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Is Islamic Extremism Really Representative of Proper Islam, Or Is the Religion Just a Pretext? Transcription of an extract from an interview on BBC Radio Oxford with former Muslim Dr Nabeel Qureshi

Having talked about the difficulties Nabeel had with his family after becoming a Christian, I wondered how he felt when he heard some of the terrible news stories that we get now about Isis and other extremist groups – so many of them claiming to act in the name of Islam.

Islam is a very complex entity, and it really depends on how you come at it. Isis, for example, is taking a stance that is very, very reflective of the original traditions in Islam. If you read the Hadith, which are the traditions of Mohammed, if you read the commentaries of [Tafsir?] on the Qur’an, you will see why Isis does what it does. And in fact, they put out a magazine every month called Dabak, which explains why they do what they do – [it] is rooted in Islamic tradition. But the Islam I grew up with is a pacifist Islam, and the motto of our sect is “Love for all, hatred for none”, and so it’s not reflective of what all Muslims believe.

This is so difficult, isn’t it? Because as you explained there, there is somewhere in the writings a justification for what [Isis and other extremist groups] do, and yet you don’t have to go very far at all to find a voice of moderate, modern Islam to say “No, no, this isn’t us at all!” Is there a fixed truth somewhere, or is the problem that it’s all down to interpretation and just which bit you choose?

That’s a great question, and the issue of truth – a lot of people will just assume that there just is none and that it’s a matter of preference. I take the position that Islam is as Muhammad intended it to be. Given that there is a prophet named Muhammad who started the religion of Islam, I think that the real Islam would be what he intended it to be, not what it has become over time. And that is where the real disagreement lies. Those progressive Muslims – some of whom I studied under while I was in university – they will say that Islam develops over time and that the accreted tradition is part of the religion, and they can justifiably say that Islam is a religion of peace. But those who, like Isis, who revert back to the reformists, who revert back to the original form of Islam, they end up being very literal in their reading of the Qur’an and the Hadith, and that ends up looking the way it does today.

Of course it’s fair to point out that if you restrict your biblical readings to the Old Testament, some of it’s pretty brutal too.

That’s true, if we just focus on certain components of the Bible then it can look pretty violent in certain cases. But the difference between Islam and Christianity is that the Christian message – the culmination of the Christian message – is Jesus’ grace on the Cross; his command to love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you; if your enemy is hungry give him something to eat, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. That’s the culmination of the Christian message. Whereas if you look at historical Islam, the last major chapter of the Qur’an to be revealed according to Islamic tradition is chapter 9, and that’s the chapter which says “Slay the infidels wherever you find them. Lay siege to them and take them captive,” or, “Fight the Jews and Christians until they pay the Jizya.” So the chapter that appears the most violent on the surface is the culmination of the Qur’anic revelation.

My reflections on this, from the point of view of one who identifies as Christian…

It can be seen, here, that the source of violence in the name of Islam is in many cases the religion itself (although I’m not entirely convinced that none of the violence in the UK is committed by angry young people who feel betrayed by their country and government and are using the religion as a pretext). Where it is down to the religion, this leaves us to draw our preliminary conclusions. What is the problem here? What do we need to eradicate to safeguard our society from it? A lot of people will point the finger at any form of conservative religion that doesn’t diverge from its roots into a form of liberal progressivism. But I don’t think it’s possible to make a blanket case against conservativism – or even extremism – and Nabeel Qureshi has further convinced me of this.

From a Christian perspective, by being more ‘purist’ in your commitment to the original teachings of Jesus  – the ‘Real McCoy’ stuff that you read straight out of the New Testament, not the stuff that people said about it afterwards (if the culmination of Jesus’ teaching is, as Qureshi said, ‘love your enemies’ and the main pedagogical example is the one he sets by dying on the Cross as an act of grace to pay off the debts of infidels and let them live), then you end up with something very different. As a logical extension of this description, Christian extremism would lead to people radically loving their enemies, and extreme devotions to its leader and founder would lead to copycat acts of costly self-sacrifice, rescue and mercy for the undeserving. These things, as I say, were not the things that were written into the Christian religion afterwards by theologians of humanistic or liberal persuasions, but were at the core of the original first century teachings of Jesus: if you read Jesus ‘by himself’, this is largely what you get.

Where the oppression and violence of the Church has exploited the powerless and laid communities low (as all institutions of centralized power tend to do as a natural consequence of the social make-up of the human creature unless this tendency is checked by the Holy Ghost or by human safeguards and interventions or a mixture of the three), I would wager that this was not because the Church was too radical or too extremist about Jesus. It was not because of an extremist approach to Jesus that the Church was an oppressive and destructive power in the world. Rather, I would like to posit that it was for the opposite reason: it was because the Church was not radical or extreme enough about the way it handled Jesus’ original teachings and example. It was that the Church did not allow for an extreme commitment to Jesus to inoculate it against the natural forces of the human condition by which it was otherwise bound to become an oppressive power. Although the New Testament variously depicts Jesus denouncing the religious leaders of his day for arrogantly flouncing around in their fine clerical robes whilst bleeding the poor dry, the Church for centuries seemed to have forgotten to check itself in the mirror. As far as I can gather according to what I’ve read, it was too busy hating its enemies. I would say that in those instances where the Church did not apply Jesus’ teachings back on itself, it was being too extremist about itself at the expense of its own ostensible object – an object that could have prevented it from becoming the tyrant that it was if only it had listened to him.

