Friday, September 05, 2014

Thai commercials--What's up with that?

So as not to waste the research I just engaged in to find all of these Thai commercials, I'm going to put them in a post.

There is this one about getting your nose out of your electronic devices. It's a commercial put out by DTAC, the largest mobile phone company in Thailand. (No, the irony is not lost on me, but it's still an extremely well-done spot with a good message.)

This one, with the message "Giving is the best communication," appears to be from a different mobile phone company. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) It squeezes an entire heart-warming story into three minutes.

This beautiful ad, from a lingerie company, of all things, manages to fit in not only a great story but also a surprise ending, though it takes seven minutes.

And I'm actually going to embed the one I just saw today, for a life insurance company:



It looks like the (presumably) Buddhist Thais understand something that a few Western Christians don't get about keeping your promises to your disabled spouse.

I've known some people who have spent quite a bit of time as missionaries to Thailand, and from everything they have said I have concluded that Thai culture is not in general heartwarming. Child prostitution (to mention just one thing) is so huge and so blatant in the big cities in Thailand that some Western countries have passed laws penalizing men who travel abroad (with Thailand as one destination) to engage in pedophilia. My missionary friends have repeatedly referred to the country, which they love, as "dark." They say this while acknowledging the darkness in America.

So what gives with the sentimental but also profound Thai commercials? These are commercials, too, that you have to pay attention to. They're brief but they aren't soundbites. In the story ones, the story unfolds gradually, and you're supposed to be following it, not just spacing out between football plays. They have visual subtlety, which is part of their charm. The messages are important, not merely gratifying. In fact, they could be seen as convicting to some segments of their audience. The one that shows all the people disappearing because of an over-focus on electronic devices is a tacit criticism of a large swathe of the population. The lingerie commercial criticizes a false notion of female beauty. And as for the Alzheimer's one--what can I say? Nor are they all from a single company, so the appeal of this type of commercial must be fairly widespread.

I really have no brilliant conclusion to draw here except to note the phenomenon. Whatever effect these commercials have in Thailand, we in the West would do well to learn from them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Blown about by every wind

[H]e that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:6)
Those few of you lucky enough not to have gotten sucked into the Facebook Borg may not know about the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which one is "called out" by friends.  One is then expected (unless one wisely just blows it off) to drop everything and either donate $100 to research on Lou Gehrig's Disease within the next 24 hours or, within those same 24 hours, to make and post a video of oneself getting doused with ice water. Some people do both.

It's a clever gimmick and I gather has garnered a lot of money for research on this particular disease. It has also sparked a lot of interesting talk about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, since the major organization to benefit from the viral gimmick (the ALS Foundation) has apparently engaged in ESCR in the past and is still using at least one cell line created thereby. So some people have hustled around and found ethical alternative organizations which also do research on this particular disease.

Which is okay as far as it goes but to all of which I want to say:

Stop. Just stop and think a minute. What are you doing? Why are you suddenly getting all interested in just this disease at just this moment? Presumably it's for the entirely arbitrary reason that it's what everybody else is doing at this moment and that someone tagged you in his video and "challenged" you to join in. It's a gigantic fad, a chain letter with a charity tie-in. Are we all so immature that we run our lives this way? Do we all interrupt whatever else we are doing and jump and run to do something, as long as we can find an ethical way to do it, because it's In just now? Have we all turned back into junior highers? Are we incapable of recognizing the unproductive yen to join in with the cool kids and not to look bad just because it happens to be connected to a benevolent cause?

I am not saying that it is morally wrong to donate to research on this disease.  I certainly applaud people's desire to take the trouble to make sure that their money goes to ethical research. But I am speaking out against a spastic culture, a social media culture, that lives by the Facebook challenge, that leaps about jerkily from one thing to another, driven and dragged by pings and tags. National Breast Cancer Awareness Day, National Black History month, National Dog Day, the Ice Bucket Challenge, the disease of the week, the cause of the moment. It should not need saying but apparently does need saying:

An irresistible urge to follow every ephemeral fad is not the mark of a life well-lived.

This also applies when the ephemeral fad happens to be benevolent in intent.

Get a life and live that life. Donate to charitable causes in a calm hour, with a cool head, because those causes are genuinely important to you, and incorporate that giving into your normal life. Don't do it randomly and arbitrarily because someone called you out in a video. Spend your time doing things that you already knew were important. Craft your life. Make your life. Live your life prayerfully and intentionally. Don't let fads make your life for you. If someone sends you the Ice Bucket Challenge and you aren't too busy to drop everything and make a video of yourself getting doused with ice water, you probably aren't busy enough doing more important things. Either that, or you have Internet-induced ADHD. Maybe both.

I'm sorry that this sounds so harsh, but it concerns me that media is making us into people who don't know how to do even good things unless someone tells us what to do, people who don't seem to have our lives in our hands, who don't know who we are. Move forward with your own life, fill it with good things, with well-chosen and well-considered activities.

C.S. Lewis once said (I paraphrase) that he did not feel obligated to read a book simply because the author happened to be alive at the same time that he was alive. The principle is more timely than ever in 2014. If you blog, you don't have to be writing about a topic just because it's what everybody else is writing about this week. You don't have to read a book just because everyone is talking about it and you don't want to be left out. And, yes, that has a ministry hook, too: "I have to read this extremely popular book or watch the latest movie hit so that I can minister to people who have read it or watched it." It ain't necessarily so. And if you give, you don't have to give to the cause that went viral on Facebook this week.

Be, even a little, self-consciously behind the times, because being always in touch with the times probably means that you have been wasting your time just keeping up.

Friday, August 22, 2014

No magic bullet--Copan's insufficient answer to the slaughter of the Canaanites

Let me say up front that there is not going to be a happy ending to this blog post. I am not going to disagree with someone else's argument merely as a prelude to displaying a solution of my own. I have no solution to the slaughter of the Canaanites. It's that simple. I don't know. As far as I can tell, the text of Old Testament Scripture indicates that God ordered the Israelites to kill children down to and including infants, and this is a problem. (Women as well, but at least one can conjecture that maybe all of the people from the age of reason on up had committed crimes worthy of death. Not the babies, though.) Prima facie, this is in direct conflict with the commandment to do no murder. Any attempt to answer the problem by saying that original sin means that no one is really innocent proves far too much, for it removes the rationale for regarding the killing of infants generally as murder.

