Roman Revival 4: The Knapps and Idaho

I mentioned last night that there were two stories in the news prompting my recent and I might add an atypical run of discussions on Gay Marriage. The first one is the well known case in Houston, which I wrote about last night. The second concerns a Idaho based wedding chapel named the Hitching Post, which was being told that they would be required to accommodate same sex couples, though the city has recently backed off of their attempt at coercion. The argument being made by the state is that the wedding chapel is a “for profit” corporation. In a sense, then this would be the same as the discussion I’ve had before – we do not surrender our first amendment rights when we enter the public square (as even the Supreme Court recognized in the Hobby Lobby decision when they discussed that closely held corporations retain their religious liberties), and while it is reasonable (though I believe incorrect) for governments to define the relationship between gay couples and the state, it is a violation of the first amendment however for government to accept the right to define the relationship between a gay couple and the public.

Yet, there is a distinction between this case and those involving bakers and florists. While the wedding chapel is filing as a for profit business, this does not mean it is not a religious organization. Tax laws involving churches and religious organizations are complex, and a wedding chapel might not qualify as a non-profit organization, particularly if this wedding chapel is this couple’s livelihood, though of course this would be a closely held corporation and therefore they do not surrender their rights. Wedding chapels and churches both are involved in various elements of weddings some of which might be considered a business transaction (for example, some churches charge a cleaning fee for weddings or for the use of facilities for the reception, if held on church grounds, and in many churches as well friends and family provide food rather than caterers).

More to the point, while someone might argue that facilities of a wedding chapel (ie the building and the auditorium) are in the same category of bakers and florists, the same cannot be said for the services of the minister in performing the ceremonies. The Knapps perform wedding ceremonies on the grounds that they are pentecostal ministers. Under Idaho state law, this is the basis for their claim to be able to solemnize marriages; while it is possible for non-ordained persons to officiate that is not the grounds under which the Knapps perform ceremonies; they do so on the grounds that they have been recognized as authorized by an explicitly religious organization. Because they do so on the grounds of a specifically religious recognition, how can the state then argue that their religion does not matter? When they perform a marriage they are representing a specific Christian denomination however their organization’s tax status is organized.

The Knapps legal issues are over for now, but this is an issue that should cause Christians to be aware of the potential pressure of Government to change our teachings and our practices.

We now return you to the “regular” Truth in the Trenches schedule.

Roman Revival 3: Houston

I’ve published more in the past week between two blogs than I have in some of my slower months. And while I have addressed the subject of homosexuality in the past it has never been a major theme of this blog, so why such a flurry of activity now? The answer is two recent news stories, of which you are likely aware of, one of which you are likely unaware of. By now, we have all seen articles or heard news stories about pastors in Houston having their sermons and all correspondence on the subject of homosexuality subpoenaed by the city mayor over a lawsuit by the city’s office to block a petition from the ballot despite the fact that the petition had more than enough signatures.

Most of the discussion, bizarrely, has focused on the subpoenas for sermons. While in a sense, this appears to be an attempt at intimidation (though the mayor of Houston has backed off from this point), this is not the most severe element of this attempt to subvert religious freedom. After all, sermons in most churches in this country are public discourses – we want the lost to hear what the Bible says in hopes that they will be converted. Most churches make their sermons available on the web so that anyone can download them. Some have also noted that this is possibly a typical discovery motion, and perhaps this is the case, though the use of subpoenas for information that would otherwise be freely available does indicate (but does not prove) this is more than just discovery, and may be an attempt to intimidate Christians.

The bigger problem is the blanket request for all correspondence on the subject of homosexuality. After all, this would include not only political correspondence, but also letters and e-mails that would under clerical privilege. This would include letters involving sensitive family matters as well as letters being sent to those who are in counseling, and are honestly struggling and seeking through Christ to overcome the sinful nature of homosexual attraction. In short, even the seemingly more reasonable steps taken by the mayor’s office still leaves in place the central problem with these subpoenas.

