Hypocrisy, Stupidity, Dishonesty, Ignorance, and Evil in the Bible


Truth is a Man

noah-drunk One reason I find Christianity believable is the hypocrisy, stupidity, dishonesty, ignorance, and evil in the Bible.

Take, for instance, those remarkable individuals who made it into the spiritual “hall-of-fame” in Hebrews 11:4-38.  A list of some of the most important saints who ever lived; individuals God worked through to accomplish incredible things; individuals whose lives were built on faith.  Yet, every one of them were hypocrites–that is, their lives did not always match up to the values they cherished most.

Consider Noah, one of the only men to remain faithful to God in his lifetime–“humanities last hope”.  After the flood, whilst in the primordial stages of building a new civilization, he gets wasted and exposes himself to his sons (Genesis 9:20-23).  Or take Abraham, for example, who, out of fear, led a king to believe his wife was actually his sister; thus allowing the king to take his wife into his harem (see Genesis…

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Light Doesn’t Hide From Darkness: On Christian Isolationism


DSC01668For the past thirty years, the Religious Right claimed that the US government and liberals are doing all they can to persecute Christians. The rational response is that such persecution does not exist (unless you’re Todd Starnes and just make stuff up). However, since 2001 religious persecution has existed in the United States. Many people, especially right-wing aligned Christians, have done all they could do in order to persecute Muslims. We can recall the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” that forced developers to abandon their plans. Recently, however, a gun shop owner received praise by proponents on the right for refusing to allow Muslims to enter her store. Her criteria for if someone is a Muslim is if they have an Arab-sounding name. Even Texas’ state representative Molly White forced Muslims to declare allegiance to the United States before they could enter her office.

With recent events, of course, there’s a real reason to fear extreme Islam. After all, though ISIL and Boko Haram weren’t created in vacuums and there’s certainly a cause to their reaction, they are still Islamic-based and it’s worrisome. These are violent groups and we’re right to worry about extremism in any religion (or political ideology). Regardless, does such a concern justify treating all Muslims with disdain?

Leaving aside the political and legal quagmire of discrimination and privately-owned businesses, let us look at how Christians should respond to Muslims (or others). As Christians we of course acknowledge that Islam is wrong, that it is a heresy of Christianity. In fact, it was St. John of Damascus, writing under the Caliphate, that stated Islam was a heresy of Christianity. We do not embrace Islam and find it to be false. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement and such disagreement can create very healthy, interesting, and challenging discussions with Muslim friends. Why, then, do we isolate ourselves?

Sadly, Muslims aren’t the only targets of Christian isolationism. Throughout history many have faced the wrath of Christian isolationism. Martin Luther encouraged the German princes to oust all the Jews from The Holy Roman Empire, even if they converted. At other times it was witches. The Moors faced great persecution in Isabella’s Spain. Even Africans had much to worry about from Christians (even though the Pope declared slavery heretical and was defied by the European powers). Native Americans, American slaves, and many other groups felt the wrath of Christian isolationism, while few Christians stood for the ostracized and brutalized people.

Leaving aside the legal arguments for whether or not someone can or should deny service to another person, let’s look at the Christian perspective. Should a Christian refuse a Muslim – or anyone for that matter – service at his business? A very quick look at Christ’s life gives the obvious answer: No.

One can serve others without partaking in their respective sins or beliefs. After all, Jesus did it quite a bit. He still partook in the Temple gatherings even though the Pharisees dictated the rules. He still attended feasts where sinners were very present. He still drank with prostitutes and laughed with tax collectors. While Jesus did not own a business, he displayed his message in a very clear manner. He also called on Christians to duplicate what he did:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

The point being Christians are to be a light and to serve others in all instances. How does that work as a business owner? If you deny services to a certain group of people then how are you being a light to them? How are they seeing your light if their only interaction with you is to face rejection?

Matthew 16:18 has Jesus telling Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. The funny thing about gates is that they don’t move, they don’t charge into battle, they just stand still. For gates to prevail means they’re being attacked and pushed against. To not prevail it means that attackers have broken through the gates. For too long Christians have used this passage to justify believing that hell won’t conquer them, but they have it the wrong way around; hell has no choice but to be conquered by the Church. Hells gates stand not because they are properly fortified, but because too many Christians hide away in fear from them and refuse to charge in.

Jesus was a friend to all those who needed it. In Matthew 9 he points out that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. It is after that when he says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We who claim Christ must acknowledge that we, too, are sinners. That without Christ we are no different than any group we wish to malign; all are lost in darkness and violence.

