Louder than words

Matthew 7 records Jesus as saying, “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” In context, it’s a reference to how believers are supposed to judge the difference between “true” prophets and false ones. But I thought it might be interesting to apply at a higher level. Instead of judging people sent by God or sent by Satan, what if we applied the same standards to God and Satan themselves?

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to take a tour through the Bible and compare the actual deeds attributed to God with the actual deeds attributed to Satan, so that we can know which one is indeed “the good tree.”

Genesis: God kills every man, woman, child, baby, and animal on earth except for 8 people and a few thousand pairs of animals on the ark. He also kills every man, woman, child, baby, and animal in the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. Both mass murders (even of the babies) are justified on the grounds that men are evil, in God’s estimation. Also, an unknown number of people die from various famines and plagues, which are presumably controlled by God, for no particular reason. No mention of anyone being killed or harmed by Satan.

Meanwhile, God wants Abraham and his descendants to mutilate the genitals of all their male babies by cutting off the skin at the end, and He wants to be worshipped through taking animals, slitting their throats, cutting up their bodies, and burning them. Satan, on the other hand, is fine with leaving babies and animals unharmed, as far as Genesis tells us.

Exodus: God sends a violent hailstorm to kill every man, woman, child, or beast in Egypt unless they heed Moses’ warning and take shelter indoors. Any plants that survive the hailstorm are subsequently devoured by the locusts God sends after the hail, which is probably going to produce a serious food shortage in the months to come. God then kills all the firstborn of Egypt—man, woman, child, or baby, on the grounds that Pharaoh is being disobedient (after God hardened his heart to prevent him from obeying). Israelites are spared, IF they obey God by killing an innocent lamb and using its blood to mark the doors of their homes. They must also promise to kill animals as an offering to God every time they first give birth, so that God will not kill their firstborn.

Next, God kills Pharaoh and all his armies, for pursuing the Israelites. God then takes the Israelites to Mt. Sinai and instructs them on how to properly worship Him by killing animals, pouring out their blood, cutting up their bodies, burning them, and so on. He also allows them to own each other as slaves who can be sold, separated from their spouses and children, beaten to the point of death (or even to death itself, provided they survive at least 3 days after the initial beating). No record of Satan killing anyone or making any demands on the people.

Leviticus: God kills Aaron’s 2 sons, Nadab and Abihu, for burning incense before His altar in a way that He had not commanded. He also commands the stoning of a boy for cursing. Satan leaves everybody’s kids alone.

Numbers: God kills an unspecified number of Israelites, for complaining. He also sends a plague to kill another unspecified number (presumably large) for asking God to send some meat to eat, so they wouldn’t have to eat manna all the time. (He did send the meat, and then killed them while they were eating it.) A man is caught gathering sticks on Saturday, so God commands that he be stoned to death too, for violating the sabbath. Korah rebels against Moses, and he and hundreds of his followers are killed when God opens up the ground beneath their feet to swallow them up. God sends a plague to kill an additional 14,700 people due to complaints about the killing of Korah.

God then sends poisonous snakes to kill another unspecified number of Israelites, for complaining. The next 24,000 are killed by a plague for participating in Baal worship and sleeping with Moabite women (it would have been more, but Eleazar impressed God by spearing two people to death while they were having sex). God then sends the Israelite army to commit genocide against the Midianites, except the men are allowed to keep virgin Midianite girls for slavery and other “amusements.” All other Midianites are to be killed though. Then He sends Israel into Palestine, with instructions to wipe out the current inhabitants completely, and take possession of their lands. Still no interference from Satan though.

Well, I think I’m sensing a trend here. For all that Satan is supposed to be the bad guy, when it comes to fruits that we would call “evil” (at least if anyone else did them), God is far and away the biggest fruit-bearer. I could keep going, but frankly, the litany of violence and abuse coming from God is both monotonous and horrifying. Yet Satan, somehow, is supposed to be the epitome of evil. You could, I suppose, find some way to blame Satan anyway for all the evil things that God finds Himself “forced” to do, but the Bible, in fact, does not do that. Not until you get to the book of Job do you find Satan acting with any kind of evil intentions towards men, and even then he first asks—and receives—God’s explicit permission. Even when God employs agents for the evil He dispatches against mankind, He is still ultimately responsible.

What happens when God is wrong?

Pastor Rick Warren recently appeared on Piers Morgan’s show and discussed his stand on gay marriage.

Warren claimed that he believes in equality, but admitted he cannot support same-sex marriage because, he said, “I don’t get to change what God says.”

I’ve pulled out just this one quote because I think it exemplifies one of the most fundamental and unresolvable problems with religions like Christianity. They’re based on “revealed” authority, the idea that “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” You never have to learn anything new or adapt to anything that changes, because nothing is allowed to change. Once God speaks, that’s the way things are and must be, always and forever after.

But what happens when God is wrong?

[Read more…]

American Bible Society Sends 525 ‘Poverty and Justice’ Bibles to Congress Following Government Shutdown

The Christian Post reports that a bunch of believers are trying to meddle in politics again.

