Laughing at Sin

Comedy is a human tradition as old as art. The earliest practitioners of theatre, the Athenians, had many famous tragedies, but they also entered comedies in their competitions. Some of us devote half an hour a week for the space of a decade for shows like Cheers and Friends (okay, I’m exaggerating there, but you get the idea). Comedy is extremely varied, but much of it involves sinful actions. A character makes an underhanded scheme that blows up in his face. Someone lies and gets found out. Some shows devote most of their airtime to sexual jokes, obscenities, and profanities.

Several pastors I know of have said that it is wrong for Christians to laugh at sinful situations. I can understand their concern. Sin is a deadly serious matter. One way or another, every sin is going to result in a curse, whether it’s Christ becoming accursed for us on the Cross or that person becoming accursed forever in Hell. What could possibly be funny about that?

Well, despite the prevalence of comedy in our culture, the Bible says fairly little about it. One admonition it does give is that obscenity, foolish talking, and crude joking are not fitting for saints (Ephesians 5:4). While this does not quite answer the question of if we can laugh at those things as long as they’re not coming out of our own mouths, it does indicate to me that we should steer clear of shows where that’s the common fare. So, a whole bunch of current shows are out. Back when television standards were more tight-laced, however, there were still plenty of hilarious, albeit more refined, shows. And I don’t suppose an instance or two of those things means we can’t ever watch an episode of the show ever again. Can we avoid those things in their entirety without going out of the world?

But, let’s say the humor isn’t dirty, but otherwise sinful. The underhanded scheme gone wrong, the lie that gets found out, the lazy person trying to get out of a commitment, etc. I don’t think we’re laughing because we approve of those things or even because we wouldn’t think they were a big deal in reality. I think what makes them funny is the irony when the guilty party admits what they’re doing openly to or tries some weak excuse- in other words, it’s funny because, while we might think such things, none of us would dare to state our underhanded purpose so blatantly. The British comedies Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister make fun of the bureaucratic mentality. When Sir Humphrey or one of the civil servants says what they’re up to or what their reasoning is, it’s funny because we know bureaucrats really think that way but a real one would never admit it in such plain language. Or it’s funny because the person gets themselves in a tight, awkward position through their scheming- we don’t approve of it, and it’s amusing to see them get their just desserts, usually in a broadly predictable pattern with a slightly ironic nuance.

One sin I think we should avoid as much as possible is blasphemy. In most shows today, there will be multiple “OMG”s and other taking of the Lord’s name in vain. Frankly, it would be best for us if we were as reticent about taking God’s name in vain as we are in using the N-word. The Bible is extremely reticent about this sin. I can’t think of a single time someone blasphemes and the Bible actually reports their words. It says, “The person blasphemed,” or, “On it were written blasphemous names.” If the Biblical writers are so determined not to expose their readers to blasphemy, I think we should do our best to avoid it although, again, the only way to avoid that completely is to never associate with a non-Christian again, and obviously that’s not what we’re supposed to do.

As a general rule, though, I think laughing at such sins, as long as we’re not tempted to do them ourselves, is okay. My chief evidence for this is Psalm 2. The whole world is arraying itself against God and Christ, and God’s first reaction is, “He that sitteth in the Heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision.” Humor is largely based on irony, and what could be more ironic than utterly dependent creatures openly resisting the omnipotent God?

So, I think we need to understand what’s making us laugh in these comedy shows. Laughter doesn’t always mean that it’s not a big deal in reality. What we usually laugh at are carefully contrived fictional scenarios that bring out ironic words from the characters’ mouths. Were someone really doing these things to us, we wouldn’t be laughing. That said, there are things the Bible fairly clearly states we should do our best not to expose ourselves to. As always, we have to keep the glory of God foremost in our mind.

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!

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.

“Drink a Little Wine for Your Stomach”

I’m a teetotaler. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with reasonable use of alcohol to relax. I just don’t enjoy it personally. Many people do think it’s wrong, though, and judge others for it. The Bible, I believe, is all for drinking wine in moderation- if your conscience permits.