Ultimately, perhaps, there is a connection between the situation in Houston and the fact that Houston has a homosexual mayor. The mayor may want no reminder to her conscience that her life is one that will bring her ultimately before the God she is actively seeking to suppress. Perhaps the ultimate issue she has with the churches in her city is not one of their obstacle to her political agenda, but rather to the prick these men of God present to her conscience. Either way, the fact that privileged correspondence is being sought by the city is something that as Christians we ought to protest.

Roman Revival Part 2: Force and Reason on Homosexuality

As we noted earlier in the week, the subject of gay marriage is back in the news. Last time, I discussed the subject of homosexual marriage as an assault on the principles of religious liberty, and how I don’t believe this is a battle we will win politically. We must however, be aware of the nature of what homosexual marriage is really about – it is about exercising economic pressure to force Christians to capitulate to the decay of our culture.

But why are they seeking to use force and compulsion? Ultimately it is because they have failed to do so on the basis of persuasion and so gay marriage has been tied to the misguided utopian ideals so many are embracing in America today.

So why have they failed to make the argument? The answer is quite simple, the entire basis of their argument is that Christians should simply reject the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality – after all, why listen to God when the liberal establishment is clearly wiser and more intelligent? What does God’s opinion have to do with our lives anyway?

The other major argument raised is the use of questionable scientific studies to claim homosexuals are born this way – in most cases on very dubious research. The weakness in this approach is that, even if a scientific proximate cause could be demonstrated (and I do not believe one has been – to date the theories suggested are either refuted by twin studies since to prove biological causation would need a correlation well over 90% and no study even comes close, or the theory is based on excessive use of conjecture), to accept that homosexuality is morally acceptable would require the assumption that man is basically good. It would require us to abandon not only the belief that the Bible is the final authority of the faith, and therefore of Christian morality, but also the central doctrine that man is basically evil, whether the preferred terminology is original sin, total depravity, the old man or the sin nature, Scripture is plain – man is born corrupt.

If it could ever actually be demonstrated that biology actually determines sexual orientation (or that it is a factor at all) at best, from a Christian perspective, it would merely mean that we would accept that there is a biological component to the imputation of sin.

To be clear then, what should it take for Christians to abandon the Christian position on gay marriage? While most Christians will be appalled at the question, this is in line with my previous discussion about what it would take to abandon the Christian faith itself, which, in fact be one of the two legitimate arguments that could be made: as noted if one wants to persuade me that Christianity is untrue, that evolution is true, or that there is no God they must simply find the body.

The other possibility would to prove that the Bible does not in fact teach that homosexuality is sinful. This has been tried, but all such attempts are failures, either because they ignore the context of the passages or they try to compare the Koine Greek to obscure Attic references in Plato and other writers – this would be like my demonstrating that computers were simply calculators based on the way the verb “to compute” was used by Francis Bacon. The reason why these interpretations are reject is because, in fact, the reasoning is poor.  A basic discussion of the Bible’s teachings on this subject are available in sermon form.

In all cases, then, Christians have no basis for abandoning the Bible’s teachings on this subject.

Roman Revival Part 1: Homosexual Marriage and the Assault on Religious Freedom

The subject of Gay marriage is back in the news again. I’ve noted in the past that the question of gay marriage is ultimately an attack on the first amendment – this is why bakers, florists and now even ordained ministers are being fined and in a few cases threatened with possible imprisonment if they will not tolerate in their public life what we must reject in our private lives. The reason why this is an assault on our first amendment freedom is that it compels one to act against one’s moral beliefs and therefore it is a clear establishment of religion (after all, discussions of morality are by definition within the sphere of religious belief).

To be clear, however, the question of the first amendment is not an unforeseen result of gay marriage, it is the very point of gay marriage. In discussing the decision by the Supreme Court to strike down part of DOMA (on grounds that marriage is within the purview of the states, which various Federal appeals courts then violated by overturning state laws), Justice Scalia in his dissenting opinion purposefully compared the DOMA decision to the Roman persecution of Christianity – that is, the reason why gay marriage must be legalized is because Christians do not accept homosexuality, and therefore must be forced to accept it.

