Friday, August 31, 2007

OK, All You Trained Theologians: Help!

[Including all you Bible scholars, pastors, and other Bible geeks]

I dipped my hand into the cookie jar, and bought the Scholar's Library from Logos Bible Software.

So, where would you recommend I start reading in this mass - or just talk about your favorite books from your seminary and/or training that isn't in this group.

Or, your favorite spiritual resourses not in this group.

And, of course, if you're not a Christian - you can talk about the resourses, tools, and trainings of your faith tradition.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wilberforce and Separation

Again, from Stand to Reason :

I found, in the preface to a new edition of [William] Wilberforce's book, A Practical View of Christianity , the following quotes of protest directed towards Wilberforce's work in his day:
The linked article, "200 Years of Christianity, Politics, and Human Rights" is an interesting read on the comparisons between trying to expand the definition of imago dei now with trying to extend it then.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Again: What is Dominionism?

A series of long posts on dominionism at Street Prophets has led me again to narrow in on the theological underpinnings of Dominionism - and the mistake of painting with too broad a brush.

The diarist is primarily on an anti-Assemblies of God rant. That shouldn't concern me much, except that he keeps nailing folks that are:

  1. Not Assemblies of God in theology [although AoG isn't Dominionist either]
  2. Not Dominionist in theology.
  3. Not involved in organizing for political purposes - or rejects it.
Certainly, not everyone who believes in the Kingdom of God, or is conservative theologically, is dominionist. In fact, the Kingdom being here, now, is more of a liberal theological bulwark than a conservative one.

Certainly, neither the IRD or the National Association of Evangelicals is dominionist. Folks know that one of my favorite folks to quote is J. Budziszewski, an ex-Episcopalian who became a Catholic over issues related to ordination of gays. One of my favorite pieces to quote is this part on Moralism from his "Problems of Conservatism":
To the question "Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?" the biblical answer is, "Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?" The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward . . . Christians, then, may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as Christian no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian-if it still exists at all- only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.
Now, J. Bud is Chairman of Board for the IRD. Do you suppose his explicit and complete denunciation of the foundations of dominionism means he just doesn't really understand the organization he helps run?

Now the NAE: the claim that the core of the NAE is Pentacostal and Assemblies of God is really rather laughable - and certainly the characterization of folks who didnt have a national lobbying office until around 1980 as attempting to influence politcal power will take some work. Nor, is their statement of faith dominionist. Certainly, their current efforts for creation care and against torture are hardly far-right.

Link after link in the diaries goes to dKos diaries, or posts on other liberal blogs. There is very little in the way of primary documents or primary quotes - it is almost second or third party; and served up with a twist.

One interesting criticism: that an organization formed as a Christian Men's business organization is bigoted for not allowing women and Muslim's to join. Really. Please. It is both ok for men to form organizations that do not include women (and vis versa) and for Christians to form organizations that do not include Muslims (and vis versa). Men and women are different. Christianity and Islam have major mutally exclusive beliefs. Whether Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International is dominionist or not is one thing - bigoted for not allowing women and Muslim's is another. As you will see if you compare their stated beliefs with Dominionism below - they are not Dominionist.

Another is "cell churches": what does that mean? I tried to find a definition (and couldn't even in his links) but there is the implication that there is something sinister in large churches organizing primarily around smaller community groups/bible studies/life groups - one of those big encouragements in the Purpose Driven Church movement. He specifically warns against home-based small

Or, Promise Keepers as dominionist? Sigh.

