When Murder isn’t Murder

The lack of consistency among Evangelicals who hold to a strict inerrantist position on Scripture can be mind-boggling at times. Take, for example, one of my former LDI mentors (currently a pastor at Hope Community Church), Cor Chmieleski. In a recent blog post anticipating the spiritual ecstasy of Easter (trust me, it’s a really big deal at Hope), Cor provides a lengthy excerpt from renowned Evangelical author Max Lucado. I’m not sure if all of the words in the post belong to Lucado,  but it looks like Cor spent some time at least moving over and formatting Lucado’s content. The excerpt from Lucado is a commentary on the story of King Herod slaughtering the innocent baby boys (you can read the Biblical version in Matthew 2)*.

Anyways, Lucado wants to stir up some of our emotions around this event. He says Is there any passage in Scripture bloodier than the killing of the children by the soldiers of Herod?” (emphasis mine) and then goes on to provide some extra-Biblical details which he inferred from the story:

It’s a grisly scene: horses galloping, mothers with small boys running and screaming. The flashing of weapons. The flow of innocent blood. The sudden stillness of tiny hands. Mothers clutching lifeless bodies to blood-soaked breasts.

And during it all, a fat king sits on a throne less than ten miles away, blind to the tears he has summoned, deaf to the anguish he has caused. Herod drinks wine the color of the blood he is spilling.

The wail heard in Bethlehem echoes through the stars. A chorus of chaos refusing to be comforted. A thousand tears with one voice, a hundred hearts with one question.

“Why?”

It’s all quite poetic and moving. Just what a Christian needs to feel the Holy Spirit during this Easter season. We want a God who will triumph over this sort of barbarity and bring an end to senseless destruction. We want a God who will stand above all of the bloodshed and put a stop to it.

Except…there’s just one problem. As a former participant in LDI (the leadership program that Pastor Cor helps to oversee) I was required to read through the Old Testament. And, as anyone who has read the Old Testament can tell you, there are a lot of scenes in it which far outstrip the violence of Herod’s slaughter. I won’t go over those passages here, but I will note that I have dealt with some of them in previous posts (linked at the bottom).

Lucado’s (and presumably Cor’s) angst about Herod’s slaughter is quite ironic when one considers that from an inerrantist standpoint almost all of the massacres in the early part of the Old Testament must be seen as perfectly justifiable. Plenty of ink has been spilled defending “God’s Holiness,” “God’s Wrathfulness” and “God’s Justice” in his dealings with the Canaanites. I cannot recall a sermon at Hope where I was made to feel sorry for the Moabites that David enslaved or the young children crushed under the rubble of Jericho’s walls. Where was the outcry over innocent blood then? Where was the savior for that society? The problem is that the moral agent behind those acts wasn’t the oafish and despicable Herod (an easy target for our frustration at human evil) but Yahweh himself. According to the Biblical authors, it was Yahweh who sanctioned those atrocities and not any mere human king. This is one reason why so many non-believers and skeptics struggle to connect with churches that are conservative in their doctrine. We see this type of blatant double-standard and it bothers us. We see the twisting and squirming; we see the attempts to justify the unjustifiable (while still claiming that God is good and perfect and that his word is perfect) and…it just doesn’t make sense. Who is deaf here and who is mad? If Herod is a mad-man for ordering the slaughter of baby boys in one small village, then what does that make “God’s chosen people”? They didn’t just wipe out one village but dozens. If we take the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges at face value, then it is clear that the Israelites were responsible for far more bloodshed than King Herod and his sons could ever claim.

Say what you will about Rob Bell (and I know first-hand that many conservative believers have an extremely low opinion of him) but at least his theology does not require him to condone genocide. Sadly, the  same  thing cannot be said for the leaders of many modern mega-churches.

Endnote: Just so I’m not accused of taking things out of context or assuming too much, some quick googling turned up an example of Max Lucado defending God’s actions in the Old Testament and stating that “God has used warfare as a form of judgment against the enemies of God.” (Why Does God Allow War). Many similar sentiments are repeated in places like Hope CC and they are the natural byproduct of believing in Biblical Inerrancy. I was taught that the Canaanites must have  been so bad that all of them, including their young children and infants, deserved death at the hands of the Israelites. I won’t rebut that idea here, but please check the posts linked below if you are curious about this issue as I think it has far-ranging consequences for how we approach moral issues in the 21st-century.


