diminished by employing violence: that is Jesus’ message here. That is what he means by “forfeiting your soul”. Justice achieved through violence is equated with selling your soul. The way of God, Jesus reiterates to the disciples, rejects violence. He later repeats this message to Pilate when he tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and that if it took on the pattern of this world, his servants would fight (John 18:36).
I use this example because it is one of the few times when we get a glimpse into how Jesus understood what it was to be tempted. I can think of no instance in any of the gospels where there is even a suggestion that Jesus resisted temptation by refusing to transgress a holiness code. On the contrary, Jesus is criticised by the religious leaders for being too liberal in his association with “sinners”, or for healing on the Sabbath. The only hints we get in the gospels about the nature of temptation come from Jesus’s temptation in the desert, from the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus yields to the will of the Father, and here. In each instance, temptation is directly linked to participation in the world’s ways of relating, ie violence. Temptation in the gospels is never a concept linked to holiness codes. Let that sink in.
That is why I would encourage you to rethink what Jesus was teaching when he taught his disciples to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. In the light of what Jesus has been doing with the Lord’s Prayer up to that point – ie. unpacking what it means to live in the Kingdom of God – it is only logical that this line cannot mean “don’t let the devil entice me into doing naughty things”, which is – I think – how it is generally understood. It is clear – to me, anyway – that the notion of evil, for Jesus, is synonymous with complicity in violent relationships, whether physical violence, emotional violence or social and systemic violence. These are the things he rails against, as I have hopefully shown in the above example.
Similarly, then, our understanding of temptation needs to be refined. If temptation is what leads to evil, and evil is synonymous with violence, then temptation is being put in a position where the use of violence becomes appealing. And that is precisely what happens when Peter confronts Jesus about going to his death in Jerusalem. You are the Messiah, Peter is suggesting. That makes you God’s chosen warrior. We will fight with you. You cannot die. That is not how this story ends. And I am sure Jesus was tempted to give in to the satanic principle that Peter was offering him, and spare his own life. I am sure he was tempted in Gethsemane to resist those who came to arrest him. Instead, he rebuked Peter’s violent zeal (again) and healed the soldier that Peter wounded (John 18:10-11). I am sure he was tempted years before, in the desert, when he wrestled with what it meant to have power, to bend the world to his will through force and let the end justify the means (Luke 4:5-7). But he didn’t.
And that is very fortunate for us. We can be grateful that although Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet he was without sin, as the writer to the Hebrews notes (Hebrews 4:15). Because I think if Jesus had picked up the sword and resisted through violence, the world could not be saved. He would have legitimated every atrocity in history. Jesus, the logos, the structuring principle of all reality, would have become complicit in a violent relationship. He would have made God a monster and shaped the world in that image.
Jesus did not come to save us from the violence of God. God is not violent. Jesus came to save the world from the destructive path it was on. The message of Jesus is consistent throughout his ministry: the world cannot be saved through violence. It can only be saved through self-giving love. Jesus, the logos, the structuring principle of all reality, by enduring the cross and absorbing our violence without retaliation, ensured that the arc of the universe is bent towards peace and love. All that is left for us to do is to pick up our crosses and follow him.
Er …. say again? This is Yahweh we are talking about, yes?
I don’t accept the Bible as inerrant. Just because someone in the Bible ascribes actions to God, does not mean God took action. What we see in the Bible are human theologies – projections of God not God. Humans are violent and we legitimise that violence by labeling it as divinely mandated.
In light of 2 Peter, 3:16, this raises some interesting points, most notably, how does one discern ”God-breathed” from made up by man? ( which is effectively what we are saying once we start to … excuse the term … cherry pick.)
First, when the writer of the letter referred to Scripture he could not possibly have meant the Bible as we currently have it, since that would not exist for several hundred more years, and I have no doubt that said writer would never have included his own letter under the banner of “Scripture”, which is what Biblical inerrantists would have to argue.
