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Inspirational Image of the Day

G-MM™: Meditation Moment - 150325

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Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.


Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.


Galatians 3:13
The Curse of the Law

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.


Notes on the Scripture

I thought, since we have just been studying Paul’s characterization of the Law as a “curse”, that it might be advisable to have another voice in the matter; and who better than, possibly, the greatest preacher of modern times, Charles Haddon Spurgeon?

THE law of God is a divine law, holy, heavenly, perfect. Those who find fault with the law, or in the least degree depreciate it, do not understand its design, and have no right idea of the law itself. Paul says, “the law is holy, but I am carnal; sold under sin.”

In all we ever say concerning justification by faith, we never intend to lower the opinion which our hearers have of the law, for the law is one of the most sublime of God’s works. There is not a commandment too many; there is not one too few; but it is so incomparable, that its perfection is a proof of its divinity. No human lawgiver could have given forth such a law as that which we find in the decalogue. It is a perfect law; for all human laws that are right are to be found in that brief compendium and epitome of all that is good and excellent toward God, or between man and man.

But while the law is glorious, it is never more misapplied than when it is used as a means of salvation. God never intended men to be saved by the law. When he proclaimed it on Sinai, it was with thunder, fire, and smoke; as if he would say, “O man, hear my law; but thou shalt tremble while thou hearest it.” Hear it! It is a law which hath the blast of a terrible trumpet, even like the day of destruction, of which it is but the herald, if thou offendest it, and findest none to bear the doom for thee.

It was written on stone; as if to teach us that it was a hard, cold, stony law—one which would have no mercy upon us, but which, if we break it, would fall upon us, and dash us into a thousand pieces. O ye who trust in the law for your salvation! ye have erred from the faith; ye do not understand God’s designs; ye are ignorant of every one of God’s truths.

The law was given by Moses to make men feel themselves condemned, but never to save them; its very intention was to “conclude us all in unbelief, and to condemn us all, that he might have mercy upon all.” It was intended by its thunders to crush every hope of self-righteousness, by its lightnings to scathe and demolish every tower of our own works, that we might be brought humbly and simply to accept a finished salvation through the one mighty Mediator who has “finished the law, and made it honorable, and brought in an everlasting righteousness,” whereby we stand, stand complete before our Maker at last, if we be in Christ.

All that the law doth, you will observe, is to curse; it can not bless. In all the pages of revelation you will find no blessings that the law ever gave to one that offended it. There were blessings, and those were comparatively small, which might be gained by those who kept it thoroughly; but no blessing is ever written for one offender. Blessings we find in the gospel; curses we find in the law.

Why Should Atheists Have to Show Respect For Religion?

A commitment to ecumenicalism all too often leads to intolerance and hostility toward atheists

 

The Gilmer Free Press

“Can’t we all just get along?“

Among progressive and moderate religious believers, ecumenicalism is a big deal. For many of these believers, being respectful of religious beliefs that are different from theirs is a central guiding principle. In this view, different religions are seen as a beautifully varied tapestry of faith: each strand with its own truths, each with its own unique perspective on God and its own unique way of worshipping him. Her. It. Them. Whatever. Respecting other people’s religious beliefs is a cornerstone of this worldview… to the point where criticizing or even questioning anyone else’s religious belief is seen as rude and offensive at best, bigoted and intolerant at worst.

And this ecumenical approach to religion drives many atheists up a tree.

Including me.

Why?

Don’t atheists want a world where everyone’s right to their own religious views—including no religious views—is universally acknowledged? Don’t we want a world with no religious wars or hatreds? Don’t we want a world where a diversity of perspectives on religion is accepted and even embraced? Why would atheists have any objections at all to the principles of religious ecumenicalism?

Oh, let’s see. Where shall I begin?

Well, for starters: It’s bullshit.

Progressive and moderate religious believers absolutely have objections to religious beliefs that are different from theirs. Serious, passionate objections. They object to the Religious Right; they object to Al Qaeda. They object to right-wing fundamentalists preaching homophobic hatred, to Muslim extremists executing women for adultery, to the Catholic Church trying to stop condom distribution in AIDS-riddled Africa, to religious extremists all over the Middle East trying to bomb each other back to the Stone Age. Etc., etc., etc. Even when they share the same nominal faith as these believers, they are clearly appalled at the connection: they fervently reject being seen as having anything in common with them, and often go to great lengths to distance themselves from them.