This is not a battle I believe we can win, at least not politically. Romans 1:26-27 is clear: the sin of homosexuality as well as its acceptance is the result of a culture that had abandoned the truth of God for a while, and worshiped the creature (in modern society man and society itself) rather than the Creator. If homosexuality is becoming an issue it is because God’s response to our explicit abandonment of our Christian heritage since the 60’s is to abandon us to our own sinful devices.

So if homosexuality is a mark of coming judgment and a step towards a depraved mind, why do we oppose it? After all, if this is God moving towards judgment, isn’t His judgment righteous? More to the point, perhaps, isn’t it easy to go with the flow, and not make waves, which could be bad for our careers or our potential place in society?

We oppose homosexuality for the same reason that earlier generations refused to offer incense to Cesar – because to do so was an explicit abandonment of Christ. We may not win in society, but ultimately we are all called to bear a testimony for what we know to be right. As apologists, we are to leave this world without excuse; to be faithful even if not successful, by this world’s judgment.

Justin Martyr noted that the ultimate cause of the Roman persecution was not that Christians were morally inferior to the Romans, but rather because they were reminders of the moral requirements of God that society wanted to forget. Similarly, Christians oppose Homosexuality not because we hate those who are not like us, or due to imagined psychological maladies (like homophobia), it is because to love Christ means we must accept His truth over our societies ideals, and to love our neighbor means we cannot abandon them to judgment without warning them of their sin.

Moral Argument from Atrocities 5: Conclusion – Crusaders, Lenin and Dawkins

As noted the Nazis are only useful in judging their actions from the standpoint of National Socialism since it is a unique, composite system; though they are self-consistent monsters they are not germane to this discussion. As we noted, the crusaders were inconsistent monsters and the Soviets were self-consistent monsters. But what do we do with that data? How do we sum up the argument?

The proper term for inconsistent monsters is “hypocrite.” Because the crusaders and other citable examples were inconsistent monsters, we cannot extrapolate the point that Biblical Christianity condones or leads to atrocities. Atheists might argue that Christianity creates the possibility of misinterpretation or grounds for a charismatic person to twist Christian doctrines, but the same can be said of any institution, religious or irreligious. After all, sometimes religion is used as a justification after the thought. Christians then can commit atrocities but must forget their core principles in order to do so. The atheistic argument from atrocities should therefore be considered a point of rhetoric rather than a serious argument.

On the other hand, Christians cannot argue that atheism per se leads to atrocities. For example, some atheists might like to pet bunnies, and this may be self-consistent with atheistic beliefs (as atheism does not argue that it is wrong to pet bunnies), but it does not mean atheism will lead to bunny petting, as not petting bunnies is also consistent with atheism. Likewise, committing atrocities and refusing to commit atrocities are both ultimately self-consistent for the atheist. Thus, for Christians, we must be careful not to imitate atheists in their use of the consequence fallacy.

Yet, atheism is not incidental to Lenin’s crimes. Atheistic views of morality are ultimately issues of expediency: without a moral absolute, choosing to murder or not to murder becomes ultimately a personal preference. One can kill innocents as an atheist without violating atheism’s core principles. Communism is a derivative of atheism, best conceptualized in terms of a denomination. Just as Baptists are expressions of Biblical Christianity, Communism is an expression of atheism, but not necessarily the only one. Communism developed variations of atheistic ideals that are not common to all atheists: the assumption that these deaths were necessary for the greater good of the collective.

At best then, Christians can (and I believe should) argue that atheistic bomb-throwers might lead to atrocities. This analysis is drawn from Christian presuppositions. Christians assume that man has a conscience, but without Christ this conscience will degrade over time, atheism’s influence on atrocities is indirect because it weakens the conscious, opening the door to radical acts.