There is no particular textual reason to take the problem passages to have been added later. It helps a little bit if one is not a strict inerrantist. But even then, what one is left with, at most, is something like, "Maybe God didn't really order that, but my only reason for thinking that is that, as far as I can tell, it is completely incompatible with divine goodness. I'll hope to have this clarified when I get to heaven." One piece of good news, as far as it goes, is that there is nothing about the slaughter of the Canaanite children that is theologically necessary to the truth of Christianity. Unlike, say, the historical existence of Adam, the killing of Canaanite children is not woven into the warp and woof of Christian theology, doctrine, or ethics. Very much to the contrary.

Lest anyone try to combine this problem with God's destroying Sodom and Gomorrah or with the tenth plague, I want to block that at the outset. God is the author of life and death. God gives life and can always licitly take life. God can take a child to Himself and into life everlasting. God knows exactly what is best for every human being and can bring that about by taking a human being's life. The category of murder applies only to the action of finite creatures. Murder is wrong, even in cases such as euthanasia, precisely because it involves playing God, taking on the power of life and death. But it would be downright silly to call God's taking a suffering patient to heaven "euthanasia." The problem is that this answer cannot be applied to the slaughter of the Canaanites, because God is not just striking the Canaanites dead. The Israelites themselves are being ordered to put them to the sword--to hack infants and children to death. To my mind, the difference should be obvious, but I might as well state it up front so that things are made neither easier nor harder than they should be. On the one hand, Christians shouldn't make their job easier by reasoning that, since God's killing people directly seems obviously not to be a problem, this isn't either. On the other hand, skeptics shouldn't be able to overwhelm the Christian with a much larger list of allegedly problem texts in which God kills people or bamboozle Christians into treating God Himself as just a Big Man In the Sky who cannot morally take life, even by His own hand, without due process.

With all of that made clear, onward to the main subject of this post.

Paul Copan's approach to the issue of the slaughters, as represented in Is God a Moral Monster, is quite popular right now. The impression that I think many people are getting is that Copan has come up with a way to use specialized linguistic and/or archeological knowledge to make the problem simply vanish away by showing that the Bible doesn't really say that God ordered the killing of children. Such a magic bullet would of course come as a great relief to Christians, who are constantly getting hit with the "What about the Canaanites?" question. But for that very reason, I think that Copan's proposed solution requires careful examination to discover if it can really deliver such a marvelous outcome, or indeed if Copan himself even claims that it does. (As we shall see below, he actually doesn't claim that his approach takes care of all the problem passages.)

To begin with, in discussing this question, it's important to bear in mind just how bad the most problematic passages are. In my evaluation of Copan's answer, I will be coming back to the details of the worst passages, so let's get them before our minds before we try to discuss whether Copan has made the problems disappear. To my mind, the three absolutely worst passages are Deuteronomy 20:10-18, Numbers 31:12-18, and I Samuel 15:1-3. Slightly less bad, because descriptive (but it fits perfectly with the prescriptive passages) is Joshua 6:21. Compare also Deut. 2:34 and 3:6.

Deuteronomy 20. The passage is rather long, so I won't quote every word. This passage is directly ascribed to God, through Moses. It is part of the second giving of the Law to the Israelites. First, it tells what they are to do with cities that "are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations" (vs. 15). There, they are to leave alive the non-combatants and cattle:
[W]hen the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies. (vss. 13-14)
This policy is explicitly contrasted with their treatment of the cities in the promised land itself:

But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, and Canaanites,...as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods. (vss. 16-18)
The passage could not be clearer. In geographical regions farther from the Promised Land, noncombatants and cattle (both of which are indisputably spoken of as real, not as metaphorical) may be saved and taken as spoil. In the land itself, they are to be destroyed lest contact with the people of the land lead the Israelites astray religiously. The contrast is what makes the passage so impossible to get around. The Bible is here portraying God, through Moses, as expressly envisaging the existence of women and children in the cities, expressly telling them to spare their lives (as spoil) in one geographical location, and expressly ordering that the cities within the entire Promised Land, including whole people groups, be treated differently--namely, by killing every living thing. And that difference explicitly concerns the women, little ones, and cattle, which were singled out to be spared in the farther-away cities.

The next passage that gets my nomination for "extremely bad" is in Numbers 31.

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle...And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest,...And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, and Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord...and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Num. 31:-18)

Here Moses, purporting to speak for the Lord (and there is no reason in the text to think that he is not speaking for the Lord) expressly orders the killing of real infant boys, not to mention all non-virgin women.

We also find express descriptive statements by Moses in Deuteronomy as well as in the book of Joshua that the children of Israel did kill "the women, and the little ones..." (Deut. 2:34), "men, women, and children" (Deut. 3:6), "man and woman, young and old" (Joshua 6:21). An interesting note here, relevant to the "idiom" or "hyperbole" suggestion I will discuss below, is that in the next verses of the early Deuteronomy passages Moses says that they took the cattle as spoil, whereas in Joshua 6 it states that they also killed "ox, sheep, and ass with the edge of the sword." This shows that the animals in these passages are literal; sometimes they are taken as spoil and sometimes killed. (Which fits with the prescription put in the mouth of God in Deuteronomy 20.) This is evidence against taking the women and children to be merely metaphoric or hyperbolic.

An odd point to note in passing is that, in discussing Copan's and Hess's approach (which he does not find convincing in the end), William Lane Craig makes the extremely surprising statement that "It is, in fact, a striking feature of these narratives that there is no record whatsoever that women or children were actually killed by anyone." Since Craig does not specify any narrow set of passages, he appears to be speaking generally of the narratives of the conquest of the Promised Land. There are actually several places where there is definitely a record that women and/or children were killed. It is difficult to understand how Craig could make such a statement.

In a later period of Israel's history we find the third impossible-to-ignore prescriptive passage. In I Samuel 15:2-3, the prophet Samuel, apparently speaking for the Lord, tells King Saul,
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel...Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
Again, the cattle are undeniably real, as is the order to slay them all, for Saul is punished by God for taking some of the cattle back as spoil rather than killing them (I Samuel 15:19-23). God takes away the kingdom from Saul because of this disobedience. And, of course, the words "infant and suckling" are prima facie explicit.

Copan suggests, in the face of these texts, that virtually all of the references to killing children can be explained away as using "stereotypical" or "hyperbolic" expressions that merely refer to "everyone" who happens to be in a particular city or fort, not necessarily real women or children. He also suggests that the places where the Israelites are said to have wiped everyone out were actually military forts and that no non-combatants were actually killed. He further points out that populations of the Canaanites and others were still around after the supposed destruction, so therefore the Israelites did not literally kill everyone; hence, the references to total destruction must be hyperbolic. He manages to suggest that, because of this absence or failure of literal genocide, we should not take literally some passages that imply that the Israelites killed Canaanite infants and children by the command of God.

