Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Questions for Protestants

Protestants believe in sola scriptura. This doctrine states that the Bible is the sole, infallible guide for the Christian faith. All else is secondary to scripture and  is also judged by scripture. As a result, Christian tradition and the teachings of the early Church Fathers is kosher so long as it conforms to scripture; otherwise, they should be discarded. I grew up Protestant and still consider myself Protestant… so I would like to believe that I have fairly characterized what sola scriptura is. That said, I have two related questions. Now, I’m not trying to be a condescending smartass; these are honest questions that I am genuinely curious about.

First, where in the Bible do we find this doctrine of sola scriptura? As far as I know, there isn’t any place in the Bible that specifically teaches this. If the Bible is the sole touchstone for all that Christians believe, then where exactly is this belief taught in the Bible? The only real answer I’ve seen is an appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which states that:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I see a few problems with this. First,  we must remember that  Paul wrote this in a time where the Bible as we know it didn’t exist. The Biblical canon wasn’t set in stone yet and wouldn’t be for a few hundred years. In addition, many books such as John and Revelation were likely not even written at the time 2 Timothy was written. Therefore, using this as a proof text would disqualify these later books as scripture.

In addition,  the context of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 highly suggests that Paul was using “scriptures” as a reference to the Old Testament. So if this verse is teaching the doctine of sola scriptura, then it would only be referring to the Old Testment. This proves too much as the entire New Testament would have to be discarded. I doubt Protestants desire that.

My second question is related to the first. If we are to rely on the Bible alone, then we’re still left with the problem of canon. How exactly are we to decide decide what is inspired and therefore, part of the canon and what is not? There is no passage in the Bible that gives us the correct list of inspired books. In order to accept and follow the teachings of the Bible alone, you would need an accepted canon telling you what texts are inspired and which are not. Because there is no such list within the Bible, you are forced to rely on something outside the Bible…  something like Christian tradition.

Furthermore, whatever you rely on to determine the canon would also have to be infallible. After all, how exactly can we say that the Bible is infallible when we aren’t even sure of the canon itself?

Again, I’m not trying to be smug or smart or anything about this. These are legitimate questions that I would like answers for and if you have an answer for me, feel free to comment.


As Above/ So Below

How many of you have see the movie As Above/ So Below? It’s a fantastic little horror movie that I have to recommend before I continue. Seriously, if you have just a passing interest in horror movies, then I strongly recommend you go see it before reading this. Really, I mean it; don’t read on until you’ve seen the movie because there will be spoilers. And no, the movie is not Oscar-worthy and has plenty of problems and plot holes. Still, it is still a very fun and effective horror movie.

The gist of the film is that a group of people descend into the catacombs of Paris because they believe that the fabled Philosopher’s Stone is buried somewhere down there. And of course they get lost and weird things start happening. The weirdness gets creepier and creepier until the group finally comes to a crawlspace with and inscription that reads, “abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. To those who don’t know, this is said to be the inscription over the gates of Hell in the Divine Comedy. This marks the beginning of a literal descent into hell.

In what was one of the creepiest scenes, the group comes across a car engulfed in flames. When they get closer, they see a teenage boy in the car who then turns to look at one of the characters, Papillon.

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Papillon freaks out and starts spouting panicked sentences about how it wasn’t his fault and how he had nothing to do with it. whatever it is. Suddenly the teenage boy reaches out and grabs Papillon and drags him into the car. The whole car then nearly vaporizes and all you see are Papillon’s legs sticking up out of the ground.

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This might seem weird until you realize that this is another reference to the Divine Comedy. As one blogger puts it:

[Because Papillon refuses to acknowledge / atone for his part in the lad’s death, he is put to death exactly as is described in Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell:

Out of the mouth of each one [baptismal font] there protruded
The feet of a transgressor, and the legs
Up to the calf, the rest within remained.]

Now I bring all this up for a reason. There are some very interesting ways this movie plays the beliefs of hell and this gave me a lot of food for thought. See, the typical Evangelical Christian depiction of hell involves lots of fire and man-roasting. I’ve written a whole series of posts arguing for more of a metaphorical interpretation of the fire and brimstone language of hell (not hell itself mind you, just the fire imagery). You can read the beginning of that series here if you care for that sort of thing.

This post is more like a random collection of thoughts where I speculate some more on the nature of hell. I admit these are speculations and cannot speak with any authority on the subject. That said, here’s what As Above/So Below gave me to think about.

One message that is plastered all over the Bible and Christian thought throughout the centuries is that of actions having consequences. The verse about reaping what you sow is the first thing to come to mind, but you still see it all over. God will pay each according to his deeds (Romans 2:6). The righteous will each the fruit of their actions (Isaiah 3:10). The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself (Ezekial 18:20). Because of this pervasive theme, I wonder if Hell will not be a getting-your-just-desserts sort of place where you are punished according to your sins.

