Bob’s Thoughts

These are a few random thoughts from Dr Robert Brinsmead in his correspondence with the email group.

Atonement

The Ebionites, who claimed to be the custodians of the teachings of the historical Jesus, or what we call “the Jewish Christians” (who hated Paul, by the way) were great sticklers for the Law – but they did not accept the sacrificial system.  It was their claim that this was added to the Law by the wicked priests – and there appears to be some evidence of this from Jeremiah 7 if my memory serves me correctly.

I really think that Jesus went up to the temple and denounced the whole system of the killing of animals.  It must have been an appalling sight – at least it was appalling to Jesus as it would be to most people with a modern human consciousness.  The whole idea of killing animals on account of human sin makes less sense than killing a human subject on account of human sin.  Why bring animals into it and make them suffer on account of human sin?  If you say that the whole wretched, smelly ritual (the temple was like a huge abattoir that smelt for miles around) was simply in place to point to the sacrifice of the man Jesus Christ, then it gets to appear even worse.  OK, if you were too poor to bring an animal to kill you could wring the neck of a pigeon or some other bird and that would have to do – it is all inhumane and sadistic and stupid.  As for suggesting that God loved the smell of a burning animal as the OT says in one place, then this god has not yet been humanized.

You see, the word atonement (kaphar) means to make amends, to pay-back, to compensate, to make up for a wrong – like you say some nasty words to your wife in a fit of frustration, then you bring her a bunch of flowers later to make an atonement for your actions.  The law of Moses was based on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  We must surely know that Jesus said we were to toss this way of relating out.  No doubt the elder son in the parable wanted his young brother to undergo some kind of program of making amends or paying back, but then the old man treats him like a returning hero….he already took his share of the estate, and by the look of things the old fellow acted as if he never did a thing wrong in his life and was ready to give him another bite from the estate – fair crack of the whip, from the standpoint of accepted human norms, didn’t the older brother have reason to complain.?  I reckon he did.  They killed the fatted calf, for sure, but not to make an atonement for the boy’s sins, but to make merry as if he was a bloody hero.  Yes, I am very sympathetic to the very decent, faithful older brother!  Perhaps the old man was not taking sin seriously enough ,but those who think like this are not taking sin seriously at all.  The young fella who was cavorting with the prostitutes was not nearly as estranged from the heart of the loving Father as the elder boy keeping all his father’s commandments faithfully…. Yes, the whole thing is terrifyingly true, his sin was always far greater than the sin of the wastrel. We have to see how radically Jesus turned the whole conventional wisdom/righteousness thing on its head.  So his  stories that showed that the outsiders were the insiders and the insiders were the outsiders.  If we don’t see how Jesus’ stories were offensive, then we have never gotten their point.  We need to start estimating the evil of sin in terms of how far we are estranged from the heart of God’s unconditional love and prodigious forgiveness of all who have wronged us.  It’s true of all of us that we would rather strain as gnats and swallow the camel if for no other reason it seems a lot easier to do.

What does the father’s ring on the finger mean?  What did the ring of Pharaoh on Joseph’s finger mean?  Would not it cross the mind of the elder brother that he was going to get another bite of the estate?  But humans are so prone to worry about the share of the inheritance, so the other account of a brother coming to Jesus asking him to convince the older brother to share the inheritance. If this story is a parable of God’s love then getting a bigger slice of God’s cake is pretty silly, because there is no end to God’s generosity.  So I don’t go along with an interpretation of the story that diminishes the scandal of God’s kind of forgiveness –  when God forgives, it is not remembered, cast into the depth of the sea, forgotten and the sin becomes as though it never happened. Forgiveness means that as far as the Forgiver is concerned, it never happened.  I don’t like the suggestion of an Arminian kind of pardon, which means putting the one who is forgiven on probation so that his sins are not blotted out and forgotten until Judgment Day.  Then the books are opened, everything is reviewed, and if the one on probation has stayed the course, then as last he gets fully and finally forgiven.  This is called (in some theology) the blotting out of sins.

 

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Darwinism or Intelligent Design?

I have just read Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos:  Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

Most of this small book is not a light read, but worth the effort.  Nagel is an atheist and brought up apparently in the neo-Darwinian school.  He points out how it is inadequate to account for both the origin and the development of life, especially when it comes to consciousness, the ability of reason and the existence of human values.  He pokes a bit of fun at the received science when he says that when it confronts things not understood or for which it has no explanation it invokes  “the Darwinism of the gaps”  – this is a kind of pun on the traditional jibe of the Darwinists themselves who deride the theists for invoking “the God of the gaps”” to explain  things not explainable.

