Monthly Archives: September 2015

What is Faith?

“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” – Mark Twain

I remember completely butchering a lesson at a youth group meeting once. The teacher was talking about “having faith in God” and called me up to illustrate what he meant. He had me stand on a chair and told me to pretend that I was on the roof of a burning, 10-story building. He told me that I had to jump and to trust that he would catch me. I was a kid and completely misunderstood the lesson he was trying to teach. For some reason, I thought I was supposed to stand firm and not fall for his lies. So every time he told me to jump, I simply shook my head. The teacher kept trying to get me to jump to no avail and finally gave up saying that if I did jump it was supposed to illustrate what faith was as opposed to mere belief. I laugh about it now but the question remains. What exactly is faith and is it really different from mere belief?

Many of those who grew up Christian know or at least were taught that there is a huge difference between faith and belief. Belief is something of the mind; it is simply assenting to a certain fact. However, belief by itself doesn’t save you; it isn’t enough. Faith, on the other hand, is a lot more than that. Faith is active trust in something or someone. You may believe that the chair in front of you will support your weight; however, you aren’t placing your trust in the chair until you actually sit on it. I’m sure many reading this right now will be very familiar with this explanation of faith.

Those of you who listen to me rant will know that I am a huge fan of seeing how the ancients looked at the world and using that to interpret the Bible. You’ll also know how wary I am of imposing our modern, western mindset on an ancient document that was complied almost 2000 years ago. When I did a little research into the subject, what I found surprised me quite a bit. It seems that modern Christians HAVE been reading modern notions into the Bible when it comes to faith.

In the Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Bruce Malina writes that faith refers to:

the value of reliability… Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations; it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith, ‘belief’,’ ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refer to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotional rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment and solidarity.

Reading this for the first time was revolutionary. Faith is not so much belief/trust as it is a personal loyalty. This makes a lot of sense as in the ancient world, loyalty was of paramount importance. The ancients did not have indoor plumbing, power grids, the internet or other modern luxuries. As such, they had to work together to survive. This dependence on the group for survival elevated loyalty to a primary value. Self-reliance or “doing your own thing” was practically impossible and even looked down upon as it endangered the entire group. .

When the ancients spoke of faith, especially of faith in God, they were not talking about any sort of mental exercise much less mere belief in the existence of God. God’s existence was assumed and not a question they wrestled with. The question was whether one was loyal to God. I actually touched upon this in a previous post:

Biblical scholar Larry Hurtado writes that the issue for the ancient Israelities was who they worshiped and were loyal to, not strictly belief in the existence of one god. Peter Haymon states that the thing that mattered for the ancient Jew was that God be the sole object of worship, not the sole divine being in existence

You see the issue of loyalty come up multiple times in Jesus’ teachings. For example, Jesus states that:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Some will chafe when I say that this is clearly poetic hyperbole, but that’s the simple fact. Jesus isn’t telling his followers they have to hate their own families. Jesus was using hyperbole to make the point that he wanted his followers to be loyal to him above everything else. If the ancient world placed a huge emphasis on loyalty, i.e. faithfulness, then you would expect it to come up often in the Bible. We don’t see it as much because we substitute our modern notions into the word faith. But remember that faith is much more than any kind of trust or belief in the existence of God, it is a personal loyalty to God. In addition, faith presupposes belief in the existence of God, after all, you wouldn’t pledge your loyalty to someone you know doesn’t exist. In this way, we can see someone’s conversion to Christianity as a change in allegiance. No longer are they loyal to themselves, Allah or the teachings of Buddha.

Such a definition of faith is superior, in my opinion, because it emphasizes both action and a sense of duty to God that our modern definition lacks.

