Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Essence of Phariseeism is Human Sacrifice

The Pharisee- the historical ones of the New Testament, and the modern progressive ones we have today- is driven by a strange urge. He desires not simply to raise himself above others, to glorify himself in some endeavor- the ancient pagan drive for honor, glory, and fame, a drive to self-idolatry but not entirely bad because it does produce human excellence- but to raise himself above other humans by excelling at some standard of behavior he has created, which others cannot adhere to, and thus witness their destruction as proof of his righteousness and superiority.

The fundamental rules of God, whether seen in scripture or derived from natural law, don’t in their obedience give them enough glory- although that is all that is required, as Jesus told the rich young man. So he creates another set of rules, which he by accident of his wealth, social status, and living situation is able to follow, but others are not. He then condemns others, weaker, poorer, and more vulnerable, for not following his own rules. If he is a social authority, as he is often able to make himself, he makes people hate religion and even hate God. As he sees it, their impiousness and doom is only just the unfortunate lack of will to live up to his standards, and a shocking lack of respect for him.

But in reality the Pharisee mocks God. By setting the rules for his own righteousness, he mocks the ability God alone has to glorify, and by making these rules burdensome and difficult for others, he mocks the ability that God alone has to judge and condemn.

When the pagan sacrificed a human being, he only wanted the death and the destruction of the body of the victim as a gift to his god or idol. The Pharisee seeks to destroy not merely the body, but the soul of the victim, while he is alive in the manner of bitterness and despair, after he has died through eternal punishment.

The religious hypocrites that Isaiah raged against were merely hypocrites- people who wanted to use temple sacrifice to cover for and continue their evil ways. The Pharisees that Jesus condemned were far worse. Their phony religiosity was not merely to cover their sins, but to separate people from God, with the idea of their own comparative merit.

There is no way around condemning sin. However condemning sin does not meaning holding people to unreasonable standards they can’t realistically meet while congratulating yourself on being such a great guy. Conservative or traditionalist Christians get labeled as hypocrites and moralizers constantly, but for some reason progressive Christians- the current paragons of decency and morality- are never criticized or called out on their hectoring and belittling of people. Progressive Christians do terrible harm to the name of God, as I think this story demonstrates, but because they are portrayed as representing the height of morality, we are told to shut up and be progressive and go along with it, or at least just shut up.

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God Bless America?

I live in a place where the PC is strong, and I saw a “God Bless All Nations” bumper sticker today. You may have seen it, or an older variation, “America Bless God”. In either case, the sentiment is clear- that the idea of invoking God to bless America is chauvinistic, jingoistic, or arrogant.

But what is the real nature of this song? Do these people even know, or care? Progressives usually don’t. I was compelled to think- where did this song come from?- and thinking about it I was pretty sure this popular song, like so many of the 20th century, was not written by some Christian superpatriot, but by a Jew.

Looking it up, I was right, as I usually am. “God Bless America” was written by Isaiah Berlin. What fever of American exceptionalism gripped the poor man to express such an awful sentiment?

In writing the song Berlin was simply exercising the command God gives to Jews in Jeremiah 29:7– to pray for the peace and prosperity of the places to which they are exiled, because it will be their prosperity as well.

So, to criticize the song or sentiment “God Bless America” is actually anti-Semitic! Can you believe the nerve of these people?

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Is Christianity Dying? Well, What Kind?

Megapastor Mark Driscoll has a new book coming out, A Call to Resurgence. The inspiration is that the conservative evangelicalism that became popular again with some segment of the population in the 70’s has peaked and begun to decline in the last few years.

The culture war began in earnest in the 60’s. People who didn’t like this, and felt lost in the increasing suburban materialism of the time, turned in large numbers to a sort of revivalist, missionary Baptist Christianity that took on a more modern appearance. The culture war was mostly a rout. No traditional church, Catholic or Protestant, maintained much control over its members, to the extent they retained their members at all. My devoutly Catholic grandmother had four children, of whom two- my father and an aunt- practiced Catholicism as adults. Neither of my aunt’s children practices as an adult, and while my brother and sister practice, they have no children so the religion will be passed along to no one.

