Friday, April 30, 2004

What does God want?

Many years ago there was a debate in Presbyterian circles over the offer of the gospel. Both sides agreed on the existence of a general offer; the bone of contention lay in the question of divine intent. The question was whether God has unfulfilled yearnings. Does God long for things that he never chose to bring to pass?

In good Presbyterian fashion, this controversy made its way all the way up to the General Convention—with a majority report and a minority report. The majority report was written, for the most part, by John Murray, with some editorial input from Ned Stonehouse. The majority report answered the question in the affirmative, while the minority reported answered in the negative.

This debate may strike some readers as one of those provincial, intramural, logic-chopping exercises to which Presbyterians are notoriously prone, having little relevance to the generality of Evangelicals. Calvinists are always going to extremes, are they not?

However, the rise of open theism has conferred a renewed relevance on this old debate, for there is striking parallel between the hermeneutics of open theism and the methods of the majority report.

Indeed, if you give the issue a second thought, there is no question more important or pertinent in life than the question of what God wants for the world. Hence, it is worth our while if we reopen the case.

But before we jump straight into the thick of things, let us refresh our recollection of how one theological tradition answers this question in general:
"If this is God's universe, if he made it and made it for himself, he is responsible for everything that takes place in it. He must be supposed to have made it just as he wished it to be--or are we to say that he could not make the universe he wished to make, and had to put up with the best he could do?

And he must be supposed to have made it precisely as he wished it to be, not only statically but dynamically--considered, that is, in all its potentialities and in all its developments down to the end. That is to say, he must be supposed to have made it precisely to suit himself, as extended not only in space but in time. If anything occurs in it as projected through time--just as truly as if anything is found it in as extended in space--which is not just as he intended it to be--why, then we must admit that he could not make such a universe as he would like to have, and had to put up with the best he could get. And, then, he is not God. A being who cannot make a universe to his own liking is not God. A being who can agree to make a universe which is not to his liking, most certainly is not God," Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (P&R 1980), 1:104-05

This is certainly a very bracing and unflinching, not to say, provocative answer to the question in general. And it stands in stark contrast to so much popular preaching we see and hear and read in our own day.

But Murray gave a rather different answer—an answer in relation to the offer of the gospel.

In order to get at the nub of the issue, we need to define our terms. The offer of the gospel is presented with different adjectives, viz., the "free" offer of the gospel, the "universal" offer of the gospel, the "well-meant" offer of the gospel—but these are not necessarily interchangeable.

To say the offer is "universal" can mean different things. It is not universal in actual extent. For everyone doesn't have an opportunity to hear the Gospel.

Rather, it is universal in a conditional sense, i.e., whoever repents of his sins and believes in Christ will be saved.

It is also "universal" or more properly general in the sense of being more extensive than election. Although not everyone hears the offer, more hear it than are numbered among the elect.

For some, though, the universal offer is only a sincere offer if backed up by a "well-meant" offer. Again, this can mean different things. It could mean that, being conditional, it is a bona fide offer if anyone who meets the terms of the offer receives the promised blessing. And as far as I'm considered, that's both a necessary and sufficient definition.

However, others go a step further and insist that it cannot be well-meant unless it is redeemed by a universal desire on God's part for the salvation of the reprobate—a desire which is disappointed, or at least is never consummated (which comes to much the same thing).

This, in turn, implies a couple of things:

i) It implies that there is in God something strongly analogous to human emotion. Here again some distinctions and definitions are in order.

We often use emotive and conative terms interchangeably, viz., want, will, desire, resolve, &c.

This is, in part, because human feelings are mixed up with human decisions, and also because there is a potential and often actual discrepancy between human intent and execution. I may want or will something that, try as I might, I cannot achieve.

But in dealing with God we need to be very careful about our casually mapping this loose usage back on to the divine subject.

In principle, it would be possible to will something without having any feelings about it. Even in human affairs we often make snap decisions without any emotional engagement to speak of.

ii) It implies that there is, in God, a divided will. God has mixed emotions, conflicted feelings. This doesn't render him indecisive, but it does, once again, present a strong analogy with human psychology.

Now the parallel between open theism and the free offer only occurs if you construe the free offer along the lines of the majority report, reproduced in the Collected Writings of John Murray (Banner of Truth 1982), 4:113-132.

Having set the stage and defined the terms, I'll now run through his prooftexts, and evaluate his case accordingly:

1. Mt 5:44-48; Acts 14:17

The weakness with this appeal is that these verses do not address the question of whether God desires the salvation of the reprobate. Rather, they are prooftexts for common grace, not special grace. So it's hard to see their precise bearing on the question as Murray himself has chosen to pose it.

It also leaves out of account the question of the purpose of common grace. Although the reprobate are genuine beneficiaries of common grace, is common grace bestowed on the reprobate for their personal benefit, or for the sake of the elect?

One of the arguments, if not the primary argument, for common grace, is that the elect cannot survive in a world without common grace, for unless the reprobate were restrained from the full progression of sin, they would destroy the elect. That is why God destroyed the antediluvians and the Sodomites and the Canaanites.

On that understanding, common grace doesn't tell us anything about God's attitude towards the reprobate, but rather, his attitude towards the elect. Blessing the reprobate is instrumental in saving the elect.

It is possible that Murray's appeal is directed against those who denied common grace altogether, but he is overextending the principle of common grace beyond its natural boundaries.

2. Deut 5:29; 32:29; Ps 81:13ff.; Isa 48:18

Here Murray does two things: he ascribes emotions to God, and what is more, he ascribes unrequited emotions to God.

In fairness, this attribution lies of the face of the verses cited. They don't demand that we delve below the surface meaning of the words. They say what they say, and that's that.

But Murray leaves out of account the larger issues of hyperbole, literary genre, and idiomatic usage. Let's take a parallel passage. In Isa 54:4-8, the prophet depicts God as jilted lover--jealous, resentful, forlorn, and forgiving. It's a lovely picture, but how literally are we supposed to take the ascription of sexual passion, sexual frustration and the like? Unless we are going to adopt Mormon hermeneutics, we have to treat this as anthropomorphic.

And that's the way an ancient Israelite would have read it. Isaiah is telling us that God's relation to Israel is analogous to the relation of a loving husband to a wayward wife. And to enforce that point, he draws a vivid picture, pressing, without inhibition, all the customary moods that go along with it.

The analogy is genuine, but it only holds at the relevant level of abstraction. The imaginative details are there for window dressing—nothing more. They're there for the sake of reader 's empathy, not of God's.

3. Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34

This appeal suffers from several flaws:

i) Contrary to what Murray says, it is certainly legitimate to make some allowance for the human dimension of our Savior's psychology. There are many things true of God Incarnate that are untrue of God qua God. For example, I hardly think it orthodox to suppose that our Redeemer's divided state of mind in the garden of Gethsemane owes nothing at all to his humanity, albeit sinless and impeccable, and is directly predicable of God qua God without further ado.

ii) Mt 23:37 has reference to the preceptive rather than decretive will of God. It alludes to the irreparable breach of covenant (24:1; cf. Jer 4:23), which is a necessary prelude to the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ.

iii) Even at a divine level, God wills certain things with a view to the ends that they subserve. He doesn't will the means irrespective of the ends. He doesn't necessarily approve of the means in abstraction from the ends.

So you can find many passages in Scripture which express divine disapproval, and where the disapproval is quite genuine. But this doesn't imply a tension in the divine will, for it should never be taken in isolation to his approval of the ultimate end in view. God can be both approving and disapproving, for these moral attitudes take different objects, and not the same object. This is how we ought to relate his preceptive will to his decretive will--not as antithetical, but as means-to-ends.

To draw a related distinction, the motives of God in relation to the sinner are not at all the same as the sinner's motives in relation to God. God wills whatever the sinner does, and God approves of his own will, but it doesn't follow that God approves of whatever the sinner wills, for the sinner's motives, standards, and aims are quite different from God's. God has plans, and man has plans, but man's plans are not the same as God's plans, and man often fulfills the plan of God unwittingly.

4. Ezk 18:23,32; 33:11

Murray says that these verses do not present the least limitation or qualification. Well, all I can say is that what is obvious to Murray is not obvious to me.

Quite the contrary, his verses present a very evident line of demarcation, for they are addressed to backslidden Israel. Israel does not stand for humanity in general. In fact, what makes Israel apostate is when she merges with her heathen neighbors. She is called to be distinct—a people set apart. To lift these verses out of their covenant context, as though anything said of the covenant community is applicable to those outside the covenant community, is a remarkably careless equation for a Reformed theologian to make.

No, the wording doesn't single out Israel, but we must read the words with the intended audience in view. A love letter to me may not specify me as the recipient in the body of the letter, but it doesn't follow that the sentiments therein expressed are indefinitely extendible to those to whom the letter was not addressed. Others may read it, but it wasn't meant for their eyes.

Insofar as these verses have a broader application, that would be to the Church, as the antitype of Israel, and not to the unbelieving world at large.

5. Isa 45:22

Murray's use of this verse is scarcely self-explanatory. I simply take this to be a prophecy of the New Covenant and expansion of the Gospel by taking the Gentiles within its broad sweep. There is nothing expressive or implicit in this passage of a multiform will of God. God wills the evangelization of the Gentiles, considered as a class or people-group hitherto excluded, for the most part, from his saving revelation. The precise numerical scope of this prophecy will be delimited by God's providence in the course of church history.

6. 2 Pet 3:9

Here I can do no better than to quote from the standard commentary on 2 Peter, whose interpretation is all the more telling as coming from an exegete who is by no means a card-carrying Calvinist:

"God's patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay...The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. Here it is for the sake of the repentance of 2 Peter's Christian readers. No doubt repentance from those sins into which some of them had been enticed by the false teachers (2:14,18; 3:17) is especially in mind," R. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 50, Jude, 2 Peter (Word, 1983), 312-13.

