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Month: January 2016

Larycia Hawkins, Wheaton College, Muslims, Evolution…and Political Idolatry (Part 2)

Larycia Hawkins, Wheaton College, Muslims, Evolution…and Political Idolatry (Part 2)

 

WheatonCollege

Yesterday, in my previous post concerning the Larcycia Hawkins/Wheaton College story, I tried to reflect on what the more fundamental issues really were. I also referenced a recent blog post by Peter Enns, in which he observed that, although it certainly was not the only factor in this case, Ms. Hawkins’ endorsement of evolution within her comments on Muslims very well could have played a part in Wheaton College’s decision to try to fire her.

I ended yesterday’s post by putting forth the idea that maybe the “Muslim issue” and the “evolution issue” both pointed to a more critical issue in our society today: that of political idolatry and the supposed “culture war.” As I said yesterday, I wonder if the driving force in Wheaton College’s reaction to Ms. Hawkins’ comments wasn’t really so much about actual Muslim-Christian relations, or evolution, or even the proper interpretation of Genesis 1-11. Rather, it was related to how some people tend to confuse certain biblical and scientific questions with political and culture agendas.

Today, I want to unpack my thoughts further.

Which Side of Political Aisle are You On? Should you be?
Before you think I’m simply trying to beat up on “those young earth creationist nutty fundamentalists” like Ken Ham, let me say that this kind of political idolatry can be found in both the “conservative Christian” camp and the “progressive Christian” camp. (Yes, you might be thinking, “How does this have to do with the issue at hand at Wheaton College? Just go with me…I’ll get there).

This kind of political idolatry completely baffles me. I do not understand how we have linked a particular view of Genesis 1-11/evolution to a host of societal, cultural, and moral issues. Think about it (and perhaps do a bit of self-evaluation too):

  1. “Conservatives Christians” believe Genesis 1-11 is historical and evolution is false. This view is somehow tied to being pro-life, anti-gay marriage/LGBTQ, tough border security, pro-gun/second amendment, denying climate change…the list can go on. And oh, in this presidential season, it apparently means supporting either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
  1. “Progressive Christians” do not believe Genesis 1-11 is historical, and they accept evolution as true. This view is somehow tied to being pro-choice, pro-gay marriage/LGBTQ, claiming a wall is racist, pro-gun restrictions, climate change is real, etc. And apparently, it also means supporting Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Without making value judgments on those cultural issues themselves, let’s face it, these descriptions seem to be quite accurate, don’t they? Why? What logical connection is there between believing the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and supporting the second amendment? Why does accepting evolution seem to always mean one is pro-gay marriage?

And, possibly depending on your political bent, why are some of you are thinking right now, “Joel, hold on…are you saying you’re pro-choice? How can you be a Christian, if….” or “Joel, you’re not an intolerant bigot toward the LGBTQ community, are you? How can you be a Christian, if….” Let me suggest that impulse within all of us is the root problem of what we’re seeing, not only in the Hawkins/Wheaton College case, but with so many other hot-button cultural issues.

Now, it seems to me that in the case of Ms. Hawkins, Wheaton College has caved into the demands of certain “conservative Christians” whose agenda and concerns are more aligned with the GOP party platform than the Kingdom of God. Just look at the popular “conservative Christian” websites—they seem (at least to me) to be proclaiming more of a Gospel of the GOP than they are the Gospel of Christ. I’m sorry, Evangelicals who are supporting Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, they are not your savior.

By the same token, it is quite easy to see that when it comes to other instances in our current culture, that there are many “progressive Christians” whose agenda and concerns are more aligned with the Democratic party than they are with the Kingdom. Just look at the popular “progressive Christian” websites—they seem (at least to me) to be proclaiming more of a Gospel of the Democrats than they are the Gospel of Christ. I’m sorry, progressive Christians who are supporting Bernie Sanders, he’s not your savior.

That is why I’ve come to disdain any label like “conservative” or “progressive” that comes before the word “Christian.” When label yourself (or others) in that way, there is a danger of aligning yourself more with a certain political party than with Christ.

Now, I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t support the political party or candidate that you think would best be able to run the government. What I am saying is that Christians in America—both conservatives and progressives—sometimes get dangerously close to equating the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with a particular party platform. That is the indication of the growing godlessness and secularization in our society: people thinking they’re serving Christ, but in reality are looking to just another Caesar to be their savior. It is political idolatry that tears a country apart along the lines of all the difficult societal and cultural challenges we face.

Okay, But Back to Ms. Hawkins and Wheaton College
What does this have to do with Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College? I think everything.

I think American Christianity has lost its handle on the politics of the Kingdom of God, and the result is the growing split between “conservative” and “progressive” Christians who have come to view each other as the political enemy, rather than fellow Christians in the Kingdom of God. And what has happened is that far too many Christians (both conservative and progressive) have taken hold of the political platforms of the Left and Right, slapped “Jesus” on them, and then have proceeded to beat the holy hell out of the other side. And thus we end up with this:  “compromising, pro-evolution, gay-loving, liberal secularists” vs. “intolerant, anti-intellectual, bigoted, fascists.”

Yes, who can discuss and reason with those epithets flying around?

When this happens, I fear that we are becoming the pawns of the darkness because we are looking to our political parties for some sort of moral salvation. Oh, no one will actually say that Ms. Hawkins isn’t a Christian…but she’s a little too friendly with Muslims and she believes in evolution…sounds kind of “liberal!” So let’s just move to fire her and get her away from us. And the same sort of thing happens the other way around. No one will say, “That conservative Christian isn’t a real Christian,” but they will say, “He’s an intolerant, homophobic fascist.”

Again, I’m not saying that if you have conservative or liberal viewpoints that you’re somehow not a true follower of Christ. By all means, state your political positions and convictions, make a case for, and take a stand on, the pressing cultural concerns of our day, support your presidential candidates. Just don’t confuse the party platforms for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. I want Christians in both parties. I want them to be able to emphasize the specific stances of their party that really do reflect the politics of the Kingdom of God, and I want them to speak out against their party’s stances on certain things that, shall we say, don’t really measure up to the politics of the Kingdom of God.

But all Christians, Left or Right, must remember that the politics and values of the Kingdom of God are not always the same as either the GOP or the Democratic party. We must remember that the pressing cultural issues of our day, be they abortion, gay marriage, gun control, immigration, and Muslim-Christian relations…and yes, evolution…do not have simplistic, black and white, clear cut answers.

It’s idol worshippers who give simple answers: the kind of answers that fit on a bumper sticker, or are splashed on a 30-second political ad. But human beings who are made in God’s image are not simple, and the issues and challenges that face our culture aren’t simple—they are complex and nuanced. It takes real human beings to discuss those complexities in order to arrive at a clearer understanding of the truth. If the extent of your discussion on controversial cultural issues are bumper sticker slogans or political sound bites, and if you uses those slogans and sound bites to tear apart “the other side,” then you might want to ask yourself where your true worship and loyalties lie.

Come, Let Us Reason
Let me encourage you to listen to this podcast in which the topic of “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” It is a conversation between Miroslav Volf and Nabeel Qureshi. Simply put, Dr. Volf argues that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God, whereas Dr. Qureshi argues that they don’t. But if you listen to their discussion, it becomes quite clear that both Christian men realize that the answer to that question isn’t that simple. They agree with each other on many points, and the points on which they disagree are always qualified. This, I suggest, is the proper way Christians should handle and discuss controversial cultural issues.

Yes, the problem is that you can’t fit it on a bumper sticker; it actually takes time to discuss complexity. But that’s how Christians need to go about it. I have to think that if the Wheaton College administration and Ms. Hawkins sat down to really talk about this issue regarding Muslims and Christians, they would see that they largely have the same view, and the point where they disagreed could still be understood and put into perspective.

Unfortunately, it seems that Wheaton College is being pressured to render judgment on her career based on a few short statements. I hope they resist that pressure and allow room for discussion and clarity. If they do, though, I can guarantee they’re going to get hammered by certain Fundamentalist gate-keepers who will accuse Wheaton College of being “too liberal.”

Incidentally, I grew up in Wheaton. A few years ago I went back to visit my old high school, and I got into a conversation with one of the ladies who worked there. She told me that Wheaton College was becoming Marxist. Can we say that is over-the-top, politically-driven paranoia? I think we can. Wheaton College is going to always be faced with this challenge: some people (like Ken Ham!) accuse Wheaton College of being too liberal and secular; other people, based on this incident involving Ms. Hawkins, are accusing Wheaton College of being too fundamentalists. They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

But let’s just realize something: Wheaton College is filled with Christians, just like us, who are struggling to figure out complex issues. Sometimes they’ll get things right—and people will criticize them; sometimes they’ll get things wrong—and people will criticize them. And when mistakes are made, as with any of us, healing, peace, and clarity won’t come if we take the opportunity to unleash political-inspired bombs. It will only come if we come and reason together.

Abortion: An Example
This principle applies, not just to the Muslim-Christian question, but to the other hot-button cultural issues as well. Take abortion for example. I am very much pro-life, and I think human life is sacred. The early Church whole-heartedly condemned abortion, which was acceptable in ancient Rome. But at the same time, let’s face it, they had no understanding of sperm and eggs and conception as we do today. Back then, the ancient understanding was that the man “shot his seed” into the woman, that “seed” essentially being a really teeny, tiny person; and the woman just was the “fertile field.” The woman contributed nothing. By the time someone in the ancient world would have an abortion, the baby inside would have obviously grown to where it was noticeable. So the challenge for us today is to relate what the early Church taught, taking into consideration what they knew about conception, and balance with what we now know.

Here’s what I think: I don’t see how anyone can approve of late-term abortion—those were the kind of abortions the early Church were clearly condemning. For that matter, I have a huge problem with second-trimester abortion as well. Yet at the same time, in cases like the life of the mother, I see there is no easy answer. In those cases, I feel it should be up to the couple; I don’t know of anything in the Bible or in the early Church that says, “Under no conditions are you to abort the baby—if the mother dies, then she dies.”

Then there’s the first trimester, or let’s go back even further: if a man and woman conceive one night, is that cluster of cells the next morning (though certainly human life)—is that a person? The biblical writers and early Church would not have even known about that situation. Is the “morning after pill” an “abortion” that they would have condemned? I don’t think so. Could I be wrong? Sure. But here in the real world, this is a complex issue that we simply need to work through the best we can, and we need to pray that God has mercy on us, even when we get things wrong.

