Obama goes to Breakfast: The Crusades and more…

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The Last Crusader/Jihadist? False Equivalency anyone?

The Last Crusader/Jihadist? False Equivalency anyone?

As many of you may already be aware, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast this past Thursday, a tradition of U.S. presidents going back to President Eisenhower in the 1950’s. The Prayer Breakfast itself is a rather interesting subject on its own, since it seems to be a sort of pan-Christian, and perhaps even pan-religious group, with the Dali Lama receiving invites along with social gospel liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis. In other words, it is a rather large tent with a variety of different Christian and even non-Christian groups represented. This means that to expect orthodox Christianity from it is a bit of a stretch. While it is true that historically Christians (especially evangelicals) have been the most prominent backers and speakers, there has always been a sort of pseudo-civic religion aspect to the entire experience. This also implies that in an era in which we worship pluralism (everyone is basically the same, which goes for religions also), and “tolerance” is the buzz-word of popular culture, orthodox Christians in the U.S. should not exactly be shocked when things are said and spoken there that either make little sense or are typical of the age in which we live.

Enter President Barack Obama, who professes a form of Christianity, was raised in an Islamic madrassa for a time in Indonesia, and seems to be aligned with the typical academic “elite” view of social gospel Christianity that is professed in Ivy League divinity schools and the like. When you create the environment above with President Obama and mix them together, you get statements like this:

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ…” Barack Obama, National Prayer Breakfast, 2015

The Christian ISIS? Not even close...

The Christian ISIS? Not even close…

Now this statement followed a listing of a litany of crimes committed by Islamic hardline groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the like.  Because of this context, it seems (however rightly or wrongly) that Obama is comparing ISIS and Boko Haram to the medieval crusaders as some sort of “corruptive” equivalence.   Not surprisingly, the response from the blogopshere and talk radio was swift.  Some of this response was of course a bit over the top and full of “red meat” for certain constitutes.  This “shock” really shouldn’t be much of one, since this sort of thinking has been dominant in post-Enlightenment and anti-Christian circles (and even some Christian ones) since 18th century France and in Protestant polemics against Rome.  And this is key, as Obama’s comment’s here seem to simply come out of the typical historical and sociological ignorance that is reflected in popular culture:

Part of the problem here is that the president knows little, perhaps nothing, about the Crusades or the Inquisition. He is not alone in that, of course. Medieval historians have long lamented the gulf between fact and popular perceptions when it comes to these events. The Crusades were not brutal wars of colonial oppression or zealous attempts to spread Christianity by the sword. The First Crusade was called in 1095 by Pope Urban II in response to desperate appeals from the Christians of the Middle East, who had lately been conquered and continued to be persecuted by the Turks. And these were only the latest in more than four centuries of attacks on Christian peoples by Muslim powers. At some point Christianity as a faith and as a culture had to defend itself or else be subsumed by Islam. The work of the Crusader, who put his life at risk and underwent enormous expense, was to save Christian people and restore Christian lands. This was no perversion of Christianity. Christ had commanded his followers to be like the Good Samaritan, hurrying to bind up the wounds of their brother who had been robbed and beaten. This was the same Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is how Crusaders honestly saw themselves following their Christian faith.
- Dr. Thomas F. Madden, St. Louis University, Medieval History department

ABC News quotes a different Crusades historian in addition to Madden:

(Thomas) Asbridge said he doesn’t have a problem with the president reminding the world that the Christian Church “advocated violence, and at times even encouraged its adherents to engage in warfare” but to suggest a causal link between ISIS and the distant medieval phenomenon of the Crusades is “grounded in the manipulation and misrepresentation of historical evidence.”

Of course we could add quotes about the Crusades in general from other historians and sociologists of religion, many of whom have been quoted on this site (See here and here).  The point here is that in spite of the good work done by many, the Crusades still remain as one of the most woefully misunderstood events in the history of the world (the Inquisition a close second).  When the presumed leader of the western world, while dealing with an almost weekly account of some act done by ISIS or Boko Haram, seems to use historical ignorance to make some sort of relativistic statement about religion, we have work to do.

For More:

Inquisition Article (good myth buster)

Crusades Page For This Site

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 6 – Days 11 and 12) – Final

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(This is part 6 of 6 of music for the 12 days of Christmas)

Part 1 (Days 1-2)

Part 2 (Days 3-4)
Part 3 (Days 5-6)
Part 4 (Days 7-8)
Part 5 (Days 9-10)

       As this Christmastide begins to end with the last two days of Christmas, listening to the last two parts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (if you already haven’t done so) is a great way to finish the season. This being said, here are the last two albums (and some runners-up for your consideration) for days 11 and 12 of Christmastide.

Day 11 (Jan. 4th): Dream Season: The Christmas Harp, Yolanda Kondonassis. This album is a favorite for members of my family (my wife and son), and contains some beautiful music. It does have a rather interesting “vibe” when the percussion accompanist plays along, but overall the quality is quite good, especially considering Kondonassis is one of the world’s great harpists. The harp has always been associated with “heavenly” or “ancient” music, so having an album of such music for the end of Christmastide is more than appropriate. You can purchase the album here, and a couple of the selections are available on YouTube as part of a different collection (same recording however):

Day 12 (Jan. 5th): A Festival of Carols in Brass, Philadelphia Brass Ensemble. To complete our survey of excellent Christmas music, this collection is a bit of a modern classic. This is festive brass to the max, with mostly straightforward arrangements of the vast majority of what most people think are the “normal” carols and hymns of Christmastide. The playing is uniformly of a high quality, and the atmosphere is “festive” in a good way. While free on YouTube, this is a great addition to your physical collection as well.