Self-Mutilation is Liberating

A writer who apparently doesn’t identity as male or female had a huge problem. Her own body betrayed her because it had breasts and a uterus. She “felt weird having breasts” and “despised [her] ability to get pregnant”. In order to liberate herself from the prison of her body, she had a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy; that is, she had surgery to remove her breasts and uterus. Oh and btw, I’m being a huge jerk because I’m calling her a she. She prefers the pronoun “ze” instead because it’s more neutral. Here’s the story:

One Boston-based writer who doesn’t identify as male or female decided to undergo two major surgeries, ensuring that the presence of a uterus and breasts wouldn’t define who they are as a person, or tie them to a specific gender.

Lore Graham, from Boston, Massachusetts, is a self-described ‘nonbinary’ person, choosing no single gender. Lore does not like to be called ‘her’ or he’, preferring ‘ze’ instead. While the writer was born biologically female, Lore felt encumbered by breasts, ovaries and a uterus – and decided to do something about it, undergoing both a mastectomy and hysterectomy this summer. 

‘I live in my own body, that I’ve customized to better harmonize with my brain, and it’s working wonderfully,’ the novelist wrote in an essay for xoJane.

I have a question. Suppose a man decides that he is really a snake and in order to harmonize his body with his brain decides to cut off his arms and stitch his legs together. That way, he can attempt to slither around like a snake. Who in their right mind would look at this person and say he is mentally healthy? Would you call his actions inspiring the way some have called the actions of the woman above? Now Suppose you have a woman who identifies as a rat and, through surgery, attaches a rat-like tail to their tailbone. Would you really believe this women to be mentally healthy? If not, then tell me why we enable and applaud self-mutilation when a guy or girl “feels” they are the opposite sex? This is sick and only panders to the delusions of these people. They need therapy NOT mutilation.

Blood Moons and Failed Prophets

The latest fad of end times prophecy is upon us. The prophet John Hagee has spoken. A series of four blood moons and a solar eclipse, omens of the end times, concludes at the end of this month. This portends that something BIG is about to happen. What is it? I have no idea, but rest assured, it is BIG.

John Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. His recent book on end times prophecy, Four Blood Moons, has become popular in American Christian circles. According to Hagee, 2014-2015 marks the appearance of a tetrad: a series of lunar eclipses and a solar eclipse that all fall on Jewish holidays. This sort of thing is rare and, in the past, has been accompanied by significant events in Jewish history. Hagee contends that these are signs from God that something BIG is going to happen soon, after all, “the heavens are God’s billboard“. Hagee is unclear what this event is other than the fact that it is a sign of the end times. Let’s take a look at his evidence.

First, Hagee claims that within the last 500 years, there have been 3  tetrads (remember that Hagee considers a tetrad to be a series of four lunar eclipses and a solar eclipse) that were all accompanied by “significant events in Jewish history”.

End Times Chart

These last three tetrads were signs of huge events in Jewish history; therefore, this next one is a sign will also be accompanied by a significant event in Jewish history. Hagee also depends heavily upon Joel 2:31 and claims this tetrad is also a sign of the coming Day of the Lord. However, Hagee is less clear about how the Day of the Lord and this next BIG event in Jewish history are connected.

What I find suspicious is that Hagee doesn’t mention that there have four more of these so-called tetrads throughout history. These occurred in 162-163 AD, 795-796 AD, 842-843 AD and 860-861 AD. The funny thing is that none of these dates correspond with any event considered significant in Jewish history. In fact, the Jews were living in relative peace during these dates. I wonder why Hagee doesn’t mention this, maybe because it blows his whole theory to smithereens?

Now let’s look and see if these events really do line up as neatly as Hagee makes them out to.

The 1493-1494 Tetrad

Hagee claims that this tetrad is tied to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the subsequent discovery of America, Israel’s future ally. I won’t deny that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is a pretty big event. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, Hagee is off by about a year. The edict expelling the Jews from Spain was issued on March 31, 1492, a full year before the Tetrad began. This begs the question: if the lunar and solar eclipses are signs from God warning about future events, why did this one occur after the event in question? Furthermore, if God is in absolute control of the heavenly bodies, then you’d think that he’d get it right and not miss by a whole year.

