Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Ambushed

This morning started like any other morning. I got up and read the Bible, this time I'm in Luke 6 reading about what a great guy Jesus was, yadda yadda. Then things took a turn...
Looking at his disciples, he said:

"Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when men hate you,

when they exclude you and insult you

and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.

Woe to you who are well fed now,

for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,

for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all men speak well of you,

for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Errrr. To be honest I identify more with the latter half. Hmm, surely Jesus had some hidden subtext that lets me off the hook. Let's plough on.
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Oh COME ON, this is just unrealistic. You expect me to willingly take damage from bad guys, to get hurt? .... Wait, don't answer that. ... Maybe it's just a suggestion....
Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.

Ah ... er ... ow! ow ow ow! Gaaah! Help!


When I think of "the wise man build his house upon the rock" I usually think of the charming Sunday School ditty, but this morning it gives me a feeling of being mugged. Maybe how the disciples felt as they said "Lord, increase our faith!"

22 comments:

  1. It's always great to hit a passage like this to remind us that ultimately it is our faith that gets us in to heaven and not our good works.
    Eph 2:8-9
    For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast.

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  2. I love how the religious right in the US has exactly the opposite POV on life.

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  3. Disclosure: I was raised Catholic but I'm agnostic at best at this point in my life (>40). Still, I think the Bible as a philosophical tract as pertinent as any other, and not to be dismissed lightly.
    So much of the Bible is figurative, I wouldn't seize up too much on those passages. Why not take it as a call to greater compassion, tolerance, and charity vs a literal demand of: become wretched yourself otherwise God will do it for you.
    As for the first anonymous poster: I read the passages that roc quoted and come to the exact opposite conclusion. Those who say Lord, Lord but don't *do* as He preaches are rebuked.
    Have you ever seen the Bugs bunny cartoon where he is in a house that has fallen off a cliff and things start floating about the room and Bugs gets in a panic. A split second before the house crashes into the ground, Bugs opens the door and calmly steps out unharmed as the house, now behind him, flattens like a pancake. The thought that a person could lie, steal, cheat, even kill but then on their deathbed could "find religion" and be exhonerated feels like that cartoon to me. Meanwhile, joe good citizen, whose only fault is his parents didn't indoctrinate him into the prevailing belief system, is schedule to be barbequed for eternity.
    Roc, I admire not only the work you do, but the humility that is evident in your posts. One of the good things that I got from my years at church was a rational basis for believing humility is a positive trait rather than a weakness.
    Ah, well, enough of this idle chit-chat. It is time to get by back to my athiest chores, such as tripping little old ladies down flights of stairs and causing the downfall of society.

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  4. I'll be more than happy to discuss this at length with you via e-mail, Robert. I actually do understand this one quite well.

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  5. The traditional King James version of the Bible has a slightly different wording: For comparison, see, for example: http://mindprod.com/kjv/Luke/6.html
    Anyway, the themes in this passage here are repeated throughout the bible.

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  6. I'm not a bible follower, but I believe Ghandi expressed something similar.
    No-one said good was the easy option.
    - Colin

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  7. I think that this passage in the bible is a comfort for those who are mistreated because of expressing their faith in their everyday life, who are laughed at when they say they are catholic. I count myself lucky that people around me accept me for who I am, and I hope that somehow my good works, small as they are (getting coffee at work, trying not to swear at your computer, trying to remain friendly even though things are not always going my way), are appreciated. For one, they make me feel better. I don't think Jesus would like us to go and pick a fight, so we get beat up and then thank the Lord for it. Nah.
    To me this famous passage that you quoted shows that God loves you, and that you can love Him back, and for me this is the path to true joy. Joy that is not of this world.
    Thanks for this post. It lifted me up :-)

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  8. Matthew 5 has very similar wording - you should compare them. I believe one of the points of this passage is hyperbole talking about how impossible it is for us to reach God by our own actions. It is only with His help, through Christ, that we can reach him.
    P.S. What translation are you quoting from?

