Friday, May 18, 2012

Rom 1 reply, 4: Scripture-twisting and the ten questions posed by the God is Imaginary site as questions every "intelligent" Christian "must" answer

(Cf. parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Last time, as we looked at the GII list of ten loaded "switch brands of faith" questions used to challenge the Christian faith, we saw that five of them were based on forms of the problem of evils, while failing to acknowledge how this problem has been cogently addressed by philosophers and theologians such as Plantinga. 

It is therefore quite unsurprising that, similarly, six of the questions directly or indirectly challenge the Bible, while failing to address what competent theology has to say. In some cases, the questions are posed without bothering to look at context:
[3]: Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?

4: Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense?

5: Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible?
7: Why didn't any of Jesus' miracles in the Bible leave behind any evidence?8: How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you? 9 – Why would Jesus want you to eat his body and drink his blood? It sounds totally grotesque, doesn't it? Why would a[n] all-powerful God want you to do something that, in any other context, sounds like a disgusting, cannibalistic, satanic ritual?  
 The first three questions are obviously loaded, starting with language: God allegedly demands the death of "innocent people," the Bible is allegedly full of ANTI-scientific "nonsense," the God of the Bible is a "huge proponent of slavery." This is an angry and dismissive reading, not a careful and reasonable examination. 

Next, there is an attempt to sweep away the miracles of Jesus as failing to leave behind any "evidence." (Apparently, eyewitness lifetime record  -- remember, the underlying summary official testimony to the resurrection has over five hundred witnesses, with about twenty named or identifiable; and, the enemies of Jesus acknowledged that he did astonishing feats, trying to dismiss them as magic and deviltry -- sustained in the teeth of fire and sword, to such minds, does not count as evidence. Nor, does the survival and triumph of a church that succeeded based on that testimony and the manifest power of the name of Jesus to save, heal and deliver. )

The notion that we may properly demand that Jesus appears to us personally, here and now, is even more irresponsible. 

We may properly demand adequate testimony to matters of fact or reality, but we may not sweep such away and demand arbitrarily more through selective hyperskepticism. Worse, were Jesus to appear to one of these dismissive skeptics, doubtless he would want to brush it aside as a hallucination or a bad dream or something like that. 

And indeed, the duty to respond to adequate evidence is what lies behind Jesus' gentle but stinging rebuke to Thomas

He had the evidence of the empty tomb and testimony of witnesses he had known for years. The substance of the witness was not "extraordinary" in itself: we ate two suppers with a friend, and we saw him snatched by corrupt officials, kangaroo courted and executed in the brutally cruel fashion then ever so common in Judaea.  The miracle lay not in what happened but in its timeline: the first supper was before the arrest and judicial murder, and the second one was three days after he was killed. but, ordinary men of reasonable intelligence can tell which of a series of events happens first, second, third etc. Such men can also reliably tell us if they have sat to supper with a friend.

As to the allegedly cannibalistic or satanic text about eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood, he plainly spoke figuratively -- though many took offence at it. It seems people have always had problems with figures of speech. This is a capital example of why it is ever so important to read in context before firing off objections or wrenching texts into pretzels. In this case we would take maybe two minutes:
John 6:30 So [the people] said to [Jesus], “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

 41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me- 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread3  the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. [ESV]
Obviously, he used bread and drink as metaphors, to compare his new covenant with that of Moses, where in the wilderness among the signs Moses did was to feed the Jewish forefathers on Manna and to give them water from rocks. He did this after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand (vv. 1 - 14 -- for which, some would have seized him to make him king by force!), and explicitly said that the proper response to him was to believe in him (as messiah). And of course, the communion celebration of bread and wine echoes this event and recalls his crucified, broken body and shed blood as Lamb of God and risen Lord.
 To take this and suggest a satanic ritual of cannibalism is a grotesque misreading, and does not speak well of the level of responsibility of simply reading that has been put into the text.

With these in hand, we can immediately realise that the list of ten questions posed by the GII are not fair minded. 

When we see the notion that the Bible is full of anti-science nonsense, that is little more than a hot-tempered dismissal of the miraculous, and the concept that God is Creator and Lord, before whom we will account. We already know from the first two responses (1, 2) that miracles credibly do occur today in answer to prayer in the name of Jesus, have similarly credibly occurred across time, and in the days in which the scriptures were written. 

Similarly, apart from anti-supernaturalist prejudice, there is nothing anti-scientific in the concept that God is Creator. (If you want to look at issues of origins, you may find here on in context helpful.)

The question of God allegedly demanding the deaths of the innocent has already been spoken to in part 3 of the series. So has the question on God being a "proponent" of slavery, but it is worth looking at a significant facet again, from a different angle. 

First, let us look at the emblem used by the antislavery societies on both sides of the Atlantic:

Source: BBC, fair use

What I find astonishing is that the usual analyses try to present every nuance of context and humanitarian appeal, usually with a veneer of scorn for a "paternalistic" and passive attitude, while overlooking the most obvious fact of all, the source of the motto. To wit:
Philemon 1: 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus,  whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 

12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 

13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 

15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave  but more than a slave, as a beloved brother-especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.
18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it-to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. 
 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say . . . [ESV]
Yes, the Antislavery society motto was taken almost word for word from the very self same Bible that allegedly promotes enslavement. And, the text in question appeals for manumission on an appeal to the heart softened by Christ, and responsive to the fact that Onesimus was a brother human being by the flesh and a brother Christian by the Spirit. In short, it is not just speaking to slaves who are Christians, but to slaves who are fellow human beings. 

And, the not too subtle reference to Apphia, "our sister" in v. 2, give direct support to the following adaptation, which speaks to every additional horror visited on women who were -- and, sadly, are -- enslaved or subjected to human trafficking (such as prostitution, pornography and being made concubines):

Source: auction, fair use
In short, and as was pointed out previously [and kindly cf here for reference materials as well as here for a useful discussion], slavery was a longstanding harsh reality long before Moses. Moses, just as with divorce, regulated to ameliorate the conditions in light of the hardness of men's hearts. But just as with Malachi 2:16 with  its revealing "I hate Divorce, says the Lord," this was not what was in God's heart for men. But, to get a heartfelt change would require the softening work of the Spirit of Christ. 

And, that is why in the classical world, Philemon struck the first telling blow, driving a stake into the heart of that institution.

Then, when the opportunity of super-profits in the new world led to a resurgence of slavery, once the evangelical revival had created a critical mass of support for the very first modern civil rights movement. The first target of that movement was the kidnapping-based trade, and then later on as it became ever more clear that gradual means would not work, the push was made for outright across the board abolition by force of law.

So, plainly, the angry reading and loaded questions presented to us in this list of questions are utterly irresponsible, exactly as Peter warned against, in counselling us to grow in grace by paying heed to the Word of God:
2 Pet 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. [ESV]
It would seem far wiser and more responsible to heed Peter and Paul et al, rather than the ill-informed fulminations of messrs Dawkins and co. END