Thoughts on Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is Under Attack

This is the rallying cry of conservative Christians in America. Religious freedom is the bedrock upon which our society is built. The Founding Fathers believed in the importance of religious freedom and the original Puritan settlers escaped the tyranny of England in the name of religious freedom. Because of this, the government cannot clamp down on religion and must promote religious freedom…

…Or so the story goes. In spite of it all, little incongruities seem the lurk just beneath the surface. There are things that, when really thought about, just don’t line up as nicely as we would want. Let’s do a bit of thinking.

Religious freedom is a moral good; at least, that’s what the average Christian conservative assumes. This is simply accepted without question or thought. But what exactly is this moral good we call religious freedom? Well, it would seem that religious freedom means exactly that. The individual has the right to believe whatever religion they feel is worthy of belief. In addition, the individual can take whatever bits and pieces they find palatable from any combination of religions or even refuse to believe in any religion. In order to preserve this right to religious freedom, the state cannot dictate to the people what religion they can or can’t convert to. In addition, people should be free to proselytize and attempt to convert others to their religion. There should be a free market, so to speak, when it comes to religion and each belief system should sink or swim based how it can attract adherents. So far, I don’t think any of this is blasphemous; these are simply the assumptions that lurk subconsciously within Americans.

Given the above description of religious freedom, let’s now look at this from a Christian perspective. The Christian believes that all religions other than Christianity are false. Other religions may contain grains of truth, but they all lead to damnation in the end. Yes, I know there are liberal Christians who dispute this, but we’ll ignore those heretics for now. I am, after all, talking to conservative Christians.Now, assuming Christianity is the only way to paradise and salvation, why wouldn’t you want your community and nation to endorse, support and establish Christianity as a state religion? Why not unite the Christianity and the state in this way in order to forbid the spreading and proselytizing of false religions?

The response I anticipate is that such a thing will lead to forced conversions. But it need not. We are merely talking about the legitimization of Christianity as the national religion and the clamping down on the proselytizing of false religions. Religions minorities will not be hunted down and killed; they will be left alone so long as they keep their religion private and refrain from any attempts to convert Christians. Defiance of such laws will lead to fines, imprisonment, exile and (in the most severe of cases) death. If you are a conservative Christian (not to mention an average American), then I’m sure I’ve horrified you with my suggestions. It would seem that my suggestions would destroy religious liberty and establish religious tyranny. Such a reaction, however, betrays your priorities.

Again, if Christianity is the only way to God and paradise, then why would you allow false religions to proselytize and potentially cause Christians to apostatize? “But what about liberty and freedom?” says the American Christian. Well, what about them? Isn’t the salvation of human souls far more important than nebulous principles like liberty and freedom? It seems to me that the significance of liberty and freedom pales in comparison to the eternal destiny of souls. Let me illustrate this for you in a simpler manner. Suppose you have your local church or parish. Now imagine that your pastor, priest or whatever allows believers of other religions to come in and attempt to convert the flock because religious freedom. Sound bizarre? Well why should the sentiment change when on a national scale?

The funny thing is that the god-hating atheist is more rational here. See, the god-hating atheist believes that all religions (especially Christianity) are false and destructive to humanity. If you believe such a thing, then it would be logical to do away with religion and clamp down on religious freedom. After all, why would you want such a destructive force running around, wrecking havoc in your nation?

 

As a Christian, you believe that apostasy will lead to damnation. So why would you allow the potential for apostasy into your community in the name of religious freedom? Are you not prioritizing religious freedom at the expense of human souls?

 


Trump in Stride

A blogger that I follow, one William Scott, has a post where he uses Trump’s Gettysburg speech to launch into something that should be very interesting for those traditionally minded — agriculture. I thought about summarizing it, but there is no way I could to justice to what William Scott writes. Instead I will borrow a portion of that post and direct you to the whole thing. If you believe yourself to be conservative or traditionally-minded, I highly recommend you read the rest of the post.

There are two important implications in Trump’s medium range economic projection. One, as said, this is the essence of conservatism; slow careful change keeping the core of social norms and relationships intact. Of course we are in a time of extreme social decline and so we need intentional repair. It is difficult to ignore that some sort of reform is inevitable. But as reactionaries, traditionalists and conservatives we know these are restorative and not revolutionary. We in the Reactosphere live in many ironies. That we are NeoRactionaries or we envision Archeofuturism or dabble in Antiquated Innovations Is irony enough. Madness to Progs. But further we want to make social changes that will ultimately limit change. The Left decry this as stifling. Yet they has no proof that constant overthrow will lead to anything but more overthrow. This instability is nothing to base peaceful productive community on. So the limit of change in conservatism is not an end in itself, but the natural result of political, social and economic organization that fits a particular ethnic community.