Let us now take a second look at Warfield's statement. For his answer is also subject to a couple of natural objections with reference to the problem of evil and the law of God.

Isn't there some very weighty sense in which God does not like everything that happens in the world? Doesn't he disapprove of sin?

And, on a related point, when God tells people to do things, when he calls on them to do good and refrain from evil, does he or does he not want them to do what he says? And if, as is often the case, they disobey, does that not imply that he harbors unfulfilled desires?

There is a common answer to both objections. As I said before, everything that happens in the past and the present happens exactly as God desires it to happen, and not otherwise; however, many past and present events happen with a view to the future, so that his desire is correspondent with the past and the present, yet not necessarily in isolation to those events as past or present, but as also correspondent with a view to their future contribution.

So there's an ambiguity in asking if God is satisfied with the present state of affairs. Does God desire things to be just the way they are right now? Yes, and no. Yes, in relation to the teleology of the decree, but not necessarily so in abstraction from their part/whole and means/ends relation.

If we wanted to speculate, we might conjecture that, all other things being equal, God likes a sinless world better than a sinful world; yet he decrees a sinful world because a world that is both fallen and redeemed is a greater good than an unfallen world alone. All other things are not equal.

It is not as if God is issuing laws just to see them broken. The law has different aims and objects. For example, Reformed and Lutheran theologians talk about the threefold use of the law: (i) as a rule of life for believers, to promote their sanctification; (ii) as a rule of life for unbelievers, to conserve an element of common decency and common sense; (iii) as a means of awakening in the unconverted a sense of sin, leading them to Christ.

To take a concrete case, in Exod 7:2-3 we see a formal discrepancy between God's preceptive (v2) and decretive (v3) wills. But v2 does not reflect a frustrated desire on God's part. At a functional level, decree and precept are perfectly congruent. The precept is subordinate to the decree because the precept is instrumental to the decretive outcome in v5.

Did Pharaoh sin when he disobeyed God? Yes. Did God ardently desire that Pharaoh obey him? No. God wanted Pharaoh to disobey him as a means to the end in view in v5. By thwarting the word of God, Pharaoh fulfilled the will of God.

This follows on a broader pattern. God issues some injunctions to harden rather than soften the audience (e.g., Isa 6; Ezk 2; Jn 12). And he hardens them for an ulterior purpose, as a means to an end. To take an example of Calvin's, "Moses, when he relates that King Sihon did not give passage to the people because God had hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, immediately adds the purpose of his plan; that, as he says, 'He might give him into our hands' (Deut 2:30). Therefore, because God willed that Sihon be destroyed, he prepared his ruin through obstinacy of heart," Institutes 2.4.4.

8. One other objection is such a view leaves no room for any sort of transition from the wrath of God to the grace of God in the course of human history. God's love of Jacob and his hatred of Esau are without any variation or shadow of turning.

But something can be true of false at different levels. In Eph 2:3, Paul doesn't say that we were once children of wrath, but are now the objects of grace. Rather, Paul says that we were "by nature" children of wrath. This looks like a shorthand expression for the fact that, in Adam, we were worthy of death and damnation. So this distinction is not temporal, but federal—in Adam or in Christ.

And that is true of the elect no less than the reprobate. God can see things from more than one standpoint. The elect, in Adam, are fitting objects of wrath. But, in Christ, they are accounted righteous.

And there is, indeed, an existential transition when the elect are regenerated and justified by faith. But that does not reflect, much less effect, a shift in the divine disposition. For the eternal decree has equal reference to our standing in Adam and our standing in Christ. The one was not for time, and the other for eternity. The distinction is not between now and then. Both are timelessly true.

Nonetheless, the reprobate are only considered in Adam, as fallen; whereas the elect are considered in Adam and Christ alike—as fallen and redeemed. And this eternal difference is differentiated in history. For their Christian identity will trump their Adamic identity.

This is a somewhat artificial and unnecessary debate to the extent that we already have infallible models of evangelistic preaching in both the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Hence, it is unnecessary to deduce the conditions of the offer from a more abstract and general set of principles. We should never presume to say either more or less than Christ and the Apostles say in their own pattern of preaching. We need not, and ought not, resort to unscriptural conditions and formulas, but content ourselves with the exemplary conditions and inspired formulas revealed in Scripture itself for our fervent and reverent emulation.

It is precisely because the efficacy of the message is beyond the preacher's control that he need not fret over either the intent or the effect. He one and only duty is to preach the whole counsel of God, with whatever passion he can naturally muster, and leave the results in the good hands of a mighty providence.


Traditionally, Christians of every stripe have believed that although many OT prophecies were fulfilled in the NT, a number of NT prophecies remain unfulfilled; to wit: a set of endtime prophecies regarding the rapture, return of Christ, final judgment, and the new earth. These events are bundled together and take place at the end of the church age. This position is known as futurism.

However, there has been, for some time, another school of thought (preterism) which dated their intended fulfillment to the apostolic age. The basis of this view are verses describing the "imminent" return of Christ, viz., Mt 10:23; 16:28; 24:34; Rev 1:1,3; 3:11.

The difficulty with this interpretation is that it falsifies the end-time prophecies inasmuch as they describe a state of affairs that did not come to pass in the course of the apostolic age.

Traditional preterism has conceded that the endtime prophecies failed because traditional preterism has held a low view of Scripture.

Recently, however, a more conservative version of preterism has arisen (hyperpreterism) which accepts the timetable of traditional preterism, but maintains that the endtime prophecies were, in fact, fulfilled right on schedule, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Hyperpreterism regards itself as more faithful to NT prophecy than futurism by taking the timing of endtime prophecies more literally. What, then, are we to make of hyperpreterism?

1. Hyperpreterism doesn't enjoy any hermeneutical advantage over futurism. Like trying to iron out a stubborn crease, the smoothing operation merely moves the crease from one corner of the fabric to another. Hyperpreterism can only take the timing more literally by taking the depictions less literally.

2. Hyperpreterism is forced to reinterpret some straightforward prose passages (1 Cor 15) or observational, eyewitness reports (Acts 1:8-11) in figurative terms.

3. Even on its own grounds, it is far from clear that hyperpreterism does genuine justice to endtime chronology. For one thing, it overlooks the nature of Biblical typology. According to typology, the type/antitype relation is not limited to a one-one correspondence.

For example, the typical material in Ezk 37-48 prefigures the post-exilic restoration of Israel, but, for John, the same material also prefigures the Consummation of the Church and the world (Rev 20-22).

Likewise, the ancient kingdoms or city-states of Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon resurface in Revelation. Because the kingdoms of the world are ultimately front-organizations for good and evil angels (Dan 10:13,20-21; 21:1), the devil makes use of different shell-corporations (11:8; 17-18), operatives (Rev 13), and aliases (Rev 12:9) to conduct his counterfeiting business under cover of darkness.

The Devil is the ultimate wholesaler in spiritual funny money and ID theft. The Beast represents the political arm of his organization (13:1-10), and the false prophet its religious arm (13:11-18)—while Babylon stands for the social order and sphere of their dominion (14). Put another way, they represent the state, the state religion, and the general culture.

In John’s time, these would roughly correspond to the Roman Emperor and the imperial cult respectively, while the Babylonian world order (14) typifies the Roman Empire. In the OT, these would roughly correspond to Pharaoh, the royal wizards (Jannes & Jambres), and the Egyptian empire; or to Nebuchadnezzer, the Magi, and the Babylonian empire.

Likewise, the Antichrist figure in Dan 7 typifies Antiochus Epiphanies, but it also typifies imperial Rome and/or the corrupt Jewish establishment, as well as an endtime figure. Our Lord speaks of many Antichrists who will appear before his own appearing (Mt 24:5,11,24). Note the present and future aspects in play in 2 Thes 2. Note as well the same singular/plural and present/future alternation in 1 Jn 2:18f. Again, the false prophet is a master illusionist (Rev 13:11f.).

This accounts for a certain ambivalence between imminence and premonitory signs. The Second Advent of Christ is preceded by the first advent of the Antichrist. But there is more than one candidate who meets the job description. Hence, this is a necessary, but insufficient sign of the impending Parousia. At one level, it can only happen after the Antichrist appears. At another level, it can happen at any time since you don’t know which Antichrist figure signals the Parousia.

4. Besides the singular/plural distinction, another way of drawing the lines is between visible and invisible. For now the spirit of the Antichrist is working behind the scenes, through various front men, before he rips off the mask—in a blasphemous travesty of the Incarnation. This also has its background in Daniel, where the "Prince of Persia" (Dan 10:13,20), is pulling the strings of the state.

5. Hyperpreterism confounds two different levels of literality. Prophecy, especially of the apocalyptic genre, often overlaps with the visionary mode of revelation. So we must distinguish between what the seer sees in his vision, and what the mental image depicts in real time and space. Let us not confound psychology with chronology. The visionary sequence of events is not necessarily conterminous with the historical sequence to which it ultimately refers.

This is not only relevant in the original context, but must be borne in mind when OT prophecies resurface in NT prophecies, viz., Mt 24-25; 2 Thes 2, Rev 1, 20-22. In fact, a some NT prophecies is a second or third-tier prophecies built upon the foundation of OT prophecy.

6. The time-marker in Rev 1:1 is relative rather than absolute, for it picks up from where Dan 2:28-30,45-47 left off. The viewpoint is as much retrospective as it is prospective. What was distant in Daniel's time has drawn near in NT times. It has begun to take place. The OT marks the dawn of prophetic promise, the NT the dawn of prophetic fulfillment.