And they should. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. In fact, one of my main critiques of progressive believers is that their opposition to hateful religious extremists isn’t vehement enough.

But it’s disingenuous at best, hypocritical at worst, to say that criticism of other religious beliefs is inherently bigoted and offensive… and then make an exception for beliefs that are opposed to your own. You don’t get to speak out about how hard-line extremists are clearly getting Christ’s message wrong (or Mohammad’s, or Moses’, or Buddha’s, or whoever)—and then squawk about religious intolerance when others say you’re the one getting it wrong. That’s just not playing fair.

And, of course, it’s ridiculously hypocritical to engage in fervent political and cultural discourse—as so many progressive ecumenical believers do—and then expect religion to get a free pass. It’s absurd to accept and even welcome vigorous public debate over politics, science, medicine, economics, gender, sexuality, education, the role of government, etc… and then get appalled and insulted when religion is treated as just another hypothesis about the world, one that can be debated and criticized like any other.

However, if ecumenicalism were just hypocritical bullshit, I probably wouldn’t care very much. Hypocritical bullshit is all over the human race like a cheap suit. I’m not going to get worked up into a lather every time I see another example of it. So why does this bug me so much?

Well, it also bugs me because—in an irony that would be hilarious if it weren’t so screwed-up—a commitment to ecumenicalism all too often leads to intolerance and hostility toward atheists.

I’ve been in a lot of debates with religious believers over the years. And some of the ugliest, nastiest, most bigoted anti-atheist rhetoric I’ve heard has come from progressive and moderate believers espousing the supposedly tolerant principles of ecumenicalism. I’ve been called a fascist, a zealot, a missionary; I’ve been called hateful, intolerant, close-minded, dogmatic; I’ve been compared to Glenn Beck and Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler more times than I can count. All by progressive and moderate believers, who were outraged at the very notion of atheists pointing out the flaws in religious ideas and making an argument that these ideas are probably not true. Progressive and moderate believers who normally are passionate advocates for free expression of ideas will get equally passionate about demanding that atheists shut the hell up. Progressive and moderate believers who normally are all over the idea of diversity and multiculturalism will get intensely defensive of homogeny when one of the voices in the rich cultural tapestry is saying, “I don’t think God exists, and here’s why.“

In a way, I can see it. Ecumenicalism is a big, comfy love-fest. (Or, to use a less polite metaphor, a big, happy circle-jerk.) Everyone stands around telling each other how wonderful they are, how fascinating their viewpoint is, how much they contribute to humanity’s rich and evolving vision of God. Everyone is self-deprecating about how their own vision of God is of course human and flawed and limited, and how they’re both humbled and uplifted to see such different perspectives on him/ her/ it/ them/ whatever. Everyone tells the story of the six blind men and the elephant, and how God is too vast and complex and unfathomable for any one person to perfectly understand him, and how all these different religions are just perceiving different aspects of his immensity. And no one ever says anything critical, or even seriously questioning. About anyone. Ever. It’s one gigantic mutual admiration society.

And then atheists come along, and ruin everyone’s party. Atheists come along and say, “Well, actually, we don’t think any of you are getting it right.“ Atheists come along and ask hard questions, like, “You actually have important differences between your religions—how do you decide which one is true?“ Or, “Religion has never once in all of human history turned out to be the right answer to any question—why would you think it’s the right answer to anything we don’t currently understand?“ Or, “If there’s no way your belief can be proven wrong, how do you know that it’s right?“ Or, “Why do the six blind men just give up? Why don’t they compare notes and trade places and carefully examine the elephant and actually try to figure out what it is? You know—the way we do in science? Why doesn’t this work with religion? Sure, if God existed, he/she/it/they would be vast and complex and hard to fathom… and what, the physical universe isn’t? Doesn’t the fact that this never, ever works with religion strongly suggest that it’s all made up, and there is, in fact, no elephant?“ Atheists come along and make unnerving points, like, “The fact that you can’t come to any consensus about religion isn’t a point in your favor—it’s actually one of the strongest points against you.“ Atheists come along, like the rain god on everyone’s parade, and say things like, “What reason do any you have to think any of this is true?“

No wonder they don’t like us.

Which leads me to the final objection I have to religious ecumenicalism, and by far the most important one:

It shows a callous disregard for the truth.

