Thursday, November 25, 2004

Apocalypse redux

<< Just one comment on this: you say there are three basic positions on the afterlife. But what about the position that there is no afterlife? That's my position. >>

Actually, if you go back and carefully reread what I said under option #2 (no one is saved), you'll see that I expressly mention the position you take. So I think I've covered the bases.

<< In my opinion, the concept of an afterlife has two main sources - 1) an inability to accept the finality of death and 2) a carrot-and-stick way of getting people to behave in whatever way is considered desirable by a given religion -- if you do bad things, you go to hell (or are reborn in a lower caste or as a lower life form), if you do good things, you go to heaven (or are reborn into a higher caste); if you accept Jesus Christ, you go heaven, if you don't you go to hell, etc. etc. >>

This is the standard Marxist-cum-Freudian critique. By way of reply:

i) There is no doubt that the fear of death makes a doctrine of the afterlife appealing.

ii) It would be viciously circular to say that I fear death because I fear hell, and I fear hell because I fear death. So when it comes to a causal relation between a general fear of death and a specific dogma of death, wish-fulfillment won't do the job.

iii) As a practical matter, no one except the occasional cult-leader draws up a shopping list of his fears and longings, and then concocts a religious creed that offers a point-by-point answer to his shopping list.

So this is a highly artificial explanation of how folks come to faith. It's a classic outsider's description which betrays no familiarity an insider's motives. That's not surprising, coming from Freud and Marx--since they didn't associate with Christians.

iv) If wish-fulfillment were the incentive, then we would expect various religions to make the terms of admission into a glorious afterlife easy to achieve.

However, most every religion, excepting evangelicalism, makes the attainment of a glorious afterlife very arduous and uncertain. Hence, the projectival theory is a just paper theory that fails to comport with the concrete phenomenology of faith which it purports to explain.

v) There is a basic tension between your two explanations: social control would fit with your second explanation--which affirms heaven and hell alike--but runs counter to your first explanation; for if fear of death is the driving dynamic, then the leading motive would be to affirm the assurance of heaven, but disaffirm the possibility of hell.

vi) Another weakness with projectival theories is that they cut in more than one direction, for they can be deployed to explain unbelief just as easily as belief.

For example, we could conjecture that Freud didn't believe in God because Freud had a dysfunctional relationship with his own father, and transferred his hang-up to God, as the archetypal father-figure.

In fact, there's a book-length treatment of atheism from a Freudian perspective. Cf. Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless.

Or one could say that someone rejects the Christian faith because he rejects Christian sexual morality, and he rejects Christian sexual morality because he wants to be sexually promiscuous.

Indeed, if you read testimonies by folks who left the church, this is one of the favorite reasons they give. E.g., E. Babinski, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (Prometheus Book 1995).

Or one could say that someone rejects the Christian faith because he finds the idea of a divine Creator and Judge and affront to his personal autonomy. Once again, you can find this reason given in the literature of infidelity.

In sum, your alternative theory either explains too much or too little.

<< It's extremely presumptuous of religious people, whether Christians, Muslims, or Hindus, to assert there is an afterlife when that this totally unprovable. There is no evidence whatsoever of heaven, hell, or reincarnation. Just because the Bible asserts something doesn't mean the assertion is true -- the Bible was written by mortal humans, who even contradicted each other in various places. You may believe these human beings were only conveying what God told them (through what means I don't know), but there's no way you or anyone else can prove this. >>

First off the bat, I wasn't trying to make a positive case for the Christian doctrine of the afterlife. I was merely responding to the incoherent allegations and baseless assertions of Kristof.

You, by contrast, do make the effort to outline an argument for your own position. That's not surprising since you're ten times smarter than Kristof. By way of reply:

i) As to the question of evidence, there is, first of all, a preliminary question regarding the rules of evidence. What counts as evidence? Oftentimes in secular science we get a circular standard of evidence according to which the only thing that counts as evidence is evidence consistent with materialism and natural law.

There are different reasons for affirming or denying the possibility or reality of the afterlife. This depends, in part, on our point of departure. Do we reason from matter to mind or mind to matter?

