Tag Archives: christianity

On Religion and Goodness

Last time, I wrote about the false idea of religion and the suppression of innovation and truth, as exemplified by a reconsideration of the Galileo incident. Today, I want to consider another part of the atheistic meta-narrative that I find equally amusing and frustrating. The meta-narrative summarizes as, “nothing good ever came from religion,” and usually has a variant, “all wars came from religion.”

It’s difficult, in the extreme, to defend absolute statements such as these, especially when they involve interpretive elements. If it’s about winning the argument, I’m sure there are all kinds of websites out there that will give you all of the best, most defensible, responses to these. I want to address, instead, the statement behind the statement. Before that, I do want to give a reply to the second statement by suggesting that most (all) wars are usually related to land: control, ownership, and possession of land and the revenue that land generates. Certainly governments use religion as the rallying cry to motivate the masses to action, but when you boil it down it really comes down to land and resources.

In the end, wars happen because of money, or the love of it.

But to my point: the statement behind the statement of good and religion. I think the real question is a question of goodness. The atheist meta-narrative explicitly (and some would say rationally) denies the the concept of God and the necessity of God in connection to the concept of good. The implicit statement follows that we should discard the irrational God concept and embrace the rational concept of goodness.

Irrational = bad, rational = good.

Ironically, most atheists I know would espouse the goodness of medicine and education, putting these forth as examples of the pinnacle of rationality and enlightenment. I usually lean to my atheist associates and point out that both institutions came from religion. Seriously (there’s a reason why there are Baptist, Presbyterian, and/or Methodist hospitals in most North American cities). The western higher education system is based off of monastic education—to train priests—which in turn drew influence from the madrasa. Both birthed out of the (supposedly non-rational) callings put forth by religion inclinations and the (again, non-rational) pursuit of Godliness and (supposedly rational) goodness.

I think that the atheist meta-narrative question is really, “Is religion good?” My obligatory christian answer to that question is, “any man-made construct has inherent flaws because humanity is inherently flawed, but the object of religion is inherently good.” My real answer to that question is, “God is good, man is not.” Religions are systematic and rational, usually making a lot of sense and having a great deal of internal coherence. God, conceptually, is irrational and doesn’t work according to our categories. Actually, I reject the notion of God as a concept being irrational (I leave it to finer philosophical minds than mine to make the God argument but I hear William Lane Craig does a pretty good job), but I would agree that God as a concept fits outside of neat human construct.

Personally, I call that good.

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The Fury Behind the Furor

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict (not guilty), I found myself in quiet reflection, wondering why exactly this case bothered me. Black children (children of all races, actually) die tragically and unjustly every day and yet those don’t bother me. As a side note, that’s a sad indictment of me and my indifference to human suffering. Still, why did Zimmerman’s verdict stick with me for some time?

Two things disturb me greatly, three make me angry (with apologies to the Hebrew poets for borrowing their literary convention): the deafening silence from the evangelical community, the counterattack by non-blacks who suggest that racial disparities don’t exist, and the reminder that my son will grow up in a hostile legal system.

  1. To be fair, some evangelicals did respond. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, had a great blog post where he recognized that his talk with his son will be different than mine. The Gospel Coalition had several people reflect on the results (although at first blush, many seem to be African-American bloggers). However, in the conservative evangelical circles that I live day-to-day, life moved on. I heard more people talk about their planned missions trips overseas than about the death of a teenager killed while standing his ground against a stranger. By implication and action, the (mostly Caucasian) people around me simply didn’t care that Trayvon died. Predictably, only the few African-Americans in my circle found the results disturbing, and all of us for similar reasons.
  2. It didn’t help that, pretty consistently, when African-Americans brought up the racial disparities, the public has responded that (a) racism doesn’t exist, nor does injustice nor white privilege. Unfortunately, the record of Supreme Court decisions indicates that the courts have consistently ruled against fairness for African-Americans and, as just one example, even the U.S. Higher-Education System Perpetuates White Privilege. In other words, our social and legal system are document-ably against African-Americans. Telling me that it’s just my imagination that women in the place that I work and live clutch their purses when I’m around and move between me and their children, or tell their daughters they’re not allowed to be romantically involved with me (an actual experience for me, circa 2008) doesn’t help .
  3. It bothers me that I have to explain to my son one day that the reason that parents snatch up their kids when he goes to the park and suddenly leave, or move to swings on the opposite side of the park (both true, actual, experiences within the last three months of this writing) is because of his skin color. If he stands up for himself, the public and the law will first vilify him and then justify his attacker. In spite of the guaranteed constitutional rights, the courts will not support or protect him in many cases, or it will take years before the courts recognize the wrongs perpetuated against him.