Second, when it comes to constructing a theology from text all Christians must cherry-pick, simply because there is no one consistent picture of God. God does not desire that anyone perish, yet takes delight in smiting those who oppose him; he is wrathful and brutal yet loving and merciful etc. I am pretty sure that you – who do not buy into its divine authorship either – can see the contradictions. God simply cannot be everything that the descriptions in the Bible make God out to be. To make any sense at all from it, one has to cherry pick. In the New Testament alone, you have very different understandings of what it means to be Christian – Paul and the church in Jerusalem bash heads on very fundamental questions. The Bible practically invites cherry-picking. What saddens me is which bits most Christians pick.
The question you are asking is rooted in a paradigm (not yours, obviously, but the versions of Christianity with which you mostly engage) that assumes that revelation of God must come through the text, and therefore we need to know which texts to trust. It also assumes a dualistic way of seeing the text – it is either God breathed (and therefore valuable) or man-made and therefore valueless. I reject that dichotomy. All of the Bible is man-made. It is rooted in human interpretation of events that occurred in the lifetimes of the people who recorded them. But they have done what humans always do – project their own meanings onto those events. Where I differ from you, I think, is I do not reject them simply because they are subjectively experienced – that would be to reject all knowledge. Instead (and I am going to have to severely simplify my position here, for the sake of fitting it onto a comment), I explore their theologies through the filter of what I understand the gospel message to be – that the only way to achieve a world where people relate (and therefore co-exist) healthily is through pursuing reconciliation and this necessitates forgiveness and self-sacrificing love. I do not believe the goal was ever ‘getting into heaven’ or avoiding hell. I don’t believe in hell. The gospel message, for me, has very real consequences in the world of the here and now.
So to answer your question in a slightly different way, man-made theologies tend to root themselves in violence and retribution (I regard our modern justice systems as essentially religious systems, but that is a long discussion for another day), but I think God-breathed ones (to use your term) are rooted in efforts at reconciliation and restoration of relationship.
This still does not answer how you discern which are ”god-breathed” and which are not.
All you are telling me is what you consider to be the correct ”cherry picked parts that suit your own approach to the bible.
For example, how do you know that the tale of the Resurrection and the empty tomb is not fake?
You mentioned before that non-religious people did not approach these matters with any religious preconceptions, and for me your question itself disproves that. Whether or not you recognise it, the philosophical position that underpins your question is a Lutheran one. Essentially the nature of your question equates “God-breathed” with inerrancy, which is very much a Reformer way of thinking. You approach the study and recording of history from an Enlightenment-esque, rationalist paradigm. Many of the Biblical texts were not written in ways consistent with that approach. Much of early Judaism is underpinned by mystical thinking and understands truth in a different way from the way you do.
I did, in fact, tell you which parts I believe are “God-breathed”, but you are not seeing it because your predisposition equates “God-breathed” with inerrant, The definition of God-breathed that I would apply to the Bible (and to any other claims to divine inspiration, too) does not ask as its primary question which bits are historically reliable from an empiricist perspective. It asks which parts lead to the understanding of and practice of loving relatedness,
I do not believe that the Scriptures are God’s way of speaking to us. If I assume that God is an intelligent being, then it would make no sense to communicate to human beings through text. Language is too messy and unreliable. Human scribes are too much prone to adding their own interpretations. A cosmic game of broken telephone is a terribly inefficient way to communicate important truths to minds confined by time, the senses, and culture, among a host of other things. Sometimes we need pictures. Psychologists will tell you that we are at our most basic, mimetic beings. We discover who we are through imitating those around us. It is how we learn language, values, opinions, desires. I think if God were on the ball, Hen might make use of that. For me, if anything is God-breathed, it is Jesus. And yes, I only see Jesus through the distorting lens that the gospel writers present him through, but I still see enough there that makes sense, whether or not you accept the divinity of Jesus.
The brutal cycles of human violence that so many atheists and religious people alike rail against cannot be broken by perpetuating the cycle through violent retribution. The only way I see to reconcile human beings to one another is through fostering loving relatedness, the kind preached by Jesus. The kind he showed by not advocating armed insurrection against the Roman oppressors, a stance that came to characterise the early church. The kind of loving relatedness that compels us to recognise the marginalised and challenge the religious and political powers that treat human lives as economic and political assets.
