Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Faith and Coercion

My recent musings about voluntarism lead me, inevitably, to think about the role of coercion and social pressure in religion.

As in anything that involves human beings, participation in religious communities is often something folks do because they've been made to do it. This goes well beyond the "Oh Yes You ARE Going to Church Today, Young Man" hectoring that occurs nearly every Sunday morning in every Christian family that has a tweener.

Coercion to participate in religious life goes far deeper than mom threatening to take away your screen time. For many, it has deep sociological and theological roots.

Sociologically, that coercion occurs in communities that have religious homogeneity. If you're in certain portions of the American South, you just go to church. It's what people do. If you don't, there are significant social judgments made, and significant pressures applied. It's not quite the same in practice as the pressure to be a Shiite in Iran, but the essential principle is the same. You are faithful because you will be culturally penalized if you aren't.

The same can be true in microcosm within a faith community. If those who are part of your immediate circle all hew to a particular creed, that creed can easily be conflated with the bonds of friendship and family. If you don't believe, then, honey, you are so getting cut off. If you question or resist, we won't like you any more! No more Ski Trips for Little Ms. Questions!

Theologically, religion can be coerced through the implicit and explicit threat of eternal existential narstiness to be inflicted upon the heretic and infidel. For those with a spiritual bent, this can be a terrifying thing. One's whole life can be woven up wracked with fear at the many ways you may not be adequate, and the fires of Hades are brought out again and again like a damnation sorority paddle, which is then applied vigorously to the tushies of backsliders. Better do what Pastor says, sinner.

That theology, though, is the theology of the Law. It's just a way of enforcing compliance, and as such, it's a form of worldly power. Legal structures stand on the foundation of the coercive power that underlies them. They draw their power from the knowledge that they will be enforced, and that failure to comply with them will result in unpleasantness. But even though it is practiced by fundamentalists and condemned by atheists, coercive theology is not meaningfully Christian.

We are, after all, no longer under the sway of the Law. The next time you hear someone going on about believing so you don't have to dip your sorry behind in the Lake of Fire, it's helpful to remember that this really ain't the point of the Gospel.

23 comments:

  1. How do you you square that with this passage?

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
    --Matthew 5:17-18

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  2. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
    --Romans 13:8-10

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  3. Exactly. So how do you square that up?

    I'm mean, I am more sympathetic to Paul's claim there from Romans than I am Jesus's from Matthew, and that's because they seem to me to be not completely compatible with each other. Shouldn't Jesus have said, "You needn't bother with all the jots and tittles of the old laws, because the only law you really need is "Love your neighbor as yourself?"

    And the first half of that same chapter from Paul's letter to the Romans that you quote also seems incompatible with the second half, or your blog post, or, for that matter, good sense:

    "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." --Romans 13:1-4

    "It's just a way of enforcing compliance, and as such, it's a form of worldly power. Legal structures stand on the foundation of the coercive power that underlies them. They draw their power from the knowledge that they will be enforced, and that failure to comply with them will result in unpleasantness. But even though it is practiced by fundamentalists and condemned by atheists, coercive theology is not meaningfully Christian." --Beloved Spear

    How do you square that up?
    --Little Ms. Questions

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  4. This one is too easy.

    Paul's claim is NOT at variance with Jesus. In fact it seems he is quoting from the exact same tradition.

    If Jesus came to fulfill the law, and love is the fulfillment of the law, then, as he is quoted in John, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

    "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you"

    Voila, the "fulfillment of the Law".

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  5. @ Jodie: Yeah, it seems pretty straightforward to me, too.

    @ Little Ms. Questions: Understanding the Pauline context as we both do, you and I know that Christianity was not quite the easy decision back then as it was now. It was perceived as subversive and a threat to the social order, and Christians...Paul included...were subject to some pretty intense unpleasantness. There are two theological responses to this recorded in the New Testament. The first is the response of John of Patmos, who hurls theological invective from the heart of a marginalized community. The state and it's agents are the Beast, and no interaction is permitted. The people must remain pure, up until the point that Jesus comes back as Sarah Palin's choice for VP and all is made well again.

    Paul's approach is different. He doesn't fear the state, even though he was repeatedly beaten and imprisoned, and was ultimately executed. He's hardly someone who could be objectively described as a tool of the Man. Instead of engaging in theological bomb-throwing, he counsels an absence of fear, and do what is right "Doing what is right", as he puts it in the first part of Romans 13, is then defined in the latter part of Romans 13 as a radical restatement of the love ethic that Jesus taught and lived out.

