Sunday, March 04, 2007

Undercover of the Night

This past weekend I spent a lot of time hanging around with Atheists in chat rooms (mainly Sapient and Infidel Guy's rooms). They had some discussions with 2 Christians on there: Ergo Caner from Liberty University and some deacon that was a Presbyterian. After listening to these Christians I was quite amazed at how easily they became 'irrational' or 'contradictory' and their arguments about Adam n Eve and two different kinds of 'loves' from God made little to no sense. I thought - those guys in no way represent the whole of Christianity - do they?

That same night I got into a small debate with a few atheists about my belief system. One scripture came up as a point of contention: Matthew 5:18-20.

They say that Jesus was trying to fulfill the 'law' and that the 'law' has not passed on - so as Christians we are obliged to follow those laws. I merely think something much easier about that passage and it's in verse 20. The Pharisee's were likely the best examples in their time of 'righteousness by law' and yet Jesus tells his hearers 'unless you exceed their righteousness'. It changes the whole scripture - and is backed up by the teachings that come afterwards in the sermon in Matthew 5-7...Jesus seems to be pointing to himself as accomplishing the law - and his teachings should be taught as authoritative (which in some places seem to get to the heart of the law and even challenges them - ex: love your enemies).

But the atheists were making the same exact mistakes that I think a lot of Christians do when they pick one scripture here and another over there to back up their point - which almost always takes everything out of context. You see Matthew 5:18-20 is within a chapter of a sermon (Matt 5-7) - which also resides in a whole book (Matthew) - so this has to be considered to get to the heart of what those scriptures mean (in context). The atheists arguments were just choppy at best and did nothing to 'de-convert' me.

My biggest problem with their ideals is a lot of them consider anyone of faith to be tantamount to an idiot (non-thinker, stupid, deluded, mental, etc). However, I have noticed people that throw names like that around say something unmentioned about their own character - just think back to childhood when you did this to others. Is it a subtle way of saying - are these traits also in me or even worse ones? You can only call the kettle black for so long before you notice only your reflection in it.

I know lots of people with faith in God that are very rational people - and to top that off great examples of what human character can be. I never treated a single person in those chat-rooms with dis-respect or dis-honor - yet if I say I am X-tian - I get labelled with baseless names (since no one really knows me that well on those chat rooms - yet they blindly label anyways). It made me realize never to do that to another - which is a great reminder - since it debases anothers self-esteem and can make them feel 'very worthless'. Which is in itself 'illogical'.

But I also realize my take on the faith is quite a good one - when subject to testing - it stands up fairly strong. I was more than happy to have them critique my beliefs and pick them apart - and I am still happy when others do. I am by no means 'absolute' on my ideas - but on my ideals - that's another story - and those ideals come from Jesus' teachings oddly enough. So in the critique of the texts there is a lot to be solved - but how can another critique personal faith and someone's paradigm? I know what has happened in my life (and in my family's life) and I am more than proud to say - 'you know what I am a it or hate it...and I personally love it's viewpoint'. I may not agree with all Christian viewpoints but if we chalk up our faith - really it's only two commands - and in the end they both contain the word 'love' in them.


jim said...

SocietyVs said, "But the atheists were making the same exact mistakes that I think a lot of Christians do when they pick one scripture here and another over there to back up their point - which almost always takes everything out of context." That's a good point and I think you are right. It is something that I have done myself many many times over the years. I'm trying to be careful not to any more. We're talking about texts that were written at least 1900 and some years ago. It takes a lot of effort, careful thought and attention to the greater context to understand them. I am amazed at how much more sense the Bible makes since I've been trying to do that.

As for Matthew 5:20 I agree that the meaning needs to be understood in the larger context of the sermon itself, and beyond that to what was taking place... the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The way of the rigtheousness of the Pharisee (according to the Law) was passing away. I don't think that Jesus is simply raising the bar in what follows to the end of the chapter. Rather he's describing what life looks like in the New Covenant that was about to be inaugerated. Verse 48 records him saying,"Therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect". To me, it's like he's saying, "Don't be like the Pharisees, don't even try, it doesn't work. Instead be like God, I've just described to you what that looks like." And then he went on to show them what it looks like to live in the new economy of grace.

Grace and Peace!

BruceD said...

I once proudly proclaimed that I had a "strong faith" and was able to defend it competently. But, something happened a few years ago. I became faithless, and realized that God's love for me had not changed. It was then that I learned that I could trust the Faith of Christ, a faith available to me, but not of myself. That changed my life in the most incredible ways.

Jim Jordan said...

Hi society
Here is my progression:
When I came to faith my ideas often came under attack by atheists. Later they came under attack by atheists and liberals. Now I'm in that stage where I often come under attack by atheists, liberals, and conservatives.
I must be going in the right direction.
Keep on rolling.

chris said...

I tried to open a conversation several months ago with an athiest site as well. And you are right, If you consider yourself person of faith you are automatically labeled an idiot. you have a harder skin than I do, brother. I just gave up. The funny thing is I actually agreed with a lot of their ideals. It seems they only associate Christianity with the televangelist they see on T.V. I am actually able to do some rational thinking on my own.Maybe it's our own fault for allowing religous extremist to speak without going unchecked. i.e. televangelists.

Anonymous said...

The thing with Atheists is that they couldn't call themselves Atheists if there were no God to define themselves according to, even if that definition is one of turning their back on God in disbelief. None of us can escape God and those who are running hardest will never want to befriend those who are in leage with He who they are running from. There isn't anything we can do to make them like Christians or like God; that will take the Holy Spirit to soften and change their hearts. I don't avoid such conversations if they present themselves but I sure don't go looking for them anymore either. They just don't seem destined to come to a good end. There can be no understanding between people when one party has decided from the get-go that the other is an idiot.


