Who is Paul Chek?
Click here to see my post ‘Cardio: Good or Bad?’
Click here for my post about how to workout properly.
Josh Rubin, of ‘East West Healing and Performance’ (also an instructor at the CHEK Institute):
Who is Paul Chek?
Click here to see my post ‘Cardio: Good or Bad?’
Click here for my post about how to workout properly.
Josh Rubin, of ‘East West Healing and Performance’ (also an instructor at the CHEK Institute):
Thom Stark was a Fig Tree and Ledbetter scholar at Emmanuel School of Religion: A Graduate Seminary. He is a member of several professional societies, including the American Academy of Religion, the American Historical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Thom’s academic interests include Second Temple Jewish History and Religion, Christian Origins, Second Testament Christologies, Ancient and Modern Apocalyptic Sects, Global Theologies of Liberation (Christian and Islamic), Interreligious Dialogue, Anthropology of Religion, Postcolonial Studies (African, Latin American, and Middle-Eastern), and Religion and Globalization. Thom has lectured on Second Temple Jewish apocalypticism, Christian origins, the Parables of Jesus, and early Christological controversies. In addition to The Human Faces of God, Thom is the author of several academic essays and a forthcoming monograph on New Testament Christological language understood in the context of broader second temple Judaisms, tentatively titled, Behold the Man.
Thom writes for the website Religion at the Margins, where he sporadically engages issues in religion, politics, and culture.
Thom is married to Erica Daniela Calderon, with whom he has one daughter, Gabriela Madeline Stark.
The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries To Hide It).
Foreword by John J. Collins. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010. 268 pages.
FROM THE BACK COVER: Does accepting the doctrine of biblical inspiration necessitate belief in biblical inerrancy? The Bible has always functioned authoritatively in the life of the church, but what exactly should that mean? Must it mean the Bible is without error in all historical details and ethical teachings? What should thoughtful Christians do with texts that propose God is pleased by human sacrifice or that God commanded Israel to commit acts of genocide? What about texts that contain historical errors or predictions that have gone unfulfilled long beyond their expiration dates?
In The Human Faces of God, Thom Stark moves beyond notions of inerrancy in order to confront such problematic texts and open up a conversation about new ways they can be used in service of the church and its moral witness today. Readers looking for an academically informed yet accessible discussion of the Bible’s thorniest texts will find a thought-provoking and indispensable resource in The Human Faces of God.
FROM THE FOREWORD: “This is a courageous book, that challenges us to take the modern criticism of the Bible to its logical conclusion. It deserves a wide readership.” — John J. Collins, Yale
GREG BOYD: The Human Faces of God is one of the most challenging and well-argued cases against the doctrine of biblical inerrancy I have ever read. The value of this bold and witty book goes well beyond posing challenges evangelicals like myself must face, however. All who hold the Bible in high regard will benefit from Stark’s brutally honest, insightful, and well-researched investigations into the text, as well as from his own constructive proposal to interpret Scripture’s “damnable texts” as “negative revelations.” Rarely have I read a book with which I agreed and disagreed so much—which is precisely why I found this stimulating work to be deeply rewarding and believe it is a work that deserves to be seriously wrestled with by evangelicals and mainstream Christians alike.
TONY CAMPOLO: Here is a book that answered a lot of questions that I had about what really transpires historically as it pertains to the revelation of God in Scripture. I learned so much from this book that I can strongly encourage anyone who is seeking to move from simplistic proof-texting to a comprehensive understanding of the Bible to read this book carefully.
Click here to read Thoms review of Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.
“I am a Christian. Sure, not by fundamentalists’ standards, but I’m a Christian nonetheless. I say this at the outset because I don’t want my intentions to be misunderstood. In critiquing Paul Copan’s apologetic defenses of our frequently morally problematic Bible, my aim is not to turn anybody away from the Christian faith. In fact, I am critical of apologetic attempts to sweep the Bible’s horror texts under the rug precisely because I believe such efforts are damaging to the church and to Christian theology. After having read and critiqued Paul Copan’s latest apologetic effort, I am obliged to say that I can only recommend this book to atheists who are looking for a good book to give to their Christian friends to show them what’s wrong with Christianity.
Books like Copan’s will only take Christianity ten steps backwards. In the name of inerrancy, the truth is trampled. Contemporary popular apologists tend to look for any way to salvage the text, no matter how unlikely or untenable the argument. They’ll use scholarly sources selectively, or pounce on one scholar’s argument and run away with it, without any concern for the fact the vast majority of scholars haven’t been persuaded by it. They’re not interested in what’s plausible, only in what’s “possible,” if it serves their immediate purposes. They trade in eisegesis, wild speculation, and fanciful interpretations, reading into the text what isn’t there, indeed, what’s often contradicted by the very passages they cite—something Copan himself does not infrequently, as we’ll see.
But they seem oblivious to the real harm they’re doing. Not only are they giving permission for Christians to be dishonest with the material, they’re reinforcing delusions that disconnect well-meaning Christians from reality, blinding them to the destructive effects many of these horror texts continue to have upon Christian communities and in broader society. Those Christians who aren’t genuinely struggling with the horror texts will read pulp apologetics books like Copan’s just to have their presuppositions reinforced, accepting the apologist’s word uncritically, even though, in most cases, these apologists aren’t even properly trained in biblical studies.
This is a serious pastoral issue. A friend of mine who is a pastor, after reading the following review of Copan’s book, lamented its damaging effects on the Christian community. Saddened by Copan’s disingenuous treatment of the source material, this pastor wrote to me:
This continues to be one of my greatest pastoral challenges—books like this that turn into five minute interviews that give people crap answers to get us settled back into the Matrix and ignore the stuff of life. Ultimately I’ll be conversing with people who will have read Copan, understand from his text even less than he seems to on this subject and feel thoroughly confident in the mind numbing conclusions they adhere to.
What he speaks to is a pervasive reality. These apologists are perpetuating an insular Christian culture, giving well-meaning Christians permission to switch off their brains and their consciences and go about their business, pretending everything is all right. The apologists don’t care to convince those struggling on the margins of faith—they’re preaching only to the converted, only to those who are looking for easy answers to questions others are asking them, but which they aren’t asking themselves. Yet those Christians who are genuinely struggling with these horror texts, those who are tormented by them, on the verge of having a crisis of faith—they find no comfort in the easy answers peddled by the pious spin doctors. Rather, they are repulsed by them, and often come to think that the only alternative to an intellectually dishonest and morally compromised faith is no faith at all. I see this tragic reality every day. I know not a few former-Christians-turned-atheists who expressly credit Christian apologists like Copan for their loss of faith. These Christians, who are genuinely struggling with these texts, see right through these hollow, ad hoc, incoherent and inconsistent “answers” and recognize these “answer-men” for what they are. And this is why I’m so critical of apologists like Paul Copan—not just because their arguments are frequently absurd and usually, at the very least, untenable, but because they are doing real damage to real people, all because they’re more concerned to protect their insular, fideistic doctrines than they are to speak the truth. They are sophists, in a world crying out for prophets. Prophets speak the truths that no one wants to hear, which also happen to be the truths that everyone needs to hear. We cannot move forward until we find the courage to confront our problematic texts, the courage to be brutally honest. Only in the pursuit of the truth of the matter will we be able to find God. But when our agenda is rather to defend our institutions, all we will find is the gods of our own fashioning, which are the gods Copan defends in this book.
My heart, therefore, is not to attack apologists like Copan, but to call them to honesty for the sake of the church, and for the sake of those who are struggling at the margins of faith. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not think that Paul Copan is a malicious person. I do not think he is being intentionally dishonest, though it is clear that he is being dishonest with himself and by extension with us. If he weren’t writing books that were negatively influencing thousands of people, I’d let him have his personal, self-sustaining deceptions. But instead he is either duping Christians, or repulsing them—and as for the non-Christians, he is having no effect at all with books like this one, which alone is indication enough that something is seriously wrong with Copan’s project. No doubt Copan is a very intelligent person, but his commitment to a narrow and exclusivistic fundamentalism prevents him from making intelligent arguments. Likewise, I am sure he is a kind person, with fairly decent morals and ethics (with a few exceptions standard among conservative Evangelicals). But he is not a moral apologist. And it’s his apologetics, not his personal morality, that affect so many.
This book review seeks to confront Copan’s distortions of the text, while at the same time confronting the text where it needs to be confronted. This is a necessary step, before we can begin to move forward constructively, as a people who hope in God. I wrote this review, not because I had nothing better to do. I wrote it because it’s necessary. I wrote it because I expect better from Copan, because I want him to be a positive force, not an agent of regression and propaganda. I wrote this book because I want to challenge Christians not to accept the easy answers uncritically, not to rest easy in the delusion that everything is as it should be with our institutions and our texts. We have to struggle if we want to find God. And we have to learn to identify and resist any and all attempts to lull us into docility. Jacob did not defend God; Jacob wrestled against God. And he came out wounded, not whole. And that is what it means to be Israel.”
Click here to continue reading.
For the [ad hoc] Christianity podcast interview w/ Thom, click here.
Click here to listen to Nick and Josh podcast interview w/ Thom.
Click here to hear Thom on the ‘Naked Jews & Neo-hippies’ BlogTalkRadio show.
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Other bits and pieces by Thom
here are two (of several) reasons. I argue that the Bible is a collection of books, not a single book, and that many of the books of the Bible are arguing with one another (sometimes even different sources within the same book are arguing with each other). Thus, from my perspective it makes no sense to say that I do not accept what the Bible says on a particular point, because the Bible may contain different views on the matter, and I may agree with one view while disagreeing with another. From my perspective, on several matters I cannot agree with “the Bible” without also disagreeing with it.
Secondly, “the Bible” never makes any claim about “itself.” Only certain authors make claims about certain texts within what we now call the Bible. But not every author of the Bible might agree with those authors or that view of scripture. Indeed, if in fact some books and sources are intentionally arguing with other books and sources in what is now the canon, then those authors would certainly disagree with any other biblical author who (may or may not) claim that “the Bible” is inerrant. Thus, again we do not have “the Bible” making a claim about itself, but a few authors within the Bible making claims that reflect the views of certain groups within Judaism at a certain time. At most that’s what we can say we have. To say that I “do not agree with what the Bible says about itself” is therefore, from my perspective, to confuse the reality of the sources we have.
I don’t at present have time to debate the issue, but you asked for a “taste,” and there’s a very small one. I argue that this is the only consistent historical-grammatical approach to the question, and that inerrantists shoot themselves in the foot whenever they assert that the historical-grammatical hermeneutic is the only valid hermeneutic. I argue at some length that in fact many of inerrantists’ axiomatic hermeneutical principles contradict a historical-grammatical hermeneutic, such as (for instance) the principle that “the Bible is the best interpreter of itself.”
Interview w/ Huffington Post
You’re saying God evolves in the Old Testament?
Exactly. Surprise of surprises, as Israel aspired to greatness and sought to make a name for itself, surrounded by vast empires, Yahweh got bigger and bigger, until he became so grandiose in their theologies that it no longer made sense to refer to the other national deities as gods at all — so vastly superior was Yahweh to the gods of other nations, according to Judean propaganda literature.
Tell us more about this evolution from tribal deity to monotheism.
Well as Chris Rollston argues, there are various stages in Israel’s progression from polytheism to monotheism. Yahweh begins as a junior member of the divine pantheon. This is the view during the tribal confederation period of Israel’s history. After Israel became a monarchy, Yahweh gets a promotion to head of the pantheon, taking his father Elyon’s place. (This parallels similar ideas in Babylonian literature, in which Marduk’s ascendancy to king of the gods mirrors the rise of the Babylonian empire.)
Over time, Yahweh and Elyon are conflated, they sort of merge into one god. At this stage Yahweh starts to be seen as creator-god. But in this period, Israel still believes in other gods; it’s just that they’re not supposed to worship other gods because they owed their allegiance to Yahweh, their patron deity. Of course, Yahweh was believed to have had a wife, Asherah, and it is clear that Israelites worshiped her as Yahweh’s consort.
This seems to have been acceptable orthodoxy until the seventh century BCE or so. At that point, prophets like Jeremiah began to polemicize other gods, calling into doubt their very existence. This idea that Yahweh alone is God is solidified during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century for a complex set of reasons. This is when official Israelite religion finally became monotheistic.
Is this, as Sam Harris called it, “The End of Faith?”
One thing that the New Atheists and fundamentalist Christians share is this either/or logic. Either Christianity is true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then it’s useless. I don’t buy into that simplistic paradigm.
When we’re talking about an ultimate truth that may or may not lie beyond the metaphysical iron curtain, we’re talking about a “truth” that is very different from the kind of truths that can be verified or falsified by scientific procedures. Talk about this ultimate truth, or “God-talk” as theologians call it, is always going to be conditioned by the limits of human knowledge on this side of the curtain. As Wittgenstein put it, the limits of language are coterminous with the limits of the world. But if there is anything meaningful about our existence, it lies beyond those limits, and speaking truthfully about what lies beyond the limits of language cannot by definition entail speaking about what we can demonstrate to be true empirically.
Truthful God-talk is poetry, not science — evocative, not descriptive. “Faith” is what we have when we live our lives as if they were meaningful, and Christianity offers us one language that helps us do that. Like any language, of course, there are different dialects, accents and vocabularies. Just as with English speakers, some Christians get irony, metaphor and humor, and others don’t. Moreover, just as languages evolve to adapt to new realities and new knowledge, religions do the same, and rightly so, whether practitioners acknowledge it or not.
How should Christians read the Bible in light of this kind of scholarship?
Between the lines. That’s how they should read the Bible. Christians need to learn to appropriate our tradition’s God-talk both critically and constructively. As I argue in chapter 1 of my book, the Bible is an argument with itself. It doesn’t have one viewpoint, but in the Bible you’ll find actual disputes between different personalities about the meaning of it all.
To be a Jew or Christian, to be a part of that tradition, is to participate in the argument. It’s to join in. You can take up a position represented by Jesus, or by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, which is sharply at odds with the two other major schools of thought in the Bible. (I’ve often said that if Ecclesiastes wasn’t in the Bible, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a Christian on most days.) Or you can come up with a new position. But to be a member of the faith community is to participate in the discussion.
