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Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’

The origins of Halloween lie with the church. This video shows how medieval Christians saw Halloween as “a final fling” for the powers of darkness, safe in the knowledge that the Light  is always stronger. (For more on the thinking behind the video, read this).

And please share on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Vast armies undead do tread through the night and
In hordes march towards hapless victims to frighten.
They stumble in step with glass-eyes on the prizes;
Bunched hither, hunched over in monstrous disguises;
In sizes not lofty but numb’ring a throng;
To unleash on their prey the dreaded DING DONG.
Small faces with traces of mother’s eye-liner,
Peer up to the resident candy provider.

And there to intone ancient threats learnt verbatim;
They lisp “TRICK OR TREAT!” Tis their stark ultimatum.
Thus: region by region such legions take plunder.
Does this spector-full spectacle cause you to wonder?
Just how did our fair festive forebears conceive,
Of this primeval practice called All Hallows Eve?
The answer, if anyone cares to research,
Surprises, it rises from old mother church.

On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.

The future is futile for forces of evil;
And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.
For this is the nature of shadow and gloom;
In the gleaming of glory there can be no room.
What force is resourced by the echoing black?
When the brightness ignites can the shadow push back?
These ‘powers’ of darkness, if such can be called,
Are banished by brilliance, by blazing enthralled.

So the bible begins with this fore-resolved fight;
For a moment the darkness…. then “Let there be Light!”
First grief in the gloom, then joy from the East.
First valley of shadow, then mountaintop feast.
First wait for Messiah, then long-promised Dawn.
First desolate Friday and then Easter Morn.
The armies of darkness when doing their worst,
Can never extinguish this Dazzling Sunburst.

So… ridicule rogues if you must play a role;
But beware getting lost in that bottomless hole.
The triumph is not with the forces of night.
It dawned with the One who said “I am the Light!”

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Last year I was in a kind of debate with Andrew Copson – Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA). His final line of the evening was a plea for us all to “be good for goodness sakes.”

The line sounds twee but there’s a genuine point that deserves our attention: Goodness for the sake of ‘spiritual reward’ is neither necessary, nor desirable. In fact it’s pretty ugly. If a religious person is motivated towards goodness simply by celestial carrots and sticks (which some are) then you can understand a humanist’s protest. I hear the criticism loud and clear, and I wrote these four posts called “Why be good?” as a response.  Only the gospel saves us from immorality and moralism.

But if you’re unaware of the gospel, then your view of religion will probably sound that of like BHA President Jim Al-Khalili:

I have often felt offended by the misguided notion that people require a religious faith to provide their moral compass in order to lead a good life. Reason, decency, tolerance, empathy and hope are human traits that we should aspire to, not because we seek reward of eternal life or because we fear the punishment of a supernatural being, but because they define our humanity.

We might want to be curious about why such traits define our humanity, and who gets to say, and why the ones mentioned by Al-Khalili are so darned anaemic, and why he didn’t also identify deep-seated characteristics like greed, hypocrisy and violence. We might want to point out that Christian faith brings far more to the table than ‘a moral compass’. Actually it’s a vision for the whole terrain and an accounting for why and where we fit into a moral order that is very old and runs very deep.

But we’re not going to mention those things. We’re just going to point out the terrible danger of moralism here.

Suppose that I’m a humanist who has unplugged the celestial CCTV and now I’m free to be good for goodness sakes. What will that look like? Well I’m still going to get outraged by ‘inhuman’ behaviour – good. But now God isn’t the ultimate court of appeal and dispenser of perfect justice. No, the ‘moral-outrage buck’ stops with me. Since God has been deposed, I’m going to have to mount the highest horse.

And, as far as godless high-horseing goes, get a load of this: [Read from the bottom upwards. RD was responding to this]

DawkinsOutraged

Dawkins has never let ignorance of a topic prevent him from weighing in with the full weight of his moral indignation. But feel the indignation.

When one tweeter asked him whence his moral compass (given Darwinism and all), he responded:

Idiot that I am, I’m mining the quote – but I think it unearths a deep problem for those who let go of “God” but want to be “Good.” The problem is not in acting morally- of course not. The problem comes in adjudicating the morals and in acting The Moral One.  Wonderfully for the Christian, the Father adjudicates and the Son is the Moral One, but what’s the situation for the humanist?

They are above the non-existent ‘God’, they are above the religious who (they claim) are only good for dubious reasons, and they are above nature (‘red in tooth and claw’) and their own selfish genes. They have risen above everything else in all reality… in order to be good.

How does a humanist not avoid hubris at this point? How do they not avoid moralism?

Dostoyevsky famously said “If there is no God, everything is permissible.”  But nihilism isn’t the only danger. Dawkoyevsky’s dilemma is this: “If there is no God, everything is puritanical.”

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SalvationWelcomesYouHere are 13 I can think of (with the help of Twitter):

Christianity is only for those (more traditional folk) who find it easy to ‘have faith’

 Faith is a bold leap into the unknown – believing something you don’t think is true

Our (only) warrant for morality is being commanded by a threatening celestial authority

Our motivation to worship is fear of burning if we don’t

We believe God created the world as it appears today (full of deformity, disaster and death)

Science rules out faith

God is a philosophical idea – like the concept of infinity

Jesus is, narrowly, the exclusive dispenser of something else called ‘heaven’

Christians want the world to behave

Christians think of themselves as superior to non-Christians

Christians fear (and kill) joy. They deny themselves now so they’ll get heaven later

Christians are intellectually dim and emotionally shallow

Christians fear sex/sexuality and hate the LGBT community with a knee-jerk ‘yuck’ reaction

(Of course many of these ‘misconceptions’ are completely understandable, given how Christians behave and speak in the world.)

What would you add?

