Saturday, August 25, 2007

To miss the mark.

The word sin, in Hebrew and Greek, is based on a hunting metaphor. Hebrew is "chatah" and Greek is "hamartia" which basically meant that the hunter missed hitting what s/he was aiming at, and thus the weapon "fell short." But this would mean that the hunter was aiming at a specific target.

A lot of Christians seem to teach that humanity is willfully disobedient to God, that in its natural state it prefers evil over good, does not seek good of its own accord and so forth. That's sin. But if sin means "to miss the mark" and pulls from a metaphor that says one misses one's aim ... doesn't that mean that humanity is aiming for the mark of goodness, but just falls short? That when humanity sins, it's not "willful" and it doesn't prefer evil and wouldn't want good without outside intervention After all, what competent hunter wants to miss his/her target? If my target is a raise at work, then I'm not going to willfully try to miss that target, nor will my natural state mean that my true desires are to receive no raise whatsoever. Rather, if I miss my target, it would be due to something that I didn't purposely do.

Yet this isn't how sin seems to get taught, but rather that humanity delights in disregarding good and justice and so on.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Liar, Lunatic, Lord.

I'm sure we're all familiar with the Trilemma argument. Aside from some of the problems with it, like the fact that it assumes Jesus literally did/said everything attributed to him, and leaving out the possibility of legend, I'm wondering if it also suffers from another problem.

Does this argument drift into the ad hominem arena in order to to make it's point?

If person A were to make a statement about universal health care being a good thing, and I say person A is wrong about that because person A is an idiot, I have not addressed the claim. Rather, I've sideswiped the claim by focusing on Person A. But person A's supposed idiotic nature doesn't belong to the claim itself.

Part of the Trilemma argument is that we're told we can't simply call Jesus a great moral teacher because good moral teachers don't say what he said. But even if Jesus were crazy, how does that change the command to not judge? Or the Samaritan parable? Or even the golden rule? How does Jesus' mental status have any bearing on the morality of those statements? Crazy people can utter moral statements. So can liars.

No, we wouldn't use crazy people or liars in order to completely orchestrate a moral code (Well ... it might depend on the level of craziness, and how one defines crazy. Crazy could be walking into a war zone in order to teach people about love, yet we could draft a moral code around that).

But my problem is that if the Trilemma is used in order to address the claim "Jesus was just a great moral teacher," then I see the argument itself attacking Jesus, rather than addressing any of his moral statements. Saying that Jesus could be crazy or a liar doesn't show me why he also didn't teach people about morals.

I also realize the argument is meant to address statements such as Jesus saying he was the bread of life, or the resurrection and the life. But again -- these claims don't negate the moral statements themselves.

I mean, there's evidence pointing to Martin Luther King, Jr. having affairs, or plagerizing. But if those claims are true, does that negate that he spoke for peace and non-violence and the end of segretation? No, because the claims themselves are seperate from his character.

So does the Trilemma argument seperate the moral statements of Jesus from the character of Jesus, or lump the two together? If it lumps the two together, isn't that somewhat forcing the listener to reach a specific conclusion? If this claim is that strong, why should any force be necessary at all?

Monday, August 20, 2007

A grateful heart. It's mine, I tell you. Mine!

I'm been ruminating lately, over what kind of line there is between gratitude and selfishness, and whether it's a really thin one at that.

On the other hand, one of the things I try not to think about too much is how better this world would be if we cared more, or if we were less apathetic, or maybe even demonstrated more gratitude.

Now I'm wondering if apathy is always the correct word. Oh, I'm sure that some people are apathetic. But perhaps others are simply trying to survive? For me, there's only so much I can take of the daily atrocities before I can feel myself shutting down, and I have to push the images away if I want to be able to function -- or if I even want to eat an apple without feeling guilty. There are times when I have to read the news like a giant fictional story, so I can process it.