As an addendum, however, many modern atheists now argue that religion is dangerous to society. This is very similar to the Communist assumption that Christians and other religious groups were a danger to the good of the collective. Given that the new radical atheists of our current day have similar views to the Marxists about the origin of our concept of rights, and Dawkin’s concept of ideas being transmitted as “Memes,” the actual question is whether they will have the courage of their convictions to follow their ideas to their logical conclusions. If they do, it might very well result in a bloodbath.

The militant atheists were for a long time considered to be the lunatic fringe of the atheistic movement precisely because of the memories of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, but men like Richard Dawkins indicate that the lunatics are now running the asylum, and history indicates that this is dangerous.

Moral Argument from Atrocities Part 4: Lenin and Stalin.

I now want to examine some atheistic monsters, particularly Stalin and Lenin.

Atheists tend to withdraw from Lenin’s and Stalin’s atrocities (particularly Lenin, who has many apologists on the political left) and claim that their atheism was incidental to their political views. They will claim that the Soviet Union’s atrocities were an issue of Communism (or many will raise false distinctions, claiming it was not “real communism”). Thus, many atheists assume that their murders were incidental to their atheism. Of course, there are numerous problems with this equivocation.

Marxism is clearly rooted in an atheistic worldview. While some Christian communities have experimented with communal living (such as the first English Separatists in the New World or the early Monastic movement), the concept of the proletarian revolution is a distinctly Marxist ideology. In fact, while Christian communal experiments were clearly failures, membership in these communities was clearly voluntary. This cannot be said about Marxism.

Marx was the first to develop “Dialectical Materialism” which was refined by Engels and Lenin, and is the atheistic worldview at the core of Marxism. In many senses, he is one of the more important proponents of enlightenment era atheism. Lenin’s views in many ways mirrors Western Social Darwinism, and the connections he made between Marxism and atheism is explicit.

This should come as no surprise, Marx’s discussions of the “dangers of religion” in any form was similar to that of the New Atheists.

Therefore, while the Soviet state tolerated religion at times (if properly controlled) the concept of religious freedom or theism were rejected outright, and atheism was the state-sponsored Soviet worldview. This is why religious persons were specifically suppressed by the regime. For example, on December 25th, 1919, Lenin issued an edict that workers who did not report for work were to be shot because Christianity was contrary to the spirit of the October Revolution. Atheists may quibble that not all atheists are Marxists, and while this is true, atheism is not incidental to Marxism. It is a philosophical necessity, since Marxism requires an a priori commitment to atheism and evolution.

This does not, however, answer the question of consistency – one could argue that Marxism, as a whole, misrepresents atheism. But, Lenin’s and Stalin’s slaughters do appear to be logically derived from their worldview.

If God does not exist (as naturalists presuppose), then rights cannot come from God, and man is merely an animal. From this, earlier, theistic beliefs that man possesses natural rights (as accepted by Christians and Deists) must be rejected. To put it another way, the idea that our rights are innate, and inviolable is a distinctively Christian idea that has a purely Judeo-Christian origin; while others in society may try to borrow these libertarian concepts they are ultimately importing something from Christianity. If these do not come from God, they do not exist except if granted by some other authority – such as the state.

If the state can grant rights, then the state is free to remove them. Within the confines of dialectical materialism, the collective becomes the center of existence. To the Communist, an individual’s value is only as great as his contribution to the good of the collective. In fact, the communists views of the origins of morality are similar to those espoused by men like Richard Dawkins – they believe that ideas develop along evolutionary principles, and our ideas of society evolved to help societies (and the individuals in those societies) to survive where other ideals have failed. Dawkins discusses the dissemination of ideas along genetic lines, and refers to them as “memes” in an attempt to resurrect enlightenment era epistemology in a post-modern world. The individual is ultimately therefore insignificant in the realm of ideas.

Collectivism only works if everyone sees the collective as the highest good; dissenters take resources away from the collective. Therefore, to make Communism work, dissenters must be viewed as a threat, lest they become a detriment to progress. Because they are a threat, they must be removed from that society if they will not abandon ideas that are contrary to the collective.