Having grown up in Evangelical Christianity, I noticed that many Evangelicals seem to have a revulsion to the idea that some sins are worse then others. After all, sin is sin. See James 2:10, thank you very much. Whatever the reasoning, I find this to be incompatible with everyday experience. Of course some sins are worse than others, it’s a fact of nature. We humans consistently act like some sins are worse than others. Our law codes have this idea built into them as well. Because of this difference in degree of sin, I believe that the reality of hell and heaven will reflect that as well.

In his depiction of hell, the brilliant Dante Alighieri depicts the punishments of hell as being in some way related to the sins of the damned. We are not talking simply receiving less punishment for this sin and more for that sin. These punishments are in some ways mirrors of the sins committed in this life. For example, the souls who were consumed with lust in life are condemned to a hurricane in which they are whirled about. Here’s how Dante describes it:

I came into a place mute of all light, / Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest, / If by opposing winds ‘t is combated./ The infernal hurricane that never rests/ Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;/ Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them./ When they arrive before the precipice,/ There are the shrieks, the plaints, and the laments,/ There they blaspheme the puissance divine./ I understood that unto such a torment/ The carnal malefactors were condemned,/ Who reason subjugate to appetite./ And as the wings of starlings bear them on/ In the cold season in large band and full, / So doth that blast the spirits maledict;/ It hither, thither, downward, upward, drives them;/ No hope doth comfort them for evermore,/ Not of repose, but even of lesser pain.

In life, these souls were tossed to and fro by their unquenchable lusts; likewise, they are condemned to an eternity of being blown about by hurricane winds. The punishment fits the crime, so to speak. Another brilliant image is the fate of those consumed with Avarice. Here, Dante sees the Avaricious (greed) and Prodigal (reckless spending) as two sides of the same coin. When he enters  the fourth circle of hell (Greed), Dante sees both groups of people rolling huge weights with their chests. Both groups push these weights around in a circle and end up constantly crashing into each other. When this happens, the prodigals ask the greedy why they hoard? The greedy, in turn, ask why the prodigal are so wasteful. This macabre dance goes on and on for eternity. Again, the punishment fits the crime. The Divine Comedy is full of this sort of imagery. The wrathful, the slothful, the murderers, the heretics and everyone else all receive punishments fitting their sin.

In keeping with Dante’s theme, I see hell as a place where your sins catch up to you, so to speak. Granted, Dante’s wonderful imagery is a bit simplistic because people tend to be guilty of many sins not just one kind. Then again, the souls in Dante’s hell are punished for the sin that consumed them here on earth. Either way, the point still stands. Your actions in this life will follow you into the next one for good or for ill. As such, whatever your sins are, the punishments will likely fit. In this scheme, I don’t see room for the one-size-fits-all punishment of simply being locked in a fiery torture chamber regardless of what you do.

This brings me to my next thought. As a kid, I was always told that those in hell will likely regret their actions and wish they could change their minds. But by then, it will be too late; they’ve sealed their fate. We see a bit of this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; however, I think there is more to the picture. Both As Above/ So Below and the Inferno point to something else.

As we have seen, in As Above/ So Below, Papillion refuses to repent and continues to rationalize away whatever guilty he has even while being dragged into the fiery car wreck. To the very end, Papillion refuses to admit guilt and repent. In the Divine Comedy, Dante makes the point that all the souls condemned are unrepentant. Even while being blown about by the hurricane winds, the lustful souls continue to blaspheme God. The greedy continue “being greedy”, so to speak, for all eternity.

Those who are condemned to Hell are those that don’t repent. Likewise, in hell, they will continue to be unrepentant. They will still hate God. They will still be rationalizing or making excuses for their sins. They will spend eternity there because they will never repent or see the error of their ways. This is the reason C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce that the “gates of hell are locked from the inside”. In addition, anthropologist C.R. Hallpike writes that:

If the essence of Heaven is closeness to God, then damnation is our own self-exclusion from the presence of God by our own wickedness. As William Law said, “Men  are not in hell because God is angry with them; they are in wrath and darkness because they have don’t to the light, which infinitely flows forth from God, as that man does to the light of the sun, who puts out his own eyes.” p. 97

God won’t have have to lift a finger to punish the unrepentant damned, they will gladly do it to themselves in order to escape the presence and light of God.

Remember, I’m not making any real arguments in support of these thoughts. I’m simply speculating here while standing on the shoulders of Christian giants. I’m sure someone reading this will instantly think of a particular verse that “debunks” completely what I write here. So be it. Doesn’t really bother me as I’m not making a serious attempt to argue for any of these positions. I’m thinking out loud and only want to stimulate some thinking and discussion.


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.


