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Christianity and Reason

Added: Sunday, January 27th 2008 at 3:01pm by robertflynn
Related Tags: religion


Christianity and Reason


I am an evangelical Christian but Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Richard Land don’t speak for me, although they sometimes seem to in the media.  Some evangelicals shun the name “Evangelical” because they don’t want to be identified with fundamentalists who want to usurp the name for themselves.  By dictionary definition all Protestants are evangelical but we quote different scriptures.  Jesus said we are to love our enemy (Matthew. 5:44) but it’s hard for me to love my enemy if I call him evil.  The Bible says believers are to pay their taxes (Romans: 13:7) so even if I weren’t a patriot I would pay my taxes.  Jesus said we would be judged by how we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, receive immigrants and seek justice for those in prison, even in Quantanamo Bay (Matthew. 25: 31-46).  But that would raisetaxes.


I believe in separation of church and state because Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world (John 18: 36), not even in America, no matter how we try to make it so. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wrote explicitly that the United States was not founded as nor intended to be a Christian nation but open to all religions.  We don’t honor Our Lord when we claim otherwise.  I don’t believe God’s name should be on the money or in the pledge of allegiance to any country. It’s permitted in America because the Supreme Court has ruled that God’s name can be used for secular purposes. That’s a definition of blasphemy.


The diversity of Christian belief can be explained in part because in varying degrees Christians have applied reason to dogma, mysticism, tradition and sacred scriptures. Some of us search the Bible for obscure scriptures to justify our prejudices. Some of us read the Bible in peculiar ways to justify our traditions. Some claim to read the Bible literally although Jesus told a literalist he had to be born again which is impossible for a literalist (John 3: 1-12).  Literal is to truth what fact is to poetry. It may be the skeleton but it’s not the soul.


Jesus told a materialist that in order to be saved he had to sell all he had and give the money to the poor which is impossible for a materialist (Luke 18:18-27). Nevertheless, almost all Christians, especially American ones, have been able to reason their way to capitalism and consumerism although greed and materialism are sins. The Bible forbids loaning of money for interest.  “Keeping up with the Joneses,” politically correct for covetousness, is forbidden by the Ten Commandments. So is false testimony, maybe even in business and advertising.


Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). He said that whoever wanted to be greatest had to be the servant of all (Mark 9: 33-35). Before you boast that your title--president, CEO, pope, teacher, boss--or your job description requires you to serve for the benefit of all, Jesus also said that was the way of gentile rulers and was not to be so with his followers (Luke 22:24-26). That would make survival-of-the-fittest competition impossible. He told the parable of the Ten Talents but he also warned of building bigger barns and living off investments (Luke 12: 15-23).


Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24).  Capitalism serves Mammon, its justification is Mammon, its incentive is Mammon, its reward is Mammon. Mammon is the root of all worth. In entertainment, sports, education, art, military, business or clergy the mark of success is Mammon. To some Christians Mammon is proof of God’s favor.


Yet, even literalists have been able to accept capitalism because so far it has been the economic system that has provided the best material welfare to the greatest number of people.


We swallow camels and strain at gnats such as homosexuality, equality for women, abortion and evolution. Despite the risk of schisms, based on a couple of controversial scriptures (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13,) that do not prohibit lesbianism and one (Romans 1:26, 27) that may, even those who do not believe God commanded genocide against unbelievers (Numbers 31) have made homosexuals the lepers of Jesus’ time and given them the Mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15) that they once gave to dark-skinned people.


Homophobia stems more from tradition and dogma than reason or scripture.  I have helped a veterinarian treat rams for a disease they get from same gender sex. I don’t believe sheep make moral choices. The Bible says far more about fasting than it does about homosexuality. Gluttony is a sin and it’s a choice.  However, Christians not only love that sinner, many of them love that sin and some of their leaders exemplify it.


Neither the Ten Commandments nor Jesus mention homosexuality but Jesus condemned divorce and said anyone who divorced and remarried committed adultery (Mark 10:11,12). One of the Ten Commandments forbids adultery but some in the clergy and many in the pews have been able to remain in good standing with their church despite divorce and remarriage. Few openly homosexual have been able to do the same.


Those who speak the loudest of family values want to deny homosexuals the value of family. Supposedly, it’s to save “traditional marriage,” but traditional marriage is not the conspicuous consumer wedding you saw in church last week.  Traditionally, and presently in much of the world, marriage was arranged for political, familial, economic and local reasons. An unmarried woman was a commodity or a liability and that determined who paid the dowry. Love came after marriage if it came at all.


The church and state are separate entities and have their own rights and limitations. The state can’t sanctify anything. With variations from state to state, government regulates relationships, defines marriage, writes laws regarding property and children and may require a license. Equal rights under the law should mean equal protection and equal opportunity to the blessings of family and Christians should support that. Churches can bless, sanctify, define marriage however they please. Above all we should not blame gays because some are unwillingly attracted to them.


