Octavo Dia

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Divine Right of Kings

I was watching the History Channel over lunch, and they had a special on the Da Vinci code. The mentioned that the Merovingian Dynasty claimed to be descended from Christ. It occurred to me that it would have been more surprising had they not. Can you think of a dynasty which would fail to make an even wildly implausible claim to divine descent?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

God is Imaginary: #10 Watch the Offering Plate

Watch the Offering Plate

Once again, I note that they have a real hang up about the power of prayer. Just about every one I've read so far, if not based on it, has a reference to it. This one is no different. They ask why, if God is all powerful, Christians are asked to give a tenth to God, rather than just praying for it.

First, let me remind you, once again, that the Bible contains different law for different circumstances. The tithe, or tenth, was a command given to the theocracy, and later, theocratic monarchy, of ancient Israel. It covered both religious contributions AND taxes. Most everyone today would be overjoyed if ten percent covered their tax burden as well as their charitable contributions. That would be less than the social security assessment alone (including the employer half).

Second, Scripture addresses this very topic, saying that God does not desire sacrifice, Psalm 40:6, Psalm 51:16, Isaiah 1:11, Hosea 6:6, but rather mercy, love, and obedience. In Acts 17:25, He says that God is not served by human hands, "as if he needed anything." Eliminating the contributions to the state from consideration, if this second point is the case, what is the purpose of all the slaughtering of animals? Symbolism, foreshadowing, or whatever you want to call it. Every sacrifice given was a representation of the one, final sacrifice. All of the pain, loss, and senselessness of those sacrifices was a demonstration of the pain, loss, and senselessness caused by sin, and the demands of justice carried out. But it also demonstrates mercy. The people who witnessed the sacrifice were to consider that the sheep being slaughtered should have been them. They were the ones who were guilty, and thus they should be punished. The sacrifices portrayed in a literally visceral form the crushing burden of the law, but also the transferring of that burden to another. Justice would be served, as well as mercy. Law and Gospel, together and separate.

So why do Christians tithe? If you believe that what the church is doing is important, why would you not support it? I believe that helping people with developmental disabilities is important, so I support a charity that does just that. Noumenon believes that providing clean water to impoverished people is the most efficient way of helping them, so he supports Wateraid. If you believe that saving people from following their own inclinations into hellfire is important, it would be ludicrous not to support that work. But note--is it required? Accept for a very, very few churches, the "tithe" is a free will offering. I am no more forced to give it than Noumenon is forced to contribute to Wateraid.

Which leads us to another question. Why doesn't God just forgive us all and get it over with, rather than using the church to persuade us? He has forgiven us all, but we are free to reject his forgiveness. It is that sticky problem of love. God is a God of love. Without choice, there is no love. Without freedom, there is no choice. God forgave us, but allowed us to choose. There is a line between persuasion and coercion, and we are right on the persuasion side of the line. The church, both visible and invisible, is one of God's tools of persuasion, and the contributions that support it are part of that approach.

Back to Fifty Reasons.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Theology of Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx said, "I would not join any club that would accept me as a member." This is my response to anyone who says Christianity is no different from any of these other religions. There is not a religion on earth whose standard of behavior I could not achieve. Yet I know that I am not a good person. I feel the veneer of civilization. I feel the strictures of law. I feel the restraint of custom and habit. I know they are all imposed from the outside. Inside me is the truth. As Christ said in Matthew 15:19 "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." I have that inside me, and yet I am good enough for every god on earth. I would not worship any god who would accept me as a follower. I demand a god who I cannot serve. If I am good enough for a god, that god is not good enough for me. Only Christianity provides such a God. And only Christianity provides such a God, and yet saves you from damnation. That is the Theology of Groucho Marx.

God is Imaginary: #9 Understand Ambiguity

Understand Ambiguity.

I suspect resume padding on the part of the Fifty Reasons God is Imaginary. This reason is addressing the same issue in virtually the same way as the first two reasons. I suppose, if you have only forty seven reasons why God is imaginary, it doesn't have quite the same impact. Since I've answered that question in the two posts I linked to, I'm going to take the same question in another direction, this one based on Isaiah 55:8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord." Heck, read the whole chapter, it'll do you good.

To me, the most obvious way in which God's ways differ from ours is in Law and Gospel. I have not yet met a non-Christian who understood the Gospel. In my experience, without knowing the religious background of an author, when a non-Christian writes about Christianity, I can tell, because they do not understand the Gospel. I have concluded that one cannot understand the Gospel and disbelieve. If one understands, one must believe (which Scripture bears out in 1 Corinthians 12:3 "No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God can say "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.")

Those who do not understand the Gospel, who are still burdened by the Law, understand law very well. You do bad, you're punished. You do good, you're rewarded. Simple. Precise. Everyone thinks they do good, or are at least not bad enough to be punished. That's the human way. God's ways are not our ways. See the Theology of Groucho Marx. The examples they give in Understanding Ambiguity are all human purposes for human ends. What is God's way? He says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." If our prayers wiped away all pain and suffering, all evil and death, and all sadness and loss, we would be in heaven. Guess what? Our prayers are doing precisely that. Christ is coming soon. That will strip away all ambiguity.

Back to Fifty Reasons.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

God is Imaginary: #8 Think about Near Death Experiences -- Revisited

By popular demand (okay, one comment), I'm going to give this one a more thorough treatment.

Think about Near Death Experiences.

It is my perception in my conversations with atheists that they are somewhat surprised by me (I haven't actually asked them, but I surmise it is the case.) They don't expect my rather intellectual brand of Christianity--a typical reaction just happened to me a few days ago. When he found out I believed in a recent, divine creation, he asked, "So do you reject ALL science?" When they bring up things such as the Miller-Urey experiment, they don't expect me to know more about the experiment than they do, and specifically why its results were not credible.

I have had a near death experience. I almost died, and Noumenon, being distracted from computer games for one of the few times in his life :-) noticed me just in time to get help. I saw a bright light and heard muffled voices. It was a surgical light and the people were doctors. I coughed the tracheal tube out and they shoved it back in which was not pleasant. Next thing I remember was waking up in the Children's Hospital in Columbus, near German Village. My room looked out towards the interstate and I could see the helicopters flying in. I think I had a meatball sandwich for my first meal (it's the only one I can remember anyway). My hospital gown didn't cover my buttocks. That's my near death experience.

Here is my difficulty with near death experiences. From a purely theological standpoint, it attributes some very strange characteristics to God. God is the all powerful, all knowing, always present Ruler of the Universe. And yet he seems to run a divine conveyor belt with inspection tables that shunt the people who haven't finished cooking back to earth. Why? If the purpose is to persuade people to believe, I direct you to Luke 16:31 "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." God has given all that is necessary. A near death experience (a) brings God's power into question and (b) serves no purpose.

So what do I think an actual death experience will be like? I expect to be called before the throne of God, and Satan will say to Him, "This man has been a sinner from womb to tomb. With every breath he breathed he luxuriated in sin. We have records of his breaking every one of Your laws minute by minute." Then the Father will turn to Christ, who will say, "I have searched the records, but there is not a sin among them. Never a stray thought. Never an unkind deed. Never a selfish wish. He has served you wholeheartedly." God will then say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." I will then pass to His right into heaven.

So what will heaven be like? My vision of Heaven is formed mainly by Isaiah 6:8 "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" What do you get for the God who has everything? I think Mother's Day is an awfully fitting time to mention this, but in Heaven we will do for God what so many children did for their mother today. We'll burn His toast, spill juice on the carpet, and make a mess of the kitchen. And He will love it. And so will we. That's heaven.

Back to the Fifty Reasons.