    That ethic defines the Christian community, which does not rest on the foundations of coercive power.

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  6. I'm sorry that what apparently seems obvious to you guys is simply not so obvious to me. It's the jot and tittle business that is giving me trouble.

    1. There are God-given laws from the OT.
    2. That tradition may NOT be summed up as the Golden Rule. (E.g., direct orders from God that failure to observe the Sabbath is punishable by death. Numbers 15:32.)
    3. Jesus says that his arrival changes nothing about the law, does NOT erase one jot or tittle of law.
    -----HOWEVER------
    4. The fulfillment of the law is is simply "love" and CAN be summed up as the Golden Rule.
    5. Therefore, Jesus DOES erase the jots and tittles of the law, and they are subsumed into the Golden Rule (or, if you wish, an even more radical love).

    Jodie, your "too easy" is just another word for "facile." "Voila" is not an argument. You can't explain the apparent disconnect here merely by piling up more scriptural evidence on one side of the HOWEVER, and then pretend that I am being dense for asking the question. Which, ironically, seems to me to be one kind of "coersive theology" that David is warning against in his original post. The implication is that Little Ms. Questions is a trouble-maker, and her questions are too stupid to deserve more of an answer. If you are going to take Little Ms. Questions seriously, and not merely put a dunce cap on her head and stick her in the corner until she learns her place, then I think you have to explain which part of my list up there is in error and why. And, honestly, I'd like to know.

    And this is merely one iteration of the disconnect. The Gospel seems to me to be shot through with "coercive theology" and threats of punishment. The fiery furnace. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

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  7. Browning,

    You are not dense for asking the question. Paul and the authors of the gospels thought the question important enough to provide an answer in what really amounts to short texts with very few answers to direct questions.

    This happens to be one of them.

    Jesus had a polemic with the legalistic fundamentalists of his time. Christians were later accused by the Jews of not obeying the Law. Paul taught that you did not even have to be a Jew in order to follow Jesus.

    The Christians countered with the teachings of Jesus. If you think he - and they - were breaking the Law, it's because you do not understand the Law. And if you use the Law to oppress you are not obeying the Law.

    But to sum it up in "the Golden Rule" is also to not face or embrace the full measure of loving your neighbor as yourself. To love your neighbor even when he is your enemy, to the point of giving your life for him, that is more than just a golden rule. It's the most powerful Law ever written, and the most subversive commandment Jesus ever gave.

    And the Fundamentalists are still willing to crucify anybody who tries to live or preach such views.

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  8. @ Jodie: A solid summation! Thanks!

    @ Browning: Dense you most certainly ain't. But what seems as clear as the sky on a beautiful spring day to Jesus folk may not be quite so evident from your perspective. It's easy to forget that difference...and I don't think any slight was intended.

    Jodie is correct in asserting that Paul is highlighting the essence of the tradition. The "jot and tittle" statement is perhaps best understood in the context of not just Paul, but also the specific statements of Jesus. How, according to the records of the Gospel, did he interact with the Law? Well, let's look at the "jot and tittle" thing in context.

    That statement occurs in Matthew 5:18, which is the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount. Immediately following that statement, Jesus rejects the idea that legalistic faith is meaningful. (Matthew 5:20) Jesus then makes a series of declarative statements that are prefaced by "You have heard it said...but I say to you." In them, he radically redefines some of the core teachings of Torah, bringing them into compliance with the ethic of Love.

    As to your point about the place of heck-fire and damnification in coercive theology...well...I take that concern quite seriously. Honestly, it's the question I thought you'd lead with, because it's the first question that pops into my own head. Responding to that may merit a dedicated post in the nearish future...

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  9. "And the Fundamentalists are still willing to crucify anybody who tries to live or preach such views."

    Jodie, I consider myself a Fundamentalist in the actual sense of the word and not the pejorative it seems to have degenerated into. I've yet to seek to crucify anyone for living as Christ lived and commanded. Sort of goes against the "Fundamentals" of the Faith, don't ya think?

    Maybe it would have been more accurate to say, "And there are some who..." as opposed to, "Fundamentalists".

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  10. David, you seem to be suggesting that when you look at Jesus's statement about the jots and tittles in context, he's saying something completely different from what he appears, to me, to be saying.

