Is it Rational to be a Christian? (1 of 2)

Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San...

Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San Callisto under the care of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Below is half of a relatively long (but actually concise) treatment of evidences or evidential steps for the view that the Christian faith is rational, and even desirable, to hold.  Thanks for reading, and may the God of all creation bless you. 

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For the person who wants to know that there is reason to believe a holy book–that there is evidence to back it up–different areas of apologetics have those answers.  In fact, there is more evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible today than ever before, excepting when the events actually occurred.  This essay assumes that the person searching for a legitimate holy book already believes that there is a deity of some sort; it does not cover arguments for the existence of God.  What this essay does cover, in concise form, are the issues of reliability of the Old and New Testaments, fulfilled prophecies, miracles, and Christ’s resurrection.

Old Testament Reliability

How was the Old Testament written and copied? What we Christians refer to as the Old Testament is the same as the Jewish Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, called the Tanakh. The content of the Tanakh and the Septuagint is the same, but the two are formatted differently. The Old Testament follows the same formatting as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated from about 250 BC to 150 or 100 BC and was used by the scattered Jews of the diaspora.

The Tanakh itself was written from about 1400-400 BC. Moses and other prophets were believed to possess the word of God because of the signs (miracles) they did, coupled with their openness (“transparency”). Moses was obviously literate, and because of his high upbringing, may have been literate in three languages. He no doubt, along with the people in general, knew the stories of other cultures and had copies of various source documents. Moses’ telling and retelling of events was considered God inspired. 

At the time of Christ, the books of the Tanakh were established and accepted as canon. Those who copied the Tanakh beginning AD 70 (after the destruction of the temple) were called Talmudists. They had very specific rules for transmitting the Tanakh. Because damaged copies of the Tanakh were purposefully destroyed, very old copies do not exist. The Massoretes (or Masoretes) were the copyists for the Tanakh from AD 500 – 900. They, too, had very specific rules for copying, and any imperfect copies were destroyed. They are noted for adding marks to the text that represent vowels, as Hebrew did not have vowels and concern was growing over the continued pronunciation of the language. Whoever the copyists were through time, they all took God’s command in Deuteronomy 12:32 very seriously: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”

There have been archaeological finds in recent centuries to confirm the historicity of the Old Testament, and the Dead Sea scrolls additionally confirm accurate copy transmission.   With the 200+ scrolls that date from approximately 250 BC to AD 125, we have the oldest copies of scripture, and these tell us that the accuracy of transmission is nearly 100%. A Qumran copy of Isaiah 53 has only three truly variant letters from the more recent Massoretic text, and these three letters do not change the text meaning in any real way. 

There are many archaeological finds that corroborate the OT, with these representing only a sample:

  • The Moabite Stone. Mentions “Yahweh” and events in 2 Kings 3.
  • The Taylor Prism. From Nineveh, it describes the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib an corresponds to 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 37, and Isaiah 36-37.
  • The Cyrus Cylinder. After Cyrus began ruling Babylon (539 BC), he ordered that Babylonian captives could return home. This is told of in Ezra 1:1-3 and 6:3 (see also 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Isaiah 44:28). 
  • The Tel Dan Stele. This is an Aramaic inscription found in Israel. It is about Hazael’s victory over Ramoth Gilead, as in 2 Kings 8:28-29, and conveys that David’s dynasty ruled in Jerusalem.
  • The Gilgamesh Epic. Found in the great library of Nineveh, it in part describes a flood not unlike that in Genesis 7-8. 

New Testament Reliability

There has been a plethora of interest in “lost gospels,” which leads some to doubt the manner in which the New Testament (NT) was put together.  Then there are those who also question the accurate transmission of the words in the NT, saying that parts were added or taken away at later times.  All these issues are really non-issues, promulgated by detractors of the faith and sometimes believed by neutral parties who simply don’t take the time to look into these matters further.  Concerning when the books of the NT were written and how they became canon, providing a chronological order seems like it would be clearest, and that is provided below.  As for the accuracy of textual transmission, however, here is a good summary:

“A simple comparison of the text of the Bible with the text of other religious, historical, and philosophical documents from the ancient past proves the vast superiority of the biblical record.  Less than one tenth of one percent of the biblical text is in question, whereas no such accuracy of transmission exists for the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, or the Iliad.  Some ancient records such as Caesar’s Gallic Wars of Tactitus’ Annals, exist in less than ten copies, and these copies date from 1,000 years after their originals.  By contrast, over 5,000 copies of the New Testament exist, the vast majority of them dating less than 200 years after the original text and some fragments less than 50 years after the original text.  No book from ancient history has been transmitted over the centuries with greater clarity and accuracy than the Bible” (Geisler and Hindson p 100).

So when was the New Testament written?  The books that were considered canon and that make up the New Testament were written not all that long after Christ’s death and resurrection, by those who were Christ’s disciples/apostles or associates of the apostles.   In other words, by close eye witnesses of Jesus, or persons who learned directly from those eye witnesses.  Jesus lived from about 4 BC to AD 33.  The book considered earliest in the NT is James, written around AD 45-48, and the most recent book is Revelation, written by AD 100.  In light of the prior quote regarding biblical transmission, it is known that the copies that now exist reflect the originals very reliably.  That is, what is used for our bible translations today can very confidently be considered “original.”

But how do we know that the books of the NT are the ones that the early church read and thought reliable (had divine inspiration), and that important books weren’t left out?  The books of the NT had been circulated and read amongst the widespread churches (in Europe and the greater Middle East of today), and certainly not in the region of Rome only!  Books considered scripture had apostolic authority, which was important very early on because of the rapid development of false teachings.  So, we know that the books were all written by AD 100, and that they were widely circulated (and copied); there are codices of the gospels and of the letters of Paul from the early 2nd century.

Partly as a result of some influential persons (such as Marcion) trying to redefine and delete parts of scripture, “lists of canon” began to be written down.   The first generally accepted one dates to the late 2nd century and is known as the Muratorian Canon; it had excluded Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, and 3 John.  The early church father Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 229) had quoted 23 of the 27 books that became the NT.  Those excluded or disputed on some lists were done so for various reasons, but not because some churches thought they were inauthentic; often it was because a heretical group happened to like the book, so then some questioned it.  The Eastern and Western churches differed early on and this is reflected in the books supported or unsupported at different times (examples are Hebrews and Revelation).  Later, most believers accepted James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, yet some did not want to accept these.  However, the Eastern church accepted an official list in 367 which includes all the books of the present NT.  In 393 and 397, councils of the western church also accepted the NT canon as it is today.

What of some books that weren’t included in canon?  From the church father Eusebius, who had investigated possible canonical books, we know of some old “spurious” books.  The Didache had instruction in it and was used by the early church, but it faded from use and its authorship was in severe doubt.  The Acts of Paul had been written by an overzealous admirer, not Paul.  The Epistle of Barnabas was read and admired, but it was not written by Paul’s partner Barnabas.  The Shepherd of Hermas was widely read and may be all true, but it was written in the early 2nd century by someone other than an apostle or an apostle’s associate.  The Apocalypse of Peter was written in the first half of the 2nd century, so Peter the Apostle was not the author.  Other books that some critics like to bring up, like the Gospel of Thomas, were written far later and were never considered apostolic whatsoever; they are simply made up, forgeries, etc.

Now, are there historical or archaeological evidences that corroborate the NT?  While not everything can be corroborated, there are outside sources that confirm aspects of NT writings.  These help to show that the texts are indeed historical and not made up later.  Written sources for Jesus and Christians are (1) the Roman historian Tacitus (55-117) in his Annals (15.44); (2) Pliny the Younger, a Roman Governor, in a letter to the Emperor in about 112; (3) Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian (some of his writing or copies of it are questioned, but others are not; there is definite reference to Jesus in Josephus’ writings); (4) Jewish Rabbinical writings called the Babylonian Talmud; and (5), the 2nd century Greek satirist Lucian.

Archaeological finds also corroborate the NT, and they continue to grow in number.  Here is a small sample:

  • The ossuary of Caiaphas (Luke 3:2 and others), discovered in 1990.
  • The Pilate Stone, discovered in 1961, has Pontius Pilate’s name on it and where he governed.
  • The Gallio (or Delphi) inscription (dated to about 52) speaks of Gallio, the same being mentioned in Acts 18:12; discovered in 1905.
  • Sergius Paulus inscriptions (there is more than one inscription bearing that name) confirm the proconsul of Cypress, as is mentioned in Acts 13:7.
  • The Pool of Siloam, excavated in 2004. As recorded in John 9:1-11, Jesus did a miracle there.

Fulfilled Prophecies

When considering the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, it is exciting to simply read over an annotated list of them. There are different lists, however, with the highest number of fulfilled prophecies going up to 400. The listed number of “major” fulfilled prophecies varies as well, ranging from about 61 to 121.   In MacDonald’s list of chronologically ordered fulfilled prophecies, he presents 44 (he does not say that these are the only ones he considers “major,” however) (MacDonald 1995). Here is one list just for your quick online reference: Prophecies that Jesus Christ Fulfilled

One of my favorite lists is by D. James Kennedy – not because of the list itself, but because of the story around it. He had spoken to a highly educated man, a writer, who thought that the bible was simply written by man; he had no knowledge of the evidences for the validity of the scriptures. So Kennedy asked the man to tell him who it was he had read about, after reciting many verses to him.  The man said that the verses clearly referred to Jesus Christ. But the man was completely surprised when Kennedy told him that all the verses he read were from the OT, the last book of which was written 400 years before Christ. He went on to tell him, “No critic, no atheist, no agnostic has ever once claimed that any one of those writings was written after His birth. In fact, they were translated from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria some 150 years before He was born.”