One of these days, I’ll get around to addressing these…

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024Brian Cox wants the Large Hadron Collider to show him ‘the face of the cosmos’. But if that’s what you want, there’s a much better scientific method…

Episode 9 of The Evangelist’s Podcast: Science

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A VIDEO of a science talk from last year:

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Wedding-rings-300x274Here is Andrew Errington’s Same-sex marriage – what is really at issue?

His central point is that there are two visions of marriage going on behind the same-sex marriage debate.  One is set out in the Book of Common Prayer, in which the three purposes of marriage are:

  • the procreation and nurture of children
  • as the only proper place for sexual intimacy; and
  • for the sake of lifelong companionship.

As against this, the modern, romantic view of marriage disregards the first two purposes and is, essentially, two ‘grown-ups’, part-couple-part-sofa, watching boxed sets till they fancy another sofa-mate. (That’s my cynical overstatement, not Errington’s.  But marriage-as-companionship reminds me of Alain de Botton’s comment that love today is about finding someone in particular to save us from people in general).

One implication at the political level is this:

The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage. To be as equally married as anyone else requires that we never again question the various ways children enter these marriages, and whether these means of having children are best for children.

So there are some sobering implications for society at that level.  And if Christians want to exercise their political freedoms in pointing such things out they should be able to do so without being called bigots.  Calling Christians homophobic for having a view on sexuality is like calling Buddhists carnophobes for having a view on meat-eating. Errington’s contribution is a model of clear-thinking Christian engagement at that political level.

On this blog, Paul Blackham has written Legal Recognition of Marriage and the Way of Jesus. Without denying the gravity of the social shift we’re witnessing , Paul’s introduction gives a much needed sense of perspective:

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect…

Paul goes on to hold up the local church as the place where the true meaning of marriage needs to be fought for and displayed (read here).

(If the consequences for the Church of England concern you, Jonathan Chaplin offers a solution that works just fine in many other countries – it involves getting out of the registrar business!)

And if all this sounds like a retreat from the public sphere, let me assure you I’m all in favour of preaching the gospel publicly.  Not the fruits of the gospel, mind you.  The gospel.

Here’s an evangelistic talk seeking to make sense of the Christian vision of sex and sexuality (and these are some other posts: here and here).  You’ll notice that integral to these approaches are beliefs about Trinity, creation, fallen-ness and union with Christ.  It seems to me this is the properly Christian footing on which to stand. But these things are not at all obvious to anyone debating at the political level!

So, yes, let’s grieve for a society that has drifted so far from the gospel. Let’s prepare for more of the persecution that is the norm all over the world (not to mention in the Bible). Absolutely, we can be concerned for the freedom of Christian expression – maintaining our right to ‘appeal to Caesar’ as Paul does at points. But let’s not be shocked that new generations, so ignorant of the gospel, find gospel living incomprehensible. Of course they do. And let’s not be under any illusions about how to “fight” this trend.  Let’s look at our own marriages, our own churches.  And let’s get preaching the good news of Jesus.

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024

On the Evangelist’s Podcast we’re talking about some of the big questions people ask about Christian faith.

Here are the last 3 episodes:

What about other religions?  DOWNLOAD
[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP006.mp3]

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Isn’t it narrow to say only Jesus saves?  DOWNLOAD
[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP007.mp3]

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What about suffering?  DOWNLOAD
[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP008.mp3]

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Test patternOk boys and girls, today we’re going to do science. I know, I’m very excited too. If you want to join in at home here’s what you will need:

  • One rationally comprehensible universe.

Not just any universe. You’ll need to be particular here. It must be a rationally comprehensible, rationally ordered cosmos.  Not a chaos, a cosmos, I must insist on this point.

Next, you’ll need

  • One consistent set of discoverable laws.

Some of the boys and girls will claim that you don’t need the laws yet – science will produce them for you later. But that’s just silly, isn’t it children? You might not know the laws yet but you need there to be laws. And you need to trust that they’re out there and that you have ways of approaching them.

Thirdly, you’ll need

  • At least one rational scientist.

This one ought to go without saying, but you’d be surprised how often it gets left out of the ingredients list!

And finally – this is the one you were all waiting for…

  • A scientific method by which to proceed.

Now if you’ve been following us for a while, the good news is you’ll have a scientific method left over from yesterday’s activities. If you haven’t already got a scientific method, please don’t just “borrow” one from the other children. That really isn’t fair.  You should go back to the original episodes and build it up from first principles. A scientific method is made from very expensive ingredients, and if you haven’t bought them yourself, then using someone else’s method is stealing.

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So there you have it – the four ingredients you need to do science. Now before you all complain… before you all complain – yes I know… I know that none of you can afford the ingredients.  I’m sorry about that, but that’s the way it is.  When we’re dealing with such valuable things, there’s no way around it.

All I can say to you is this: If you want to do science – and I sincerely hope that you do – you can’t take shortcuts, you must have these ingredients. If you don’t have them – and you don’t – then you’ll have to ask Mum or Dad.

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Below you can watch Richard Dawkins speaking in advance of the 2011 KJV celebrations. He makes the case for being steeped ‘to some extent’ in the King James Bible.  If we don’t know the KJV we are ‘in some small way barbarian.’  But he ends by saying:

it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.

Notch it up as another Dickie Dawkins classic.  But before we laugh and point, let’s make sure there aren’t three fingers pointing back.

You see, because he’s talking about the bible the stupidity of his position is obvious.  Of course it’s ridiculous to view the bible as first a cultural resource that religion then hijacks.  Any fool knows that the bible is originally, purposefully and most meaningfully a religious text (or if you don’t like ‘religious’, say ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ or even ‘Christian’).  It is evident (but not to Dawkins) that the essence of the bible is appreciated only when it’s treated according to its true theological nature.  And that to read it through atheistic lenses is the real hijacking.