Copan does not even attempt to explain away Numbers 31 as hyperbole or metaphor. It is simply too explicit a command to kill children. I want to emphasize this, because anyone who thinks that Copan has taken care of everything by way of specialized knowledge should know that even he does not claim that he has done so. In fact, Copan goes so far as to justify Moses' order to kill the Midianite infant boys in Numbers 31 on the grounds that they would have formed a future army against Israel.

As with Israel’s lifelong enemies, the Amalekites (cf. Deut. 25:17–19), the Midianites also posed a serious threat to Israel. Whereas Amalek endangered Israel’s very existence, Midian profoundly threatened Israel’s spiritual and moral integrity as the people of God. With the help of the devious pagan prophet Balaam, the Midianites devised a plan to lead Israel into pagan worship. This involved ritual sex, feasting before their Baal, and bowing and sacrificing to him (Num. 25:1–2; 31:16). When he couldn’t bring a curse down on Israel (Num. 22–24), he sought another way.
This is why Moses gives the command, “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Num. 31:17–18 NIV). This command must be understood in the context of Numbers 25. At Peor, the Midianite women deliberately seduced the Israelite men into orgiastic adultery as well as Baal worship.
The death sentence for all males is unusual. However, males were the potential enemy army to rise up against Israel.
What Copan does not seem to realize is that the indisputable reality of the women and children in this passage calls deeply into question the entire idea that the Israelites were attacking only forts and encountering only combatants as they moved forward. To be sure, this encounter with the Midianites occurred before they actually entered the Promised Land (since Moses himself did not enter the Promised Land), but the entire picture hangs together extremely well--a picture of conquest that includes real women and children and conquerors who believe themselves entirely justified in killing non-combatants and, indeed, required to do so by religious command.

Where does Copan get the claim that the death sentence for all the infant males in Numbers 31 is unusual? We have seen several passages that appear to indicate that all children, male and female, were targeted at various points in the conquest of the land. Perhaps Copan means that this passage is "unusual" in being so utterly specific and explicit and in dealing so clearly with real, undeniable infants that he cannot explain it away as hyperbole. Or perhaps he means (comfortless thought) that it is unusual in targeting male infants, specifically. Either way, he is apparently quite ready to justify the killing of infant boys as a matter of military expediency when he cannot get around it some other way. This shows, if nothing else does, that Christians have a difficulty here for which no simple remedy exists, not even a scholarly remedy.

Bearing in mind, then, Copan's capitulation to the unavoidable interpretation in Numbers 31, here are some typical passages from Copan regarding other texts:

When reading the text of 1 Samuel 15:3, we are led to believe that Israel targeted and obliterated Amalekite noncombatants. However, Old Testament scholar Richard Hess argues that we do not actually have indications that this was so — whether toward the Amalekites or the Canaanites. Deuteronomy 2:34 states that “we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor” (NASB). Again, in the next chapter, we read that Israel “utterly destroyed … the men, women and children of every city” (3:6, NASB).

The sweeping words like “all,” “young and old,” and “man and woman,” however, are stock expressions for totality — even if women and children were not present. The expression “men and women” or similar phrases appear to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, “without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders."
[snip]
This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).8 The word “city [‘ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants.”9 The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites.
[snip]
Remember Moses’ sweeping commands to “consume” and “utterly destroy” the Canaanites, not to “leave alive anything that breathes”? Joshua’s comprehensive language echoes that of Moses. Scripture clearly indicates that Joshua fulfilled Moses’ charge to him. So if Joshua did just as Moses commanded, and if Joshua’s described destruction was really massive hyperbole common in ancient Near East warfare language and familiar to Moses,then clearly Moses himself did not intend a literal, comprehensive Canaanite destruction.

[snip]

Any conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume. Consider Joshua 10:40: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded” (NASB). At first glance, it appears that Joshua captured all the land, defeated all the kings, and destroyed all the Canaanites (cf. 10:40–42; 11:16–20). Total obliteration? Not quite. Joshua used typical ancient Near East rhetorical language that exaggerates what actually took place.

Joshua was not trying to deceive people; the ancient audience would have readily understood what was going on. In fact, if we read the text closely, we see this is exactly right. Joshua later refers to nations that “remain among you,” and he warns Israel not to mention, swear by, serve, or bow down to their gods (Joshua 23:7,12,13; cp. 15:63; 16:10; 17:13; Judges 2:10–13).
[snip]
We read in Joshua (and Judges) that, despite the “obliteration” language, there were plenty of Canaanite inhabitants who Israel did not “drive out”; rather, they lived in the areas where Israel had settled.

Most of Copan's arguments here are heavily dependent upon Old Testament scholar Richard Hess. It is therefore necessary, in order to evaluate Copan's arguments, to evaluate both Copan's representation of Hess and Hess's own arguments. Before I turn to that analysis, let me dispose of the argument that runs, approximately, "There were still lots of Canaanites around after this, so the references to killing everybody, including noncombatants, are hyperbolic and needn't concern us."

The problem with the slaughter of the Canaanites is not chiefly a problem of body count. In other words, this is not about the quantity of Canaanites killed but about the quality of Canaanites killed. If 100% of all Canaanite soldiers were killed in obedience to God but not a single infant, young child, or woman was killed in obedience to a real command from God, and if we could know that, we would have no problem. For that matter, we'd have far less of a problem if only adults were killed in obedience to God, or at least only those of an age to be morally responsible, including (non-pregnant) women, for then all the historical information we can gather about the depravity of Canaanite culture would become directly relevant. But the hyperbole response by itself, bolstered by later Biblical reference to the continued presence of Canaanite populations, simply tells us nothing at all about whether God really ordered the Israelites to target children and/or women. It is not as though the later Canaanite populations were composed of adults who had been carefully taken up and raised by the Israelites as babies and who later turned against them! The idea that this language is hyperbolic and that total destruction didn't really occur applies, as far as it goes, equally to combatants and non-combatants, to adults and children, and to men and women. It is orthogonal to the really important concerns about these passages. Even if the statement that everyone was destroyed is hyperbole in the sense that a substantial number of inhabitants of unspecified ages and genders survived (perhaps by running away or being driven out of the land), there are nonetheless passages that appear to indicate that God commanded that women and children, inter alia, be killed. There are also passages that seem to indicate that the Israelites took that command in that way and attempted to carry it out. The "hyperbole" response, based on later Canaanite presence, is a simple evasion of this point.