So it is that verses such as (1) Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” (2) Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him,” (3) Psalm 22:16, “They pierced my hands and my feet,” (4) Psalm 22:18, “They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing,” and (5) Psalm 34:20, “He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken,” refer to Jesus though written centuries before His birth. 

One of the most fascinating prophecies of the Messiah is found in Daniel 9:24-27, and it concerns the timing of His coming. It is not in some of the basic lists, no doubt because it is not easily deciphered or shown in a few words. To put it very briefly, this prophecy provides a window of time as to when the Messiah would be around. When the Hebraic terms are taken into account, and then taking into account which possible scripture(s) is meant by the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and then also taking into account the different calendars (ancient calendars kept 360-day years), a time frame emerges that encompasses the time that Jesus lived (and was crucified) (Powell 2006).

There is so much more that can be known concerning the fulfilled prophecies of Christ that cannot be easily shown in a list, such as Christ in the meanings and symbols of things, like the lamb and shepherd, and symbols and events related to the feast days of Israel. Unique among religious faiths is the fulfillment of prophecies found in the Old and New Testaments.  “You will find no predictive prophecies whatsoever in the writings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Lao-Tse, or Hinduism. Yet in the Scripture there are well over two thousand prophecies, most of which have already been fulfilled” (Kennedy xxix).

Please also see Is it Rational to be a Christian? (2 of 2)

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is a modified and edited version of a series of articles published by the author at Examiner.com, 2011)

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Bibliography and Recommended Reading (for both article parts)

Anonymous. “Why should I believe in Christ’s Resurrection?” GotQuestions.org. http://www.gotquestions.org/why-believe-resurrection.html (accessed March 2012).

Arlandson, James. “Do Miracles Happen Today?” American Thinker. January 13, 2007. http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/01/do_miracles_happen_today.html (accessed March 2012).

Chong, Timothy. “Bible, Canonicity.” In The Popular Encycolopedia of Apologetics, by Ergun Caner Ed Hinson, 101-102. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011.

Dowley, Tim, Editor. Eerdman’s Handbook to The History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977.

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Geisler, Norman, and Ed Hindson. “Bible, Alleged Errors.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, by Ergun Caner Ed Hindson, 97-100. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Gleghorn, Michael. “Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources.” bethinking.org. 2001. http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/intermediate/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian.htm (accessed March 2012).

Hart, David Bentley. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008.

Kennedy, D. James. “Christ: The Fulfillment of Prophecy.” In The Apologetics Study Bible, by Ted, General Editor Cabal, xxviii-xxix. Nashville: Holman, 2007.

MacDonald, William. “Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” In Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, xviii-xxiii. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).

Nappa, Mike. True Stories of Answered Prayer. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1999.

Powell, Doug. Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006.

Ricci, Carla. Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women Who Followed Jesus . Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Sailhamer, John H. Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1998.

Yates, Gary E. “Bible, Transmission of.” In The Popular Encycolopedia of Apologetics, by Ed, and Ergun Caner Hindson, 107-110. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Posted in Apologetics, Bible Study, Christian, Christianity, Faith, History, Islam, Jesus, Religion, Theology | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Destiny’s Notebook

[This is the ongoing notebook, or journal, of a guardian in Destiny.  Check back often for new entries and updates . . . ]

Second Birthday

Well, this is awkward.  And sad . . . that is, I’m sad.  The reason:  one moment I’m battling some earth invaders, the next I’m talking with this little floating angular thing which appears to be staring at me with one bright bright eye, and he – yes, he – is saying how I was dead for a long time but I’m alive now . . . by some unstated, unexplained voodoo . . . and how he’s my “ghost.”  Then run run run.

So, what year is it?  2726?*  Did my family leave any descendents that are now alive?  The Traveler I know of, but all this is new.  Or, I guess, the result of what was beginning when I was killed so many years ago.  So, now there are these “ghosts” The Traveler made before it went into a sort-of hibernation, and I draw power (“light”) from my ghost, or is it The Traveler?  This power is awesome, so don’t think I’m complaining.  Just confused, so far.  Hmmm.  I am a powerful Titan now, but with much to learn . . . and of my past, much to forget.  Even my name, apparently, since it is Amenta but my ghost only calls me Guardian.

A Later Day

I have learned much but haven’t been in any mood to write.  I have done what I ought to, have been going through the motions since my second birth, and now am beginning to get used to my very unexpected new life; all that I knew, all the people I liked and loved, gone . . .  in a flash . . . and yet everyone wants to dance.

Here’s a pic of me.  Not very good, taken before sunrise at The Tower.  But it’ll have to do for now.  I will return later with some of my experiences, but know one thing – it is as annoying as you have imagined having to take a potty break.  Oh, and know a second thing.  With all the incredible tech that goes into the armor, weapons, ships, teleportation, etc., they still can’t get me a helmet with night vision . . .  How crazy is that??

Me, Amenta, at The Tower (yes, I have legendary blue armor on - a bright thing in my new life).

Me, Amenta, at The Tower (yes, I have legendary blue armor on – a bright thing in my new life).

The Sword of Crota – Oh Happy Day

I had the most fun today.  Patrols can be fun and relaxing, and the missions – well, they can be fun, but those thick-skinned bosses can be a bit tedious as well!  But then I get this mission to find the “Sword of Crota,” some old super powerful sword.  Sounds like a legend that turns out to be, if anything, just an old cool looking piece of steel.  But no, I found the Sword of Crota and it was all that it was touted to be.  Wielding that thing against enemies was like playing an aerobics version of whack-a-mole.  Yes, you actually whack the ground with a sword!  You can slash around with it, too, and slicing up the annoying Hive lackeys was quite satisfying.  Of course, I defeated the three powerful Swarm Princes that guarded it.  They’re not very good guardians if they can’t stand up to their own weapon.  But then again, look who was wielding it.  ;-)

(I wonder when I’m going to find a blade I can wield against enemies.  That Crota Sword was just so much fun, but I find there is some force that doesn’t allow me to pick up any Hive swords I find laying around.  Hmph.)

How is ANYONE Alive Anymore?

I have been through many battles now on the planets we had settled in our Solar System.  Besides the heart-wrench I feel when seeing all things abandoned and destroyed, especially on wild and beautiful Venus, there are all the enemies.  The Traveler has so many enemies – why?  The Darkness is The Traveler’s foe, but why does The Darkness have so many apparent minions that fight each other?  How can these “civilizations” go on, fighting and killing so much?  Well, THIS guardian is helping to relieve them of their miserable existence, but, there are just so many.  It’s like they breed and grow to adulthood daily . . .

In any case, there are four different enemies:  Fallen, Hive, Vex, and Cabal.  The Fallen; I expected a race having the name “Fallen” to be human, at least, but these things have four arms.  So, the Fallen are insectoid humans?  They are piratical with no real home, apparently feeling most comfortable with their military “houses”–one is called “Devils,” another “Exile,” again making me wonder about a possible human past.  I’ve been told that the weird purple spew that I see when they die is their souls coming out, but I’m going to ask around about that more; I wonder if The Speaker knows?

The ancient, undead Hive are moon-based, but invade Earth too, fighting us and the Fallen.  Their moon settlements are vast and amazing, even though their floors, chambers, halls, outdoor grounds, bathrooms (no doubt), and anywhere a Hive member has walked, are littered with human bones.  I don’t know that humans are their enemies so much, more like their meal source.

The Vex; how I hate the Vex.  They occupy Venus, and they are biological-mechanical hybrids (abominations that, to all appearances, have traded in their biological bodies for mechanical ones) with no desire whatsoever to communicate – exterminating us is their only desire.

I wonder if the Cabal are just imperialistic opportunists who don’t care about The Darkness or The Light, but only go forth and conquer in the name of power and money?  Whatever their motives, they fight any Vex they see on Mars (a VERY GOOD thing), but they also attack Guardians, so . . . another day, another enemy.

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* The game is 700 years in the future, but from “near” our present time, when – as you can see in the opening of the game – humans had landed on the Mars.  So, I made up a “we landed on Mars” future date and added 700.  This is the date for my character’s rebirth, not an official date from Bungie.

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Escape from Internet Savagery; Heal and Laugh

Hello!  We (my family and I) started a new forums board for the internet weary, and we’d love to have you visit and join if you like.

It’s a fun place, a place to find encouragement and stories showing the amazing goodness possible in the human being.  Ordinary conversation can be had, too, and we even have a shout box (live chatting).  It does not have the same domain name as here since we wanted it open to all people, and if any non-Christians there want to know more about Christ, all the better.  We had a forums board associated with “withchristianeyes” and it just didn’t get much traffic.  There are other Christian boards on the internet and sadly, there is a lot of aggression there.  Ours was to be aggression-free, but people just didn’t like that!