As always, any feedback on this series is welcome. I hope all of you enjoyed at least a few selections from “Music for Christmastide.” Here are some runners-up as a bonus below:

Joy to the World (Royal Philharmonic/London Symphony)
Classical Christmas (Lumiere String Quartet)
Songs of Angels (Robert Shaw Chorus)
Christmas Carols (Andrew Parrot, Taverner Consort)
A String Quartet Christmas (Arturo Delmoni)
O Come All Ye Faithful (King’s College)
Carols from Trinity (Choir of Trinity College)
The Glorious Sound of Christmas (Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra)

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 5 – Days 9 and 10)

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(Part 5 of 6 for Music of Christmastide)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

As we continue in the New Year, the last few days of Christmastide are upon us. If you are listening to the Bach Christmas Oratorio, now would be a good time to acquaint yourselves with parts 5 and 6 (involving the visit of the Magi).

Day 9 (Jan. 2nd): “Salvation is Created” (and other works) by Pavel Tchesnokov. While originally intended as a communion hymn, this work is very appropriate for Christmastide, and is often done, either by a symphonic band or choir (even men’s choir). Why is this work appropriate? One, it is one of the most beautiful simple choral works one can hear, the text is beautiful, and it is a good introduction to the huge output of Russian Orthodox choral music in the years before communism. In fact, Tchesnokov wrote hundreds of sacred works, but most were suppressed or hidden because of the Soviet authorities. Here is the text and a video:

Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia

Day 19 (Jan. 3rd): Christmas Organ Music (performed by Kevin Bowyer). This is a fantastic album with the “king of instruments” playing a variety of familiar Christmas melodies, along with some compositions that might be unfamiliar. A hidden gem is Brahms’ “Es ist ein ros’ Entsprungen” (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming), in which he looks back towards Bach after a career of late Romantic classicism. The album is relatively cheap and can be found for download here. The entire album is also free on YouTube!

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 4 – Days 7 and 8)

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(This is part 4 of 6 for Christmastide listening and the 12 days of Christmas)
Part 1 (Dec.25-26th, Days 1 and 2)
Part 2 (Dec.27-28th, Days 3 and 4)
Part 3 (Dec.29-30th, Days 5 and 6)

The first 6 days have been filled mostly with actual “thorough-composed” works for Christmastide, such as Cantatas for church, oratorios, and the like. For these next two days, I have selected 2 albums that are more “collections” or “compilations” of carols, done in a tasteful way. Of course, you should still be listening to the Bach Christmas Oratorio throughout the 12 days!

Day 7 (Dec. 31st): Noels & Carols From The Olde World, by Apollo’s Fire. This album is extremely charming, with some great takes on tunes such as “Fum, Fum, Fum,” “I Saw Three Ships,” and many others. This entire album is actually free on YouTube thanks to Apollo’s Fire, one of the great American period instrument ensembles, based in Cleveland. If you don’t know their work, now is as good of time as any, starting with this evocative album.

Day 8 (Jan. 1st): Christmas Star: Carols for the Christmas Season, Rutter and the Cambridge Singers. This album is beautifully done, even if it is a bit of your typical “warm and fuzzy choir” album. Some of the arrangements are quite good, especially the Baroque-ish take on “Joy to the World” in the style of Handel, and “O Come All Ye Faithful” is quite powerful. If you like Christmas carols, and/or the English choral tradition, you can sing along with much of this album, as my wife and I did on an 8 hour car trip one Christmastide. These arrangements are exceedingly popular in the English speaking world, especially at orchestra Christmas concerts (been there done that). The entire album is fairly inexpensive and can purchased here. Below is the aforementioned “Joy to the World” which is probably my favorite arrangement of that hymn/carol.

Special Note (Bonus listening): January 1st is also the Holy Name Day and Circumcision of Jesus in the Church Calendar, and J.S. Bach wrote an outstanding cantata (of course) to celebrate this day: BWV 190, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied.” Here is a translation, and enjoy the festive trumpets!

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 3 – Days 5 and 6)

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(This is part 3 of 6 for the 12 days of Christmas)
Part 1
Part 2

For days 5 and 6, we have music by Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns, both of which can be found convienently on the same disc.

Day 5 (Dec. 29th): “Von Himmel Hoch,” by Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn’s chief claim to fame for Christmas music is the tune for “Hark the Herald,” but this cantata, heavily influenced by Bach, is much more intentional on his part. In fact, the “Hark” tune actually comes from a secular cantata! Most English speaking Christians know “Von Himmel Hoch” as “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and/or, “Welcome to Earth, O Noble Guest,” found in most Lutheran (and some Anglican) hymnals.

“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing…”

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?”

Here is the opening chorus:

Here is a link to another disc that contains Mendelssohn’s “Magnificat” (Mary’s song) and other related works in addition to this one.