But the prophetic clock is still ticking towards the midnight hour. Whether we live in the high noon of the church age, or afternoon, or sunset, or eleventh hour, is known only to God (Mt 25:13; Acts 1:7). But one thing we know—the end has yet to come because our end has yet to come.

7. In light of Dan 7, R. T. France construes the Matthean verses as having reference, not to the Parousia, but the Ascension. But, again, in Bible typology, the Ascension may prefigure the Parousia.

8. Hyperpreterism accentuates the synchronic dimension of the kingdom at the expense of its diachronic dimension. The kingdom of God comes in stages. The OT theocracy marks a preliminary and prophetic phase of conquest and occupation. The first coming of Christ marks another, inaugural, stage—like a royal accession year—while the second coming of Christ puts in place the full and final reign, when the conquering king returns from the field of battle (Rev 19-20) to assume his rightful throne (21-22).

9. Passages regarding the imminence of the Parousia must be balanced off against other passages that stress the duration of the church age (e.g., Mt 24:6,14; 25:5,19; Lk 18:1-8; 19:11; 2 Pet 3:9).

10. The Olivet Discourse is given in answer to two questions regarding (i) the fall of Jerusalem and (ii) the final judgment. The issue is whether these are two events, separated in time, or one event. As one scholar diagrams their relation:

Question #1: fall of Jerusalem (Mt 24:1-3a)

Question #2: Final Judgment (3b)

A-1: Answer to Question #1 (15-28)

B-1: Answer to Question #2 (29-31)

A-2: Exhortation to Question #1 (32-35)

B-2: Exhortation to Question #2 (36-44)

F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Zondervan 1974), 57. And in Bible typology, the sack of Jerusalem may typify the Day of Judgment.

11. G. I. Williamson draws another distinction:
"I believe the text quoted above Mt 24:33] refers strictly and only to events that were certain to take place in the 1C, in the time of the apostles. Jesus was speaking to living persons. When he said 'ye shall see all these things,' he meant those people to whom he was speaking. In contrast to them, and to the time in which they lived--when these things were about to take place [cf. v34]--we live in a time which is better compared with the time of Noah, the thief in the night, or the lightning that shines from the east to the west," J. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, G. Williamson, ed. (P&R 2002), 124.

12. We should also keep in mind that prepositions of proximity, such as "nearness," are literally spatial markers, and only temporal markers by figurative extension. The nearness of God to his people and they to him often denotes his spiritual presence and providence (e.g., Deut 4:7; 30:14; 1 Kg 8:59; Ps 34:18; 75:1; 119:151; 145:18; 148:14).

13. There are several areas in systematic theology where we must harmonize seemingly discordant data. An apparent point of tension can be relieved in either of two directions, and one of the attributes distinguishing a prudent theologian from an imprudent one is a due sense of proportion.

An Arian will trim and twist every contrary verse to square with a handful of Arian prooftexts; a universalist will cut-and-tailor each doctrine to squeeze every body into heaven; a Roman Catholic will retool the Pauline doctrine of justification to mesh with a few verses in James; a socerdotalist will funnel everything else through the wormhole of church and sacraments; an Arminian will strain everything else through the filter of human responsibility; a fallibilist will lower the whole doctrine of Scripture for a few problem passages, while a hyperpreterist will rewrite the whole of eschatology for the sake of a few time-markers in a few scattered verses. His sense of priorities are wildly out of whack.

Hyperpreterism can only date the Parousia to the apostolic era by drastically trivializing the content and character of prophetic fulfillment. Sin and suffering, aging, disease and death, the rapture, return of Christ, resurrection of the just and restoration of all things are all spiritualized consistent with a world which looks and feels very much like it did, not only before the second coming of Christ, but even before his first advent.

It substitutes a neo-Gnostic eschatology for a real reversal of the fall, a docetic Parousia for the real deal. This is not a new move. It's been used before by the Adventists and the Watch Tower. This is a classic cultic revision of Scripture.

Like an accident victim who wakes up in his hospital bed after a long coma, hoping and expecting to see God, the saints and the angels, only to find a nurse refitting his catheter, if this is heaven, then heaven is not all it was cracked up to be. Either the patient is disoriented or he deserves a refund!

It is ironic in this regard to hear some hypers belly-ache about the persecution they have suffered at the hands of traditional churches , for according to hyperpreterism, they are now dwelling in the new Eden, with the kingdom of Christ on earth, and every spiritual blessing at their disposal. So it seems that they, too, are disappointed with the exchange rate of their own eschatology.

For further reading:

Beale, G. 1-2 Thessalonians (IVP 2003)
_____, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans/Paternoster 1999)
Blomberg, C. Matthew (Broadman 1992)
France, R. Jesus & the Old Testament (Tyndale 1971)
_____, Matthew (IVP 1985)
Hoekema, A. The Bible & the Future (Eerdmans 1982)
Mathison, K. When Shall These Things Be? (P&R 2004)
Michaels, J. Revelation (IVP 1997)
Poythress, V. The Returning King (P&R 2000)
_____, "Genre and Hermeneutics in Rev 20:1-6," JETS (March 1993) 36/1:41-54.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Christ or Buddha?-2

Of course, the criticism of Christian ethics presupposes that Buddhism can furnish a superior alternative. According to the author, "good and bad actions are defined in terms of Nirvana, the attainment of which also constitutes the ‘summation’ of all ethical values" (4.12). But this point of reference is utterly inadequate:
i) Nirvana represents an impersonal Absolute. But obligations only obtain between persons, and ultimate obligations only obtain between an inferior (creature) and a superior (the Creator). I don’t owe any duty to inanimate objects like sticks and stones.
ii) Now it may be that the author would simply oppose his moral intuition to mine. To this I’d say to things: (a) by writing a critique of Christian theism, the author has assumed the burden of proof. (b) I think most people would find my intuition more compelling than his. But every reader will have to judge for himself.
iii) His scenario presupposes transmigration. But that is open to a separate set of objections:
iv) There is a preliminary issue regarding the burden of proof. If someone tells me that there’s an elephant in my bedroom, is the onus on me to prove him wrong? If I don’t see an elephant in my bedroom, I’m justified in disbelieving the proposition. I don have to produce any positive evidence against the proposition; the absence of evidence sinks the proposition.
v) So what evidence is offered in support of reincarnation? To my knowledge, it comes down to such things as deja-vu, past-life regression, the transmission of character traits, and xenoglossy. How are we to evaluate this evidence?
vi) Reincarnation is a global proposition. That is to say, it proposes a universal phenomenon. Yet the only kind of evidence cited in its support (excepting deja-vu) are isolated, anecdotal case-studies. But if it were possible for reincarnation to leave any evidence at all, we would expect its evidentiary trail to be extremely widespread rather than widely scattered. So the scarcity and uneven geographical distribution of the evidence tells heavily against the proposition.
vii) In the nature of the case, anecdotal evidence resists controlled experimentation or investigation. To be sure, there may be phenomena that slip through the net of the scientific method. Since, however, reincarnation does claim to have a law-like character (viz., karma), it ought to be a testable hypothesis. To my knowledge, it lacks scientific rigor.
viii) The problem that I have with the appeal to deja-vu is that I’ve had this same sensation in familiar surroundings.
ix) Memories "recovered" as a result of "past-life regression" therapy are subject to the usual caveats concerning hypnosis (wishful thinking, suggestibility).
x) The transmission of character traits could be accounted for on a hereditary basis. Indeed, reincarnation is in tension with heredity, for if reincarnation were true there would be no internal relation between the personality of parent and child. Yet it’s obvious that children often take after their parents.
xi) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that some of the evidence is impressive enough to implicate a paranormal source of information, this knowledge could be attributed to alternative mechanisms (e.g. possession; ESP). It may be objected that this explanation amounts to special-pleading. To that charge I would say the following:
a) It would be special-pleading to resort to a paranormal explanation if a normal explanation could account for the phenomenon. But since metempsychosis is a paranormal proposition to begin with, there can be no a priori objection to explaining the same evidence by recourse to an alternative paranormal mechanism. Jungian psychology might attribute the same phenomena to the collective unconsciousness. Neoplatonism might say that the subject is tapping into the anima mundi.
b) If demonic possession were an ad hoc device trumped up to explain this very phenomenon, it would be susceptible to the charge of special-pleading. But since it is a preexisting doctrine that dovetails with the phenomenon, I don’t see that its application to this case amounts to a makeshift or face-saving device.
c) Inasmuch as Buddhism and Hinduism have heavy investments in the occult (commerce with the dead; trafficking with evil spirits), they cultivate demonic possession.
xii) It would take a gigantic piece of metaphysical machinery to run reincarnation. Some transcendent agent or agency has to define dharma (law, duty, merit), keep track of its compliance or non-compliance, assign guilt or blame accordingly, and recycle the soul in keeping with his karma. I don’t see that either Buddhism or Hinduism supplies the requisite resources to maintain this immense apparatus. Hindu theology oscillates between an impersonal Absolute (pantheism) and finite theism (polytheism), while Buddhism is atheistic in temper. But only a personal Absolute could administer such a system.
xiii) Even if we were to grant the ethical assumptions of reincarnation, it fails to solve the problem it poses for itself. Since the subject doesn’t ordinarily recall his former life, he cannot learn from his mistakes. The problem is even worse for Buddhism because it denies personal identity. But in that event, reincarnation lacks an object, while moral properties (merit/demerit) lack a property-bearer.
xiv) Transmigration presupposes a fixed number of preexistent souls who are continuously recycled. Birth is rebirth, and not the birth of a new soul. Some souls break the cycle by attaining the state of Nirvana—which reduces the pool. Given these assumptions, the human population ought to be declining. But what we instead have is an exponential increase. This growth curve stands in direct contradiction to scenario predicted by reincarnation.
xv) Reincarnation is supposed to represent a moral order in which individuals have an opportunity to make amends for their past transgressions. Isn’t it odd that so many souls are reborn as Muslims or Chinese Communists? Why does the mechanism of metempsychosis reincarnate people who play a role in the persecution of Hindus and Buddhists? Militant Muslims invade India and attack Hindus while Chinese Communists invade Tibet and attack Buddhists. Why does reincarnation raise up enemies against the religious adherents of reincarnation? Why does it discriminate against its own faithful? That doesn’t seem to offer much of a chance to work off bad karma. Why doesn’t the machinery reincarnate everyone as a Hindu or Buddhist—which would at least put them on to the path of enlightenment?

