I Couldn’t Pass It Up, Either

Signed, Martin Luther

~signed, Martin Luther

Hah, what a joke, right? I mean, Martin Luther didn’t actually say that.

Right? Guys? …. Bueller?

*Cue the pin-drop sound effect.

I was doing some seemingly unrelated reading about Martin Luther a couple days ago when I came across the very quote we were joking about a little while back right here on theophiliacs. It makes for a funny sign (almost), until you discover the guy who penned this little phrase was Martin Luther himself, and that he actually meant it.

So unfortunately, it’s not a joke, and even more unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Luther follows that up with things like:

“There is, on earth, among all dangers, no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason. Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.”

So apparently I’m a huge danger since I use my brain-meat to make rational choices. And so are you guys.

*Cue the Oh-no-he-didn’t sound byte.

* * *

A rather conveniently placed, uh... chicken.

A rather conveniently placed, uh... chicken.

You know, quite frankly, I’m sick of feeling like this. It’s like I’m one of the people in the crowd as the Emperor walks by with his cash and prizes hanging out for all to see, and some little kid is saying, “He’s naked, he’s naked! The Emperor is naked! Why won’t anybody listen to me?”

And I reply, “What are you talking about, kid? That’s best looking outfit I’ve I’ve ever seen!”

Then I come across some blasphemous headline in the paper the following week. No doubt shocked that the story says the emperor was, in fact, buck-naked, I take it upon myself to do some research of my own and prove that the article is a lie.

At which point it only gets worse.

In fact, as I am writing this, an article over at Unreasonable Faith posted yesterday morning came up in my keyword search for Martin Luther quotes, and that article happens to be along the same lines as what I’ve been finding out for myself the last few days.

Turns out Martin Luther was also quite anti-Semitic;

“Perhaps the Jews sent their servants with plates of silver and pots of gold to gather up Judas’ piss with the other treasures, and then they ate and drank his offal…”

“They [Jews] should be knocked to pieces, strangled and stabbed, secretly and openly, by everybody who can do it.”

Not surprisingly, based on those quotes and scores of others, but quite surprisingly to myself and doubtless many of you reading this now; the Nazi Reich Church of Hitler’s Germany based a lot of their anti-Semitic ideals on Luther’s writings and belief’s. The Protestant Bishop Martin Sasse lauded Luther as the “greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”

*Cue the jaw-hitting-the-floor sound effect.

Honestly, I couldn’t believe that this anti-intellectual “Reason is the greatest enemy…” quote was really something Martin Luther would preach, not when I first read it. And so, like a good, (brainwashed?) Christian boy I assumed it was the work of some paranoid, doubt-mongering atheist trying to smear Luther’s good name. I mean, the man who prompted the translation of the bible into readable languages? The Father of the Reformation? The man who gave us A Mighty Fortress is Our God? (Okay, bad example.) You mean to tell me that guy was a Jew-hating, reason-bashing masochist. Oh, I won’t even go in to the masochism stuff, suffice it to say I’m blown away by the fact that anyone ever followed this guy in the first place.

And I’ve also been reading about how the Lutheran church has historically been doing their best to keep more racists from using these ideas of Luther’s against Jews, especially since WWII. So, it’s something they just want to keep quiet?

Isn’t that like saying, “Well, our founding father was one of the biggest Jew haters of his time, and apparently an inspiration to the likes of Hitler and, ipso facto, a post-humous sponsor of the Holocaust…. but hey, some good came of it, too. Our priests can drink.”

*Cue the dramatic montage, set to cheesy I-don’t-know-what’s-right-anymore music.

Did Martin Luther do some good things? I’d still like to think so. I mean, the church would not look the way it does today were it not for his questioning of Catholicism. But I also have to reassess all of those things light of this new information. (New to me, that is.) He represents the primary historical branch from the Catholic church, which I’ve always believed was a good thing, but also represents a primary historical advocate of violence against the Jewish people, which I’ve always believed was a bad thing.

Sadly, it seems like the only way to avoid this sort of ongoing disappointment for a critical thinker like me is to stop reading anything that isn’t written primarily as a defense of Christianity. But once I turn my mind off to the other side of the argument and opposing viewpoints, haven’t I stopped reasoning and began looking only for support for belief simply because I want to believe? And wouldn’t I be doing exactly that which I took issue with just days ago, as spelled out in that anti-intellectual quote itself?

Or is reason truly faith’s greatest enemy, after all?

I’m dying here, guys. It’s just killing me. Honestly, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath. But I wonder, are we sure the baby’s even there to begin with?

* * *

(If you want a pretty decent and ‘relatively’ unbiased synopsis of his life, writings and thoughts, check the article over at wikipedia, which cites almost 200 references. A lot of it was familiar, even to me, a non-Lutheran, until I got down to the anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism section.)



  1. Aquinas also said that reason is a whore who can be made to lie in anyone’s bed.

    *cue disappointed horn–“waa-waa-waa-waaaa”*

    I wonder if, momentarily, we looked at this from an Eastern position, specifically Buddhism. The various manuals on meditation speak of, and here I think the christian contemplatives would soundly agree, the mind as simply a part of the human experience. The mind can indeed sometimes get in our way. Can I highly recommend the book, “Turning the Mind into and Ally.”? Here in the west, we put so much stock into rational inquiry and nailing things down into categories. This scientistic outlook truly is the enemy of faith in that faith is trust, NOT certainty.

    All this said however, God, the Church, and our Scriptures can, and indeed demand, our most rigorous questioning. But there comes a point that we need to rest in God. Here we are on the level of experience, before we try to frame that experience in the language of doctrine and theology.

    On to Luther: unfortunately Luther was not a systematic theologian. I liken him to Augustine. When they write about experiencing and questioning God they are beautiful. When they get to writing polemic, it’ll make you want to leave the church!

    Luther was a man of his day, and that is ugly. I’m NOT defending his anti-semetism, if he were writing today he’d be out on a rail, however, the guy was literally writing on the run. Luther was trying to build a true theocracy and with the help of the princes of Germany he was succeeding. Germany was becoming reformed, and fast, like a few years. But who wasn’t going to convert? The Jewish people there. Luther treated the Jew like the Puritans in the colonies treated anyone who didn’t conform to their ideal of a “city on a hill.” This is when blood libels became in vogue: disgusting.

    Unfortunately as protestants, which I guess I am one, we have this Uncle Luther in our family tree. He did alot of good, but he was a racist bigot. I think you are doing the right thing though: talking about all the aspects of Uncle Luther, warts and all. BTW: He also had a Diet of Worms.
    *cue rim shot*


  2. Luther’s anti-reason quotes were, if memory serves, directed at Catholic scholasticism and its form of theological reasoning, not at logic per se.

    There’s no context to qualify or mitigate his antisemitism.

    For me, I long ago shed the notion that I could look to any theologian of the Christian church to be an absolute paragon of virtue–and certainly not any of the magisterial Reformers. I take from the church’s theologians what I can–what seems to accord with Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience–and leave the rest.

    By the way, before we go crazy on the foibles of Luther et al, we should consider that we ourselves are simul justus et peccator–a little good and bad.


  3. “simul justus et peccator” well said George. I think that quote might be Luther’s best legacy.

  4. I think I have always put a lot of stock into certain figures in history that I saw as catalysts or movers and shakers. I understand, to a certain degree, where Catholicism came from and how it developed, although I won’t claim to understand it completely. But I also understand why it was necessary for the reformation to take place.