Now, to turn to Hess: First of all, a problem arises in that, with a combination of summaries and footnotes, Copan implies that Hess makes and defends stronger statements than Hess actually defends. For example, Copan says that the cities the Israelites destroyed (such as Jericho) "turn out to be" military forts or garrisons. Here is Hess's argument. The reader can see for himself that, on the contrary, Hess's argument is for conclusions such as "could have been," "may have been," and the like. Hess merely shows that Jericho, for example, could have been a military fort. (Nor is his argument for that conclusion very strong, but I will resist the temptation to a digression.) Similarly with the word 'ir. Hess does not argue that the word did mean a military garrison rather than a city with civilian inhabitants, but merely that a military garrison is one of its possible meanings. So with the "military king" Copan refers to. Hess spends pages arguing merely that a military commander is one possible meaning of the word used for the king of Jericho. But the more ordinary meanings of "city" and "king" are also possible! So the statement that it "turns out" that Israel is said to have utterly destroyed only military forts is far too strong even as a representation of what Hess is arguing.

In essence, what Hess is doing throughout is arguing that, if you are determined to conclude that the Israelites didn't kill any civilians by the command of God in Jericho and Ai, you aren't pressed to that conclusion by the text. Even on that point, Hess's argument is weak to the point of being bizarre. At one point he argues from silence that, since no non-combatants other than Rahab and her family are named as living in the city of Jericho, they may have been the only ones! (pp. 38-39) Faced with the uncomfortable fact that Rahab and her family are, after all, there in the story, Hess turns to the ad hoc hypothesis that they are the exception that proves the rule: "Rahab, as an innkeeper, may have been an exceptional non-combatant who, with her family, lived in what was otherwise a militarized camp." (p. 39)

Then we come to the statement in Joshua 6:21 that they destroyed "man and woman, young and old," which seems on the face of it to refute, by express statement, Hess's entire thesis that Jericho may have been a military fort at which no civilians were killed. Hess's treatment of this bit of the text is worth taking time over, because Copan gets such a wholesale return of conjecture out of Hess's argument. From what Hess does on this point, Copan concludes that time after time in the Old Testament (except for Numbers 31), when it says that the Israelites killed men, women, and children, believing themselves to be fulfilling God's command, or when the text says that God actually commanded this, such language is Ancient Near Eastern literary convention that could easily refer to killing only male warriors. Copan even goes so far as to apply this type of literary dismissal to the destruction of the Amalekites in I Samuel 15 where "infants and sucklings" are listed by Samuel.

Prima facie, this is implausible, and there is surely a pretty stiff burden of proof for anyone who wants to argue this. Moreover, as I shall point out later, even if there were evidence that such an expression was sometimes used when there were no women or children present, it would scarcely follow that this is how the phrase is being used in the relevant Biblical passages. In fact, there is clear evidence to the contrary regarding those particular passages.

In fact, though, Hess gives the reader almost nothing in the way of an argument that a statement that women and children were killed was ever used when no women and children were killed. Here is what Hess says, in full (pp. 38-39):

There is...an important verse, 6:21, that states:
     They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword            every living thing in it–men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep      and donkeys.
This text appears to include women, children, and the aged in this mass destruction. However, is this really the case? The actual expression is translated "men and women," literally, "from man (and) unto woman." The phrase occurs elsewhere seven times, referring to the inhabitants of Ai (Josh 8:25), Amalek (I Sam 15:3, here without the waw), Nob (I Sam 22:19), Jerusalem during David's time (2 Sam 6:19 = I Chr 16:3), Jerusalem during Ezra's time (Neh 8:2), and Israel (2 Chr 15:13). In 2 Sam 6:19 (= I Chr 16:3) it describes the joyful occasion of David's entrance into Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant and his distributing food to all the onlookers. Except for Saul's extermination of the inhabitants of Nob in I Sam 22:19, where children are specifically mentioned (unlike the texts about Jericho, Ai, and elsewhere), all other appearances of the phrase precede or follow the Hebrew kol "all, everyone." Thus, the phrase appears to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders. It is synonymous with "all, everyone."
It would be easy to get lost in the welter of details and Hebrew words here, but this is actually an extremely poor argument, particularly for the use Copan wishes to make of it. It is important to note that, when Hess refers to "the phrase," he is not talking about the entire phrase "men and women, young and old" but only about the portion "men and women." The majority of his examples do not include any reference to age and thus aren't even directly relevant to the entire phrase he wants to explain away in Joshua. On the other hand, Hess errs when he says that only in the case of Saul's destruction of Nob are children expressly mentioned (as if to imply that there are no other places where sweeping phrases about killing children create a problem to address), since the very text he is discussing mentions "young and old" and since children are expressly named in I Samuel 15, where it appears that God is commanding their destruction.

Importantly, this argument does not contain a single case where the phrase "men and women" is used and where we have independent evidence that women were not present! Not one. For example, in I Samuel 6:19 it says that David distributed food to everyone, both men and women. Do we have any reason to believe that David did not distribute food to women on that occasion? No reason whatsoever. Nor does Hess give a single instance where "children" or "young" are mentioned and where we have independent evidence that children were not present. Let that sink in for a moment. This is supposed to be a biggie--a scholarly argument from ancient textual literary convention that a sweeping expression like, "Kill all men, women, and children" or "we killed all men and women, young and old, infants and sucklings" could be used merely to mean something like, "Fight hard" or "We really wiped out that army." And Hess does not give a single example of a case where such a phrase is being used in that way! Not one.

How, then, does Hess get to the "thus" in his conclusion? What, exactly, does his argument even amount to? The entire force of his case as given here apparently rests on what one might call the sing-song nature of binary pairs such as "men and women" and "old and young," together with the fact that the phrase "men and women" is usually combined with some Hebrew expression like "all" or "everyone." Hess is probably thinking of (though he does not mention) the fact that Hebrew, like English, does have idioms that are merely emphatic ways of saying "all" or "everything." For example, I am told that the Hebrew translated as "neither good nor evil" is an idiom for "nothing." A near English equivalent to what Hess wants us to envisage would be the phrase "everything from A to Z," where "from A to Z" is merely a way of emphasizing "everything." From these slight indications Hess concludes that all of this sounds conventional, sounds like it is just an idiomatic way of saying "everyone," and from that derives the quite strong conclusion that the reader wouldn't have been disposed to think anything whatsoever about the ages or genders of the people present from a phrase like "men and women, old and young."