    It appears to me that Jesus is saying that, contrary to what you might have heard, he can assure you that the Law of the OT is Very Very Important and he Will Not Erase It Even a Little Bit of It. Furthermore, when he says, "You have heard it said....but I say unto you," it sounds to me as if he's saying "I'll see your OT laws, and I'll raise you." His version of the Law is even more extreme than his audience thinks. (It's not enough to merely refrain from murder. You shouldn't even get mad. Etc.) He appears to me to be saying in Mt 5:20 that the Pharisees are not only the hypocrites he accuses them of being elsewhere, but that their standards are actually too low to suit him in the first place. Therefore, the Law is very real, and more extreme than you thought, and failure to follow it will result in your being judged and punished with low status, total exclusion, and torture with fire.

    There are two separate but related things that I find confusing about this.
    1. OT Law, in many of its particulars, is clearly incompatible with the radical love ethic you embrace. So when Jesus goes out of his way to be very explicit that he does not intend to erase one little bit of it, he appears to me to be either undermining what you consider his core message, or speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
    2. In any case, he is very clear that there are Laws, and that failure to observe them will be dealt with severely in the afterlife. In fact, you are in trouble if you even THINK about breaking them. In other words, you can and will be punished for thought-crimes. This seems to me to fly in the face of your assertion that "Jesus rejects the idea that legalistic faith is meaningful." It seems perfectly obvious to me that Jesus is practicing precisely the kind of coercive theology that you are criticizing in your blog post. As you say, "Legal structures stand on the foundation of the coercive power that underlies them. They draw their power from the knowledge that they will be enforced, and that failure to comply with them will result in unpleasantness." You claim that such structures are not Christian, but, as I see it, there they are, plain as day, right there in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.

    It also seems to me that you can't paper over these objections by finding other passages, say, in Paul's epistles, that seem to contradict the basic message here. That doesn't really get you anywhere. It only goes to prove that the Bible is internally inconsistent.

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  11. @ Browning

    "It only goes to prove that the Bible is internally inconsistent."

    Didn't realize that is what you were trying to prove.

    I'm not speaking for David here, but I would say the Bible is not internally inconsistent so much as representing different voices and different points of view.

    Jesus shows where the Pharisee's point of view takes you, and then provides you his own point of view. He also anchors his point of view to particular voices in the Jewish scriptures, thus satisfying the Rabbinical tradition to remain grounded in the Scriptures.

    There is OT Law, but there is also an OT "yes, but" tradition. See for example Micah.

    It's kind of a game they are playing, with very specific rules. The end result of the match is that the Rule of Love is held above all other Laws and it becomes the Law by which all other Laws must be obeyed.

    That is the key.

    All Laws are to be interpreted into action, and the method of interpretation must satisfy the Ubber Law.

    Thus for example Jesus intentionally breaks the Sabbath Law, or at least one interpretation of the Sabbath Law, and justifies himself by claiming "the Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath".

    Jesus encourages us to love each other as much as God loves us. Such a love, He says, would satisfy the Law and the spirit of the Law in its entirety.

    His point of view of which OT point of view to adopt.

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  12. Well, it's not what I was setting out to prove. Actually, I wasn't setting out to prove anything, so much as trying to flush out what David actually believes. Because I really want to know.

    But, if you recall, this discussion began with both you and David claiming that there is nothing inconsistent between the quotes from Matthew and Romans. Now you would seem to be claiming that the inconsistencies are not a bug but a feature, and that, yes, Jesus was speaking out of both sides of his mouth when he claimed that he did not seek to erase even a "jot or a tittle" of the Law, because his point is that that all the jots and tittles are to be erased as needed in the service of the greater good.

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  13. @ Browning: The Bible? Internally inconsistent? Of course it is. I point that one out all the time. There are a whole array of variant perspectives in the texts that comprise the Bible.

    What is not inconsistent, in any way, is the overarching narrative of the story it tells. Nor are the teachings of Jesus as they occur in the Sermon on the Mount and the explications of Paul. I have never implied this, nor would I, given that it is quite evidently not the case.

    The challenge you face, I think, is this: what Jodie and I are presenting, in our own varying ways, is a cohesive worldview, one that is founded in an ancient witness but not dependent on the presumption of literal inerrancy.

    That worldview, however, is not acceptable to you. It isn't that it does not cohere, or that you do not have sufficient information to understand it. It is that our responses simply don't process if your presupposition is that every last thing Christians believe is a priori bad/untrustworthy/stinkypoopoo.