Nagel says he cannot for ideological reason accept intelligent design which he points out has a religious bias, but admits he has a non-believing bias, but at the same time he says that the Darwinists should read some of intelligent designers like Behe and see that some of their arguments against Darwinism are valid.  He does not accept the solution of people like Behe, but he at least is willing to acknowledge when people like Behe point out the problems and deficiencies of Darwinian science.

Nagel ends his 128 page book by saying,  “I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two – though of course it may be replaced by a new consensus that is just as invalid.  The will to believe is inexhaustible.”

I add a comment by Montagne:  “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is not known.”

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Do We Have a Dark Nature?

Even the hate-god evolutionists had a point in hating the god that was being set forth – a god of blood lust if you read some of the OT without blinkers, a god of eternal hell for those who did not accept his “love” and a god who pays for human sin by the sadistic, inhuman method of bloody human sacrifice by way of real torture associated with Roman crucifixion.  Some thinkers found that this god was unbelievable and unlovable – so why curse them for hunting around for some alternative explanations?

I too have been on my own journey, and I have run up a few dry gullies.  So humanity has ran up some dry gullies, science has run up some dry gullies, but it is all beneficial, everyone is making a contribution even if that contribution appears to be negative.  In the great scheme of things, there is no human activity that is not helping to push the cart forward. There is no place for us to stand back and say of any people, The world would be better off without you….so get lost, etc.  We have not only the duty of putting up with all the “idiots,” but our duty is to love and even see value in the contribution of the “idiots.” …at the end of the day we need the opponents as much as our friends.

Evolution of a kind helps to answer some things….it makes a contribution.  It helps us appreciate that humans are made up of the same stuff as animals…. We have all come off a common assembly line…. Some of our attributes are very similar to animals and vice versa.  Watson (Dark Nature) proves that beyond question. We have animal drives, animal instincts, animal appetites, and some animal ways, no doubt about that.  We share the dark genes found in some very nasty creatures.

Evolution helps to explain why isolated places, islands, developed their own niche of related plants and animals.  Why did Kentia palms develop on Lord Howe Island and nowhere else in the world?  Why are most of the native plants in the Australian bush all peculiarly related as if they have come off the same assembly line…. Why does Australia have its own kind of peculiar animals?  It is clear that the koala had to evolve among the eucalypt trees – there were not eucalypt trees anywhere else in the world, they were only down here down under – how did the koala who got off the ark in Turkey manage to eat until arriving in Australia?

Science has taught us that creation has been a long process…. And the process is not over.  It has also taught us how all life is related, and at least in great measure, the same processes that developed animals developed humans as well.  The science is not all of the devil.

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Pay-back and Retribution

England used to have a Debtors’ Prison.  If you failed to pay a debt, could not pay a debt, you were put in prison.  But of course, how could you pay a debt if you were kept in prison?  Most of the prison system is a step from insanity.  Some modern correctional systems at least recognize the element of rehabilitation. I think the justice system should discard the idea of punishment which is really revenge, pay-back.  Even if it was in any sense legitimate, no one is in a position to sit in judgment on another human person to decide to what degree the offender is responsible for an offence.  We can’t tell if the brain had an explosion, we don’t know all the parental and other influences, illnesses, delusions that the person might have been subjected to – we are not in a position to sit in judgment.  For example, to what extent was Patty Hurst responsible for the crime she committed when she was captive of that crazy Symbionese Liberation Army some years ago? It was a debate that was never settled and could not be settled.  We can never get into another human mind to decide what mitigating circumstances might have been at play.  We can’t see how addled another person’s mind might have been at the time of the crime,….and so on.  It does not mean we should overlook the wrong doing.  But the only point of incarceration of any kind has to be protection of the individual and society and then the rehabilitation as far as possible of the offender.

A few years ago, in a paper on the prison system, I argued there was a reason that had strong Christian support, because it was a kind of extension of the Christian theology of atonement – and the associated words were penalty, making amends, payment, debt, justice, punishment, pay-back.  The doctrine of penal satisfaction (atonement) made by Jesus on the cross, legitimizes the prison system.  People are sent to prison to pay for their crimes.  Sin has to be paid for.  The Christian nation insists on it, and puts more people in the jug than any nation on earth.

Another comment on the prison system of punishment – doing time for the crime, etc.  We all know, or should know, that the system does not work, and does not reform most inmates, but only makes them worse.  So the prison system is like a running sore that corrupts the whole of society.  It festers and spreads crime .  So why not try something else and give unconditional love a go.  But remember, there is such a thing as “tough love.”

This is what one Aboriginal leader is saying about his people- don’t just give them handouts, give them some tough love!