I am a Christian because I believe that what our predecessors have said continues to be important to the discussion, even if what they said is sometimes dead wrong. Christians need to understand that it’s OK to disagree with the Bible; but, in doing so, it’s not OK to pretend like we’re not indebted to our predecessors, even when we disagree with them.
To read the rest of this interview, click here.
In the body of your argument, you offer seven reasons why you believe God exists. The confusion we’re having in this back and forth relates only to four of those seven. The other three I disagree with for different reasons, which I’ll restate later. But for now, the four that are causing the confusion:
1. Moral Conviction
3. Beauty and Goodness
4. Personal Experience
Actually, the 4th may not need to be critiqued alongside the other three. The basic problem there is that most people have a personal experience that confirms their respective beliefs for them. That being the case, this is not a very good reason to believe in your specific God, or any God at all. You should be suspicious of this, if you’re honest, and honest enough to admit that if you were a Muslim, you personal experience would probably “confirm” that ontology too, as the personal experiences of countless Muslims have done for them. The same goes for atheists, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, to argue that it might not have weight on its own, but it becomes significant as part of a “cumulative” argument is unsatisfactory. If a “cumulative” case is built on units of evidence that on their own possess no real weight, but look substantial when held up side by side, that is not a good case; it is an optical illusion.
But let’s deal with (1), (2) and (3). You say that the fact that all human societies have a morality (even if it’s not the same morality, but a morality nonetheless), the fact that the majority of humanity have generally had a “spirituality” throughout history, and the fact that there is beauty and goodness in the world says to you that belief in God is more probable than not.
I am saying that these things themselves are not pointing you to God. You are looking at them, and postulating God to explain them. In a poetic sense, they “speak of God to you.” But you must acknowledge that these things do not “speak” at all about anything other than themselves. The world is there before us, as a fact, a surprising one, to be sure. But the world does not point to God (if it did, which god would it point to, and how do we know?) in any sense other than in the poetic sense of the one who is looking for God in the world.
You completely mischaracterize me (and misunderstand my claims) when you claim that I “choose to trust the scientific construct for extra-scientific reasons.”
I am not trusting the scientific construct any more than you are. Understand that. I know full well that you do not deny that neuroscience explains what is happening in our brains when we have what we call “spiritual” experiences, when we experience certain emotions (fear, awe, joy, etc.), and that neuroscience together with social sciences adequately explain why our brains react the way they do to certain stimulants in order to produce a particular sensation. I know that you accept this. This is all that I’m saying. Science explains how and why (conditioning>>stimulant>>affectation) we have “mountain top” experiences, “spiritual” trances, and (as neuro-biological evolutionary science has shown, along with occasional help from anthropology) why we as a species have something like what some philosophers call “morality” and what parts of the brain are functioning when we are doing moral reasoning.
You have the same “faith” in science I do, when it comes to that. When I am saying that science is a “sufficient” explanation, I am not saying that it’s a rival explanation to theology. I’m saying that it sufficiently explains why and how we function the way we do and how we developed to function this way (physiologically and socially).
To deny the empirical data is irrational, which is not to say that affirming the empirical data is reductionistic. I am not saying the natural explanation is “all there is,” or that it’s the only explanation. I am saying that it is sufficient to explain why you feel like there’s something bigger out there when you are standing on top of a (big) mountain or looking out at a (big) sky of stars. The sensation we feel is perfectly explicable in terms of neurology. Nothing more need be posited than: that’s the way we work.
Now, most of us experience these things, and whether we know there is a sufficient natural explanation or not, we feel like there must be “more to it.” As I pointed out earlier, this feeling itself (the feeling that there must be more to it) is explicable in terms of neurology.
The world is a fact. Our brains are a fact within that fact. And that they release chemicals from a certain quadrant that produce the sensation we have learned to name “moreness” is also a fact, a fact of biology, which is a fact of the world. The fact of the world is a given. There is no explanation for it that is intrinsic to it. Any “meaning” of the world is something that lies beyond the world.
That human beings look at a river in a glen from the peak of a mountain and see beauty is a fact. That our brains release chemicals to give us that sensation of beauty, awe, and transcendence–that is also a fact. That the beauty of the riven in the glen “points us to God” is not a fact, but a poetic construct. We are positing an ontology to “explain” the fact (but not in the same sense as the neurological explanation), but that ontology is not a fact of the world. By its very definition it “is” beyond the world, and therefore beyond the limits of language (which are coterminous with the limits of the world).
Put most simply: a flower does not tell us of God’s existence; we tell the flower that it tells us of God’s existence.
You are assuming that I am saying that science is a paradigm for interpreting the world just like theology is. I am not saying that. Science is a way of seeing the world, but it not a way of seeing the world in the same way that theology or metaphysics is a way of seeing the world. It is not a rival to poetry, so that either the scientist or the poet is right, but not both. You know this.
When I say that science is a sufficient explanation, I am saying that science is attempting to explain the fact of the world. When I say that theology is a gratuitous explanation, I am saying that theology is attempting to ascribe meaning to the fact of the world. Science cannot falsify a construction of meaning. And theology cannot falsify a demonstration of fact.
Therefore, when you are making the claim that you believe in God because (1) there is what we call beauty, (2) there is what we call morality, and (3) there is what we call spirituality, you are making a statement of belief that is not in fact justified by what we call beauty, morality, and spirituality. What you are doing is postulating a metanarrative and interpreting the world within it. Atheists do the same thing, and their metanarratives are equally coherent. And so on, and so forth.
So, if you are honest, all you can really say is, I believe in God, and I believe in a very particular God within a very particular narrative, and therefore, when I look at certain facts of the world, I interpret those facts within the context of my belief in God. This is reducible to: I see God because I see God. The most honest answer to the question, “How do you know God exists?” is: “I don’t. But I choose to because the idea gives me comfort, or because it gives me hope, or because that’s how I was raised and I haven’t yet found reason to reject my heritage, etc. etc.” These are honest answers. “Because grass is pretty” and “people know what decency means” are not justifications for belief in God. They are facts of the world. To claim that they are justifications for your belief in God is the very definition of circular reasoning.
As for your other three arguments (design, first cause, and the resurrection of Jesus), they are problematic too. Design is problematic, actually, for all the same reasons detailed just above. The facts of the world do not indicate a designer, except that we bring to the fact our prior experience that says that complex things are designed. The analogy of the watchmaker is again a case of circular reasoning. We are interpreting the facts based upon our prior conditioning. But the fact is, we simply do not have an explanation for origins. None is possible. The world is a given. No explanation necessary. We begin with the fact. How or whether we interpret that fact is up to us. But a given is by definition something that requires no justification. (That’s an analogy.)
As it happens, every attempt to use the facts of the world to argue for design has failed, as has every attempt to prove that the world must have had an uncaused cause. The law of cause and effect only obtains within time and space. If time and space began with the world, the law of cause and effect would not and could not apply. You appeal to these slogans and speak of “probability,” but give no explanation for why you think the facts of complexity and existence are “more probable.” Based on what calculations? If on any calculations, who did them for you? And how can any calculations done within the world of facts, based on a world of facts, point in any specific direction beyond a world of facts? That is an absurdity.
Moreover, even if the facts of the world could direct us to God, to what character of God would they necessarily direct us? Do the facts of the world point us to monotheism or polytheism? To monism or dualism? To they point us to a God of love, or to a God of rage, or to a schizophrenic God? Do they point us to an absent God? Or do they point us to an uncaused flying monkey that had all the faculties enough to create a complex universe, but can’t itself speak English or ride a unicycle?
As for the resurrection, do read the essays on the two links I posted above, and refer again to the argument I had with you about that subject on another one of your posts.
I hope that I have clarified myself here. I am not a closed-universe naturalist and I am not advocating closed-universe naturalism when I say that natural explanations for your sensory phenomena are sufficient, and theological explanations are poetic and gratuitous.
Remember: You look at the world and see God, because God is how you see the world, not because the world tells you to see God.
Don’t change what you believe. Don’t change what you practice. Just understand the nature of your claims; be precise, and don’t lead people into a false sense of justification–only for them to become disillusioned later when they figure things out.
You said, “[I]t is [an] error to say that homosexuality is the same [as the issue of women wearing head coverings]. All Biblical writers that deal with the issue [homosexuality] agree that it is a sin.”
But the argument from homosexual hermeneutics is not that what the Bible condemns as sin is not sin. The argument is that the kind of homosexuality that the Bible condemns as sin is not the kind of homosexuality Christian homosexuals are attempting to vindicate—committed, loving, monogamous homosexual love.
You said, “In this day [the first century A.D.], the Romans did not see a problem with homosexuality. It was practically a given that a man in high position would have a young boy he would visit.”
This is simply untrue. Many Greek and Roman moral philosophers and politicians believed that homosexuality is an unnatural act. While male-child sex slaves were common among the aristocracy, that does not mean it was socially acceptable behavior. Many considered it debase and immoral.
The pro-gay interpreters are not arguing that the Jews did not view homosexuality as a sin. They are arguing that what Jews were talking about when they condemned homosexuality is something different from the kind of homosexuality up for discussion here. The understanding is that ancient Jews had no real concept of the possibility of committed, loving, monogamous homosexual love. The homosexuality Jews condemned was typically associated with paedophilia, idolatry, or promiscuity. No homosexual in Paul’s day claimed to be a good Jew or a good Christian. There is no record of any attempt to reconcile homosexuality with the Christian moral paradigm. The assumption is that this is the first time in history this conversation has taken place.
You said, “Jesus never specifically denounced homosexuality, but neither did He denounce child molestation! He used the Greek word “porneo” which is an umbrella word for all kinds of sexual immorality…”
The question up for debate is whether committed, loving, monogamous homosexuality should be put under the umbrella of pornea. Pornea certainly meant promiscuity, incest, adultery, temple prostitution, paedophilia, bestiality, and rape. We are debating whether or not committed, loving, monogamous homosexuality should come under pornea in the first place. It is a question that the New Testament does not specifically address. When we are addressing issues that the New Testament does not specifically address, it is important that we come to the conversation with patience, attentiveness, discernment, and a commitment to being willing to repent of our position if it is demonstrated to be the wrong position. However nice it is that we are willing to love homosexuals despite their sin of homosexuality, that is not a commitment to really hearing what homosexuals are saying. Starting the conversation by saying, “You’re wrong but I love you anyway,” is analogous to saying, “With all due respect, everything you have to say is a pack of lies; but let’s be friends anyway so I don’t have to come to terms with my parochialism.”
Now, I am not saying that we will never reach the point where we say, “You’re wrong but I love you anyway.” I am only saying that this conclusion is appropriate at the end of a genuine, reciprocal dialogue, not at the beginning of one.
You said, “Some liberal scholars believe that Romans 1 just deals with the homosexual acts committed by the Caesars. No where in Paul’s writing does he even hint at that… He does not refer to a select rich group of Gentiles when he deals with homosexuality… he deals with the sins of the Gentiles in this area as a whole.”
First, I recommend you cease with the use of the term “liberal” and its counterpart “conservative.” The labels do more harm than good, and they are quickly losing their descriptive power as what was liberalism fifty years ago is today’s conservatism. Your scientific method of Bible study (historical-grammatical hermeneutics) was at one time called “liberalism.”
Second, no one here has argued that Romans 1 is referring to homosexual acts committed by the Caesars.
Third, your conclusion that Paul “does not refer to a select rich group of Gentiles when he deals with homosexuality” but that “he deals with the sins of the Gentiles in this area as a whole” is pure conjecture. How do you know who Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans 1? Were Gentiles “as a whole” homosexually active? Was every individual that rejected the Creator God a homosexual? Anyone who argues that they know who Paul is referring to when he speaks of “men lying with men” and “women with women” is pushing their pro- or anti-homosexual agenda. We can do all sorts of historical background studies to see what kinds of homosexuality existed in the first century Mediterranean world, we can look at samples of ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish conceptions of homosexuality and the moral stances they took toward it, but all of that work will not make it any clearer who Paul has in mind when he talks of men lying with men, and in what context such “lying” takes place. Moreover, all of this focus on Romans 1 for “Paul’s view” of homosexuality is a red herring, since the point of Romans 1 is found in Romans 2. The argument against Gentile immorality was not one of Paul’s invention. Paul hijacked the standard Jewish argument against Gentile immorality only to subvert it and throw the Jews into the same boat with the Gentiles. We do not know whether Paul actually approved of the argument he employed in Romans 1, since 1) it was not his own argument and 2) he employed it only as a rhetorical move to make a rather different point.
You said, “Paul brings it up again in 1 Cor. 6:9 and alludes to it in 1 Tim. 1:9-10. John alludes to it in the end of Revelation.”
You clearly have not read very much in the literature of homosexual hermeneutics. These are typically considered the weakest texts to point to since the Greek is so ambiguous.
You said, “Why do I bring up all of these references? Because this topic that is brought up by OT authors and at least 2 NT authors (Paul brings it up as sin in at least 3 of his letters) is major. It does not constitute a cultural interpretation. It was not just mentioned once to a specific audience… thereby, it is hard to see it as a cultural thing.”
You have given us no exegetical work for us to evaluate. We do not know why you think Paul’s references to homosexuality should include every possible form of homosexuality or just the kinds of homosexuality that homosexuals themselves condemn.
The universal/cultural distinction is a waste of time, and it can be a serious distraction. Do you believe that killing another human being is a universal or a cultural issue? The question doesn’t really make sense. The question we mean to ask is, What do you mean by “killing”? In other words, Is there any circumstance in which killing another human being might be deemed legitimate? I assume that your answer to this is that there are such circumstances, however regrettable they might be. Then let us frame the homosexual question the same way. What do you mean by homosexuality? Do you mean pure machismo translated into violent sex? Do you mean male temple prostitutes lying with male idol worshippers? Do you mean a man sleeping with his uncle? Do you mean a man sleeping with a man who is not his spouse? Do you mean a heterosexual who decides to try homosexuality on for size? Do you mean promiscuous or premarital homosexual sex? Or do you mean committed, loving, monogamous homosexual marriage? This latter one seems not to have been a consideration in the minds of the authors of Scripture. Is there any circumstance in which homosexual sex might be deemed legitimate? What would be the conditions for its legitimacy? In what ways might those conditions be any different from the conditions for the legitimacy of heterosexual sex? These are just a few of the questions that need to be taken into consideration when approaching an ethical dilemma.