I’ll skip over the next two chapters because they aren’t very representative of orthodox theology. If his objections are cogent, they tell against heresy, not orthodoxy.
In chapter seven, the author tries to show that the Christian concept of God is incoherent. He begins with a schoolboy misstatement of the cosmological argument: If everything has a cause, then God has a cause (7.4). But that misrepresents the principle. What the cosmological argument claims is that every "event" has a cause, not every "thing." Put another way, every thing that comes into being or endures over time or passes out of being must have a cause. But since God is a timeless being, the principle is inapplicable to the divine mode of existence.
He then says that in order to define God as a necessary being, one has to show how he "becomes" a necessary being (7.5). That completely misses the point. He further insists that you can’t prove the existence of a necessary being without a knowledge of the infinite past and future. But since a necessary being is timeless, the question of duration—infinite or otherwise, backwards or forwards—is a non-sequitur.
However, the author goes on to attack the idea of timeless eternality. He dismisses the analogy with mathematical necessity because this is "analytical" (7.6). Several paragraphs later he returns to this theme and denies the extramental status of numbers (7.23).
In the first place, this calls for a lot more argumentation than he puts forward. Even on its own terms his position is incoherent. In ¶7.5 he defines mathematical necessity according to logical positivism: truth by convention or definition. But in ¶7.23 he shifts to conceptualism.
Neither is the least bit plausible. The positivist position reduces numbers of useful fictions. But even at a practical level it ought to be plain this that won’t cut it. No doubt it would greatly simplify life if a committee could redefine mathematical equations, but would you fly a plane or cross a bridge built by an engineer who cut corners by the application of a little creative mathematics? To be sure, this illustration is taken from the realm of applied mathematics, but the concrete instances are no better than their abstract exemplars (i.e. pure mathematics).
Again, the author even mentions an "infinity of prime numbers" (7.24) in the same breath as he promotes conceptualism. And how many of us are consciously aware of an infinitude of prime numbers?—not to mention all of the other infinite and transfinite numerical sets? Does our author really carry around the whole continuum in his cranium?
In the next paragraph he tries to show that mathematical necessity is not all that necessary. He starts out by stating that we say 1+1=2 "is true because when we add one pebble to another it makes two." But unless we already had an innate grasp of numerical relations, we wouldn’t make that connection. All you "see" are discrete pebbles. You see one pebble and another pebbles. You see particulars, not relations. You don’t "see" two-ness. "Two-ness" is an invisible relation. It is something inferred by insight rather than something presented to our sight.
He then says "when we add one drop of water to another, it makes only one drop of water, not two." Consequently, 1+1=1 is equally valid. But this confuses numbers with numbered objects. Numbers are not identical with the objects they number. That is why you don’t run out of the number 2. Life would be pretty tedious if we had to wait in line for a particular number to become available. "Sorry, you can’t have #2 today. It’s already in use." The same number is indefinitely exemplifiable. It can number different concrete objects. Two concrete objects may merge into one without two numbers merging into one.
The author also contends that predicating timelessness of God is incompatible with the Scriptural representation of his relation to the world (7.6). This raises some interesting points. One of these is theological method. Is narrative theology the prior point of departure in formulating our doctrine of God? One might argue that Romans or Ephesians should take precedence insofar as this genre represents a second-order reflection on redemptive history.
But there is also a measure of internal stratification in historical narrative. Sometimes the narrator glosses the action with an editorial aside. In John 12, for instance, the Evangelist goes beneath the descriptive level to attribute outward unbelief to a hidden decree. This sort of thing also happens in Chronicles (e.g. 2 Chron 10:12-15; 25:17-20). The hardening motif in Exodus is introduced by a programmatic statement in which God declares his ulterior intent (4:21-22; 7:2-3). It is simplistic, therefore, to deduce God’s motives from his moves on the global chessboard.
Again, the Incarnation does not entail a "conversion" of a divine mode of existence into a human mode of existence. Likewise, God doesn’t have to enter into real time to communicate with his creatures—any more than a computer programmer must be contemporaneous with a user in order to design an interactive program.
The author objects that the notion of an infinite person is incoherent (7.7). But this all depends on the definition:
i) God’s essence, existence, and action are unconditioned by anything outside himself.
ii) God is not limited by time and space because he exists outside of time and space.
iii) God’s power is infinite.
iv) God’s knowledge is infinite.

The author denies that God-talk is informative, for all God-talk is analogical and metaphorical (7.8). Unless we can reduce metaphorical discourse to literal discourse, it remains a cipher. But I have a couple of objections to this characterization:
i) It is a category confusion to equate analogy with metaphor. All metaphhors are analogies, but not all analogies are metaphors. Metaphors are figurative, but many analogies are literal.
Omnipresence is a metaphor. But knowledge and omniscience are analogical, as are power and omnipotence are analogical; yet neither term of either pairing is metaphorical. So one doesn’t have to reduce these predicates to a literal level inasmuch as they are already literal.
ii) Is a metaphor only meaningful insofar as it is reducible to a non-metaphorical description? The function of a metaphor is to trigger a richer field of associations than are simultaneously statable.
Again, communication takes different media. A metaphor is a word-picture. There are some truths you can capture with words, but not with pictures, and vice versa. That's why we have different art forms.

The author claims that Christian theism is unfalsifiable. However, there are different senses in which a proposition can be falsifiable or unfalsifiable:
i) Logically falsifiable. A proposition makes an affirmation that disaffirms contrary or contradictory propositions.
ii) Psychologically falsifiable. A belief that is defeasible.
iii) Factually falsifiable. A claim that can be falsified.
iv) Counterfactually falsifiable. A contrary-to-fact proposition that would
obtain if the antecedent were affirmed.

Of these four definitions, only (i) is a necessary condition of veracity. And Christianity is falsifiable in the sense of (i). That doesn't mean it could be false. Rather, that's the only way it could be true. It stands for something.
Even here I would to distinguish between local and global falsification. Christianity is falsifiable at a local level in the narrow sense of (i). But it is unfalsifiable in the global sense inasmuch as the existence of God is a necessary precondition of logic. Divine beliefs and mental relations are the source and standard of all truths, necessary and contingent.
Because the Bible contains some counterfactual propositions, the Christian faith is also falsifiable in the hypothetical sense of (iv). Of course, the Bible treats these as contrary-to-fact conditionals. Again, this is not a necessary condition of veracity. But as a contingent matter, the Bible has committed itself on this score.
The satisfaction of (ii) is irrelevant to the objective veracity of a belief-system. For example, many true beliefs are psychologically defeasible. Someone might begin with a true belief, and then be talked out of it by a plausible, but specious argument. So that obviously cannot be made a condition of veracity.
According to Reformed theology, the elect cannot lose their faith, but nominal believers can lose theirs. So (ii) is true of the reprobate, but false of the elect.
Christian faith is poised on the principle of divine revelation, which renders its articles infallible, contrary to (iii). Of course, that claim would call for a supporting argument, but for now we’re just dealing with definitions. And the onus of proof remains on the author, not the reader or reviewer.
I should add that it would be self-defeating to universalize (iii) since falsehood is relative to truth. You couldn’t falsify anything unless truth (=true propositions) supplies the frame of reference. So every proposition can’t be falsifiable.
The author rejects a priori theistic proofs on the grounds that "words like ‘love’ and ‘omniscience’ are not a priori concepts. They are necessarily a posteriori terms" (7.19). By "a priori" he means analytical in the sense of true by definition or convention. There are a number of things wrong with this characterization:
i) Words are not concepts. Different words can express very the same concept, so words are concrete whereas concepts are abstract.
ii) The way we learn a concept is logically independent of the way we defend a concept. The slave boy in the Meno may discover the ratio of a square’s area to its sides by drawing lines in the sand, but that is not how a geometer would demonstrate the axiom.
Our author confounds a psychological process of learning with a logical process of demonstration. Moreover, some people have to learn a concept whereas other people have an innate grasp of the same concept.
iii) It commits an equivocation of terms inasmuch as Anselm would never define a priori in the sense of truth by definition or convention. This maps the anti-metaphysical program of logical positivism back onto the work of metaphysician who operates with an Augustinian ontology and epistemology.
iv) Even if the import of certain divine attributes were inseparable from experience, it doesn’t follow that that carries across the board.
v) I'm unaware of any a priori argument for the love of God. Is there some amatory version of the ontological argument I'm unacquainted with? What, exactly, does the author have in mind?