    And I suppose it should astound me, or anyone, that Luther could have been behind such seemingly positive steps forward and such obviously negative ideals in other areas. That only proves I am human and not too jaded to be shocked by other humans. Which is a good thing. I hope I never get to a point where news like that seems commonplace or boring.

    At the same time, I honestly just want that tangible, absolute to be found in something. So far, it seems like the absolutes are characterized in religion as the unseeable attributes of an unseeable god. But those are unobservable absolutes at best, and let’s be honest, they seem to change over time as culture changes.

    Are we at a point of conceding that there are no absolute truths, at best very few? This is how science operates. We establish the best possible theory to date, and when new information becomes available and challenges that stance, we must adapt our theory. Is religion so different? Because the only reason I’m looking for an absolute is because I’ve been told it exists.

    Man, I’m rambling now. I think I’ll stop before I go off on some weird tangent, as I am know to do.

  5. I am taken back that you didn’t know about the Nazi and Luther link. But the link goes back quite a bit further. Some of the eastern church fathers wrote comments in their commentaries that were anti-semite, although I don’t know if Luther had access to them or not.

    First point I’d say is that you have to understand that Luther and those before him lived in the concept of Christendom. The Jews were blamed for the black plague because strangely to those back then the Jews didn’t suffer from these plague as much as the rest of them. Likely from them keep the old testament cleanliness laws. Before that in Spain and France they assisted the Muslims and of course if one reads scripture literally they and their children are to blame for the murder of the messiah. Faith groups outside of Christianity were threats to the civil society not just the church or so it was viewed back then.

    So Luther just represents what his culture held in common. I’m sure in 300 years Christians will view our acceptance of abortion as unthinkable or the fact that half the world is starving and many western Christians are over weight.

  6. Reed,

    I don’t think people doing or saying embarrassing things is nearly as impactful as those who espouse violence or hatred toward an entire race of people, especially when they are leaders. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two.

    I’m not perfect, either, and I’ve certainly said some dumb things in my time, but you and I both have two major differences with Luther.

    1) We’re not huge racists.

    2) We don’t have any followers.

    The first one is of little consequence, since being a racist is no bigger or less a ‘sin’ than anything else you or I actually are guilty of. I’ll agree to that. But the second is of major consequence, since a position of authority comes with added responsibility. Bad actions or beliefs are still bad actions or beliefs, but their impact is much more severe when a person in a higher position is the one who does or believes those things and influences others to follow in their steps.

  7. I’ve really been enjoying this thread. I like what read said about all our uncles in the family tree. But I have to say that your statement, “Actually, now that I think about it, we’d be left with Jesus, since he’s the only guy we can agree on who didn’t do or say anything to make us Christians feel silly.” made me laugh a little because most of the time Jesus makes us look silly, especially when we get tied up up with proclaiming the church and not Christ. This gets back to the original post about how “reason is the enemy of faith.” Jesus is so counter-cultural and exceptional that we try to tame him at all turns (read as:the quest for the historical Jesus). But Jesus is a mystery ultimately, and I mean this in the most high form of mystery, not a secret. And as Flannery O’Connor wrote, “mystery is an embarrassment to the modern mind.”

  8. King David, who was in charge of an army and a nation, decided to use his power to murder a man. David did this because he slept with this man’s wife, got her pregnant, and didn’t want her husband to expose David’s sin. But David is a man that we look up to as an example to all Christians, and even if we don’t like David, God did! He was still considered to be a man after God’s own heart.

    Abraham slept with his servant in order to have a baby instead of trusting that God would be true to His promise. He also offered his wife to other men because he was looking out for himself and did not want to be harmed by them.

    Even the fact that David had several wives is wrong. But in that day, it was not seen as a grave sin like we would see it now. If I was a Christian leader, but I decided to sleep with many women, no one would follow me. My point is that things change over time. Culture and compromise often make some sins seem okay to be a part of.

    I believe that what Quickbeam said about us being fat, materialistic, and selfish is a great point. Many of our “Christian Leaders” have large bank accounts, and don’t focus on the poor, widowed, and fatherless as they should. In the future (actually it has started already) people will see this type of behavior and be repulsed. Does that mean that these people were not of God? Does it mean that they had nothing to offer our world? Does it mean that we can no longer get anything out of their literature? The answer may be “yes” for some of these leaders, but it should also be “No” for others.

    I believe that these leaders will have to answer to God for their actions. I believe that they will be more severely judged because of their influence and responsibility as leaders, but i believe that we should leave that up to God since we are of no position to accurately judge.

    We can, however, look at the fruit that came from what these people have done. I believe that Luther’s fruit greatly outweighs his shortcomings and their effects.

  9. “If I was a Christian leader, but I decided to sleep with many women, no one would follow me. ”

    Haha…. I wish that were true. You just have to find the right people is all. How do you think polygamist cults start?

    I agree with you assessment of the Biblical stories, there is some bad behavior in there, but I simply do not see how you come to the conclusion that the “fruit greatly outweighs” the “shortcomings.”

    So, there was the whole Holocaust thing, but it pales in comparison to all the denominational variety we enjoy these days? I disagree completely.

    If there weren’t Biblical (and historical) examples of such obviously wrong things, the unscrupulous would not have anything in the Bible or in religious history to back up their crazy ideas. That would have helped to stop, or at least slow down, hundreds of insane cults through the centuries. Although they would likely have just turned to some other old religious text to back up their ideas. But at least the bible would be out of the crazy cult picture and have a much better track record because of it.

    In my opinion, we take the bible much too literally (and much too seriously?), which allows all kinds of interpretive levity. A lesson I’m learning more and more as I continue learning about the history of Christianity.

  10. ADJ:

    Blaming Luther for the Holocaust is a bit much. No doubt he contributed to German antisemitism, but nearly 400 years passed between his death and Auschwitz. If the fruit of his ideas was genocide, why did it take 400 years for those ideas to become ripe?

    Oh, and there’s always the little fact that Hitler was born into the Catholic Church, which wouldn’t have been greatly influenced by Luther’s ideas one way or another.


  11. Regardless, the bible has promoted genocide for centuries.

    I know it’s somewhat out of context, but still, the numerical death toll in the bible is over 2.3 million, which is staggering, and that’s not counting the stories where an numerical death toll isn’t given, like the global flood, the tenth plague of Egypt, etc….

    For chapter and verse summary of these deaths, many of them entire people groups or cities, I refer you to: http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-many-has-god-killed-revised.html

  12. That was interesting about God\’s death toll. That death entered the world via sin. The bible doesn\’t or should I say God did not commit genocide. He created us and He can take us out,we are His whether we admit it or not. I wonder however if by physical death God may have saved some of them – spiritually after all to simply focus on the physical death is to ignore what comes after it. Spiritual life is far more important then physical life although naturally the two will be rejoined at the resurrection.

    Frankly its a toss up for me btwn Luther and the De Medici popes as to who did more hard to Christendom.

    ADJ I don\’t think we take the bible literally enough. The issues generally come when we don\’t take all the scriptures that address and issue. It we don\’t have an answer somehow to the modern mind that\’s a very bad thing. I don\’t think that true. Mystery as in not yet known or discovered is not a bad thing.

    I use to think that in Revelations where it speaks of men with animals bodies could only be taken literally. But with British scientists playing around with mixing animal and human DNA together perhaps I need to look at those passages in a more literal way.

  13. (No worries. I’ll see if I can remove the typos.)

    In the context of how I meant the “literal” comment:

    I don’t believe God literally smote those people or cities, or commanded his army to level those cities and wipe out those people groups or keep 32,000 virgins as sex slaves. That’s simply awful, but that was a historical practice that we overlook because, well, it’s in the bible.