So that's the point in which I have to focus on myself, at the exclusion of all else. How much of that is selfishness, and how much of that is simply so I don't get buried in everything that's around me? There's doing what you can, and then there's surrendering your whole life to this sense of guilt over what I have compared to what a majority of the world lacks.

And often, I take what I have for granted. It's easy to do, as I've never been without it. Gratitude for these things almost takes an extra effort, because I have to stop and make myself think about what it would be like to not have what I do have. However, it's also not an effort, because it can be easy to be grateful even during my daily (well, rather multi-daily. I work with spreadsheets at work a lot, and need breaks) of CNN.

But -- can counting our blessings lead to an inability to let them go, and in fact make us cling to them? Can it make us so focused on what we have that what we have turns into needs, even if it's a certain house, car, clothing, job and so on? Yet at the same time, those "needs" can help me remained balanced, and not getting overwhelmed by all of the suffering in the world.

There's also the sense that I do have these things, and to not be grateful, or even demonstrate a sense of appreciation for them, is wrong. Yet I'd want to do so in a way that doesn't indulge in selfishness.

I feel like I almost have two different topics going on here. I think the connection is that more people than we think are grateful for what they have, and aren't just selfish. However, there's also a part of you that has to take it for granted, or you'll drive yourself crazy in comparing yourself to the less fortunate.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Who, or what, is a Christian?

I saw another post ask this question, and the usual responses followed: justified in the blood of Jesus, someone who holds the right beliefs (resurrection, correct atonement theory, correct belief of the nature of Jesus).

That's not how I would've answered.

When it's used in the New Testament, it means those who followed Jesus, or those who were disciples of Christ. It's reasonable to infer, therefore, that Christian basically means "Christ-like." "Christ" means the Messiah, or Anointed One. So to be Christian is literally to be "Anointed One-like."

I'm trying to think of an exemption to this, but usually when we say that someone is like another person, it's generally to describe characteristics or behavior. If I am like my friend or family member, it's because I would do what the friend/family member would do, or vice versa. So if we are to be Christ-like, then we would do what Christ did. Otherwise, we reduce "Christ-like" to believe as Jesus believed.

The Gospel of John focuses a lot of Jesus as the divine son of God, who Jesus was and his relation to the world and God, and to believe in the son is to receive eternal life/salvation. Inevitably, that gets used a lot in defining Christian.

Here's my problem: John is one of four books that details the life of Jesus. It's in the minority, and yet it gets used as a majority (I'm referring the books that deal with Jesus when he walked on this planet only right now). The other three books show that Jesus places a huge emphasis on action. The harsh words he had were for the religious elites -- those who clung to the correct beliefs at the expense of all else, including their fellow humans.

Let's take the Samaritan. By all accounts, the Samaritan was a heretic, a sinner, and definitely on the "outs" with God because he had the wrong beliefs. And yet that person was the most "Anointed-One like," because he behaved as an Anointed One should. When the three people would stand before God, who would receive the praise?

When we look at our neighbors today, and compare the behavior of some who call themselves Christian to others who call themselves agnostic ... I can't help but think the agnostics are going to receive the praise, because they truly behaved as though Anointed with the Spirit of God.

No, this is not a matter of "earning" salvation. Repentance and turning from sin can come in a variety of ways. If we work with someone who is an absolute jerk, and the understandable response would be to belittle this person, we are repenting through responding with calmness. We are repenting if we decide to see past the jerk-facade, and into the factors that influenced him as a child, or even still influence him. We repent by looking past the surface. We turn from sin when we refuse to hold onto our anger, or refuse to let "the jerk" influence our response, or refuse to let "the jerk" discolor our ability to love him or her.

So who is a Christian? Someone who is Christ-like. Someone who behaves as Jesus did, who sees as Jesus did.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I'm right, you're wrong, end of story, who wants cake?

Note: The title is not meant to be taken as a serious statement.

