Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Bethrick

Dawson Bethrick thinks he has something insightful to say about the Christian reaction to the V-Tech massacre:

On a preliminary point, it’s quite revealing to see so many militant unbelievers revel in this tragedy as a pretext to attack the faith.


Many Christians have expressed outrage over the senseless and bloody massacre that took place at the beginning of this week on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. But if they are truly faithful to the worldview they preach, why would they feel any outrage at all?

On the Christian worldview, life is eternal. For the 32 victims and the gunman who “died” on Monday, their lives did not really end. They just passed on to the next stage. Biological demise is simply a doorway to a supernatural eternity thereafter. Rather than great loss, “to die is gain,” wrote St. Paul (Phil. 1:21). It seems believers should be rejoicing, if they truly believed, for the god of the bible is glorified by such things.


i) This is a truly dumb statement since it would be, at best, applicable to the heaven-bound and not the hell-bound. When St. Paul said that “to die is gain,” he was referring the fate of Christians, and not the damned.

ii) And even where Christians are concerned, while death may be a boon to the individual, it is not necessarily a boon to those he leaves behind. The survivors. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and spouses. They will suffer the emotional loss of extended separation.

The Bible describes the grieving process. So there’s nothing unscriptural about our reaction to the massacre.

Most of the victims were twenty-somethings. Suppose I lost my older brother to this gunman. Suppose both he and I are Christians.

Even so, I will not see him again for another fifty or sixty years, give or take.

iii) Let’s also recall the context of Phil 1:21. Paul is a speaking for himself, as a sick old man who sacrificed the natural blessings of life in the service of the gospel. So, for him, at this stage, death would be a boon.

This doesn’t mean that he would always regard death as preferable to life, regardless of one’s age or station in life. The Christian faith is a life-affirming faith. You can find that throughout the OT.

It’s one thing for a believer at the end of life to look forward to the afterlife (e.g. Lk 2:28), quite another thing for a teenager or twenty-something, who has yet to fully experience the natural blessings of manhood (or womanhood), to rate the afterlife above the earthly goods of God’s handiwork here below.

iv) There is, moreover, a difference between good and evil, on the one hand, and good, better, or best, on the other. The Bible doesn’t teach us to despise the good just become something better might come along. Rather, we are to savor the good.

“The lesson of Abraham (cf. Genesis chapter 22) is clear: Be willing to kill.”

And the point of this reference is what, exactly? Yes, there are times when we should be willing to kill. For example, what pity that none of the students was able to return fire and stop the assailant dead in his tracks before he could take any more innocent lives.

“The lesson of Jesus (cf. the four gospels) is also clear: Be willing to die.”

A nice case of acontextual prooftexting. Indeed, there are situations in which a Christian should be willing to die. But, needless to say, there is no general mandate in Scripture to lay down your arms.

“Cho Seung Hui and his victims find their models in the bible, which Christians claim is divinely inspired and fit for us to follow.”

Only if you’re a demagogue like Bethrick who likes to cite Scripture out of context.



And what of Cho Seung Hui and his actions? What about them? “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” says Van Til (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160). It's all an inevitable part of God's plan.

Were Cho Seung Hui’s actions evil? The question is irrelevant, given what Christianity teaches. Why? Because “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” writes Bahnsen (Always Ready, p. 172).

The gunman's proper attitude, given what the doctrine of predestination teaches, could only be expressed by one uncompromising statement: "Yes, Lord." He is only carrying out the ruling consciousness' will.

If the Christian believer feels any outrage over this divinely predestined event, he either feels outrage toward his own god for planning this massacre all along, or he countermands his religious teachings by having automatized a non-Christian perspective on the world, most likely without realizing it.


