Thursday, August 26, 2010

355: James

James 1-5
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" - James 5:8-9

James starts by telling us that we should be thankful when we run into hardship, because it's merely our faith being "tested". Presumably this "test" is being performed by God. However, James says that when we are tempted, we should not blame God because God doesn't tempt people to sin. Jesus didn't seem to be aware of this when he gave the disciples the Lord's prayer ("And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.").

Chapter 1 ends with James telling us to follow the words of the "law". It's unclear if James means the law of Jesus or the law of the Old Testament.

The letter continues with James forbidding favoritism, with respect to wealth. This is because the poor are "rich in faith". This is probably the first passage that's actually true to Jesus's teachings since we started reading Paul. James goes on to say that if you break one of the commandments of the law (he's clearly talking about Old Testament law now), that you are guilty of breaking all the laws. But wait, I thought we weren't under the law any more (according to Paul). There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about lying being just as bad as murdering in the eyes of God.

The latter half of chapter 2 is about doing good deeds, not just having faith. In fact, James goes so far as to say, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead". I know a lot of Christians that only ever go to church on Sunday, or give money to the church. The example James gives as action is "feeding the hungry". I don't think "feed the pastor with church donations" counts as feeding the hungry. I guess faith is dead.

Almost the entirety of chapter 3 is about not cursing. James goes on to give us several metaphors about how cursing can lead you astray. He compares your tongue to a rudder on a ship, and a spark that starts a forest fire. He also says that our mouths are like a spring, in that salt water (cursing) and fresh water (praising God) cannot come out of the same place.

Chapter 4 echoes some of the sentiments of Paul that we heard over and over again. Namely, don't quarrel among each other. James says that we should submit ourselves to God rather than quarreling among each other.

Chapter 5 is probably the most interesting chapter of James's letter. He implores the people he's writing to (whoever that is), to be patient for the coming of Jesus. He promises them that the coming of Jesus is near. What could he possibly mean aside from promising Jesus will be coming within his generation (which is what Jesus has said all along)?

James ends the chapter by saying if someone is sick in the church, they should ask the church elders to pray over them. This is surely where the idea that you don't need modern medicine came from. The children that have died of treatable illnesses as a result of "faith healing" should attest to the falseness of this claim.

This is just too stupid for words:
Why has President Barack Obama on at least two occasions told specifically Muslim audiences that America is a nation of -- among other things -- "non-believers"?
Yeah, why does Barack Obama pretend that there are some people that aren't religious in America? And why, for Jesus's sake, is he telling the Muslims?
The Pledge of Allegiance says America is one nation under God, our national motto says in God we trust, the Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and since the time of George Washington our presidents have placed their left hands on the Bible as they raise their right hands and swear to defend our Constitution.
"Under God" was added in the 1950's, our national motto was originally "E Pluribus Unum" ("One From Many"), and the founders probably meant "creator" in a decidedly more deistic sense than what this article is implying. [Way more info] Even if all these things were not the case, nobody is implying (or nobody should be implying) that the founders of the United States weren't violent defenders of freedom of religion.
The Census Bureau's official Statistical Abstract of the United States says a miniscule 0.7 percent of American adults -- or 1,621,000 out of 228,182,000 -- are atheists.
The smallness of the U.S. population number betrays just how old the study he's quoting is. Not to mention that "atheist" is not the only measure of non-belief. There are also agnostics, and people who simply say "none".

Here are the current statistics: First of all, the US population is estimated at a little over 310 million (not 228 million); according to a Pew research poll (done in 2008) 16.1% of the US population define themselves as "none", 1.6% and 2.4% refer to themselves as atheist and agnostic (respectively). Using 310 million, and combining atheist and agnostic (the groups that generally don't believe in God), the number comes out to a little over 12 million atheists and agnostics (as opposed to the writer's estimate of 1.6 million).

If you do this same combination of atheists and agnostics (4%), they out number the Jewish (1.7%) and Muslim (0.6%) populations combined. The question then becomes, if the president acknowledges Muslims and Jews (he does), why wouldn't he acknowledge non-believers?

The writer of the article spends several paragraphs giving instances where Obama spoke of religious diversity (including the phrase "non-believer"). I'll spare you his repetitiveness. Moving on:
Is Obama's repeated declaration -- including to Muslim audiences -- that America is, among other things, a nation of "non-believers" truly accurate? Does it comport with Obama's professed strategy of reaching out to the Islamic world and improving America's standing there by increasing understanding of our true nature as a nation?

The answers are: No and no.
First answer, yes (for the reasons stated above). Second, it may not "improve America's standing", but it certainly doesn't hurt us any more than saying we're a "Christian nation". Either way we're horrible infidels.

In the end, Obama is just trying to be as inclusive as possible in his religious diversity speeches. By mentioning Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers he's probably included upwards of 98% of the US population. I didn't, until now, think it was possible to criticize someone for trying to highlight diversity and acceptance of others. Thanks, Terence Jeffrey, for lowering my opinion of humanity.


  1. Yeah, I seem to recall a video of a Muslim speaker talking about conversion mentioning how great atheists are; something about how it's easier to get someone to say "There is no God but Allah" if they've already said the "There is no God" part. The rest of it was about convincing your pre-converted atheist that the Qu'ran is so scientifically accurate it must be divinely inspired, because it makes some reference to the world or the moon being spheres.

  2. James is one of the least well regarded books of the NT among scholars, both ancient and modern (e.g., Martin Luther relegated it to an appendix, calling it an "epistle made of straw"). The author is unknown - it appears to be intended as a writing of James the Just, by tradition the brother of Jesus, although it may have been written by someone else named James, which was an extremely common name in 1st-c. Palestine.

    It was the notion that it was written by that James that resulted in the book being included in the canon, despite the authorship being widely doubted (Eusebius classified it as "disputed" while Jerome thought it was pseudonymous and it was not included in prominent early canons.) There are solid reasons for rejecting the theory that it was written by James the Just, who we know was a leader of Jewish Christians in Judea: It is written in Greek, to a diaspora audience. While it cites much ethical material that was common in Judaism and Greek philosophy, it lacks any specific reference to Torah observance, such as dietary restrictions, which we know James was fastidious about. And the author is well acquainted with Paul's epistle to the Romans, which doesn't appear to have circulated until the late 1st c. (although personally I see no reason why James couldn't have gotten a copy of it earlier, it it really was written in the 60s CE).

    Another reason often given for doubting that it was written by James the Just was that it makes no mention of the author's sibling relationship with Jesus, nor does it include any personal reminiscences about him. Even (or especially) if it was written pseudonymously, one would expect these to have been included as a mark of "authenticity." OTOH, if James was not actually the blood brother of Jesus, then this would explain why no such references were included - whoever penned this letter did so before that tradition arose in the 2nd c.

    It's even questionable whether this was originally a Christian essay at all. The only mentions of Jesus or Christ appear in verses 1:1 and 2:1 and could easily have been tacked on later. The title Lord is used throughout, but it could refer to God, as it does in the OT. Moreover, specific Christian concepts such as the resurrection or crucifixion are nowhere to be found. In fact, the strongest evidence that this was written by a Christian is that he appears to be engaged in a debate with Paul in chapter 2.

    This doesn't really appear to be a letter - no person or community is addressed and there's no personal address at the end - which strengthens the impression that the first verse (and thus James' name and that of Jesus) was added later.

    The content is filled with Jewish and Hellenstic ethical maxims common for the time period, and attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, but nowhere is Jesus cited as the source, even for material that sounds like the sermon on the mount. The most likely explanation for this is that the Gospel (and Q) writers used these pearls of wisdom, from the epistles or oral tradition, and put them in Jesus' mouth.

  3. Did anyone else see this story? I felt ill after seeing it.

  4. James 1:1. James is a servant of Jesus, but not his brother. Note that it is purportedly addressed to Jews (the Twelve tribes) but no mention is made of any church or individuals.



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