My Garden said...

"You can't convince a man of truth or reality who is drunk on his own decision ...the only truth that he is willing to see is the truth that he perceives." Perhaps this is even more true for people like the ones you describe here...this was what came to me one day over and over again, after some personal frustrations, I think it still rings true for other things...

Anonymous said...

my garden,

The proverbial log in the eye?


Soul Food Dude said...

Hey Society,

I haven't forgotten you! I drop by now and then. I like this most recent post. I like what you said at the end, that it's summed up well in those two commands.

I've been thinking lately about how love of God is a presupposition for Paul when he talks about salvation by grace through faith. It's not a faith that is loveless, but rather a faith that is grounded in love for God. I find it helpful to interpret Paul from the viewpoint of Jesus, rather than the other way around, and I appreciate that you seem to do this.

Also, I wanted to tell you that I've had a big change in my thinking/heart. It's been a long process, but I agree with you wholeheartedly now that Christianity is essentially a historical faith. Bottom line is that I was trying to have a "backup" plan for myself (guffaw!) in case Jesus turned out not to be raised. Silly. I realized that it's Jesus for me or nothing, that I love Jesus, that my love for Jesus is the main reason why I believe! That if Jesus isn't raised, then I'm left with wishful thinking and religion. Now I don't know why God would have us rely on PhD's to keep the faith credible, but it is quite humbling.

keep posting!

SocietyVs said...

Jathan, I really appreciate your point of view and I always have - It's not important to believe me - but I thank you for the 'pat on the back'.

Jathan, a lot of people question the credibility of their own faith and I find nothing wrong with that - after all it makes us search for the answers and do some digging - which in the end is for our benefit. The atheists viewpoint makes me do that and I personally love it - I feel renewed now after reading church history and the reliability of this faith - which to them is 'impossible' but after a reviewing the history - it's very plausible this happened as we have written down. But in the end, I have to take the disciples at their 'word' (which requires faith).

Jathan, I value your viewpoint - in the end - the only thing of true importance in this religion is what Jesus taught - and I still can't find one fault in his ethics - which many a disciple willingly dies for (according to many early church fathers who knew them).

karen said...

Yes, it's frustrating to be treated like an idiot because you are a person of faith. Actually, logical thinking led me to the revelation of Christ.
An atheist I know had a bumper sticker that read, "Don't pray in my school, and I won't think in your church."
What kind of idiocy and bigotry is that? A belief system based upon the degradation of others'.

HeIsSailing said...

SocietyVs - As a Christian, I always viewed that passage in Matthew is Jesus affirming that the law and the prophets would not pass away because he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. This view is in the overall context of Matthew. But now, as I am questioning my faith, I think, while that view is certainly valid, an easier explanation is that Jesus meant what he said - that the law and the prophets were not to pass away!! I think that view is also in the overall context of Matthew. I concede that is not in the overarching theme of the New Testament, but that is another topic for another day.
I agree that many athiests seem to have a chip on their shoulder. I have to tell you though that lately, my church has taken more.. um... drastic measures to bring me back.

SocietyVs said...

"an easier explanation is that Jesus meant what he said - that the law and the prophets were not to pass away!! I think that view is also in the overall context of Matthew" (HeisSailing)

I tend to agree with that in some regards (seeing that we still the Tanakh with us to this day).

But here is where I call 'context' - and it is in the verse excluded - verse 17 - in which Jesus plainly states 'he came to fulfill the law'. Which can mean something simple - simply to 'do the laws' - but this is not what exactly happens in the next few verses in the chapter...Jesus becomes quite contradictory.

He names 3 commands of old (one being 'an eye for an eye') from the Torah - and he changes them (not to mention breaking the sabbath a zillion times within Matthew). And the 'eye for an eye' idea is 100% a change from the law (even goes so far as to say 'love your enemies' - the opposite idea). Just exactly how is he 'fulfilling the law'?

But he is superceding the righteousness of the Pharisee's (v.20) - I can see that pretty clearly. Jesus seems to be re-writing the law in their midst. So either he is 'wrong with the endeavor' or his words 'carry some weight'. Now this is up to the reader to determine - since Matthew was written in Hebrew first and to a Hebraic community.

The point of the passage (which has before it the beatitudes) is that Jesus is someone of authority on the issue of the law (Matt 7:29). So much so that he makes claims in Matthew 7:24 that his words are worth following (in the parable on the sand and the rock) and his words are 'wisdom'. He also tends to speak like He knows the will of God - which is what the sermon on the Mount is all about - and also calls God 'father' (at least 10 times). God as a 'father figure' is only found within Christ's teachings and nowhere else (in his day) - it was close to blasphemy to say such things.

In context - Jesus is the embodiment of the fulfillment of the law (which is also stated by prophecy handfuls of times within Matthew) - the end of it or the new beginning of it - however one wants to see it. So when it comes to breaking these laws (Matt 5:19) - I almost have to think he is referring to his teachings within Matthew 5-7 (which ultimately supercede the Pharisee's teachings and in essence change the laws themselves). Long story for a short point. But it is a perspective with some merit.

HeIsSailing said...

societyvs sez:
"But it is a perspective with some merit. "

These perspectives have a lot of merit, and I have no arguement with any of it. These are all valid points and the text can certainly be interpreted this way.

That's what makes these portions of the Bible such fascinating riddles. There are many valid ways to interpret portions, including the words of Jesus. I mean, what was really in that man's head? They have been debated for centuries, and we will likely never know many of the answers, but the discussion of them is in itself very important.

SocietyVs said...

heissailing - true. I couldn't agree with you more on that!