    As in 2 Chronicles. In Ch 14:9-15, God smites one million (“a thousand thousand”) Ethiopians and in chapter 21: 14-19, he causes Jeroboams bowels to fall out.

    Chances are, if this happened to Jeroboam, he was very sick, and since it was otherwise unexplainable, they assumed God must have done it to him.

    And about the million Ethiopians, well, if that happened, it was likely a war. But to justify killing a million people, when you say God did (or in other cases, commanded) it, then you have no more explaining to do.

    If Sodom and Gomorra were really leveled with fire and brimstone, chances are a volcano erupted and leveled the city, and since that was so hard to understand to a bronze age brain, it must have been God leveling the city.

    Then, when people asked, “But why?” they have to assume God was judging the city, so when the oral tradition finally gets written down centuries later, you have this whole elaborate story of Lot and his family and the wickedness or Sodom and Gomorra and God’s judgement. Try telling them that it’s all an act of nature with no moral cause. They’d have stoned you.

    I mean, right in the middle of that story, you have this gem of a line: Genesis 18:20-21:

    Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

    As if God, in his omnipotence, wasn’t quite sure what was going on down there, so he had to go check it out.

    I think that must be taken as the OT writers simply putting God at the helm of their own military conquest, their unexplainable illnesses, and giving him credit for acts of nature and other seemingly unexplainable things, as they wrote those books. If God is behind it all, there are no more questions to ask at that time.

    That’s why even today we call natural disasters “acts of God.” Not rainbows and butterflies, but hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis. Things that claim lives.

    Of course, I believe those things are acts of nature, with natural, understandable causes. And I believe sickness is just that, sickness. I don’t believe, as even my parents do, that I am paying for the sins of my father and my forefathers in my own sickness. I think that’s just a cop out.


    In light of all this, if we insist on taking the biblical accounts of wars and smiting and such all literally, as if God was totally behind it all, then first and foremost, we have a God with very bloody hands.

    Second, we have a perfect biblical example of why it’s okay to annihilate an entire people group that is disobeying or rejecting God. If this is really God’s history, how can you argue against it? And how can you prove it’s not our “right” as a “Christian nation” to bomb those infidels and unbelievers in whatever country you want?

    I mean, they believe in their own version of God, but it’s not our version, so they must be annihilated OT style.


    For me, this is where reason steps in and says, “Hold on. This just doesn’t make sense.” Nature is nature, sickness is sickness, and war is war.

    In general, we are greedy people (and people groups) and we disagree on things and we don’t like other people (or people groups) for various reasons, so when we go to war, let’s just admit it’s for our own reasons and God does not endorse it and likely never has.

    So back to Luther. Sure, he did some good things for church history, but obviously God wouldn’t have endorsed his anti-Semitism, but that didn’t stop the Reich Church from basing a lot on him.

    In this example, we have no problem seeing how God did not endorse the Reich Church. Why is it so hard to apply the same logic and reason to OT war stories?

  14. ADJ:

    I don’t like the OT war stories any more than the next guy. The difference is, I’m stuck with them as Scripture. Now, obviously, if you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, you don’t need to defend the justice of God against the stories. You can take any of the tacks that you made in your comment above. And to be perfectly honest, I think some of the ideas are attractive.

    But here are the resulting problems, as I see them:

    (1) Why stop with the OT war stories? Why not eliminate Jesus’ teaching about hell in the Gospels, not to mention the judgment passages of Paul, and the crazy parts of Revelation? In other words, why not simply discredit the Bible as a whole, rather than focusing on the OT?

    (2) On what basis do we do discredit all these stories? (a) Biblical? In which case we’re cherry picking the evidence that suits our pre-existing ideas. (b) The “kernel” of biblical teaching–namely, that God is love–instead of the “husk”–“God is a consuming fire”? But how do we know which is which? Indeed, since they sit alongside each other in Scripture, how do we know that they’re not compatible with one another? The greatest OT passages about God’s love come in Deuteronomy, which also happens to threaten–in minute detail–the greatest plagues against Israel if it forsakes God’s love. (c) Tradition? There’s nothing in the tradition of the church that would legitimize treating these OT Scriptures as you do. Indeed, Marcionism–which condemned the OT God in even fiercer terms than you do–is a heresy. (d) Rationalism? In other words, we simply conclude that the OT God and his wars violate some canon of reason. If this goes on to cast the entire Scripture and church tradition in doubt, so be it. But the funny thing about reason is, as Alasdair McIntrye pointed out, is that it all depends on “whose” reason it is. Evolutionary naturalism gives no reason for thinking genocide is wrong. In an environment of scarcity, whatever helps a species survive is good. Interestingly, Hitler was a fan of Darwin and his epigone.

    (3) The biggest problem I have, though, is that this kind of reasoning–the de-legitimization of the OT–has often had the perverse (if unintended) consequence of antisemitism. How so? Well, if God didn’t order all these wars, then the Jews wanted them and used God as a pretext to justify them. But doesn’t that just show how crafty those Jews can be? And how vicious?

    But back to your question: “we have no problem seeing how God did not endorse the Reich Church. Why is it so hard to apply the same logic and reason to OT war stories?” Unfortunately, I have no answers that are satisfying to me. Therefore I know they won’t be satisfying to you.


  15. George,

    I think you have got it. What is it that determines that the Bible is The Word of God? Is it reason? I have a hard time finding a reasonable argument for believing in the sole inspiration of the Bible. Is it tradition? One is forced to ask whose tradition. Is it revelation? Again this is subjective. You say you are stuck with them as scripture. What does that mean? I take the Bible as scripture, but I have no issue with accepting that some of the wisdom in it is flawed. Why must we take a wholistic approach to our hermeneutics? So to the issues you raised here is my response:

    1. I agree that we should not stop with the OT. It is arbitrary to argue that only the NT is inherrant. The truth is every last word of the Bible is human and should thus be scrutinized equally. Does a doctrine of hell make sense? If no then we should throw it out.

    2. This is the age old question isnt it? Since we have discussed this many times before I will suffice it to say reason and revelation are the only relevant ways of determining a scriptures validity, IMHO.

    3. This is a legit point, though it hardly disproves the logic of skeptical evaluation of the Bible. It is unfortunate that anything would be used for bigotry. That said, I would argue that the bigotry that can be asribed to de-legitimizing the OT is far less than that which can be ascribed to more “traditional” readings. I would also say that it lacks the perspective that any fair critique requires.

    These are just some thoughts. It seems like you and I have not engaged in some time. Please feel free to rip away at the foundations of my “flawed” logic ;).


  16. George,

    Interesting points.

    1) Well, since you asked, I don’t stop with the OT war stories. I think most of the influential holy books we see in large religions today are, in fact, created equal. That is, they are man’s attempt to describe otherwise unexplainable things or experiences. Sometimes we can look back and see how people were describing natural disasters, like floods, and natural processes, like the sun rising and setting. At other times, the events described need more than a cursory glance, but I think there is a lot to learn form trying to unpack those things.

    2) Well, I wouldn’t use a biblical basis to discredit the bible. That seems backwards, but I suspect that is your point there.

    The “love” versus “consuming fire” argument, I think, is really semantics and language, not an actual description of verifiable attributes of God.

    Put simply: Can I show that God is love? Not really. Can I show he is a consuming fire? Again, probably not. This simply depends on what I am either predisposed to believe or what I am taught about God.

    I cannot demonstrate the attributes of God in any verifiable way, I simply have to decide what I believe based on my past experiences and what I have been taught, and how those two worlds mesh.

    3) I agree, you can use this argument against ‘crafty Jews,’ but you can also apply this argument against people in general, or use it to parallel with other specific people groups.

