Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Matt 24 Watch, 2: Media Bias issues

In Matt 24, the first warning-sign of the end of days, is deception, closely followed by wars and rumours of wars, natural disasters and hatred and persecution. This past week, unfortunately, we have seen all of these in action, with the ramping-up North Korea crisis being headlined. (NK has stated that "[t]he resolution cannot be construed otherwise than a declaration of a war," at about the same time as the United States confirms, through detection of a cloud of radioactive gases, that the explosion was in fact nuclear, but less than 1,000 tons of TNT equivalent. A second NK nuclear test may well be under preparation, too.)

A little less headlined, but perhaps almost as serious, is
the rising tension between Israel and Syria, as the [sometimes erratic but often surprisingly well-informed] Debka Files reports: "deepening Syrian involvement in aggressive moves on three fronts: Damascus is pushing Iranian arms for Hizballah into Lebanon in blatant violation of Security Council resolution 1701 . . . the first Syrian military instructors have arrived in the Gaza Strip to impart Hizballah’s combat tactics to Hamas and the Syrian army remains on a high state of preparedness." France has threatened to fire on Israeli overflights of Lebanon which are monitoring the new arms buildup there.

In the midst of all of this, we find that BBC -- which is often viewed in the Caribbean as the gold standard of international news reporting, is currently
resisting a Freedom of Information Act request to release the Balen Report, made by Steven Sugar, a lawyer. According to the Daily Telegraph, such resistance "will increase suspicions that the report, which is believed to run to 20,000 words, includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming." [The Telegraph observes, "BBC's coverage of the Middle East has been frequently condemned for a perceived anti-Israeli bias . . ."]

Over the weekend as well, I chanced across a report in the Independent, a British newspaper, of an interview with Mr Salman Rushdie, on his observations of the ever-deepening threat from radical islamists, and the denial that so often marks the response of secularist progressivists. But, in the midst of the full article, I was shocked to see the following "money quote":
[Rushdie] senses soft racism in the refusal to see Islamic fundamentalists for what they are. When looking at the Christian fundamentalists of the United States, most people see an autonomous movement of superstitious madmen. But when they look at their Islamic equivalents, they assume they cannot mean what they say. "One of the things that's commonly said by Islamists is that it's acceptable to bomb a disco, because a disco is a place where people are behaving in a disgusting way. Go away and die - that's all bin Laden wants you to do. It's not just about Iraq, it's about ham sandwiches and kissing in public places and sex with girls you're not married to." He pauses. "It's about life."
Now, of course, this is exactly the sort of [im]moral equivalence bigotry that I have long pointed out and taken pains to address, most notably here. But what is telling about it, in the Matt 24:9 sense of "you will be hated by all nations because of me" is that here, it is simply an asserted "fact" (no correction or nuances are offered!) that Bible-believing Christians -- for that is the real meaning in that context of the smear-word, fundamentalists -- are "equivalent" to Islamist terrorists, and are "superstitious madmen."

Evidently, first, it has never occurred to the parties involved in the interview, that
opposition to licence, libertinism and amorality or immorality are not to be confused with enmity to liberty, proper -- especially in movements that materially contributed to its rise!

Second, through the resurrection of Jesus, there is a credible basis for Christian faith that takes a high view of the Bible. For, as British lawyer Frank Morison long since observed:
[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . . Why did it win? . . . . We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]
In short, the core challenge of the church to the world, is anchored by the gospel, as reported in 1 Cor 15, as reported by the Apostle Paul, AD 55:
1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [cf here Is 53, 700 BC!], 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. [1 Cor 15:1 - 8, 11.]
So, in the end, the issue is not really superstition and irrationality on our part, but the same selective hyperskepticism and/or dismissive ignorance on the part of those who do not wish to face the implications of that resurrection that was long since documented in Athens, circa AD 50:
AC 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

AC 17:24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.'

