Tuesday, June 30, 2015
The New Testament canon
I think it is axiomatic that Christians accept the Bible as the word of God. If you don't accept the Bible as the word of God but still claim to be a Christian, you are some sort of hyphenated Christian. I would call Episcopalians and Anglicans generally, post-Christians. Their adoration of homosexuals flies in the face of explicit Bible teachings in both the Old and New Testaments so they clearly do not accept the Bible as the word of God.
But what is meant by "word of God"? Did God use the Bible writers as some sort of stenographers -- dictating precisely every word they wrote? People who believe that are said to be "verbal inspiration" believers. The verbal inspiration doctrine has great difficulties, however. Take the account of what happened at Christ's tomb when his followers found his body no longer there. The four gospels give rather different accounts of what happened.
In Matthew 28 for instance, we read that when the two Marys approached the tomb, a glorious angel came down and rolled away the stone.
In Mark 16 however we find that the stone had already been rolled away before they got there. So they went into the tomb and met a young man sitting in it who told them Christ was risen.
And in Luke 24 we find that the women went into the tomb and were puzzled to find it empty. But then two men in shining garments suddenly appeared beside them. And it was only after they had bowed to the men did the men tell them that Christ is risen.
And John 20 is different again. This time it was just Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb and found it empty. This time nobody appeared to her so she ran away to tell some of the disciples. So the disciples came to the tomb and examined its contents. Then the disciples just went home. But Mary stayed on. And then two angels in white appeared and told her that Christ was risen
So we have four different accounts. Was there one angel or two, for instance? The accounts are not necessarily wrong. They are about as consistent as what you get in court when different eye-witnesses to a crime are being examined. So is God as scatterbrained as four human witnesses? Surely not. If he had dictated every word he would just have given the actual events, not what looks like a set of wobbly recollections.
So few Christians now believe in verbal inspiration. They believe that the Bible writers wrote their own thoughts in their own way but God was behind those thoughts, gently guiding them in the right direction.
But then another problem arises. How do we know who had God behind their thoughts? There were many documents around in the early days which contained accounts of Christ's history and teachings. Why did they all not make it into the New Testament?
The Roman Catholic church has an answer to that. They say that the church made the pick. They say that the church knew which document was divine and knocked back the others: It was the church that assembled the NT.
That is not much of an answer however. For a start, the church at that time was almost entirely located in the Greek-speaking cities of the Eastern Mediterranean lands. Rome was a distant offshoot. So the discussion about which documents were divine occurred in the Greek churches, not in Rome. And the Greek Orthodox church does to this day with some justice regard itself as the lineal descendant of the original Christian church and say that authority about the canon belongs to them
Even if we accept the Roman claim, however, it just pushes the question back one step. How did the church know which books were divine? The only reasonable answer to that is that God influenced the minds of the men of the church to make the right decisions.
But if God was working through the minds of men, why did it have to be just one group of men? Surely it could have been men anywhere in the Christian world and not merely a few big shots in Rome! So, broadly, the answer to the question of what formed the canon is a simple one from a Christian viewpoint: If God inspired the writing of the various books, he could surely also see to it that the right ones were selected as holy!
Anne, the lady in my life is, like me, an ex-Christian and our Christian past is still influential with us both. She doesn't like the apostle Paul's view of the place of women, however -- as in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 11, for instance. Being a born tease, however, I enjoy pointing out that according to the NT, women should be submissive to their men. Anne is no feminist but she is a pretty independent lady so she doesn't like Paul at all and why is he in in the Bible anyhow?
I replied that if God inspired the Bible writings, surely he could also make sure that the right documents were included in it. On hearing that she burst into peals of laughter. I am not totally sure why but I think she saw the logic in it and realized that you could not arbitrarily exclude Paul from being a divine messenger.
So how do I think the books of the Bible were chosen? I do actually lean to an explanation that would fit in with God's guidance. The history of the matter is that there was a considerable debate in the early days about which books were new revelation -- and various collections were made which embodied particular people's view of what was divine. But after a while a consensus did emerge. And it was an inclusive consensus: Enough books were included to keep most people happy.
So was God behind that consensus? Since I am an atheist I think not but a Christian could reasonably think so. What I think happened is that those books which made most sense and sounded good at the time gradually, amid debate, came to be generally accepted as holy.
