Monday, April 4, 2011

Dueling David

When we close our mouths, we close our minds... at least in the sense of debate. State your beliefs, but be careful to listen and consider alternate viewpoints, instead of simply and automatically rejecting those viewpoints. Examine the weaknesses and strengths of your beliefs to see what really holds up and what needs correction. This is the process of truth derivation through debate.

I received a few comments to some recent posts from someone going by the name of David. David has challenged the veracity of some of my statements, publicly. If we were cartoons, it would be like Bugs Bunny has taken off his white glove and slapped Daffy Duck across the face. Well, of course you know, this means war. ;-)

I thought I would throw this word skirmish up on its own post. That way you, the reader, can more easily join in if you'd like, and point out where I go wrong. Or you can just sit back and (hopefully) be entertained and enlightened. Enjoy!

For your ease, I have summarized arguments up to now. David, please correct me if I have misrepresented anything.

My replies will be indented.

The Morals of God
Spawning from the “I'm an Insensitive Jerk” post, David suggests that God is self-consistent in His morality, that He defines the rules, and that rules are a reflection for us to know His nature. In a sense, David sees morality as internal to God in all the ways that it is external to us humans.

I mentioned that in Deut. 24:16, according to God a man shall not be killed due to sins of his children, and visa versa. Yet God does this very thing in scripture, such as when God killed King David's baby which he had with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). This makes God seem inconsistent with His own rules.

David replied with a manifold answer: Children often suffer for the sins of their parents. This law was for us and our justice, not for God, similar to how God provided the divorce law for the hardness of our hearts. Why is it that we think a woman can decide to kill her unborn child, but God is not capable of making a similar decision? And finally, who are we to judge God?
David, I'm sure you realize that this law is not a description of the way the world works in general, but rather a law regarding legal justice. So children suffering for their parents mistakes, and vice versa, in the life-experience sense, is not technically applicable.

As for divorce, it's funny you mention that. Check out my exegesis post “Holy Divorce” for a rebuttal of that errant perspective. The underlying claim you make, though, is that there can be two sets of standards, one for man and one for God. That means that morals are relative; relative to the executor. Here's where it gets interesting: Let's allow God His own set of morals. Like any set of morals, God should be obligated to exercise those morals judgements consistently, especially if, as you suggest, God is self-consistent. That is not what we find in the Bible. For example, God kills Onan just for spilling his semen on the ground, but God lets Manasseh, the most evil king Judah ever had, reign for 55 years (2 Kings 21). So God appears to be inconsistent in His application of His morals, which is not very moral at all. You could claim that the reason for this inconsistency has to do with how this all fits into God's ultimate plan. That point is more difficult to refute, however it does paint morals as being relative to the situation as opposed to be absolute, which is so often proclaimed by believers. (You may be interested to review another exegesis post, “Sins of Their Fathers,” where I discuss some of the several times when God does kill children for the sins of their fathers.)

In regards to the half-joking comparison between abortion and God's decision, the appropriate rebuttal for you somewhat depends on your beliefs about the unborn. Yet perhaps what should be asked is whether or not that comparison is a valid one to make. That goes back to the law. I don't think anyone would say that a woman has a right to abort her pregnancy as a means of punishing the father. I'm guessing most people would find that idea morally repugnant, as I certainly do. However, this is what you have suggested that God is doing by your reply, whether or not you intended to suggest that.

Who are we to judge God? Job was awfully humble about it, that's true, suggesting none of us are worthy to question God. Yet that's not the only Biblical viewpoint. You may remember how Abraham questioned God about His planned destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps you remember how Moses questioned God on multiple occasions, including twice when Moses influenced God to change His mind in order not to completely annihilate the Israelites; once for the Golden Cow worshiping and once when they were afraid to enter the Promised Land. If it wasn't for Moses' moral judgement, imperfect as it was, there might now be a country called “Moses” instead of a country called “Israel.” I believe we have the right and the responsibility to question the morals of God. True, I am not omniscient, so my judgement may be wrong. On the other hand, I do not know how to fly a plane, but I am pretty sure I could tell if a pilot was about to turn the plane into a lawn dart. You do not have to know every single thing in order to be correct on a particular judgement.

Naturally Flawed Logic
In the “Exodus of Free Speech?” post, I had casually made the statement:
“That problem not being GLBT persons, but rather the antiquated Biblical and Koranic views of homosexuality, which has proven itself to be 100% natural at some frequency.”