This idea that religion is just a matter of opinion? That the most crucial questions about how the universe works and how it came into being should be set aside, because disagreements about it might upset people? That it doesn’t really matter who actually has the correct understanding of God or the soul or whatever, and that when faced with different ideas about these questions, it’s best to just shrug it off, and agree to disagree, and go on thinking whatever makes us feel good? That figuring out what probably is and is not true about humanity and the world is a lower priority than not hurting anyone’s feelings? That reality is less important, and less interesting, than the stories people make up about it?

It drives me up a ####### tree.

In my debates and discussions with religious believers, there’s a question I’ve asked many times: “Do you care whether the things you believe are true?“ And I’m shocked at how many times I’ve gotten the answer, “No, not really.“ It leaves me baffled, practically speechless. (Hey, I said “practically.“) I mean, even leaving out the pragmatic fails and the moral and philosophical bankruptcy of prioritizing pleasantry over reality… isn’t it grossly disrespectful to the God you supposedly believe in? If you really loved God, wouldn’t you want to understand him as best you can? When faced with different ideas about God, wouldn’t you want to ask some questions, and look at the supporting evidence for the different views, and try to figure out which one is probably true? Doesn’t it seem incredibly insulting to God to treat that question as if it didn’t really matter?

There are profound differences between different religions. They are not trivial. And the different religions cannot all be right. (Although, as atheists like to point out, they can all be wrong.) Jesus cannot both be and not be the son of God. God cannot be both an intentional, sentient being and a diffuse supernatural force animating all life. God cannot be both a personal intervening force in our daily lives and a vague metaphorical abstraction of the concepts of love and existence. Dead people cannot both go to heaven and be reincarnated. Etc. Etc. Etc.

When faced with these different ideas, are you really going to shrug your shoulders, and say “My, how fascinating, look at all these different ideas, isn’t it amazing how many ways people have of seeing God, what a magnificent tapestry of faith humanity has created”?

Do you really not care which of these ideas is, you know, true?

A part of me can see where the ecumenicalists are coming from. I think they look at a history filled with religious wars and hatreds, bigotry and violence… and they recoil in horror and revulsion. And they should. I recoil from that stuff, too. It’s not why I’m an atheist—I’m an atheist because I think the religion hypothesis is implausible and unsupported by any good evidence—but it’s a big part of why I’m an atheist activist.

But the ecumenicalists seem to think there are only two options for dealing with religious differences: a) intolerant evangelism and theocracy, in which people with different religious views are shunned at best and outlawed or brutalized at worst; or b) uncritical ecumenicalism, in which different religious views are ignored whenever possible, and handled with kid gloves when some sort of handling is absolutely necessary. Ecumenicalists eagerly embrace the second option, largely in horrified response to the first… and they tend to treat any criticism of any religion as if it were automatically part of that ugly, bigoted, violent history.

They don’t see that there’s a third option.

They don’t see that there’s an option of respecting the important freedom of religious belief… while retaining the right to criticize those beliefs, and to treat them just like we’d treat any other idea we think is mistaken. They don’t see the option of being passionate about the right to religious freedom, of fully supporting the right to believe whatever you like as one of our fundamental human rights… while at the same time seeing the right to criticize ideas we don’t agree with as an equally fundamental right. They don’t see the option of debating and disagreeing without resorting to hatred and violence. They don’t see the option of disagreeing with what people say, while defending to the death their right to say it.

You know. The option advocated by most atheist activists.

I will say this: If the only religious believers in the world were progressive and moderate ecumenical ones, most atheists wouldn’t care very much. We’d still disagree with religion; we’d still think it was implausible at best and ridiculous at worst. But it wouldn’t really get up our noses that much. We’d see it about the same way we see, say, urban legends, or those Internet forwards your Aunt Tilda keeps sending you: kind of silly, mildly annoying, but mostly harmless, and not worth getting worked up about. (And, in fact, while I disagree pretty strongly with ecumenical believers, I’m happy to share a world with them, to work in alliance with them on issues we have in common, to sit down at the dinner table with them and enjoy a long evening of food and booze and conversation. As long as we don’t talk about religion.)

But ecumenicalists are not the only believers. Not by a long shot. When it comes to religion, “live and let live” believers are very much in the minority. And progressive and moderate religion lends an unfortunate credibility to the conservative and extreme varieties. It lends credibility to the idea that faith is more valuable than evidence; to the idea that it’s completely reasonable to believe things we have no good reason to think are true; to the idea that wishful thinking is a good enough reason to believe something. It lends credibility to all the things about religion that makes it most uniquely harmful.