With his background in Greek learning, Paul was quite a good theologian, he wrote very energetically, wrote very extensively and he explicitly claimed divine guidance -- so it would appear that the whole available corpus of his writing was included.
And in the nature of these things, a tradition developed which saw that early consensus as authoritative.
The Age of Communism Lives
The bodies demand accounting, apology, and repentance. We live in an era of appalling bad faith
It was twenty-five years ago, but it feels like yesterday. When seeing the images of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I cried with joy, took out my best bottle of French wine, left the television on, and listened to Beethoven’s Ninth over and over and over. If you didn’t live through it, know that there was nothing like it. What we need to be reminded of, however, are the stakes and what didn’t happen in the wake of the fall.
In addition to the tyranny, the torture, and the assault upon the human spirit, the slaughtered victims of communism were not the thousands of the Inquisition, not the thousands of Americans lynched, not even the six million dead from Nazi extermination. The best scholarship yields numbers that the soul must try to comprehend: scores and scores and scores of millions of individual human bodies, which is what makes the work of Lee Edwards in keeping alive in our minds the victims of communism so morally essential, so morally vital.
Alexander Yakovlev, Gorbachev’s right hand man, who examined the archives for the last Soviet leader and who came away a deeply changed and heroic man, let us know that 60 million were slain in the Soviet Union alone. The Chinese author Jung Chang, who had access to scores of Mao Zedong’s collaborators and to the detailed Russian and local archives, reached the figure of 70 million Chinese lives snuffed out by Mao’s deliberate choices. If we count those dead of starvation from the communist ability and desire to experiment with human interaction in agriculture—20 million to 40 million in three years—we may add scores of millions more.
The communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, who was educated in France and taught his politics by French communist intellectuals, butchered one-fifth to one-fourth of the entire Cambodian population. That would be as if an American regime had murdered some 50 to 70 million of its people. In each and every communist regime, countless people were shot and died by deliberate exposure, starved and murdered in work camps and prisons meant to extract every last fiber of labor before they die. No cause ever in the history of all mankind has produced more slaughtered innocents and more orphans than communism. It was a system of production that surpassed all others in turning out the dead.
What should one have expected after the fall of the Berlin wall? What didn’t occur? Where were the celebrations and the accountings? Where was the recognition of the ineffable value of a truly limited government? Our schools, universities and media do not teach our children any differently now about the human consequences of liberty, of voluntary economic societies, and of limited government in the real world. Our children do not know in any domain what happened under communism. Those who depend on our media and our films do not know. We live without self-belief and without any moral understanding of the extraordinary place of America, of its values, of its liberty, and of those leaders who won the Cold War for the dignity and the benefit of humankind.
What might a sane and moral individual have expected? An anti-communist epiphany, a festival of celebration, a flowering of comparative scholarship, a full accounting of the communist reality—political, economic, moral, ecological, social and cultural—a revision of curriculum, a recognition of the ineffable value of those ideals for which we paid the fullest price? Where did any of this occur? Imagine if World War II had ended in a stalemate with a European Nazi empire from the Urals to the English Channel soon to be armed with nuclear weapons and in mortal contest with the United States in a peace kept only by deterrence. Would progressive children have sung, “All we are saying is give peace a chance” beneath symbols of unilateral disarmament? Would our intellectuals have mocked the phrase “evil empire”? What were the differences? Deaths? Camps? The desolation of the flesh and of the spirit? Solzhenitsyn had it exactly right about the Soviets, “No other regime on earth could compare with it either in the number of those it had done to death, in heartiness, in the range of its ambitions, in its thoroughgoing and unmitigated totalitarianism—no, not even the regime of its pupil, Hitler” (from the Gulag Archipelago). What would the celebration have been like if after two generations the swastika at last had fallen in place of the hammer and the sickle?