I am too over-worked and tired to deal with some of the vast theological and political fuzziness involved here. So, I will simply, once more, post the theological definition of dominionism and ask that y'all, please, make folks use a smaller brush. From "Dominionism"
According to Gary DeMar, a popular Reconstructionist author, the foundation of Reconstructionism is a unique combination of three Biblical doctrines:
  1. Regeneration of the individual, through an intimate relationship with Christ
  2. Individuals guiding their lives closely by following a specified subset of Biblical laws
  3. Promoting of the world-wide Kingdom of God.
Specific beliefs include:
  • A rejection of Antinomianism: the belief that salvation is obtained totally through faith and not through performing good works and living a moral life [keep in mind Calvinists are decidedly antinomian, as are all those "pray a prayer" and "born again" folk. Most Christians at SP reject antinomianism to one degree or another - you dominionists you]

  • Presuppositionalism: the acceptance on faith that the Bible is true. They do not attempt to prove that God exists or that the Bible is true.

  • Inerrancy: the belief that the Bible, as originally written, is totally free of error.

  • [These next two are BIG dividers]:

  • Postmillennialism: the belief that Christ will not return to earth until much of the world has converted to Christianity. This will not take place for some considerable time; it will not be a painless transition. Most Fundamentalists and other Evangelists hold to a different view. They are Premillenialists and believe that all (or almost all) of the preconditions of Christ's return have been met. They expect Jesus' second coming to occur very soon.
    Who just left the Dominionist camp: anybody that believes in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church:
  • The 613 laws contained in the Hebrew Scriptures' Mosaic Code can be divided into two classes: moral and ceremonial. Christians are not required to follow the ceremonial laws, because Jesus has liberated them from that responsibility. However, all persons must follow those moral laws which were not specifically modified or cancelled by further revelation --generally in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). In contrast:
    • Non-reconstructionist Christians generally divide these laws into three classes: moral, civil and ceremonial law, and generally believe that most Old Testament laws are no longer binding on Christians.
    • Jews generally believe that the Mosaic Code is binding only on Jews.

  • The moral laws given by God to the ancient Israelites reflect of God's character, which is unchangeable. Most of the laws are intended for all nations, cultures, societies, religions and all eras, including the present time. However, there are a few laws, in such areas as personal safety and sanitation, which are no longer applicable because of changes in architecture and sewage disposal. These do not need to be obeyed.

  • The primacy of the Hebrew Scriptures, relative to the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). All of the Hebrew Scriptures' non-ceremonial laws are still in force, unless they have been specifically rescinded or modified by verses in the Christian Scriptures.
    "Only if we find an explicit abandonment of an Old Testament law in the New Testament, because of the historic fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow, can we legitimately abandon a detail of the Mosaic law."
    This is largely supported by their interpretation of Matthew 5:17:
    "Do you think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets
  • Civil laws must be changed to match the Bible's moral rules. That is, anything that is immoral (by their standards) is also to be criminalized.

  • The only valid legislation, social theory, spiritual beliefs, economic theory are those derived from the Bible

  • In every aspect of life, there are only two options: God-centered or man-centered; Theonomy or autonomy. Their political goal is to ban the latter, everywhere. Each individual, family, church, government and society must be reconstructed to eliminate sin. Each Christian has the responsibility to contribute to this conversion.

  • They oppose inter-faith, inter-racial, and same-sex marriages. R.J. Rushdoony wrote about opposition to:
    "inter-religious, inter-racial, and inter-cultural marriages, in that they normally go against the very community which marriage is designed to establish.
    Rushdoony's condemnation of inter-racial marriage appears to have been his own and unrelated to the biblical text. It was not shared by other Reconstructionists.

  • Reconstructionists regard the Gods and Goddesses of all other religions to be "the devil," and their teachings to be false. They would attempt to replace all religions with their version of Christianity. For example, David Chilton wrote about Judaism:
    "The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers--the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel."
    [this throws Hagee and the dispensationalists out]
Of course, there exists diversity of opinion within the Reconstructionist movement. Not all followers will necessarily agree with all the above statements of the movement's leaders
Indeed, I own a few of those, and do not own a few.

The core is that they must believe the Kingdom of God requires the kingdoms of men to come under Christian control - and that because God requires it.

It is not dominionist to carry our faith into the political arena, or even to organize politically as Christians, or (again) to be a theologically conservative Evangelical Christian.