But Dawkins’ inability to appreciate the bible according to its true nature is only one more example of his inability to appreciate the world according to its true nature.  The whole atheistic project follows exactly the same line.  It says that everything is most ultimately a physical, chemical, biological, historical or cultural artefact, let’s not allow ‘religion’ to hijack it.  But to pretend you are honouring the world by treating it non-theologically is just as ridiculous as pretending to honour the Word by treating it non-theologically.

The only reason we don’t see its foolishness is because we have, to some extent, bought the double-decker atheistic approach.  When it comes to the world around us we pretty much assume along with the atheists that there are brute facts that are perfectly understood in non-theological terms and that we then work with this raw data to make our theological (or atheistical) pronouncements.  And even if we do dare to wear some theological lenses to view the world, we have a slight guilty feeling that maybe we are hijacking a properly non-theological reality.

But no.  You’ve got to begin by treating the Word theologically.  And you’ve got to begin by treating the world theologically.  And it’s best you do so in that order.

It’s those who fail to see the world according to its essentially theological character who hijack it.

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Talk Title: Can you find love in sex?talking-about-sex-with-your-kids

AUDIO

Marilyn Monroe: “The sex symbol becomes a thing, I hate being a thing. I’ve never liked sex myself. I don’t think I ever will. It seems just the opposite of love”

Actually Christians disagree. Christians say:

GK Chesterton: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Sex and love belong together, profoundly.

Sex and God belong together, profoundly.

To understand sex we need to understand the Christian view of God, the universe and everything. Then we can see where sex fits…

Luke 3:21-22: Jesus enters our filth to bring us to His Family.

God’s Family (the Trinity) is the origin of gender.

The way into that Family (oneness with Jesus) is the origin of marriage.

Now we can understand the Christian sexual ethic. Gender reflects the difference-in-equality of God. Marriage reflects the saving love of Jesus.

In the Gospels Jesus affirms both of these foundational points in Matthew 19.

Therefore, according to Jesus, sex is God’s way of saying to another human being “I belong to you completely, permanently and exclusively.”  It’s the most romantic view of sex imaginable.

And – more profoundly – it’s a proclamation of the ultimate oneness available in Jesus and the ultimate love He brings us into.

That’s why GK Chesterton was right: everyone knocking on the door of the brothel is looking for God.

But don’t settle for the picture of intimacy and oneness – receive the reality.  Come to Jesus and know the truth of what sex points towards.

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meatDear Mr Lama, (Reverend Lama?? Your holiness???)

I’m sorry I’m not trying to be rude, I don’t know how to address you, not being Buddhist myself.

I heard your “teaching” (sorry if that sounds patronising, I don’t know what you call it :-?) at a uni thing put on by the Buddhist Society. A friend invited me and tbh I was there for the free lunch. Lol! – no offence.

Anyway.  You’re clearly a good speaker and you seem like a nice guy.  But this is why your teaching is SO INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me tell you that I am A PRACTISING CARNIVORE. And proud of it!  Right now I’m half-way through a cornish pasty and I’m LOVING it.  That probably sounds BLASPHEMOUS to you, but it’s WHO I AM.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t enjoyed sausages, steaks, fried chicken, you name it.  And I can honestly say it has NEVER done me ANY harm. (Alright, there was that dodgy kebab last week, but you can’t judge a whole food group by one salmonella infection).  You preach about meat but you’ve never had a bacon sandwich yourself, so how on earth can you comment??

Maybe I’ve now committed some “”sin”” by tempting you with the wonders of bacon but, honestly, I think if God – or whoever – exists he wants you to be happy :-)

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried your whole Buddhist thing.  Well, I tried giving up meat anyway.  When I was 16 I dated a sweet vegan guy called Chris. He made it all sound so convincing at the time. (Love does strange things to people!)  I gave it my best shot for three long months.  But it REALLY wasn’t for me. I know that in my heart of hearts I have always been – AND I ALWAYS WILL BE – a meat-eater. SORRY!!

In fact, no, NOT SORRY! And this is why I’m writing.  When you told us that your branch of Buddhism denounces meat-eating, my blood  l i t e r a l l y  boiled.  Like literally!  I wonder if you realise just HOW OFFENSIVE that is???  One of my best friends is studying agricultural science and next year he’s returning to manage the family farm. Do you denounce him??  My cousin Joe works in an abattoir, but HE IS THE NICEST, MOST BUDDHISTY GUY YOU COULD EVER MEET. Do you denounce him????

And just now I Googled Buddhism and found out that many branches of your own belief system ALLOW meat-eating. So not only are you out of touch with the real world – YOU ARE DISAGREEING WITH YOUR OWN WIKI PAGE!!

From personal experience, I know how damaging it is to fight your omniverous desires. When my boyfriend pressured me into veganism I felt guilty, repressed and seriously protein-deficient.  Your message is one that makes us hate other people and hate ourselves.  And don’t give me that crap about ‘love the meat-eater, hate the meat-eating’!  That’s just patronising.  In the end it’s just thinly veiled CARNI-PHOBIA.

You gave out your details in case we wanted to find out more about your religion but seriously, NO!  I do NOT want to know anything more about your sick, demeaning life-philosophy.  You said that if we spent time chatting you could make me understand your position on meat.  You said that it fits in with some cosmic understanding of life, the universe, karma, compassion blah, blah, blah.  All I know is that I’m a Meat-Eater and if the universe hates me for that then we’ll have to agree to disagree and go our separate ways.

So no, I’m not getting in touch to find out more. I’m getting in touch to say PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop the hate-mongering!  Meat is food too.  Carnivores are people too.  And now, if you don’t mind (AND EVEN IF YOU DO!) I’m going to finish my pasty, nom nom!

yours respectfully,

Jenny.

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unapologetic_cover_2372637a

This might only make sense for those who have read or are reading the book… but I don’t have much time so I’m not going to spell things out too much.

