June 21, 2005

DOIN' WHAT COMES NATURAL:

Nature must not be worshipped (Dennis Prager, June 21, 2005, Townhall)

It is almost impossible to overstate how radically different Old Testament thought was from the thought of the rest of its contemporary world. And it continues to be, given how few societies affirm Judeo-Christian values and how much opposition to them exists in American society, the society that has most incorporated these values.

Among the most radical of these differences was the incredible declaration that God is outside of nature and is its creator.

In every society on earth, people venerated nature and worshipped nature gods. There were gods of thunder and gods of rain. Mountains were worshipped, as were rivers, animals and every natural force known to man. In ancient Egypt, for example, gods included the Nile River, the frog, sun, wind, gazelle, bull, cow, serpent, moon and crocodile.

Then came Genesis, which announced that a supernatural God, i.e., a god who existed outside of nature, created nature. Nothing about nature was divine.

Professor Nahum Sarna, the author of what I consider one of the two most important commentaries on Genesis and Exodus, puts it this way: "The revolutionary Israelite concept of God entails His being wholly separate from the world of His creation and wholly other than what the human mind can conceive or the human imagination depict."

The other magisterial commentary on Genesis was written by the late Italian Jewish scholar Umberto Cassuto, professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: "Relative to the ideas prevailing among the peoples of the ancient East, we are confronted here with a basically new conception and a spiritual revolution . . . The basically new conception consists in the completely transcendental view of the Godhead . . . the God of Israel is outside and above nature, and the whole of nature, the sun, and the moon, and all the hosts of heaven, and the earth beneath, and the sea that is under the earth, and all that is in them -- they are all His creatures which He created according to His will."

This was extremely difficult for men to assimilate then. And as society drifts from Judeo-Christian values, it is becoming difficult to assimilate again today. [...]

It is quite understandable that people who rely on feelings more than reason to form their spiritual beliefs would deify nature. It is easier -- indeed more natural -- to worship natural beauty than an invisible and morally demanding God.

What is puzzling is that many people who claim to rely more on reason would do so. Nature is unworthy of worship. Nature, after all, is always amoral and usually cruel. Nature has no moral laws, only the amoral law of survival of the fittest.

Why would people who value compassion, kindness or justice venerate nature?[...]

If you care about good and evil, you cannot worship nature. And since that is what God most cares about, nature worship is antithetical to Judeo-Christian values.


There's the rub: they value only themselves so morality is inconvenient.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 21, 2005 12:00 AM
Comments

I would take this observation one step further and argue the following: Without Christianity (specifically the kind practiced in Western Christendom) science as we know it would never have existed. The main argument comes from The Soul of Science by Pearcey and Thaxton, who make a very strong case that only Judeo-Christianity (especially in Western Christendom) created the mindset necessary for the development of what we today call "science":

The type of thinking known today as scientific, with its emphasis upon experiment and mathematical formulation, arose in one culture Western Europe and in no other.... Science demands some kind of unique soil in which to flourish. Deprived of that soil, it is capable of decay and death as any other human activity, such as religion or a system of government.... What is that unique soil? Eiseley identifies it, somewhat reluctantly as the Christian faith.

The authors go on to explain that faith in the possibility of science came antecedently to the development of actual scientific theory; a tone of thought was required before science could even develop. In other words, even the most promising seed needs to be planted and emerge from fertile soil if it isn't going to wither and die before fruition the apparent fate of nascent science in Greece, China and Islam.

Through sheer practical know how and rules of thumb, several cultures in antiquity - from the Chinese to the Greeks to the Arabs - produced a higher level of learning and technology than medieval Europe did. Yet it was Christianized Europe and not those more advanced cultures that gave birth to science as a systematic, self-correcting discipline. The historian is bound to ask why this should be so. Why did Christianity form the matrix within which this novel approach to the natural world developed?"

This "fertile tone of thought" was present nowhere else but in Western Christendom. (The irony being, then, that even though the Church would oppose what it considered to be dangerous heresies, the very culture created by the Church made the scientific paradigm possible. A classic case of the "Law of Unintended Consequences".) The above points can be debated, both those who disagree are left with the task of explaining why science emerged and came to full fruition in Western Christendom only - and nowhere else.