*This passage in Matthew brings up another interesting issue, namely the manifest contradictions between Jesus’ birth story as told in the gospel of Matthew and that given in the gospel of Luke. Remember, for many sincere believers there are No Contradictions Allowed in the Biblical text (despite the problems that come about when apologists and scholars attempt to “harmonize” such different stories).


Related Posts:

God of Love and God of War

The Bible and Morality Part 1  and Part 2

 

broken pier

Personal Relationship

One of the biggest misconceptions held by many Evangelical Christians is that those individuals who leave Christianity after being baptized or confirmed prove that they only had “head knowledge” of the religion and not a real “deep, meaningful relationship” with Jesus Christ and the rest of the Holy Trinity. It is often  believed that if these people had felt a deeper, truer connection to their faith then they would not have walked away from it in a time of questioning or personal crisis.

One of the “Recommended Blogs” listed on the sidebar here is written by Ryan Bell, a former SDA pastor who is currently on a one-year journey exploring atheism. I really appreciate Ryan’s blog because he is one of those bright souls who puts this falsehood to death. In a recent post titled Giving Up he mourns the loss of his personal relationship with God. He’s not experiencing grief only because of the loss of connections with others in the church and the community that his denomination provided. He is also struggling to make sense of his feelings in a world where a loving God is no longer sitting over his shoulder, watching his every step.

Some people who identify as ex-Christians or former believers will admit that for them it was never easy to believe. They struggled with feeling intimate and close to God and felt that those around them were experiencing something profoundly different during the Sunday morning worship routine. Others though, like myself and Bell, view ourselves as having “once partaken” in what we felt at the time was the genuine work of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives. God wasn’t just words on a page,  but also words in our heart, a voice we might even hear at times, speaking softly to us in the night. For myself, I can admit that there were many times where I felt comforted in the midst of  a “worship experience” (in both large loud groups and small intense gatherings). I can even, like the apostle Paul, boast of having spoken in tongues. And I felt love too. I had a sincere desire to spread my knowledge of the truth and my relationship with a Redeemer God (a heroic God who rescues broken, sinful humans) to those outside of Christianity who did not know God’s love. I had a lot of head knowledge–verses memorized, understanding of doctrine, Bible-reading–but I also believe that I had that “heart knowledge” which believers see as so vital and paramount. Whatever that heart-knowledge really is (a form of mild delusion and wish-fulfillment, the work of a divine being, or something else) it is clearly not sufficient for everyone who seeks to maintain their faith. There are many reasons for me to desire to reconvert. It would bring peace of mind to my Christian wife. Our family spend Sunday mornings together in the same building, singing the same songs. I would not feel as out-of-place in a predominantly Christian culture. I would not feel the need to explain my “strange” beliefs to the Christian friends and family that I am surrounded by. What I have found though is that the desire to believe is not sufficient to create the state of belief. Knowing what I know now, there is no bridge that I can see which would take me back…even on those days when I feel that just a little faith would be comforting to one who has been “abnormally born” into skepticism and humanism.

photo credit (broken pier): Tom Butler, Seven Hills Photography (CC0 license)

The ‘Straw Vulcan’

Is it possible to be “too logical?”

How does a person who places a high value on reason and logic act? Are  they unable to appreciate emotion? Are they incapable of valuing things which cannot be precisely measured? If these questions turn you off from rational skepticism, then this video is for you. Julia Galef does a great job of explaining how the portrayal of Spock as the epitome of a “logical character” actually misleads us about the role of logic, reason and skepticism in our lives. You can be a logical person without removing the things that also make you human (love, appreciation of beauty, emotion etc).

Speaking for myself, I think that there is a huge difference between being a person who values rationality and being that caricature of a person who is “coldly rational” like Spock or Data (pre-emotion chip) or the Borg. Rationality is a tool for reaching our desires, but that doesn’t mean that it must be the source of our desires (how could it even be?). Value is subjective. We each need to discover the things we value. Reason can help us judge our existing values and help weigh them against one another (do we desire freedom or security more, would be a common example). But, reason doesn’t give us our values. Our values come from within us and our informed by our unique experiences. There’s nothing “irrational” about this. What is irrational is expecting to be able to achieve one’s desires without recourse to sound reasoning. If we are deluded about the world around us, then we are going to have a very difficult time making good decisions, decisions which will result in the outcomes that we desire.

