Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Trolling the God Blogs

When all other inspirations for blog topics fail, a tour of the God blogs is sure to provide some pithy observation or two worthy of Duckian deconstruction. And today does not disappoint. From the New Attitude conference, via Adrian Warnock's blog, I found this gem:

Who killed Jesus?

The Father. The Father killed the Son. Feel God's love for you revealed in this verse. He crushed his son. For you. He crushed Him. He bruised him. He punished him. He disfigured him. He crushed him. With all of the righteous wrath that we deserved. That's what the Father did.

So great was his love for sinners like you and me.

If any single quote could encapsulate why I am not a Christian, this one, by C J Mahaney, has to be it. The sheer, hideous inanity of a god that demands a blood sacrifice from an innocent in repayment for the sins of the guilty is beautifully captured here. It is a theology that captures the worst aspects of an archaic moral worldview, one that promulgates the barbaric idea of blood guilt and blood sacrifice. Modern Christians gasp in horror at those cultures that carried on the cultural values of this mindset, such as the Aztecs and their human sacrifices, or the honor killings practiced by many Islamic cultures today. Yet their central theological mystery, the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ, is premised on the very same archaic view of honor and morality as these throwback cultures represent. I don't get it. How does a modern Christian, brought up in an ethos if personal responsibility and individual dignity spout sentiments like the above without a hint of moral vertigo?

Some days I wax paranoid about the impending Christian theocracy, as does Andrew Sullivan. But then I read a Christian blog like Evangelical Outpost and realize that the chances of all the competing Christian sects ever pulling together a consensus government are between nil and next to nil. In this instance, Joe Carter is debating with his readers whether Andrew Sullivan is a Christian:

I believe my friend Tim Challies has inadvertently created just such an arbitrary and unnecessary division between believers. Following the reasoning he outlines in a recent post, for example, he would have no legitimate warrant for considering me to be a “Christian.”

In his post, Tim uses my remark about Andrew Sullivan being a “brother in Christ” as the catalyst for working out what he believes on the issue of whether we have an “obligation to assume” that someone is a Christian. Tim is a sharp thinker and while I don’t always agree with him, I’m invariably impressed by his attempts to think critically about matters of theology. Unlike my posts, which meander and stumble from premise to conclusion, Tim’s essays tend to be systematic and move directly to the point.

This precision, though, can make it easy to overlook the deeper, hidden implications of his arguments. For example, I was initially bothered by the fact that his conclusion left us with no obligation to assume that any Catholic is a Christian. Only later did I realize that his conclusion left us with no obligation to assume that any Southern Baptist is a Christian either.

The central premise is found in his claim that:

…in order to assume that a profession of faith is genuine, the person must attach himself to a "true" church. How we define a true and false church has been the source of much dialogue and disagreement in the centuries since the Reformation, but I am inclined to agree with the three marks proposed during the Reformation and which are summarized in the Belgic Confession, Article 29, which says "The marks by with the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preaching therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church."

Tim concludes that “When a person has made a profession of faith and is a member in good standing of a true church, as defined by these three marks: the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of church discipline, I believe that we are under an obligation to assume that this person's faith is genuine.”

While I consider the Belgic Confession to be a magnificent creed and a beautiful exposition of doctrine, I also believe it to be significantly flawed. In order to understand the requirement for “pure administration of the sacraments” we have to look at Article 34: The Sacrament of Baptism:

For this reason we believe that anyone who aspires to reach eternal life ought to be baptized only once without ever repeating it-- for we cannot be born twice. Yet this baptism is profitable not only when the water is on us and when we receive it but throughout our entire lives.

For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children.

A “true church” is, according to this confession, one that adheres to infant baptism as a “pure administration of the sacrament” of baptism. That means me, John Piper, Al Mohler, and the 16 million members of the SBC are apparently spending our Sundays at a “false church.” (The same could be said for Tim himself since he is a “Reformed believer attending a Baptist church.”)

