Saturday, July 25, 2015

The "Definition" of "Sin..."

So, continuing on with some attempt to at least partially explain himself (even if he won't fully attempt to do so), here's some more explanation from Stan at Winging It, who said said that there was no sense in explaining himself, that I "couldn't understand" because we are using words differently. I replied, well then, if you are using non-standard definitions of terms, you can explain yourself, just define the word as you are using it (and really, how is this difficult in an adult conversation?) Stan replied...

 I'm not using "justice" in a non-standard way. But "sin" appears to be a new concept to you. You're thinking "stealing cookies" or "not always completely honest" while I'm thinking "Cosmic Treason against the Most High". Nor is it a matter of "I'm too smart for you." As I said ... as I've always said ... we're defining terms differently. "Love", "sin", even "Christian" mean different things to me than to you. You "love the Word of God" and then explain it away based on your own experiences and perceptions and I "love the Word of God" and use it to figure out where my experiences and perceptions need to be corrected. Not the same concept.

Look, you ARE using "justice" in a non-standard way. You are saying that ONE "sin" (more on that later) is worthy of an eternity of torture. Your children DESERVE to be tortured for an eternity because of only one "sin" in their life. Whatever that sin is, that would be a disproportionate punishment for the crime.

Where specifically am I mistaken?

Now, you have attempted to define "sin" (which you are also using in a non-standard English way) to explain yourself. So see, you can explain yourself. You are able to define words you are using in a non-standard way and thus, make at least a little more sense.

So, as to this "sin," "cosmic treason..." hmm. That of course, is not the standard understanding/definition of the term. It is not how the word is used biblically (at all, not one time is anything of the sort mentioned ever) or defined in the Hebrew or Aramaic. I guess you just "feel" like that is not the definition, so you are asserting it is reality. Which is fine if that's how you feel, but do you have anything reality-based to support that feeling?

So, in your mind, your child, when they were of an age of accountability, decided to deliberately commit "cosmic treason" against God, is that what you're saying? When was that? Do you have any data to support that? I rather doubt you do. In fact, I would bet you absolutely do not have any data to support that claim. I, for my part, have never, not once decided, "I'm going to commit 'cosmic treason' against God." So, your claim, your feelings about that idea appear to be unsupportable by data in the real world, but you tell me.

But, let's suppose that some child somewhere actually DID decide to commit "cosmic treason..." What does that look like, exactly? I'll have to guess, unless you're speaking of R.C. Sproul's reference to the term that he apparently coined from thin air (certainly not from the Bible)...

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

So, for someone to decide (if it actually happens in the real world, which I rather doubt) that "My judgment is better than God's," and decide to do something that, in THEIR mind, is the right thing to do, even if it is opposed by God... What are they doing in that case? They are trying to do the right thing, as best they understand it in their mind/psyche/soul. They are deciding that, even if they have to disagree with God, they will still strive to do this right thing.

And let's further assume that they were mistaken. In trying to what they thought was correct, they were wrong and "rebelled" against God. A sin, then, from error, it would appear. In their fallen human nature, they made a mistake and chose the wrong instead of the right.

And for that, you think that an appropriate and "just" punishment is an eternity of torture.

How so? Okay, so they "rebelled" against God, they chose incorrectly. They are HUMAN, of COURSE, we choose incorrectly sometimes. Is being imperfect (which is our very nature, unfortunately) justly punished by an eternity of torture? How so?

You are able to define your words when you use them in a non-standard way, Stan. You've demonstrated that with your "cosmic treason" definition of sin you and Sproul made up. You can explain yourself. Apparently, this is a very important issue, if people are possibly going to be tortured for an eternity for even one mistake/"cosmic treason..." Why would you not explain yourself?

(And, in a note to Stan, I wrote to him):
I'll take this comment to my blog, since I'm not very hopeful you will actually try to defend your feelings about this idea, fyi. Maybe someone there will try to defend your rather silly-sounding and wholly unsupported claims. 