You said, “[A]nd if we get into the realm of church history… every major father or reformer has taught that it [homosexuality] was a sin: Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, Spurgeon, etc.
Do you know what else Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, and Spurgeon taught? They taught that one of the ways Christians can express their love for their enemies is by killing them regretfully. Well, that’s a caricature. They taught (some taught, some just believed) that when whatever state/kingdom you’re in determines that it is necessary, love for enemy may be suspended and replaced with justifiable homicide for enemy.
Appealing to the authority of the fathers and the reformers has its place, but usually that appeal involves an appeal to an argument put forward by such authorities and not to a belief that was also the belief of nearly every man, woman and child contemporaneous to the authorities.
Thom replies to Ben’s post “Am I evil for pointing out that Jesus was evil?” on patheos.com (FB July 29, 2015)
The point you derive from my talk of the transition from underdog to empire is not a point I made or even could make. Jesus instructed his followers to be nonviolent, and to lead by serving, rather than lording over others. Constatinianism was a betrayal of Jesus’ teaching, not the logical conclusion to it. As far as your take on “hell,” you’re adopting the later Christian understanding of it, which Jesus did not have (because it didn’t exist yet). Jesus spoke of gehenna, which was the trash-dump outside of Jerusalem. Jesus opposed the religious leaders and power-brokers who made life miserable for the poor masses. It was those powerbrokers who, according to Jesus, were headed for gehenna—which was not eternal conscious torment for all eternity, but a graveyard for the disgraced, where the smoke from their ashes would rise (metaphorically) forever and ever. Jesus’ talk of judgment is underwritten by solidarity with the poor and marginalized (even non-Jews) and opposition to those who hold those marginalized under their oppressive thumbs. Your dichotomy between the Emperor Sadist Jesus and the Liberal Hippy Jesus is a false one. Jesus was neither a hippy nor a Harold Camping nut. People can hold wrong beliefs and still hold lots of right ones. We can be critical of the wrong ones, and understand their influence on the right ones, without casting everything off as you’re doing. Did Jesus believe God would soon come to overthrow the Romans? Yes (the Roman power-structure, not the Roman population in general). Did that mean he thought anyone who wasn’t a justice-loving Jew or Christ-professing gentile was going to burn in hell forever? We have no evidence to support this, and lots of evidence to the contrary. Remember, second temple Jews believed in a life on earth after their final vindication, not a life in an eternal spiritual afterlife in heaven or hell. The vision was one in which God would reign directly over the earth, and there would be justice everywhere. It was a utopian vision of universal peace (where the lamb lies down with the lion, and swords are fashioned into plowshares). Jesus drew the line of judgment at who helped the needy, and who refused to help them. See Matthew 25, or the Good Samaritan story you yourself mentioned in the article. Maybe the moral contradiction is not in Jesus’ own ideas, but in the conflation of later Christian notions of “hell” for all nonbelievers, with Jesus’ justice-based final judgment, in which the powerful overlords would finally be humbled and their lives and rule brought to an end, in shame, rather than honor (i.e., Gehenna).
I understand you have a mission to fulfill, Ben, but I also understand you’re committed to making sound arguments. I agree with much of what Avalos says about the “bad Jesus.” I talk about Jesus’ end-times beliefs and their impact on his ethics, critically, in Human Faces of God. But Avalos makes a lot of unsupported assertions about the material, and overstates his case too often. He’s got an agenda, which is fine, but doesn’t always lead to the best analysis. I recommend you get your information from more reputable sources than Avalos and Carrier. Carrier’s claim that Jesus was just like all the other second-temple messianic hopefuls is, historically, laughable. Real historians (ones without agendas) don’t dump historical figures into categories and say “this one is just like all those ones.” They point out the differences and similarities between all instances in question, with considerable nuance and a marked lack of moral adjudication. And between all the messianic hopefuls, there are important similarities, and important differences.
Love you, Ben. You can do better than this. Christians with power in our culture need to be disarmed and brought to shame. I’m with you on that. But not at the expense of easy generalizations and poor historical arguments.
Ben then responded thus:
Wow, we profoundly disagree about the moral core of Jesus. Your Jesus is only against the elite and the flagrant oppressors, and friend to all the downtrodden (presumably the majority), and those few enemies will simply be ashamed and non-existent(?) after Judgment Day. Sounds like a great guy with just a few extraneous not-mentioned line items to take issue with. That’s not the Jesus I found though. My Jesus preaches the same thing yours does, but in actuality ends up defining pretty much everyone as evil and he has them tortured forever. Apparently you think my Jesus comes solely from the later church conventions and that there is no evidence whatsoever of mine otherwise. I’ve heard your kind of case before. Incidentally my presentations demonstrate my case solely from the canonical gospels.
It says in Matthew 18:34-35 that “hell” would be like torture in first century prisons. It’s not like one can’t be tortured and experience shame, too. Also, what’s the point of threatening fires that never die if no one is going to be burning in them that whole time? And worms that never stop eating if there’s no one that’s going to be eaten by them that whole time? If the eternal punishment isn’t eternal is the eternal life also not eternal? Perhaps the eternal life is just metaphorical as well and Yahweh will merely appreciate the memory of his people fondly forever? How can Jesus believe in “eternal” sins if there won’t be eternal punishments? Etc. The fire pit outside the city seems to just be the earthly analogy Jesus uses before applying the eternal modifiers.
Perhaps you have keen answers to all my questions. I’ve incorporated them into my argument maps, and no one ever takes my questions seriously. They just run out of things to say and it leaves me believing they were just looking for some way to get out of the fundie cliche’ but they weren’t really looking where they were going. If there is a book that goes in depth addressing these issues from the perspective you favor, I would like to read it.
Thom said: “Did that mean he thought anyone who wasn’t a justice-loving Jew or Christ-professing gentile was going to burn in hell forever? We have no evidence to support this, and lots of evidence to the contrary.”
Oh? Just the Romans (and Jewish elite?)? Or is Jesus pointing the finger at just about everyone who doesn’t repent in just the right way to just the right measure? Did not Jesus believe few would be saved in Matthew 7:14 and again in 22:13-14? Was he asked if only a few *Romans* would be saved? Was not Jesus asked the direction question about whether or not a few would be saved implying that his listeners must have thought Jesus’ teachings indicated this would be the case (Luke 13:23-24)? Did Jesus not continually lambast his entire generation as evil, perverse, faithless, sinful, and whatever else? Did he not use the Pharisees, the scribes, and teachers of the law as cases in point to typify the entire generation? I don’t think “generation” refers to a small group of people or school of thought, does it? Judgement Day was going to come on everyone and not just one school of thought, right? Didn’t Jesus call his immediate audience evil just offhandedly as though he was used to just about everyone being evil (Matthew 7:11 & Luke 11:13)? Did Jesus not preach perfectionism impossible to attain without divine assistance (again implying it was really hard to make it)? Did not Jesus compare his apocalypse to Noah’s flood where only 8 people were saved? Was he not used to a god from the Old Testament in general who was not well known for saving most people? Did not Jesus tacitly admit that basically all the nations of the world belonged to Satan (during the temptation), implying virtually everyone in them were under a non-saved demonic dominion? Didn’t he run into demons and demon-possessed people often implying he lived in a world controlled by dark forces?
It seems clear to me that there’s a *ton* of evidence Jesus lived in his tiny cultic fractured fairytale land where the “few” of the elect were vastly outnumbered by the dark forces all around them. And so that’s why I don’t take your core revolutionary Jesus very seriously.
I have other things to say about the other things you wrote, but I wanted to focus on the most important elements.
And Paul Avery added this:
“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.” Comparing tne humble village of Capernaum to the more illustrious Roman towns near the area at that time. I don’t see how Jesus can be seen as the champion of the downtrodden or against wholesale damnation. You’re analyses are the more probable, Ben, If anything, Jesus mellowed out by the time the Johannie texts were composed.
The rest of the following is my response to Ben and Paul.
Ben, your reading of the texts conflates a lot of things and demonstrates a lack of familiarity with basic concepts. If you’re willing to listen (I know quite a bit about all this stuff, having studied it closely for over a decade, and for several years under the tutelage of world-class scholars who did their training in places like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, etc), maybe I can offer some guidance here.
BEN: “It says in Matthew 18:34-35 that ‘hell’ would be like torture in first century prisons. It’s not like one can’t be tortured and experience shame, too.”
The word “hell” is not used in the Bible. There are four words which are translated as “hell” by lazy translators: sheol, hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna. The first three simply refer to the “grave.” It is the same concept/word used in the Old Testament for the place of the dead, even before belief in resurrection emerged in the second-temple period. Sheol/hades/Tartarus is not “hell.” It is the ground in which dead bodies are buried, who exist in a kind of shadowy afterlife, with no real complete consciousness (similar concept you’d find in like The Odyssey—everyone goes there when they die, nobody really likes it, but everybody’s sort of a mere shadow of their former consciousness; they’re “asleep”). Both good and bad live here. Before belief in resurrection emerged among some Jews, everyone went to sheol when they died. After belief in resurrection emerged, sheol is the place from which the faithful would be resurrected.
The consistent view of immortality in the Bible (yes, some things are consistent) is that it belongs to God alone. When belief in the resurrection emerged, it is seen as a gift given to the righteous, in contract to the unrighteous who remain “asleep.” The Greek word translated “asleep” (for those in the ground) is keimai (from which we get our word “cemetery”), literally means, “to lie down.” By contrast, the Greek word translated “resurrection” is anastasis, meaning “to stand up.” So the resurrection is the standing up of those who are lying down. Nowhere is the idea of resurrection applied to the unrighteous. The unrighteous follow the pattern of Adam and Eve, who after sinning were denied access to the tree of life which gave them immortality. The gift of immortality was taken away from them. It is only given to the righteous, according to the entire New Testament. The notion of inherent immortality (of the soul) is entirely Greek, not Jewish.
It is he alone who is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. (1Timothy 6:16)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not _perish_ but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
^^^ The contrast is between perishing (dying) and having eternal life. This is like, the most basic verse in the New Testament, and nobody seems to notice what it says. #ThanksDante’sInferno
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)
For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (John 17:2)
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
^^^ Again. Hello!
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable…. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.'” (1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 54)
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 1:11)
So to reiterate, the idea of inherent immortality is not a Jewish notion; that’s Greek stuff, Plato and what-not. Eternal life in the Bible is always something that God either gives (to the righteous) or withholds (from the unrighteous). There is no doctrine of the immortality of the soul in the Bible. But, you know, the Greco-Roman folk appropriated Christianity from the Jews and made it their own thing.
One of the main words translated as “hell” is Gehenna. Gehenna means “Valley of Hinnom.” It is the trash dump outside the walls of Jerusalem. The fire that burns there is the fire that burns the trash. The fire is always burning because there is always trash to burn. So when reference is made to Gehenna, “where the fires are always burning,” it’s describing something people could see by looking south over the wall. There’s the valley. There’s the trash. There’s the fire, always burning. Burning up the trash. The trash turns to ash, because it gets burned up.
Now when John the Baptist and Jesus talk about the “chaff” being “burned up” in an “unquenchable fire” (e.g., Matt 3:11-12; 13:40), the word for “burn up” is katakaio. It means, “to burn up; consume.” In other words, to utterly destroy with fire. Note that this meaning is clear; in the LXX Exodus 3:2 (Moses and the Burning Bush), it says, “The bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was _not consumed_” (katakaio). When Jesus and his mentor/predecessor John talk about those who will be judged with fire, the language clearly and unequivocally indicates a total destruction by fire, not a “never-ending torment” in fire.
Indeed, the very parable you reference above makes this absolutely clear. Let’s quote Matt 18:34-35:
“And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Did you miss something here? “to be tortured _until he would pay his entire debt_.” Even the parable you cite clearly envisions a temporary punishment.
BEN: “Also, what’s the point of threatening fires that never die if no one is going to be burning in them that whole time? And worms that never stop eating if there’s no one that’s going to be eaten by them that whole time?”
Like I said above. The fires in Gehenna were always burning because it was a trash heap. In their actual lived experience, the fires were always burning. And after the resurrection, where the righteous of God are living in the renewed Jerusalem, those fires would always be burning, because it’s a trash heap. That’s where, Jesus is saying, the bad folks would be buried—out there where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies (Mark 9:42). Note it doesn’t say, “the worm never stops eating.” It says “the worm never dies.” But the point being, there are always worms and fire out there in the dump. That’s where the bad guys are going to be laid to rest. It’s not really that difficult to understand, Ben, if you’ll allow yourself to disentangle what the text actually says from what traditions have told you the text says. It never says the worms are going to be eating the bad guys (not that they wouldn’t); what it says is the bad guys are going to that place every Jerusalemite passes by everyday where there’s always trash burning and worms eating at the trash. A dishonorable death outside the walls of Jerusalem. That’s the image Jesus is offering; that’s the image his first-century Jewish hearers are hearing. Not “everlasting physical torture in the underworld.”
Note again, the fire is said to be “unquenchable” or “eternal,” but what it does to the object is “burn up; consume” (the opposite of Moses’ Burning Bush). “But the chaff he will burn up (katakaio) with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12 & Luke 3:17). The fire is unquenchable; the chaff is consumed by it. The image again: the burning object is totally destroyed by the fire, and the fire will not be quenched until there’s nothing left to burn. This isn’t “magic” fire. It’s just that the dead bad guys aren’t the only trash; there’s always more trash to keep the fires going. It’s saying they’re trash, just like the rest of the trash, basically. Indeed, the metaphor here is explicitly “chaff,” so that plays into the “useless garbage” motif just dandy.
