Archive for October, 2009
The Future of Evolutionary Futurology

The dictionary describes futurology as the study of future possibilities based on current trends. However, I would like to expand that definition to include the study of future possibilities based on current possibilities. I have come up with the phrase evolutionary futurology to describe the positively progressive movement of consciousness as time goes on. I have named this article the future of evolutionary futurology because I wish to spend some time supposing on what may be a very real reality soon.

In order to make somewhat precise suppositions on such matters, there should be enough evidence of current trends, even if they are only just emerging now, having the possibilities of growing, morphing, and evolving. For several decades and perhaps escalating today, there has been a gradual increase in the caring about fundamental human rights as well as the sense of a transpersonal consciousness. With progressive rises in overall consciousness of humanity, more creation will be possible. More positive energy would be able to be project into reality. More peace and love would exist. In such a future society, the feelings of love and compassion will be expressed and projected out into the rest of society. In such a future, there will be little negativity being projected or perceived by people. There will be a little amount, but it will serve as a reminder of how everyone once was in the “Stone Age” of consciousness.

People would see the interconnectedness of everything in reality, and understand that nobody and nothing is separate from anyone or anything else, nor from the Source of consciousness itself. The communication on higher frequencies of thought, such as in mind to mind communication, would be the preferred communication and transmission tool of choice. Being a more advanced method of communication, abstract and metaphorical concepts and ideas are able to be projected directly into the other individuals’ consciousness as they see it within their own minds. This is the most literal form of verbatim transmission that can exist. Transmission of thought-forms into verbal communication would still be possible, but it would not be used much, unless it was a person’s choice to do so. Everything is open with such a communication system. A person cannot hide their thoughts from others unless focused quite a deal of energy in doing so. This may sound a bit frightful, but if the profound leap in consciousness is made to the levels I am suggesting here, the ego will no longer be at the position it is currently. It would not feel as if there were anything to hide since the stream of experiences they had throughout their lives is the stream of experiences all others have had throughout their lives, thanks to the universal laws of interconnectedness and oneness.

Now to take this supposition to the next level, one must make a quantum leap in how they perceive reality to be possible, rather than impossible. As we venture deeper into the future of the human race, humanity will have theoretically gotten to the point where it had complete control over in which dimension they manifest and with how much of their consciousness. What I am suggesting here, is that consciousness, being multidimensional, would be able to accelerate and decelerate its energy frequencies to the point where it would be able to manifest within the third dimension as a physical form, or simply stay manifested within higher nonphysical dimensions of reality. To be able to transcend the physical plane of existence would be a progression of the human race that would be unparalleled to any other feat it ever had. People would be able to decelerate down into the physical reality if they chose to, but the whole purpose of the ascension in consciousness was for the ascension into higher forms of being.

These hypotheticals have been provided in order for the reader to contemplate exactly how far human consciousness can evolve. How much can truly be in store for the human race is difficult to say. However, I believe that there is enough evidence in some of the current trends within human society that the transpersonal consciousness of humanity is rising and will rise to the point that I have mentioned. Once this level is reached, what was previously mentioned would be experienced as an everyday reality. The giving of some sort of time estimate would be unhelpful because time would be transcended and a state of no-time would be experienced. However, I do believe that with the current quickening of everything, we will arrive at these destinations sooner, rather than later.

Conspiracy Theories

Thankfully, this is not something that is unique to Christians. Many conspiracy theorists and enthusiasts are simply secular.  Still, there are more Christians that fall for these than I would like to see. There are the classic government conspiracies and cover-ups as exemplified in the Mel Gibson film “Conspiracy Theory” or the Fox series “The X Files.” There are religious conspiracy theories like Dan Brown’s bestseller “The DaVinci Code.” These, of course are the just-for-entertainment variety, and they are quite harmless as such. But they illustrate the much more common and genuinely held conspiracy theories. One of the most famous is the Kennedy assassination. A more recent one is attributing the 9-11 attacks to the Bush administration. There are also conspiracies against the medical industry, against drug companies, against the dairy industry, against Procter and Gamble etc. It is almost endless. Some are fairly simple and rise no higher than the status of an e-mail hoax. Others can be quite involved spanning hundreds of pages of explanation.

So how does one wade through this kind of thing? How should we as Christians approach this? This last week on Issues Etc, Tod Wilken and Ken Samples discussed conspiracy theories. Here is the program. And here is a quick sketch of some of their discussion and a few of my own thoughts:

The majority of the points don’t have to do with conspiracy theory per se, its just a good methodology for evaluating theories conspiracy or otherwise. Coherance is one of the first things you should look for. Does it hold together consistently? Is there logical consistency? For example, if the theory sets forth both 1) A totally inept government while at the same time 2) positing an almost omnipotent government cover-up, that is a good indication that the theory is lacking.