Humbling yourself under the authority and reign of a self-crucifying and self-emasculating God-man, making such a God-man the model and ruler of your life and the dictator of your conduct in the knowledge that he expects your conduct to imitate his; ascribing total glory, honour and power to such a God, and standing up for his cause through the insults, derision and persecution of the world around you which you have a duty to respond to with love at the expense of your dignity – it takes a self-crucifixion in kind to even be able to worship a self-crucifying God. There can be no room in this extreme sort of worship for the tyrannical behaviour that critics of the Church wheel out as ad hominem attacks against the person, work and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is this game-stopping imitatio of self-crucifixion – a divinely modelled drama of death to self and death to ego – that Islam lacks, because, it seems from conversations I’ve had with individual Muslim apologists, the notion of God becoming man and crucifying himself is aberrant to what the Islamic idea of God is about. They do not believe that God did become a man, because that would mean that he would have to humble himself to the level of his creation and become as weak as a man and this would dishonour him; and they do not accept that he was crucified for the sake of the world, because they perceive crucifixion to be too great a dishonour for even a prophet, let alone a god. It is essential that their god’s honour not be compromised; it is essential that he remains in heaven, untouchable, and at a remove from sinful human beings. And yet for Christians, the willingness of God to become weak, to condescend to the level of his own creation and live among it, to be dishonoured by it, to be killed by it, and to die and rise from the dead that it might live again – is precisely his glory, because condescending to come down from his heavenly throne and get his hands dirty for the sake of the world and bleed and die for it tells of the intimate, interested and passionate kind of love that he has for it. I may be wrong in my assertions about Islam, but self-sacrifice seems contrary to all that I have heard of the Islamic notion of what a loving god is like, whereas to the Christian notion it is central. The Church, unlike the Islamic faith, had no excuse not to imitate this kind of love. Insomuch as the Church is self-seeking, greedy, violent, deceptive and oppressive, it is not merely at fault for being these things, but it betrays its own object of worship, the very heart of its foundation.

I should now like to look away from the Church and towards the global situation – the bombings, the atrocities of the present day. I don’t think the problem, ultimately, is extremism itself. I think that there are good extremes and bad extremes, and that the goodness or badness depends on the object of that extremism, not the fact that it is extreme. Nourishing and caring for your enemy is extreme. Giving up your life for the sake of someone who doesn’t deserve it is extreme. It takes something extreme to counteract the raw will to power of the natural human self. If the world’s social ills are ever resolved, which I believe they will be one day, it will be a result of something regarded as extreme, radical and different; not because of something comfortable, mediocre and much like what we have now. In ousting extremism itself, I feel, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think that where there is a problem with extremism, the problem lies in the nature of the thing that people are being extreme about.

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Contending for the Faith: Adjusting to a new, subtler battle tactic

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‘Faith is a virus, columnist claims’, published by The Christian Institute on 22nd July 2014.
http://www.christian.org.uk/news/faith-is-a-virus-columnist-claims/ [last accessed 23rd July 2014]

‘[A Conservative Peer and columnist for The Times] said, “Rationalists no longer expect to get rid of religion altogether by explaining life and matter: they aim only to tame it instead, and to protect children from it”‘

My initial thought and reaction to this article was the following: be taking notes, Christian people, and be using them wisely. You can see that what is being envisaged here is not a complete overthrow, and not even a displacement – or at least, not immediately. These scientistic, naturalistic Darwin aficionados believe (wrongly) that their power to win lies in their monopoly on support from the institutions that shape and dictate the lives of everyday, uneducated individuals who have not been taught to question what they are told unless it comes out of the mouth of a religious cleric, an advocate of homeopathic medicine or a telesales operative. It is little use to assert a tu quoque in response to this: if ‘brainwashing’ is the British secularists’ cry of accusation against those with any kind of Christian faith, then they should not be using it themselves. I personally take a dim view of it, whether performed by Christians or secularists, or anyone else. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need brainwashers to win people’s hearts; he only needs witnesses to speak of Jesus Christ, and he has been effective especially in places where the brainwashing powers that be have been brainwashing people to believe in other things besides him, like China. Introducing Jesus to people is Christians’ work, but changing hearts and minds is God’s work, and he does it everso well by himself.