AC 17:29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

AC 17:32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

But in fact, we know who had the better case that day: for excellent reason, the future belonged to the Apostle, not to the philosphers or the politicians. And, that is still so today. END

It seems that the above post was more timely than I realised. For, I have just been informed that I have been strongly criricised by name, by Mr Ian Boyne, for pointing out that in fact the Christian faith, once the Bible was put in the hands of the ordinary man, made a major contribution to the rise of modern liberty. The core of his claim is:
. . . some Christians have also been offended by what they see as my lumping together Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists.
There is no moral equivalence between the two, they insist. And, of course, I never suggested that. But what I have maintained is that the Christians are also prone to bigotry, intolerance and the desire to impose their will on others just as the Islamic militants. The Christians have been more restrained in establishing their Kingdom of God on earth not because that desire has extinguished among them but because they live in secular states which have long disposed of the concept of the Divine Right of Kings and other theocratic notions.
Oops. As the highlighted reveals, he unfortunately evidently immediately inadvertently lets slip what he had just tried to deny.

I also find it highly interesting that, in a rather long article, the very well-read Mr Boyne utterly fails to address precisely how the absolutist notions were addressed in a biblical context, by Duplessis-Mornay, by the Dutch declarants of independence from Spanish rule and the Inquisition in 1581, or in the famous Lex Rex: namely, as shown in summary here, by using the Bible and concepts tracing to it, thus materially contributing to the rise of modern liberty. An excerpt on the impact of Lex Rex on its publication in 1644 is telling:
When Rutherford's Lex Rex came off the press, it caused a great stir in London and beyond. He wrote it in response to a 1644 work by John Maxwell . . . which defended absolute monarchy. The basic premise of Lex Rex is that the king is not above the law, but subject to it. Rutherford's aim was to demonstrate that "all civil power is immediately from God in its root", and that "power is a birthright of the people borrowed [by a ruler] from them" . . . Therefore, in extreme circumstances, the people may reasonably and constitutionally resume that power which they had reposed in the hands of their sovereign. Altogether, says Loane, "it provides us with a fine statement of the principles and policies of Puritan government. It was well-knit with a convincing argument and great dialectical ability, bound and clamped with the iron bands of proof from Scripture and a mass of syllogisms. . . . The king is the highest servant of the state, but is a servant always; absolute power would be both irrational and unnatural." . . . . "It is reported," says Howie, "that when King Charles the First saw Lex Rex, he said it would scarcely ever get an answer; nor did it ever get any, except what the Parliament gave it in 1661, when they caused it to be burned at the cross in Edinburgh by the hands of the hangman."
Now, Mr Boyne is apparently, in part, responding to some earlier remarks on my part, here, that sought to balance an earlier column of his. In that column, a major claim he made was:
The world is a much safer place today because the totalitarian ideology of the Christian Crusaders and the Roman Church was decisively routed by the secular state. Do not believe that militant Islam is necessarily more vicious and more violent than a militant Fundamentalist or resurgent Middle Ages Catholicism would be. The Christian fanatics and theonomists can find enough texts in the Old and even New testaments to butcher us unbelievers (in their particular sectarian doctrine), just as the radical Islamists can find Quranic justification for terrorism. There is something pernicious and scary about the Fundamentalist mindset.
I immediately note that there was a major, centuries long materially relevant historical process that occurred between the end of the Middle Ages and the rise of the modern secularist state, namely the reformation. Nor -- as I noted earlier -- are Biblical Christians in general [especially here in the Caribbean] to be equated to the very much fringe phenomenon, of theonomists and the like. In short, there is a need for some balance, context and accuracy here.

Nor, will I attempt a major, point-by point rebuttal here, just now -- and I have but little confidence that I will be able to publicly rebut in detail someone who has far greater media access than I -- but I will note for now [and will perhaps over the next few days, submit a short letter to the editor of the Gleaner, but not with any great hope]:
1] As I have sufficiently documented here, Biblically-rooted Christian thought worked out and published in the course of the reformation made a material contribution to the rise of modern liberty. This is a simple, easily demonstrated -- though often ignored, overlooked or even hotly denied -- matter of fact that anyone can easily confirm through a perusal of now instantly accessible original documents and relevant history.