Moral Argument from Atrocities Part 3: The Crusades and the Old Testament

The one question I have not addressed in our comparison of consistent versus inconsistent monsters is the question of the Old Testament. Historically, atheists have extensively cited commands from God to destroy certain heathen groups.

The Christian position indicates these are relatively unique circumstances. In the first place, as a dispensational Baptist, I would argue that the Church is not Israel. At best, atheists have arguments against certain subsets of Christian thought, not against Christianity as a whole. Israel was a theocratic state, with a government that had governmental powers, including the ability to wage war. The Church does not have this prerogative.

Secondarily, while atheists will dismiss this notation, the conquest was based on special revelation through a prophet, this was not true of the crusades. It must also be remembered that the Old Testament required that prophets meet certain credentials (Deut 12).

The text also makes it plain that these were issues of God’s judgment on specific groups, within specific territories; not a general commandment to wipe out anyone Israel so desired. In these cases, God’s judgment in using Israel is no different than His use of Babylon and Assyria, or for that matter, His use of natural disasters, like the flood. The Christian assumes God’s right to judge, but without a properly credentialed prophet and with the Church lacking proper government authority, these passages are not justification to consider the crusaders or any other modern case to be a consistent monsters.

The atheist may very well argue that this is special pleading. Yet, they cannot make a case on the point because the consistency or inconsistency of the matter comes from the presuppositions and beliefs of the system of thought held by those committing said atrocities. Since these commands relate to unique circumstances, it cannot be properly applied to discuss the consistency of other incidents, unless those instances can reasonably be determined to have occurred under the auspices of Old Testament Israel and under the direction of a properly credentialed prophet.   The atheist cannot argue that these circumstances apply to the crusades.

The atheist might attempt to resort to focusing on the atrocities of the conquest itself to prove their point, yet they cannot do so without violating their own presuppositions. Per their presuppositions, the Old Testament is neither inspired nor is it history. They have no basis to uncritically seize these portions of the Old Testament as being true, and declaring other portions false. Either they admit that the conquest was God’s judgment declared supernaturally through prophets as recorded in the Old Testament or they have no evidence that the conquest had a religious component, if they admit it happened at all.

On this basis, the discussion of the Old Testament is a non-data point for the discussion of the consistency of monsters. The principles involved are unique, and Christians do not consider this doctrine Germaine to the Church age.

Moral Argument from Atrocities: The Crusaders and the Slaughter of the Innocents

I want to begin this study with the “home team.” There is no such thing as an unbiased or completely objective observer, and therefore it is always wise to make certain one’s own house is in order before moving on to discuss someone else’s home. The crusades are the most prominent example of atrocities that can be truly charged to nominal Christianity.

Many Evangelicals will object immediately, arguing that the crusades occurred under auspices of the Catholic Church – but it is always difficult to make the distinction between Evangelicalism and Catholicism before the Reformation.

Most of the forerunners of the Reformation were simply one stream within the nominally Christian Western Church. Catholicism did not declare the doctrine of Salvation by Grace through Faith alone to be heretical until 1423, with the burning at the stake of John Hus; the first crusade began in 1096 and ended in 1099. Likewise, most crusades occurred before Thomas Acquinas combined Christian thought with Aristotelian metaphysics to form what is modern Catholic dogma.

Others might question the crusaders’ salvation, but this we are unable to judge (Matt. 7:1-5). Furthermore, the world will always view this as intellectually dishonest (whether it actually is, or not). While it may be true that the Crusades lack the evidence of a regenerated heart, for argumentation with those outside of the faith this distinction is a dead end, no matter how it contributes to the logical consistency of the Christian worldview.