    Take, for instance, your interpretive approach to the Sermon on the Mount. Here is a text that would appear, even if you reject the idea of the transcendent, to encourage an incredibly positive ethic of reconciliation and love for both neighbor and enemy. But as I hear you describe it, it must affirming legalism, which makes it oppressive and evil. Or, wait, it's not affirming legalism, which means Jesus is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, and is thus untrustworthy and/or insane. Or wait, it's an even deeper legalism, so it must be even worse than what came before. Or wait, it's saying that Jesus was telling us to love one another as just another way of threatening us all with hell. When every possible variant result is interpreted to mean essentially the same thing, either that means 1) that conclusion is correct or 2) that conclusion is the one that inevitably springs from the presupposition that defines the terms of the interpretation.

    The challenge here, I fear, is not that what I believe..or what Jesus taught..is all that convoluted or complex. Nor is it that you are incapable of grasping it. You're way too bright and creative for that. It is, instead, that in order to grasp what I believe, you have to at some level be open to it not being utterly and completely wrong in every possible way. In the absence of that openness, you will always perceive what I say as incoherent and/or slippery. I similarly struggle to wrap my head around the depth of your animus towards every aspect of faith. But this is not surprising.

    It is the human condition to see what we wish to see. Even the structures of reason itself can serve that purpose. I see grace and hope and truth in the teachings of the Nazarene. Even when I was agnostic, that was true. You look at the same things, and only see hatred and hell and lies and ignorance. From some of what I can recall you saying around a keg on the TKE back porch, I know that's been true for you for at least 20 years.

    I'm not saying that we should cease conversating. Not at all. I greatly enjoy your questions and our back and forth. But it's important to acknowledge that neither you nor I are coming to this tabula rasa.

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  14. Well, David, that is one way of not answering Little Ms. Questions -- to imply that she just doesn't get it because she just doesn't want to get it, because she simply refuses to open herself up to the truth. Put HER on the defensive. But again I call foul.

    First of all, your assumptions about my disposition towards Christianity are too extreme. You say that "my presupposition is that every last thing Christians believe is a priori bad/untrustworthy/stinkypoopoo." That is simply false. I have already said that I believe that our ethics are not so dissimilar. I can see many things to admire in the radical love ethic that you see as the core message of Christianity. And I can see things in the teachings of Jesus that are worthy of criticism. The difference is not that I have a negative presupposition, but that I do not have an irrationally positive one. I can read something that Jesus supposedly said or did, and determine to my own satisfaction that it was NOT good, because I am not burdened with the a priori assumption that that is impossible.

    Furthermore, like many atheists, I was taught to believe in the the divinity and goodness of Jesus as a child, and did. So I began with the similar presuppositions as you. But as my mind grew, questions arose, and I did not receive answers that satisfied me. (I was struck by this blog post in part because I identify with Little Ms. Questions. That is TOTALLY who I was at ten years old.) So, my disposition towards Christianity has grown out of my rational response to it, and not the other way around. (I don't know what it was that I said on the back porch of the TKE house, but I shudder to think that anything I said them might be held against me now. As I recall, I was an agnostic back then. I didn't really start identifying myself as an atheist until about ten years ago. Plus, back then I believed that ghosts were real, that playing beer pong was not an utter waste of time, that I was destined to be a famous poet, and that the music of Grateful Dead was not completely embarassing.)

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  15. Your description of my interpretive response to the Sermon on the Mount is somewhat (but not completely) accurate. Some of the words you are putting in my mouth are not any that I would recognize. I can see the good AND the bad in it. But you are right that the interpretations are all over the place. That's kind of my point.

    The trouble, as I see it, is that all the "Or, waits!" are in the text. Or they arise in the distance between what I see in the text and your interpretation of it. My original question is "How do you square that up?" (A question a carpenter could appreciate.) And the responses I receive from you and others are also inconsistent -- even meta-inconsistent. To wit: (1) "Consistent? We don't got to show you no steeeeeenking consistent!" and (2) "Actually, the core message is TOO consistent, but you are just too closed-minded to see it."

    Again, these answers are not satisfying to me, in the sense that I can't accept them for myself. But they are satisfying to me in the sense that I believe that you offer them sincerely, and they help me undertand a little better the way you think about it. So I am grateful for that.

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  16. @ Browning: To my eyes, that ball fell cleanly in deep center field. But again, we're looking at the field in rather different ways. I'm quite aware of my operating assumptions. I own 'em. Just giving you a wee nudge, as I will now and again, to own yours.