BEN: If the eternal punishment isn’t eternal is the eternal life also not eternal?
First of all, the word “eternal” here is the Greek aionios. It is translated often as “eternal,” but generally means “age long.” It comes from “aion,” which just means “an age/period of time/type of period of time.” Aionios doesn’t always signify something that lasts forever and ever. It sometimes is actually used for a short period of time, but a period with a quality that is really intense. Regardless, the only place Jesus ever uses the phrase “eternal punishment” is in Matthew 25:46. He just gets finished talking about judging between those who cared for the needy and those who refused to care for the needy. These are divided into two groups and of those who spurned the needy, “these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
So the question here is, what is “eternal punishment”? You’re thinking “eternal conscious torment,” because that’s how a Greek philosopher-theologian is gonna read it. What is God’s punishment for that kind of thing? Death. The answer is death. That was the punishment for Adam and Eve. That’s what the “wages of sin” are, according to Paul. That’s what John 3:16 says God sent Jesus here to save us from. The eternal punishment is death. It’s contrast is eternal life. The punishment is eternal, meaning—they don’t share in the resurrection which is given only to the righteous (according to Matthew 25, those who cared for the needy). That’s what happens when you get “burned up,” like “chaff,” to use the terminology of both John the Baptist and Jesus. The punishment is a death that you don’t ever get to come back from. For the others, the reward is, you get to come back from death forever. It’s all right there.
The wicked suffer “eternal punishment” (Matt 25:46), “eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:2) and “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9). But this doesn’t mean that they endure it consciously forever and ever. They receive “eternal destruction” the same way the righteous receive “eternal redemption” (Heb 5:9; 9:12). The righteous aren’t undergoing an eternal process of redemption. They are redeemed, and that redemption is forever. In the same way, the unrighteous are destroyed, and they are destroyed forever. They are forever destroyed, but they are not forever being destroyed.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (Hebrews 5:9).
In other words, they are destroyed, dead, never to be resurrected, and never to live in the presence of the Lord (who reigns on earth).
“and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 9:12).
They are not “eternally being saved.” They are saved, and that status of having been saved lasts forever, just like the unrighteous are destroyed, and that destruction is irrevocable (eternal).
“Though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever” (Psalm 92:7).
That Psalm was written long before resurrection was even conceived of in Israel. Its an idiom. “Destroyed forever.” Just means dead.
“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66:24).
Oh look. Jesus was quoting a Bible verse written before resurrection was even conceived. Worms. Unquenchable fire. “Loathsome to all mankind.” Yup. Out there in trash dump.
“Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched” (2 Kings 22:17).
Ah, another “unquenchable fire.” Doesn’t mean “eternal conscious torment.” It means the fire won’t go out before it utterly destroys what it’s burning.
“Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it” (Jeremiah 4:4).
“Therefore this is what Yahweh who is sovereign says: ‘My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched'” (Jeremiah 7:20).
“This is what Yahweh says to you, house of David: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it'” (Jeremiah 21:12).
Say to the southern forest: ‘Hear the word of Yahweh. This is what Yahweh who is sovereign says: ‘I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. Everyone will see that I Yahweh have kindled it; it will not be quenched'” (Ezekiel 20:47-48).
2 Peter references the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a pattern of God’s judgment of the unrighteous. God turned “the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes,” he “condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6).
We look at the book of Daniel, which Jesus referenced many times. This is one of the very late books of the Old Testament, written in a time when resurrection had finally emerged as a belief among apocalyptic Jews.
“Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35).
The metaphors used throughout the New Testament for God’s judgment denote annihilation, not some eternal conscious torment:
“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).
“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:19).
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:40).
Do weeds burn forever and ever?
“If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6).
In Matthew 7:13, Jesus contrasts the gate that “leads to destruction” with the gate that “leads to life.” Note also Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” The clear implication here is that God will do to the soul of the unrighteous what humans do to the body—kill it. In other words, if you’re killed for being righteous, you will die but you will be awaiting resurrection. On the other hand, if you care more about your life now than obedience to God, your whole existence will be extinguished forever.
BEN: “Perhaps the eternal life is just metaphorical as well and Yahweh will merely appreciate the memory of his people fondly forever?”
This kind of sarcasm doesn’t play really well when you don’t know what you’re talking about. 😉
BEN: “How can Jesus believe in ‘eternal’ sins if there won’t be eternal punishments?”
Well, according to Jesus there was only one “eternal sin.” That’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And it’s quite obvious what he meant by that; the logic of the text is unambiguous, Ben.
“Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29).
Obviously, the meaning of “eternal sin” is a sin that can never be forgiven. What did you have in your head? Some kind of platonic ideal sin that exists forever and ever? The “eternal punishment” for this “eternal sin” is you don’t ever get to be forgiven, therefore you don’t ever get to be resurrected from the dead. Not. Rocket. Science.
BEN: “The fire pit outside the city seems to just be the earthly analogy Jesus uses before applying the eternal modifiers.”
Ha. Again: after the resurrection the people of God are going to live in Jerusalem forever and ever and ever. The Valley of Hinnom will always be outside the wall, where the worm will never die and the fire will never be extinguished, because that’s where the trash goes. Jesus wasn’t some Greek who thought everyone was going to live in the heavens when they died. He was a Jew who believed in _bodily_ resurrection on the selfsame _physical_ earth.
BEN “Thom said: ‘Did that mean he thought anyone who wasn’t a justice-loving Jew or Christ-professing gentile was going to burn in hell forever? We have no evidence to support this, and lots of evidence to the contrary.’ Oh? Just the Romans (and Jewish elite?)?”
You miss the point. I said there is lots of evidence to the contrary of the view that they would “burn in hell forever” (i.e., “conscious torment forever”). I also meant that there’s no evidence that Jesus believed everyone in the world who wasn’t explicitly one of his followers is going to 1) suffer consciously forever (obviously, because that’s not what he taught about anybody), and 2) die permanently. All the primary treatises of Jesus on judgment draw the line between those who please God by doing what is just and good, and those who displease God by refusing to do so. The Sermon on the Mount (loving your enemies, etc). Matthew 25 (taking care of the needy). The Good Samaritan. The ENTIRE POINT of the Good Samaritan parable is that it’s not believing the right things, but doing the right things, that pleases God. The Good Samaritan says that even people who believe the wrong things are counted worthy in God’s eyes if they do the right things, and even people who believe the right things are counted unworthy in God’s eyes if they don’t do the right things. That’s the whole point of it. It’s supposed to indicate that the kingdom of God is going to be full of surprise guests, and missing a lot of people his audience might have assumed would have been there.
BEN: “Or is Jesus pointing the finger at just about everyone who doesn’t repent in just the right way to just the right measure?”
There’s no basis for that kind of loose, sloppy generalization, and it goes against much of Jesus’ own teaching, Ben.
BEN: “Did not Jesus believe few would be saved in Matthew 7:14 and again in 22:13-14? Was he asked if only a few *Romans* would be saved?”
What does Matthew 7:14 follow after in the text, Ben? It’s the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in chapter 5. Why don’t you read it?
Whose is the kingdom of heaven? Those who are poor. Not the doctrinally correct. The poor.
Who will inherit the earth? The meek. Not the doctrinally correct. The meek.
Who will be filled? Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The word for righteousness is the same word for justice. He’s talking about actions, not doctrines.
Who will receive mercy? Those who show mercy.
Who will see God? The pure in heart. Not the pure in doctrine; the pure in heart.
Who will be called the children of God? Those who make peace.
Whose is the kingdom of heaven? Those who are persecuted for the sake of justice. So, currently, like, #BlackLivesMatter, etc.
He then says that his listeners are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But if they “lost their saltiness” or “hide their light,” they lose what makes them children of God. To shine the light, Jesus says, is to “do good works.” What are these good works? He extrapolates:
Make peace with people you’re angry with.
Be pure in your love; love genuinely.
Don’t abandon your wife making her vulnerable to this patriarchal society. (He’s speaking in a context.)
Be genuinely honest. Be true to your word.
Be good even to those powerbrokers who try to exploit you. Even your Roman occupiers.
Love your enemies, because you’re children of God, and God loves everybody. Don’t just love your own kind, your own friends and family. Everybody does that. That’s nothing special. Love your enemies, specifically. Overcome evil with good.
Don’t make displays of piety in public to show off how religious you are. Keep your piety in the closet. Do your good deeds anonymously.
Don’t make ostentatious prayers to show off. Keep your prayers simple and to the point, and in your prayers, don’t ask for more than you need, and always remember that God’s mercy on you is contingent on your showing mercy to others.
Don’t abase yourself and show it off so others will think you’re so holy. Keep your piety in the closet. True religion is not about how pious you are in public.
Don’t be greedy. Don’t amass stupid amounts of wealth. Share what you have. You can’t take it with you anyway.
Fill yourself with good things. Don’t revel in darkness. You are what you consume.
You have to make a decision between God’s way of doing things, and pursuing wealth. The two are incompatible. You cannot fulfill the law of love if your primary pursuit is money.
Don’t worry about yourself. Worry about others around you, and you’ll be taken care of.
Don’t judge others for their sins. You’ll be a hypocrite 100% of the time.
Live a life of open trust.
The entire law and everything the prophets ever said basically amounts to this: do for others what you would like others to do for you.
Now we’ve arrived at Matthew 7:13-14. It begins the concluding portion of the sermon. Everything prior to 7:13-14 is Jesus’ description of the kind of life that children of God should lead. Now we enter into the section in which he makes clear that whether we have lived this kind of life or not is the basis of how we’re going to be evaluated by God.
7:13-14 says that the life he’s described from 5:3-7:12 is hard, and not many are up to the challenge. He says nothing of doctrines or beliefs or anything of the sort. The narrow gate that leads to life is the hard, challenging life in which we show mercy to the unmerciful, in which we give love even to our enemies, in which we make peace with our neighbors and avoid self-righteousness, in which we abandon the pursuit of wealth and instead share with those who are in need, in which don’t concern ourselves with the sins of others but focus on our own moral life, in which we are truly honest and in which we love authentically. That’s the narrow gate.
But broad is the road that leads to destruction: the road where we are judgmental, where we don’t show mercy, where we make war with our enemies, where we don’t reconcile with our neighbors but instead prolong conflict and compound aggression, where we are unfaithful to our loved ones and where we pursue selfish gain, money, public recognition and acclaim. That’s the road that leads to destruction, and that’s the road most people take. Even apart from God’s judgment, it’s pure self-destruction. But it’s the easy path.
Conversely, the life of genuine love, forgiveness, mercy, and radical openness is hard. Very few find it.
Jesus then concludes the sermon with three comments on judgment. You shall know a tree by its fruit. What is good fruit? He just spent the sermon describing it. For example, someone who teaches you to hate your enemies is a false teacher; they will lead you astray from the life of genuine love. Don’t heed them. They’re a false prophet (i.e., most pastors and right-wing politicians in America today—bad fruit). He then makes it clear that just doing religious things in his name isn’t going to get you in heaven. Even if you’re doing all sorts of fancy miracles in his name, if you haven’t lived the life of genuine love described in the sermon, then you’re not somebody that Jesus recognizes as his own. He wants the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, the enemy lovers, the givers of mercy. He has no interest in the miracle-working powerbrokers who don’t know what it means to really love the Outsider. Finally, don’t just listen to what he says. You got to do it. Sort of the same principle as the critique of “slacktivists.” You can spout off all the right ideas, but if you’re not out there actively doing the hard work of love, building better communities and better societies by being peacemakers and sharers and truth-tellers and lovers of the Other in the world, then that’s not good enough. Don’t just post it on Facebook and show everyone you got the principle down. Get out there and pick that homeless woman up off the ground and take her to your guest room, etc. If you don’t live a life of love and show mercy, no mercy will be shown to you. But if you do, then mercy will be shown to you. Gandhi got it. So did the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. That is what Jesus is saying, in no uncertain terms, God cares about. As in Matthew 25, so here: God’s hand is extended to those who have extended their hands to others; it is withheld from those who have withheld their hands from others. This is the central message of Jesus. It is repeated throughout the synoptic Gospels over and over again.
Hell, even Paul, in Romans 2:14-16 says that those without God’s law are judged according to how well they measured up to their own consciences, and either accused or excused by it:
“When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”
Ben, you point to Matthew 22:13-14 as a prooftext for your view that Jesus was this nutcase zealot who wanted almost everybody to suffer. Did you even read the passage to which vv. 13-14 are the conclusion?
This is what the parable means:
God has sent his messengers out to invite God’s people to come into his. The kingdom is depicted as a great celebration. But most of God’s people rejected his messengers, and even killed them. This is a reference not only to Jesus’ disciples but to the long line of Israel’s social justice prophets who were killed by mobs. You have to understand this trope: the prophets throughout Israel’s history were always being sent to Israel to say: put an end to your injustices. You exploit the poor and trample on them; you sacrifice your children to idols; your society is full of systemic injustice. Put an end to all these horrible practices and start acting justly. (Not everything in the Old Testament is all genocide and slavery, you know. It was written by a bunch of people with a bunch of different perspectives, and a bunch of them were trenchant critics of real injustice, and strong advocates for social justice.)
Let’s take the prophet Amos for example. Read, carefully and thoughtfully, this passage from Amos 5. My commentary will be in square brackets.
They hate anyone who reproves in the gate, [they hate those who calls the city out for their injustice]
and they detest someone who speaks with integrity.
Therefore, since you trample on the poor
and take wheat as a “present” from him, [overtaxing the poor],
you have built houses of cut stone, [fancy houses built with poor people’s money]
but you won’t inhabit them; [God won’t let them enjoy their fancy houses]
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you won’t drink their wine.
For I know your numerous rebellions,
and your “mighty” sins—
oppressing the righteous, taking bribes,
they push aside the needy in the gate.
So, at a time like this a sensible person keeps quiet;
for it is an evil time.
Seek good, not evil,
that you may live;
and so Yahweh, God of armies,
may be with you, as you have said.