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  9. On the one hand, we see what God wants us to do through these passages. On the other hand, we see what kind of God our God is. Even when we are Christians, we can still be God's enemy when we live in the flesh ("Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Romans 8:7 KJV), let alone when we were sinners. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 KJV). Jesus is asking us to follow the good example he set before us because he has done exactly that for us, to have died for his enemy.

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  10. Robert O'Callahan16 November 2005 19:38

    Anonymous poster #1: I agree, but be careful that you don't nullify this bit of Scripture with another. In many places we're told that the test of genuine faith is works (or fruit, if that word is more comfortable to you), and that many people who profess faith do not in fact have saving faith. I believe these words do apply to believers.
    poningru: yes, but it cuts across all of Western culture, not just the RR. Plus among the "religious right" there are many wonderful Christians who I'm sure are more rock-based than me ... so I hesitate to point fingers on this issue.
    Jim: I don't take it as a literal demand of "become wretched yourself otherwise God will do it for you" ... in context, it seems more that you must be willing to give everything for the sake of these commands. It goes beyond a mere call to "greater compassion, tolerance, and charity" because Jesus is calling us to actually suffer for these things. I'll respond to a couple of other of your points in a jiffy.
    Alex: I think I understand this passage quite clearly. If I had legitimate uncertainty, it wouldn't be so disturbing.
    Hello Colin! We should get together for lunch sometime.
    Maarten: Agreed, there is no merit to being hurt for its own sake. (But there are lots of ways to get hurt in the pursuit of these commands!)
    Racer: NIV. See my first comment above. It certainly is impossible to fully implement these teachings, but I fear we Protestants sometimes misuse that truth to completely nullify these and other commands.

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  11. Robert O'Callahan16 November 2005 20:07

    Jim: In answer to your Bugs Bunny objection ... "Joe good citizen" may look good to his neighbours and even his family, but if he's anything like me, or anyone I've ever met, in his heart he has grudges, he lusts, he lacks compassion, he has lied to others and himself, he has wished ill on others, he has coveted what belongs to others, and so on. He's not really good in God's eyes; in fact, he must be punished and be separated from God, and so must your other example (who I'll call Bob) --- Joe to a lesser degree than Bob, certainly. However, Bob discovers that God, because he loves us, has arranged a way out: if we really, deeply want to love God and turn away from our faults, then the punishment can be transferred from ourselves and fall on Jesus instead. If Bob does repent, closes the deal, and then dies, I'm not sure what we can say ... Matthew 20:
    "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
    As for Joe, it's tragic that his parents never knew what the situation was, and no-one ever told Joe. Shame on Christians who did know and didn't tell.
    > One of the good things that I got from my years
    > at church was a rational basis for believing
    > humility is a positive trait rather than a
    > weakness.
    >
    > Ah, well, enough of this idle chit-chat. It is
    > time to get by back to my athiest chores, such
    > as tripping little old ladies down flights of
    > stairs and causing the downfall of society.

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  12. > is not that atheists are immoral, but they *are* moral while lacking no rational reason to be so (and frequently advocating that all action and belief be based on logical reasoning).
    Oh I'm sure I could dig up some reasoning. :)
    To me it makes more sense to say "civilised" instead of "moral". Many of the actions are the same but it leaves a path into some of
    the reasoning behind the kinds of behavior that would lead to a civilisation such as the one we (mostly) have at the moment.
    I believe it feels good to be compassionate because I'm a descendant of those that survived
    by being compassionate.
    I believe that most "good morals" we have are actually survival traits.
    - Colin