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Dawkins and McGrath

From Stand to Reason

Richard Dawkins interviewed Christian philosopher Alister McGrath, but it apparently wasn't used for Dawkins' project. Dawkins asks many very sincere questions. One example is when he admits that he defines faith differently than Christians do. Dawkins thinks faith is assent without evidence, which is obviously irrational and worthy of his derision if it's the case. But McGrath corrects this misconception of what faith is talking about evidence and probability, which is very much in the same realm of rationality as science. Dawkins and McGrath don't minimize their disagreements, but engage the discussion in a very intelligent, sincere manner.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Listening Heart: Christianity and Slavery

[Number two in a series]

The Bible didn't approve slavery - not the Hebrew Scriptures, not Jesus, not Paul, not at all. However, perhaps the ante-Nicean fathers or later leaders of the church from 100 AD to around 1600 AD just did their own thing and justified it with the warping of scripture.A.J. Conyers (back to The Listening Heart) describes the general view (really urban legend) that this is post is structured around:

It is difficult to describe the modern emergence of slavery without first correcting the popular notion that slavery was gradually overcome by the forces of Enlightenment, having survived antiquity and the Middle Ages due to the ignorance in which the world was held bondage. The true picture is much more complicated than can be presented here, but fundamentally the Christian lands first yielded to the pressure of the Church in its prohibition of slavery. Slave trade and slave holding went into eclipse for more than half of a millennium. The invective of the Church against slavery was severe. Early adherents of Christianity (a "slave religion:' as it was called by the Romans) convincingly preached that Christian anthropology did not permit slavery or any such traffic in human flesh.
There are some distinct periods here (following the division of Philip Schaff - links in the titles are to his articles on Christianity and slavery in his multi-volume History of the Christian Church:
  1. The Apostolic church (1-100 AD)
  2. The ante-Nicene church (100-325)
  3. The Nicene and post-Nicene church (311-600)
  4. The mediaeval church (590-1073)
Schaff stops looking at slavery and the church at this stage - because slavery is basically gone in Christian dominated countries by this stage - other forms of servitude and bondage now exist. Slavery was indeed gone from Christian lands for over 500 years (but never gone from the rest of the world) - and the philosophical underpinnings about our equality as imago dei was the philosophical dagger in its heart.

Schaff doesn't really follow Conyers in the idea that the
The invective of the Church against slavery was severe
and says, for instance, that no Pope ever condemned slavery. He misses Gregory of Nyssa's [BTW: not a Pope] commentary, In Ecclesiastes Homiliae on Ecclesiastes 2:7 (mid 300's):
Does any of the things listed here, a sumptuous house, vineyards galore, beautiful gardens, a system of pools supplying orchards with water, suggest as much arrogance as the man's idea that he as a man can be master over his fellows? "For I acquired:' he says, "slaves and slave girls, and slaves were born in my house." Do you see the vast extent of his boastfulness? Such a voice as his is raised in open defiance against God. . . .

"I have acquired slaves and slave girls." What is that you say? You condemn a person to slavery whose nature is free and independent, and in doing so you lay down a law in opposition to God, overturning the natural law established by him. For you subject to the yoke of slavery one who was created precisely to be a master of the earth, and who was ordained to rule by the creator, as if you were deliberately attacking and fighting against the divine command. . . .

"I acquired slaves and slave girls." Tell me, what price did you pay for them? What did you find among your possessions that you could trade for human beings? What price did you put on reason? How many obols did you pay as a fair price for the image of God? For how many staters have you sold the nature specially formed by God? "God said, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness.'" Tell me this: who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God, when he is ruler over the whole earth, when he has been given as his inheritance by God authority over all that is on the earth? Such power belongs to God alone, or rather it does not even belong to God himself. For, as Scripture says, "the gifts of God are irrevocable." Of his own free will God called us into freedom when we were slaves to sin. In that case he would hardly reduce human beings to slavery. But if God does not enslave what is free, who dares put his own authority higher than God's? . . .