The institutions that make up the state machine have an incredible power to influence public opinion – and that is what they are doing. Now I’m going to make a risky statement. I think that most effective influencer of public opinion  that ever lived – and I’m sorry for the cliché – was Adolf Hitler. Let us take the focus off the concentration camps and the gas chambers, the atrocities for just one moment (by all means turn back to them afterwards), and let us look at Hitler as a politician and an ideologue. I think that one of the most unbelievable feats of Adolf Hitler was the fact that he made people believe that what he was doing was okay. Why do we not study this more and learn the dangers of it so that we can expose it where it happens and defend ourselves? As far as I’m concerned the biggest feat of Hitler was the fact that, using propaganda techniques and the rudimentary media that he had at his disposal, he managed to inculcate Nazi ideology into his people at large in the short space of a generation and a half, to the extent that a significant proportion of them genuinely believed it was the truth. That is what I find astonishing. Now I’ve read snippets of quotations from his writings on propaganda – not much, I have to say, but what I read was sufficient to make me feel very uncomfortable about the present times. The   burning question in my mind as I read was, “How on this earth could we have done Nazi Germany ad nauseam all the way up secondary school, and been fed a narrative about a faceless inhuman monster every time, rather than about a very human man and the insights into social engineering that lay behind the media strategy and statecraft that he used to achieve his ideological ends, so that we might become aware of these things and recognise when they’re being used on us for the sake of other people’s ideological ends?” As I read what these philosophical reflections and tools were, sickeningly, I could not help but notice as I read them how stridently the secular ideological engine – particularly the LGBT campaign – seems to have been using much the same techniques in the media which have spilled into statecraft what with dramatic changes being made to state legislation in a short space of time, perhaps by coincidence rather than by design, but still, the patterns are there. Again, I apologise for the perceived extremism of this, and you can come back at me with another tu quoque if you want, but I couldn’t help but make the association as I read, and like everything that makes me feel sick to my stomach, I cannot help but talk about it. The fact is that even some secularists have been alarmed at the pace of the progress of the LGBT cause as a cause qua cause, at the power to stigmatize and silence non-adherents that it acquired in about two or three decades from a former position of being stigmatized itself; at its stronghold of acceptance among the cultural elites rather than the workaday people like most civil rights movements in the past, and at the speed with which it has become the only side of the law on which to be, when not long ago it was on the wrong side. Both ideologies took little more than a generation to become normative, and the lowest common denominator of them is a commitment to a deliberate cultural engineering, which history shows is bad news for human freedoms. It is here that the parallels stop, however: it is cheap to smear your opponent as being ‘Nazi’, and it’s overly disparaging to do that. My aim is not to tar with the same brush, but to point out the potency of the media propaganda machine, and to invite questioning of the rights and wrongs of using it, given that we know what it is capable of masking and distorting when we read up on the chapters of history that our schoolbooks don’t teach us, what it is capable of unearthing from the human condition and what moral freedoms it deprives people of. The secular agenda can in theory allow for freedom of speech without undermining itself, because those who naively think they are making a free choice have for the large part had their hearts and minds made up for them. This is not freedom. If people uncritically imbibe the media and the academic establishment as their highest authorities on knowledge without taking note of how repetition, posturing, brown-nosing, skewing, narrative manipulation, and stigmatizing techniques work to present things as being acceptable or unacceptable and plausible or implausible, and to play to people’s emotions and sympathies whilst shaping them, then they will be persuaded of anything. If there is a culture of acceptance of something – a culture that has built up its own rationales and philosophical arguments and historical narratives around whatever it accepts – then standing against the culture might well be akin to claiming that you believe in garden fairies, and that is what is currently being levied against Christians. If even the sources of evidence you might draw from to  prove your opponents that you are worthy of being taken seriously are produced by those who are trying to cast you in that mould and are written in a way that flatters them rather than you, then it is understandably hard to produce a credible defence for yourself: the discursive rug has been taken out from under you. There are strong secularizing elements in our BBC media, and in light of these it is not surprising that Christians look like people who believe in garden fairies to those who view the world through media-tinted glasses. The reason why this happens is that we are being made to look that way. The very nuances of our language, as it has changed to reflect the cultural usage, make us look that way. So we should not be drawn in to think that there is nothing more to faith in Christ than faith in garden fairies. The burden of proof as to whether that is actually true is on the ones who claim such things, and if they paint us in a way that doesn’t accord with our practices, experience or knowledge, then they will not effectively be engaging with what we are. And if they are not really engaging with what we are, then they are talking about their idea of us, rather than about us, and the only way they can then touch us is if we let their idea of us pass for what we really are – which we all too often do, and by the time we’ve said “You’re not painting us right”, it’s often too late. From the very first instance we are often perfectly placed to say “Actually you’ve got it wrong” and present them with the evidence; we just often don’t think on.

