Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Rockies, Christianity and Intolerance

This is a fascinating article about the Colorado Rockies and the Christian influence in their ranks.  A couple of observations about the article are in order.

First, I think it is phenomenal that a professional team of any sort is willing to say they draft and hire with character in mind.  Whether they like to admit it or not, professional athletes are powerful role models in our culture and their lifestyles matter.  It also is a glimmer of hope for the value of virtue in a pragmatic and consequentialist world.  Granted, the Rockies’ management argued that character is turning into wins, and are thus still very pragmatic.  I said it was a glimmer.

Second, the amount of apologizing and back-peddling that seemed necessary in the article was stifling to me.  As soon as the Rockies were “outed” as Christians they needed to defend themselves against intolerance.  Prejudice against Christianity remains the only accepted bigotry in our culture.

Should I Believe Jesus Was A Bachelor?

A lot of words have been spilt over The Da Vinci Code and its historical claims.  I am about to spill some more, but not in service to a specific apologetic refutation.  My concern here is to try to answer whether there is a good philosophical reason to believe if Jesus was a bachelor or if Jesus was married.  So here is my shot at a good reason to believe the proposition “Jesus was a bachelor.”

There is no warrant for the belief, “Jesus was married.”

In a rough syllogism (you must forgive any rather rough roughness):

  1. It is better to hold beliefs with greater warrant than to hold beliefs with less warrant.

  2. The belief “Jesus was a bachelor” has greater warrant than the belief “Jesus was married.”

  3. It is better for me to believe “Jesus was a bachelor.”

Unless you are an epistemological relativist or deep skeptic, line 1 is, I think, obviously true.  The burden of proof is in line 2.

As Kevin and Brian have debated in my earlier post, I believe the state of evidence in the Gospels, early church theological development (the Epistles), and early Church tradition, is such that the belief that Jesus was unmarried was generally accepted as true.  The NT scholar Darrell L. Bock makes this case in an article on Beliefnet.  Another respected NT scholar, Craig Blomberg, appeals to not only the silence about Jesus’ supposed marriage, but offers at least one positive argument against it.  He notes:

Specifically, there is not a shred of historical evidence that Jesus ever married Mary Magdalene (or anyone else) or ever fathered children. As Darrell Bock points out in his recent Christianity Today review (January 2004, 62), such information would certainly have been included in 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul appeals to the fact that Peter and various other apostles had wives when they received material help from the churches. In supporting his right to receive such help, Paul would have wanted to appeal to an even more convincing example-Jesus-if it were available. I would add also that with the very early veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Roman Catholicism, largely out of a desire to have a quasi-divine female figure along with God the Father, had Jesus ever been married, such a woman could scarcely have disappeared without a historical trace.

Is it trite or even tautologically unimportant to offer this argument in service of the belief that Jesus was a bachelor?  If the Christian worldview believes in the importance of truth, then it is not.  If the evidence of a possible belief is 50/50, and the consequences of holding that belief are insignificant (like Mary’s mole on her shoulder), then it may not be as important.  If we had better than 50/50 evidence to warrant Mary’s mole, then one belief should be held rather than the other even if the consequences of that belief are minimal to nonexistent.  But marriage seems to me to be of a different order, and certainly the evidence is not 50/50 one way or the other.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rights vs. Spiritual Growth

I thought this quote from today's Oswald Chambers reading was worthwhile:

Whenever our right becomes the guiding factor of our lives, it dulls our spiritual insight.

There are higher goods in this world besides my own wants, needs, and even rights.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: Bracing My Faith Against Jesus' Marriage

Twice now I have specifically heard this reaction to the claim in The Da Vinci Code that Jesus was married: it doesn’t matter that Jesus was married or not-it doesn’t change who he was.

When that thought is expressed in the form of a question to Christians opposing the message of the book and movie, it is intended to be a kind of stumbling block intended to befuddle the Christian who has never thought about the merits of Jesus’ bachelorhood, and to open up room for the claim that maybe he was married to Mary Magdalene. I do not know off the top of my head if there are any good theological or philosophical objections to Jesus being married, but I am almost sure there are some. I don’t think that is the right immediate response to that question, however.

The proposal that Jesus was married, and that it isn’t a big deal, is a red herring: it is the wrong question given the context of The Da Vinci Code and all the historical documents relating to Jesus’ life.

The reason Christians should defend the proposition that Jesus was not married is that it is true. It is akin to defending the proposition that George W. Bush is the current president of the U.S. or that Caesar Augustus was ruler of the Roman Empire at such-and-such a time. Truth matters. The truth of historical detail matters and those truths help identify historical figures as who they really were, what they really stood for, and what their followers uphold today.