Posted by: at June 21, 2005 10:02 AM

As a follow up, I'd like to attempt to answer why science arose in only in Western Christendom. Faith in the possibility of science came antecedently to the development of actual scientific theory; a tone of though was required before science could even develop. This tone of thought was present nowhere else but in Western Christendom. The cultural differences that created this tone of thought and made science possible are summarized as follows:

First, the Bible teaches that nature is real. If this seems too obvious, remember that the Hindus teach that that the everyday world of material objects is Maya, illusion. Any culture that denigrates the real world is infertile soil for the growth of science.

Second, a society must be persuaded that the study of nature is of great value. The ancient Greeks lacked this conviction, equating the material world with evil and disorder. Manual labor was left for slaves while philosophers sought a life of leisure to pursue higher things. Hands on, practical empiricism was alien to the Greeks. In contrast, Judeo-Christianity teaches that the world has great value as God's creation. "And God saw that it was good". There has never been room in either Hebrew or Christian tradition that work was degrading. Science as we know it is hard work, which would make it unacceptable to the ancient Greek philosophers who denigrated hard work as being unfit for a citizen or gentleman. The Greeks were dilettantes; never bothering to do the hard work required to actually test their elegantly logical theories. This is why Aristotle never bothered to actually count the number of teeth a horse has.

Third, in the Christian worldview, God made the world, but is not the world itself. Nature is de-deified a crucial precursor for scientific study of nature. So long as nature is worshiped, dissecting it would be considered impious, an advantage Christianity had over most Pagans and Animists.

Fourth Christianity established a legacy of a rational God creating an orderly world. To become an object of study, the world must first be regarded as a place where predictable events occur in a reliable predictable fashion. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Christians and Jews did not face a pantheon of capricious, unpredictable, immoral, and often childish gods.

Fifth, belief in an orderly universe made possible the belief in a universal, fixed natural law. The use of law in the context of natural events would have been unintelligible to every other culture except Judeo-Christianity.

Sixth, the modern emphasis on the use of mathematics to precisely measure nature can also be traced to the Biblical teaching that God created the world ex nihilo. This is an alien concept to all other cultures, whose gods merely reshaped existing primordial matter. For example, the ancient Greek worldview consisted of eternal matter structured by eternal rational universals called Forms or Ideas. Plato's demiurge did not create from nothing he merely injected Ideas into reasonless matter. As a result, the Greeks expected a certain level of fuzziness in nature, which could never be considered to be precise or represented mathematically.

Seventh, Christianity believed that humans could discover the inner workings of natural order. An orderly precise universe presupposes that it could be interpreted by rational minds. This was absent in other cultures. The Chinese came close, sensing some order in nature but they conceived it as an inherent necessity inscrutable to the human mind.

Eight, by preaching free will as opposed to deterministic fate, Christianity made it possible to believe that humans could actually do something about nature. Instead of being forever the victims of uncontrollable fate, Christianity made possible the belief that Mankind could improve its existence. Contrast this with the Muslim emphasis on kismet and its stultifying effects on progress. Back during the days of Thomas Aquinas, the House of Islam was having a similar debate about whether reason and the scriptures could contradict each other. Christendom chose one way, Islam the other.


Posted by: at June 21, 2005 10:11 AM

Science (in the Kuhnian sense) and Christianity (in the Thomist sense) are fundamentally compatible.

Posted by: Gideon at June 21, 2005 12:09 PM

Every upside has its downside. Judeo-Christian monotheism is essentially masculine, rational, predatory and alienated. That has certain advantages and consequences. Astarte had hers.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 21, 2005 1:49 PM

An Astarte based civilization would have been wiped out by a Judeo-Christian civilization armed with weapons provided by science.

Another intriguing wrinkle is that this theory also provides a neat answer to Fermi's Paradox: the scientific method (and associated mentality) required to build starships and explore the galaxy is made possible only by a rare set of circumstances and cultural mindsets. There may indeed be millions of civilizations across the galaxy, each hundreds of thousands of years older than ours -- but none of them are more advanced than the Iron Age, because the emergence of science is a fluke.

There was nothing inevitable about the development of science. Mankind lived for millenia without it and could have continued to do so indefinitely.

Posted by: at June 21, 2005 2:27 PM

What do mean "would be"? It was ... and has been repeatedly. Hey, rape happens all the time, no?

Posted by: ghostcat at June 21, 2005 2:34 PM

"The revolutionary Israelite concept of God entails His being wholly separate from the world of His creation and wholly other than what the human mind can conceive or the human imagination depict."

How do refer to a being that is outside of the boundary of human imagination as Him with a straight face? Such a being cannot be a personal being. The personal is understandable, such a being cannot be.