We should not think there are only one or a few organizing principles that can achieve this health in community, but neither should we think they are infinite. We currently live under a system that is driven by the abstract unfounded notion of egalitarianism, along with some of its ugly cousins. So clearly we are capable of organizing ourselves on folly to the extreme. There are many long range goals that we are not even able to discuss in our current-year national conversations. Many of these are areas that both Left and Right bemoan the corrupt and myopic vision of megacorp capitalism. Corruption may be the wrong word. International corporations are just doing what they must. The more general problem is a (((disconnected elite))).

Our agriculture needs a long range reform effort. Farming should be done by people who have claim to the land they farm. They should love the land and the hard work they act on it to produce food and goods. Food should be produced regionally—locally as much as possible. Foods that cannot be grown in a region should be expensive luxuries. Like from when tea and oranges came all the way from china. The economic paradox of free expansion and consolidation needs to be resisted. It is a natural process of sorts, but one that ultimately is against nature, destroying the very communities that created it. When abstract (((financial))) concerns are included and the farmer is made a debt slave to endless innovations that do not arise from his own practice, the degradation of agriculture is complete.

I don’t know if Trump has an Agricultural reform plan. He should. Nothing could be more basic in making a nation great than a healthy relationship with the land. This is a shared concern of both the Organic Left and New Right. Imagine how a program, over slow conservative time, organizing farming around small and medium scale regional production would bring the better of our Leftist co-whites aboard the Trump train.  And we need to admit there are a lot of very hard working and innovative small scale organic farmers who though, because of a pernicious hippie meme, are mostly socially liberal. There are many young men and women who would love to get into large scale gardening and agriculture but due to parasitic speculation driving land prices up, will never be able to afford to. These latter turn their hearts to Marxist daydreaming of collectivism. And so adopt the resentment and loose behaviour that can’t produce the personal character that farming requires. They reject tradition because they see conservatives supporting megacorp food production. And this acquiescence to Big Ag is probably true of many who call themselves ‘Conservative’, but who really mean to say they are neo liberal. Yet these organic farmers are conservative at core. They intend to conserve land, to develop it slowly, to work hard, and to make a bit of money at it too. They take time to build soil rather than simply using drug-like nutritive products and chemicals on depleted earth. They have a religious dedication to their vocation, and in this case, this is a very good thing. They are not necessarily devoted to a lot of Marxist gobbly  goop, they are devoted to producing abundant healthy food.

Source: Trump in Stride

 


Conservatism is Useless

Let’s start with a question. Now, this question is directed to those who:

  1. Identify as a conservative; or
  2. Refuse to vote for Trump because he’s not a “real conservative”; or
  3. Fear that Trump will likely destroy the Republican party

It’s a simple question, really; what have “real conservatives” (whatever that means) conserved? Keep in mind that for the majority of the last 20 years, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. So again, I ask you, what cultural battles have these so-called conservatives won?

If you really think about it, you’ll notice that the Republicans/conservatives have failed to conserve much of anything in the last 20 years. Same-sex marriage now a right, abortion is still legal, government spending is through the roof and refusing to bake cakes can bankrupt you. The list goes on and on. The conservative establishment has done absolutely nothing beyond uttering empty platitudes about adhering to the Constitution and calling for a more limited government. The government continues to grow and it seems that nobody gives a flying fig about the Constitution.

So again, To all the “real conservatives” out there,  why should I continue to support such a flaccid party and ideology? Real conservatives seem to be good at only losing and surrendering to liberals because they’re afraid of being called racist or bigoted. Because of this, I’m glad that Trump is not a “real conservative”.

Here’s to Trump destroying the Republican Party and all these so-called conservatives. May it never be resurrected again.

 


Sola Scriptura Problems

Awhile back, a friend directed me to an essay by J.I. Packer titled “Sola Scriptura” in History and Today after I asked around for a good defense of Sola Scriptura. The essay gave me lots of food for thought and I decided to write out a short critique of some of the problems I had with the essay. Obviously, the essay is a bit lengthy and there is no way I can get to everything Packer talks about, though I might do that in a future post if the mood strikes me. If you’re curious, then you can find the essay here.

First, small nitpick. Given the title to Packer’s essay, I expected a historical overview of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and how it was viewed throughout history. Packer doesn’t do this and spends the whole essay discussing the Protestant Reformers’ beliefs about Sola Scriptura. I wonder why this is the case, given that by the time of the Protestant Reformation, Christianity was already more than a thousand years old. Does Packer really believe that all of Christendom got Sola Scriptura wrong for more than a thousand years until Luther and Co. set everything right again?

