Category Archives: Bible and Theology

#23: Armageddon and Presidential Politics

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #23, on the subject of Armageddon and Presidential Politics.

A popular atheist recently suggested that Presidential candidates, and particularly Republican candidates, needed to be asked a theological question:  do you believe that the end of the world is imminent, and if so is that a good or a bad thing?  If war in the Middle East is positioned to blossom into Armageddon and the return of Christ, do we want to prevent the war, or encourage it?

Austrian forces ascending Mount Zion in World War I
Austrian forces ascending Mount Zion in World War I

That might be a good question for a potential leader of the most powerful military forces in the world, but it might also be a good question for the rest of us.  At least, we should consider what answer our leader ought to give.

Despite what many prophecy teachers say, the sequence of events leading to the end of the world is not at all clear–some predictions touted as major parts of some theories are almost certainly predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Titus.  I have briefly reviewed the major theories (in The Sandy Becker Theory of Eschatology) along with some of the strengths and weaknesses of each and why I believe we cannot resolve the matter.  However, there are many who are quite persuaded of one theory or another, and the one currently in ascendancy, indeed since early in the twentieth century, has been a version of “pre-millenialism” (if you do not know what that is, read the other article and return) in which Israel plays a major role and there is a massive world war centered in the Middle East.  Every skirmish that occurs in the region, from the battles which took the territory from the Ottoman Empire in World War I to the Yom Kippur War to the current Islamic State battles, sparks anew the expectation that this might be the fight that brings all the armies of the world together to be defeated by the return of Christ.

The return of Christ is an event which Christians around the world have been anticipating for nearly two millennia, whatever our beliefs concerning what precipitates it.  Late in the first century, the book variously known as The Revelation (from the Latin for “unveiling”) or The Apocalypse (from the Greek for “uncovering”) introduced to the faith the word which in English we make “Maranatha”, “Come, Our Lord” (although whether the original was marana tha, “Come our Lord”, or maran atha, “Our Lord has come”, is a question that cannot be settled from the manuscripts).  We are instructed to watch for that coming, to anticipate it, to be prepared for it, even to want it and to work to hasten it–and in times when the world is falling into chaos and wickedness and darkness, it is easy to want it more.

On the other hand, we are told by Peter that the delay is an expression of God’s mercy:  the moment Jesus returns, the door closes, and anyone who has not entered may not do so.  It does not seem to be our place to call for the end of mercy, the closing of the door, and many of us would not do so merely because we have family or friends or colleagues who have not turned to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.  I would rather not see strangers excluded from grace, and while I often note that there is no one apart from myself I am completely certain without any doubt has been forgiven and accepted by God, with varying degrees concerning other specific persons from “almost certainly” to “probably not”, I am not really in a hurry to have God terminate the free limited-time offer of acceptance into His family, and I don’t think that other believers should be so, either.  Don’t get me wrong:  I would love to have gone home already, if I were the only person who mattered.  I just don’t think that I’m the only person who matters, even to me, nor to most believers in the world, and certainly not to God.

How, then, do we hasten the return of Christ and the end of the world, without hastening the end of the world as a path to the return of Christ?

The first thing we need to understand is that the one leads to the other, but the other is not the path to the one.  That is, whether or not theories about a literal military battle at the Valley of Megiddo (har-megeddon) in which all the armies of the world are defeated in combat against an angelic host led by the resurrected and returning Jesus, we do not make that happen, indeed, we are completely unable to cause that to happen, by leading the world into war in the region.  The return of Christ brings the end of the world as we know it, but it is possible that the world as we know it could end without bringing the return of Christ–indeed, arguably that has happened several times in history, most notably with the fall of the Roman Empire.

The second thing to grasp is that if such a battle is in fact the solution to the mysteriously metaphorical explanations of future events in John’s great apocalyptic vision, we will not be able to prevent it–but that does not mean we are not obligated to attempt to do so.  “God has called us to peace,” and while that was Paul’s reason in I Corinthians for why a Christian whose spouse had been unfaithful should let the unfaithful spouse decide whether to preserve the marriage or get divorced, it is used as a fundamental principle of Christian conduct:  we do not pick fights.  We were instructed once by Christ to take swords with us if we had them, so we certainly have a basis to justify fighting when it is clearly necessary (and to debate just what fights are clearly necessary and when the right choice is to suffer the injury, to “turn the other cheek”).  Yet our preference should always be for the peaceful resolution, even while keeping our sword within reach.

So for our Presidential candidates, the “right” answer to the question is probably this:

I eagerly anticipate the return of Christ, and whatever events will lead up to that, but I do not know with any certainty what those events are and will not be party to a war we can avoid honorably for any reason other than it is necessary for the safety of this country and the world in terms that persons of every faith or no faith can at least recognize as plausibly legitimate.

That is also the answer we should give if we are asked that question.

