Friday, June 15, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 155 & Rom 1 reply, 8: An example of angry atheistical misreadings of scripture used to mislead the public on Biblical morality (here, on slavery)

Over the past little while, the KF blog has been looking at some of the things our region will need to address if we are to become digitally productive. (Next up, DV: virtual instrumentation and the wonders of chopper-stabilied instrumentation amps and kin.)

There has also been a brewing crisis that has required considerable effort. 

But, in the course of monitoring news and views trends, I ran across a case of willfully misleading abuse of Scripture by the American Atheists [U/D: It seems in attempted rebuttal to the Pennsylvania, USA, legislature] that I think I cannot but hold up for attention:

Now, of course, slavery is a hot button topic, one where we all recognise that something went very wrong with our civilisation -- along with all other major cultures. That is why we must address the sins of Christendom
(And, BTW, it is important, in dealing with such questions, to first ground moral sentiments: what is the worldview level foundation of OUGHT? It cannot be just might and manipulation make 'right'; which is where evolutionary materialism -- never mind how it is often dressed up in the holy lab coat and announced to us in the most august tones, in the name of science -- leaves us. The American Atheists and ilk, have no basis for morality other than the manipulation of moral sensibilities. And they usually angrily reject the only serious worldview foundation that can indeed ground OUGHT in a foundational worldview IS. Namely, the inherently good, Creator God and loving, just Lord before whom we will account. Sadly, in my experience, they are also often too intellectually ill-equipped, or closed-minded -- or sometimes, are outright too lazy or ill-intentioned -- to take the time to read and think through the sort of informed responses to their favourite talking points as I have just linked. Nor are they usually willing to address the even more telling point that such evolutionary materialism -- a descriptive term for the sort of Scientism that Lewontin, the US NAS, the NSTA and many others commonly trumpet in our day -- is inescapably self-referential and self contradictory, i.e. it is self refuting and cannot be true. For, in a nutshell, it has no answer to the point that Haldane pointed out at the turn of the 1930's and which C S Lewis and others have reminded us about over and over again: 
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)])
At the same time, we must not lose balance, as noted historian Bernard Lewis counselled, in the context of dealing with the roots of Muslim rage in his epochal 1990 essay of that title:
. . . The accusations are familiar. We of the West are accused of sexism, racism, and imperialism, institutionalized in patriarchy and slavery, tyranny and exploitation. To these charges, and to others as heinous, we have no option but to plead guilty -- not as Americans, nor yet as Westerners, but simply as human beings, as members of the human race. In none of these sins are we the only sinners, and in some of them we are very far from being the worst. The treatment of women in the Western world, and more generally in Christendom, has always been unequal and often oppressive, but even at its worst it was rather better than the rule of polygamy and concubinage that has otherwise been the almost universal lot of womankind on this planet . . . .
In having practiced sexism, racism, and imperialism, the West was merely following the common practice of mankind through the millennia of recorded history. Where it is distinct from all other civilizations is in having recognized, named, and tried, not entirely without success, to remedy these historic diseases. And that is surely a matter for congratulation, not condemnation. We do not hold Western medical science in general, or Dr. Parkinson and Dr. Alzheimer in particular, responsible for the diseases they diagnosed and to which they gave their names.
 Now, it so happens that, on May 27, I spoke in my home church here on the need to open our hearts, so that we can be renewed and reformed by the power of the cleansing Spirit, with Onesimus as a key case study. For, Paul used the case of the escaped slave to go to the heart of the issue of slavery and any other form of abuse: Onesimus was "a man" and "a brother," one whom he outright told his Master Philemon, he should welcome even as he would welcome the Apostle. 

Before he got to that point, he made it clear that he was not simply going for conformity with an authoritative instruction, no that was not good enough; he wanted transformation from within by the Spirit of Love, Power, Purity and Truth:
Phlm 1: 8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you-I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus- 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus,  whose father I became in my imprisonment . . .  [ESV]
In short, Paul was going to the heart of the matter.

And, as the contrast between the out of context angry and irresponsible misreading promoted by the American Atheists and what the actual history where Phlm 1:15 - 17 actually framed the motto of the Antislavery Movement shows, Paul's approach was effective. In the classical era, it undermined the basis of enslavement, and when greed for super profits led to an unprecedentedly cruel, abusive and exploitative form of slavery, it is the same epistle that would energise the movement that first broke the kidnapping based trade then attacked the wicked but legally, politically and economically entrenched institution itself.

What I find particularly telling, is how the American Atheists wrenched a text out of its context, and planted it in a very different one, to gain a rhetorical advantage. 

They plainly did not even do the due diligence to truth and fairness to check and acknowledge that Paul wrote -- from imprisonment in Rome as an appeals prisoner subject to censorship and chained to a guard at all times -- and sent Colossians AND Philemon to the same leadership circle in the same church at the same time. Indeed, it seems BOTH of them were to be read out in the church on their arrival. Had this been reckoned with, it would have been immediately apparent that in Col 3:22, Paul is giving counsel to slaves who are not in a position to get their freedom legitimately (Onesimus, who returned with the letters, had run away and apparently stolen money in sufficient sums that Paul had to offer to pay the damages . . . ), and he advises them to turn adversity around, offering their service to God. But this is the same apostle who, seven years before, had written to the Corinthians as follows:
1 Cor 7:21 Were you a slave  when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. [ESV]
In short, Paul emphasises equality under God, and counsels against useless despair or rage. But, he undermines the very foundation of the institution by emphasising that equality of men. (This BTW was very well understood in the Caribbean in the early days of Evangelical Missionaries, as the Planters feared and opposed teaching slaves to read and understand the Bible. They knew they were in the wrong, but because of vested interests, were insisting on dancing on strong in the wrong.)

Just so, we also can see the sharp difference between reasoning with men's hearts and minds to build sound convictions to be acted on before God, and willfully deceptive rhetorical manipulation. 

It is high time that we heed the warning Peter gave:
2 Peter 3:15 . . . 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. Amen. [ESV]
And, Paul's similar counsel on rhetorical ethics and the related responsibilities of those who would teach the scriptures:
2 Cor 4:2 . . . we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. [ESV]
We would be well advised to heed such sound counsels.

Not to mention, we should also bear in mind Peter's parting counsel just before he was martyred by Nero, c. 65 AD -- he was reportedly crucified upside down, in Rome -- on our attitude to the Gospel and to the scriptures:
 2 Pet 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,  with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  [Cf. here, on the significance of eyewitness testimony to Jesus' Passion, and here on the prophecies fulfilled by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.]
So, whose report will we believe, why? 

That is the pivotal, eternity-freighted question.  END