Tag Archives: Ron Julian

“Only your interpretation” …has been dismissed (but not mine).

 “…he misrepresents and contemptuously dismisses the thinking of pretty much every Christian I’ve ever known…”  – Ron Julian

The next point which Mr. Julien admits to disagreeing with Mr. McSwain about is referred to by him as  ‘Only your interpretation’  He spends a lot of time in this talking about Mr. McSwain’s third point (Jesus is the only way to heaven) but much of his objection revolves around Mr. McSwain’s second point (We just believe the Bible).  Since Mr Julian has said that he disagrees with Mr. McSwain on three points and treated the inerrancy of the Bible in a separate section, I will presume that these are the other point he refers to.

Since I am also presumably less good at evaluating two arguments spuriously interwoven in a single section, I am going to treat the two points separately and in order.

It’s only your interpretation.

The points made in this post often hinge on the “it’s only your interpretation” argument—that is, “You may think that the Bible teaches X, but I interpret it differently, and I have just as much right to my opinion as you do.”

Here are the words of Mr. McSwain’s second argument.

“2. We just believe the Bible.

That, too, is false. What you really believe is your interpretation of the Bible. And the last I checked, the history of the Christian church is the history of disagreement over ‘interpretation.’ How else do you explain the scores of denominations within Christianity alone? It would be patently more honest of Christians to say, ‘The following represents our understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures, but we are also aware there are many equally sincere Christians who interpret the Scriptures differently from us.'”

This post, if I may begin by backing up a little, was physically painful for me to read.  In the downy bloom of my youth, when I attended Gutenberg, it was this exact line of reasoning that sold me on Gutenberg College in the first place.

Whereas, in other places, I had heard that I had no right to attempt to understand the scripture- to reason out and organize my life according to my own interpretation. Others did- the men- the pastors- leaders- but not necessarily me.

At Gutenberg I heard differently.   I heard that seeking out the truth was not only my responsibility, but a means by which I could express my devotion to God- the One the Good- the Highest.  It was at Gutenberg that I learned to respect the saying,

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

I believed in this, as a method.  I still do.  Scripture has convinced me that it also contradicts itself, and I am forced to say that it no longer has any more authority for me than popes and councils- but it was Scripture and plain reason that convinced me.

I believed the tutors.

I can’t believe I did that.

When I attended Gutenberg, study of the Bible, history and philosophy was EXPLICITLY defended against those who demanded mindless obedience by saying that we must read any book, the Bible included, by means of reason.  It is possible to make a better or worse interpretation, but interpret we must and always do.  In order to sincerely pursue God we must learn the skills necessary to make the best interpretation possible.

Perhaps I am remembering a defense that EXPLICITLY happened- in my own mind, only.

Perhaps it is wrong for me to feel betrayed now, when Mr. Julian treats the statement of this position as the attack of an enemy.

If so, Mr. Julian, please forgive me. I must not have understood you.

“This is seen most clearly in the discussion of point 3…”  Mr. Julian says.  …The author is arguing that Christians should stop saying that Jesus is the only way. Why? Because he has a different interpretation of John 14:6, and it is arrogant for them to think that their interpretation is right. But why isn’t it arrogant for McSwain to think his interpretation is right?”

Well.  Because you are putting words in his mouth. He is saying, not that his interpretation is right, but that the discussion must be treated with respect- and the fact that it is only a discussion must be acknowledged.

Beyond the window dressing of style, in the inward heart of our discussion, there must be an acknowledgement that we are finite.  The Infinite may exist, but who are we to say we have done more than pursue it?

Jesus is the only way to heaven

No longer able to accept the Bible as authoritative, I must clarify by saying that I am no longer certain if the word heaven actually has any content.  I don’t know that Jesus’ claim is necessarily meaningful.  I don’t know if this debate even has a point.

However, be it life of the final age, acceptance by the Father, or floating on clouds with little harps, if heaven is assumed to be a meaningful concept, my guess is that Heaven can be summarized as ‘the final outcome of a right relationship with God.’   Jesus made the claim that He was the Way to the Father.  At least, Paul and the Apostles said he did, authorized by their… late… teacher and empowered by the Holy Spirit, as you may recall from the other post.

Mr. McSwain agrees with this claim.  He has an explanation for what it means.  Mr. Julian agrees with this claim.  He has a different explanation another.  The Gnostics agreed with this claim. They interpreted it in a way that involved levels of reality and the Demiurge.  The Catholics gave their explanation of what it means, as did the Greek and Russian Orthodox, and so did all the many varieties of Protestant.

Now, undoubtedly, Mr. Julian believes that his explanation to what these words mean is the correct one- so do all the others.

However, I have stood before a Greek Orthodox Priest, in the liturgical tradition of liturgical traditions, and been told that, while the Greek Orthodox do believe that their explanations of Jesus and his claims are correct, and that membership in the institution of their church is the way in which a person follows Jesus and thus obtains salvation (the way to heaven)-

Even they do not claim that God could not  save outside the bounds of their organization.

As much as I dislike bringing up CS Lewis, I must do so now.  I have to bring up Emeth. Yes, that’s right.  “The Calormene Who goes to Narnia Heaven”

Emeth was not any variety of Narnia Christian.  In fact, he worshiped Narnia Satan, Tash.  However, as Emeth was being accepted by Narnia Jesus Aslan into Narnia Jesus Heaven, he is told that,

I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash… if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

Non-Narnia Lewis once wrote in a letter that

“I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.”