A second thing to note is that Spain wasn’t the only place the Jews lived during this time. They lived all over Europe and the expulsion from Spain affected only some of the Jews living at the time. In fact, expulsions happened with some regularity. Jews were expelled from France in 1182 AD and again in 1306. They were expelled from Switzerland in 1622. They were also expelled from Brandenburg, Germany in 1510 AD. There are far more expulsions I could bring up, but this sort of thing can easily be looked up. My question is why God would provide signs for the Spanish expulsion but none of the others?

Finally, Hagee connects the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus to this series of lunar eclipses. America will eventually become Israel’s staunchest ally. However, what Hagee fails to mention is that Columbus never set foot on land that would eventually be called the United States. His journeys took him all around the Caribbean but not to the actual landmass that would eventually be the United States. A final consideration is that Columbus isn’t even the first European to discover the Americas. That honor belongs to the viking Leif Erikson who land in Newfoundland about 500 years before Columbus. If the discovery of the America’s is a huge event in Jewish history, then why wasn’t Leif Erickson’s landing at Newfoundland marked by a Tetrad?

The 1949-1950 Tetrad

Hagee claims that the significant event associated with this Tetrad is Israel’s independence and it’s war for independence. However, Hagage doesn’t mention that the Isreal declared independence on May 14, 1948. Furthermore, Israel’s War of Independence (or the Arab-Israeli War, whichever you prefer) began in 1948. A cease-fire was declared on March 10, 1949, a month before the first lunar eclipse was to occur. Again, I ask, if God wanted this tetrad to be a sign, why would it start a month after the event in question ended? You’d think God would do a much better job of lining up the eclipses with the events if this was really his intention.

The 1967-1968 Tetrad

According to Hagee, this Tetrad is tied to the Six-Day War between Israel and a coalition of Arab countries. Of all the events, this is the only one that Hagee can claim as evidence because the war actually did fall in between the beginning and end of the Tetrad. However, keep in mind that if God is really orchestrating these Tetrads to line up with events, he’s doing a pretty crappy job; only 1 out of 3 events actually fall in between the Tetrad. That’s a terrible success rate for God.

Other Considerations

There are many other points that undermine Hagee’s evidence. First, there have been many events that are arguably much greater and much more significant in Jewish history than the events Hagee provides. The most obvious one is the Holocaust. The genocide of around 6 million Jews was not accompanied by any sign in the heavens similar to Hagee’s Tetrad. The Russian pogroms that occurred in the early 20th century were not accompanied by any similar sign. Finally, the biggest event of all, the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple occurred in 70 AD. This was a cataclysmic event for the Jews, far greater than 9/11 was for Americans .

If Hagee is correct, then what does that say about God’s priorities when he will make signs for something like the Six-Day War but not the Holocaust or the destruction of the temple? You’d think significant events like these would also be accompanied by a series of lunar and solar eclipses in the manner that Hagee writes.

Another interesting point  is that if these eclipses were indeed signals to humanity and the Jews in particular, you’d think that God would make them visible. However, many of the eclipses Hagee notes were only visible over desolate wildernesses or oceans. See here also. Again, if God is in control of the heavenly bodies, again, then you’d think he would be able to make the eclipses visible to those he intends to signal.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really surprised. There have been many predictions like this just in the past 20-30 years. They all have one thing in common: they haven’t come true. John Hagee himself is a failure of a prophet if we look at his track record. The predictions he made in 1996, in his book Beginning of the End, failed to come true. In 1999, Hagee released another book, From Daniel to Doomsday, where he made more predictions. Y2K will cause problems all over the world and Saddam Hussein will invade Israel along with Russia. Well, here we are 15 years later and nothing of the sort has happened. Again in 2008, Hagee predicted that the financial crisis of that year would be a precursor to the rise of the Antichrist in his book, The Battle for Jerusalem . Again, seven years later, the world seems more fractured than ever with no “Antichrist” rising in power. A common thread runs through Hagee’s predictions, the thread of failure.

