Thursday, May 26, 2011


I had never fully read through the book of Romans.  There are certain sections which I have read multiple times; the popular ones for preachers and skeptics.  My recent debate with David prompted me to give the whole book a good read.  I've posted my summary of Romans on the Wise Fool site, which cuts down the 16 chapters to roughly four pages worth of text without (I think) sacrificing Paul's message.

Let me first say that there is some really good stuff in there.  Chapter 12, in particular, is my favorite.  (Naturally I would not agree about being zealous for God and other things like that, but the essence of the chapter is excellent.)  Some of the verses in the chapters after that are also good.

But Paul, poor Paul, is not quite right on everything.  Many people already know of the controversial commands to obey each and every authority figure, because they are placed there by God according to Chapter 13.  On the other hand, not many people seem to speak of some of the deeper issues with Paul's theology as presented in Romans.

This is not my blog to go deeply into Scriptural affairs, but let me whet your appetite for deeper study with some teasers.  Paul believed that:
  • After Adam, everybody died despite the fact that nobody was held accountable for their sins until the Law had been given.
  • God was making the Jews not believe in the grace through Jesus by making them stumble over the Law.
  • God will eventually save all of the Jews living at a particular time, when they get jealous of the Salvation by faith of the Gentiles.  That will occur after all of the necessary Gentiles have become believers.
  • Judgement Day was near.
Paul's use of quotes from the Bible tend to be ripped out of all context.  It is astounding!  Even the ones where he somewhat preserves the local context, the way in which he uses them tears it from the larger context of the Bible.  The foundation of half of this letter is such a case, where he quotes Genesis 15:6:
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” NIV
Yet Paul seemed to have missed Genesis 26:3-5, where God tells Isaac:
“Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” NIV
So yes Paul, Abraham's belief was credited as righteousness, but the Promise was given and was being kept by God because of Abraham's works!

And the arguments Paul gives in Chapters 3-7 about righteousness through faith instead of by the Law made me think of "The Princess Bride;" the scene where there is a battle of wits between Westley and Vizzini.  Westley pours poison into some wine, arranges two cups, tells Vizzini to choose a cup, then they will both drink, and one of them will die.  Vizzini starts going though a stream of ridiculous logic about which cup to choose, to which Westley sarcastically replies "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect."

Well, Paul, truly, you have a dizzying intellect.  It is no wonder that in Romans he pleaded for believers to set aside differences of scriptural opinion, and also pleaded that they should stay away from anyone teaching anything contrary to what Paul had taught them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Family Dynamics

I suspect that most families are at least a little strange to those on the outside, and mine is no different.  For the most part, we are a fairly loving family, but we have our differences, especially about religion.

My mom is a very loving person, and she has faith in God and Jesus.  Her faith is not really Biblical, though.  She's made comments to the effect of "I don't know how the Jews could believe in God when all they have to go by is the Old Testament," siting how wrathful God is portrayed there.  Her image of God comes mainly from the New Testament, but even that text is not solidly grasped.  It's not that she hasn't studied the Bible.  Quite the contrary, she has.  Through her studies she has come to realize that the New Testament writers were not writing infallibly, but that does not discount the true nature of a loving God.

My dad's another story for another time.

My younger sister appears to be lukewarm in her faith.  Or perhaps easy-going is a better description, and one which matches her usual personality (although, she does have her moments of the opposite).  I don't think she bothers studying the Bible beyond what she gets from Sundays at church.  She takes everybody as they are, and takes her faith as it is as well.

My older sister is inching further and further out on the extreme religious conservative scale.  Believing in Biblical infallibility, she has become a young earth creationist.  She also has home-schooled all of her kids to keep them away from inappropriate, un-Biblical influences.  She has always been more of a strong-willed authoritarian to some degree, and the way in which she believes aligns with that.  This is not to say that she is not nice, because she is nice, but just that if you do something which is wrong in her mind, you will probably find out about it.

Then there's me.  I've gone from lukewarm faith, to drifted away, to giving an earnest attempt of faith, to drifting away again, to finally deciding to read the Bible for myself.  I've become fascinated by the Bible, but (as you all know) it is not because I think that God is so amazing.  On the contrary, I think it is amazing that anyone believes the Bible.  I have let my mom and my sisters know about my lack of belief, without beating them over there heads with it.