And to be clear, "silly-sounding claims" is not an attack on YOU, Stan, it is a mocking of the idea that sounds silly or crazy and which you are not willing to even try to defend, nor is it contrary to me believing in you, which I do. Just because I disagree with you does not mean I don't believe in you or your ability to defend yourself/make your case, nor does it mean I don't love you as a brother in Christ, which I do. Just to be clear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Dangers of Indoctrination

Once you've been thoroughly indoctrinated, it becomes very difficult to escape a given way of thinking, even when that way of thinking is thoroughly crazy. Consider the latest from Stan at his Winging It blog (and, as always, I'm not picking on Stan... he's just sometimes saying things I have believed in the past... I'm just trying to make up for my mistakes and clearing up why I was mistaken in the past and Stan's words happen to be handy...)

Fair? You want fair? Fair would be eternal damnation for every single one of us. Fair would be receiving what we have each and every one of us earned -- a one way ticket to hell.

Now, this is standard evangelical teaching and there is a point to it... the point being, we want GRACE, not justice, not fairness. When we make mistakes, we are very appreciative if we have a chance to deal with that in the context of grace, not harsh legalistic justice. So, that is, in my mind, the good side of this kind of reasoning.

The bad side is when you take that imagery that celebrates grace and make it a legalistic and literal "truth..." Consider what people are saying with this sort of reasoning...

1. God is a God of perfect love and perfect justice.
2. That because God is perfectly just, the reasoning goes, God can not "abide" or put up with ANY sin.
3. So, because God is SO "just," even one little lie is sufficient cause for God to send a person to an eternal torment and torture, as a matter of "justice..."

The problem with this reasoning is that it is not speaking of justice, as we know and understand justice. Part of the notion of justice includes proportionate punishment for sins/mistakes/crimes.
Thus, while a parent is not at all being unjust to punish their 8 year old for taking a box of cookies that didn't belong to them - say, sending them to time out or making them work extra to pay for the stolen cookies - the parent would be monstrously unjust to cut off their hand to punish them or to kill them by way of punishment. The punishment does not measure up to the level of the crime. It is, in fact, so far out of proportion to the crime that the punishment, itself, is unjust. Monstrous, not loving or just at all.

So, while human beings are all sinful or imperfect in nature, do most of us do something so monstrous in our life as to merit an eternity in torment as an equitable "just" punishment? Most of us do not kill, do not cheat, do not steal that which isn't ours, do not rape, do not commit genocide... so, is a lifetime of mistakes that include lying, being less than honest, gossiping, speeding in our car, etc... are these rightly considered awful enough to justly merit a punishment of eternal torment? Is that rational? Moral?

Or, consider that we have been created imperfect by God (for those who believe we are created by God...) Is it rational or just that God creates us imperfect and then demands that we be perfect or else we'll be punished with eternal torment for being imperfect, as God made us!? No, of course not.

The problem with this view of a loving and just God is that it undermines the notion of a loving and just God. God becomes whimsical, monstrous, unjust, uncaring... not the God most believers think of as a loving God.

I would ask Stan or others who have made these sorts of statements: What specifically have you done to merit a "one way ticket to hell..."? Would you consider another human being who even just tortured for a few days one of your loved ones for their sins to be just and loving? Or would you consider them to be insane?

The obvious answer is "insane..." We recognize it when speaking of human on human action, but some of us are so indoctrinated that we fail to see it when we slander God thusly. Something to consider for those who have ears to hear.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Where Humility and Reality Meet Positive Thinking...

"You can do anything you set your mind to," they told me.

Unfortunately, they underestimated what I could set my mind to.

Friday, July 10, 2015

How we know right and wrong...

Stan, at the Winging It blog, recently was disparaging/critiquing his more progressive friends, complaining that our reasoning is off. Of course, he was critiquing a strawman version of our reasoning, not the real thing, so that was a problem right off. I'll deal with it here because it is an oft-repeated mistake.

He suggested we say that...

