Saturday, April 21, 2012

And now, a word from one of our sponsors

St. Augustine:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Choosing avarice over wrath

Preamble: This blog entry is my first in a while, so I'm not sure what you might be expecting. I'll be talking about hate speech and, to make it clear just how hateful it is, I'll be replicating some of it. I'm doing this for good reason, but I understand it might still offend you. I'm sincerely sorry if it does, but when talking about hate speech, we need to approach it honestly and without hiding it and without hiding behind it. If I offend, I'm sorry, but I hope I'm able to do more than just offend. Anyhow, carrying on . . .

One of the worst arguments we theists can make against atheism is that a person devoid of religious belief in God is, by default, immoral. First of all, even if that's true, that doesn't prove God's existence anymore than my saying that muffins are pointless unless their chocolate chip has the magic effect of conjuring chocolate chips into baked goods. Secondly, it's simply not true. An atheist might not have the same stance on morality as a theist, but there's nothing to say that their morality must be poor.

Third, how do you compare that? Are we comparing the most morally sound atheist to the least morally sound theist? Because, if that's the case, then there are some particularly misguided branches of Calvinism* that have a lot to answer for.

The basic tenets of Calvinism are . . . complicated. To sum up, people are born not wanting to love God, but God has already picked out the people whom he will cause to love him and only these people will be saved from hell. And there's nothing anyone can do to resist it if picked out, or to be picked out if they are not. These tenets are known as total depravity, unconditional grace, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Most churches preach two or three of these tenets, some as many as four, but preaching all five is relatively rare. And when you do, well, strange things can happen.

See, this isn't a loving God. It really can't be. In this scheme, God created humanity and claims to love all of humanity, but has chosen that some of it should spend eternity in the unending agony of hell. This is, by God's definition of the word, not a loving act. I won't get into the long theological debates that surround the various ways that the principle of God's unending love is reconciled with the clear direction in Scripture that not everyone will love God in return**, but hopefully you've got the idea of what Calvinism is. We need to take it one step further to get where we're going.

So, you believe that God calls His own to him, and there's nothing you can do about it. Add in two more things:

1. First, works don't matter. Yes, God calls you to cloth the naked and feed the hungry, but when He said those things, he was only talking about clothing and feeding his elect.
2. You aren't just totally depraved, you're utterly depraved. Calvinism, at its most basic, teaches that we do not naturally love God - utter depravity teaches that not only do you not naturally love God, but that you are naturally and innately inclined to gain pleasure through sin and incapable of doing otherwise. You LIKE being evil.

Congratulations, you're ready to be Fred Phelps. Yep, that Fred Phelps.

For those who don't know who he is, here's his church's website.

(Okay, anyone who doesn't need that link, keep reading. Everyone else, stop and take a breath. That's a lot of hate to read in a very short amount of time. Don't read any more of it than you absolutely have to, just enough to understand that is a very, very unpleasant person we're dealing with.)

I was talking with a friend at church about scam artists when Fred Phelps' name came up. See, when they aren't protesting funerals, the Phelps family is showing up in court to either sue someone who interfered with their protests or getting sued in return. And so far they've remained untouched and won more than a few lawsuits against their aggressors, so the thinking by some is that the Phelps family doesn't really believe that God hates fags, they're just using it to make a profit. Their sin isn't wrath, it's avarice.

I think I've made a pretty good case for why Fred Phelps et al are wrathful*** - good enough that I'll let you fill in any lines you need to on your own - but what struck me was her insistence that the motivation simply couldn't just be wrath, that it must all be an act because no one could hate that much. I even allowed that greed might be a partial motive for the protests, sort of an added bonus ("Yay, we get to be hateful and then sue the grieving family! It's win-win!") but, no, that wasn't enough. My co-worker wouldn't buy it as being anything other than a scam.

We ended the discussion on good terms. Neither of is was really staking much on our side of the argument being "right," or I wouldn't even have entered into the conversation at all, but I was left with a question: at what point did greed become "just greed?" Was it before Gordon Gekko, or around that time? Or is it another one of those cyclical things, where greed had its moment in the spotlight in the self-labelled "greedy 80s") and now wrath is on the rise?

* I think it's possible to argue that there is no variety of Calvinism to which the adjective "misguided" cannot apply. Perhaps a matter for a future blog post.

** If you ask me for my response to the five tenets of Calvinism, my reply will be, "We're born selfish, but, by God's grace, everyone can learn to be otherwise. Everyone." This response is part of the reason theologians don't ask me any questions - there aren't nearly enough angels dancing on pins there.
** Although, to be fair, no more wrathful than their God.