Day 6 (Dec. 30th): Christmas Oratorio (Oratorio de Noël), Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns is an interesting case, in that while he played organ in churches throughout his life (and was considered one of the greatest organists of his day), and wrote pieces such as this, he himself was fashionably agnostic (in the 19th century French academy that is) about faith. Yet early in his career, he composed this beautiful work, with the heritage of church music before him and the liturgical heritage of the Roman church in his ears. The prelude is in the style of Bach-Romanticized (a staunch Lutheran), and the choral music is very much French Catholic. So here we have a composer writing a beautiful work for the Christ-Child fully within the stream of Western music but not believing it? Or perhaps he did and then left the faith? Either way, this music is certainly a worthy addition to your listening during Christmastide.

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 2 – Days 3 and 4)

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      For part 2 of our series on Music for Christmastide, we will cover December 27th and 28th, or Days 3 and 4 of the 12 Days of Christmas. As was mentioned in part 1, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio can and should be used throughout the 12 days in addition to the individual pieces here. Happy listening!

Day 3(Dec. 27th): Mass for Christmas Day, Praetorius. . This piece is a fascinating look at how Christmas was celebrated in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with “hold-overs” from the medieval era with some distinctly Lutheran “flavor.” In particular, the recording done by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort is quite good, and if you have good sound available to you, the acoustics inside the church give a nice “authentic” effect. Listen for some rousing renditions of “In Dulci Jubilo” (Good Christian Men Rejoice) and other familiar tunes. “Rousing” and “festive” while still being reverent.

Day 4 (Dec. 28th): O Magnum Mysterium (and other works), Victoria. If you have yet to make your acquaintance with the glories of Renascence church music, this piece by Victoria serves this purpose better than many others I can think of. Victoria was a pastor/priest in addition to being a brilliant composer, arguably the best in Spain during his time. Watch (or just listen) to this beautiful rendition by The Sixteen, and contemplate this text, translated from Latin:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

In addition to this Motet, Victoria also composed an entire liturgy, which can be found with more music related to the birth of the Savior on this disc.  Listen to the familiar “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest) which comes from the Angels at Christmas, but is also sung every time the liturgy is performed in the West (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican).

Days 5 and 6 to follow…comments on your experiences with these pieces are of course welcome!

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 1 – Days 1 and 2)

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     As one who often speaks about reclaiming and restoring the Classic Christian heritage of the West, the subject of Christian Holy days and seasons often comes up. One of the ways the church and its people have expressed the joy of seasons such as Christmas and Easter is of course through music. Not just any music, or the pabulum you hear at the department store or on the “Adult contemporary” station, but actual art music that attempts (and I would argue, sometimes succeeds) at reaching the transcendent. With this in mind, I am compiling a sort of “playlist” for the 12 days of Christmastide, and if you observed Advent (like many Western Christians do), you should not be “burned out” like much of the rest of the world. So here is part 1 of my “Music for Christmastide” series.

Through all 12 Days: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. There are several reasons for this. One, Bach is the master when it comes to music with a message (rarely if ever equaled), the piece is deep and stands up to many hearings (unlike most Christmas music), and the work itself is a compilation of 6 different sections gathered together. Part 1 is for Christmas Day, Part 2 is for the Shepherds (Dec. 26th), Part 3 is for the adoration of the Shepherds (Dec. 27th), Part 4 is for New Year’s Day (Jesus’ circumcision and name day), Part 5 is for the Journey of the Magi (First Sunday in January), and Part 6 is for Epiphany, the visit of the wise men, and the end of Christmastide. So in other words, this is a piece that you can “live with” for the entire Christmastide season. Amazingly, there is an excellent video on YouTube with period instruments and English subtitles in which the applause breaks up the 6 sections. I highly commend it:

Day 1 (Dec. 25th):Handel’s Messiah, Part I. Even though this piece is ubiquitous during Advent and Christmastide, it really is a great piece of music, especially when your sole experience of it is not “sing alongs”. Handel was master melodist and so effective that Mozart famously said “when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt!” Handel was also Beethoven’s favorite composer, and Haydn was so moved by Messiah that it was an inspiration for his late great oratorios (The Creation and The Seasons). Part I gets you into the Biblical text in English, and demonstrates musically how the Old Testament is about Christ. This is perfect for the contemplation of the text. My favorite recording is with McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, but this video is infectiously energetic:

Day 2 (Dec. 26th): Italian Christmas Concertos. In the Roman church during the 17th and 18th centuries, it became common practice for famous composers of the time to write “Christmas concertos,” so-named because the concluding movement was often a “pastorale” which evoked the peace and serenity of the Holy Nativity, and the performances were often given during Christmastide. Corelli’s is probably the most famous, but Manfredini, Vivaldi, Torelli, and many others contributed to this genre. There several collections of these on the market like this one, and the YouTube playlist below should provide a good taste.

Day’s 3 and 4 soon to come…

Reclaiming a Joyful One

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Haydn-StapertI recently finished reading a great biography and introduction called “Playing Before the LORD: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn” by Calvin R. Stapert, which is a highly rewarding introduction to the music more people should know and grow to love: The music of Joseph Haydn. While it is true that Haydn does get deference as the “father of the symphony” or “Papa Haydn,” it is usually with a sort of patronizing tone and with the idea that he is only setting up the real stuff to follow. He is considered the elderly but loved uncle at the party that everyone respects and invites but no one really wants to listen to.

