A Must Read: An Atheist’s Take on the God’s Not Dead Sequel

godsnotdeadSo in case you missed it, the makers of the 2014 train wreck of a movie “God’s Not Dead” are so jacked about its success (it cost $2 million to make and grossed $60 million, which clearly indicates that there is a market for that sort of thing) that they have decided to give us a sequel.  Creatively titled “God’s Not Dead 2:  He’s Surely Alive” and slated for release around Easter 2016, the film depicts a public school teacher in the fictitious town of Hope Springs, Arkansas, who faces an epic courtroom showdown with school administrators backed by a powerful civil liberties group, with her professional future hanging in the balance, over her admission of Christian faith.  It strains the limits of credulity to believe that such a thing could happen, especially in the heart of the Bible Belt, yet stories like this resonate in the evangelical subculture because they reaffirm the persecution complex which many evangelicals feel whenever they experience a minor loss of privilege.  (It also helps that there is no love lost between evangelicals and public schools; this story plays heavily to evangelical anxieties about life in the public school system.)

Yet this story did happen in real life, in the Bible Belt.  It just happened in reverse.  Neil Carter tells the story on his blog Godless in Dixie.

Here is what happened:  Carter was a public school history teacher in Mississippi.  He was a very competent teacher, and well-liked by his students.  Most of them, at any rate.  Except for this one kid with WAY too much spare time on her hands (there is more that I would like to say about her but I will leave it at that), who went poking around on his Facebook profile and found a post about his being an atheist.  She badgered him about it during class.  She got the parents and the school administration involved.  The administration (which was very strongly Christian–this is the Bible Belt) gave him strict directives as to what he could and couldn’t discuss in class, then reassigned him midyear to teach math at a lower grade level, then declined to renew his contract at the end of the school year.  He took a job teaching math at an inner-city school in that district (it was the only school that would take him), but resigned after a couple of years because the situation there was not any better.

Read Carter’s story and judge for yourselves, people:  In what alternate universe is this acceptable?

This is precisely why question 27 of Kevin DeYoung’s “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” is, for me at least, simply laughable.  DeYoung asks “Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?”, yet the track record of evangelicalism is that many parts of it are just not safe for gays, atheists, feminists, or anyone else who is ideologically at variance with us.  Carter’s story is a prime example of this.  Now here we are, asking our ideological opponents for a consideration which we ourselves are unwilling to give.  This does not look good, people.

Here is the big issue:  As evangelicals we believe that if we were in charge of things, the world would be a better place and God’s favor would be on us.  Yet in one small part of the world where evangelicals actually are in charge (or at least allowed to act like they are in charge while those who really are in charge look the other way), they failed miserably when presented with an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to an ideological opponent.

I think an excellent way to think about issues like this is to ask yourself the question “What does love require of me?”  And I think it takes a tremendous amount of creative thinking to defend the position that what love requires of us is to shit on our ideological opponents when given the opportunity, as the school administration and community in Mississippi did to Carter.

Perhaps the scenario depicted in the “God’s Not Dead” sequel will play out in real life someday.  If it does, then we will have brought it upon ourselves and we will have deserved exactly what we got.

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John Schneider: The Self-Defeating Evangelical Fight for Falsehood

Today I wish to direct your attention to a piece by John Schneider at the Books & Culture section of Christianity Today, entitled “The Self-Defeating Evangelical Fight for Falsehood“.

What is the falsehood?  It is the idea that the early chapters of Genesis must be interpreted as strict, literal reporting of strict, literal fact.  To read it in this fashion displays a monumental insensitivity to the nature of the texts themselves, and renders it a sitting duck to anyone with even a bit of common sense.  Yet evangelicals persist in regarding this as literal history.  Why?  Because of two hermeneutical assumptions:  inerrancy (any book given to us by God cannot possibly contain falsehood in any form) and simplicity (any book given to us by God would contain God’s truth for us stated in its simplest and most direct sense).  But if we read the early chapters of Genesis on their own ancient terms, without importing the presuppositions of inerrancy and simplicity, then we see that this is a complex ancient text and not simply a literal recording of events designed to arm us against the lies of Darwinism.  We need to let go of these presuppositions in order to read and appreciate the early chapters of Genesis for what they really are.

Read: The Self-Defeating Evangelical Fight for Falsehood

Some Questions/Rhetorical Points for DeYoung, TGC, and Others who Oppose Gay Marriage

It appears that my suspicions about TGC not having anything to say about Tchividjian’s resignation because they were otherwise occupied with the conservative clown show over last week’s Supreme Court ruling are correct.

Today I give you Kevin DeYoung with 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags, a piece that was linked approvingly by several of my Facebook friends.  With a series of leading questions intended to establish a rhetorical point thinly disguised as actual questions, DeYoung attempts to get Christians who celebrate the Supreme Court ruling to question their motives for doing so.

Of course there is a liberal version of the same thing over at The Huffington Post which is just as snarky and just as leading:  15 Questions for Someone Religious Struggling With Gay Marriage.

So I thought I would come up with my own questions.  There won’t be 40 of them, I’m not that good.  And these won’t be actual questions, or even leading questions intended to establish rhetorical points.  Instead I will just state my points and not even bother trying to disguise them as questions.