So, why am I doing another board that is also a save haven from aggressive trolls and the like?  Well, I want a place like that, so it seems very likely that others want that too.  I’m on
Twitter and it’s sad how many absolutely unpleasant people there are on there.  I don’t try to follow such people, but even many everyday tweets by people are mean-spirited.  Christ calls us to love and respect people, not hammer morality* into them or tell them they’re stupid simply for being in another political party (!).  There are incredibly close-minded and vicious people in whatever party.

So, the forum is called Nice World, A Narcissist-Free Environment.  As you might surmise, we like things a bit tongue-in cheek, and the language isn’t all proper there.  We hope you enjoy being at the place!  Here is an image of what a small part of it looks like right now.  We made it only a couple of days ago, so more boards (thread groups, not necessarily sections) are sure to come.  Thanks for checking it out!

Nice World Forums

* When someone accepts Christ and is reborn, the Holy Spirit will change them to be more in alignment with God’s will.  Christ and rebirth comes first, then change.

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Entertainment, Health, Humor, Religion, Spirituality, Video games | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hello Kitty is Popular, but is she Evil?

A basic Hello Kitty.  (c) Sanrio

A basic Hello Kitty. (c) Sanrio

Some would say I’m a bit of a tom-boy, but when it comes to Hello Kitty, I’m all girl. If, somehow, you’ve missed the ubiquitous feline adorning girls and women alike, let me tell you a bit about her; if you came here trying to figure out if she’s actually diabolical, I’ll get to that. Hello Kitty is the star in the line-up of successful characters created by Japan’s Sanrio Company, Ltd. (Sanrio, Inc., is its U.S. subsidiary). Now at the ripe age of 40, she is more popular than ever and is one of the most successful brands in the history of marketing. She is so popular that Sanrio–without advertising–brings in $7 billion a year from her character alone.

Sanrio’s perspective is to spread happiness, love, and friendship. Their success in selling seemingly innumerable products, running popular theme parks, and even having Hello Kitty painted on airplanes (EVA Airways), shows that people desire to connect with those values.2

The adoration of Hello Kitty’s mouthless face is a bit of a mystery, however. There are some who find her face disturbing, but her popularity seems to prove the correctness of one of Sanrio’s ideas that by having no mouth, the person looking at Hello Kitty imagines her to have reciprocal feelings. True to the company’s perspective, Sanrio has also said that Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth because she doesn’t represent any particular language group—instead, she “speaks from the heart.”3

In a new twist (August 2014), Sanrio proclaimed something even stranger, however, saying that Hello Kitty wasn’t a cat, but a girl. The company does indeed seem to change with the times, which of course would be just “good business practice” according to many. But why would insisting that Hello Kitty is a girl and not a cat—even though she looks just like a cat (but with a short tail)—be a good business decision? Would people identify with her even more than they do now? (I doubt it, myself.) Maybe Sanrio is just trying to get back to Hello Kitty’s roots for her 40th anniversary . . . er, birthday. See, Hello Kitty is not the character’s name, actually, but Kitty White. She’s a “girl” (cat-girl mix?? Or woman, since she’s 40?) from the United Kingdom and not Japan, despite what some publications there would make you think; “she was born in southern England on November 1, 1974. She is a Scorpio and blood type A.”4 OK . . . .

A cute north-inspired Hello Kitty.  Apparently this was made for a mobile app by (c) Sanrio.

A cute north-inspired Hello Kitty. Apparently this was made for a mobile app by (c) Sanrio.

So, Hello Kitty’s creators, keepers, and fans might seem a bit obsessed, but is Hello Kitty actually evil and to be avoided by all God fearing folk? A controversy started a number of years ago revolving around a rumor like this: Hello Kitty’s designer was thankful to an idol/god of some sort for healing/helping her daughter, so she dedicated the design or creation of Hello Kitty to it.5 Since the lady who came up with Hello Kitty was single and childless at the time,6 either this rumor is completely false or the details are now wrong. In any case, imagining for a moment that this is true simply for argument’s sake, let’s look at how a Christian might respond. Let’s also look at two other concerns over immorality or evil possibly related to Hello Kitty that have concerned Christians.

What to do about things sacrificed to idols

In 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verses 14-33 (of the New Testament) Paul argues that it is better to not eat food that is sacrificed to idols/demons. The Christian sits at the table with Christ and so foods shared at an altar to a demon don’t belong there. He acknowledges that we have freedom in Christ and that the demons have no power over us, but he also calls on us to not make another person get the wrong idea about our alliance or beliefs. However, does this example apply to a non-food Hello Kitty product that was made in a factory and purchased at a retail store? Was the product offered in any way to a demon? This is extremely doubtful. The rumor or urban legend seems to have no validity in the first place, and Christians should not be spreading false reports and gossip.

Sanrio’s Hello Kitty contract with the band KISS

The Polish Catholic priest Slawomir Kostrzewa has been on a bit of a crusade that the western media is happy to make fun of. His cause is educating parents about toy and cartoon products that are increasingly dark and death related, products that seem to idolize death, the undead, and witchcraft, and calling on parents not to buy these products. Often, these products combine the cute and loving with Satan and sin, so that children may become immune to the ideas of evil and hell.

Since his own long writings and videos are in Polish, it isn’t the easiest thing to get at Kostrzewa’s own words. But there is an article out there you can read with Google translate (or whatever service or program you use) that presents much of Kostrzewa’s thought and argument.7   His case against Hello Kitty is two-fold: one, the availability of disturbing products that are not for children, which is discussed separately below, and two, children’s products that are made with death-approving or demonic symbols and associations. Only certain lines of the feline’s products have such associations–not all Hello Kitty products have skulls and other reminders of death on them. Of particular concern are the products based on Sanrio’s 2012 contractual agreement with the band KISS. The band KISS evokes death, rebellion toward God, and the serving of darkness, in its live performances. Why Sanrio chose to associate Hello Kitty with this band and what it evokes is a mystery.

Yep, this is a bit disturbing compared to other Hello Kitty images.  What was Sanrio thinking? (c) Sanrio

Yep, this is a bit disturbing compared to other Hello Kitty images. What was Sanrio thinking? (c) Sanrio

Whether the members of KISS worship Satan or not, the perception is often made by youth that they do, or that Satan and the dark side are cool. Lead singer Gene Simmons has certainly made it clear that he respects neither Christians nor God,8 so the band does not represent Godly or even tolerant secular values. So, would you want your child having a KISS product (Hello Kitty or other), or would you boycott all Sanrio products because they made an agreement with KISS that concerns a small line or products? That is up to you. Of course, if a person investigated all companies that s/he buys products from, there would no doubt be few companies found worthy of support in a Christian sense. Most people, and thus companies, are of this world and make decisions based on worldly ideals. I personally think that Sanrio made a bad business decision when it associated the wholesome Hello Kitty with such an unwholesome band.

Unsavory or not-made-for-children Hello Kitty products

It’s no secret that Hello Kitty appears on products everywhere, and many of these are not for children. Sanrio is adamant in its policy to not have guns made with Hello Kitty on them, so if you see such weapons they are privately (and unlawfully) produced. Otherwise, though, Sanrio seems quite free with its Hello Kitty license. There are “adult” Hello Kitty products out there, but I’m going to assume that a parent would not buy their kids these products or take them into stores that sell “adult” products! I personally have only seen them in online images and wouldn’t know whether they are licensed by Sanrio or not (as might be imagined, there is a huge “knock-off” industry devoted to Hello Kitty).

Since these Hello Kitty products exist, it seems likely that other cartoon characters are used in the adult products industry as well. If someone is making Mickey Mouse S&M products and you happen to find out about it, would you boycott all things Disney? This simply is a whole other realm that is not associated with children and would only be known by children or teens if an unscrupulous adult informed them in some manner. If you’re interested in knowing about some of the more weird or questionable Hello Kitty products, licensed or not, Hello Kitty Hell is a site devoted to driving up its site views . . . I mean, having this information in a centralized location.

To Enjoy or Not to Enjoy Hello Kitty

Compared to many of the toys and dolls for girls out today, most Hello Kitty products are definitely cute and innocent. There seems to be no validity to the rumor that the original design of Hello Kitty was dedicated to a demon and his work. The issues of inappropriate designs on some products, and products that aren’t meant for children, are issues that can and should be addressed by parents with their kids. Personally, I love the wholesome and fun Hello Kitty products (and simply avoid the far smaller number of questionable ones). They make me feel happy for whatever reason someone wants to come up with. Hello Kitty evokes mental associations of real kittens or puppies, of brightly colored and beautiful things like flowers, butterflies, birds, and cakes, and thus makes me feel happily free of cares for a time. I don’t see how there’s any harm in this from a Christian perspective.

For more on Hello Kitty and a Christianity, please see my earlier article, Hello Kitty is satanic and bad for Christians (>^_^<) KIDDING!   Thank you!

Hello Kitty tatoo, in a feminine traditional Japanese look.

Hello Kitty tatoo, in a feminine traditional Japanese look.

Sources & Notes

  1. At 40, Hello Kitty is timeless
  2. Hoover’s Company Profiles: Sanrio Company, Ltd.
  3. FAQ: Why Doesn’t Hello Kitty have a Mouth?
  4. Turns Out ‘Hello Kitty’ Is NOT a Cat and Never Has Been
  5. A version of the rumor from 2010 can be found at Hello Kitty Devil Worship
  6. What is This Thing Called Hello Kitty?
  7. Ks. Slawomir Kostrzewa: “Devils have become fashionable and a great sell” (translated from Polish)
  8. Snopes.com: KISS, KISS Rock Band is of the Devil

 

Posted in Children, Christianity, Entertainment, parenting, popular culture, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

By the Waters of Babylon: Fallout’s Honest Hearts, S. Vincent Benet’s Short Story, and the Biblical Psalm

By Vicki Priest (c) 2014

An image from Chernobyl, Russia, filtered by author (found at http://bit.ly/1t2nfGr).

