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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Is the biblical doctrine of salvation absurd/illogical?

"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." --John 1:29*

"He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." --John 6:56*

"And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission." --Hebrews 9:22*

*All of the above scriptural quotes are from the King James Version of the Bible.

In a piece that was perfectly timed for Christians to reflect on the meaning(s) behind their observance of Easter/Passover, one of the regular commentators over at the blog Banned by HWA (who goes by the moniker "Retired Prof") penned an article entitled "The Meat of the Gospel:  Salvation by Carnivory." You can read the entire article at this address:  http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-meat-of-gospel-salvation-by.html

In the piece, Retired Prof stated that "the doctrine that a god/man had to die to spare us from horrible punishment for our sins is absurd." R.P. then went on to ask:
"How can anyone claim, much less actually believe, that taking the life of an innocent person could restore the lives of guilty ones? Why would the kind of loving creator Christians believe in devise such a convoluted, irrational 'plan of salvation'?"

Retired Prof then proceeds to make some observations about what he characterizes as the "psychological/emotional sense" that the teaching makes when we consider the realities of the world in which we live. Nevertheless, R.P. concludes:  "I can’t see my way clear to turn loose of my preference for the literal over the symbolic, reason over emotion, flesh over spirit. It is impossible for me to believe sincerely that anything, not even a consecrated wafer and a sip of magic wine that represent the nutritive substance of a guy who died two thousand years ago, could keep me alive forever."

Having enjoyed the usually thoughtful.rational/logical character of most of his comments on this blog, I must say that I was a bit chagrined by the condescending tone he adopted in this piece. Fine, Retired Prof has reached a different conclusion from myself and other Christians about the biblical doctrine of salvation - I don't have a problem with that. But don't go on to characterize those of us who accept the doctrine as "irrational" or as employing "convoluted logic"!

For those of us who accept the biblical doctrine of salvation through the person of Jesus Christ, I believe that the professor himself points to a legitimate rationale for such a belief (the one he dismissed as "psychological" and "emotional").

For me, the logic of the biblical doctrine of salvation is found in our experience of the world around us. Consider the following facts as evidence:
1. The universe (including this planet) is governed by a series of fundamental laws (gravity, motion, thermodynamics, conservation, etc.), and the breaking of those laws always has consequences. For instance, if I walk to the edge of the Grand Canyon and jump off, I am going to fall (which will almost certainly result in my injury and/or death).
2. For scientific study, all of the life on this planet is divided into kingdoms:  Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaebacteria and Eubacteria (there isn't complete agreement within the scientific community about the precise divisions, but what is listed here finds wide acceptance there and is sufficient for our purposes).
3. Every organism which is part of the kingdom Animalia (including humans) is a heterotroph (meaning that they obtain their nourishment from other organisms). It should also be noted that, in most cases, this nourishment requires the death of the other organism, which is very often accomplished by the organism doing the eating. You may think it unfortunate/savage/unfair, but the fact is that another plant, animal, fungi or bacteria almost always has to die to sustain and perpetuate the life of organisms within the kingdom Animalia!
4. All of the members of kingdom Animalia have some means of reproducing themselves or perpetuating the existence of their species. In fact, the perpetuation of life seems to be the main focus and preoccupation of all life on this planet. It should also be noted that this activity (as with all others) requires energy, and that energy is once again obtained from the nourishment those organisms receive by virtue of the death of another.
5. In the natural world, need is preeminent. Plants, animals, fungi, etc. are chosen to serve as food because some other organism needs them to sustain/perpetuate its own life. In other words, the plant, animal, fungi, etc. which is chosen to provide the nourishment for the organism in question can be completely innocent of any faults or mistakes - it may simply have been available.

From the above facts, I think that it is both logical and reasonable for a theist to conclude that:
1. God has established some parameters for what is/isn't acceptable behavior, and for there to be some consequence(s) for violating those parameters.
2. A single person's death could sustain and/or perpetuate the life of another. In fact, the symbolism of the Eucharist could be said to be an almost perfect representation/reflection of what happens on a daily basis in the natural world.
3. The innocence of that person is inferior to the need of the others to sustain/perpetuate their lives.
4. The same God who designed the laws which govern the universe, and the natural world of which we are a part, would devise some means to perpetuate the life which "He" created.

Thus, while the biblical doctrine of salvation may offend the sensibilities of some folks, I find it to be very logical and consistent with the world in which I live. What do you think?


   

Monday, April 17, 2017

I'm looking for a church to attend!