Read this extract from chapter one to get an idea of the book.

The whole ’emotional sense’ thing is a brilliant idea. And it’s wonderfully written.  Here are 6 thoughts:

1) The book connects every time it’s about sin and Jesus. It floats away on Spufford’s soaring prose the rest of the time.

2) Spufford continually speaks of sin as the “human potential to f*#k things up”. That’s very well put. If I was Spufford, I’d object to any priggishness about the term. ‘Transgression’ and ‘iniquity’ don’t describe transgressions and iniquities the way we  experience them today. “F#@k ups” do.  Jesus meets us here or not at all.

3) “Yeshua” – his Jesus chapter – is the stand-out. (Surprise, surprise).

4) Jesus shines. Spufford’s “God”, on the other hand seems simply to be a “Shining” and so, ironically, he doesn’t.

5) Spufford is strong on the uncontainable, unreachable, beautiful-yet-bonkers teaching of Jesus. On the issues of forgiveness, generosity, worry and non-violence, Spufford captures the irrepressible overflow of the kingdom.  These sections are very refreshing to read, but…

6) …Spufford doesn’t follow this same trajectory when he treats Jesus’ teaching on sexuality and hell. He hides it away saying, on the one hand, that Jesus speaks very little about sex and, on the other, that the church doesn’t really believe in hell anymore, so…  Well, so Spufford should have treated Christ’s teaching here, the way he treats it on every other subject: bonkers-but-beautiful,  demanding more from us than could possibly lie within us – and, at the same time, speaking of a Kingdom and King in which these things are and can be.

Spufford points attractively towards a fruitful line of gospel engagement. Let’s pray others follow.

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ascension JesusYou might have heard me (or others!!) bang this drum before. But if not, here’s a 25 minute evangelistic talk entitled “Which God don’t you believe in?”

DOWNLOAD AUDIO

Colossians 1:15-23

 Three thought prompter questions…

What do you picture when you think of God?
What do you picture when you think of Jesus?
What does God picture when He thinks of you?

When you think of God…?

Problem – v15: He’s invisible. Which means unknowable!

There’s been a divorce- v21.

But there’s an Image: Jesus.

This is the reverse of natural thinking

We think God is obvious, we’re unsure of Jesus.

Bibles says, Jesus is on show, God is unknown.

God is Jesus shaped.

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When you picture Jesus…?

V15-20  What kind of God is this!?

Climaxing in the cross.

Jesus is God sized.

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When God pictures you…?

Not dimmer switch. On or off.

V21: OFF – going against the grain of reality

V22: ON – holy, without blemish, free from accusation.

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Have you been reconciled?

Have you forgotten Jesus?

Every day I imagine an unChristlike God on the throne.

Let’s return to the God of Jesus.

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Converting People

— “Are you trying to convert me?” asks the unbeliever.

— “Oh, no, no, no, no” replies the evangelist. “I can’t convert anyone, only God can do that.”

… Later on in that same conversation…

— “Can I do anything to become a Christian?”

— “Why yes.  Here are the three steps to getting saved.”

Anyone see a problem here?

Interestingly Paul had no problem talking about “winning” and even “saving” people (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).  At the same time he never prays the sinners prayer with people.  What does this tell us?

Well I think it diagnoses a funny kind of “sovereignty when it suits us” thinking.  The evangelist can’t convert the unbeliever but the unbeliever can convert themselves!

It also betrays a very enlightenment view of the interaction between “the natural” and “the supernatural.”  We assume that “the natural” equals the mechanics of evangelism and “the supernatural” equals a capricious and arbitrary zapping from on high.

This is not the way the bible co-ordinates things.  There is the realm of the flesh, in which human reason and the basic principles of this world rule (Colossians 2:8a).  And there is the realm of the Spirit, in which Christ is offered in the word (Colossians 2:8a-9).

Paul wins (and even saves) people in that he points away from all the powers of the flesh and offers Christ in the word – all praise to the almighty Spirit.  And the unbeliever is saved quite apart from the steps they take to convert themselves – Christ in His word has conquered them – all praise to the almighty Spirit.

Don’t be afraid to try to convert people.  Everyone’s trying to convert everyone. All the time.  Just don’t do it according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  In other words: Preach the Word!

 

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The first thing to say is that the bible’s sexual ethic is different to the world’s sexual ethic.  And it always has been.   This might sound too basic to mention, yet the point is commonly forgotten.  Egyptian and Assyrian views of sex were markedly different from Israel’s.  As for the Greco-Roman culture surrounding the New Testament church… what’s the saying? “A woman for necessity, a boy for pleasure and a goat for ecstasy!”

Both Christians and non-Christians need to realise that the bible’s ethics were never the ethics of the surrounding culture.  Therefore Christians ought not to hearken back to some golden age when the bible’s norms were upheld by the culture.  Neither should non-Christians insist that “Christians move on from their conservatism and embrace a new golden age.”  The truth is that the bible never enshrined the culture’s sexual ethic – it always stood apart from it.

This leads to another basic observation… secularists need to recognize that they too have a sexual ethic. They are not champions of liberation – except in the most limited sense. They are simply trying to impose a different sexual ethic and therefore to define a different set of sinners.

The next point is the explosive one, but it needs saying in order to blow apart some suffocating assumptions: Jesus is utterly anti-heterosexual.  It’s difficult to think of anyone as anti-heterosexual as Jesus.

I mean really, can you imagine Jesus in the sermon on the mount turning to his disciples and saying “Let your sexual desire be unto the multitude of women.”  If you can imagine that sentiment on the lips of Jesus, you don’t know Jesus!  Christians are not – or at least should not be pro-heterosexual.  Lust is lust and never a positive marker of identity – no matter which cross-section of potential sexual partners are in view!

