Sarcastic Trigger Warning: Sarcasm. May cause uncertainty and defensiveness.
This is a post that, a number of years ago, I never imagined I’d be writing. Granted, a lot of things have been happening lately that I’d never dreamed would, but this one is really sticking out for me.
Years ago, I attended a small Liberal Arts school called Gutenberg College. It was and is a weird school and I mean that as a compliment in many ways. The core structure of the program consisted of reading the primary documents of Western Civilization and holding small intense discussion groups on each one. Textbooks and histories were there in the background to provide context, but the majority of the program involved trying to figure out what people in the different eras of history thought. To see through their eyes and understand the patterns they saw, and how the world looked through the spectacles of those patterns.
To see how those patterns changed and changed each other, over the course of history.
To try to let your own eyes fall away like scales.
That was how I understood it at the time, anyway.
It was a formative experience (for me) and it’s one I prize, whatever the flaws or deficiencies may have been.
The teachers and staff (one and the same thing, called tutors, due to budget) were all Christian. I would never have gone if they weren’t. However, unlike some groups I’ve been around, they claimed they weren’t teaching ‘from a christian perspective’ as much as they were teaching history and the history of various perspectives. The tutors, for themselves, believed that Christianity was a historical truth. Study would lead to that conclusion, they felt. So study, of anything, was permissible. Looking back, the program probably was biased, but the bias was very laid back. You could play around. Explore.
Coming from where I came from, it was real edgy.
In the time since I finished, I’ve heard that there have been changes. That things have gotten a bit… mm… narrower.
Recently, in a spate of nostalgia, I was looking over the Gutenberg website. There were, indeed, signs of increased paranoia and narrowing definitions. They were, in fact , coming from the source I had heard they were coming from.
But one of their posted articles broke my heart. It’s from about a year ago- you can find it here. By Mr. Ron Julian.
It is a response to a Huffington Post article- also a year old.
So this is late breaking news, all around.
Mr. McSwain’s article is, as you may note, a list of six things. These are things that he believes to be so blatantly inaccurate that Christians should at least stop making them into battlegrounds. He very briefly presents arguments for each one.
He does NOT argue against Christianity as a social structure, he does NOT call Jesus a (probably unintentional) fraud, and he does NOT call God a genocidal maniac. These are all things I would have done.
Perhaps this lends me a broader perspective on Mr. McSwain’s article.
Mr. McSwains writes in a flippant and sarcastic tone, but then, this is a magazine article, not a scholarly one. Its intended to be funny, easy to read, and entertaining to the audience in much the same way as a football game or a cockfight.
You know. From back when America was a more moral place and forcing animals to fight each other to the death, just for the fun of watching a killing, was legal.
That is it’s genre. According to the online branch of the Merriam Webster dictionary, genre is “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content” The flippancy of this author’s tone is one that characterizes a genre- ie you can probably assume that an article entitled “6 reasons that [insert name here] should/won’t/hates [insert activity here] is going to be at least slightly sarcastic and definitely written for maximum click value.
The genre of the text being one of the things Mr. Julian and his fellow tutors taught me to look for, in evaluating a text.
Despite the fact that he does go through and talk about a few of Mr. McSwain’s points, in his conclusion, Mr. Julian insists that
“My only concern in this article is to remind Christians that name-calling is not an argument.”
Unfortunately, it seems to me that a large part of what Mr. Julian seems to perceive as name-calling is in fact genre.
I know for a fact that Mr. Julian is capable of recognising this in works of literature, such as Gulliver’s Travels. He is capable of of holding a rational dialogue with Jonathan Swift despite Swifts’ jabs at humanity and its nature. He is capable of approaching Chaucer despite the fact that Chaucer made fart jokes about men who represented the most powerful and universally recognized religion in Europe in that day.
Perhaps he is not familiar with this genre. It’s pretty common, though. That would be odd.
He may himself attribute his response to the fact that the jokes being aimed in his direction.
“More and more, Bible believing Christians are finding themselves targeted in this way, their opinions portrayed as so obviously stupid and intolerant that every right thinking person is justified in dismissing them out of hand. It is only natural, then, that Christians find themselves feeling defensive and uncertain in response.”
Try replacing the word Christian with Catholic in these sentences. And think of Chaucer.
There are other problems. In a list of six items, Mr. Julian claims that he is (sort of) with Mr. McSwain in disagreeing with three of them. He refuses to say which three they are. Which is interesting, since, unless I am miscounting, he attempts to defend four of them against Mr. McSwain.
I will stick to the points he deals with in detail- the points he admits to disagreeing with Mr. Mc Swain about.
The first point is inerrancy. Mr. McSwain says that 1)the Bible is full of errors, and that 2) we have no proof that the original wasn’t as well. Even if the text has been corrupted we have no reason to believe that anything other than a fallible document before it became corrupt. Mr Julian gives a long reply to this, which … seems… to boil down to him saying that all of this evidence stuff is irrelevant…?
Mr. McSwain is showing off how ignorant he is by even by even bringing evidence up.
Mr. Julian believes the Bible’s claim to be true because the Bible claims that it’s true.