Evil and the Uncaring God

Many people struggle with the idea of a loving God and the existence of evil in this world. A friend of mine had to deal with all sorts of abuse at the hands of her mother, who calls herself a Christian. This friend asked me once “how could a loving God do something like this”. Sounds like a legitimate question, but I always thought this kind of question isn’t asked right. It wasn’t God that abused this friend; it was her own mother. Innocent children molested, men tortured for their religion and women being gang raped, God doesn’t do that. This kind of evil is perpetrated by other people. God isn’t to blame for this. I’m reminded of a quote from the book “Watchmen”. A character in the book, after facing the depravity of man says that:

Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us.

I don’t agree with everything here, but the character makes a good point about evil. God doesn’t rape little girls and sell them as sex slaves. God isn’t the one chopping up bodies like firewood and dumping them on the side of the road. We are the ones doing this to each other.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been listening to a history podcast by Dan Carlin. Look him up, it’s really good stuff. In it Dan Carlin talks about all the horrors the average soldier had to face in the trenches of World War 1. Soldiers were choking and suffocating in the worst ways during gas attacks. They were watching all their friends getting blown apart right in front of their eyes by artillery shells.  Some living in the same shell hole for weeks on end, peeing and eating where they slept because raising your head just an inch above the surface would get you shot by the enemy. The horrors were quite unbelievable. One British soldier said this about the horrors he experienced during the war:

“Eventually, I worked it all out. At least for myself. God was alright. It was we who were wrong. Why the hell should he care what happened to us lot? We had brought this war evil into existence, not God. [This is the] reason evil and ugliness were triumphing over goodness and beauty, why pity and compassion were considered weaknesses and ruthlessness and cruelty as noble. The reason for all this was the wickedness in ourselves and not the indifference of God.”

This soldier had first hand experience with the horrors of World War I and even he came the same conclusion. We are the ones responsible for the wickedness and evil in this world. Not God. This may not be the most satisfying answer but it is still a legitimate point. Blame the evil on the people committing it, not on God.


The Need for Hell

N.T. Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope” just keeps on giving. I recently found a another thought-provoking gem. In the chapter on Paradise, Purgatory and Hell, Wright states that “Judgment – the sovereign declaration that this is good and to be upheld and vindicated, and that is evil and to be condemned – is the only alternative to chaos. (178)”

With the rise of relativism and the new American sin, The idea of any kind of judgment has become anathema. I see this in law school where professors all but say that every idea is valuable and should be free from judgment. It’s always ok to bring new ideas to the table, so long as you do not evaluate, judge or condemn any one idea; after all, that would be extremely bigoted and self-righteous of you. This is the age of tolerance and love; an age free from judgment. Please excuse me while I go barf into a trashcan. This sort of nonsense has even infiltrated the church. If you sound at all sure of yourself, sure that you are right about something and stubbornly refuse to back down, then you can expect to be called arrogant, prideful, self-righteous, legalistic and any other four-letter Christian words.

The paradox of tolerance should be clear to any person with a functioning brain. The command for tolerance itself is implicitly intolerant as it implies something you shouldn’t be–intolerant. We have “tolerance” to thank for the rise of ludicrous ideas such as “there are many ways to Jesus” (nevermind what Jesus himself said) and “Love wins“. These ideas have become popular due to their non-judgmental nature. What’s that? You are completely ignoring biblical teaching, doing dope and banging random dudes? That’s OK, there are many ways to Jesus after all. The idea of hell a problem for you? That’s alright, because in the end, LOVE WINS and everyone gets to go to heaven like the good people they basically are.

Judgment is ultimately the core of hell which is why hell has come under attack so often lately. However, real love, not the sentimental I-accept-you-for-who-you-are-including-all-your-self-destructive-habits kind of love, demands judgment. Real love demands a declaration that this is good and should be encouraged while that is evil and should be condemned. In the end, this is really what hell is all about. Though there are differing views on the exact nature of hell; judgment is and should be the common thread that runs through all of them.

Why is that? Well, as Mr. Wright notes, we can no longer deceive ourselves into thinking mankind is slowly evolving into something better . The horrors of the last century demand an explanation. The holocaust, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the Armenian Genocide, the Congo Free State, the Rape of Nanking, real rape culture,the horrors of trench warfare in World War I, take your pick. No longer can we pat ourselves on the back and say we are basically good little human beings. Neither can we bury our heads in the sand and pretend these things didn’t happen or that they are an improvement to the way things were a thousand years ago. In the words of N.T. Wright:

Evil must be identified, named, and dealt with before there can be reconciliation… And–this is of course the crunch–where those who have acted wickedly refuse to see the point, there can be no reconciliation, no embrace. 179

Hell, in whatever form you believe, will be that place where the unrepentant wicked will be given what they say they want: eternal separation from God and all he represents without any hope of reconciliation. Justice demands judgment. Likewise, if you hate judgment, then you also despise justice.