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#10: The Unimportance of Facts

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #10, on the subject of The Unimportance of Facts.

img0010Debate

In connection with the recent Presidential debates, one columnist bemoaned the issue that candidates often would make statements which in the aftermath of the debate political junkies who read sites such as Politifact would learn were inaccurate, misleading, or simply untrue.  He speculated that voters did not care about facts “because they don’t encounter enough of them.”  I considered that, but immediately thought that there might be another reason.

Of course, we have all heard the quip, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts,” and while no one ever says that of himself (and many attribute it to those with whom they disagree), it is a true description of the attitude some people have.  I prefer, however, to think a bit more highly of people.  It is a failing of those of us who are intelligent that we tend to assume others are also intelligent, and sometimes become frustrated when they demonstrate otherwise, yet I find that if you treat others as if they were reasonably intelligent, and if you assume they have some intellectual integrity, they frequently rise to your expectations.  That is to say, most people base opinions on what they believe to be the truth.  I think the problem lies elsewhere.

In discussing freedom of expression we mentioned the popular axiom History is written by the winners.  We noted then that it was not outside the realm of possibility that Holocaust deniers could so shift public belief that the Holocaust itself might become one of those bits of history no one believes ever really happened.  That attitude, though, has come to permeate all of culture, all of education.  We are on some level taught that there are no facts, or at least no reliable facts.  One cannot know anything with certainty.  Eyewitness testimony is unreliable.  Media is biased.  People who want to tell you something have an agenda, an objective they wish to achieve by the telling, and scientists are not above this.  Evolution might be an atheistic deception, global warming might be an environmentalist scare tactic, intelligent design might be an effort to infect pure science with religious nonsense, the Bible might have been written by the church centuries after the time it purports to report, or edited to tell the version of events the priesthood wanted told, and the list is endless.  When I was young the world still had facts, and still respected them, and even when you did not know what the facts were you knew that facts existed and believed that they were ultimately discoverable.  It was said, The Truth Will Out, meaning that facts could not be kept secret forever.  Now we have conspiracies and conspiracy theories, spin doctors and media manipulators, textbook editors and politically correct speech enforcers–thought police of all types working to ensure that what you believe to be the truth fits their agenda.  Further, we are fully aware of this aspect of our reality.  As a result, we do not really believe what we believe, not in the sense that we think it might be true.  We believe it because it is useful and connects us to people who believe as we believe.  We are taught to believe concepts that have no basis in facts, and to be suspicious of any data claiming to be factual that is contrary to those concepts.  Whether it is the lie that there is no correlation between the number of guns in an area and the amount of gun violence, or the lie that gun free zones are safer places that would never be targeted by mass murderers, we accept the statements that fit our conceptions and reject the facts that are awkward, and never worry about whether any supposed fact is true, because facts are not about being true but about supporting already established convictions.

Voters are not interested in the facts because the facts are irrelevant, and whether any alleged fact will be regarded true depends on who you ask.  It not being possible to know the truth of such matters, seeking the truth on them becomes foolish.  For the voter, what matters is whether the candidate believes what the voter believes, not whether any of it is factually true.  The only truth that matters in today’s world is the subjective truth, the opinion of the one who believes it.  Reality is irrelevant.  We, as a society, have been taught and have embraced the lie that there is no truth, or if there is, it is completely undiscoverable.

That, sadly, is why facts are not important in the debates.

Many of the issues brushed in this discussion are discussed in more detail on pages in the law and politics section of this website; see Articles on Law and Politics for a list.

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#3: Reality versus Experience

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0003, on the subject of Reality versus Experience.

I recently attended a family gathering at which a particular gentleman, not a family member, is often in attendance with his wife.  My father usually seats me near him, as he is an intelligent man, a retired sociology professor with schooling from a liberal seminary, and we both seem to enjoy our conversations even though I do not know that we agree on much.  (That is, after all, part of an education:  examining and considering differing viewpoints.  If you never got that ability, you were probably not well educated.)

On this particular occasion the Supreme Court decision on marriage was still pending, and that introduced a discussion of the subject of homosexuality.  As I often do, I turned to Paul’s Romans epistle, and began to observe Paul’s (and, to my theology, God’s) point that homosexuality (like adultery and fornication) was not so much the sin as the punishment, the self-destructive conduct stemming from yielding to a pernicious and continuous temptation to which some were condemned.