I find it depressing that, after all these failed predictions, Christians remain extremely gullible as they continue to shove money into this failure of a prophet’s pocket. Wake up people, and do a little research.

*If you want more detailed info, you can look up the book, Blood Moon Lunacy, or this Youtube documentary.

The Kim Davis Bomb

Beefy Levinson had an excellent post over at Lamentably Sane about the recent kerfuffle with Kim Davis. For those who have been living under a rock, Kim Davis is a clerk from Kentucky who chose to defy a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Davis was subsequently jailed and, as a result, the news media blew up. There are those who congratulate her for standing up for her beliefs and others who condemn her for refusing to do her duties as a public servant.

Personally, I didn’t really know what to think. My opinion on the matter was limited to noticing a double-standard. As I recall, back in 2004, San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, directed the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of state law at the time. I remember leftists and liberals championing this action; Gavin Newsom was a hero. Yet, when Kim Davis does the same thing, people are suddenly upset that she is breaking the law. Apparently a public servant like Kim Davis is required to follow the law notwithstanding the fact that Gavin Newsom was cheered on in his disobedience when he too was a public servant.  Like I said, double-standard.

Beefy Levinson, however, makes a very persuasive point that, in hindsight, should have been obvious. He writes:

Other things being equal, we have a moral obligation to obey civil laws even if our rulers are wicked. We may elect the cryogenically frozen brain of Hitler president, but we still have to drive on the right side of the road. However, that obligation ceases and we gain a moral obligation to disobey any civil law that purports to contradict the natural law. “I was just following orders,” is not a valid excuse to do evil.

Now, I’m not an expert in natural law philosophy; in fact, I know very little. However, as I understand it, there are certain things that are bad in of themselves. They are malum in se, to borrow legal terminology. Things like murder, torturing babies, etc would be considered malum in se. In fact, as I recall, natural law philosophers will go beyond that and say that not only are these things bad, but everyone knows that they are bad. People do not need to be educated or taught that these things are bad; people simply know this. That said, if a government were to order its officials to fulfill a monthly quota of torturing babies, we would acknowledge that every official or public servant has a moral obligation to break such a law. Any public official who obeys the law and tortures the babies will likely be crucified for defending such an action. The defense of “I was just following the law” won’t work because it is no excuse for doing evil. That was the Nazis’ excuse.

The reason we would consider it everyone’s duty to break such a law is that it violates natural law. The law prohibiting the torturing of babies preexists any codified law; it is a natural law, so to speak. Therefore, if  same-sex marriage violates natural law (and there are very good arguments for this), then public officials are justified in defying an order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

H/T to Beefy Levinson for the post.

Sketches of Male Privilege Part 2 – The Great War

The harpies we commonly refer to as feminists tend to be so spoiled and pampered that they will complain about the most trivial of things. Other times, they will say anything to paint themselves as victims of oppression by the evil, white males. Take war for example. War is a horrifying experience for everyone involved. Men and women both suffer. One feminist in particular couldn’t have that. No, women actually suffer far more than men do in times of war. In fact, they are the primary victims of war, far more than the vast majority of males who fight and die in war. Male privilege and all that.

The mostly male soldiers who lose their lives don't count right?

I’m sure that any man who has lost life or limb in war appreciates your support, Hillary.

It’s clear that the feminists who spout this sort of bullshit have never experienced anything close to the horrors of war. They are so coddled by the luxury they live in that they can’t imagine others having it worse, especially their male oppressors.

I recently finished Dan Carlin’s fantastic series of podcasts called “Blueprint for Armageddon” detailing the events of World War 1 from beginning to end. It’s a great series and you’ll learn a lot from it. I highly recommend it. Anyway, this series of podcasts has taught me about the sickening amounts of privilege that male soldiers have enjoyed throughout history, particularly during World War I. Here are a few short sketches highlighting this privilege.