Observing Evolution

I’ve heard the claim made (sometimes directly to me) that evolution and natural selection over millions of years isn’t “real science” or that it’s not as good as what some people call “historical science” because it can’t be observed and measured directly. Sure, we can watch water freezing into crystals under a microscope, but we can’t literally see evolution occurring on a grand scale. We can’t sit back and literally watch microbes turn into fish, fish turn into land creatures, and some land creatures turn into mammals and other highly specialized organisms. Well, I think this video does a great job of showing how actually we can see evolution. There are cases where “conscious design” simply doesn’t make sense as an explanation of what we are looking at, whereas natural selection–unguided design–does make a lot of sense and fits in with lots of other directly observable data that we have. In this way we are able to see evolution “in the lab” just like we can see other types of scientific knowledge demonstrated through direct observation and repeatable, controlled experiments.

Further reading:

If you are a nature-lover who has doubts about evolution (and yes I mean the big scary “macro evolution” which some preachers dislike) then I highly suggest that you check out Climbing Mount Improbable through your local library system. The book is a fairly easy, quick read but it will help you get into the mind of biologists who spend their careers thinking about evolution. The book demonstrates that many of the “hard problems” in nature which appear to require conscious design, are in fact solved through slow, gradual steps (one minor improvement leading to the next, all accumulating into an impressive “mountain”). Plus it has some cool drawings in it.

Note: This post does not address the bigger problem of “how do we define science” and whether or not science can actually be split into two distinctly different fields, “historical” and “observable” science. Also, this type of scientific inquiry does not close the door on theistic evolution, the idea that a grand supernatural designer “set the universe in motion,” by pushing the first domino and triggering the (from our perspective) purely natural events which lead to the evolution of all life on Earth.

hubble deep field

Reflecting on ‘Cosmos’

I really love the new Cosmos TV series with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I’ve watched through the first four episodes now (the only ones aired as of the writing of this post). I find myself consistently impressed with how well the show creators explain important scientific concepts like “spacetime,” “light-years,” and the sheer immensity of our universe. Even better, they are up-front about how science works. Scientists use experimentation and observation to discover new truths, but it’s not an easy process and there was a lot of hard work involved to go from brute ignorance to greater and greater certainty about how our universe operates. This is why I find not just the fancy CG bits illuminating, but also the animated historical sequences. It really puts you into the place of a Newton or a Galileo. What must they have been thinking as they tried to put the pieces together?

I like to think of science as a tool for harnessing the human imagination. We have such creative talents and yet we so often waste these on absurdities and pure entertainment. Science offers something quite profound though. It offers the chance to turn imagination and speculation into reality. It gives us the chance to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Growing Up Creationist

This wasn’t the story I heard about science growing up as a young kid. Two of my most vivid childhood memories involve being taken to see Ken Ham speak about what he called “scientific creationism.” He was so alive and animated. He showed real conviction and I drank up his depiction of most modern scientists as “fools,” “secularists,” and God-haters. How arrogant and misguided must they be to look at this grand universe, the swirling stars and the delicate balance of life on Earth and conclude that all of it came about by chance…from some vague gigantic explosions “millions and millions of years ago.” Certainly I knew better than them, for I had the Holy Spirit, the community of believers (everyone that I trusted back then), and the Bible (God’s perfect book) at my side. The scientists could try to chip away at the truth, giving us useful tidbits here and there, but I knew that I had direct access. I didn’t have to explore how the universe came to be: the Bible already told me! I subscribed to his magazine and it formed part of my intellectual barrier to “secular science” as I began to learn about evolution in school. I was never a loud mouth, but I was happy to defend my viewpoint that scientists knew very little about the beginning of the universe and the origin of life on Earth.

Breaking Down the Walls

In college my defenses began to wear down and the more I really learned about science (I took a very good intro to Biology course which I wish I had gotten more out of and I loved my summer course on Astronomy even though it stretched my faith) the more I realized how deluded I had been about what science was. Science wasn’t simply some grump sitting in an armchair, spinning out fancy “theories.” The “theories” that science propounded had stringent requirements. They had to be testable and the truly bad theories would be challenged and debunked by eager researchers. Any existing theory could also be improved and augmented through better research and more detailed observation. Science was a community process, a gathering of diligent minds intent on using relatively simple observations to build models explaining how things work and even how things came to be. At some point I recognized that it simply wasn’t worth it trying to defend the indefensible. If I was going to be an intellectually honest Christian then I couldn’t promote literal 7-day, young earth creationism. I would continue to explore the possibilities for how God’s Word could be interpreted to be compatible with science. I still had many unanswered questions, but what I knew for certain was that I strongly desired to have a faith which was fully consistent with modern scientific discoveries–a faith which would satisfy my heart and my head.