The theory should be fact driven. There is a wide difference between facts and conjecture. There ought to be sober facts and evidences that can be laid out rather than suspicion and hunches. A good explanation will tie the facts together.

While you want the theory to contain and accommodate facts, you also want your theory to be falsifiable. Does it avoid unwarranted presumption? For example, in the Kennedy assassination one may point to Oswald’s fingerprints on the gun. The conspiracy theorist may reply, “Of course, I would expect that the government would plant fingerprints.” The question now becomes, “Do you have any evidence?” The ability to tell a tale that may account for contrary data is not the same as having evidence to support that tale. Evolution is an amazingly plastic theory. No matter what organism is found or what new discoveries are made, they can all be accommodated – no possibility of falsification. Individual theories (such as “Out of Africa”) are subject to falsification, but the overall theory is immune.

Make yourself aware of competing theories. Once you are familiar with them, a wonderful tool to evaluate them is Occam’s razor. Simply put, preference is given to that explanation that requires the fewest assumptions and complications. Thus the elegance of the Copernican (heliocentric) solar system was preferable to the comparatively complex Ptolemaic (geocentric) model.

Be aware of piggybacking (that’s my term). Some theories may rest entirely on the backs of other theories with nothing further to recommend them. Products do this too. Company A sets forth massive amounts of research to recommend its product. Yet all the benefits suggested by that research are also true of Company B’s product as well. Which theory has the most unique supporting facts (not shared with a competing theory).

XFiles: Some things never change.

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

We continue with Geisler and Turek’s attempt to validate the authority and reliability of the Bible through the testimony of Jesus, whose own authority and reliability is derived from that of the Scriptures. As we saw last time, these attempts actually raise some serious problems for the claim that Jesus is God Incarnate, and the next two points on G&T’s list only dig the hole deeper. According to the good doctors, Jesus taught that the Old Testament is the Word of God (despite being written by men) because it:

2. Is Imperishable—In the Sermon on the Mount, a passage loved by conservatives and liberals alike, Jesus claimed that not even the smallest little mark in the Scriptures—the equivalent of a dot on an “i” or a cross on a “t”—will ever perish: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” he declared. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17, NKJV). Jesus could not express the imperishability of the Scriptures more forcefully.

3. Is Infallible—In John 10, Jesus was about to be stoned for blasphemy. To get himself out of this jam, Jesus cited the Old Testament and declared, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, NKJV). In other words, when his life was on the line, Jesus referred to an infallible authority that cannot be broken—the Scripture. Furthermore, he later affirmed the truth of the Scriptures when he prayed for the disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Let’s start with point 2. According to Jesus, not the smallest little mark in the Scriptures can be nullified or revoked “until all is fulfilled.” Since Christians assure us that there are a number of Scriptural predictions and requirements that have not yet been fulfilled (like the Second Coming, the Last Judgment, and the millennial reign of God over the whole earth), that means that all precepts and commandments of the Law of Moses, plus the Prophets, are still in effect today.

This is the sort of argument that forms the foundation of the claim that all morality comes from God and is absolute. Geisler and Turek and a host of other Christian apologists and preachers make a big show out of denouncing “moral relativism” and situational ethics, and that claim is based, at least partially, on the fact that Jesus taught God’s moral precepts and requirements as laid out in the Old Testament, which cannot be altered or broken, ever, because they are God’s absolute and eternal moral law.

The only trouble is, this sort of teaching flies directly in the face of a very Christian sort of situational ethics and moral relativism, which they use all the time when confronted with the fact that the Old Testament blesses and/or advocates things like genocide (including babies and animals), ritual mutilation of infant genitals (without anesthetics or antiseptics!), selling one’s daughters for sexual purposes, having sex with your brother’s widow, killing babies, and of course animal sacrifice as a means of “soothing” God. It also condemns such things as eating pork, picking up sticks on Saturday, having sex with one’s wife during her period, and homosexuality. What’s more, in most of these cases, the penalty for these “sins” is to be death!

This is the sort of thing that, according to Jesus, cannot be set aside even in the smallest detail (the dot of an “i” or the cross on a “t”, as Geisler and Turek put it), yet how many Christians today are willing to boldly declare that such practices and punishments set a lofty moral standard that our society ought to emulate? Outside of Fred Phelps’s church, not too many, eh? These are brutal, barbaric moral standards, and we’ve done well to outgrow them. Yet these are the kind of commandments and precepts that Jesus assumed were not just good morality, but God’s eternally perfect morality.

