Archive for November, 2012

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Slavery and Scripture

November 19, 2012

Sally- I have concerns about slavery in the Old and New Testament.

Chris– I think every Christian does.

Sally– Do you think that the Bible promotes slavery?

Chris– No. I don’t think it promotes slavery but it seems to permit it.

Sally– But isn’t that just semantics? Promotes or permits is the same thing in essence.

Chris – Well. I don’t think it is the same thing at all, but let me ask you a question: Do you think it is important to understand texts in their historical context?

Sally– Of course!

Chris– Would you agree that, if God existed and wanted to interact with, and reveal himself to, a human culture, this God would have to meet the culture where they are in their understanding?

Sally– I think that would be the case. Otherwise God would certainly be a poor communicator.

Chris– Right. Let’s keep that in mind and try to understand slavery within the context of that time period and the entire Biblical narrative.

Sally– I’m interested.

Chris– In the first chapter of the Bible the author writes that both man and woman are made in the image of God and as such they are worthy of dignity, value and respect (Genesis 1:28). In other cultures’ creation stories, only the king was made in the image of God, which could justify forced labor and slavish conditions for the peasants. In the Hebrew scriptures, however, all people are made in the image of God which should be the death blow to slavery.

Sally – It hasn’t been.

Chris– Well, in Genesis 3 we see that sin enters creation and corrupts all things, including our interactions with one another. Slavery, therefore, would be the result of the brokenness of creation wrought through human rebellion. The rest of the Bible is God working with humanity (through Abraham, Israel and ultimately Jesus Christ) to restore the shalom that sin shattered. God enters into a journey with humanity beginning in the Old Testament. He meets the people where they are in a day and age where slavery is a universal phenomenon, and progressively reveals His will and His ways to the people. As a result, there is teaching in the Old Testament about not treating slaves poorly and there is a gradual trajectory towards the total dismantling of slavery in the New Testament. It’s hard to see how slavery could continue in a community where the ‘slave’ is your brother and potentially in a position of spiritual authority over you. Moreover, in Christ there is neither slave nor free for all believers are one in Jesus – equally sinful, equally loved, and equally redeemed and forgiven through Christ.

In addition, God is objectively valuable and because God has imparted that value to His image bearers we can talk meaningfully about moral progress when, as a culture, we more fully recognize the dignity and value of all individuals.

Sally– I once read that slavery in the Old and New Testament was far different from slavery as it was practiced by Western super powers in the 19th century.

Chris– That’s true. For example, in the Old Testament that nation of Israel had indentured servants (slaves) but they were treated as human beings and were shielded from ‘inhuman abuse’. In addition, a slave was protected by the law and abusing a servant would result in the servant’s release. Also, consider that in the seventh year the servant in Israel would be set free and released from any debt they owed[1]. Obviously, by modern standards some laws in the Old Testament seem harsh or foreign but when you compare the law of Moses to the surrounding nations of that time period you can see a redemptive trajectory, whereby God is bringing their culture and understanding of human dignity more in tune with the implications of the imago dei of Genesis.

Sally– I guess that does sound different that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade where you had people forcefully ripped from their homes, and treated as less than human. It’s hard for me not to think of that when I read about slavery in the Bible. What about slavery in the New Testament?

Chris– Again, slavery in the New Testament is remarkably different from slavery in the Americas. For example, throughout the Roman Empire at the time of the New Testament there was not a big difference between the average slave and free person. They were not segregated and you could not tell who was a slave based on race, speech, or clothing. Financially speaking slaves were often paid the same amount as free laborers and could buy there way out of slavery after ten years or so. Also, the Greek word translated as slave is ‘doulus’, which is better translated as bondservant. Biblical scholar Wayne Grudem writes:

“This was the most common employment situation in the Roman Empire in the times of the New Testament. A bondservant could not quit his job or seek another employer until he obtained his freedom, but there were extensive laws that regulated the treatment of such bondservants and gave them considerable protection. Bondservants could own their own property and often purchase their freedom by about age 30, and they often held positions of significant responsibility such as teachers, physicians, nurses, managers of estates, retail merchants, and business executives.”[2]

Sally– It would really be helpful if Bible translators used a phrase like bondservant instead of slave because the word slave is so emotionally loaded and bound to cause confusion.

Chris– No kidding.

Sally– Not to be redundant but basically what you’re saying is that ‘slavery’ as it was often practiced in the Roman Empire, and even in the Old Testament, was a far cry from how slavery was practiced in the America’s.

Chris– Yes. The New Testament condemns trafficking in slaves (1st Tim 1:9-11) and the Apostle Paul wrote that ‘slaves’ and free people were equal in Christ (Gal 3:23). When New World slavery was put before the church, though some ‘Christians’ cowardly accommodated this brutal practice (even quoting the Bible in support of it), it was Evangelical Christians in England and Quakers in the United States who sought to abolish it.

Sally – It still bothers me that people used the Bible to justify New World slavery.

Chris– It should. It sickens me too. But we can’t judge a philosophy or a faith by its abuses. You’re still a committed evolutionist. Would you chuck out Darwin’s theory because of Social Darwinism?

Sally– No, of course not.

Chris– Exactly, I don’t chuck out the Bible because some people abuse it, either.