    IMO, people are crafty people fight wars and people also argue for peaceful solutions. I think we’re all in that boat, and we’re all trying to figure it out.

    I agree with Jeremy that anything used as justification for bigotry is, in general, bad. Further, I think a rational society tries to distance itself from those beliefs, just like we are doing right now by trying to understand a character like Luther. He had profound positive and negative influences on people around him, so it makes sense to *try* and make sense of all that.


    All in all, I think it’s an innate human tendency to want your belief, your people group, or your sphere of people that you perceive as normative to be more than just that. We want it to be right, not just our particular cultural custom. We want it to be superior. In order for it to be superior, we have to use some ultimate reasoning. Religion, I think, can feed into this in many ways.

    All that is to say, we’re human.

  17. Several more questions for ADJ and Jeremy:

    (1) It seems to me that at the end of the day, neither of you believes strongly in the possibility of divine revelation, if either of you believe in it at all. I’m inferring this from ADJ’s statement that religions are “man’s attempt to describe otherwise unexplainable things or experiences,” which I take to be exclusive of the notion that they (or at least one of them) can be based on genuine divine revelation. Jeremy wrote two things that caught my attention: “The truth is every last word of the Bible is human and should thus be scrutinized equally. Does a doctrine of hell make sense? If no then we should throw it out.” And, “reason and revelation are the only relevant ways of determining a scriptures validity, IMHO.” The former statement seems to take away any force that the latter statement might give. Am I correct in thinking that neither of you believes strongly in the possibility of divine revelation?

    2. If I am correct, then the remaining option available to you is some form of human reasoning lying at the source of religion. Again, ADJ’s definition of religion is apposite: “man’s attempt to describe otherwise unexplainable things or experiences.” Now, this form of reasoning need not be Cartesian, i.e., clear and distinct ideas yielding epistemological certainty. Instead, it can be more probabilistic, Humean even: empirical and slightly skeptical. Am I correct in this supposition about your “rationalism” (note the quote marks; I don’t intend this as either an insult nor a definition in the historical mode)?

    The reason I ask these two questions is because both of you seem quite certain that the so-called genocide passages cannot be authentically revelatory and that the reason they cannot be is because God is not a bigot. Jeremy seems more certain of the grounds of divine non-bigotry than ADJ, perhaps because he is more open to the possibility of divine revelation?

    Which leads me to my third question…

    3. Might it be possible, either from the standpoint of revelation or from the standpoint of reason that the Canaanites really were so evil that justice required them to be killed?

    Which leads me to my fourth question…

    4. Might it be possible that killing the Canaanites was the right course of action but killing other population groups the wrong course of action? It’s easy to deal in generalities. “Thou shalt not kill,” for example would seem to state an absolute prohibition of any kind of killing, but surely there is a difference in killing because of aggression and killing because of self-defense. Might there be some similar line of reasoning that would explain the justice of killing Canaanites that would at the same time rule out killing another population group?

    Please don’t take these questions as challenges. I’m trying to figure out what you believe–and yes, I know people in your age group don’t like being labeled, which ironically is still a form of labeling. Plus, I’m trying to think these issues through myself (still, at forty).

    For me, I’m trying to square certain theological presuppositions: (1) The Bible is divine revelation; (2) God is just; (3) God ordered the killing of the Canaanites; (4) this order does not legitimate genocide; and (5)God is gracious. I’m not sure that these presuppositions can be squared, although it seems that the church has–for some reason–refused to surrender any of them, as you seem to be doing with (1), (3), and (4).


  18. “The reason I ask these two questions is because both of you seem quite certain that the so-called genocide passages cannot be authentically revelatory and that the reason they cannot be is because God is not a bigot.”

    I agree with that.

    “Jeremy seems more certain of the grounds of divine non-bigotry than ADJ, perhaps because he is more open to the possibility of divine revelation?”

    I think this is true, but I’ll let Jeremy weigh in for himself.

    “Might it be possible, either from the standpoint of revelation or from the standpoint of reason that the Canaanites really were so evil that justice required them to be killed?”

    I don’t know about this, honestly. Specifically, because what we know about the Canaanites is limited compared to what we know, say, about Al Qaeda.

    I could probably form a good argument about why it might be ‘just’ to kill them, because I can see no good (and lots of bad) coming from their survival. They are self proclaimed terrorists and they admit they will go on bombing and murdering as long as they can. And they’re recruiting, thus passing on their murderous, extremist beliefs.

    Is killing them good? Well, categorically, killing isn’t good, but it’s the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being allowing them to survive and kill even more people at their own whim.

    Of course, in light of that, it’s easy to see how one could formulate exactly what you are suggesting. If God is just, then when he ordered the killing of the Canaanites, obviously they had earned it through their actions.

    I think I am more of the type that does not believe in a God that intervenes in every day life to nearly the extent that a text like the Bible would suggest.

    Let me also admit, as I have tried to before, that this is more a statement of “where I am now,” not necessarily “where I have always been” and definitely not “where I want to be.” I’d like to be more grounded and firm in my beliefs, and I hope that’s not a pipe dream!

    Does this answer your questions?

  19. Tony,

    If the foundational texts of Christianity, or “religions” in general, are merely human attempts at explaining sensory phenomenon, then why bother with faith at all? Can’t you find your own human explanation of your own life’s experience?

  20. Tony (Hunt)…and ADJ while I’m at it:

    I think this is the perspective of Buddhism. There is no revelation coming to us from the other side. All we have to guide us is human wisdom.

    I’d cite chapter and verse on this, but I don’t actually know much about Buddhism beyond smatterings that I’ve read here and there.

  21. {edit}Tony & George,

    Yes, I think so.

    But I don’t think that belittles the value of a tradition (religious or otherwise) and the community it establishes when it’s adherents don’t take it to extremes. I suppose I’m at the point of arguing for tolerance, but ask me again next week and we’ll see where I am then….


  22. Tony,

    I hear this from classical protestant “liberals” and I don’t get it. What is the value of a tradition? If “religion” and/or “religious texts and beliefs” are merely human attempts to explain natural phenomena then why sing songs about the Trinity, salvation, etc…? Why subject your kids to that?

    Because logically thought through, you don’t think that any religious tradition has any authority to make truth claims, however tentative they are.

  23. The singing of songs is a minor point from my perspective. The trinity, the infallibility of scripture and things like this are interesting when you look at how they developed historically, but that is a tangent.

    To the point: The value in the community established through a religious tradition is the community itself, with the associated emphasis on morality and charity and equality. Good values to emphasize IMO. And when we rid ourselves of the extremes (holy wars, martyrdom, etc.), a religion can add a lot of good to the community outside of it’s walls but within it’s sphere of influence.

    And I disagree about truth claims. I think a secular morality can at least be equally viable in a society, but a religion can also make truth claims, because those truths are rarely absolute if we really investigate them. Allow me to explain.

    In the same way that Christian morality changes, as you have touched on in your most recent post, so does secular ethics and morals. I think we progress as new information becomes available, and I don’t think this makes secular ethics necessarily at odds with religious ethics. We are both progressing in the same basic direction, though we sometimes arrive at similar conclusions via different avenues.

    Case in point, my grandfather did not watch movies, play with face cards, go bowling or even own a TV because these were sinful. My father has no issue with 90% of the things his father had a problem with, because my father understands the improper emphasis on external indicators of holiness, at least to a degree. Within the context of religious morality, he is making a good case for his stances.

    I agree with many of my father’s ethical stances. I certainly agree with him to a larger degree than he agreed with his father, because those stances still stand to reason.

