Counter-apologetics

Jesus Changes Not

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever”

“For I am the LORD, I change not”

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http://bit.ly/mal3-6

There is a logical contradiction in the beliefs of Christians, especially those who accept the whole Bible as their authority, not just the New Testament. But even those who lean heavily on the New Testament Jesus must cope with the connections Jesus himself made between himself and the Old Testament God.

That connection is very explicit throughout all four Gospels, but especially so in John’s gospel. On multiple occasions, Jesus describes himself using the clear (to Old Testament readers) label of ‘the I AM,’ that distinct title God offered Moses at the burning bush when specifically asked “whom shall I say sent me?” The Old Testament God taught Moses the title “I AM” because he knew his people, Israel, would recognize him by that ancient name. The Jews in Jesus’ day still knew that sacred title, because they were most offended when Jesus blasphemed God (in their evaluation) by applying it to himself. This is all to show that it is not really controversial to most Christian bible students to state that the Jesus who appears in the New Testament claimed to be the same as the God of Israel, the Creator, Moses, the whole Old Testament, really. While it may be that many careless bible readers mistake the Old Testament God for the one Jesus called ‘Father God,’ but it is still an error easily corrected by more carefully attending to Jesus’ own words about himself. The bible God is one God in both testaments– Jesus.

The logical contradiction is in the beliefs of those Christians who encourage the perception of Jesus to be one-sided, as in a Jesus who only really is like he was in the New Testament, shorn of all his actions in the Old.

In order to lift the Jesus of the Cross over and above Misogynist Jesus of Deuteronomy¬†21 (especially verses 10-13), Brutal Warlord Jesus of Phinehas (Numbers 25), and Collateral Damage Jesus presiding over the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:29), one has to explain away these statements about God’s fundamental nature. Indeed, one must be willing to change, with some justification, the accepted definition of the term ‘eternal’ to now not include the idea ‘unchanging.’

It’s fine to state a preference about which actions of God upon which one chooses to dwell. But before one is asked to commit one’s entire life to following a person, even if that person makes claims like ‘Creator’ or ‘Savior’, one should analyze that person’s actions completely. Read the fine print, so to speak.

Jesus so identified himself with his statements and actions in the word of God that he adopted that very phrase to describe himself. Presumably, then, the person who called himself ‘The Word of God,’ was willing that all his prospective followers would hold him responsible for all divine activity in the only Bible available in Jesus’ day, the Old Testament.

Regardless of whether or not his modern followers find the OT Jesus’ behavior embarrassing, they still should be able to explain why prospective converts ought to trust in the God of the ‘fine print’.

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Personal statements

Spiritual Boundaries

  • NOTE: This was written January 11, 2013 in the style of a personal journal entry. As such, it is not a counter-apologetic statement. It is a personal statement reflecting my journey and state of mind at that time. I reserve the right to continue my journey, and change my state of mind!

I was born just 47 years ago, and have learned a little bit about myself since then.

The more in harmony and at peace are those around me, the happier am I. When conflict arises, I am just not okay with it. The bigger the conflict, the more out of sync with it I become, until I am just done with it. If practical and possible, I retreat; just walk away – – “who needs this? Not me.”

If being passive isn’t practical, I become aggressive. I crusade against the conflict, I work hard to minimize or heal it. I mediate, I letter-write, I blog about it. Whatever works to communicate to myself and my world that The Conflict is NOT me, not mine.

I have in my personality a generous helping of “peacemaker.” I’d much rather harmonize than wage the aggressive war of creating the original tune, the original message. Creating is bold, risky, primal war with the already-here in order to bring forth the not-yet. Talk about conflict!

It’s much more like me to want to see the new (or classic or popular) creation, and harmonize with it, or fit it harmoniously in with all the rest of creation. You write the words, the chords, the melody; I’ll add the bass line, a touch of harmony, and record the song.

In high school they made us take career interest surveys. One personality-based survey told me my best fit for a career was “conservator. ” After I looked it up, I disagreed with the image of myself walking around my museums and libraries, seeing that everything is just so, and logically ordered. I retreated to my preferred career choice– filmmaker, wishing (as if it would make it so) I could follow in the footsteps of Kubrick, Spielberg, and Coppola.