With these dynamics in play, I tend to be the peacekeeper of the family, trying to smooth over the differences.  Meanwhile, my older sister is presently distancing herself from our mom because of her disapproval of our mom's recent actions.  I joke with my mom that Jesus' prophesy in Matthew 10:34-36 has come true, and I gently try to prod them along toward reconciliation.

If there is a God, maybe I'll get blessed for my work in keeping our family together.  ;-)

I find it kind of funny that my mom normally turns to me as her reference when she is trying to find some particular verses in the Bible;

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why does it have to be this way?

It's been kind of fun joking about the recent Rapture, but clearly it is not all fun and games.  Besides the poor souls who sold their belongings in preparation for the big day, there were other consequences as well.  Check out this distrubing story about a woman who attempted to kill herself and her two young daughters in preparation for Harold Camping's Rapture.  I don't know what Jesus is doing about it, but I wept.

Why?  Why does it have to be this way?

Camping wasn't the first to predict the Rapture, and he will not be the last.  And some subset of the faithful will fall in line each and every time.  Dismayed by the world around them, they will gladly welcome God to step in and set things right as opposed to taking matters into their own hands and trying to make the world a better place themselves.

Faith can be a very, very dangerous thing.  Anything I can do to plant enough doubt to keep people from enacting such horrendous crimes in the name of their god is worth my toil.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Moving Mountains

Imagine that you had some genetic malfunction which resulted in you seeing the color blue in the same way everyone else sees the color pink, and visa versa.  Now imagine trying to debate the order of the colors in a rainbow.  ROYGBIV would be ROYGPIV to you, but how could you convince others of your perspective, or how could you arrive at the truth of the matter, figuring out that you have been wrong your entire life?

One of the most difficult things to do is debate effectively.  Trying to debate someone with a viewpoint equal and opposite of your own, someone who holds their belief just as strongly as you do, if not stronger, is like trying to move a mountain.  Because such a belief is a "world view," as the expression goes.  That world view, be it Biblical or other, colors the perspective of all data we receive.  People of faith obviously have this reality filter in place, but scientists are not immune to this bias either.  In our world where we are trending towards more faith in science than religion, that has its own hazards.  But I digress...

How do you debate someone with a different world view?  How do you convince someone that blue is pink, or the other way around?  I don't know, but I am trying to learn more effective ways to do so in the arena of faith.  It's just difficult and frustrating.  When you can look at the sky and say "See that blip of light?  That comes form a galaxy 300 million light years away," and yet people still think that the earth is less than 20,000 years old, you just want to throw your hands up and wave the white flag.  Just like watching a magic show, people of faith are willing to suspend their disbelief until God pulls a rabbit out of his Holy Hat, to reveal that He made the universe already fully matured.

So what approach do you take?  Any tips for this Fool?  I'm thinking of trying to limit conversations to a core set (yet to be completed) of arguments, like:

Why is it that we are even having a debate about God's existence instead of it being intuitively obvious?
Assuming that there is a God, how can you be certain that the revelation in your holy book is indeed from God?
Assuming that demons exist, how can you be certain that God actually cares and sent Jesus, as opposed to the whole story being concocted and enacted by demons as a way to entertain themselves by playing with the minds of mortals?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Those Who Do Not Learn from History...

According to Harold Camping, the Judgement Day is coming soon; May 21, 2011.  Just two weeks away.  That has spurred some people to sell there possessions and tour around to spread the word of this revelation.  This got me thinking:  Where have I heard that storyline before?

Oh, yeah, I remember.  It was in the Bible.  You see, as I detailed in the study "The Time Has Come," Jesus was preaching that God's day of Judgement was coming very soon too.  With Judgement Day coming at very soon, what is the point of having possessions?  None, really.  So just like some of the unfortunate people who are deceived by Mr. Camping, those who were deceived by the early promoters of the Christian Church did likewise.  It's true!  Check out Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-37.

And people still ask "what motivation would the early church leaders have had to lie about the Gospel?"  Traditionally, people giving you large sums of money for lying has always been good motivator to continue (Acts 4:36-37).

Heck, the early church leaders even created a story to further motivate people to give everything.  You'll find that in Acts 5:1-11, where God supposedly kills Ananias and Sapphira for lying about how completely they gave the church.  The story stinks of greed, but beyond the supposed greed of Ananias and Sapphira.

Anyway, it seems that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The followers of the early church never saw the Day of Judgement.  Generation after generation just continued on.  Camping's followers are in the same boat.

However, in a way, Camping's followers are in a better position.  They at least have a defined date.  They are not going to be strung along forever like the rest of Christianity...