I'm looking for a church to attend. And, although my requirements are minimal, they are non-negotiable!

Before listing those, however, I feel that it's only fair to inform folks with potential suggestions of some extenuating circumstances. I live in a small village in the midst of a vast sea of corn and soybean fields in Central Illinois (I am, however willing to travel). To further complicate matters, I work most Sundays.

That out of the way, my requirements of any potential church are few. They are as follows:

1. It must be Christian - profess a belief in Jesus Christ as Savior.
2. It must be caring and friendly.
3. The pastor/priest/elder/congregation/etc. can preach and teach whatever they like as long as I'm not required to believe and teach it.
4. I must be free to make up my own mind about how much money I contribute to it.

That's it! Any takers?

Contact me at lc.hendrix@yahoo.com

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Language as a problem for Biblical inerrancy

The Bible has been referred to by many as the "Word(s) of God." And the reasoning goes something like this:  If it is the "Word(s) of God," then it must be perfect - without any flaws.

Many of my readers, however, will at once see a major obstacle to the acceptance of this logic:  It may be the "Word(s) of God," but it is wholly composed of human languages. Now, admittedly, we have found language to be a very effective means of communicating with each other - of conveying ideas, concepts, feelings and their meanings to each other. But could anyone make a reasonably sound argument that human language is perfectly efficient in doing the things which it was designed to do?

Let us consider for just a moment the basic building blocks of language. If we Google the term language, we find that it is defined as "the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way." Now we could talk at some length about the formation of alphabets, and the dramatic differences which are apparent among the symbols used for the various languages of the world; but I think that it would be more productive to focus on the words which those symbols are used to form.

Once again, if we Google the term word, we find that it is defined as "a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing..." And who, we ask, is attaching a meaning to that element? Obvious answer:  we (humans) do. And think for just a moment about just how imprecise that exercise can be!

Within the confines of a single language, we have multiple dictionaries available to us (usually presenting a multiplicity of possible meanings for the object of our query). In fact, for the word word, Merriam-Webster enumerates eleven possible meanings (and that's not taking into account how some of those are further parsed into variations of similar meanings)! In other words, we can (and do) bring some very different meanings to the same word.

As an example:  For those of us who speak/write English, the word chair would conjure up a similar meaning for all of us; but it would not be exactly the same for you and me. An image of a recliner might come to your mind, while I am busy thinking about a wooden folding chair.

We also have available to us other words which can say the same thing (or something very similar. We call these synonyms. For example, when we Google the term word, the following synonyms are listed:  term, name, expression, designation, locution, vocable... And we haven't even addressed the subject of whether we are using the word in question as a noun, verb or some other part of speech!

Can we begin to see just how complex language is? Can we appreciate the different perspectives and shades of meaning which each and every one of us can (and do) bring to this exercise?

What about when we begin to string words together? As an example, let us consider the English "Merry Christmas" and the Spanish "Feliz Navidad." We could say that both are meant to convey, "I hope that you have an enjoyable celebration of the anniversary of Christ's birth." However, a literal break down of the English words would reveal "Merry Christ Mass;" and a literal translation of the Spanish words would reveal "Happy Nativity!"

In the study of the Bible, we must always remember that the original texts were composed using mostly Hebrew, Aramaic, Babylonian and Greek words. In fact, regular students of Scripture will often employ a concordance to help them get the full range of a particular word's meaning. Likewise, most students of the Bible understand that the particular arrangement of words in the original language can have a profound impact on the meaning of some passage.

Hence, we can see that it is ridiculous to suggest that language can be perfectly efficient in conveying what I'm thinking to you. In the end, we all have our individual filters which inform our interpretations of the messages which we receive. Thus, it is the thesis of this post that the very nature of language makes Biblical inerrancy impossible! 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why is it so hard for an Armstrongite to return to the fold?

An interesting discussion was launched by a post over at Banned by HWA! The post was entitled "Are the problems in the COG the result of bad leaders or its theology?" It was, of course, no surprise that many of the commentators laid the blame for the problems within the Armstrong Churches of God at the feet of their former/current leadership. For many current and former Armstrongites, it has to be about the flawed individuals who were/are in charge (it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the theology/teachings). As one would expect with such a post, prominent among the commentators was Ian Boyne of the Church of God International.

Mr. Boyne maintains that most of the critics of Armstrongism have focused their attention on the failed leadership within the various groups (he acknowledges that failure) and have ignored what he sees as the fact that Armstrongism provides "the best Christian option" available to believers. In fact, he goes on to say:  "I think after Armstrongism, my philosophical destination is likely to be agnosticism or some form of generic theistic existentialism." In other words, if someone were able to discredit Armstrongism, Ian sees himself as abandoning Christianity.