All the reliable sources about the life of Jesus do not entail his marriage to anyone. The only sources claiming any such marriage were written long after Jesus’ death by those who wanted to change the Christian message.

A friend told me of a Christian co-worker whose reaction to The Da Vinci Code included the conclusion that it doesn’t matter to her whether Jesus was married. She is doubtless trying to exhibit a strong faith, but what it betrays is in fact a powerful anti-intellectualism. It does matter whether Jesus was married because that is a significant feature of his life and all the reliable evidence points to him being a bachelor. Our friend does not need to posit a faith that can stand up to the possibility that Jesus was married because it is false that he was.

It is akin to saying that it doesn’t matter to my faith whether Jesus was born to a Roman noble family in Carthage. I simply don’t need to brace my faith against that possibility.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Civility about The Da Vinci Code

The wide range of responses to “The Da Vinci Code” movie continue to proliferate. Organizations representing South Korean Christians and others in SE Asia plan not only protests, but hunger strikes and attempts to thwart the screening of the movie.

So far, I like John Leo’s take on the whole thing. In his latest column, he notes both sides of the debate:

Tom Hanks thinks Christians shouldn't become irate about "The Da Vinci Code." He says it's just a story, "loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense." He's right, but so is an official of the Christian Council of Korea, who said, "'The Da Vinci Code' is a movie which belittles and tries to destroy Christianity."

In the end, Leo argues for civility and rationality to take the day instead of censorship and prejudicial finger pointing.

It is good to hear Tom Hanks say that, and of course, he is right on. The problem is too many people are blinded by whatever epistemological failings or prejudicial opinions about Catholicism to see that truth. There are too many anecdotes of believers rejecting their faith because of this book, and of non-believers assuming the book validates all their worst hunches about Christianity to ignore.

I would love some help with this little conundrum. If the Church history and art history in The Da Vinci Code are such easily exposed frauds, why do so many people take them as truth?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Remixing Worldivew?

Denver Journal - 9:0209 - Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. by Craig L. Blomberg

This review of Colossians Remixed caught my eye for a lot of reasons, and admittedly Dr. Blomberg's basic endorsement of the book was one. I have not read the book, but I have read a lot about it and now this review puts me in a position of wanting to go ahead and read it.

In recounting the book's point of view, Blomberg notes this about its argument about worldivews:

A worldview that is truthful and viable, as it turns out, must share five characteristics: (1) comprehensiveness in scope; (2) coherence or internal consistency; (3) sensitivity to justice; (4) humility and openness to correction; and (5) ability, at least in part, to be put into practice.

It seems to me that this list misses something crucial and contains something ad hoc. The test of truth is ultimately coherence with reality. "Internal consistency" is the kind of notion that could apply to all sorts of false and even abhorrent worldviews. Whether one is able to justify one of their beliefs with another of their own beliefs is not what makes their worldview true. Truth, I believe, is not tested within a framework of beliefs, but in the interface of those beliefs with the outside world.

And then "sensitivity to justice" seems like a personal idee fixe by the authors to me. Certaily good Christianity is sensitive to justice, but is that really a crucial condition of a truthful and viable worldview?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Abuse, Statutes of Limitations, and The Church

At a non-profit human resources seminar I attended I heard about what is now a state law in Colorado wherein the statute of limitations for filing a civil case regarding alleged abuse by an organization was lifted.  A person can now file a law suit against an organization/corporation for alleged sexual/physical abuses done umpteen years ago.

The threat to churches is obvious.  Coming off the heels of the Catholic abuse scandals, the number of suits filed against Catholic and Protestant churches has multiplied.  In California alone, where the statute of limitations was lifted for one year, hundreds of cases were started against the Catholic Church.

The kicker, though, is that the laws in California and in Colorado are insufferably myopic.  Of all the institutions that are the cause of physical and/or sexual abuse, the public school system leads the pack and is left out of this law.  In fact, the greatest number of reported abuse cases concern family and friends, and the least number of reported/alleged cases comes from churches.  The laws in these states skip right over every other context for abuse and head straight for churches.

This piece written by Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, details several statistics, the shape of the law, and what I think to be the primary driving force behind its passing-dollar signs.  Abuse is horrible and justice should be sought out and done whenever possible.  But if justice for the abused were the motivation, why are the vast majority of the abused left out of this law?  Dollar signs.  State laws put a cap on awards granted to plaintiffs who win these cases against public schools.  No such cap exists on cases against churches.

