See you August 1st…

Hey folks, I’m going to be without reliable Internet access for the next week or so, and that means a temporary hiatus in the postings. I know, it’s cruel of my family to drag me off into the wilderness for a week of relaxation, swimming in the lake, and enjoying fine home cooking. But what can you do, it’s family.

Gospel Disproof #49: Maimed in heaven

In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus is reported to have said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

The idea of eternal punishment offends a lot of people today, even among believers. And not just today, either—a number of the ancient Church Fathers tried to soften this doctrine by turning it into a kind of pre-Catholic purgatory, where sinners go to get the sin burned out of them so that they then can enter into the eternal blessings of heaven. But Jesus wasn’t one to try and accommodate what you might call the harsh teachings of Christianity with the nice-guy sensibilities of the meek and moral. All of his reported teachings on hell, like the passage above, assume that once you’re thrown into hell, you stay there.

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Two sides to every story

This looked like an interesting First Amendment story: “Attorney for Pastor jailed in Arizona speaks out” (capitalization as in the original).

Last week we brought you a story about Michael Salman, a Pastor in Arizona who surrendered himself to authorities to face two months in prison. His crime? Holding bible studies in his home. Mr. Salman faced a judge today and things don’t appear to be getting any better. The prosecution is pushing for a harsher punishment for his alleged crime.

The attorney is John Whitehead, of the Rutherford Institute. Hmm, that’s inauspicious. Here’s his statement regarding his client’s case.

Mr. Salman was found guilty of one count of violating probation for holding bible studies of more than 12 people. Where she got the number baffles me. Maybe she got it from Jesus and the Disciples, but in that case it would be 13…

The danger of this case is the government is trying to establish what is and isn’t a church. When it does that they are overstepping the boundary. This violates the very foundation of that Amendment and the Establishment Clause.

Ok, a government trying to imprison people just for holding Bible studies in their private home. Whitehead is right, this is a flagrant and serious violation of the First Amendment. Or is it?

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On-again, off-again Target stores to sell gay wedding cards

If you’ve got a gay friend who’s getting married, you’ll soon be able to buy them a congratulatory card at Target. That’s a good thing: the more businesses who realize that gays spend money too, the more completely gays will be integrated into our consumerist society (and more importantly into the pervasive marketing and product placement that do so much to define our culture). But as far as human rights go, Target’s support has been mixed at best.

Target has a checkered background when it comes to supporting gay rights. The store previously sold T-shirts with gay pride themes online only a month before these cards were stocked in mid-June. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports Target’s recent boost in enthusiasm for gay rights is seen as an attempt to make amends after donating $150,000 to Minnesotans for Marriage, a group that supported Tom Emmer, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who opposed gay marriage.

If this is progress, then that’s a good thing; if it’s just political fence-sitting, then meh. Lukewarm ambivalence is better than outright hostility I guess. On the other hand, this is definitely going to help with mainstreaming acceptance of gays as ordinary people, so I’m calling this one a win, with or without genuine support from the business. When you’ve got them by the wallet, their hearts and minds will follow.

New name, same old crap

OneNewsNow reports that the Alliance Defense Fund, whose defense of bigotry and discrimination has suffered serious setbacks in recent years, is hoping to win some new support by adopting a new name. And in the best conservative Christian tradition, they’ve decided to pick a name that completely misrepresents what it is that they actually do.

The new name is Alliance Defending Freedom — but president and CEO Alan Sears tells OneNewsNow the group’s purpose remains the same.

“Defending religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Only the name has changed,” says Sears.

“The change is to help more people easily understand the work that we do and why it matters…”

You know, that kind of reminds me of another C. S. Lewis quote.

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The rich or the wise?

One thing I’ve noticed in connection with climate debates is that in any dispute between the rich and the intelligent, most people tend to side with the rich. And now that I think about it, that seems to be true in general. It doesn’t matter if you’re a greedy, dishonest bastard, or if you hurt people below you on your mad rush to the top. If you’re rich, people not only like you better, they’re also more likely to assume that what you say is true—even when you’re promoting an agenda that’s going to hurt a lot of the people who believe you.

Health care reform is another example. You can be smart, you can be well educated, you can sit down and actually read the text of the Affordable Care Act and see that nowhere does it make any provision for setting up a “death panel” to deny Grandma her badly-needed medical care. But if you’re rich, and conservative, that doesn’t matter. You can tell people they’re going to have death panels, and people will believe you even when they can read the law for themselves and see that you are lying. You’ve got a ton of money, so obviously you must know what you’re talking about.

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Primitive Creationism

One thing I think Ken Ham and Kent Hovind do rather well is to remind us how primitive young-earth creationism really is. They know, even without looking at any evidence, that the primitive God of Genesis 1 and 2 hasn’t got a chance of coming up with anything as advanced as our modern, scientific understanding of biology. Being a primitive invention Himself, He is limited to using only the techniques available to the imagination of unscientific and illiterate people.

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Bearding the lion

A long time ago, I heard a story about how young men in ancient times would prove their courage and manhood by sneaking up to the den of a lion, giving the lion’s beard a good sharp tug, and then running away without harming the lion. If I remember correctly, the bravest of the young men would do this without even bringing any weapons for self defense. The whole point of the exercise was to prove how bravely you could face a superior foe, and (ideally) to show that you were fast enough and agile enough to escape unscathed from such an encounter.

I can’t help but think that similar bravado lies behind creationists who try to take on people like Aron Ra, even though they’re going to get eaten alive, metaphorically speaking.

Consistency and perfection

As long as we’re dabbling in a bit of amateur philosophy, I thought I might bring up another notion some of you might find interesting. I spend a lot of time thinking about the principle that truth is consistent with itself, both in the non-contradictory sense and in the cohesive/unified sense, and it has led me to some unexpected conclusions. One of the under-appreciated implications of this self-consistency is that it means we have a faulty conception of what perfection is, for the most part, and I think this is where a lot of Greek philosophy and its derivatives went astray.

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