Megachurch hits the big screen

Pierce Brosnan as a megalomanical megachurch pastor? Yes, please!

Set in the world of mega-churches in which a former Deadhead-turned-born again-Christian finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega-church who will do anything to protect their larger-than-life pastor.

Funny, I could have given Salvation Boulevard’s writer/director some pretty good material re: larger-than-life pastors I’ve experienced in my religious past.

I can’t wait to see this film. Who’s coming with?

Rationalizing Genocide

How did I spend my Sunday morning?  Writing out a long comment to a pastor who was attempting to defend the genocides of the Old Testament.  Here’s my response to his rationalizations:

Thanks for the time you took in writing out this response.  I can tell you put a lot of time and energy into it, and I would be open to reading a book you’d write on the topic!  I do have a few issues with some of your explanations.

But before I get too picky, can I just state the obvious?  Can you hear yourself defending (rationalizing!) acts of genocide?  I’m always dismayed when I hear someone mentally disconnect the argument they’re making from the act they’re defending.  To be honest, it was one of the primary motivating forces that helped me reject my faith.  I got tired of having to condone God’s go-ahead for genocide.

You say that applying our “cultural mores” onto the horrors of genocide is an “anachronism.”  I’m not sure what to make of that statement.  So genocide (ie., the systematic act of killing a racial/cultural group) is a value that is relative to the time one lives in?  I’m having a hard time imagining a period of time in human history when it would be excusable to slaughter an entire people group.

So proving to me that I’m being anachronistic is going to be a tough sell.  You’re going to have to show me that the moral precept we hold that genocide is wrong was somehow NOT wrong back then.  I have a feeling we’ll come back to the supposedly-moral framework of “God is moral, God told the Israelites to murder, Murder is moral.”  You may be content in such a framework, I am not.

I know that there are other examples of ancient literature where these acts of systematic murder are described, and I find those passages equally horrifying as well.  But the difference between reading the Illiad and reading the Bible is that people don’t put any spiritual credence in the former.

I’m disappointed that you describe genocide as simply “distasteful.”

To summarize your arguments rationalizing genocide:
1. Genocide was not as evil of an act back then as it is today, so applying our 21st-century standards to this act is “anachronistic”.
2. Other people groups back then were committing genocide, so the Israelites were just following warfare protocol.
3. The ends justify the means argument: wiping out Israel’s enemies may have been unfortunate, but necessary — akin to the violence necessary to resolve other human atrocities such as slavery, racism, and fascism.
4. God compromised morality on behalf of the Israelites, and allowed them to commit such acts.
5. Israel is God’s “covenant people”, so “to maintain their cultural and religious distinctiveness”, wiping out a few ancient near eastern cultures is completely excusable.
6. The Midianites were bad people in their day, so they had it coming to them.

I asked you specifically about  Numbers 31.  I find it telling that you completely avoided commenting on the another morally “distasteful” passage in that chapter. Not only does God condone genocide, but he also mandates rape.

The Israelites went and destroyed all the males of the Midianites, but brought back as captives the “women and the little ones” (verse 9).   Moses then specifically goes to the Israelite army and tells them to KILL all the “women who had known a man” along with all the male children — *BUT* they could keep all the young virgin girls for themselves (verses 17-18).  As the chapter closes, these (32,000!) young girls were counted — along with the livestock — in the list of Israel’s war “booty” (32-35).  I don’t think I’m being anachronistic in being horrified by such actions on the part of such a God, and such a “covenant” people.

As I close, I noticed you describe yourself as a “good historian” — have you watched the PBS documentary of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”?  This doc consults many historians, scholars, and archeologists who have the thesis that much of the OT as history is inaccurate.  The genocidal atrocities weren’t military coups, but more of a social/cultural revolution.

I’m curious how he’ll respond. I, for one, am feeling pretty sick inside after having to think about such atrocities. But, at the same time, I’m also glad I got out of the business of finding theological reasons to condone such cruelty.

In the meantime, it looks like Luke has posted a pretty comprehensive list of articles from theologians and non-believers who have responded to the OT genocides.  Check it out.

EDIT: I responded again, and here’s what I wrote: Continue reading Rationalizing Genocide

history in the making

Today U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled AGAINST Proposition 8 in California, clearing the way for the case to make its way to the Supreme Court.

I’m just DYING to read his entire ruling, but I’m just so swamped right now between

  • teaching/marking/meeting with students,
  • gardening,
  • planning the Freethinker Family Camp next weekend,
  • applying (and being ACCEPTED!) into Celebrant training,
  • mamahood,
  • and the occasional few hours of sleep I can grab.

So — until I can sit down and savor this human rights victory, I’ll enjoy the few snippets I read online, like this one:

The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. FF 21. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed. (113)

And, this one:

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples. (135)

The clincher:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. (138)

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick’s reflects on the judge’s decision, and writes:

It’s hard to read Judge Walker’s opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn’t much of a fight.

For one of the most inspiring moments of the day, watch Rachel interview the lawyers behind defeating the Proposition, Ted Olsen and David Boies:

What a great day for equality.  I cannot wait until I’ll be able to be a Celebrant at a same-sex wedding.

My kind of church

I spent my Sunday morning, in my pajamas, watching this debate:

(part 1 of 11)

Is There Meaning in Evil and Suffering?
Description: A panel discussion and debate on the meaning of evil and suffering from theists Dr. William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias, atheist Dr. Bernard Leikind (a plasma physicist and senior editor of Skeptic magazine), and Hindu Dr. Jitendra Mohanty (one of India’s most distinguished Hindu philosophers and professor at Emory University).

These are the kind of debates/discussions I enjoy the most — why waste time arguing over the existence of something unprovable, one way or another?  It’s far more interesting to talk about the problem of evil. These kinds of discussions confirm for me why I rejected Christianity.  In this debate, the explanations provided by Craig and Zacharias for the evils allowed (condoned?) by an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God fell FLAT.  It basically boils down to “trust God to work things out in the end,” which doesn’t answer the question (not to mention it’s unsatisfying).

One thing interesting to note when watching this debate (and it’s a trait I’ve noticed when talking with believers) is how quickly Zacharias and Craig divert themselves away from specific examples/questions of evil or morality and rush back to the generalized platitudes of their faith.  For example, in the debate above, when talking about absolute morality, at one point the naturalist asked the theists whether they thought divorce was immoral.  Faster than you could bat an eyelash, Zacharias diverted away from the question into generalizations.

And I suppose I can’t blame ’em, because the rhetorical power in saying you have absolute objective morality lies in being able to make the statement without having to provide specific examples to back it up.

A final lesson learned from the above debate: I think Ravi Zacharias is far more of a jerk than William Lane Craig (and this is saying a lot, because I am *not* a fan of Craig’s snarky delivery).  In the debate, watch how Zacharias first responds to the naturalist (Dr. Leikind), and you’ll see why I award Zacharias the “asshole apologist” award.