Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Slick Apologetic

I don't know why it took me four days to remember that when I'm not feeling inspired, I do a counter-apologetic. Instead of taking on a weaker member of the herd, let's go after the well-known and well-funded Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM). Today I'll be responding to Matt Slick's apologetic response to the question, "Why do Christians not obey the Old Testament commands to kill homosexuals and disobedient children?" (or as I like to think of it, Why are y'all such hypocrites?)
Critics of the Bible often cite Old Testament instances of slavery, violence against homosexuals, wiping out nations, etc., as evidence of a morally inadequate set of rules. They will also often ask why present-day Christians don't follow these "barbaric" teachings today. They complain that Christians are inconsistent, and say that if we really follow the Bible then why don't we advocate such things as killing both homosexuals (Lev. 20:13) and disobedient children (Deut. 21:18-21).
Things like slavery, violence against gays, lesbians and transsexuals, and genocide (let's by all means call a spade a spade, Matt) are morally inferior to some current and ancient cultures. Treating people as people - not property or abominations - and not slaughtering a whole bunch of them is generally considered better, and not just by atheists. Christians find genocide perfectly atrocious when it's in Darfur, or it's the Holocaust we're talking about (well, most Christians.)

We most certainly are pointing out that Christians are inconsistent in how they read their Bibles (and of course, there's very little agreement among yourselves as well.) We're also, more importantly, pointing out that your God is an immoral prick. It's not so much that we mind you not enforcing his crazy homicidal laws, it's that we mind you worshiping a god who would endorse such laws. And no he's going to make this all about cultural context and the New Covenant, because that's what apologists do next.
The reason we don't is because the Old Covenantal system, that involved such harsh punishments, has been done away with. We are under a new covenant. Jesus said in Luke 22:20, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."
Ha, got it in one. Okay, for the sake of argument let's grant a whole bunch (god's existence, Jesus as his son, the two covenants). That still doesn't account for God creating the Old Covenant laws in the first place. And "harsh punishments" makes it sound like you'll be given lashes or laps to run or something. We're not talking about a penal system; we are talking about a death penalty system. And hey, I get it. Prisoners are expensive, resources were scarce, and the laws were created by men, not by god.
This new covenant was prophecied in the Old Testament in Jer. 31:31, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." It is referenced in 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:8, 9:15; and 12:24.
Ah, I was really hoping we'd get into some Old Testament prophecy. Let's go look at Jeremiah 31 in context.

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to [a] them, [b] " declares the LORD. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
That might be the most ringing endorsement for never ever evangelizing I've ever read. Also, it is demonstrably false. God hasn't written his law and knowledge of his existence on every heart. How do I know that? Because atheists exist. Our very presence refutes the word of god and his new covenant right here. Thanks for pointing these verses out to me, Matt!