I've been mulling over my Ephesians post, and the reactions to it. The reactions basically went into two camps, which I figured would happen. Those who found it a disturbing verse, a voice of the time, and those who ... well, for lack of a better word, didn't. Now, this latter camp did find the prior treatment (as in, the verse used to permit subjugation of wives) deplorable, and did focus on the positives of the verse, such as the man must love his wife as the Christ loved the church.

I guess my question would be this: at what point is the verse simply allowed to be wrong, or a product of its time, rather than misinterpreted? In today's time, any verse that comes across as pro-slavery or anti-woman that was once vigorously used is now pretty much explained as a misinterpretation. It didn't really mean that slavery was okay, the people of that time were just blinded.

Okay -- but in 500 years, what else is going to be just a misinterpretation, and actually mean something else? Will there come a point at which everything in the Bible was just a misinterpretation? Where is the line drawn?

I've also noticed a trend with disturbing/bothersome Bible verses. They're almost not allowed to stand on their own, or allowed to say what's in them. In response to Ephesians, other verses were used to interpret it, in order to address the points I made, other verses were used to explain it. We don't do that with verses such as the Samaritan parable. We don't even really do that with the two greatest commandments. Those stand on their own a lot more than some of the other verses.

Now, I'm not denying that it's important to put the Bible in context. Otherwise, we could end up with a situation like saying that Peter was actually Satan in disguise, because Jesus called him Satan once, and so the Catholic Church was actually founded by Satan (although, there may be some who completely agree with the last portion of that). But there's also contextualizing a verse to the point where the interpretation doesn't match the verse at all -- it's almost been re-written through all the other verses. It's been completely twisted out of shape, in order to make people more comfortable. And then, in order to answer a question developed from the uncomfortable passage, another passage is used -- but used in a way that avoids the discomfort of the first passage, period.

That angers me, and I think that is because it comes across as sweeping the verse under the carpet, and moving onto more cheerful matters. I'm going to use a really extreme example here, but Hitler was swept under the rug through use of appeasement (although, in the end, he didn't stay swept under there). The European nations, rather than stopping Hitler when he started taking over other countries, figured that he'd have to stop after that one, and what was the harm in letting him keep it so long as there was no war? (No, they didn't do this casually, having just gotten out of a first World War that had devastating consequences, much of that due to, for those times, modern weaponry). The problem is that you can't do that with something unjust. You have to fix the causes, or you're never going to solve the problem.

In a lot of ways, that's what the Ephesians verse reminds me of. It goes back to the reaction of it was just a misinterpretation, and they didn't focus on the man loving as Christ (although, here's a sobering thought: what if that was forefront in their minds as well, and that was their idea of love?) It's like you can pat yourself on the back for fixing the misinterpret ion, or shake your head over how misguided prior generations were. But that's not fixing the problem, that's appeasement.

I'm not denying that culture played a role in how the Bible was read. It always does, and it always will. But that is almost placing the blame/responsibility solely on culture, and not examining the verse itself. Apart from culture, why was the Ephesians verse interpreted the way it was? What was it in those verses that people responded to? What are the root causes in the verse itself that sparked those ideas? The fact that the woman isn't compared to Christ? The fact that the woman is compared to the man's body? The fact that the woman isn't told to love, but just submit/respect? Maybe it really was the author's intent to portray a non-equal message? If it was, what do we do about it?

We need to address those questions, and not just say that prior generations got it wrong. We can't just use other verses in order to "clean up" the Ephesians verse. We need to be able to identify what the triggers are, what it was in that verse that made people cling to the notion of inequality so long, and we can only do that by taking a cold, hard look at it and going, "You know what? I totally see where they got that from." Otherwise, we're just changing the surface of the passage, and dragging another viewpoint out, trying to conceal the first viewpoint, rather than completely eradicate it. This can, in turn, lead to the danger of the prior interpretation asserting itself.

I still don't find the verse that liberating for wives. But at least now I understand why I'm being so forceful on this issue.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wives, be subject to your husbands ...

