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Tag Archives: Exodus


Monoculture and Diversity, Redux

Azure had a comment on “Monoculture and Diversity“:

I was thinking of Romans 10:12 – “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him…” And maybe I’ll throw in Exodus 22:21 – “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Those are a couple of verses that come to mind that I think someone could use to make the argument that, from a Christian perspective, diversity is a moral imperative.

Ed had a good comment here, especially in his last sentence: “Diversity in Christ is a matter of calling and mission; there has to be a shared confession in there somewhere or you can’t work well together.” This is probably no more apparent than in Jesus’ inner circle of disciple, the Apostles. There was an admixture of backgrounds among those twelve, Simon the Zealot versus Matthew/Levi perhaps being the sharpest contrast. Those two would have been at each other instantly if they had met outside the context of Jesus’ mission—while together there was most likely a strong requirement of self-restraint on the part of those two for stability’s sake. In a real sense, all the diversity among the Apostles was subsumed into the monoculture of Jesus’ mission; it’s pretty clear that Jesus was the type of guy who, not unusual for a Hebraic ascetic preacher of His time, strongly preferred some things to be left at the door if one were to sign onto the mission.

Quick Thought on Universal Positivism

I read an old post of mine by chance the other day on how we know our religious beliefs are true. While that question is badly worded and doesn’t really ask the right thing, I had a whole series of thoughts that just ended up as one simple one after reading it again.

An extreme fixation on determining truth of religious belief, that the above question embodies, is really a fixation on falsifiability. It has its highest goal whether it can be demonstrated that a person’s internally accepted truth can be shown to others for consideration, like an observable object. Neverminding that this kind of positivism paradoxically has to rest on a series of unfalsifiable axioms, the biggest one of which (to me) being that the only meaningful truths are ones that can be subject to falsification, it’s also idolatry. Idolatry…that Old Testment-y concept that got God really riled up, and got really defined in the New Testament and its commentaries. We tend to associate the word “idolatry” with the Exodus 32 narrative. It comes off as inapplicable to us moderns.

Idolatry, though, is simple: it’s putting something in place of God. Think of it as knocking Him off the throne with an ersatz substitute. The iconic opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a wonderful visual analogy of this. It isn’t possible, in reality, to even begin to argue with God, much less displace Him ontologically, but acting as though we did is how idolatry is defined. As always, one can ignore reality but only at one’s own peril.

Positivism and its various flavors and incarnations, like scientism, puts man, with his material intellectual tools—even its mere chronological potential (“we’ll know all meaningful things some day”)—on the throne. Falsifiability uber alles is a type of twisted idolatrous solipsism, in that what is categorically true can only as such if it can be determined by and demonstrated towards, in all instances, the individual, royal “you.” Forgetting idolatry for a moment, it’s philosophically absurd…though I’m quite open to criticism that I’m strawmanning or reductio ad absurdum-ing here a little bit.

Michael Murray’s Response to the “Hiddenness of God” Argument Is Eh

He really is that good.

He really is that good.

Wintery Knight posted a while back (a while back on the scale of Internet time) about a response to the argument about God’s “hiddenness”—i.e., the phenomenon that God’s existence isn’t more plainly known to everyone in the same way that other, less important things, are apparent.

[Michael Murray] argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

This sort of response bugs me because Murray pretzels himself up to preserve freewill, but given what’s at stake why would God really prefer freewill so much so over assured salvation? A skeptic would rightly be unsatisfied with this rationalization; he would much rather be tackled against his will out of the path of a careening tractor trailer—complete with bowel evacuation in front of a cadre of spectators. I would rather suffer granite scrapes, a minute of rattled nerves, and the embarrassment and stench of my own feces on display than be plowed over into a red stain on concrete.

I might approach a counterargument, or counter this counterargument, in a few different, yet very scatterbrained, ways:

1) Freewill in the metaphysical sense is not like dealing with freewill in the material agency sense. Getting jailed goes against my freewill. Falling onto floor spikes is unpleasant, deadly, and against my will to not end up like. Yet my will does not change the law of gravity or the placement of an unseen errant roller skate in my path; my freewill is irrelevant to the process. The relationship of humans to divine sovereignty is such that it could similar to the latter situation. But…

2) We’re not dealing with impersonal physical laws but an agency (God) that proposes to hold intimate knowledge about us. He could chose to reveal himself to remove doubt from all choice-making agencies (humans), but there could be something about His nature such that it prevents Him from doing that. And no, I don’t think preserving freewill is highest on the list but I have no idea what this other property would be.

3) It could be the case that some of us have freewill and some don’t. Or some of us has some kind of partial freewill, or that we have freewill at some points and none at another point. There might be no reason to think this property is static. On this side of the divide it really ends up as a epistemic crapshoot. Aside from Exodic pharoahs scriptural revelation these aren’t very strong scenarios but I’d rather err on that side than suggest there’s something very possible that God can’t do.

4) God, having perfect foreknowledge of events, knows who would choose Him and who wouldn’t, and therefore “hides” Himself, either actively or passively, from those who He knows would not choose Him and reveals Himself to those who will. There’s a theological term for this that someone with relevant knowledge can clarify for me, but we could call it “divine efficiency” for now. It does come off as a very freewill-quashing Edwardianism to me, on first impression. I don’t like this option, personally, but I don’t completely rule it out.

5) Why does it matter if a person comes to a belief in God out of fear? Does God care that belief is a result of some more “noble” situation?

6) As William Lane Craig correctly pointed out in a response to a reader’s email: God owes you absolutely nothing.

Summary of blather: Murray’s response rests too much on freewill preservation.

Why God Killed All Those Egyptian Babies

Old page (a decade old!), but it does a good job of laying out some bare historical facts and estimates on the background of the “creeping death” plague from Exodus:

As in many of the skeptical questions I get, the conclusion they end up with is often correct in some basic sense (i.e., ‘we should not worship a vengeful God who slaughters innocent children’), but the reasoning which leads up to the conclusion doesn’t indicate that the conclusion applies to the biblical God. In other words, their ethics are okay, but their exegesis (and sometimes hermeneutic or theology is mistaken).

The key concept here is context. Remember: at that time there was no scripture, no theological framework on which to reference. Moses, growing up as Egyptian royalty, was probably educated in what those Hebrew slaves believed but there wasn’t much written down. God more or less had to work directly with people, which means most anything He did or commanded was very personal and situational.

I disagree somewhat with Glenn Miller Orchestra’s conclusion. He said God was working well within “propriety”. But he’s answering the wrong criticism. God may have been working within “propriety”; we don’t know what He said to pharaoh though I think there was some communication going on there, but it’s a strange suggestion. God literally doesn’t give a damn about propriety but perhaps, in a sense, would play the game when convenants are concerned.

On a lighter note, enjoy Metallica’s rather accurate thrash-narrative of the Exodic plague cycle.

Bible Book Summaries: The Criterion Collection

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook might know I took up a project to summarize all 66 books of the Bible, roughly one book per day. I recently finished all the books and I thought it would be best to publish them all in one grand blog post. A tweet-dump motherlode assault on the senses.

Before (or after) you read these, check out this guy who is tweet-summarizing the entire Bible by chapter.