What good is a belief in God if it does not make the world you believe Hen created a better place? I do not believe that God wants us to escape this world and find a better one. I believe God wants to shape us in such a way that we make this world what Hen intended it to be (and by the way, that is entirely in fitting with the way that a 1st Century Jew, like Jesus, would have understood it). The promise that Christianity holds does not lie in a creed, it lies in accepting the necessity of adopting different way of being in the world from the divisive in/out group social boundary lines we construct – in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or master, as Paul put it.
I am not trying to be hostile to you when I say this – please believe me – but I think your question is rooted in the dualistic way of thinking that has characterised much of both Enlightenment and Evangelical thought: something must be wholly trustworthy or not at all. And the challenge you pose would be better aimed at a Christianity that sees the Bible as inerrant and needs to justify that in order to legtimise its theology. Cherry-picking would only be problematic if the Bible as a whole was authoritative. And I reject that doctrine. I think it is God-breathed in the sense that it reveals the terrible consequences of allowing religion and culture to legitimise violent relatedness. It is an expose on the failings of human systems. And then it allows a glimpse of what the world could be, and what that would demand of us. I think there is truth to be found in the Bible whether or not it is inerrant or even historically verifiable, I know that does not give an answer in the way you want it, but I don’t see truth in the way you do.
Once more this borders on almost classic hand waving by using a lot of words that tend to obfuscate rather than directly address the question on the table.
You are adept at sing such methods and probably don’t realise you are doing this.
It is a similar defensive pattern used by Evangelical and the more liberal Christian.
After several years of interacting with believers, such responses tend to confirm this belief, and is often echoed by deconverts.
You would not convince a five year old with such an explanation yet Christians seem to think that such a somewhat high-faluted response will increase their credibility with an adult.
Whether you consider it so or not, you clearly are cherry picking the text.
So please explain in a straightforward manner what evidence do you have to accept only the parts of the text that align with you own personal philosophy.
Why would you reject much of Genesis , Exodus and Deuteronomy yet accept the resurrection narrative and what Paul wrote. standards of integrity regarding these texts should be applied equally, and yet they are clearly not.
As a further example, 2 Peter is generally recognised as being fraudulent, as I am sure you are fully aware.
It’s not hand-waving, Ark, Of course I am cherry-picking the text. Everybody does. Everybody must because it is not one cohesive text. It is an anthology, if you like, and the authors do not all agree. I am under no obligation to give equal weighting to all of the texts because they are different texts. They were written by different people, in different times, across different cultures. They just happen to have been collected between one set of covers. But they are not all equally valid. that is the Lutheran doctrine of sola scriptura that I do not accept. There is no one cohesive picture of God being portrayed, and so one has to pick sides. Do you agree with Paul, for example, or with the church in Jerusalem when it comes to issues of whether Gentile Christians are bound by the food laws? Even Jesus cherry-picked. If you go to the orginal Scriptures he quotes, you will see how often he omits the parts that refer to God’s violent wrath. A good example is in Luke 4, where Jesus quotes the Isaiah 61 passage. Owing to a translation issue around “all were amazed and testified against him”, we do not get the full import of the occasion. He leaves out the verse about God’s violent wrath, implying that the Messiah will not smite the Romans, and it nearly gets him killed. When he says that God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike, he directly contradicting Deuteronomy.
My point is that there is legitimate room for cherry picking. The different writers have different pictures of God and they cannot all be right at the same time. If I use Jesus’s version of what God looks like (and I think it is nonsensical for somebody who claims to be Christian to do otherwise), then there are certain depictions of God in the Biblical texts that have to be rejected. That is integrity. I think that treating the Bible as one coherent text painting a cohesive picture lacks integrity.
And in that regard I do not reject Genesi, Exodus or Deuteronomy per se. I treat them for what they are (which is a far more honest approach than burdening them inerrancy): the stories that an ancient people tell themselves to make sense of their world and to explain to themselves how they have come to be where they are. I absolutely must treat the different texts differently: one does not find truth in a poem, or a creation myth, or an expository letter, for example, in exactly the same way. they convey their truths differently, by different rules. I try to play by the rules of the texts. They are not all history records and cannot be treated as such. That is integrity.