When a man is put up for sale, nothing less than the lord of the earth is led onto the auction block. . .
and, as we roll into the period of modern slavery, Pope Leo X (1513-22) [pretty much an idiot every other way] said (in a papal bull)
not only the Christian religion, but nature herself, cried out against the system of slavery.
While Schaff seems right in saying that the church had always been a conservative organization in the sense of fomenting rebellion and uprising - its positions since the Apostles had been the equality of people in Christ regardless of their status corporally; and this position served to fatally undermine slavery until it died. As Conyers notes, Christianity preached hard against slavery (and the necessary degradation of humanity which is needed to support slavery); but did not preach against the institution of slavery or encourage slaves to rebel. The church also continued the teaching in scripture that we are all to serve, even slaves, as if we are serving Christ. Next, it taught that our freedom came in Christ and not in our secular relationships or position in the culture. Finally, it can really be said I think that the church thought slavery was the "will of God" but only in the same sense that it believed that everything was the will of God; and that slavery was a result of sin and the fall of man. There is no sense that the church believed some peoples, or groups of people, to be created to be slaves - or that slaves were beyond redemption, etc. Indeed, there are numerous examples of ex-slaves, and current slaves, becoming Bishops of the church and taking on vocation within the church.

Varying reasons other than the church's opposition are seen for the end of the first period of slavery in the Christian lands. Compton's was a little inconsistent internally: first, it said slavery died when the whole world was Roman - and no new slaves were forthcoming from conquest and war. However, then they say it died when Roman wealth disappeared in the barbarian invasions. Finally, that it gradually died out between the 4th century and the end of the 10th century. Those three statements were essentially in the same paragraph. There is probably some way to tie that together as the end of growth, mortal death wound, and the time it took to bleed out - but it is still ugly writing.

The progression in this earliest form was from restricting and moderating the slavery of Christians by Christians (and of course others); the sale of Christians into slavery by others; and then the overall abandonment of slavery as it relaxed into feudalism and serfdom.

According to my old Compton's, slavery was revived as Europeans came "into close and continued contact with" Africans as exploration, and then colonization, grew. The Portuguese were the first to introduce the African slave into Europe in the 15th century - and descendants of these slaves were taken to Haiti to work the mines after the discovery of the Americas in the early 1500's. The slave trade increased up until 1792 when the first western nation abolished the slave trade - Denmark. Denmark was followed by England in 1807 and the United States in 1808. This timeline traces the progress in the abolition of slavery from 1761 to the present. The rise of modern slavery along with the rise of modern society will be looked at deeper in the next post.

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The Listening Heart: The Series

A number of posts have, and will, come out of The Listening Heart by A. J. Conyers:

Related Posts:

Read more!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Listening Heart: The Bible and Slavery

[Number one in a series]

I received a free book to review because I am a blogger, and after reading the book it has been hard to deal with what I have wanted to say about it. Then, a conversation started here - in a comments section over at Evangelical Outpost - on slavery, and Christianity's (and the Bible's) supposed 1800 year love affair with it. I can certainly understand why a blogger with the handle "ex-preacher" would be an ex-preacher if he believed this

The Old Testament, Jesus, Paul, the church fathers, and almost all church leaders for the first 1800 years of Christianity thought that slavery was part of God's will. It was only after the Enlightenment and its emphasis on human rights that a number of Christian non-slaveholders decided that God was against slavery.
I believe this statement stands reality on its head in almost every point.

Before I look at this, the book that I am going to be weaving in and out of is The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by A.J. Conyers. These are excerpts from the blurb at Spence Publishing:
A culture built upon the ideology of individual choice will be a culture of alienation, loneliness, and violence. In this provocative book, A. J. Conyers shows that Western culture was once informed by a sense of vocation, that men understood life as a response to a call from outside and above themselves. Beginning in the sixteenth century, however, the sense of vocation began to fade, to be replaced by the modern celebration of the unfettered human will. In such a society, Conyers argues, where relations among men are based on force, true community is impossible.
. . .
In a stunning insight, Conyers shows that the quintessential institution of modernity is slavery, for the slave is the ultimate autonomous individual. Stripped of every human tie, he belongs to no community but to a stranger. It is no accident, then, that the rise of modern slavery coincided with the Enlightenment itself.