Hate evil, love good,
set up justice in the gate;
it may be that Yahweh, God of armies,
will be gracious to the remains of Joseph.
Therefore thus says Yahweh, God of armies, my Lord:
In all the squares — wailing;
in all the streets they’ll say, “Alas! Alas!”
and call the farmers to mourning,
those skilled in wails, to wailing;
in all the vineyards — wailing,
for I will pass among you.
[God is coming to judge them for their systemic injustices]
Alas to you who desire Yahweh’s day!
What is Yahweh’s day to you?
It’s darkness, not light!
[They looked forward to God’s arrival, but they didn’t imagine he was coming against them.]
Like someone escaping from a lion,
who meets a bear; [ha!]
and entering the house,
leans a hand on the wall,
and a snake bites him.
Isn’t Yahweh’s day darkness, not light,
gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I reject your festivals, [your religious crap is bullshit]
I will not stomach your assemblies. [i.e., “church” services]
Even though you offer me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I won’t accept them;
and the peace offerings of your prize beasts
I won’t approve.
Spare me the roar of your songs;
I won’t listen to the music of your guitars.
But let justice roll like water,
and righteousness as a permanent torrent.
Then check this out in Amos 9:7:
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,
O people of Israel? says the Lord.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?
Amos is flat out saying that Israel is nothing special. God saves the Ethiopians, the Egyptians, the Philistines, and Arameans. These are all bigtime enemies of Israel, and Amos is saying that God is looking out for them too. Israel thinks it’s God’s special people, but God is in the business of saving even Israel’s greatest enemies, and Israel is going to be judged for its systemic injustices. Just because they’re God’s “chosen people” doesn’t mean they can act like assholes to the most vulnerable in society and get away with it. God doesn’t care about their religious ceremonies or their worship music or any of that shit. He wants them to take care of the vulnerable and establish justice in their society. But if they keep building paradises for themselves on the backs of the poor, God will make sure they never get to enjoy that twisted paradise.
This is the message of Amos. And for it, Amos was tortured and killed by a bigtime priest (i.e., political leader). This is a pattern throughout the prophets. The prophet (i.e., political gadfly) comes and preaches against Israel’s obscene treatment of the vulnerable and poor, and then Israel’s powerbrokers kill the prophet. Why did they kill Jesus? What was the tipping point? None of other than his protest in the temple, where he confronted the moneychangers and protested their exploitation of the poor. That’s when they finally decided to kill him.
Now let’s look again at Matthew 22:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.
This is the same trope, it follows the same pattern we see in Amos and other social justice prophets. Jesus is saying that his mission is to invite Israel to come into the kingdom, which he likens to a celebration. Some scoff and go home. Others come and kill the messengers, just like they killed Amos and other social justice prophets throughout Israel’s history. So God judges those who rejected the invitation (i.e., the call to repent of all those things the prophets have condemned: the exploitation of the poor, the constant enmity and strife, the injustice, the war-making, the exorbitant rich living off the taxes and offerings of the poor).
What God does next, in the parable, also exactly mirrors what was said in Amos. Amos said that God would judge Israel, but that the Egyptians and the Ethiopians and all them, they’re all God’s people too. God saves even Israel’s enemies. This is exactly what happens in the parable:
“Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Did you catch that? They gathered “both good and bad.” Both “good and bad” get to come into the kingdom. This doesn’t mean a bunch of wicked, unjust people get to come in; it just means the same thing the parable of the Good Samaritan means: the kingdom of God is going to be full of surprise guests, people “good Jews” would have been scandalized to see there. Then it says, “the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Note: “filled.”
Then the parable includes that bit about the man at the wedding feast who didn’t have a robe. Remember, this is a parable. It symbolizes the same people Jesus spoke about at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s talking about those who say, “Lord, Lord. I did all this great stuff in your name.” But Jesus be like Amos: “I don’t care about your religiosity. You didn’t seek justice. You didn’t give mercy to those who needed it, so no mercy will be given to you.” The “robe” then that the guy didn’t have is the stuff Jesus talked about all throughout Matthew that children of God are supposed to be doing: caring for the needy, visiting the prisoners, sharing with the poor, loving the enemies, making peace where there’s enmity and conflict. That’s the robe. That’s the consistent message of the social justice prophets (I do not want your ceremonies and sacrifices, I want justice), and the consistent message of Jesus.
So when it concludes that “many are called but few are chosen,” it certainly doesn’t mean that most of the world is going to burn in hell consciously forever and ever. That’s not something Jesus ever taught about anybody. What it means is, when Israel (primarily Israel’s leaders, but in general too) was confronted with their gross exploitation of the vulnerable in their society and invited to repent of it, and they killed the messengers for it, those who rejected the message weren’t chosen. But what the parable does say is that the king then sent his people back out to gather in “all they found, both good and bad,” and that the wedding banquet was “filled.” The point is the opposite of your atomistic reading of verses 13-14: the message of justice went out to a bunch of people. Most rejected it, thus “few were chosen.” But beyond that, a whole bunch of people were brought in, the kind of people no one would expect to see at the banquet of a king. It’s massively subversive, counter-intuitive, and its message is one of openness, just like Amos saw God’s salvific reach extend way beyond Israel even to their biggest enemies (and not in some “Christian” sense either, Amos wasn’t no post-Pauline Christian, and neither was Jesus).
Continue to Part 2:
And this is where Paul Avery’s comment comes into play as well. He quotes the “woes” from Luke 10. If you’ll read Luke 10, you’ll find that it’s actually the exact real-world correspondent to the parable in Matthew 22 we just examined. He sends his disciples to all the cities of Israel, and they are to stand at the edge of the city and bring this message of repentance. Exactly like in Amos, where the man of integrity stands in the city gate and brings reproof against the systemic injustices of the city. If the city hates the messenger, the city dooms itself, because, what that means is, they refuse to stop their injustices. The cities named in the woes (a common prophetic genre) are the hometowns of Jesus and some of his most prominent disciples. The messenger’s are sent to the city, with the message of justice and repentance, and if the city rejects the messenger, they bring judgment on themselves. This is not some Harold Camping apocalyptic cult type of thing. This is a major prophetic trope in Israelite literature. And it’s about justice. The social justice prophets are full to the brim with “woe” passages, always about cities that reject the message of social justice. Jesus spent a huge chunk of his ministry in this area. But if you think the “woe” to the city means that everyone in the city is doomed to destruction, you just don’t understand the literature. This is a place where Jesus healed the Roman Centurion’s servant, and where many people believed in him and were healed by him. The woe trope is a general oracle of doom on a city, particularly its leadership, not on every single inhabitant. The parallel to Luke 10 is in Matthew 11. But another passage in Matthew talks about the leadership in Capernaum, with regard to the collection of the temple tax; and it’s a very incisive, populace critique of the establishment:
“When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes, he does.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon [i.e., Peter]? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.'”
Let’s break this down, because it’s awesome.
Jesus asks Peter how the power structure works in the real world, where kings rule over populations of workers trying to get by. “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” First jab at the establishment: the economic system is fundamentally unjust: kings don’t levy taxes on their own (those who would actually be the wealthiest in society), but instead tax everyone else. Then, after Peter answers that the taxes are levied on the others, not the king’s children, Jesus brings it home: “Then the children are free.” What is he saying? Who is the king? Who are the children? The king is God (whose house is the temple), and the children are everybody in Israel. Jesus is saying that nobody, nobody owes taxes to the temple. He’s completely undermining the economic power structure and its exploitation of the people. So in Matthew, Capernaum is mentioned as a place where the powerbrokers are piling taxes upon taxes for the working-class, subsistence folks to pay (they owed taxes to Rome, to Herod, and to the temple). Recall the passage from Amos we looked at earlier:
Therefore, since you trample on the poor
and take wheat as a “present” from him,
you have built houses of cut stone,
but you won’t inhabit them.
Now do you see where the “woe” on Capernaum is coming from? And of course, there was a woe on Jerusalem too, elsewhere. Read in the broader context, the declaration of woe is a prophetic trope directed at the exploitative economic power structure in the cities of Galilee and Judea, as with Jesus’ social justice prophetic predecessors in whose tradition he firmly stands.
Your next atomistic prooftext also misses the point of the passage from which you excised it:
BEN: Was not Jesus asked the direct question about whether or not a few would be saved implying that his listeners must have thought Jesus’ teachings indicated this would be the case (Luke 13:23-24)?
Let’s look at Luke 13:22-30:
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.’
If you stop right there, sounds like only a “few” are saved. But Jesus goes on:
“Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
It’s like, saying the opposite of what your atomistic reading took it to say.
First of all, notice that this is a doublet, a variation on the tradition from Matthew 7:21-23, at the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount:
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”‘
Remember, in Matthew 7, “doing the will of my Father in heaven” is defined by chapters 5-6 of the Sermon on the Mount. Loving the enemy, showing mercy, making peace, being truthful and true to your word, loving authentically, not judging. He sums up the law and the prophets with “do for others what you would want them to do for you.” This is “doing the will of my Father in heaven.” And those who don’t live this way will come to him thinking that their religiosity will save them, their association with him. But no. They forgot to show mercy, therefore no mercy will be extended to them. So this is what Luke 13 is saying. Remember, all that stuff is in Luke too, in the Sermon on the Plain. In Luke 13, as in Matthew 7, the door is narrow. How is that defined? By the content of Jesus’ commands: all that good stuff in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. It’s narrow because a lot of people don’t truly strive to live their lives that way. A lot of people are content to love their own, and hate their enemies, to hold grudges, and seek money and public recognition. The door is narrow because love is hard. But, Jesus doesn’t just say that few are going to make it. He introduces a new concept, a radical concept to his hearers: “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:29-30). That’s the exact opposite sentiment you were deriving from verses 21-23. The kingdom of God is opened up to everybody everywhere—everyone is invited to the banquet. “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” This is that radical reversal of expectations. The people you thought (as a good religious person) would never in a million years be there are going into the banquet at the front of the line, to get the best seats, and the people you thought would be at the front of the line because of their piety and doctrinal correctness and religiosity—they’re at the back of the line if they get in at all. Jesus blows the doors to the kingdom wide open. Only the merciless are excluded, because they spent their lives excluding others from their own parties.
BEN: “Did Jesus not continually lambast his entire generation as evil, perverse, faithless, sinful, and whatever else? Did he not use the Pharisees, the scribes, and teachers of the law as cases in point to typify the entire generation? I don’t think “generation” refers to a small group of people or school of thought, does it?”
Again, here’s where some background in biblical studies helps you, Ben. This is basic prophetic trope stuff here. There’s one other prophet that uses “generation” like Jesus does in these cases. Just one other prophet. His name was Jeremiah. He used it in chapter 2 and chapter 7, to describe the injustice of the current generation, their wickedness. Because Jeremiah’s was a “generation that provoked God’s wrath,” they would soon be invaded by Babylon, their temple destroyed, Jerusalem laid waste. You’re reading this, as a fundamentalist with a point to prove, as some sort of evidence that Jesus believed the vast majority of Jews were going to hell to burn forever. Nope. He was alluding to Jeremiah’s warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. In short, this is the trope you use when you want to warn everybody that Rome is about to swoop down and wreak destruction on Jerusalem. You read the text like a novice literalist. Jews communicated in memories. They alluded to broad chapters in their recurring history. When Jesus says that his generation is wicked, he is recalling Jeremiah’s oracles; he is warning of the coming destruction of Rome. (And don’t get all anti-supernaturalist on me. Jesus wasn’t the only prophet in the first century to warn that Rome would sack the temple, well ahead of the fact. It’s just a matter of reading the political situation. Besides, the earliest Gospel was written just a few years prior to the event, and the next two shortly thereafter. So if you’re one who doesn’t think Jesus really predicted the destruction of the temple, then all this “generation is wicked” stuff is added as part of the temple prediction anyway. That’s its meaning.) He’s not talking about a whole generation “going to hell to be tormented forever.” He’s talking about the Jewish-Roman war that began in 66 CE, just three decades after his death.
BEN: “Judgment Day was going to come on everyone and not just one school of thought, right?”
Judgment day comes on the righteous too, so yeah. That’s why they call it judgment. You’re judged, and found guilty or innocent, or shown mercy. What did Jesus say about mercy? Oh, right. The merciful shall receive it.
BEN: “Didn’t Jesus call his immediate audience evil just offhandedly as though he was used to just about everyone being evil (Matthew 7:11 & Luke 11:13)?”
Well, at least you can make me laugh. That’s about the most stilted reading of a text I’ve come across in a very, very long time.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
You actually want to use this as evidence that Jesus thought everybody was going to hell. A passage where the very people he called “evil” are told that their Father loves them and will give them good things. You’re losing the plot, man. If I say, “We’re all evil,” that’s not the same thing as saying, “Dick Cheney is evil.” You know what Jesus said when somebody called him “good”? He said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Same exact point: no one is good but God. “If you who are evil know how to be good to your kids, imagine how good God is to you.” And you use this as a prooftext for your “Jesus hates everybody” thesis. Oh, Ben. Ben, Ben. Take a step back and recognize: this is symptomatic of your whole project. You find a thesis and you use your uninformed, literalistic, stilted, jaded reading strategy to support it any way you can.
BEN: “Did Jesus not preach perfectionism impossible to attain without divine assistance (again implying it was really hard to make it)?”
Not in the way you’re thinking. If you’re talking about the heightened demands of the Sermon on the Mount, yeah, he increased what was required of people, but it wasn’t a greater legalism, it was a move away from legalism. He moved away from “murder” and cut to the heart of it: “anger with your brother.” He moved away from retributive justice and said, “love your enemies.” He said he didn’t come to abolish the law, but then he said the whole law is summed up in this: “do for others what you want them to do for you.” In other words, stop focusing on the letter of the law, because obeying the letter doesn’t make us better people. Finding love in our midst: that’s how you fulfill the law. That’s the message he preached. And that’s a hard message. But it’s not a legalistic message. It’s truth. You don’t have to believe in a god to recognize it. Even in secular society: being a good neighbor doesn’t just mean not shooting him when you have a dispute. It means reconciling and reaching out, finding common ground and becoming friends. A society isn’t healthy just because North and South aren’t at war with each other. It’s healthy when we break down the walls that separate us through confrontation, peace making, and learn to love and respect one another. Tolerance is like the lowest common denominator for society. But genuine respect and concern and care, even for those we disagree with, is what makes a healthy society. You can obey the law and still be a bad citizen. But you can’t be a bad citizen if you learn how to love your enemies and actively do for others what you would want others to do for you. And as hard as it is to live up to that, Jesus never demands perfect fulfillment of the law of love. Remember at the outset of the Sermon: “blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” For Jesus, it’s not about legalistic fulfillment of the law: it’s about showing mercy to one another, and reconciling when relationships break down.