His response was, That has not been my experience.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: Libby Enloe (2nd L) and Amanda Adams, both of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, embrace and kiss after being married outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill July 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Enloe's mother, Mary Ann Enloe (L) and Adams' sister, Meredith Boggs (R), were witnesses to the ceremony. A couple for more than 21 years, Enloe and Adams decided to get married outside the court after the justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month. The location is symbolic, Enloe said. "This makes it official which is what we were waiting for," she said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 24: Libby Enloe (2nd L) and Amanda Adams, both of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, embrace and kiss after being married outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill July 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Enloe’s mother, Mary Ann Enloe (L) and Adams’ sister, Meredith Boggs (R), were witnesses to the ceremony. A couple for more than 21 years, Enloe and Adams decided to get married outside the court after the justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month. The location is symbolic, Enloe said. “This makes it official which is what we were waiting for,” she said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I am fairly certain that there are many things that are outside my experience which are undoubtedly true.  It is undoubtedly true that as you approach the speed of light time slows and mass increases, but I have no direct experience with that.  It is similarly true that I have no experience with the notion that gravity decreases with distance from the attractive mass, and that it is dependent on the mass of that object, but I have never been anywhere where that rule could be directly observed.  There is a degree to which much of what I know to be true is known because someone I trust informed me.  Assuming I trust that Paul was writing what God had told him, I have better reason to trust that than I do my own experience, or that of anyone else.  But that is something of a subjective assessment.  Most people undoubtedly believe the Bible to the degree that it is confirmed in their own experience.  That is theologically dangerous–after all, many of us do not have the experience of perceiving ourselves as villains, selfish brats seeking our own interests at the expense of everyone else, even though the Bible identifies us very like that (and for most of us, there are people who would attest to that description concerning us, although probably not concerning themselves, who to us seem so like that).  Yet it is at least a fair objection that one wants to find that the Bible is true before trusting it.  For some of us, it is sufficient that the Bible have been demonstrated to be God’s message in its totality to support the acceptance of its details; for others, each detail must be individually and independently confirmed before being believed.  That is a fundamental difference of viewpoint that cannot easily be argued either way.  As with a textbook, either I trust that it is fully trustworthy (absent evidence to the contrary) or I do not trust it at all and get my information elsewhere.

I am digressing, to some degree, but that is very much the point which must be demonstrated.

I have within my nearest family and friends circle a man who is, at least to the knowledge of all his friends, an alcoholic.  I do not know whether he believes that about himself.  He is usually among the nicest guys I know, a hard worker, helpful in many ways and the sort of person who looks for ways to help.  He is a diligent worker when he has work.  He has a lot of problems, and probably drinks to escape them.  However, if he is given a paycheck and a day off, he proceeds to drink the paycheck and is largely out of commission for several days, usually losing his job.  Bill Cosby has said (in Bill Cosby Himself) that as an employer he finds that his employees do not know what to do with free time, as they always return to work hungover and complaining about the weekend.  This person epitomizes that, and frequently loses jobs because he is too sick from drink to return to work on the scheduled day.  Yet he does not believe he has a drinking problem; it is not his experience that alcohol is the problem, as for him it is the means temporarily to escape the problems.

We know someone else whom we have helped through some hard times, whose background includes cocaine use.  He is generous to a fault, hard working, helpful, a wonderful nice guy.  His employers are usually glad to have him.  When he was staying with us he told us that he would never do anything to hurt us.  Then he starts using the drug, and although in one sense he does not change at all, suddenly he finds himself in trouble and has to fix it, so he steals from his employer or from friends.  He had a “crackhead” girlfriend who was in trouble with her supplier, so he stole one of our checkbooks and forged checks for about forty times what we had in the bank.  Nice guy, though.  Would give you the shirt off his back.

I can see in these lives that the alcohol and the drugs are destructive.  Yet if you were not with these people long enough, you would not see it.  They themselves do not recognize it in themselves (although they recognize it in each other).

I believe that these self-destructive lifestyles reflect the wrath of God on the world–not necessarily on these people individually, but on humanity as a whole.  Paul says in Romans that people who fail to acknowledge God are subjected to such self-destructive judgements, immorality, impurity, and depravity–that is, infidelity and fornication, homosexuality, and the inability to identify destructive and self-destructive conduct and make wise choices.  Just as the alcoholism and the drug addiction of my two examples are destroying their lives, so I believe the temptation toward homosexuality is destroying the lives of these people.

It is, of course, entirely the choice of the alcoholic and the cocaine user to pursue their addictions, and something only they can choose to stop.  In one sense, it is not up to me to decide for them–impossible on its face–and if they prefer to continue destroying their lives that is their choice.  That does not mean I ought to affirm that choice.  I can recognize and disagree with the choice and still love the people who are so destroying themselves.  If, as I am persuaded, homosexual conduct is a similar choice and “homosexuality” is a self-destructive condition like alcoholism or addiction, then I should not affirm such choices.  I need not have experienced that self-destruction first hand to know that it is there.  My experience tells me that the Bible is usually right about such things, and just as the adulterer and the fornicator are destroying some important part of themselves in the ability to form fidelitous long-term relationships, so too I think that the self-identified homosexual is destroying some part of himself related to the image of God and the nature of humanity.  The Bible and I might be wrong, but my experience has been that the Bible has always been right, and that when it does not immediately comport with my experience it is usually that my experience is too limited.

The author has previously addressed homosexuality from theological, legal, and psychological perspectives in Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E. L. C. A., In Defense of Marriage, Homosexual Marriage, and Miscellaneous Marriage Law Issues.

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