This wide-ranging study, refreshingly free of sentimentality, makes the barbarism and unparalleled violence of the twentieth century explicable. For a society that casts off the burden of vocation abandons that which makes it human.
To get the review part out of the way, that is a pretty good overview of the book; and I highly recommend it.

Economic systems have gradually changed over the centuries, and a mixture of the major forms still remains.
  • The earliest form, that still remains in primitive tribes, is what Engels (yes, Marx's Engels) called primitive communism. There was no surplus gained by any member of the tribe because it took all the effort, of all its members, working all the time - for any and all of them to survive.

  • The first form of accumulated surplus was slaves - almost always those captured in conflicts on other tribes or groups. Tribes didn’t enslave their own; and slavery almost always included the ability of the slave to gradually integrate into the tribe, marry, have children - and stop being a slave. This, incidentally, was the state of the whole world nearly for the whole of the Bible period - Old and New Testament. The slave is owned by the master (with some variations), works for the master, all they produce goes to the master, and the slave's needs are met by the master. Developed slave cultures like Rome had free artisans and land holders, but there was really little wage labor except the hiring of artisans: for instance Jesus and his father as carpenters. If you worked for someone else you were typically a slave.

  • Slaves were freed from being owned, and instead bonded to the land itself. It was an improvement for the serfs, who paid land rent (and for protection from) powerful lords, yet produced for their own use. In exchange, as mentioned, the feudal lord was responsible for the protection and well-being of their serfs: the famous nobles oblige

  • Capitalism freed the serfs from bondage to the land, and simplified the relationship: the worker hires himself to the owner of the land, the machine, the service business in exchange for money - and there, in its "purest" form - the owner and worker have no other responsibilities to each other.
There was no reason for anyone in Biblical times to complain about slavery - it was the way of life. That said, let's look at the ex-preacher's points:

The Old Testament
Old Testament references to slave and slavery in the NASB

In the Old Testament there are 49 references to those two words, and only 14 of those are outside the Pentateuch. All of the uses of the word "slavery" are Moses and other prophets of God reminding Israel that God had freed them from slavery. Now we are down to 37, 11 of which are after the first five books. Of course, the first 8 are references to slavery in Egypt again. Down to 29/11. In that final 11, there is nothing that can be said to celebrate or even promote slavery - slavery is just a given; and it is never said to be "part of God's will". It is just a fact of economic life.

In the 29 that are left only 13 are talking about the how slaves are to be treated by Israel. On the linked list, that is from Exodus 12:44 to Leviticus 25:42. Now all of these laws assume the reality that Israel will have slaves - it was the dominant economic system and feudalism and capitalism were no where in sight. Israel making rules for the treatment of slaves is not celebration of slavery - indeed the frequent references to Israel's need to obey God because they were once slaves, and now are free, is a clear indication that freedom is better than slavery, even if slavery is a reality. The other split here mentioned in the discussion linked above is that the rules were different on Israel enslaving their own, and Israel enslaving foreigners. Someone called this race based slavery but this is nonsense. The tribes and groups bordering Israel were of the same Semitic race - it was tribal based slavery: which most slavery was for most of human history.

The restrictions on treatment of any slaves were impressive for the day, and showed you could not abuse a slave: if you struck your slave and knocked out a tooth or an eye they were free - it is nonsense to talk about the Enlightenment bringing the first thoughts of human rights to slaves. If they were Hebrew, after 6 years they were free - unless the slave chose to stay. Also, they could not be treated as a slave, but had to be treated as a hired man - and not sold into slavery at a slave auction.