"Wrong" is doing harm, and we know what "harm" is (despite the repeated failures of humankind to anticipate harm).
We know what "good" is (even if it conflicts with what God, "the judge of all the earth" (Gen 18:25), says it is.
Oddly, it puts them [liberals who disagree with Stan] in the driver's seat of morality as if they're much better at figuring out how the human being works than the Maker is. It's odd because it comes from folk who claim to love God.
A few thoughts, to clarify his misunderstanding about our positions. (I do it here because, A, he does not deal with my comments on his blog and, B, as I often note, it's not really about Stan and his error, it's about the ideas involved, and these ideas are often misunderstood by conservative types, so, my thoughts...)
1. We don't know perfectly what harm is, any more than you or I know perfectly how to interpret the Bible's every page.
How is imperfectly reading the Bible and understanding it any more reliable than imperfectly recognizing harm?
2. We don't know perfectly what "good" is, any more than you (any of us) know how to interpret the Bible perfectly or how perfectly to know God's will.
3. At the same time, most reasonable people can generally agree on both "harm" and "good..." I just don't think it's that hard. For instance...
The potential for harm when driving drunk is great, so it is not a moral good to drive impaired. We don't need the Bible to tell us this, we are rational and moral creatures. Is there anything to disagree with there? If so, what?
Even though the Bible never specifically condemns dropping nuclear bombs on a city of civilians during war time, we know that it causes horrific harm and is not a moral good. We are rational and moral creatures and this is obvious, we don't need the Bible to tell us it's wrong. Again, what is wrong with this line of reasoning, because I do not see it. This seems like something all people of good will can agree upon.
4. We are not in "the driver's seat" nor are we claiming to be. What we're claiming is this:
We are responsible for our behavior, for understanding - as best we can - right and wrong. We can't and shouldn't simply say, "Dan (or Stan or whoever), YOU decide for the rest of us what is right or wrong..." NO! God forbid, no!
Rather, we are saying that we each need to strive to do the right and avoid the wrong, because we are each reasonable, moral agents. I'm (we're) absolutely NOT saying we know better than the Maker. We're saying "I don't trust another human to tell me what is and isn't right." That is, we're not saying No to the Maker, we're saying No to Stan or anyone else who would presume to speak for the Maker.
Again, this seems like something all of us should be able to agree upon.
5. At the very least, he got the last claim right: We DO love God (not merely claim to love God...). It is precisely because we love God that we don't want to leave it to some guy on the internet to tell us what is right and wrong.
But this is just reasonable, is it not?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Based on WHAT?

I have heard multiple times from multiple sources over the years that one reason I need to change my position on one topic or another is because "the elders" or tradition has spoken and decided the matter. Most recently, I have visited Ed at his reformedreasons blog and asked the oft-asked/rarely answered question: On what basis is your interpretation/opinion about the meaning of a passage or the "correct" position on a particular opinion the one that must be heeded?

As is generally true, Ed has mostly refused to even acknowledge the question was asked, much less provide an answer. When he did acknowledge the question, his response was...

You clearly do not understand that when we say Scripture is its own basis, it is self-authenticating, it is the final authority, that there is no other basis. My opinion has nothing to do with it. Either you accept that Scripture is self-authenticating, binding, and our final authority and that Scripture is its own ground for this position or you do not. You clearly do not.

You demand something more. There is nothing more. There must be a final authority if there is to be any authority at all. Why can't you understand that? We could say "based on who's authority" ad infinitum" you know.

So, what happened there was he repeated that "Scripture is its own basis..." which is not the question I asked. He repeated that it is self-authenticating, it is the "final authority," etc... all of which does not answer my question.

Look, I love, honor, cherish, read and take seriously the teachings in the Bible. I give it plenty of "authority" (I do not give the words in the Bible "final authority" because that belongs to God, and I will not make a god out of the Bible, as doing so is contrary to the teachings of the Bible, not to mention irrational).

The question is not "will we take the Bible seriously," but WHOSE intepretation on various topics/passages is "right" or whether any mortal can state authoritatively, "I hold the One True Interpretation..."

So, when we read Genesis 1 and Ed (or others) say, "This is a literal history..." on what basis is his opinion on the matter any more weighty or authoritative than mine? It's a very reasonable question.


Some topics where there are disagreements, they are relatively simple disagreements. I happen to think that Gen. 1 is told in a more figurative/mythic style and others think it is more literal history. If Ed or anyone else wants to disagree with me, they are welcome to do so. If they insist that I must agree with them, I'll politely decline, as I find their case wanting. I don't think Ed or anyone else is immoral for believing in a 6,000 year old earth, just ridiculously mistaken.