The question you are insisting on asking is trying to force me into seeing the Bible as one cohesive and coherent historical account. It is not. I do not see it that way. And I am sorry of my answer makes no sense to you, but the way you are asking the question makes no sense to me, because its underlying premise is not the one that informs my position.
No, I am not, as you are not a biblical literalist.
I am asking why you accept some parts and reject others.
Why you do not apply the same level of critical analysis with a tale such as Noah’s Ark and the Flood, yet are fully on board with the resurrection of the Jesus of Nazareth.
Because they are different and discrete pieces of evidence. I would argue that I do apply the same level of critical analysis. The Noah’s Ark story is probably written during the exile in Babylon, based on tales passed down orally, as part of the broader narrative of Genesis, which seems to have as its central purpose the need to explain to the Jewish people how they – who believed they had been chosen by God – came to be abandoned by that same God with whom they believed they had a covenant, and ruled by Gentiles in a land far away from the one they were promised. As a broad narrative, it tries to reinforce Israel’s chosenness, explain their current predicament (disobedience) and offer the reassurance that they were still chosen. I do not think it is trying to be historically accurate so much as it is trying to maintain a fragmenting cultural identity. I think critical analysis has to root itself in what the texts are actually trying to do. They are not all trying to convey historical truths in the way we understand that now.
I do not think that the gospel narratives have the same kind of agenda as the Genesis one, for example. there is a genuine attempt to convey an historical truth there, although the narrative mechanisms through which those truths are conveyed may not look like the ones we accept as academically sound today. It is not a rationalist culture, it is a mystical one, and conveys its truths by different rules. The gospel texts are hundreds of years removed from the Genesis one and simply cannot be treated the same. They have different purposes, answer different questions, speak to different audiences. I do not think that the integrity of critical analysis rests on treating each text the same necessarily, but rather on treating each text appropriately.
We are dealing with evidence and I’m afraid you are simply not applying the same level of critical analysis.
You obviously know full well that the Flood narrative is geologically unsound yet consider the resurrection tale an historical fact, and there is no archaeological evidence for either.
This is not integrity.
Your response suggests a way to combat the obvious cognitive dissonance that ever present thus allowing you to shoehorn the resurrection tale into a blatant presuppositional belief.
So, as you consider the Genesis Flood tale a myth on what evidential grounds do you consider the resurrection of the character Jesus of Nazareth to be historical fact?
Nope. No cognitive dissonance. It is too easy to write it off as blatant presuppositions and cognitive dissonance. I am fully convinced, and think my interpretation of the evidence holds. It seems we disagree on what counts as evidence. You seem to want something archaeological. What would count as evidence for you?
Ark, I feel I need to say this: I don’t know you at all so I have no means to gauge how you are receiving my comments. I am told that sometimes I come across as aggressive and forceful when I argue, and a lot of people take that personally. I want you to know that I don’t intend anything personal. I enjoy these kinds of discussions, and if I seem like I am getting all worked up it is only because I am passionate about the subject matter. Thanks for bothering to engage in the dialogue at all. I do appreciate it.
Nothing personal at all.
Seems we are making progress if you use the term interpretation.
You did not come to belief in Christianity and the ”saving grace of Jesus” based on evidence and it seems you are applying similar criteria here.
Therefore, as you seem to accept that the Flood narrative is myth (which of course it is), please explain the evidence that convinced you to believe that the resurrection of the character Jesus of Nazareth is historical fact?
Not hearsay, not ” a billion believers can’t be wrong” , but evidence.
We have been over this, Ark. I have explained it as clearly as I can. And you misrepresent me and did not understand my explanation if you think all I said was “a billion believers can’t be wrong”, and that it is based on hearsay. You also make an assumption about what I believe when you place a belief in “the saving grace of Jesus” on my shoulders. While that is true of my beliefs, I probably do not understand by that what you think I understand by that.