” We can question whether Paul wrote a particular word in our manuscripts. We can question whether we have accurately understood what Paul meant. But we do not question whether Paul knew what he was talking about. Paul claims to speak with the authority of Jesus because he was taught by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The inerrantist accepts that claim.”
The reason we believe that Jesus has authority and that the Holy Spirit can empower- instead of believing that Jesus was a kindly moral teacher and that humans unconsciously manipulate psychic energy-
is because Paul and the other apostles said so.
And why do we believe they were right about that?
Because Jesus gave them his authority. And the Holy Spirit empowered them.
It’s a circle!
Imagine if you accidentally read both the Christian Bible and the Koran! Or the Book of Mormon! Your head might explode from the contradictory yet unquestionably correct truth-claims!
But wait! There’s more. It turns out that
“Even more serious is the bullying way McSwain asserts that the Bible obviously has errors:
As we have it, no matter what translation you favor, the Bible is replete with errors. To pretend otherwise is your right. To say otherwise is a lie. You are entitled to your opinions, your assumptions, even your beliefs. What you are not entitled to is a misrepresentation of the facts.
This is the classic technique of the rhetorical bully: assume that your position is obviously true and then berate your opponents for their bad faith…”
Gosh. I wouldn’t want to just assume that my position was true! I’m glad Mr Julian mentioned that that was a bad idea!
The trouble is that the Bible IS full of discrepancies.
Some of them are small discrepancies. Many of them involve numbers, and so probably could be explained as scribal errors.
My personal favorite is the difference between 2 Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 2 1:1. David was enticed to count his fighting men, an action for which God punished him by massacring his people. Samuel says God enticed him to do this. Chronicles says Satan enticed him.
Not much difference, though, eh?
Then there are the large discrepancies.
Like how God says in Exodus 20:5
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…
But also says in Deuteronomy 24:16
“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.
But then when push comes to shove, in Numbers 16-
27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.
28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”
31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.
…God is perfectly willing to execute children along with their parents. Rules are for humans, sucker!!
Except that by the time God finally gets around to destroying Jerusalem (for the sins of king Manasseh, several generations earlier, according to 2 Kings 21:10-12, 2 Kings 23:26 and 2 Kings 24:3) he’s actually come around and gets kind of ticked off at them for implying that he’s punishing them for the sins of their ancestors.
Ezekiel 18:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.
And then he runs off to Jeremiah (Jer 31) and explains that one day, he’s going to bring them back from exile and then…
29 “In those days people will no longer say,
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.
Notice how he doesn’t say he going to save anyone from their sins? He just says that- in the new wonderful future- he’s only going to kill people for their own sins. No longer will children be massacred along with/because of their parents! Woot!
Tacit admission, anyone?
Mr. McSwains assertion about discrepancies IS obviously true. Why Mr. Julian doesn’t see them- I don’t know. That’s something for him to figure out, I guess.
Mr. Julian, somewhere in this, give a lengthy analogy explaining inerrancy. He likens the Bible unto a millennia old treasure map guide book thingie. The book may be weather-stained, battered and written in Klingon, but it was written by the man who buried the treasure in the first place and preserved by his descendants. Thus. We know that, even if we can’t understand it, it must be true.
But that isn’t how it works.
What if the man wrote it and left it to his descendants as an easy way to shunt conquistadors and treasure hounds into hungry quicksand?
What if he wrote it as the guide for a hallucinatory journey through the spirit world in a landscape that looked vaguely like the one they actually lived in to keep the trip from getting too wierd?
What if he was actually insane, but just such a sweet guy otherwise, and they kept it to remember him by?
What if the guide is accurate- and you finally decode the weird script- and make it across the ravine- and survive the snake pit- and find the treasure chest- and open the lid-
And the treasure is something that was only valuable millennia ago? Like a black rock that fell from the sky- or the family’s totem that they aren’t allowed to keep images of?
I do not believe that the sarcastic tone I’m using in this post is probably helpful to anyone. I feel wretched beating up hapless old men. Particularly Mr Julian, who, whatever his opinions in this article, helped me in so many ways.
But I hate God so much. I refuse to let him get away with this.
There are people trusting Him with their lives. They deserve to know if He has already failed them. Or, you know, is a black rock.
Before the staff they lean on breaks in their hand. Before the oasis turns out to be dry, when they drank their last water travelling there.
Before they turn into bitter hateful freaks like me.
“Just stating what Christians believe is thought to be enough to show how ridiculous Christianity is.”
Took the words right out of my mouth, Mr. Julian.
Mr. McSwain has presented arguments, that , if true, would more or less damn Christianity, to a degree that I don’t think Mr. McSwain understands. McSwain claims he is still a Christian, he has, perhaps, found some way of making peace with his Maker. I would be interested to read him further.
Instead of answering those arguments (I mean, with thoughtful answers), Mr. Julian mostly writes them off as name calling.
Which, regardless of tone, satire or sarcasm, actually IS name calling.
His only counterargument to what he calls shaming IS shaming. The thing he condemns as not being an appropriate argument.
Maybe I’ve been working around old people too much. This article gives me the eerie feeling that I’m losing a parent to Alzheimer’s.
The person I knew is disappearing.
God claims another soul, I guess.
It turns out I still write my papers all in one night, Mr. Julian. More to come… later…