November 26, 2012

Why Are You Defending The Rich? (repost)

"Why are you defending the rich?" Provocative question isn't it? There are so many little assumptions that are built into that one sentence.

As a conservative, I get asked this question occasionally. Ironically, it is not because I am saying the rich are great, and it is not because I am defending some of the immoral behavior of some CEOs and corporations. It is simply because I disagreeing with liberal economic policy. So why ask this particular question?

So, let us consider some of the assumptions lying behind this, and maybe then we can offer some appropriate answers.

A Matter of Motivation

The first assumption is that what I am doing is defending the rich. People have a very difficult time accepting that the thought process of someone else can be radically different from their own. As such, we often assume that someone's reasons for opposing our beliefs are along the same lines as our reasons for holding them. For instance, some Pro-life people believe that Pro-choice people actually don't mind killing children. Meanwhile many Pro-choice people assume that Pro-life people are sexist. Neither one of these assumptions are accurate, but both are based off of us having trouble separating out our motivations from the motivations of others.

In this case, I do not hold to conservative economic principles because I have any love for the rich. To be frank, I don't care about the rich one way or the other, at least not as a category. It is irrelevant to me. I don't see economic policy as a means of rewarding or punishing people for behavior. I see it as a means of maintaining economic stability for our civilization. That's all I care about.

The reason why someone would accuse me of defending the rich is because they view themselves as assaulting the rich. They may not use or like that terminology, but clearly that is the way they view things. Why else would my opposing their beliefs be considered to be defending a different group?

It's OK To Have A Little Class

Assumption two, of course, is that the rich need to be assaulted and shouldn't be defended. The poor are seen as victims of society, while the rich are seen as hoarders, preventing the poor from being delivered from their economic woes. I am speaking in hyperbole here, since I know no one that would express it this way. Every liberal I've ever met will acknowledge that there are good rich people in existence. But you can tell by the way that some of them talk, specifically the kind who would ask the titular question of this post, that they see these as exceptions.

So, do I disagree with this view? Yes, though not because I think the rich are great mind you. It is because I don't think the rich are monolithic. Some are good, and some are bad. Some of the poor are good, and some are bad. Economic status has nothing to do with moral integrity in my opinion, and I don't target a group simply because of their class. I believe this to be bigotry.

I think we can all agree that those who view the poor as universally lazy are bigoted. I think we can also agree that those who view the rich as the epitome of what it means to be an American to be equally bigoted. Where we disagree is that I believe the opposite to be bigoted as well. And I don't abide by bigotry.

Economic Justice

The last assumption is that the purpose of economic policy is to bring justice to the world by evening out the classes. I've hinted at this before of course, but it is good to address it directly.

I believe in justice and fairness, but I don't think that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. I believe everyone should get the same chances. The law is to treat everyone equal. That is not the same thing as making everyone equal. Whether we like it or not, we are not all equal in this society. I believe we were created equal, but as we live our lives, we go in different directions. Some of us succeed, and some of us don't. While it is tragic to be unsuccessful, it is not necessarily unjust or unfair.

Directly controlling the economic flow simply won't work. People are too selfish, and those in charge of directing that flow will be a higher class than those who aren't. Those who desire to eradicate the classes will merely recast them, and will cause that upper class to have considerably more control over the lower class than the system we have now. Instead of it being the rich vs the poor, it would be the government vs. the people. It isn't an improvement.

Classes are OK. They're not perfect, and it would be better if we didn't need them, but it is a natural result of living in a fallen world. It is the kind of problem that if you try and fix it, you end up breaking the whole system. What is wrong is when we think that being of one class makes you a more valuable human than someone else. That is bigotry as I said before. To some degree there will always be bigotry, and even if we managed to create a society without economic classes, we will still find ways to categorize each other and prejudge one another. We are very creative.

As a Christian, I believe that we are a fallen race. Sin and wickedness are inevitable. I am not going to look to a human system to try and fix the problem because I know it will fail. Instead, I will fight for justice within my own context, proclaim the gospel, and look forward to the return of the Son. That is the lot of the Christian, wherever we find ourselves.

November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Quote

Thanksgiving is a time when the world gets to see just how blessed and how workable the Christian system is. The emphasis is not on giving or buying, but on being thankful and expressing that appreciation to God and to one another.

November 18, 2012

Imago Dei (repost)

The concept of being created in the image of God is at the center point of many Christian anthropological positions (anthropology is the study of humanity: what makes humans human). My pastor often says that you should never create a doctrine around a single verse. This is an excellent rule of thumb, and I highly recommend it, but ironically when we are talking about being made in the image of God, we have to deal with the fact that this term is actually only used in two passages in all of Scripture: Genesis 1:26-30 and Genesis9:6(though referenced elsewhere). However, Genesis 1:26-30is a rather important passage. It is specifically the creation of man, and as such gives us what I think is a legitimate exception to the general rule.

So what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Well there are several things that it doesn't mean. We aren't ethereal. We aren't a Trinity of persons. We aren't omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnitemporal, and any other omni for that matter. Indeed, there are a lot of ways in which we actually look nothing like God. So how can it be said that we are made in God's image?