The secular humanist typically operates with a presumptive materialism. But I don't regard this as philosophically warranted. We know our mind better than our body. We are in direct contact with our own minds, whereas the body and the external world lie at the end of a nerve impulse.

What is more, mind and matter, thoughts and things, seem to occupy different domains. When I think of a red colored thing, my thought is not a red colored thing.

ii) This goes to the general question of what is termed, in philosophy of mind, the irreducibility of consciousness. If materialism is true, then mind must be reducible to matter.

One of the interesting features of this debate is that a number of the philosophers who deny that mind is reducible to matter are card-carrying materialists, viz., John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Colin McGinn. They would like nothing better than to be able to carry out this program, but they can't.

iii) In their desperation, some secular thinkers (e.g., Michael Ruse, Richard Dawkins, the Churchlands) relegate consciousness to an illusion. This radical position is dubbed eliminative materialism. It is also self-refuting, for if, true, there would be no mind to assert the proposition in the first place.

iv) Another problem with materialism is the relation between mind and math. What are numbers? Are numbers things or thoughts? If thoughts, are they merely human thoughts, or do they inhere in some timeless mind?

It is noteworthy that a number of the greatest mathematicians and mathematical logicians have subscribed to some version of Platonic dualism-cum-realism, viz., Cantor, Frege, Godel, Hardy, Penrose. And in the case of Cantor and Godel, this has a theistic aspect.

A couple of stimulating treatments of the above issues are:

John Byl, _The Divine Challenge_ (Banner of Truth 2004).

David J. Bartholomew, _Uncertain Belief: Is it Rational To be a Christian? (Oxford 1996), chapter 3.

The classic attack on dualism is:

George Berkeley, Three Dialogues Between Hylas & Philonous, R. Adams, ed. (Hackett,

The classic defense of dualism is:

Hywell Lewis, The Elusive Mind (Allen & Unwin, 1969)

I myself have debated the pros and cons of physicalism in a section of my essay entitled _I'm glad you asked_.

iv) Another challenge to materialism comes from literature on the paranormal, encompassing such diverse phenomena as possession, the near-death-experience, out-of-body experience, uncanny animal abilities, ESP, &c.

Back in my 20s, I myself had a series of paranormal experiences. In subsequent research I found out that there's a name for my experience: Old-Hag Syndrome.

For some interesting literature on this complicated subject, one can consult:

D. Bartholomew, Uncertain Belief, chapter 5.

Felicitas Goodman, How About Demons? Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World (Indiana U Press 1988).

Gary Habermas & J. P. Moreland, Beyond Death (Crossway Book 1998)

Rupert Sheldrake, Seven Experiments (Riverhead Books 1996). He also has a website.

It is, of course, true, that specific doctrine of the Christian afterlife derives from the Bible. I have given some of my positive personal reasons for believing in the Bible in my essay on _Why I Believe_.

I've also written some essays defending the veracity of Scripture, viz.,
_Who wrote the Bible?_
_Bible or Babel_
_Vanity of Vanities_

--as well as a section on alleged discrepancies in my aforementioned essay on _I'm glad you asked_.

There is also a large literature on the veracity of Scripture. Representative titles include:

