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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • The Bible Week 12

    Saturday, February 1st, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    2 Samuel 23:4, Sunrise, 1 Kings 7:23, π, Should the Bible always be taken literally, Matthew 18:21&22, What is Science? What is Religion?  Relationship between Science and Religion, Deriving morality from nature, Gen 1:3, what is the purpose and message of Genesis 1? Origin of Science

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Bible/HandoutM.htm

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Bible/HandoutN.htm

    http://biblehub.com

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 6

    Thursday, December 8th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 14:  Dec 11, 2011

    This week we began to unpack John arguments and saw that 1 Century Gnosticism shared some key characteristic with modern 21 Century thought.

    Study

    ii.            Three Proposition Refuted (1:6-10)

    Having establish his premise (that God is light) John now begins to address the claims of the group that left.  But rather than doing this specifically, John shows their inconsistency by stating their claims by as universal principles; principles that they were not living up to. He starts with three claims and formats his arguments in the following fashion.

    Claim/Refutation:                    If we claim that…/ we are… – v 6
    Counter-Teaching        :           But if we – v 7

    Claim/ Refutation:                   If we claim that…/we are… – v 8
    Counter- Teaching       :           (But) if we – v 9

    Claim/ Refutation:                   If we claim that…/we make… – v 10
    Counter- Teaching       : …But if anyone – v 2:1 – Expansion in next section.

    These were almost certainly claims that were made by the splinter group. But since John is phrasing these as universal principles, these claims can be troubling for Christians if taken out of context. Thus it is important to remember that John is combating heresy and his readers knew the people to which he was referring. They used to all be members of the same local church. Thus, as John is contrasting the behavior of the heretics with the lives of his readers, he does not need to provide a lot of details to show his readers that they had the truth, not the heretics that left.

    1:6 – If we claim that we have fellowship with him but keep living in darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.

    If we claim

    -          The construction of the Greek (if + subjunctive) shows that this and the claims that follow are said as a hypothetical.   By stating the claims in this way John is including himself and his readers. He is making it clear that these are universal rules, and not just rationales created to attack his opponents. There is something fundamentally wrong with their claims.  Their inconsistency meant that they cannot possibly be right no matter how good what they say may sound.

    Claim #1 : we have fellowship with him

    -          This was a key claim of his opponents.  They had fellowship with God.  Gnosticism stressed that a true relationship could only be had by initiates who had the secret knowledge that Gnosticism provided.

    but keep living in darkness

    -          Lit: Keep walking. In context this refers to continuous walk that differs from the teaching of God.  This passage has concerned some Christians because they realize they fail on a daily basis to live as God wants. As such, they see themselves as living in darkness. But, as we will see shortly, John is not asking for perfection.  The issue here is not one of perfection, but rather that for Gnostics such things did not really matter. It was the unseen spiritual not the physical that was important.  Thus it was not that they tried and failed, but that they saw no reason to try, which is not the case with most Christians.  As one Pastor I had put it, if you are worried about this verse, then most likely it is not referring to you.

    With his mention of “darkness” John ties this back to his starting premise, a premise that his critics would have accepted. As John will make clear shortly, some of this “darkness” was that those who left do not have fellowship with one another (v7) and they “hates his brother.” (v 2:9) But while we do not know the exact specifics of how his opponents were living in the darkness, his readers would have understood the argument.

    A key difference between Christianity and (proto) Gnosticism is that Gnosticism saw salvation, not as freedom from sin, but from ignorance.  Ethics and morality were seen as just systems of rules, and as such to be resisted. Right conduct results, not from following external rules, but from inner integrity with the in-dwelling spark.

    In some respects Gnosticism has a lot in common with modern thought.  Today we also see “salvation” in knowledge.    In fact the solution to most problems is seen as education.  Have a problem with anger?  This really does not have anything to do with sin. Rather it is a lack of knowledge and therefore the solution is to go to anger management classes.   It would be as if, instead of telling the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” a modern Jesus said, “go and take a remedial class.”

    In addition, while the terminology is a little different, the modern view of morality held in the culture at large would be pretty consistent with the Gnostic view of morality, except rather than that saying they are guided by an inner spark as with Gnosticism, today we would phrase it as that we should be guided by our heart.   

    Refutation #1: we are lying and not practicing the truth.