Going to Context

Well, if we are going to look at this question biblically, we need to remember the 3 Cs of hermeneutics: context, context, and context. So let's look at the context:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. -Genesis 1:26-30
It is interesting to note that it doesn't go on to describe any divine attributes. However, what it does do is connect the notion of humanity's creation to humanity's authority over the rest of creation. Indeed, I would argue that this is what the concept of being in the image of God means: we have authority over creation.

Authority vs. Sovereignty

"Hold up! How can we have authority over creation, while God is still sovereign?"

To put it simply, having authority is not the same thing as being in charge. When I was a kid, my sister Calin and I had authority over our younger siblings (Calin exercised that authority to a greater extent than I did, but I digress). However, none of us ever confused Calin and me with Mom and Dad. We all knew who really was in charge.

Indeed, it is this kind of fundamental confusion that has lead me to never take Calvinist claims of having "a more sovereign God" seriously. Being more despotic, doesn't make someone more sovereign. It usually just makes them more of a jerk.

In the case of humans and God, the relationship between the two is essentially that of delegation. God delegates a certain amount of authority over to humanity for us to rule over creation. However, what authority we have is only based on our submission to the source of that authority: the Divine King.

The Race of Representatives

Understanding that our authority comes from God's sovereignty, as opposed to being... well, opposed to it, becomes easier when we understand our authority in terms of imago dei. The Hebrew word for 'image' is 'tselem', which is often used to refer to idols.

Now, I am not saying that humans are idols of God, or anything like that. It is very clear in Scripture that we are not to worship each other, but it is important to understand how the word connects to idol worship.In idol worship, one doesn't believe that the idol is truly their god. Instead they believe that it represents their god, or stands in for their god so that they can interact with him/her in a more tangible way. Thus we can consider 'tselem' to mean representation, or representative.

A story from I Samuel works to illustrate this. In this story, the Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant, and God has sent plagues of tumors and mice to punish them. Then, in chapter 6, they inquire of their priests what they should do. The answer is to make images (or tselemim) of the mice and the tumors out of gold as an appeasement to God. Note how the images here are not things to be worshiped, but things to represent the tumors and the mice.

Likewise, we can consider ourselves, as human beings, to be things which represent God in creation. We are His delegates, His representatives, and the only power we have is by representing God Himself. Our power is not of our own, but it is an extension of His.

Going to the Story

Now the Bible tells a story. Theologically, we call this the metanarrative, or the overarching story from which our theology is based. When we imagine the image of God in this manner, we find that it influences the way in which we view God's interaction with humanity through history.

At first God sets up humanity to be His representatives among creation. However, humanity rebels and becomes separate from God, deterring humanity's ability to accurately represent Him.

So God sets up for Himself a particular people within humanity to represent Him among humanity. He chooses a single man by the name of Abraham, and sets apart his descendants as the Chosen People, or the Elect. They come to be known as the Israelites. However, at Mount Sinai the Israelites reject God out of fear, and wish to remain separate from Him.

So God sets up for Himself a particular tribe within Israel to represent Him among the Elect. This is the tribe of Levi, and they become the priests of Israel. Indeed, a priest is best understood as someone who represents God to the people, and represents the people to God. If you remember, it was God's original intention for Israel to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). However, because the Israelites rejected this, only the Levites are priests.

Even so, God still continues to show His desire to rule people through a divine representative by establishing the High Priest, to represent Him to the Levites. Therefore, within the OT, you have:

High Priest
/ \
/ \
/ \
/ \

Now let's think of the New Testament. In the New Testament, we, the gentiles, are grafted into the vine of Israel, and thus become God's elect as well. However, because of the priesthood of all believers, we manifest God's original design for Israel to be a priesthood to all nations. Thus the Levites and Israel collapse together in the NT picture as the Church. However, we are not grafted in by our own power, but by the power of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection, as the Resurrected One becomes our High Priest. Therefore, in the NT we have:

/ \
/ \
/ \

Therefore we see that this is how God chooses to rule over His creation. He does not do so through meticulous predestination of all things, though He could. Instead, He chooses to act through people, and He appoints people and peoples for the purpose of representing Him and acting for Him. This is how God manifests His sovereignty.

What Does That Mean for Us?

A few different things. First of all, it means that we are responsible for what we do. We are responsible to God, not just because we are His creatures, but because we have the unique make-up to act on God's behalf. Therefore in everything we do, we represent God as we do it, whether that be consciously or unconsciously. Our sins are not simply bad things that we do, but they are things that besmear God's image, for we are God's image.

Second of all, we have a responsibility. We are supposed to represent God. As humans, we are to represent God in creation and take care of it and nurture it. Do we behave like crazy environmentalists? No. But we treat creation with respect, do what we can to bring out its beauty, but also organize it, and incorporate our own structures within it as any gardener would.