Now, honestly, what does that tell us about Jesus, and his worldview? Was he the incarnation of a perfect and morally pure deity, unstained by sin nature or other ethical defect? Was he not rather an ordinary man, the product of his own cultural biases and limitations, appealing to the primitive yet popular worldview of his own society? What could be more thoroughly human than to blithely assume that one’s own values are the epitome of moral perfection, regardless of what they condone and condemn?

And remember, Jesus isn’t just saying that the Old Testament’s precepts and commandments are good “for that culture and at that time.” He’s not preaching moral relativism and situational ethics. He’s saying that these moral standards apply to all of time. They never expire, or at least not until the universe itself does. And even then, if this is what God tells us morality is, it would be highly inconsistent for Him to suddenly decide, at the Last Judgment, to swap in a completely different and incompatible moral standard instead.

As for being an infallible authority for believers, the same thing applies. Jesus may have said that the Old Testament was eternally binding and authoritative, but that really tells us more about Jesus’s biases and limitations than it does about genuine moral and spiritual authority. Even his own disciples and apostles, in the first generation of the Church, quickly sought out loopholes (based on a dream no less) by which the requirements of the entire Old Testament could be set aside for the vast majority of modern Christians. Not one jot or tittle? Ha!

And what happened as a result of this decision to set aside the Old Testament requirements? Did God look down from heaven, notice that His holy apostles were divorcing the Christian faith from the “eternal” requirements of the (OT) Scripture, and punish them? Were the apostles suddenly struck by plagues? Did the Holy Spirit forsake their evangelistic efforts and leave them without a “harvest” of souls?

Ha! again. Church growth among the Gentiles exploded. Freed from these barbaric and nonsensical superstitions, which even the Jewish apostles admitted were an unbearable “yoke,” the Gentile Church experienced what Christians often describe as a great blessing. Why? Because the Father was so happy that they were finally abandoning what the Son called the imperishable and infallible authority of the Old Testament? Or was it rather that the Old Testament had accumulated so many irrational phobias, superstitions, and demands, that even believers were beginning to resent it?

By anyone’s standards, the Church was far better off without being bound to the Law and the Prophets. And again, what does that tell us about Jesus, who expressed such admiration and respect for them? He called them imperishable, and predicted that whoever set aside the least of the commandments would be called least in the Kingdom, yet when his own apostles did set aside the commandments, from the least to the greatest, it did the Church so much good that today the men who did it are revered as saints—literally!

How could Jesus be so out of touch with reality that he would take something the Church was better off without, and treat it like it was the best that could ever be? Sure, we see this sort of thing all the time among ordinary, fallible, biased, and self-centered men. Was Jesus really all that different? Apparently not. This would be surprising if we thought he was some kind of God, but if we realize that he was just an ordinary guy (well, in the sense that televangelists today are just ordinary guys), then it all makes sense.

So rather than establish the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures (which even Geisler and Turek have gladly dispensed with in terms of the dictates of their own lives), Chapter 14 really shows us a human Jesus, a fallible Jesus, a Jesus who was unable to transcend the biases, superstitions, and brutal “morality” of his own environment. G&T have done a great job of linking Jesus’ moral and spiritual authority to that of the Old Testament, and that kind of sucks for poor Jesus. Sorry Jesus!

By the way, did you notice the way Geisler and Turek tap-danced around John 10? In point 2, when referring to the Sermon on the Mount, they gave us the full quotation, so that we could appreciate the full impact of Jesus’ words. In point 3, by contrast, they mention only that he said the words, “the Scripture cannot be broken,” with a very sketchy outline of what was going on at the time. Let’s take a quick look at what they left out, shall we?

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”"We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?

So the Scripture that cannot be broken is the Scripture that said it was ok to refer to mortal men as “gods,” and Jesus used this verse as though it were the basis for his own claim to be “god” (in some sense). Kind of complicates the Liar, Lord or Lunatic argument that Geisler and Turek appealed to in Chapter 13, eh? So was Jesus deceiving them when he pretended that this OT passage was relevant to his claims to be God? That means he is dishonest and deceitful, about his own true identity no less! Or is this passage the key to understanding that Jesus did not really think of himself as a literal God, any more than the OT “man/god” types were? But that shoots down all of Chapter 13, and Chapter 14 as well, since it builds on the earlier chapter.

Small wonder that Geisler and Turek tiptoed around this passage, trying to appeal to it without revealing too much about what it actually says. But wait: next week they’re going to explain how Jesus taught that the Old Testament was also inerrant. Should be fun.

Miscellaneous Musings on Reality

As more knowledge comes into the collective consciousness of the human race concerning our quantum reality and the universe within which we exist in, things get curiouser and curiouser. Seeing all of these discoveries with the wonder and curiosity of a little child, the truly fantastic nature of this existential reality which we are all in together emerges into our consciousness. I wish to present some miscellaneous musings I am having at the moment that reflect the splendor I am feeling concerning our curious Reality.