    -          Yet while they claim they have fellowship, John shows that their lives are in contradiction with the truth they claim to have.  God is light.  Those who walk in darkness cannot be in fellowship with God.   Note that again, as in 2 & 3 John, the key standard here is Truth.   This is a very important standard for proto-Gnostics as their big claim was that they had the secret truth that no one else had.  So to show that they are lying and don’t have the truth goes to the very core of their claims.

    Questions and Discussion.

    Much of the discussion this week centered on the nature of Gnosticism, its view of the importance of knowledge and its view of morality, and how they are similar to modern views.  There are differences to be sure, but there is broad similarity as well. Thus as John is talking about those who left the church to which he is writing, he is also saying a great deal about the modern world as well.

    Next week we will continue in 1 John 7

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    How can Christians be Conservative? Part III

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The final question, posed to me on how Christians can be conservatives dealt with the issue of how, since they are so against government intervention, can they seek to use government to impose their view of morality on others, in particular with the Pro-Life movement?

    While a common question, it has several problems.  For one, conservatives are not against all government. There is, for example a difference between libertarianism, and conservatism.  Thus there is nothing inconsistent with conservatives seeking to, as the question puts it,  “use government to impose their view of morality on others.”   But the question is more complex.

    When you get right down to it, the slogan “You can’t legislate morality” is just silly.  Virtually all laws legislate some view of morality, and thus impose that view on others.   It is not that all morals should be legislated, but rather that laws are basically the morals of a society that are believed to be so important; the power of the state should be used to enforce them.

    Murder is morally wrong. In fact, it is so morally wrong, we do not want to leave it up to individuals to decide this particular issue for themselves. Therefore, we use the power of the state to enforce the moral view that murder is wrong and to impose that view on others.

    What does distinguish conservatives from, on the one hand, liberals, who seem at times to want to right every wrong by passing a law, and on the other hand, libertarians, who often seem to be boarder line anarchist, is that conservatives, for the most part, have different standards depending on the level of government.  At the federal level, they are much closer to libertarians wanting very little government. Yet the closer the level of government is to the people the boarder the latitude they give the government to pass laws, and thus in that sense are closer to liberals when you get to local government, at least in their willingness to use government.

    For example, while I oppose prostitution, I would also oppose a federal ban on prostitution, as that is not a federal concern.  If a state or better yet, a community wants to ban it as in most of the country, or legalize it, as in a few areas of Nevada, then that is their concern.

    So how does this come into play with abortion?  There are two parts to this question. The first is the closely related, but somewhat different issue of Roe v Wade and the constitution.  Many, but certainly not all, conservatives seek the overturn of Roe, and this is very consistent with conservatism in general.  This is because an overturn of Roe, would simply remove the issue from the federal level and return it back to the states.  Before Roe, abortion was already legal in many states, illegal in others, but the trend was towards legalization at least in cases of rape, incest, or threat to life of the mother.

    When it comes to opposition to abortion itself, it really comes down to how one views the fetus. It is biologically alive and genetically a human life distinct from that of the mother.  Thus those who are pro-life believe that the power of the state should protect innocent human life in the womb, just like it protects it in a lot of other areas.

    Now granted things get very complex at this point because there is not just one human life to consider, but two.  Exactly how the rights of the two humans are balanced and in what circumstances one can take precedent over the other, is a matter of consider disagreement and a discussion of this would go well beyond a blog post.   But, in short, pro-life conservatives believe that the Declaration of Independence’s claim that we have been endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to human life even if it is in the womb.

    Thus they don’t see any contradiction is pushing for laws to protect human life in the womb, just like we have laws protecting it out of the womb.

    In and Just Like

    Friday, March 27th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    It is very common to hear Christians talk of impacting the world for Christ.  Or to talk of how we are to be in the world but not of the world.  But the latest numbers  from the Barna Group clearly show that the impact is the other way around.  Rather than in but not of, American Christianity is becoming in and just like.

    Given that the government mandated secular worldview is so prevalent in the culture, it is not all that surprising to find that only 34% of Americans believe in absolute moral truth, or that half of Americans believe that the Bible is “accurate in all the principles that it teaches.”  What is disturbing is the inroad such beliefs are making into the church.

    In the survey, “Born Again Christians” were those who said “they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to Heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.”