    But we arrive at similar conclusions for entirely different reasons. He believes it is God who has revealed his current ethical model to him through scripture. I have come to almost the same conclusions on my own using reason and rationality to critique secular ethics, although he might argue God gave me the ability to do that and is therefore vicariously responsible for my ethical mode of thought regardless of whether I realize it or not.

    But regardless, I think good ethics are good ethics, and they stand to reason. Christian ethics changes just as much as secular ethics does, and that’s a good thing.


    I think we’ve completely changed topics by now. Maybe we should jump into your post and discuss further there within the context of the new topic.


  24. Alright, I’ll write up a post on this then.

    For what it’s worth, singing songs to/about God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all that it’s about. If I just wanted morality and community I can get that at the YMCA. I certainly wouldn’t subject my daughters to religion.

  25. ADJ:

    To me, it seems like you have a pragmatic defense of religion. If a community “works” (my word, not yours), it really doesn’t matter what the truth status of their beliefs is. Of course, you’re assuming the truth status and absoluteness of one brand of morality–namely, “morality and charity and equality.” But why should we assume that those values–rather than, say, righteousness, hierarchy, and punishment of wickedness–are the truer or more valuable ethical norms?

    To me–and I’ll admit I may simply not get what you’re saying–it seems that you believe a religious community can believe whatever it wants, as long as it believes what you want when it comes to behavior.


  26. Almost… but then again, I haven’t thought about it from that point of view. I certainly wouldn’t want to put myself in the center, as the decider of whatever is right to be believed. I just want to be part of the discussion.

    Off the top of my head, I think that religious views that no longer seem rational within their cultural context either adapt or begin to die out. In that way, it may be true to assert that religions can believe whatever they want to believe, so long as the status quo will tolerate them.

    But I dunno… let me think this one over a bit more before I commit to that.

  27. Wow I don’t check this blog for a day and the conversation runs ramped without me. Let me take a moment to catch up to the rest of you.

    Allow me to sum up views. First of all I prefer experienced rather than revealed. Revelation means that God is acting in such a way toward humanity ( to see my issue with this read my comments to Tony). However, for sake of clarity I will use the term revelation for my response. I believe whole-heartedly in divine revelation. I also believe just as strongly in human interpretation. Put in context of my previously quoted statements, I believe that truth is arrived at by the interplay of revelation with reason. The Bible, however, is not revelation, IMO. Rather, it is interpretation. I dont believe any scripture is innerant. I don’t think God is whispering the words of our sacred texts into their authors ears. You mentioned Buddhism, and I would go more along those lines of understanding revelation.

    Allow me to explain. The way I see it man interacts (relates) with God. From that interaction he feels a sense of love or joy or peace ect. He now looks at his current situation and tries to interpret it through the experience he just had. Lets say the interaction left him with a sense of justice. Looking at his nation going to war with a people whom he sees as grotesque or immoral, one can see how he would come to the conclusion that a just God would want him to decimate this evil enemy. This is how I see the Bible and all sacred scriptures for that matter. There lies within them a wealth of wisdom founded in revelation. However, there is also plenty of interpretation which when measured with reason can be shown to be lacking perspective.

    Tony Hunt,

    This is where tradition comes in for me. I should preface by saying that I put far less emphasis on tradition than you. IMO tradition serves as built in perspective. For instance in my hypothetical above the individual who just experienced God’s justice is likely to undervalue or ignore all together the aspect of God’s mercy. In fact, that may be an aspect of God that has never been revealed to him. However, if he is part of a tradition then he can appeal to the experiences of those before him. He can read scriptures written by those to whom the mercy of God has been revealed. This allows for a more accurate interpretation of the revelation he has received. It occurs to me that one could easily misinterpret what I am saying. I am not dismissing either the immanence nor the transcendance of God. On a side note, neither do Buddhists. Rather, I am arguing that God is the epitomy of these various characteristics. Put another way, “God is love” not “God loves”. The differance is essence vs. action. To act in love is to put something on which is differant than ones essence. This is for humanity to do. If God were to act in love then he could not be love. It would require voids in “his” essence which were not love.

    Tony J,

    I refuse to call you ADJ.

    thats all,

  28. Jeremy:

    Thanks for the clarification! The problem I have with your concept of revelation can best be stated as an analogy.

    Suppose a young man is set up on a blind date. Afterward, the friend who set him up asks how things went. “She was beautiful,” the young man explains. “An amazing conversationalist. So interesting. And we had so much in common.” But–and this is the important plot twist–the friend knows that the young woman never showed up; the date never happened.

    What’s the point of this analogy? Just as you can never have an “experience” of a person who’s not “revealed” herself to you, so you cannot have an experience of God in the absence of divine self-revelation. This is simply the way personal knowledge works.

    “Experience” is the subjective side of which “revelation” is the objective side. They require one another. If no subject is there to experience God’s revelation, then revelation hasn’t happened. But by the same token, if revelation hasn’t happened, no subject can experience God.

    So, if the Bible is merely the experiential side of the encounter, where is the revelatory side?


  29. George,

    This is a good insight that you bring to the discussion. Revelation does require an act of revealing. This is why I stated that I prefer to use the word experienced instead of revealed. Using a differant analogy, one experiences an apple by tasting it. The way that an apple tastes however is subject to the way that its juices hit the various parts of the tongue. This is why there is no one description of how an apple tastes. That said, the apple does not reveal itself. There is no action on the part of the apple. It simply exists, and we choose to experience it. This is how I see God. God exists and we choose to experience “him”. The Bible is simply descriptions of peoples experiences of God. I would like to add one final nuance to the position stated above. To say that God “simply exists” in some ways is an understatement on my part. It might be more accurate to say that God “Truly exists” or God “is existence”. By saying simply I was not intending a value judgment. Rather, I was referring to the complexity of the premise. Of course this gets off into a tangent of what existence is which should probably be reserved for another discussion.

    I have one question for you George. You state that you are stuck defending the Justice of God against the revelation of the Bible. Why do you choose to hold both of those views? What is it that forces you to conclude that God is a being and that the Bible is that beings revelation? I don’t ask to antagonize. I am truly perplexed why you would choose to hold onto those views when they are so obviously difficult to uphold in unison. I guess what I am really asking is what conviction has convinced you that the difficult path you have chosen should be adhered to when seemingly simpler paths exist? This is not meant as a form of cunning persausion. I am honestly interested in your motives for belief.


  30. Jeremy:

    In my judgment, it is not enough to say that God exists and the Bible is one record of human experience of him.

    (1) That’s not the way Scripture describes itself. One doesn’t have to agree with every jot and tittle of B.B. Warfield’s famous article, “Inspiration,” to agree with the basic thrust of his argument that according to Scripture, what Scripture says, God says.

    (2) All relationships are a two-way street. But in your use of the analogy, God is mute. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t act. He simply is. Or, it may not even be proper to say that he is since you seem to think he is existence itself or the ground of existence, whatever those terms mean. Consequently, in your understanding, religion can only ever be humanity’s experience of the divine. That’s all there is. The moment you admit that God may speak or act in a self-revelatory way is the moment that you begin to realize that some “experiences” of the divine are not about God at all.

    (3) Which brings me back to your analogy. If someone described an apple–an apple–as tasting like roast beef, most of us would say something is wrong with their tastebuds. On several occasions, you’ve doubted the ability of anyone to question anyone else’s religious experience. You’ve also doubted whether we can make judgments epistemologically between what a sober person believes and what a person high on hallucinogenic mushroom believes. So this analogy probably doesn’t cut it for you. Fine. But taste is not merely a subjective phenomenon, in my book–and neither is experience. It must be experience of something.

