Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Not All Atheists Are Fools!: Misquoting Scripture

I am not a Biblical literalist. I am a Biblical contextualist. That means when I study the Bible (and all ancient literature), my position is not to interpret it from my cultural point of view, but ask myself how the hearers of the day understood the work in their own cultural context.
Yes, that takes a lot of study and when you do that, you will quickly discover that some points adhered to by Christians and critics of the Christian faith are interpretations that make no sense to anybody who takes the trouble to study.

Psalm 41:1 is one of the most abused verses in Scripture and it always quoted incompletely: "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." The implication is clear. All atheists are fools. 

Only one tiny problem.

In the ancient Near East, the words foolishness and wisdom have nothing to do with intelligence. They have everything to do with morality. I can also say, I have known many atheists in my life. I can honestly say that very, very few of them are fools. The majority of them are actually quite moral and, though I may disagree with the particulars, they have a personal moral code that they follow for what they believe are very good reasons.

The fool in the 41st Psalm (and repeated again in the 51st) is an atheist, but a very specific type for a very specific reason. The fool mentioned here is a person with no morals at all. That is what the word means.

The fool referred to here is a nihilistic psychopath so when Christians talk to an atheist and quote this verse, they offend the atheist who thinks it is their intelligence being referred to, but in reality, you are claiming the atheist is a person of such low character they have no concept of right or wrong and are, in fact, aggressively following active evil. Not a good idea, but I will illuminate that in a moment.

Now by definition, a
nihilistic psychopath follows no moral code. They are true solipsists who cannot even fathom the concept of "other." And in the cultural context of the Psalms, a solipsistic,
nihilistic psychopath would be, by strict definition, an atheist.

But as I said, I know atheists who aren't. Therefore...

All solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths are atheists, but not all atheists are solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths.

Got it?

Now I've explained this to dozens of Christians and I've met the occasional one that doesn't want to have anything to do with "book larnin'" (an exact quote). Okay. Try this one on for size:
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:22)
Why such a strict command? Because to call somebody a solipsistic, nihilistic psychopath is an act of judgement on that person's character and that is not our role as followers of Christ. I can discuss actions. I can even condemn an action, but you and I and everybody else tread dangerous ground when we cast judgement on the person's value and worth.

And since "God so loved the world," that is not our job. Everyone has value in the eyes of God. Everyone is welcome to the table of Divine Grace. Even
solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths.

Be careful what you say.

Why I Am Not An Atheist

I confess I have always had a fascination with atheism and many years ago I toyed with the worldview in my ill-spent youth. However, though well read in atheist and skeptical literature, there were a number of reasons I could not shed a metaphysical paradigm and years later there were good reasons I embraced Christianity and its worldview.

Now if you are an atheist reading this waiting for an attack, sorry. That is not going to happen. In my own personal research I have identified nine types of atheists and there are three of them that, though I disagree with their conclusions, I understand where they are coming from. If you are one of those three types, we probably could have a peaceful chat over a cup of coffee without any ill feelings. If you are one of the other five (the final ninth one only having my pity and who does not enter into this discussion), my problem with your worldview is that is shallow, immature, and an insult particularly to atheism and to humanity in general.

This is an article as to why I am not an atheist and without further ado, let’s start:

1. Legal and Subjective Proof:

A famous thought experiment by atheists is the one about the invisible, pink unicorn where people are challenged to prove there is an invisible, pink unicorn in the room. The resultant failure (because there is no invisible, pink unicorn in the room) is then presented as proof that there is no metaphysical world as it cannot be proved.

However, there is one flaw in the reasoning. Let us say I had a room and I induced strangers to walk in and out of it. If 95% of them walked out and said something along the lines of, “You’re not going to believe this, but I can’t shake the gut feeling there’s an invisible pink unicorn in that room,” you build up a mountain of legal and subjective proof that something is going on that transcends one’s normal senses.

Humanity is predominantly metaphysical in their worldview. The Barna Research Group has discovered that even  “many self-described atheists also claim to pray to a deity” and knowing human nature and its struggles, I find that neither odd nor hypocritical.

Now this is certainly not a proof for Christianity, but the worldwide phenomenon of the vast majority of the world embracing a metaphysical paradigm certainly is a valid argument for a supernatural position.

2. Archaeology

So far, archaeology has yet to find any information to disprove much of the Old Testament. Yes, there are still gaps to be filled in, but so far, what has been found is interesting. You can find a list of what are considered the major finds for 2014 here.

Recently, the gates to ancient Philistine city of Gath were found  as well as Jezebel’s seal from the 9th Century BC.

In fact, if you want to see a group of archaeologists discuss the ancient city of Jericho, this half-hour video is worth your time.

3.  The Person of Jesus Christ

In my mid-teens and searching, I concluded one day that the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God had to be a fabrication. However, I had studied enough of the Bible to know that what he said did carry much to value. This is why I am not surprised when I read that there are a percentage of atheists who continue to read the Bible. Even deist Thomas Jefferson found much about the person and character of Christ that he admired, a stance I understood and shared.

It was when I was reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I came across his famous trilemma:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Now this put me into one serious conundrum as I was willing to consider Jesus of Nazareth as a great, moral teacher, but I knew enough as he was represented in Scripture that he was not a liar and he was certainly not a lunatic. And to add another dimension, I have never been convinced that he was a legend. Therefore, I could only have come up with conclusion and that he was who he claimed to be.

Also, of the twelve apostles (if you include Saul of Tarsus who later became Paul), all except John were martyred for their faith. And understanding the cultural context of Scripture, that they were willing to die for a crucified person (which was the most shameful and disgraceful way to die in the ancient Near East) that meant there had to have been another event that overpowered their cultural revulsion for crucified people.

That was the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.

4.  Coming to Understand Pain and Evil In a Fallen World

Yeah, this is a world where evil happens. Everywhere there is injustice and chaos and killing, some of it even done in the name of religion.

Some Christians have become atheists simply because they could not wrestle with the seeming  contradiction between a loving God and the presence of evil. However, one of the reasons that I became a Christian is that in the midst of it all there is still good to be found.

And why?

Why are we not so swamped by evil that that is all we find? If there is no God and therefore no inherent meaning in all of this, if the precepts of evolution with its mantra "survival of the fittest" are absolute, why are we not tearing each other to shreds? What biological advantage do I have in thinking a rose is beautiful or that Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring can move me to tears?

This essay would go on for days if I listed the steps as to how I came to peace with the dilemma of theodicy. In fact, I don't believe I could ever summarize it and it would be brutal of me to do so. Why? The pain that some of you have experienced cannot be "explained away" in a soundbite or a blog. That would be callous.

Yet I feel no need to blame God or excuse him for the state this world is in.

In a nutshell, after decades of research and thought and study, I have come to peace with the contradictions and I can only say it is not just blind faith and though my answer cannot be explained in a blog post, but I can give you a hint.

If you ask me what God is doing about all the evil in the world, my response is a simple, "He sent me."

He also sent you. And everybody else.

I hope you're keeping your end up.

And if you discover you can't, be at peace. I can't keep my end up either.

That's where Jesus Christ comes in and he's not my crutch. He's my entire hospital with attached trauma center.

And for some odd reason that I cannot understand, he has turned my wounds into scars and scar tissue is stronger than the surrounding flesh.

And it is those scars from which I reach out to people with understanding and empathy and I can play my small role in easing this world's pain.