Here are some excerpts:

In judging it, however, we need to consider the bill’s basic fairness. Any revision to civil statutes of limitations must be comprehensive, fair, and equally applied. This almost never happens. The data clearly show that the sexual abuse of minors is not a disproportionately Catholic problem. In fact, some of the worst adult sexual misconduct with minors occurs in public institutions, particularly public schools. But in most states, those schools enjoy some form of governmental immunity. In other words, it’s far easier to sue a private institution, such as a Catholic diocese, than it is to sue a public-school district. It’s also a lot more lucrative since, even if governmental immunity were waived, public schools and institutions usually enjoy the added protection of low caps on damages (in Colorado, $150,000). For exactly the same sexual abuse in a public school and a Catholic parish, the difference in financial exposure is millions of dollars.

Worse, as Shakeshaft [Hofstra University expert on public school sexual misconduct] points out, “national data indicate that few [public school] administrators report educator sexual misconduct to the police or district attorney. When this abuse is reported to the criminal justice system, it comes from parents or others.” And reporting patterns in public schools “show that when students do report [educator sexual misconduct], they are often ignored. Teachers and other staff in public schools are often moved from school to school when allegations emerge, rather than the school attempting to remove the teacher from the district.” This is exactly what many Catholic dioceses have been accused of in the past, but with devastating financial consequences for the dioceses.

There is an inequity hardwired into the whole national discussion of sexual abuse. Catholics can live with hard laws if they serve the common good—but the laws need to be equally hard for all offending persons and institutions, with the same rules and penalties and no hidden escape clauses.

Monday, May 08, 2006

To Hell, Or Not To Hell? Is That The Question?

Some may need to forgive the analogy, but figuring out the theological position(s) of the emergent movement must be what it is like trying to catch a greased pig. In this recent Q&A with Out of Ur, Brian McLaren talks a bit about his views on hell and judgment. There is much in what he says to be affirmed and echoed. He believes that at times the church has become hung up on the details of hell a bit too much to the detriment of ethical and kingdom living in the here and now. He says such things as:

…if we can identify some people as God’s enemies, hated by God for all eternity, we can find ourselves directly disobeying Jesus’ clear teachings about loving our neighbors and our enemies.

This next excerpt is interesting for two reasons. First, on the surface, most of it is obviously true and I can imagine even some hard-line brimstone preachers agreeing with it:

For example, I think God will be far more displeased by our carelessness toward the poor, or by our lack of peacemaking, or by our unrecognized racism and nationalism than he will be about whether you’re an exclusivist or not.

The second reason is it interesting is its slipperiness. In a style overwhelmingly typical of emergent types, McLaren constructs a false dichotomy, hence labeling and nearly slandering his detractors, and inserts his political views to boot. And all of this comes in a semantic package that reminds me of the chocolate-coated pill in The Princess Bride: it makes it go down easier. Often we find ourselves swallowing the pill and nodding in agreement before we are able to dissect the dichotomy.

There is absolutely no warrant to insinuate that exclusivism is inherently incompatible with such things as peacemaking, fighting racism, and care of the poor. McLaren accuses old-line evangelicals of living in a myopic world, and one cannot but help get the feeling that in reaction, McLaren’s world is no less so.

To add vaseline to the oil, McLaren’s initial reaction to the issue of hell and judgment is pastoral but evasive:

… in the end I’d rather turn our attention from the questions WE think are important to the question JESUS thinks is most important.

The obvious implication? People who believe in and teach a real hell and the need for a real decision for Christ are not in-step with the concerns of the very Jesus himself. Matthew 7:23, 8:12, 22:13, 25:46, Mark 3:29, and Luke 16, to name a few passages, disagree. And the thread through them all was summed up by Paul in Romans 10:9-10.

The theological path forward is not about vilifying traditional evangelicalism. It will doubtless involve some painful reflection from time to time, but there is an old saying about babies and bath water that needs heeding.

Is There Any Distinction Anymore?

Against Wikipedias (For Scholarship)

It appears students are citing Wikipedia articles in their philosophy papers. I wonder how many students are losing what in the past might have been an inherent grasp of what is meaningful, thoughtful and scholarly. One is driven to ruminate whether the proliferation and ubiquity of media that are inherently unaccountable is blurring the line between the genuinely real and the piecemeal fabrications of postmodern society.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Christian Education

One of the more influential trends in evangelicalism in the last decade has arguably been Christian schooling-be it homeschooling or private Christian schools. In an article titled, “Confessing our Weaknesses,” World Magazine founder Joel Betz notes some of the failings and shortcomings that exist is Christian education. He remarks it is important to examine these, especially as Christian education has largely received a pass on critique due to its own foundation as an alternative to “failing” secular education. It seems sometimes that if something has the label “Christian” on it and is a response to secular culture, it is immune to most scrutiny.