One of the defining features of World War I was the staggering amount of artillery that was used on both sides. The numbers are quite mind-boggling. For example, during the first 8 months of the Battle of Verdun, the French expended about 23.5 million artillery shells and the Germans 21 millions. Shells would fall and explode so fast, it was nicknamed “drum fire” because the exploding shells sounded like a drum roll. Very few people have lived through this sort of thing, much less dealt with it for weeks on end. The experience is unimaginable to those who have not lived through it. One German soldier, Ernst Jünger describes the experience:

Our ribald conversations were suddenly cut off by a marrow-freezing cry. Twenty yards behind us, clumps of earth whirled up out of a white cloud and smacked into the boughs. The crash echoed through the woods. Stricken eyes looked at each other, bodies pressed themselves into the ground with a humbling sensation of powerlessness to do anything else. Explosion followed explosion, choking gases drifted over the undergrowth, smoke obscured the treetops, trees and branches came crashing to the ground, screams. We leaped up and ran blindly chased by lightening and crushing air pressure from tree to tree looking for cover, skirting around giant tree trunks like frightened game. A dugout which many men had taken shelter and which I too was running towards, took a direct hit that ripped up the planking and send heavy timber spinning through the air.

Like a couple of squirrels having stones thrown at them, the NCO and I dodged, panting behind a huge beech tree. Quite mechanically, and spurred on by further explosions, I ran after my superior who sometimes turned round and stared at me, wild-eyed, yelling: “what in God’s name are those things? What are they?” Suddenly there was a flash among the rootwork and a blow on the left thigh flung me to the ground. I thought I had been struck by a clump of earth, but the warm trickle of blood indicated that I had been wounded…

…I threw down my haversack and ran toward the trench we had come from. From all sides, wounded men were making tracks towards it from the shelled woods. The trench was appalling, choked with seriously wounded and dying men. A figure stripped to the waste with a ripped open back leaned against the parapet. Another with a triangular flap hanging off the back of his skull emitted short, high-pitched screams. This was the home of the great god Pain. And for the first time I looked through a devilish chink into the depths of his realm. And fresh shells came down all the time.

I lost my head completely.

This sort of thing happened all throughout the war. In fact, soldiers had to live like this for weeks and even months. The ordeal rendered many insane.

In episode 3 of the series, Dan Carlin quotes another soldier, an Australian, pinned down on the beach during the Battle of Gallipoli:

A galling fire rained on us from the left where there were high cliffs. One man dropped alongside me, laughing. I broke the news to him gently: “You got yourself into the hottest corner you’ll ever strike”. I showed him where the enemy were and he fired a few shots and again I heard the sickening thud of a bullet. I looked at him in horror. The bullet had fearfully mashed his face and gone down his throat rendering him dumb, but his eyes were dreadful to behold. How he squirmed in agony! There was nothing I could do for him except pray that he die swiftly. It took him about 20 minutes to accomplish this. And by that time, he’d tangled up his legs and stiffened. I saw the waxy color creep over his cheek and breathed easier.

Words fail to describe what those last 20 minutes of life must have been like for that soldier. Furthermore, his buddy, the one who lived, will likely have that horrifying image seared into his mind for years after, possibly the rest of his life. But hey! Male privilege, right?

In his book, The Great War, historian Peter Hart describes one horror that many soldiers dealt with during the Battle of Passchendaele. He quotes a soldier named Norman Cliff:

The approach to the ridge was a desolate swamp, over which brooded an evil, menacing atmosphere that seemed to defy encroachment. Far more treacherous than the visible surface defenses with which we were familiar, such as barbed wire; deep devouring mud spread deadly traps in all directions. We splashed and slithered, and dragged our feet from the pull of an invisible enemy determined to suck us into its depths. Every few steps someone would slide and stumble and, weighed down by rifle and equipment, rapidly sink into the squelching mess. Those nearest grabbed his arms, struggled against being themselves engulfed and, if humanly possible, dragged him out. When helpers floundered in as well and doubled the task, it became hopeless. All the straining efforts failed and the swamp swallowed its screaming victims and we had to be ordered to plod on dejectedly and fight this relentless enemy as stubbornly as we did those we could see.

