Sunday, September 12, 2004

A God for girly-men

The recent slaughter of Russian schoolchildren by Jihadi promoted a number of comments by Anglican clergymen. A common thread running through these remarks was their humanistic orientation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said "I think it is probably the suffering of children that most deeply challenges anybody's personal faith.
"When you see the depth of energy that people can put into such evil, then of course, yes, there is a flicker, there is a doubt. It would be inhuman, I think, not to react that way."

He insisted the murdered children had not been abandoned by God. God had given humans the freedom to make their own decisions, and He did not intervene, even in evil acts like the massacre.

He said he did not want to see the terrorists exterminated, and called for them to be given life sentences.

Canon Enid Morgan of Llangynwyd Church, near Maesteg, said, "We find it hard to think of anything as bad as September 11, then this happens. There has to be a refusal to take revenge. It was absolutely terrible. I was reminded of the story in the New Testament of Herod slaughtering the infant children. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, so we can only weep over this."

Andrew Morton, rector of St Cybi's Church in Llangybi, near Cwmbran, said that "God has given human beings free will, so they can either choose to do bad things or they can choose to do good things. If they choose to do bad things, then it is not so much that they can't do anything about it, but He chooses not to do anything about it, because what is the alternative. The alternative is to take away our free will and our capacity to do evil, at which point we are no longer human."

"What is the alternative to people making choices? The alternative is that people don't have power to make choices. If that happens then we are no longer humans."

Church congregations across Wales were yesterday praying for the people of Beslan.

Philip Johnes, vicar of Llanegwad in Carmarthenshire, said, "God is in the middle of all the suffering and He is weeping for all creation and all those involved. All we can do is to pray for the sorrowful and the dead.

Although it is early for the people of Beslan, we must talk about forgiveness and reconciliation, there has to be forgiveness and reconciliation in any situation. These things have been going on for centuries, time is not always a healer and you have to do something. Unless we do forgive and have reconciliation at some time in the future then we are not fully human either."

Notice, again, the consistently androcentric emphasis. Not to doubt God would be inhuman. Not to be free would be inhuman. Not to forgive would be inhuman.

All we can do is weep. Indeed, this is all that God can do as well.

Not only is this thoroughly humanistic, but it presents a downright girlish view of God and man.

When confronted with evil-doers, we do not fight back. No, we, along with God, break out the hankies and have ourselves a nice long cry. And when we've run through a box of Kleenex, we absolve the evil-doers, not for what they've done to us, but what they've done to others.

One is also struck by the oracular tone of these pronouncements, as though they were beyond confutation.

Why, exactly, would it be inhuman not to doubt God at a moment like this? For one thing, why now? Has the Archbishop suddenly discovered the problem of evil? Where has he been all this time?

Is this a truly human reaction, or is it just an intellectual affectation? Faith is respectable as long as it is doubtful. The only good faith is a dubious faith.

Observe the manward understanding of faith. On this view, Christian faith is a faith in God, but not a faith from God. For if it were a faith from God, it would not be such a flickering candle in the winds of adversity.

I say "Christian" faith, but the Archbishop goes on to invoke the Koran as well. This is deeply ironic, for the God of Islam is a macho God for macho men. The dainty divinity of liberal churchmen is no match for Muslim machismo.

And why does the Archbishop take it upon himself to defend the religion of the child-killers? Jihadist theology is fixture of Islamic tradition. Cf. Paul Fregosi, Jihad in the West; Mark Gabriel, Islam & Terrorism.

I'm not saying that a Christians is immune to a crisis of faith. But to define faith by the presence of doubt instead of its absence is to found faith in faithlessness--which is not how the Bible defines it.

And although some in the saints of Scripture suffer from bouts of uncertainty, it's hard to think of any instance in which they doubt the very existence of God. Rather, they are simply perplexed. It is because they believe in God that they find certain situations to be perplexing.

And what are we to make of freedom as a fundamentum of human nature? One obvious problem with this appeal is that some "free" agents have a lot more freedom than others. The child-killers had a lot more freedom than the childish victims. That outcome was not, after all, the choice which the children would have made.

And how persuasive is it to say that God dare not lift a finger to intervene lest his interference infringe on the freedom of the human agents? Here was a case in which one party is completely violating the freedom of another party. Why respect the freedom of the child-killers over the freedom of their childish victims?

Suppose our clergymen were walking one of their own children through the park when their kid was jumped by a murderous assailant? Would they just stand there, crying their eyes out, as the assailant murdered their child? Would they refuse to defend their child on the grounds that any intervention on their part would rob the assailant of his freewill?

I pose this as a rhetorical question, but I'm unsure how rhetorical it really is. Not one of the clergymen has even suggested that we ought to fight back. Fr. Johnes says that all we can do in the face of terrorism is to weep and pray, forgive and seek reconciliation, while Morgan says that "there has to be a refusal to take revenge…[just] as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, so we can only weep over this"

But, of course, there's a lot more that we can do than burst into tears, is there not? We can defend ourselves, can't we? We can kill the killers before the kill again, can we not?

That would be the manly thing to do, but their theology has become so effeminate that the use of lethal force is apparently out of question.

The Archbishop tells us that we ought not destroy our enemy, but imprison him instead. But, to begin with, how is the threat of jail time any sort of deterrent to suicide-bombers? If they're prepared to kill themselves, will they really be impressed by the prospect of imprisonment?