But the thing is, no resolution to abortion will ever be achieved as long as both sides of the political aisle are beholden to bumper sticker agendas that leave no room for discussion—and that is the nature of idolatry.

Let’s Wrap Up
As you can see, I think that the root problem in the Hawkins/Wheaton College story isn’t simply one of Muslims, or evolution. Those controversies step from the deeper problem of a destructive form of political idolatry. When we recognize that root problem, then hopefully we will be able to gain clarity, not simply on these two issues, but also a host of other issues as well.

What’s dividing our country, what’s causing Evangelical colleges to fire professors over singular comments, what’s causing organizations like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis to condemn certain Christians because they don’t adhere to young earth creationism, and what’s causing some progressive Christians to write off Evangelicals as intolerant, homophobic fascists, is that Christians on both sides of the political aisle have mistaken their particular party’s political platform for the politics of the Kingdom of God.

If Christians of both political persuasions can come together, reason, and discuss these issues as a Christian family, we as a country wouldn’t be so susceptible to the divisive idolatry that has come to dominate our politics. In fact, we might over the long haul, change the very divisive nature of the way we do politics.

But it will never be easy. It will always be complex. We’re human, and that’s part of human life.

Larycia Hawkins, Wheaton College, Muslims, Evolution, and Politics (Part 1)

Larycia Hawkins, Wheaton College, Muslims, Evolution, and Politics (Part 1)

WheatonCollege

Over the past month, the story of Lacycia Hawkins has gained national attention. She is the tenured professor at Wheaton College, a prominent Evangelical college, who announced on Facebook in December that she was going to wear a hajib for month over Christmas to show her love and support for her Muslim neighbor. Wheaton College moved to question whether or not she was in violation of the school’s statement of faith, and as it turns out, they are now moving to fire her.

The Further Dividing of the Divide
Not surprisingly, given the current climate in our country these days, this situation has provoked very vocal and very intense reactions on both sides of the political aisle, and the divide between “progressive Christians” and “conservative Christians” has become just a little wider. Wheaton College has been denounced by liberals and progressive Christians of being bigoted, intolerant, and possibly racist, and unchristian. After all, Jesus reached out to Samaritans, Romans, and anyone whom the Jews considered “other.” He didn’t wait for the Samaritan woman at the well to renounce what the Jews considered to be the corrupted understanding of God by the Samaritans before he would reach out and talk with her.

Now, though I wouldn’t throw around charges of bigotry or racism, that is a valid point. I really doubt Jesus would have fired her for that.

On the other hand, the response from conservative Christians has been quite different: Muslims do not worship the same God; they don’t consider Jesus to be God; they denounce the Trinity. When Ms. Hawkins said what she said, she was stating something theologically problematic, and as an employee of a private Christian college, her comments possibly violated the college’s statement of faith.

Technically, that is true too. I doubt, though, Ms. Hawkins was trying to put forth a ground-breaking theological statement on her Facebook page. Let’s face it, at the very least, on a very general, superficial way, what she said is considered true: Muslims, Jews, and Christians all claim to worship the God of Abraham—that would mean they worship the same God. Of course they believe different things about that same God, and of course they think the other religions are wrong in what they claim about that same God, but saying they all worship the same God is hardly a surprising and shocking thing to say.

Ultimately, I think that Ms. Hawkins’ comments and statements might have been a bit ill-thought out, but certainly not something to raise a stink over. And yet Wheaton College decided to make this mole hill into a mountain, and the result has been a media firestorm, and a whole lot of anger and condemnation coming from all sides. Not too smart of a move, in my opinion.

But There’s More…Enter Enns, and Evolution

Peter Enns

Last week, though, Peter Enns shared a very insightful post on his blog on this issue of Ms. Hawkins and Wheaton College. He pointed out that reader had pointed out to him that there might be more to the issue. When you read Ms. Hawkins comments regarding out Muslims and Christians worship the same God, she also said:

I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity. I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind–a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014. . . .

Basically, she had affirmed the common humanity she as a Christian shares with her Muslim neighbor, but she couched her comments using the language of evolution. If she would have said, “I love my Muslim neighbor because we are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), I doubt any of this would have happened. But she said “primordial clay,” essentially affirmed the findings of the Human Genome Project, and claimed descent from the “cradle of humanity,” and not Adam and Eve. And that was the cause for the dust up…or at least a significant contributing factor.

Enns went on to point out that Wheaton’s statement of faith clearly affirms human descent from Adam and Eve, and that a number of Wheaton College faculty members “have found ways of adhering to Wheaton’s faith statement while still acknowledging biological evolution in a manner that is either acceptable to Wheaton’s culture or flies under the radar.” The difference is that Hawkins openly stated it on Facebook.

Enns then related Hawkins’ situation to that of Alex Bolyanatz, a former professor at Wheaton who was not granted tenure because of his stance on the origins debate. The provost had felt that even though Bolyanatz wasn’t required to advocate creationism, the problem was that he wasn’t treating it with enough respect in his classroom. Even though he said he never doubted Bolyanatz’s sincerity in subscribing to Wheaton’s statement of faith, the provost said that Bolyanatz had undermined the “thoughtful engagement of theology” in his classroom.

You can read Enns full comments in his post, but his observation regarding Hawkins was simple, and probably true: “It would seem that publicly assuming the evolutionary narrative for human origins in her expression of human solidarity with Muslims plays a role in Wheaton’s response to Hawkins’s public comments.”

It seemed the issue for Bolyanatz came down to the fact that the provost felt he was being too harsh on creationism, and that meant he was undermining the “thoughtful engagement of theology.” And in the case of Hawkins, the issue came down to the fact that she had expressed a love for Muslims and an affirmation of evolution in the same sentence.

Okay, So What’s My Reaction?
My reaction to this story has been slow-forming. I know one thing: right from the beginning, I did not agree with either of the knee-jerk condemnations from progressives, or justifications from conservatives. The issue is not that simple. Yes, Hawkins’ comments, given her position as a professor at Wheaton College, were probably ill-advised, yet they were hardly grounds for getting fired.

I also think Peter Enns’ observations on how the theory of biological evolution probably played a part in all of this…and for that matter, the debate over the historicity of Genesis 1-11. Given what had happened to me at my previous school, the comments about Bolyanatz hit home: “No one is questioning the sincerity of your faith, but you’re undermining the Bible…theology, etc.” I think it goes without saying that it is very probable that the Wheaton College administration viewed both Bolyanatz and Hawkins as “too liberal.” And, as I’ve read elsewhere, it seems that some influential “gate-keepers” with deep pockets probably applied some pressure in both cases.

I have to ask, though (because I don’t know if it has really ever been asked), “Why is evolution such a big deal? Why is it seen as such a threat to a significant portion of Evangelicalism?” I know the likes of Ken Ham and Al Mohler claim it is an issue of biblical authority, but their remarkably inconsistent interpretation of the Bible (i.e. we’ll hold up the historicity of Genesis 1-11 as paramount, but then we’ll conveniently ignore the strict adherence to other parts of the Bible like stoning adulterers, geo-centrism, women speaking at all in church, etc.) tells me that it’s really not about biblical authority for them, despite what they claim.

No, I think the real reason is politics, or more properly speaking, political idolatry. Right-wing Evangelical gate-keepers like Ken Ham and Al Mohler are fighting a culture war, and they are convinced that the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and the theory of evolution is ground zero in that culture war. The thinking goes something like this:

If you say Genesis 1-11 isn’t historical, then you are saying the Bible is full of errors; saying the Bible is full of errors is to undermine the authority of the Bible, and that means you just pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to obey, and probably question Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection as well. Therefore, that must mean you in rebellion against God’s Law, have an “anything goes” attitude toward morality, and compromise on issues like abortion, racism, gay marriage, pornography, and a host of other evils of secular society.

They feel if you deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11, then that opens the door for evolution, which opens the door to immorality, atheism, liberalism, and the Democratic party. This mindset has fostered a paranoia throughout many segments of Evangelicalism that thinks if we “compromise” on Genesis, then we’ll lose the culture war, our society descend into moral anarchy, and conservative Christians will be rounded up and put in camps. So you need to repent, stand on God’s Word, proclaim the flood really happened, and save our culture!

The problem, though, is that the question of the proper interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is not a political or cultural issue—it is an exegetical issue. For that matter, the question of evolution isn’t a political or cultural issue either—it is a scientific issue.

If you make Genesis 1-11 into a political and cultural issue, you are allowing, in fact, God’s Word to be manipulated to serve the political agendas of this world. You are no longer fighting against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12); you are allowing yourself to be their pawn. I actually agree with Ken Ham that we are becoming a more secular and godless society; I agree that there are serious moral problems in our culture that stem from the fact that we are essentially a post-Christian culture.

Yet I believe that the proof we are becoming a more godless society is not that we are becoming either more liberal or more conservative. It’s that we are becoming more politically idolatrous. And this cuts both ways, with both Conservative Christians and Progressive Christians.

But that will take another post to tease out. Stay tuned…

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Conclusion 10:2

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Conclusion 10:2

Sam Harris2

Sam Harris perhaps represents the most dangerous form of atheism. It is inflammatory, irrational, hostile, and missionary. He is not content to “let the facts speak for themselves,” and let people come to their own conclusions. Harris feels he needs to tell you what to think and believe. If you don’t believe me, consider what he himself says: “Education is not enough” because even “educated men and women still cling to the blood-soaked heirlooms of a previous age” (224). Therefore, Harris sees himself on a crusade. For him, “is not merely a matter of reining in a minority of religious extremists; it is a matter of finding approaches to ethics and to spiritual experience that make no appeal to faith, and broadcasting this knowledge to everyone” (224).

Harris, the Marxist Missionary…Sort of…
Basically, Harris is a missionary with a two-pronged strategy: (A) “rein in the religious extremists” (which for Harris constitute ALL religious people), and (B) “broadcast this knowledge” (of his atheistic doctrine) to everyone. Hmmm…suppression of religion and indoctrination of atheism. That sounds strangely identical to the tactics of Stalin, Mao, and other Communist leaders of the 20th Century. I’m not saying Harris would actually advocate the mass murder of religious people—he says he objects to what Stalin and Mao did. But for that matter, both Stalin and Mao denied they would ever engage in such atrocities. But I wonder how Harris thinks “religious extremists” ought to be “reined in”? The point is simple: when it comes to his arguments, Harris is identical to the rhetoric of 20th century Communism. Those tactics are the logical extension of the very rhetoric Harris espouses.