So Hess's argument for the "possible literary convention" conclusion regarding such phrases is exceedingly weak. But more can be said: Suppose that Hess had provided some examples where some Ancient Near Eastern text says that all men, women, and children were killed and where there is independent evidence that only men were present. It would have to be fairly strong evidence, not just something vague like, "Well, it looks like this was a military fort, so maybe there were no women or children there." But just suppose. While that would be somewhat interesting as showing that such an expression could be used in that way, how much would that help with the problem passages?

Not much. The problem passages are just too clear. Even aside from Numbers 31 (where Copan himself gives up and callously suggests that killing baby boys is okay because they are a future army), Deuteronomy 20 gives us, as already pointed out, an express contrast between cities where real women, children, and cattle are expected to be present and can be taken as spoil and cities where they are not to be taken as spoil but where, instead, everything is to be killed. This passage cannot be fit into the "idiomatic expression" concept at all. Where women, little ones, and cattle are listed, they are separated out rather than being part of some sweeping reference to "all" or "everything." And where "everything that breathes" is ordered for destruction in the cities of the Promised Land itself, the only possible thing it can refer to, by way of contrast, is those very women, little ones, and cattle who are, in those cities, not potential spoil or prisoners but must be killed instead. What could such a contrast even mean if killing everything that breathes is merely a reference to fighting really hard or killing a lot of soldiers? That the Israelites are to fight less strongly against the armies farther away from the Promised Land than in the Promised Land? That they are to destroy only some of the male combatants far away but all of them within the land? Any attempt to make such conjectures constitutes a reductio of the application of the "ancient near eastern literary convention" idea to Deuteronomy 20.

Moreover, in Deuteronomy 20 the prescription is for an entire geographical area and for entire people groups. God does not tell the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20 merely to go to such-and-such a named city (which might be a fort, for all we know) and kill everything that breathes in that location. That would be simple enough to dismiss, because who knows whether any non-combatants were breathing in that particular location? But the command isn't like that at all. Whatever one may say about Jericho, surely in the entirety of the land of Canaan there were some women and children! Surely among all the Hittites, Amorites, and Canaanites some non-combatants were to be found. And what about that rationale--that they should not teach the Israelites to do according to their abominations? Is the idea that the soldiers, if left alive, would be teaching the Israelites false religion? No, that seems to be an allusion to the women and to intermarriage with the civilian population.

Similarly with the Amalekites in I Samuel 15. Saul is not sent against some named and possibly entirely military location. He is sent to wipe out a group qua group. It seems reasonable to think that that is why infants, sucklings, women, and cattle are named--to emphasize the destruction of all that pertains to the tribe. One can even go farther: Suppose that Hess had succeeded (as he certainly has not) in arguing that such pairs as "man and woman, infant and suckling," etc., were the literary equivalent of the English "from A to Z." If one said, "Go and kill everyone in that tribe, from A to Z," that would be an extremely bloodthirsty order on its face. To say that these are emphatic ways of saying "everyone" gets one in trouble all on its own when "everyone" refers to an entire tribal group!

And, as I have already pointed out, the animals in these passages are shown to be entirely literal, even when they are listed in pairs ("ox and sheep, camel and ass") and even when they are part of a larger list of types of entities. The literary form does not, it turns out, mean that the animals are merely hypothetical bookends in an idiomatic expression that "would not have predisposed the reader to assume" that there were any real animals present! If the cattle and their destruction are real, why are the women and children not real?

The entire "literary convention" idea simply falls to pieces when one makes the attempt to apply it to the details of the worst of the problem passages.

So after looking into Copan's argument, we are left with the unfortunate conclusion that he has not made the problem go away after all. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to draw this conclusion. In fact, I have hesitated for some time to say anything about the matter, because I have no desire to weaken anyone's Christianity nor to dismiss publicly an argument that I do not understand. But when the scholarly argument simply will not give what many hope for from it, and when this can be discovered fairly directly by a careful investigation of the relevant texts, it is quite certain that some atheist will do that investigation and will be ready to mop the floor with a Christian apologist (or a Christian student) who tries to use Copan's argument as a magic bullet. After gradually realizing the influence that this attempted response is coming to have, I decided that I needed to write something public on the topic. It is tempting, if one does not have the relevant problem texts clearly before one's mind, to think that perhaps there is some esoteric information out there that fixes everything. I am sorry to have to say it, but that does not at all appear to be the case.

Finally, let me emphasize an important point where I agree with Paul Copan. He says,

Despite our remaining questions, we need to look at God’s clear revelation in Jesus Christ — especially His incarnation and atoning death. A concerned, relational God — who made himself known to ancient Israel — showed up on the scene in flesh and blood. He entered into first-century life in Palestine, stooping to share our lot to enduring life’s temptations, injustices, sufferings, cruelties, and humiliations. However we view the Canaanite question, God’s heart is concerned with redemption. Christ’s dying naked on a barbaric cross reveals how very low God is willing to go for our salvation. As Michael Card sang about those who scorned and spurned God’s salvation in Jesus of Nazareth:

They mocked His true calling
And laughed at His fate,
So glad to see the Gentle One
Consumed by their hate—
Unaware of the wind and the darkening sky,
So blind to the fact that it was God limping by.
Since God was willing to go through all of this for our salvation, the Christian can reply to the critic, “While I cannot tidily solve the problem of the Canaanites, I can trust a God who has proven His willingness to go to such excruciating lengths — and depths — to offer rebellious humans reconciliation and friendship.”

However we interpret and respond to some of the baffling questions raised by the Old Testament, we should not stop with the Old Testament if we want a clearer revelation of the heart and character of God. In fact, the New Testament clearly reveals a God who redeems His enemies through Christ’s substitutionary, self-sacrificial, shame-bearing act of love (Romans 5:10). Though a Canaanite-punishing God strikes us as incompatible with graciousness and compassion, God is also light (1 John 1:5) — a God who is both good and severe (Romans 11:22). Yet this righteous God loves His enemies, not simply His friends (Matthew 5:43–48). Indeed, He allows himself to be crucified by His enemies in hopes of redeeming them: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NASB).

