The reduced Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr was getting just a bit tedious over at Evangelical realism, so we hit the fast forward button and hit the highlights of something like 9 chapters in one post. If you’re a Justin Martyr fan—or perhaps if you’re really really not a fan—you might enjoy it.

Our Father, who art a dickhead

I happened to catch a bit of Christian talk radio on my commute home the other day, and heard an exchange that was either funny or heartbreaking or possibly both. The guest was an author who had written a book about “God’s Purpose in Suffering,” or some such, and the point he was making was that God uses suffering to strip away His blessings so that we can learn to love Him for Himself, and not just for the things He blesses us with. He used the book of Job as an example, and quickly sketched out the story of how Satan said Job only loved God because God was richly blessing him, and how God said, “Fine, do whatever you want, just don’t kill him,” and boom, disaster for poor Job. That was supposed to teach us that it’s selfish of us to love God’s blessings, and call it “loving God.” God (according to this author) allows suffering to teach us Who and what we’re really supposed to love.

At that point one of the co-hosts chimed in with a story about her own suffering, and how she prayed and prayed and prayed just that God would provide her with a little bit of inner peace. Just peace. And it never came. You and I know why it never came, and we could probably laugh at her, but at the same time, it’s really heartbreaking to think that so many people are trapped in this kind of self-deception. Here she is, experiencing first-hand God’s absence from real life and His inability to do anything beyond the power of any other Imaginary Friend, and yet what does she do? She blames herself. With the help of this Christian author, she found a way to re-frame her experience of God’s non-existence, and turn it into a fanciful narrative in which He is mercifully trying to teach her a valuable lesson about love.

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Counterfeminism

One of the things that really puzzles me is the number of women who are opposed to feminism. And not just reluctant, either. I’m talking hackles-raised, eyes-blazing hostility against the very people who are fighting to win them equal rights. It boggles my mind.

But, as the saying goes, a boggled mind is of no use to anyone, so I want to understand this counter-intuitive phenomenon. One of the possibilities that occurs to me is that there are actually two different forms of feminism, each pursuing radically different goals. Call them feminism and counterfeminism. The feminist is working to establish women as autonomous and respected individuals who are equal in status, opportunity, and financial compensation, as compared to their male counterparts. The feminist assumption is that the ideal condition for women is equality. But that’s not necessarily an assumption shared by all, not even by all women.

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The poverty, perversity, and pointlessness of purpose

Ok, one more post on purpose, and then I’ll be done (for a while at least). There’s all kinds of nice, alliterative lessons we can learn from looking at the Bad Catholic’s post regarding purpose. For example, after suggesting that we develop leukemia and then watch a family member die, in order to appreciate how hard it is to “be content without … answers, meaning, or purpose,” he then goes on to state this:

CLAIM 1: Suffering is the result of sin. … When we sin against others — when we steal from them, malign their names, or harm their bodies — we cause them suffering. When we sin against our nature — when we isolate ourselves, or demean our bodies — we cause our selves suffering. Suffering is the result of sin.

Behold the poverty of purpose. It’s fine to notice that yes, we can cause each other to suffer, but what about suffering that’s not caused by people? Blaming the victim is such a poor excuse, don’t you think? Why did you get leukemia? Because you deserved it, you sinner. Why did your three-year-old develop a brain tumor and waste away over the course of the next 18-months before finally dying? Because you (and/or your baby) deserved it, you sinners. And guess what? No matter what you do, Christianity is going to find something you do that it calls a sin. You can’t say, “I’ll just stop sinning, and then I won’t suffer any more.” Blaming the victim is intellectually impoverished: it neither knows nor cares what the actual, material causes of your suffering are, and it provides you with nothing you can use to reduce or avoid such suffering. All it gives you is an extra load of guilt on top of your suffering. Thanks a ton.

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The paradox of purpose

In my last post, I looked at the problem of purpose: when you say that suffering has a divine purpose, you create confusion as to whether or not it’s ok to oppose that suffering, since doing so risks opposing God. But there are other problems as well. Today I’d like to look at the paradox of purpose (hey this is starting to sound like a 3-point alliteration sermon!).

The thing about purpose is that it necessarily involves a person who (a) has a choice and (b) knows the consequences of that choice. If I accidentally fall off a very tall bridge, there’s no point in asking me what my purpose is in accelerating downwards at a rate of 32 ft/sec2. I have no purpose in doing so, because I have no choice. Likewise if I dial the wrong number and wake up a stranger in the middle of the night, it’s meaningless to ask me what my purpose was in waking them up. Yes, I did deliberately dial the number, not knowing it was wrong, but I did not realize that my actions would have that consequence. Waking the stranger was something I did not do on purpose.

That’s important, because it means that whenever do you have a legitimate purpose for something, it means you necessarily bear the moral responsibility for what happens. You had a choice, you knew the consequences, you knew the alternatives, and you deliberately made the choice that you knew would create the suffering. Otherwise, it’s not really purpose.

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The problem of purpose

I want to continue looking at the Bad Catholic’s post at Patheos because there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. Like this introduction:

Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

If some natural, secular purpose could be granted to the man suffering, then his pain would cease to be suffering and begin to be useful pain.

He goes on to compare the young athlete’s muscular aches and pains, endured for the sake of fitness, with the inescapable aches and pains of old age, as an example of useful pain versus pointless suffering. In order to be suffering, he says, suffering “requires the lack of a natural, secular answer.” And by “answer” he means “a good reason”—some overriding benefit good enough to justify the means used to achieve it.

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Meanwhile, over at Patheos

I stopped by the Patheos web site to see how some of my former FtB co-bloggers were doing (they seem to be doing well, I’m pleased to say), and I spotted this post, under the heading, “Answer This, Atheists!” The blogger’s name is Marc, his blog is called “Bad Catholic” (great name), and the full title of his actual post is “An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out” (not so great name). He introduces his subject with the following preface.

Between being told that Christianity is a system of oppression, a complex way to justify burning with hatred over the existence of gay people, and a general failure of the human intellect, I begin to suspect that few people know why Christians exist at all. This is my attempt to explain why I am a Christian.

Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

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New study shows measurable bias against women in science

Inside Higher Ed. has an article about a new study that betrays the existence of a not-so-subtle bias against females in the sciences. The study involved sending hypothetical student resumes to scientists to evaluate as potential new hires. Qualifications were identical except that half the resumes listed a female name, and the other half listed a male name. The results were anything but equal.

For instance, the scientists were asked to rate the students’ competence on a 5-point scale. Male faculty rated the male student 4.01 and the female student 3.33. Female scientists rated the male student 4.10 and the female student 3.32. On salary, the gaps were also notable. The average salary suggested by male scientists for the male student was $30,520; for the female student, it was $27,111. Female scientists recommended, on average, a salary of $29,333 for the male student and $25,000 for the female student.

I wonder what Christina Hoff Sommers will say?