The crusades were monstrous. The early crusades were advertised and sold as “just wars.” The initial motives of defending Constantinople and Christian pilgrims from alleged abuse, seems pure enough, but as soon as the nobles, generals and merchants took over these purposes soon took a backseat to slaughter and political backstabbing. Most likely, the first crusade ended with the slaughter and rape of civilians within Jerusalem. The second crusade halted on the way to Jerusalem to slaughter Jews living in Christian lands, and is considered by the Jewish people to be the first holocaust. The sacking of Constantinople during the fourth crusade was pure avarice at the instigation of bankers.

The crusaders were monsters, but were they self-consistent monsters? Bernard of Clairveux, who largely instigated the second crusade, along with other Christian leaders, decried the slaughtering of Jews as a violation of the crusader ideal.

If the New Testament is asserted as the central starting point for Christian thought, there is nothing in any letter or gospel to suggest that wholesale slaughter is permissible. The crusades also explicitly violated New Testament principles. For example, Christians are instructed that when the gospel meets hostility, to simply dust off their feet and move along; not to slaughter the hostiles (Mat 10:14-15). Judgment in such cases is clearly left to God. Likewise, Christian belief is that Salvation comes by Grace through Faith: to believe implies a matter of choice and will (John 3:15-20). The fact that this choice exists indicates that religious freedom is an underlying Christian principle.

My Presbyterian friends will disagree with my next point, but I am a Baptist and must answer from my own thinking. The Church, unlike Israel, is not a national government, and therefore does not possess the authority to make war.

Even if the crusades were initially justified, the crusaders became monsters. But, they were not self-consistent monsters, rather their atrocities are evidence of hypocrisy, since they are violations of their supposed Christian convictions.

Moral argument from Atrocities part 1

In debates between Atheists and Christians, it has become common for both sides to make a “moral argument about atrocities.” For atheism the argument is that religion should be abolished because religion is dangerous, often citing 9/11, the crusades, and Nazi Germany. Of course, this obviously contains a grouping error: lumping all theistic systems into a single bucket is intellectually dishonest. Yet for the Christian, it must be acknowledged that the crusades are a notable example of atrocities committed in the name of Christianity.

Likewise, Christians often raise moral arguments as well. In modern times the moral argument is often associated with certain brands of presuppositional apologetics, particularly according to Corneilius Van Til. My main argument will always be that the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ is the strongest support for the truth of Christainity. I commonly call this the positive case for Christ. Yet, if Christianity is true, then it should be able to accurately describe or explain reality. This means that many secondary arguments such as the moral arguments have validity: if Christianity is true, then that which the Bible says concerning the nature of man, man’s conscience and the results of sanctification should be observable. Christians, therefore also make a moral argument concerning atrocities, usually pointing to the Soviet Union and to Nazi Germany as evidence that atheism is bad for society. While this certainly does not prove Christianity, it is nonetheless a useful argument.

So, if both atheists and Christians have committed atrocities, then how do we judge which moral argument concerning atrocities is valid, or do we simply argue for a moral equivalency? I suggest that the problem presents itself when we consider exactly how the case is made. Usually, the argument is made by association, and it is usually made at the surface level. Personally, I’m suggesting a new approach: the key to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the argument regarding atrocities is whether or not the monsters are self-consistent with their worldview.

In the next two articles I will address the specifics concerning these arguments from the viewpoint of the Soviet Union and from the viewpoint of the crusades, these are exemplary, the reasoning I am applying can be applied in other cases as well. I will ignore the Third Reich for a number of reasons: first, atheists attempt to identify Hitler as a Christian, based on the use of Christian symbols and language in his propaganda. This is evidence of a historical naivete on the part of atheists. Bernie Madoff claimed to be investing people’s money, but clearly this was not his practice. While this first problem is clearly based on a poor understanding of history, the second problem is that we don’t know that Hitler actually was an atheist, either, though we have very good reason to believe he was. While it is undeniable that the Third Reich and Hitler were greatly influenced by evolutionary theory, there are theistic evolutionists (such as Michael Behe). The National Socialists were also heavily influenced by both Spiritualism and Germanic Neo-paganism (particularly in the SS); Nazi atrocities therefore are best viewed as their own category.