WHEN THE ARGUMENT GETS EMBARRASSING
For more than one reason, the much viewed Evolution vs God Movie is worth watching on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0u3-2CGOMQ It’s truly an experience and it does raise questions but by no means always the questions its originator, the NZ born, American resident Ray Comfort might wish and intend.
On the positive side, if we can assume the interviews with the atheistic evolutionists are not rigged but authentic and they probably are, or mostly are, then they seriously – but also sometimes to the point of the hilarious – demonstrate the careless and shallow attitudes of the scientifically minded. Some clearly take the explanations of science to be true fact beyond discussion. They don’t recognize or admit the problems of their position. It’s a rare evolutionary scientist today who like Gerd Miller (not on film) freely admits there are problems with evolution because it can’t explain “complexity”. Scientists are not necessarily thinkers; but whereas thinkers are normally willing to listen to scientists, vice-versa doesn’t automatically apply, though it should.
Blinkered scientific dogmatism (scientism) is a subject in itself and I have said a few things about it in an unusual way in my Raphael and Lucifer mini epic and attached essay http://goo.gl/C32i3H\ …..Before the reader dismisses this as “just” poetry and probably not pertinent, I could mention that one of the few publishers who considers religious/metaphysical poetry today, refused it not because it was poor material – they admitted it was poetry to the highest standard – but because promotion in my case was a near impossibility for someone not already known as a performance poet and living where I did outside Europe. In the matter of poetry I seem to be something of perpetual poete maudit loser….but back to Comfort’s video and how he and it, make themselves losers despite having scored a few points in the first half.
NEEDLING FOR AND EXAGGERATING SIN
Having shown up scientific ignorance, Comfort wants to drive the point evangelically home that all these unbelievers are not just deluded but going to hell and he does this as some American evangelicals are wont to do in the worst, intrusive and plain embarrassing of ways. (Culturally I believe the remote origins of the style can be traced back to pugnacious Scottish and Ulster Calvinist emigrants to early America).
At the very least Comfort might have considered his interviewees had given him their time and honest opinions. Instead he seeks to exploit this for their greater good and by proving they have broken all the Ten Commandments in some way hence need salvation right now to escape hell. They need only have told one lie and they are bound for the eternal flames. They need only have had a lustful thought and they are adulterers awaiting God’s judgement and so on.
We may well cringe or recoil in disbelief at this kind of narrow treatment including because, although the Bible and Jesus undoubtedly do preach hell, ironically what Comfort and those like him are maintaining is exaggerated, unbiblical nonsense…..
TAKING BIBLICAL LIBERTIES
For example, not only do the Ten Commandments forbid “false witness” (disrupting the course of justice by falsehood in effect) rather than simply lies, but the Bible at least implies what most people believe, namely that at least sometimes lies may be appropriate. For example, in Ex 1:19 the midwives deceive Pharaoh but are commended for it. The world of Comfort appears to be the Kantian one of the Categorical Imperative which knows no exceptions. If no one must ever lie, under a repressive regime they could finish up sending people to torture and death in the service of truth!
Likewise people become damnable adulterers if they allow themsleves erotic thoughts. This charge is based on ‘words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount which interiorize the Law. “Whoever looks upon a woman to lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart ” (Matt 5:28) . Probably few verses in the bible have been less well commented, understood and privately alienated more people from Jesus than this. Forgotten amid its shock value is that one can only commit adultery with a married woman and the meaning (which in the original is almost more to look to do something than to look upon someone) is that if you have imagined and intend to have the person then there’s really no difference from your doing it which sooner or later you may well.
If the true meaning is radically otherwise and to the effect that every man should be blind to thought and feelings for women until they undress them on the marriage night anything else being hell bound fornication, then we might have to dismiss Jesus as the father of repression, the enemy of all classic art, friend to those cultures which seek to cover and banish women from sight, and a cause of homosexuality (especially if you controversially believe, evangelical style, that the orientation is not inborn but acquired by attitudes!). Jesus’ subject is the declared one, adultery’, itself an aspect of the theft and coveting, themselves subjects of other linked commandments. (Jesus is of course dealing in the ideal and we need not explore the possibility that in cases of severe repression and frustration a few lustful thoughts could be plain righteous in comparison with the likes of having women by calculated rape!)
Along the same literalist lines, bad tempered people become murderers. If you want to assert this you can justify it also from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:22) where apparently calling your brother raca and fool risks the hell fire. As observed in my video Jesus and Sexuality, ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG0odoWqINQ ) this makes almost no sense as people call others fool all the time and it means little. However, it means rather more if we understand raca was a serious Aramaic abuse term suggesting perversion and gross effeminacy. So, that whatever precise form homophobia took in Jesus’ time when homosexuality was not a word, it was cognate with and symbolic for a whole range of racist style hatred for minorities of a kind known to foster violence and sometimes occasion death.