An image from Chernobyl, Russia, filtered by author (found at http://bit.ly/1t2nfGr). This looks eerily like an image from the Fallout video game series.


Contents

  • About Honest Hearts
  • Psalm 137
  • Stephen Vincent Benet’s “By the Waters of Babylon”
  • The Influence of Psalm 137 and the surmised influence of the By the Waters of Babylon story in Honest Hearts

About Honest Hearts

The Fallout video game series takes a player on dangerous adventures through various regions of the United States after a future nuclear war with China has taken place. The series is one of the more successful in the “role playing game” (RPG) genre, taking place in “post-apocalyptic” times (2161 and forward). “Honest Hearts” is a 2011 add-on to the Fallout New Vegas game of 2010, taking place in what is Zion National Park in the real world, year 2281. While it’s obvious that people died in the park due to the historic nuclear cataclysm, the park itself is mostly unscathed by this point in time.

There are two outside leaders, both Mormon and both from the recently destroyed “New Canaan,” who lead two neighboring tribes, the “Sorrows” and the “Dead Horses,” in Zion Canyon. However, these two leaders have wildly different backgrounds and, not surprisingly, their views on how to handle the invading “White Legs” tribe are miles apart. It is no secret that the White Legs want to kill the Zion Valley inhabitants, just as they destroyed New Canaan. But what will the player do? Aid Joshua Graham and the tribals that wish to stay in Zion by meeting the White Legs head on, or will you side with the more pacifist Daniel and help the Sorrows flee the valley for a new home?

The game puts the player in bit of a false dilemma by implying that you are either siding with the idea of vengeance through Joshua Graham, or taking your stand with Daniel against militaristic actions that kill innocents (Daniel uses this argument, but it’s absurd since the attackers are warriors only). It’s an odd and unrealistic dichotomy, which is acknowledged by the different possible game endings that have varying levels of regret expressed by Daniel; the tribals themselves saw it more clearly and realistically – they desired to not be killed and to stay in their home (defense of self and residence).

The vengeance aspect is pointed out, however, since it is included in the most memorable dialogue of Honest Hearts: the reciting by Joshua Graham parts of Psalm 137 from the Bible (Old Testament), referred to as “By the Waters (or Rivers) of Babylon,” and the subsequent conversation you have with him. Joshua is there to help the tribes defend themselves, since the White Legs are after the remaining New Canaanites (Joshua and Daniel), but he also wants revenge against Caesar. Fallout New Vegas sees the people of the Mojave Wasteland and area settlements fighting against the murderous and slaving Caesar and his invading army. Joshua used to be Caesar’s “right hand man,” but Caesar executed Joshua for losing a battle; obviously, and unbeknownst to Caesar at first, the execution via burning Joshua alive didn’t actually work. Joshua’s legendary name is the Burned Man.

Psalm 137

Below is Psalm 137 rendered in the New King James translation. Zion is synonymous with Jerusalem, the City of David, but also refers to Mount Zion (or the Temple Mount). Mount Zion can also refer to the land of Israel. In Honest Hearts, Joshua Graham recites the King James Version, but only the verses indicated by highlighting.

1By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion
.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it,
To its very foundation!”

O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!

The ending is pretty grim sounding, is it not? The translated word for “little ones” can refer to any offspring, and thus they are expressing that their enemies, who killed them and took others as slaves far from home, should be left with no descendants. It is also figurative in that the Babylon area where they were living had no rocks for such deeds to be carried out.

The beginning of the last stanza is prophetic, saying “O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed.” There are other biblical passages referring to the destruction of Babylon or the daughter of Babylon. But while other biblical prophecies have come to pass, the total destruction of Babylon has not. However, there are two prophecies related to this Psalm/Israel’s captivity that have been fulfilled.

The first is that God remembered Edom for its hateful actions against Israel and destroyed them. Much more remarkably, though, as prophesied in the book of Isaiah (44:28-45:7) and Jeremiah (29:10), a named king would let the Israelites go after 70 years of captivity (the first wave of captives was taken to Babylon in 607 BC). This king was the Persian Cyrus II, and he overtook Babylon in 539 BC. Shortly thereafter the Israelites were not only allowed to go back to Jerusalem, but were even assisted in doing so. But, not all Israelites left Babylon, and in the 1st through 3rd centuries AD, many Jews returned to Babylon.

There is an unfulfilled prophecy concerning Babylon in Revelation chapter 17, and it is obvious from this and other verses in the Bible concerning Babylon that the name is also a term describing the mystery religions—false and satanic religions that have spread throughout the world—that shall be destroyed in the end times. It seems appropriate that the worldwide spread of Babylonian ideas and religions should be addressed as the daughter of Babylon. Historically, many interpreted Rome as the new Babylon, or descendant of Babylon, and in Fallout New Vegas there is the new Caesar accompanied by his military.

Abandoned building in Detroit that looks very much like a scene from the Fallout video game series.  This it taken by an artist who has prints for sale, at http://bit.ly/1qeH2E1.

Abandoned building in Detroit that looks very much like a scene from the Fallout video game series. This it taken by an artist who has prints for sale, at http://bit.ly/1qeH2E1.


“By the Waters of Babylon” 1937

The Saturday Evening Post published Stephen Vincent Benét’s short post-apocalyptic story, “The Place of the Gods,” in its July 31, 1937, edition, but it soon became known as “By the Waters of Babylon” and was honored with the first entry in The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, 1943. It is popular today and can be found in a variety of sources. The story takes place is some future time–though seemingly not too far in the future–after New York City had been destroyed by bombing and lethal gaseous chemicals, and human survivors lived on in varying degrees of primitiveness in the surrounding countryside.

The gist of the story is as follows. The survivors, known as the Hill People and the Forest People, carve out a living after the destruction of civilization. They develop a tribal culture and religion, forbidding people to go to the City of the Gods and non-priests from going into other post-war structures.  The central character, who we eventually discover is named John, narrates for us the story of his youth and his vision quest experiences that will lead him to becoming a man and a priest. His vision quest is to do the unlawful, to go to the City of the Gods. The chief priest, who is his own father, agrees to let him go.

John makes his way to the place of the Gods, which we discover is New York City, and is of course amazed.   The heart of his experience comes from finding himself in the penthouse home of a highly educated and wealthy (unnamed) person. The apartment was not bombed and it was pretty much sealed, so rugs, paintings, books—even the man who had lived there—were preserved quite well. There were books in different languages, and all kinds of equipment that had lost its magic: “hot” and “cold” faucets, lighting fixtures that didn’t use wick or oil, a cooking area that didn’t use wood. Before he slept John used the fireplace, a place for fire but not for cooking, he correctly surmised.

While asleep he had an out-of-body experience (not a dream) where he saw the city as it had been, how far humans had gone in their knowledge and technology–“no part of the earth was safe from them” . . . . “but a little more, it seemed to me, and they would pull down the moon from the sky,”–and the actual attack on the city. After this he acknowledges that the “gods” had been only human. “Knowledge” is constantly referred to throughout the story, and it seems to be of the highest importance to John. Obtaining knowledge is the central theme of this story, but a part of that theme is the questioning of why and how a “good” like knowledge can lead to such a high-level “bad”– the virtual destruction of man.

Despite the destruction that “the gods” brought upon themselves, and his own self-warnings about his ancestor’s knowledge, John goes back home with the mind to tell his people the truth and lead them on the road to learning what the ancestors had learned. His father agrees, but tells John that the people must learn all this slowly. John concurs, and justifies his intentions by saying that “Perhaps, in the old days, they ate knowledge too fast.” He doesn’t concern himself with thinking that war and killing are part of the human condition, whether a people have a lot or a little knowledge; the fact that humans nearly caused their own extinction at the height of their knowledge doesn’t deter him.

But why didn’t it? Earlier in the story John says, “If I went to the Place of the Gods, I would surely die, but, if I did not go, I could never be at peace with my spirit again.” This sentence is virtually a retelling of the Fall of Man in Genesis 2 and 3. God told man in Genesis 2:17, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Man was innocent prior to eating from that tree of knowledge; innocent in a judicial sense (they obeyed) and innocent in a moral sense (“they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed,” Genesis 2:25).

In Genesis 3, Satan (the snake) tempts Eve to eat of the tree, but when at first she rebuffs him, he shoots back, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). So, being tempted in her desire for wisdom (her take on what being like God meant), Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam—whom the command of God was given—went along with her.

Adam and Eve did not fall down dead, no. The death God spoke of was spiritual. In the story, John had continued his thought from that quoted earlier, saying, “It is better to lose one’s life than one’s spirit, if one is a priest and the son of a priest.” This is a twisted view of God’s intention, and one that doesn’t seem too far removed from the thought of Eve; maybe if she just at that fruit a little bit slower . . .  The story represents humanity, in its more innocent and holy state, wanting again what they desired in The Fall—to be like God.