    While born again Christians who were asked the same question did better than Americans at large, it was not much better.   While half of Americans did not believe the Bible was accurate, 21%  likewise did not believe the Bible to be accurate.  As for the belief in absolute moral truth,  even a majority of born-again Christians, 54%,  no longer accept that.

    The Barna Group’s uses these and four other beliefs, such as Jesus lived a sinless life, to define a Christian world view.  Those who hold all six beliefs are then said to have a Christian world view.   Based on this the survey shows that only 9% of Americans have a Christian world view. Born again Christians do better, but not much.  Only 19% of Born Again Christians could say that they hold all six beliefs.

    In a broader perspective, this decline in belief has been going on for sometime.  It reached a low point in the mid 1990s when only 7% of American held a Biblical world view. The trend reversed somewhat climbing back up to 11% by 2005,  but now is back down to 9%.

    Worse however, are the statistics for the younger generations.  Those in the 18 to 23 year age group, commonly called the Mosaic generation, were virtually completely secularized, as less than one-half of one percent had a biblical world view.

    Now those pushing the secular world view, would undoubtedly say that was because of the superiority of the secular world view and that people are just rejecting the false superstitions of the past.  But then they would say that, wouldn’t they.  Ultimately I do not think they can be blamed, any more than you could blame a prosecutor if you lost a trial where the evidence was on your side, but your defense lawyer never bother to get up to present  your side of the case.  

    I do believe the evidence is on our side.  In some cases very clearly.  In fact, in my classes on critical thinking I would use the rejection of absolute morality as an  example of how people don’t really think through what they believe.  

    I would ask how many in the class believed in absolute moral truth, and would get results similar to those found by Barna.   I would then ask if torturing babies for fun was inherently wrong, or was a matter of opinion where for some it was wrong, but for other it might not be.  With the exception of one student,  all the students in all the classes where I asked this considered torturing babies for fun inherently wrong, and the one who didn’t was not very comfortable with his conclusion but was being honest with his belief that there was no absolute moral truth.

    Thus with one simple question I was able to almost completely turn around people’s thinking on absolute morality.  Granted, winning over the culture will not be quite as easy as this, but on  the other hand it is not the insurmountable problem that some seem to think, nor is everything lost.

    Still the Church is like the defense  attorney with a strong case to make who never presents it. Josh McDowell, in his book The Last Christian Generation, discusses how many young people see church as little more than a place to go with a lot of fun activities, but with little impact on their lives.   This is also seen in the very large number of people who leave the church when they leave home.

    Yet it need not be this way.  The Church not only has the truth, but in many cases the preponderance of the evidence to back it up.   Yet sadly many Christians have the attitude of ‘I already believe’ so they don’t need to learn about things like doctrine or apologetics.  In fact, it is not only quite sad, but very telling, that many Christians do not even know what the word  apologetics means.  Given this, the results from Barna, are really no surprise.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVI

    Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    In Chapter fifteen of his book “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens tries to make the case that “Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”(pg 205)  Last time I examined his claims for the first three of his points  and ended by pointing out that, while I can see why Hitchens might see the atonement of Christ as a myth, he does not say why it is immoral?  Strangely, he does somewhat  address this point, not in the section on the atonement, but in the beginning of the next section which he labels as dealing with his final two points,  eternal reward and the imposition of impossible tasks.

    Pointing to the example of Sidney Carton in “A Tale of Two Cities,”  Hitchens says that while he could  “serve your term in prison or take your place on the scaffold… I cannot absolve you of your responsibilities. It would be immoral of me to offer, and immoral of your to accept.” (pg 211) 

    Two issues immediately came to mind upon reading this.  The first was the ever present question of  the basis on which Hitchens would say this was immoral?  However, there is a deeper problem for when it comes to the major views of the Atonement, none are focused on the absolution of responsibility and several are focused on the payment of the price for sin, something Hitchens seems to be ok with.   So, just exactly what Hitchens means  by this, is at best unclear.

    From there Hitchens moves on to address religious laws that are impossible to obey. There are a couple of problems with Hitchens complaint, not the least of which is Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees and how they “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition”  (Mark 7:8 ISV) which would seem to fit many of Hitchens examples. 

