Did the Orthodox Winners Write the History Books?

“The winners write the history books.” It’s a common enough saying and one that came up prominently when I was in high school and The Da Vinci Code was published. The story went that the Christians who came up with orthodox Christianity squeezed out the other legitimate (and less demanding) forms of Christianity at the Council of Nicaea and proceeded to write them out of the Scriptures. With Gnostic gospels coming to light due to continuing archaeological work, this seemed an attractive theory for those opposed to Christ’s divinity and lordship over them. Well, the adage may be old and trusted, but it is not correct.

At the time, I had read in Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus that Thucydides the Athenian wrote the most-cited history of the Peloponnesian War, in which Sparta defeated Athens. My teacher dismissed this as, “The exception that proves the rule.” Since then I have encountered many other “exceptions,” many of them from Biblical times. Our most reliable history of the rise of the Roman Empire was written by the Greek Polybius, who wanted to analyze for his countrymen how the Romans had been able to conquer them. In the case of the destruction of Samaria in 722 BC and the destructions of Jerusalem in 586 BC and 70 AD, for most of the time since, our main sources were from the Jews who were defeated and slaughtered/enslaved, be they the Old Testament prophets like Hosea and Jeremiah or the Jewish historian Josephus (although he and Polybius, it must be admitted, had joined the Romans by the time they wrote their histories).

Nearer to home, most anyone who is familiar with the Jacobite revolts in Scotland is caught up with the romanticism of Bonnie Prince Charlie and repulsed by the brutal, even genocidal, repression of his opponent the Duke of Cumberland (aka the Butcher). The problem is that it’s not exactly true and, more relevantly for our purposes, the Jacobites lost the war disastrously. The winners praised and lauded Cumberland at the time with honors and bonfires. Now their descendants call him the evilest Briton of the 18thcentury. Stuart Reid and Jonathan Oates in their writings do a good job of demonstrating how the Hanoverians’ suppression of the Jacobite revolt, while sometimes brutal, was nowhere near “genocidal” and in large measure motivated by revenge for earlier Jacobite brutalities against their comrades. These historians are in a marked minority, however, as the winners most definitely did not write those history books (or songs, romanticized Jacobitism being probably the most popular theme in Scottish folk music). The historiography of the Civil War and Reconstruction is complex, but for the longest time romantic notions of Southern gallantry in the war and Northern repression in Reconstruction had a hold on the popular imagination, as shown in the blockbusters Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation. Times have definitely moved on, but in 1940 you couldn’t argue against the crowds that the Northern winners had written the history books. Almost every Mutiny on the Bounty movie features the tale of heroic Mr. Christian overthrowing the tyranny of brutal Mr. Bligh even after the Royal Navy had promoted Bligh and the British public had lauded him as a hero.

So, the adage should be amended to say, “History is written by those who care enough to pass it on.” Today’s winners may be tomorrow’s losers, and an effective propaganda machine can turn even traitors and criminals into romantic heroes. Winners often do write the history books, but they can be overruled by those with a better story or a more literate group of descendants.

So, did the orthodox winners write the books in the Bible? Yes, but only because the orthodox party had been THE party from the start. I did a much more involved study of the New Testament’s authenticity as a first century account in my blog post https://deliberationsatmimirswell.blog/2017/10/03/lewiss-trilemma-defended/, so I’ll just summarize here. The earliest scrap of Scripture dates to 125 AD (and ironically enough it is from the book of the Bible that most emphasizes Christ’s divinity), but strong evidence indicates that many important books were written long before that. The most compelling reason that Acts ends with one of literature’s greatest anticlimaxes is that there hadn’t been the climax yet- that is, that Luke wrote Acts before Paul’s trial before Caesar. This would be sometime around 62 AD, and Luke clearly wrote his Gospel first, so that was written earlier. Then we back up to the Gospel most people think Luke drew on, Mark, and we have a New Testament book from the 50s AD referring to events of around 30 AD. There are well-respected Civil War memoirs that were written with a comparable separation of time from events, so this is clearly not unreasonable. No Gnostic gospel has anywhere close to that kind of pedigree.

So, did the orthodox winners write the books in the Bible? Yes, but only because the orthodox party had been THE party from the start.

So, if the original books were written by the first Christians, did the orthodox party change them in any way later to accord with its views? By the time of Nicaea, after all, almost everybody reading the Bible would have been reading a handwritten copy (not Xeroxes) of the previous copies copied from the originals. Well, this may seem odd for an orthodox Christian to say, but there is some evidence that tampering did take place. This is the most plausible explanation for many textual variants between the manuscripts. For instance, why did a scribe deliberately go to the trouble of changing references to “Jesus’s parents” to “Mary and Joseph,” other than to counter claims that Jesus was a mere human with only human parents? But in all the variations in the New Testament manuscripts, only an estimated 1% both actually impact the meaning of the verse and also have a reasonable chance of being the original reading. Changing 1 word in 100 over the course of 300 years doesn’t look like wholesale revision to me. And no one has ever found THE manuscript with THE textual variant that undoes the orthodox Christian doctrine, though the job never wants for volunteers. For every variant reading that casts the slightest doubt as to Christ’s divinity or perfections, there are multiple other verses on more secure footing that say the same thing. The authors of the Bible, while pursuing their own emphases and writing to their own audiences, wrote a very coherent book, often echoing the same points as their colleagues in another book. The winners wrote this book because they had been right all along!