The Tory peer in the article at hand is treats Christianity as a scientific object: a disease. Secularism has taken science and tried to use it as a form of institutional monopoly, so it is safe terrain for him. Scientific narratives have been formed that airbrush God out the picture and have been built upon for some generations now by others who do the same, to produce the impression that ‘we don’t need God’. But Christians know that God is not absent just because he is not given a voice: UV radiation was always in the electromagnetic spectrum before it was recognised as being there. It has been largely concealed that facts, figures and ‘evidence’ are not hard proofs of sociological phenomena on their own, but need to be construed to mean something, and that that ‘something’ that they are construed to mean, and the language that is used to describe them, is subject to ideological premises and narratives. The institution of science and the language it uses to express itself are thus firmly constructs. Manufacturing an empirical or otherwise philosophically coherent defence for something is often enough to convince people who pride themselves on being too canny to go along with the beliefs endorsed by their cultural surroundings. There is a tacit assumption for such people that philosophical coherence = truth, when in fact there is no reason why the connection that we believe to exist between our manmade systems of philosophical coherence and ‘the real’ cannot be mistaken, indirect, partial or disturbed. Philosophical coherence has been exploited to defend all sorts of despicable things – eugenics, for one. John Lennox’s God’s Undertaker exposes the ideological premises of the secularist agenda in science, and even demonstrates that devoid of these premises, science supports a theistic worldview better than an atheistic one. But I digress. The important thing is that in presenting Christianity as a scientific object, the Tory Peer is arguing against it from a terrain that is favourable to his cause. Treating Christianity according to the ‘scientific’ narrative of disease and infection, what the proponents of the views presented in the article at hand seem to hoping for is to leave a weak, diluted strain of Christianity in the genetics of our cultural values, and contain it (probably using legislation) from being transferred down any more generations while they wait for it to evolve into something else through a series of subtle, near-imperceptible changes over the course of a long period of time. Of course, people like the Tory Peer don’t believe in the power of the Word of God to change the hearts of those who seek God. Moreover, they don’t realise that the propagation of evangelical faith relies on conversionism before it relies on the transmission of family values: that evangelicalism (in all of the denominations and traditions in which it may be found) is more than just a ritualized form of conservativism with the sanction of hell for disobedience. Because of this you cannot stop evangelical Christianity by bringing in legal restrictions to constrict and kill its native roots: as long as it has a Bible, it will simply sprout new ones.

Richard Dawkins undercut his own campaign in May 2012 when he wrote in the Guardian that all schools should have a copy of the King James Bible in them because it is “a great work of literature”. If he thinks that the greatest danger to schoolchildren from the Bible is that they will view it as “a moral book” if they are not actively taught to eschew the ‘evils’ that it contains, and if he thinks that that sort of teaching will prevent converts from being won, then he does not understand the transformative power of it at all. And yet, I read in my Open Doors material recently about a miracle healing Afghanistan where Christians are severely persecuted and live in secret, in which a Christian man who had just acquired his first Bible merely brought it into his house, and his disabled daughter started to move, and when he read from it, she started to walk around. The Bible is such a hated book. It is so readily available that it is looked on as something cheap, and of little consequence. It looks so unimpressive and feeble when it’s sitting on the shelf, and when it’s portrayed in all the religious caricatures. But God made the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, the powerless to shame the powerful, the things that are not to shame things that are. Whether the Bible is sitting in a humble school library in some deprived area, or in the hands of a persecuted Afghani family man, as long as the Word of God remains available and is read, I believe that it is very hard to kill Christianity even if you turn to massacre the believers.

All evangelicals are converts, whether they grew up with Christianity or not – and are quite different material from those who have just grown up with weak strains of ‘cultural Christianity’ and continued to propagate them down generations. These atheist belligerents cannot see that it is the conscious acquisition of active, living faith in Jesus Christ by hearing the Word of God that is giving life to this movement: many of them just regard Christianity as the sum of its practices and ethical standpoints, with faith in Jesus Christ as an adjunct – a ‘booby prize’ offered to the gullible and the uneducated – legitimizing the religious institution’s oppression of the weak. And in doing this, they severely underestimate their enemy, because these oppressive kinds of institutions are not where the heart-changing, belief-propagating power lies. It is not that Christianity is ‘becoming’ more evangelical (as if ‘evangelical’ were just a trend you could drift in and out of without noticing). It is that ‘born again’ Christianity is a completely different creature – and one that behaves very differently too. We know that ‘born againness’ is not an ‘idea’ but a spiritually transformative experience – and they can only see it as an ‘idea’ because they do not believe in spiritually transformative experiences! Rather than evangelicalism just being another modality of any other brand of Christianity as the Tory Peer seems to think, when people are born again and this manifests itself in something that looks ‘evangelical’, it means that they are becoming something palpably different from what they were before, even if they still called themselves ‘Christian’ before. This man’s sociology of religion doesn’t seem to be able to account for all of this – and consequently, I cannot imagine he will be able to grasp that ‘being born again’ is any different from ‘acquiring more conservative views, becoming more belligerent and proselytizing’. The suppression of youth work evangelism would be more of a worry to me than the curtailment of ‘cultural Christianity’ – though it’s starting to get harder to do that too.