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  13. Robert, thanks for reading between the lines so artfully. You said:
    "what disturbs me about atheism --- including when I was an atheist --- is not that atheists are immoral, but they *are* moral while lacking no rational reason to be so (and frequently advocating that all action and belief be based on logical reasoning)"
    I think you have an extra negative -- "lacking no" -- perhaps you meant "having no". Assuming this to be what you meant, there are perfectly rational resons to be moral, which I think most people intuit without being aware of it. On a formal basis, game theory provides great insight into why a moral stance it worthwhile in itself. Cooporation in the collective is powerful. Just as coherent light watt for watt is much more powerful than incoherent light, societal norms that all agree to provide a vector for positive action. Without it is chaos and waste.
    Not to be rude, but to turn around your last point: if the rational inconsistency you perceived being an athiest was a problem, is it acceptable to you now to accept the irrational and inconsistent bits of being a believer?
    At a tangent: nobody seems disturbed that they weren't alive before they were born, but most are obsessed about coming to the same state after their short stay in the light.
    Please don't take this an effort to flip you back to the dark side. :-) I'm always fascinated that two rational, reasonable people can see the same thing and come to diametric positions. Having been on both sides you perhaps are in the best position to explain the opposite side fairly.
    I look forward to future blog posts on the subject.
    Take care.

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  14. Robert O'Callahan17 November 2005 20:57

    Jim: yes indeed, I meant "having", not "lacking".
    You and Colin raise the quite reasonable point that moral instincts could have evolved as survival traits. Unfortunately that doesn't lead to a non-circular rational argument for continuing to follow them (especially given that we are able to alter our minds) ... the problem is justifying survival (and under what conditions?).
    > Not to be rude, but to turn around your last
    > point: if the rational inconsistency you
    > perceived being an athiest was a problem, is it
    > acceptable to you now to accept the irrational
    > and inconsistent bits of being a believer?
    That's not rude. I do what everybody else does: I try to modify my beliefs so that they're not inconsistent :-). However, I do this cautiously knowing that I have incomplete information and limited and malfunctioning processing, especially when it comes to understanding the divine, so there's a risk that correcting an apparent inconsistency could move me further away from the truth.

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  15. Robert, you said:
    "You and Colin raise the quite reasonable point that moral instincts could have evolved as survival traits."
    That is indeed true, but my point was actually a lot more direct. Moral/civil behavior can arise when enough people see it is in their selfish best interest to behave that way. Of course there are always those who play the "traitor" in the prisoners' dilemma scenario, but their selfishness is short sighted and such elements get punished by society, again, out of self interest.
    You also said: "I try to modify my beliefs so that they're not inconsistent." What does that mean in your worldview when a God-like thing is permissible in your logic system?
    It seems to me to be like studying calculus and then one day learning about an operator called "foo". Q: What does "foo" do? A: Anything it wants or needs to be. Once you have that, is there any consistency possible other than the times that you can avoid invoking "foo" to arrive at an answer?

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  16. There are rational reasons for being nice. The main one is selfishness: when you are nice, on average, people are nicer back, and thus you are happier.
    There are rational reasons for turning the other cheek, too: bullies tend to get bored of easy victims and so leave you alone (potentially to report them to the authorities and thus get them the help they so obviously need).
    There are rational reasons for lending money without expecting it back (or rather, to give money instead of loaning it): it's easier, since you don't have to track your loans. Also, as people tend to want to pay you back anyway, you end up getting random cash donations that you didn't expect, again making you potentially happier.
    There are rational reasons for never lying: it is also easier (on average every time you lie you end up on the long term causing yourself more trouble), and thus less stressful, and thus makes you more happy.
    I think pretty much everything you quote is quite true, in fact, in terms of being a basis to live your life. Indeed turning the other cheek, giving instead of lending, never lying, are all cornerstones of my own moral system. None of this, of course, requires you to consider the existence of an omninscent being or that once your biological body dies your conscious existence continues somehow.
    The only part of the passing you quote that I would be concerned about is the first bit, saying that if you are in pain you are somehow better off than if you are not. This seems quite patently untrue: the happier you are, the better, and the longer you will tend to live. I would guess that that passage was added by the bible's authors to convince the populace that they should live in poverty, so that they would not challenge the ruling class (which was more wealthy and more comfortable.