Of course, if you look closely you'll see that the verse in question, 31 actually specifies that the new covenant will be with Israel and Judah - not with the gentiles. Gentiles aren't mentioned. Just like the ten commandments are clearly written for that people and not the whole world, this prophecy (even if true) wouldn't apply to the rest of us, unless you use Israeli substitution theology (which is, unfortunately, often rather antisemitic.)
Of particular importance to our topic is Heb. 8:13 which says, "When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." The Old Covenant with its harsh judicial judgments is no longer in effect because we are under a New Covenant.
We still have the problem of "Why was this whole stone your kid to death thing in the Old Covenant?!" But I'm sure you'll be getting to that soon. So okay, let's say the entire old laws are obsolete, and now we only live by the words of Jesus. Have you given all your money to the poor yet, Matt Slick? Do you take no care for tomorrow, or do you own life insurance or invest your money? Do you use a date book or a calendar? Jesus gave some of the worst financial advice ever (he's no Suze Orman). Christians don't follow the New Covenant either. Oh, and stoning to death isn't just a "harsh judicial judgment." It's barbaric. Don't believe me? If you've got the stomach for it, here's a video of a Muslim woman being stoned to death. If you can't stomach it, how can you stomach a God who commanded it?
Part of the reason the Old Testament covenantal system was so harsh is because first, the Old Testament law demonstrates the severity of righteousness and the requirement of perfection before a holy God. Galatians 3:24 says that the law is what points us to Christ. It does this by showing us that we are not able to keep the law and that the only way of obtaining righteousness before God is through the sacrifice of Jesus, who was God in flesh (John 1:1,14; Col. 2:9).
Let me get this straight. God requires people to be perfect, or they'll be executed by bludgeoning to death; he created people incapable of following his perfect laws (therefore creating a system where the default state for people is due-for-a-stoning); and the only way that the all-powerful all-wise god could come up with for people to not be executed was to have his kid (who is himself) executed (by people, who were only able to be "forgiven" once they'd killed someone else in their place.) Also, notice how very much he avoids saying "death", "murder", "stoning", or "execution". It's all "harsh punishments" and "judicial judgments". Very slick, Matt, but I'm used to oily people and word shystery, so you'll have to do better than that to make me forget what we're talking about here.
Second, the Old Testament times were very difficult and there were many nations that warred against Israel. Also, the devil and his demonic horde was constantly working to destroy Israel in order to invalidate the prophecies of the coming Messiah, to therefore prevent the Messiah from being born and delivering his people. Therefore, God instituted laws, as difficult as they were, that were consistent with the culture of the times, that ensured the survival of the Jewish nation, that helped to maintain social structure, and also reflected the harshness of the law.
Many nations warred against Israel, but it was mutual. (The Israelites weren't fluffy bunnies.) As for the devil, I'd love some scriptural citations to back this up. Points for an excellent use of the word "horde", although it should be that they were working to destroy Israel, not "was" (so you lose some of your horde points.) If you break this down, what you're really saying Matt, is that your all-powerful God had to adjust because of the actions of men (warring nations) and demons. That does not sound all-powerful to me. And doesn't it make more sense that the laws which were so consistent with the culture were created by the people in that culture, rather than by an infinite deity? We know people create laws, and we know those change over time. We no longer have legal slavery in the US (although, shamefully, we do have illegal slavery.) Why would your endless god alter his plans because of human and demonic activity?

Also, what on earth are you saying with "God created laws that... reflected the harshness of the law." Aren't you just saying that God came up with the whole "thou shalt stone" thing? Not really answering to either God's morality or Christianity's non-adherence to a smiting God's laws. (If you really think he can strike you dead where you stand, don't you suppose you should treat his every word as law?)
The New Testament covenantal system says that we are to "be at peace with one another," (Mark 9:50) and "with all men," (Rom. 12:18). Rom. 14:18 says, "pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." After all, "God has called us to peace," (1 Cor. 7:15).
Aw, it's hippie free love Jesus! You know he also said that anyone who doesn't hate his mother is no follower of his. How's your relationship with your mom? Mine's not so great. And if Christians are supposed to be so peaceful, how do you explain the Crusades or the Inquisition, the Salem With Trials or the Iraq War? (The second one, that definitely had strong religious motivation and imagery.)

