Jesus Never Said Anything About That

Jesus Talkin' - I Never Said Anything About That

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

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          A common refrain I hear coming from the progressive side of the debate on full LGBTQ inclusion/condemnation of homosexual practice is that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. This is very often used as evidence, even considered strong evidence by some, that Jesus would have supported the progressive position. Many memes on social media use it, and it frequently comes up in the rhetoric. That said, I thought I would critically examine the claim that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.

Perhaps the first point that ought to be mentioned before exploring the claim in detail is that it is, at the most basic level, an argument from silence (which is a logical fallacy). At this point the debate about the efficacy of the claim is over. That it qualifies as an argument from silence should give people caution about using the claim that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. What could it mean if the claim were taken seriously?

A basic question to ask is about the nature of the documents that provide us with any information about the historical Jesus. As any scholar involved with reconstructing the historical Jesus will tell you, the best sources are still the Gospels you find in the Bible (take agnostic Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, for example). The four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are not exhaustive accounts of Jesus’ life, which is even noted in John 21:25. So, as the argument from silence implies, it could be that Jesus talked about homosexuality, but it simply wasn’t recorded in any of the Gospels.

None of the Gospels (canonical or otherwise) are what any contemporary historian would consider an unbiased account of the life of Jesus. They were all written for communities of faith, and so the material contained in them was presumably thought to be useful for those communities. It is likely that Luke, for example, is written to Gentile “god-fearers” to demonstrate that they can become part of the Christian movement—that Christianity is not an exclusively Jewish religion. The author of Matthew is writing to a predominantly Jewish audience to convince them that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. While the authors of both Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a basic outline, they added other material for their own particular agendas (as well as incorporating some type of “Q” source). Thus it is possible that the Gospel writers may have been aware of Jesus having spoken on the topic of homosexuality, but that it simply didn’t fit with what they wanted to say in their literary constructions of Jesus.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus never spoke about homosexual practice. First it should be noted that Jesus was an observant Jew. That is all the more clear in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls which provide ample evidence as to the diversity of opinion among different Jewish sects of the Second Temple period as to Torah observance (see 4QMMT, for example). Thus while Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath on occasion, his response is typically to define and defend his understanding of the Sabbath, not to marginalize Sabbath observance as unimportant. In this light, it becomes clear that the Levitical prohibitions against homosexual practice would not have likely needed comment by Jesus’ to his predominantly Jewish audience. This would be contrasted with Paul, who is speaking to a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile Christians (doubtless why the subject comes up in Romans 1:26-27). Seen in this light, Jesus lack of comment on the subject doesn’t necessarily favor the progressive position.

What would Jesus have said about the subject? From ancient documents it is fairly certain that there was no concept that people could be in a loving mutual same-sex relationship. Generally homosexual practice was seen in terms of power, which was one participant having power over the other. In the Gentile world of the Roman Empire it was not entirely uncommon for an older man to take a boy to have sexual relations with. Given that context it should come as no surprise that the early Christians did not approve of such practices. It wouldn’t be out of character if Jesus too condemned practices like that, especially as he was known for valuing children (Jesus in Mark 9:42 prescribes some pretty severe consequences for the misleading of children).

One text that has been used to condemn homosexual practice is the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-28). It may be overlooked that the Gospels record Jesus referencing the story. How does Jesus interpret and make use of the story? Jesus relates the cause for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as having to do with a lack of hospitality toward visitors (see Matthew 10:5-15 and its parallel in Luke 10:1-12). Most Bible scholars today would agree with Jesus’ interpretation of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as it is recounted in Genesis 19:1-28. However in Ezekiel 16:49 the reason for the destruction is spelled out in some detail. Nevertheless it is striking that it was not uncommon to discuss inappropriate sexual relations as a cause for the destruction of Sodom, and yet Jesus is not ever recorded as making that connection. The passages in question are Jude 1:7 and 2 Peter 2:4-10a (it should be noted that the sexual sin being attributed as the cause for the destruction of Sodom in both passages has to do with sexual relations between humans and angels rather than homosexual relations—see also Genesis 6:1-4 and the Book of Jubilees in this regard).