The game of these opponents is long, and their tactics guerilla-like. Insisting on changing accepted definitions of things and influencing language use so that we imply and inculcate certain values when we speak even if we don’t mean them. Riding on the back of historical ‘liberation’ narratives such as the abolition of slavery and the right to vote, which are universally seen to be ‘good’ by anyone with a voice that matters, and fabricating reasons as to why they should be seen to be doing the same thing. Using populist tactics to rally political support and make sudden, hefty changes to the law and set up a trajectory for change, with safeguards designed to come down when popular support has increased. They realised how to play the democratic system, and they are playing it to win.

Now, the devil has just announced what he’s going to do, so use this leak to your advantage (unless he’s lying, but then we’re seeing this ‘taming’ of Christianity already, and it’s causing the ideological battle lines between evangelicalism on the one hand, and ‘soft’ anglicanism with secularism on the other, to become increasingly pronounced). My point is this: you have this Tory Peer’s admission in your hands, so be planning your counter-attacks and your preventative measures carefully. By all means be ready for a direct cavalry charge – but don’t expect that to be where the heart of the battle is. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens tried that, and only got the opposite of what they wanted: the strengthening of evangelical faith, not many casualties if you don’t count the ‘cultural Christian’ stragglers who were not doing anything that would pose much of a threat to Christianity’s cultural ‘replacement’, and fifteen minutes of fame. Dramatic, head-on attacks like that are far too easy to spot. Western history is full of instances in which they have only made Christianity grow: that tactic has been tried and tested, our opponents know their history, and now they’re moving onto something else.

It is crucially important to know what sort of battle we are fighting, because that helps us to anticipate what sorts of gains we should be making. No longer are we dealing with a culture whose elites glory in good-versus-evil narratives filled with heroic deeds, so I stress that we will find ourselves somewhere up the garden path if we let ourselves be distracted by dramatic public theology debates in the belief that these events lie at the heart of the broader issue. Really, I feel, the gains and losses that mean anything in this kind of battle are the small and at-a-glance inconsequential ones. As I’ve already mentioned, we’re dealing with the ‘evolution’ people now. Dramatic gains and sudden losses just aren’t what wars of words, modelled on an ‘evolutionary’ kind of movement, are about, unless the Holy Spirit provides us special means. Evolution is s-l-o-w.

It might shed some light on the nature of our battle to try to understand how our opponents perceive what is happening to the culture, and how they are trying to use that understanding to drive it where they want it to go. Richard Dawkins has a pseudo-scientific term for the ‘genetics’ of beliefs – he calls them ‘memes’, and he appears to have elaborated a theory about them. According to Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, the complex matrix of beliefs of civilizations are made up of ‘memes’ of cultural transmission, just as human beings are determined by genes of biological transmission (if, indeed, Biology is all that is transferred). For Dawkins, beliefs evolve like species of creatures. Every gain for an ideological argument, however small, is a gain because it is a push in the direction of a trajectory towards acceptance that is ideally placed to lead to another push in the same direction.

Observing the speed of cultural drift in the past ten years I would not be quick to dismiss ‘meme’ theory without trying to glean anything from it first, but I have not seen evidence of it working ‘organically’ in my lifetime, as evolution is purported to work. There has been much about the recent landslide in cultural change that has been orchestrated artificially and passed off as ‘natural’ – the introduction of  gay marriage into law as a case in point. Allowing the culture to appear to ‘evolve’ out of Christianity in a pseudo-natural, apparently inevitable way very much sits in line with Dawkins’ theory, and is what I would expect any good Dawkins-reading atheist will expect to happen and try to hurry along. In light of this, what this Times columnist is saying is hardly revolutionary: he is drawing from his own party line. Evolution or no evolution however, I maintain that the tide of cultural drift is too high and has gathered too much momentum for anyone to stem it unless there is a large-scale revival of Christian faith by the Holy Spirit. Let David Cameron say what he likes about Britain being a ‘Christian’ country as it currently stands: the locus of the people’s trust and affections does not lie with him, and our general trajectory of cultural progression is one that points away from Christ and not towards him. Attempting, in this climate, to change the general culture ‘back’ to something more genuinely Christian in one fell swoop would, I believe, be like trying to stop the momentum of a runaway steamroller while it’s careering down a hill at speed, with your bare hands. Nonetheless, with the help of God we can pray for revival, try to clear some of the stumbling blocks from people’s paths and stop ourselves from slipping if we know how to fight the downward pull.