The traditional churches could tolerate fornication, which they had for a long time, and to some extent cohabitation. The normalization of homosexuality was more than they could deal with though. Fornication and cohabitation can be seen as unauthorized but tolerable parts of the courtship process leading to traditional marriage. Homosexuality cannot. But the normalization of homosexuality has been a non-negotiable and relentlessly pursued part of the culture war. “Tolerating” homosexuality, in terms of understanding it is something a few men in the big city do, was not acceptable. Maybe this started with AIDS. AIDS started in San Francisco and New York, but gay visitors from the hinterland brought it home, and while a gay in a conservative small town might have his discreet behavior discreetly ignored- as had been the social custom for centuries- if he got AIDS that changed.

So far this seems to be a conflict between liberal sexual mores and Christianity. But the force pushing liberal sexual mores is a form of Christianity itself, roughly progressive Christianity, more specifically Victorian Methodism.

Progressive Victorian Christians made a name for themselves taking up the cause of people they regarded as socially marginalized- black slaves in British colonies first, then women. Being businessmen this sympathy did not apply to laborers, and the practice of enslaving young white boys as chimney sweeps continued until 1875.

In general, however, the Victorian “non-conformists” disliked any characteristic associated with the old, aristocratic order, such as social hierarchy or manliness. Any weak or oppressed group- other than the white working class, of course- such as women, girls, effeminate men, people of Third World countries- had to be treated with gentleness and consideration. They promoted a form of belief that mainly consisted of love and charity for the poor and weak of the type they considered sympathetic- women, girls, and non-whites- and discipline for the poor and weak they didn’t care for, the white working class, largely expressed in the form of temperance crusades. Masculinity was associated with on one hand, the landed upper class descended from aristocratic warriors, and on the other hand with farmers, laborers and craftsmen- all people of an agricultural society. In the new industrial society, men were expected to either be office managers and clerks or factory workers, jobs which required submissive and obedient behavior, not rough-spoken independence.

On top of this homosexuality of a sort was part of the English upper-class and upper middle-class experience. Boys went at young ages to boarding schools where they spent most of their time well into adolescence. Older boys used younger boys to do various chores and provide services, a practice known as “fagging“. The services included in many cases sodomy. In other cases homosexual relationships formed between boys of equal age and status. Usually the boys put this behind them after they left school, but sometimes they didn’t. In any case the upper middle-class of England wasn’t inclined to regard homosexuality as something particularly wrong or shameful.

So what Christianity has meant for the English-speaking moral authorities has for a long time meant primarily kind charitable treatment towards certain classes they considered of a more moral nature- that these people should not be judged, punished, ostracized, or looked down on, but instead celebrated for their admirable qualities. Whether these groups actually display these qualities- whether the poor are actually humble and meek rather than arrogant, aggressive and lazy, and whether homosexuals are actually gentle, mild-mannered fellows who are respectful of women and children rather than alcohol- and drug-abusing sex addicts who find age of consent laws an annoying inconvenience- is beside the point.

The confrontation that Driscoll talks about is mostly won without any real discussion by the progressives. It’s well-noted by conservative Christian men that in “churchianity” feminism and bad behavior by women is accepted in most supposedly traditional churches. The moral superiority of women is a part of Victorian Christianity accepted by most Americans from the beginning.

But unless you are willing to accept the exegetical acrobatics that make homosexuality acceptable, you can’t take the full progressive position. And the full progressive position is the only one acceptable in large parts of American society. Imagine if one of the members of Driscoll’s church was to go into his workplace in Seattle and say, “I believe homosexuality is immoral.” He would be lucky to get reeducation; termination would be the most likely result.

People like Richard Dawkins think they are atheists, but in reality they are Victorian Methodists without the supernatural. Christianity is alive and well, and winning, at least in the progressive form.

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Progressive Christianity, Evil, and Social Control

H/t to a commenter at Sailer, rape and molestation are rampant among Old Colony Mennonites in Bolivia.

