Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's a Madhouse!

When I remember my times as an atheist, one of the disconcerting things I ran across frequently was when atheists clearly didn't understand the argument of a Christian apologist, and yet were content to lambast away with ad hominem in the comments section of a YouTube video (of course I'm not applying this universally; there are many atheists who act intelligently with courtesy, and likewise there are many Christians who act in quite insipid and unintelligent ways, if not anti-intellectually). What also baffled me, and this has become more apparent the longer I've been a Christian, is how many atheists really don't know the Scriptures or theology well at all. How many times, whether on YouTube or a Freethinkers meeting, have I heard this dead-horse comment:

Well, the Bible also says you shouldn't eat X, Y, and Z, but you don't seem to follow those rules, therefore you just pick and choose what you do!

People, the answer is in Acts and the epistles of St. Paul. All you have to do is read the Bible and you'd have your answer. And1 I ask that you please don't see this as the ranting and raving of some fundamentalist evangelical Protestant (whose Solo Scriptura isn't even close to what Martin Luther had in mind when he put forth Sola Scriptura). I believe in evolution, in critical thinking, in sound science, that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the universe is 15.4 billion years old, that people who are gay never chose their sexuality, etc. I also would agree that Christians, especially of the folk-evangelical ilk, have spouted a lot of anti-science, anti-intellectual, and anti-loving dialogue in the last decades. I'm in firm agreement with Archbishop Lazar Puhalo that the main reason why people don't like Christianity is because of the hypocritical and unwarranted self-righteous attitude that many Christians have simply because they are Christians.

The thing is, I felt this way before I had become a Christian, and long before it as well. I remember not caring for moral arguments against the existence of God because I had already landed myself firmly in moral nihilism, and quite frankly, if you don't believe in morality to begin with how are you going to lodge it as an argument against the existence of God?2 People can talk about how insignificantly small the planet is compared to the universe, the 'pale blue dot' of Carl Sagan, but the fact of the matter is that the size and apparent insignificance of something doesn't mean its intrinsically insignificant. Yes the Bible is an ancient collection of books that existed before modern science, but the age of something doesn't automatically mean that the information contained therein is false – objective morals, dogma, and spirituality are objectively true no matter how much time passes by. Furthermore, the fact that there are multiple religions claiming to have an objective truth doesn't mean that they're all false. It is entirely logical that one could be true and all the rest are not. In fact, that's exactly what Christianity claimed when it was preached to the multi-religious society of the Mediterranean world. Yet somehow we've forgotten that and the mere fact that Islam or Buddhism exists is put forward as a kind of defeater for the Christian.

Perhaps I am just insane.

There is a point to this post; I think that I'm going to imitate David Withun and Pious Fabrications and start commenting more on atheism, though I want to avoid the typical polemically charged rhetoric that is unfortunately passed around too often.3 I simply want to take things to their logical conclusions and see what people think.

But as for the relation between the Old Testament Law and Christianity, I leave you with Fr. Alexander Schmemman:

Soon it was no longer a question of individual conversions or exceptional cases; now there were whole Christian communities of Gentiles. Did the ritual prescriptions of the Old Testament, which had remained in force among the Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem, apply to these people? St. Paul answered this question with a flat "No!" Nor did he see the problem in terms of the best method of converting Gentiles; he believed this was an issue involving the very essence of the Christian Good News. First in his Epistle to the Galatians, written in the head of controversy, and later in a more academic manner in his Epistle to the Romans, he developed his doctrine concerning the relation between law and grace and the freedom of Christians from the law. He was not in the least inclined to deny the importance of the Old Testament. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12). But the law simply defined evil and sin, it gave no power of salvation from sin. Even when a man knows what is good and what [is] evil, he is often powerless to crush the latter. "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19). Man is the slave of sin and he cannot free himself from his servitude. If the setting up of a law or norm -- the knowledge of it -- included the power to avoid going against it, there would be no need for salvation in Christ. But in giving man law, God reveals to him the abnormality of evil -- a sinful violation of his will concerning the world and mankind -- and at the same time condemns him; for sinful man, lacking the strength to save himself from sin, lies under judgment [hence the verses where the law is called a curse]. But He who is without sin has taken upon Himself the whole burden of our sins and their condemnation under the law; by His death He has redeemed us. In Christ law died and grace ascended the throne, and through faith in Christ and union with Him in the baptismal death man ceases to be a slave and receives a share in His life.

"Nor has this salvation been granted to the Jews alone, but to all mankind. St. Paul never denied that the Jews were a superior people, God's elect, but for him they excelled other nations not because the Word of God had been committed to them, but because through them the way had been prepared for the advent of Christ. Any person who believes in Christ and shares in His life and death must realize that now there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal. 3:28); if he still thinks to obtain justification through fulfilling the ritual injunctions of the law, let him know that "Christ is become of no effect unto you, are fallen from grace" (Gal . 5:4). For in love lies the whole meaning of the law, yet the law itself has no power to give love. In Christ love is freely bestowed upon men, and through Him and in Him the law thus becomes unnecessary. In Him "circumcision in nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (I Cor. 7:19).

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy", pp. 21-23

1You should never begin a sentence with 'and', I know, I know...
2I'm sure there may be a way, but that's not my point at the moment.
3Which I know that I've probably failed at that here. Please, forgive me.


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