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  17. > Unfortunately that doesn't lead to a non-circular rational argument for continuing to follow them
    Oh absolutely.
    I don't believe that just because some behaviour worked in the past that it should continue to be a "good" thing.
    I only use the historical survival argument as a reason for why we have these "moral" inclinations - especially ones that appear fairly universal across cultures.
    To me, the thinking athiest has a duty to reason through their actions (where practical) and be able to override their instincts in cases where reason says that some innate inclination is not going to be successful. This puts us in pretty much the same state as theists.
    You need to work out if the urge to punch someone who's annoying you is in line with Gods guidelines. I need to work out if it's likely to enhance my own survival.
    I don't think the conclusion to most of these situations is all that different from the theist or atheist viewpoint. There are some situations where there'd be a different result, but I'd argue very few.
    Of course I believe that belief in God evolved as a survival trait. I suspect you'd argue that
    survival traits were instilled in us by God.
    - Colin

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  18. > The only part of the passing you quote that I would be concerned about is the first bit, saying that if you are in pain you are somehow better off than if you are not
    I'm actually not convinced on this point. I suppose it depends how you interpret "pain".
    I'm reasonably sure that if life is too easy it leaves you fairly shallow and also defenseless when disaster does come along.
    That doesn't mean we should go out and get a leg chopped off just to make life hard.
    But I do think that avoiding struggle or avoiding difficult situations, to excess, is harmful in the long term. To develop personally you need to take risks, to put yourself in difficult situations. Or at least not run away from them.
    I suspect the biblical passage was warning more about the dangers of excess. The life of luxury at the expense of others.
    - Colin

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  19. Hi Rob,
    I just finished reading 'Jesus the Man' by Barbara Thiering. I read it even though it had the turnoff words 'controversial bestseller' in the title. As a rule I try to avoid that sort of thing, I only continued because almost everything written on the subject has been controversial.
    It's an interesting read, the findings themselves take up the minority volume of the book. The rest of it is taken up with the 'evidence' mainly in the form of timelines, bible references and interpretations.
    Having the Bible conveniently loaded into my trusty Psion series 5, I was able to read each passage that it was referring to and then try to view it in the context of historical Christian perception and this new one.
    I suppose it would have been interpreted in the historical way being written in an age of mysticism, but to your average agnostic reader of today, plausibility landed firmly on the side of the author.
    If anyone knows of a site Christian p.o.v. refuting it I'd be rather interested. It's not a new book so I'm sure there's been plenty of time.
    A.

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  20. Robert O'Callahan26 November 2005 09:48

    Jim: Most Christians believe that God operates in ways constrained by his character, which we know something about. God is most definitely *not* whatever we want or need him to be, so we can't plug him in to fill just any gap in an explanation ... not without departing from orthodox Christianity. (He is whatever *he* wants or needs to be, but that's trivial because he simply never wants or needs to be other than what he is.)
    Jim, Ian and Colin argue that the altruism recommended by Jesus here is in one's ultimate self-interest. It sometimes is, but it often is not. When you near the end of your life, or are surrounded by enemies, I find it hard to argue that it will remain in your self-interest, assuming a definition of "self-interest" based on one's physical and emotional well-being.
    (Wearing my atheist hat for a moment, I find the idea that adhering to my evolved moral impulses will invariably optimize for my self-interest implausible, and almost implies a belief in some sort of "cosmic justice" that starts to look like God... It probably won't even optimize for group self-interest since our current situation hardly resembles the contexts in which these impulses evolved.)
    Ian: These teachings of Jesus were propagated during times where Christians were basically scum. The ruling class didn't get involved until much later.
    Colin:
    > The life of luxury at the expense of others.
    What would you say is wrong with that? At first glance it sounds very much in one's self-interest! If you have more "noble" goals, where do they come from?
    Adam: I don't have a Thiering-crushing URL handy, but if you search on christianitytoday.com (perhaps via Google site: search) you'll probably find something of interest. I haven't read her stuff but my understanding is that she belives, among other things, that a) the Dead Sea Scrolls specifically refer to Jesus in parts b) Jesus survived crucifixion and recovered and c) then (co?)wrote the Gospel of John in about 34AD. a) and c) would be denied by almost all scholars of any camp. And of course I claim b) is quite implausible too.