The Influence of Psalm 137 and the surmised influence of the By the Waters of Babylon story in Honest Hearts

Vengeance, Righteous Wrath.  Joshua Graham uses Psalm 137 and its relation to both biblical history and prophecy to justify fighting the invading White Legs tribe, which was influenced by, if not controlled by, the new Caesar. Historically, God saw to it that the real-life Edomites, who assisted the Babylonians in conquering Israel, were destroyed; the White Legs might be viewed in a similar vein, as helping the new Romans destroy the New Canaanites.

Joshua also uses Jesus Christ of the New Testament as a justifier, making the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament (NT) seem seamless:

“Happy are those who do the work of the Lord. Zion belongs to God and the people of God. It is a natural temple and monument to his glory. When our Lord entered the temple and found it polluted by money-changers and beasts, did he ask them to leave? Did he cry? Did he simply walk away? No. He drove them out. It is one thing to forgive a slap across my cheek, but an insult to the Lord requires… no, it demands correction. If they pollute the Lord’s temples on Earth, like Zion, who are we to stand by and let them continue?”

In the NT, Jesus twice went into the temple area and angrily scolded the cheats and money-changers there, zealously guarding the holy. And regarding the holy, Joshua states at one point, “Zion is a place, and a state of being, that has been lost to us several times in the past. Each loss is a new fall of man.”

The old places made taboo. As in By the Waters of Babylon, in Honest Hearts the innocent tribals made pre-war structures taboo (forbidden to enter). The tribals of the Zion Valley were the descendants of children who had survived the nuclear war and found their way into that unspoiled land. The tribals in By the Waters of Babylon were the descendants of those who escaped the cataclysmic destruction of New York City and its environs. But why make these pre-war places taboo?

Innocence lost, innocence kept.  As discussed earlier, the Bible explains how humanity lost its innocence in Genesis chapters 2-3, universally referred to as “The Fall of Man.” Humans chose to disobey God so that they could be like Him, disregarding the consequences. In By the Waters of Babylon, humans almost caused their own complete destruction due to their intelligence combined with committing evil.  Being like God doesn’t make humans do evil, of course, but makes humans guilty when they choose to do it.  Not being God, weaker humans always seem to choose an evil action or path sooner or later; God recognizes evil but is incapable of it, whereas humans are more than capable.

In the Benét story, humans once again were choosing to be like “the gods,” despite the incredible destruction they knew resulted from such a choice by their ancestors.  The story reflects not only human tendency, but the real-life history of many Jews who returned to live in Babylon–home of their pagan captors–instead of staying in their holy land.  In Honest Hearts, the tribals continued on in their innocence, maintaining the taboo against going into pre-war buildings or going to the remains of civilization, the wasteland.  The one Dead Horses companion you have for a time, Follows Chalk, either goes off into the wasteland (akin to going and staying in the decimated New York) and is never heard from again, or he stays with his tribe, helping them and maintaining both his life and innocence.

Joshua Graham said that each loss of “Zion” was a “new fall of man.” Zion wasn’t lost this round, and there was no new fall of man.

An abandoned class room in Detroit, filtered by author; image from http://bit.ly/1xdO5Sk.  This looks like it could be a screen shot from the Fallout video game series.

An abandoned class room in Detroit, filtered by author; image from http://bit.ly/1xdO5Sk. This looks like it could be a screen shot from the Fallout video game series.

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New Testament Views of Women: Paul’s Co-workers

1171414 girl jumping, freeimages.comFor an introduction to this subject, please see New Testament Views of Women: Overview.

For a discussion of this subject relating to 1 Corinthians, see New Testament Views of Women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

Considering that there were no women that had any kind of leadership role in the religion of Israel at the time of Christ, it is truly radical that there are so many women mentioned in the New Testament who promoted the faith and who in fact had leadership roles. Jesus led the way for women to not only find salvation and comfort in him, but to realize what Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That the latter church chose, for the most part, to forget Jesus’ lifting up of women and change words in the translation of Paul’s writings – some are shown below – is unfortunate (to say the least) and makes arguing for the accuracy of many translations more difficult.

But who were Paul’s co-workers, and what level of leadership did they really have? For right now, let’s focus on three: Priscilla, Phoebe, and Junia. There is so much that could be covered that information on their roles is presented in a concise list format:

Priscilla. Apparently well-educated, and thus from an influential Roman family.

  • Priscilla and Aquila, her husband, taught Apollos more about Christianity after they had heard him speak publicly (Act 18:26). Priscilla was the primary teacher, as evidenced by her name being given first. Of the six times she and her husband are mentioned in the NT, she is first four times. “The order of names in ancient times indicated priority of role and importance” (Schmidt 178). St. Chrysostom (AD 347-407) confirmed that Paul placed Priscilla first for good reason. Significantly, whether ahead of her husband or not, she taught a man.
  • She is acknowledged as being well known by the gentile churches (Romans 16:4). She would not have been well known unless she had leadership functions. Paul refers to her as synergos (Romans 16:3), the same word he used for Timothy and Titus, who preached and taught. She was a “fellow worker” (synergos) with Paul, not a silent and passive female.
  • One of the oldest and largest catacombs in Rome bears her name, as do several monuments.
  • No one really knows who wrote the Book of Hebrews, and the suggestion that Priscilla wrote it is not discounted even in the Archaeological Study Bible (Garrett); some suggest, too, that she “polished up” Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Phoebe. Carrier of the Roman epistle to Rome from Corinth, a 400 mile journey.

  • In Romans 16:1-2, Phoebe is referred to as a diakonos, or deacon. “Deaconess” was not a word at that time and was first used in AD 375. The common word “deacon” is most often translated “minister” in the King James Version, though it is rendered “deacon” three times; however, when that word is used with Phoebe, the KJ translators used “servant” instead. Amazingly, the slightly earlier Miles Coverdale bible had kept the word “minister” for Phoebe, but recent translations still use “servant.”
  • Paul called himself a deacon (diakonos) in 1 Corinthians 3:5, and it is used for Timothy in Acts 19:22. Deacon is used with “co-worker” (synergos) and commonly meant someone who teaches and preaches; the person would have some authority in the church. Another thing to consider is that the term deacon was masculine and only males functioned as deacons in Greek culture. Paul very well knew what he was doing when he used that term for Phoebe.
  • Paul not only said Phoebe was a deacon, but a prostatis (Romans 16:2) as well. Prostatis “meant ‘leading officer’ in the literature at the time the [NT] was written” (Schmidt 181). To us it would mean something like “superintendent.”
  • Origen (AD 185-254), who was not a feminist, wrote that based on Romans 16:1-2 Phoebe had apostolic authority.

Junia

  • Junia is found in Romans 16:7, where the name is still often mistranslated “Junias.” The name “Junias” was non-existent at that time. The Archeological Study Bible (Garret, p 1860) notes that “the more common” reading in Greek is “Junia.” She probably was the wife of Adronicus, the other person mentioned in that verse. For the greater part of church history—the first 1300 years—all acknowledged that the person was a female! Why did bible translators in the last several hundred years change Adronicus’ companions name? Because Paul referred to them both as apostles, and outstanding ones at that. St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and Peter Abelard all considered the person to be a woman.
  • Paul did not restrict the word “apostle” to the twelve only (he called James an apostle and interchanged it with the word diakonos), as is common today. Origen wrote that women had “apostolic authority” in the church based on Romans 16.

The note on Romans 16:7 in the Apologetics Study Bible (ASB) goes almost as far as what Origen wrote and thought, but why can’t our Christian culture acknowledge what Paul actually wrote?  Interesting, isn’t it?  I, the author of this paper, am female, yet I have a bit of a hard time personally accepting female church leaders.  I believe my view is based on both personal and cultural factors, but knowing what Paul wrote and what Christ did, I would not argue that a congregation is wrong in having a female leader. This is the note from the ASB (Cabal, p 1704):

Many claim that Junia (or Junias), designating one of Paul’s relatives, could be either a man’s or a woman’s name. In fact, the masculine form, Junias (as a contraction of Junianus), has not been located elsewhere, whereas the feminine Junia is common. Of course, if this person was a woman, this would be an intriguing fact, particularly since Paul called Andronicus and Junia “apostles.” J.D. G. Dunn suggests they were husband and wife—a reasonable assumption. The precise status of all who are called apostles isn’t clear. Some were close associates of the apostles, such as Barnabas (Ac 14:14) and James (Gl 1:19), but also see the Greek term apostolos in 2 Co 8:23 and Php 2:25.

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A post on 1 Timothy 2:11-12 will be posted in the future, God willing.

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Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Anonymous. “Women in Ancient Israel.” Bible History Online. n.d. http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (accessed June 2011).

Cabal, Ted, General Editor.  The Apologetics Study Bible.  Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Cowles, C.S. A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 1993.

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Faulkes, Irene Bonney. “Question of Veils in India.” Dr. Irene Faulkes Articles. 2011. http://revirene.org/Question%20Of%20Veils.htm (accessed June 2011).

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Schmidt, Alvin John. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

—. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Zondervan. “Interview with Alvin J. Schmidt.” Zondervan. n.d. http://www.zondervan.com/media/interviews/product/pdf/0310264499_authintrvw.pdf (accessed June 2011).

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© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012  (This is an edited version of a series of articles first posted at Examiner.com, 2011, and transferred from withchristianeyes.com)

Posted in Bible Study, Christianity, History, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Testament Views of Women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

For an introduction to this subject, please see New Testament Views of Women: Overview.