The speed of light is limited just as our knowledge of the structure of the universe. Yet, just as tachyons (although not yet found in the lab since such evidence would be a violation of causality) have imaginary mass (their mass has been multiplied by the square root of -1) and travel faster than light, so too is our knowledge able to transcend the relatively ignorant knowledge humans posses concerning the primary reality that’s the basis for all other realities coming and going in and out of existence. I do not use the word ignorant in a condescending manner. Rather, I wish to illustrate that out of the billions and billions of years that this universe has been in existence, human consciousness on earth has only existed for a fraction of a fraction of that time. There is so much more to be discovered and experienced by our race.

At the speed of light, mass is infinite and yet time is nonexistent. The theoretical implications of this is that is something has always traveled the speed of light, it would exist infinitely, over and outside the boundaries of the 4th dimensional time that has such a grip on the 3rd dimension’s physicality. Given all the suggestive evidence (since empirical evidence for metaphysical aspects of reality is essentially an impossibility) concerning the multidimensional nature of consciousness, it is quite an actuality of reality that manifestations of consciousness within dimensions outside the influence of time experience eternity and infinity as part of their being and essence.

Concerning photons, when atoms are collapsing, the trillions upon trillions of photons being released are vibrating in unison. There is coherence. Waves of light, having particle-like properties, are packets of energy we call photons. These packets of information which hold no charge, when our awareness is positioned towards them, have the ability to influence and make who we are, as a being. Little by little, they add definition and characterization of what we become and are becoming. Everything we experience and/or focus our awareness on directly affects us and adds to who we are, as consciousness.

One of the theories on quantum reality is that reality is created by observation. In such a position of awareness, what we see is undoubtedly real, but these phenomena are not really there in the absence of an observation. The other part to this would be that observation creates reality, meaning that we create our own reality. Such an idea that has existed within the domain of human consciousness for thousands and further thousands of years. In order to be able to observe, something must have consciousness. In such a case, then consciousness creates reality and then quantum reality unveils that destiny is fully within our power to shift, form, transform, create, and manipulate how we see it best operate for us.

Physics cannot interpret expressions of consciousness such as love, bliss, and serenity because such things are not physical in themselves. Ultimate reality cannot be picked apart, into smaller and smaller parts until some definitive particle be discovered and hailed as the beginning base of all matter in this reality since our reality is such an infinitesimally small part of the infinite reality that is all that is. Our adventures into the dynamics of Reality are only beginning. There is so much still to be experienced.

Time & Ignorance

Jason always writes things worth reading. I have to warn you that not all of his stuff is terribly interesting to most people, but that may be more of a commentary on our culture than it is on his choice of subjects. Nevertheless, I found the following worth passing on:

People often like to flatter themselves, or be flattered by others, with the notion that they have less free time than they actually have. Advertisers and politicians, for example, often flatter people in an attempt to get their money or their vote. People want to think of themselves as hard workers, even if they aren’t. And claiming to be busy is a common excuse for ignorance of the Bible, ignorance of politics, and other forms of negligence. Supposedly, people don’t know more about the Bible, pray more, follow election campaigns more closely, or know more about current events, for example, because they don’t have the time for it.

I’ve written on this subject in the past. People have more free time than they let on. A recent study found that the average American spends more than five hours a day watching television. The New York Times article I just linked concludes:

When subjects in the study were asked to recall their behaviors, “people underestimated the amount of time they spent with TV by a substantial amount,” about 25 percent on average, Mr. Wakshlag said. The same people tended to overestimate their use of other media.

For some people, there is a “social stigma” attached to high levels of TV watching, Mr. Bloxham said. When some people are asked to estimate their TV viewing, he said, some of them may not “want to tell you five or six hours, because that may slip into the couch potato category,” he said. For others, he said, “there is no stigma because being able to talk about last night’s reality show or last night’s ball game is social currency.”

But knowledge of some other subjects isn’t so valuable as social currency. Most Americans don’t read the Bible much. They don’t know much about the Bible. They place more of an emphasis on being an American than being a Christian. In summary:

The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy. How else can you describe matters when most church-going adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?

The New York Times article cited above refers to watching television as something that provides social currency. I think an excessive desire for social currency is one of the reasons why so many professing Christians spend an inordinate amount of time with popular television programs, movies, music, sports, etc. If you spend your time responsibly, you’ll pay a high social price for it. Are you paying that sort of price for your time management? If you go into work this morning without being able to name the four gospels, without knowing who the vice president of the nation is, or without knowing how to defend your view of abortion, you probably won’t pay much of a social price for it. But if you didn’t watch American Idol or Monday Night Football, you’ll most likely be left out of a lot of discussions. The world won’t reward you for your knowledge of theology, church history, or ethics as much as it will reward you for your knowledge of trivial and vulgar television programs, music, and sports.