Putting up a fight effectively requires more than partisan spirit and belligerence. To be effective in our battle to believe in truth and do righteousness we must be trained and vigilant to spot, and diligent and wise to resist, every attempt made to reshape us into what the state and surrounding culture is increasingly affirming. To do this we need suitable equipment, and the equipment I suggest is that suggested by Scripture: the belt of truth to keep everything strapped in place, the breastplate of righteousness sitting over our hearts, readiness to preach the gospel for our feet (presumably to keep them agile and to keep spiritual flabbiness at bay), the shield of faith to deflect the flaming arrows of the evil one, the helmet of salvation protecting our heads (with knowledge, hope, drive, or all of these things?), and for our only offensive weapon out of all of these, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. If we do not avail ourselves of these provisions, I believe that we will be carried along with the momentum of this very intricately orchestrated drift that is going on inside the church as well as outside of it. Expect to see amongst the unprepared and unarmed, the conscientious objectors and the other non-combatants, a gradual, subtle softening of the gospel’s edges and ramifications, and the slow, near-imperceptible morphing of its general shape into something that you can’t tell apart from what the rest of the country is saying, except that some different words are used, along with the G-word and perhaps if they’re feeling daring, the J-word too. Expect secular values to enter the church steadily, stealthily and persistently by a guerilla-style infiltration of ‘tolerance’, ’empowerment’, ‘equality’ (so-called), and utilitarian laissez-faire masquerading as grace, as well other things you see and hear about on the BBC and in the newspapers. Don’t lose your patience. Expect skirmishes to be long, and fought over little ground – so little and for so long that you’re tempted ask yourself whether you’re just being legalistic/Puritanical/pietistic. The enemy is waging a long war, so prepare yourself for battle as for a test of endurance. Arm yourself with the Word of God daily: make sure you know it inside-out, upside-down, and double-check against it every ‘should’ that you’re presented with by church people, non-church people, your favourite TV programme, the radio, your favourite charity, and even your family and friends. Arm yourself with knowledge about the worldview that is surrounding you, because the roots of it aren’t obvious, and you need to know what forms your enemy takes if you are to fight him effectively. This will probably mean that you’ll need to do some reading, and for this, Meltdown: Making sense of a culture in crisisby Marcus Honeysett, makes for an excellent primer.

As a general piece of advice, be sure of the limits of what you’ll let yourself accept, and be sure of whom or what you’ll allow to change them, and on what grounds. Be on guard, have your Bible evidence, your knowledge and your anti-guerilla vigilance primed, and do not give up ground on Biblical mandates or orthodox doctrines, even if it makes you look like an extremist and a bigot. Because most of the time they’re really just meaningless, derogatory labels people stick on other people to try and shame them into losing their footing when they want to silence them.

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Cracking the Epicurean Paradox…

…as put to me in the following statement from a Facebook private message:

If God is willing to abolish evil but not able, then he is not omnipotent.
If he is able, but not willing, then he is malevolent.
Is he able and willing? Then where did evil come from?
If he is neither able or willing, then why call him God?

Also, where does God reside if not within nature? If he doesn’t reside in reality, then he doesn’t exist.
Who created God?

Before beginning, I must pause to admire Epicurus’ (and his translator’s) rhetoric, which features in the initial paragraph.  Poetically speaking, it’s a job well done, and must undoubtedly provide much catharsis and pathos for atheists – as well as overwhelm uninformed theists when the sustained, progressive reasoning breaks of into a disorientating accumulation of pithy questions that scale the page faster than they can be intellectually grasped.   The poetic aspect of the text aesthetically and intellectually flatters the cause it supports, as the catchy, lucidly expressed maxim requires minimal  intellectual exertion to merely parrot, and maximal exertion to refute.  The two-way nature of a debate between physical actors conceals the fact that it is not the parroter whom the theist is refuting, but the late Epicurus himself; and that the atheist, safe behind his flat-packed bulwark of borrowed, accessible genius, can pitch his shot in strong whilst scarcely needing to lift a finger, thanks to Epicurus’ talent as an aestheticist.  I wish to make it clear that this is not a poetry competition or a contest in flattery, and that I propose to deconstruct the questions at my own pace and with the level of verbosity that my considerably inferior intellect requires to make itself understood.  I also wish to maintain that the self-evident facts and goings-on of this world are often anything but flattering in the eye of the human beholder, and I see no reason why metaphysical truths should necessarily be flattering either – that is, to people in the eyes of each other, or to God in the eyes of people who unconditionally refuse to worship him.

The accompanying questions and statements in the second paragraph I understand to be personal assertions of the writer of the message and do not appear to be part of the Epicurean question.  Together, they carry an underlying condition that “naturalism” necessarily equates to “reality” and is thus arbitrarily the only worldview of philosophical legitimacy.  This condition presupposes the conclusions about a non-material God that the question supposedly seeks: a non-material God cannot reside in a non-material realm because an alternative definition of “reality” as constituting anything except material “nature” is not negotiable: ergo, “On the condition that nothing that is immaterial can exist, and that God is immaterial, I challenge you to convince me that an immaterial God can exist” .  Unless conceptually freed from this straitjacket of philosophical preconditions, God of course cannot exist.  Nonetheless, the question of whether naturalism is the only possible worldview of philosophical legitimacy – provided that the statements were turned into a question that is falsifiable – would constitute a debate in itself.  I do not have the time or resources to address that debate now, however.  I will draw on this last paragraph in my discussion, but as it is presented as an aside, an “also”, to the Epicurean questions, then the paragraph will not constitute the central object of my argumentation.