And there's yet another little difficulty. Before you can imprison them, you must take them into custody. It's not as though they're turning themselves in to the authorities. Short of force, how does the Archbishop suppose that we can apprehend the a band of armed assailants?

How do we avoid a shootout, with a lot of bloodshed on either side? And how does this differ from conventional warfare, where we kill the enemy unless and until he surrenders?

And observe, for just a moment, the squint-eyed logic of all this. Having banished God from his own universe, and having disarmed all the men of good will, our clergymen then express their shock and dismay at how it is that evil-doers can do evil. Well, don't you suppose it might possibly have something to do with the fact that in a world one part Deism to two parts pacificism, evil-doers feel free to commit atrocities with utter impunity?

For that matter, why are libertarians so appalled by the slaughter of the innocents? Did they choose to be appalled? Did they will themselves to be appalled?

Fr. Johnes says that all we can do is to pray. Pray for what? Pray that God do something? Yet his God is not allowed to do anything. Why does a Deist pray to a God in exile?

One wonders, too, where all this Deism and pacifism is coming from. Not only is the God of the Bible not locked away in a broom-closet, but the God of the Bible is, among other things, a warrior God. And this is not only true of the OT, for the capstone of the NT canon is all about holy war, with Jesus in the lead (cf. Rev 19).

Again, there's nothing new about the doctrine of preemption. The Book of Esther is a classic case of a first strike, as the Jews strike the first blow to advert genocide. If the fate of the Jews were in the hands of such soft-hearted churchmen, rather than Mordecai's, they would stand by as Haman massacred the chosen people, then hold a teary-eyed vigil in memory of the victims.

There is a lot in life to cry about. But grief is no substitute for action. Jesus was more than a mourner; he was a doer.

Yes, Jesus wept, but Jesus was one of us. To say that God incarnate weeps over evil is not to say that God the Father weeps over evil. And let us remember that Christ restrained his omnipotence in the furtherance of his redemptive ends.

The idea that we need a heavenly sob sister is another mark of a sissified theology. And what good does that do anyone anyway? If I'm drowning, I want a lifeguard who can save me, not weep for me as I flail about.

A God who can only weep over the work of his hands is a pretty pitiful excuse for a God. This is not the God of Isaiah (40-48) or Job (39-41). This is not the God who redeemed the Israelites from Egypt and sustained them in the wilderness. A hapless, helpless crybaby God is not a real God, but a baby-doll for little girls to play with and put in their toy box.

And while we're at it, where goes Fr. Johnes get his notion of forgiveness? Why must there be forgiveness in every situation? To begin with, not every evil can be healed--not in this life, at least. What is the cure for a father or mother who loses a child to a terrorist? This is not like popping a pill or setting a broken bone. To speak of healing in a situation such as this is to indulge in cheap talk of the worst kind.

In addition, many victims find justice far more therapeutic than remission and reconciliation. The word "revenge" has come to be an easy fire-extinguisher for dowsing every faint flicker of righteous indignation. But there is nothing wrong with a wish to see justice done, to see justice exacted upon the unjust. The God of the Bible is, among other things, a just Judge. Even vengeance--yes, vengeance--has its proper place in Christian ethics (cf. Rev 6:10; 16:5-6; chap. 18).

Who is Fr. Johnes to forgive the child-killers on behalf of the victims and their parents? Where does Scripture ever authorize the idea of third-party absolution?

There are no doubt times when forgiveness is better than bitterness. But absolution is contingent on contrition. If the offender is impenitent, then there is no obligation to absolve him (cf. Mt 18:15-20; Lk 17:3-4).

And even if reconciliation were preferable, reconciliation is a two-way street. How can you be reconciled with a bunch of irreconciliables? Reconciliation cannot be stipulated on behalf of an unwilling party.

One of the striking things in all this is the loss of indignation among many men of the cloth. This was on full display during the Catholic sex-scandal. The clergy were ever so sorrowful and apologetic, but they were incapable of mustering any feeling of outrage. They felt pity for everyone alike, whether molester or acolyte. The tonal difference between the clergy and the laity was downright deafening.

There is, however, a further distinction between revenge, on the one hand, and retaliation, on the other, to deter further aggression, or preemption--to nip a looming threat in the bud. There is nothing punitive about self-defense.

And let us remember that you cannot be merciful to everyone. If you're merciful to the merciless, you are merciless to their victims. The victims have the first claim upon our mercies.

But if the freewill defense is no defense, then what is the answer? God's greatest gift to man is not man's freedom from God; no, God's greatest gift to man is the God made man; is God giving himself to man in revelation and redemption; For God is the highest good and the heavenly die in which all earthly goods are cast. And some goods are higher goods because the supervene upon the abuse of lower goods.

To know the Redeemer God is a greater good than knowing Creator God. That is the theodicy of Scripture, whereas the freewill defense is the philosophy of the Snake. (Cf. Gen 45:7; 50:20; Exod 7:3-5; 20:12; 1 Kg 8:37-40; Ps 51:4; 130:4; Prov 21:18; Eccl 3:11,14; Isa 6:9-13; 43:3-4; Ezk 20:25-26; Lk 2:34; Jn 3:16-21; 9:3,39; 15:22; Acts 2:23; 4:28; Rom 9:17,22-23; 11:32; 2 Cor 4:7-12; 12:9-10; Gal 3:22; Eph 3:9-10; 1 Tim 1:12-16; 1 Pet 1:12; 2:6-9; Rev 11:13).

These excerpts are taken from "So where was God at Beslan?," by
Aled Blake.


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