Is It Ever Right to Lie? Part II: The Arguments For

So we’ve seen the strong case that can be made that God condemns every lie. On the other hand, Martin Luther and others have crafted a wide range of theories to justify lying in the desperate extremity of trying to save human life. Some say that the obligation to protect life is higher than the obligation to tell the truth in some cases where an individual is acting totally depraved. Others argue that someone who’s out to get other people cannot expect to be told the truth, so we are not obligated to give it to him since he should know it’s not going to be forthcoming.

Now, I readily state that it is no light matter to try to find an exception to an express command in Scripture. Indeed, I have thought about this long and hard, remembering Jesus’s words that, “Whosoever therefore shall break the least of these commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19, KJV). I therefore invite anyone who’s given better thought to the matter than I to dispute the matter around Mimir’s well in the comments section before I give my conclusion.

Let’s look at the examples. The two most famous are the midwives in Egypt and Rahab the harlot that I mentioned in the first post. These are not, however, the whole story. Saints of far greater magnitude than these three have felt the need to lie to save life. David crafts a tale for Jonathan to use to extract the truth from Saul whether Saul is trying to kill David, and Jonathan carries it out. Elisha tells the Syrian raiders who are seeking to kill him (no doubt as much to save their lives as his own), “This is not the way; neither is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek” (II Kings 6:19). Now, the hair-splitters say that Elisha is telling the truth here because it’s no longer the city, Elisha having just left it. Well, I find that sophistic since he’s clearly misleading them from the plain truth that, “I’m right here, guys.” But if they insist on hair-splitting, I can play that game too. The Syrians are very clearly on the right way since they have found their quarry. In Judges 4, Jael deceives Sisera, even if it’s not exactly a lie, when she tells him to “fear not” while she’s planning to kill him. Hushai lies to Absalom while trying to protect David from him. Two last minor instances. In II Samuel 17, a woman lies to hide the sons of the priests who have been spying for David, and I really doubt Joshua’s spies introduced themselves to the Canaanites as Israelite spies.

We should consider a case study. If a burglar invades your home at night and demands to know if you have any children upstairs (and you do), you really have only three responses. One is to affirm the truth that they are upstairs, at which point the burglar will go off to harm or abduct them. Another is to refuse to answer, which in some cases may be the right answer, but we all know that in this case it will be as good as saying they are upstairs. Lastly you can try to deceive the burglar and say no one else is at home and hope he’ll buy it. Basically, if you tell the truth in that situation, your one hope is that God will make the burglar trip on his way upstairs and break his neck. While this is possible, I can’t think of a single Biblical case where a Christian opted for that approach. Indeed, to tell the truth in that situation would only help an evil man accomplish an evil thing.

Just considering the context of these lies, the Bible seems to tacitly condone it if nothing else. Certainly, if no one is explicitly commended for lying to save life, no one is specifically called out for it either. Elisha is full of faith right before he lies to the Syrians, and he’s in complete control of the situation, so how can we think his faith failed him for that moment? Likewise, while the midwives and Rahab are doing things that are worthy of explicit blessing from Scripture, are we to believe that they are doing something damnable at the exact same time? Hushai shows up and receives his instructions from David to lie to Absalom right after David has worshipped and prayed to God for some kind of rescue from Ahithophel’s crafty counsel that will now be turned against him. Are we to think that David, at this moment of faith, suddenly resorts to something that could get him and his friend sent to Hell?

I think that the context shows that God approves of us lying in life-or-death situations. The problem is, I have no hard-and-fast principle for when and why it’s right. I think the Bible abstains from giving explicit commendation to these deceivers because such a statement would be so open to abuse. But I also find the various theories as to how it could be justifiable to lie lacking.

I like the hierarchialists best and consider myself one of them, but even they produce no firm principle to grasp onto. Hierarchialists believe that certain moral imperatives can trump others when they conflict. We know that this does, in fact, happen in Scripture. Romans 13 orders us to obey the authorities, but when the Sanhedrin commands the Apostles not to preach Christ, they are quite right to put their obligation to evangelize above their obligation to submit to government. I personally see this worked out when David promises to Saul that he will not cut off his posterity after him but then has to break that promise to honor the earlier promise to the Gibeonites. Hierarchialists can explain that Peter was wrong and the others right because there is no higher obligation than to honor Christ. In the other cases, hierarchialists posit that saving life is more important than telling the truth. The problem is, Proverbs on two occasions (6:30-31 and 30:9) condemns those who steal to keep themselves alive, showing that the obligation to save life does not trump the obligation to protect property. I used to think that lying was justified in these cases because the Ten Commandments are listed in order of importance and the commandment to protect life comes before the commandment to tell the truth. I still think they are in order of importance, but my logic breaks down in its conclusion because the commandment against murder also comes before the commandment to not steal. So there’s no black-and-white test for saying what moral commandment precedes which.

The other arguments have their flaws too. The argument that an adversary in warfare or criminal committing a crime has made an “implicit agreement to deceive and be deceived” doesn’t quite hold water with me because, if they know they can’t expect the truth from their opponent, they wouldn’t ask the question in the first place. The idea that someone wanting to use the truth to harm others has forfeited the right to the truth seems intuitively right to me, but it’s nowhere stated in Scripture.