If you are interested in reading more click here.

XFiles: Plan B

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

Next up on Geisler and Turek’s agenda, the Seven Things Jesus taught about the Bible (i.e. the Old Testament). As I said before, they’ve strayed pretty far from their thematic declaration that it takes more faith to be an atheist: this section could have been preached from any conservative Christian pulpit on any given Sunday morning without even mentioning apologetics.

Let’s begin with the first Thing or two. According to G&T, Jesus taught that the Old Testament:

1. Is Divinely Authoritative—When tempted by Satan, Jesus corrected him by quoting from the Old Testament… Why would Jesus so confidently quote from the Old Testament if the Old Testament was not authoritative? He must have considered the Old Testament to be a source of truth in order to dismiss his most powerful enemy with it.

In fact, on ninety-two occasions Jesus and his apostles supported their position by saying, “it is written” (or the equivalent) and then quoting the Old Testament. Why? Because Jesus and his apostles considered the Old Testament Scriptures to be the written word of God, and thus the ultimate authority for life.

For once, I agree with Geisler and Turek. Jesus did indeed teach that the Old Testament was the ultimate authority for life. What Geisler and Turek fail to realize, however, is that this is not a good thing.

If you were raised in a Christian environment like I was, it may not be as obvious that there’s a problem here. But think about it. Why would the Bible—a book written by men—be the ultimate authority for life? Why wouldn’t God be an even higher authority? Or even Jesus for that matter?

The Bible is called “God’s Word,” even though it was written by men like Moses and David and Paul, because it was supposedly “inspired” by God. That is, it derives its authority from the relationship it is supposed to have with God. Thus, God should have an even higher authority than the Bible, because the Bible’s authority is only supposed to be derived from His. Yet here is Jesus, who supposedly is God (according to Chapter 13, anyway), attempting to derive his authority from the derived authority of the Bible? Something’s not quite right here.

Let’s back up a minute, and consider two families. One family has a father named Jamal, who is a vital part of the family. He shows up on a frequent and regular basis to interact with the other family members, and in fact he lives in the same home with the rest of the family, apart from when he has to go off to work and so on. The children know what he is like, and what he wants them to do and to value and to believe, because he is continually, tangibly, and personally present interacting with them.

The other family has a father named Frank. The children have never actually seen him, but they have a book about him, or at least a book about people who say they’ve known him and can tell the story of what he’s like and how he wants his children to be raised. The stories don’t all fit together quite as well as might be hoped, and his kids disagree on what the stories mean even when they do seem to say the same thing, so there’s a certain margin of error inherent in the fact that their closest connection to Frank is through their personal interpretation of what other people have said about what Frank thinks and wants and values.

Obviously, the book about the father is a poor substitute for having the father around in person. No matter how much authority you vest in a book about the father, it can never equal the actual, tangible presence and involvement of the father himself, in person. Given a choice, you would never choose the book over the actual father (unless of course your goal was to avoid doing what your father wanted).

As we look through the Old Testament, we see a God Who not only grows progressively less powerful as time goes by, but Who also becomes more and more distant, aloof, and absent. In the Garden of Eden, God (allegedly) shows up personally and interacts directly with His children, without intermediaries, and likewise with later generations like Noah and Lot and Abraham. Around Abraham’s time, though, we start to see some changes. God doesn’t always show up in person; sometimes He sends angels instead.

By the time of Moses, there’s a definite shift. God still shows up in person, but only to a select few, on a few special occasions. Most of the people, like the Israelites and the Egyptians, have to resort to a human representative (Moses), who is the only person that gets to interact directly with God. Some of them can see God from a distance, as it were, but the two-way conversations are much, much more restricted. It’s the dawn of the Age of the Prophets.

Later generations see a lot more of the prophet and a lot less of God, and even the prophets very often get less than a personal appearance of God—just a voice, or a feeling, or even less. By the time of the Babylonians, God is pretty much not showing up in person at all any more, and hordes of prophets have taken His place in declaring “Thus Saith The Lord” to the people. The problem is, most of them are saying that God is going to protect Israel against the Assyrians and Babylonians, so when the defeated Jews are led away into exile, it’s not only a major blow against the prophets, it’s a crushing blow against God Himself and people’s faith in His power.