    (4) I should clarify that when it comes to the Canaanite killing texts, my problem is more emotional than logical. At a logical level, a case can be made that God could, under specified circumstances, be morally justified in ordering the execution of an entire group of people. One of way of doing that would be using middle knowledge: God foreknew that in all possible worlds, all the Canaanites at the time of Israel’s entry into the Promised Lane were incorrigible and corrupting. No amount of reasoned persuasion would change their minds or behaviors, and allowing them to continue to live–in any possible world–would foment greater evil than Israel executing them all. As I said, this is logically possible. It also leaves me cold. So, on the one hand, logically, I can justify the texts, but at an emotional level, I don’t “feel” good about this justification. Perhaps had I been a Bronze Age Israelite, I would’ve “felt” differently, but I wasn’t and I don’t.

    As for why I would choose the more difficult path, my motivation is fairly simple: As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is divine revelation. So, as a matter of theological and spiritual necessity, I have to take it as is.


  31. George,

    Thank you for your response. I noticed on another thread that you had taken a more pugnacious approach, as you put it. I appreciate the tone you have used in our discussion. To your points:

    1. You make a good point on the intent of scripture. I will have to look into this more. It does seem that the authors, at least some of them, saw their words as divine. My question is what grounds do we determine that this supposed normative reading of scripture is superior to the one that I have proposed. More acutely put which is more authoratative authorial intent or readers perception?

    2.I think you summed up my position pretty well. I don’t ascribe action to God. We enact our focus on God. I’m not sure what your contention was, however, with this point. Were you simply clarifying our differance in perspective?

    3. I would say that if someone says an apple tastes like roast beef I would have to excercise my reasoning faculties to determine how the taste of roast beef can coincide with the taste of apple that I perceived. Of course I would have to start by determining what that person meant by roast beef as to assume it meant the same thing as my perception of said roasted cow would lead me in the wrong direction. I am not sure how you conclude that I am advocating the experience of “nothing”. We are both experiencing an apple.

    4. This is not an issue for me as God is not in the role of judging things. That would be a personification of the object of God. Since I ascribe no action to God I have no need to justify “his” motives.

    Thank you for answering my question, though your answer still perplexes me a little. If I can beg your patience, I would like to probe a bit further. So let me start with your response. Why do you believe the Bible is divine revelation? Also, why are you obligated to take the Bible at face value? Do you not allow for the relativity of perception, thus negating said “face value”?


  32. Jeremy:

    If God does not act, speak, or judge, why is he/she/it worth talking about?

    Analogy: Two guys in a store staring at a scantily clad mannequin. One guy says, “I wonder if she’d go out on a date with me.” The other guy says, “Dude, she’s a mannequin.”

    That’s pretty much the way I feel about your concept of spiritual experience. There’s nothing personal. There’s nothing active. There’s not communicative. God is an Object.

    At best, it seems to me, your concept of God is like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. It plays some function in the smooth operations of the cosmos, but it otherwise quite indifferent to the cosmos. Why should we be different toward an Object that is indifferent toward us?

    Why, in other words, should we care whether a mannequin will go out on a date with us?


  33. George,

    You make a good point, if I was advocating experiencing a mannquin. However, an apple is a better example as it provides nourishment, fulfillment, and enjoyment. The reason that we partake in God is because that is where we find absolute peace, joy, love, etc. ( all of these of course should be negated as mere symbols of that which is actually experienced. So not love but the metaphysical more than love). You make a strong case for mans desire for personal connection. This, IMHO, is why man has often chose to anthropomorphize God. Finding metaphysical peace in the essence of existance is often too abstract for people to grasp. On a side note this is why, IMO, we use human terminology like love to describe metaphysical experiences.

    I understand that this vision of God does not appeal to you at all. I am not trying to argue a perspective. Rather, I would like to understand why the perspective you have appeals to you. You are a well thought out man, so I am sure that this is not the first time you have thought about this question. Thank you for sharing your desire for a personal relationship with God. I am interested in understanding more fully why this is important to you.

  34. Jeremy:

    In media rant, I forgot to answer your questions:

    1. Authorial intent. The author should be the arbiter of what his words mean. If, for example, I were a bad reader of your numerous posts and comments on this blog and came to the conclusion that you were a Christian fundamentalist, you would–no doubt–object strenuously. But if reader perception is more authoritative than authorial intent, why would you object at all?

    2. Part of it was clarifying what you believe, part of it was arguing with you if you believed what I thought you believed. (Isn’t that itself an interesting comment on the relationship between authorial intent and reader perception? Notice, I was trying to square my perception with your intent.) Anyway, my argument against your point of view is best summarized in the mannequin analogy above. Why pay attention to the Divine when it does not (cannot?) pay attention to us?

    3. The point of the analogy is that a person’s experience can be “off” or mistaken. To use a different analogy: A person looking at an oasis in a desert and a person having an hallucination of an oasis in a desert are not experiencing the same thing. The former is objectively looking at an oasis. It exists and is–so to speak–revealing itself to him. The latter is subjectively generating an oasis, perhaps due to thirst, heat, and exhaustion. Epistemologically speaking, we would be fools to build systems that didn’t taken into account the possibility of misperception.

    By the way, apropos of the argument regarding the Canaanites: On your theory of religious experience, what precisely is wrong with the Israelite perception that God was commanding him to kill the Canaanites? If God does not speak, does not act, and does not judge, then how can you say that the Israelite’s perception of God’s command was wrong or mistaken?

    4. I think this brief point gets to the heart of our differences. God is not an Object in Christian theology; he is a person. Persons reason, intend, will, act, speak, and reveal themselves. I return again to my mannequin analogy: Why care about an Object that is indifferent to me? In the case of science, one cares about the object of study because it has technological and medical consequences. But there, of course, the notion is that we can actually know what we’re studying. If I’m understanding your theology correctly, we can’t actually know anything about God. We can’t affirm anything. He exists behind an esoteric veil that can only be experienced. But that doesn’t make sense to me. Which is why I keep resorting to analogies. I don’t know how to explain my discomfort with your position more directly.

    As to your last questions: I love the Bible because I love God, and the Bible is his Word.

    I don’t believe in the relativity of perception, as you do, although I do think beliefs have defeaters. To go back to my oasis/hallucination example, the two men are not viewing the same thing, objectively considered. Their perception is not relative, as if actually seeing an oasis and hallucinating an oasis are epistemically on par. But since I think beliefs have defeaters, I think the man who is hallucinating can be shown he is hallucinating, especially if given water, rest, and a cool place to relax.


  35. Jeremy:

    You write: “The reason that we partake in God is because that is where we find absolute peace, joy, love, etc.”

    Let me start a new series of questions for dialogue:

    A. How do you know that? Peace, joy, and love are personal terms, but according to your theology, God is not personal. We don’t get peace, joy, and love from mannequins, although we might get joy from an apple. But I think you seem my point. If God is not personal, and if he does not communicate, how do you know that peace, love, and joy are what our perceptions should be?

    B. Normatively speaking, why should peace, joy, and love be our experience of God rather than enmity, terror, and hatred? Certainly men have felt alienated and afraid of God. Given the relativity of perception, why do you privilege the positive emotions over the negative ones?

    C. We derive personal pleasure from eating an apple. To me, if I stretch the analogy a bit, that seems to me that you have a self-centered motive for experience God: you get something out of it. If you could get the same experiences out of something that’s not God, what would be the reason for seeking these same experiences from God?