So, while I hope you never find yourself in a situation when you have to lie to protect yourself or your loved ones, I don’t think God will condemn you if you do. I can’t give you a hard-and-fast rule as to why that would be right in the face of all the Bible verses condemning lying, but I think the overall impression Scripture conveys is that it is what a saint can, and maybe even should, do.

Is It Ever Right to Lie? Part I: The Arguments Against

The Bible is full of condemnations of lying. Bearing false witness is banned in the Ten Commandments, the prophets denounce the dishonesty of their contemporaries, and finally Revelation says that anyone who “maketh a lie” shall “in no wise enter” Heaven (21:27, KJV). Yet the Bible also reports several cases where saints deceive to save themselves or others in dire circumstances. Indeed, they seem to have no other choice. This has led to the question of if Christians are ever permitted to lie for a higher purpose.

Let’s be clear about what lying is, first. Lying is stating something you know to be untrue with the intent to mislead someone else into believing it. It’s not telling a fictional story or a joke because the context makes it clear that you are not intending to be taken literally. In fact, prophets up to and including Jesus tell many fictional parables to illustrate a deeper truth. That’s just art. It’s also not concealing something you know. There are many times when tact is preferable, even more loving, than full candor. Famously, in I Samuel 16, God gives Samuel a cover story to mislead anyone who might report his trip to Bethlehem to Saul. What God tells Samuel to say is true, but it leaves out the main purpose of his visit, which is to anoint David. It’s not speaking in approximations or exaggerations when you are making a basically truthful point because there are verses in Scripture that contradict themselves if we don’t allow for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit using approximations and exaggerations. Lastly, it’s not conveying false information that you believe to be true, though usually you should make a correction when you find out you were wrong if it’s on something important enough.

Those who say lying is never justified have the easy task since that is the most straightforward reading of the Bible. They say that the Bible’s commands against lying are given in an absolute way and that it never explicitly approves of those who lie in these dire situations, even though what they are doing otherwise is laudable. In one of the two most famous examples, God blesses the midwives in Egypt, who spare the Hebrew babies from Pharaoh’s death sentence and then manufacture a story to tell Pharaoh that they could not carry out his command. In the other, James praises Rahab, who took Joshua’s spies into her home to hide them and then told her fellow Canaanites that they had left. In both cases, the praise is clearly on their saving life, and the Bible is silent on the subject of their lying to further their objectives. Since Protestants know that individual initiatives cannot override God’s clear decree, many believe that there is no way to justify a lie. St. Augustine was firmly against it. He believed that any compromise in a Christian’s reputation for truthfulness is a compromise in the trustworthiness of their Gospel message.

Tellingly, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but He never lied. Scripture says God cannot lie, and we are supposed to resemble Him as His children. (On the other hand, Jesus, knowing full well when His hour had or had not come, never had the need to lie to save His life. Maybe that’s why Abraham was wrong to lie about Sarah not being his wife, since he also had firm promises to rely on, while those who don’t know how things are going to turn out could be right to lie.)

Since Protestants know that individual initiatives cannot override God’s clear decree, many believe that there is no way to justify a lie.

There is one case study, in fact, where Scripture condemns lying even to save life. Peter denies Christ three times to keep himself from going to the cross with Him, and the guilt ravages his conscience. However favorable a light Scripture casts on the other liars, here’s one it clearly condemns for the lie itself.

The Bible time and again shows that God takes very seriously what we say, presumably because He’s given words such power. We say that actions speak louder than words, and James is all for that when he says that blessing someone in need is not as good as actually giving them something, but we should not discount words entirely. According to some interpretations of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, He has decreed that He will not forgive a certain sin of speech, rather than a certain action. Human language is by far the predominant way, if not the only way, we obtain knowledge outside our own personal experience. We can only be one place at one time, but through words anyone who’s been anywhere can shape our perceptions of the world around us. That’s why false testimony is condemned in the Ten Commandments. It also says that those who invent news stories and rumors to shape public opinion based on falsehood have a lot to answer for.

So, there’s a strong case in Scripture about never lying, even to save life. One thing we can all agree on is that it is never right to lie with the intent of hurting someone. The issue here is if there’s the tiniest little exception in a dire circumstance that most of us will never experience. I’ll look at the arguments for there being such an exception in the next post.

The Christian’s Checkbook, Part II: The Christian Manifesto

So, we see that giving is a Christian duty, albeit one to be done with willing cheerfulness. In fact, so much stress does the Bible put on giving that at points it sounds downright socialistic. We are told of the earliest Church in Jerusalem that, “All that believed were together and had all things common and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). Paul writes as a principle of Christian giving, “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He that had gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack’” (II Corinthians 8:14-15). That sounds an awful lot like the refrain of the Communist Manifesto: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” Most famously, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.

Well, I couldn’t affirm or deny the obligation to tithe, but I can categorically state that socialism isn’t really what the Bible has in mind. For one thing, if socialism was God’s ideal, it wouldn’t have such an appalling track record. Socialism has wrecked countless countries and brought misery to their citizens while capitalism has created the richest societies of all time. When God was designing a state to be governed by His direct decree (Old Testament Israel), He made ample provision for the poor but nowhere insisted on socialism. In fact, two of the Ten Commandments, as Dr. Sproul observed, are designed to protect private property. It seems God recognizes what Lord Kames called mankind’s propensity to appropriate. The Pastorals and James have instructions to rich Christians dealing with them as rich Christians, an underlying assumption which makes no sense if all Christians are to give all their belongings to the poor. After the first few chapters of Acts, you don’t see any of this Christian socialism at work as the Church spreads.