What happened next, during the exile, was both inevitable and incredible: deprived of their Temple and the traditional worship of their God, the Jews consoled themselves by turning to their holy books. And here’s where they made their remarkable, serendipitous, and (some might say) fatal discovery. By transferring their faith from God and His prophets, into a book, they could stop the cycle of failures that was threatening their faith.

God doesn’t show up in real life? No problem, He’s left us His Word to guide us. The Book is all that matters. The prophets consistently turn out to be wrong? Who cares, only the Scripture is genuinely correct. Things don’t turn out the way the Bible said? Heck, that’s easy, some uninspired reader just misunderstood what it was trying to say. Put your faith in God, or in prophets, and you’ll be disappointed by their inevitable failures; put it in an easily misunderstood book, though, and there’s always a good excuse that doesn’t threaten your faith in the least.

The Bible, in other words, is Plan B, the universal rationalization for God’s consistent failure to behave like a real, loving Heavenly Father. Sure, it would be nice if God actually behaved as though He believed what men wrote about Him in the Bible, but in His absence, we can use a book, suitably canonized and authorized (by men!) as a substitute. And yes, it would have been better to have even genuine living prophets who could dialog with us and with God and bring us specific answers to contemporary questions, but in their absence we can still maintain our faith by basing it on a book whose “true meaning” is unverifiable and thus unfalsifiable.

That’s what’s so odd about Jesus, who supposedly is God Incarnate, appealing for his authority to books written by men to compensate for God’s absence from real life. Incarnation should have given Jesus an authority that even prophets could only dream about, yet here he is resorting to the same inferior substitute for God’s presence that the losers in Babylon came up with. Authoritative Scripture is a way to compensate for God’s failures, and here’s Jesus, aka “God the Son,” not only endorsing it, but depending on it.

This is exactly the sort of outcome that would have to happen if the Myth Hypothesis were true. There is no God for Jesus to be the incarnation of, so to make himself something special, he has to somehow acquire some godly authority. The Jews, or at least the Pharisees, have very conveniently invested the Old Testament with divine authority in God’s absence, and therefore Jesus can tap that authority by presenting himself as someone who knows the OT and can quote it. A God Who actually existed, of course, wouldn’t need to appeal to the authority of books written about Him by men claiming to speak on His behalf. He’d be God: hear and obey, or else.

Geisler and Turek, of course, would explain this by appealing to the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ: he both is, and is not, God, therefore he both does, and does not, need to behave as though he were God. In other words, yes, the truth about Jesus directly contradicts itself, but that’s ok, because he’s God and that makes everything all right. As we saw before, that’s a dishonest reaction to the irreconcilable contradictions in what the Bible teaches about Jesus. But we’re just getting started. Next week, Geisler and Turek explain what Jesus meant when he taught that the Old Testament is “imperishable.” Stay tuned.

Dawkins on Faith

Richard Dawkins has, on a number of occasions, defined faith as belief without evidence. Dawkins is an intelligent man and things like this should really be below him.

Faith is synonymous with belief. Both assume an object. There is something that is believed. Any proposition that we hold to be true is a belief. But biblical faith is more than this. Biblical faith not only believes certain propositions, but it rests in them.  Biblical faith involves three things: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

  1. Notitia: This is the content of the faith. What are the facts? This is the very first step of biblical faith. There must be something for you to believe.
  2. Assensus: This is our assenting to the truthfulness of this content. Here we weight the evidences. We consider the eyewitness testimonies, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). We examine the historicity of it “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,” (Luke 3:1). We recognize the need for an orderly examination, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1). We examine the logical consistency of its historical root, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). We are called not to just believe anything that comes our way, even if from a credible source, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). We are to take a sober examination of all these things, :”but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
    Dabney has said, “Protestants, on the other hand, hold that faith must be explicit and intelligent, or it cannot be proper faith; that the propositions embraced must be known; and the evidence therefore comprehended intelligently.” (Dabney, Systematic Theology, Ch11).
  3. Fiducia: This is where we put action to our intellectual conviction. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” The demons understand the content of the Christian faith (noticia) and they believe it is true (assensus) but they do not rest in it (fiducia) and therefore lack biblical faith.

Both Christians and critics of Christianity need to understand this basic concept. It is just unacceptable for an intelligent critic of Christianity to not understand this basic concept. It is even worse when he has been repeated corrected on this very thing, even in a debate! The fact that he continues to use it does not speak well of his integrity. My admonition to Christians is to take the time to accurately represent those beliefs with which you disagree.