      The last chapter of Stapert’s book is worth the purchase by itself, and honestly can be read before the rest of the book.   Those who are caretakers, defenders, or maybe even “survivors” of the greatness that was/is the classical Christian West should take note of Haydn.  Rather than the quaint and pleasant prankster who is merely a diversion, Haydn’s music embodies what Chesterton might have called the “delight of the ordinary,” or what Tolkien tried to represent with the Shire and its common folk singing in the palaces of kings. So why is Haydn well-known, but not really loved? Stapert traces this to a sort of “evolutionism” in the way many artists and academic elites view culture, along with the romanticized myth of the artist as some sort of revolutionary hero.

      Behind this is the ever-present pernicious myth that I term “modern chauvinism,” that modernist myth that has its roots in the secular humanism so common in the modern era. A composer like Haydn is not amenable to the modernist (and romantic) view of the artist as some sort of cultural revolutionary who through great toil and suffering remakes the world, or bends us to his will. In music, the great hero for this view is Beethoven (although he is much more of a classicist than people realize). Those who have written the history books (both in the arts and in general) almost all blatantly take this line of reasoning, so that one must take this “modern chauvinist” attitude:

  1. …if art is “conventional,” “classical,” paleo anything, religious, traditional, or western, view it as “boring,” “regressive,” “irrelevant,” “unoriginal” or “oppressive.” By contrast, any art that is “shocking,” “provocative,” “activist,” “subversive,” “innovative,” or politically relevant is automatically genuine, inspired, relevant, and true artistry.
  1. Re-interpret western cultural history in lieu of number 8. (taken from “20 Ways to be a Modern Chauvinist”)

      Stapert quotes music critic Terry Teachout who notes that a huge amount of contemporary artists (and, I would argue, much of the academy and the progressive “elites”), think that, “art must be grim and/or preachy (preferably both).” Music (or art) that does not do this, is simply a fanciful diversion, a sort of escape from the myth that our lives are clouded by busy necessity (pg. 255-257). In contrast, Haydn, as a devout Christian, found joy in the ordinary, and by taking delight in the objects, events, persons in daily life. This is not to say that Haydn’s music cannot be tragic, or that it cannot possess moments of passion or the like, but that his artistic outlook represents a philosophy and worldview that is an anathema to our present culture, which is why he is more needed than ever.  Instead of obsessing over the ugly and confusing world of modernity (and post-modernity), Haydn instead “gives rest and refreshment not as an escape from reality or as a drug that deadens our senses. Quite the contrary. His music awakens our senses to a deeper reality than the confusion, ugliness, and troubles that we see and experience on the surface of our daily lives.” (pg. 257).

      Stapert ends by noting that one of Haydn’s work is called the “Mass for troubled times (missa in angustiis),” which we commonly nickname the “Lord Nelson” Mass. He then states that “His music as a whole is musica in angustiis. Listening to it gives us cause to rejoice because it is a revelation of grace, a case in point of the way things really are. It should prompt us to sing what Haydn regularly penned at the end of his scores: LAUS DEO! – PRAISE TO GOD!” (pg. 258).

      Let us then begin to reclaim our culture, and reclaim the idea of the Christian artist as one who can express joy and delight in the grace shown to us by our maker. Listen to, perform, and celebrate God’s servant genius, Haydn!

"Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully."  - Joseph Haydn

“Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully.” – Joseph Haydn

A “Selfie” Abortion, and What That Says….

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Narcisissm     In a culture of Facebook self-worship, in which increasingly isolated individuals who crave community share everything about themselves, we have passed a new “milestone,” that of the “selfie” abortion video.   Meet Emily Letts (Caution: While not overly graphic, the YouTube video is troubling), an abortion counselor who decided to film her abortion “experience” to demonstrate in her words, “that there is such a thing as a positive abortion story,” so that, “I can share my story and inspire other women to stop the guilt.”  Throughout the video and the interview in the notoriously sordid check-out aisle magazine Cosmopolitan, Letts seems most obsessed in particular with this guilt aspect, since as one who works in a clinic, she sees guilt on a daily basis.  She makes statements such as “I know there are women who feel great remorse. I have seen the tears. Grieving is an important part of a woman’s process,” and “Even women who come to the clinic completely solid in their decision to have an abortion say they feel guilty for not feeling guilty.”  This is okay for her because she “(doesn’t) feel like a bad person. I don’t feel sad. I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life. I knew that what I was going to do was right, ’cause it was right for me and no one else. I just want to share my story.”

    In the words of Reformed Baptist Al Mohler, “Emily giveth, and Emily taketh away.”  While reactions to the video and interview have been overwhelmingly negative, should we honestly be shocked that this has happened?  In a culture in which we are told that we are all autonomous individuals who make our own decisions, including deciding morality and truth for ourselves, why this hasn’t happened sooner is the real question.  (For good commentary on this incident, see this piece by Al Mohler, and this post by  Ben Domenech.   For a great compassionate call to Ms. Letts, see “My Abortion Story: An Open Letter to Emily Letts” by Garrett Kell.)

I love me    What sort of culture gives birth to this sort of thinking and “experiences” while denying the births of other human beings? The answer is the lie of the autonomous self.  The ability to choose one’s own reality, one’s own truth, and one’s own morality is sacred.  This allows us to have an increasingly large laundry list of “rights” in which, “as long as I don’t hurt anyone,” or “as long as there is consent,” I can do whatever I want.  I can personally oppose something as long as I keep it private, but any sort of attempt to assert a universal truth or moral is automatically “imposing your beliefs on others,” i.e., a violation of my rights to do and feel whatever I want.  It damgages my “self-esteem” and my “self-worth.”  And if you dare oppose this, you are of course “judgmental,” or “oppressive,” or (gasp) an orthodox Christian!   In fact, many would actually define freedom as something like “The ability to decide whatever I want for myself in order to feel self-fulfilled.”  A better working definition of freedom would perhaps be, “the ability to know and pursue the good,” but this would assume we know what good is, and that it is worth pursuing.  Augustine was absolutely correct when he said that the natural tendency of man without God is to “curve inward on oneself.”

    Yet human beings are NOT by nature autonomous individuals.  We crave a sense of community and belonging.  Before the rise of the utopian democratic egalitarian state, most found this sense of community in the family, the local community, the local church, and perhaps other common cultural phenomenon (such as music, language, literature, feast days, etc…).  However, the combination of the autonomous self and the utopian secular democratic state of have made community virtually impossible to find, unless you can agree with the mob and join the latest sacred cause, and even then, the “community” found here is little better than an organized mob.  I believe that Emily Letts, deep down, not only craves community and a sense of belonging, hence the video “selife,” but also knows that there is something spiritually amiss.  There are real things such as guilt, and shame, and conversely, honor and truth.  Denial for the sake of self-congratulations will not change this, and posting videos and lobbying the government for “rights,” will not change this.   Only a knowledge of God’s perfect law and God’s sweet gospel can accomplish such a miracle.  So pray for people like Emily, and pray for our culture that sacrifices people for the sake of the freedom of the self.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Solution? The Way, the Truth, and the Life.

How to Not Write About Biblical Morality

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This is a running commentary/stream-of-consciousness response to a rather bizarre attack on the Christian worldview, and especially the Old Testament found in the Holy Scriptures. The original column can be found here, although the entirety is posted here with commentary in italics.  It seems the real reason for the column is a rather volatile local political issue here in Southeast Idaho, but the majority of the column is mostly an attack on the Scriptures and Christianity.  A more formal columned response is to follow…

Biblical Morality (Idaho State Journal, 3-30-14)
Found at: http://www.pocatelloshops.com/new_blogs/politics/?p=11925
By Jack Moore
(Running Commentary by Aaron Hayes in Italics)

“I keep seeing quotes in the letters to the editor about objective morality. I still wonder what the writers mean by it.”

Most in the classic Christian tradition mean something akin to “those actions, thoughts, and behaviors which reflect the character, will, and mind of the one God.” This God is Holy, Righteous, judge, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-good, just, perfect, simple, love, merciful, etc…and has revealed himself especially in the Holy Scriptures, and also through his church and natural law. This is objective morality, based on God’s transcendent and imminent reality.

“I have come across few objective moral truths. One is: “Treat others with love and kindness.” Jesus said it this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:27-29). I fail at this one small morality often.”

These certainly qualify as objective moral truths, although they are certainly not the only ones. And yes, we all DO fail to meet these standards, which is why we need Jesus to save us in the first place. This being said, moral truths and laws only make sense in the Christian worldview. Any other worldview cannot account for the laws of logic and morality, because such laws are based on the character of the lawgiver and His sustaining of creation. If we are here by accident/chance, or if laws are based on culture or the individual, they are completely arbitrary and non-objective. Only the Christian faith can make a coherent and sensical worldview out of the very idea of law and morality.

“Besides that one, I have not found any objective moral truths in the Bible.”

You must not be looking very hard. Ever heard of the Ten Commandments? Ever encounter the phrase, “Thus says the LORD?” That’s pretty absolute and objective!

“If there are some they are well hidden.”

Only for those who refuse to seriously and objectively look. Any basic orthodox Christian systematic text will suffice, or even a good study bible. Talk to any Christian who has been catechized (instructed) and you will get some objective morals and truths right away.

“That is why I cannot understand why people hold the LGBTQ community in such disregard.”

If you cannot see why Christians teach what they teach, then yes, it is probably difficult to understand why the church teaches what it does regarding human sexuality. This is however out of love of God and neighbor, not so-called ‘disregard.’

“Out of all the laws in the Old Testament, the passage in Leviticus concerning homosexuality is the one law that must be upheld (Leviticus 18:22). It is always quoted to justify discrimination against the LBGTQ community.”

This is a woeful misunderstanding on a variety of different levels. First, Christians teach the entire counsel of God, not just a single law. All of God’s laws are upheld, God’s law is perfect, and Christ himself says that not one “jot or tittle” will pass away, and that He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:16-20, and that word fulfill is VERY important for understanding this issue). It is the law which makes us realize how desperately we need a savior. So no, Christians don’t just uphold one law, but rather know how broken we are when confronted with the whole of God’s law. The question here is how God’s objective truths apply in civil society in a flawed and broken world, and how these are enforced. Besides, do you know any Christians going around saying it okay to lie, to cheat, to steal, and to commit adultery? Those are laws that Christians uphold….so obviously there isn’t just one. And the word “discrimination” assumes certain things that the Christian worldview is not willing to grant, such as sexual behavior being how one defines an individual as a class for example.

“I wish someone could explain to me why society has done away with 99 percent of Mosaic and Levitical law, but has decided to keep this one part of it.”

Where does this percentage come from? 1 out of 100? I hope this is simply rhetorical, and if it is, it is overstated to the extreme. For the record, there are 613 different laws. And no, Christians do not just “keep this one part of it” as explained above. Secondly, the Holy Scriptures contain multiple instances in which God’s design for marriage, family, and sex is demonstrated. Leviticus 18:22 is not the only passage in Holy Scripture that references homosexual behavior. There is another passage in Leviticus 20:13, Paul’s use of “natural” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:18-27; I Corinthians 6 includes such behavior alongside a variety of other sins/vices; I Timothy 1:9-11; and Jude 1:7, which describes the sin of Sodom found in Genesis 19:1-5 as going after “strange flesh,” which demonstrates what the Genesis passage is about. The passages found in I Corinthians and I Timothy use a Greek compound word from the Greek translation the Leviticus passages (arsenoskoitan). In other words, the morality found there still applies “across the testaments” for all people and all time, not just ancient Judaism. Such behavior is also excluded by the created order found in Genesis 1-2, Jesus’ definition of marriage as one man-one woman found in Matthew 19:4-6 (referring back to the created order), and the general prohibition against sexual immorality found throughout Scripture (such as the word porneia, which would include ALL forms of sexual immorality outside of one woman-one man marriage). We also know that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19), does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8), and is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). All of this demonstrates that far from being “hidden” or “unclear,” the Holy Scriptures are remarkably consistent and clear on this issue. Natural law also bears this out, given the physiological, emotional, and reproductive complementarity between the sexes. Even if one were to remove the Leviticus passages, the position of the universal church would be the same, as it has been since the beginning.

““Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is not even an absolute for most Christians. If it was, the death penalty would not exist, we would not send soldiers into war, and there would be no such thing as an armed drone.”

This is simply a misreading of the KVJ translation. Most modern translations use the term “murder,” and the Hebrew here covers both intentional and negligent killing (what we could call manslaughter and deliberate homicide), not capital punishment or just wars.

“God could not even give us the correct laws about eating. I find this to be very telling. If eating pigs and shellfish is OK now, and God got this wrong then, how can we trust God’s moral judgment on who people should love? (Leviticus 11:7-10).”

God gave perfect laws then, and he gives perfect laws now. There is no contradiction. Why? The ritual and cultic laws of Israel which were to teach them about God’s holiness and how they were to be different to the nations, has been fulfilled/superseded (NOT abolished or contradicted) by Christ. All of God’s creation was originally very good (Genesis 1), and God tells the Apostle Peter that nothing the Lord has made is unclean (Acts 10). Instead of a nation/state theocracy as God’s people (ancient Israel), God has called his people from every nation, tribe, and tongue on the earth, due to the work of Christ. Because of this, the ritual and cultic aspects of ancient Israel are no longer necessary, although it is certainly within the realm of freedom to observe such things if one so chooses. These ritual/cultic laws such as the food laws (some of which may have had sanitation concerns as well), the weaving of fabrics, building fences on roofs etc…still tell us about the character of God, and contain absolute truths behind them. Other laws such as the dimensions of the tabernacle, the priestly garments etc…are fulfilled in the person of Christ. The greater is here (Jesus). This does NOT mean that the universal laws found throughout scripture, such as the teachings on human sexuality, lying, stealing, etc…are abolished. They are still in force and have been since the beginning. To claim that the universal laws and the food laws are the same sort of thing is to commit a category error, or a fallacy of composition.

“How moral is the Bible, anyway? I find the law that says a woman has to marry her rapist or be stoned to death a pretty abhorrent law and very revealing—the rapist has to pay for his plunder (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).”

This is actually an amazingly benevolent action. In the ancient near east, a woman who was violated was as good as dead, an outcast, and most likely would turn to prostitution to survive. Instead of these things, God’s people were quite “liberal” in the good sense of the word, by stating that the woman had rights, and must be taken care of (shelter, food etc…) by the perpetrator of the crime. Compared to other near eastern law codes, this is simply amazing, and demonstrates God’s concerns for both man and woman. Notice that the man cannot divorce her as long as he lives, and the rest of the law in how he treats her would still apply.

“This, by the way, is one form of “traditional marriage.” That kind of “morality” has no place in a civilized society. I don’t know anyone personally that would defend it. That is because it is not moral.”

No, this is not a “traditional marriage,” it is an example of case law. Case law is what you are to do should a certain situation arise. Prescriptive law is a command. The rape example given here is an example of case law, not something that is ideal or normal. And while some certainly use the term “traditional marriage,” it really is just “marriage,” which exists independent of whatever a given society might try to make of it, and anything else is simply a counterfeit. Regardless, this is again another category error, in which case law is confused with prescriptive law. Notice also that how marriage is defined is assumed here, even if the circumstances leading up to it were sinful and requiring justice.

“Conservatives hold onto “Homosexuality is a Sin” for two reasons. Otherness. It is a foreign thing to them. It is a way of thinking that they do not understand, and so it should be punished, because heterosexuality, their way, is what they know. The other reason is control. Sex should be controlled, especially regarding women.”

Translation: Because I do not understand how people could possibly disagree with me, I have to explain this opposition away by saying there is a psychological deficiency in my opponent. There is an inherent arrogance and insulting tone about this, because it implies that the author is “enlightened,” but orthodox Christians fearful power-grabbers. However, Christians know all too well the power of sin, death, and the forces of evil, which is why we say what we say! It isn’t because of “otherness” or foreignness, but because without the grace of God, we are all lost. Teaching God’s design for humanity is an act of love, and a duty for every Christian, not a power-conspiracy or unfounded fear.