Philosophers of science are well aware that a theory does not need to have answers to all anomalies in order to be well-supported and rationally accepted. We have ample, to my mind overwhelming, evidence, quite independent of our response to the question of the Canaanite slaughters, that God exists, that He is loving and all-good, that His goal is to redeem mankind, and that Jesus is God the Son who reveals the loving Father to us. That means that we can handle points where we do not know the answer while still retaining a robust confidence in the truth of Christianity. It is a brittle and irrational approach that says, "You must have an answer to everything or else your faith is vain and not founded on fact." Being an evidentialist, as I am, does not at all mean having to have all answers to all questions. On the contrary, it means viewing the totality of the evidence one has and trying, to the best of one's ability, to come to an intelligent and judicious conclusion. I believe that any fair-minded inquirer who investigates the evidence for Christianity will come to believe it to be true. This means believing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God and is a necessarily good and perfect God, worthy of all worship.

Someday, in heaven, I hope to know the answer to these problem passages. If I don't, it will be because I don't need to know. Meanwhile, we endure as seeing Him who is invisible, knowing that He loves us better than we can properly love ourselves and knowing, too, that He loves every Canaanite child far better than we, with our questioning minds on the child's behalf, could have loved him.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The parable, the prodigal, and the pagan

Our gospel reading at church this morning was the parable of the Prodigal Son. I was meditating on the fact that Jesus is almost certainly representing the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles and the salvation of the Gentiles in this parable, and the following thoughts occurred to me:

This parable should be reassuring, though not answering many specific questions, concerning God's attitude toward pagans who have never explicitly heard of Him. First, the prodigal son in the parable is considered morally culpable for his wrong acts. When the father, who represents God the Father, says, "This my son was dead and is alive again," there is no question about the spiritual overtones of "dead." And if this applies to the Gentiles generally, then inter alia it applies to those Gentiles who have never heard of Jesus Christ. They, too, are responsible for their sins. They don't just do them because they don't know any better. There is some sense in which the prodigal son knows that what he's doing is wrong. His "riotous living" is a form of rebellion.

The Gentiles didn't have the Law of Moses. But that didn't mean that the Gentiles were invincibly ignorant of the wrongness of "riotous living." Similarly, if a man is part of a tribe that commits murder and cannibalism, the mere fact that he has not been told the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not make him non-culpable for committing murder and cannibalism.

This should be comforting, in a sense, because it should remove a kind of cultural relativism that haunts the edges of our thinking about pagans who have never heard. Everyone commits sins, and they really are sins, even if one hasn't heard of Jesus. No, they aren't all on the level of murder and cannibalism, but even those who don't explicitly know God do some things that are wrong and are, in that sense, in rebellion against God. Hence, if they are punished for their sins, God isn't just arbitrarily punishing people who didn't know any better.

But there's much clearer good news in the parable. The father (who is the Father) reacts with overwhelming joy over the repentance and return of the prodigal. And he chides the jealous older brother who begrudges the feast. Surely this must say something positive, even if we don't know all the details, about God's love for those who have never heard or who have scarcely heard. God desires that they would return. God does not want them to continue to be dead in trespasses and sins. There will be rejoicing in heaven over one who repents.

One cannot imagine the Father portrayed by this parable as playing a gotcha game in which he sends a repentant prodigal off into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Father in this parable is just waiting for the opportunity to welcome the wanderer home.

It's true that we don't in this parable see the Father going and searching for the lost one. The search is portrayed in the parable of the lost sheep. But after reading both of those parables I defy anyone to portray as biblical the picture of a Father who sits back and says, "Too bad, so sad. You're under my wrath because of original sin, and I had no responsibility to send you the gospel, so you're going to hell. Don't complain to me, man, complain to Adam."

I don't know the answer to the concrete question: What does happen to the virtuous (at least somewhat virtuous) pagan? Does God send more light in this world--a missionary, a dream, a book--if the person embraces the light as far as he has it and attempts to follow the Good? Does God give a blinding self-revelation and a moment of choice, a cross-roads, at the moment of death, to one who has not previously heard of the true God? I don't know. Nor do these musings on the prodigal son answer those questions.

What I think these musings do tell us is that, since the prodigal son represents the Gentiles, we can learn something there about God's attitude (for want of a better word) toward even the most far-removed, sinful, and clueless Gentiles. From there on, we should become the instrument of that love and forgiveness--God's hands and voice, bringing the Good News.

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace. (Romans 10:15)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Matt Walsh Rocks II: Suicide is always a bad thing, and so is sloppy sentimentalism.

While I'm on a Matt Walsh kick...

(Digression: Yes, I do sometimes use the work of more brilliant and prolific bloggers to make up for my own lack of creativity. I've done it before with John C. Wright. Digression on the digression: Wright should take notes from Walsh. In some ways they have similar styles, and they are alike in their immunity to public hysteria over their politically incorrect views, but Walsh is the more disciplined writer. He writes posts that are more like essays and less like free-association fantasias.)

Walsh wrote two posts about the recent tragic death of R.W. (initials used so as not to bring upon myself the venom of the entire Internet). Walsh's posts on this subject seem to me moderate, sensitive, wise, and rightly concerned about the romanticizing of suicide that is prevalent in our culture and that comes out, inter alia, in people's gooey ways of talking when someone talented and famous kills himself. But Walsh committed the unforgivable sin of interrupting Americans in their orgy of sentimental narcissism, and that called down upon him all the vileness that one has learned to expect in the Internet age.

So, while I don't have Walsh's bravery and hence have used the initials of the star in question, let me say right here to my small group of readers that Walsh makes excellent and important points. Suicide is never "freeing." We should never speak of a person who has committed suicide as if we know that he is now happy and free. Think what this says to suicidal people: "If you kill yourself, all of your problems will be over. You will be in the arms of the angels. You will be free of this world and all its troubles. Moreover, just maybe, people will worship you and romanticize you and go on and on about you as they just did over him. Go ahead, try it."

If you've ever seen the slightly creepy scene in Oklahoma where Curly tries to get Judd Fry (the villain) to commit suicide, telling him that then everyone will love him, you may recognize the pattern. Only Curly does it because he hates and fears Judd. These people are doing it because...well, partly because they aren't thinking, partly because they think what they are saying is kind and loving, and partly because they want to make themselves feel better when they are sad over someone's death. Also because some of them, at least, don't really believe that suicide is all that bad. They don't intend to motivate anyone to kill himself, but they could hardly choose a better way to do so if they tried.

Walsh also makes the correct point that phrases like "depression kills" and the like communicate to a depressed person that he is helpless and bereft of free will, that he is simply driven by his dark feelings. Telling a depressed person that will plausibly make him more likely to try to harm himself. So, too, do all the attempts to be compassionate that take the form of saying outright that depressed people are completely without responsibility for what they do. Again, when you tell a man that he can't help killing himself, that his disease of depression has completely taken him over, you are encouraging him to give up.