David had mentioned that my logic in this statement was flawed, that such a statement could be made for human issues such as murder, rape, extortion, etc.
David, I do apologize, as I have taken some liberties with this blog verses the “The Wise Fool” blog, in that I am not always fully fleshing out and supporting statements. I'm doing this purposefully for better readability. I understand why you may not quite understand my intent here. So let me explain.

In the Bible, you find no expression for the fact that homosexuality is natural. All you see is that it is a abomination to God. Correspondingly, there is a subset of Christians out there who see homosexuality as a choice only, not a desire anyone is born with. The statement I made is directed at such people; people who ignore the scientific evidence which confirms that homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon within many parts of the animal kingdom, including us.

Furthermore, that statement is directed at the Bible and the Koran. For if God/Allah is making only certain people who have homosexual attraction and at the same time condemning homosexual behavior, that is indeed a perverse game such a Creator is playing.

Just to be extra clear here, I believe that there are some people who choose to perform homosexual acts despite their actual inherent sexual bias of the contrary, such as what you hear about in prisons. Yet there are people who are clearly born different, with an honest attraction for the same sex. It is the “natural homosexuals” which neither holy book acknowledges which proves that their religious belief structure is antiquated. So I am arguing a different point altogether, one that forces the believer's revelation that God must be involved in making someone homosexual, and God's inherent unjustified condemnation of such an individual.

I'll point out a flaw in logic of your argument, at least as it is provided. Murder, rape, extortion, etc. are crimes involving victims. Homosexuality in and of itself is a victimless act, an act which can promote love between the two people involved. So yes, they all happen naturally, but your grouping is clearly wrong and hurtful, while on the other hand, homosexuality can actually be as enriching a life experience as any non-child-bearing heterosexual union.

I'm Offended
I made another casual statement, saying this about the Bible and Koran:
“Talk about offensive material... slavery, oppression, and genocide, oh my!”

David stated that he didn't think I would have a problem with history books, which all contain that stuff. So he asked if I was inferring that the Bible and Koran advocate these things, because he doesn't “think that [such a] view is one commonly held by serious scholars of the subject.”
The natural question to ask back: Which serious scholars, or rather what type of serious scholars? Are these people of faith who have a vested interest to paint things in a positive light, and to ignore facts to the contrary? This is an important question to answer, because these Holy books do contain this content in a way which should not be ignored.

New-Testament-Only Christianity does not fundamentally advocate any of those. The funny thing about the New Testament, though, is that it is most often connected to the Old Testament as a package deal known as the Bible. In the Old Testament, God instructs the Israelites to take slave women as war spoils and commit genocide on multiple populations. Oppression is a little more slippery to deal with, because it depends on how you want to define it. I see a certain level of the oppression of the rights of women, some of which is echoed even in the New Testament. Now what you have to remember is the God of the Bible does not change. He tells us so, so it must be true. So the God of Christianity could be called an advocate of slavery, oppression, and genocide, even if Christianity proper does not actively promote any of those evils. If you need any specific verses to support my claims, just ask. ;-)

The Koran and Islam I am still learning about. Muslims have many flavors, just like Christians do, so any generalization falls short of the full truth. Shari'a law does indeed promote oppression of Christians and Jews living in Islamic states. There are many anti-Semitic passages in the Koran, several coupled with condemnation from Allah, which goes a long way towards promoting genocide. Similar to the Bible, slaves are part of the spoils of war according to Allah.

So, yes, that's what I was inferring. I believe there are grounds to do so. I just picked out three objectionable topics of slavery, oppression, and genocide, but there are others too, such as promoting discrimination and intolerance, and inciting extremists. I'm not sure I would classify myself as a “serious scholar” of the Bible, but I have studied it enough to know without doubt that there are concepts, Biblical, God-ordained concepts, which I would never want taught to children.


  1. Basically what I'm seeing here is the same thing I used to feel. God is God and who are we to question His dealings with mankind? However, I think if God really has the nature ascribed to Him he can handle a question or two thrown in His direction. Else all of this does indeed become blind faith IMHO.

  2. I am flattered to be cast as Bugs.

    As for your opening statement, it must be obvious to anyone who has seen the inside of a classroom that closing the mind does not follow from closing the mouth, more commonly the opposite.

    You are asking me to defend my comments to your post. Because you asked...

    You asked me honest questions and I gave you honest answers. Your post made the statement that "To God, any and all wrongdoers are worthy of eternal condemnation. If God is condemning someone, then it must be right, because God can do no wrong."

    Which I utterly agree with.

    But you followed it with, "So a believer should feel justified in his or her condemnation of others."