Hypothetically, if Jesus had encountered a same-sex couple in a mutually loving and egalitarian relationship, how would he react? A point often noted by both traditionalists as well as progressives is that Jesus was well known for hanging out with people on the margins of society. Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, and healed people whose ailments prevented them from full participation in the life of the community. Unfortunately that doesn’t help us with a determination as to whether Jesus would have condemned homosexual practice or not, but that he didn’t let anything get in the way of having social relations with any person. Jesus is recorded as telling people not to sin anymore, the most famous example being perhaps John 8:1-11. Thus the question becomes whether or not Jesus would see homosexual practice as sin, and not whether he would reject anyone defined as a “sinner,” etcetera.

So what can we now say about the significance of the claim that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality? The odds that Jesus, being a faithful Jew, would take a radical stand contrary to the Levitical prohibition against homosexual practice are not good, particularly given the normative means for the expression of same-sex relations in the First Century. But then the question is raised as to whether it is a fair comparison to liken First Century homosexual practices to those we see today of loving and committed same-sex couples. It is the view of this author that there is no resemblance between the contexts for homosexual relations in the first century and the context today. In the end, the fact that Jesus is never recorded as saying the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with his own [Jesus’] teachings isn’t helpful to the debate. Hopefully by this point you can see that the real issue is whether the few condemnations of ancient understandings of homosexual practice can be considered as relevant to the contemporary reality of the LGBTQ community.

It was also recently pointed out to me that it can seem strange for traditionalists to make the condemnation of homosexual practice so important an issue despite the fact that the subject doesn’t appear to be worthy of note by Jesus. At least in some cases, part of the point progressives make in the statement that Jesus never said anything about homosexual practice is just to question how important the topic really is. As has been demonstrated, that claim isn’t helpful to debating the subject, but it has been occasionally used as if it was. The issue isn’t about faithfulness to scripture or Biblical obedience, as all Christians read and interpret the Bible, rather it is about the difficult and messy task of how best to make God’s Word relevant to the world of today.

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© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

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The Secret of Babylon 5

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo – Babylon 5 and all its related characters are © Warner Bros.

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FRIENDLY WARNING: If you haven’t seen the television show Babylon 5, the following contains spoilers.

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This is a departure from the normal subject matter on this blog. As a Christian I enjoy science fiction, as well as reading different perspectives, including those of prominent atheists like Friedrich Nietzsche. J. Michael Straczynski has a great line in Babylon 5 that “Understanding is a three-edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth.”

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Art by Lee Karl Palo

Friedrich Nietzsche – art by Lee Karl Palo

What has the 19th Century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to do with a 20th Century television show Babylon 5? With the vast majority of television shows largely being the product of teams of writers, the idea that there could be a significant hidden theme in any TV series seems unlikely. However, in the case of Babylon 5, the show’s creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 out of 110 episodes (including all of seasons three and four). At the very least that opens up the possibility that there could be such a theme. I first discovered the connection between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Babylon 5 during the original airing of the show in the 1990s, specifically during the end of the third season, in the episode Z’ha’dum.

First it is important to state that I am in no way trying to diminish the originality of Straczynski’s Babylon 5. Nietzsche himself said that you repay a teacher badly if you only ever remain a student (see the end of the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, specifically section 3 of “On The Gift-Giving Virtue”). Nietzsche expected his sympathetic readers to critically engage with his thought and go their own way. It is my contention that J. Michael Straczynski has been influenced by Nietzsche, but there is much more to Babylon 5 than that.

One problem you can encounter in literature, film, and television is reading all kinds of meaning into a work that was never intended (see this article, for example). Is it reasonable to assume that J. Michael Straczynski may have been influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche? Straczynski studied philosophy at San Diego State University, graduating with a minor in the subject. He has also made it public knowledge that he is an atheist (see the “Back Page” article in the September 1998 issue of the Official Babylon 5 Magazine for his thoughts on being an atheist and writing about religion). It can easily be argued that Nietzsche is one of the most significant atheist philosophers of all time. Of course that doesn’t guarantee that J. Michael Straczynski is familiar with Nietzsche’s philosophy, only that it is plausible.