Disclaimer: I am aware of the other biblical verses that assign an equal status to the man/woman or husband/wife. And I do wish that the Christian churches had focused more on something like Galatians 3:28, with everyone the same in Christ. Unfortunately, it hasn't, and the Ephesians verses is one of the reasons why.

The reason why I'm not addressing those other verses is because they seemed to get used a lot to soften what's going on in this Ephesians verse. Ephesians says what it says, and below are all the things I found buried in the verse. Softening them, or using another verse, does not eradicate what is in the Ephesians verse itself.

Yes, I'm aware of the irony, given that I don't hold God ordering much of what happened in the Tanakh, but rather people struggling to understand God. But Christianity tends not to focus on those, because Jesus set a new era. One of the verses in this new era is the Ephesians letter.

End Disclaimer

... if I was someone who believed that there were no such things as coincidences, I'd start questioning why I'm seeing Ephesians 5:22-34 pop up a lot.

It's a familiar verse, with advising women to be subject to their husbands. It's a verse used to show how women are considered secondary in the Bible. The common response to this is that the verse goes onto to tell men to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up, and for men to love their wives as themselves. It's "mutual submission."

I have a few difficulties with that response

1) There is a definite hierarchy established in this verse. Man is head of the woman, just as Christ is head of the church, so as the church submits to Christ, so must the woman submit to the man. The basic principle behind Christ being in authority is that Christ knows all, and humans are to bow to his will. In this comparison, it's establishing that the man knows better than the woman, and ultimately the woman must bow to the man's will.

2) Nowhere does it say for the man to submit to the wife as well. It says for the man to love his wife as Christ loves the church, but the man does not submit to the wife. Ever. It ends with saying that man must love his wife, but the woman must respect her husband. Now, it could be argued that "love" automatically entitles the woman to submission and respect, but that's an inference, and that depends on the definition of "love." For some men, loving their wives means they completely control their wives, because their wives aren't smart enough to guide their own lives. And this is not a "radical" view for Christianity -- from what I've seen of the early church fathers, they weren't all that thrilled with women as a whole.

3) The man is to love his wife as he loves his body. This can too easily reduce a woman to "property," much like the man's body is his own property. It is also saying that a man is to love his wife as his own self. However, self-love can often be egotistical, and self-focused. My version even says that "In loving his wife a man loves himself." In a lot of ways, the woman is almost seen as the extension of the man.

4) Only the man is compared to Christ. The woman is compared to the church. The church and Christ are not equal, so under this comparison, the man and woman are not equal, either. As the church is subject to Christ, so is the woman subject to the man. And how often do we hear that is no longer the person who lives in the body, but Christ? If that's applied here, the woman is not independent, but again -- seen as the extension of the man. The verse does go on to describe how Christ gave himself up for the church and cleansed it. But that comparison leaves us with the man needing to "save" the woman and presenting her with no stain or wrinkle. Plus, the whole purpose of Christ was that man was incapable of saving himself, so God had to step in. In the comparison, woman is incapable of overseeing herself, so the man has to step in.

I've also seen a response for this that the man and woman are equal, they just have separate roles. Yet that strays too far to the "separate but equal" line of thought, and history has shown how well that's worked.

Overall? I still see this passage as a means of controlling women. They aren't given an identity in this passage like men are.

Edited to add:

Another interesting thing I've noticed about this verse -- the wife isn't called to love the husband, simply submit and respect (Now, one can say that both are indications of love. But I also have a healthy respect for the Great White Shark, and not because of any love, but because of how quickly it can kill me. Submission and respect are not synonymous with love). If I'm remembering my history correctly, weren't there a few Greek philosophers that debated if women even had souls the way men did?

This verse almost seems to be classifying love in two different ways. Men can love, and women ... can't? Or have a substandard sort of love? It just seems to assign very clinical aspects to what the wife should do, with almost no emotion involved. It's like there's nothing of the soul involved, in what the wife is called to do. Which, in a lot of ways, would work really well with saying that the husband should love the wife as he loves his own body.