BEN: “Did not Jesus compare his apocalypse to Noah’s flood where only 8 people were saved?”
Except, if you want to be literal like that, he actually went on to describe a scenario where exactly 50% of people were saved from the destruction.
BEN: “Was he not used to a god from the Old Testament in general who was not well known for saving most people?”
lol. Please refer above to the discussion of Amos 9:7. The prophets Jesus alluded to most had visions of universal salvation, where the masses of the gentiles come into the fold, and there’s peace the whole world over. I understand you and I are both critical of those narratives in the Hebrew Bible like the Canaanite genocides and the flood, etc., but we’re talking about how Jesus thought about his scriptures, not how you or I, post-Enlightenment, think about them. Jesus wanted to open the gates wide, like the prophets before him.
BEN: “Did not Jesus tacitly admit that basically all the nations of the world belonged to Satan (during the temptation), implying virtually everyone in them were under a non-saved demonic dominion? Didn’t he run into demons and demon-possessed people often implying he lived in a world controlled by dark forces?”
Ben, that doesn’t mean he thought everybody in those nations was Satanic or evil or doomed. You really don’t understand ancient Near Eastern cosmology much. These are really sophomoric arguments, man. Look at Paul. He talked very explicitly about the dark spiritual powers that governed the earth and the different dark powers that governed the different nations. And yet, as you read earlier in Romans 2, Paul still believed that God would judge the people who actually lived in those nations according to how they measured up the law written on their hearts—their own consciences. He said some wouldn’t measure up to their own consciences, but some would.
BEN: “It seems clear to me that there’s a *ton* of evidence Jesus lived in his tiny cultic fractured fairytale land where the ‘few’ of the elect were vastly outnumbered by the dark forces all around them. And so that’s why I don’t take your core revolutionary Jesus very seriously.”
Ben, you don’t take any of this very seriously because you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s that simple. That last description of Jesus you gave there is just the perfect example of agenda and prejudice overriding sound historical description. “Jesus lived in his tiny cultic fractured fairytale land.” Dude. That’s just so jaundiced I don’t even know what to say. Your agenda is driving you to blatant reductionism, and its preventing you from being able to see Jesus and his world as a real world where people lived and dreamed and shared memory and had political struggles and economic conflict and were human beings just like the rest of us. You only see in caricature. And it’s sad.
It’s not sad because I have some ulterior agenda. I’m critical of Jesus’ apocalypticism, but the difference is, I actually understand what it properly entailed. I talk about how his view of the impending reign of God on earth affected his ethics (most notably his family ethics). And I say where I think he was wrong. It’s no secret. I’ve published it. You’ve read it. I don’t want you to be a Christian and I don’t want you to stop being an atheist and I don’t want you to stop doing what you do. It’s not my place to tell you what to do about anything. But the one thing I will tell you is this: think and say what you like about Jesus, but don’t think for a second you can take the kind of arguments you’ve made here to a proper academic discourse with people who are actual Jesus scholars and not get laughed out of the room. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it as a friend: this is garbage.
The Evolution of a Myth
Along with the unjustified and unscientific saturated fat and cholesterol scares of the past several decades has come the notion that vegetarianism is a healthier dietary option for people. It seems as if every health expert and government health agency is urging people to eat fewer animal products and consume more vegetables, grains, fruits and legumes.
Along with these exhortations have come assertions and studies supposedly proving that vegetarianism is healthier for people and that meat consumption is associated with sickness and death. Several authorities, however, have questioned these data, but their objections have been largely ignored.
As we shall see, many of the vegetarian claims cannot be substantiated and some are simply false and dangerous. There are benefits to vegetarian diets for certain health conditions, and some people function better on less fat and protein, but, as a practitioner who has dealt with several former vegetarians and vegans (total vegetarians), I know full well the dangerous effects of a diet devoid of healthful animal products. It is my hope that all readers will more carefully evaluate their position on vegetarianism after reading this paper.
MYTH #1: Meat consumption contributes to famine and depletes the Earth’s natural resources.
Some vegetarians have claimed that livestock require pasturage that could be used to farm grains to feed starving people in Third World countries. It is also claimed that feeding animals contributes to world hunger because livestock are eating foods that could go to feed humans. The solution to world hunger, therefore, is for people to become vegetarians. These arguments are illogical and simplistic.
The first argument ignores the fact that about 2/3 of our Earth’s dry land is unsuitable for farming. It is primarily the open range, desert and mountainous areas that provide food to grazing animals and that land is currently being put to good use (1).
The second argument is faulty as well because it ignores the vital contributions that livestock animals make to humanity’s well-being. It is also misleading to think that the foods grown and given to feed livestock could be diverted to feed humans:
Agricultural animals have always made a major contribution to the welfare of human societies by providing food, shelter, fuel, fertilizer and other products and services. They are a renewable resource, and utilize another renewable resource, plants, to produce these products and services. In addition, the manure produced by the animals helps improve soil fertility and, thus, aids the plants. In some developing countries the manure cannot be utilized as a fertilizer but is dried as a source of fuel.
There are many who feel that because the world population is growing at a faster rate than is the food supply, we are becoming less and less able to afford animal foods because feeding plant products to animals is an inefficient use of potential human food.
It is true that it is more efficient for humans to eat plant products directly rather than to allow animals to convert them to human food. At best, animals only produce one pound or less of human food for each three pounds of plants eaten.
However, this inefficiency only applies to those plants and plant products that the human can utilize. The fact is that over two-thirds of the feed fed to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or completely unsuited for human food.
Thus, by their ability to convert inedible plant materials to human food, animals not only do not compete with the human rather they aid greatly in improving both the quantity and the quality of the diets of human societies. (2)
Furthermore, at the present time, there is more than enough food grown in the world to feed all people on the planet. The problem is widespread poverty making it impossible for the starving poor to afford it. In a comprehensive report, the Population Reference Bureau attributed the world hunger problem to poverty, not meat-eating (3). It also did not consider mass vegetarianism to be a solution for world hunger.
What would actually happen, however, if animal husbandry were abandoned in favor of mass agriculture, brought about by humanity turning towards vegetarianism?
If a large number of people switched to vegetarianism, the demand for meat in the United States and Europe would fall, the supply of grain would dramatically increase, but the buying power of poor [starving] people in Africa and Asia wouldn’t change at all.
The result would be very predictable — there would be a mass exodus from farming. Whereas today the total amount of grains produced could feed 10 billion people, the total amount of grain grown in this post-meat world would likely fall back to about 7 or 8 billion. The trend of farmers selling their land to developers and others would accelerate quickly. (4)
In other words, there would be less food available for the world to eat. Furthermore, the monoculture of grains and legumes, which is what would happen if animal husbandry were abandoned and the world relied exclusively on plant foods for its food, would rapidly deplete the soil and require the heavy use of artificial fertilizers, one ton of which requires ten tons of crude oil to produce (5).
As far as the impact to our environment, a closer look reveals the great damage that exclusive and mass farming would do. British organic dairy farmer and researcher Mark Purdey wisely points out that if “veganic agricultural systems were to gain a foothold on the soil, then agrochemical use, soil erosion, cash cropping, prairie-scapes and ill health would escalate.” (6)
Neanderthin author Ray Audette concurs with this view:
Since ancient times, the most destructive factor in the degradation of the environment has been monoculture agriculture. The production of wheat in ancient Sumeria transformed once-fertile plains into salt flats that remain sterile 5,000 years later.
As well as depleting both the soil and water sources, monoculture agriculture also produces environmental damage by altering the delicate balance of natural ecosystems. World rice production in 1993, for instance, caused 155 million cases of malaria by providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes in the paddies. Human contact with ducks in the same rice paddies resulted in 500 million cases of influenza during the same year.(7)
There is little doubt, though, that commercial farming methods, whether of plants or animals produce harm to the environment. With the heavy use of agrochemicals, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, hormones, steroids, and antibiotics common in modern agriculture, a better way of integrating animal husbandry with agriculture needs to be found. A possible solution might be a return to “mixed farming,” described below.
“The educated consumer and the enlightened farmer together can bring about a return of the mixed farm, where cultivation of fruits, vegetables and grains is combined with the raising of livestock and fowl in a manner that is efficient, economical and environmentally friendly.
For example, chickens running free in garden areas eat insect pests, while providing high-quality eggs; sheep grazing in orchards obviate the need for herbicides; and cows grazing in woodlands and other marginal areas provide rich, pure milk, making these lands economically viable for the farmer. It is not animal cultivation that leads to hunger and famine, but unwise agricultural practices and monopolistic distribution systems.” (8)
The “mixed farm” is also healthier for the soil, which will yield more crops if managed according to traditional guidelines. Mark Purdey has accurately pointed out that a crop field on a mixed farm will yield up to five harvests a year, while a “mono-cropped” one will only yield one or two (9). Which farm is producing more food for the world’s peoples?
Purdey well sums up the ecological horrors of “battery farming” and points to future solutions by saying:
Our agricultural establishments could do very well to outlaw the business-besotted farmers running intensive livestock units, battery systems and beef-burger bureaucracies; with all their wastages, deplorable cruelty, anti-ozone slurry systems; drug/chemical induced immunotoxicity resulting in B.S.E. [see myth # 13] and salmonella, rain forest eradication, etc.
Our future direction must strike the happy, healthy medium of mixed farms, resurrecting the old traditional extensive system as a basic framework, then bolstering up productivity to present day demands by incorporating a more updated application of biological science into farming systems. (10)
It does not appear, then, that livestock farming, when properly practiced, damages the environment. Nor does it appear that world vegetarianism or exclusively relying on agriculture to supply the world with food are feasible or ecologically wise ideas.
1. (a) S Fallon and M Enig. Nourishing Traditions, (New Trends Publishing; Washington, D.C.), 2000, 5; (b) Breeds of Livestock. University of Oklahoma, Department of Animal Science posted at http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds.
2. Breeds of Livestock. University of Oklahoma, Department of Animal Science posted at http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds.
3. W Bender and M Smith. Population, Food, and Nutrition. Population Reference Bureau;1997.
4. B Carnell. Could vegetarianism prevent world hunger? Posted at http://www.animalrights.net/faq/topics/diet/vegetarianism_world_hunger.html, and accessed on January 3, 2002.
5. M Purdey. The Vegan Ecological Wasteland. Journal of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation [hereafter referred to as Jnl of PPNF], Winter 1998; also posted at http://www.westonaprice.org.
7. R Audette with T Gilchrist. Neanderthin. (St. Martins; NY), 1999, 200-2.
8. S Fallon and M Enig, Nourishing Traditions, 6.
9. M Purdey, op cit.
Bill and Tanya sat before me in my office in a somber mood: they had just lost their first baby in the second month of pregnancy. Tanya was particularly upset. “Why did this happen to me? Why did I miscarry my baby?”
The young couple had come to see me mostly because of Tanya’s recurrent respiratory infections, but also wanted some advice as to how they could avoid the heartache of another failed pregnancy.
Upon questioning Tanya about her diet, I quickly saw the cause of her infections, as well as her miscarriage: she had virtually no fat in her diet and was also mostly a vegetarian.
Because of the plentiful media rhetoric about the supposed dangers of animal product consumption, as opposed to the alleged health benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle, Tanya had deliberately removed such things as cream, butter, meats and fish from her diet. Although she liked liver, she avoided it due to worries over “toxins.”
Tanya and Bill left with a bottle of vitamin A, other supplements and a dietary prescription that included plentiful amounts of animal fats and meat. Just before leaving my office, Tanya looked at me and said ruefully: “I just don’t know what to believe sometimes.
Everywhere I look there is all this low-fat, vegetarian stuff recommended. I followed it, and look what happened.” I assured her that if she and her husband changed their diets and allowed sufficient time for her weakened uterus to heal, they would be happy parents in due time. In November 1999, Bill and Tanya happily gave birth to their first child, a girl.
MYTH #2: Vitamin B12 can be obtained from plant sources.
Of all the myths, this is perhaps the most dangerous. Vegans who do not supplement their diet with vitamin B12 will eventually get anaemia (a fatal condition) as well as severe nervous and digestive system damage (6). Claims are made that B12 is present in certain algae, tempeh (a fermented soy product) and brewer’s yeast. All of them are false.
Like the niacin in corn, the B12 analogues present in algae and tempeh are not bioavailable. We know this because studies done on people’s blood levels of B12 remained the same after they ate spirulina and tempeh; there was no change, clearly indicating no absorption by the body (7). Further, the ingestion of too much soy increases the body’s need for B12 (8). Brewer’s yeast does not contain B12 naturally; it is always fortified from an outside source.
Some vegetarian authorities claim that B12 is produced by certain fermenting bacteria in the intestines. This may be true, but it is in a form unusable by the body. B12 requires intrinsic factor from the stomach for proper absorption in the ileum. Since the bacterial product does not have intrinsic factor bound to it, it cannot be absorbed (9).
It is true that vegans living in certain parts of India do not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. This has led some to conclude that plant foods do provide this vitamin. This conclusion, however, is erroneous as many small insects, their eggs, larvae and/or residue, are left on the plant foods these people consume, due to non-use of pesticides and inefficient cleaning methods. This is how these people obtain their vitamin B12. This contention is borne out by the fact that when Indian Hindus migrated to England, they came down with pernicious anaemia within a few years. In England, the food supply is cleaner, and insect residues are completely removed from plant foods (10).