The September 1998 issue of the Official Babylon 5 Magazine

The September 1998 issue of the Official Babylon 5 Magazine

One other problem should be mentioned. Friedrich Nietzsche is easily one of the most misunderstood philosophers of all time. Walter Kaufmann wrote the book, “Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist” at least in part to counteract many of the mistaken notions about Nietzsche in the English speaking world. In science-fiction television Nietzsche has been overtly referred to in “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.” Unfortunately, Andromeda perpetuates many myths and misunderstandings of Nietzsche’s philosophy. The best way to understand Nietzsche would be to read his works. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is one of his most important works, and is highly recommended. I would also suggest checking out “Ecce Homo” as it is kind of a “special features” book where Nietzsche talks about his process of writing his various other books, and offers plenty of additional insights into those books. Additionally, the Teaching Company offers a series of lectures entitled The Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche by two distinguished Nietzsche scholars Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen Higgins that provide a great introduction to Nietzsche’s works while avoiding many of the common myths and misunderstandings of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Lastly, I am not proposing a one-to-one correspondence between themes and concepts in Nietzsche’s philosophy and those of Babylon 5. I intend to sketch out some Nietzschean themes in Babylon 5, but there could easily be more or less than what I will be discussing below. The best solution is for you to investigate these proposed similarities for yourself, to see how they resemble Nietzsche’s thought, and the way J. Michael Straczynski has developed those themes in his own creative directions.

Nietzschean Themes in Babylon 5

          The central conflict of Babylon 5 is how the younger races (including humanity) get caught up in the polarizing conflict between two ancient alien races, the Vorlons and the Shadows. The Shadows represent an extreme morality of growth through chaos and conflict, which parallels Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian. By contrast, the Vorlons represent an extreme morality of order and obedience, which parallels Nietzsche’s concept of the Apollonian. Another way of looking at the conflict between the ideologies of the Shadows and the Vorlons is to describe it as the conflict of doing and being. The Shadows ask a question that promotes thought about doing: “What do you want?” To the Vorlons, the question to ask is one promoting thought about being: “Who are you?”

The character of Zarathustra was borrowed by Nietzsche from the historical founder of Zoroastrianism, which need to be differentiated from each other. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is a fictional character modeled loosely on the historical Zarathustra. In Babylon 5 the character who best represents Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is the ancient alien Lorien. Lorien is the oldest immortal sentient being in the universe. Superficially, both characters, Lorien and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, have spent a long time in caves pondering philosophical themes. What makes the connection solid between Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Lorien is how the characters are related to a common theme. Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo (“Why I am a Destiny” section 3), reveals what he meant by using Zarathustra as a protagonist. The Zarathustra of history understood the world to be a conflict between the supernatural forces of good and the supernatural forces of evil. To Nietzsche it would make sense for Zarathustra to be the one to spot his own error of a supernatural moral order of things. Straczynski has the character of Lorien, who was the first to take on the role of shepherding younger alien races, repudiate what has become of the two ancient races (the Vorlons and the Shadows) who later took up that cause.

The character of John Sheridan is the primary hero of the story in Babylon 5, though he isn’t introduced until the second season. Sheridan replaces the initial hero Jeffrey Sinclair. However, an interesting development in the episode “War Without End Part 2” has the characters of John Sheridan, Jeffrey Sinclair, and Delenn said to be “The One” in a type of trinity. The characters are also related to each other. Jeffrey Sinclair is the ancestor of Delenn, Sinclair having travelled back in time at the conclusion of “War Without End Part 2.” Later on in the series John Sheridan gets married to Delenn.

John Sheridan has the task of resolving the conflict between the ideologies of the Vorlons and the Shadows. Sheridan goes to Z’ha’dum, the homeworld of the Shadows, to confront them. At Z’ha’dum he is told by those working with the Shadows the nature of their ideological conflict with the Vorlons, and asked to join them. He refuses in dramatic fashion, but in a surprising turn of events he is rescued by Lorien. Sheridan is changed by his encounter with Lorien, and he becomes the Nietzschean overman (also known as “superman,” or “übermensch”). In Nietzsche’s philosophy it is his Zarathustra who introduces the concept of the overman.

At this point, there is a problem with variant understandings of just what Nietzsche meant by “overman.” Unfortunately, many people understand the overman as a ruthless figure that will stop at nothing to achieve his or her ends. Straczynski has even given expression to this common misunderstanding of the overman in the episode “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars,” where a future holographic recreation of John Sheridan is reprogrammed to be such a ruthless figure (see also J. Michael Straczynski’s commentary track to the episode on the DVD release). To Nietzsche, the overman can go beyond simplistic notions of morality, “good” and “evil,” and make the difficult choices that need to be made. In this vein, after the Shadow War is over, John Sheridan makes choices outside of the either/or options the Vorlons and Shadows had presented. A prime example is with Sheridan’s choice to sacrifice telepaths that were surgically altered by the Shadows. Since the telepaths in question are not able to be restored to health, and they were programmed to merge with spacecraft machinery, Sheridan uses them to disable a fleet of ships. The sacrifice of the telepaths saves the lives of thousands of people.