When it comes to the question of women in Christian leadership, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are used to show God’s disfavor of women having such roles. In light of both the whole New Testament and of all of Paul’s extant writings, we know that these passages are contradictory; they at least seem so without looking deeper into the social contexts or possible translation issues. Some scholars even propose that 1Timothy is not written by Paul, and therefore not genuine. However, in this article we will explore some possible reasons for Paul having written 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, even though he acknowledged females praying and prophesying in chapter 11 of the same epistle.

1 Corinthians 14:34b-35 states: “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (NIV 1984).

Why would Paul say this when he commended many women who had house churches? These include Mary (mother of Mark), Nympha, Priscilla (with Aquila), and Apphia. These house churches did not follow sexist synagogue rules. Also, Mary, Jesus’ mother, prayed with the other disciples. Women apparently spoke at Pentecost (even though “men” are mentioned, the text states that the Holy Spirit rested on all who were there, and Peter quotes Joel concerning women prophesying as well as men); and Tabitha was a disciple. Considering that Paul writes positively of women praying and prophesying in church earlier in the same letter, why would he then write verses 14:34-35?

One explanation is that these verses were added later—called an interpolation–and there is a possibility of this. These verses are commonly found at the end of the chapter in various manuscripts and seem to have been added by scribes early on (but later than Paul). However, since no early manuscripts have been found that do not entirely omit the verses, the interpolation explanation remains only a hypothesis. Another thing to consider, however, is the command for women, or wives, to ask explanations of their husbands at home later. At the time 1 Corinthians was written, there were many more women in the church than men, so were they to ask their unbelieving husbands about Christian truth?

Katherine Bushnell, a conservative scholar, would agree: “She buttressed her argument by saying that it was not like Paul to use the laws and traditions of the Jews ‘as a final authority on a matter of controversy in the church. He spent a large share of energy battling against these very “traditions” of the Jews, as did his Master, Jesus Christ’” (Schmidt 188-189).

CS CowlesWhile the quotation theory seems like a very good explanation, not all those who dismiss the direct but contradictory message of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 agree with it. Another explanation is provided C.S. Cowles.   She provides a word study showing that some women were being referred to, not all women; that the “silence” was that of voluntary restraint; and that the “speak” referred to—and there are 30 different Greek words for “speak”—has the meaning of “talk” or “chatter.” Paul wasn’t saying that women could not pray or prophesy, only that the women who were talking during service needed to not be disruptive. She defends the use of the word “law” as Paul’s way of appealing to social convention. Regarding the admonition for wives to consult with their husbands at home, Cowles believes that the women had felt free to ask questions during service since the early services were not formal, but quite social, and it had gotten out of hand. She does not try to explain why women with husbands are the only ones referred to here, nor the related criticism of them having to possibly rely on unbelieving husbands.

Another explanation, which is highly possible and thought by many to be most likely, is that Paul is quoting from a letter (or stating an argument) from the Judaizers. Judaizers wanted traditional oral law enforced in other ways and places as well (for example, they wanted males to be circumcised), and these verses are very similar to the actual Jewish oral law prohibiting women to speak during services. Considering how the law is cited in this passage–which would be highly out of character for Paul, the explanation that those verses are a quote makes perfect sense. Also, the verse immediately following is a rebuke: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” (14:36). Is Paul rebuking the Judaizers for trying to silence women, when Paul already acknowledged that women can speak and prophesy in church (11:5), and when Paul so often commended the women co-workers, deacons, and even ministers or apostles that he knew and worked with? It seems so.

But why don’t we know for sure that verses 34-35 are a quote? Quotation marks of any kind were not used in these ancient writings. However, it is accepted by many NT scholars that 1 Corinthians has many quotes within it, though not all agree that 34-35 is a quote. One of the scholars who does believe that it is a quote from Jewish oral law, however, is Neal Flanagan, a Catholic. He has written that since it is a quote and that Paul rebukes those who would silence women, it is then a text that reaffirms 1 Corinthians 11:5 as well as Galatians 3:28.

To read further, please see:  New Testament Views of Women: Paul’s Co-workers

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Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Anonymous. “Women in Ancient Israel.” Bible History Online. n.d. http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (accessed June 2011).

Cabal, Ted, General Editor.  The Apologetics Study Bible.  Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Cowles, C.S. A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 1993.

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Faulkes, Irene Bonney. “Question of Veils in India.” Dr. Irene Faulkes Articles. 2011. http://revirene.org/Question%20Of%20Veils.htm (accessed June 2011).

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Schmidt, Alvin John. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

—. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Zondervan. “Interview with Alvin J. Schmidt.” Zondervan. n.d. http://www.zondervan.com/media/interviews/product/pdf/0310264499_authintrvw.pdf (accessed June 2011).

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© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012  (This is an edited version of a series of articles first posted at Examiner.com, 2011, and transferred from withchristianeyes.com)

Posted in Bible Study, Christianity, History, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Testament Views of Women: Overview

Veiled and Silenced, amazonChrist is primarily known as the savior of the world – his sacrifice being for all who want to dwell with God (Jesus’ blood removes our sin so that we are able to be in the presence of the sinless God). But Jesus did something quite significant and often overlooked (as evidenced throughout the writings of the New Testament): He raised the status of women to the same level as men. Many would argue that men and women have a few different responsibilities in regard to the family and church, but in God’s sight the sexes have equal standing: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

There is a great deal that can be written on this topic–including the contradictory teachings of, and actions by, some church leaders and Christian men. But first, let’s look at some social mores that exhibit the status of women in Israel and the surrounding cultures at the time Jesus walked the earth, and some that are still with us today in various parts of the world.

Female babies are of low worth: In past and present non-Christian cultures, female worthlessness is widespread. Female babies were commonly the victims of infanticide. While that continues today, in places where ultrasound is available many more female fetuses are aborted than male fetuses (especially in China and India). Christians do not value females less than males and do not abort or kill female babies.

  • Polygyny and divorce: Polygyny was permitted though not very common in ancient Israel; it was relatively common elsewhere. In Greece, a man had one wife but he also had a legal mistress (so, essentially, a 2nd wife). Polygyny was not approved by God, though there are a number of instances of it recorded in the Bible. The NT clearly reiterates God’s will that one man be married to one woman; polygyny is not allowed in Christianity. A man could divorce his wife easily in ancient Israel, but the NT does not allow for this.
  • Complete control of wife and children by father or husband: In Rome, fathers had total control over family members, and a husband had absolute power over his wife; he could sell a daughter to her future husband. All these powers became illegal some years after Christianity became legal in Rome (374/313). Women also were granted the right to own property and have guardianship of their own children. In Greece, wives had segregated quarters and could not visit male guests of her husband’s in her own home. As in ancient Israel, women in Greece were not to speak in public. Women simply had a very low status in Greece and ancient Israel, and in Israel at the time of Christ, women’s legal witness was virtually non-existent. This obviously changed with Christ’s work.
  • Clitoridectomy: The removal of the female clitoris, and often other genital parts, is a common practice in many African countries (and is found in countries where Africans have immigrated to). This is condemned and outlawed in Christian-based countries.
  • Binding feet, China: In order to be more attractive to men, girls used to have their feet bound so that they remained “small.” The fact is, the foot only became very disfigured and it often became severely infected. Because of Christian missionary pressure in the 19th century, the Chinese government outlawed the practice of female foot binding in 1912.

There are other practices around the world (past and present), like burning or burying widows alive (in India), arranging marriages of female children (this still occurs in China, India, and parts of Africa), maintaining double standards for adultery, and the forced wearing of veils, that make obvious the widespread low status of women but which are condemned by Christianity. As Alvin Schmidt, author of How Christianity Changed the World, said in an interview, “Geroge Sarton, a historian of science, once said, ‘The birth of Christianity changed forever the face of the Western world.’ As far as I know, Sarton had no love for Christianity. He merely said what history revealed to him. Another historian, for instance, has said, ‘The birth of Jesus Christ was the turning point in the history of women.’”

Now let’s look more specifically at how women were viewed and treated by Israel when Christ lived, and what Christ did to elevate women. Today when we read the New Testament (NT) text alone, we simply cannot understand how radical so much of what Jesus did was; our culture reflects in so many ways the changes that Jesus began. The radical things Jesus did seem normal to us now, so we must look into the context of the times to fathom the changes that he wrought.

At the time of Christ¹ women existed for the pleasure of men. If a woman did not bear a male child or didn’t please her husband in some way, he could divorce her with ease. A woman could not divorce her husband. Women were not to speak in public with men (men should not even give a greeting to a woman in public), they were not to testify in court, they were not supposed to read the Torah (Law), nor were they to be taught. As a rabbinic teaching advised (Sotah 3.4), “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than committed to a woman . . . . If a man teaches his daughter the Law, it is as though he taught her lechery.” Also, women were set apart from men in synagogue worship, either by a partition or by being in separate rooms.