One caveat: If I don’t convince you 100% that alcohol’s okay, don’t drink it! If you think it might be wrong for you to drink liquor, then it is wrong for you to drink liquor. You are only supposed to do things God and your conscience agree are correct. However, I hope to show you that there’s no reason to condemn moderate drinkers like they were breaking a moral command. I know Paul said not to get into disputes over these things, but he did issue a definitive statement affirming the eating of meat and drinking of wine when he did.

That’s one of my proofs. Paul didn’t want people drinking wine and eating meat if they had scruples about it, but he himself didn’t. He said, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14, KJV). In such a context, he mentions wine as one of the adiaphora, that is, things that a Christian can take or leave as long as they do so in a spirit of honoring God and respect their fellow Christian’s conscience. “It is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended or is made weak” (14:21, KJV). However, as far as adding moral restrictions other than being considerate of a brother or sister in Christ, I think wine was part of what Paul was talking about when he told the Colossians, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink…” (2:16, KJV). In other words, he was not in favor of imposing teetotalism as a moral obligation on everyone, just the ones who already considered it wrong.

In fact, the Bible speaks of wine as one of God’s blessings. It is grateful for “wine to gladden the heart of man” in Psalm 104. Vats overflowing with wine is a reward of honoring God in Proverbs 3:10 the same as grain in the barn. Ecclesiastes 10:19 and Zechariah 10:7 speak of wine as something to be enjoyed, and countless references to it in the prophetic books show that it was a part of everyday life for God’s people, albeit frequently abused. Judges 9:13 goes so far as to say that wine delights God as well as man, which doesn’t seem far-fetched when you consider how Jesus said at the Lord’s Supper He would drink it with us in His Father’s Kingdom. Jesus was willing to make very good wine to make a wedding celebration all the merrier and save a groom and his family from serious embarrassment. In fact, it was better than the wine the bridegroom had put out first to make the best impression on his guests.

And, though the Bible says not to drink wine if it violates your conscience, there are a couple of instances when God commanded it. Jesus handed wine to His apostles and told them, “Take, drink.” Paul famously told Timothy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23, KJV).

Now, I live in a heavily Baptist part of the country, so I’ve heard numerous arguments against the above. I can summarize them as: the Bible refers to people drinking grape juice or a form of wine so low in alcohol content that they wouldn’t get drunk from it, and in any event they were excused because it was safer than the water. Well, I think I can answer these objections.

First of all, the Bible seems to know the difference between wine and grape juice. It distinguishes between wine, vinegar, and grape juice in the Nazirite vow (none of which a Nazirite was allowed to drink) in Numbers 6. (By the way, why would God specify that Nazirites couldn’t drink wine as part of their vow if He had already forbidden anyone to drink it at all?) If every reference above to “wine” being good is supposed to be referring to grape juice and every reference to wine being bad is supposed to be referring to fermented grape juice, I think we’d see more references to “juice of grapes” like you have in Numbers rather than the standard term for wine used again and again. In fact, I can’t think of another instance of “juice of grapes” being used in the Bible, good or bad. Would God use the exact same word for one of His gifts as for something we’re totally forbidden to partake? That would be really confusing.

As for low alcohol content, I really don’t see any evidence of that. The Bible presents wine having the same effects on people then that it has today. Belshazzar becomes merrily drunk and does something egregiously stupid. What about the wine gladdening man’s heart in Psalm 104? By the time of Jesus’s Passover, the Jews by tradition drank four cups of wine. They poured it, however, out of a mixer where they put three parts water to one part wine, an unlikely precaution if it was grape juice or 2-proof wine. Also, drinking a little grape juice or 2-proof wine in Timothy’s case makes no sense. First of all, if there was that little alcohol in it, what good would a little of it make, and why would he specify to drink only a little if it wasn’t likely to intoxicate him? It is abundantly clear that the first Christians used alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper because, to Paul’s horror, the privileged Corinthians were getting drunk at Communion!

As for excusing it as a safety precaution against risky water, while wine was safer than water (and in the Middle Ages a low-proof beer was used for the same purpose), that wouldn’t actually excuse people from something that would be a sin for us today. The traditional Protestant position, as found in the Heidelberg Catechism, is that we should rather die than commit a sin. If it was okay for them, it should be okay for us.