The author alleges that divine necessity would contradict divine omnipotence, for if God is Almighty he cannot be subject to any logical necessities (7.26). This objection commits another schoolboy error regarding the definition of omnipotence:
i) Omnipotence doesn’t take God for its own object. This faculty is not self-referential. Rather, it means that God has the power to instantiate any compossible state of affairs. God doesn’t have creative power over himself. That commits a category mistake.
ii) As I’ve said in relation to the Euthyphro dilemma, God’s attributes are correlative. Each characterizes the others.
iii) Aseity or necessity means that God is not conditioned by anything outside himself. So his necessary existence is not a form of external constraint, as if we had reified necessity—turning it into an autonomous hypostasis over and above (or even against) God.
iv) Again, to say that God is a necessary being implicates his mode of existence, but not his field of action. It doesn’t mean that there is no freedom with God. Although God is not free to be or not to be, he is free to do or not to do.
The author also attacks the ontological argument on the grounds that to be conceivable is not to exist in the objective sense of the word (7.27). That is true, but completely misses the point of Anselm’s argument. Anselm was not talking about just any conceivable being, but the greatest conceivable being— whose non-existence is inconceivable. My point is not to evaluate the ontological argument, but just to show that our author is attacking a straw man argument.
In the same paragraph, he takes square-circles as an example of a conceivable non-entity. But this fails to distinguish between what is unintelligible and what is incoherent. A square-circle is intelligible, for the notions of square and circle are coherent, taken by themselves; but their relation is incoherent inasmuch as one cannot predicate contrary properties of the same object without contradiction.
But how is that analogous to the ontological argument? The author would have to show that Anselm’s concept of God is incoherent. Up to a point, he’s tried to do that, but without success.
In chapter 8, the author raises the odd objection that divine revelation is in tension with divine invisibility (8.17-18). His point seems to be that you can’t be a "seer" if God is not an object of sight. But this is a terribly jejune objection:
i) Not all revelation in Scripture consists of visions. It may consist of auditions.
ii) Even in visionary revelation, God can disclose his message via intermediaries (e.g. angels; dreams).
iii) And although, moreover, God is essentially invisible, he can simulate a symbolic manifestation of his presence (e.g. theophanies).
iv) For that matter, inspiration can operate without any sensible manifestation, either objective or imaginary.

The author says that Christianity is just one of many millenarian cults with Messianic leaders (8.29; cf. 9.16). This simply ignores the preparation for the Messiah in OT type and oracle, or the evidence for Resurrection of Christ. It further disregards the explanatory power of the Christian worldview—which I hope is on display in the course of this very review.
In chapter nine the author pits reason against revelation. As he defines it, an appeal to revelation is an appeal to blind authority and Occidental ethnocentrism. This he sets over against the emancipated outlook of Buddhism.
This chapter tries to illustrate the superstitious mindset of Christian faith by comparing it with witchcraft. But in what respect is disbelief in witchcraft a distinctively Buddhist attitude? Isn’t his scepticism the product of his Western education? On the other hand, the author informs us that Buddhism subscribes to telepathy (1.24). Yet telepathy is just as paranormal as witchcraft. Why does he think that sorcery is superstitious, but parapsychology is plausible?
Moreover, he simply takes for granted the superstitious character of witchcraft, and then presses the alleged parallel to the disadvantage of the Christian faith. But since the Christian worldview affirms an occult dimension to reality, such parallels—even if genuine—would not disprove Christianity unless the author had already disproved witchcraft. So the whole exercise, which goes on for pages, is tendentious.
Even at the personal level, his antithesis between faith and reason doesn’t evince much capacity for self-criticism. The author comes out of a Buddhist background. He was raised in an atheistic religious tradition. And he was trained in an atheistic philosophical tradition. Guess what? The author is an atheistic Buddhist! What a surprise! How does this serve to illustrate the way in which Buddhism cultivates independent reflection? Did it ever occur to him that perhaps he himself is the intellectual product of his cultural conditioning? In attacking blind faith he seems utterly blind to his own socialization.
Another example of this blinkered perspective is the way the author will quote Buddha to establish a point. This happens throughout the book. Yet it ignores two glaring problems:
i) I would add in passing that we have not the slightest idea what Buddha thought or taught, but just a lot of late-dated legends—in conspicuous contrast to the canonical Gospels.
ii) And even if we did had reliable record, Buddha was just another uninspired mortal, having no special insight, foresight, or hindsight into the nature and purpose of the world or man's place therein.

There is nothing irrational or demeaning about reliance on the voice of authority for information otherwise unobtainable by unaided reason. As long as the authority in question knows what he’s about, and we have compelling reasons to trust his judgment, trusting in his word is not only reasonable, but indispensable.
In the same chapter he also draws a number of dire consequences of the Christian worldview. But this line of attack suffers from three very broad deficiencies:
i) As a rule, it is fallacious to deny a premise just because you don’t like the conclusion. A consequentialist objection is only compelling if either (a) the conclusion negates something we already know to be true, or (b) if they negate a truth-condition. But chapter nine fails to establish either consequence.
ii) The chapter simply takes Buddhist ethics as the standard of comparison, and then draws invidious comparisons with Christian conduct. But that is not any kind of positive argument either for Buddhism or against Christianity. Given the superiority of Buddhism, then, of course, one can proceed with this odious comparison, but that begs the central question.
iii) In chapter 4, I argued that the Buddhist value-system couldn’t ground moral norms.

The author consistently characterizes Christianity as a tribal religion (9.3,16,19). Aside from the fact that Buddhism is very vulnerable to the same charge, this allegation disregards the self-portrait of the Judeo-Christian faith. One can cite several basic counterexamples:
i) The Abrahamic covenant justified the election of Israel as instrumental to a multi-ethnic benediction. This outreach is also highlighted in the Prophets.
ii) If OT faith were the expression of ethnocentric chauvinism, it would hardly depict Israel in such an unflattering light.
iii) It is axiomatic to say that Christianity is a missionary faith with a global agenda (Mt 20:19; Acts 1:8).

The author applies a psychogenic explanation to the Christian faith (9.9,25). But this analysis fails on four different fronts:
i) The objection is on loan from Western philosophy and infidelity (Feuerbach; Freud; Marx, Engels). How does that add up to a Buddhist critique of the Christian faith?
ii) Psychogenic reductionism ignores the objective evidence and argumentation for the faith.
iii) Psychogenic analysis operates with a counterintuitive rule of evidence: if something works, then it can’t be true. If Christian faith fulfills our deepest yearnings and dispels our darkest fears, then it must be false. This is a very peculiar objection, and demands a separate argument.
iv) Psychogenic deconstruction can be redeployed and applied with equal ease to unbelief. There is, for example, another way of reading this chapter. And that is to conclude that the author’s attack on Christianity is not high-principled and philosophical, but a petty expression of his anti-Western resentment. It reflects a Third-world envy and inferiority-complex in relation to the wealth and cultural dominance of Europe.

The author asserts that Christian anthropology is the source of environmental exploitation (9.3-4,6,9). This characterization labors under several liabilities:
i) Even if this were an accurate description, a description is not a disproof.
ii) OT law promoted environmental conservation (Lev 25:4-5). In OT theology and anthropology, man is the steward of God’s earth, and not the master of the globe.
iii) Speaking for my own tradition, no one has more to be humble about than a Calvinist. Isn’t Buddhist humanism a more likely culprit of an "inflated ego"?
iii) It is a public fact that so-called Christian nations don’t have a monopoly on biodegradation. To take one example, the former Soviet Union and Soviet bloc, which operated under a militantly atheistic ideology, had an atrocious record of pollution. Asian industrialism is also a major source of global pollution.
iv) The author’s whole diatribe against technology presents a Janus-faced aspect. Why did the author pursue post-graduate study in the West if he is so disparaging of the West? And how did he get to England from Sri Lanka? Did he walk? Did he swim? Or did he resort to technological modes of conveyance? How did he write and publish his book? Did he use an electric typewriter or computer? Was the paper machine-produced in a modern factory? Does the author have hot-and-cold running water in his house? A W.C.? Electric lighting? A telephone? Radio? What’s the big difference between the First-world and the Third-world except that the Third-world wants what the First-world has? Are Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Taiwan any less materialistic than the wicked West?

The author says that Western theism has no religious epistemology (9.18). Of course it does. It’s call revelation. He also berates our value-theory as "human-centered" (9.18). Apparently he’s never read the first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."
Moreover, Buddhist ethics is patently humanistic. Oh, he may wax eloquent about ecology, but cows and horses don’t write manuals on Buddhist ethics. The last time I checked, a Buddhist was a human being, and he’s the one who is laying down the law.
In sum, "A Buddhist Critique of the Christian Concept of God" is a not very Buddhist critique of a not very Christian concept. And on those occasions where it is true to its title, it is just plain fallacious.