_Allis, O. The Old Testament (P&R, 1972).
_Archer, G. (Moody 1994). A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.
_____, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan 1982).
_Barnett, P. Is the New Testament Reliable? (IVP 1986).
_Blomberg, C. The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel (IVP 2001)
_____, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP 1987)
_Comfort, P. (ed.). The Origin of the Bible (Tyndale 1992).
_Currid, J. Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament (Baker, 2001).
_Frame, J. "God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence," in J. Montgomery, ed., God's Inerrant Word (Bethany Fellowship, 1974), 159-177.
_____, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," ibid., 178-200.
_Guthrie, D. Introduction to the New Testament (IVP 1990).
_Harris, R. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures (A Press, 1995).
_Helm,P. The Divine Revelation (Crossway Books 1982).
_Hemer, C. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns 1990).
_Hengel, M. The Four Gospels & the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (SCM 2000).
_Kim. S. The Origin of Paul's Gospel (Coronet 1984).
_Kitchen, K. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003).
_Lightfoot, J. Biblical Essays (Baker, 1979).
_Linnemann, E. Historical Criticism of the Bible (Baker 1990).
_Mauck, J. Paul on Trial (Nelson 2001)
_Metzger, B. The Text of the New Testament (Oxford 1992).
_Neuer/Yarbrough, Adolf Schlatter (Baker 1995).
_Porter, S. The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research (Sheffield 2000)
_Robinson, J. Redating the New Testament (SCM, 1976).
_Stonehouse, N. Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (Baker, 1979)
_Tov, E. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress 1992)
_Wegner, P. The Journey from Texts to Translations (Baker 2001)
_Wenham, J. Christ & the Bible (IVP 1973)
_Winter, B. (ed.). The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting (Eerdmans/Paternoster
_Yamauchi, E. Africa & the Bible (Baker 2000)
_____, Persia & the Bible (Baker 1990)
_Young, E. Thy Word is Truth (Eerdmans, 1981)
_Zahn, T. Introduction to the New Testament (Kregel 1953).

This is in addition to all of the conservative commentaries on various books of the Bible.

A subset of this general subject would be literature on the quest for the historical Christ. Representative titles include:

_Barnett, P. Jesus and the Logic of History (Eerdmans 1997)
_____, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity (IVP 1999).
_Blomberg, C. Jesus and the Gospels (Broadman 1997)
_Bock, D. Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Thomas Nelson, 2004)
_____, Jesus According to Scripture (Baker 2002)
_____, Studying the Historical Jesus (Baker, 2002)
_Bruce, F. Jesus & Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Eerdmans 1974).
_Davis, S. Risen Indeed (Eerdmans, 1993).
_Evans, C. Jesus & His Contemporaries (Leiden: Brill, 1995)
_Guthrie, D. A Shorter Life of Christ (Academie Books 1970)
_Harrison, E. A Short Life of Christ (Eerdmans, 1968)
_Johnson, L. The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth
(Harper SanFrancisco1997).
_Ladd, G. I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Eerdmans 1975)
_Longenecker, R. Life in the Face of Death (Eerdmans, 1998)
_Moore, P. (ed.), Can A Bishop Be Wrong? The Scholars Challenge John Shelby Spong
(Moorehouse, 1998).
_Schlatter, A. The History of the Christ (Baker, 1997).
_Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah (IVP 1996)
_Stonehouse, N. The Witness of the Synoptic Gospels to Christ (Baker 1979)
_Strimple, R. The Modern Search for the Real Jesus (P&R 1995)
_Twelftree, G. Jesus the Exorcist (Hendrickson, 1993).
_____, Jesus the Miracle Worker (IVP, 1999).
_Warfield, B. "The Historical Christ," Christology & Criticism, Works, vol. 3.
_Wenham, D. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Eerdmans 1995)
_Wilkins/Moreland (eds.). Jesus Under Fire (Zondervan 1995).
_Witherington, B. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (IVP 1997)
_Wright, N. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP 1999)
_____, The Contemporary Quest for Jesus (Augsburg/Fortress 2002)
_____, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress 2003). Definitive.
_____, Who Was Jesus? (Eerdmans 1993)

All-in-all, I'd say that the evidentiary ball is definitely in the unbeliever's court.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

War crimes?