But for other topics - war, how we spend our money, human rights, gay rights, etc - for them to ask or demand that I MUST change my position is asking me to take a stand against morality and rationality. If someone insisted that I, as a Christian, MUST take up arms to fight and kill in wartime, they would be asking me to partake in what I consider to be obviously evil. If someone insists that Christians "must" denounce homosexual marriages, they are asking me to partaken in what I consider to be obviously evil.

So, when someone says, "Here is MY interpretation of various passages as it relates to war or to homosexuality," I hope you can understand how very deadly serious is the question... "On what basis should I abandon what I think is moral in favor of what I believe to be clearly evil?"

The sum total of Ed's argument has been a baseless and irrational appeal to the authority of SOME group of particular believers. Ed said, for instance...

You left a body of elders and sought out a fake group of elders.

My question is ON WHAT BASIS would I know that the first group of "elders" is the "right" group and not the second? Especially when, as far as I can see, the first group of elders is clearly morally and rationally mistaken on the points in question.

If anyone is reading and inclined to answer, I'd welcome them: Regardless of my conclusions, do you recognize the very weightiness of the problem you have when you ask someone to abandon what appears to be Godly and moral and rational in favor of what appears to be immoral, unGodly, unbiblical, irrational and flimsy as hell?

Do you think you should be prepared to answer, "On what basis should I abandon the moral in favor of the immoral?" Or would you counsel me to follow my understanding of God, the Bible, morality as best I can, even if you disagree with my conclusions? Since Ed is not answering these questions, I'm putting it out there for anyone else to take a shot.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Conservative Lamentation About Charleston shooting?

Just wondering: Can anyone find a conservative blog that is lamenting the tragic events in Charleston or offering support for our brothers and sisters at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church or otherwise speaking out about this great evil?

I ask because I've looked around and cannot find any.

If not, why not?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Remembering Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

"It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
Cause I don't know what's up there beyond the sky

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will"

~The Great Sam Cooke

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


A conservative blogger - Stan, over at Winging It -  recently posted about Jesus and judgmentalism. Some liberalish people will point to Jesus' "judge not, lest you be judged..." and proceed to tell people "Jesus said 'don't judge!'"

Many, many conservativish people will jump on that and say, "You're missing the point! Jesus and the church made judgments all the time!" Stan had this to say this time...

"So, which did Jesus do in the John 8 story? They tell me He did neither [judge AGAINST, harshly or judge as in "form an opinion about" -dt]. I disagree.

In John 8:11 He says, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." The question was "Should we stone her?" (John 8:4-6). Stoning would be condemning. Jesus didn't condemn her, didn't sentence her to punishment, didn't judge against her. But He did judge her. He told her, "From now on sin no more." That is, "You have sinned; don't do it anymore."

The world wants us to shut up about sin. They try to point to Jesus for that. It just doesn't work."

Two things:

1. I think these type of conservatives are missing the point. No one is seriously saying "don't make judgments about anything..." We ALL want people to judge harshly that the drunk driver needs to be stopped, the pedophile needs to be stopped, the oppressive tyrant needs to be stopped, the murderer, rapist, molester, abuser NEEDS to be stopped. We have judged these behaviors to be clearly harmful and decided/agreed that they need to be stopped. So, when more conservative people assume that people are saying "don't make judgments about anything," they assume incorrectly, if that's what they're doing.

What people are objecting to is the harsh judgmentalism and condemnation of people's lesser (ie, non-harmful to others) foibles. Whether that's the avid environmentalist/bicyclist who goes around judging harshly all those who drive and condemn them for their choices or the conservative religionist who goes around judging harshly all others' sexual opinions/practices. That sort of judgmentalism is off-putting, arrogant and counter-productive.

We're all in this generally striving together to generally do the right thing. No one wants to embrace a wrong behavior. We all can do better and we all make mistakes, being harshly judgmental about minor foibles (or what WE perceive to be a "sin") is not the way to help people out.