Now, it's true (and perhaps Walsh could have spent a couple of sentences acknowledging this) that a condition such as depression mitigates the sinfulness of acts committed by the depressed person and diminishes personal responsibility. But it is no true compassion simply to take away from the depressed person any concept of his own responsibility. Indeed, telling a depressed person that he has a responsibility to stay alive for the sake of someone else can be one useful tactic to prevent suicide. But if a depressed person has no choice in the matter, why bother?

Of course, those who are so furious with Matt Walsh aren't really trying to be logical. They will turn from venomous anger at Walsh for implying that a depressed person has any free will to saying, in the next moment, "If you know someone who suffers from depression, get him to seek help." But if he has no freedom, how can he even seek help?

Walsh might also have pointed out that there is a very strong pro-suicide movement in our culture for those who are ill or elderly, so this is by no means a merely theoretical matter. In fact, this post by New York Daily News author Denis Hamill expressly makes the connection to "death with dignity" rhetoric. It's not always the same people, of course. It would be interesting to find out what the ghouls of the Hemlock Society really think, in their heart of hearts, about R.W.'s suicide. How could they oppose it consistently? Much of the nonsense being talked right now is coming from the well-intentioned and muddled. But Christians and anyone else who wants to fight the culture of death cannot afford to be unclear: Suicide is always bad. There is nothing positive, freeing, or romantic about it. That is why we should try to prevent it, for everyone, by helping people to make the choice to live, not to die.

Kudos to Walsh for his courage.

Matt Walsh Rocks I: Sex isn't safe

I meant to post something about this a week or two ago but got involved in other things. (We've been raising caterpillars around my house. You'd be surprised at how time-consuming raising monarch caterpillars can be, especially if they get sick and you feel a compulsion to stare at them, worry about them, and wonder if they are really sick and if they are going to get better and whether you should isolate the ones you're worried about from the others. Of course you have to google all these questions. So as not to leave you in suspense, I will tell you that we raised two successfully earlier in the summer on beginner's luck. Out of the twelve thereafter, eleven died; one turned into a beautiful butterfly and has just been released. We're now done for the summer. End of digression.)

Matt Walsh put a wonderful post up about the lie of "safe sex." It contains so much wisdom that I'll just put up some quotes. (It is not, of course, a child-safe post.)


In truth, though, most of the people in this country are petrified of sex. The very thought of it terrifies them. Modern society plays host to the most pathetic collection of bored, sexless cowards ever to walk the Earth. We have taken the honesty, love, passion, beauty, and creative power out of the act, and replaced it with something sterile, guarded, frivolous, and disinterested.
It’s kind of ironic, really.
In this nation, we are concerned about the integrity of our produce and our peanut butter, so we only buy them if they have words like ‘organic’ and ‘raw’ on the packaging. But, when it comes to human sexuality, we’ll sip whatever chemicals we need in order to stave off the natural emotional and physical consequences of our behavior. Imagine the college students who have to chug 6 rum cocktails and 8 Natty Lights between them before they can anonymously copulate in someone’s dorm room. But they require more than booze; they also need pills and condoms and explanations the morning after about how this was all just for fun and it didn’t mean anything.
Why do we say that these people enjoy sex? The man who makes love to his wife of 20 years enjoys sex; these people only enjoy certain physical sensations.

 [snip]



Perhaps most absurd of all is that we call these alcohol-fused...sessions ‘safe,’ so long as they involve a layer of latex and a dose of steroids. We tell young people to wear condoms to protect against ailments like hepatitis and AIDS. The obvious insinuation here is that there is a ‘safe’ way to fornicate with a diseased stranger.
Nameless, random, uncommitted sex is never safe. Not emotionally, not spiritually, not physically. In fact, no sex is safe. Sex is not supposed to be safe. Sex isn’t supposed to be physically perilous like it often is these days — thanks, mostly, to years of ‘safe sex’ education — but it is supposed to be an act of great depth and consequence. Sex is meant to be open and exposed. It’s meant to bring out scary and mysterious feelings of desire and devotion.
Call that whatever you like, but you can’t call it safe.

I think one of my favorite lines in his entire post is, "The obvious insinuation here is that there is a 'safe' way to fornicate with a diseased stranger." It's hilarious, in a dark and sad way.

That passage reminds me of this, from C.S. Lewis, about Aslan:

"Is - is he a man?" asked Lucy
"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh," said Susan, "I thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king I tell you."
Precisely. Not everything that is good is safe. There are also holy things, which are anything but safe.

Back to Walsh:

It’s funny that in the world of petty one night stands, when someone commits the crime of being a human being who develops natural pangs of emotional closeness and affection, the other person is allowed to accuse them of being ‘weird’ or ‘moving too fast.’ And when the manmade barricades fail and a human life is tragically formed, both parties can, with a straight face, say that it was an ‘accident.’
This is like planting a seed in the ground and calling it a mistake when a tree begins to sprout because you thought the soil was infertile. You may have believed this, but still the seed is doing exactly what seeds are supposed to do, and you did exactly what a person is supposed to do if they want to make a tree grow. You may be a fool, but this was no accident.
That is positively Chestertonian. Compare this, from Chesterton's "Birth and Brain Control," with reference to a correspondent who wrote that a man does not want sex to have "unforeseen and undesired consequences" such as pregnancy. Says Chesterton, in response,

And then comes the joyous culmination and collapse; of calling a baby an unforeseen consequence of getting married. It would be entertaining to wander through the world with Mr. Neuberg, sharing all the unforeseen consequences of the most ordinary actions. Life must be full of surprises for him; he strikes a match and is indignant that it burns the sulphur; he throws a stone into a puddle and is irritated that it makes a splash; he keeps bees and is furious because they fertilise flowers; he breeds dogs and stands astounded before the unforeseen consequence of puppies. Wonder is a wonderful thing and, with less irritation, might be a beautiful thing. But we rather doubt whether anyone who argues like this has any right to a tone of such extreme intellectual arrogance.

Back to Matt Walsh:

The abstinence-before-marriage plan paints an affirmative and uplifting picture. It says, “this is something so good and so important and so joyful that you should leave it be until you grow up and find one special person to share it with.”
The ‘safe sex’ model, however, tells a sterilized and paranoid story. It says, “this is something so frivolous and so joyless that you can do it with whoever, for whatever reason, even if just to alleviate boredom. By the way, though it is just a recreational activity, like Parcheesi or air hockey, it can also lead to broken hearts, chlamydia, pregnancy, and AIDS. So, in that sense, it’s a little different from a board game. Hey, let’s look at some super-magnified images of genital warts!”
And, somehow, that version gets to pretend it’s the ‘positive’ and ‘encouraging’ one.