XFiles ++Friday: Jesus at the NAE

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

It’s been a long time since Geisler and Turek have even attempted to pretend they’re proving that atheists have more faith than Christians, and by Chapter 14 they seem to have forgotten their theme completely. We’re in full-on Sunday sermon mode now as they devote an entire chapter to telling us that we should take their word for it that we should take the Bible’s word for it that we should take Jesus’ word for it that we should take the Bible’s word for it. There’s not the slightest tinge of any consciousness of the circular reasoning involved in using Biblical accounts of Jesus’ alleged endorsement of Scripture as the basis for claiming the reliability and authority of the Bible. God said it, they believe it, that settles it—and therefore it takes more faith to be an atheist. QED.

They begin with an unintentionally funny hypothetical scenario, in which a 7th generation descendant of George Washington addresses Congress and denounces them as a gang of hypocrites and evil-doers, using language taken from Jesus’ attacks on the Pharisees, as recorded in Matthew 23. Bear with me here, but you guys need to read this:

Woe to you, egotistical hypocrites! You are full of greed and self-indulgence. Everything you do is done for appearances. You make pompous speeches and grandstand before these TV cameras. You demand the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats everywhere you go. You love to be greeted in your districts and have everyone call you “Senator” or “Congressman.” On the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness! You say you want to clean up Washington, but as soon as you get here you become twice as much a son of hell as the one you replaced!

Woe to you, makers of the law, you hypocrites! You do not practice what you preach. You put heavy burdens on the citizens, but then opt out of your own laws!

Woe to you, federal fools! You take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, but then you nullify the Constitution by allowing judges to make up their own laws.

Woe to you, blind hypocrites! You say that if you had lived in the days of the Founding Fathers, you never would have taken part with them in slavery. You say that you never would have agreed that slaves were the property of their masters but would have insisted that they were human beings with unalienable rights. But you testify against yourselves because today you say that unborn children are the property of their mothers and have no rights at all! Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed in this country. You snakes! You brood of vipers! You have left this great chamber desolate! How will you escape being condemned to hell!

Their point is that if some descendant of Washington made such a speech to Congress, it would cause national outrage—and yet, that’s exactly how Jesus talked to the leaders of his own day.

What? Sweet and gentle Jesus? Absolutely… Contrary to the spineless Jesus invented today by those who want to be spineless themselves, the real Jesus taught with authority and did not tolerate error. When religious people were wrong, he made righteous judgments and let everyone know what those judgments were.

Right. All that stuff about “lamb of God” and “Prince of Peace” and “a bruised reed he will not break“—that’s just the modern invention of a bunch of spineless liberals. And, just as an aside to anyone who thinks I sometimes speak too harshly to those who preach falsehoods, here’s the precedent I’m following. If it’s wrong to follow Jesus’ example, then just say so, otherwise let’s not pretend I’m out of line.

There’s lots of unintentional irony in Geisler and Turek’s opening to chapter 14, not the least of which is the number of congressmen and women who were voted into office by conservative, evangelical Christians like Geisler and Turek. Hey, if you don’t like hypocrites who smooth talk their way into office by paying lip service to Christian vocabulary while passing laws that oppress the poor and helpless (i.e. minorities), then stop voting for them so damn much! If you want to deliver a rant to a real hypocrite, find a mirror.

Then there’s the part about swearing to uphold the Constitution and then nullifying it by allowing judges to make their own laws. Speaking of hypocrisy! Evidently their Jesus surrogate isn’t any more honest than the politicians he’s denouncing, and is just as prone to thoughtless demagoguery. Yes, judges do issue rulings on laws, and nullify the ones that violate the Constitution. Read the document: that’s their job. It doesn’t nullify the Constitution for judges to fulfill their Constitutionally appointed role as reviewers and arbiters of the laws.

If you want to rail about politicians nullifying the Constitution, how about taking them to task for using the so-called “Patriot” Act to castrate the civil protections of the Fourth Amendment? Or the huge number of relentless attempts to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States, in blatant violation of the First Amendment?

A much greater irony lies in how far conservative Christians have come since the days of Jesus, in terms of reversing their political priorities. Where the first century Christians believed and practiced Jesus’ teachings regarding paying taxes (“render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”) and giving priority to caring for the poor, the widowed, and the helpless, including tolerance and benevolence towards social pariahs, the modern American Christian has become a pawn of the Republican National Convention, bought and paid for by support for Robertson’s and Falwell’s “Moral Majority” and similar political ministries.

In the modern conservative Christian lexicon, the poor widow is no longer the saintly giver who dropped a small coin in the church offering, she’s a “welfare queen,” a parasite, an undeserving drain on the resources of honest, hard working folk. The poor are no longer especially beloved by God, as Jesus taught, they’re lazy, wicked, and un-American. Helping the poor is no longer a service to God, it’s an apostasy, a reversion to socialism or communism, or an outright attempt to destroy America.