2] As to the remark that I have in effect dismissed the actions of the Medieval church as Biblically illiterate and acting contrary to the Scriptures, that too is a sad fact of history: Biblical illiteracy, among not only the laity but the clergy and leadership in the church and nation, was a major target of the reformation. (Nor, do I fall down at the feet of the reformers and worship them as an ideal -- they too were fallen fallible men, with their own sins to account for. But, as Kuyper pointed out in the famous 1898 L P Stone Lectures at Princeton, let us give Jack his jacket, in all fairness!)

3] Further to this, the efforts of the early Bible translators, intended in part to address precisely that ignorance and the moral corruption it led to, were met with fire and sword; Tyndale being burned at the stake as late as 1536. Just, perhaps, the powers of the day feared the putting of the message of the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man, as did the slave masters in the Caribbean in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries? (Could that have something to do with the force of texts such as the Gal 5:1 on the fly jacked of Patterson's book on Freedom: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery . . .?)

4] Nor -- sadly -- is it any great surprise that ignorance and deception would be true of a major branch of the Christian faith, given warnings from the mouth of Christ himself about the power of deception, in Matt 24.

5] My broader point here, has been that the sins of Christendom [added Sept 30, 2011, cf WIP, NCSTS course unit here] -- which have been, and are many -- are in ignorance of or disobedience to the explicit teachings of Scripture. For instance, consider the force of Paul's summary of the Golden Rule in Rom 13:8 - 10: ". . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." How can anyone read this with understanding and then set out to justify absolute power, or oppression and injustice?]

6] It is in fact the rebirth of biblical scholarship and the rise of mass access to the Biblical sources in the reformation era that over time forced waves of reformation and liberation, especially starting with the 1579 Vindiciae and its aftermath in the Dutch Declaration of Independence in 1581, which among other liberating achievements created a haven of toleration for religious and political refugees from elsewhere.

7] Nor am I ignorant of/surprised to hear -- yet again [as I have also often noted!] that churchmen and "Christian" leaders -- Orthodox, Catholic and later Protestant or even evangelical -- appear in the sad guise of the Beast of Rev 13, for that too simply reflects the corrupting potential of power in the hands of sinful, fallen men. The astute Christian historian, Lord Acton, observing of the popes of the Renaissance, for excellent reason said that "power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely, great men are bad men." That is the general record of history, not just Christian history, as the last 100 years of brutal secularist-inspired genocides, wars of aggression etc, with casualties amounting to over 100 millions amply demonstrates.

8] Let us finally note, again, that a major and highly influential link in the chain of biblical contributions to the rise of modern liberty, Rutherford's Lex Rex, was written to rebut through biblical exegesis and cogent reason, Maxwell's ill-founded attempt to justify absolute, unaccountable monarchy from the Bible -- and proved unanswerable, save by being burned by the hangman at Edinburgh; even as Rutherford lay on his deathbed.
Indeed, that is one of the precise reasons that it is when the Bible got into the ordinary man's hand that waves of liberation spread -- the people began to wise up and rise up. And, that is a major point that Orlando Patterson documented in his Freedom -- as Mr Martin Henry accurately summarised:
Most human languages did not even have a word for the concept of freedom before Western contact. Freedom is also, Patterson proposes, "the central value of Christianity: being redeemed, being freed by, and in, Christ, is the ultimate goal of all Christians"; Christianity being "the first and only world religion that placed freedom ­ spiritual freedom, redemption ­at the very center of its theology". Wherever this odd religion [GEM Note: I add, correctively, in its popularly circulated, biblically-based form] has become established, he says, it has made converts to both salvation in Christ and to the ideal of freedom . . . .

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