Each one of the above negative aspects of womanhood in ancient Israel was reformed by Jesus, as it was never God’s will that such treatment of women exist. First, regarding a man’s ease in divorcing his wife, Jesus told his disciples that it was not to be—that instead a man could divorce his wife for unfaithfulness only (Matthew 19:4-9). Second, what about women speaking to men in public? To the great shock of his disciples, Jesus not only spoke to women in public, but also to a Samaritan woman publicly (she was very shocked as well) (John 4:5-29)–both no-nos in ancient Israel. In speaking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus also taught her. Jesus both spoke and taught to Martha in public (John 11:25-26). Jesus taught Mary, Martha’s sister, and commended Mary for wanting to learn from him (Luke 10:38-42). Another woman followed Jesus in order to be healed. She was not only healed by him, but he talked with her and blessed her publicly (Mark 5:25-34).

These are not the only interactions that Jesus had with women. There are very many recorded in the NT. Of very real significance, however, is Jesus’ appearing to women first after his resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). This put women in a whole new realm of being chief witnesses. Remember, women could not testify or be a witness in court. The fact that Jesus appeared to women first, and told them to go and tell the male disciples of his resurrection, had to have really driven home the message of women’s spiritual equality to the disciples—once they accepted the truth of Jesus’ resurrection that the women were telling them. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the believers, both male and female, met and prayed together (Acts 1:14). As the fellowship of believers grew they met in houses for “church,” and many of these houses were owned by women. The possibility of the women as leaders in these early churches will be included in another of this series.

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Note 1. How Israelite men viewed and treated women changed and varied through time, and was no doubt influenced by the cultures that surrounded them. This essay is interested only with the status of women at the time of Christ.

The second and third articles in this series can be found here:

New Testament Views of Women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

New Testament Views of Women: Paul’s Co-workers

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Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Anonymous. “Women in Ancient Israel.” Bible History Online. n.d. http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (accessed June 2011).

Cabal, Ted, General Editor.  The Apologetics Study Bible.  Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Cowles, C.S. A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 1993.

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Faulkes, Irene Bonney. “Question of Veils in India.” Dr. Irene Faulkes Articles. 2011. http://revirene.org/Question%20Of%20Veils.htm (accessed June 2011).

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Schmidt, Alvin John. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

—. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Zondervan. “Interview with Alvin J. Schmidt.” Zondervan. n.d. http://www.zondervan.com/media/interviews/product/pdf/0310264499_authintrvw.pdf (accessed June 2011).

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© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012  (This is an edited version of a series of articles first posted at Examiner.com, 2011, and transferred from withchristianeyes.com)

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Review: “God According to God”

Cover of "God According to God: A Physici...

Cover via Amazon

God According to God, by Gerald Schroeder (HarperOne 2009)

If the discoveries in physics over the past century are correct, then that physically condensed energy of the big-bang creation is totally the expression of metaphysical wisdom (cited in Gen. 1:1) or information (J.A. Wheeler) or idea (W. Heisenberg) or mind (G. Wald).  Physics not only has begun to sound like theology.  It is theology (p 156).

God According to God, written by a MIT trained physicist and applied (Jewish) theology professor Gerald L. Schroeder, is a fascinating read (even if the subtitle, A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along, seems a bit of a stretch).  It’s an important read, too, if one takes the accolades on the cover seriously.   For example, “A remarkable book.  The science as well as the meaning of this universe and of life are discussed with insight, rigor, and depth,” says Nobel Prize (physics) awarded Charles H. Townes.

What’s really amazing about this book is that it combines modern science with theology in such a human way.  It’s written for the layman, yes, but it is written to show that not only is belief in God not inimical to science, but that modern science is actually proving God (or at least the metaphysical), and that taking God and the Bible seriously (and not simplistically or superficially) reflects reality and how we are to live in it.  The God of the Bible is simply not the god the critics so energetically and often vehemently criticize.

“The world gets its share of free reign and when a mess arises, the God of the Bible may enter to aid in the repair.  Nipping the potential evil before allowing it to flourish would be a compassionate world-management system, but that fails to match the blueprint brought by the Bible.  The logic lies in the need for an unhampered free will.  God hides the Divine presence sufficiently to allow each of us to make our own choices, for better or worse, freely within the confines of our physical and social landscape . . .“ (p 205).

After the introductories, Schroeder presents issues regarding the origin of life, and how much “science” popularly held is not accurate or true.  For instance, there is no logical reason why RNA would have developed on its own in our prebiotic world; everything is against it happening.  He refutes Stephen Hawking’s (and Scientific American’s) embarrassingly optimistic view of life happening on its own, providing data on how it would be impossible for random mutations to create the variety of proteins used in earthly life.

Earth itself is unique and improbable.   The elements in our universe that make life possible are surprising and improbable too, with carbon being the most unlikely.  While carbon is common, it is not at all easily made.   The astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, who was an agnostic before the means by which carbon could be abundantly formed was discovered, later said:  “Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule” (p 62).

For the Christian who has read other layman-oriented resources regarding origin of life and evolution issues, and facts about the specialness of earth, I recommend reading this book as well.  In combination it is about the most informative and wonderfully written as you’ll find.   Also for the Christian, Schroeder offers some eye-opening insights into Genesis and the possibility of nature as rebel (his other biblical interpretations from the Jewish perspective are also very much worth chewing on).  He ties in the possibility of nature rebelling with what we are learning of nature at the quantum level.  We now know that atoms are not the smallest units of matter, but the particles that make up atoms do not behave like matter.  They may even be waves, and they seem to behave in way that indicates “mind.”

The European conception of “evolution” includes the metaphysical, and apparently many leading scientists are leaning toward the view that nature has “mind.”  Neurosurgeon Frank Vertosick, Jr., talks of the “microbial mind,” Freeman Dyson (physicist, Institute for the Advanced Study, Princeton) and others show that “Atoms are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances.  They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities . . . .  It appears that mind . . . is to some extent inherent in every atom” (p 95).  Mathematician and physicist Sir James Jeans wrote (pp 90-91):

“There is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.  Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter.  We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail mind as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.”

We cannot see or understand this “mind” in nature, and we cannot even understand our own brain-mind connection.  We may know that chemical reactions take place in our brain that are related to specific activities, but we still do not understand how we remember, think, or imagine.  Just as there is something else to nature than predictable natural laws, there is more to us than the physical.  “The dogmatic myth of materialism has been proven to be wanting, more fantasy than fact. . . . in the words of Nobel laureate and biologist George Wald, ‘The stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff.  It is mind that has composed a physical universe’” (p 151).

Schroeder’s thesis can be summed up thusly:

“Within the subatomic world, there is a probabilistic pattern established by the laws of nature.  Individual quanta, however, may ‘choose’ not to follow the given path.  So too is the history of humanity.  Torturous though the trend may be, God has a plan for humanity.  The microengineering of that plan is largely up to us.  There is a flow from pagan barbarity toward the elusive goal of peace on earth, goodwill to all.  Each of us, as individuals, chooses whether to enhance or impede the flow toward the Divine goal” (p 215).

 

Authors Cited

Dyson, Freeman.  “Progress in Religion” (acceptance speech, Templeton Prize), March 2000.

Heisenberg, Werner.  Physics and Beyond (New York:  Harper & Row, 1971).

Vertosick, Jr., Frank.  The Genius Within (New York:  Harcourt, 2002).

Wald, George.  “Life and Mind in the Universe,” Quantum Biology Symposium, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry 11 (1984):  1-15.

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© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012 (prior publication at Examiner.com, 2011, and at withchristianeyes.com)

Posted in Apologetics, Christianity, Judaism, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The passionate genius, Simone Weil

Français : Bourges - 7 place Gordaine - Plaque...

Français : Bourges – 7 place Gordaine – Plaque commémorative Simone Weil (1909-1943) professeur à Bourges en 1935-1936 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who is, or was, Simone Weil? If increasing attention in the way of books and a newer documentary mean anything, particularly considering her death was some 70+ years ago, then she’s obviously “somebody.” At least two meanings of the word “prodigy” apply to Simone: (1) she was known to be a genius from a very young age and is a recognized philosopher, and (2) by her short, painful, yet beautiful and selfless life. Being a Christian mystic and having been “adopted” by Catholics (Simone never became a member of any church), had perhaps contributed to a certain level of obscurity until more recent years.

All books that bear Simone’s name were published after her death (1943), with one of the most well-know being Waiting for God (WfG; 1951), a collection of spiritual letters and essays. Much has been made of her spiritual life – and rightly so – but for a biography that focuses on her philosophy, see Palle Yourgrau’s Simone Weil (Reaktion Books 2011). A 2010 documentary made the film festival rounds and is now on DVD: An Encounter with Simone Weil. The odd film focuses on life, death, suffering generally, and on these words of Simone’s specifically: “Attention is the rarest form of generosity.” (I wrote a fairly in-depth review of the documentary here: Secular Girl Activist meets Christian Girl Activist . . .)

Simone was born in France in 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents. At the age of six she could quote classic poetry, and despite interruptions in her education (and the onset of migraines), she received her baccalaureate at the age of 15. Simone had a deep desire to know “truth,” so she attended graduate school and became a teacher of philosophy.
Do not think that she lived comfortably from the “ivory tower.” As early as age five she refused to eat sugar because the French soldiers could not have it, and she maintained this practice of food-denial all of her life. She chose not to turn the heat on in her rented rooms since the unemployed could not afford it themselves, and gave much of her salary to the poor and to workers’ causes. She was very politically active, striving to secure better conditions for factory workers, and was involved with the defense of her country during World War II.