These modern taxonomies of sexuality are so limited, so unruly, so new, so western, so 21st century.  We struggle to apply them to other 21st century westerners, let alone other parts of the world, let alone other parts of history.  If you try to use our modern categorisations and apply them beyond our tiny blip in time and space you’re in for trouble.  If you want to actually listen to Jesus’ teaching on sex you’ll need to forget everything you think you know about “modern liberal” notions and “out-dated conservative” notions.  Because Jesus’ teaching is something else…

Jesus’ view of sex is crazy and it’s beautiful.  Same as everything else.  “Turn the other cheek?  Go the extra mile?  Love your enemies?”  Crazy!  Impractical!  Totally unrealistic!  But beautiful!  Let me explain…

Jesus only really said three things about sex, but on these three foundations you have a crazily beautiful / beautifully crazy view of sex.  In Matthew 19 He quotes approvingly from Genesis 1: “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female.”  Then Jesus quotes from Genesis 2 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together let not man put asunder.”  Combine these two truths and what do you have?  You have humanity created as interlocking opposites who become “one flesh” when man and woman come together in an exclusive permanent marriage bond.  That’s his teaching on sex and marriage.  And to that He adds, in Matthew 5, that sex is not for any other context.  Not even in your thought life.  Don’t even think about sex outside marriage.  That’s Jesus’ sexual ethic.  It’s crazy, but it’s beautiful.

Because, according to Jesus, when you have sex with someone you are saying “I give myself to you utterly, exclusively, irreversibly and unconditionally for life.”  It’s the most romantic view of sex the world has ever seen.

This is sex as a Ferrari.  If I owned a Ferrari, you could not drive it.  Only if your name was Scrivener could you get behind the wheel.  But if I owned a beat-up old Lada – anyone could drive it.  The Christian view of sex is a Ferrari.  The modern view is a Lada.

But for that reason, this sexual ethic is for the followers of Jesus.  Explicitly the bible tells Christians not to bother non-Christians about their sexual ethics.  1 Corinthians 5 tells Christians not to worry about what people are doing outside the church.  God can worry about them, we’re meant to only worry about ourselves.  This point will be controversial among Christians but I suggest that, in line with the first truth outlined, we address ourselves with the ethics and the world with the gospel.

Which means that the question for the non-Christian is not “Can I live under this sexual regime”?  The question is, What do I make of Jesus?  If He rose from the dead as Lord of the world, then maybe He knows a thing or two about sex.  And if I come to Jesus – not as hetero-sexual, homo-sexual or bi-sexual but simply as a sinner – then there’s a place at His table equal to every other sinner.  And though I fail at His crazy-beautiful life in a thousand ways, He knows how to lead me, step by step, into greater and greater freedom from sexual slaveries as well as the other really dangerous sins – like greed, unforgiveness and moral self-righteousness!

For another approach, here’s an older post on the subject…

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I’m 9 days late to this, but last Friday Derren Brown’s “Fear and Faith” aired – watch here.

It was 10 minutes of fascinating viewing padded out by some seriously underwhelming logic by way of explanation.

The show centres on the challenge Brown sets himself to elicit “a religious experience”  from an atheist.  To be fair the emotional “conversion”, when it came, was indeed dramatic.  In a candlelit church, Derren spoke to atheist Natalie and through various NLP-type techniques evoked feelings of father-hunger, a sense of awe at the mystery of the world, regrets over her past, that kind of thing.  Having anchored those feelings and established some triggers, Derren left and – BOOM – the “conversion” was dramatic.  There were tears and exclamations of both sorrow and joy, almost simultaneously.  Alone with the candles and the stained-glass images, “I’m sorry”s came flooding out along with “I love you”s.  It was a salutary warning of how prone we are to emotional manipulation.  This woman was an avowed atheist and her discussion with Derren contained no “God-talk” whatsover.  He simply spoke about feelings of love, awe and regret in a “religious” setting and his techniques produced a “conversion” the envy of many an evangelist.

So lesson number one – beware Christian evangelists using manipulative methods!

But then lesson number two has got to be: Beware atheist evangelists too.  Because Derren’s preaching was seriously misleading.  Throughout the programme he put two and two together and made 600.  First came the trivially true assertions: “religious experience can be explained by psychology”.  In the same vein he asks “Can our experience of religion be explained by psychology alone?” And he expects the answer yes.

Well of course the answer is yes!  Of course “our experience of religion” can be explained by psychology!  Even psychology alone.  My experience of falling in love with my wife could be explained in entirely psychological terms.  And if Derren did it, I’d be all ears.  I’m sure there’d be insights – certain needs from my childhood met in ‘some sort of spouse figure’, yes, yes.  All useful, all true.  And, I suppose, such psychology might – at another level of explanation – be put down to biology, and biology reduced to chemistry and chemistry explained by physics… or something.  I’d be genuinely interested in all such analyses.  But…

A) the further we “progress” into those materialistic explanations, the less satisfying they are as an account of what is, irreducibly, a personal experience.

And, crucially….

B) the claim that, because there might be a perfectly satisfying psychological explanation, my wife doesn’t exist needs unmasking as the rank idiocy that it is.

Yet Brown’s whole show is set up on precisely this absurd foundation.  Derren says he’s out to prove that “religious belief comes from us, not from the existence of the divine”.  Which is exactly parallel to saying my love for my wife comes from me and not from the existence of Emma.  Well of course it comes from me – my religious and my marital experiences come from me. But what’s that got to do with the truth or otherwise of the object of those feelings??