    But even beyond this there are problems.  Several of Hitchens examples deal with how some religious groups make allowances for prostitution, such as the practice among some Muslim clerics to sanction short term marriages that will last just a couple of hours.  Does Hitchens really believe that it is impossible for men to avoid availing themselves of the services of prostitutes?  If not, then why is this included in his discussion of  commandments that are impossible to follow?

    At first Hitchens seem to be on somewhat better ground when he complains about the 10th commandment which he describes as forbidding  “people to even think about coveting goods in the first places” (emphasis in original).   But comparing Hitchens claim to that actual command quickly reveals problems.  The commandment is not about coveting goods, but coveting that which belongs to someone else. Again is this so impossible?

    Part of the problem here is Hitchens is never very clear by what he means by impossible to follow.  Impossible to follow for everyone, in the sense that while not everyone will use the services of a prostitute, some cannot seem to resist the temptation. Or by  impossible does he mean  impossible for individuals to follow all the time?  Then there is the problem that even if this was clearly defined and it was impossible,  it would not automatically follow that the rule is itself immoral. For example, everyone has at some pointed has lied, and therefore one of the most obvious candidates for Hitchens’ category of rules that are impossible to keep would be the rule against lying.  Yet few would want argue that it is immoral to have a rule against lying.

    Now while Hitchens does not make the case very well, there is the issue that given our sinful nature, as the Bible clearly states in Romans, 3:23 “all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s Glory.” (ISV) But the problem here is not in the laws, but in our in our sinful nature.   Hitchens see this as itself a problem claiming “nothing could be sillier than having a ‘maker’ who then forbade the very same instinct he instilled,” (pg 214) though  this argument somewhat ignores the fall.

    Hitchens ends with a somewhat muddles discussion of the golden rule, and how we act out of self -interest. In all this confusion,  distortion and rambling, Hitchens never quite gets around to addressing the immorality of eternal reward and punishment.  But then that is part of the problem.  Hitchens is not presenting a well thought out and reasoned argument.  He just makes bold claims and then used them as an excuse to launch attacks on religion, or at least what he describes as religion as most of the time he is really only attacking a distorted strawman of his own creation, and thereby frequently leaving the reader puzzled as to what his actual argument is really trying to say, other than that Hitchens does not like religion.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXV

    Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” I have reached chapter fourteen, “There Is No ‘Eastern’ Solution.”    That Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and all other eastern religions get but a single chapter, and relatively small chapter at that, demonstrates that Hitchens main concern is with the three monotheistic faiths.   I am confident that the adherents of eastern religions will find much to object to in Hitchens brief critique, but I will leave it to them to defend their own faiths and will move on Chapter fifteen, “Religion as an Original Sin,” where Hitchens’ tries to make the case that “Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”  (pg 205)

    Based on some of the criticisms addressed last time, this immediately raises the question of what foundation is Hitchens using as a basis for his moral claims, and why should his foundation be accepted? But these are questions that atheists rarely answer.

     I will come back to the question of foundations in a moment, but first Hitchens list five points he finds immoral.

    • Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
    • The doctrine of blood sacrifice
    • The doctrine of atonement
    • The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
    • The imposition of impossible tasks and rules (pg 205)

    Hitchens does not spend much time on the first point as he has addressed it earlier. But his claim that this is not just wrong but immoral deserves a reply and it immediately brings us back to the question of moral principles.  I can understand why Hitchens would think that the Christian view of creation might be incorrect, but why it is it immoral? 

    It cannot be simply in the fact that he thinks it in error.  This is because many of the things that have been taught under the heading of science have also turned out to be incorrect, and no doubt some of the things currently taught will likewise be shown to be in error as new discoveries are made. So if it were simply a question of teaching things that turned out to be incorrect all human inquiry would need to be considered immoral as all human inquiry is error prone.

    For most, morality is not so much in the acts themselves, but in the choices behind those acts. The act of being correct or incorrect is an issue of fact, not morality.  For morality to enter in, one must choose to be correct (i.e. honest) or incorrect (i.e. dishonest).  But once again there is a problem for Hitchens as those who teach that God created the heavens and the earth do so because they believe it. So again they may be wrong, but why is this immoral?  As with so many of the moral claims made by atheists, in the end, about the best you can say is that it is immoral because they said it was immoral.

    When Hitchens moves on to blood sacrifice, things are not much clearer. The core of this section is spent on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and not really on blood sacrifice itself. The last half of the section is on religious violence, which while tragic and evil, does not really say anything about blood sacrifice.