    This does not logically follow, is contrary to scripture and I utterly disagree.

    I thought your post was judgemental and tried to gently expose that fact, which led to our futher conversation.

    Since the comments are limited I must reply in sections...

  3. >>>Morals Of God

    I read Holy Divorce, and it is not a rebuttal of the distinction between what God permits as opposed to what He prefers as expressed by Christ. That distinction was the tip of the thrust regarding your comparison of "each soul for its own sin" and God's actions. The point of the thrust is exactly as you say, "this law is not a description of the way the world works in general, but rather a law regarding legal justice."

    My argument was that the way the world works is a stronger accusation of God's apparent violation of His own law than the specific instance of David & Bathsheba. As I said, "Beyond the apparent obvious contradiction with David & Bathsheba's love child, my brother is an excellent example of a different problem with that passage."

    To be clear, I just re-read my comment and I did say, "I believe is that the passage is about the law administered by man not God's law." So I understand the confusion, my error. God's law in the sense I intended there was the Law embodied by "love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself", As opposed to the Law of Moses. While the later is derived from the former the point was, as Christ explains, they are different. This law was given for men to judge with. This is apparent from the law itself as it speaks of men putting others to death.

    The conflict between what God does and the Law remains. We can get to that in a moment.

    My "bit of foolishness" was an attempt to highlight the inconsistency we have judging ourselves. You understood that by your comment that the rebuttal was dependant on our beliefs. The point of the argument was not that God can do as he likes (even though He can), it is that we can't even agree on what the rules should be for ourselves. If God is indeed on another level from mere mortals how then can we judge Him.

    I think there is a difference between questioning, reasoning and judging. I question God all the time, and I believe He entreats us to reason with Him. There is a bumper sticker that says, "Question authority", the implication one would hope is that we listen to the answer.

    So to be clear, I do not believe I am within my rights to judge God, even if He seems to be turning my life into a lawn dart. Having his life become a lawn dart is how Job ended up so humble if I read it right.

    The problem of what God does and the law becomes less of a problem if we understand the purpose of the law. Pick up any study on the book of Romans and you will see the purpose of the law is to convict man. The rules exist so that we know we cannot measure up. This goes back to my real problem with your post, and with most of what passes as Christian rebuttal on the web. It takes the rules as a framework (something none of us keep) and uses them to convict God of immorality (inconsistency). We make ourselves judges of the law not doers of the law and so set ourselves equal with God just as promised by the serpent in the garden. I think this is a bad plan and the point of the story of the Bible.

    Did I mention I do not believe we get to judge God.

    This is foolishness and illogical if God is just another concept to be evaluated, not so much if He really is God. If He really is God I am utterly undone by Him at His pleasure.

  4. >>>> Naturally Flawed Logic

    I must admit I am conflicted about homosexuality as it is represented in many churches particularly in the US. What I am not conflicted about is monogamy and pre-marital sex.
    But let me push on.

    I still find fault with your logic that because it is natural it is OK. Murder and cannibalism occur within the animal kingdom as well. I trust you had the opportunity to see the BBC series on the world, specifically the Chimps.

    I think you mistake the choice and the desire. Rape is a poor choice coupled with a natural desire (and it is not sexual).

    Aside from the obvious issue I would have that God is at fault for giving someone the desire and then condemning them for it, a friend of mine used to say the only way to tell if someone was gay was to sleep with them. The point of this was our behavior not our nature made us homosexual (prisons notwithstanding). You are arguing it is who we are not what we do. By this logic I submit we are all murderers and most of us manage not to live that way (well maybe its just me, but the point holds even if it is only me).

    Your argument that homosexuality is a victimless crime depends on the morality of the act. I think this should be obvious. As generally practiced it is outside marriage (even where legal) just like lots of other heterosexual behaviors. As I said, I am conflicted about homosexuality, but not fornication.

    Of course this all goes back to the rules and their purpose. Why are we hung up on right and wrong. The point of the rules is that we are wrong. Maybe not of every rule but everyone of some rule. The real issue is to deal with that failure, not to worry about how other people (or even God) fail to measure up and why that excuses us.

    >>>> Offended

    Yes, serious scholars who are people of faith and have a vested interest in painting things in a positive light. People like C.S. Lewis and Tom Wright whose works I am familiar with. Are you comparing yourself with them?

    I'm sorry, I have been a Christian for almost 40 years. In all of my reading of scripture and books on religion I have never read any serious work claim that the Bible or the Koran (my reading is limited to "Islamic Studies A History of Religions Approach" - Richard C. Martin) advocated slavery, genocide or oppression. Can you point me to one that does?