It happened that one of those leading us was Lieutenant Chamberlain, and so distraught had he become at the spectacle of men drowning in mud, and the desperate attempts to rescue them that suddenly he began hysterically belabouring the shoulders of a sinking man with his swagger stick. We were horror-struck to to see this most compassionate officer so unstrung as to resort to brutality, and our loud protests forced him to desist. The man was rescued, but some could not be and they sank shrieking with fear and agony. To be ordered to go ahead and the leave a comrade to such a fate was the hardest experience one could be asked to endure, but the objective had to be reached, and we plunged on, bitter anger against the evil forces prevailing piled on to our exasperation. This was as near to Hell as I ever want to be.

Sinking into the mud and dying in agony would be terrible enough. But try to think what it must have been like for those soldiers who were forced to their friends behind, sinking in the mud. That sort of thing will come back in nightmares to haunt you for the rest of your life. Other times, soldiers wouldn’t sink into the mud fast enough. Writer Adam Hochschild quotes a story from a British Major during the same battle:

A party of A company men passing up to the front line found a man bogged to above the knee, the united efforts of four of them with rifles beneath his armpits made not the slightest impression and to dig, even if shovels had been available, would be impossible for there was no foothold. Duty compelled them to move on up to the line. And when two days later, they passed down that way, the wretched fellow was still there, but only his head was now visible and he was raving mad.

I find it hard to imagine anything worse than being stuck in mud and slowly sinking knowing there’s no way out. This sort of thing boggles the mind.

Male Privilege At Its Finest

Male Privilege At Its Finest.

Finally, we have the one thing that defines World War I more than anything else: gas warfare. The experience of a WWI-style gas attack is simply indescribable. You really can’t comprehend what it’s like unless you actually been in one yourself. Peter Hart again quotes another soldier, Private William Quinton, talking about his experience with the gas:

Suddenly over the top of our front line we saw what looked like clouds of thin grey smoke, rolling slowly along with the slight wind. It hung to the ground reaching to the height of 8 or 9 feet, and approached so slowly that a man walking could have kept ahead of it. ‘GAS!’ The word quickly passed around. Even now it held no terror for us, for we had not yet tasted it. From our haversacks we hastily drew the flannel belts, soaked them in water and tied them round our mouths and noses. Suddenly. through the communication trench came rushing a few khaki-clad figures. Their eyes glaring out of their heads, their hands tearing at their throats, they came on. Some stumbled and fell, and lay writhing in the bottom of the trench, choking and gasping, whilst those following trampled over them. If ever men were raving mad with terror, these men were…

Our biggest enemy was now within a few yards of us, in the form of clouds of gas. We caught our first whiff of it: no words of mine can ever describe my feelings as we inhaled the first mouthful. We choked, spit and coughed, my lungs felt as though they were being burnt out, and were going to burst. Red-hot needles were being thrust into my eyes. The first impulse was to run…

It was one of those occasions when you do not know what you are doing. The man who stayed was no braver than the man who ran away. We crouched there, terrified, stupefied.

After this terrifying experience, Quinton goes on to the front lines which were abandoned and see the remains of the first victims of the gas attack.

Black in the face, their tunics and shirt fronts torn open at the necks in their last desperate fight for breath. Man of them quite still while others were still wriggling and kicking in the agonies of the most awful death I’d ever seen. Some were wounded in the bargain and their gaping wounds lay open, blood still oozing from them. One poor devil was tearing at his throat with his hands. I doubt if he knew or felt that he had only one hand and that the other was just a stump where the hand should have been. This stump he worked around his throat as if his hand was still there and the blood from it was streaming over his bluish-black face and neck. A few minutes later he was still except for occasional shudders as he breathed his last.

This final story has stayed with me since I first heard it. Nothing describes the horror of war quite like this story. It’s brutal, it’s shocking, and maybe even a little gratuitous. But I believe this is necessary to show you just how much privilege these soldiers, like all soldiers throughout history, had. Male privilege indeed.