David Bentley Hart nails this in Atheist Delusions as he turns his withering wit upon Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell”. Dennett, a philosopher and one of the four horsemen of the Atheist apocalypse, similarly attempts to describe religion as an entirely natural phenomenon. Against this Hart writes

Not only does [Dennett’s project] pose no challenge to faith, it is in fact perfectly compatible with what most developed faiths already teach regarding religion. Of course religion is a natural phenomenon. Who would be so foolish as to deny that…

…It does not logically follow that simply because religion is natural it cannot become a vehicle of divine truth, or that it is not in some sense oriented towards ultimate reality (as, according to Christian tradition, all natural things are)…

As for Dennett’s amazing discovery that the “natural desire for God” is in fact a desire for God that is natural, it amounts to a revolution not of thought, only of syntax.  (David Bentley-Hart, Atheist Delusions, p7-8)

How else would you measure a religious experience anyway, if not via natural methods?  What else could provoke such an experience, if not natural phenomena?  The God who meets us in a Jewish carpenter, a library of ancient texts, men and women of faith, water, wheat and wine… His encounters with us do not happen in the 7th dimension.  He meets us where we are.  (That’s the meaning of Christmas by the way).  But since He meets us where we are then He meets us in naturally measurable and naturally explicable ways.  Neither Dennett nor Derren will have any objections from Christians at that point.

Where we might raise an eyebrow is during the galactic leaps of faith they employ to tell their naturalistic story.  Derren speaks of pareidolia whereby the human brain naturally sees personal significance in randomness – seeing “a man in the moon” when really there are only craters and shadows.  This is, according to Derren, “probably the biggest contributor to religious belief” in our evolutionary story.

Notice the irony though.  Derren is trying to tell you a story – the naturalistic evolution of all things, including belief.  His story is all about going from randomness to personality.  And now, here we are, persons at the end of a random process, telling other persons not to read personal significance into randomness.  Eh?

The only way you could take that move seriously would be to reduce everything personal down to randomness.  That sounds bleak, but Derren makes other such moves in just that direction. He happily gives accounts of morality and religion entirely based on the survival benefits they bestow in the grand evolutionary scheme.  But if he were consistent I suggest he should also add love, beauty and truth to that same heap.  And at that stage of course the whole endeavour collapses.

Which is very depressing.  And the show was indeed very depressing.  But for me it was saved by the last few minutes in which Derren interviewed Natalie.  He revealed that her conversion was all a psychological trick – the emotions were real, but God was not, yada yada.  Yet in my view her response, completely unscripted, torpedoed Derren’s whole enterprise. And I think he knew it.

When asked whether she now viewed her experience in the church differently, she said

It has added a kind of artificial element to it for me now…  But inducing an emotional reaction to something, if it’s through external influences, is always artificial in a way…  If I’m listening to an amazing piece of music, that’s an emotional stimulus that’s come from an artificial source…

Amen Natalie!  Preach it.  All emotions come from somewhere beyond us.  To explain the feeling doesn’t explain away everything to be said about the experience.  At this point Derren talked right across her and didn’t let her speak again.  He forcefully asserted…

The emotions are real, that’s the point. It’s just important to me that you don’t feel it has to be attached to something supernatural or superstitious. Because it wasn’t.  And it’s not even like it came from me, it certainly didn’t come from God, it came from you. They were perfectly real emotions, they are things you can carry with you for the rest of your life but you don’t have to attach them to a superstitious belief.

Carry the emotions Natalie – that’s Derren’s take home message.  Keep hold of the emotions.  Emotions that can be conjured up in 15 minutes by a TV showman.  Emotions based entirely on our ancient and selfish survival instincts.  Emotions which probably reduce down to randomness anyway.

And don’t ever ask yourself why you live in a universe in which father-hunger, awe and regret can trigger such feelings.  Boil it down to selfishness in the struggle for survival, that’ll satisfy. That and the emotions.  Induced for entertainment.  As a trick of the mind.  Take that away with you Natalie.  Cos that’s all this evangelist can offer.

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“Equality” is one of the most loved and least understood values of our day.  It is considered to be an absolute and unquestionable good.  And yet… what does it really mean?

In a race between me and Usain Bolt… what would be equal?  A 70 metre head-start for me?  A 50kg weight for him?  Of course if we start equally, we’ll finish very unequally.  Equality of treatment will not lead to equality of outcome.  And that’s true in every realm.

Think of tennis. The men and women aren’t thrown into the same draw.  There’s a men’s trophy and a women’s trophy.  But not a “left-handers’ trophy” or a “Sagittarian trophy”. And there’s not a “trophy for whites” and a “trophy for blacks” either.  No, that would be “discriminatory” we feel.  But hang on – all these decisions “discriminate.”  They all seek to treat people differently according to real differences which those in question have no choice over.  Yet we consider differences in gender to be relevant, and differences in race and star sign to be irrelevant.  In other words we discriminate between our discriminations.  And such discrimination is absolutely vital for upholding  “equality.”

Different people do get different treatment all the time.  Sometimes this is negative discrimination (think of racism).  But actually we must discriminate in order to have true equality.  For instance, we ought to spend money on our buildings to provide equal access for wheel-chair users.  Yet as soon as we make this pledge, both the costs and the benefits of these expensive projects fall unevenly.  There is a certain kind of benign discrimination that happens which prevents another malign discrimination.  But discrimination – i.e. making decisions based on real differences, and discerning between relevant differences and irrelevant differences – is inevitable.  It’s part and parcel of true equality.

Now what kind of equality exists between male and female?  Feminism has gone through at least three “waves”, plus “post-feminism” and it’s taken in a wide range of differing political and social expressions.  The massive differences between those working for “equality” is yet more evidence that the meaning of “equality” is not at all obvious.  Yet the upholding of concrete differences as we work for equality is absolutely vital.  We should not want women to be equal to men on men’s terms.  We should not want them to “become more bloke-ish” in order to receive the same rights.  If there’s to be true equality, we should want women to be distinctly women and men distinctly men, and that they, in these differences, be one – completely equal in value and worth.  Is there a way of having both?