What is puzzling is that many people who claim to rely more on reason would do so. Nature is unworthy of worship. Nature, after all, is always amoral and usually cruel. Nature has no moral laws, only the amoral law of survival of the fittest.

Prager maintains a cartoonish view of nature to support his theology. So animal mothers never defend their young? There is no evidence of cooperative behavior among animals?


Why would people who value compassion, kindness or justice venerate nature?[...]

If you care about good and evil, you cannot worship nature. And since that is what God most cares about, nature worship is antithetical to Judeo-Christian values.

Why would people who value compassion, kindness or justice worship the god that created the natural world as it is? The problem of the existence of evil has never been answered by the god apologists. Prager does not have a satisfactory answer, it's just so much denial in the face of the facts.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 21, 2005 3:44 PM

Ah, the old "I'd be a better God" routine...

Evil must exist else Man would not have Free Will. That he does is denied by materialists, like you, rendering evil nugatory.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 3:55 PM

the Christians and Jews did not face a pantheon of capricious, unpredictable, immoral, and often childish gods.

A god that asks a man to kill his son, and then changes his mind is not capricious, to say nothing of immoral?

A god that can either wipe out a man's family, wealth and health for no reason, and restore them all just as purposelessly is not unpredictable?

A god that would send good people to eternal damnation for the simple crime of never having heard or acknowledging that His son did all these wonderful things to save their sorry ass souls in repayment for a crime that they had no responsibility for to begin with is not childish?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 21, 2005 4:01 PM

hee-hee, you think you can know His mind or His reasons?

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 4:06 PM

Robert:

You solve that problem the day you are wandering down the street and you suddenly realize that, instead of being hung up on the problem of evil, you are now more troubled by the problem of good.

Posted by: Peter B at June 21, 2005 4:34 PM

What a great thread! My hat is off to our nameless correspondent, who has been enunciating military Spencerianism in recognition of the importance of religion to real progress. Well done.

Without religion, as I have stated elsewhere, freedom cannot exist, and it is freedom which gives rise to economic and thence military power. Faith is a great good grace, but you don't need it to understand that belief brings power. This is indeed a mystery.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 21, 2005 4:49 PM

Ironically, nothing concentrates mortal power ... thereby encouraging mortal hubris ... better than masculine monotheism. Totalitarianism is but one of its unintended consequences.

Astarte demands her rightful share of mortal devotion.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 21, 2005 5:19 PM

It is not so written, but it is said that they sometimes do.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 21, 2005 6:06 PM

Wrong. The totalitarian impulse is feminine.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 6:12 PM

oj, i have also thought of authoritarian regimes as somehow being "femmine" in the way they operate. could you expound a bit on why you posted that ?

Posted by: cjm at June 21, 2005 6:32 PM

You know, it's funny. I find that valuing myself is one of the things that makes morality *essential*, not inconvenient.

Posted by: Kyle Haight at June 21, 2005 6:39 PM

Provocative claim, oj, in the spirit of the Security vs. Liberty hypothesis. Man with hammer sees another nail.

Totalitarianism would not have developed in the absence of masculine monotheism. Take that unprecedented concentration of mortal power, add the inevitable overdose of hubris, strip away the pesky moral underpinnings, and voila!

Those pesky moral underpinings are feminine, extrarational, and every bit as natural as evil. Anyone who looks at the natural world and sees only brutishness is projecting.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 21, 2005 6:43 PM

Kyle:

That's natural, not moral. Morality is valuing others at the expense of self.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 6:43 PM

cjm:

Totalitarianism proceeds from the desire for security, which is feminine. Freedom is the competing male impulse.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 6:45 PM

Robert: Do you claim that people learn nothing useful from the stories of Isaac and Job?

Posted by: David Cohen at June 21, 2005 6:46 PM

cjm:

Totalitarianism developed only in the absence of strong monetheism--20th Century Europe.

Morality is entirely masculine.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 6:57 PM

There was plenty of totalitarianism before the 20 th century, none of it noticeably feminine.

That's by the way.

I don't know who this guy Prager is or what he knows about the OT (maybe everything), but he sure doesn't know anything about 'other societies.'

For a start, there are a few Buddhists who get along without nature gods, and the Japanese, who also credit a deity outside nature.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 21, 2005 7:04 PM

we get 'em, they're just wrong.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 7:09 PM

Morality is a masculine necessity, imposed by our other half.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 21, 2005 8:42 PM

A god that asks a man to kill his son, and then changes his mind is not capricious, to say nothing of immoral?

