Wednesday, August 25, 2010

354: Faith & Hebrews: In Review

Hebrews 11-13
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." - Hebrews 11:1-2

Faith, according to the mysterious writer of Hebrews, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Sure of what we hope for? Unfortunately there's a disconnect between this line of thinking and reality. I hope I don't ever die, and I'm sure I won't ever die should not be the same statement (at least for those of us that are sane). There are many things I do not see (Santa, invisible unicorns, the easter bunny), but I don't blindly believe any of them.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of Old Testament characters. The writer commends these ancients one by one for their faith. Interestingly, he refers to all of these people as having died. So it is possible to cease existing. Why does God feel the need to torment some people eternally (post-Jesus)? Why doesn't he just allow the good people into heaven and blink the other people out of existence?

There's also a bit of a problem here. These Old Testament prophets weren't operating on faith (faith having been just defined as things not seen). Moses was given a burning bush, and a cloud of fire. God spoke to Abraham in person and told him to kill his son. How were these acts of faith? I wouldn't require faith if God were holding conversations with me.

Chapter 12 tells us that we should accept "discipline" from God. When we suffer hardship this is really God disciplining us. Disciplining us for what? Aren't we forgiven from all of our sins? Even if hardship is discipline, why is God completely inconsistent in his discipline. The bible compares God all the time to a father (it makes the comparison here too). Isn't inconsistent punishment the first indicator of shitty parenting?

The chapter goes on to tell us to live in peace with everyone. But then immediately says that we should allow no one to be sexually immoral or Godless. These people will be "bitter roots" that will grow up and defile many. What happened to not judging each other? How can we live in peace if we have to rid ourselves of one another?

Chapter 13 starts by telling us to love each other as brothers. Again, we have to love each other, but certain people we have to get rid of. The beginning of the chapter also tells us to entertain a lot of strangers, because some people have accidentally ended up entertaining angels. Strangers can also be axe murderers. Somehow I think axe murderer is more likely than angel.

The final interesting thing in the chapter is a quote. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever". I've actually had this very quote used to validate the theory that Jesus must have been around since the beginning of the universe. I guess it depends on how you want to define "the same". Was Jesus the same the day he died as the day he was resurrected?

Hebrews: In Review
As with the letters of Paul, I feel like I've been more enlightened about modern Christianity in this book than I was with Matthew/Mark/Luke/John. At least in those books there was some facade of legitimacy. Those were "first hand accounts". Even if that's not true, I can understand that people could be convinced of it's truth.

I could even go so far as to say that I can understand people's believing the words of Paul (even though he's pretty obviously full of shit). But believing the words of some random Israelite from ~2000 years ago is taking absurdity to a whole new level. What's the standard here? It's old? It sounds pretty? Even Paul himself admits there are people running around preaching the message of Jesus "incorrectly" around this time. Who's to say this isn't one of those people?

In the end this letter obviously failed to convert at least some of the Hebrews.

This article starts out well but goes down hill:
There should be no question about it: it is a violation of the entire ethic of modern education when "faith schools" teach alternatives to evolution for explaining humankind's origins. Critical education rests on imparting a sceptical approach to claims about the world, clearly contradicted by presenting as equal choices – as Erfana Bora suggests – religious dogma alongside reasoned, and continually contested, scientific truth claims.
The writer goes on to say the downside of our scientific progress is that some people (namely, atheists) have forgotten about an "important" area of study. Metaphysics:
Contrary to modernist folklore, metaphysics is not just some relic of pre-Enlightenment thought. In two ways its relevance persists. The first relates to our understanding of the world in ways that escape the empirical method. For instance, in my own doctoral research I am examining the idea of events: non-phenomena with no physical, or testable properties, yet which appear indispensable for making sense of questions relating to causality and transformation. Second, and more important, there are the big "Why?" questions that also play an irreducible role in existential thought about life: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or "What happens to individuals' sense of existence after death severs individual existence?"
How exactly does one study events with no physical or testable properties? Do you sit around and wait for one of these "non-phenomena" to happen? How do you know when a non-event happens?

I understand that there are big "why?" questions. But if you can't answer them empirically I don't see the point in answering them at all. My "metaphysical" answer could be that the Flying Spaghetti Monster made the universe, and your answer could be something else entirely. What have we accomplished?

The writer then accuses atheists of not pursuing these big "why" questions. First of all, I don't think science can hope to answer "why" the universe began. It might eventually be able to determine "how" the universe began. And to say there is no one pursuing that problem is disingenuous. As for an after life, there is very little empirical evidence for any after life. That's not to say that nobody is "asking the question":
Of course, my argument runs against the grain of a lot of what you could call a strand of smug, self-satisfied atheist sentiment. When faced by the big questions that draw people to faith, all too often the self-righteous atheists' defence is to decline to enter into debates with the religious, by turning their own lack of reflection on such matters into a hallmark of maturity. "Unlike you, a believer," the smug atheist boasts, "I don't need to know everything, and I lack the hubristic will to know about life, the universe, and everything."
"I don't know" therefore I'm declining to have a debate about it, is different from "I don't need/want to know". How is it self-righteous to say that you don't know about something for which there is no empirical evidence? If someone asks me how the universe came into existence, I say I don't know. That's not because I don't want to know, or I just haven't looked hard enough. It's because there is no information. Am I supposed to make something up so I can have a debate?

I was reading through the comments, and someone had a much better rebuttal than mine:
I take it you'll be devoting a large chunk of the time on your doctoral thesis to studying the implications of the choice of sock colour made by the fairies at the bottom of your garden - thus making sure that your work doesn't run against the grain of a lot of what you could call a strand of smug, self-satisfied afairyist sentiment. - Or are you a hypocrite?

1 comment:

  1. Heb 11:1. Despite the definition given in v. 1, the author seems to be equating faith with doing what God says, or believing anything he tells you. Or even any behavior that wins God's approval. Almost by definition this requires some sort of communication or feedback from God, so one wouldn't really be operating on blind faith if one received the clear messages that all the OT examples that the author lists did.

    Heb 11:4. Genesis didn't say anything about Abel's offering being preferable to Cain's because he had faith - instead it seems that God just prefers meat to veggies. And note that Abel still speaks even though he is dead. Where does it say that in Genesis? It doesn't - it comes from Enoch 22:7 and the Testament of Abraham.

    Heb 11:5-6. Enoch (Noah's great-grandfather) is another popular character in 1st-c. apocalyptic Jewish writings. Genesis says God took him away (instead of saying that he died, like the others), so this was taken to mean that he was taken up to heaven and didn't die, even though Genesis says that he lived 365 years, implying that he stopped living at some point.

    I guess was easy for him to believe that God exists considering that they took long walks together.

    Heb 11:7. Noah condemned the world? I thought that was God.

    Heb 11:12. Again we seen the mistaken notion that the number of descendants of Abraham, heck, every human who has ever lived on earth, is as great as the number of stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Is God innumerate or just his PR people?

    Heb 11:13: "All these people were still living by faith when they died." Then what happened? Did they run out of faith?

    None of these people received what was promised?! So much for being sure of what you hope for. And this makes God faithful how?

    Heb 11:23. They were not afraid of the Pharaoh's edict? Then why did they give him up after 3 months?

    Heb 11:26. Here the word "christ" (anointed) is a reference to Moses himself, not Jesus. Here's a better translation (Young's, with anointed substituted for the misleading Christ): "greater wealth having reckoned the reproach of the anointed than the treasures in Egypt." In other words, it was worth more to suffer as the anointed than the treasures in Egypt.

    Heb 11:27: "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger." This directly contradicts Exod 2:14-15, where it says that Moses fled precisely because he feared the Pharaoh.

    And how could he see someone who is invisible?

    Heb 11:32. Recall that Jephthah was the one, in Judg 11:30-40, who sacrifices his daughter because he offered to sacrifice the first person to greet him at home if God granted him victory. So even the NT endorses human sacrifice (that is, aside from the obvious case of Jesus).



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