It's been 2000 years, and Christians still can't agree on who is a Christian. Such theological axle wrapping by men who share a common culture, language and faith is not a good sign for the prospects of national, let alone international ecumenical unity. This is a faith, after all, that slaughtered thousands of its own over doctrinal disputes. As Skipper rightly pointed out on another occasion, Christian sectarianism is the greatest guarantor of religious freedom that we could hope for.

And lastly this discussion of what Christianity has to learn from Islam by John Mark Roberts on the One True God Blog:

It is easy enough to see the weaknesses of contemporary Islam, but in the battle for hearts and minds globally we need to ask a harder question. What are the strengths of Islam? Islam is to be commended for holding the line against the naturalism that so infects much of the modern West. Some religious liberals act as if religion is the frosting on the cake. The cake is made by secularists who allow World Council of Churches Christians to decorate and elaborate on a structure that is fundamentally hostile to religion. Islam has not been foolish enough to fall for that!

And how would Mr Roberts "hold the line" against the infection of naturalism? Treat the teaching of science as a heresy? Much of what we celebrate as the success of the West over the past 500 years can be attributed to the development of a healthy naturalist outlook on the world and its phenomena. Our technological society would not be possible without it. Islamic society, with its technological backwardness, its religious obscurantism and its superstition, is a direct result of its "holding the line" on naturalism, yet Roberts imagines that we could have somehow acheived our success with our eyes planted firmly in the Bible and nowhere else.

Second, Islam has not given into more radical forms of feminism. The West, and Christianity in general, is to be commended for advancing the truth that women and men are equal in substance before the eyes of God and should be equal in the eyes of the law when the relevant fact is being human. However, some Western folk have gone further and attempted to reduce the differences in function between men and women. To pretend that men and women are the same in terms of calling is not sensible and flies in the face of centuries of experience. Men and women do not experience the world the same way and the reasonable man standard (as the law is beginning to recognize) is not the same as the reasonable woman standard. Western society in a post-Christian era seems good at producing lawyers and doctors but bad at making mothers and fathers. However, there exist millions of moms and dads in traditional Christian communities that are defying this trend. Fessio is right to point to homeschool moms as the hope of the future. He will be interested to know that I have been calling home schools the new monasticism since the early nineties!

Crediting Islam for not giving in to the excesses of feminism is like crediting Jack the Ripper for not repressing his anger. The Islamic model of gender relations is so far beyond the pale of civilized behavior, so much worse than even the worst excesses of modern feminism, that to see any positive light in regard to it is sheer lunacy and moral blindness.

Moslem are free to preach in London not because of secularism, but because Christianity developed there. The good ideas of the Middle Ages, became the better polity of the Victorian era. The bad ideas of the Victorians, including their smug colonialism, were slowly giving way to better ideas at the dawn of the twentieth century if secularism had not short circuited their development. The long struggle against Darwin, Marx, and Freud distracted us from being able to make further progress. However, even in that fight we stayed true, for the most part, to the theological lessons learned. Christians did not kill Darwin, but let him live in great comfort. We may not have liked Freud’s views, but did not declare a jihad against psychology. Instead, we (for the most part) listened, learned and argued. We had created a culture that made it possible for Darwin to attack the views of ninety percent of the English world and we stuck to the liberty even when we did not like the result.

The struggle against Darwin prevented further Christian progress? Boy, I'm a master of excuses, but even I would count that as a stretch. What is he talking about? Roberts wants to simultaneously see the modern West as the highest expression of Christian truth, while denigrating those secular influences that played a major part in enabling the advances that he applauds, and pointing to the barbarities of the past as represented by Islamic culture, which is the direct antithesis of everything the modern West is, as a source for moderating influences on supposed secular excesses. I've not read a more confusing worldview by a supposed proponent of Western values in some time.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Man, as a political program, detesting Anabaptists has got to be up there with regretting the expulsion of the Moors from al-Andalus.


May 30, 2006 10:32 PM  
Blogger boinky said...

Shit...you get one quote out of context and then say two billion Christians are nuts.
EVERY religion has nincompoops. Just look at Islam. Or Hinduism. Or Athiesm.
God didn't "kill" Jesus. Evil men did.
Now, why God allowed evil men to kill Jesus, or six million Jews in the Holocaust, or one million Buddhist Cambodians by the Kymer Rouge, then you have a good question. Even the pope has no easy answers. But if you bother to read his sermon at Auschwitz, you will find it is the sermon of a good man who questions God, not the quick and easy answer of a person who never suffered but who has glib answers to everything...

May 30, 2006 10:40 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Nice rant, Duck. Good for the spleen.

The Islamic model of gender relations is so far beyond the pale of civilized behavior, so much worse than even the worst excesses of modern feminism, that to see any positive light in regard to it is sheer lunacy and moral blindness.

I would be very interested to hear you describe what you think the "Islamic model of gender relations" is and why there are so few Muslim women who reject it. Before telling us it is because of their ignorance and lack of education, recall that not even the most ignorant slaves defended slavery.

May 31, 2006 3:31 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I think the initial point doesn't work because in Christian theology, Jesus was divine, and therefore could not be a human sacrifice. Christian theology makes very clear that this is a critical distinction and it is therefore (in at least practical terms) much different than the theologies you use for analogies. And finally, since Jesus is God, he is punishing Himself, not an innocent in the sense used here.

May 31, 2006 7:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Gee, why would women not reject a patriarchal system of opression that punishes blasphemy with death? Gee, I don't know, maybe self preservation?

Here's one woman who rejects it.

Before I elucidate on my obviously warped and biased view of Islamic gender relations, lets hear how actual Muslims answer the question. I googled Islamic gender relations and found this guide:

What is the Islamic ruling on
fornication and adultery?

Islam strictly forbids fornication and
adultery as well as all forms of
licentiousness (Q4:24, 17:32). The
punishment for fornication is 100 lashes
(Q24:2) while for adultery it is death
(Sunnah, i.e., the Prophet's ruling).

But do we really have to look beyond the practices of honor killing and female genital mutilation to be able to pass judgment on Islamic gender relations?

May 31, 2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


You have a unique take on Christian theology that I have not heard before. But I think it is pretty clear that since Jesus is God and man, he could fulfill the atonement for man's sins, which only Man could do. And only a pure, sinless man could make the perfect sacrifice that was required by God. God was not punishing himself, he did it because he was the only one perfect enough to do it. This is all standard, off the shelf Christian theology.

May 31, 2006 9:26 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'not even the most ignorant slaves defended slavery.'

Not correct. No citations as I didn't save the books, but in Ye Olde South there was a stable of happy darkies who were trotted out to tell them Abolitionists how contented they were.

Less snarkily, I said over and over at Orrin's place that the fundamental failure of the west is that it does not understand the deep appeal of Islam.

In the old Hawaiian religion, candidates for sacrifice allegedly looked forward to the privilege, so the abject fear and desperation of Muslim women after 1,400 years of savage repression is hardly remarkable. Stockholm syndrome writ large.

May 31, 2006 9:49 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

No, Harry, that won't do. You are going to need more than token slaves in the stable to draw that analogy. How about pointing me to the poetry and hymns celebrating slavery? The record of the slaves getting together alone once a week to give thanks for their status? Slaves ostracizing or expelling slaves who dared to challenge it or tried to run away? Slaves voluntarily returning to slavery after a few years of that destructive freedom? C'mon, surely that famous library of yours has these covered.

So, mass Stockholm Syndrome after 1400 years of "savage repression"? These years, I presume, followed the gender-equal paradises antiquity is fondly remembered for. I don't think you really mean Stockholm Syndrome. I think you mean false consciousness that only the elect among you enlightened rationalists can discern.

May 31, 2006 11:52 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Geraldine Brooks, 'Nine Parts of Desire.'

May 31, 2006 5:30 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


... you get one quote out of context and then say two billion Christians are nuts.

No, I don't think so. As Duck noted, paying for sin with a blood sacrifice, even if it is some kind of dei-suicide (with collective Jewish guilt for playing their predestined role) is sheer, hideous, inanity. By what moral calculus does that even begin to make any sense?

As for Jesus' suffering, it isn't a patch on what any contemporary sufferer of, say, bone cancer, would have undergone. The whole concept of Divine Command morality rests upon a God that is both aware and possesses the moral sense to which we are aspirants.

And yet this blood sacrifice was still necessary?

But if you bother to read his sermon at Auschwitz, you will find it is the sermon of a good man who questions God.

But it perhaps fails to ask the right questions, like:

Why the Church so readily open its genealogical records to the Nazis in order to determine who was not Jewish?

How many Catholics were excommnicated for Holocaust crimes?

And the sermon certainly fails to clearly identify the New Testament's assignment of perpetual, collective, guilt upon the Jews.

But they had a good example to go on. After all, the Genesis story is the premier example of punishing the sons and daughters for the sins, predestined or otherwise, of their parents.

May 31, 2006 6:45 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

boinky, which quote have I gotten out of context? I don't think that two billion Christians are nuts, even though their central theological mystery is nuts. People have a way of rationalizing the meaning of handed down worldviews to make them compatible with current social mores. To see how flexible Christian theology can be in the hands of a master semanticist, read my post on Avery Cardinal Dulles.

I think that most Christians struggle with the implications of doctrines like blood guilt and blood sacrifice, and some, like sh, develop their own take on it that is less aligned with the more archaic mores from which Christian doctrine arose. But I have to say I was shocked by the sheer exuberance with which C J Mahaney described the crushing of Jesus by the father, and the assumption that believers should find joy in such a brutal act performed for their supposed benefit. It boggles my mind.

May 31, 2006 8:38 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, I do think all 2 billion are nuts, and here's why.

When it comes to sacrifice, it helps to either be vague about the payoff or put it in the way, way beyond.

When the Aztecs ripped out hearts to get the sun god to keep coming up, and when they stopped but the sun didn't, it was pretty good evidence that the whole thing was crap.

There's every reason to think that the Jesus sacrifice (assuming it isn't just a fairy story, which it almost certainly is) also is crap. Cleverer crap than Aztec crap, because the payoff is delayed.

It's the classic con. You gotta be nuts not to see that.

May 31, 2006 11:04 PM  
Blogger M Ali said...

Genital mutilation AFAIK seems confined to North Africa. Doesn't happen in the Indian subcontinent.

Honour-killings do happen but that tends to far more because of family\tribal honour reasons than Islam per se.

Islam itself gives women plenty of rights and protection. Muslim men generally don't follow up on that.

June 01, 2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

M Ali:

You are a brave guy. Of course it does, as Muslim women know very well. The same is true of Christianity, which is why women have traditionally been the ones to promote religion in the home and drag their husbands and kids to church.

But all this is heresy here, where it is an article of faith that every bad thing a religious person does is directly attributable to his/her faith. Sadly, the Duckites seem incapable of overcoming their romanticism about pagan times and facing up to what womens' lot was then, or even taking an honest look about where anti-religious secularism is taking women today.

June 01, 2006 6:49 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I watched a funny and interesting documentary recently (you might have caught it, M) on BBC 2 called 'Raj TV' about a guy trying to set up his own British Asian TV channel.

One little bit leapt out at me: a 17-year old girl on his staff, normal, attractive British teenager: make-up, jeans, revealing low-cut top.

She said in an idle sort of way: "I know I'm not a very good Muslim. One day I'd like to be better and cover myself up and that. I don't know why I don't really, I talk about it but I suppose I'm a bit intimidated by it..."

I find that very hard to understand - the sort of vague aspiring towards purdah, like aspiring towards being more virtuous.

But then I don't understand the rampant exhibitionism of Big Brother contestants either.

In fact, I don't understand anything much anymore.... Know the feeling?

June 01, 2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger M Ali said...