If comparing Harris’ rhetoric to Communism seems over the top, consider what he says here: “…it is obvious that an utter revolution in our thinking could be accomplished in a single generation: if parents and teachers would merely give honest answers to the questions of every child” (224). If we could just make parents and teachers give “honest answers” to our children, atheism would rule the day within a generation. In the Soviet Union, adults were “free” to believe what they wanted and were “free” to practice their religion, but it was just a crime punishable by the Gulag to “force those religious beliefs and practices” on their own children—yes that’s right. Teach your own children about God and you’ll be starved and beaten in the Gulag.

That is just a step or two down the road in Harris’ thinking. After all, if it is deemed “true” that religion is not only false, but dangerous to human development, then to allow parents to teach their religion to their children isn’t just “stupid,” it is a crime against humanity. That’s what Harris obviously believes—if that is the case, what do you do with people who commit crimes against humanity? You execute them.

Therefore, given how such thinking has been taken to this very conclusion in the past, Harris’ propaganda should not just be laughed at, it should cause concern: “Religious violence is still with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise, it is because secular knowledge and secular interests are restraining the most lethal improprieties of faith. It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity” (225). Harris is convinced that all religions are always bad, and that the only good that is in any of them really comes from secular knowledge and interests. He believes there is no foundation for religious tolerance and diversity among any of the Western faiths. Never mind the fact that such statements are demonstrably false, but if they were true, the logical conclusion would be to not only restrain religion, but to actively suppress it.

Out With a Flourish…
On the last two pages of his book, Harris gets caught up in a rhetorical flourish that would impress even Karl Marx: “When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith!” Harris proclaims. Yet does Harris have valid reasons? I think these posts conclusively show he does not.

Harris declares, “There is nothing more sacred than the facts. No one, therefore, should win any points in our discourse for deluding himself. The litmus test for reasonableness should be obvious: anyone who wants to know how the world is, whether in physical or spiritual terms, will be open to new evidence” (225). I’m sorry, but despite claiming that facts are sacred, Harris clearly has no problem misrepresenting them throughout his book.

One simple example of this is when he talked about the Christian Emperor Justinian, who in the 6th century AD completely re-codified the old Roman law and established the Justinian Code. Harris said, “The Justinian Code, in the sixth century, essentially declared the legal status of the Jews null and void—outlawing the Mishnah (the codification of Jewish oral law) and making disbelief in the Resurrection and the Last Judgment as capital offense” (97).

When I read this, I was initially shocked. If that was true, that would be pretty damning evidence against the supposedly Christian emperor Justinian. Christianizing the Roman Empire should not include execution of Jews who don’t believe in the resurrection or the last judgment. And so, I got a copy of the Justinian Code and read every word of it. It is a legal document that deals with the structure of the legal system, and, surprise surprise, says absolutely nothing about the Mishnah, Jews, the resurrection, or the last judgment. Not only is there not any outlawing of Judaism in Justinian’s Code, Judaism is never even mentioned.

It seems for Harris, that facts aren’t sacred after all…they’re not even that important.

The very thing Harris accuses “religion” of is the very thing he indulges in on a consistent basis. Although he claims to want to know how the world truly is, the fact is he is not open to new evidence. In fact, oftentimes, he simply makes up evidence out of thin air, much like his young earth creationist doppleganger Ken Ham often does. No matter who does it, though, it is still deplorable. Closing one’s eyes to the light of truth is worse than blindness, for a blind man has no choice but the darkness. Closing one’s eyes to the light of truth is chosen ignorance—it is self-inflicted deception. Sam Harris is the very thing he accuses irrational religious extremists of being.

Harris triumphantly ends his atheist manifesto by announcing, “We are the final judges of what is good, just as we remain the final judges of what is logical” (226). What he fails to realize though is the problem that arises when two people—two atheists even—come to different conclusions as to what is good and logical. The sad history of humanity tells us that the one with the bigger gun will win out…and how logical or good is that? The long history of the Church, though far from perfect, nevertheless has given humanity a sense that a ruler is not absolute, that he is obligated to serve those under him, and that he too is under God’s law. Without that, we are reduced to a social Darwinism that was no more fully played out than in the Communist regimes of the 20th Century.

The End of Faith

And so there it is…judge for yourself. Do Harris’ arguments hold water? Are they logical, reasonable, or rational? Or are they rather the embodiment of the very thing he falsely accuses “all religion” to be? No one is denying the black spots in human history where horrible things have been done in the name of God. But one simply cannot distort the facts and retain any shred of respectability.

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Conclusion–Part 10:1

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Conclusion–Part 10:1

Sam Harris

Now we come to the conclusion of my critique of Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith. What I have attempted to show in this detailed analysis is the following:

  1. Harris holds to a false dichotomy that “faith” and “reason” are polar opposites.
  2. Harris’ portrayal of “religion” is grossly biased. He cherry-picks isolated events and actions that are clearly horrible, but completely neglects to even acknowledge the countless good things that have come about through religious faith.
  3. Harris displays a surprising ignorance of history and basic biblical theology.
  4. Some of Harris’ accusations are blatantly dishonest .
  5. Harris contradicts himself when he tries to argue for a “scientific approach to spirituality.”

The Unreasonableness of Harris’ Faith in Human Reason at the Expense of Faith
Harris’ faith—and yes it is faith—in “science and reason” is fundamentally unreasonable and irrational because it fails to fully take into account the full range of human existence. By arguing for a “spiritual” aspect to humanity, Harris knows this to be true, but at the same time he denies that there is any “spiritual” aspect within religion and faith. Thus one is left scratching one’s head when reading how Harris argues for certain reasonable “spiritual practices” that have been born out of religion and faith, but then and the same time attacks religion and faith for being unreasonable and unspiritual. He literally has cut off the branch on which he sits. He is declaring, “The tree doesn’t bear fruit, but we should enjoy the fruit that is on this branch of the tree!”

This is not to say that occasionally Harris offers up an accusation that rings true on a limited scale. It is true that many religious people hold on to a very irrational and superstitious faith that they have never thought through. So when Harris says the following, to a certain extent he is correct:

…people of faith tend to argue that it is not faith itself but man’s baser nature that inspires such violence. But I take it to be self-evident that ordinary people cannot be moved to burn genial old scholars alive for blaspheming the Koran, or celebrate the violent deaths of their children, unless they believe some improbable things about the nature of the universe. Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of believers is condemned to inherit the superstitions and tribal hatreds of its predecessors” (31).

He is wrong, though, when he claims that most religions never test or revise their beliefs. A brief look at Church history shows that the Church is always wrestling with how their beliefs relate to the world around them, and this inevitably requires adaptation and revision. I would further argue that Christianity’s core beliefs—the history of Israel, the ministry of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, the early teachings of the apostles—can be tested and verified just as much as any ancient historical account can be verified. No, we cannot “conclusively prove” that the resurrection happened, but for that matter we cannot “conclusively prove” that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or that Alexander the Great conquered Persia—all we have is written historical testimony that we put our faith in. The historical facts point to the truth of certain events, but no one can “go back in time” to “know for certain.”

And it is this precise point where Harris reveals his own brand of irrational fundamentalism. He accuses “religious people” of claiming certainty of truth with no conclusive evidence, but then turns around and claims certainty of truth…with no conclusive evidence of his own. He has faith that science will one day answer questions regarding love, hate, beauty, ugliness, etc., but it hasn’t yet. Harris nevertheless believes that it one day will—this is the very definition of the humanistic-scientific-Enlightenment religion. A religious fundamentalist who says, “I don’t care what the facts say, I’m going to believe what I believe anyway,” is on the exact same footing as an Enlightenment fundamentalist who says, “I don’t care what the facts say, I’m going to believe what I believe anyway.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and Young Earth Creationists like Ken Ham and Al Mohler are all cut from the same cloth of irrational fundamentalism.

Romans 12: The Rationality of Spirituality
What is so perplexing about Harris, though, is how he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand he says “faith” and “reason” can never mix, and that science and reason will answer all, but then he turns around and says the following:

“We cannot live by reason alone. … It is nowhere written…that human beings must be irrational, or live in a perpetual state of siege, to enjoy an abiding sense of the sacred. On the contrary, I hope to show that spirituality can be—indeed, must be—deeply rational, even as it elucidates the limits of reason” (43).

Now, this statement is completely and utterly TRUE! The apostle Paul would agree…Jesus would agree! Spirituality is deeply rational and it does elucidate reason.

In Romans 12:1, Paul speaks about “presenting your bodies” as a living sacrifice, “holy and acceptable to God, which is your ‘spiritual’ act of worship.” This word, “spiritual” is also sometimes translated as “sensible.” The word in Greek is logikhn, which carries with it the concept of rationality and reason—we get the word “logic” from it. Therefore it is no surprise that in Romans 12:2 Paul then says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul’s point? To be truly “Spiritual” is to be continually “transforming your mind” so you can become more rational and reasonable.

Harris has just confirmed Paul’s basic definition of true Spirituality. Harris’ problem is that he does not realize that true Spirituality and true reason can only be found when one puts his faith in Christ, the resurrected Lord of Creation, so that the Holy Spirit could effect this transformation within our minds as we continually walk in faith. By failing to acknowledge the true God, Harris’ “reasoning” falls to the level of the pagans Paul describes in Romans 1: darkened understanding that approves of things that are harmful and dangerous—remember when Harris said he thought sodomy, prostitution, illicit drugs, and pornography were “victimless crimes”? If that is not darkened understanding, I don’t know what is.

Darkened Understanding: Part 1
In fact, Harris’ darkened understanding envelopes his entire book. What is his take on the atheistic and murderous Communist regimes of the 20th Century? He says,

“Consider the millions of people who were killed by Stalin and Mao; although these tyrants paid lip service to rationality, communism was little more than a political religion. At the heart of its apparatus of repress and terror lurked a rigid ideology, to which generations of men and women were sacrificed” (79).