In fairness to Mr. Boyne, such a conclusion does not appear to be rare among former and current Armstrongites (Dennis Diehl, Gerald Bronkar and others have professed their rejection of Christianity). Moreover, one only has to look at the history of the Worldwide Church of God to see that this type of reasoning is not uncommon among Armstrongites. When faced with a return to the more traditional form of Christianity offered by Joseph Tkach Jr, many of the folks within the WCOG jumped ship. Some went to another Armstrong Church of God, but many decided to abandon religion altogether. In other words, for so many of these folks, it was either Armstrongism or NOTHING!

Why? Why is it that many of these folks will not even entertain the possibility of adopting some other form of Christianity?

The answer lies in the way that they were originally indoctrinated into Armstrongism. It wasn't simply a matter of learning a set of doctrines. A large part of Herbert's and Garner Ted's appeal was their focus on discrediting "traditional" Christianity. They talked at great length about the pagan influences on that religion, and the deleterious effect which that had on Christian theology (things like the immortality of the soul, trinity, Sunday observance, holiday observance and idol worship). They focused on just how unfair and unreasonable the teachings on heaven and hell really were, and only introduced their alternative after they had thoroughly discredited the old model.

The reasoning went something like this:  If we can discredit everything else and demonstrate that we have discovered the only legitimate way to put all of the pieces together, then we have to be the one and only possibility! Hence, for many of these folks, when the Worldwide Church of God crumbled, there were only two alternatives:  find another Armstrong Church of God or abandon Christianity entirely. After all, if Armstrongism was ever truly discredited, why would you return to the other forms which you had previously discredited?

Does this begin to sound a little like circular reasoning? Since we have already concluded that traditional Christianity is a worthless pile of $#&!, why would we ever revisit that conclusion?

HWA was also fond of the all or nothing approach. Believe it all, or you have to reject it all. There was no room for discernment or nuance in his theology. Everything was a package deal. It was all truth or all error. Catholics and Methodists were wrong - period. They couldn't possibly be right about some things. We disproved that system - time to move on! We certainly don't want to be like the dog that returns to its vomit!

Armstongism is a mental straitjacket. It was designed by its founder to be a self-reinforcing/self-perpetuating system. It is, therefore, no wonder that so many of its victims find it almost impossible to find their way back to the fold.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

God, Christians and the Jewish Bible

In numerous posts, this blog has explored the question of whether or not the Christian Bible has any value in our quest to understand the Divine. Longtime readers of this blog know that the author has commented on the authorship, writing processes, editing, inspiration, reliability and internal consistency of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
In that tradition, I found a Roman Catholic study of the relationship between Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament to Christians) and the New Testament (writings of the early Christian era) to be very interesting. Hence, I am including a quote from the preface to the results of that study which was written by the man who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI:

"From this viewpoint, the Fathers of the Church created nothing new when they gave a Christological interpretation to the Old Testament; they only developed and systematised what they themselves had already discovered in the New Testament. This fundamental synthesis for the Christian faith would become problematic when historical consciousness developed rules of interpretation that made Patristic exegesis appear non-historical and so objectively indefensible. In the context of humanism, with its new-found historical awareness, but especially in the context of his doctrine of justification, Luther invented a new formula relating the two parts of the Christian Bible, one no longer based on the internal harmony of the Old and New Testaments, but on their essential dialectic linkage within an existential history of salvation, the antithesis between Law and Gospel. Bultmann modernised this approach when he said that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ by foundering. More radical is the proposition of Harnack mentioned above; as far as I can see, it was not generally accepted, but it was completely logical for an exegesis for which texts from the past could have no meaning other than that intended by the authors in their historical context. That the biblical authors in the centuries before Christ, writing in the Old Testament, intended to refer in advance to Christ and New Testament faith, looks to the modern historical consciousness as highly unlikely.
As a result, the triumph of historical-critical exegesis seemed to sound the death-knell for the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament initiated by the New Testament itself. It is not a question here of historical details, as we have seen, it is the very foundations of Christianity that are being questioned. It is understandable then that nobody has since embraced Harnack's position and made the definitive break with the Old Testament that Marcion prematurely wished to accomplish. What would have remained, our New Testament, would itself be devoid of meaning. The Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission introduced by this Preface declares: “Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be an unintelligible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up and wither” (no. 84)."

-- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 2001, from the preface to The Pontifical Biblical Commision's The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html#INTRODUCTION

What do you think? Did the Jews introduce God to the rest of the world? Can Christianity's appropriation and interpretation(s) of their Scriptures be justified?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Is God responsible for this shit?

Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (NKJV)

Isaiah 45:7 - " I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." (KJV), "I make peace and create calamity" (NKJV), "I bring prosperity and create disaster" (NIV), "I send good times and bad times" (NLT)
The English word "evil" was translated from the Hebrew "ra" meaning bad, evil, wickedness, misery, calamity, adversity, etc. (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=H7451&t=KJV)

Proverbs 16:4 - "The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil." (KJV)

John 1:3 - "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (KJV), "God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him." (NLT)

I Corinthians 8:6 - "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." (KJV), "But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live." (NLT)

Ephesians 3:9 - "God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (KJV)

Colossians 1:16 - " For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible..." (KJV)

Revelation 4:11 - "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (KJV)

In the light of this impressive list of scriptures, a few questions come to mind:

Does all things/everything really mean all things/everything?

How did bacteria and viruses originate?

How do genetic mutations arise?

How did cancer and disease originate?

Did God create hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis?

Did God design humans, lions, bears, alligators and sharks to eat other animals?

Is God the author of war?

Is God the author of death?

How do birth defects arise?

What is the origin of neuroses, psychoses, other pathological behaviors and insanity?

And, if we allow that humans and angels have the ability/potential to pervert or corrupt that which is good and whole, who gave them that ability/potential?

And, if we answer that question in the affirmative, does that have any implications for how we define evil?

Is it possible that many of the things which we consider to be evil might not be characterized as such by Almighty God?

In other words, is it possible that we cannot discern the ultimate purpose of some things?

And, if we are living in a hologram (as some cosmologists, philosophers and theologians have suggested), doesn't that imply that someone/something has placed/programmed the "bad/evil" stuff into the equation/system/projector?

In other words, if God truly is the First Cause/Creator/Master Programmer, doesn't everything that is exist at "His" pleasure?

In the light of these questions, we have to ask:  Did God really create all things/everything?

And, if we answer that question in the negative, what does that imply about the reliability of the scriptures quoted above?

What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is My God Your God?

There was an interesting editorial yesterday in The Charlotte Observer. Isaac J. Bailey's viewpoint is summarized in the title of the article:  "Franklin Graham's God isn't mine; is he yours?" -- http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article134819004.html In that editorial, Mr. Bailey points out that "There’s a long tradition of conservative Christian leaders making it plain that Christians don’t serve the God Muslims serve, because there is only one God, and you can’t get to him by following Muhammad, only Jesus." However, instead of excoriating the premise, Mr. Bailey accepts it and declares "I don't serve the God Graham serves."

But, if there is only one God, doesn't that make "him" the God of everyone? Isn't Franklin Graham (and his conservative allies) really arguing against alternative conceptions/perceptions of God? Likewise, Mr. Bailey points out the unloving, petty and spiteful nature of the God whom Graham and his associates worship. Don't atheists often make the same argument about the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible? In the final analysis, does our conception/perception of God change the reality of who and what God is?

Personally, my own perception of God is much closer to Mr. Bailey's view; but I don't believe that implies/means that Mr. Graham worships a different god. On the other hand, it does suggest to me that Graham and his associates have a distorted/flawed view of God. Nevertheless, isn't it a wee bit arrogant and self-righteous to suggest that someone isn't worshiping the TRUE God because their conception/perception of "him" isn't perfect? If perfection is truly the standard, aren't we all in trouble?

Mr. Bailey quotes Franklin Graham as saying:  "Jesus wasn’t real loving sometimes. He called the Pharisees vipers, snakes, white-washed tombs.” Mr. Bailey goes on to point out that the Pharisees were the religious conservatives of that age and that they "didn't notice the Messiah in their midst." He concludes his editorial by pondering what Christ might call Graham if he were walking the Earth today.

Once again, while I agree with Mr. Bailey's implication that Jesus may have some choice words for the good reverend, I do not agree with the underlying premise that "Jesus wasn't real loving sometimes." Scripture tells us that Christ had great compassion and love for the people who killed him. He was, after all, still willing to die for them (despite all of their misconceptions, ignorance and maliciousness. Shouldn't that give all of us some pause about suggesting/making statements that people who hold alternative viewpoints about the nature of God are not worshiping THE ONE AND ONLY GOD? What do you think?