Yet another simple-minded argument. As Paul Helm has observed:


“So does it follow from such knowing and willing permission of evil that the universe is in every detail as God intends it to be? This is an interesting question, but it is unclear as it stands. There is no reason to think that God intends the details of the universe separately; there is one divine will, which encompasses all events. It would be fallacious to suppose that the divine attitude is the same with respect to every detail of what God wills…As Aquinas put it, “God, and nature, and indeed every causal agent, does what is best overall, but not what is best in every part, except when the part is regarded in its relationship to the whole.” We may suppose that when God knowingly and willingly permits certain events he does so in furtherance of some wider consideration wholly consistent with his character with respect to which they are a logically necessary condition. And likewise some of those things which he causes are means to some further end. It is a fallacy to think that because some arrangement is wise, every detail of that arrangement, considered in isolation, is wise,” J. Beilby & P. Eddy, eds. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (IVP 2001), 182.




And his victims? On the Christian worldview, the ideal attitude proper for the believer is one of selflessness. The believer is to "deny himself" (Mt. 16:24), to "resist not evil" and "turn the cheek" (Mt. 5:39), and to present his body as "a living sacrifice," which is said to be a "reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).


More problems:

i) We’re treated to more acontextual prooftexting. For example, the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with personal slights to one’s honor—and not a threat to life and limb.

ii) In addition, Bethrick isn’t bright enough to realize that there is more to resisting evil than self-defense. For example, a Christian husband and father should be prepared to defend his wife and kids at the risk of his own life. So it isn’t just a case of protecting myself against an assailant. To the contrary, it may often be the case of protecting others from an assailant, at my own risk.



And we cannot call Cho's victims "innocent," for - as one believer puts it - "no human being is completely innocent." Either the Christian god was calling them home, or they were getting their just desserts.


More simplemindedness. The fact that everyone is guilty before God doesn’t mean that everyone has wronged everyone else. It doesn’t mean that Cho’s victims did anything to him deserving of death at his hands. They can be innocent in relation to him without being innocent in relation to God.

For someone who prides himself on the intellectual superiority of atheism, Bethrick likes to raise an awful lot of awfully lame-brained objections to the faith.

Finally, like so many other unbelievers, Bethrick acts as if he’s discharged his own burden of proof by simply punting to the believer. But leveling a string of objections to the Christian faith, even if they were successful objections, would do nothing to refute the objections to his own position.

As a matter of fact, though, Bethrick loses on both counts. In his attempt to exploit the Virginia Tech massacre, his feeble attempt at showing the inconsistency of the Christian reaction is systematically inept, while, in the meantime, he has done nothing to show, on his own grounds, why Cho did anything wrong.


  1. We don't use a so-called tragedy as a pretext to attack your faith, Stevie wonder. What tragedy? Only evolved monkeys died. It's bad enough you Christians are preaching hope for the dead.

  2. iv) There is, moreover, a difference between good and evil, on the one hand, and good, better, or best, on the other. The Bible doesn’t teach us to despise the good just become something better might come along. Rather, we are to savor the good.

    FWIW, if anything, a Jewish rabbi once told me that it's not only a sin to do bad but it's also a sin not to enjoy what is truly good. What is truly from God. I believe he cited a verse of Scripture, but which particular one escapes me at the moment.

    Also, like Steve points out at the end, I'd love to hear atheists who subscribe to naturalistic evolution justify why the Virginia massacre is wrong in their view.

  3. Specifically, why what Cho did was wrong in their view.

  4. Helm's quote is insightful, but his deliberate wording of God's sovereign will as "allowing" or "permitting" certain evils is not helpful at all, and seems to be a softening measure to make God's sovereignty more palatable to the readers.

  5. Anonymous said:

    'Helm's quote is insightful, but his deliberate wording of God's sovereign will as "allowing" or "permitting" certain evils is not helpful at all, and seems to be a softening measure to make God's sovereignty more palatable to the readers.'


    The use of "permissive" language is traditional in major strands of Reformed theology, and Helm has defended that usage elsewhere.

    However, I agree with you that I don't think that usage solves any problems, and Calvin had little use for it either.