Simone seemed to apply her whole self towards realizing her convictions. Even though frail, she was always working, thinking, writing—incessantly doing. She even went so far as to travel to war-torn Spain, in 1936, to fight against the Fascists. She was a pacifist but felt so strongly about the cause that she volunteered for the most dangerous assignments. Because of a severe cooking-related accident, however, Simone did not stay there for very long. And her witness of an execution of a 15-year-old boy by the people she supported, among other things, caused her to not return.

Perhaps the personal experience of war caused a crack in Simone’s idealism that became an entryway for God. In 1937, Simone wrote of an encounter while at Assisi: “something stronger than I was compelled me for the first time in my life to go down on my knees” (WfG pp 67-68). Then in 1938, while having severe migraines during Holy Week services, Simone had the experience of separating herself from the pain to enjoy the beauty of the service and to receive understanding of the passion of Christ. That same year, while reciting a Christian poem about accepting Christ—which she claims she hadn’t understood as such—Christ indeed “came down and took possession of me” (WfG p 69).

Though she accepted Christ, Simone’s writings are controversial. Some do not believe Simone was really a Christian; she had consideration and respect for other religions, and some fairly unorthodox theological views. In her “religious” writings, she often wrote of wrestling with God over truth. Though she wrote about spiritual truths found in other religions, or even myths (CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien held similar views), in the final analysis only Christ is truth: “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (WfG p 69).  A useful work in this regard is Simone Weil’s Apologetic Use of Literature (Marie Cabaud Meaney 2008).

Her friends in faith were Catholic, but she refused to enter the church because of its history and its exclusionary practices. Despite being an “outside Christian,” she wrote conventional ideas like: “It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me” (WfG pp 50-51), and “. . . I think that God himself has taken it [her soul] in hand from the start and still looks after it” (WfG p 73). Going deeper into her thought we find: “Only obedience is invulnerable for all time” (WfG p 63), and “. . . I always believed that the instant of death is the center and object of life” (WfG p 63). Significantly, and counter to some who attempt to claim that Simone was not a Christian, she told a friend a few months before she died: “I believe in God, in the Trinity, in the Incarnation, in the Redemption, in the teachings of the Gospel” (from Simone Weil, by Stephen Plant, p 33).

[If you're interested in more of Simone's words, I wrote a "found" poem with her words--it is the 2nd poem on that linked page.]

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© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012 (this was published at Examiner.com 2011, then at withchristianeyes.com)

Posted in Biography, Christianity, Faith, History, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: “Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate”

Reason, Faith, and Revolution by Eagleton, cover

Reason, Faith, and Revolution by Eagleton, cover

by Terry Eagleton (Yale University Press 2009)


“This straw-targeting of Christianity is now drearily commonplace among academics and intellectuals—that is to say, among those who would not allow a first-year student to get away with the vulgar caricatures in which they themselves indulge with such insouciance”
(p 52).

Terry Eagleton’s invective against anti-theist’s claims about religion, and Christianity in particular, is one of wit, humor, and sauce.  One hopes that those that are curious about the popular anti-God rhetoric, but who are basically outsiders—neither informed and faithful Christians or card-carrying anti-theists—will be the prime readers and beneficiaries of this “lecture series” book.  Not that there isn’t a good deal that those in the other groups can get out of it.  Indeed, as the Booklist review asserted, “serious Christians may be [Eagleton’s] most appreciative readers.”  But on the opposite side Eagleton himself opined that there was not a “hope in hell” that Ditchkins, that is Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, would read his work or be moved by it.

Eagleton, who is a professor both of English literature and culture theory, and who also writes philosophically (in fact, this book has been rated as important in philosophy), presents how the various arguments against religion that Dawkins and Hitchens vehemently espouse are very seriously misinformed and flawed.  “. . . the relations between these domains [poetry and other language types] and historical fact in Scripture are exceedingly complex, and that on this score as on many another, Hitchens is hair-raisingly ignorant of generations of modern biblical scholarship” (p 54).  He shows how Dawkins’ views, which reflect Victorian era progressivism, are simply unreasonable and unrealistic.

“We have it, then, from the mouth of Mr. Public Science himself that aside from a few local hiccups like ecological disaster, ethnic wars, and potential nuclear catastrophe, History is perpetually on the up.  Not even beaming, tambourine-banging Evangelicals are quite so pathologically bullish.  What is this but an example of blind faith?  What rational soul would sign up to such a secular myth?” (pp 87-88).

Regarding Ditchkins and science, Eagleton discusses how “Dawkins falsely considers that Christianity offers a rival view of the universe to science” (p 6), and that “His God-hating is by no means the view of a dispassionate scientist commendably cleansed of prejudice.  There is no such animal in any case” (pp 65-66).  “[Scientists] are peddlers of a noxious ideology known as objectivity, a notion which simply tarts up their ideological prejudices in acceptably disinterested guise” (p 132), and Dawkins, for example, “castigates the Inquisition . . . but not Hiroshima” (p 133).  While anyone is welcome to criticize superstition, the current culture has sunk into scientism, which refuses to take anything seriously that “cannot be poked and prodded in the laboratory” (p 72).  “Ditchkins does not exactly fall over himself to point out how many major scientific hypotheses confidently cobbled together by our ancestors have crumbled to dust, and how probable it is that the same fate will befall many of the most cherished scientific doctrines of the present” (p 125).

In chapter 1, Eagleton presents basic Christian beliefs not only to show that Ditchkins does not have an understanding of them, but to also promote them as quite respectable.  Of course, throughout his book Eagleton gives little quarter to “fundamentalists;” he praises Jesus and his radicalness, and those who actually follow His teachings to help the poor and seek justice.  He also contrasts this Christian mandate to love socially to the liberal humanist (of which Ditchkins is an example) legacy of love being kept private.  Yet another significant difference between Christianity (and for persons like Eagleton who hold a more socialist view) and the liberal humanism of Ditchkins is the matter of sin and redemption.  To Ditchkins, there is nothing to redeem.  Humanity is steadily progressing, even if catastrophes like World War II have happened.

“In my view,” Eagleton writes,  “[scriptural and orthodox Christianity] is a lot more realistic about humanity than the likes of Dawkins.  It takes the full measure of human depravity and perversity, in contrast to . . . the extraordinarily Pollyannaish view of human progress of [Dawkins’] The God Delusion” (p. 47).  Christianity believes that there are “flaws and contradictions built into the structure of the human species itself,” and so violence in history is not just due to historical influences; and Christianity is hopeful.  It is “outrageously more hopeful than liberal rationalism, with its apparently unhinged belief that not only is the salvation of the human species possible but that, contrary to all we read in the newspapers, it has in principle already taken place.  Not even the most rose-tinted Trotskyist believes that” (pp 48-49).

There are all kinds of fun passages like those already quoted in Eagleton’s book.  It can be very useful to Christians who want to be able to cite a seemingly non-Christian critique to the anti-theist crowd.  Conservatives be warned, however, that Eagleton presents and is supportive of Liberation Theology (he is a Marxist who aligns himself with “tragic humanism”), and is very critical of modern capitalism and western foreign policy.  He has good, though general, arguments for the atheism of capitalism and the disconnect between the West’s religious rhetoric and its actual practices (which, interestingly, he often places on liberal humanism).   Indeed, Christianity’s lack of following its leader has brought much criticism upon itself, “Christianity long ago shifted from the side of the poor and dispossessed to that of the rich and aggressive” (p 55).

Eagleton points out the good that historic Christianity has done, which Ditchkins refuses to acknowledge, while pointing out hypocrisies of some liberals.  Some examples:

“The values of the Enlightenment, many of them Judeo-Christian in origin, should be defended against the pretentious follies of post-modernism, and protected, by all legitimate force if necessary, from those high-minded zealots who seek to blow the heads off small children in the name of Allah.  Some on the political left, scandalously, have muted their criticism of such atrocities in their eagerness to point the finger of blame at their own rulers, and should be brought to book for this hypocrisy” (p 68).  

“Such is Richard Dawkins’s unruffled impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has ever flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false . . . . and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry” (p 97). 

Speaking of empiricism and truth, I found chapter 3 more interesting the second time I read it.   It’s really a pleasant read and borders on the mystical in places.  Eagleton writes lucidly on how we understand truth and what is reasonable and rational.  A set of examples about what is reasonable and rational, relative to what is true, is (1) that of humans previously thinking that the sun circled the earth – since it certainly looked that way it was rational to think – and (2) what we know of certain nuclear particles in our present time.  These particles are said to go through two different spaces at one time.  This is not rational or reasonable, yet we think that it is true.  He continues with a discussion that promotes the concept of “love” being a precondition of understanding, concluding that “The rationalist tends to mistake the tenacity of faith (other people’s faith, anyway) for irrational stubbornness rather than for the sign of a certain interior depth, one which encompasses reason but also transcends it” (p 139).

“Yet the Apocalypse, if it ever happens, is far more likely to be the upshot of technology than the work of the Almighty. . . .  This, surely, should be a source of pride to cheerleaders for the human species like Ditchkins.  Who needs an angry God to burn up the planet when as mature, self-sufficient human beings we are perfectly capable of doing the job ourselves?” (p 134).

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© Vicki Priest 2012 (previously posted by author at Examiner.com, 2011, and at withchristianeyes.com)

Posted in Apologetics, Christianity, Faith, History, Persecution, Philosophy, Religion, review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment