Thursday, April 22, 2010

Week 13.2 - Jesus, Judgement, and Social Justice

Our passage for this blog is Matthew 25:31-46. Those with Bibles may open then, otherwise, utilize the wonders of! Either way, you may recall it as "The sheep and the goats." It was our ending passage for The. of Poverty this week, oddly connected with Pslam 82. I won't participate in such theological gymnastics myself, and will be instead focusing on Jesus' words.

I'll ignore the many questions that can arise with the first verse, and skip to the next fascinating introduction. The gathering of the goyim, the nations. A Jewish reader would immediately recognize this as "everyone but me." Everyone not Jewish. If you want to read this through Christian eyes, even so, the term is used for the unbelievers, those outside of the covenant. As an Atheist, I can safely include myself in this group brought before the King (? ).

We are then divided into two groups, The two groups are, basically, those who participate in acts of social justice:

" For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me

I can imagine the Atheist and Agnostic here chiming in, like those here in the passage do, and asking "when did I (or didn't I) do that for you? I never saw you, heck I don't even know who you are!"

We are then informed that the "I" is actually the "least of these brothers of Mine." Basically, without going into it, the people around you who exhibited the above needs.

It's a good sermon indeed, and preached often! I, however, would find this to be an immediate soteriological problem.

The problem? These acts of social justice and care for the poor is what the nations are being judged upon. Not "did you say the sinner's prayer?" not "did you believe I existed?" not "did you love me with all your heart, soul, and strength?"

This shouldn't at all be a problem if we look at the Old Testament. We see many cases of YHWH being a god actively concerned for the poor. All throughout psalms we see a god who rises up to defend the needy and put low the rich and greedy. Throughout the Torah we find laws bent towards taking care of the orphan, widow, and sojourner. Laws such as do not glean to the edges of your field, with the purpose of leaving behind sheaths for the poor (see Ruth for an example). If anything, God doesn't seem to give a hoot whether you believe in Him or not when it comes to the poor. People in the OT are not judged for unbelief, but for acts of unrighteousness. I'll add here that tsedek, righteous in Hebrew, is synonymous with charity!

So where do we get this idea that those who inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world are those who believe Jesus is God, believe there is a God, and believe that Jesus died on a wooden cross as the only way to forgive you of your sins and thus let you into said kingdom?

Well... that's another blog in itself! A fun one at that. But for now, and with this passage, it seems quite clear how we are eternally judged. And me? I have no problem with that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Week 11.2 - Do we need immortality?

As an Atheist, I am continually given the question "what is the point of life if it ends?" and demanded to answer. In PHI441, we faced the issue of immortality by first opening our Bibles to 1 Corinthians 15 and reading aloud the entire chapter (I suggest you do the same). Besides my initial reaction that Paul is spouting nothing more than the recent Greek philosophical trend, I took note of the verses that were, no doubt, of theological significance:

v.14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith

v.16For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

v.40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is different from that of the earthly ones

v.40 addresses another related topic: the intelligibility of what is philosophically called the disembodied life. Fact is, besides the main point that will be made here, a disembodied existence is completely unintelligible. Without of physical capacities, life can not be defined. What is a consciousness without input and stimuli? If you saw nothing, felt nothing, heard nothing, sensed nothing at all, how would your thoughts progress? We are of course assuming you have thoughts at all after your neurons cease to fire, which is a leap in itself! Religion then seems to make the claim, as Paul does here, that our minds/souls are transcended to this indescribable "heavenly body." Which is all good and well, and I will leave religion with that concept and continue to the main discussion:

Why do we so need eternal life?

Because this discussion took place in a Christian context, I withheld most of my comments. The Bible says explicitly that the Christian faith is meaningless without the possibility of resurrection. Whether you interpret that as just Jesus' resurrection or ours as well, is besides the point, here it seems the later is the one fought for by the line of Christian thought represented by this college and these Christian philosophers.

Such questions are asked such as:

(1) How can God's love permit us to cease to exist?
(2) How can the sufferings we have incurred be reconciled without an after-life?
(3) Wouldn't God's plans and purposes go unfulfilled?

These are, naturally, theological questions more than philosophical ones. However, being a theologian, technically, I will address them briefly with the excessive help of Grace M. Jantzen who's title of her work I borrowed for this blog.

(1) Grace makes an excellent point from which I can add very little:

"..Christian theology does hold that there are other things which are precious to God and which, in spite of that, perish forever... We cannot have it both ways. 'Are not three sparrows sold for a farthing?' Jesus asked. 'Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your heavenly Father's knowledge.' These words of Jesus have often (and rightly) been taken as his teaching of the tender concern of the Father for all his creatures; what has not been noticed so often is that Jesus never denies that sparrows do fall." *

Simply, the question is, why must we live eternally onward for God to love us? The analogy is in the sparrows who fall, and yet whom God loves. As Grace says, if "taken to its logical conclusion, the implication, surely, is not that we will not die but that our death will not go unnoticed."

(2) I spin this question on its head and leave it there: How can an after-life reconcile for sufferings incurred in this life? Does it? Perhaps the lolli-pop at the doctor's office remedies a child's experienced trauma, but can eternal happiness truly remedy traumatic experiences? Does heaven make up for a woman's violent rape? Does heaven make up for brutal, senseless murder? For holocausts? Genocide? Torture?

Perhaps the theologian will respond with something similar to the unfathomable love and peace of The Comforter. Which perhaps, the atheist would have to leave alone with upward palms, but would hardly be converted to anything more than Agnosticism given the lack of empirical evidence for such unfathomable comfort.

But the proposition of the theist is, it seems, to solve the problem of evil with a life after this reality. It is as if God pulls a big "April Fools!" on everyone by informing them after death that those 70-120 years, or whatever, were all a drop in the bucket and existence will hence forth continue in peace and goodness and love.

Which leads to another level of the sub-topic, the rationality of eternal-life. Besides it's logical rationality (does it make sense) there is practical rationality (is it useful?) It would seem to me this type of theology is too nihilistic in nature and can, and has lead to great harm. The doctrine of martyrdom, for example, in many religions leads to tragic harm! The seductive belief that this life is just a step into the better after-existence has caused many suicides and dangerous life-styles that eventually lead to one's death. Is this a rational way to live? The answer is obvious a emphatic No! if this life is all there is!! That is for certain.

(3) This is really just a sub-question of (1).The answer is another simple question, why can't God's plan for us go unfulfilled in this life? Unless one assumes God's plan for us is to live forever, of course! Which is fine and dandy, but not a necessary belief by a long-shot.

*Exploring Philosophy of Religion: An Introductory Anthology by Steven M. Cahn. "Do we need Immortality" by Grace M. Jantzen (1984). pg 279