Christmas is Nothing Without Easter

I know this is far too late for Christmas but with Easter coming up soon, I hope I haven’t completely dropped the ball. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s fascinating book, Surprised by Hope. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it’s been a fantastic read and I would encourage others to go out and read the book. The focus of the book is on the resurrection of Jesus and all that this means for Christianity as a whole and for the individual Christian.

It’s funny because I was thinking about this over Christmas while in Las Vegas… of all places. The only reason the birth of Jesus (aka Christmas) is a big deal is due to his resurrection. If Jesus stayed dead, we would have no reason to celebrate his birth. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have been a liar, fraud and a failure no matter the circumstances of his birth. The only reason we celebrate his birth is because he didn’t stay dead. Despite this, Christmas remains the bigger holiday for Christians. N.T. Wright laments this, writing in his book that “Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year — a move that completely reverses the New Testament’s emphasis” (23). He goes on to say that “Easter, however, should be the center. Take that away and there is, almost literally, nothing left” (23).

Sadly, Mr. Wright is correct. Christmas has taken the center stage despite the fact that Easter celebrates the single most important event for Christianity. Without the resurrection, the Christian faith is useless and, in the words of the Apostle Paul,  Christians should to be pitied above everyone else. I know I’ve written on this before, but this is important enough that I will restate it here. It is the resurrection of Jesus that Christianity is based upon, not his birth. Without his resurrection, your faith a complete joke.

Hopefully more Christians realize the importance of Easter so that I can start receiving Easter presents as well as Christmas presents *grin*.


A Question of Identity

Back in the day I was into some of the more underground types of music. I enjoyed a lot of the so-called “terror EBM” (EBM stands for electronic body music) genre of music; I listened to the likes of Dawn of Ashes, Psyclon Nine and Tactical Sekt. The best way to describe this genre would be dark dance music with distorted vocals and a focus on the unappetizing themes in life…. violence, suicide, politics and horror movies. The shows would usually have the band members dressing up in bloodied costumes and tons of makeup to look as if they just came back from the dead; Dawn of Ashes was big this kind of visual. Eventually I outgrew this music and now see it as kind of cheesy and immature. I still listen to them on occasion but not with the same fervor that I used to.

I remember browsing through Youtube and forums and a single person would say how this or that band sucked. Big mistake. The rest of the people would pounce on this insult and attack mercilessly. You’re a F***ing loser, Dawn of Ashes is the best, Go kill yourself. You dumb f*** go back to listening to the Jonas Brothers or whatever S*** you listen to. The comments would be brutal and the people seemed to feel so insulted by the fact that one person didn’t like that band or genre of music.

The funniest thing I read on this was one time when the lead band member of Tactical Sekt posted a normal picture of himself with his girlfriend. The guy looked completely normal, no shredded, bloody costumes, crazy hair or horror makeup. This seemed to really piss off some of the fans. They complained that the band member looked like if he shopped at Abercrombie and Fitch. He didn’t look “goth” enough for the fans and they saw it as a betrayal. Even back then, when I went through a goth phase, I found these comments stupid. Who cares how the bands you listen to dress as long as the music is good.

I bring this up to to illustrate a theory I have. These listeners of terror EBM made this music their identity. They would all dress in the same style, have similar interest, read similar books and hate similar things. if someone thought this music was cheesy and stupid, the fans would see this as an attack on their own identity. That’s why I think teenagers and immature people respond so violently when you dislike and make fun of the kind of music they like. Teenagers are in the process of forming their identity and far more often, they will look to external things to help: music, clothing styles, cliques, hobbies, you name it. Then when you show your dislike of that particular clique or music, they feel as if you are attacking them and respond predictably.

I see this happen in other contexts. Many gays and lesbians respond viscerally when you bring up the Bible’s stance on homosexuality. Yes, we can talk all day about how evil people hate what is good… but I don’t think that’s what is going on here. See our culture, from a young age tends to teach that a person’s homosexuality is an intrinsic part of who they are and that gays and lesbians should just accept who they are. When you point out out the Bible’s stance, they feel as if you are attacking them personally because you are in a way. You are attacking what they’ve been taught forms the core of their identity.

This is important for Christians because ultimately we form our identity around Jesus. Whatever helps shape our identity will ultimately influence how we act. This is especially true of our view of Jesus. If we believe Jesus to be a kindly old uncle who just wants us to have the very best in life, we risk turning Christianity in moralistic therapeutic deism, seeing God as some kind of divine therapist who only wants us to be haaaaapy. If we only see Jesus as the kind of guy who went and hung out with prostitutes and “sinners” we will be tempted to disregard who we keep company with and completely ignore the Bible’s warning that “bad company corrupts good habits”. What exactly was Jesus like? well that is a question that can span entire books. I plan on sharing certain aspects of Jesus’ character that we modern American Christians tend to skip over or down play in future posts.