That’s the problem of Eve. Adam found her irresistible; therefore, it’s all her fault. Delilah made Samson weak. The only way for males to maintain dominance is to keep women weak, if necessary by having several wives and maybe a few concubines. If women had the power they might spend money foolishly or sell the mule too cheaply. Mules are forbidden by the Bible but never mind. Worst of all, women might permit their womb to be used by the wrong family, tribe or religion. Therefore, women must be forbidden property, income, the vote, the right to choose who they will marry, possession of their own bodies.


The Apostle Paul wrote that there was neither Jew nor gentile, free nor slave, male nor female in Christianity (Galatians 3-28). That’s a nice sentiment but like the speed limit easy to ignore, much easier than ignoring tradition. In some churches women can serve only those roles that relate to cooking, cleaning and caring for children. For most, church decisions must be left to the men.

Even in Christian lands it took women centuries to overcome the prohibitions against owning property, having an independent income, the right to vote, to choose the male they will marry and to have authority over men. However, their property rights have not extended to their uterus. That belongs to husband, father or male dominated institutions such as the church and the state. 


Men have lost battle after battle of the sexes but they cling to the inalienable right to make women reproduce by persuasion or power. Invading armies leave behind them a bit of England or America, or Islam or Christianity in the bellies of enemy women as an indelible demonstration of power. Not all dark-skinned people became lighter through choice but for a minimum of nine months those women were indentured to the men who forced them. Even some who don’t believe the Bible condones warriors taking virgin girls as sex-slaves (Numbers 31:18) believe that a woman’s right to own property does not extend to her uterus.


They say they are pro life but there are at least two lives involved and they are pro only one of them. In maternal mortality we are in twenty-eighth place among nations. Many pro-lifers drop out when a child is born. Thirty-three nations have a lower infant mortality rate than we do. Safe air, water, food and good health care would raise taxes. Not even the unborn are protected from carbon emissions that can cause brain damage in fetuses and young children; it would reduce profits. Mammon trumps ethics. Pro-life does not extend beyond the border; one Iraqi child in eight does not survive a fifth year. It has something to do with terrorism, whether our terrorism or someone else’s isn’t clear. Some call it freedom. 


Those who claim to read the story of Adam and Eve literally ignore the Bible when it says that Adam (man) did not become a living soul until God gave him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Exodus 21:22 states that if a man causes a pregnant woman to have an abortion he must pay the father for the loss of his property, the fetus, but if the woman dies it’s life for life. Some read that scripture to say that if the fetus dies it is life for life but that seems forced since an aborted fetus was unlikely to live without modern hospitals and medicine. Ecclesiastes 6:3 states that unless a man has a good life and a proper burial it is better that he be stillborn. With rights goes responsibility, we say, so until the church or the government provides every child with clean air and water, food, shelter, health care and education neither the church nor the state has ascriptural right to require that every fetus be carried full term.

Some read Jeremiah I:5 to say that Jeremiah existed in heaven before he was born. Others believe that scripture speaks to the omniscience and foreknowledge of God. Some human parents know the name and gender of their child before it’s born. Many, especially in other countries, know where the child will live, how it will earn its living and who it will marry. God knows more than that.


A huge human-like male who lived just beyond the clouds, shaped a figure and blew a soul into the clay is appealing to some but the bigger and more complex the world became the smaller and less useful the image of the powerful male-figure was. Telescopes put heaven on a separate plane. Every scientific discovery has required Christians to enlarge their concept of God and for that we owe scientists our gratitude. I am not able to comprehend quarks or string theory. I can’t envision a universe that is expanding into apparently limitless space. And the expansion is gaining speed. I can only stand in awe of creation.


There is a story in the Bible (Genesis 1) of God speaking or thinking creation into being, somewhat like a writer creates a character in a story. And God’s characters and God’s story are held in God’s mind and that includes Jeremiah and me. Everything that exists is by God and for God. To read the story of creation as science or journalism robs God of the inconceivable majesty, mystery and eternity of the Creator to whom a thousand years is like a day.


As a Christian I don’t believe reason is the only guide for living morally, ethically, responsibly. It’s impossible for me to reason my way to loving my neighbor as myself when my neighbor is my enemy. That requires the faith that moves mountains. I do believe it is reasonable to think beyond contemporary culture, tribal custom, national ritual, religious tradition, family practice and personal circumstances to study the sacred scriptures and to decide which to ignore.


(All scripture references are from the King James Bible)


Published in a shorter form in the Waco Tribune (www.wacotrib.com) 


Robert Flynn,a contributor to The Wittenburg Door is the author of fourteen books including "Growing Up a Sullen Baptist" and "Slouching Toward Zion."





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