I did hear one argument along the lines of: The Bible forbids drunkenness. It’s hard to tell when precisely you have become drunk. Therefore, it’s not safe to drink anything. Well, the Bible also forbids gluttony, and it’s hard to tell when you’ve crossed the line into gluttony, but we shouldn’t stop eating because of it. There are plenty of issues the Bible puts before us where we have to decide from something on a continuum. When are you being glorious in overlooking an offense and covering a multitude of sins like Proverbs says, and when are you disgracing the Church of God in your tolerance for sin like the Corinthians? When are you answering a fool according to his folly so he won’t become wise in his own eyes, and when are you not answering a fool according to his folly so you won’t become like him? Clearly many things Scripture calls us to do require judgment to steer between two different courses of action, each of which is appropriate in its time. Just because each case is not black-and-white doesn’t mean we have to retreat from the situation entirely. I don’t think people generally get drunk with one serving of an alcoholic beverage.

I hope I’ve convinced you, but if I haven’t, go right on with your teetotaling. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t drink. What would hurt them is you judging those who do partake when the Bible never issues a blanket prohibition against alcohol and in fact encourages it in moderation. I think Paul’s solution to areas of Christian liberty where the strong enjoy their liberty away from the weak’s eyes and the weak don’t condemn them for it is fair enough, but we often have a hard time distinguishing between an area of Christian liberty and an area of Christian necessity. I hope I’ve switched alcohol for my Baptist readers from it being a sin to partake at all to something that may be good for some people.

My Choice of Apologetics, Part III: The Moral Dimension

The moral argument for God comes in its classic form from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Dr. Sproul liked to trace it back to Immanuel Kant, who rejected the Classical Apologetic view and inserted this one instead. I would recommend Lewis, who didn’t blatantly contradict Romans 1 like Kant did.

Lewis pointed out that humans everywhere have a moral compass. Every culture has values that it calls good and vices that it calls evil. Everyone, in other words, has a conscience with a standard of good and evil. That is, at least as far as everyone else goes. We all expect others to behave with certain propriety towards us even if we don’t feel like reciprocating. Even Hitler felt he had been badly wronged when Himmler tried to desert to the Allies. To feel wronged like that, you need a rule of good and evil.

Lewis agreed that there were variations between what behaviors cultures would accept or not. He did not see this, as some do, as indicating that there is no fundamental moral standard, since if you drill down far enough you eventually get to some common ground. His example was that, in the West, we mandate monogamy, whereas other societies have no problem with polygamy. He couldn’t name a culture, however, where you could sleep with just anyone you wanted without moral censure of some kind.

Many people believe good and evil are just concepts built into the human race as a survival mechanism, but Lewis had answers for that too. He said that when someone wrongs us by accident, we aren’t as angry with them as we are with someone who tries to wrong us on purpose and fails. Didn’t the accidental person do more real damage? Or consider a soldier who falls on a grenade to save his buddies. I don’t think anyone with any heart would consider that anything but a good action, but that person has just terminated all possibility of passing on his genes to the next generation, and that’s what the survival mechanism in animals is all about. They’re so craven about risking the slightest injury that a handful of wolves can put a herd of buffalo, each many times their size and armed with powerful hooves and sharp horns, into panicked flight. When humans desert their comrades, however, we view that as a morally reprehensible action. That’s not the way the survival mechanism works in nature.

Lewis and Kant pointed out that, if this moral standard is to mean anything, there have to be rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad. We know that life tends to do that, but it doesn’t always. Hitler went one country too far when he declared war on us and wound up having to shoot himself, but Stalin and Mao, who actually killed more people, died with their supreme power over Russia and China still theirs to enjoy right up to the end. Evidently, in order for us to say they were wrong when they in the end got what they wanted, there’d have to be some kind of punishment for all the evil they’d done after their deaths.

That would require there to be a judge over the human race. He needs to be omniscient so that he knows what we do, he needs to be omnipotent so he can enforce his judgment, he needs to be incorruptible so he can’t be bribed, and he needs to have created the human race so he has the authority to judge them. In other words, you need the Christian God. Indeed, without a perfect God to set the standard for good and evil, you can’t have a standard at all. No human has the authority or infallibility on earth to lay down perfect rules for how humans should behave. Without God, there’s no reason someone should be a Martin Luther King rather than a Joseph Stalin.