Which leaves Paul’s seeming anticipation of the Communist Manifesto. I think what Paul is getting at is found in his explanation in the preceding verse: “For I mean not that other men be eased and you burdened, but by an equality” (II Corinthians 8:13-14, KJV). I think Paul means that Christians should care for one another such that they all have to work about equally strenuously for their daily bread. It’s a qualitative, not a quantitative, equality. If you want to go above and beyond and snag the really well-paying job to provide more abundantly for yourself and your family, you’d just be prospering through diligence like Proverbs praises.

So, how much should Christians give? Tithing is obviously neither wrong nor unreasonable since God required it of believers at one point. If you tithe with a joyful heart, God certainly won’t be displeased. But, really, the New Testament calls us to give as much as we are able. C.S. Lewis thought a good rule of thumb was that we should give such that it cuts into our lifestyle, that is, that we can’t live at the same level of comfort as our peers in our wage level. That’s Christian sacrificial love right there.

The Christian’s Checkbook, Part I: A Voluntary Duty

I heard a lecturer once who made an observation along the lines that God saves our checkbooks in addition to our souls. That’s sound because the Bible does tell us to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. It’s doubly important in the Western Church, which has more resources than any church in history.

The big question in some circles is whether Christians are obligated to tithe. That question I can’t answer definitively. Tithing (paying a tenth of one’s money and goods) was required of Old Testament Israel, but that principle is nowhere repeated in the New Testament. In fact, when Peter is asked if Jesus pays the temple tax, Jesus has him pay it for Himself and Peter as a concession, not a command. He asks Peter if “kings of the earth take custom or tribute of their own children or of strangers.” Peter answers that they tax strangers, and Jesus concludes, “Then are the children free” (Matthew 17:25-26, KJV). He pays the tax not because He has to but simply so as not to offend. This might indicate that Christians are not bound by Old Testament rules of giving.

Yet give they must. Paul instructed the Corinthians before he visited, “Upon the first day of the week, let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him,” collections for the Jerusalem saints in need. True, Paul wants giving to be voluntary and cheerful, but he does expect it. In Galatians 6:6, he exhorts the Galatians to share all good things with their teachers, and while he himself did not take money from the Corinthians, he adamantly informed them that ministers have a right to be supported by their congregations. As he told Timothy, “The laborer is worthy of his reward” (I Timothy 5:18, KJV). Jesus told two parables where the king gives his servants ancient units of money (a mina in one story and talents in the other) and expects them to use them towards his profit when he returns. In fact, he is furious with the servant in both stories who refuses to do anything with the money entrusted to him. After another parable, Jesus says to, “Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9, KJV). In other words, we should give voluntarily, but it is still a duty. You could say that about any duty God gives us, like love, prayer, and forgiveness. He wants it done with our whole heart willingly, but that doesn’t excuse us from not doing it just because we don’t feel like it. As in any good habit or duty we need to cultivate but don’t feel like, we have to do it until we love it. We can’t just wait for an enthusiastic impulse, which may never come with that attitude.

Christians have more reason than anybody else to be generous. They believe an all-powerful, all-wise God has promised to provide for them and reward them eternally for anything they give in His name. They believe He has called them to love others as themselves. James famously describes how charity shows forth the faith we have. And consider that God required this giving of people with much less economic stability than us. They were paid daily because they needed those wages for the very next day and had the ever-present danger of crop failures, epidemics, and raids hanging over them.

Liberals Make a Tragedy and Call It a Right

In a famous pre-battle speech, a barbarian king is said to have told his army that the Romans “make a wilderness and call it peace.” If I may paraphrase this famous dictum, I feel that liberals “make a tragedy and call it a right.” There are many examples, but time restricts me to three.

The first right, which seems to be the most important “right” to many Liberals, namely abortion, is a real tragedy. I’m going to assume here for the sake of brevity that the unborn baby is a distinct lifeform from the mother (for a detailed discussion of this premise, see my post, “When Does Life Begin According to Science?” in the archives). If it is, never in history has the world seen mothers murder their offspring by the millions. Where did this “right” come from? Not from nature, which has designed the woman’s body to take care of the baby first and which gives the mother hormones to make her attached to her baby. Few bonds in nature are stronger than a mother and her altricial young, which is what human babies are. For Liberals to sever this bond en masse is a tragedy of the highest order.

Many of the “rights” liberals insist on are thinly disguised attacks on the traditional family of a married man and woman and their children. It’s called the “traditional” family because throughout human history it’s been the primary means of producing the next generation, nurturing it, and preparing it for adulthood. It seems Liberals can’t stand it because God designed it intending for the husband/father to lead the family and they can’t tell the difference between a difference in roles and a difference of value. To prove that those are two distinct things, consider the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Father. Christ subordinated Himself to the Father in everything He did (“Not My will, but Yours, be done”), but ever since the beginning, the Church has maintained that those who didn’t hold Christ to be of the same value as the Father are heretics. Since Liberals think subordination means lesser value and women and men are equally valuable (which they are), they therefore conclude there should be no distinction in roles between men and women. So Liberals insist on “rights” that blur the distinction between men and women. They insist that men can be just as legitimate spouses to men as women and vice versa. They want the government to take over the father’s traditional role as provider for his children. Their TV shows almost universally portray fathers as lazy, gluttonous incompetents.