  5. Thanks for the comments David. You've raised some interesting points to consider. I've got to get my post prepared for the other site for Friday, and I've got to take some time to think about what you've said. I'll get back to you, by Saturday night at the latest, but probably earlier.

  6. At your pleasure.

    One additional point that might save some time dueling with references that are likely to overburden both of our reading shelves.

    When we speak of the bible/quran as advocating something it should be clear that advocates of those texts are the best authority of what its followers should be practicing if they are to be followers. Think of this as, "convict me with my words" rather than what someone says I mean by my words.

    I maintain that no one has taught me to practice slavery, genocide or oppression (caveat to common misunderstandings on women's roles - which are inconsistent with the whole of the text) in any research or practice during my experiences as a Christian.

    As an aside, but not without relevance, I have Native American ancestry. If you wish to discuss slavery, oppression and genocide in a Christian context those practices in the colonization of the new world are readily apparent. I am convinced (having to resolve this question as part of my conversion to Christendom) that those practices were political actions in stark contrast to the message of Christianity ostensibly espoused by the perpetrators. The hypocrisy of man does not negate the truth of God.

  7. That's interesting. That he would think it is OK for the Koran and the Bible both to support slavery and such because other history books include those issues.

    Apples & Oranges.

    Other books are not said to be inspired by an all-loving, all-knowing god who sets the STANDARDS OF MORALITY.

    History books limit themselves to describe events. They do not declare what's good and what's evil. They claim no such authority, while holy books definitely do.

  8. Thanks Lorena. They are different, indeed! ;-) We will try to get down to the bottom of it all in the next volley. Stay tuned...

  9. If I understand David correctly he's saying that the Bible and Koran record slavery, genocide and oppression no differently than other history books. It was a matter of fact that these things took place. Though I don't really agree with that view, I have heard that spin on it. The idea that God was merely legislating practices already in place make him...well...not very God-like. He had no trouble laying down the law in other areas. Why would those things be any different. By not standing against them, he essentially stood for them.

  10. It is rather strange that God would bother telling people not to eat shrimp and how to trim their hair, and yet cast no condemnation on the practice of slavery. ;-)

  11. @Lorena - I'm sorry if it was not clear. I do not believe I wrote that I "think it is OK for the Koran and the Bible both to support slavery and such because other history books include those issues."
    Please re-read my comments, or point to the place where you believe I made such a claim and I will try to clarify.

    What I believe I said was that the books in question DO NOT advocate the behaviors listed. If you have a rebuttal of THAT statement I will be happy to address it.

  12. @D'Ma Not quite. What I implied was that the offensiveness of that content was no worse than history books (you need to go back to the original post and comment). The basis of that statement is that the bible does not advocate such practice. The bible (not the quran) does record those events differently than merely reporting them. God instructs the Jews to eliminate (genocide) the people being displaced from the promised land. My contention is that this is not the same as advocating such practice as general policy which is how it seems to be represented.

    When the palmist says that that the one who bashes the babies of Israel's oppressors against a rock (137:9) will be blessed, what do you think that means? Is God saying through the spirit that this behavior is OK? Do you interpret that passage to mean it is acceptable for us to behave that way toward our oppressors? I don't get that from this passage, and no one has ever taught me that is what it means. Furthermore, if they did it would not be consistent with the text as a whole and I would presume it must be a misinterpretation. Otherwise God is inconsistent, which I contend He is not.

    As an aside:
    The quran does not record any such behavior (that I know of) and neither does it call for the oppression of Christians or Jews (quite the contrary in fact). Shari'a law is not the quran. From the previously mentioned book, it is sacred law as interpreted from the quran and the example of the Prophet as derived from the activities of the ulama. Think of it as papal bulls, like indulgences as an example.

  13. @WF I think we need to define our terms here. When you say slavery, how do you mean it? Do you mean "ownership" like pre-civil war U.S. southern practice (or ancient Egypt), where humans are treated like cattle? Or do you mean Hebrew slavery as outlined by Mosaic Law (complete with Jubilee)? In one humanity is maintained in the other it is not.

    BTW - With respect to Mosaic Law, the idea of clean and unclean animals existed before the law (Noah - Gen 7:2) and until the law (Moses) man was free to eat anything (Gen 9:3) as directed by God. Why do you suppose that might be, and how might that relate to Peter's vision in Joppa (Acts 10:3)? I believe it goes directly to Paul's contention on the purpose of the Law as outlined in Romans.