Can I ask a question, Ark? You talk about “making progress”. What do you mean by that? Why do you care what I think?
Let’s back it up then shall we?
Why are you a Christian?
For the same reason anyone is. At some point you have to decide whether or not the resurrection claims in the gospels are true. I believe they are. And I know that you believe that the gospels ae wholly unreliable testimonies, and that people who trust them are either delusional, stupid, or unwilling to fully deconstruct. I disagree. When it comes to testimonial evidence, it is never as simple as something being fully reliable or fully unreliable. The question for me is not a dualistic choice between full trust or none at all, it is a question – as with any testimony – of which parts to trust and why. I know you do not see it this way, but your decision to trust none of it at all is as much an interpretation as my decision to trust the resurrection claims. I believe that I have sound rational reasons for trusting it, as i know you do for not trusting it. But to label people irrational or delusional or stupid for trusting it is to fail to see that you are also interpreting. If it was as clearcut as you believe it is, there would not be intelligent people who disagree with you. And there are plenty of them.
This does not apply to young children who are invariably indoctrinated from soon after birth.
Maybe this was a similar situation for you?
You accept the tale of the resurrection of the character Jesus of Nazareth based solely on faith, not evidence.
There is no evidence to support the biblical claims that are foundational to your belief. None whatsoever.
However, this does not actually answer the question: Why are you a Christian?
Put it another way. Ask yourself:
”Why am I a Christian?”
Now give me the proper answer,
Of course it does not apply to children. Most Christians would not regard the decision to be Christian as one that is bestowed upon birth. Christianity is regarded by most Christians as a choice, not a birthright, though what that choice means and entails differs according to the Christian’s particular theological framework. And everybody is indoctrinated as a child simply because of the nature of human psychosocial development. We are mimetic – we become who we are, learn what we think and believe, from those around us. Everyone is indoctrinated. And no, my family was not overtly Christian. My parents believe in a God, I think, but it has no bearing on their lives. I have never seen them in a church. My Christianity is a choice.
“Now give me a proper answer?”! On what basis do I owe anyone an explanation? Don’t misunderstand me, I am happy to explain my faith to anybody who asks, but I do not owe it. By “proper answer” you seem to mean one that you find acceptable. I have given you answers, Ark. You just don’t accept them. And you are under no obligation to do so. As far as I am concerned, the conclusions you draw are entirely valid conclusions to draw. But I am equally convinced that your conclusions are not the only possible valid conclusions to draw. That is where we differ. I know you take issue with the dogmatic beliefs of Christians, but your arguments are equally dogmatic. To claim that your interpretations of the evidence are the only possible ones, that everyone who disagrees with you is indoctrinated/delusional/stupid and that only those who happen to agree with you are conveniently able to see things neutrally, for me looks a lot like fundamentalist religion.
I could equally ask you why this matters so much to you that you are so insistent on pressing me to adopt your position?
I would happily tell you why I believe Christianity not only has validity, but in fact I would contend is imperative. But ironically, the very religious presuppositions you claim are blinding me are, I think, stopping you from hearing me.
The questions you are asking me are rooted in a belief that the Bible is one book and must be treated as one piece of evidence. That is a Protestant presupposition. And so you cannot hear me when I say that I treat the gospels differently from Genesis, say. From my perspective, they are written by different people in different times and places, in different genres, and with different agendas. It is perfectly legitimate to evaluate both, as separate entities, and trust one and not the other. Further, they are narratives. I do not have to have an all or nothing approach to them either. It is possible to trust some aspects of a story and not others. It does not follow logically that simply because aspects of the narrative are demonstrably false that all of it is so. But in my opinion, the dogmatic lens you are looking through does not allow that as a possibility.
You have already dismissed my attempts to explain that I see Christianity as a sociological imperative – that violent ways of human relations that underpin all of our social systems , of which religion is an expression but by no means the only expression (the modern justice system is the new religion, I think) – are what Jesus, I believe, labels sin, And that the only way out of that is the pursuit of reconciliation that must begin with forgiveness. Everything else perpetuates the cycle. Do I believe that one needs to be Christian to see this? No. But if I tie Jesus to God (and you correctly point out that the resurrection is the key link in that chain), then it does change the way we ought to understand God. When I offered this as an explanation for why I am Christian, you dismissed that as “hand-waving” and defensive, which shows me that you either do not want to or cannot hear my position. Which is fine. I feel no obligation to convert you (not sure I can say the same about you?). But it does leave me a bit in the dark as to what more I can do to give you the “proper answer” you demand of me.