What do these strange and isolated people have to do with the modern world? The attitudes they hold- the moral superiority and cultural isolation- are only an extreme expression of the attitudes that rule the age. These people have remained farmers, and moved farther and farther away from the modern world, others with the same attitudes- the Puritans and Quakers- became businessmen, and took over the world as it moved from agriculture to industry and trade.

The same kind of thing has happened among the Amish in the US, and of course very famously with Catholic priests in the US. A child is sexually abused. A pro forma apology is made, and the victim is required to forgive. The abuser continues the behavior, and the victim complains. Again, a pro forma apology is made, and the victim is required to forgive. The victim either puts up with this- like the girls in the article- or if they want stronger measures to be taken, they become the evil one for being angry and not forgiving.

This is based on the self-serving application of the concept of unconditional forgiveness. Progressive Christians certainly don’t believe in unconditional forgiveness for things they oppose, but for things they don’t mind, or to avoid being put out, they will require it.

The fact that reading the bible is not only not encouraged, but discouraged reminded me of the Catholicism I grew up with. Bible reading wasn’t discouraged, but it wasn’t regarded as necessary or helpful. All the religious knowledge you needed you got in church, from brief readings and brief messages about the readings. But in reality Catholic moral norms are enforced by the elders. The elders in Irish Catholicism are post-menopausal women, who on a daily basis instruct and admonish on proper behavior.

The system of the Old Colony Mennonites, just like the system we live under, isn’t about the good, it’s just about controlling people. You do what you are told, and at least pretend to believe what you are told, or you are thrown out. But sometimes it’s better to be thrown out.

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Born Again?

I was reading my New Testament translated by Richmond Lattimore and I came to John 3, where Nicodemus visits Jesus. Jesus tells him he must be “born from above”.

Born from above? This is a very common phrase used by evangelical Christians, but we are very used to hearing it as “born again”. We hear all the time how important it is to be “born again”, although this phrase is puzzling, and I can’t blame Nicodemus for walking away perplexed. “Born from above” on the other hand to me means something a lot different.

Looking it up at http://www.biblegateway.com, almost all translations in English and Spanish use the phrase “born again”. (Other languages are available, but those are the only ones I’m familiar with.) Exceptions are the God’s Word translation; The Message; the Names of God Bible; and Young’s Literal Translation. The Message is a paraphrase translation, the Young’s a literal translation, so it can’t be a matter of style of translation, but some other choice.

Richmond Lattimore was a well-known translator of Greek- you will probably see his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey in the bookstore- and I picked up his NT translation when I saw it as a skeptic because it seemed to me from him I would get the most unbiased translation. And in fact I found it very powerful and persuasive.

One reason it reads better is that it doesn’t have chapter and verse breaks, which are distracting.

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The Three Peters

I’m watching “Moonrise Kingdom”, a Wes Anderson movie about a boy and a girl who run away together and throw a small community into chaos. I think his movies are usually a little too ironically self-conscious, which is to say too hipsterish maybe, but I like this one. His form of humor is to have people doing and saying things not fitting themselves and their situations.

The boy meets the girl by walking into the dressing room at a church play and talking to the girl like some smooth guy in a bar. Seeing a small, skinny boy with glasses wearing a scout uniform talk and act like that is funny. But what it shows, and why it rings true, is because the world places a high value on boldness, smoothness, brashness, or what goes under the umbrella of “confidence”. The kid logically has no chance with the girl, but he acts like this and she’s impressed.

Peter was a very confident guy, in the worldly sense. Even kind of tiresomely obnoxious, as such guys tend to be. He was never going to be scared, run away, or say he didn’t know Jesus.

Then thing got scary, and he folded. That was a big blow to his ego. He wasn’t the bold, self-confident leader he thought he was, or liked to think he was, the kind of personality that was respected and valued even then, and probably long before. Witnessing the trial, torture and crucifixion of Jesus crushed all the hopes he had held up until then. All the apostles despaired, but it was probably the worst for Peter, who had been second only to Jesus.

Then came the Resurrection. The bold Peter returned, but a different man entirely. Superficially he was the same man- confident, outspoken- but with real strength and purpose, and without fear of what any man could do to him.

The things the world thinks are important are pretty shallow, and while they appear impressive they don’t have any real substance unless backed up by God.

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