In Genesis 1 we have a consultation within the triune God: “Let us make humanity in our image… male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26ff)  The ultimate Union of Distinctions – the Trinity – is imaged in a humanity that is also a union of distinctions: men and women made to be one – and in their one-ness to be fruitful, making another.  A whole race of blokes would not image the divine life.  But men and women, in all their differentness, united in love – this pictures for us a true equality, one that respects and upholds concrete particularities.

If we follow the creation narrative we will see God place Eve – the bride – at the very pinnacle of the cosmos.  God’s creative work moves from the waters to land to plants to animals to man to woman.  It’s all heading towards woman.  As Matthew Henry remarked, if Adam was head over creation, Eve was the crown.  If he was dust, she was dust “twice refined”.  She was taken from Adam’s side to be his equal, from under his arm that he might protect her and from close to his heart that he might love her.  She is “opposite” to him – created to be very different – yet one with him (Genesis 2:18).

Just as the Father is eternally distinct from the Son yet utterly equal, just as Christ is different from His bride (the church) yet shares all things with her, so men and women are different but equal. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

What are those differences?  Well that can be for another time.  Perhaps click the “gender” tag to read more on the blog.  But we all agree that there are differences between the sexes.  Virtually every argument for why women should be better represented in the boardrooms of business cannot help but raise the different kind of contribution women bring to the table.  That’s fascinating – we think there should be more women “at the top” not simply because women are equal to men but, just as much, because they are different to men!  And no Christian wants to argue against that.  Many Christians think the gender differences have relevance within marriage.  Many Christians think they are also relevant in the exercise of certain church leadership roles.  That might sound  “discriminatory” – and of course it is.  But so is every argument for equality.  Even within the various feminisms there are huge disagreements over matters of positive and negative discrimination, for one thing.  Being alarmed by a different vision of equality and diversity should not put you off.  You’ll have to sit down and listen to the Christian arguments a lot longer before you conclude that this is malignant discrimination.

But then, where else will you go?  Christianity has an account of differentness and unity that accords with what we want from a vision of gender equality.  If all you have is unity, you’re left with a steam-roller, flattening differences.  If all you have is distinction, you’ve got a ladder – every difference an opportunity to rank people.  With the world’s philosophies of gender you will only find steam-rollers or ladders – or arbitrary balancing acts between the two.  Yet with the triune God you have a unity and diversity that mutually inform each other.  This unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity goes all the way down and all the way back.  In this God you can find that your gendered identity is acknowledged, celebrated and upheld.  It images the united love of God Himself!

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In 1776 Thomas Jefferson introduced the Declaration of Independence with these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This bold and attractive vision of human flourishing is articulated in the context of some very specific views of God, of humanity and the good life.  Yet without this framework it’s difficult to imagine anything less self-evident than the truth that “all men are created equal.”  If you divorce this conviction from its theological foundations, it’s one of the  most instantly falsifiable “self-evident” truths going!  When you look at the mass of humanity born in such differing circumstances, with such differing opportunities and capacities, who on earth are the “we” who are able to see “equality” when all that’s really “self-evident” is endemic inequality?

The answer is that the “we” who hold this vision of equality have soaked for long centuries in a view of God, the world and humanity which has been completely alien to the rest of thinking people.

Take Aristotle in Politics:

For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule…

Aristotle took inequality to be the thing “self-evident.”  He repeatedly called slaves “living tools” and was quite comfortable with that arrangement.  Same with Plato:

…nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior. (Gorgias)

According to these brilliant pagan minds, equality is not taught by nature.  The very opposite.  Whatever “human nature” was, clearly some humans conformed closer to the ideal than others.  So who could object if some were given more human “rights” than others?

The point is this: if observations of “nature” were all we had to go by, who on earth could disagree with the inequitable status quo?  Of course nature produces more powerful and less powerful creatures, superiors and inferiors.  If nature is our teacher why not endorse a class of rulers and a class of the ruled?  Why not support the inequalities which nature clearly intends?  Why fight it?  On what grounds?  With what justification?  From where could you get an alternative vision of humanity?  The only humanity we’ve ever observed has been one of profound inequalities!

Thus it seemed absolutely right to have a perilously steep hierarchy of being – the emporer at the top, the slaves at the bottom, with every subject knowing their place.  Who could possibly object?

Except that the ancient Scriptures kept speaking of another way.  The God who gets dirt under His fingernails forming humanity (Genesis 2), who wants to walk with His creatures in the cool of the day (Genesis 3).  The Saviour who would fight for us and take the blow (Genesis 3:15).  The Son who would give Himself in atoning death (Genesis 22).  The LORD who is Servant and Sacrifice (see Isaiah 42; 49; 50; 53).

And then He comes to a humble “servant” (Luke 1:48) as a humble servant (Philippians 2:5-11).  The whole pyramid is subverted as God becomes a Slave!  And He becomes a Slave so that we, the slaves of sin and Satan, might become sons and daughters in His royal family.  He descends to the depths and raises us to the heights so that now we might all feast at the same table – royals and commoners, masters and bond-servants.

And through this divine stooping, Christ shows us a radically different way of assessing “human nature.”  The Son “became flesh” – just common or garden humanity.  He became a Jewish pauper with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2).  Whatever might be deemed “ideal humanity” had nothing to do with the properties inherent in it.  The Man Jesus was valuable not because of the attributes of His humanity but only because the Son had chosen this flesh to be.  Thus a Christian account of “human nature” does not look to the properties and capacities of particular persons but declares that humans as humans are inherently valuable.  From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to declaring their “unalienable rights”.

But wait – doesn’t the bible (particularly the OT) endorse slavery?  Well distinguish Hebrew slavery from Greco-Roman practice and distinguish both from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 16th-19th centuries.  Hebrew slavery was nothing like that which Wilberforce fought.