And note: Again, I'm not speaking of overtly harmful behavior. Yes! We should speak out and stop the pedophile, the rapist, the abuser, the drunk driver. And we don't need a line from the Bible or sacred text to tell us to stop those behaviors - they are overtly harmful behaviors that potentially or actually take away people's liberties, health and/or lives. We stop those behaviors precisely because they are harmful to life and liberty.

But how did Jesus handle the woman caught in a sexual "sin..."? Did he judge her harshly? No! Did he condemn her or the supposed sin? No! In fact, he specifically did NOT condemn her. Literally saying, "neither do I condemn you..."

Whose behavior did Jesus chastise? The ones who would have killed a woman for a supposed sin.

The religious zealots were embracing actual harmful behavior to KILL someone who may have been involved in a sexual foible... a non-harmful or less-harmful behavior. Assuming the man involved consented, they were prepared to kill - take away a life - for a consensual act.

THAT harmful behavior was indirectly rebuked in the story cited here, not the supposed "sin" of this woman, who was specifically not condemned.

So, again, the point is people are not saying "don't make judgments about anything!" It is still okay to stop and condemn actually harmful behavior, to save a life and to promote liberty. No, when people say, "don't judge," they are speaking of the harsh, condemning sorts of behavior.

So, where Stan said...

The world wants us to shut up about sin. They try to point to Jesus for that. It just doesn't work."

The point is, NO one - including "the world" - wants us to "shut up" about or give up on stopping actually harmful behavior. PLEASE let us work together to find graceful ways to stop harmful behavior. On the other hand, when you (or I) hold personal opinions about what God may or may not think about non-harmful behavior - what we do or don't do in our bedrooms, for instance - please, keep them to yourselves and/or express your concern in an humble and respectful manner AS a concern, and then only when asked. That's what people are wanting, at least in my experience.

2. The second thing: I don't know that I've ever heard a conservative take up the notion of "Neither do I condemn you..." in this story. This is a woman caught in what was, biblically (taken literally) a capital crime, a "sin" so heinous that the ancients believed that God wanted people killed for this sin. But Jesus quite literally - given a direct chance to do so - did NOT condemn her or her behavior. Given the chance, Jesus did not embrace the OT law literally. He chased away the would-be killers and said, "neither do I condemn you...". He DID go on to say, "Go and sin no more..." but he left it to the woman's judgment as to what that would be.

What I'd like to see our more conservative friends embrace is this "neither do I condemn you" attitude literally from Jesus. If you want to take something literally in the bible, embrace that literally. And if two gay folk get married, in love say (to yourself, preferably, unless asked), "neither do I condemn you..." even if you happen to think it is a wrong thing to do. Or if a child moves in with a partner without marrying, repeat after Jesus (again, to yourself unless asked), "Neither do I condemn you..."
If you're in your sunday school class and someone starts talking about a transgender neighbor and they ask your opinion, say, "Neither do I condemn them!"

It is my opinion that "neither do I condemn you" is another way of saying, Grace. Grace to you. Grace to you in your decisions. You are an adult, I grace-fully respect your right and duty to choose for yourself what is the Right Thing to do.


It's a great attitude to embrace literally, seems to me.

Monday, June 8, 2015

That Is Enough

The perfect, smooth stones beside
the speckled stream told me

we wish to fly,
to leave these riverwashed banks and
sail through the carefree air
if only for a moment

and I told them

I have no powers to make it so
but I can agree with you
and join in the wish
that it might be so

and they told me

that is enough.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Race

Some friends singing at the Jeff St Earth Day service. The song is "The Race" by the Steel Wheels, a great group of Mennonite fellas out of Virginia. The theme of the sermon was about how "they can't take our joy away..." that in spite of pollution, environmental degradation, a sometimes-hopeless uphill climb to change the status quo, we've got something to hang on to that no one can take away.

"The Race" begins...

I’ve gotta hope that never fails me
I’ve gotta song that I’m gonna sing
Tempests turn and the winds are wailing
I’ve gotta race that must be run I’ve gotta race that must be run
I’ve gotta race that must be run I’ve gotta race that must be run