Purdah - or at least exercising a degree of modesty in dress - is seen as being virtuous in Islam.

June 01, 2006 7:53 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Well, you can argue what Islam requires or doesn't require until you are blue in the face, or Chrisianity, for that matter. These faiths are open to interpretation, and are generally so flexible as to accomodate almost any set of social mores, although Islam has yet to demonstrate this in a large scale way. A more useful way to define a faith is by what its adherents actually do.

But religious texts don't fill in all the blanks, they set the general tone and the believers fill in the blanks based on that tone. Just read the quote above regarding fornication and adultery. 100 lashes for fornication, death for adultery. The tone set by Islam is an insanely murderous fear of any sexual impropriety. It doesn't prescribe honor killings or genital mutilation, it doesn't have to. These are specific applications of that insanely murderous fear of sexual impropriety.

June 01, 2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger M Ali said...

Given the time period Islam was established in, I doubt back then those punishments would be seen as being extraordinarily harsh, especially since stoning for adultery was part of Jewish halakah law.

And according to Wikipedia:

"In ancient Athens, the betrayed husband had the right to kill his wife and to punish the offending man as he wished. He was allowed to kill or maim him. Sometimes his limbs or nose were cut off."

June 01, 2006 8:38 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


You are a brave guy. Of course it does, as Muslim women know very well. The same is true of Christianity ...

It is interesting to review the history of anesthetics and child birth.

The former were available long before doctor's were willing to use them during the latter.

Something about God's injunction that child birth be painful, as a stigma of Eve's transgression.

It wasn't until Queen Victoria insisted on anesthesia during her own deliveries that such attitudes changed.

June 01, 2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Good story, Skipper. Unfortunately the evidence seems a little lacking. Not surprising seeing as your time frames don't hold up. Surely you are aware of the periodic pushes of modern scientific medicine and feminist naturalism against medication during childbirth.

June 01, 2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I think you misread me somewhat.

According to your time frames, there were at least a couple decades between when anesthesia was used for many operations, and when British doctors stopped resisting its use during childbirth -- the cessation of resistance was due to Queen Victoria's example.

The source of resistance was God's explicit words on the subject.

Please note that I never asserted that the Church had any particular reaction, or indeed any resistance to the idea. Religion is more than a theocratic bureaucracy -- it is also the influence of dogma and revelation upon individual decisions. It is singularly disingenuous to hail religion as being a bulwark of civilization while at the same time denying it could have any effect on what people decide.

During the period in question, prior to Origin of Species, most people believed in the literal inerrancy of the Bible, to the point where Usher's chronology was marginalia in nearly all Bibles printed in England. It shouldn't come as a surprise that doctors steeped in the Bible would make anesthesia decisions based upon God's clear intent.

So the question for you is this: given God's clearly stated intent, does modern medicine go against God' s word in alleviating child birth's pain and risk?

Yes I am aware of the periodic pushes against medication durng childbirth, probably far more popular among male doctors and women who are either far removed from, or have yet to undergo, childbirth.

My wife delivered twice without anesthesia (a factoid worth remembering for those who doubt female fortitude). She was perfectly willing to avail herself if she decided she needed to, but never quite got to that point.

June 01, 2006 5:57 PM  
Blogger M Ali said...

Peter's first link would dispute that.

June 02, 2006 4:59 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You know, Skipper, if you want to pin all these bad things on religion, you have to at least focus on the mainstream consensus and not haul out every weird, ascetic nut as your standard. I can't figure out what your point is here? If you admit there is no historical evidence to substantiate your original charge, what are you trying to say--that there should have been if they were real Christians?

BTW, it isn't hard to imagine doctors and scientists being wary about anesthetics in childbirth in the early years, just as we are extremely cautious about medicating pregnant women. It wouldn't be the first time the blame was put elsewhere when they changed their minds.

And I doubt male doctors are the main ones promoting the superiority of natural childbirth so favoured by muscular feminists. There may be a few who smell a self-help best seller, but in my experience it is all part of the mysterious and merciless psychological one-upmanship the gentler sex seems to delight in inflicting on one another.