The ultimate challenge to this way of thinking might be the very claim in question- Jesus’ statement that He is the Way and that no one comes to the Father but through him.

However, it is not much of a challenge if there is a difference between intellectual belief in an action and that action as an event.

Is agreeing with a verbal description of an action the same as carrying that action out? No.

So- does Jesus mean that, ‘No one comes to the Father but by agreeing with My statements’? Or does he mean that ‘No one comes to the Father but by My intercession with the Father on their behalf?  Or ‘No one comes to the Father but by means of my substitutionary sacrificial death?’

Or even- ‘No one comes to the Father unless they behave in a spirit similar to mine- loving the fallen more that their own life?’

It’s not clear.  There are some scriptural passages which apply.  Such as Romans 2:13-15

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

In this passage, it doesn’t sound like the Gentiles in question EVEN HAVE TO KNOW what the verbal statements of the law are- much less agree with them.  To be declared righteous, they have to take action.

There is another passage.  Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Not only do you not have to even know the verbal statements in question (the magic formula which one chants in order to achieve the desired effect of ‘going to heaven when you die’)  but some who have made all the correct statements AREN’T going to get in.

These passages don’t teach an all inclusive theology.  In fact, they depend on the idea that some WILL be excluded.

What they also make very clear, however, is that we don’t know who will be excluded and who will be included.

Whether or not reality adheres the the exclusive theology that Mr. Julian does, Scripture suggests that it is highly arrogant to believe you know who is going or who is not.

In other words, we aren’t God. We aren’t Jesus.  We don’t see the heart. Even if exclusion is the reality, who are we to make exclusionary statements?

Even against Satanists.

What does Mr McSwain say, in his article?

“What you are really saying is, “The way we interpret John 14:6 is that Jesus was clearly drawing a line in the sand and telling his hearers and the world: ‘If you do not believe in Me, you won’t go to the Father when you die.’…

There are scores of Christians, however, and I am one of them, who do not interpret Jesus’ words in John 14 the same way. Just because I do not makes me no less Christian than you are. So stop drawing lines in the sand, please, between equally sincere followers of Jesus.” 

Who is Mr. McSwain asking that we not exclude? Him. Himself.

Given the incredibly shaky  theological ground that statements of individual damnation or salvation stand on,  I don’t see how you can refuse.

Arrogance and Suspicion

Mr Julian, tellingly,  concludes this segment with what are perhaps his real objections.

“My suspicion is…”

 “Again, McSwain doesn’t say that, but…” 

These statements more or less sum up how Mr. Julian has dealt with the text Mr. McSwain has presented him.

At one point, Mr. McSwain says,

Again, it’s your right to “believe” or, more accurately, interpret Scripture as you wish. You do not, however, have permission to arrogantly assume your way of interpreting the words of Jesus are the only way to understand His words.

People have a right to read and try to understand the scriptures for themselves?  Check. They have the right to draw conclusions – referred to as interpretations- on their own? Check.  Is it silly and arrogant to assume that that one has understood all and may now make The Final Statement on All Things? Check, Check, Check.

What makes this hurt is that I thought Mr. Julian knew all this.  I thought I learned it from him. Am I crazy? I don’t know. But what happens next hurts even worse. Mr. Julian responds thus.

“This charge that Christians are “arrogant” is very common, but I confess it makes no sense to me.”

Well. That’s possibly because Mr. McSwain never claimed that ‘Christians are arrogant’.  He claimed that it is arrogant to claim you Know All and See All, said that Christians sometimes do this and asked them to knock it off.

It makes no sense, because it only happened in your head.

Mr. Julian goes on to speculate about why Mr. McSwain would say this odd thing that Mr. McSwain never actually said.

I’m not sure if I should invest further time in these… ramblings… but they seem to revolve around the fact that Mr. McSwain believes that God loves and will accept everyone.  Mr. Julian believes that God will exclude some people, but, by implication, WILL accept him? Then, with surprisingly little encouragement from Mr. McSwain, he decides that Mr. McSwain believes he is arrogant for believing this.

Wonder why.

He appropriates the accusation of arrogance- claiming Mr. McSwain (despite Mr. McSwain never having said so, and in fact having said something else entirely) believes people adhere to Mr. Julian’s theology because of arrogance.

Then magically, it turns out that Mr. McSwain is accusing not just persons of Mr. Julian’s theology-

but Christians in general

-of arrogance.

I can’t conclude anything, but I feel this terrible suspicion growing.

Perhaps we now know  how Mr. Julian is able to claim that Mr. McSwain

 “…misrepresents and contemptuously dismisses the thinking of pretty much every Christian I’ve ever known…” 

Out of the vast and multitudinous faces of theology, Christianity and monotheism, the most likely candidates for his accusations are you and your close associates.

And he has dismissed every Christian you have ever known.

How fucking arrogant.

 

 

***

Part one here: Dismissed by the Dismissive.

Mr. Julian’s article: http://msc.gutenberg.edu/2013/04/dismissed/

Mr. McSwain’s article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/6-things-christians-should-just-stop-saying_b_2767507.html

Luther.  ‘Here I stand’ is more dramatic, but apparently he didn’t say it. http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html

Lewis on Emeth and salvation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emeth

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Dismissed by the Dismissive

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.

http://msc.gutenberg.edu/2013/04/dismissed/

It is a response to a Huffington Post article- also a year old.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/6-things-christians-should-just-stop-saying_b_2767507.html

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.

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.

What gives?

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: “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’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 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?

What then?

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…

“Only your interpretation” …has been dismissed (but not mine)..