Christ came to save all. Those of us who have embraced Christ, imperfect though we are, are still called to be light to the darkness. We can’t be light if we seek to segregate ourselves from the darkness. In order for light to matter it must permeate within the darkness. In order for gates to fall they must be attacked by an invading force. And in order to see Muslims come to Christ, they must interact with Christians, and sometimes that includes your place of business.

The Problem of Feel Good Spirituality: A Robust Anthropology


IMG_0254It’s popular in some spiritual circles to act as though humans are just slightly flawed (if that) and that our little missteps are just that; little. One little writing from yesterday by Mark Sandlin of “The God Article” perfectly sums up this “feel good spirituality.” To make matters worse, Sandlin is a pastor and was his blog was named one of the top 10 Christian blogs out there. Yet, his advice is that we’re not broken, not fallen, not sinful, just a work in progress. But his argument not only misses what Christianity actually teaches, it misses the human experience.

A theology of, “You’re not broken or fallen” might work for the average middle-class person of Western Society who’s never faced the evils of this life, who has the luxury of believing that this world is soft, but for the rest of the world such a theology is astonishingly ignorant. A woman drugged and then raped can’t look at the rapist and say that he’s, …”so deeply invested in life that [he] can, at times, deny the larger good for the experience of the moment.” Such a theological viewpoint doesn’t really address the carnage of this world and truly makes Christianity a “pie in the sky” religion. It ignores the realities on the ground, that people are murdered, that people are cheated, that evil occurs at the hands of these so-called “investors in life.” A man who murders women and children hasn’t missed the point, a CEO who cuts his employee’s salaries so he can increase in wealth isn’t invested in life, and a mother who looks to her own interests before the interests of her children isn’t misguided by love; such things are sinful and are evil. Superfluous evil does occur and that it occurs is central to the Christian message.

The flaw in such humanism is that it ignores reality. Just as a belief that humans are totally depraved and nothing good can come from us looks too much at our sin, Sandlin’s view doesn’t look at our sin enough. The flaw between both views is they can’t accept the paradox of humanity, that we are capable of both great good and great evil, often from the same person. Stalin wasn’t invested in life when he ordered the deaths of millions, he didn’t just temporarily ignore the greater good.

A great quote from the movie Spanglish is when the grandmother addresses her daughter, who’s been cheating on her husband and acting selfishly. The grandmother says, “Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.” It’s not that we ought to think of ourselves as dirt, but that sometimes we shouldn’t esteem ourselves. Sometimes our problems are our own doing. Sometimes we have to admit that we are actually broken, that we are fallen, and that we are sinful. After all, that is central to any Christian message lest Christ’s Incarnation be pointless.

Christianity does teach that as humans we are fallen. While some take it too far to say we are guilty or sinful by nature of being human, even within the Orthodox tradition the belief is that our wills are fallen. From birth our wills are turned from God. We freely choose to run away from him, to act on our own, and as such beget more evil into this world. This doesn’t make us evil by nature, but it does make us evil by choice. If Christianity left the story there, it still wouldn’t be wrong; how absurd to deny the one absolute, empirical, unquestionable fact of Christianity, that we are fallen and sinful. Thankfully, the Christian story doesn’t end with us being fallen.

A robust view of humans is that though fallen, by nature we are good. What that means is that we are made in God’s image, that is what separates us from the animals. God, of course, is good; therefore his image is also good. Sin is any act that goes against our nature and intended purpose, that is, sin is anything contrary to God and goodness. We choose to engage in sin and become sinners (we are not sinners by nature, as this creates quite a few problems with the Incarnation). As such, we are fallen, we are broken, and we do need to be saved. God the Word took on human flesh and took on our nature while retaining his own and redeemed our nature. To quote St. Athanasius, “God became man so that men might become gods.” The point being that Christ paved the way for us to not only reunify with our Creator (through Theosis), against whom we rebelled, but that we might actualize our nature of good and live holy lives.

Salvation and the necessity to live holy lives makes absolutely no sense without sin. While I believe the fall of man was not necessary – Christ could have shown his love to us even in a perfect world, albeit in a different way – it did happen and therefore this is the world we’ve inherited and in which we abide. We are broken and we do need help. Such an admission is a sign of tenacious humility, the kind needed for salvation. To say that we’re not flawed or broken is not just ignorance of the world around us, but a form of arrogance to say that we just need God’s help a little, that we’ve got it from here. But the greatest of saints had one thing in common, that they constantly sought after God’s help and realized they were nothing without him.

We do the world no favors if we try to remove the idea of sin and brokenness from our language and theology, for to do so makes Christians look even more out of touch with reality. Evil occurs and in order to understand the greatness of what Christ did, we must understand the breadth of the darkness into which Light came. Only by acknowledging the dark can we then begin to seek and appreciate the Light.