That’s right. Harris thinks the atheism of Stalin and Mao was just “political religion”! Even though they claimed atheistic rationality and a scientific approach to life, (the very things Harris espouses), they weren’t really rational scientific atheists! Does that make sense? In Harris’ thinking, when people kill in the name of rationality, science, and atheism, it’s really “religion,” and when people kill in the name of religion, then yes, it’s really “religion.” It’s amazing what one can rationalize away when one’s working definition of “religion” is “murder and torture.”

One second thought, maybe Harris is right. After all, he infuses all his talk about science and rationality with religious jargon as well. He speaks of science as a faith himself, although he denies it…just as Stalin and Mao couched their atheist/Communist ideology with an air of religious sacredness, but all the while denied and condemned “religion.” What does this say about human beings, other than the fact that we are religious creatures after all? We can never divorce ourselves from what is part of our very nature.

That is why “atheism” really isn’t atheism at all—true atheism doesn’t exist, because it does not deal with reality. The atheism of Harris and his ilk is nothing more than a modern form of idolatry, where one worships things created in man’s fallen image. So yes, you can say Stalin and Mao promoted “political/scientific religion.” Harris promotes the same thing, and if he objected to Stalin and Mao’s killings, Harris would find himself murdered as well. Stalin and Mao were not idealists—they used naked power to manipulate and kill anyone who didn’t agree with them at all times. Harris is an idealist. He is a naïve fundamentalist. He is a true believer whose understanding is so darkened that he cannot see that Stalin and Mao were simply the logical and rational conclusion of the very “modern idolatry” that Harris espouses.

Darkened Understanding: Part 2
Harris’ darkened understanding is also self-evident when he makes the following astounding claim: “It is a truism to say that people of faith have created almost everything of value in our world, because nearly every person who has ever swung a hammer or trimmed a sail has been a devout member of one or another religious culture. There has been simply no one else to do the job. We can also say that every human achievement prior to the twentieth century was accomplished by men and women who were perfectly ignorant of the molecular basis of life. Does this suggest that a nineteenth-century view of biology would have been worth maintaining? There is no telling what our world would now be like had some great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East. We might have had modern democracy and the Internet by the year 1600. The fact that religious faith has left its mark on every aspect of our civilization is not an argument in its favor, nor can any particular faith be exonerated simply because certain of its adherents made foundational contributions to human culture” (109).

First, Harris is ready to discount everything good that has come about from people of faith, simply because “everyone was a person of faith back then.” But then when it comes to the bad things in history, Harris “blames it all on religion.” You cannot be a logical and reasonable person and hold on to both of those claims at once without becoming a walking contradiction.

Second, this darkened understanding is on full display in the second part of the quote. “Some great kingdom of Reason”? Does Harris really think that if people had just “been reasonable” back in the 11th century that we would have had the internet by 1600? Reason and logic were on full display throughout the Middle Ages—the engineering that gave us Gothic Cathedrals, the herbal medicine of Medieval hospitals, even the war machines of the Crusades. It was that technology that moved humanity forward to where it could eventually harness the electricity that would lead to the advancements of the 20th century. “Religious faith” was not an obstacle to the internet during the times of Aquinas, Erasmus, and Luther. Indeed, this might be one of the most nonsensical statements in Harris’ entire book.

Darkened Understanding: Part 3
Harris’ darkened understanding is further on display in his many attempts to differentiate between “faith” and “reason.” As we have pointed out before, Harris harbors the illusion that “faith” does not allow for rational discussion. When it comes to the “virtues” of reason, or more properly, Harris’ atheistic reason, Harris says the following: “There may yet be good reasons to believe in psychic phenomena, alien life, the doctrine of rebirth, the healing power of prayer, or anything else—but our credulity must scale with the evidence. The doctrine of faith denies this. From the perspective of faith, it is better to ape the behavior of one’s ancestors than to find creative ways to uncover truths in the present” (165).

Harris thinks there might be “good reasons” to believe in psychic phenomenaaliens…rebirth… and THE HEALING POWER OF PRAYER? WHAT??? Harris rejects the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, but he is open to the possibility of reincarnation? He attacks Christianity for its claim that Jesus miraculously healed people, but then he turns around and is open to the possibility that “prayer” might hold a power to heal people?

It’s pretty clear that Harris’ rejection of “religion” in general and Christianity in particular does not stem from his avowed “scientific rationality and reason”—it stems from his irrational hatred and hostility toward any form of organized religion, and even the possibility that there might be a personal God. He is simply parroting the same Enlightenment propaganda of Voltaire, Rousseau, Marx, and Freud…and he’s not even doing a good job of it.

Next Post: the Final Wrap Up of Harris.

Ken Ham and Bryan College…and that Evil Evil Secular Media that Just Distorts Everything!

Ken Ham and Bryan College…and that Evil Evil Secular Media that Just Distorts Everything!

Today, I’d like to share a short response to one of Ken Ham’s blog from a couple of years ago. This response has not made it into the book I am writing, but it still is worthwhile to read. It involves the controversy over evolution and the historicity of Adam and Eve that erupted at Bryan College a few years ago… Enjoy.

bryan-college

In a March 4, 2014 blog post, Ken Ham turned his attention to Bryan College, “What’s Happening at Bryan College?” Bryan College is located in Dayton, Tennessee, the very place where the famous Scopes Monkey Trial took place, and the very college that Rachel Held Evans attended. What had happened was that the board of trustees drafted a statement that declared they believed “Adam and Eve were created in an instance by God and that humans shared no ancestry with other life forms.” They then told the faculty that if they didn’t sign it, that their jobs might be on the line. Not surprisingly, a whole lot of professors and students objected. There had been a news report on what was going on, and Ken Ham took issue with it.

Not surprisingly, Ken Ham didn’t see a problem with the board’s actions at all. After all, according to Ken Ham, “if you don’t believe in a literal Adam and a literal Fall, then the whole foundation of the gospel is gone, as there would be no original sin. Also, if there were no literal Adam, then why are all people sinners?” That statement should alarm every clear-thinking Christian. Nothing in that statement makes sense, and the gist of that statement is actually heretical.

First off, the gospel is not dependent upon whether or not one thinks Adam was a historical person. Nowhere in the Bible or in Church history is that claim ever made. What Ken Ham is saying, therefore, is a different gospel. Given that fact, I think there is a quote from the Apostle Paul that is quite appropriate:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” (Galatians 1:6-8)

Secondly, let’s engage in a little thought experiment. Let’s say that for whatever reason, the Bible never mentioned Adam and Eve. Does anyone think for a moment that we would not realize that people were really screwed up and sinful? Is Ken Ham serious when he thinks the only way we can know we are sinful is that if there was a literal Adam and Eve? That is simply amazing.

In any case, the news report mentioned that Ham had criticized Bryan College back in 2010 because Rachel Held Evans, a graduate of Bryan College, declared she came to believe evolution was the way God created the world. Why did Ham criticize Bryan College for Held Evans’ views? Because at Bryan College there was a biology professor, Brian Eisenback, who said that in his biology course he taught all origin views and theories without telling the students what his own beliefs were.

That’s right. Eisenback refused to indoctrinate his students with only one particular view, and instead dedicated himself to truly educate his students on the entire creation/evolution debate—and for that, Ken Ham condemned him! This is the epitome of irony, for Ham’s constant accusation against “secularists” and “theistic evolutionists” is that they indoctrinate people. But here, Ken Ham is doing that very thing. Another quote from Paul comes to mind:

“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)

Of course, Ham doesn’t see teaching only his view as “indoctrination.” He sees it as teaching the authority of God’s Word. That is why Ham said, “It’s about time that these colleges were held accountable for allowing such undermining of the authority of Scripture to the coming generation.” Amazingly, in response to the news report quoting him saying that, Ham turned around, and accused the “secular media” for distorting what he said. They had made it sound like Ham was trying to get Bryan College to force its teachers to teach young earth creationism. Not so, said Ham, “We do not want to force instructors to teach creation.”

Of course not. Ham simply claimed that what Eisenback was doing was “undermining God’s Word.” All Ham did was saying that colleges who allowed this to happen should be “held accountable.” He wasn’t saying Bryan College should force Eisenback to teach young earth creationism. It seems pretty clear: just insist that Bryan College force its teachers to sign an amendment to the statement of faith that endorses young earth creationist claims, and if a teacher won’t do that, he is certainly free to resign and leave the college…but no one is forcing him to teach young earth creationism. Teach it or leave…it’s entirely his choice!

Like any other cult leader, be it David Koresh, Jim Jones, or Warren Jeffs, Ken Ham sees himself both as the arbiter of God’s truth and God’s grand inquisitor; God’s unquestioned teacher and God’s anointed judge. Perhaps equating Ken Ham to David Koresh or Jim Jones is a bit over the top, I admit. I doubt Ken Ham would ever purposely lead his followers to their deaths. But one thing is sure, he does see himself as God’s appointed grand inquisitor. And on that point, it is not a stretch at all to see him as a modern day Evangelical Pharisee. I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t too fond of them.

The opposite of indoctrination is encouraging critical thinking. Eisenback was actually encouraging critical thinking, and Ham pronounced judgment on him and Bryan College for refusing to indoctrinate students with his young earth creationist propaganda. Unfortunately, it seems that Ham’s opinion holds sway over the board at Bryan College, hence the “statement” produced by the board.

Ham ended his post with, “Once you give up a literal Adam and Eve—and thus reject a literal Fall—then you may as well throw the Bible away.” Yes, according to Ham, if there was no literal Adam and Eve, then the entire Bible is worthless.

What can you say to that, other than to simply call Ham on his heresy, and then walk away.

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Scientific Spirituality and a Hopeless Contradiction (Part 9)

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Scientific Spirituality and a Hopeless Contradiction (Part 9)

Sam Harris

Sam Harris’ final chapter in The End of Faith is entitled, “Experiments in Consciousness.” In light of the basic premise of his book (i.e. faith is destructive and irrational, and needs to come to an end), it will surprise the reader to find that Harris essentially advocates for eastern meditation and religious practices, all the while trying to convince us that it really isn’t religious…it’s what he calls “a science of consciousness.”

Ironically, Harris provides yet another clear example of how the New Atheist movement and the Young Earth Creationist movement actually share the same worldview and engage in the same semantic tricks. Both movements actually denounce and disparage religion for being religious and not scientific, and then both movements slap the “scientific” label on the specific religious texts or practices they particularly like in order to legitimize them. The fact is, though, we can say to Ken Ham, “No, Genesis 1-11 isn’t trying to be scientific; it is perfectly fine, inspired, and legitimate as it is.” And we can say to Sam Harris, “No, eastern religious practices aren’t scientific—they’re religious; that’s fine too—something can be beneficial without being scientific.”