Fulfilling a promise they made during the government shutdown, members of the anti-poverty coalition “Circle of Protection,” are delivering 535 “Poverty and Justice” Bibles into the hands of senators and representatives this week.

Over the course of the 16-day-long government shutdown last month, members of the 65 denominations and relief and development agencies composing the coalition, publicly read the nearly 2,100 Bible verses pertaining to poverty and justice and vowed to reinforce the Scripture’s messages to their Congressmen and women.

Goddamn liberal Christians and their goddamn liberal Bible, always trying to shove that socialist “care for widows, orphans and the poor” religion down everyone’s throat, eh? It’s just not American. And I don’t care how many thousands of Bible verses preach it. It’s downright humanism. Haven’t they heard that whoever has the gold makes the rules?

Christianity and polytheism

I’ve been thinking about Christianity and polytheism. Not the more obvious polytheism you find in the Trinity, but rather the many different and incompatible beings that believers worship under the polymorphic title of “God.”

For example, one of the gods that believers worship is El Shaddai, the Almighty God. He’s a Biblical character, and he’s characterized by his omnipotent power. This sets him apart from, say, the lesser Jehovah, who gave Judah the land of Canaan but was unable to give him the plains “because they had chariots fitted with iron” (Judges 1). El Shaddai stands apart because he is truly almighty and his will is irresistible. Whatever he says, that’s what happens, just because he said so.

[Read more…]

Gospel Hypothesis 4: Hermeneutics

Yesterday we looked at how the Myth Hypothesis implies the emergence of some kind of authoritative revelation, either oral or written, as the optimum way to claim divine authority while avoiding accountability when you’re wrong. But once you have “divine revelation,” what then? What do the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis imply with respect to how the Scriptures and/or Church Tradition will be applied to everyday life? The answer to that lies in the field of hermeneutics, “the science of Biblical exegesis.”

[Read more…]

Eyewitnesses

Seems like creationism, and specifically young-earth creationism, is poking its head up once again in the wake of Rubio’s uninformed comments regarding what we know about the age of the earth. As Ed Brayton reports, both Bryan Fischer and Joseph Farah have recently argued that no one knows how old the earth really is because none of us were there when it was first created. God is the only eyewitness, they claim, and therefore we should just take His Word for it.

Well, Bryan and Joe, I hate to disagree with you, but if you take Genesis literally, then God is not the only eyewitness. I’ll grant you there’s no human alive today who was around at the origin of the earth. But if you read Genesis 1, you’ll find that God created the heavens on the same day He created the earth. And we’re all eyewitnesses to the (non-)creation of the universe.

[Read more…]

The everlasting same-sex union of Christ and the church

Just to follow up on my previous post, let’s look at another passage I touched on briefly yesterday.

On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, asking, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘ If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.’Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

So the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus with a question about heterosexual unions after the resurrection, and Jesus’ answer is that heterosexual unions do not exist after the resurrection, because the nature of the resurrected people will have changed to make them like the angels. And Biblical angels, interestingly enough, are all male.

[Read more…]

Taking God at His Word

A while back I pointed out one of the sayings of Jesus that seems to put him firmly in the hell-is-eternal-suffering camp, because he said it was better to go to heaven blind or maimed than to go to hell with a whole body. That’s an advantage that only makes sense if you stay in hell forever, because otherwise he’d be saying it’s better to be blind and maimed in heaven for all eternity than to be whole in heaven for all eternity after a relatively insignificant time in hell. Since the latter alternative is nonsense, it’s a lot more reasonable to count Jesus as someone who believed in eternal punishment.

Someone named brenda offers the following rebuttal:

“Obviously, that’s nonsense.”

Yes, it is nonsense. That is why only atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible literally. Atheists and snake handlers make a such loverly pair of clowns.

Oo, that one hurts, eh? It’s a good thing she never interprets the Bible literally, by believing, say, that Jesus is literally God Incarnate and literally rose from the dead. But what’s missing from this response? That’s right: she hasn’t told us what the correct/non-literal interpretation is supposed to be. And for good reason—the result is the same whether you take the story literally or not. Kinda takes the punch out, doesn’t it?

[Read more…]

The next Harold Camping

I’ve actually picked up a couple new commenters at Evangelical Realism recently. One of them is tokyotodd, whose philosophical arguments I touched on yesterday. The other is Mike Gantt, who reminds me a lot of Harold Camping (without the end-of-the-world fixation). Speaking of his views on hell, he writes:

I came to it by reading such Scripture passages in context, thus allowing its words to be understood in the ancient milieu in which they were uttered. It is the distorting lens of institutional Christianity and secular modernity that obscure the Bible’s plain teaching on the subject.

Like Camping, Gantt seems to make no distinction between “the Bible’s plain teaching” and his own personal interpretation of the Bible. He can readily see that other people, including William Lane Craig, have interpretations that are wrong (i.e. that conflict with his interpretation), and he even goes so far as to claim that the institution that created the Bible is also at fault for distorting it (i.e. producing teachings that conflict with his interpretation). But it’s very difficult to challenge his interpretation because, in his words, you’re not challenging his opinions, you’re challenging the plain teaching of Scripture.

[Read more…]