I disagree with your use of the terminology. I encouraged my kids to think for themselves, thus they rejected notions of religious doctrine/dogma at a fairly early age, and especially the nonsense of being sinners requiring the ‘’saving grace of Jesus ‘’ (sic)
My wife is Catholic (not practicing/lapsed) so the kids were Christened and went to a Catholic school.(Marist Brothers here in JHB) We do love our traditions, do we not?
Kids who are brought up in religious homes are generally not given the option of critical thought; are taken to church, Sunday school, often including bible study, obliged to pray,(mealtimes etc), taught the bible is the word of ‘’God’’, that they need salvation or they will spend eternity in Hell (for any given understanding of Hell).
They are also encouraged to participate in altar calls, declare they are sinners and need Jesus etc,etc. I don’t need to explain this to you, I’m sure?
THAT is indoctrination and I consider it a form of child abuse, and is a million miles from the way our children were brought up.
Religion fascinates me.
Look around you. If religion/god belief were such a good thing we would all be of one religion and getting along reasonably well.
The foundational tenets of All religious belief is based on unsubstantiated supernatural claims that have to be indoctrinated/inculcated They are unnatural and unnecessary, and when taken as a whole do more harm than the superficial good that their adherents are wont to point out.
You don’t owe me an explanation at all. However, you stated you enjoy such interaction and obviously want to demonstrate that your belief is valid and fully justifiable.
Therefore, the ‘’proper answer’’ surely includes a declaration that you are a sinner, and some sort of acknowledgement of the Westminster Faith, yes?
In my experience, adult converts – born again – often have a background of some form of emotional trauma based in alcohol, abuse, drugs or some such.
With regard the foundational tenets of your faith, you have not presented me with any evidence, only claims, and arguments based on those claims. When you present evidence then we can examine it for veracity.
Again, offer me evidence that the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Or that Lazarus rose from the dead or Jairus’ daughter.
Offer me evidence that 500 plus brethren saw Jesus of Nazareth taken up to ‘’heaven’’.
Offer me evidence of a single contemporary account of any of the above.
Every religion has its own set of fantastic tales that followers believe.
Why are your fantastic tales deserving of credibility when you will likely dismiss the claims of other religions?
And, yes, if you accept unsubstantiated supernatural claims on such terms this is because of indoctrination and/or delusion in one form or another. You don’t see it like this simply because you are indoctrinated (But not stupid), and you will do almost anything to rationalize your faith, it seems.
Your repeated claims that Genesis and the Gospels must be viewed differently is a good example.
We will certainly agree that it is child abuse to indoctrinate children into a theology of hell. To promote the idea that you could be eternally tortured by a God who is supposed to be loving just on the basis that you didn’t “give your heart to Jesus” is – in my opinion – profoundly unethical. It is why I blog at all. I think much of Christianity as currently practised, is not only just theologically flawed, but potentially dangerous and deeply immoral.
To unpack my response to the “proper answer” would require more space, I think, than a comment allows. In brief, though, Yes and no. I do buy into the idea of sin being a problem and people needing to choose to adopt the Christian way, but very definitely not in the way that you are anticipating (and understandably, because that is the default Christian position). But you will need to bear with me.
I need to start, I think, by explaining how I understand personhood. One of the thinkers who has been foundational in shaping how I think has been French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. From his work, largely, I have come to believe that before we are individuals, we are beings-in-relation. I cannot possibly do justice to the concept briefly, and would encourage you to read his work if you want to understand what I mean. This is probably the single most important concept underpinning the ways I think about my faith. It means, in essence, that I do not exist as me as much as I exist as me-in-relationship.