Now, according to Packer,the reformers believed that

Scripture can and does interpret itself to the faithful from within — Scripture is its own interpreter — so that it does not need popes or councils to tell us, as from God, what it atually means; it can actually challenge Papal and Counciliar pronouncements, convince them of being ungodly and untrue and requrie the faithful to part company with them

Packer writes that it was this belief that set the reformers on a collision course with the Catholic Church. However, such a belief requires that the Bible be clear enough in its meaning that the average person can interpret it. In essence, Sola Scriptura requires the Perspicuity of Scripture. Without this charity of scripture, the entire doctrine of Sola Scriptura falls apart. None of this should be controversial.

Of course, the crux of the matter is whether the Bible has this sort of clarity required for Sola Scriptura. The Catholic and the Orthodox both challenge this by pointing to the different Protestant denominations. If Scripture is clear as the Protestant says, then we wouldn’t have different denominations arguing that they are right and the other denominations are wrong. J.I. Packer’s answer to this is that “The matters on which adherents of this [Sola Scriptura] have differed have been secondary”. In other words, while Protestants may have different beliefs, they have and still do agree on the essentials of Christianity. Packer writes as much when he states that

Those who have historically held to Sola Scriptura, recognizing no magisterium save that of the Bible itself, have been at one on all essentials and on most details too, in a very striking way.

I think Packer’s statements here are hugely misleading and he glosses over some deep divisions among the original Reformers. Let’s look at one example, the Eucharist. Regarding the Eucharist, Packer writes that the

debate [on the Eucharist] seems to have arisen because there were exegetical questions about our Lord’s words of institution at the Last Supper which the Swiss Reformers raised and Luther would not face.”

This is an understatement at best and highly misleading at worst. Let’s see what the historian, James MacCaffrey has to say. He writes

Zwingli realized that the Real Presence was not in harmony with his theory of justification, and hence he was inclined to hold that the Eucharist was a mere sign instituted as a reminder of Christ’s death… Luther resented bitterly such a theory as an attack upon his authority, particularly after Zwingli refused [to retract his doctrine]… The Zwinglian theories spread rapidly in Switzerland, whence they were carried into Germany much to the annoyance of Luther… He denounced the Zwinglians in the most violent terms, as servant of the devil, liares, and heretics for whose salvation no man should pray.

-History of the Catholic Church from the Renaissance to the French Revolution, 122-123

Luther’s reaction toward Zwingli, the primary Swiss reformer, displays a belief that the Eucharist was an essential of Christianity; he wouldn’t have condemned Zwingli as a heretic otherwise. If one reformer believes the other is a heretic due to different interpretations regarding the Eucharist, then the issue cannot possibly “secondary” or non-essential. People do not condemn each other over non-essentials. Packer glosses right over this and simply characterizes this controversy as simple “exegetical questions”. When one party condemns another as a heretic, this goes beyond mere “exegetical questions”.

There were, of course, other issues that were just as contentious between various Reformation groups (just look at the treatment of the Anabaptists). These were not mere “exegetical questions” as Packer likes to put it. These were deep divisions that various parties persecuted each other for, went to war over and condemned each other as heretics for. If the Scriptures really are so clear as to allow the average person to come to a correct understanding of the basis essentials of Christianity, why the huge controversies between the Reformers?

This brings me to the bigger problem. How exactly do we, as Protestants, decide which beliefs are essential to Christianity and which lead to heresy? Who exactly decides this? If Martin Luther had his way, any Protestant who did not accept the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist would be beyond the pale of Christianity. The Bible itself doesn’t give a list of which beliefs are essential to Christianity and which are not.


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.


You’re a F***ing White Male

I present you with Aids Skrillex, the comedy gold mine that just keeps on giving. Strong language warning:

 

Notice what he does at about 52 second into the clip. He screams, “You’re a f***ing white male” like it’s the ultimate trump card. You’re automatically wrong because you’re a white male. Nobody cares about your statistics, arguments or logic because you’re a F***ING WHITE MALE. White males have no idea what oppression is. Why? Because they’re F***ING WHITE MALES. Now, despite their rhetoric, leftists clearly don’t give a flying fig about racism or sexism. They want power and they will use this sort of rhetoric as a club to beat any dissident into submission. Check out this aging beauty:

 

Like Aids Skrillex above, this ugly, old feminist clearly has no interest in having any sort of rational discussion. She accuses the speaker of being a “f***ing white man”  as if that alone proves whatever point she thinks she’s making. Apparently being a white male lets you do whatever you want. I especially like how she complains about the guy’s “privilege” while holding an iphone in her hand. But living in one of the richest nations and having access to luxuries like iphones isn’t privilege. But being a white male somehow imbues you with this magic called privilege. Where is my white male privilege? I could definitely use some of that.

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If you are a white male, stop groveling and apologizing for being a white male. Leftists who believe this can go play in traffic.


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.

as-above-so-below-16-gif-burns-me-up-wtf-watch-the-film-saint-pauly

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.