You confuse "capricious" with "harsh". If you want capricious gods, read Homer's Iliad or the Odysey, or Vergil's Aneaid. The Jewish God is not prone to fits of pique, spite or lust as are the Hellenic gods. YHWH is harsh, but there is a reason for everything He does.

The attempted sacrifice of Isaac by his own father Abraham wasn't a test, it was a lesson (see http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9412/articles/kass.html):

For one thing, God does not exactly command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He requests it of him; as Robert Sacks points out, God says "please." (Nearly all translators fail to translate the Hebrew particle, na, which accompanies the verb, "take.") Thus Abraham is in fact free to refuse, as he would not be were he simply commanded to obey. Also, it is hard to see how faith- or-trust is being tested: faith or trust in what? That God will turn this awful deed into some discernible good, or, more shallowly, that He doesn't really mean it? A hardly plausible reading, for it robs the episode of its true horror...."For now I know that thou are a God- fearing-revering man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me" (22:12). Later, perhaps, men can learn to love God, but it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. The word translated fear, yare, means more than simple fright. In moral terms, it connotes also awe, dread, reverence; it is the primary religious passion, experienced in recognition of a form of being beyond our comprehension, of a power beyond our control, of a force before which we feel small and toward which we look up....Abraham could refuse God's request, producing a permanent cleavage between them; for in refusing, Abraham would demonstrate his lack of wholeheartedness, and, hence, his ultimate untrustworthiness. If God then, in reaction to such refusal, nullifies the covenant, He would in turn seem, from Abraham's point of view, to be equally untrustworthy. "In a strange way the present passage speaks more about God's faith in Abraham than Abraham's faith in God."

God, being God, already knows the results of any test he would put to Abraham (or anybody). Abraham didn't need to prove anything to YHWH, He already knew the outcome before He but Abraham to the test. So it really wasn't a test, but a lesson. A lesson that Abraham would learn at the gut level.

Posted by: at June 22, 2005 9:54 AM

A god that can either wipe out a man's family, wealth and health for no reason, and restore them all just as purposelessly is not unpredictable?

The story of Job is a metaphor for the problem of evil. When contemplating why evil exists in a world made by a benign deity, it helps to remember that God is not a behaviorist.

Evil comes in two flavors, physical evil (hurricanes, plagues, earthquakes, disease, old age, etc.) and moral evil (murder, theft, abuse, hatred, etc.). The first deals with the fact that the universe is often a painful and unjust place where the innocent suffer. The second deals with the evil committed by less than perfect humans on their fellows.

Moral evil is relatively easy to answer: God gave us free will to chose either good or evil. God did not wish to create a race of mindless, puppet automatons lacking the ability to chose. For all the evil done by man throughout history, our current situation is preferable to being a mindless slave. Those who would prefer otherwise in effect want to be slaves.

Furthermore, love isn't love unless it is freely given. For God to force us either by design or will to love Him always would result in the making love meaningless. God is not a rapist. As the Good Book says, "God is Love". The ability to chose evil (and all the resultant pain and suffering caused by men) was given to us for the sake of love. Do we pay too high a price for love? I honestly don't know. But the other alternative (quoting thought policeman O'brien in "1984") would be "God is Power". He could stop the gulags, concentration camps, etc. only by making the whole universe itself a concentration camp with Himself as commandant.

God chose love instead of power, because a perfect world was to horrible to contemplate.

Physical evil is a bit trickier to address. Why do good and innocent people suffer? Why is suffering even possible? To make pain and suffering impossible, the universe would have to be perfect and frozen in its own perfection. Since any change would mar its inherent perfection, such a universe would be a dead place where change and growth. Perfection = completion = death. It would be a dead place devoid of life. If moral evil is the price we pay for freedom and love, than physical evil is the price we pay for life.

There is a story that God created a perfect universe before He made our own. Not liking the results a lifeless place of place of eternal frozen death He cast it aside and began work on the deliberately imperfect universe we live in. The first universe still exists. It's called Hell.

Hell is a place of perfection, a flat featureless plain without even a pebble to stub your toe on. Heaven by constrast is rugged and alpine with a never ending range of ever higher mountains to climb and ever more breathaking vistas as the soul gets ever closer to God. Hell is a place of numbness without struggle or pain. But the pointless existence of a soul in Hell is one of endless suffering. And an angry God does not cast sinners into the Pit. All stays in Hell are voluntary. As CS Lewis remarked, the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. The gate exists not to keep the inmates imprisoned, but to keep God out.