Christ or Buddha?-1

For the most part, Christianity and Buddhism have led separate lives. Christian apologetics has developed in relation to Western philosophy and science whereas Buddhist apologetics has developed in relation to Hinduism and Hindu polemics. As a result, there has not been much direct engagement between Buddhism and Christianity. So this represents an underdeveloped domain in Christian apologetics and its Buddhist counterpart. Since, moreover, Buddhism is not a missionary faith in the same sense as Christianity, it doesn’t generally initiate offensive apologetics.
So it was with a sense of anticipation that I read "A Buddhist Critique of the Christian Concept of God" (Antioch, 1988) by Gunapala Dharmasiri. I was looking forward to seeing how we as Christians are seen by a pre-Christian faith that developed independently of the Christian faith. Would the author introduce some novel criticisms of Christianity? Would he uncover some unique conceptual resources in Buddhism?
But as I actually got into the body of the work, it came as something of a let down. For many of his leading objections are recycled from Hume, Kant, and logical positivism (e.g. Flew, Nielsen). Instead of building a Buddhist critique from the ground up, the basic framework is supplied by Western philosophy and modern theology. This is somewhat self-defeating inasmuch as it fails to present Buddhism as a distinctive alternative to the Western tradition.
My hope was that his work would offer a systematic account of Buddhist atheism, and then oppose that model to a systematic account of Christian theism. That would afford a forum for constructive debate.
But as I’ve noted above, the author’s treatment fails us in first term of this proposition. Yet it disappoints us in the second member of that proposition as well.
In a book advertising itself as a critique of the Christian concept of God, we would naturally expect the author to first present a classic and comprehensive exposition and analysis of the Christian concept of God before he proceeded to attack that concept in relation to his own standard of reference. Especially when the author is coming from outside the Christian tradition, it is important to demonstrate a mastery of the concept at issue.
So it would makes sense if the author had taken one or more major representatives of Christian theism (e.g., Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin), laid out their theistic conception and supporting arguments, and then proceeded to an invidious comparison and contrast between their concept of God and Buddhist atheism. Wouldn’t that be a reasonable procedure? If a Christian were writing a philosophical critique of Buddhism, wouldn’t it be appropriate for him to take a leading spokesman of Buddhist faith and philosophy like, say, Nagarjuna as his foil?
But all the author offers us are two passing references to Augustine and four to Aquinas, period. This is in a book over 300pp long. Most of his interaction is with liberals, radicals, and atheists of the stripe of Altizer, Barth, Bultmann, Cobb, Hartshorne, Hick, Rahner, Robinson, Teilhard, and Tillich. None of these figures are at all representative of the historic Christian faith.
Perhaps the author would defend his selection by saying that these theologians illustrate the collapse of traditional Christian theism. Owing to the inroads of modern philosophy, science, Bible criticism, and comparative mythology, no intellectual can believe in the old unreconstructed form of historic Christianity. If that is his operating assumption, it suffers from a couple of crippling flaws:
i) There are, on the face of it, many intelligent contemporary Christians who continue to believe in the pre-critical view of Scripture and classic Christian theism. The fact that our author may not find the faith to be credible is irrelevant at this stage of the analysis. For you cannot rebut the opposing side before you present the opposing side. At this preliminary stage, the author's personal views are beside the point. What is only pertinent is the opposing belief-system, along with its supporting arguments. To sideline the traditional position in advance any exposition or analysis is a prejudicial and question-begging procedure. From start to finish, the author is tilting at windmills.
ii) Even if we were to accept this assessment of the situation, how does that constitute or contribute to a "Buddhist" critique of Christian theism? If the author is going to make good on his claim, he needs to apply Buddhist ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology to Christian theism.
Now the failure to directly engage any major exposition of the Christian faith wouldn’t be fatal if the author could demonstrate a competent grasp of Christian theology. But it would be impossible to retrieve and reassemble the full-orbed doctrine of God in Christian theology from the skewed and scatter-shot treatment it receives at the author’s hands. His knowledge of Christian theology seems to be chiefly culled from mediating theologians and open infidels. This would be like reading a biography of Lincoln by Jefferson Davis.
Of course, it would also be possible for the author to bypass the secondary sources and go straight to the primary source material. He could start with the Isaian or Johannine or Pauline concept of God, and then take it from there. In representing the Buddhist position, the author quotes extensively from primary sources. But there is nothing of the kind in his portrayal of the Judeo-Christian position. What we have instead is a tertiary concept twice-removed from the wellspring: Scripture filtered through tradition filtered through mediating theology and infidelity. But in the process of transmission the original is often garbled beyond recognition. It should be unnecessary to point out what an unscholarly method this is.
So what "A Buddhist Critique of the Christian Concept of God" really amounts to is an Occidental critique of a post-Christian concept of God. It isn't very Buddhist, and it isn't very Christian. This alone would discredit the main thesis and its execution.
I could, therefore, terminate my review at this point with no loss of cogency. But for the sake of completeness I will carry out a chapter-by-chapter review.
In chapter one, the author deals with the problem of personal identity and its relation to theism and Buddhism. Since Buddhism advocates a no-soul theory, the problem of personal identity is acute in this tradition.
And I don’t see that our author succeeds in clearing up the problem on Buddhist terms. Although Buddhism denies an enduring soul or self (1.1), this does not entail a denial of personhood (1.12)—or so the author claims. But it’s hard to see how you can have a person without a self—especially when he goes on to say that personhood is only a "conventional" concept (1.24). Again, he says that the Buddhist view doesn’t do away with the concept of a being, but two sentences down he speaks of how the "convention" of "a being" arises (1.13). What a person or being ultimately is "is only [a] group of ever changing factors." We seem to be up against willful assertions in the teeth of his own presuppositions.
However, the author tries to introduce an element of stability by appealing to the principle of a "formative process" (1.14), using the illustration of plant growth. He also says that a "person" is "not only a series of momentary events but also causal continuum" (1.15). Yet there are several problems with this analysis:
i) Change and process are not convertible. Process entails a linear or cyclical progression that is not at all the same thing as an endless alternation ("ever changing factors") is not. Mere change does not imply continuity.
ii) The analogy of plant-growth is tendentious inasmuch the common sense view of plants and trees takes these to be fairly stable entities. Of course, common sense could be wrong, but the illustration plays to common sense, whereas Buddhist ontology is deeply counterintuitive and nonsensical.
iii) The category of a "formative process" assumes a fixed form or pattern. If we change every part of a classic car, is it the same car? Yes and no. None of the parts are numerically the same, but they serve the same purpose and preserve the same organization of elements. But sheer flux is a formless and aimless affair..
iv) A series involves a specific sequence (e.g. the natural number series). Momentary succession does not add up to a series.
v) A causal continuum assumes a principle of continuity, which is just what is lacking on the author’s account.

What the author has failed to explain is how pure impermanence can secure any sort of persistent pattern. In a move theater, people may change seats, or the entire audience may turn over from one showing to the next, but the seating arrangement stays the same. But where is the point of fixity in Buddhist metaphysics? And if there is no fixed frame of reference, then there is no such thing as personal identity or persons or beings. A "being" implies a particular being, fairly discrete in relation to other beings in space and time—or being in general. It is a subset of being. But if everything is in a state of homogenous flux then there are no such subdivisions.
Let’s compare this for a moment to the way in which Christian theology can ground personal identity. God has a complete concept of every person. This concept is timeless. This concept has an internal structure. It assigns certain character traits to an individual. He will react in the same way under the same conditions. And his life has a final cause in relation to God’s master plan for the world. God instantiates his idea in time. This is a partial and progressive exemplification of God’s exemplary idea. But because Buddhism denies a personal Absolute or abstract objects, it lacks the metaphysical machinery to get a fix on personal identity. It has no abstract universals or transcendent structuring principle. Rather, it represents the extreme immanental end of the spectrum.
Some readers may find this all rather recondite. Yet unless Buddhism can establish this little beachhead, it will be incompetent to establish any other point, and for the following reasons:
i) If there is no such thing as personal identity, then there are no persons. And if there are no persons, then there are no Buddhists.
ii) If reality is radically discontinuous, then there can be no Buddhist propositions. It takes a certain amount of time for the speaker to state a proposition, and a certain amount of time for a listener to hear the statement and draw the appropriate inference. But unless the speaker, listener, and proposition are all self-identical and causally connected, there can be no logical coherence or interpersonal communication. (The same applies to the process of reading.)
iii) By the same token, there is no way of fixing the reference, for if the referent keeps shifting from one instant to the next, it presents a moving and elusive target—much like a mirage.
iv) But the situation gets even worse. Although it takes time to draw an inference, implication is a timeless relation. Even though the conclusion may follow the premise in time, it doesn’t follow "from" the premise in time; rather, the conclusion is implicit (contained) in the premise(s). But Buddhism denies abstract objects—including internal relations (e.g. implication). Yet in that event, Buddhism is in no position to affirm or deny anything at all.

For the second time, we could stop the presses right here. If the author can’t get over this initial hurdle, everything he says in chaps. 2,3,4... will be beside the point. But it may prove to be instructive to continue.
In chapter two, the author attempts to invalidate the cosmological and teleological arguments. He regards the cosmological argument as unscientific because it postulates an extramundane cause (2.4). But this is a verbal trick. You limit science to natural objects, so that, by definition, anything supernatural, anything outside the domain of nature is "unscientific." But there are several problems with this move:
i) Science is a descriptive, not a prescriptive discipline—based on observation, not dictation. Such a stipulative definition is out of keeping with the true spirit of scientific inquiry.
ii) Even if we went along with this restricted definition, it is prejudicial and question-begging to insist that all of reality is limited to the scope of the scientific method. Once again, that assumes the very point at issue, the very thing in need of proof.
iii) Cosmological and teleological arguments are broader than scientific arguments. They are more philosophical than that, dealing with meta-scientific questions regarding the preconditions of natural science. They may make use of scientific data, but they are not confined to scientific data.
He thinks that Darwinism overthrows design (2.8). But there are three or four things wrong with this objection:
i) In principle, you could simply recast the teleological argument in evolutionary terms, a la theistic evolution, by treating the evolutionary process as a goal-oriented and divinely directed means to an appointed end. That is not the move I'd make, but that move has been made by many modern theologians, and since our author often takes modern theology as his point of reference (e.g., process theology), he is hardly in a position to disqualify this particular move out of hand.
ii) Our author is taking for granted the Darwinian dogma. But, of course, this has come in for sustained criticism by members of the creation science community, the intelligent design movement, and even some notable mavericks within the secular scientific establishment.
iii) In principle, the argument is convertible: if evidence of evolution overturns design, then evidence of design overturns evolution.
iv) This also raises the question of epistemic priorities. Some would say that without design, you really have nothing at all—no basis for science, for rationality. Design is the foundation for every special, second-order discipline.
The author goes on to suggest that what we take to be design in nature is largely a psychological projection and reflection of our own creativity (2.8). Once again, this assertion is deeply problematic:
i) Even if that were so, it would only shift the problem because we would then have to account for "mental" design. In principle, the teleological argument is easily adaptable to idealism. You merely relocate the same basic arguments from extramental to mental phenomena. In dismissing observables, our author forgets about the observer himself—like a forgetful author who can't remember his own writings.
ii) However, I don’t find the author’s subjectivizing of natural design very plausible. A lot of technological gadgets simply imitate problem-solving strategies on display in the natural world. Our creative ability is imitative and adaptive.
iii) Projective theories are self-defeating inasmuch as they can turn on the theorist. If the evidence of natural design is subjective, why not say that the evidence of evolution is subjective? Indeed, it's hard to see how the author can raise scientific objections to the faith when science assumes the reality of an external world, pace the author's own scepticism.
In the same paragraph, the author equates intelligence with brain structure. But this also demands a separate argument. It is notoriously difficult to reduce consciousness to physical hardware. As a professional philosopher, our author ought to be conversant with the raging debate on this topic. And even if the architecture of the brain could account for intelligence, that doesn’t account for the brain itself—which is no minor engineering feat.
The author appeals to dysteleology (evil) to counterbalance the evidence of teleology (2.9). But this objection is defective on a couple of grounds:
i) Evil represents a declension from an ideal standard. Therefore, the good enjoys axiological priority over evil.
ii) Good and evil are moral abstractions. A concrete state of affairs doesn’t' come stamped with "good" and evil. Rather, it exemplifies abstract values. But Buddhism has no room for abstract objects, so it is not entitled to levy such value judgments.