[1] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? BakerBooks: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011. Pg. 133

[2] Grudem, Wayne. Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Theological Liberalism. Cross Way Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2006. Pg. 78

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Evil and Atheism

November 14, 2012

Evil and Atheism

‘Science flies rockets to the moon! Religion flies planes into buildings!’ This mantra has inspired many enthusiastic atheists because it seems to succinctly summarize the underlying foundation of their world view: ‘Science good – Religion bad!’ The problem, however, is not science or religion. Our common predicament is produced by human hearts that can clutch greedily at any ideology or worldview and use it as a means of oppressing other people. Science has been co-opted by wicked men for wicked purposes and nowhere is that more clear than when discussing Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the application of Darwinian principles to sociology and ethics. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Social Darwinism as:

“An extension of Darwinism to social phenomena; specifically: a sociological theory that socio-cultural advance is the product of inter-group conflict and competition and the socially elite classes (as those possessing wealth and power) possess biological superiority in the struggle for existence.”

This ideology motivated movements like Eugenics, Scientific Racism, Imperialism, and Nazism. Not surprisingly, this tragic ‘abuse’ of Darwin’s theory of evolution is despicable according to many atheistic thinkers. Prominent philosopher of science, Michael Ruse, explains the inner logic of Social Darwinism in this manner:

“One ferrets out the nature of the evolutionary process – the mechanism or cause of evolution – and then one transfers it to the human realm, arguing that that which holds as a matter of fact among organisms holds as a matter of obligation among humans,”[1]

In nature the strong prey on the weak (think The Hunger Games on hyper-drive). Nature is violent and harsh and only the strongest pass on their genes to future generations. Given atheism, we are a part of nature – nothing more. Therefore, the strong primates can oppress the weak with the end result being the less favored races are weeded out. This is part of the evolutionary struggle for survival and leads logically to racism and oppression when applied to the human sphere of social interactions. Social Darwinism involves a leap from ‘fact’ to ‘value’; from what ‘is’ to what ‘ought’ to be.

Most atheists reject this type of logical move from biology to sociology (from ‘is’ to ‘ought’) when used to prop up, and provide legitimacy for Social Darwinism. As the famous skeptic David Hume pointed out centuries ago, to move from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ is a fallacious bit of reasoning.[2]

But here is the key point for our present purposes: to press the problem of evil against the Christian the atheist has to make a similar illogical leap. An act is evil when it ‘ought’ not to take place. Why is napalming babies wrong?  It ought not to be done, and not simply because I don’t like the thought of it. “Evil as a value judgment marks a departure from some standard of moral perfection. But if there is no standard, there is no departure.” [3]

Precisely.

If the universe is all there is we cannot derive any ‘ought’ from it. Listen to Richard Dawkins:

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe as we observe it has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless, indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. We dance to its music.”

In this worldview we have facts but not objective values. We are left with subjective values that we create for ourselves, leaving us with cultural relativism and its trivialization of our moral experience, including all the inherent difficulties involved with seeking to live in a consistent manner with its premises.

If you have been following so far this is the key point:

Why is this fallacious reasoning from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ protested vehemently in one situation (Social Darwinism) but is considered sound reasoning in another (the problem of evil)? Perhaps, because in one instance the atheist is defending Darwinism and in the other they are attacking God.

The irony: the atheist’s greatest argument against God (evil) requires the existence of God for its legitimacy.

Let me draw this brief blog to a close with a C.S. Lewis quote:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?….What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too-for the argument depended on saying that the world really was unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.”[1]


[1] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. pg. 31


[1] Ruse, Michael. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2001. Pg. 170

[2] Hume, David (1739). A Treatise of Human Nature. London: John Noon. p. 335.  The problem involves trying to draw imperative conclusions from indicative premises (this is contested, of course, in the philosophical literature). Hume, however, thought this was impossible. John Lennox adds: “Furthermore, in claiming that there was no rational basis for ethics in nature, Hume pointed out that, in the first place, nature tended to give conflicting signals, and secondly, and more importantly, to attempt to deduce ethics from nature was to commit a category mistake: observations in nature are first-order activities, whereas value judgments are second-order; that is, they do not belong in the same category.” Lennox C. John. Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target. A Lion Book: Oxford, England, 2011, pg. 101.

[3] Koukl, Gregory & Beckwith J. Francis. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid Air. Baker Books: Grand Rapid, Michigan, 1998. Pg. 63

 

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Death and Life – A Poem

November 3, 2012

I always thought I wanted a spirituality that rid my heart of hate. I still do. But I’ve realized that love for some things leads to a corresponding hate of other things. If you love your parent you will hate the cancer that is crippling them. I love life and its author. So I hate death.

I hate you death. And I wish you could hear it. Enemy of life, instigator of strife, you wield an undiscerning knife.

I refuse to make friends with death, I won’t pay it the compliment of pedagogical prestige.

You are a foe, you are an ugly blight, you are a cancer of all that is right.

A natural part of life, they say. NO. you have no part of life – you are life’s antithesis. A NATURAL PART OF LIFE! Has nature whispered a more insidious lie?

To call the unnatural, natural, to cry ‘peace, peace when there is no peace’. You false prophets of reductionism – you will never reduce the horror of this. Death steals away your deception, your worldliness, your self-entitled subterfuge. It breaks your toys, it silences your noise, it strips away your poise.

Death – You will mercilessly break what took a life to make.

Pastor, preacher, friend – I know you care, you may have your persuasive words – But you can’t, YOU WON’T, reconcile me to this – death’s poisonous kiss.

Death – are you the void none of us can avoid?

Yet, there is one voice that speaks truly – that labels what is what is. Death you are an enemy. Death you made even Jesus angry. And He wept at a funeral, he shed his timeless tears. Our grief he did not despise.

He spoke and no pious platitudes did He offer.

He died too and his blood speaks a better word than Abel’s.

He died so that death one day would die. He poisoned the belly of the grave and provided a ticking time bomb for all of our tears. He alone can still our fears.

I love you Jesus. And I hate you death – if you had your way I’d have no friends left. But you don’t and I won’t.

Jesus wins and you lose and at your best all you offered Him was a bruise.

So to hell with you – literally.