After all that we know, do our historians today teach their students any differently about the human consequences of free markets and the rule of law in a world of comparative phenomena? How breathtaking that we do not have an intellectual, moral and, above all, historical accounting of who was right and who was wrong, and why, in their analyses of communism. We live in an era of appalling bad faith. “You put private property ahead of people” remains a powerful anathema, as if in the light of all those lessons, private property were not absolutely essential to the well-being, dignity, liberty and lives of human beings in society, and as if profits were not the measure of the satisfaction of other people’s wants and desires. Indeed, it is precisely to avoid the revitalization of the principles of a voluntary society, limited government, and individual responsibility and liberty that our teachers, professors, information media, and filmmakers ignore the comparative inquiry that our time so urgently demands.
The communist holocaust, like the Nazi, should have brought forth a flowering of Western art, witness, sympathy, and an ocean of tears, and then a celebration at its downfall. Instead, it has called forth a glacier of indifference. Kids who in the 1960s hung portraits of Lenin, Mao, and Che on their college walls—the moral equivalent of having hung portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, or Horst Wessel in one’s dorm—came to teach our children about the moral superiority of their generation. Every historical textbook lingers on the crimes of Nazism—rightly so—seeks their root causes, draws a lesson from them, and everybody knows the number six million. By contrast, the same textbooks remain silent about the catastrophe of communism, everywhere it held or holds power. Ask any college freshman—try it if you don’t believe me— how many died under Stalin’s regime and they will answer even now, “Thousands? Tens of thousands?” It is the equivalent of believing that Hitler killed hundreds of Jews.
The scandal of such ignorance derives from an intellectual culture’s willful blindness to the catastrophe of its relative sympathies. Most of Europe has outlawed the neo-Nazis, but the French Communist Party from 1999 to 2002 was part of a ruling government. One may not fly the swastika, but one may hoist the hammer and sickle at official events. The denial of Hitler’s dead or the minimization of the Jewish Holocaust is literally a crime in most of Europe. The denial or minimization of communist crimes is an intellectual and political art form, and the fast track to a successful academic career. “Anti-fascist” is a term of honor; “anti-communist” is a term of ridicule and abuse.
The communist holocaust … has called forth a glacier of indifference.
As we meet, the Social Democratic Party and the anti-Euro party in Germany are negotiating to enter into a government in Thuringia that will be ruled by Die Linke, the heirs of the East German Communist Party, because no one remembers and, above all, no one teaches the lessons. For at least a generation, intellectual contempt for liberal society has been at the core of the humanities and the soft social sciences. This has accelerated, not changed, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as for the mea culpas, we await them in vain.
When Eisenhower heard that the German residents of a nearby town didn’t know about a death camp whose stench would have reached their nostrils, he marched them, well-dressed—it’s dramatic footage—through the rotting corpses and made them look at and help dispose of the dead. The mayor of Saxe-Gotha and his wife hanged themselves on their return.
We lack Eisenhower’s authority. Milan Kundera stated the moral reality with clarity: “What about those with good intentions?” he asked. “When Oedipus realized that he himself was the cause of their suffering,” he answered, “he put out his eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes—unable to stand the sight of the misfortunes he had wrought by not knowing.” Let the apologists for communism acknowledge the dead, bury the dead, and atone for the dead; otherwise, let them be forgiven only when they have put out their eyes and wandered blind away from Thebes. And let Western intellectuals learn the words of the poem Requiem, written during the Stalinist terror by Anna Akhmatova, the greatest Russian poet of the 20th century, “I will remember them always and everywhere. I will never forget them no matter what comes.”
The bodies demand accounting, apology, and repentance. Without such things, the age of communism lives. Without such things, there remains a Berlin Wall, of the mind and spirit, that has not fallen.
The Marine Hitchhikers
Early in 2012, Barack Obama promised that a U.S. military with a smaller budget would be an asset. “Our military will be leaner,” he said, “but the world must know — the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”
How’s that working out? Not so good. The U.S. Navy has shrunk so much that the Marines are looking at the possibility of using foreign vessels to deploy to Europe or Africa. Specifically, the Marines are communicating with Britain, Spain and Italy about the idea because so many of the ships the Navy does have are in the Pacific. According to former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, “Our Navy has gone from 568 ships when I was secretary of the Navy — and much more than that, actually, when I was commissioned — down to about in the 280s now.”
It’s little wonder that military support for this commander in chief is so low. Obama has the military busy with leftist social engineering and Don Quixote-type missions against the weather while its equipment is no longer up to the real tasks at hand.
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Posted by JR at 12:34 AM