June 02, 2006 5:48 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


What does God say in the Bible about women and childbirth after the fall?

Did, or did not, essentially all people capable of reading at the time have extensive knowledge of the Bible?

Given that this is pre-Origin of Species, did, or did not, the vast majority of people believe the Bible was essentially literally correct?

Based upon the answers to those questions, how is it possible to conclude that male doctors chose not to use anesthesia because of what God said?

There is no requirement here for religion as some bureaucratic entity to impose some orthodoxy; rather, widespread knowledge of revelation would clearly suffice.

Now you may well disagree (I don't think anything in either link addressed the question at the individual level). But if you do, you are very likely gutting your own argument that Divine Command is required for morality.

June 02, 2006 8:47 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It is said that Viennese women with difficult pregnancies in the Semmelweiss era were afraid to go to the Catholic lying-in hospital because they knew that the Catholic doctors, if faced with the choice of saving the mother or the child, would save the child.

I don't know how true that claim is.

I do know that my Catholic spiritual adviser, in the 1960s, taught that in that desperate situation, the physician was under no moral compulsion to prefer the one over the other. Though he would not say so, it was clear that if he had made the choice, he would have saved the mother.

I interpret this as the corrosion of religious belief by secular and humane values.

I also am sure that no modern American Catholic would accept that the humane values they now profess contradict 2000 years of church teaching. But it's a fact; they do.

June 02, 2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Hey Skipper:

Based upon the answers to those questions, how is it possible to conclude that male doctors chose not to use anesthesia because of what God said?

Oh, Skipper, have we theocrats been so awful that we are now called upon to disprove negatives for our sins?

June 02, 2006 2:03 PM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Duck, as an evangelical Christian with a theological degree, I was almost as shocked as you to read CJ Mahaney's claim that "The Father killed the Son". This is by no means the standard Christian understanding of this issue. In fact most Christians would say that it is plain wrong. See my own blog posting about this.

Harry, re the first comment on this post (I don't have time to read all the others!), you seem to think that Anabaptists are no longer around. They are, by the millions, it is just that most of them have dropped the "Ana-". There are over 16 million, love them or detest them, in the Southern Baptist Convention alone.

June 04, 2006 4:41 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The original post was focused on re-baptism. Not an issue to kill for in these decadant days, I think.

As someone who grew up surrounded and persecuted by Southern Baptists, I am aware how numerous and obnoxious they are. As someone with a passing interest in 17th century apologetics, I can only say that today's Baptists, taken over the whole spectrum of beliefs, are mere shadows of their ancestors.

One seldom hears, for example, a Southern Baptist opposing government censorship. Rather the reverse, if anything. I doubt the 17th century Anabaptists would accept Southern Baptists as co-religionists.

June 04, 2006 5:40 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Oh, Skipper, have we theocrats been so awful that we are now called upon to disprove negatives for our sins?

I'm not asking you to disprove a negative.

Rather, I'm asking whether you would rather have your cake, or eat it.

June 05, 2006 4:30 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Peter Kirk said:
Duck, as an evangelical Christian with a theological degree, I was almost as shocked as you to read CJ Mahaney's claim that "The Father killed the Son". This is by no means the standard Christian understanding of this issue.
While many Christians may disagree, (sorry, I haven't read the latest Christian poll on this subject) this certainly is the "standard" or orthodox teaching of scripture. Whether or not you have a theological degree, the Bible plainly says this in passages such as Isaiah 53. In one sense, the physical act of crucifying Christ was committed by many. However, it was God Himself who demanded the sacrifice and Jesus, as God, who willingly "became sin for us" and paid the penalty. Obviously, Christ's love was ultimately demonstrated by this willing sacrifice, and God's will was accomplished as "the Lord was pleased to crush Him putting Him to grief;If He would render Himself as a guilt offering..."Isaiah 53:10

August 17, 2007 2:51 PM  

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