Belz provides a short list of such critiques and two of them especially caught my eye.

2. In our support and development of textbooks and curriculum for our new programs, we have sometimes backed materials that were just as propagandistic on our side of issues as were the materials that so infuriated us from the secular side.

3. We have too often offered parents nothing more than a "cleaned up" version of secularism. We've removed the ugly parts, but the product we've offered hasn't always been thoughtfully Christian—even though that's what we said we were offering and what we charged tuition for.

These, I believe, are two very trenchant remarks. They speak to a cycle of education theory that has probably not received enough deep thought: Christians complain of secular indoctrination and poor academic standards in public schools, and react with their own form of indoctrination and artificially propped up academic standards.

Indoctrination does not produce deeply rooted disciples of Christ. And, in my opinion, there needs to be a great deal of good thought poured into what it means to teach pre-college academics from a Christian worldview. What does Math or History look like from a well-rounded Christian worldview? Do we just learn about Christian history or about history with tools from the Christian worldview?

Being involved with a study center ministry that offers college classes done from a Christian worldview, I am especially aware of the failure rates of Christians on secular campuses. A survey conducted by CCCU recently showed that over 99% of evangelical students attend non-CCCU institutions-that means they attend secular universities and colleges. Barna recently showed that between the ages of 18 and 30, 58% of evangelical students leave the church.

Wrapped up in those stats are plenty of students who have attended Christian schools or who have been homeschooled. These are no panaceas.

The solution is NOT to stop sending Christians to University; it is to learn how to mature and deepen the Christian lives of students before they get there.

The "Gospel" of Judas Strikes Again

I want to say a couple more things about the Gospel of Judas primarily because every now and then I catch word of Christians, or at least nominal Christians, who are either confused by the book or out-and-out taken in by it.  It has been disheartening to hear of some who have bought the hype about the book hook, line and sinker.

Thanks to Steve at Out In The Sticks, I ran across this article by the New Testament scholar, Blomberg, detailing much about the Gospel of Judas and the controversy surrounding it.  A couple of excerpts:

Furthermore, Ehrman (like Elaine Pagels, who is quoted on the front book jacket, and numerous other scholars whose personal religious pilgrimages have left them with transparent axes to grind against historic Christianity) has yet to demonstrate that any of this diversity actually reflects mid-first-century Christianity rather than merely mid-second century Gnosticism. All the rhetoric about the Gospels that lost out to censorship by the orthodox Christians fails to disclose one fundamental feature of the early discussions on the canon: no one, to our knowledge, not even the Gnostics themselves, ever proposed that these later Gospels should be included in the New Testament!

I like that point-all this “gospel” and the other Gnostic gospels are able to support is conjecture about second century Gnosticism, and noting about early Christianity.  More from Blomberg:

The acceptance of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John cannot be reduced simply to the choices of the winners in ancient ecclesiastical politics. But the vehemence with which some people keep repeating this mantra shows that in our increasingly postmodern, ahistorical world, history today can be rewritten and re-invented by those who shout the loudest, whether or not they have the necessary supporting evidence!

I agree with his assessment that we are in a cultural milieu in which it is frighteningly easy to rewrite history and get the masses to believe you.  Historical fact no longer carries the place in our collective conscience it used to.  If you ask me, it is a little frightening.  Blomberg says something to that effect:

It is hard to know whether to laugh or to cry when one encounters people who think that literature of this kind forms some kind of threat to historic Christian faith.

Here is a little from Blomberg’s conclusion.  I love this:

What is really sad are the Christians who tell others not to read books like the Gospel of Judas at all (or to see movies like The Da Vinci Code). What a wonderful opportunity for believers to become informed and share intelligently with their non-Christian friends whose interest has been sparked in Christian origins in ways that pure scholarship alone seldom accomplishes.

Christianity, at least full-blooded Christianity, has its mind open and all its rational capacities turn on!

A companion article in Books and Culture Magazine quoted from the Gospel of Judas, and the point is that it is odd.  If you know your canonical Gospels, this does not sound anything like Jesus.

"Jesus said, 'Truly I say to you, for all of them the stars bring matters to completion. When Saklas completes the span of time assigned for him, their first star will appear with the generations, and they will finish what they said they would do. Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children [55] and they will [… ] and [—about six and a half lines missing—] my name, and he will […] your star over the [thir]teenth aeon.'"

I wrote a small piece in terms of how one might approach talking about the Gospel of Judas with someone who is convinced of its authenticity and claims against orthodox Christianity.  It was written for a one-minute radio spot, so don’t expect a three-point, footnoted apologetic response.