And that makes me angry.

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Submission and Sensibility (with apologies to Jane Austen)

I recently stumbled across and article (or blog, can’t really remember) arguing that κεφαλὴ, translated as “head” in most Bibles, is better translated as “source” in Ephesians 5:22–33. I had vague understanding of this argument so I read the article in more detail and then went to look at the associated verses myself. At the end of my study, I came to the following conclusion: who cares?

Paul opens Chapter 5 with the admonition to live in holiness (Ephesians 5:1–5), then reminds the reader not to participate in the “deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:6–14). Immediately, he calls his readers to submit to one another as a wise way of living (Ephesians 5:15–21). In this context, Paul gives his (near-infamous) instruction for wives to submit to your husbands as unto the lord (22). As many will (and should) point out, the Greek sentence doesn’t have submit in that verse; the word submit appears in the previous verse (21) in the command to “submit to one another.” In a somewhat literal translation, the verse reads, “wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord.” He then goes on the the husband is head/source as Christ is head/source.

Some want to soften the submission aspect by clinging to the source translation, while others want to reinforce male authority by emphasizing headship. Firstly, it seems to me that, whatever the translation, Paul is using a metaphor here, and we should therefore avoid a wooden one-to-one analogy. Secondly, the head/source analogy comes as a clarification of “wives to your own husbands [submit]”, implying that regardless of what you may understand κεφαλὴ to mean, wives must still submit to their own husbands.

I wonder if Paul has the not-uncommon orgies in mind when he makes the qualifier in 5:22 (and as he clarifies later for husbands to love their wives). Consider: in a culture where a group orgy is a possible reality and where someone of his audience had likely participated in such an orgy, Paul commands them to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I can see how he might see an immediate need to clarify.

Paul: “Okay, so before you take this too far, let me give you some more details: wives, submit to your own husbands. Just like Christ is the κεφαλὴ of the Church, so husbands are your κεφαλὴ. In the same way the church submits to Christ, wives, do the same to your husbands. You husbands, love your own wives just like you would love your own body. If you love your body, you love yourself, so take care of your body, just like Christ takes care of his church. By the way, do you see what I did there? Body of Christ/body of husband? See, I’m really talking about the church/Christ relationship.”

All I’m saying is that I can’t see how we can avoid the wives submitting to husbands part, but I would also point out in the same way that all Christians submit to one another, this is the way in which wives submit to their husbands. So if you’re going use this verse to say that husbands have the “final say” in marriage, then you also have to say that other Christians have the “final say” as well.

Please, lets have some sense as we continue to consider male and female within the church.

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What is Just (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, the George Zimmerman verdict (acquittal) has caught your attention. Commonly, you’ve probably heard (or seen) “It’s not just,” or “Justice failed,” or even “Justice wasn’t served.” You’ve probably also heard people counter that justice, by definition, was served in this case. This led me to wonder what, exactly, justice means.