“Morality comes from society as a whole. Morality grows and develops as the knowledge of society grows. We know that homosexuality is not a choice and even if it was, it should not be punished by society. There is no morality in consensual sex. It is merely part of nature.”

Saying that there is no morality in consensual sex is a nonsensical statement. To use a term like “consensual” implies a certain morality about individuals and choice. The very statement includes a moral judgment, yet somehow there is no morality in it? This statement is self-refuting. Also, why stop at “consensual sex” if the justification is a “mere part of nature?” We see a variety of other actions in the animal world, and if humans are simply part of nature and nothing more, why arbitrarily stop at “consensual sex?”
If morality comes from society, then there is no such thing as objective morality, since as the author admits, it grows and develops. This implies change. If morals change, they are inherently non-objective, and subject to the whims of the majority or culture. If this is how one views morality, then having difficulty seeing objective morality isn’t exactly a surprise, and should be expected. Morals are based on truths about who we are, our place in the universe, how we relate to each other, and the like…If this is changeable or society-contingent, we might as well give up now, since morality will collapse into despotism (people are made to agree) or anarchy (each individual decides for himself) or some combination of the two. Either way, morality as a useful term has disappeared, and we should stop using it. Perhaps we should start talking about utility instead….

“I believe there are objective moralities.”

Which makes no sense in a naturalistic/materialistic worldview.

“A couple that most people agree on are slavery and genocide are evil, both of which the Old Testament encourages (Leviticus 25:44-46 and Deuteronomy 13:13-19).”

This is quite telling, the statement “most people agree on.” A democratic or majority consensus does not decide truth, truth is truth regardless of the number of people who believe in it. To say “I believe there are objective moralities” and then appeal to “what most people agree on” undermines the case (if there is one) being made. To use a term like “genocide” and apply it to Scripture is another case of a category error. Taking a modern concept (the systematic eradication of an ethnic group) and comparing it to Israel’s conquest of Canaan because of pagan immorality and evil is not even close to the same thing. God does not command Israel at any point, “kill them all because they are Canaanites,” but rather because these people were so morally corrupt their culture was being judged. In fact, God’s people pass by at times because some cities’ “iniquity was not yet full,” meaning they hadn’t corrupted themselves yet (Genesis 15:16). It is also quite telling that God would use the other nations to punish his own people, hardly the act of someone engaged in “ethnic cleansing” or genocide. In regards to slavery, a better modern equivalent would be “indentured servant,” not the slavery of the antebellum south, which most moderns have in mind. The idea of case law and prescriptive law also comes into view again here.

“Another couple of evils that God perpetrates are child ritual sacrifice and infanticide (Exodus 12:12 and Judges 11:29-40). Most people agree that these things are evil, but they completely gloss over it when the evildoer is their God.”

Other than the faulty “most people agree” basis for determining morality rearing its head again, both of these passages have rather straightforward explanations. The case of Jephtha’s daughter (Judges 11) is not perpetuated by God (it is because of a rash vow by a man in a troubled culture in a troubled time), and both Christian and Jewish scholars have demonstrated that the text is far from clear in terms of the daughter’s fate, and the church fathers such as Chrysostom and Ambrose say that God is permitting an evil (notice permitting an evil is not the same as endorsing it!) for teaching purposes. Either way, God doesn’t do this, does not endorse it, and to claim he does means one has completely misread (or not even read) the text. The killing of the firstborn in Exodus 12:12 is the 10th plague, in which Pharaoh (a ‘god’ in Egyptian culture and law) was given every opportunity to stop his evil actions, and brings death and destruction down upon himself and his people. Remember here that there is no such thing as “separation of church and state” or even “individual rights” in many senses, so cooperate guilt was a very real thing. Secondly, it is also likely that Egyptian law contained within it the idea of “reciprocity,” and since Pharaoh was actively killing Hebrew children without discrimination (true infanticide) over the course of decades, God acting in a limited sense (only males of a certain age) in a limited amount of time, was perfectly just based on the practices of Egypt. If anything, it demonstrates God’s restraint (“I take no pleasure in the death of a sinner” Ezekiel 18:23).
And again, to somehow argue that this means God endorses this as normal or ideal is to completely misread the entire counsel of God, and assumes that one can judge God. This is key, as the entire piece seems to assume that a created being with finite understanding who has to rely on what the majority has agreed on for any sense of morality, and presumes to judge the perfect creator for His acts of justice. This would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

“The most dangerous idea in the Bible is the idea that there are “the chosen.” Apparently these chosen can do all kinds of evil, but because they are “chosen,” their evil is good or acceptable. It is the antithesis of “No one is above the law.” The idea of the chosen never made any logical sense to me. Yet people espousing their faith speak of an objective morality found in the Bible.”