The only reliable and absorbable sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, especially organ meats and eggs (11). Though present in lesser amounts, milk products do contain B12. Vegans, therefore, should consider adding dairy products into their diets. If dairy cannot be tolerated, eggs, preferably from free-run hens, are a virtual necessity.
That vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal products is one of the strongest arguments against veganism being a “normal” way of human eating. Today, vegans can avoid anaemia by taking supplemental vitamins or fortified foods. If those same people had lived just a few decades ago, when these products were unavailable, they would have died.
In my own practice, I recently saved two vegans from death from anaemia by convincing them to eat generous amounts of dairy products. Both of these sickly gentlemen thought their B12 needs were being met by tempeh and spirulina. They weren’t.
MYTH #3: The body can convert omega-6 fatty acids into omega-3 fatty acids as it needs.
This falsehood is akin to myth number two. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats of which two, linolenic (an omega-3) and linoleic (an omega 6), are essential to human life and must be obtained from food as the body cannot synthesise them. Although very small amounts of omega 3 linolenic acid are found in whole grains and dark green leafy vegetables, it is principally found in animal foods (especially fish and eggs), as well as flax seed oil. Omega 6 linoleic acid is mostly found in vegetables, but small amounts are present in certain animal fats. To assuage vegans who fear they may not get enough omega 3 linolenic acid, some vegetarian sources assert that the body can simply convert excess omega 6 linoleic acid into omega 3 linolenic acid, and other omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, two fatty acids intimately involved in the health of the brain and immune system.
Renowned lipid biochemist Dr Mary Enig, of the University of Maryland, and other authorities have shown that the body cannot change the omega number of fatty acids. The body can change the fatty acid’s degree of saturation and also its molecular length, but not its omega number (12). In other words, omega 6 fatty acids can only be converted into other omega 6 fatty acids; omega 3s only into other omega 3s.
Again, I have seen the results of this misinformation in my practice. I’ve had several patients of Northern European descent with severe mental and immune problems caused by a lack of EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids not found in plant foods (DHA is found in small amounts in some algae). People native to warmer climates in the world can manufacture these fatty acids from other omega-3s, but those of Northern European or Innuit descent cannot. Since their ancestors ate so much EPA- and DHA-rich fish, their bodies eventually lost the ability to manufacture these fatty acids (13). For these people, vegetarianism is impossible; they must consume either eggs or fish in order to survive.
There is also a very real danger from consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids, principally found in vegetables. The body requires both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. However, when the body’s cells are overloaded with omega-6s, their ability to utilise the omega-3 is inhibited (14).
Chronically low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with higher cancer rates and immune dysfunction. Excessive levels of omega-6 fatty acids are also strongly correlated with a high incidence of cardiovascular disease (as is excessive consumption of refined sugar and trans-fatty acids) .
MYTH #4: The body’s needs for vitamin A can be entirely obtained from plant foods.
Vitamin A is principally found in animal products. Plants do contain beta-carotene, a substance that the body can convert into vitamin A. The impression given by some vegetarian sources is that beta-carotene is just as good as vitamin A. This is not true.
Firstly, the conversion from carotene to vitamin A can only take place in the presence of bile salts. This means that fat must be eaten with the carotenes to stimulate bile secretion. Additionally, infants and people with hypothyroidism, gall bladder problems or diabetes either cannot make the conversion or do so very poorly. Lastly, the body’s conversion from carotene to vitamin A is not very efficient: it takes 46 units of carotene to make one unit of vitamin A. What this means is that the sweet potato (containing about 25,000 units of beta-carotene) you just ate will only convert into about 4,000 units of vitamin A (assuming you ate it with fat and do not have a thyroid or gall bladder problem) .
Relying on plant sources for vitamin A, then, is not a very wise idea. This is why good-old-fashioned butter is a virtual must in any diet. Butter from pasture-fed cows is rich in vitamin A and will provide the intestines with the fatty material needed to convert vegetable carotenes into active vitamin A. Vitamin A is all-important in our diets, for it enables the body to use proteins and minerals (17).
MYTH #5: Meat-eaters have higher rates of heart and kidney disease, cancer, obesity and osteoporosis than vegetarians.
Such stupendous claims are hard to reconcile with historical and anthropological facts. All of the diseases mentioned are primarily 20th century occurrences, yet people have been eating meat and animal fat for thousands of years. Further, there are several native peoples around the world (the Innu, Masai, Swiss, Greeks, etc.) whose traditional diets are very rich in animal products, but do not suffer from the above-mentioned maladies (18). This shows that other factors besides animal foods are at work in these diseases.
Several studies have supposedly shown that meat consumption is the cause of heart disease, cancer and bone loss, but such studies, honestly evaluated, show no such thing (19). For example, the studies that supposedly proved that meat consumption among the Innuit caused high rates of osteoporosis, failed to note other dietary factors that contributed to bone loss (and to the other chronic diseases listed in myth #5). Things such as refined sugar consumption, alcoholism and a junk food consumption equalled more bone loss were not done with real meat but with fractionated protein powders (20).
Certainly, when protein is consumed in such an unnatural fashion, separated from the fat-soluble nutrients required for its absorption and assimilation, it will lead to problems. Because of this, the current use of fat-free protein powders as “food supplements”, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products should be avoided. Trimming off visible fat from meats and removing duck and chicken skin before eating should also be discouraged.
Despite claims that studies have shown that meat consumption increased the risk for heart disease (21), their authors actually found the opposite. For example, in a 1984 analysis of a 1978 study of Seventh Day Adventists (who are largely vegetarian), H. A. Kahn concluded, “Although our results add some substantial facts to the diet-disease question, we recognize how remote they are from establishing, for example, that men who frequently eat meat or women who rarely eat salad are thereby shortening their lives” (21). A similar conclusion was reached by D.A. Snowden (21). Despite these startling admissions, the studies nevertheless concluded the exact opposite and urged people to reduce animal foods from their diets.
Further, both of these studies threw out certain dietary data that clearly showed no connection between eggs, cheese, whole milk, and fat attached to meat (all high fat and cholesterol foods) and heart disease. Statistician Dr. Russel Smith concluded, “In effect the Kahn [and Snowden] study is yet another example of negative results which are massaged and misinterpreted to support the politically correct assertions that vegetarians live longer lives.” When all of the data are taken into account, the actual differences of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in these studies was less than 1%: hardly a significant amount (22).
It should be noted here that Seventh Day Adventists are often studied in population analyses to prove that a vegetarian diet is healthier and is associated with a lower risk for heart disease and cancer (but see the last paragraph in this section). While it is true that most members of this Christian denomination do not eat meat, they also do not smoke, drink alcohol, or drink coffee or tea, all of which may be factors in promoting cancer and heart disease (23).
The Mormons are a religious group often overlooked in vegetarian studies. Although their Church urges moderation, Mormons do not abstain from meat. Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, declared a diet devoid of animal products as “not of God.” As with the Adventists, Mormons avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Despite being meat eaters, a study of Utah Mormons showed they had a 22% lower rate for cancer in general and a 34% lower mortality for colon cancer than the US average (24). A study of Puerto Ricans, who eat large amounts of fatty pork, nevertheless revealed very low rates of colon and breast cancer (25). Similar results can be adduced to demonstrate that meat consumption by itself does not correlate with cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney disease, or obesity (26). Obviously, other factors are at work.
It is usually claimed that vegetarians have lower cancer rates than meat-eaters, but a 1994 study of California Seventh Day Adventists (who are largely vegetarian) showed that, while they did have lower rates of some cancers (e.g., breast), they had significantly higher rates of several others (brain, skin, uterine, cervical and ovarian)! (27)
MYTH #6: Saturated fats cause heart disease and cancer, and low-fat, low-cholesterol diets are healthier for people.
Despite claims that primitive societies are/were largely vegetarian, diets of native peoples the world over are rich in saturated fats and animal foods (28) and, as noted above, heart disease and cancer are primarily modern diseases. Saturated fat consumption, therefore, cannot logically cause these diseases. As with the poorly done studies of the Inuit, modern-day researchers fail to take into account other dietary factors of people who have heart disease and cancer. As a result, the harmful effects of eating refined sugar, nutrient-poor “foods,” trans-fats (found in margarine and hydrogenated oils) and vegetable oils get mixed up with animal fat consumption. It is commonly believed that saturated fats and cholesterol “clog arteries”, but such ideas have been shown to be false by such scientists as Linus Pauling, George Mann, John Yudkin, Abram Hoffer, Mary Enig and others (29). On the contrary, studies have shown that arterial plaque is primarily composed of UNsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated ones, and not the saturated fat of animals, palm or coconut (30).
Trans-fatty acids, as opposed to saturated fats, have been shown by researchers such as Enig, Mann and Fred Kummerow to be causative factors in atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, cancer and other assorted diseases (31).
A recent study of thousands of Swedish women showed no correlation between saturated fat consumption and increased risk for breast cancer. However, the study did show a strong link between vegetable oil intake and higher breast cancer rates (32).
The Framingham Heart Study is often cited as proof that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat intake cause heart disease and ill health. Involving about 6,000 people, the study compared two groups over several years at five-year intervals. One group consumed little cholesterol and saturated fat, while the other consumed high amounts. Surprisingly, Dr William Castelli, the study’s director, is quoted in the Archives of Internal Medicine (July 1992) as saying:
In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol … we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.
It is true that the study did show that those who weighed more and had higher serum cholesterol levels were more at risk for heart disease, but weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with dietary fat and cholesterol intake. In other words, there was no correlation at all (33).
In a similar vein, the US Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, sponsored by the National Heart and Lung Institute, compared mortality rates and eating habits of 12,000+ men. Those who ate less saturated fat and cholesterol showed a slightly reduced rate of coronary heart disease (CHD), but had an overall mortality rate much higher than the other men in the study (34).
The few studies that indicate a correlation between saturated fat reduction and a lower CHD rate also clearly document a sizeable increase in deaths from cancer, suicide, violence and brain haemorrhage (34). Like the bone density experiments, such things are not told to the public.
Low-fat/cholesterol diets, therefore, are decidedly not healthier for people. Studies have proven over and over that such diets are associated with depression, cancer, psychological problems, fatigue, violence and suicide (35).
Children on low-fat diets suffer from growth problems, failure to thrive, and learning disabilities (36). Despite this, sources from Dr. Benjamin Spock to the American Heart Association recommend low-fat diets for children! One can only lament the fate of those unfortunate youngsters who will be raised by unknowing parents taken in by such misinformation.
There are many health benefits to saturated fats, depending on the fat in question. Coconut oil, for example, is rich in lauric acid, a potent antifungal and antimicrobial substance. Coconut also contains appreciable amounts of caprylic acid, also an effective antifungal (37). Butter from free-range cows is rich in trace minerals, especially selenium, as well as all of the fat-soluble vitamins and beneficial fatty acids that protect against cancer and fungal infections (38).
In general, however, saturated fats provide a good energy source for the vital organs, protect arteries against damage by the atherogenic lipoprotein (a), are rich in fat-soluble vitamins, help raise HDL levels in the blood, and make possible the utilisation of essential fatty acids. They are excellent for cooking, as they are chemically stable and do not break down under heat, unlike polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Omitting them from one’s diet, then, is ill-advised (39).
MYTH #7: Vegetarians live longer and have more energy and endurance than meat-eaters.
Surprising as it may seem, some prior studies have shown the annual all-causedeath rate of vegetarian men to be slightly more than that of non-vegetarian men (0.93% vs 0.89%). Similarly, the annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian women was shown to be significantly higher than that of non-vegetarian women (0.86% vs 0.54%). (40)
Russell Smith, PhD, referred to in myth # 5, in his authoritative study on heart disease, showed that as animal product consumption increased among some study groups, death rates decreased! Such results were not obtained among vegetarian subjects. For example, in a study published by Burr and Sweetnam in 1982, analysis of mortality data revealed that, although vegetarians had a slightly (.11%) lower rate of heart disease than non-vegetarians, the all-cause death rate was much HIGHER for vegetarians (41).
It is usually claimed that the lives of predominantly meat-eating peoples are short-lived, but the Aborigines of Australia, who traditionally eat a diet rich in animal products, are known for their longevity (at least before colonisation by Europeans). Within Aboriginal society, there is a special caste of the elderly (42). Obviously, if no old people existed, no such group would have existed. In his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price has numerous photographs of elderly native peoples from around the world (42). Explorers such as Vilhjalmur Stefansson reported great longevity among the Inuit (again, before colonisation). (43)
Similarly, the Russians of the Caucasus mountains live to great ages on a diet of fatty pork and whole milk products. The Hunzas, also known for their robust health and longevity, eat substantial portions of goat’s milk which has a higher saturated fat content than cow’s milk (44). In contrast, the largely vegetarian inhabitants of southern India have the shortest life-spans in the world (45). Dr Weston Price, DDS, travelled around the world in the 1920s and 1930s, investigating native diets. Without exception, he found a strong correlation among diets rich in animal fats, with robust health and athletic ability. Special foods for Swiss athletes, for example, included bowls of fresh, raw cream! In Africa, Dr Price discovered that groups whose diets were rich in fatty fish and organ meats, like liver, consistently carried off the prizes in athletic contests, and that meat-eating tribes always dominated peoples whose diets were largely vegetarian (42).
It is popular in sports nutrition to recommend “carb loading” for athletes, to increase their endurance levels. But recent studies done in New York and South Africa show that the opposite is true: athletes who “carb loaded” had significantly less endurance than those who “fat loaded” before athletic events (46).
MYTH #8: The “cave man” diet was low-fat and/or vegetarian.
Our Neolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers, and two schools of thought have developed as to what their diet was like. One group argues for a high-fat and animal-based diet supplemented with seasonal fruits, berries, nuts, root vegetables and wild grasses. The other argues that primitive peoples consumed small amounts of lean meats and large amounts of plant foods. Once again, such notions of a “low-fat diet” are hard to reconcile with what we know of modern-day hunter-gatherer societies. Present-day African tribes readily consume the fatty portions of animals, especially organs such as the brain, liver and tongue. The Aborigines, another hunter-gatherer society, also have a diet rich in saturated animal fats (47).