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  21. Let me give you my atheist view :),
    > Bob discovers that God, because he loves us, has
    > arranged a way out: if we really, deeply want to
    > love God and turn away from our faults, then the
    > punishment can be transferred from ourselves and
    > fall on Jesus instead.
    That sounds very unfair :). Why would something so unfair exist in this world?
    > :-) Actually, what disturbs me about atheism ---
    > including when I was an atheist --- is not that
    > atheists are immoral, but they *are* moral while
    > lacking no rational reason to be so (and
    > frequently advocating that all action and belief
    > be based on logical reasoning).
    Actually, I think that�s great. People acting morally without needing some kind of obligatory reason �or else�.
    Of course there is the law, if you break that the �or else� is called �prison�. But if someone for example doesn�t want to donate to charity, you just have to accept their choice. Surely they have their reasons, and if it is not required by law, who am I to tell them what to do. (Actually in the Netherlands, because a lot of tax money is spent on social security, charity is fairly obligatory :).)
    What�s good and what�s bad is determined by society anyway. We kill animals, living beings, en masse. Some people think that is an extremely immoral thing to do (that would be me and my family), some people think they can get away with it because god or law doesn�t say it�s bad (that would be the big majority of the rest of the world). But, I�m not going to judge all those people (although I disapprove), I just make my own choice about what�s the moral thing to do.
    If you ask me, religion is just something that was invented in the days of old �when chaos reigned�, to give more people incentive to adhere by the rules, and to avoid anarchy and make them survive. And of course, it�s been used for the purpose of control and power as well. It�s law in a different package. It�s been a tool which has outlived its original purpose.
    To many individuals it still has value because it�s something they grew up with, or they need some kind of reason for their existence, or they want to let a religious book dictate their actions in addition to (or instead of) the book of law of the country they live in. Which is fine by me, although I don�t think it makes sense to believe in a fairytale.
    Anyways, I do not see why there needs to be a reason for everything. I do not need a particular reason to act morally. I do not need a reason to live. I live, I�m willing to believe in what I think makes sense, and I do what I feel comfortable about.
    ~Grauw

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  22. Oh, I forgot to say: we made the law. It�s been established by society to bring order and make everyone live happier. So obviously, although from an individual perspective not everything in the law is convenient (e.g. paying taxes), following the law is ultimately in your own interest. That�s the rational reasoning in that respect, and not just for atheists.
    On top of the law, there�s �morals�. And morals are your own choice. Everyone has a set of morals, and those can differ a lot among people. The law does not proscribe people what to do in those cases (in most countries, at least), because it is based on the trust that people will generally make the right decisions. For the purpose of freedom, you are allowed to make your own choices, and if some make decisions that don�t seem to be very moral, it�s a small price.
    One could say religion tries to take away that freedom with an �or else� kind of threat. On the other hand, one could also view religions as select box with pre-compiled �sets of rules� you can pick from, or make a customized set. I think that both of these make sense to me, I greatly dislike the �or else�, but it�s a free world (or rather: country) and no-one forces me to be religious, so I don�t really care. If that�s what people want, sure.
    So, to sum it up: I greatly dislike religion in the sense of it being rules you have to follow for �salvation�, and I do not think people should view religion as such. On the other hand, I�m perfectly fine with religion being something for people to believe in and feel comfortable with.
    But if someone thinks there is something �higher�, he/she should believe so in his own way and make his own choices about what�s right and wrong, and not blindly follow a stupid book or a group of people �the vatican� who claim to know what�s best for you. I guess aside from the fact that I don�t believe in it, that makes me more a protestant than a catholic.
    ~Grauw

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