Jesus Juking McDonalds: Love is Endless, but Your Business Model Isn’t


Josh, enjoying some American fries, the type he can no longer get in England.

Josh, enjoying some American fries, the type he can no longer get in England.

McDonald’s has taken quite a few hits lately in the news, whether it be from allegedly discriminating against employees to falling profits, right now is not a good time to be an executive at McDonald’s. While it’s been known the past decade or two that McDonald’s is hardly nutritious, the last few years their product has more than likely contributed to a decline in their profits.

Never fear, however, because in the Corporate World™ a problem with the product is easily fixed through…marketing. While common sense dictates that a problem in the product or in how a company is managed requires the product and management style to change, in the Corporate World™ all that’s required is better publicity. Such strategies have proven to work, that is, until the advent of social media. Regardless, McDonald’s isn’t aware of such things and instead has produced a “commercial aimed at millennials.” Rather than fixing the product, like Chipotle did, McDonald’s is trying to just change the public perception by focusing their commercials around the idea of “love.”

Thus, we end up with this:

Now what, exactly, does “love is endless” have to do with eating horrible tasting hamburgers and fries? How does anything in that commercial or message make me think, “Well, maybe I should eat at McDonald’s”? The idea that “love is endless” is certainly true, but to cheapen it as a ploy to get people to buy hamburgers kind of negates the sentiment.

And now for the Jesus Juke…

See, love is endless because God is love, and he is infinite. To state that “love is endless” is certainly true, but one has to ask if McDonald’s is really qualified to use this statement. After all, a Christian approach to business, one centered on endless love, wouldn’t really allow for McDonald’s business practices, especially with its employees.

The same Bible that tells us that Jesus is God and that God is love tells us that God expects fair, livable wages to be paid to employees. Consider James 5:2-5 (ESV):

Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

James is quite emphatic about the type of wealth these people have acquired; not just wealth in general, but wealth gained off of wage fraud. The phrase “kept back by fraud” is actually just one Greek word: ἀποστερέω (apostereo), which means to hold back from someone or to deny them their due. Even Jesus in Luke 10:7 says that the laborer deserves his wages.

The idea of justice in Scripture is based on love – a love of God will always lead to justice with God and a love of one’s fellow man will always lead to justice with one’s fellow man. Justice, in a Scriptural sense, refers to putting others on equal footing with yourself (that is, after all, the second Greatest Commandment, to “love thy neighbor as thyself”). Biblical justice involves wholeness, repairing and making whole that which was broken by sin. In terms of poverty, Christian justice is the act of giving to the laborer a wage worth a living, and then giving to the needy what is needed for them to survive. Proverbs 29:7 says as much;

“A righteous man understands how to judge on behalf of the poor, But the ungodly man will not consider such knowledge; For he has no understanding heart for a poor man.” (Orthodox Study Bible)

If McDonald’s wants to try and use “love” as some gimmick, then they must understand they bring upon themselves quite the burden; love is endless, but it’s one thing to say love is endless and entirely another to live it. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that McDonald’s actually loves its employees, but merely want to point out the importance of taking important phrases and subjecting them to triteness.

From the Christian perspective, love is endless whereas money has a definite ending. Love then is the focal point of the Christian life and supplants all other pursuits, including that of money. Not that money isn’t important or that it’s inherently wrong to be rich as a Christian, but instead that for wealthy Christians, especially business owners, that wealth ought not be obtained by denying fair wages to others. And by “fair” I do not mean the “market standard,” but instead the type of wages on which a person can live. How can Christians claim love is endless if they’re unwilling to display that love in a monetary way by paying their employees a fair wage? We can’t expect consistency from McDonald’s – even if their business model is quite absurd (they want consumers to pay for their food, but want to keep their employees poor, thus removing their employees from the consumer section and eliminating their own profit; the company’s policy of keeping wages low forces the company to eat itself) – but we should expect consistency from Christians in regards to paying a livable wage to their employees.

The Ubiquity of Evil and the Hope of Christmas


IMG_0031Whenever describing the evil actions of a person, most Americans will typically turn to the WWII Nazis as an example of evil personified. For the Russian writer Dostoevsky, he turned to the actions of Turkish soldiers to describe the detestable nature of human deeds. We can point to almost any nation at any given time and find people performing some of the most inhumane and violent acts. One can point to a San Francisco sheriff’s deputy who stands accused of attempting to choke a hospital patient to death and then charged the patient with assault. He did this for no apparent reason, which just stands as evil. Or we can turn to New York where two police officers – one a husband and father, the other a newlywed – were murdered for “revenge” right before Christmas.