As a further preliminary note, regarding Epicurus’ riddle, how one defines ‘evil’ and how one conceives of it is a matter of great importance.  It is evident that people of different societies and cultures have different ideas about what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are.  This leaves us in a position of relativism whereby there are so many different opinions that a universal definition of good and evil such as the one that Epicurus presupposes cannot exist.  Epicurus was writing before the age when researchers were ethically obliged to take account of their own subjectivity in light of other cultural realities; Epicurus would have us believe that what he thought of as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ was the absolute definition of those terms.

As concerns the debate, I am only interested in defending one God, and that is the God of the Bible, who is Sovereign and Lord over creation and chooses to reveal himself to man through divine inspired writings.  This perception of God is according to Evangelical theology of the Calvinistic school which posits that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, according to its own testimony and the conclusions laid down in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy .  This is the God and the view of God that I am defending.  The God of the Bible is a Sovereign God who does what he wants, applies to himself the descriptors he wishes to apply to himself in the Bible, and defines the descriptors by the acts he chooses to define them by therein also.  By ‘Sovereign’, I mean Lord and King over every aspect of creation.  The following article provides a basis for this definition in layman’s terms: http://www.theopedia.com/Sovereignty_of_God

Epicurus’ society believed in the Ancient Greek gods and they had no authoritative manuscript tradition defining and describing their gods, therefore the definition of the gods in relation to what they conceived of as ‘good’ of ‘evil’ was already fair game – and Epicurus treated it as such.  But standing out from the carnival of relative ideas, the Bible defines good, evil and God in its own terms.  These concepts are not, therefore, fair game when the God of the Bible is the subject of debate.  If God is Sovereign, then the divine status of the Bible as the Word of God serves to transcendentalize its definitions, which God makes transparent or opaque in their interpretation and ordering to whomsoever he chooses.

  • Here are some logical preconditions in addition to Epicurus’ that also must be the case if God is to be Sovereign:

God does not have to be approved of by man for his activities to be transcendentally legitimate.  (Romans 9:18-23)

If a Sovereign God chooses to reveal certain things about himself to man, then this is his bidding.  Man, whose capacities are beneath those of his maker (evidently man is time-bound, culture- bound, subject to material decay , subject to diverging from God in his thinking, and limited in cognitive capacity), is not in a position to accuse God of being wrong (Isaiah 29:15-16).

If God defines himself, good and evil in his own terms, then no human definition can override God’s. (2 Timothy 3:16)

God can do whatever he wants (Psalm 115:3).  This includes withholding knowledge from man, revealing things in ways that some men find confusing, and acting in ways that are incomprehensible to man.

  • Regarding Epicurus’ stipulations about what a God should or shouldn’t do, and taking into account the logical preconditions for a Sovereign God above, we know the following about the God of the Bible:

God is eternal, immortal and invisible and the name he gives himself is “I AM WHO I AM”. (1 Timothy 1:17) (Psalm 90:2) (Exodus 3:14)

God is Spirit and resides in heaven, and is not personally visible in the natural world except through his manifestation in Jesus Christ: (John 4:24), (Psalm 2:4) (John 14:5-11), (Daniel 2:28) (Philippians 2:6-8). There is a spiritual ‘realm’ and heavenly ‘places’ (Ephesians 6:12).

Humanity was created with the purpose of giving God glory.  (Isaiah 43:1) http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/why-did-god-create-the-world

God has an ulterior plan (which exists for his glory) and does all things to bring about this plan in the time he allots for it to take place. (Ephesians 1:11) (Psalm 75:2)

God is in control of all things, including evil, which he allows to temporarily exist for the sake of ulterior goals, which include the ultimate destruction of evil. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) (Psalm 94:23) (Mark 3:24)

God allows evil to exist for a reason.  (Psalm 34:21)

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/why-does-god-allow-satan-to-live

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-not-destroy-the-devil-now

https://littlecloudsong.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/a-kingdom-divided-how-god-used-evil-and-suffering-against-itself/

God’s ultimate plan involves completing the abolition of evil from the world one day.  (Revelation 12:19)

  • Conclusions that may be drawn from these observations:
  1. God alone has the prerogative to define evil.
  2. God is willing to abolish evil.
  3. God is able to abolish evil.
  4. As he is Sovereign, God controls evil and uses it to bring about its own abolition.
  5. As he is Sovereign, God abolishes evil according to his own plan and he fulfils his purposes according to the ways and the timings in which he has chosen to fulfil them.
  6. Evil comes from refusal to cooperate with God.
  7. As he is Sovereign, God has not chosen to reveal to man how or why spiritual and mortal beings have the capacity not to cooperate with him in his created order.
  8. God has chosen to reveal to man that the natural world and “reality” are not synonymous with the exclusion of a spiritual reality.
  9. God is what he calls himself in the Bible, according to the works described in the Bible that testify to the epithets he gives himself.
  10. God is to be called God because God demands it, as Sovereign, for the sake of his glory.
  11. God is eternal.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.