    And no, I don't hold the TKE years against you. That would be hypocritical. Heck, I was the one with the forked beard, as I recall, and my aspirations to be a random wandering street person haven't quite panned out as I hoped. I never found the Dead anything other than annoying, although, quite frankly, if Nelson Mandela had woken me that many times at 4 am, I probably would have found him annoying, too.

    I was also Little Ms. Questions. Still am. I'm the first grader who marched right up to his pastor and grilled him about evolution and dinosaurs. The responses I received then did not satisfy...but I have since found answers that did. Again, it all depends on what you're looking for. Seek and ye shall find, as they say.

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  17. I just came across this site, and got all caught up in reading this discussion, and would love to, if I may, add a couple cents.

    I would like to make a point to Browning. I'm not sure it has been addressed yet, correct me if it has, and I just didn't read it. This whole debate started from what was essentially a deplorable bit of prooftexting on Browning's part, and then he was responded to with some more prooftexting from the Spear and Jodie. The difference between Browning's line of thinking and the other two is that Browning's position is very difficult if not impossible to exegete, whereas Spear and Jodie are building up, by referencing more and more scripture, something that could be a good exegesis of Matthew 5. Browning, you are a smart guy, and already demonstrated to be more efficient with the english language than I am, and your question is legitimate. The problem is that you've turned what could have been a perfectly good question into an argument in which you have picked a theologically indefensible position. You have remained entrenched in two sentences, and interpreted an entire speech by them. If you look at Matthew 5 and the following chapters it should be bare-nakedly clear that you have picked two sentences that are not even remotely the thesis of the sermon recorded there, more broadly than that, can you interpret all of Matthew through those two sentences?! I fail to see by what logic you wield this passage so confidently. You wouldn't get away with this in academia, and you wouldn't be the first to have brought it up. I have certainly been guilty of presenting it from the other side, as a defense for my own legalism. Matthew 5 can't bear the weight of the legalist argument, but it can fit in with the larger 'Love' message.

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  18. You quoted from Romans as well, and again, took a passage out of context to make your point. Understood historically and within the broader context of Romans, this passage is not problematic. To embellish on Spear's reply, Paul is certainly exhorting the church to behave itself socially, and this occurs in other epistles as the writers encourage believers to behave in a way that will not bring public reproach to Christ. This was a problem then as so many rumors were being concocted regarding Christian behavior (that they were cannibals, for example). You can see how this would hamper Christian involvement in public discourse.

    When Paul talks about 'having nothing to fear' from those authorities, I think he would already be assuming that death was a non-issue, and that if a Christian were put to death, it ought to be a result of false accusation (and God will judge the accuser, God is the ultimate Authority). There is, of course, another issue to be explored here regarding the relationship between God and the government, and whether or not the 'self' terminates at physical death.

    Going further and suggesting that these passages present a condradiction, or evidence of fatal contradictions in scripture changes the game (but this has already been pointed out). The problem here, too, is that the whole issue of contradictions is more important to the realm of textual critcism than it is to facile readings of english translations.

    All that said, I see where you are coming from, and it is all well and good to say, 'this is how you see it, but this is how I see it.' The problem with the way in which you see it is that it doesn't hold water upon further study. If one is going to argue theology, one must acknowledge that there are such things as good and bad theology. To be as blunt as possible, your position is to Biblical study what young-earth creationism is to Science. That is why it is so difficult for the others to meet you half-way.

    Lastly, I have a question that is off the topic of the post, and more personal. If, Browning, you are an athiest, why argue with someone who is presenting a more humanist-friendly Christianity, that is Biblically sound? Why go further and argue when more evidence is presented to you that it is Biblically sound? It sounds like you are more interested in keeping a straw-man together.

    I hope I'm not beating a dead horse here, and I do mean all this with the best intentions that I am aware of in myself. I just got all excited to jump in on this thread! Thanks =)

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  19. @David. As often as I've seen it, I'm still always a little surprised when theists who are feeling slightly cornered in a discussion resort to some form or another of relativism. Or, in this case, a jaggy little ad hominem floating in a blurry cloud of relativism.

    "Dear Little Ms. Questions. Thank you for your inquiry. The best answer I can give you is that you have your way of seeing things, and I have mine. (And, as far as I can see, your way is clearly based on your deeply negative and irrational preconceptions. Just so you know.) Good luck with that! Yours in Christ, Pastor David."

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  20. @Matt. Welcome to the thread! I am delighted to make your acquaintance, and I mean that most sincerely.