The “Reasonableness” of…Spiritual Practices?
In any case, Harris begins his chapter with his rationalization for engaging in “spiritual practices” by saying that they are “often recommended as the most rational response to this situation [feeling of loneliness]” (206). This truly is amazing, given the fact that his entire book tries to argue that faith and religion are inherently irrational. Is it possible that there are practices that really don’t have any “religious” connotations to them?

Sure enough, Harris does make reference to the kinds of practices he has in mind: “The history of human spirituality is the history of our attempts to explore and modify the deliverances of consciousness through methods like fasting, chanting, sensory deprivation, prayer, meditation, and the use of psychotropic plants. There is no question that experiments of this sort can be conducted in a rational manner. Indeed, they are some of our only means of determining to what extent the human condition can be deliberately transformed. Such an enterprise becomes irrational only when people begin making claims about the world that cannot be supported by empirical evidence” (210).

Fasting, chanting, prayer, and meditation are all major spiritual practices found in most major religions of the world. Even in ancient cultures they used “natural drugs” to enhance their religious experiences. So it seems that Harris is promoting the spiritual practices that have been developed by the major religions of the world, but then is insistent that faith and religion is bad.  That simply does not make sense. Let me back up a bit and attempt to review the “flow” of Harris’ argument throughout his book.

  1. Harris claims that religion is violent, irrational, and should not be tolerated.
  2. Harris highlights only the negative examples of religious extremism to bolster his thesis.
  3. Harris ignores and dismisses any religious example that promotes reason, peace, or anything good, for that matter.

BUT…

  1. Then Harris speaks of “spirituality” and claims that science can discover objective truth regarding happiness, beauty, and spirituality.

BUT…

  1. Then Harris, in his discussion of ethics, turns around and says that certain things like love and compassion do not need to be validated by tests, thus discounting his claim that science can give us definitive answers to these things.

BUT…

  1. Then Harris puts forward the idea of “spiritual practices,” which look strangely identical to the traditional spiritual practices of many religions, specifically Christianity, and actually claims that these practices are rational ways to transform the human condition.

BUT WAIT…

  1. Harris said earlier that religion is irrational, unreasonable, and ignorant. If that is so, then how did such irrational religions come up with such rational ways that can transform the human condition? That would seem to indicate that the very rational and spiritual practices Harris is promoting come from something…religion…that Harris has condemned as violent and irrational.

BUT WAIT…

  1. Harris also argued that what lies at the heart of religion and faith is belief in things of which there is no evidence.

BUT…

  1. These spiritual practices that he promotes, that he claims to be utterly rational, that he claims can transform the human condition, that find their genesis in religion, seemingly bring about a real transformation of human beings who practice them, and those examples of transformation thus act as evidence that they are good, helpful, and true.

BUT…

  1. When it came to pointing out the good examples—the evidence, if you will—of how religion brings about a positive change in the world, Harris dismissed them as not constituting real evidence.

No, I’m sorry, I don’t think there is any way Harris’ argument can maintain coherence. It is irrevocably self-refuting. You cannot condemn “all religion” as irrational and violent, then take the very spiritual practices that come from religion and call them rational and peaceful, while at the same time maintaining your charge that “all religion” is irrational and violent. Such an argument is the opposite of reasonable; it is delusional.

The “Science” of Buddhism
As it turns out, even though Harris promotes certain spiritual practices (in the name of atheism and science) that are common to most of the major religions, it becomes apparent that he specifically has in mind the practices of the eastern religions, namely Buddhism. He specifically condemns Western philosophy for not “discovering” what lies at the heart of Buddhism, namely that the source of all human suffering is our illusion that we are individuals when he says, “Personal transformation, or indeed the liberation from the illusion of the self, seems to have been thought too much to ask: or rather, not thought of at all [by Western philosophy]” (215).

The core Buddhist belief regarding human suffering is that we try to live out an illusion—that illusion is that our “selves” are real. Buddhist teaching claims that the way to get rid of suffering is to realize that “you” are not really “you”—you are simply a drop in the ocean of universal consciousness. Your “self-consciousness” is an illusion and the source of all human pain and suffering. Nirvana, therefore, is not an admittance into some sort of paradise; it is rather the negation of all attachment to the material world and a complete renunciation of any sense of self. It is, for all practical purposes, nothing—a complete denial of human individuality.

This view, quite obviously, flies in the face of the Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God and that creation is good and to be enjoyed by human beings who rule over it through service to it. Such a view also flies in the face of Enlightenment thinking, that insists on the rights of the individual to pursue personal happiness. This is extremely ironic because Harris, along with the New Atheist movement, champions the values of Enlightenment thinking.

Basically, in the name of Enlightenment rationality that champions the individual and autonomous reason, Harris is arguing that we embrace the spiritual practices of a religion that says the individual is an illusion, and that the belief in the individual self is the root of all human suffering. Again, this line of argumentation by Harris is inherently contradictory and self-refuting. It is irrational and delusional.

Despite his claims, what Harris is advocating for has nothing to do with science and reason. It is, straight up, eastern Buddhist thinking. Consider this quote:

“Inevitably, the primary obstacle to meditation is thinking. This leads many people to assume that the goal of meditation is to produce a thought-free state. It is true that some experiences entail the temporary cessation of thought, but meditation is less a matter of suppressing thoughts than breaking our identification with them, so that we can recognize the condition in which thoughts themselves arise” (217).

I find it highly ironic that Harris, who sings the praises of reason and rationality on virtually every page of his book, can turn around, and with a straight face, advocate a type of eastern meditation whose “enemy” is…thinking! Harris doesn’t seem to quite get the idea that if you “break your identification” with your thoughts, then they are no longer your thoughts. If there is no “you” who is thinking the thoughts, then there is no “you” to “recognize” the condition of those thoughts.

The Inevitable Contradictions
Harris the Scientific-Enlightenment-Buddhist goes on: “Break the spell of thought, and the duality of subject and object will vanish—as will the fundamental difference between conventional states of happiness and suffering” (218). This is basic Buddhist teaching: once you realize that “all is one,” then you will realize that there really is no distinction between good and evil, suffering or happiness. Apparently, this is what Harris believes as well. Unfortunately for Harris, though, this Buddhist teaching that he embraces completely contradicts everything he has said in his book. For instance:

(1) If Harris believes Buddhist meditation leads to a vanishing of the distinction between happiness and suffering, then how can he claim that “a rational approach to ethics” should be based on questions regarding the happiness and suffering of human beings? According to what Harris says he believes, there is no distinction between happiness and suffering, so how can there be a rational approach to ethics based on things that don’t really exist?

(2) If Harris believes that there really is no distinction between happiness and suffering, then why does he spend so much time decrying the evils of religion? Shouldn’t he have realized through his meditation that there is no real difference between burning witches and having sex while on LSD?

Harris continues by making simply an absurd distinction:
“Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion. The mystic has reasons for what he believes, and these reasons are empirical. The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism). Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial—at once full of hope and full of fear—of the vastitude of human ignorance” (221).

Such a distinction between mysticism and religion is a caricature at best, and utterly misleading at worst. First off, Harris seems to be ignorant of the large mystical tradition within Christianity, as well as other religions. It seems that his predisposition to “hate religion” has given him license to not even bother investigating what religious traditions actually have said, done, practiced, and advocated.

Secondly, look at how Harris defines mysticism: (a) it is “a rational enterprise,” (b) the mystic has “empirical reasons” for what he believes, but (c) it cannot be analyzed, but only “experienced free of concepts.” If mysticism cannot be analyzed, if it can only be experienced free of concepts, then how can it be “rational” or supply “empirical reasons” for belief?

Mysticism and mystery lie at the heart of Christianity. It can be seen in the Lord’s Supper, or most precisely, in the Orthodox “version” known as “The Mystical Supper.” There is a realization that there is a profound mystical mystery that is experienced during the Lord’s Supper. It cannot be defined in any “scientific sense”—it is a mystery that is experienced by the faithful. This is the exact thing that Harris is saying “mysticism” is, but “religion” is not—but here we have an example of mysticism that lies at the very heart of the Orthodox tradition in the Christian religion.

More can certainly be said, but let’s keep it simple: Harris simply doesn’t take the time to understand religion, therefore his critiques of it simply display his own ignorance. And when Harris then turns around and argues for a “science of spirituality,” not only does it undermine then entire argument of his book, but it undermines the very Enlightenment worldview that he champions. Such is Harris’ argument: a hopeless contradiction.

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: A Science of Good and Evil? (Part 8:2)

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: A Science of Good and Evil? (Part 8:2)

The End of Faith

Yesterday, I began to look at Sam Harris’ attempt to root morality within the field of science. Needless to say, such a claim is highly problematic. As I should in yesterday’s post, not only does Harris acknowledge the problem, he also proves himself unable to resolve it. Today, I wish to conclude my comments on Harris’ “scientific basis for good and evil.”

The Golden Rule?
Ironically, in the middle of his attempts to claim that there is a scientific basis for morality, Harris holds up the Golden Rule as an example of morality, saying, “The Golden Rule really does capture many of our intuitions here” (190).

That’s right, Harris is getting his “moral rule” from…Jesus, the founder of Christianity, the religion that Harris says is such a huge part of society’s problems: “do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This is simply another version of what Jesus said when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied by quoting the Shema, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” and then adding, “and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandment hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Now someone might say, “Jesus didn’t come up with that; it’s found in other religious traditions as well.” If that’s the case, then it damages Harris’ argument even further, for it shows that one of the foundational ideas for morality is, in fact, found in religion, not in science. In addition, there is something else that needs to be pointed out here: the foundation for morality that Jesus puts forward isn’t “science,” nor is it some kind of arbitrary pronouncement from the great judgment seat of God. It is, in fact, love: love of God and love of neighbor is the basis for morality.

It is quite clear that Jesus is linking these two commandments together: what makes it possible to love our neighbors as ourselves is a loving relationship with God: loving your neighbor flows out of loving God–and that should drive our understanding of morality.