It's always with a certain sense of frustration that I follow the news. For over a week now, the news media has been chewing over the footage of the Marine shooting a
gunman. The primary purpose of this coverage is to discredit the war effort. Now, whether or not you support the war, this is a canard. For if the war were wrong,
it would still be wrong even if the Marine did the right thing; and if the war were right, it would still be right even if the Marine did the wrong thing.The critics
have also raised two generic objections to the actions of the Marine. I say 'generic,' because these are objections they've been raising to the war in general from the
get-go: (i) it sends the wrong message to the Muslim world, inflaming Arab opinion: (ii) it is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.To the first objection I'd say a
couple of things:a) You notice that whenever the Muslims do it to us, we're told that this has nothing to do Islam; Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.But
whenever we do it to a Muslim, we told that this will inflame the Muslim world, which assumes that it has everything to do with Islam.b) The message which the
Marine's action sends to me is that if you pick a fight with a Marine, you'll end up on the losing end of a rifle butt. And to my Neanderthal mind, that's a very
excellent message to be sending to the Muslim world.As to the second charge, notice how the debate has been framed: whether what the Marine did was right or
wrong depends on whether his action is defensible consistent with the terms of the Geneva Conventions.No one is questioning the Geneva Conventions. Rather,
they are questioning his action in relation to that unquestioned standard of reference.Well, I, for one, am going to question the Conventions. Suppose, for the sake
of argument, that the Marine did violate the Conventions. I don't care. The Conventions are not a moral absolute.As so often happens, you have something that
was put into effect for a reason. But once it's put into effect, folks are apt to forget what the reason was, and absolutize the policy. It takes on a life of its own--a
free-floating autonomy.In traditional warfare, there were two ways of dealing with POWs: enslave them or execute them.Both methods were harsh, but there was a
reason for the harsh policy. If you repatriated POWs, they would live to fight you another day. But that all changed, on paper, at least, with the Geneva
Conventions--which stipulated that POWs were entitled to certain rights.Yet it is important to remember the reasoning which lay behind the Conventions. The
reasoning was not that we should be nice to POWs for the sake of being nice; rather, the reasoning was that we'll be nice to our POWs so that you'll be nice to
your POWs.The reasoning was that if, in a given war, both sides take POWs, then it is in the self-interest of both sides that their imprisoned soldiers not be
mistreated.That's the logic. Notice that the logic is bilateral, not unilateral. This is not a moral imperative, but a pragmatic arrangement.It also comes at a cost. The
side which honors the Conventions is assuming an additional risk. It should be much safer for our soldiers to take no prisoners rather than to gingerly pick their
way through the fallen. Now, what kind of enemy are we facing in Iraq? We are facing an enemy that does not abide by the Geneva Conventions. Yet the
Conventions were predicated on the principle of reciprocity. Both sides assume a risk to yield a benefit.But given that the enemy doesn't play by the rules, there's
no earthly reason why our soldiers should be giving the wounded the benefit of the doubt.I'm not saying that we should kill indiscriminately. We should only kill
in self-defense and in the furtherance of a strategic objective.But the enemies we're up against live to kill. Whenever they take one of our soldiers captive, they kill
him--kill him as brutally as their diabolical minds can devise.So there's no good reason why we should sacrifice the safety of our soldiers or our tactical advantage
with an enemy like

At the risk of repeating myself, the underlying rationale for the Conventions is pragmatic, not principled--utilitarian, not absolute.

The reasoning is that when we capture your combatants, we'll be nicer to them so that you'll return the favor when you capture our combatants.

This is not a question of intrinsic values or lowering ourselves to the level of the enemy. Rather, this is a case of contract law. Both sides assume a mutual obligation in the interests of a mutual benefit. If one party reneges on the contract, then that voids the contract.

This is an end-means arrangement, contingent on both parties to the contract upholding their end of the bargain. In case of nonperformance, the deal is off.

A cease-fire is a good comparison. If one side resumes hostilities, no reasonable man would say that other side is still bound to abide by the terms of the cease-fire, for the terms were mutual and the rationale was reciprocal. The salient point is the point for which the rules were framed in the first place.

This doesn't mean that our side is free to do whatever it pleases. For teleological reasoning conditions other aspects of just warfare. You try not to inflict more harm that is necessary to achieve the strategic objective. Wanton brutality and random carnage are without warrant because they are, among other things, gratuitous.

There are certain minimal standards of humane conduct, regardless of what the enemy does. To that extent we must sometimes surrender a tactical advantage.


Apocalypse Now

Once more, Nicholas Kristof sallies forth on his pogo-stick in another death-defying jousting match with the evangelical world. The latest excursion is his article on "Apocalypse (Almost) Now."

I must begin by saluting Mr. Kristof's indomitable courage. He never balks at a chance to make a public fool of himself. But after drawing the short straw so many times, you'd think he might become a tad suspicious of the odds. Is there somebody who pushes him on stage? "Atta boy, Nicky! Go get 'em!" Why, he is the very model of a modern Major-General!

It takes a long time to fish out all the red herrings from his customary drag-net. Basically, the piece seems to be a hoary old exercise in innuendo and guilt-by-association. Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye are hypocrites. Their eschatological timetable has often been of the mark. Ergo: there is no hell.

It should be needless to say that the conclusion doesn't strictly follow from the premise. But, evidently, Kristof’s intellectual pretensions do not commit him to the laws of logic.

He appears to level a twofold charge of hypocrisy against the authors. First, he insinuates that their portfolio is inconsistent with their belief in the imminent return of Christ. This may be a legitimate charge.

He also insinuates that their lavish income is a mark of worldliness, contrary to the otherworldly ethic of Scripture. This, too, may be a valid accusation.

Incidentally, for him to suggest, even tongue-in-cheek, that alms-giving would increase their chances of getting into heaven, betrays an utter and lamentable ignorance of fundamentalism. In fundamentalism, as in evangelicalism generally, salvation is a result of divine charity rather than human charity.

But neither allegation, whether considered in separation or taken together, has the slightest bearing on whether hell is real or not.

Incidentally, why do liberals like Kristof get so indignant about hypocrisy? Do they believe in moral absolutes?

Finally, he seems to suggest that the poor track-record of premillennial date-setting falsifies belief in the Day of Judgment. But to make that stick he would need to do a lot more than cite the sorry record of Hal Lindsey, Seventh-Day Adventism and the like.

The Bible itself discourages date-setting (Mt 24:35; Acts 1:7). Hence, the failure of those who ignore Biblical admonitions to the contrary is a confirmation rather than disconfirmation of Scripture.

I would hasten to add that the authors' pretrib version of the end-times has only been around since the Victorian era. It hardly represents the consensus of the historic Christian church. Indeed, Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye scarcely represent the best that Dispensationalism has to offer.

By contrast, the doctrine of hell does represent the consensus of the historical Christian church--at least in the Western Hemisphere.

But Kristof has several more misguided arrows in his quiver. There is, for instance, this odd exchange,

"Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the co-authors of the series,
have both emailed me (after I wrote about the ‘Left
Behind’ series in July) to protest that their books do not
'celebrate' the slaughter of non-Christians but simply
present the painful reality of Scripture.

‘We can't read it some other way just because it sounds
exclusivistic and not currently politically correct,’ Mr.
Jenkins said in an email. ‘That's our crucible, an
offensive and divisive message in an age of plurality and

Silly me. I'd forgotten the passage in the Bible about how
Jesus intends to roast everyone from the good Samaritan to
Gandhi in everlasting fire, simply because they weren't
born-again Christians."

What makes this odd is the insinuation that the authors are damning folks whom Jesus would never think to damn. How is this illustrative of Kristof’s own position? Bertrand Russell, for one, had no difficulty quoting Christ on the subject of hell. In this regard, Lord Russell reads the Bible the same way as Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Would Kristof subject Bertrand Russell to the same scorn and ridicule? Of course, Russell didn’t believe the Bible, but neither does Kristof.

What is even odder is that in the very next paragraph, Kristof says the following:

"I accept that Mr. Jenkins and Mr. LaHaye are sincere. (They
base their conclusions on John 3.)"

Okay, the reference to Jn 3 is an allusion to the new birth as a prerequisite for salvation. And this comes direct from the lips of Christ. If Kristof knows that much, then why does he pretend that the position of the authors runs counter to Christ?

Once again, Kristof illustrates his intellectual superiority by a display of intellectual confusion. Then he’s baffled by why Christians don’t find his position the paragon of reason.

Kristof, presuming to speak for the reader, says that "If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hate-mongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard."

We would? Speak for yourself, Mr. Kristof. There are many things amiss in this statement. Let’s look at a few.

i) I wouldn’t make any such demand on the Muslim world for the obvious reason that such a demand would be ineffectual. But, of course, liberals like Kristof are devoted to empty gestures--nonbinding UN resolutions and toothless treaties, so I realize that my distinction would elude him.

ii) Mr. Kristof tries to force a practical parallel between the Jihadi and the Left Behind series, but other issues aside, the difference could hardly be plainer: it is Islam, and not Christianity, which is the hotbed of global terrorism.

iii) And there’s simple reason for this: the final judgment is an act of God, not an act of man. There is nothing in the doctrine of damnation which incites the Christian world to wage war on unbelievers. The final judgment is all about divine vengeance.

iv) Instead of attacking what Muslims believe, I would ask them why they believe it. That’s the real issue--not the symptom of belief, but the source of belief.

Kristof tries to draw another parallel between the Jihadi and the Left Behind series:

"But I've sat down in Pakistani and Iraqi mosques with Muslim fundamentalists, and they offered the same defense: they're just applying God's word."

Yes, there are some formal parallels between Islam and Christianity. And that is owing to the fact that Islam is a Judeo-Christian heresy. The Koran is based on Muhammad’s garbled, hearsay knowledge of Judaism and Christianity.

But to imply that this elevates it to a level of moral equivalence or epistemic parity is like placing a third-rate forgery is on the same plane as the masterpiece it plagiarizes.

So what is the point of Kristof’s hit-piece? Hard to say, but in sorting out all the non-sequiturs, the following statement seems to cut to the heart of the matter, at least as he sees it:

"Now, I've often written that blue staters should be less
snooty toward fundamentalist Christians, and I realize that
this column will seem pretty snooty. But if I praise the
good work of evangelicals - like their superb relief
efforts in Darfur - I'll also condemn what I perceive as
bigotry. A dialogue about faith must move past taboos and
discuss differences bluntly. That's what blue staters and
red staters need to do about religion and the "Left Behind"

He begins by paying a part of the Christian community a throwaway compliment. He thinks that by patting us on the head for our social work, we should be so grateful that this gives him the right to accuse us of bigotry.

Nice try, Nick, but tossing a few doggy biscuits our way won’t make us wag our tail when we see you coming down the street in your Animal Control truck.

But what about those juicy adjectives like "bigotry" and "hate-mongering?" As with so many other left-wing pundits, Mr. Kristof labors under the lazy illusion that adjectives can do the work of arguments. He supposes that by shouting a few smear words into his megaphone, we’ll take fright and then take flight. But this is just a lot of rhetorical bluff and bluster, unredeemed by any supporting arguments.

And what, exactly, is the basis for the defamatory language? Presumably this all goes back to the venerable doctrine of hell. But how is belief in hell hate-mongering or bigotry? He doesn’t say.

One can hardly call it reason, for he doesn’t give a reason. But does he feel that hell is too horrible to be true? Yet horrible things happen everyday. Kristof appears to cling to the childish belief that whatever he likes is what the world is like.

There are only three basic positions on the afterlife: (i) everyone is saved; (ii) no one is saved; (iii) some are saved and others are damned.

i) Many men find (i) the most appealing position. Like Kristof, they like to nominate their favorite humanitarians to bolster the claim.

But there is a downside to this charming picture. If everyone is saved, then the misanthrope is saved alongside the philanthropist. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Attila, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, and other such splendid specimens of humanity live happily ever after with all their unnumbered victims. And I daresay that for many of the victims, that would take the sheen off the prospect of universalism.

Of course, the Christian doctrine of the afterlife doesn’t divide neatly into heavenbound victims and hellbound victimizers. But when Kristof strives to foist so much odium on the Christian doctrine, is his alternative any less odious?

Another tension in universalism is that it amounts to a very exclusive inclusivism inasmuch as it must claim more for many secular and religious traditions than they are prepared to claim for themselves. Universalism can only be universally true if every opposing position is universally erroneous. So its apparent modesty and magnanimity are a false modesty and mock magnanimity.

ii) Speaking of which--secularism is generally committed to (ii). Man is just a meat machine. Consciousness cannot survive brain-death. This delightful position includes secular Jews. Likewise, the classic Hindu/Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana asserts the extinction of personal consciousness. Softheaded Unitarians affirm (i), while hardheaded Unitarians affirm (ii).

Since an unbeliever denies the very existence of heaven, why is he so offended when Christian theology denies his admission into heaven? Seems like a mutually agreeable arrangement to me!

In the words of Bertrand Russell, this is the eschatology of secular humanism:

"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction...that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins...

United with his fellow men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom...The life of man is a long march through the night...One-by-one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death."

That's the faux-Miltonian version. In the colloquial version, "First you die, then you rot!"

Russell tries to perk this up a bit by some sanctimonious palaver about "the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes," but such pale allusions to the Christian hope--to the seed of the martyrs and the communion of the saints--merely serves to magnify hollow sound of his infinitely bleak and pitiless creed.

Would Kristof call Russell hate-monger and a bigot for damning everyone to a common oblivion?

By process of elimination, this leaves some version of (iii). Damnation is predicated on the principle of retributive justice--taking sinners as its object. Given the extent of injustice in life here-below, does Kristof deem it morally preferable that the scales of justice never be righted in the life to come?

It should be unnecessary to point out that a number of supporting arguments have been deployed in support of the Christian doctrine. As usual, Kristof displays his intellectual superiority by ducking every one of the supporting arguments. Stupid is as stupid does.

As to Catholicism, much could be said, but let us never forget those dire Tridentine anathemas.

Whatever position Kristof himself stakes out will be intolerant and exclusive of the other two alternatives. So that must make Kristof a hate-monger and a bigot as well. And I guess that makes us a big tent party after all. Join the club, Nick!

Monday, November 22, 2004

A time to hate

Dear Mr. Jacoby,

Thanks for your recent article.

A number of distinctions need to be made.

1. Different Christian traditions have different views of the Old Testament. In general, those in the Lutheran, Baptist, Anabaptist, and fundamentalist tradition see more discontinuity between Old Testament ethics and New Testament ethics than those in the Reformed (=Calvinist) tradition. A Calvinist like myself sees the moral law of God as the same, whether under the Mosaic Covenant or the New Covenant. This view is fairly common among conservative Presbyterians.

2. I would add that some Christian traditions change over time. Roman Catholicism, for most of its history, has been very exclusive and militant. But in the 20C it became quite inclusive and pacifistic. There's a world of difference between John-Paul II and Julius II or Innocent XIII.

3. The scope of God's love also differs with different traditions. Most Christian traditions believe that God loves everyone--equally and without exception.

However, the Augustinian tradition, which is taken up in the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition, sees the love of God as intensive rather than extensive. Just as the Jews were a chosen people as over against the multitude of the heathen in Old Testament times, God does not show his favor to everyone alike. Rather, the love of God is like marital love--exclusive and intensive rather than inclusive and extensive. The difference is between a love which is broad, but shallow, and a love which is narrow, but deep.

4. By the same token, a Calvinist would say that God loves a sinner, not because the sinner is lovable or at all deserving of love. To the contrary, God loves a sinner out of his sheer mercy and grace.

5. At the same time, there is also a doctrine of divine judgment in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is such a thing as damnation and hell. This is true of almost every Christian tradition, although some have liberalized.

6. God's attitude towards the sinner is, of course, germane to our attitude towards the sinner. There is a sort of folkloric version of Christian ethics that is popular in many churches. It is based on a very lopsided and hermeneutically naïve reading of the Gospels. It contains a grain of truth, but a half-truth.

7. One element is the fallacy of unconditional forgiveness. Many Christians believe it to be their Christian duty to forgive everyone, period.

One thing they forget is that the Gospels were written to the church, to the Christian community, just as the Mosaic Law was addressed, in the first place, to the covenant community.