Explorers such as Stefansson reported that the Innuit and North American Indian tribes would worry when their caches of caribou were too lean: they knew sickness would follow if they did not consume enough fat (48).
Canadian Indians would deliberately hunt older male caribou and elk, for these animals carried a 50-pound slab of back fat on them which the Indians would eat with relish. Native Americans would also refrain from hunting bison in the springtime (when the animals’ fat stores were low, due to scarce food supply during the winter), preferring to hunt, kill and consume them in the fall when they were fattened up.
More interesting is the way political prisoners are sometimes tortured in South and Central America: they’re fed a diet of lean meat and they die quickly. Why? Without the fat-soluble vitamins contained in animal lipids, the body is unable to utilise and synthesise the proteins and other nutrients present in the meat (49).
On his journeys, Dr Price never once found a totally vegetarian culture. Anthropological data support this: throughout the globe, all societies show a preference for animal foods and fats and people only turn to vegetarianism when they have to (50). Nutritional anthropologist H. Leon Abrams, Jr, has shown that prehistoric man’s quest for more animal foods spurred his expansion over the Earth, and that he apparently hunted certain species to extinction (50).
Price also found that those peoples who, out of necessity, consumed more grains and legumes, had higher rates of dental decay than those who consumed more animal products (51). Archaeological evidence supports this finding: skulls of prehistoric peoples who were largely vegetarian have teeth containing caries and abscesses and show evidence of tuberculosis (50, 51).
Based on all of this evidence, it is certain that the diets of our ancestors, the progenitors of humanity, ate a very NON-vegetarian diet that was rich in saturated animal fat.
MYTH #9: Meat and saturated fat consumption have increased in the 20th century, with a corresponding increase in heart disease and cancer.
Statistics do not bear out such fancies. Butter consumption has plummeted from 18 lb (8.165 kg) per person a year in 1900, to less than 5 lb (2.27 kg) per person a year today (52). Additionally, Westerners, urged on by government health agencies, have reduced their intake of eggs, cream, lard, beef and pork. Chicken consumption has risen in the past few decades, but chicken is low in saturated fat (chicken skin contains primarily polyunsaturated fat).
Furthermore, a survey of cookbooks published in the last century shows that people of earlier times ate plenty of animal foods and saturated fats. For example, in the Baptist Ladies Cook Book (Monmouth, Illinois, 1895), virtually every recipe calls for butter, cream or lard. Recipes for creamed vegetables are numerous as well. A scan of the Searchlight Recipe Book (Capper Publications, 1931) also has similar recipes: creamed liver, creamed cucumbers, hearts braised in buttermilk, etc. British Jews, as shown by the Jewish Housewives Cookbook (London, 1846), also had diets rich in cream, butter, eggs, and lamb and beef tallows. One recipe for German waffles, for example, calls for an entire pound of butter! A recipe for Oyster Pie from the Baptist cookbook calls for a quart of cream and a dozen eggs, and so forth and so on.
It does not appear, then, that meat or saturated fat consumption has risen in this century. What has gone up, however, is consumption of margarine and other trans-fatty acids, lifeless, packaged “foods,” processed vegetable oils, pasteurised/homogenised milk, commercially raised livestock and plant foods, and refined sugar. These, along with exposure to a growing number of environmental poisons, are our real culprits in the modern epidemics of cancer and coronary heart disease (and other chronic illnesses) .
MYTH #10: Soy products are adequate substitutes for meat and dairy products.
The billion-dollar soy industry has profited immensely from the anti-cholesterol, anti-meat gospel of current nutritional thought. Whereas, not so long ago, soy was an Asian phenomenon, now soy products proliferate in the North American market. While the traditionally fermented soy products of miso, shoyu, tempeh and natto are definitely healthful in measured amounts, the hyper-processed soy “foods” are not.
Non-fermented soybeans are extremely high in phytic acid (54), an anti-nutrient that binds to minerals in the digestive tract and carries them out of the body. Vegetarians are known for their high rates of iron and zinc deficiencies (55).
Soybeans are also rich in trypsin inhibitors, which hinder protein digestion. Textured vegetable protein (TVP), soy “milk” and soy protein powders, and popular vegetarian meat and milk substitutes are entirely fragmented foods made by treating soybeans with high heat and various alkaline washes to extract the beans’ fat content or to neutralise their potent enzyme inhibitors. These practices completely denature the beans’ protein content, rendering it very hard to digest. MSG, a neurotoxin, is routinely added to TVP to make it taste like the various foods it imitates (56).
On a purely nutritional level, soybeans, like all legumes, are deficient in cysteine and methionine, vital sulphur-containing amino acids (56). Soybeans are also lacking in tryptophan, another essential amino acid (56).
Furthermore, soybeans contain no vitamins A or D, required by the body to assimilate and utilise the beans’ proteins (56). It is probably for this reason that Asian cultures that do consume soybeans usually combine them with fish or fish broths, The New Zealand government is considering removing soy formula from the market and making it available only by prescription (58).
Though research is still ongoing, some recent studies have indicated that soy’s phyto-oestrogens could be causative factors in breast cancer and infantile leukaemia (59). Regardless, soy’s phyto-oestrogens, or isoflavones, have been shown to depress thyroid function and cause infertility in some animals (60). As a practitioner, I have seen more than my share of vegetarians with hypothyroidism. They invariably rely on soy foods to get their protein.
MYTH #11: The human body is not designed for meat consumption.
Some vegetarian groups claim that since humans possess grinding teeth like herbivorous animals and longer intestines than carnivorous animals, this proves the human body is better suited for vegetarianism (61). This argument fails to note several human physiological features which clearly indicate a design for animal product consumption.
First and foremost is our stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid, something not found in herbivores. HCL activates protein-splitting enzymes. Further, the human pancreas manufactures a full range of digestive enzymes to handle a wide variety of foods, both animal and vegetable.
While humans may have longer intestines than animal carnivores, they are not as long as herbivores; nor do we possess multiple stomachs like many herbivores, nor do we chew cud. Our physiology definitely indicates a mixed feeder, or an omnivore, much the same as our relatives, the mountain gorilla and chimpanzee (who have been observed eating small animals and, in some cases, other primates) .
MYTH #12: Eating animal flesh causes violent, aggressive behaviour in humans.
If you scroll to the bottom there is a link so that you can read this article in full (and you’ll be able to read Myth’s 12, 14, and 15).
MYTH #13: Animal products contain numerous, harmful toxins.
A recent vegetarian newsletter claimed the following: “Most people don’t realise that meat products are loaded with poisons and toxins! Meat, fish and eggs all decompose and putrefy extremely rapidly. As soon as an animal is killed, self-destruct enzymes are released, causing the formation of denatured substances called ptyloamines, which cause cancer.” (64) This article then went on to mention “mad cow disease” (BSE), parasites, salmonella, hormones, nitrates and pesticides as toxins in animal products.
If meat, fish and eggs do indeed generate cancerous “ptyloamines,” it is very strange that people have not been dying in droves from cancer for the past million years. Such sensationalistic and nonsensical claims cannot be supported by historical fact.
Hormones, nitrates and pesticides are present in commercially raised animal products (as well as commercially raised fruits, grains and vegetables) and are definitely things to be concerned about. However, one can avoid these chemicals by taking care to consume range-fed, organic meats, eggs and dairy products which do not contain harmful, man-made toxins.
Parasites are easily avoided by taking normal precautions in food preparations. Pickling or fermenting meats, as is custom in traditional societies, always protects against parasites. In his travels, Dr Price always found healthy, disease-free and parasite-free peoples eating raw meat and dairy products as part of their diets.
Similarly, Dr Francis Pottenger, in his experiments with cats, demonstrated that the healthiest, happiest cats were the ones on the all-raw-food diet. The cats eating cooked meats and pasteurised milk sickened and died and had numerous parasites. Salmonella can be transmitted by plant products as well as animal (65).
Mad Cow Disease is probably not caused by cows eating animal parts with their food, a feeding method that has been done for over 100 years. British organic farmer Mark Purdey has argued convincingly that cows that get Mad Cow Disease are the very ones that have had a particular organophosphate insecticide applied to their backs (see notes to myth #1) or have grazed on soils that lack magnesium but contain high levels of aluminium. Small outbreaks of “mad cow disease” have also occurred among people who reside near cement and chemical factories and in certain areas with volcanic soils.
Purdey theorises that the organophosphate pesticides got into the cows’ fat through a spraying program, and then were ingested by the cows again with the animal part feeding. Seen this way, it is the insecticides, via the parts feeding (and not the parts themselves), that has caused this outbreak. As noted before, cows have been eating ground up animal parts in their feeds for over 100 years. It was never a problem before the introduction of these particular insecticides (66).
MYTH #14: Eating meat or animal products is less “spiritual” than eating only plant foods.
MYTH #15: Eating animal foods is inhumane.
THE VALUE OF VEGETARIANISM
As a cleansing diet, vegetarianism is a good choice. Several health conditions (e.g., gout) can often be ameliorated by a temporary reduction in animal products with an increase of plant foods. But such measures must not be continuous throughout life: there are vital nutrients found only in animal products that we must ingest for optimal health. Furthermore, there is no one diet that will work for every person. Some vegetarians and vegans, in their zeal to get converts, are blind to this biochemical fact.
“Biochemical individuality” is a subject worth clarifying. Coined by biochemist Roger Williams, PhD, the term refers to the fact that different people require different nutrients based on their unique genetic make-up. Ethnic and racial background figure in this concept as well. (The current theory of blood type influencing nutritional needs is false, as discussed below.) A diet that works for one may not work as well for someone else. As a practitioner, I’ve seen several patients following a low-fat, low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet with severe health problems: obesity, candidiasis, hypothyroidism, leaky gut syndrome, anaemia and generalised fatigue. Most of these people have been vegetarians. Because of the widespread rhetoric that a vegetarian diet is “always healthier” than a diet that includes meat or animal products, these people see no reason to change their diet, even though that is the cause of their problems. What these people actually need for optimal health is more animal foods and fewer carbohydrates!
Conversely, some people do very well on little or no meat and remain healthy as lacto-vegetarians or lacto-ovo-vegetarians. The reason for this is because these diets are healthier for those people, not because they’re healthier in general. However, a total absence of animal products, whether meat, fish, insects, eggs, butter or dairy, is to be avoided. Though it may take years, problems will eventually ensue for these people. The reason for this is simple evolution: humanity evolved eating animal foods and fats as part of its diet, and our bodies are suited and accustomed to them. One cannot change evolution in a few years.
When it comes to good nutrition, it’s best to stick with the tried and true, rather than the untested and new. Humanity has been consuming animal products and saturated fats for thousands of years as part of its diet. Today’s health-conscious person needs to follow humanity’s historical example and make ample room for all of the gifts of life provided to us by our animal friends.
NOTE ON BLOOD TYPING THEORIES
There is a nutritional “fad” at the present time, spurred on by the book, Eat Right 4 Your Type, by Peter D’Adamo, ND (Putnam; USA, 1996). The main tenet of the book is that the four major blood types (O, A, B, AB) evolved sequentially as humans colonised the Earth. Anthropologists, however, have disputed this and have produced considerable evidence that all four types were present at the same time. On top of this obvious difficulty is the reality that there are well over 400 blood types found in human beings! Though most of these are confined to small groups of isolated peoples, the fact remains that such diversity argues against the blood type/nutrition theory.
Clinically, I have seen patients who have had a lack of stomach acid who were type Os. According to the theory, type Os should produce plenty of HCL acid to handle more meats. Additionally, I have seen blood type As with no HCL acid deficiencies. According to the theory, type As should have low HCL levels. Such experiences strongly argue against the blood typing/food theory.
For more detail on this subject, I refer readers to the article, “Eat Right 4 Your Type Hype,” by Sally Eauclaire Osborne, published in The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Journal, Winter 1998, link to “Eat Right 4 Your Type Hype,” by Sally Eauclaire Osborne.
The author would like to thank Sally Fallon, MA; Lee Clifford, MS, CCN; and Dr. H. Leon Abrams, Jr., for their gracious assistance in preparing and reviewing this paper.
This paper was not sponsored or paid for by the meat or dairy industries.
About the Author:
Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP, enjoys robust health on a diet that includes butter, cream, eggs, meat, whole milk, cheese, and liver. He is the author of Diet & Heart Disease: Its NOT What You Think and Digestion Made Simple (Whitman Books; 2001); and The Lazy Person’s Whole Foods Cookbook (Ecclesia Life Mana; 2001).
Click here to read this article in full.
Click here to read a rebuttal to this article.
Paul Chek talks about vegetarianism – click here.
Why pastor/author Greg Boyd is a vegetarian – click here.
Filmed LIVE from the SWIS Symposium, Toronto, November 2005
Delve deep into the fundamentals of the food we eat in this live lecture given by Paul Chek at the SWIS Symposium in Toronto Canada. Paul discusses the VITAL relationship between the soil and the health of plants, animals and humans as we move up the food-chain. For example, did you know that a gram of healthy soil can contain some 600 million microorganisms and tens of thousands of different species of bacteria and fungi? Or that soil microorganisms provide the plant’s primary immune defense. When the microorganism population is disturbed, damaged or imbalanced, the plant suffers increased likelihood of both malnutrition and attack by invasive organisms.
Paul discusses the importance of Mycorrhiza, earthworms and humus, showing how conventional farming has disrupted the natural mechanisms that support healthy soil and healthy plants and how this has affected the health of the animals and humans that eat these plants. Filled with amazing facts and statistics, this lecture will open your eyes to the importance of considering not only what you eat, but where it has come from and how it has been grown.
With his unique, holistic approach to health and athletic performance, Paul brings together seemingly unrelated topics, from soil chemistry to the diets of traditional peoples, showing how these are importance considerations that directly affect those of us living in the western cultures of the 21st century.
Click here to order the DVD (so that you can watch the rest of the lecture).
Click here to learn more about Paul Chek.