Again, the 49 Gospel references to slave (there are no uses of the word slavery) talk about slaves as a fact of economic life, but never presents slavery as "God's will" even for the slaves being discussed. Slaves simply were an economic reality - with any other central economic system hundreds of years away. It is anachronistic to project that Jesus should have preached that slaves needed to rise up and become serfs, or further on yet, wage workers in capitalist enterprises.


All 5 uses of the word slave for saying slavery is God's will is welcome to try. While, again, treating slavery as an economic fact of life, he consistently, in every instance, uplifts slaves as being equal to free men in Christ; and that belief in Christ erases the distinctions between slave and free.

The greatest "crime" Paul committed vis a vis slavery was sending escaped slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon. I was really going to go through this to point out how very anti-slavery it is, but in reading it over again - that is so self-evident that I will let someone else try to do a pro-slavery exegesis from the book. They really can only end up looking silly to those who read what they write. Only one section is really needed here:
8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you --since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-- 10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.
Endorsement of slavery? Give me a break.

There is the word study: if someone really wants to make a case from these verses that the Bible says that slavery is God's will - put it in the comments or link your blog in the comments. The rule for it not to be deleted from me: no proof-texting - you have to make your case from the whole sweep of scripture on this issue adequately dealing with the counter-examples to your position. If not, I will whack it like a bad weed.

The next post will go on to the early church Fathers and Christianity up until the 16th century.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Richard Land and Moral Agency

[ This was cross-posted, with major changes, from Street Prophets]

A new conversation, or revival of an old one, in the blogosphere was started by the posting on YouTube of a video clip of a guy asking pro-life demonstrators whether women should spend time in jail if Roe v Wade (and Casey) were repealed and states began to make abortions illegal or severely restricted.

The discussion it raised showed up first (in sites I keep an eye on) at Stand to Reason with the articles listed here. My comments are in some of those comment questions. Then, PastorDan at Street Prophets weighed in on some quotes from "'How Much Time Should She Serve?'" published in Christianity Today. Anna Quindlen, writing in Newsweek, posits this choice:

There are only two logical choices: Hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place.
Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for bioethics at Focus on the Family, responds:
Penalizing the woman is not even on the table.
to which Quindlen says: Such a legal stance is tantamont to
"ignoring or infantilizing women, turning them into 'victims' of their own free will," . . . "State statutes that propose punishing only a physician suggest the woman was merely some addled bystander who happened to find herself in the wrong stirrups at the wrong time."
Enter PastorDan with "The Teacher is the Law in This" .

[Cue musical interlude while you go and read these articles and come back]

So, does Land listen to what he says? Are women impaired when they choose abortion?

I have been fighting against the "well, ya, we should convict them of murder" side of this discussion in the last week at STR and SP; so I might as well deal with it here as well. However, other than some brief comments on a bad pro-choice meme at the beginning - my contention is that all humans are impaired moral agents: certainly not just women, and certainly not just when it comes to abortion. Quickly, for the vast majority of pro-life folk:

It has never been about punishing the woman

For the half of the country, and indeed half of the women, who consider themselves pro-life:
  • it is about the fetus being the kind of being whose life it is wrong to end.
  • it is about 1,200,000 of those innocent lives being ended a year in the US alone.
  • it is about the responsibility of government, and the community it represents, to protect the innocent lives in our midst - even from their own mothers and fathers.
  • it is about the failure of our communities to do that since Roe v Wade - indicated by 1,200,000 abortions a year. Our communities could have done this without the government - they didn't.
Woman are indeed moral agents capable of making their own decisions. That we are all (mostly all at least) moral agents capable of making our own decisions does not mean we make the right decisions. Why do we reason badly as moral agents? This is my favorite list (compare Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis, Question 94, Articles 4 and 6):
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.
Actually, only (maybe) #8 and (certainly) #9 make us "bad people" or "a criminal". In the other seven, the community and the culture bears an equal, and sometimes greater, responsibility for training and equipping us to reason well; and establishing "known principles" clearly. So, now Land's points that PD butchered (IMHO):