As Christians, we also represent God to other humans. As such, we need to represent Him in both justice and mercy. We don't back down from what God says is true and just, but we behave in a way that demonstrates God's love and affection for humanity. We are delegates of a benevolent king, and we should be benevolent as well. But we are still representing the king, not just some guy with really good ideas.

Third, we need to see that humans are holy: even bad ones and even unborn ones. The way we treat other humans cannot simply be based out of convenience or judgement. People deserve our respect, not because they have earned it, but because they represent God Himself. I would say, biblically speaking, that it is never good to kill a human being (though it is sometimes necessary). Killing other humans soils our hands. Even David, though he fought in God's wars, was too unclean to build God's temple.

Essentially it means that we need to treat humans with respect, not because they deserve it (because we don't), but because they represent God, and God deserves it.

For original post, see here.

November 10, 2012

The Machine-Gun Hermeneutic (repost)

Since I have been debating on the internet, there has been one particular use of the Bible that I have seen them use again and again. I have come to call it the machine-gun hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the study of how to interpret Scripture, and a hermeneutic is a particular method of interpretation.

I post this as a warning to all those who may see this technique being used. Do not be fooled. It does not demonstrate that an argument is biblical, but instead quite the opposite.
Argument from Verbosity

An argument from verbosity, or argumentum verbosium, is when someone provides an enormous amount of proof as well as a complex line of reasoning, so as to overwhelm the audience. The hearer is unable to examine all of the proof mentioned, or untangle the line of reasoning, so accepts the argument without truly challenging it. However, this does not mean that the proofs were strong (or even relevant) or that the line of reasoning was logical: it just means that there was too much for the hearer to take in and evaluate.
For example, if I wanted to convince you that flying is too dangerous, I could quote you the number of planes that have crashed in the past 5 years, the number of people that have died, and then break down by airline, in the end quoting 25 different stats. Believe me, I would sound convincing. But this wouldn’t change the reality that flying is the safest way to travel because in this case the number of crashes isn’t nearly as relevant as the percentage of crashes. However, I would have quoted you enough stats that you would be unable to actually examine the validity or applicability of those stats. That is an argument from verbosity.
The Machine-Gun Hermeneutic

The machine-gun hermeneutic is essentially an argument from verbosity using Scriptural quotations. I could break down the entire chapter of Hebrews 10, and demonstrate how the entire context, as well as the intention of the entire book, demonstrate that it is possible that a true believer can fall away from the faith. Then the Calvinist responds by quoting 5 Scripture verses, without discussing their context, and then claims victory. I’ve seen this many times. However, those 5 verses usually have nothing to do with the context at hand, or teach something incredibly different than what the Calvinist says. It doesn’t really matter, because I now have to sort through the context of 5 different verses, explain how none of them match up to what the Calvinist says, and my original point gets lost. The Calvinist still ends up winning.

I began referring to this as a machine gun hermeneutic based off a conversation I had once. My opponent essentially quoted 6 or 7 different verses at once, and then insisted I respond to every single one of them. I refused, because I knew it really wouldn’t be effective anyway, since he would ignore whatever exegesis I offered by simply quoting more texts (he had done it before). He claimed that I didn’t respect Scripture. I responded, saying that I believe Scripture to be a sword, not a machine-gun, and it is disrespectful to Scripture to treat it differently than how it was designed.

You see, a sword takes an incredible amount of skill. If you do not angle the sword exactly right, it doesn’t slice, it only nicks. Often even the higher sword masters do not slice every time they connect with the sword. This is not even considering all of the necessary parrying and thrusting techniques.

A machine gun on the other hand only takes as much skill as is necessary to keep the user safe. The techinique is simply to shoot a spray of bullets and to hope that one of them connects.
The machine gun hermeneutic works similar. One simply quotes as many Scripture verses as possible and hopes that the shear volume is sufficient to get a hit. However, this ends up discouraging one from actually reading the Scriptures. The contexts of the verses are never considered. The verses are simply memorized so that they can be quoted when needed.

Now quoting Scripture isn’t bad. It's not that I need to discuss the context of every verse that I quote. But it is the context of the verse which determines whether my quoting it was valid, and that is impossible to determine when I have 6 verses to sort through at once. In the end, the Scripture itself is ignored, but its presence causes the statement to sound offical.
  See original post here

November 1, 2012

Little Saints Day

Well, today is All Saints Day, and I try to put up a story about a Christian martyr up every year in celebration. However, today is also the day of my son's funeral.

I didn't aim for today. It just happened to be the first day that we could hold it due to the weather. However, I think it is a good day to remember him on, because it reminds me of the kind of company that he is keeping. I know I can't hold him in my arms any more, but now he is being held by Jesus, and that's not a very bad place to be.

He'll be taught how to walk by Athanasius.
How to talk by the apostle Paul.
How to throw by Joshua.
How to dance by David.
How to sing by Charles Wesley.
How to love by Francis of Assissi.
How to work by Jim Elliot.

I imagine him laughing and crying with a great cloud of witnesses around him. It's a nice image to have while I'm saying goodbye. Remember, we cry for our loss, not theirs. I already miss him so much, and when I see him again he'll be fully grown. I look forward to that.