Thirty years of walking around my mental museums and libraries later, I still haven’t made peace with myself. I still value my own cinematic opinions all out of proportion to my actual experience creating cinema. Same with music, painting, and literature.

I am a Conservator of my own illusions about myself.

* * *

I am a spiritual person. For a time, I embraced religion, but now I reject it. I am a philosophical person, and mostly live in my head, in the theoretical library I’ve been mentally shaping since I was a kid. I have always discussed with my peers and friends the validity and value of the beliefs, customs, and institutions in which I found myself: Dogs vs cats, and God vs none (as a grade-school philosopher, with my best friend, the son of the conservator of my local natural history museum). As a teenage sophist, I questioned the public school system of my country, the United States. As a twenty-something educator, I questioned the actions and values of my country itself.

As a teen I quit the Catholic Church in which I was raised. It had no relevance to anything in my life. By twenty years of age, I was accepting the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The first teaching I accepted is the one I didn’t subsequently reject in my post-SDA life: “All is not as it seems to be with the Christian religion.” I leave it to the reader to guess (or research) how the SDA church corrects what it sees as the errors of Catholicism, and Protestantism. Suffice it to say: twenty years after joining the SDA Church, I left it, after applying the same theory to it that it taught me to apply to all other religions (excepting itself, of course): what if all is not as it seems?

My current foray into study of Buddhist teachings and how they intersect with psychology, psychedelic experiences, and science in general, began with me discovering how invested Buddhism is with the concepts of self-understanding and peace-making. These are concepts about which I care a great deal.

Aldous Huxley’s last novel, Island, introduced me to Buddhist ideas from the perspective of Western civilization. H. H. The Dalai Lama’s book How to See Yourself as You Really Are gave me an eastern perspective on Buddhism translated into my language. The Psychedelic Experience by Tim Leary, et. al, a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, includes a commentary on Eastern psychology’s advantages over the more self-limited Western psychological schools of thought (as well as a manual for how to substitute psychedelic substances for Buddhist meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment). Leary & Co concluded that Eastern psychology was a much more matured and advanced science because they didn’t separate from it the spiritual and practical moral reality of life. Kind of a mind-blowing idea.

The ideas which so for have impacted me include the following:

  • From The Psychedelic Experience: “The Bardo Thodol is in the highest degree psychological in its outlook; but, with us, philosophy and theology are still in the mediaeval, pre-psychological stage where only the assertions are listened to, explained, defended, criticized and disputed, while the authority that makes them has, by general consent, been deposed as outside the scope of discussion. Metaphysical assertions, however, are statements of the psyche, and are therefore psychological. To the Western mind, which compensates its well-known feelings of resentment by a slavish regard for ‘rational’ explanations, this obvious truth seems all too obvious, or else it is seen as an inadmissible negation of metaphysical ‘truth.’ Whenever the Westerner hears the word ‘psychological,’ it always sounds to him like ‘only psychological’.”
  • Island: If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.
  • How to See Yourself as You Really Are: Science and technology have contributed immensely to the overall development of humankind, to our material comfort and well-being as well as to our understanding of the world we live in. But if we put too much emphasis on these endeavors, we are in danger of losing those aspects of human knowledge that contribute to the development of an honest and altruistic personality. Science and technology cannot replace the age-old spiritual values that have been largely responsible for the true progress of world civilization as we know it today.
  • All things are impermanent. If you really ponder that truth, it’s not just self-evident in the most obvious ways (such as the constant change we all experience as we age, or the decay and death we recognize as facts of life); it’s true when seen through the empirical lenses of science (such as physics and chemistry proving that all matter, including that which makes up you and me, is – – at its elemental level – – composed much more of the space between atomic structures than the structures themselves. We appear solid, but are really more empty than solid.
  • The Quantum Activist: when electrons shift orbital positions, they do so without traveling the space between them; essentially, they travel faster than light/ instantaneously
  • Things appear permanent and stable, but really everything is in motion not just at the atomic level which was current knowledge in the 1980s when they taught us about protons, electrons, and the forces bonding them together in their tiny orbits. But motion is evident above and below that level, and that motion likely will continue to be detected as the precision and reach of scientific instruments continuously improves. Things are not as they appear, and that includes these words that I’m writing and you are reading, and the appearance of every object you can find when you lift your eyes from these words and observe your world. It includes what you think you see in the mirror, or in your own mind when you consider who you are.
  • These facts of science lend credibility to the assertion of Buddhism that all living beings, all sentient beings, have more in common than we have separating us. All members of the human race are so connected to each other in so many obvious and many more subtle ways that it is a shame that most of us waste so much energy promoting the terrible fantasy that some of us are better than others, or more deserving of care than others, or more inherently valuable than the rest of the members of the human family.
  • And flowing from such terrible fantasies is the continuous stream of ignorance, racism, poverty, violence, greed, war, and corruption which still plague us here at home on Planet Earth.
  • Those who wish to better themselves and their fellow human beings will seek to dispel such fantasy-illusions in themselves, and see themselves as they really are.
  • “Reality” is more about love and compassion and spiritual growth than what it usually is taken for, as in the “real world” where you supposedly gotta be selfish and fearful and competitive and harsh toward your enemies in order to survive.
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Counter-apologetics, Seventh-day Adventism