It's not demeaning to assume that any person who is a mother who could make the decision to do this must be suffering from some form of psychological impairment because of the crisis of the pregnancy
Do any of us reason most clearly in a crisis? We are all psychologically impaired when we are confronted by a crisis situation (that is what extreme stress does i.e. finding out your are pregnant when you didnt want to be; and that it creates monstrous difficulties in your life). That is why the Bible says we need many wise counselors. Note: this deeper explanation of another form of impairment was posted in the other thread:
  • it is clearly evident in nature and within us that unborn children are created imago dei and should not be killed.
  • that is a general revelation from God - unrelated to Christianity and Christian teaching. Folks should "just know it"; and indeed the all over world abortion has been seen as wrong in every nearly every culture and in nearly every time until the modern period.
  • that gets twisted between our consciences and our moral acts because of errors (examples above) in our moral reasoning.
  • the world, our desires, and the devil encourage and support that twisted reasoning. And hence we act in an morally impaired way.
or because of societal demeaning of human life
We talk about the war in Iraq, hunger and homelessness due to poverty, violence against women, racism, etc; and you do not believe society demeans human life? Not only does the general culture in the US demean life in general; but parents, husbands, boyfriends, friends, and those who profit from abortion demean life particularly in case of abortion. Woman do often have many counselors, but are they wise: do they help overcome the list above or are they making it worse? And, actually from Earlle

The law is a teacher in this
Paul said a tutor, and of course it is. The law restrains us long enough to reason more clearly - partially because of the possible legal consequences of our acts force us to weigh difficult issues more deliberately. The law also points out to us the "known principles" it values, and those it doesn't.

Since, I am not into "legal vs illegal" when it comes to morality - but about "moral vs immoral" - I am obstensibly pro-choice. I am not for abortions being made illegal in a society with no clear and mutual understanding of its "known principles" on this issue. Land acknowledged this lack of common cultural understanding in the Christianity Today article:

abortion is not the same as murder, since there is no cultural understanding that a fetus is a person.
However, if Roe (well, really Casey) is overturned and the states begin to make abortion illegal - I have absolutely no problem with society protecting the innocent life of the unborn child; while choosing to explicitly exempt the mothers from punishment who still choose to abort their child. After all,

It has never been about punishing the woman

and we, as a culture, have not taught anyone to reason carefully when it comes to the lives of those we turn into "others". Which, BTW, is why the subject of this post is :

Why do we as moral agents reason poorly and make immoral decisions?

What responsibility does society have in training us to not do this, and restraining our actions when we do?
and not abortion (that is just the particular example)

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

We Need to Get Over This

I was meaning to post this long comment from an outside thread anyway because I think it is one of the clearest statements I have made to date on my view of homosexuality, sin, and how the Body of Christ needs to view it. Then, this happened:

A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.
There is a lot of discussion in the article about what the church knew, when, and what the content of some of the pictures were. From my perspective, none of that matters. I will grant the church its entire argument for the sake of discussion:
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Gary Simons, said no one knew Sinclair, who was not a church member, was gay until the day before the Thursday service, when staff members putting together his video tribute saw pictures of men “engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing.”
I will grant the church did a great deal to fix the situation:
He said the church offered to pay for another site for the service, made the video and provided food for more than 100 relatives and friends.
I grant this:
Simons said the church believes homosexuality is a sin, and it would have appeared to endorse that lifestyle if the service had been held there.

“We did decline to host the service — not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle,” Simons told The Associated Press. “Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it — yes, we would have declined then. It’s not that we didn’t love the family.”
I will not argue with one word of what they said - except that they made the wrong decision: their principles are wrong. More importantly, they have interpreted Biblical principles very wrongly. I will get back to this at the end. First, that long comment yearning to be a post. [It is best if you also go read the whole thread] [there have been some modifications/clarifications to the original comment].

* * * * *

[In answer to this comment] I think exactly some of the translations say "natural use" - and the natural use, as in nature, is for our sex organs to be used in procreation - you know "tab a" and "slot b" for the purposes of making babies. I think "natural use" and "against nature" very much have to do with our biological design and function - and the nature we were originally created for.