  36. Jeremy:

    I keep forgetting to answer your questions:

    Why am I drawn to the Christian view of God, what might be called–following John Paul II–Christian personalism? Precisely because I am drawn to the notion that at the bottom of this often chaotic and incomprehensible universe, there is a God who is love, who loves me, and invites me into loving relationship.

    I am also drawn to that vision of God because I’m strong on oughtness. Not only are we given the opportunity to enter fellowship with the God who is love, but we ought to do so. He deserves our praise. His will pervades the universe and explains its order, both natural and moral.

    Finally, I am drawn to this picture of God because a personal God who loves me and commands me is also a God who is just. At the end of the day, I want to be on the right side of justice among the sheep rather than among the goats on the wrong side.


  37. George thank you for your response. I apologize now if this reply seems a bit rushed. I typed up a wordy 11 paragraph response to all of your points. However, I accidently erased it before it posted. As much as I love typing I don’t think I have the ability nor the desire to attempt such a feat. So here is the quick summary of my former (much more intellegent and cogent) response.

    I want to thank you for your candor in your last response to my question. I feel like I am beginning to understand your motivation better. I had one question as to how you much of an influence you feel your cultural upbringing had on your inclinations toward a personal representation of God. The reason I ask is because I am intrigued by the Hindu concept that people have differant spirituality types, and I am curious as to how much of an influence culture has in this. Your insights would be greatly appreciated.

    Now onto your questions:
    1. Good point on authorial intent. However, I feel as though you are not giving enough room for reader perception. It would be great if we could always have authors arbitrate their work. Unfortunately, many times as with the Bible this is not an option. If we had to rely on authorial intent most pastors would stop using the Bible.

    2. Again I like apple far better than mannequin as an analogy. The reason is because it is easier to understand what one gets from an apple than from a doll. For the sake of clarity broaden the analogy to include all food. The reason you pursue food is because of all the things you get from it. Choosing not to pursue God is like choosing not to eat.

    3. I agree although misperception is really unaccountable for. I am also not advocating that God is a figment of ones phsyche. God is an absolute metaphysical object, as much as that can true. And God reveals “himself” the same way that your island or my apple do.

    On the Caananites I am not arguing that the Israelite perception of God’s command was wrong. I am arguing that God doesnt command things. I see this as an example of people experiencing a given aspect of God and then trying to apply that aspect to their current situation, which often plays out as mere justification for predetermined actions.

    4. I agree on what divides our perspectives. However, I would argue one can see the pictures of God in Christian tradition as mere anthropomorphizations without needing to abandon Christianity in order to hold my views. As far as knowing God I think a distinction or clarification of what intent we are using the term “knowing”. Your right I don’t believe we can dissect God for emperical proofs of existence. However, I do think we can know God in the sense that I know an apple when I taste it. Of course this form of knowing is completely subjective but it is not ignorance. I had a few more points but writing everything a second time is becoming tedious. I will get to the rest of your responses later….

  38. Jeremy:

    1. I stand by my comments on authorial intent. When you are trying to determine what an author meant, you don’t ask readers what they mean. You ask the author. If the author isn’t present, you interpret his words within several contexts: (1) The literary context of his work. How does this author use words and phrases? (2) The historical and grammatical meaning of his words. What did words and phrases mean in a given period when the author wrote?

    This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for reader perception. For example, I recently sat on a committee trying to formulate a statement on immigration. The question was asked how we should refer to immigrants who have entered and live in the country illegally. To me, “illegal aliens” or “illegal immigrants” is the most neutral and legally descriptive phrase. To others, however, the terms were inflammatory, and the preferred term was “undocumented worker.” A person writing might take into account reader perception when choosing which terms to use, but at the end of the day, he has too choose, and we should understand his reasons for making the choice.

    2. I understand why you like the apple analogy better than the mannequin analogy. But I’m not sure you’re understanding my point. I’m asking on what grounds you believe that God is worth studying, believing in, worshiping, ordering one’s life around, etc. The reason I’m asking you for the grounds of your belief is because you believe–if I’m understanding you correctly–that God does not act, speak, judge, will, intend, etc. But if that’s the case, on what grounds can you say that experience of him is as tasty as an apple when other people have experienced God as fearful or totally absent. He may be “tasty,” so to speak, in your experience, but that only tells me about your taste buds, not about God. In other words, if I understand your religious concepts correctly, the experience of God is completely subjective and has not objective component because God does not act, speak, judge, will, intend, etc.

    3. Then again, reading your response on this point, maybe I haven’t understood your religious concepts. You speak of God as “an absolute metaphysical object.” And you go on to say that God “reveals” himself “the same way that your island or my apple” does. But apples and islands doen’t reveal themselves. This would require intention and action. Apples and islands are found or are revealed. As passive objects, they have to be discovered by active subjects.

    God doesn’t command things. I understand why you say this, since your God is not personal. He does not–to repeat yet again–act, speak, judge, will, intend, etc. But I’m still uncomprehending of why we should bother with that kind of God at all. On what grounds do you believe that God is good or valuable?

    4. I hate to tell you this, my friend, but if you don’t believe in a personal God, you don’t believe in Christianity in any way, shape, or form as it has been believed for two thousand years. An impersonal God is not the God of the Bible or Christian tradition. Rather, God is love, which is a personal and relational term, especially as revealed in the inner life of the Trinity. Your God–or rather, your god-concept–is more properly Buddhist than Christian.

    And yes, I acknowledge that all language about God–even orthodox language is anthropomorphic. I’m not sure why this is problematic, however, since anthropos is also imago dei. Made in God’s image, our language is capable of talking about who God is and what he requires of us.


  39. George,

    Now that I have regained some stamina after typing and retyping my post yesterday, I would like to continue my response to your previous remarks before engaging your latest observations.

    I would like to start with the new set of dialogue questions that you posed as I feel they are very good questions.

    1. To your first point on the personal nature of peace, love, and joy I think you have correctly pinpointed the nuance of my position. It should be clear that when I refer to receiving these things from experiencing God I do not mean that in a literal way. I am not advocating that what one receives from God is love, joy, or peace. Rather, I am positing that what we experience from God is interpreted in personal terms as love, joy, peace etc. This leads to your second point.

    2. I don’t believe we should acknowledge only the positive over the negative. In fact I am of the persausion, though this is far from assurity, that positive and negative are only prevalent from the human perspective. In other words, I am leaning toward the position that God is neutral. Don’t hold me to this as I am still working through the implications of this position.

    3. To your final point, I do recognize the self-centered nature of my position. However, I am not convinced that this is a weakness. Going back to my analogy of food, one would be hard pressed to find an altruistic motive for eating. Yet, no one judges this act as selfish in the negative sense. You said, “If you could get the same experiences out of something that’s not God, what would be the reason for seeking these same experiences from God” I have never argued that one can obtain divine reality outside of divine interaction. Going back to my previous point, it is important to understand that human perception of transcendant metaphysical reality is not the same as the objective reality of the essence of said metaphysical object. Which leads me to your latest remarks.

    I am going to skip over your comments on authorial intent for the moment. I want to address this statement:
    “On what grounds do you believe that God is good or valuable”
    This to me seems to be the most pertanent of the questions you have posed. This is also the most difficult question for me to answer. So before I start let me say that I am only beginning to uncover the depth of why one should pursue divine experiences. I should also point out that my answer will be philosophical as opposed to emperical.
    I believe that God is the metaphysical core of all existence, the light of which causes the physical to be but mere pseudo-reality. I believe the physical world in all its splendor and its decadence is only partially alive. I also believe that purpose, of an ultimate nature, cannot be attained via physical ambitions. Thus, purpose, which I intend to include both that which is deemed positive and that which is negative, is only attained through interaction with God. Through these interactions we as humans are able to experience the totallity of life. The ultimate form of living is thus to recognize our metaphysical nature and its transcendant unity with the God nature which enlivens the entirety of our physical world. Thus we commune with God in such a way that is beyond individualization, and the line which seperates our physical self from our metaphysical self as well as my metaphysical self from God’s metaphysical self dissipates. This is why I believe that pursuit of God is valuable.