Liberals have been fairly successful in removing fathers from many families, but the “men of the house” have proven far from superfluous, as Liberals supposed they would. They are there in God’s plan to provide direction, discipline, protection, provision, and a good example to their children. Children who grow up without this are much more likely to live in poverty or in prison because of crime. They drop out of high school at a higher rate than children with fathers. Even when fathers don’t leave the picture entirely, half of families break up in divorce. This means that too large of a percentage of marriages that begin in happiness with vows of love end with husband and wife going to attorneys to try to take as much of the communal property for themselves as possible. Rights sometimes mean accepting some unpleasant side-effects, as when free speech means someone can offend us, but this widespread heartache, violence, and penury seem an awfully unacceptable price to pay for these so-called “rights.”

Liberals have a term for certain rights they call “entitlement” spending. This is the Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment, and other wealth-redistributing taxes. I’ll set aside the question of the morality of what might be accurately described as using the threat of prison to force people to give you money for nothing in return and just focus on the practicality. Right now, we spend more on government programs, the majority of them entitlements, than we take in. Our maximum tax rate is set at a level just above where empirical evidence shows that increases in tax rates lead to decreases in tax revenues (37% as opposed to 33%), so increasing taxes won’t help. The best explanation of this phenomenon, referred to as the Laffer Curve, is the Prager U video, “Lower Taxes, Higher Revenue,” which actually cites one of Obama’s own economists’ study. I recommend viewing it- if Google will let you, that is…

Anyway, the point about the Laffer Curve here is that it means the only way to pay all those entitlements is to borrow and print money, like we’re doing. As history has shown repeatedly, however, when countries keep that up, eventually their creditors or potential creditors lose faith in the country’s ability to pay and stop lending it money. Germany could bail out a relatively small country like Greece, but who can possibly bail out the U.S.? The result is hyperinflation and worthless money. In other words, retirees’ savings will be wiped out, massive unemployment will result, and the U.S. (and probably the whole world) will enter another Great Depression. The entitlements will stop at that point by default, but by then the damage will have been done, and we shall have yet another massive tragedy in the name of “rights.” Incidentally, the poverty rate has barely shifted since LBJ began the War on Poverty, so the debt we’ve racked up this whole time has been for no real purpose. A tragedy masquerading as a right.

Liberal programs are so popular because they’re wrapped up in such pretty packages. Liberals use all the positive words they can think of to press them: “fairness,” “justice,” “choice,” etc. If we take an empirical look at the results, though, liberal policies are anything but pretty.

Christians and Halloween

It’s late October, so second tax season is over, and it’s time for an annual controversy. Some Christian parents will take children dressed up as their favorite superhero or monster out to collect candy while their spouses stay home to be on the candy-distributing side. Others will decry the paganism of the festival. My Halloween post will explore which side is right here.

There’s no denying that, despite a name like All Hallow’s Eve before All Saints Day, Halloween has its origins in paganism. It was originally Samhain, the Celtic New Year, on November 1. In their reckoning, it was the start of winter, and since dark preceded light in Celtic thinking, winter started the year. Likewise, night started the day, so the night of October 31 was the beginning of that New Year. Important decisions were made on November 1, like what animals to slaughter for winter and which to keep alive for the next spring. But first, the barriers between this world and the Otherworld went down for the night, as they did at all the four festivals marking the seasons. For some reason, the Irish worshipped gods, whom they called the Tuatha de Danaan, whom they thought their mortal ancestors, the sons of Milesius, had defeated and driven into the Otherworld underground and who came out only on these days when the barriers broke down. If there’s a sillier religion than that of my ancestors, I don’t know it, but it just goes to show you how far people will go to avoid worshipping the true God.

I’ve often wondered why we celebrate Halloween the way we do. Surely that should play into our calculation of what’s right and wrong here. I mean, the candy and dressing up like superheroes has obvious appeal to the children, but for practically a month we celebrate things dark and dangerous. We’ll watch movies about gory death and all kinds of creatures whose sole purpose is to harm us. Who in their right mind would make a festival out of that?

I think the Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan provides a reasonable answer when he talks about why we’re so fascinated with monsters. His book is a rational look at what’s been hard-wired into us to fear the kinds of creatures we make movies and campfire stories about. We’re facing our fears this way in a setting where we know we won’t get hurt and enjoying the adrenaline rush we would normally get only in dangerous situations.

Which is why I think Halloween is okay for much the same reason as Harry Potter and other books about magical characters are okay for Christians (if you haven’t, check that blog post out in the archive). Most people know the monsters aren’t real. In fact, we don’t generally dress up as the evil things we do believe in. How many Halloween stores sell costumes of Hitler or Stalin? People might dress up as grotesque zombies, but how many intentionally dress up as someone suffering from a real disease like Ebola or cancer? Since the Christians taking their kids out to get candy aren’t encouraging them to worship the creatures people are dressing up as (and certainly most of them have never even heard of the Tuatha de Danaan), most children should be perfectly fine participating.

As for Halloween being originally pagan, so was Christmas (and, yes, there are Christians who object to even Christmas on those grounds). The Bible nowhere states that December 25 was Christ’s birthday, and it gives no evidence of early Christians celebrating it. What did happen was the Church took a big pagan holiday, of which there are a lot at the time of the Winter Solstice, like Saturnalia or Yule, and converted it to Christian use to give Christians something sacred to celebrate at the same time their pagan neighbors were living it up. That’s exactly how we got All Saints Day and All Hallow’s Eve as well.

It’s true that when Paul wrote, “One man esteemeth one day above another. Another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5, KJV), he probably mainly had the Jewish festal calendar in mind, but notice he doesn’t say, “except for your pagan holidays.” I think worldly holidays like Halloween fall under the adiaphora category like eating meat sacrificed to idols. It doesn’t matter so much what the other guy is making of it as what you are making of it. If you want to let your kid enjoy some role-playing and candy and fellowship with the family and the neighbors, that’s perfectly fine.

But here are my caveats. A festival celebrating dark things can obviously lead to sin very easily. Paul didn’t mind the Corinthians eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but he didn’t want them participating in the sacrifices themselves. Anything involving genuine attempts at witchcraft, necromancy, or what-not should be avoided at all costs! As for pranking and scaring people, my advice would be to remember the Golden Rule and not do anything to anyone you wouldn’t want them doing to you. While many movies like Universal’s 1930s monster movies are classic works of art depicting the clash of good versus evil, I don’t see anything healthy, artistic, or God-glorifying in watching graphically gruesome slasher pics with senseless violence. And certainly don’t violate your conscience in anything you do. Other than that, enjoy the candy!

Why Aren’t We Happier?

If material things were the answer to the question of happiness, we should be the most ecstatic people in history. For a novel I was writing set in the Dark Ages, I researched everyday life in the past, and I’m telling you that we in the developed world have it infinitely better than our ancestors. I’ll give you some examples and then examine the signs we’re not as happy as a materialistic formula would predict we should be.

We can start with health. Our life expectancy is more than twice what it was in the Middle Ages. There’s far too much that we still can’t do, but we can do more now than St. Luke the beloved physician could have ever dreamed of. We don’t have epidemics wiping out half the population of a continent. We have treatments that are unpleasant, but at least they’re not complete fabrications that actually make things worse like bleeding the patient. When we have surgery, we have anesthesia. When we have children, they’re far more likely to have our funeral than we are to have theirs. Our infant mortality and deaths from childbirth, while still incredibly tragic, are a fraction of what they used to be.

Or entertainment. Generally speaking, we can watch and listen to what we want when we want. It’s been within living memory that we were restricted to whatever a few channels on television were carrying that night. And yet, electronics is one of the worst industries for shoplifting. What does that say about people? They’re willing to hurt others (and risk punishment) just to get the latest thing for their own amusement.

Have you ever thought about how impatient people are? They can get downright rude over the most trivial delays, and when they drive, they are willing to break the law and endanger themselves and others just to arrive at their destination a few minutes earlier. What’s ironic is that we have more leisure time than our ancestors would have dreamed of. They used to work from sunup to sundown and then go to sleep (because they had no light bulbs) Monday through Saturday. A five-day workweek was an invention of the last century.

With regards to food, it’s the same with entertainment. What we want we eat when we want. We’re not dependent on the seasons or a good harvest. We don’t have to eat the same old salted meat all winter long. If one area has a bad crop, we get it from somewhere else. We don’t have hunger gnawing at us constantly and the threat of starvation and disease hanging over us like the peasants of medieval Europe.

Now, we have a far from perfect justice system. The rich and famous get away with stuff other people go to prison for, and flimsy excuses get some people off the hook while minor offenses see people locked away. The punishments often vary for the same crime. On the other hand, the government cannot torture us to confess and then burn or draw and quarter us. Judges don’t get to make up bizarre and hideous punishments (just read about some of the methods of execution in ancient times or 17thcentury Hungary).

As far as security, we haven’t had a war between the major powers in 73 years. I’m pretty sure that’s a record in human history. We don’t have raiding parties coming into our neighborhoods every few years to carry off our possessions or enslave our children.

We can keep ourselves comfortable and clean in ways impossible even at the beginning of last century. We can set our houses to whatever temperature we want and wear a fresh set of clothes everyday. We have any color clothes we think will look good on us as opposed to being stuck with whatever dyes the local plants produce.

To stay in touch, we don’t have to send letters that take weeks or months to arrive at their destination, if they get there at all, and then take more weeks and months to return. In a few seconds we can see someone across the world face-to-face. We also get to travel practically wherever we want in relative safety without too much risk of being robbed on the way by brigands lurking in mountains and forests. We can see the world if we like, and we have places set up to attract us with nothing but amusements.

Now, I know many of you are thinking of exceptions to everything I’ve just described. Yes, this world isn’t perfect, and I was speaking in generalizations. But, overall, no one in their right mind would deny that in material terms, we’re richer beyond compare to our forebears.

But are we happier? Well, actually, developed countries have higher rates of depression than undeveloped countries. In my psychology class, the theory they put forward is called the tyranny of choice. The way I understand the theory, developed countries give more freedom to their individuals to make their own decisions, so when their lives end up a mess, they have no one to blame but themselves. I think we could also say that this leisure time which we have and undeveloped countries don’t affords us more time to think about ourselves and our problems and brood over things that bother us.

Or consider the problem with drugs and alcohol. People are willing to risk their health, going to prison, and losing their families to take themselves out of consciousness. Why, if life is so materially good for us? I think Dr. R. C. Sproul had a great explanation for this. We’re told now from middle school up that we are here because of a cosmic game of chance and that when we die we end up as nothing but dust. In other words, nothing we do matters. We go through a lot of pain and heartache, and in the end we get no recompense for it. We do terrible things, feel guilty about it, and have no eternal judge to acquit us. Dr. Sproul thought that such thoughts of a meaningless existence drive people to extremes to be rid of them.

I’m going to work in a really obscure example that illustrates this point. The eighteenth century Prussian army was infamously brutal. The officers and sergeants were very detail-oriented and not shy about cracking down on the most trivial breaches of regulations. You could be beaten for not polishing your buttons, for instance. Naturally, many soldiers deserted, but observers noted that they often became depressed when they returned to a civilian world where people didn’t care what they did. They might not get flogged for being wrong, but they didn’t get much reward for being right either.

What about the family? A lot of people are obviously not very happy with their spouses since approximately half of marriages end in divorce. People make solemn vows to each other in an ecstasy of love, and then in a bitterness of hate they break them. If anything in this world is supposed to make us happy, it’s our family, so clearly something’s not right here.

Are people content? Obviously not, to judge by their spending habits. They can run through vast sums of money to satisfy their tastes, and they’ll even trample each other on Black Friday to get more stuff cheap. How many people wreck themselves with extravagant spending in America? We have more goodies than at any other time in history, and yet we’re willing to act like idiots to get more.

Evidently material things don’t make us happy, at least not in the long-run. We’re built to love God first and then enjoy the material things He provides. That’s the way to fulfillment and joy. In fact, Habakkuk says he for one will be joyful in God even if there are no material blessings, even ones as basic as food. How many of us can say that? But, as St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.”

The Gospel According to Caiaphas

Many liberal intellectuals believe that people sin out of ignorance. With enough instruction and correction (though without using any forms of discipline that might hurt any feelings), humans can be perfected and the golden age ushered in. Well, that is not how the Bible portrays it. Jesus’s opponents in the Gospels have a very clear understanding of what Jesus is saying and oppose Him anyway.

In fact, often the unbelievers in the story have a better grasp on what Jesus said than His own disciples. After the crucifixion, the disciples have lost all hope. They assume Jesus is gone forever, completely forgetting the fact that He told them three times He would rise from the dead. The chief priests, however, are well aware of this prediction. Even if they don’t believe Jesus will rise again, they fear the disciples making it look like He has (which the disciples are far too demoralized to do) because they know that if Christianity can preach the resurrection, it will be unstoppable. Or, as they put it, “The last error shall be worse than the first” (Matthew 27:64, KJV).

Jesus’s opponents realized what so many people today deny- that Jesus claimed to be divine. They just didn’t believe Him. At the beginning of His ministry, when He announces forgiveness of sins to the paralytic, they assume He’s blaspheming because they know only God can forgive sins. Several times in John’s Gospel, Jesus’s claims of His unique relationship with the Father drive the Jews to try to stone Him for making Himself equal with God. Finally, they get the chance they’ve been waiting for when Jesus affirms He is the Son of God in front of all of them at His trial when they ask Him. Critics of the Bible today try to weasel out of Jesus’s statement by missing the contextual forest for the semantic trees. Because He literally says in Matthew and Luke, “You say that I am,” they claim He was denying divinity, but the chief priest’s reaction shows that he took it as an affirmation, especially considering Jesus’s going on to affirm that they will see Him coming in the clouds with power. The critics should also note how Mark reports Jesus simply affirming that He is the Son of God, reporting the plain gist of Jesus’s words rather than His exact statement. They should also note how in Matthew a few verses before Jesus answers the high priests, “You say that I am,” He uses the same answer to unquestionably affirm that Judas is the traitor. What He means is not, “You say that I am, but I say I’m not,” but rather, “You already know the answer to what you’re asking me.” Earlier they had asked, “Are we blind also?” To which Jesus had replied, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin. But now ye say, ‘We see,’ therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:40-41, KJV).

They also knew what He required of them. That’s largely why they hated Him. He rejected their external traditions and demanded the much more rigorous life of self-sacrifice. They knew that if they followed him, they would have to stop doing the things that got them glory from man and do some real soul-searching and living for others. One of them, the Apostle Paul, realized when he met Christ that whatever he had thought he was gaining from being a Pharisee he would have to count as loss relative to what Jesus called him to.

All of the Gospels report rich ironies in their Passion narratives. Despite Jesus’s opponents doing all they can to obstruct Him, they wind up unwittingly affirming His truth or furthering His Kingdom by fulfilling Scripture. At Palm Sunday, the Pharisees cried out, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19, KJV). Though they were utterly frustrated, they knew where He was going. Ironically, the chief priests make a big deal about mocking Jesus’s being the King of the Jews and the Son of God at His crucifixion when Jesus didn’t make a big deal of those titles during His ministry. Yes, He knew He was God’s Son and the Davidic King of Israel, but He preferred to call Himself the Son of Man.

Jesus’s opponents wanted Him crucified because hanging on a tree represented God’s curse in the Old Testament Law. They felt a cursed death was fitting for one who claimed to be the Son of God, not realizing that Jesus was dying a cursed death because He was the obedient Son of God. Similarly, they scoff that, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save” (Matthew 27:42, KJV), when the reason He can’t save Himself is precisely because He’s saving others. They go on to taunt Him that God can save Him if He really wants Him, which is precisely what David predicted Jesus’s enemies would say in Psalm 22.