    From there Hitchens moves on to Atonement, and again his initial argument is at best confused and muddle, at least from the Christian view of atonement.  For example, Hitchens will have no trouble finding Christians to stand with him to condemn the Aztec practices of human sacrifice. 

    At least Hitchens does spend the center of this section on Christ’s death as atonement for our sins.  The core of his objection seems to center around questioning how he could in anyway be responsible for the death of Christ, or for Adam’s transgression as he “had no say and no part.”  However, few Christians would agree that his rhetorical questions reflect an accurate depiction Christian teaching. Instead of dealing with the complexities of the issue Hitchens simply gives a distorted stereotype which he then mockingly knocks down.  

    He spends the last quarter of the section on anti-Semitism.  Here at least Hitchens is dealing with real immorality for which the Church is at least to some extent responsible. However, there is a strange irony in his argument.  Hitchens correctly argues that even if the Jews at the time of Jesus’ death where as a group uniquely responsible, (which by the way I believe would be an incorrect understanding of New Testament), it would be wrong to hold future generations liable as well.  And yet he uses the crimes, and they were crimes, of some Christians in earlier generations, as a reason to attack the beliefs of those who had not part, no say and would and do condemn those crimes.

    In any event, the corporate guilt of the kind that fueled anti-Semitism, is something quite different than atonement or even original sin. In the end once again I am left with the question that, while I can see why Hitchens might see the atonement of Christ as a myth, why is it immoral?  

    Hitchens does touch on this, in the his final section of the chapter where he addresses his last two points, and that is will I will pick up next time.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIII

    Friday, November 21st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and the question of whether religion makes people behave.   There is of course, as Hitchens points out a long list of Christians, to use Hitchens term, misbehaving.  But as I said last time, there are deeper issues here, which while fairly complicated can be summarized by into two areas. The first is just who is a Christian.   The second, is when a Christian misbehaves, are they doing it because of or in spite of their religion.

    Concerning the first question, what does it mean to be a Christian.  From a theological point of view this is actually pretty easy, a Christian is anyone who has entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  While easy theologically, is not very helpful here. Only God really knows the heart.  We might have pretty good guesses about some people in history as to whether or not they were actually in a saving relationship with Jesus, but we cannot know.

    While less theologically accurate a better definition for this question would be someone whose behavior was influenced by the teaching of Christ. While this initially sounds better, there are still many problems. 

    For example what level of influence is enough to be considered a Christian. If someone once heard of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you”  and that sounded good to them so they decided it would govern how they lived their lives, would be enough to  count as Christian?

    On the other  hand what about someone who attends church regularly, but more out of convention or tradition then out of any deeply held belief, and the teaching of Christ have little if any actual impact on how they live their life? 

    Or what about someone who never attends Church and simply happens to have grown up in a Christian country and is influenced only to the extent that Christian teaching are pervasive in society?  Would a gang member who never attends church, but who wears a cross be considered a Christian?

    Even within the church, is a person who seeks and gets church office, not out of any real religious belief, but out of a desire for power, prestige, money, etc, a Christian?  This is an important question because this would describe much of the church hierarchy during the Middle Ages, and the corruption in the church they brought about led to the reformation. 

    To see the effect these questions have, lets consider one standard criticism of Christianity, all the atrocities committed by the Christians explorers of the New World.  Of these explores, who were the Christians?  Where they the ones who committed the atrocities frequently out of lust or greed, or were the priests, who wrote home complaining about how the native peoples were being abused and exploited, asking for the king or church or both, to end it. In fact the latter is one of the reasons these atrocities were so well documented.  Was it those seeking to exploit the native peoples, or those who resisted this exploitation, and who sometimes gave their lives trying to protect them?

    But none of this seems to matter very much to Hitchens. They can be considered religious, they misbehaved, and the enough for his argument.  In fact in his haste to condemn religion and cast dispersions, he at time drifts into error and confusion, if not counter argument.