Why should the nations say,
“Where, now, is their God?”

But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.

Psalm 115:1-3

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A Kingdom Divided… how God used evil and suffering against itself. An attempt at exegesis.

From John Piper’s The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die, Chapter 50, page 118 (you can download the whole book from his website – how generous!)

But the most astonishing thing is that evil and suffering were Christ’s appointed way of victory over evil and suffering. Every act of treachery and brutality against Jesus was sinful and evil.
But God was in it. The Bible says, “Jesus [was] delivered up [to death] according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The lash on his back, the thorns on his head, the spit on his cheek, the bruises on his face, the nails in his hands, the spear in his side, the scorn of rulers, the betrayal of his friend, the desertion by his disciples—these were all the result of sin, and all designed by God to destroy the power of sin. “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [did] whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).  There is no greater sin than to hate and kill the Son of God. There was no greater suffering nor any greater innocence than the suffering and innocence of Christ. Yet God was in it all. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). His aim, through evil and suffering, was to destroy evil and suffering. “With his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

I thought to myself, “But John, in the Bible Jesus says that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  That Satan cannot cast out Satan, or else he will fall, and that to rob a strong man of his possessions, one must first tie him up (Matthew 12:22-29).  How does that all work?”  Well, I then thought, of course it works.  If God uses evil and suffering to destroy evil and suffering, it is as Christ said, evil and suffering will cease.  In order to make evil and suffering cease, it is necessary to divide Satan’s kingdom against itself.  Satan would not fight against himself unless God were puppeteering him, or else he would orchestrate the doom of his own kingdom!  Therefore God must use Satan to cast out Satan.  God is the strong man who has tied Satan up.

How then do we apply this when people ask “Why does a loving God allow suffering in the world?”.  Here is a theory based on my understanding of Scripture.

Firstly, God is the source of all good.  God made the world in the beginning and saw that it was good.  Suffering is a result of of sin (or “evil”), which is rebellion against God and his good way of running the world.  Rebellion was born when one of the Intelligences in the heavens caused an uprising against God and preyed upon humanity and wooed it away from God, making it rebellious in turn.  We call this Intelligence a lot of things; Satan is perhaps the most convenient; Beelzebub, or ‘the devil’, are others.  To remove all rebellion from the world, God would have to remove all people who had ever rebelled against him, and God didn’t want to destroy them because he loved them.  So God sent Jesus to die to expiate the rebellion of those who would come back to him, to satisfy his requirements for justice so that he could take them back.  Now when God sent Jesus, that is, his spirit in human flesh, people accused him of being a partisan of Satan when they saw him liberating people from demons (Satan’s spiritual partisans).  Essentially, Jesus was answering to the assertion that God is evil.  Jesus said that if he was casting Satan’s partisans out of people he could not be working on behalf of Satan’s Kingdom, because a Kingdom divided against itself will fall.  Furthermore, he said, to tie up a strong man and steal his possessions one must first tie up the strong man. God uses this tactic to destroy rebellion, and with it, suffering.  He tied up Satan, then used sin, and with it, suffering, against itself to destroy it.

God tied up Satan by laying all sin (or evil, or rebelliousness, which causes suffering) on Jesus, that perfect representation of himself.  In letting Satan destroy Jesus, God let sin destroy sin, so that those people who resolved not to sin anymore could claim the destruction of sin through Jesus as their own, and not be destroyed themselves. God sent his man to face the penalty for human rebellion by his own justice system, and this would satisfy its requirements so that he could save the people he loved from it and live with them forever.  He raised Jesus back to life again and promised his faithful that they would be raised to life to enjoy this eternal life with him.

What God had left to do was to rid the world of the rest of its rebellion and suffering, and through Jesus he could do this by encouraging rebellious people to repent and reconciling them to him thereafter.   My theory is that God now puppeteers sin and with it, suffering, although he hates these things.  They are necessary for now because people, seeing that they are suffering, might regard the joy of God’s true partisans and want it for themselves.  They might see that it came from God and decide to sin no more, accepting Jesus’ penalty as their own.  So in this way, God is using suffering to bring people to himself, so that rebellion which causes suffering can be eradicated without him having to destroy all of mankind.

I stress that this is all based on my current understanding of Scripture It is an answer that I can give, and though it seems to make sense to me, I acknowledge that God’s ways are nothing like our ways, and that his thoughts are not like our thoughts.

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