So, apparently, ignorance wasn’t really Jesus’s opponents’ problem. Their problem was suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. They understood what He was saying and knew that He was accomplishing signs to verify it, and they went ahead and opposed Him anyway. So much for enlightening humanity into perfection. If people understood Jesus’s teaching and it didn’t perfect them, I don’t think there’s much hope of liberal education perfecting them. Knowing what’s right is not nearly the same as doing what’s right.

Stupid Things People Think the Bible Says, Which It Doesn’t

Despite all the good the Bible’s done in the world, people love to find fault with it. It’s easily the most criticized, most censored book of all time. While it’s true that people often hate the things the Bible really teaches, to find something manifestly ridiculous to lampoon and hate about it, people have to make it up. I’m going to give six examples of stupid things people believe the Bible says when it clearly teaches the opposite.

To start at the beginning, there seems to be a growing belief that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 3 had something to do with sexual knowledge. I heard a rabbi, who should have known better, propound that that’s what the original Hebrew refers to, and the Star Trek TOS episode “The Apple” used the idea as a large part of the plot. I don’t know much Hebrew, but I know that calling it the Tree of Sexual Knowledge flies in the face of common sense. At the same time that Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat of the tree, God tells them to, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Since He’s talking to the first husband and wife, there’s no reason to suppose He has anything in mind other than sexual reproduction. Besides, it’s only after they eat from the tree that Adam and Eve no longer want to be naked in front of each other.

This attempt to make the Bible more prudish than it really is is even more widespread in the Catholic religion, which teaches that its clergy has to be celibate. This is a gross distortion of Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 7. What he actually says is that, while it would be great for every Christian to be like himself and able to devote all their time to the Lord without the distraction of a family, the normal human sex drive makes this the exception rather than the rule. In fact, he says, “Let him do what he will. He sinneth not; let them marry” (verse 36, KJV). The Bible is more than happy to have married clergy. In fact, Israelite clergy had to marry to perpetuate the priestly line, the Pastorals call for elders and deacons to be evaluated based on their relationships with their wives and children, and Peter himself is said to have a mother-in-law whom Jesus heals. To have one of those, he had to have been married. In fact, Paul says in I Timothy 4:3 that forbidding marriage is the teaching of demons.

One huge misconception is that the Bible permits the imposition of Christianity by force. Any skeptic worth his salt knows all about the Crusades, the Inquisition, Charlemagne’s slaughter of the pagan Saxons, etc. and knows they’re unethical. Well, they’re also unscriptural. What happened is that the later Roman emperors, medieval kings, and Popes realized that the Christian God is more powerful than anyone else they could pray to, so they decided to try to harness that power for their own worldly pursuits. If you read the book of Acts, you know that the Apostles did not convert by the sword.

But, wait, the skeptic says! He doubles down by pointing to the multiple commands to Israel to massacre its foes in the Old Testament. The practice of herem, or putting under the ban, is clearly an Old Testament principle no longer applicable today. It was important when God’s Kingdom was a political one. Israel was the sole nation of God, surrounded by pagans hateful to its existence, and thus had its purity as well as its security to consider. By the way, while the other nations of the Ancient Near East could be barbarously cruel in the name of their gods, there’s no Old Testament command to blind, mutilate, or torture prisoners, unlike, say, the infamous Assyrians. Under the New Testament, God’s Kingdom is not tied to any political entity and is supposed to spread its love to every nation. In fact, Jesus told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews” (John 18:36, KJV). While Christians are to hold their governments accountable for basic moral standards of justice, they’re not to use it to impose religion on others. (By the same token, it’s not how Progressives are to impose their secularism on others either.)

Anyone who has heard about the exclusivity of Christianity will demand, “But what about innocent people who’ve never heard of Jesus? How can God send them to Hell for rejecting Jesus when they’ve never heard of Him?” Well, He doesn’t. It’s the difference in what theologians call General versus Special Revelation. General Revelation, according to Romans 1, is what everyone instinctively knows from Creation and conscience. They know, even if they won’t admit it, that they are a created being made to conform to certain moral laws by their Creator. Everyone, Paul tells us at length, is guilty before God of rebelling against this knowledge. Special Revelation is the Gospel message telling people how they can be reconciled to God. To reject this is a serious sin, but God obviously is not going to condemn you for rejecting something you’ve never heard of. The point is that General Revelation rules out anyone being innocent; all are under sin, as Paul says.

One grievous error is the belief that the Bible teaches hatred of homosexuals. Now, the Bible makes it quite clear that this is a serious sin of which they must repent, but it nowhere says to treat them differently from any other kind of sinner. Both sides should take a lesson from Paul when he writes, “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind (and here the KJV is trying to delicately describe passive and active homosexuals), nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11, KJV). From this, we can see that (1) the homosexuals could and did repent of their sin (though no one said it would be any easier than the drunkard giving up his wine) and (2) that Paul extended his ministry to them as lovingly as to anyone else.

Some people think that because the Old Testament is full of saints who practice polygamy that the Bible teaches that it’s okay. Well, anyone familiar with those stories should see that the Bible does not endorse that practice. It just reports the facts as they occurred, and universally they tell of the unhappiness and conflict that polygamy brings. In the Old Testament, in fact, the principles of the king in Deuteronomy forbid him practicing polygamy. In the New Testament, Paul explicitly says, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2, KJV). No one in their right mind should want to practice polygamy after they read the Bible.

The list is really endless all the stupid things people think the Bible teaches when it in fact says the opposite. It’s like they’re trying to find excuses not to believe, which is in fact what they’re trying to do.