That has important theological ramifications. First, it means I cannot understand sin as primarily an issue of personal morality. Sin is always relational not behavioural. It’s dire consequences are not that I will be punished, but that relationships will be broken, and since we are communal beings, who create our identities in community, who find meaning in being-with, broken relationships threaten society. So do I believe I am a sinner? Yes – I contribute to broken relationships and am complicit in many relationships that are fundamentally exploitative. It is why, for me, exploring my complicity in issues like white privilege and toxic masculinity are at the heart of faith, because that is what it takes to reconcile the relationships and be-with in healthy ways.
Do I believe that God wants to punish me and punished Jesus in my place instead, and if I just accept that then I will be saved? Not a chance. Too much of what passes for Christian theology is superstition. And worse, dangerously perverse.
My belief about identity as being-with before being means that I understand the necessity for justice as a restorative necessity, not a retributive one. That means that the whole idea of substitutionary atonement is abhorrent to me. That is not justice at all. And I think that Jesus’s teachings on enemy love and forgiveness are central to understanding that if the world is find any sort of social justice, strict justice will not get us there. I think that the power of the crucifixion lies in its exposure of the violence of human systems – cultural, political, religious, judicial – and their inadequacy in maintaining social cohesion and preventing escalating mimetic conflict (a concept too detailed to explain here, based on the work of sociologist Rene Girard).
It also means that I see salvation not as a personal issue, but a social one. As you said, look around you and you will see how destructive not only religion is, but all human systems. We are not good at being-with. I see the salvation that Jesus offers, as a way to be in the world, not a way to escape it. And I think Jesus’s teachings are important because they insist that we are not only in relation with the people who are like us, but with those with whom we profoundly disagree, and because we are relational beings first (not discrete units), society can only be right if we find justice with them too (justice being functional, non-exploitative, non-violent relationships).
So the “proper response” would be yes, it is important to recognise that we are all sinners. There can be no movement towards more functional relationships if we cannot accept that they are dysfunctional to begin with. We are all, to some degree, complicit in a dysfunctional society. But no, I am not a sinner in the sense that I am inherently evil and God can’t abide me unless he gets to torture Jesus in my place. A definite no to the appropriate response being something like the Westminster confession. The appropriate response is, to use the religious term in the way I think Jesus as a Jew would have understood it, repentance – a turning away from a way of being in the world, of living within its systems, that merely perpetuates injustice, and living a life that – from my end of the being-with anyway – works towards reconciliation and peace. That is how I understand the gospel message.
Maybe the reason I am battling to connect to your line of questioning is that I simply do not see religion as primarily about the supernatural. For me, religion is about daily living. I think it finds its genesis in early humans finding ways to prevent the violence that stems from mimetic rivalry from tearing society apart, when they understood at some level that the strength of the group was the strength of the individuals within the group. And so they developed taboos and prohibitions that allowed them to manage potential sources of rivalry (which is why our religious taboos are so often around food or sex, because these are common objects of mimetic rivalry). I do not understand religion as being about another world, but as being about this one. And I think the message of Jesus is that we can do religion differently, non-violently. Without scapegoating violence that can never bring lasting peace.
ALL religious instruction that involves inculcating belief in the supernatural into kids ( & people in general) is abuse, period.
And this includes indoctrinating belief in the claimed need of redemption.
You have no evidence to support this claim.
Sin is a religious term and has no meaning outside of a religious/Christian context and should be rejected out of hand. Telling children they are sinners is also abuse.
Thanks for the suggestion, but I don’t really need to read any more religious philosophers.
And I note that you did not even attempt to offer any evidence for the claims you make and neither did you address evidence for the subjects I listed.
Resurrection /Jesus /Lazarus/Jairus daughter.
As we seem t be overlapping on posts, let’s keep it to a single thread, (this one) if that’s okay with you?
I’m getting dizzy switching posts all the time.
Ark, I find that quite an extremist position to take. You talk about Christianity as a threat but far more threatening to society for me would be a position that completely disregards perspectives and opinions other than its own. There is a dogmatic inflexibility to the position that as far as I can see makes it as abusive as any religious fanaticism.