    There's a lot of stuff to address. Going backwards: Why argue with David? Because I want to understand how he thinks. David and I are near enough alike in ethics, politics, intelligence, and backgrounds that our differences are far more interesting to me than the ones I have with a fundamentalist. I think I know essentially how a Glenn Beck thinks. (Not very well.) But David? He's a mystery to me. Plus he is as eager to share his ideas as I am to learn about them, so I feel as though we might learn from each other. And I think (and hope) we both enjoy it. I know I do, at least, and he has assured me that he does.

    Re: Romans 13:1-4. I did not take the passage out of context. In fact, I cited it AS the context of David's quote from Romans, offered as evidence that legalism is un-Christian. Maybe I misunderstand the passage, but if so then it is very badly translated. Because I take Paul at his word to mean what he says. And if he means what he says, it's clearly nonsense. Only a fool could believe it. But besides that, even if I believed it were true, Paul is claiming that God put the pagan authorities in power as an instrument to punish Christian bad behavior, which is precisely the coercive theology that David set out to claim was un-Christian. So David is prooftexting from the same letter, the same PAGE, as something that clearly says the opposite (unless it does not mean anything near what it actually says). I understand your desire to "spin" the literal meaning of this passage so that it seems less ridiculous than it appears, but this is all tangential to my main point. It is point-blank coercive theology: there are laws and if you break them, God intends to hurt you.

    Re: Matthew 5:17-18. I just asked the question: How do you reconcile this passage with the argument in the original blog post. I really just wanted to know. As you say, it's a good question! Some answers that might have made sense to me: (1) It's a misquote, slipped in later by legalist scribe. (2) It's mistranslated, and doesn't really mean what it appears to mean. (I dunno, maybe Jesus is being ironic? Is he saying it with a wry grin on his face? Is that what Paul was doing in the passage above?) I am completely open to the possibility that I am just completely misreading it, and I think a reasonable alternative reading would be very interesting to consider, since at the moment I just can't for the life of me see one myself. (Aside from irony, which I can't quite bring myself to credit.)

    But no explanation has ever been offered to me other than completely contradictory spot passages. If that's "good theology," then I say that theology is fundamentally BS, and much more like YE creationism than science in your facile analogy. Either explain how the passage fits your theory (coercive theology is un-Christian), or admit that it is part of the tradition that you reject. Don't pretend that it is simultaneously true and not true, and then act like that's just part of the mysterious beauty of it all. (Or do, if you must -- if that's all you got -- but don't expect me to "respect" you for it.)

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  21. Laughing at myself for reaching into the wrong bucket of jargon in that last post. "Spot passages" are unattributed passages on an English lit exam to test the student's ability to recognize and contextualize the quotation.

    What I meant was "textproof." No, wait! "Prooftext." LOL.

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  22. @ Matt: Welcome! Glad you dropped by! Feel free to chime in as the mood strikes you.

    @ Browning: I'm sure you're no more surprised than I am to be in another conversation with an atheist in which I hear how crazy, irrational, and dangerous faith is, and then hear the historical and textual context of a particular snippet of text irrationally ignored in defense of that governing thesis. Ah well. So it goes.

    Though you don't want to yield that ground, it is clear that suppositions are at play in your approach, in the same way that suppositions are at play in my exchanges with rigid religious legalists. That I am aware of our human tendency to wear the blinders of subjectivism is hardly a flaw. It is, in fact, a necessary element in a civil, reasoned exchange. You don't have to buy into that, of course. It's your God-given right as a free and sentient being to believe as you wish.

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  23. Look, I am not ignoring the historical and textual context. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt by saying "I assume this makes sense to you somehow. How does it?" I would really, sincerely like to know. I am asking you, over and over, to explain that context, and you seem uninterested in doing so, preferring to bury it beneath contradictory evidence. "Oh, that? Forget that! Look over here!" you say. And I say, "But that seems to me to say something completely different! How does that answer my question?" You claim that it's obvious, and when I say "Not to me," you say, "Well, that's just because you are blinded by your fundamental unwillingness to see that I am right and you are wrong."

    I suppose that the flaw in your argument that I have just outlined above is as self-evident to me, as mine apparently is to you, leaving us adrift in a sea of relativism. But what I find odd is that I, the atheist, am the one who still has some faith that (a) the truth is out there, and (b) that it is not impossible that we both might be able to look squarely at it and agree what it is.

    But my faith is wavering...

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