PREACHING HELL TODAY
Damnation is a big subject with a long history not easily summarized. But if you intend like Comfort to preach it today, what might you fairly, logically and honestly claim that’s in some harmony with scripture without making yourself an idiot, fundamentalist style? Or even Jouhandou style? Atheist Existentialist philosopher, Sartre, once mocked Catholic writer Jouhandou and a Christian view of God over his admitted fears that some adolescent masturbation related to homosexual curiosity would send him to eternal flames. What sort of God…..?!
The greater problem is not so much individual sins about which it is often enough wise not to judge (“Judge not that you be not judged”) as sin – in – itself. Many early Christians would have also said the curse that Christ came to undo and ransom from. (1 Joh 3:8). It was understood, and there’s enough scriptural basis for it, that all humanity is born into a world and race that until the apocalypse ”belongs” under Satanic rule and which vis a vis God can be considered guilty by association.
If one can limit the obsession with individual deeds, the fact remains, and ”existentially” enough too, that we are all in effect under a death sentence, dying towards our end daily. Whether sinners in a big or small way, rather plainly people are alienated from others, from themselves, from nature and from God, “fallen”and to all intents and purposes victims of “original sin”, no matter precisely how you describe that condition or think about Adam and Eve. Scripture indicates what seems probable and obvious, namely that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor 15:50) and nor will sin – after all if God is perfection, Perfection can’t let heaven be wrecked while imperfect people sort themselves out within realms of the spirit they are not in harmony with or while they maybe refuse to be perfected in necessary ways. And the Asian religions which affirm reincarnation as a means to self rather than saviour overseen perfection, require so long for its achievement the time involved almost equals eternity itself!
It may be conceded that eternal “wrath” (it most essentially indicates separation from God) for the evil of temporal deeds is hard to take on board. Annihilation would seem more just; but on reflection and logically, there are problems with this seemingly more “generous” position towards which the present Pope has been said to be inclining. If God can annihilate us (our spirits or root of being in effect), God is not Lord of Life, but rather is partnered with death and this cannot be. God can only quarantine, hold in detention, limit and imprison evil – fallen angels are said to be precisely the spirits “in prison”(1 Pet 3:19) – not fully destroy because everything exists through God.
Because everything exists through God who is above all light and (spiritual) fire, those who reject God will exist not just in “outer” darkness, i.e. at the furthest point from light, but exist through the core element, fire, without the other elements that make existence pleasant and bearable.
HADES AS DEFAULT DESTINY
Moreover, in the times the gospel was first proclaimed, it was almost universal western belief that with a few exceptions – favoured warriors or the most remarkable darlings of the gods – everyone went at death to the prison darkness of Hades, a version of hell, where they lived as suffering, bodiless spirits. Everyone from Homer and Sappho in Greece to Virgil and Catullus in Rome believed it, though Catullus decides it’s an endless sleep. Hades as the near universal destination is more or less what the Bible teaches. Everyone has a soul that inhabits the body and leaves it at death (a point that can’t be fully proved or disproved either way though some evidence is emerging), but obviously this soul needs to be joined with a body to exist meaningfully. The promise of (bodily) resurrection was a novel boon set against a general pessimism which only the democratized, popularized Christianity of recent centuries has gradually modified. The latter now allows most people to RIP although the Bible gives little or no ground for the idea but if anything appears to forecast a body of damnation in hell to parallel that of resurrection in heaven. Why this situation and its distinct pessimism?….
THE LOVE DILEMMA
….Among other things and paradoxically because God is Love. Love depends upon trust and faith and it is said that without faith it’s impossible to please God ( Heb 11:16 ) – which is perhaps another way of saying without love/trust you cannot please or even exist with God. The fallen angels having known God and thus wilfully sinning cannot be redeemed. Humans who haven’t known and seen God and who exist within time rather than eternity, have the opportunity within time to demonstrate a will to love, trust and volunteer (via repentance and the belief which engages will and intellect beyond the heart) to be perfected. Once outside time and into eternity, the same opportunity is not open. Some of the gospel’s urgency, it’s sense of a need to work before night comes, is involved with the limitations and risks of the human situation which is not all “happily ever after”.
It is in this context it always makes sense to preach, as Jesus according to Matthew and Mark begins by doing, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven – heaven being Matthew’s circumlocution for God – is at hand ” ( Matt 4:17) “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk: 1:15).
The literal earthly kingdom was not at hand, any political fulfilment was for another era and a second advent, but the kingdom was and is automatically at hand if and whenever God (represented by Jesus) is specially present. There is an obligation to “repent” (change mind and intention) if you want to escape your likely fate.
I say “likely” because while general principles must be established in order to proclaim anything at all, where God is concerned exceptions may always intervene. Practically speaking, the fate of the unbelieving and unrepentant is “Hades/Hell”, but even the sins and sinner-listing St Paul allows that among those who don’t know the gospel, conscience is their judge and it may or may not excuse them on Judgement Day (Rom 2:15).