Certainly the Western mind has difficulty with the idea of selling oneself into slavery for a limited period (we prefer other forms of economic slavery), but those OT provisions were always temporary arrangements.  In everyone’s lifetime Jubilee was always just around the corner (Leviticus 25) – and the great hope was the Messiah who would bring ultimate and eternal liberation (Isaiah 61; Luke 4:16-21).

In the NT, Paul counselled slaves (in this new Greco-Roman context) to seek their freedom if they could (1 Cor 7:21-24) and declared slave-trading to be sinful (1 Tim 1:10) thereby cutting the jugular of the whole practice.  But really, it was the intellectual revolution of the gospel that was so much more subversive than any ‘revolt of the slaves’ could be.

And it’s a revolution that we need to continue today.  It’s estimated that there are 27 million slaves in the world right now and so often it is Christians who continue to be at the forefront of the fight against human-trafficking.  Why?  Because Christians actually have an anthropology that treats each human with “unalienable rights” rather than as “living tools”.  Anyone who seeks to take some high-ground on the issue of slavery must produce an account of human nature that will actually protect the weak and the vulnerable from being used.  But on what grounds will they justify such a stand?

I live in a country that kills 200 000 of the weakest members of our species every year because of the will of the strong.  Our culture can claim no high ground in protecting the “unalienable rights” of all people.  We have our own hierarchies based on the properties and capacities of individuals and we discriminate with extreme prejudice.  If we want real equality we must return to the only true foundation: the Master who became Slave.

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I wasn’t asked about the conquest of Canaan during Thursday’s debate. But if I was, here  are 5 minutes worth of thoughts prepared in advance. (Quite a bit was taken from Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?)

There’s not a Christian in the world who doesn’t read Scriptures like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 without a lump in their throat.  But this jarring sensation does not come in spite of their Christianity, but precisely because of it. Christians don’t need to step outside the bible to learn the infinite and intrinsic value of human life. We don’t need humanist ethicists to tell us how to treat our enemies.  Jesus Himself has taught us:

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse them, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, if your adversary sues you for your coat, give him the shirt off your back, don’t pick up the sword, those who live by the sword will die by the sword, my kingdom is not from this world otherwise my followers would fight for me but my kingdom is not from this world, the kingdom of heaven is within, etc, etc.”

Atheists haven’t taught Christians to be sensitive to the spilling of blood, Jesus has.  And, never forget, Jesus has taught both believers and unbelievers of the West exactly the sensibilities that make these ancient stories so difficult to our ears.  We look back at these three and a half thousand year old stories and find it almost impossible to think ourselves into their war-like worlds.  A massive reason for that is the advent of Christianity.

Nonetheless, the Christian is faced with Jesus who tells us both to put down our own swords and to take up His book – the Old Testament.  Jesus emphatically tells us that these Hebrew Scriptures are His Scriptures.  We cannot have Him and not His book.  So how then do we read it?

Well as we go back to the OT, what we see are Canaanite cultures involved in child-burning levels of evil.  For four hundred years they are engaged in repugnant spiritual and moral wickedness. And, having given them four hundred years to repent of it – considerably longer than any other “just war” ever launched! – God visits them with a one off, unrepeatable judgement.

And it has nothing to do with ethnicity.  This is not genocide, there is nothing racial about this.  It’s about spiritual and moral evil which, when the Israelites are guilty of it, they too are conquered by foreign nations.  What we see is a God who gives the Canaanites 400 years to repent.  Every Canaanite who ever sought mercy from the Israelites was granted mercy.  It’s true that, prior to the conquest, there is language of total destruction and “giving over” whole cities to the LORD, actually the language of “driving out” the Canaanites precedes and predominates over language of “wiping out.”  Copan argues that this is militaristic hyperbole that, even within the Bible, is fulfilled in non-literal ways.  i.e. the Canaanites just weren’t wiped out (nor were the Korahites).  The narrative of the wars does not describe non-combatants being killed (Copan argues that Jericho and Ai were fortresses – military installations if you like).  And when Joshua sums up his achievements he considers that he’s done what Moses had commanded – this, in spite of the Canaanites not even being wholly driven out, let alone “wiped out.”

Now there is still a bloody intensity in these stories that confronts our placid, peace-time sensibilities.  And there is a fearfulness to the judgement of God falling here in history.  But if we tell God he should do more about the evil of this world and then He gives us a one-off, unrepeatable pre-figurement of His righteous judgement – we can’t then complain at His intervention!  God can bring judgement.  God does bring judgement.  God will bring judgement.

If you read the OT you realise God is not a Rotarian.  He’s not an old softy.  There is blood and fire and justice to the Living God.  But when you read the NT you get the same.  Jesus is not Sweet.  But neither does He allow us to take justice into our own hands.  Jesus absorbs the fire and the justice on the cross.  He sheds His own blood for His enemies and as He does so He prays “Father forgive them.”  The Kingdom He brings is one of cheek-turning, enemy-forgiving, love. There is blood-shed in Christ’s kingdom – but it’s our own blood shed in place of our enemies.  There can be no Christian genocide.  That is a contradiction in terms.

On the other hand, what is it about atheism that absolutely rules out mass murder? What if it really achieved a greater goal for the species?  What if it would preserve more favoured races in the struggle for survival?  Is it at all possible that a mass murderer could justify their actions as consistent with a thorough-going atheism?   They wouldn’t win humanist of the year, that’s for sure.  Certainly, no atheist I know wants to do such things, nor do they want to provide any justification for it.  But can such evils be perpetrated consistently within atheism?  I contend that the answer is yes.  Therefore the problem of genocide does not lie in millennia old Hebrew wars.  It lies in the here and now.  And the answer is not to jettison Jesus or His book.  Instead we need to return again to the Crucified PeaceMaker.

 

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