It is near impossible to look into this world and not see it consumed by evil. Certainly, it seems that we have fallen into a void, one in which all can agree that we have gone astray. Many people hold to some form of naiveté believing that they could never be the perpetrators of evil, forgetting that Nazi guards were also fathers at home, that psychotic cop killers were once someone’s child. Evil is so prevalent in our world that we are, at any given point, just moments away from performing any given evil. The men who put people in gas chambers were not monsters, but men like you and I. The soldiers who perform war crimes are not subhuman, but quite human with hopes, dreams, and even good qualities outside of their acts of evil.

In a way, the humanity of those who perform monstrous acts makes them all the worse. Were they monsters then we could expect their evil as a part of their nature. It is why there is no conflict in fables when the hero goes off to fight a monster; monsters are, by their nature, evil beings. But what if the hero goes off to kill the dark knight, only to discover that while the knight did burn a village, he’s also a father to two children and a husband to a loving wife? He is a man, who by his nature is good, neglected his nature and turned to evil. Evil seems all the worse when we realize that partaking in it is the abandonment of our nature as humans.

Contrary to popular belief, humans are not evil by nature. Were we evil by nature then God would be a liar, calling his creation “very good.” Christ would have had to been evil by nature, that or have not taken on a human nature. Rather, Christ took on a human nature, showing that it was not the human nature which was evil and fallen, but the human will that fell. Thus, our engagement and enjoyment in evil does not stem from some natural inclination towards evil, but against our very nature; we must choose to engage in evil, we must choose to enjoy it. The Nazi guard did not do what came natural to him, but rather had to rationalize his actions and justify his actions, because deep down he knew them to be wrong. Such is the cry of all tyrants throughout history; “I was only following orders,” “It was my duty,” “I did it to protect my nation,” and so on. But acts of kindness, acts of love, never need such justifications. No man says, “I gave to the poor because I was told to,” or “I helped the orphans to help my nation.” No man who performs an act of love, an act of goodness, must ever justify his actions, for his actions speak for themselves. Only acts of evil need justification, and while the perpetrator might rationalize his actions, he will never justify them.

Through our rationalization of evil – of recent, rationalizing torture, isolation, subjugation, killing of the innocent in the name of authority, killing of the innocent in the name of revenge – we must admit that our world is a very dark place. Indeed, evil seems commonplace in the world and impossible to overcome. Somewhere in the world a child is starving because a warlord decided to horde the food for himself and his minions. Somewhere a woman cries out to apathetic ears while being violated by tormenters. Elsewhere a child sells himself to rich men for their acts of debauchery so that his family might eat. A man is killed for some arbitrary reason and to satisfy the evil urgings of another. A wife discovers her husband has cheated on her and seeks to cheat as well in order to exact revenge. Children sit in the same home as their parents, but are technological orphans, finding more connection with their cell phones than with the flesh and blood that brought them into this world. A man yells at the person with a foreign accent, hating someone for the mere fact of being different. Another hates people for a different shade of skin. The list of evils continue, all occurring within seconds of each other, overlapping each other, covering the globe, displaying the ubiquitous nature of evil.  Continue reading

Within the Pangs of a Dying World or, The Hope of Sabbath


DSC01993St. Augustine’s City of God stands as a centerpiece within the annals of Western Christianity. One can easily say that within City of God Christianity officially moved West and became a type of its own brand, away from the prolific East (I leave it up to the reader to decide whether that is a good or bad thing). What is often ignored in the many debates caused by Augustine’s is the backdrop to why he wrote the book. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 – a relatively tame sacking comparatively speaking – causing panic and uproar within the Roman Empire. It would be akin to a foreign army of untrained soldiers attacking New York City after defeating the US military to get there; the shock would be beyond belief. Augustine was writing to the suffering inflicted, but to promise them that though violence may reign now, peace holds eternity (hence his title, “City of God”).

As I type this, millions of people around the world are suffering. One of the greatest realities of suffering, and possibly its saddest, is that the majority of these people are children. An estimated 1-3 million children worldwide die from malnutrition and starvation every single year, and that number is actually down from just a few decades ago. Of course, much of the malnutrition and disease is a side effect of manmade wars. In Syria alone, millions of people are displaced, and this is not to mention the ongoings in Iraq. In this violent upheaval families are displaced, they mourn the loss of those closest to them, the most unfortunate being the lone survivors of a narrow escape, the ones who live with survivor’s guilt.