But why do the innocent suffer and why do evil people prosper in this world? Well this brings us back to free will. Even if the potential for free will existed, it wouldn't mean much if the universe had a built-in system of rewards and punishments designed to coerce behavior. So does anyone wish that God was a Tyrant, using the physical universe as a system of rewards and punishments, and humanity reduced to the level of pigeons inside of a BF Skinner box? And so we have a world where innocent children die or are born handicapped, people through no fault of their own suffer the pains of living, and evil people often live happy lives of material contentment. But it beats the alternative. As I said at the start, God is not a behaviorist.

One of the many things I find baffling about Atheists is their claim to be "free" of control and superstition, unlike us poor sheep-like believers. You claim to desire freedom from control and freedom of thought above all else. Yet here God has set your mind free to chose and the universe free to be alive, without safety or security or guarantee. Neither the mind enslaved nor the universe frozen.

And yet you're not happy.

If God is not a behaviorist, the Devil most certainly is. As God wants everyone to be free, Satan wants everyone to be perfect and enslaved. This is apparent from the opening scene in Job where Satan bets God that Job is only good because he has been physically and materially rewarded. And that's the whole point of the story, whether we should be good no matter what or be good only if things are well. God's answer is as obvious as it is harsh. For those who would wish that God was a behaviorist, coercing them and making slaves of them, God has this to say, "Gird your loins like a man."

God's goal is not the most perfect world but the most free. As such we stand delicately balanced between chaos (where freedom becomes meaningless) and perfection (where freedom is not possible).

Posted by: at June 22, 2005 10:17 AM

Anon:

Well, that's the most interesting interpretation of the Issac story that I've read. It's not surprising that given 3000 years, scholars have been able to turn a tale about a tyrant god demanding a human sacrifice into an invitation for a relationship. Biblical scholars are the original spin doctors. For me, whether it was a test or not, Abraham showed himself unworthy to be the father of a nation. You can use that story to teach morality to your children if you wish, but I choose not to inflict it on my children.

And yet you're not happy.

That's a little presumptuous of you, isn't it? What is your basis for this analysis? That I reject God because I'm angry at him? No, to be an athiest means never having to be angry at god. The universe is an impersonal thing. You can't take what it does personally. There is no wasting time wondering why the tornado destroyed my home - it's not personal. You theists are the ones who have to ask "what did I do wrong?".

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 22, 2005 3:26 PM

statistically speaking, non-believers are measurably more unhappy than followers of a faith. this in turn affects health and longevity.

Posted by: cjm at June 22, 2005 3:57 PM

Robert:

Abraham trusted God and his trust was repaid. You teach your children to trust themselves and you get Europe.

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2005 8:23 PM

The Aztecs trusted God too. Their sacrifices didn't seem to pay dividends.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 22, 2005 11:01 PM

Robert:

No, they didn't.

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2005 11:08 PM

Robert, If the Aztecs truely trusted their gods then they wouldn't feel the need to bribe them with daily blood sacrifices.

The only God worth trusting is the One who sacrificed Himself.

The only God worth worshipping is the One who wants love instead of worship: "For I desire mercy and not sacrifices"

Posted by: at June 23, 2005 8:21 AM

A god that would send good people to eternal damnation for the simple crime of never having heard or acknowledging that His son did all these wonderful things to save their sorry ass souls in repayment for a crime that they had no responsibility for to begin with is not childish?

You have been listening to bigoted fundies of the Jack Chick/Bob Jones variety. I suggest you listen to the words of Jesus Himself:

Matthew
8-8 But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.
8-9 For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
8-10 When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.
8-11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
8-12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

That centurion was not a Jew and certainly was not a Christian. He had not been baptized. He was a pagan. As a Roman officer he was legally requried to make religious sacrifices to his emperor as a living god. Obviously faith in Jesus has nothing to do with religious affiliation. Note Jesus warning about the complacent Jews of his day who thought they had entre into the Kingdom simply because they were Jews. John the Baptist echoed this warning:

Luke
3-8 Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

God can turn stones into Christians just as easily. And note what His parable of the goats and the sheep has to say about those who enter the kingdom:

Matthew
25-34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
25-35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
25-36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
25-37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
25-38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
25-39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
25-40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Conspicuous by its absence is any requirement to be a member of a particular faith or sect. This requirement is also lacking in Jesus' instructions to the rich man:

Matthew
19-16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?"
19-17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments."
19-18 He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
19-19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
19-20 The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?"
19-21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

Again, no mention of a requirement for membership in a particular religion or sect. In fact, Jesus truncated the commandments. He leaves out the commandments concerning false gods, using the Lord's name in vain or even keeping the sabbath. If they were important to salvation, Jesus would have included them. In fact, those who believe that such membership ensures them a place in the Kingdom are in for a rude shock:

7-21 "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
7-22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'
7-23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'

But what of Jesus claim, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me"? Nowhere in this statement does Jesus imply that non-Christians cannot enter the Kingdom. That conclusion does not logically follow from this statement. What it says is Jesus and his sacrifice saves everyone and with out Him and his sacrifice nobody has a chance. Remember, "God so loved the world" - not just a small fraction of it. As I mentioned in a previous post, what He desires is not sacrifice (and the associated religious trappings, rituals and organization) but a simple, pure heart. Such hearts can be found in Aztecs, Eskimos, Tartars, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and even atheists. Often, it is nowhere to be found among smugly complacent Christians.

And what of his statement that:

Matthew
7-13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
7-14: "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

The matching story in Luke puts this statment in context:

13-23 And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them,
13-24 "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
13-25 When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us.' He will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.'
13-26 Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.'
13-27 But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!'
13-28 There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out.
13-29 And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
13-30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

The "few" refers to the fact that few of His fellow Jews of His time would accept his teachings and salavtion would be granted others from around the world. It does not mean that "few" of mankind will be saved. This is made clear in Revelations:

:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
7:10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

It would be a poor God indeed whose best efforts and personal sacrifice saved but a small number of us.

Posted by: at June 23, 2005 9:14 AM

Anon,

Thanks for your patient reply. My acerbic rants probably aren't deserving such treatment, but I appreciate your efforts to set me straight.

You have been listening to bigoted fundies of the Jack Chick/Bob Jones variety. I suggest you listen to the words of Jesus Himself:

Unfortunately it goes beyond just them (and don't let Peter hear you make such attacks against fundies, he'll accuse you of anti-Americanism). This is what I was taught as a young Catholic, at least until Vatican II allowed the church to do an about-face. It may be just the fundies who still believe this today, but this is a position that represents the vast majority of historical Christian doctrine.

That centurion was not a Jew and certainly was not a Christian. He had not been baptized. He was a pagan. As a Roman officer he was legally requried to make religious sacrifices to his emperor as a living god. Obviously faith in Jesus has nothing to do with religious affiliation.

Yes, but he acknowledged that Jesus was the son of God, which made him a de-facto Christian, no? That is pretty much what a Christian is. It is this acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ that those brought up in a culture ignorant of Jesus's existence cannot profess, or those doubting Thomases like myself who will only profess if we see, that keep us from being saved, correct? Or am I missing something?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 24, 2005 12:42 AM

Yes, but he acknowledged that Jesus was the son of God, which made him a de-facto Christian, no?

It's doubtful that this is the same centurion that remarked at the cross "Surely this was the Son of God." Both Matthew and Luke (the story does not appear in Mark or John) describe him a resident of Capernaum in Galillee. However, we know of no Roman forts or garrisons in this area during Jesus' lifetime. Luke goes on to describe him as possibly a "God-Fearer", a Gentile who admired the Jewish faith but did not convert and have himself circumcised:

Luke
7-4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him,
7-5 for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue."

If he had been a true convert to Judaism, he would have had no trouble inviting Jesus into his home. My guess is that this centurion was retired (Roman soldiers were given a generous pension after their 20 year service) who was stationed in Judea and decided to settle down there. Like many soldiers stationed overseas, he may have married a local girl (who influenced his positive view of Judaism?). Such pagan admirers of Judaism were farily common in the empire, men and women who had tired of the emptiness and immorality of their traditonal gods. It was men and women like this God Fearer that Paul knew would be the future of Christianity, the most fertile soil for the faith's future growth.

The centurion at the cross however was part of the garrison at Jerusalem which was barracked at the Antonine fortress next to the temple.
Not the same man.

Posted by: at June 24, 2005 8:35 AM

Who cares what God's motive was in testing or teaching Abraham or whatever it was he was trying -- very obscurely, it seems, given the enduring confusion about what it was -- to accomplish.

No father and no self-respecting human of any kind would worship such a disgusting deity.

God does not exist, but if god did exist and behaved as the god in the bible behaves, any decent person would spurn him.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2005 6:54 PM

Yes, that's what He taught you and why you don't sacrifice your children.

Posted by: oj at June 24, 2005 6:57 PM
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