You and I, and the Bible, believe that the purposes for which we were originally created have become warped by the Fall - indeed all of nature was disrupted by the Fall: we now have no real gauge of what God intended our true natures to be other than scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We now have a "natural" (in our own nature) inclination to turn away from God and do what feels right to us - we have our sin nature, or flesh.

I think the passage in Romans tells us that due to the general idolatry and foolishness of mankind - God has "given us over" to our internal cracked natures - the "degrading passions" and "depraved minds" that we all share - in fact I think Paul included enough items so that no one could be left out [if you think you were, please feel free to amend the list]. I read the passage as making homosexuality "natural" in that sense. I have no problem, Biblically, with believing that someone could have always felt homosexuality was natural for them - and that heterosexuality is against their very nature. We all choose who we have sex with, but none of us really choose who we are attracted to. That is a very complicated stew of our experiences, etc - earned in a broken world. It wouldn't even change my analysis if it was proven homosexuality was the result of the in utero hormone bath or a particular genetic make-up - all of nature is cracked and broken. This would be just one more broken piece.

I think Paul, in Romans, identifies a number of aspects of our "nature" that God has given us over to follow. I kinda see it as a "thorn" list - mine has settled into a desire to look at naked women not my wife. To me this is far worse than homosexuality as thorns go - but the thorn isn't any less sharp on the other side of the fence. It seems to me that Romans 1:26-32 is not a list of crimes (even though they are); but the reading out of a sentence passed by God on humankind due to our historic (if not prehistoric) idolatry.

Homosexuality is perhaps the "worst" of the group because it does involve, for committed relationships, love and not lust. How indeed can two people caring and loving each other be wrong? God is love, right? Frankly, only the Holy Spirit operating in someone's life can answer that question - it is nearly impossible for me to do so; and I think foolish to try.
It is just not my job to convict others of their sin - that is the job of scripture and the Holy Spirit; or to do the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming their lives. "God is God and I am not".
This leaves the author of the diary right on the money. Are Christians going to drive gays away from Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit - the only Person that can take an effective hand in leading them out of their sin nature and toward their true nature as the human being God intended at Creation. Every single person in our churches is a sinner (probably every day) and what are a couple of guys holding hands added to the mix: just a couple of more sinners - whether homosexuality is their sin or not.

And, are we as Christians going to "question another man's servant" when gay Christians tell us that indeed they have the Holy Spirit inside of them - they are in Christ and Christ is in them; and that Spirit tells them their relationships are not wrong. Especially, when it is over - really - one or two passages in scripture; and the actions of vehemently anti-gay Christians have run against so many other important passages of scripture.

I think Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin should probably just "love their (gay) neighbor as themselves" for a very long while; and let God handle their homosexuality as He sees fit. We need to help them get to the Master Builder, and He needs to remodel their temple to His liking.

* * * * *

Paul caps off Romans 1 with the start of Romans 2:
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
We need to get over our fixation on homosexuality, and the "homosexual lifestyle", as some special class of sin. Even if you want to say that those who choose to have homosexual sex (as opposed to choosing that type of desire) are unrepentant and continuing in their sin - so are remarried Christians who were divorced for reasons other than the adultery of their first spouse. Nearly all of our churches have folks living in that unrepentant and continuing sin.

I am not saying the church needs to accept or ignore sin in order to accept sinners. I am saying that our unrepentant and continuing demonization of one of God's loved creatures is unseemly, un-Biblical, and is driving folks who desperately need Him (as we all do) away from Christ.

Our church is supposed to bring the spiritually sick to the Great Physician so that He can heal them - not drive them away because of our legalism and moralism. It is time for this to end; and time to remember the second greatest commandment

Love your neighbor as yourself

I sent an email to the church in Texas - which you can do but I am not advocating. Just put an end to this kind of nonsense at your church.

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