[snip]


You don’t want your kid to drink and drive, but if he did, you’d prefer he wear a seatbelt, right? Well, would you ever say to him: “junior, I know you’re going to drink and drive. You shouldn’t, but everyone does. So just wear your seatbelt”?
Why not?
Because that statement seriously dilutes your anti-drunk driving message, lends a tacit endorsement to the behavior, and assumes the worst in your son before he even has a chance to make his own choices?
Exactly.
Also, what is your job as a parent? Is it to give your child low bars, easy goals, and mild challenges to meet? Or is it to point her towards what is right and good, and then give her the tools to attain it?
Also, for how long have the majority of parents been using the “well, my kids are going to have sex anyway” logic? Decades, maybe? And has sex among unmarried people become generally more or less prevalent during that time? More, right? So do we, perhaps, have here a case of a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Okay, I've left a little unquoted, so feel free to go and read the rest.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Willingness to die: True religion and fakery

This video is doing the rounds on Facebook. In it, with a chilling smile on her face, a "Palestinian" mother chats with a reporter about how she hopes her son will grow up to be a suicide bomber. She talks about how she considers death to be "normal" and how all her people, including children, hope for martyrdom and are unafraid of death in the cause they serve. That cause, she makes clear, is the total destruction of the Jewish state of Israel and the complete takeover of Jerusalem by the Palestinian Arabs. The worst part of it is that the conversation takes place while her child is being medically treated by the very Jewish people she is hoping he will grow up and kill. (Note: It seems to me to be possible that the video is mis-labeled as far as timing. It may be a scene from the documentary Precious Life, which is several years old. See this story. If so, the reporter claims that the mother gradually changed her mind about the value of human life and even came to hope for peace with Israel in the course of the filming. I haven't been able to verify that the video is indeed a snippet from that movie, but it seems likely, as the dialogue quoted is similar.)

As I listened to her, I was struck by the fact that in its glorification of so-called "martyrs"--suicide bombers--Islam is taking an important Christian idea and twisting it. No lie, of course, is so powerful as the lie that starts with truth and then corrupts that truth. The truth is that we should be willing to give up our lives for a cause greater than ourselves. Christians teach their children this as well. The hymn "Faith of Our Fathers" says, speaking of the heroes of old, "And truly blest would be our fate, if we, like them, should die for Thee. Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death."

But Christian martyrdom could not be more different from Muslim "martyrdom." Christian martyrdom consists in refusing to deny Christ or in carrying out some noble task such as missions, even if this means that one is killed by one's enemies. Christian martyrs going back to Stephen ask God to forgive their enemies, in this following our Lord Jesus Christ's prayer on the cross.

It is a wicked perversion of the desire for transcendence to admire as martyrs those whose entire goal is to kill innocent civilians and who kill themselves in the process. To teach children to grow up to be "martyrs" of this type is an abuse of their innocence.

Islam is a counterfeit religion, and here we see one aspect of its fakery: Islam counterfeits Christian martyrdom and harnesses, in the service of murder, the human desire to give ultimate service to a transcendent cause.

There is an apologetic point to the contrast as well. If you do much work in Christian apologetics at all, it is guaranteed that sooner or later someone will dismiss the disciples' willingness to die for their testimony by saying, "A lot of people are willing to die for what they believe," instancing suicide bombers, Japanese kamikaze pilots, and who knows what else. Most discouraging of all is when that sort of flippant dismissal comes from a fellow Christian who, for whatever reason, wants to dismiss the historical case for Christianity as weak.

Not only did the apostles not commit murder like Muslim suicide bombers, not only did they not die in war, like Japanese pilots, not only were they not under the spell of a charismatic leader who urged them to suicide, like the followers of Jim Jones. Beyond all of that, they were willing to die not for an ideology but for their testimony to specific, empirical facts that they had heard and seen for themselves. They did not die, nor did they risk death, merely for a feeling, merely for a desire to serve something beyond themselves. Their cause was not a political policy nor even a religion but rather a Person whom they had seen alive again after his death. Their cause, to put it as bluntly as possible, was plain fact, fact so clear and undeniable to them that they could not deny it on pain of being deceivers themselves. The relevance of this point to the evidential value of their testimony would be difficult to stress too strongly.

We must pray for those who worship death, like this "Palestinian" mother. We should also pray for her son, that he learns the truth of the Gospel. Let us offer to our own children the true concept of martyrdom, the true willingness to die for our faith, and let us teach them the difference between that and counterfeits. And let us thank God for the apostles, who offered their lives that we might know the truth, and that the truth might set us free.

Blog housekeeping--new follow by email widget added

My plethora of readers will be happy to know that I have added a "follow by e-mail" widget on the left side. Note: It won't show if you have Adblock turned on.

This addition was inspired by a reader at W4 who asked to be added to any e-mail list that provides notifications when I publish. At W4 you can subscribe to our RSS post feed as well, if you would like.

What this presumably means is that I need to post to this blog more often. I await inspiration...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Encouraging words from Spurgeon

Via the Pyromaniacs blog, here are some wonderfully encouraging words from the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons Preached on Unusual Occasions:

For the moment our great Captain puts his hand into his bosom and allows the enemy to exult, but he is not defeated, nor is he in the least disquieted....Let us never be daunted by the apparent failures of the cause of God and truth, for these are but the trial of patience, the test of valour, and the means to a grander victory. Pharaoh defies Jehovah while he sees only two Hebrews and a rod, but he will be of another mind when the Lord’s reserves shall set themselves in battle array and discharge plague upon plague against him.
[snip]

To-day, also, the immediate present is dark, and there is room for sad forebodings; but if we look a little further, and by faith behold the brilliant future which will arise out of the gloom, we shall be of good cheer. My eye rests at this moment somewhat sorrowfully upon the battle field of religious opinion; truly, there is much to rivet my gaze.
It is a perilous moment. The prince of darkness is bringing up his reserves. The soldiers of the devil’s old guard, on whom he places his chief reliance, are now rushing like a whirlwind upon our ranks. They threaten to carry everything before them, deceiving the very elect, if it be possible. Never were foes more cunning and daring. They spare nothing however sacred, but assail the Lord himself: his book they criticise, his gospel they mutilate, his wrath they deny, his truth they abhor.
Of confused noise and vapour of smoke there is more than enough; but it will blow over in due time, and when it is all gone we shall see that the Lord reigneth, and his enemies are broken in pieces.