This, though, is something that Harris cannot see, or chooses to ignore. Now, I’m sure he will say, “Jesus was such a good moral teacher because he was really in touch with his intuition.” But Jesus was quite clear: love of neighbor is rooted in the love of God, not in getting in touch with our “intuition.” Harris likes what Jesus has to say about ethics, but yet rejects the very basis of the ethics Jesus espouses. Just as he does with the concept of “faith,” Harris just conveniently takes “God” out of the equation and inserts the word “intuition” to takes its place. It’s a semantic trick in order to avoid the obvious: morality comes from faith in, and love of, God.

Is Reason the Guardian of Love?
As he advocates for science and reason being the basis of morality, Harris can certainly write with considerable flourish at times. Consider the following quote:

“How can we encourage other human beings to extend their moral sympathies beyond a narrow locus? How can we learn to be mere human beings, shorn of any more compelling national, ethnic, or religious identity? We can be reasonable. It is in the very nature of reason to fuse cognitive and moral horizons. Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love (190).

That may sound good, but when one looks more closely at this quote, it is quite ridiculous. How can we encourage ethical and loving behavior that cuts across racial and national boundaries? Harris answers, “Hey guys, let’s just be reasonable!” If only it were that easy. What happens when we try to “be reasonable” with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Iran? A lot of death, that’s what happens. For men and groups like that, it was “very reasonable” to invade France, kill millions of Christians for the good of the state…you get the picture. “Being reasonable” can be quite a slippery and relative term. Do we really want to base our morality in our faith in human beings’ capacity to “be reasonable”?

When Harris says “reason is the guardian of love,” he actually gets it backwards. Love is actually the guardian of reason. One’s reason goes haywire when one refuses love and chooses to hate. Osama bin Laden’s decision to blow up the twin towers on 9/11 was completely reasonable, given his presuppositions and worldview of hate. If Harris came up to ISIS and said, “Hey, let’s be reasonable!” ISIS would call him an infidel, condemn him for not submitting to their brand of Islam, and then either behead him or burn him alive. For ISIS, that is the “reasonable” thing to do.

So reason is not the guardian of love. Rather, it is the faith, hope, and love found in Christ that is the source and guarantor of reason, ethics, and true humanity. That, in fact, is the heart of the Christian message: the worship and love of God makes us more human by transforming us into the image of Christ. In Christ we see perfectly mature love in action, and that leads to clarity, light, and reason—that leads to God re-creating and resurrecting His image within this human clay, as we are molded more into His image.

Simply put, it is our faith in, and practice of, the love of Christ that leads us to reason, and the sure hope that we too will one day be fully like him as well. All the reason and morality that Harris longs for is found in Christ. But it does not start with “being reasonable.” It starts with faith and love, and it leads us to reason.

Harris’ Commits Intellectual Suicide
Ironically, despite Harris’ claims that we can come to a scientific understanding of good and evil, by the end of chapter six in his book he completely blows the legs out from underneath his own premise when he says,

“Hate, envy, spite, disgust, shame—these are not sources of happiness, personally or socially. Love and compassion are. Like so much that we know about ourselves, claims of this sort need not be validated by a controlled study” (192).

Did you catch that last little bit? Harris says that love and compassion, along with so many other things about human beings, do not need to be “validated by a controlled study.” In other words, Harris has just said, “We don’t need science to validate these things!” How then, may I ask, can science be the basis of morality? It can’t, and Harris knows it.

In any case, this idea of loving others is summed up in a curious quote by Harris near the end of chapter six: “This is not a proposition to be merely believed. It is, rather, a hypothesis to be tested in the laboratory of one’s life” (192). In the first part of this quote we see Harris misunderstanding just what “faith and belief” are. Faith is not merely believing in certain propositions—in fact, mental assent to stated propositions is more rightly what science is. Certain propositions must have evidence to back up their claims to reality. And certainly there are aspects to the Christian faith that fall under this idea, namely the historic truth claims surrounding the life of Christ, the history of Israel, and the realities of a historical resurrection, Jesus’ miracles, Pentecost, and the events of the early Church.

But biblically-defined faith actually is what Harris says in the second part of the quote: it is the living out in real life one’s trust in God. And yes, in a sense, a life of faith is a great test, a great experiment, that is continually challenged in the “laboratory of life.” And so what we see with Harris is that he actually gets a lot actually right—he has just given a pretty good biblical definition of faith! Unfortunately, because he refuses to acknowledge the existence of God, his good definition falls apart, for he attempts to root morality in something that cannot sustain it.

Greatest Commandment

Final Thought on Morality
A lot more can be said on the topic of morality, but I’d like to end with this thought. Harris is wrong to try to root ethics and morality in science. Science can only explain and describe what is, not what people should be like or how they should act. At the same time, I think Christians often have the wrong concept of morality as well, namely that morality is the result of divine fiat–God simply declares that “this” will be “good,” and “that” will be “bad,” as if God could have declared rape and pedophilia to be “moral” and monogamy to be “immoral.”

Simply put, it is a mistake to think that morality and ethics are the outcome and result of divine law. Look again at what Jesus said about loving God and loving your neighbor: He is asked about what the greatest commandment is, and he points to the command to love, and then says all the law and the prophets (i.e. morality) is summed up and rests on those two things.

Morality and ethics is rooted and established in relationship and love, not in some “objective science” or “absolute law.” When understood correctly, the Torah (Jewish Law) is an expression of what love of God and love of neighbor was to look like in that given culture. Therefore, the reason why rape and pedophilia are wrong isn’t simply because “God said so.” It is because such things conflict with loving God and loving our neighbor. You can’t love God and your neighbor if you are raping your neighbor who is made in God’s image.

Yes, morality can be a tricky thing. I think the reason why so many people want 100%, clear cut absolutes is because they are too afraid to really live out that love of God and love of neighbor on a day to day basis. They want to be simply told what to do, and thus be slaves to absolute law. But God wants us to be free image-bearers, basing our actions in love and relationship.

Far from reducing morality to some sort of quagmire of relativity, I think it anchors it in a whole different kind of “absolute” than we’re used to. Anyway, it’s something to think about.

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Can Science be the Basis of Morality? (Part 8:1)

Sam Harris and “The End of Faith”: Can Science be the Basis of Morality? (Part 8:1)

Sam Harris

Despite his attacks on religion and “faith,” atheist Sam Harris nevertheless holds to his own presuppositional faith in “science,” namely that there can be a “scientific basis” for morality. Simply put, morality is not a matter of ethics, it is a matter of science. He writes, “Many people appear to believe that ethical truths are culturally contingent in a way that scientific truths are not” (170). Translation? Ethical “truths” are relative and depend on any given society; scientific truths are objectively true, no matter what culture you are in—therefore, our morality should be based on science.

I do not know exactly which “many people” he is referring to, but I do not know “many people” who argue that ethics and morality are completely relative simply based on particular cultures. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, if morality was just simply a matter of what a particular society decided, then there would be no basis for denouncing Nazi morality as more immoral than Christian morality. Simply put, Christianity believes that there are ethical truths that are always true and not “culturally contingent.” Now certainly there are specific examples of propriety and decorum that are culturally contingent, but that is not what we are talking about here.

The fundamental mistake Harris makes is that he equates “ethical truths” that address proper human behavior, with “scientific truths” that address laws of nature. He apparently cannot tell the difference between a “scientific truth” that says water freezes when it gets below 32 degrees, and an “ethical truth” that says it is immoral to throw a baby into that freezing water to die. The thing is, though, Harris, by the very nature of his atheism, is actually say this. By denying the existence of any kind of metaphysical reality beyond the natural world that provides meaning and morality, he is forced to find meaning and morality within the laws of nature alone—and that means he must locate morality within the realm of science. As my example shows, such an endeavor is highly problematic.

The Principle of “Scientific” Morality
In any case, Harris tries to base his “science of good and evil” on this basic principle:

“A rational approach to ethics becomes possible once we realize that questions of right and wrong are really questions about the happiness and suffering of sentient creatures. If we are in a position to affect the happiness or suffering of others, we have ethical responsibilities toward them—and many of these responsibilities are so grave as to become matters of civil and criminal law” (171).

Simply put, civil and criminal law should be directly linked to whether something brings happiness or suffering on human beings. So, is that a good, “scientific” basis for morality? The simply answer is, “No.” The problem is that since human beings are infinitely varied, a law that might protect the happiness of one might at the same time inflict suffering on another.

Harris, though, has considered this potential problem. He says,

“Admittedly, the problem of adjudicating what counts as happiness, and which forms of happiness should supersede others, is difficult—but so is every other problem worth thinking about. We need only admit that the happiness and suffering of sentient beings (including ourselves) concerns us, and the domain of such concerns is the domain of ethics, to see the possibility that much that is ‘natural’ in human nature will be at odds with what is ‘good’ (185-186).

I might be missing something, but I’m pretty sure Harris has said absolutely nothing here. First, he says, “Yes, how to determine which forms of happiness are more important than others is tricky. Let’s think about that.” Then he says, “Let’s face it, there are some things in human nature that aren’t good, and ethics deals with this issue.”

I’m sorry, he hasn’t said anything. Which human behaviors are unethical? Which ones are “good?” How can one “scientifically” define “good”? What “scientific method” does one propose using to determine whose happiness gets to supersede another’s? When such ethical problems immediately arise as soon as Harris proposes a “scientific basis” for ethics, all Harris can do is dance around those problems, say nothing worthwhile, and move on, hoping you don’t realize that the entire foundation for his very proposal has been completely obliterated.

Reason and Faith…I mean Intuition (But I’m really talking about Faith)
Harris takes some time in his book talking about the relationship between reason and intuition. When one reads what he says, though, one realizes that what he is doing is trying to wed together reason and faith, although he doesn’t use the word “faith”—he substitutes “intuition.” Consider these following quotes:

(A) “Thus, the traditional opposition between reason and intuition is a false one: reason is itself intuitive to the core, as any judgment that a proposition is ‘reasonable’ or ‘logical’ relies on intuition to find its feet” (183).

(B) “To be an ethical realist is to believe that in ethics, as in physics, there are truths waiting to be discovered—and thus we can be right or wrong in our beliefs about them” (181).

(C) “The point, I trust, is obvious: we cannot step out of the darkness without taking the first step” (183).

(D) “The fact that we must rely on certain intuitions to answer ethical questions does not in the least suggest that there is anything insubstantial, ambiguous, or culturally contingent about ethical truth” (184).