And here's the interesting thing. Christians believe that everything Jesus says is backed up by the Jewish God. But their messages are very different (hence the need for the whole "oh we don't mean that OLD testament stuff"). Old Testament God is hard-nosed tyrant. "Do as I say or get stoned to death," fits right in with the likes of Stalin, Mao, and Saddam Hussein. There is an entire religion of people who follow the Old Testament god and recognize that Jesus was not like him. They aren't compelled by Christians forcing their prophecies to fit Jesus' story, and they don't find the message of the gospel convincing. The presence of Jews, like atheists, shows that the prophecies aren't obvious, and that Jeremiah 31:31 hasn't happened. Just think about it, Matt. Even supposing everything in the Old Testament really happened, what if Jesus wasn't really his son, and God didn't want you doing the new covenant? What if it was really just for the people of Judah? What if he was just the local god of a tribe of a people who somehow still lives in the minds of men, when thousands of other gods have been born and died in the history of humanity? What if we made him up, like every other god?
However, this does not mean that we are to approve of such sins as homosexuality, adultery, lying, and stealing. We are to not participate in the sins of the world. Instead, we are to avoid them. We are not to be violent to anyone since the old theonomic, covenantal system has been done away with (Heb. 8:13). Instead, we are to be kind to them (2 Tim. 2:24-25) and show them love (1 Cor. 16:14; 2 Cor. 5:14). But the moral condemnation of immorality still stands -- as is clearly taught in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Rom. 1:26-28.
O-kay... So the stuff God called sin in the first part of the book is still sin, and you shouldn't do it, but you no longer have to punish people by execution; instead this god with a major hard-on for genocide, smiting, and the smell of burning flesh tells his people to be nice and kind? And if we're using the Old Testament to support our views on, say, homosexuality, shouldn't it also inform your views on working on the Sabbath? How about your views on how we should respond to instances of rape? (I think our secular, "Lock the bastard up" approach is far better than the "Have him buy the girl from her father" solution. I say this as a woman and rape survivor.) Is the old convenant system done away with or not? If it's done away with, why the prohibition against homosexuality? If it's not done away with, why are you being inconsistent and hypocritical?
So, the reason Christians are not obligated to stone homosexuals, disobedient children, and adulterers, is because we're no longer underneath the Old Testament covenantal system. It has been fulfilled and done away with (Heb. 8:13).
Oh, I get it. The old covenant doesn't apply to Christians anymore. You're free to not brutally kill people, which I'm sure would really upset you and you wouldn't like to do. I don't actually imagine you get your morality from God. You probably get it from the people around you, like the rest of us. And the people around us now generally condemn slavery (as I assume you also do.) So, you're freed of the burden of executing your fellow man, but your fellow man is still bound to the covenant laws on homosexuality. It's "the rules don't apply to me, they do apply to you." Wow. How utterly irresponsible, nonsensical, and prickish.
In order for someone to raise a valid objection against the moral statutes of the Old Testament, he or she must provide a standard by which such judgments can be made. While people may not agree with the moral judgments of the Old Testament, not agreeing does not invalidate them or mean they are wrong; nor does simply saying "they were obviously barbaric rules" mean that they were. Likewise, saying that "society has evolved" is a meaningless statement. By what standard does the critic offer morally objective criteria by which he or she can judge another culture's morals?
Whatever does the most good and the least harm is generally the best choice. That's my morality in a nutshell. I don't claim morality is objective, nor do I claim to have an objective standard. Morality is necessarily picking among the options for the best one available. Since God is supposedly all-powerful, all options would be available to him. Out of an infinite number of possibilities, you believe he designed a system whereby people were killed for minor crimes, and genocide was a way of life. And yet you call him "good".
We have to ask what right does a person in a present-day culture have to judge any ancient culture which existed in a completely different economic, militaristic, judicial, and geographical configuration? Of course, people are entitled to their opinions and they don't have like what the Bible teaches, but not liking it has no bearing on whether or not it is good. So, those critics who insist that the Old Testament laws were wrong need to provide an objective standard (not their own opinions) by which they can make moral judgments.
Ah, but that's the thing, Matt. It's not the culture I'm judging, it's the god. I recognize that imprisoning people would have been infeasible for a nomadic warring tribal culture centuries ago. What I don't get is how you can think that's the best an all-perfect god could come up with. And while I'm sure you'd like it if the only way to analyze God's behavior was by some (nonexistant) objective standard, because you don't believe that an objective standard outside of God exists, and neither do I. Fortunately, that's not the situation we have here. You're the one making a claim, "These laws are good." You need to demonstrate that. You can't. They are barbaric and there's a reason we don't do these things anymore, and we look down on people who do. If you haven't already, go watch the stoning video now, and tell me that I need anything other than that video to judge God's morality on.

Okay Anteaters. I'm going out of town for a weekend with Boyfriend (Little Man will be staying behind - woohoo!) I'll be posting again on Monday. Hope you survive your families and dinners.

EDIT: The awesome Matt Dillahunty (who debated Matt Slick on TAG awhile back) has replied with this

There's only one spot where I think he needs to be hit harder and that is his weak safety net that asserts that in order to object to the OT morality, one must provide some other moral standard and justify it. I reject that he has done anymore than flatly assert a justification for Biblical morality.

Slick: The Bible represents God's morality.
Me: Well, I find that immoral.
Slick: Aha! But you have no moral authority to make such a claim.
Me: I have the same moral authority you do.
Slick: No, I have no moral authority, I just accept God's morality.
Me: And where is your justification for that morality? How can you support your claim that your morality - whether attributed to a god or not - is superior to mine.
Slick: It is, because it's Gods.
Me: I would ask "How do you know?" but since you've demonstrated that you like giving non-answers...I'll just say that I don't accept your assertion and that it is my moral view that slavery is immoral - and that anyone who ever said otherwise was wrong. Let's put our moral principles up before society and see which one is more compelling.
Slick: Yes, but that's because we're flawed humans who love to sin, our moral compasses are corrupt!
Me: I reject your assertion, but I will say that I'd rather have a broken moral compass that rejects slavery than to blindly accept the edict of a book or being that promotes slavery.

But...that's just me. ;)

-Matt Dillahunty

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