    For example,  in writing about Islam and slavery, he references the comments of the ambassador of Tripoli to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, referring to the latter  two as “two slaveholders.”   Now it was true that Jefferson did own slaves, but Adams, being from Massachusetts didn’t. Even more confusing, Hitchens said earlier that Jefferson was a deist, which he labels the compromise position before Darwin and Einstein (pg 66) and elsewhere has argued that he may have been an atheist.  So just what was the point of calling these two men “slaveholders.”  Was it just a gratuitous slander?  Was it an attempt to show the hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers, or that American Christianity was no better than Islam?  This is one of the problem with Hitchens.  While it is clear he is attacking and smearing, often it is not always clear how those attacks and smears actually relate to his overall argument, at least in any rational way.

    What makes it even more mystifying, is after nearly twelve pages of these examples, he finally comes to his argument, which  he starts by saying that “The first thing to be said is that virtuous behavior by a believer is no proof at all of … the truth of his belief.”  (p. 184-5) This is all well and good and Hitchens is quite correct here. What is mystifying is his following point where he claims, “By the same token, I do not say this if I catch a Buddhist priest stealing all the offerings left by the simple folk at his temple, Buddhism is thereby discredited.” (p. 185)  Oh, really?

    The vast majority of his book, is how religious people have acted badly and how this discredits religion.  Remove that component from his book, or the other Neo-Atheist books for that matter, and you are left with very little. We will look at the rest of his argument next time.      

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great IX

    Friday, August 8th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great.” In Chapter Three, Hitchens addresses the question of why Jews and Muslims will not eat pork.  This question does not directly concern Christianity, but the overall discussion deserves some comment.

     

    In this short chapter Hitchens quickly disposes of the normal justification for this law, which concerns health, a justification he calls, absurd. Hitchens is correct that the dietary dangers of eating pork, even in ancient times, are at best marginal.  In fact for some of the other prohibited foods, the dangers are non-existent, or at least no different than the dangers of acceptable kosher foods.  So while pointing to health reasons can provide some explanation in some cases, it is not a complete answer, and marginal at best for pork. 

     

    Yet Hitchens explanations is hardly any better.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition grew out of a “simultaneous attraction and repulsion” for the pig; that the pig had very human qualities, including taste, that set it apart from other animals.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition followed a night of human sacrifice and cannibalism in which the participants clearly saw the similarities.  As Hitchens puts it, “Nothing optional – from homosexuality to adultery – is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting…have a repressed desire to participate.” (pg 40)

     

    This statement is one of those generalized indictments that leaves me with more question than answers.  The claim that there must be a repressed desire to want to make something punishable is hardly any better than the health explanations, i.e. it might explain a few cases but hardly explains them all. Hitchens examples, homosexuality, adultery and then later prostitution, all involve sex, where his explanation is at least possible even if still questionable as this would not even be a good explanation for all sexual prohibitions. Does one really have to have a repressed sexual desire for children to want a child molestation prohibited? 

     

    When you move beyond the realm of sexuality, his explanation is even less satisfying. Must one have a repressed desire for theft or murder to want them prohibited?  My guess is that Hitchens would claim that these do not match is initial qualification of “Nothing optional” but this qualification is so vague as to be meaningless.

     

    In the end, natural justifications such as those pointing to health benefits or that given by Hitchens miss the point, though I believe that Hitchens unknowingly touches on a much more likely explanation. Hitchens defended the lack of a health hazard in pork, by pointing to those living around the ancient Jews who did eat it, for “ancient Jewish settlements in the land of Canaan can easily be distinguished by archaeologists by the absence of pig bones in their rubbish.”(p. 39) 

     

    The Deuteronomy 14, which specifics some of these laws, begin with “You are the children of the LORD…you are a people Holy to the LORD your God.” The ancient Jews were God’s people Holy or set apart from those around them. This was the primary reason for the dietary laws, which included the prohibition on eating pork.  Of course there is the secondary question as to why individual items such as pork were on the list or while beef was not. But we should keep clear that this is a secondary question. Sometimes we can see possible reasons why particular items were or were not prohibited in either health, or the religious practices of other groups. But we must be careful not to focus on these secondary reasons to the point that we neglect the primary reason. 

     

    There is a tendency when defending the Bible to fall into trap of accepting the assumptions of the critics, and thereby seeking natural explanation for things that are inherently spiritual, as if without a natural justification, a commandment must be nothing more than an irrational superstition. The dietary laws are then explained as health oriented for a time before modern medicine and refrigerators. As health oriented we can ignore them, since the need has passed.

     

    Such reasoning is very convenient for Christians, since because of the teaching of the New Testament, we don’t have to follow the dietary laws in any event. But again this is to focus only on the secondary reason, not the primary, which is to be set apart for God.

     

    Non-Jews may look at the distinctive aspects of Judaism, such as the dietary laws and say that they are old legalisms, or even superstitions, but they have performed a very important function: they have kept the Jewish people set apart for over 3000 years, which just happen to be exactly what God said they were for.

     

    As Christians we are children of God. While we do not need to follow the dietary laws, we are still called to be holy, to be set apart for God (1 Pet 1:15).  Today the church seems more aimed at fitting in and keeping up with the culture, and to some extent this is a good thing, for we have a living faith and worships a living God.  If we are Holy, that is set apart, for God, what is it that sets us apart? It cannot just be our eternal destination, for we are called to live Holy lives now. So what is it that sets you apart?

     

    Christianity and Secularism

    Evidence for the Bible

     

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great VIII

    Friday, August 1st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great.” Following his comments on happiness and Mother Teresa that I discussed last week, the bulk of the second chapter consists of a response to an argument made by Dennis Prager. As presented by Hitchens, “I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Towards me I was to imagine I saw a large group of men approaching. Now would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were coming from a prayer meeting?”  Hitchens’ answer was that he had personal experience in places where he would not feel safe, such as Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad, just to stay in the letter ‘B.’ The bulk of the chapter then recounts the conflict in these areas.

    When Hitchens appeared on Dennis Prager’s show, an interesting discussion occurred concerning the details of this argument. Prager claimed that instead of a prayer meeting, he had specified a Bible study, and that he has restricted it to the United States.  While I was not at the panel discussion mentioned by Hitchens, this is an argument I have heard Prager make many times, and in fact I cited this argument in my book, Christianity and Secularism (pg 180). Both my memory, and the version in my book, supports Prager.

     

    These are not trivial details. All of Hitchens examples cite areas of active conflict, split along religious lines, and which, except for Belfast, all involve Islam.  In such places the primary source of fear would come, not so much because they had come from a prayer meeting or Bible class, but rather that they were a group of partisans in an ongoing violent conflict. In such a conflict of course you would fear a group from the side of the conflict, or where you might be mistaken as the enemy.

     

    This is vastly different than the situation presented by Prager.  The United States has no such ongoing violent conflict. Here crime is the main concern. With the exception of extremist Islam, few if any of those who become religious, are worst people for it, and in fact there are many examples of those who turn their lives around and become significantly better people.  So unless one was driven by some bigotry against Christianity or Judaism of course one would feel safer. So as a rebuttal to Prager’s argument, the chapter fails.

     

    There remains the culpability of religion in the conflicts Hitchens mentions, which is his broader point.  As I have discussed many times in the past, this is not the clear cut indictment on religion that the neo-atheists claim.  

     

    There is nothing inherent in the claims of Christianity or Judaism that says all religions are good. Quite the opposite, in the Bible God strongly condemns some other religions, such as the practice of the Canaanites to sacrifice their children.  Finally, it is simply irrational to claim that because some, or even most religions are bad, therefore all religions must be bad.

     

    In terms of the list given by Hitchens, remove the conflicts involving Islam and you are left with just Belfast. While this conflict is split along Catholic and Protestant lines, that is not the reason for the conflict. The conflict existed well before Henry VIII decided that England should become protestant, and if for some reason one side suddenly converted to the religion of the other side, that would not resolve the conflict, which is far more historical and political than religious.  So again Hitchens’ argument fails, at least in relation to Christianity.  

     

    But there are a few things we can learn from Hitchens. For one, Hitchens misunderstanding of Prager’s argument is something we all should be on guard against. When we hear an argument that challenges something we believe, there is a natural tendency to seek flaws in the argument, and in that process, unless we are careful, we will distort the argument so as to more easily answer it.  If we are going to correct the flaw in our own thinking we must listen carefully to the criticism of others.

     

    More importantly, as Christians, we must remember that we represent God. To use God’s name to justify our own personal beliefs and actions imputes our errors and folly to God. This is, I believe, the true meaning behind of the Commandment to not take the name of God in vain. (Ex 20).  It is not just to use the name of God as if it were nothing more than a verbal punctuation mark, or worst as an explicative, though this is wrong. Rather, we must not justify our beliefs and actions by claiming we are acting in the name of God, unless we are very certain that we are.

     

    It is one thing to be mistaken and wrong, to act in ways that we later regret.  We are human and we all do this. But when we attempt to justify ourselves by appealing to God or the Bible, we in effect make God responsible for our errors.

     

    To see the damage done, just look at the crusades.  So while Hitchens’ argument is false, the there is nevertheless something we as Christians can learn from the fact that it is so easy for him to make this argument.

     

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    Rational Evil V

    Friday, June 27th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I conclude my discussion of the development of secular thought following the holocaust by looking at one final disturbing trend.  So far I have looked at how in the attempt to maintain a belief in Human Rights apart from a belief in God, equal in the eyes of God became merely equal; where the differences among people were equated or just ignored.  

    But Human rights was founded on another concept in addition to the belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God.  It was also based on the belief that we are special creations of God, created in his image. To remove God from the definition of Human rights mean also tossing out the idea that people are special creations of God. 

    This was the most dangerous development for as we saw, the competing view is that rather than special creations of God, we are just animals that happen to have resulted from the undirected process of evolution.  But if this is the case, why should humans have any rights at all?

    This of course would bring us right back to the thinking of Social Darwinism and Eugenics, the very thinking that led to the holocaust in the first place. No, a concept of Rights had to be maintained. But if we are nothing more than animals that resulted from the process of evolution, how could a concept of rights be restricted just to us? Wouldn’t other animals have rights as well? 

    Thus was born the belief in animal rights.  While most people are still shocked by PETA’s campaign likening eating meat to a “holocaust on your plate” it is merely the logical outgrowth of the attempt to maintain a concept of rights apart from God.

    While, extending the concept of rights to animals may be a logical step, it does not really solve the problem, but rather creates many more. If animals do have rights, how do these rights come into play when the lion kills a gazelle?  The normal answer is that the lion does not know any better, we do. But this has the effect of putting us below the animals, not equal to them.  Animals are free to do whatever they do, but our actions must be constrained by a notion of rights. 

    In short animals and in a more general sense nature, over time came to be more valued than people. Worst still, since virtually anything we do has some effect we become a problem. In its most extreme form people rather than being a part of the environment came to be seen as a disease that must be controlled, or in some cases removed, as in the case of the Texas scientist who calls for the creation of a genetically engineered version of the ebola virus, that would kill 90% of the people on the earth, so as to lessen our damaging effect.

    But these threats are not just theoretical.  One of the key aspects of the Judeo-Christian worldview is that people, as special creations of God, are more valuable than animals.  But in the new secular view people are less valuable, and for some even a problem. While rarely directly stated, it nevertheless works itself out in a myriad of ways.

    For example, the major reason energy prices such as the cost of gas, heating oil, and electricity, are so high is because concerns for the environment restrict our ability develop energy. Most of these environment concerns make no sense apart from an absolutist view that people represent a danger to the planet and that anything we do would damage to environment, often despite clear evidence to the contrary.

    Most of the real damage of this inversion of rights, are indirect and often do not appear until years later. Thus the limitation on oil drilling for the last several decades is only now beginning to have a real effect on the price of gas as the excess capacity that had existed in the system is now gone, and demand is beginning to exceed supply.

    One of the clearest examples of the valuation of nature over people is also one of the earliest; the concern over insecticide DDT during the 1960s.  During the 1960s it was alleged that DDT caused the shells of some birds to weaken making it difficult for them to reproduce.  In order to protect these birds, DDT was ban. At the time of the ban it was pointed out that DDT was very important to controlling the spread of mosquitoes, which spread deadly diseases such as malaria. But these arguments had little effect; the birds were more important than the people, and had to be protected.  After all, at the same time over population was also seen as a major problem.

    It is now known that DDT was not the cause of the problems with birds, and in fact is really very safe. The effects of the ban are also clear.  Diseases that had been virtually eliminated in places have now returned.  Malaria alone kills between one and two million people a year. Yet despite the evidence to the contrary, for many a theoretical threat to the environment, is more important that the actual deaths of tens of millions and the ban remains in effect.

    The first attempt to reconstruct society based on science rather than God, ended in the holocaust.  The subsequent attempt of reconstruct a concept of rights apart from God has resulted in not only more pain and suffering, but millions of deaths. Just perhaps the real problem is the attempt to remove God.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.