Of course, I speak of survivors as though one can survive violence; the thing about violence is that what it cannot extract from the body it will most certainly rob from the soul. We think of soldiers coming back from a war with a “thousand yard stare.” Even soldiers in the most justified of wars are still casualties of that war in a way, having seen things no one ought to see. We don’t even need to go to foreign lands to see the impact of violence and PTSD; occupying the headlines are tales of various NFL players abusing loved ones (and sometimes loved ones defending the abuse), of college campuses having to define rape – a violent act – because apparently somehow rape is ambiguous. That we even have to define that “no means no” (contra Rush Limbaugh) shows that we live in a violent culture, even if we have to hide our violence behind sexuality.

The Western world feels like something is underfoot, that we’re on the verge of collapse. It’s as though we’re simply awaiting the Visigoths to arrive and send our world into a tailspin, as the modern day barbarians of al-Qaeda and ISIL have already done in the Middle East. With the events in the Middle East quickly getting out of hand, Russia’s not-so-secret invasion of the Ukraine (as well as flying its bombers near Swedish and US airspace), the fact that South America has quietly become the most violent region in the world, sub-Saharan Africa on the brink of another genocide, and the seemingly weakening social structure of Europe, it is a wonder that more people have yet to embrace nihilism. Considering the status of the United States is only worse as its infrastructure is falling apart, its middle class might go extinct long before the polar bear, its police are becoming more and more violent against citizens (all while most citizens capitulate out of necessity), and “Land of the Free” is used more for irony than patriotic statements.  Continue reading

Human Dignity vs. Minimum Wage or, Where the Right Goes Wrong


DSC02097Matt Walsh, the male Ann Coulter for the right (and he’s on the same path), is back at it again, creating a straw man and then hacking it to pieces. This time around, he’s picking on Walmart employees that don’t enjoy the wages and treatment, saying they should be thankful to have a job and that if they just worked a bit harder, they’d all get promotions. In this conservative utopia where hard work is always justly rewarded, everyone becomes the manager, everyone works their way up to the top, and everyone becomes rich who deserves to be rich. Sadly, however, Matt Walsh (and conservatives in general) ignore the importance of human dignity within the wage debate (not that liberals do any better; they demonize and dehumanize the rich, whereas the conservatives demonize and dehumanize the poor).

From a purely practical standpoint, basic psychology tells us that if we treat someone as less than human then that person will act as less than human. One wonders why in the Roman Empire there were so precious few slave revolts until one realizes that beating slaves and treating them as less than human led them to believe they were less than human. The same rings true within the American south, where slaves didn’t revolt even when they made up a majority. Typically, when humans are exploited, they begin to think of themselves as “lesser than” and act accordingly. It should serve as no surprise, then, that when you put a minimum investment into a person you get a minimum return.

The better I’m treated, the less I have to worry about bills, the more incentive there is to earn higher pay for working harder, the likelier I am to be a better worker. The promise of an eventual promotion that may or may not come is merely dangling a carrot in front of the horse, getting him to run harder without the promise of ever actually eating the carrot. “If you work hard, then perhaps someday you too could become an executive in this corporation!” This, of course, is assuming that you’re able to keep a roof over your head, pay for electricity and water, and then afford the necessary education to get promoted. More than likely, however, even the hardest working Walmart employee (or any other big retail chain) will find herself stuck within store management, typically after years of hard work.

See, for all the love between Christianity and American conservatives, we would do well to remember that the two are not the same. Modern conservatism, or neo-conservativism is actually Darwinian and materialistic in its outlook on life. Modern conservatism, at least economic conservatism, is nothing more than the bastard child of Ayn Rand, the ugly offspring of objectivism. Within this philosophy the individual reigns supreme, even over the family unit. The essential core is that if a man wants to be rich, he has to be willing to outwork and undercut anyone around him, even if it’s his wife and kids. The end objective of existence is for the individual to realize himself. Such a teaching stands in stark contrast to Christianity, which teaches that the individual is nothing without the community, that a man must sacrifice himself to his family’s needs, and the objective of existence is to become like God.

Thus, the minimum wage debate is an interesting one in which we have conservatives, many of whom want to “take back” a “Christian America,” arguing for pragmatic utilitarianism, one of the most anti-Christian philosophies out there. “I’ll pay you for what I think you’re worth, depending on what you bring me.” Such a thought process inherently views the laborer not as a person, but as a commodity. The laborer is then viewed as nothing more than livestock, produce, or whatever it is the company happens to sell. While the labor itself is a commodity, the laborer is not; he is a human being and worthy of dignity and respect. The Christian view, then, is that the commodity of labor is to be treated fairly to the laborer because he is made in the image of God. Continue reading