This doesn't mean that there's one standard for insiders, and a totally different standard for outsiders. But what makes a faith-community a community is a certain level of mutuality and reciprocity. One cannot transfer this without qualification to those who are not signatories to a common ethic.

Even in the church, forgiveness is contingent on repentance: "if your brother sins, reprove him, and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). Notice that there are three conditions in view: (i) the offender is a "brother," a fellow Christian; (ii) the offender is penitent and contrite, and (iii) the offended party is forgiving the offender for a wrong done by the offender to the offended party. In other words, I can forgive Jim for what Jim did to me (personally), but I can't forgive Jim for what Jim did to John.

Many Christians are very confused about forgiveness because they don't study the details for themselves, but simply recite a popularized, sloganized sound-bite.

8. Regarding the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), several things need to be said:

i) This is not dealing with genocide or crimes of violence. Rather, it is dealing with personal affronts and civil infractions.

ii) There is a radical element to the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of simply reacting in kind, we should restrain our punitive impulses and be merciful, acting in the best interests of the offender. We should return good for evil, rather than evil for evil. We do not become the thing we hate. We do not model our code of conduct on the enemy.

One presupposition of Christian ethics is that a Christian has a limited stake in this world. Another presupposition is that we are all sinners, and those of us who have been redeemed should try, where possible, to redirect other sinners in the way of righteousness, blessing them as the Lord has blessed us--showing mercy because the Lord has shown us mercy.

iii) However, the Bible is not all about doing mercy; the Bible is also about doing justly. We can't be equally loving to everyone. We can't be merciful to the merciless without being merciless to their victims. There are certain moral and practical priorities.

Steve Hays

P.S. I hope you don't receive any hate-mail for your article on hatred! :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Why do the heathen rage?

Why do the heathen rage?

On the face of it, the attitude of the unbeliever is quite irrational. If a Martian were eavesdropping on the conflict between believer and unbeliever, he'd assume that the unbeliever's creed must have something indispensable and irreplaceable to offer the unbeliever, something denied him by the believer's creed. He'd assume that the unbeliever's creed was a wonderfully life-affirming creed, whereas the Gospel must be a nihilistic creed. Otherwise, why would the unbeliever be so devoted to his creed and so opposed to the believer's?

And yet the truth is just the opposite. For the unbeliever, man is just a meat machine. He has no immortal soul. His very consciousness is a clever illusion. Morality is just a dirty trick played upon us by natural selection. Life has no ultimate purpose. When we die, all our loves and longings die with us. The benevolent philanthropist and the genocidal tyrant share a common oblivion.

Why would an unbeliever live and die for such a self-destructive creed? And why is he so fanatically opposed to the Gospel? The Gospel is like a match in the darkness, lighting our way out of the cave and illumining our footsteps lest we fall down a bottomless pit. Why is the unbeliever so hell-bent on extinguishing the flickering match-light? Why this passionate communion with death?

Warfield offers a striking psychological profile of the unbeliever:

"The sinner instinctively and by his very nature, as he cannot help believing in God, in the intellectual sense, so cannot possibly exercise faith in God in the fiducial sense. On the contrary, faith in this sense has been transformed into its opposite--faith has passed into unfaith, trust to distrust," Selected Shorter Writings 2:116.

For the unregenerate and the reprobate, God is an object of fear, for God is the sinner's judge. And like a suicide-bomber, the graceless sinner is prepared to blow up the courtroom in order to kill the judge, even if it means killing himself in the process. The more brilliant the unbeliever, the more elaborate the perfect crime--the cosmic murder-suicide.

The Christian apologist has written book after book defending the faith, while the unbeliever has written book after book attacking the faith. And when words fail, the unbeliever has resorted to more forcible means of suppression.

But in his unwitting way, the unbelieving is a living apologetic for the very faith he denies with every gasping breath. Unbelief is an enigma to itself. Unbelief can make no sense of an unbeliever. Only belief can make sense of an unbeliever. The unbeliever would rather die in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole, than eat the bread of life come down from heaven. This is the squint-eyed attitude, not of mere unbelief, but of sheer disbelief--of an impenitent rebel without a cause.