Harris is almost correct in these statements. He’s right in saying that one’s reasons for certain actions are based on certain presuppositions that provide the lens through which one views the world. One’s presuppositional worldview and faith commitments, therefore, are validated when reason and evidence bear it out and back it up. Harris, though, cannot admit that such presuppositions are rooted in faith commitments, because that sounds too “religious.” And so, he substitutes the word “intuition” for “faith”—but don’t be fooled, it still is a faith commitment.

Harris’ problem is that although he sees the “correct pattern” that leads to true humanity and ethics—i.e. stepping out in faith (O wait.. “intuition”) to see if one’s faith commitments are validated in the real word—he misunderstands what both the source of this true discovery is. He believes in absolute morality, but says it is based on science, and therefore denies the existence of metaphysical reality. Yet science only observes what is, not what should be, and therefore simply can never be the source for morality, or how one should behave. Or to put it another way, if science can only observe a dark and muddled world, then where does one get this idea of light and clarity from? That is something Harris cannot answer.

Moral Pragmatism and Moral Relativism
When discussing morality, there are two positions Harris clearly rejects: (a) moral pragmatism (i.e. whatever works best is “good”) and (b) moral relativism (i.e. morality is “culturally contingent”). Now, I quite agree with him for the most part here. He also believes in an absolute morality (i.e. things that are really right and really wrong)—again, I agree with him. In some of his statements, he’s actually quite close to the Christian teaching on morality. Let’s consider what he says in the following quote:

“To treat others ethically is to act out of concern for their happiness and suffering. …we soon recognize that ‘love’ is largely a matter of wishing that others experience happiness rather than suffering; and most of us come to feel that love is more conducive to happiness, both our own and that of others, than hate. There is a circle here that links us to one another; we each want to be happy; the social feeling of love is one of our greatest sources of happiness; and love entails that we be concerned for the happiness of others. We discover that we can be selfish together” (187).

Harris sees the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself. He recognizes the healing power of love and how it brings about greater happiness and community. Throughout the New Testament, both Jesus and the New Testament writers emphasize this very thing. Consider John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The passages in the Bible are far too many to list here.

Still, there are two problems with Harris’ statement. First, he doesn’t seem to recognize the fact that oftentimes love is most clearly shown when one takes on suffering on behalf of another. Again, John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Now perhaps Harris would agree with this, I don’t know. Secondly, his last statement about “being selfish together,” is odd. He earlier rejected “moral pragmatism,” but here he is sounding dangerously like a moral pragmatist: “I will ‘love’ you and seek your ‘happiness’ because it will make me feel better.” If that is the rationale behind “loving” someone, then that’s not real love.

Tomorrow, Harris shares a few more thoughts on morality, reason, and love.

Ken Ham, Virgins, and the Shutting of Doors (Part 2)

Ken Ham, Virgins, and the Shutting of Doors (Part 2)

HamArk

In yesterday’s post, I addressed Ken Ham’s use of the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25, and his claim that Christian pastors and academics who don’t support his young earth creationism were not only like the “five foolish virgins,” but were, in fact, false prophets. I gave a brief overview of Matthew 21-27, the larger context in which we find the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Given that, I concluded that Ken Ham is obviously not interpreting the Parable of the Ten Virgins correctly. Quite the contrary, Ken Ham’s willy-nilly use of the Parable of the Ten Virgins is careless, ripped out of context, and completely misused.

The Difference Between Exegesis and Application
Now, it is obvious that most people will tend to take parables like the Ten Virgins and interpret it in some sort of general way, along the lines of, “When Jesus comes back there will be some people who called themselves Christians who will actually be rejected because they really weren’t.” That is completely fine. And for that matter, I am sure Ken Ham would defend himself and say, “Well, I’m not trying to exegete the parable, I’m just doing the same thing: applying it to something today.”

But that’s not what he’s doing. While there certainly is a difference between actual biblical exegesis of a certain passage and the application of that passage for today, it should go without saying that the application should flow out of the original, intended message, and not completely ignore it. Therefore, to properly apply the Parable of the Ten Virgins, you have to make sure your application in some way coincides with the original message.

So let’s do that: when one looks at the parables in Matthew 25 (as well as the ending of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 that leads into chapter 25), what do the “bad servants” all have in common? Well, they spend their time beating and oppressing their fellow servants, they’re not prepared for their master’s coming, they squander their opportunity to use their talents wisely, and they don’t care for the least of these.

Now, Ken Ham has compared the five foolish virgins in that parable to Christian leaders and academics who don’t accept his young earth creationist claims, going so far as to even condemn them as “false prophets” who are leading people to hell. So let’s ask: is that a valid application of the parable?

In a word, “No.”

To illustrate, let’s put a face on Ken Ham’s accusation—let’s use NT Wright. Does he resemble the “bad servants” in any way? Has he oppressed or beaten any fellow Christians in any way? Is he “not prepared” for Christ’s coming because he doesn’t subscribe to young earth creationism? Has he squandered his talent as a biblical scholar? Does he neglect the poor and needy? The answer is “No” on all counts.

And so, Ken Ham’s application of the Parable of the Ten Virgins is worthless because he clearly has never taken the time to actually reflect on what the parable itself is really about. His problem is thus he applies a passage he knows nothing about, and uses it in a very specific manner in order to condemn and bludgeon certain Christian pastors and academics who “deny the literal Fall and dismiss a sin nature inherited from a real Adam”—which Ham interprets as “denying the true, saving gospel.”

This is not a case of simply bad exegesis leading to poor application. This is a case of ignoring exegesis altogether in order to twist Scripture and misapply it to attack your enemies. Since this is what Ham is clearly doing, I think we can properly apply both the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, as well as Jesus’ words at the end of the Olivet Discourse to Ken Ham. This is a perfect description of what his organization is all about: beating, condemning, and judging fellow Christians on a routine basis. Far from actually honoring biblical authority, Ham actually plays fast and loose with biblical context in order to condemn anyone who disagrees with his (let’s put it kindly) highly suspect interpretation of Genesis 1-11. But this shouldn’t be surprising, for Ken Ham respects neither the Bible nor any Christian who disagrees with his young earth creationist claims. He is, for all practical purposes, a goat.

The Doors! The Doors!
In any case, the main illustration Ham uses in his post is that of doors. He states,

“These church leaders and academics outwardly profess to believe in Christ, but like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day (e.g., Jeremiah 23:9-40) and the Pharisees of Jesus’s day (Matthew 23:11-36), they are leading God’s people astray. One day they will find that ‘the door is shut.’”

He then makes an appeal to the reader, and says he is praying that none of them will be counted among the “foolish virgins” and have the door of heaven shut to them: “Make sure your heart is truly right with God, that you are truly born again and believe God’s Word.”

And then there’s the door of Noah’s Ark. Ham points out that because Noah was righteous and built the Ark, that he and his family were saved from a “watery judgment.” When God shut the door to the Ark, Noah was saved, but everyone else suffered judgment. Not surprisingly, Ham sees himself as Noah…heck, he’s even built his own ark! And, not surprisingly, he sees Christian leaders who reject his young earth creationist claims as false prophets “who profess that their hearts are committed to the true God, but are really false teachers. Outwardly they were prophets/teachers, but inwardly, their hearts were not right.” Therefore, as Ham states, such false teachers “will not be on board today’s Ark of Salvation, Jesus Christ, when He comes again (this time in judgment). The door will be shut to them.”

If all that isn’t enough of a blitzkrieg, Ham then shares this cartoon.

Picture

Put all this together, and you get the following:

  • Jesus is the open door to salvation
  • Ken Ham is a righteous preacher, like Noah
  • When God “shuts the door” to the ark, Ham will be saved and many Christians leaders and academics will suffer judgment because they’re false prophets who are leading people through the door to hell

That is quite an accusation, isn’t it? Ham has ripped Matthew 25 out of context in order to, quite literally, condemn “Christian leaders and academics” to hell, not because they are promoting sin or rejecting any fundamental teaching of the Christian faith—but because they don’t subscribe to Ken Ham’s young earth creationism.

Think about that…just let that sink in.

There is actually another Bible verse that uses a door metaphor that I think is quite applicable to this kind of Pharisaic manipulation of the Scripture and condemnation of others: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matthew 23:13).

If Ken Ham is going to contemplate doors, perhaps he should reflect on the door he routinely locks.

Let’s Conclude and Engage in Double-Speak!
Even after all that, Ham isn’t quite done. After writing an entire post in which he unleashes judgment on Christian pastors and academics who disagree with him, after calling them “false prophets,” after saying they have rejected the truth of God’s Word, after saying they probably aren’t truly saved, after saying they will suffer God’s judgment, and after saying they are leading people to hell…Ham concludes with this:

“…an increasing number of ‘Christian’ academics and pastors who may intellectually believe in God, but inwardly (and only God knows), their hearts may not be right with God—like the “foolish virgins.” Certainly, only Jesus, who is the Word, can ultimately judge their hearts (Hebrews 4:12). Now I am not saying that if a person denies the creation account of origins and believes in evolution/millions of years, he or she can’t be truly saved.”

Yes, that’s right, after adding that such (let’s put it in quotes because we really don’t believe it) “Christian” academics and pastors may only “intellectually believe,” and that inwardly their hearts aren’t right with God—Ken Ham turns around and actually says, “Now, I’m not saying they’re not saved! Only God knows! Only Jesus can judge!”

But then (yes, again!) Ham turns around again and calls upon his readers to “pray for these academics and pastors in Christendom who are leading so many people astray. Pray that the Lord will convict them to make their hearts right with God while the ‘door’ (the Lord Jesus) is still open. Remember, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

Pray tell, how can one (a) condemn certain people as “false prophets,” then (b) say, “I’m not saying they can’t be saved; only Jesus can judge, and then (c) call on people to pray that the Lord will convict the hearts of those false prophets “while the door is still open”? If you say (c), then, newsflash, you’re judging them to be not saved!

That sounds like really manipulative double-speak.

…But Then Again, Maybe Not?
Oh…wait a second. Let’s read what Ham wrote again. I think I get it: “I’m not saying he or she can’t be truly saved.” And “while the ‘door’ is still open.”