And this ecumenical attitude that reality is an annoying distraction from the far more important business of feeling good—and that insisting on reality is an ugly form of bigoted intolerance—is part and parcel of this unique armor religion has built against valid criticism, questioning, and self- correction.

It is not a protection against the evils of religion.

It is one of them.

   

~~  Greta Christina ~~

 

G-MM™: Meditation Moment - 150324

image

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.


Isaiah 6:8-10

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’

“Render the hearts of this people fat,
Their ears heavy,
And their eyes besmeared,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”


Galatians 3:6-9 (DP Bible)
Trying to Live by the Law (Galatians #29)

10-12 Anyone relying on works lives under a curse. It is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not confirm the words of the Law by doing them.” Do the righteous live by law? No, “The righteous will live by faith.” Trying to become righteous before God by following the Law is futile. One must believe, first and foremost, and trust in faith rather than works. Try to comprehend the implications of Scripture, when it tells you, “Whoever follows them will live by them.”


Galatians 3

About the Daily Prayer BibleThe “Daily Prayer Bible” is a paraphrase translation. This means accuracy to the original text has been sacrificed, to make it more readable and readily understood. This is especially useful in the Epistles of Paul. Verses are often out of order and often explanatory matter is included in the actual translation.

It is part of a larger work, DP 3-Column Bible, a Bible translation with 3 different levels of literal accuracy, which you can access by clicking the link at the bottom of the Scripture section. We call the most readable and least accurate translation the “Daily Prayer Bible”. The middle translation (“The American Bible”) is what is called a “literal” translation, accurate to the original text but using English grammar and idioms.

The third translation is a unique transliterative text, called “Verbatim Bible”, that has an unparalleled degree of accuracy but is not readable except with difficulty. It gives the non-Greek-reading user the ability to see the inaccuracies and ambiguities that become invisible in even the best so-called “literal” translations, such as the NASB or our own American Bible..


Notes on the Scripture

When Paul speaks of a “curse”, here and in Ch. 1, it doesn’t mean what we commonly think of when we hear the word. Specifically, it is used to indicate God’s disfavor towards a person who is guilty in His eyes, someone who is not in conformance with a covenant of salvation. At least in the two instances we have seen so far, being “cursed” does not preclude salvation, if one changes whatever brought it about. Paul uses the concept of a “curse” to indicate a systematic course of sinful behavior that includes beliefs, where the beliefs themselves prevent forgiveness and salvation.

So we see that anyone attempting to become justified before God, by compliance with the Law of Moses, is engaged in a course of behavior that will inevitably result in God’s judgment.

The logic of Paul’s argument in this passage is not spelled out. His quote is downright puzzling: “Whoever follows the law will live by the law,” and “cursed is everyone who does not confirm the words of the Law by doing them.” It sounds like he is arguing the opposite of his previous point. But by showing that one who relies upon the Law must follow it, he demonstrates that those who follow the Law will die; for nobody, except Christ, has ever followed the law perfectly. So we read this to mean that 1) To find eternal life under the covenant of Moses, one must confirm the covenant by perfect obedience to the Law, and 2) by implication, nobody can do so.

But is this actually implied, using the stringent definition? We spent a lot of time discussing the difference between “implied” and “inferred” meaning in the Bible, and specifically the need for a hard and clear Scriptural passage to support any implication we might assert. In fact, the statement that “it is impossible to follow the Law perfectly,” which many people take as a given, is remarkably hard to find spelled out in Scripture.

The only passage I can find to support the notion, clearly and intentionally, is Romans 3:23: “[A]ll have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It makes me uncomfortable that such a major doctrinal issue hinges on a single passage buried in an epistle; but on the plus side, the context of the passage speaks directly to the idea that no person has been able to follow the law.

Still, although Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned, it does not say that it is impossible not to sin, or impossible to follow the Law of Moses; and I have not found any passage that clearly and explicitly says this. I would be very happy if anyone could point me to such a passage. But until we find one, we will have to admit to an inference; that the impossibility of following the law is at least in part the product of fallible human thought. The inference is incredibly strong, but still, it is inference.

The more important point, however, is explicit and the true Word of God, for Paul states it repeatedly: Attempting to follow the Law of Moses cannot justify us before God. “[B]y the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; . . .” (Romans 3:20)

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