Borrowing an argument from Flew, who borrows it from Peirce, the author contends that we can’t quantify the relative probability of this universe, for the universe is sui generis, which doesn’t offer a final frame of reference (2.10). But this assumes that the design inference is inductive in nature.
The cosmos is an example, and not exemplar, of design. Design is abstract. That is why the same design can take so many different forms.
Indeed, the author’s thesis is a case in point. His abstract idea could be translated into different languages, and stored in different media (hard copy; software). These are different property-instances of abstract design. So Flew’s objection commits a level-confusion.
The author contends that creation is a gratuitous postulate inasmuch as it is conceivable that the universe "goes back to an infinite past" (2.13). But this objection suffers from three flaws:
i) As Philoponus pointed out a long time ago, this is invalid. There are two kinds of infinitude: potential and actual. An actual infinite is timeless because all its members must be given. A potential infinite is temporal and finite. It is not a given totality because it expands over time. At most, the universe represents a potential rather than an actual infinite. But in that case, it could not have existed forever. That which is increasable is incomplete, and not an actual infinite.
ii) And even if the idea of an eternal universe were coherent, that would not eliminate the cosmological or teleological argument, for we would still have to ask, with Leibniz, why does "this" eternal universe exist instead than some "other" eternal universal out of all the possible candidates (pace 2.22)? One can conceive of any number of trivial variations on the actual world.
iii) When attacking the ontological argument (see below) our author will deny that what is conceivable is real. So he operates with a double standard.
The author tries to put the ontological argument to rest by quoting J.J. Smart as saying that there are no necessary existential propositions, for the idea of a logically necessary being is oxymoronic, like a round-circle (2.15). But this denial is unimpressive on at least three grounds:
i) It is just a barefaced assertion, not a reasoned argument. The author is falling back on a naked appeal to authority, contrary to his strictures in chap. 8.
ii) It seems pretty easy to me to come up with counter-examples. Here’s one: "If Jesse is David’s dad, then David is Jesse’s son; Jesse is David’s dad: hence, David is Jesse’s son." The premise is existential, but since fatherhood and sonship are correlative, if the premise is true, then the conclusion is internally related to the premise. Granting the premise, the statement that David is Jesse’s son is both a truth of fact and a truth of reason.
iii) Is Smart's disclaimer an existential proposition or a necessary proposition? If existential, it cannot be universal, in which event it must admit an exemption to its own rule. So Smart is guilty of overgeneralizing.
If necessary, then, of course, it refutes its own rule, and allows for an indefinite number of exceptions. So his claim either proves too much or too little.

The author then asserts that "no existential fact can be contingent" (2.16). Well, if there are no contingent existential facts, then how come there are no necessary existential propositions? By his own admission, it would seem to be a case of all of one or all of the other. (I don't happen to agree with 2.16.)
The author says that Buddha believed that "an empirical theory of causation and the regularity of laws of nature etc., within the world could fully account for causation" (2.18). The obvious objection to this explanation is that it could only account for internal cosmic causality and not for the cause of the cosmos itself. A wristwatch exhibits internal causality, but that doesn’t account for the origin of the watch as a whole.
The author attempts to parry this argument by invoking Hume’s illustration of a set of 20 marbles (2:21): If you account for each member individually, haven’t you accounted for the whole collection? But this comparison is fallacious:
i) Since one marble does not invent another marble, this fails to illustrate a series of second-causes with a primary cause. A set of marbles does not bring itself into being.
ii) A set of 20 marbles is a finite set. So how does this parallel an eternal world? Even if Hume’s argument were sound, it would be subversive to the author’s claim.

The author says it’s arbitrary to invoke the principle of causality, only the draw the line at God (2.18). On the contrary, causality only applies to temporal objects—objects that have an origin in time. Causality has reference to a process of events or temporal effects, occurrents and continuants. But since God is outside of time, the principle is inapplicable to the divine mode of existence. There’s a category difference between a timeless and a timebound object.
The author is aware of this distinction, but tries to explode it by arguing that God would still be "prior" to the world. By enacting a temporal state of affairs, God thereby generates a retrospective temporal relation (2.16).
That, at least, is what I take to be the thrust of his argument. It is very compressed, which makes it a bit difficult to disambiguate. This is an interesting object, but it doesn’t yield the conclusion he wants. Let’s take a comparison.
If I open a bank account and make a deposit, I thereby set up a logical relation between a positive balance and a negative balance that would not otherwise obtain apart from that action. The negative balance is analogous to God’s relative priority vis-a-vis the positive existence of the world. But the negative balance is just that—a mere negation or placeholder, such as a zero. It is existentially empty, like the null-set.
The negative balance is the logical correlative of the positive balance, but that is all it is—a logical relation. The respective relata are not existentially analogous.
You could, perhaps, say that God is prior in time to creation, but real time begins with the plus side of the relation. It is only the mundane relatum that counts as a temporal continuum. And from that end-point it can be employed as a point of reference for speaking of God’s relative priority. But the temporal priority begins and ends precisely at the vanishing point of the first instance. It doesn’t extend past that moment. The relation is unilateral and asymmetrical.
Put another way, time is a limit, like a spatial surface or boundary. On the one side you may have matter, and other the other side a vacuum and void. Something implies nothing, but nothing doesn’t imply something. To insist that every borderline retrojects the properties of the plus side would deny the possibility of a least lower limit, which is unreasonable.
To put all this more simply, to say that a timeless God made the world means that there was never a "time" when the world didn't exist. Time had a beginning. The world had a beginning. But there was no time before the first moment of time.
In chapter 3, the author takes up the problem of evil. He runs through a number of proposed theodicies and finds them all wanting. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with his assessment, but since he doesn’t address my preferred theodicy, it is all beside the point.
In Christian ethics and axiology, knowing God is the summum bonun, for God is the summum bonum. But the knowledge of some divine attributes (e.g. justice, mercy) is a second-order good inasmuch as their revelation presupposes the fall. That, in brief, supplies the divine justification for evil. We could, of course, spend a lot more time on this theodicy and field variety of objections, but since the author doesn’t deal with it at all, the onus is on him.
The author argues at some length that divine omniscience and/or foreknowledge implies foreordination. I wouldn’t deny that. He then says that this lays the ultimate responsibility for whatever happens in the world right at God’s own doorstep. I wouldn’t deny that either, although it fosters a misleading impression. Although God is responsible for everything, God is blamable for nothing, because God is not solely responsible for everything.
Finally, he says that this scenario robs man of personal responsibility. I don’t know if I agree with this because I’m not quite sure what he means. There are varieties of determinism—theistic, atheistic, Christian, sub-Christian. But our author doesn’t work up his version into an actual argument. He simply makes some bald assertions about how it renders "the whole of man’s moral and spiritual progress...meaningless" (3.19). But that is far from self-explanatory.
To begin with, it assumes, without argument, that everyone should have an opportunity for moral and spiritual progress. But does the progressive principle, even if otherwise valid, have to be universal in order to be meaningful? If this potential were restricted to a chosen few, it would still be meaningful for "them," would it not? Where is his argument to the contrary?
And in what sense is predestination antithetical to progress? Let’s take the Divine Comedy or the Pilgrim’s Progress. These are Christian versions of the quest genre. Dante and Bunyan have scripted every word, deed and phase of the protagonist in his pilgrimage. How does that nullify the progress of the protagonist? Isn’t the case quite the reverse? The moral and spiritual progress of the protagonist is staged every step of the way by the author. That is what advances the action. And that is what directs the action towards its telos.
In the same sentence, cited above, our author goes on to say "the ideas of good and bad lose their meaning because nobody is responsible for anything." Again, this isn’t transparently true. It would be easy for a Western reader to gloss this as meaning that it isn’t fair for God to blame us if he determines our deeds. But here we’re dealing with a Buddhist. His choice of words is perhaps telling. He doesn’t talk about being responsible "to anyone," but "for anything." He isn’t concerned with the conditions under which God may justly hold us answerable and culpable.
His meaning seems to be found in the last paragraph of the chapter: "when the implications of theism are fully drawn, with the doctrines of predestination and grace etc., the ideas of finding means of salvation and spiritual struggle and therefore the idea of religion as a way of salvation loses all meaning" (3.22). In other words, full-blooded Christian theism leaves no place for the role of human merit in his autosoteric system. The issue is not so much under what conditions human conduct is blameworthy, but worthy or unworthy. The subject is not accountable to another or superior.
Here we see a radical difference in orientation between the Christian and the Buddhist worldviews. The horizontal and vertical dimensions have dropped out of sight. And here is where we see the connection between Buddhist ethics and metaphysics. Nominalism dominates both domains. There are no relations, only particulars. No social dimension, only solitary individuals. No God, no church—just a bunch of hermits. Buddhist morality is cenobitic to the core.
And the author is quite right to register the incongruence between Christianity and Buddhism. But this is a description of the difference. It in no wise demonstrates the superiority of the Buddhist perspective.
Put another way, it shows that there is no ecumenical way of framing the problem of evil, for what counts as evil and its alleviation is relative to our respective worldviews. Yet the author has failed to show why his way of casting the debate improves on the position he is opposing.
In chapter 4, the author attacks Christian ethics. But his criticism doesn’t appear to be altogether coherent. In one paragraph he equates Christian ethics with deontological ethics or divine command theory (4.23). But in a later paragraph he equates it with teleological ethics or utilitarianism (4.40). It is unclear what we’re to make of this. Is the author confused? Or does he think that Christian ethics is confused?
Let us note that the two perspectives are not mutually exclusive. On the one hand, the commands are goal-oriented, as a means to an end. On the other hand, we cannot reach the goal without a knowledge of the means—the laws and precepts instrumental to that end.
The author regards divine command theory as defective in several respects, of which I’ll comment on following: (i) how to identify God’s commands (4.24), (ii) the Euthyphro dilemma (4.29), and (iii) immoral commands (4.28).
i) He admits that a Christian would simply point to Scripture as the source of moral norms. But he views this as only pushing the problem back a step inasmuch as we must still isolate and identify the "correct" tradition within the rival strata of the Scriptural tradition. Of course, it is because the author is a Buddhist that he holds such a low view of the Bible. So this criticism, taken by itself, is simply tendentious. He hasn’t presented any supporting argument for his view of Scripture. What we have is just another barefaced assertion precariously poised on a groundless assumption.
ii) It isn’t clear to me how an appeal to the Euthyphro dilemma qualifies as a "Buddhist" critique of Christian ethics. The author keeps slipping off his Buddhist harness. But an argument "against" Christianity is only an argument "for" Buddhism if it represents the application of properly Buddhist principles to the issue at hand.
iii) He says that if morality is "defined in terms of God’s will then the word ‘morality’ loses its meaning because there cannot be any discernible coherent criteria for moral and immortal actions" (4.29). But, as usual, there are a lot of gaps in the reasoning. Is he saying that there are no criteria for discerning God’s will? Or is he saying that God’s will is not a moral criterion because it is arbitrary? The former question is epistemic, the latter, ethical. If the former question were in play, we would refer back to (i) for the answer. The latter seems to assume that divine command theory indexes virtue and vice to God’s sheer will. But the attributes of God are correlative. His will is characterized by all his other attributes. So divine precepts are not arbitrary, as the author insinuates.
iv) For the author to brand some of God’s commands as immoral once again assumes the very point at issue, which is that Buddhist ethics is superior to Christian ethics. This doesn’t rise to the level of an argument. It is only the expression of the author’s hidebound prejudice.