Delusion Doesn’t Mean Dummy

[The following is my answer to an accusation that I was calling Adventists “a bunch of dummies” in my essay found here http://jimmiles.hubpages.com/hub/What-Twenty-Years-in-the-Adventist-Church-Taught-Me]
“Delusion” doesn’t mean “dummy.”
If I believe something based on insufficient or faulty evidence, we can fairly say that I am ignorant. A new ad campaign by Amnesty International “has highlighted the unintended consequences of imposing the death penalty by focusing on a handful of prisoners who were eventually presumed innocent after death.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_Sy8jU6sS4). People within our justice system were operating under common beliefs about forensic technology as it existed up to their time. These people include forensic pathologists, attorneys, and judges– people whose occupations require more than average intelligence and a degree of mastery of logical reasoning and the scientific method. They were no dummies.
These same intelligent people were ignorant of evidence (such as DNA testing, a more recent development in forensic technology), and sent innocent people to their deaths. Political views on the death penalty aside, it demonstrates forcefully how intelligent people pursuing a sincere and just cause can nevertheless be so wrong due to insufficient evidence that multiple safe-guards to error all failed to prevent wrongly convicted people from being executed for crimes of which they were innocent, allowing the real criminals to remain free. Intelligent people can be wrong, and deceived, and even deluded, and that is not a comment on their intelligence. Rather it is proof that it is important to pay close attention to all of the best available evidence, and to integrate it into your beliefs and behavior.
Using reason and evidence-based methods of improving our behaviors, we can improve ourselves and our society. Our justice system is better now that we have the new tool of DNA testing. If I become so attached to a belief system that I am resistant to contrary evidence (which makes it difficult to trust my belief system) then we can fairly say that I am deluded or deceived. It would be insensitive to say that I am stupid or “a dummy,” terms which are judgmental of my intellectual ability. It would be inaccurate to equate the concept of ignorance with intellectual ability.
SDAs preach that Catholics are suffering under the delusions that Mary is the Queen of Heaven and that one man deserves the power and privileges of the Papacy. SDAs feel sincerely that their interpretation of the Bible allows no other conclusion about Mary and the Papacy, and that Catholics are either ignorant of the truth about the Bible or so strongly attached to their system that they are deceived about the Bible and that their beliefs about Mary and the Papacy are delusions. The SDA belief system motivates them to reach out to Catholics using their most powerful tools, Biblical preaching and Ellen White’s writings. If we were to observe SDAs’ behavior toward Catholics and conclude that SDAs thought Catholics were dummies or stupid, we would be making an unfair judgment.
I do not think I am being unfair when I suggest that the SDA church has such a strong attachment to their prophetess Ellen White that they cannot accept evidence that she was not a true prophet, or that they elevate her to such an equality with the Bible that she deserves the designation of cult leader, or that they falsely claim to adhere to the Protestant Reformation’s principle of Sola Scriptura (the Bible and the Bible ONLY as the ultimate authority for faith and doctrine). They cannot accept any such evidence and remain strongly attached to those erroneous beliefs, therefore by any means necessary they will explain away contrary evidence in favor of remaining faithful to the belief system. Remaining faithful to a system of beliefs despite great and contrary evidence, for the sake of preserving the system as if it had some inherent value, is properly called a delusion. If otherwise reasonable, intelligent, wise, and resourceful people prefer the comfort of their attachment to a faulty belief system, they are not to be judged as stupid, but merely deluded.
At the risk of belaboring this, let me repeat: I do not believe that SDAs as a church or that any particular SDA deserves to be called stupid, or dummies, or in any way lacking in intelligence. In my essay, http://jimmiles.hubpages.com/hub/What-Twenty-Years-in-the-Adventist-Church-Taught-Me, I did not say such things, or imply them. I did use the term delusion, but the above is meant to explain why I feel I was correct in my terminology. I think there is hope in the idea of deception and delusion. There is no cure for stupidity, or “foolishness,” according to the Bible book of Proverbs. However, as long as life lasts, there is always opportunity to change our beliefs after reflecting upon sufficient contrary evidence. If a person values the search for truth and wishes to avoid the dangers inherent in delusion, they should always be given the opportunity to make that kind of positive progress. If they value comfort and status quo instead of progress, they likewise should not be judged unfairly for that equally valid choice. And everyone should welcome reasonable challenges to their beliefs from time to time in order to have the opportunity to change, or to choose to remain the same.
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Counter-apologetics