  • Dictionary: According to Mirriam-Webster online, justice is, “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments,” and, “the administration of law; especially: the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.” Related definitions include, “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; conformity to this principle or ideal (righteousness),” and, “the quality of conforming to law.”
  • Philosophy: According to Wikipedia, the philosophical concept of justice is, “Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity or fairness, as well as the administration of the law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law of their civil rights, without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, or other characteristics, and is further regarded as being inclusive of social justice.” Both Plato and Aristotle see justice as harmony, both in and between the individual and as a quality of the state. Locke, on the other hand, sees justice as an inherent quality of the universe similar to the laws of physics. By implication, law is an attempt by humanity to quantify that which God wrote into the fabric of creation.
  • Virtue: Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues, and is the proper tension between selfishness and selflessness. In some sense, it is giving to everyone what is due and as such, seems to be the pivotal virtue of the four as one can view the other virtues as expressions of justice.
  • Theology: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The original Hebrew and Greek words are the same as those rendered “righteousness.” This is the common rendering, and in about half the cases where we have “just” and “justice” in the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version has changed to “righteous” and “righteousness.” It must be constantly borne in mind that the two ideas are essentially the same.”

So back to the question: was the George Zimmerman verdict just?

It seems unjust to me that an armed man can chase a boy for several minutes and then shoot that same boy while claiming no culpability in that boy’s death. Zimmerman’s actions appear both reckless and negligent. While Zimmerman may have broken no law (or did not commit murder) as he was charged, it does not remove from him the responsibility for Trayvon’s death. The tragic, and unjust aspect, is that the law supports him in killing Trayvon.

And that is, by definition, injustice.

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Seeing Emmett Till in Trayvon Martin

“Remember Emmett Till.”

Three simple words, and my father and mother repeated them to me several times in my life. They associated several ideas behind that simple phrase but the chief one was this: you are a black man living in a world hostile to you. Simply put, they reminded me that the world would pre-judge me and treat me unfairly. It would consider me hostile and a threat by virtue of my existence alone. In a group of my peers (I attended predominantly white schools), if all of them were causing trouble and the authorities arrived, those authorities would look to me first as the source of conflict. My peers could argue with police over tickets; I dare not if I valued my health and life. I would need to dress better, act better, live better than those around me.

My parents, unfortunately, were right. Time and experience have proved them true. Repeatedly.

Upon hearing the George Zimmerman verdict, I couldn’t help but hear those three words and see the parallels between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin.

  • Emmitt (14) and Trayvon (17) were both teenagers when they were killed.
  • Both made typically teenager-like (impulsive, unwise) decisions in carrying out the activities that led to their death. In Emmitt’s case, he dared whistle at a white woman. In Trayvon’s case, he dared to stand his ground after feeling threatened.
  • The killers in each case acted in accordance with the common social and legal bounds. In Emmitt’s case, the jury knew the perpetrators killed Emmitt, but felt the killing of a black boy deserved neither life in prison nor the death penalty. In Trayvon’s case, we have not heard from the jury (as of this writing) but their vote for acquittal was a vote against 2nd degree murder and manslaughter.
  • Both Emmitt and Trayvon were accused of bringing on their own murders. In Emmitt’s case, one of the killers talked about “putting Emmitt in his place,” while in Trayvon’s case, some media commentators asserted that Trayvon’s manner of dress—a hoodie on a rainy day—was thug gear and made him seem suspicious.
  • Both Emmitt and Trayvon’s killers were charged only after tremendous political and social pressure as well as national attention.

I have to admit: I was disappointment, frustrated, and ultimately unsurprised by the verdict. Based on what I could see of the case, Zimmerman’s actions were legal, but they weren’t good. Zimmerman has the right to carry a weapon and to use it if threatened. From a legal perspective, it doesn’t matter that he chose to follow Trayvon for over four mintues (and for those of you who think that’s no big deal, here’s a challenge for you: set a four minute timer on your phone and start walking; don’t stop until you hear the timer buzz and imagine that someone is following you the whole time—how might you react in that case?).

I also know that, when my son comes of age, I will teach my son the lesson my parents taught me with a simple, three-word phrase:

“Remember Trayvon Martin.”

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