I’m not sure how this can even be taken seriously. Surely the author is aware of the multiple times God judges His own people for their evil? The Babylonian captivity and exile anyone? The Persians? Philistines? Etc….So no, in God’s eyes, being part of God’s people does not exclude you from judgment. God also “chastises those he loves,” (Hebrews 12:6) which isn’t exactly an endorsement of evil for being on the right team. To claim that being part of God’s redeemed people is permission to violate God’s laws is to completely misunderstand the nature of the gospel. Christ saves us in spite of our violations, in spite of our selfishness, in spite of our rebellion, in spite of our evil. He saves us from ourselves. If you would like to know the consequences of our evil, look at a crucifix. Again, we have terms like “evil” being tossed around as if we should know what that term means. Since the author is rejecting the source of all creation, the very definition of good and love, how does a term like evil have any meaning except that which society decides it does? Why should I take the author’s word for it, since he is admitting that his “objective morality” is based on society’s whims. The term “evil” only makes sense in reference to what “good” is, meaning it is a parasite, a negation of the eternally blessed source of goodness. Also, orthodox Christians long and want ALL of humanity to come to faith, even though we know many will not. We want you to be part of the “chosen,” including the author of this hit piece. We are trying to reach the lost, as much as we fail to do so. “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”(II Peter 3:9). How exactly does this excuse evil? We are told to repent, not just do what we want…

“Dr. Archie B. Carroll says “As religion and faith are being driven out of the public square, the Judeo-Christian ethical foundations that have sustained our country since its beginning are being replaced with a humanistic amorality, a self-centered, pragmatic indifference that will ensure that our moral compass will fail to point us in the right direction in the future.” Is Dr Carroll saying that this country is going to be morally corrupt because it is losing its ties to biblical morality? I say just the opposite. I say that women’s and civil rights have done a great deal to undo the moral corruption that the Bible brought to this great country.”

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20). And any historian worth his salt will gladly stack up Christianity against competing worldviews in history regarding the status of women, slavery, etc…see the work of Dr. Alvin Schmidt or Dr. Rodney Stark for more on this. Of course, without the Christian tradition, there wouldn’t be “this country” in the first place.

“Where exactly does this moral compass that Dr Carroll speaks of point? If it points in the direction of the Sermon on the Mount, then I can go along with it. I don’t think that is what he had in mind though. The direction he is pointing is not where I want to go.”

In other words, I want to pick and choose what is convenient for me, or whatever society thinks is useful or popular, not what God actually says. I am the god of my own universe, so I pick what I want, and throw out the stuff that I don’t like. You can’t speak of morality in a coherent way while denying the source. You can still live morally, but the worldview is incoherent.

“My moral compass points to this. Our laws should reflect our awareness that everyone has worth. If our society is rich enough, no one should go hungry, go without a roof over their head, lack proper medical care, or live without proper sanitation.”

Why should your compass matter? Why does everyone have worth? Why should hunger, shelter, medical care, sanitation etc…matter when society decides what morality is? What if society decides that the elderly are too much of a burden and lack a high quality of life and should be eliminated? Since the source of morality here is completely arbitrary, it can arbitrarily rejected.

“There are a lot of people that believe these basic rights are things that should be earned. I hope they, themselves, never have to suffer the indignity of what they propose.”

Where do these rights come from, and why should they matter? What exactly is a ‘right’?” and why should I care if we are just materialistic products of nature, about someone else’s rights? After all, what they are and what they are there for will simply develop as society develops.

“With all this in mind, then, how can someone argue from a moral standpoint that homosexuality is evil? They cannot.”

Sure they can, because they actually read the text seriously from “cover to cover” and not by copying and pasting from Richard Dawkins style diatribes. They actually look at textual context, the church in history, natural law etc…something that this author has not even bothered to do in the slightest.

“The Bible is not a book that you can argue a moral code from—at least not one that does not contradict itself. The LGBTQ community is about as evil as a woman eating a piece of fruit. Yes, quite benign.”

Of course, this world is a paradise, or soon will be…that’s news to…everyone? But denying original sin isn’t exactly a surprise here.

“LGBTQ individuals should be treated with the same respect and dignity that you treat your church-going neighbors.”

No one is arguing that those with these predilections should be treated as less than human. What is being questioned is whether or not such behavior should be endorsed, and whether people of conscience and who own private property should be forced to endorse or become a material party to behavior they deem morally wrong. Of course this assumes that we should start defining people by inclinations and behavior (people are just animals) rather than their worth as people created in the image of God.

“That is why you should vote NO on May 20 to keep Pocatello’s ordinance in place. It is the moral thing to do.”

No comment.

The main problems with this column/hit piece on Christians can be summarized as follows:

1. The author simply has not done his homework in dealing with the biblical text, but seems content to take cheap potshots without consulting any source that might have answers to some of these “difficulties.” The relationship between the law and gospel has been discussed and written about since the time of the New Testament, so I’m not exactly sure why the author seems ignorant as to the variety of different solutions that have been offered throughout time, space, and culture, many of which are the same (reflecting, *gasp, objective biblical morality).

2. The author presumes to make moral arguments as an authority, but gives no reason why we should trust him as an authority, other than the vague and completely arbitrary, “most of society says…”

3. Only the Christian worldview can account for universal laws of morality, laws of logic etc…To make an argument for some sort of objective reality whilst denying the source of what makes such thinking even possible is inherently irrational.

4. The opposition to the sort of behaviors the author references is not limited to Christians, but also includes orthodox Jews, Muslims, and proponents of natural law (including some atheists). Taking uninformed cheap shots at the Bible in order to demonstrate one’s superiority isn’t a new tactic, but it is completely unhelpful and has no place in the “civilization” he seems so concerned about.

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