We Must Just Trust

There’s a certain frustration I have with apologists. They retreat to the following defense at times.
  • When the critic of Scripture says, “If this is accurate, such and such part of the Bible says something unacceptable;” the apologist cries, “Vague! Ancient! this all occurred so long ago, and was written so long ago, that we just can’t know everything about it! We must just trust!”¬†
  • And when the critic of Scripture says, “the Bible was written so long ago, and its events so long ago, we cannot trust its claims about anything and everything, especially not for modern man,” the apologist switches to the opposite side, and cries, “Inspired! Infallible! God knows all and guided his word to be the perfect view-port into God’s will for man! We must just trust!
Either kind of defense is used interchangeably by apologists, when it suits them. But it seems to me that it’s not fair, and that you cannot have it both ways. Either the Bible is an accurate picture of God’s behavior and character or it is not.
When a critic points out that God behaved irresponsibly when killing children (for example, the Passover death of the first-born of Egypt) who were by all definitions innocent civilian casualties destroyed by collateral damage in the war between God and His enemies, or when allowing their death (in all those genocidal campaigns, for example the one against the Amalakites, http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/1sam/15.html), then the apologist must admit that stories such as these were chosen by the One who inspired the Bible and considered them important to understanding God’s character. These stories tell nothing about the nature of evil; that is firmly established in many other more clear passages. These are stories in which God is the one choosing His own actions, and the result of His choice is that innocents die.
So, let’s stick with the position that the Bible is inspired, and each act of God depicted in it is both accurately described, and meaningful to an evaluation of His character. Question: what is God trying to say about Himself when He goes out of His way to kill innocent children?
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Counter-apologetics, Facebook discussions, Seventh-day Adventism

The Great Divide?

This is the fourth of four points I made in a Facebook discussion found here: https://www.facebook.com/jim.miles/posts/10152361298826758
I feel like I missed lots of points made earlier in the discussion.
I only mention names for reference; anyone is welcome to offer comment.

POINT #4: THE GREAT DIVIDE?

In order to generically address many of both Tom and Gil’s most recent comments, I would say the following.