Though inevitably some cranks and fanatics have taught it, obviously too God was never going to send unbaptised infants to hell (limbo got invented to get round that embarrassment of extreme teachings), nor various kinds of ignorant and abused people scarcely accountable for themselves. Even so it is not inappropriate to have the image of Hades in mind as representing, as it did for the ancients, the default fate for many, the place too easily fallen into by the careless. Jesus refers to lost souls and hell’s torments too many times for the idea to be just ignored and rationalized away.
The fine details of judgement and afterlife need cannot be worked out by us. But the general principle should be honestly admitted and recalled. Today too many die without a thought given to faith or ultimate destination; they are like the rich fool of the parable whose soul is required of him but who has made no preparation (Luk 12:16-21). Christian atheist, Iris Murdoch, decided she did not wish to think of her own or anyone’s death in “Wagnerian” terms. But can one never quite do so? If it’s not oblivion, death is entry to “eternity”, a rather important occasion worth a few cautions and trumpets!
A POST-CHRISTIAN PENDULUM SWING
No matter how little one favours hell fire sermons of which the classic extreme is supplied in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, it is striking just how much a swing of the pendulum since his time means fundamental declarations about the gospel, about this life and the next are simply not being made today. By way of fodder and appeasement to media and the masses, popes and archbishops will address crowds to appeal for world peace, for harmonious social and religious relations, respect for each others’ traditions and names of God, for the value of recalling “the good news of Jesus”.
This “news”, far from being as in its original form about repentance and reconcilement with God leading to resurrection but if need be leaving mere family and cultural traditions behind – leaving “the dead to bury their dead” as Jesus would have it – is instead to the effect we can be loved and included. Love and included, that is, by a church community which if possible would still like to influence society through its laws and according to philosophical formulae from Aristotle and Aquinas like natural law, all an easier option than to actually preach and persuade!
To become a faithful Christian today too often means enlisting to fight not for “lost” souls and for salvation enlightenment like the saints and apostles (that’s much too religious!) but campaigning for a variety of causes, for refugees or “issues” like “right to life”. The latter (though overall abortion cannot usually be approved) cannot either be biblically defined as murder and a form of evil on any exceptionless basis. That the foetus is not infinitely precious and could ve regarded as impure is implied by the way God is quite prepared to kill in the womb ( Hos. 9:16) and such would anyway occur under the law of Jealousy outlined in Numbers 5, and indeed under quite a few capital offences if the relevant laws are taken literally (as opposed to examples that they sometimes are if one takes a more Utopian reading).
That such contradictions and problems are ignored certifies that, paradoxically enough, Christianity today remains as traditional as possible without being especially biblical. The Catholics for whom the OT is often a closed book, reduce a great deal of the faith to traditions and philosophical formulae that a catechism will represent, while the most biblical Protestants (the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) read selectively and make no kind of philosophical generalizations in the way at least sometimes to be practical one must sometimes do, even if not under the auspices of the pagan Aristotle.
Instead, rather like Ray Comfort, conservative Christians try to corner and close every argument by stressing “the Word of God” says – it might be better to say “scripture says”- and all as though every word were dictated from God. Which it should be obvious can’t be the case. Indeed, if especially the words of Moses were perfect to the last detail under divine inspiration it would not be possible or licit for the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 27) to have questioned the inheritance laws and had them changed. Fundamentalists never see the wood for the trees, can never hold two often complementary views together. Today they cheerfully declare against “global warming” and “climate change” as some kind of devilish doctrine, untrue because of record cold winters as though the greater heat and greater cold could never be two sides of the same phenomenon. It’s behind the reasoning that fuels the idea that because there were Adam and Eve there could never be any Adam and Steve, God being unable to permit any variation upon any theme, (a situation which could even cancel out the possibility of real music)..
People highly literal with “God’s Word” fail to acknowledge, or just realize, how suggestive and flexible a language Hebrew is, well on the way to the cloudiness of Chinese with its pictograms. Accordingly there isn’t and shouldn’t ever have been any final dogmatic issues around seven days of creation “Day”and “hour” have all sorts of different meanings in Hebrew……
THE GENESIS FILM
This brings me back to my starting point in the Creation/Evolution debate from which I have rather strayed. In conclusion I would point out that – possibly and hopefully – a new page is turned with release of the film Genesis:Paradise Lost. The video of this apparently stylish film premiered last November, is available from February. https://genesismovie.com/ The arguments (including it seems from well qualified scientists) and the evidence for what gets claimed, have been found unexpectedly meaningful and the presentation is generally professional. I have ordered a copy and may get round to a review later.
I just hope after the near comic horror of treatments like Comfort’s, that any facts will be allowed to speak for themselves rather than be exploited to argue for a range of questionable but supposedly biblical beliefs beyond them. If nothing else I find myself in agreement with the makers of the Genesis film that failure to recognize any Creator and the blindness to all things spiritual this can entail is a, perhaps the, major issue for religion today, one cannot lightly and easily give down to popular and common scientific views of reality.Truth is often stranger and more surprising than we can imagine and it is right to keep an open mind.