Do you see it? Yes, Ham isn’t saying someone like N.T. Wright or Francis Collins can’t be saved because they “believe in millions of years.” After all, the door is still open to them. But, according to Ham, they are—in the present tense—“false prophets,” and therefore aren’t currently saved…because they “believe in millions of years”!

I get it now.

I was going to end this post by calling upon my Assemblies of God roots to say that Ken Ham’s manipulative double-speak was directly from the pit of hell, but I don’t think that would be correct. While what Ken Ham does is certainly is manipulative, it’s actually not double-speak: he’s not condemning people, then turning around and saying, “I’m not condemning anyone.”

Oh, he’s blatantly condemning people, that’s for sure: NT Wright, Francis Collins, Peter Enns, Karl Giberson, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and I (hey, how often do I get the chance to put myself in such infernal company?)—Ken Ham has judged us all to be false prophets and teachers who are going to hell because we don’t think God meant Genesis 1-11 to be read as a modern historical/scientific account of the creation of the material universe. For Ken Ham, rejecting his young earth creationist claims amount to a sin against God, and thus is deserving of hell.

But what he then says is, “Only God can judge, so pray for these people before it’s too late! They’re going to hell, so pray they repent of their sin of rejecting my young earth creationist claims!” So he’s actually not engaging in double-speak—but he certainly is engaging in manipulation and deception. And he’s certainly twisting Scripture in order to beat down fellow Christians. In that respect…is it too much to think that what Ken Ham is doing really is coming from a place of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Conclusion: Pharisees, Again
When it comes to evolution or the proper interpretation of any biblical passage, there will always be discussion and debate, as there should be. That’s how we learn. But what I’ve tried to emphasize time and time again is that every clear-thinking, God-honoring Christian should be tremendously concerned with the manipulative tactics, rhetoric, and deception that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis regularly engage in, all in the name of Christ. His actions are that of a modern Pharisee, pure and simple. It’s time he is exposed for what he is.

Ken Ham’s Fascination with Virgins, Doors, and His Propensity to Shut Them–Part 1 (Plus a Brief Overview of Matthew 21-27 that will Blow You Away)

Ken Ham’s Fascination with Virgins, Doors, and His Propensity to Shut Them–Part 1 (Plus a Brief Overview of Matthew 21-27 that will Blow You Away)

By all means, please like this post, and please share it!

A couple of days ago, Ken Ham re-tweeted a previous post he had written back on March 19, 2012: “The Door’s Still Open.” On one hand, nothing he said was particularly new for Ken Ham. On the other hand, what he said made me reflect more on just how dangerous this man and his organization really are. It goes beyond the redundant talking points he regularly trots out on his blog and in AiG’s materials. As I said in my most recent post on Ken Ham, the more you analyze the man’s message, the more you are able to see the darker undercurrents of all he does.

Let’s Consider Ten Virgins
The gist of Ham’s article is pretty straightforward: Christian pastors and academics who do not subscribe to Ham’s young earth creationist interpretation of Genesis 1-11 are false prophets who are denying the truth of God’s Word and leading people to hell. They probably aren’t real Christians anyway, and so, they are going to suffer God’s judgment. Now, Ken Ham says this sort of thing on a routine basis, peppering his writings with innuendo and a passive-aggressive condescending judgmentalism that he truly has mastered. But in the case of this post, Ham launches an all-out blitzkrieg…

Five-Wise-and-Five-Foolish-Virgins-1

…and his attack begins by a reference to Matthew 25 and the parable of the ten virgins: five were wise and brought oil for their lamps as they waited for the bridegroom, whereas five were foolish and didn’t bring any oil. And so, in the middle of the night, when the bridegroom arrived, the five wise virgins were able to light their lamps and usher him into the wedding banquet, whereas the five foolish virgins had to go buy oil, and by the time they got back, the door to the wedding banquet had been shut, and they were left out in the night. That’s the parable.

Ham’s interpretation and application of this parable is simple: the parable is about “nominal Christians” and “true Christians,” and therefore the five foolish virgins can be applied to the church leaders and Christian academics who don’t think the earth is 6,000 years old. Granted, Ham doesn’t put in in those terms. This is how he puts it:

[The foolish virgins] are “those who say they are Christians but have rejected the authority of God’s Word. They have relied instead on man’s fallible ideas to determine truth. These leaders may have never truly been born-again as the Bible teaches, and, among other things, have put their trust in ‘the scholars’ or other religious leaders rather than the Word, Jesus Christ. In essence, such ‘Christians’ have placed their faith in the writings of man over the clear teachings  of the Word—and also over many biblical doctrines, including the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin (Genesis 3).”

Ken Ham’s take on the parable, though, is not only bad exegesis, but he even presents the facts wrong. He said the five wise virgins “kept their lamps lit” as they waited for the bridegroom; but the text doesn’t say that. It says they had brought oil with them, so that they could light their lamps when the bridegroom arrived. In any case, if one reads Matthew 25 within the context of the overall narrative, it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus’s parable is not about “nominal Christians” and “true Christians.” Yes, it has often been applied to the difference between nominal Christians and true Christians, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about. So before we most on with my critique of Hem, let’s have a quick Bible lesson.

What’s the Parable Really About? Read it in Context!
Matthew 25 contains actually three parables: The 10 Virgins, The Talents, and The Sheep and the Goats. All three are essentially about the same thing: the Kingdom of God and who are/who are not true servants of God.

  • In the 10 Virgins, the five wise virgins are ready for the bridegroom when he comes, and therefore get to enjoy the wedding banquet, and the five foolish virgins are left out in the night.
  • In the Talents, the good and faithful slaves are rewarded when their master returns, and the evil and lazy slave loses everything and is thrown into outer darkness.
  • In the Sheep and the Goats, the righteous sheep are rewarded by the Son of Man when he comes, and inherit the kingdom because they served the “least of these;” whereas the evil goats are sent off into eternal punishment.

The key to understanding precisely what these parables are addressing is to view them in light of the surrounding context.

  • In Matthew 21-22, Jesus has enters Jerusalem, only to be confronted by the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, all of whom are clearly rejecting him as the Messiah.
  • In Matthew 23, Jesus unleashes a litany of condemnations directed toward the scribes and Pharisees, and repeatedly calls them “hypocrites” who oppress the poor and needy.
  • In Matthew 24, what his known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Temple, which was run by the priesthood and the Sadducees. At the end of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus talks about the “coming of the Son of Man,” and how no one knows the day or the hour of his coming. He then ends with the question and challenge: “Who is the faithful servant? The one who is working when his master comes, or the one who is caught beating his fellow slaves when the master comes?” The unfaithful servant will be caught unprepared, and will be thrown out with the “hypocrites,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  • In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parables of the Ten Virgins, The Talents, and The Sheep and the Goats—all of which have the same message: the faithful will be rewarded at the coming of the Son of Man, whereas the unfaithful, those who were unprepared, lazy, and oppressive to the poor and needy, will be cast out, where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  • In Matthew 26-27, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, sentenced to death, and killed. And, in 26:64, at his trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Implications for Reading in Context
So, when seen in this larger context, to whom is Jesus referring when he talks about the “foolish virgins,” the “wicked slave,” and the “goats”? The key to understanding that question is being able to understand what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24—and it is actually quite clear. In that chapter, Jesus is not talking about his future second coming. That’s mentioned elsewhere. Here, in Matthew 24, it is plain as day that he is prophesying the destruction of the Temple—and that happened in 70 AD.

Temple is Destroyed

The reason why this is important is that the Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting the coming Messiah to defeat Rome, cleanse the Temple, and set Israel up as the supreme political power in the world. Jesus, though, didn’t fit their expectations. Instead, he was saying that he was the coming Messiah, but that the problem wasn’t with Rome, but rather with the Temple, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. In fact, as was evident, the Jewish religious authorities were actively rejecting their own Messiah. Therefore, as a result, God’s judgment was going to fall upon them in the form of the destruction of the Temple. Jesus, therefore, was prophesying the destruction of the Temple—when that happened, he would be vindicated in the eyes of the world as God’s true Messiah.

Remember, only a small number of followers were witnesses to the resurrection. Therefore, from 33 AD to 70 AD, there still was a lot of debate within the Jewish community regarding Jesus. I believe that the early Christian community (which was, let’s remember, quite Jewish, but reaching out the Gentiles) not only proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection, but also that he had prophesied judgment on the Temple, and that it would happen very soon.

Therefore, “the coming of the Son of Man” was essentially shorthand for talking about Jesus’ prophetic declaration against the Temple, which was fulfilled in 70 AD. If you read most of the passages in the New Testament that talk about “the coming” of Christ in this light, everything falls into place and makes historical sense. They are not talking about some future “second coming” after a rapture and seven year tribulation; they are talking about Christ’s “coming,” meaning his vindication as the true Messiah, and the salvation of his true servants from God’s judgment that came upon Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.

For the record, the small group of Christians who were living in Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish War of 66-70 AD did, in fact, flee Jerusalem (just as Jesus had said to in Matthew 24:16); and for the record, most of the strands of Judaism were destroyed in 70 AD. The only strand that survived was the Pharisaic school, which eventually became rabbinic Judaism.

And, in fact, since we know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written right around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD, and since the Olivet Discourse plays a prominent role in all three Gospels, I think an argument can be made that the historical impetus that led to the three Gospels beings written at that time was, in fact, the Temple’s destruction. Jesus had prophesied about it 40 years earlier; it was a major point of emphasis in the early Christian movement; and now that it had happened, it was time to put down in writing, in a historical narrative, the life and message of Jesus that his followers had been proclaiming for 40 years.

Simply put: why did Matthew, Mark, and Luke eventually get written? Because judgment had come upon the Temple, just as Jesus prophesied it would—it was time to bear witness in written form to the fact that Jesus was a true prophet, the true Messiah, and the true Son of God.

Whew…Take a Breath…
Let all that sink in for today. I think such an understanding of Matthew 24 and talk of “the coming of the Son of Man” has huge implications for the way we tend to read parts of the Gospels. I think it actually helps clarify and put a whole bunch of things into perspective. By doing so, I think actually taps into what the original life-changing, revolutionary Gospel message is. It opens the door back out into the biblical world, and allows us to breath in the fresh air of the Gospel.

But for now, let all that sink in. Tomorrow, I’ll bring it all back to Ken Ham’s post, and show, in light of what I’ve said, just how dark and distorted his so-called “gospel” really is.

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