We’re talking across a great divide. On my side, I am skeptical about the Bible and its many claims. I am skeptical about the existence of God, and all things supernatural. On their side (Tom and Gil’s), however different they are to each other in their doctrinal specifics (SDAs have VERY little in common with RCs on church dogma), they are both at the opposite end of what we could call a belief spectrum– they are both convinced that God exists, and that He spoke through the Bible’s writers.
Of course I’ve been aware of that divide all along, but I get the sense in their latest comments that they’ve forgotten about my basic position of rejecting the Bible’s authority, veracity, and supernatural origins. I’m not convinced that the Bible presents the same picture of God which is presented by either Gil’s or Tom’s denominations. But they keep presenting to me their church’s picture of God as if that will answer my questions about the behavior of God as presented in the Bible, as presented to a READER of the Bible who is unbiased about it by any particular CHURCH.

I am not interested in trying to convince Christians that God doesn’t exist, even though that is my conviction. Rather, I’m interested in building a moral and ethical code which is free from the influence of religion. I address Christians with moral and ethical questions about God, because I think a person who values moral and ethical behavior would need to be first convinced that God is someone who can be trusted and who is worthy of imitation BEFORE trusting and imitating Him. I think most Christians come to their belief in God without first fully knowing what they are being asked to believe.

I was baptized as an infant in the church Tom calls home, the Roman Catholic Church. And like a good Catholic I did all the rituals of that faith my whole childhood, and every single Sunday I heard the teachings from the pulpit. Only after becoming firmly entrenched in the Catholic way of perceiving God and the Bible, did I attend catechism classes, as an adolescent. Catechism was followed by my first confession in the booth to a priest, which also ended up being my last. Within five years I had quit the Catholic church entirely.

After later lapsing in my teen years, by age twenty I was joining the church Gil calls home. My wife (Gil’s daughter) and I raised our daughters in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and they both experienced it much like my Catholic upbringing: from their infant dedication, to their childhood Sabbath School and home influences, to their attendance at an Adventist pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school. They had the SDA way of perceiving God and the Bible ingrained in them long before ever being presented with the opportunity to join the church as members, which they both were very eager to do from their earliest years. As it happens, Gil baptized them both.

As a professional Adventist Bible teacher, teaching SDA teens how to perceive God and the Bible the Adventist way, I was participating in the mission of the larger Christian “Church”, by which I mean the whole history of Christianity, including the many flavors of competing and cooperating denominations active right now. That mission has always included adding more members to the body of Christ, a biblical way of referring to the Church.

I always had respect for the Word of God, and would try to get my students to really step back and evaluate it on its own merits. I reminded them often to study it for themselves, and not to simply take my word, or anyone’s word for it; they were capable of comprehending God’s message to them for themselves. I believed in the idea that God, in the Bible, is presenting His side of the story, presenting His case before the world, in a kind of cosmic courtroom drama. Obviously, He is the overall Judge, but He also invites readers to judge HIM for themselves. No mediator is required, just come and see; “taste and see…”.

That was always the most powerful part of the Bible’s message for me– The Invitation. I felt it was incredibly fair and just of God to honor our freedom of choice so completely. For me back then, it was amazing to think that God had created the Bible. He gathered his vast powers and put them to the task of creating an exhaustive case study of His own character. He behaved and spoke and acted and reacted in various ways throughout human history. Then He stepped back when the Bible was complete, as if to say, “It is done. That’s who I AM. Make up your own mind about Me. Am I the kind of God worthy of your devotion? If so, follow Me. If not, I’ll miss you, but I won’t force you to spend eternity with Me.”

Now, as I said above, I reject the supernatural origins of the Bible. However, that doesn’t change its message. I still know what the Bible says. I didn’t forget it just because I reject its claims. And the above paragraph is accurate about its message, in my professional opinion. And though I no longer profess to be a Christian (whether Catholic or Adventist), I still want to build my own moral and ethical values and beliefs, this time without the religious input. Though I am becoming a non-religious person, I will never become an unethical or immoral person, because I choose not to be that way.

And I still would like to challenge the notion that without God or religion, its difficult or impossible to behave and believe morally. And to challenge the idea that the God presented in the Bible always behaved morally.

I really am not helped in my quest for answers about God’s behavior by homilies from Pope Francis or Ellen White. I would rather get answers to my questions in the words of the Christians themselves, the actual people with whom I am interacting and discussing.

I know what the Bible says; what do YOU say?

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