Wealthy businessmen and industrialists have their own news outlets, which Christians flock to, unaided by any spiritual wisdom from above. By paying more hypocritical lip service to Christian teachings (without actually practicing what Jesus taught), these propaganda channels spread rumors and slanders and falsehoods that Christians unquestioningly absorb and spread, thus thwarting laws, policies, and candidates that might otherwise threaten the flow of money and power away from the common people and into the assets of the privileged few.

Geisler and Turek had to do some extensive editing of Jesus’ remarks in order to make them fit their conservative Christian political agenda. What’s ultimately the most ironic about this whole section of their book is how little of Jesus’ original speech would need to be changed, were he to suddenly appear before the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, or the Trinity Broadcasting Network, or any other organization of conservative Christian leaders in America today. Read what Jesus actually said, as recorded by Matthew, and ask yourself, is he really speaking only to the Pharisees of 2,000 years ago? Or are his words just as relevant and appropriate when applied to the religious leaders of today?

[You] do not practice what [you] preach. [You] tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but [you yourselves] are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Everything [you] do is done for men to see: [You] … love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the [churches]; [you] love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call [you] ‘Teacher.’ …

Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘[We believe in religious freedom and women's rights, but if a woman becomes pregnant against her will, she is less than a slave, having no right to decide what is to be done with her own body, because of the fetus].’ You blind fools! Which is greater: [the fleshly body which is being prepared to become a living soul, or the soul one who is already a child of God? You also say, "Thus saith the Lord," yet nowhere in the Scriptures is it written that a woman may not choose to end an unwanted pregnancy, nor is it written that the fertilized egg, the zygote, and the fetus are all human souls. You unrepentant materialists, who reduce human spirits to the mere flesh of a body that is not yet even formed!]

Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your [luxuries]. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind [evangelicals]! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and [evangelicals], you hypocrites! …[Y]ou say, ‘If we had lived in the days of [religious wars/the Inquisition/the Salem witch trials/the Holocaust], we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the [innocents].’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the [innocent]. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Yeah, like Geisler and Turek I did update the middle part with a more current debate. I think my portrayal is a bit more consistent with Jesus’ views on the dichotomy between (and relative priority of) the spiritual versus the material, don’t you? Plus my Jesus is more truthful than Geisler and Turek’s Republican Jesusoid.

It’s not entirely clear what any of this has to do with the title of Chapter 14, which is “What Did Jesus Teach About the Bible?” But it was kind of a fun diversion. Next week, we’ll watch Geisler and Turek dig themselves a hole, and jump into it. Stay tuned.

“Audacity of Hope” Bumper Sticker”

I didn’t see it last night, but I was told this morning that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I disagree with president Obama on a number of things, but I also recognize the good he has done. I appreciate the way he has reached out to other nations. I appreciate how he has helped to heal our reputation. But these things seem like the kind of thing that any good leader would do. What has been done so far doe not rise to the level of an exemplary act. It does not separate him from the pack. I do not think that this reflects negatively on Obama at all.

It does reflect quite negatively, however, on the Nobel Peace Prize committee. I’m sure it was well intended, but it cheapens other real efforts. It cheapens the significance of past recipients. Michael Russnow wrote:

Obama’s designation is akin to giving an Oscar to a young director for films we hope that he or she will produce or for a first-time published author getting a Pulitzer for a book he is destined to write some day. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-russnow/barack-obama-nobel-peace_b_314899.html)

History professor William Jelani Cobb said that “It looks less like an objective award than it does a political endorsement.” It is hard to see the meaning in the Nobel Peace Prize with awards such as this. Again, this is no mark against Obama, it is just that he has not yet accomplished anything great. The potential may be there, but not enough time has passed for these potentials to be realized. If the award will not be granted on the basis of actual achievements, then it should be awarded on the basis of herculean efforts aimed at peace. Many have poured their life into trying to make a difference. Even if that never materializes in their life, their efforts and determination and character were remarkable, and for that they could be awarded. This award was based neither on actual achievements nor on herculean efforts towards peace. It was based upon the hope that one day there will be. It has reduced a formerly prestigious award to a mere “Audacity of Hope” bumper sticker.

Church Growth

Many in the new seeker-sensitive movement in “doing church” have seen only the surface habits of this postmodern world and have not really understood its Eros spirituality … And what is emerging, as the evangelical Church continues to empty itself of theology, is that it now finds that it is tapping, wittingly or not, into this broad cultural yearning for spirituality, and capitalizing on that disposition’s inclination not to be religious. Evangelical spirituality without theology, that even sometimes despises theology, parallels almost exactly the broader cultural spirituality that is without religion. Evangelical faith without theology, without the structure and discipline of truth, is not Agape faith but it is much closer to Eros spirituality. – David Wells Above All Earthly Powers