    Now I understand that alot of this is influenced by Buddhism as well as other forms of Eastern mysticism. You are right in pointing out that I “don’t believe in Christianity in any way, shape, or form as it has been believed for two thousand years”. I consider myself a Christian because God has been revealed to me primarily through the teachings of Jesus. I know this doesnt count for you, or most Christians for that matter. However, I find value in holding to Christianity in this way so I see no need in removing the title from myself.

    Finally, I do not mean to nag, but you never gave your thoughts on my question of cultural influence on spiritual inclination. I am truly interested in your perspective on this.

    ps: on authorial intent I still agree with most of what you are saying. However, even your criteria of context and historicity are subjective which taints their ability to speak authoratatively on intent.

  40. Jeremy:

    Regarding (1): If God isn’t radiating “love, joy, and peace,” why do you experience God as “love, joy, and peace”? Or, somewhat more abstractly, how is the reality of God the ground of your experience of him? And if he’s not the ground of your experience, then why do you keep talking about your experience of him? I ask these questions because I don’t yet see any connection between the reality of God as you’re describing him and the subjective quality of your experience of him. What is the connection between God’s neutrality and your experiences of divine love, joy, and peace?

    You wrote, “Going back to my analogy of food, one would be hard pressed to find an altruistic motive for eating.” Uh, not really. A pregnant mother eats for the health of her baby.

    Regarding (2): “I am leaning toward the position that God is neutral.” Right, like a mannequin. Is God neutral between love and hatred? Between justice and injustice? Between kindness and cruelty? Between life and genocide? If he is, why bother with him? Why care about a God who is indifferent to us?

    Regarding (3): We agree that the subjective experience of God is not identical to the objective reality of God. God is always bigger than human perception of him or conceptualization about him. That’s more or less a given in Christian theology. That’s why Eastern theologians emphasize apophasis, or the ways in which God is unlike human beings. It’s also why Western theologians talk about the analogy of beings. As unlike us as God is, we are made in his image and therefore can speak truthfully–even if inadequately–about him. The problem I have with your position is with the grounds by means of which you connection your subjective experiences of God to his objective reality. If God is neutral, why should we feel love, joy, and peace in his presence?

    The more I ponder your position, the more I wonder if Gnostic might be a better description of your position than Buddhist.

    Of course there are cultural influences on spiritual inclinations. In Christian theology, it is impossible for it to be otherwise, since we are creatures limited by the horizons of time and space. But since we are creatures created in the divine image, we can nonetheless speak truthfully and attain knowledge of reality. But still, I expect my practice of Christianity to look more North American than, say, South African, because I’m here not there. Again, this doesn’t necessarily invalidate a North American practice of Christianity. Although it does mean I will be tempted in ways that a South African might not be.


  41. George,

    You asked “how is the reality of God the ground of your experience of him?”. The answer, IMO, is that my experiences are physical psuedo-realities grounded in metaphysical ultimate reality. In other words God isn’t radiating love, joy, and peace. God is radiating metaphysical love, metaphysical joy, and metaphysical peace which are truly only one. The differance is essence and interpretation. Put in another way, the differance between love and hate is perspective. God is both and neither we determine how the experiences is interpreted. This leads me to your second and third points.

    I believe you are focusing too much on love, joy, and peace as the reasons for experience. God’s neutrality must include what from human perspective would be deemed both negative and positive. The reason for experience, however, is none of these. Going back to my overused apple, which you still wont acknowledge, two people eating the same apple can receive very differant experiences. One might like the tase while the other hates it. One might be allergic to the apple while the other feels refreshed. One might feel uncomfortable with breaking skin while the other enjoys the crunch. However, none of these are the reason why they SHOULD eat the apple. The reason is because it does a body good, to borrow from our friends over at milk. The reason we experience God is not for the interpretation of the experience. The reason we experience God is because it is our purpose. Perspective both negative and positive exists because of the seperation between the self and God. Losing ones perspective in God is the point. It is like watching a beautiful ocean until eventually the line where the ocean ends and you begin ceases to exist.

    I am amused that you consider my position gnostic. I have always been fascinated by the gnostic movements. I am interested in what makes my position seem gnostic to you.

    Regarding pregnant mothers and their babies, I must first say welcome back pugnacious George. Secondly, I think I may have been less than clear in the way I worded my statement. What I meant to say is that one would be hard pressed to argue that eating is altruistic. Even if a mother eats for her baby she also eats for herself. Eating is never completely altruistic.

    On cultural influence, I agree with your points. What I am really trying to get at, however, is the connection of culture to how one sees or experiences transcendance. For instance some people are comforted by knowing a personal God. Others find a personal God distracting and prefer to meditate abstractly. What I am interested in is how Western or Eastern culture has cultivated religious perspectives as such.


  42. Jeremy:

    I really don’t know how to respond to this last comment because I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    You wrote:

    “In other words God isn’t radiating love, joy, and peace. God is radiating metaphysical love, metaphysical joy, and metaphysical peace which are truly only one. The differance is essence and interpretation. Put in another way, the differance between love and hate is perspective. God is both and neither we determine how the experiences is interpreted.”

    So, metaphysical love is essence and (simple) love is interpretation. And the difference between (simple) love and (simple) hate is perspective. Which means, I suppose, that when God radiates metaphysical love, we might interpret it as (simple) hate? And what, at any rate is the essential difference between metaphysical love and (simple) love? Shouldn’t I interpret a thing according to its reality? And if it’s absolute metaphysical reality is love, how can I interpret it as anything other than love? Interpretation certain involves perspective, but can that perspective contradict the absolute metaphysical reality it’s interpreting?

    Like I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ll concede that I’m misunderstanding you. The problem is, I’m not sure how else to begin to understand you.

    The reason for my ground objection is simple:

    If we experience God as radiating love, joy, and peace, it should be in part because he is radiating love, joy, and peace. There should be a grounding relationship between what God is doing and how we experience what he is doing.

    Furthermore, given that character precedes action, we should presuppose that God radiates love, joy, and peace because he is loving, joyful, and peaceful. But you continue to speak of God’s essential neutrality, which we can experience as either positive or negative.

    But, from my point of view, if God is neutral, to say that he is loving, joyful, or peaceful is wrong. Which also means that he does not radiate love, joy, or peace. Which also means that we cannot experience his radiations of love, joy, and peace.

    This line of reasoning also explains why I continue to object to your apple analogy. People eat apples because they’re tasty and nutritious. By analogy, God should also be tasty and delicious. But you continue to insist in God’s neutrality. To me, that seems to indicate that he is neither tasty nor delicious. He’s more like a mannequin, which is just there, than an apple, which we can savor and enjoy.

    Your position seems gnostic to me because it is gnostic. By the way, I picked up that Schuon book you recommended. The exoteric/esoteric distinction is fundamentally gnostic. So is the drive to see orthodox doctrine as literally false but symbolically true (in some way). Since you align yourself with Christianity (in some fashion), I thought it would be correct to call you a Gnostic than a Buddhist.

    I can’t speak for how Western or Easter culture has cultivated religious perspectives as such. I can speak for myself: I want my emotional response to God to be grounded in the reality of who God is.


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