When early people started giving up on retaliation (killing one another off), and started learning how to cooperate with a form of unconditional relating, then commerce and trade began, and life started to improve.  The empirical evidence on this is overwhelming, while all along humans have wrestled with this ideal as that Akkadian Father’s advice to his son shows.  He advised his son to avoid all disputes and not allow himself to be used as a witness to them; to show loyalty, be honest and speak well of everyone.

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Unconditional

Righteousness or justice is about fulfilling or being faithful to our relationships under all circumstances.  So God is just because when we are faithless, God remains faithful.  To be righteous/in the right/just means that we love our neighbour as ourselves.  That is an unconditional relationship.  We are to love our neighbour even when he turns against us and becomes our enemy, yes, even if he speaks against us, does all manner of evil against us.  We may not like him, but justice means that we love him.  He is an oppressed human being/brother/our own flesh/ and we must remain dedicated to his liberation from whatever oppresses him..  If he is hungry, we must give him to eat.  Even the Law of Moses says that if his ox goes astray, we must return it to him.  If misfortune should befall him, we must not rejoice when bad things happen to him.  This is all stated in the Law of Moses/God.  So the great commandment means that we remain committed to our neighbour’s wellbeing. Unconditional means that this remains so whether the neighbour is a friend or foe.  We treat all human being with the respect due to those who are made in the image and likeness of God.

I read the story of a Turk who was in the trenches fighting the Anzacs (Australian and N Zealanders) in WW1.  A young fellow in the Anzac trenches was badly wounded, and his groaning and crying in pain were so heart wrenching and so persistent, that an old Turk could not bear it any longer.  He got out of his trench at the risk of being shot by his enemies (the Anzacs) and went into the Anzac trench to minister to that boy as best he could and give him something to ease his suffering.  Having done that, he climbed out of the enemy trench and went back to the Turkish trench to do what he had to do in battle.

Having said the foregoing does not deny our duty to also take action to restrain a neighbour who has become a threat to either himself and/or others.  It may mean that we may have to incarcerate the offender either for his own protection or for the protection of others, or to take what other steps may be necessary for the good of all.  But even in this, we must not lose sight of our obligation to seek our neighbours welfare and to serve his best interests.  This may involve administering some tough love.  But the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is unconditional.  Love by its very nature has to be unconditional or it is something other than love.  And it should go without saying that we are not talking here about emotional love, erotic love or even filial love – we are talking about agape love or what the OT calls sadak (justice).

We humans recognize that the highest human goodness, the highest moral excellence is love.  In the marriage vow we commit to love our spouse no matter what (unconditional).  Parents (though not all) love their children no matter what (unconditionally).  Surely we are not going to argue that human love surpasses divine love?  Or is it an image, a reflection as in a mirror, or the infinitely greater Source of all love?  Does God pursue our best good and welfare under all circumstances, and does the Hound of Heaven (a la Robert Thompson) ever give up that pursuit in “majestic haste and unperturbed pace.”

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Animal Sacrifice

Even the reverent killing of animals for human food – spoken of in very specific terms in the ancient teaching of Zoroaster, the Persian prophet who preceded Moses – right down to the practice among the Indians, that is all far removed from killing animals on account of human sin (atonement). Of course the latter may still take place in some unenlightened jungle ruled by a retarded human consciousness, but I say again, let anyone try it in an civilized society today and the response will be overwhelming revulsion, condemnation against a practise seen as sadistic and inhuman.  The practice was always sadistic and inhuman, it is just that some of the ancients did not recognize it as such. Zoroaster did, the OT prophets did, Jesus did, the Ebionites did.  Some of ancients killed human beings as sin offerings and they were still doing it when the Europeans landed in Aztecs SA.  When the ancients became a bit more enlightened, they substituted killing animals instead of their own children.  They even introduced circumcision which was originally a token blood sacrifice.  At least it was a step in a more humane direction, – but with a long way to go in the matter of human enlightenment. The prophets declared that God did not want animal sacrifices. “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” (Hosea). I believe that Jesus made an assault on the whole institution of animal sacrifice in that disturbance at the temple, and carried forward that attack in his last Supper that substituted the offering of Cain (fruit of the ground) for the body and blood of an animal.  All too much for the patriot Judas!  That’s when he decided Enough was enough. In his book, Jesus had crossed the line…

Keith Akers (The lost Religion of Jesus) made me laugh when he pointed some of this out, and made the comment that Jesus, by creating this anti-animal sacrifice disturbance at the temple, got himself killed for something that was almost worth dying for.  One could ask “did Jesus die for our sins?  Nah… he died for all those animals in whose cause he acted.”