The relation between the divine law and the divine lawmaker can operate at several levels, none of which is morally or intellectually arbitrary. Some human virtues are exempla of divine virtues. Other human virtues are contingent on man's divinely created constitution. Still other human virtues are contingent on a temporary state of affairs, and change with changing circumstances.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Religious rights and wrongs

To judge by couple of recently issued ecumenical creeds, the idea of a generic religious right of free expression seems to be popular among elite Evangelical and Catholic opinion.

According to the "Mania Manifesto" (1989), which represents the John Stott and Billy Graham wing of Evangelicalism, "Christians earnestly desire freedom of religion for all people, not just freedom for Christianity. In predominantly Christian countries, Christians are at the forefront of those who demand freedom for religious minorities. In predominantly non-Christian countries, therefore, Christians are asking for themselves no more than they demand for others in similar circumstances. The freedom to "profess, practice and propagate" religion, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, could and should surely be a reciprocally granted right."

And according to "The Gift of Salvation" (1997), which is an interfaith statement by some big wigs in Evangelicalism and Catholicism, "we defend religious freedom for all. Such freedom is grounded in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and must be protected also in civil law."

I don't know how widespread this sentiment is, but given the prevalence of the bandwagon mentality it so many churches, it calls for some comment.

1. In order of importance, the first thing to be said is that both assertions are conspicuous for their absence of any express Scriptural support.

That does not, of course, mean that the assertion is necessarily incapable of exegetical backing. But both documents annex prooftexts to other assertions, so the absence here pretty glaring.

2. Although the Bible has a great deal to say about personal, social, and religious ethics, it has nothing to say about human rights or religious rights in general. Rather, it talks about the right way to worship God, the right way to conduct yourself, and the right way to treat your neighbor.

3. One of the problems with framing ethics in terms of human rights, or more specific versions thereof, is that it sets up a potential tension, frequently realized in practice, between "doing" right and "having" a right. And this, in turn, leads logically and oftentimes in practice to the moral oxymoron of a right to do wrong. For this there can be no Scriptural warrant whatsoever.

4. To my knowledge, the doctrine of natural rights in a political construct of the Enlightenment. As such, it has no basis in the tradition of any major religion. That being so, why is a political doctrine being invoked in the defense of a religion (or religious) which has no such doctrine in its own defense?

5. One wonders how the signatories would try to square their assertion with the Mosaic theocracy. Were the Baal-worshipers entitled to full freedom of expression?

6. I suppose a dispensational distinction would be drawn. Right or wrong, such a distinction needs to be argued, and not asserted.

7. One of the limitations of tolerance is that it demands reciprocity to work. And one of the reasons that Israel had to wage war against the Canaanites was because the Canaanites were unwilling to accept a policy of peaceful coexistence. And I can't see that covenantal discontinuities have invalidated that very practical problem in the world today. Certainly the forces of Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism afford no counterexample.

8. Even if, for the sake of argument, we concede (as I do not), a radical disparity between the Testaments at this point, it's hard to see how the NT affords any support for such a sweeping claim. Islam, for instance, prohibits Christian evangelism and Christian conversion on pain of death. India and Tibet are hardly more tolerant on this score. Other examples could be multiplied.

9. In modern times, Islam has made a cynical use of democratic freedoms as a loophole to deny democratic freedoms. It plays the system to subvert the system. It uses liberty in the short term as a pretext to deny the liberty of others in the long-term.

I see no reason why I should defend someone else's freedom to deprive me of my own. Why should I support those who oppose me? Why should I hand them a sword to slay me with? This is softheaded and foolhardy. Better to take away their freedom than wait for them to take away my own.

10. At a bare minimum, why should Christianity fight for Muslims—or Hindus, or Buddhists? Let the Muslims fight their own battles. Let every faith fight for its own rights, for the opposing faith will not return the favor. Of that you may be assured.

11. At a maximum, would should give serious thought to Samuel Rutherford's policy: "The question is not whether religion can be enforced upon men by the magistrate by dint and violence of the sword…religion cannot be compelled, nor can mercy and justice and love to our neighbor…be more compelled than faith in Christ.

Religion is taken two ways: for the inward and outward acts of religion as seen both by God and man…Christians ought not with force of sword, compel Jews, nor Jews or Pagans compel Christians to be of their religion.

The sword is no means of God to force men positively to external worship or performances. But the sword is a means negatively to punish acts of false worship in those that are under the Christian magistrate and profess Christian religion, insofar as these acts are destructive to the souls of those in a Christian society.

The magistrate does not command these outward performances as service to God, but rather, forbids the omission of them as destructive to man," A Free Disputation (London 1649), 50-51.

Confessions of a closet homophobe

I have a confession to make. For many years I was a closet homophobe. I can’t blame it on my parents. My mommy may me wear frilly pink dresses and play with Barbie dolls, while my other mommy made me take ballet class. And I was the very first boy to integrate the girl’s soccer ball team. Yes, both my mommies did their darndest to reassign my socially constructed gender.

And, for many years I made myself believe that I was not, in my heart of hearts, a homophobe. I attended the Sunday school at the Metropolitan church, where they taught a sort of reverse version of reparative therapy, where if you had enough counseling sessions and went through the whole treatment program, they could redirect your homophobic orientation to be homophilonic. But however often they prayed over me and tried to exorcise that inner demon of homophobia, I always felt the same irrepressible urge.

Really, when I look back on my life, I’ve been homophobic as long as I can remember. I guess I was born that way.

But somewhere in-between Harvey Milk High School and Oscar Wilde Academy, something in me just snapped. I rebelled. I came out of my homophobic closet. I went public with my homophobia.

And I found out that there were others, many others, just like me, just waiting for someone to take the first step.

And as I began to do research, I discovered that there’s a high statistical percentage of homophobes in every time and place. Homophobes have always existed. You’ve had whole homophobic families, leading alternative homophobic lifestyles, with homophobic family values, forming whole homophobic communities. Indeed, homophobes represent the great majority of the population.

From history I went to biology and discovered the homophobic gene. I found out that I was hardwired to be homophobic. I can’t help myself. I didn’t choose to be this way. It’s a genetic thing, you see. This is how God made me. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

This is why I decided to major in law and go into politics. That is why I founded the Homophobic Party. Because there’s a whole homophobic underworld, a vast silent majority, driven underground by an intolerant, narrow-minded minority of Christophobic and heterophobic fundamentalists.

I write this to tell you, if there are any homophobic readers out there, that you are not alone. We must come out of our closeted existence and take a public stand. We must oppose the persecution of homophobes. We must outlaw heterophobic hate-speech. We must promote affirmative action for homophobes. We must pass anti-discrimination laws to uphold the equal rights of homophobes in housing and employment. We must endow college chairs of homophobic studies. Homophobes of the world, unite!