–Though the Bible is clear in its denunciation of homosexual activity, it actually devotes very little ink to the subject.  The percentage of verses addressing homosexual activity is very small compared to both the whole text and the percentage of verses addressing other issues.  The volume of attention that homosexuality gets in the evangelical world is out of all possible proportion to this.  This does not look good, people.

–To be sure, Jesus does affirm the traditional Christian view of marriage as between one man and one woman:  “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  (Matthew 19:4-6) But Jesus also makes it clear that the new kingdom he is establishing, of which the Church is intended to be a foretaste, overthrows all the distinctions of our present age:  “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?…Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 12:48-50) And:  “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Luke 20:34-35).  Paul, hailed by conservative evangelicals the world over as a champion of the traditional Christian view of marriage, was actually single and glorified the single life as a higher calling than marriage.

–Marriage had its historical origins not as a religious institution or a man and woman in love, but as an arrangement between families to increase land and power.  Old Testament Judaism has seized upon marriage as an image of God’s relationship with His people Israel, even tying it back to creation.  Christianity has extended that to the Church.  But that is not where marriage started.  Marriage was not given to us by God; instead it is something we created, which God has taken and used to express His relationship to His people.  And for most of human history, people did not marry because they were in love.  The idea of getting married because you are in love is a 19th century Romantic/Victorian innovation which, to the vast majority of humans who lived prior to that time, would sound like something out of a monstrously crazy alternate universe.

–It bemuses and fascinates me to note the concern which many evangelicals feel over the possibility of retribution and bullying from the pro-gay forces over this issue.  Why?  Because there are many places in the evangelical universe where it is just not safe to be gay or a supporter of gay marriage.  Now the shoe is on the other foot and we are asking our ideological opponents for a consideration which we ourselves have been unwilling to give?  Man, please.

–According to the Christian view of things, the true union between a man and a woman, that is, the point at which they become “one flesh”, is the sexual union.  Marriage does not create that union; it is a protective fence built around the union.  (As an aside, this is why Christian morality is so strongly opposed to sex outside marriage:  the “one flesh” union created by the sexual act is so powerful that it needs the protective fence of marriage.  Without this fencing in place, the spiritual/emotional/psychological consequences of sex can be disastrous.)  In the case of gay marriage, there is no “one flesh” union so when they marry they are building a fence around nothing.  But if you want to build that fence anyway, then hey, knock yourselves out.

–Marriage, as the state looks at it, is not about “one flesh” or whatever other spiritual significance we Christians have invested it with.  Instead, it is all about access to certain legal benefits.  Thus the Supreme Court ruling is not about what is, in God’s eyes, a union of two persons into one flesh, but instead about who can have access to the legal benefits which the government affords married couples.  That’s as far as it goes, people.  If you are confused on this point, it is because you have bought into the view that Christianity is a system where church and state are one single, indissoluble entity.  That is how it will be in the age to come, but we are not there yet.  That age will come in its own time; do not attempt to rush it.  In the here and now, church and state are distinct entities with distinct purposes and we need to respect that.

–I think a lot of the antipathy evangelicals feel toward gays and gay marriage comes from the idea that gay couples are banging each other’s lights out every night.  But is that really the case?  In some of the more crazy whacked-out parts of the gay community, yes.  But generally?  I doubt it.  Yet why does this notion persist among evangelicals?  I think because evangelicals have allowed themselves to be shaped on a very deep level by the ideas of intimacy that are prevalent in Western culture, which say that the deepest and highest possible form of intimacy is sex.  (A strange cognitive dissonance, given the casual sex culture so prevalent in our day and age.  But that is a recent phenomenon; the idea that sex is the highest possible form of intimacy has been around much longer than that.)  As a result, we have no conceptual categories for what a deeply committed relationship between two people could possibly look like, unless sex is involved.

–During the era of slavery, many slave owners used the Bible to justify this horrific practice.  Even as recently as a few decades ago, evangelicals used the Bible to prohibit interracial dating/marriage and justify discrimination against blacks.  This reduces the credibility of evangelicals who use the Bible to support their antipathy toward gay marriage.

–As noted above, the evangelical obsession with homosexuality is out of all possible proportion to the percentage of texts in Scripture which address homosexuality.  Yet evangelicals are strangely silent on other sins to which Scripture speaks plainly:  greed, bigotry, racism, sexism, to name a few.  Let’s take some time to get our own house in order.  Then we will be able to speak with greater credibility on cultural issues that are of concern to us.

–As Christians we are to love all people.  And if certain people are our enemies or ideological opponents, then we are under orders to love them.  There is no class of sin so heinous that this does not apply to those who engage in it.  Yet many in evangelicalism hold on to the cherished illusion that certain sins are so repulsive in the sight of God that any manner of shaming, bullying, or other retribution directed at those who engage in them is acceptable and even commendable in the sight of God.  In previous eras these sins included (and in some places they still do include) divorce, drinking, tattoos, body piercings, and other things.  Now the sin du jour is homosexuality.

–Gays are people for whom Christ died.  That is where all our conversations on this subject begin and end.  The Bible is clear in its denunciation of homosexual activity, and we will talk about that along the way, but that is not where the conversation begins or ends.  I find it difficult if not impossible to believe that one could accept this while also approving of a post like DeYoung’s or the spirit in which it was written.