Other Nietzschean Themes?

          The main story of Babylon 5 revolves around the conflict with, and eventual rejection of, the extreme moralities of the Vorlons and the Shadows. Those two ancient Apollonian and Dionysian alien races are accompanied with angelic and demonic imagery in Babylon 5. Their rejection may also represent Nietzsche’s “death of God” (see The Gay Science Section 125 “The Madman”). The name “Babylon 5” is reminiscent of the influence the ancient Israelite Exile in Babylon had on its religious thought. Though still maintaining its uncompromising monotheism, Judaism would absorb some of the dualistic notions from Zoroastrianism such as angels, demons, and a Devil. Is the name “Babylon 5” an echo of Zoroastrian notions of good versus evil that Nietzsche has his Zarathustra reject?

Time travel is a staple of much of science-fiction. In the first season of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski has the episode “Babylon Squared” tell part of a time-travel story that is concluded in the episodes “War Without End Part One” and “War Without End Part Two” in the third season. Is this story a subtle nod to Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal recurrence? Jeffrey Sinclair discovers that he travelled back in time and became the Minbari religious leader Valen. In a sense he lives his life in a type of eternal recurrence, embracing the reality of forever choosing to make the same decisions.

Conclusion

          So what is one to make of these parallels? It is possible that any fan may find more meaning and see more influences than the author intended. That may be the case here. Being a fan of both Nietzsche and Babylon 5, I see many more subtle Nietzschean themes than I have discussed here. So it makes sense that I would be open to seeing Nietzschean themes on occasion.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in a style that explored a lot of different issues, even taking some positions he didn’t necessarily agree with. Science fiction lends itself to exploring a wide variety of issues and positions, something that Babylon 5 did very well. Nietzsche was an atheist who had read the Bible, and knew it fairly well, even to the point of being familiar with some of the then current Biblical scholarship. Straczynski too is an atheist who has read the Bible. Nietzsche loved the Greek classics, and Straczynski has been influenced by them as well. In conclusion, I would say that if the parallels between Nietzsche’s thought and Babylon 5 are of my imagining, I would recommend reading the works of Friedrich Nietzsche to J. Michael Straczynski, as I think he would certainly enjoy them (I am a former bookstore manager after all).

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If you are interested in reading Friedrich Nietzsche, but don’t know where to begin, here are some suggestions. First, it would be best to approach Nietzsche’s works with a good guide. I wholeheartedly recommend Walter Kaufmann’s book (already mentioned) Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Even today Walter Kaufmann’s translations of Nietzsche’s works are pretty standard, and he has added footnotes in many places to help with some of the more obscure references Nietzsche makes (often contemporary cultural references). Additionally, the translations of R.J. Hollingdale are great. Also mentioned above, the Teaching Company series of lectures entitled The Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche by Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen Higgins provide a great introduction to Nietzsche’s works. Nietzsche’s style will put off some readers, but it is worth the effort in many places, and I have found it very rewarding.

Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist

Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist

The Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

The Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

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© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

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Prayer on the Occasion of Fred Phelps’ Imminent Demise

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

Cement

          Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, appears to be dying. It is often a struggle to know what to do or how to feel regarding the imminent demise of a person who has caused so much pain. As a Christian, I know God desires reconciliation and repentance, but the hurt is great. It is toward persons like this that I pray like the Psalmists.

Feelings need to find a positive means of expression, and imprecatory prayer provides a way to this. For those unfamiliar with the term, imprecatory prayer is another way to describe the spiritual practice of cursing. It is better to express our anger and outrage to God than to take action contrary to the will of God. Unfortunately many churches today tend to avoid talking about how to deal with “negative” emotions. Lectionary selections from the Psalms generally avoid the imprecatory prayers scattered among them. There are some good reasons for this, but the subject shouldn’t be avoided altogether.

How do I do practice imprecatory prayer? I start by recognizing the will of God. As I mentioned above, God desires reconciliation and repentance. God loves everyone. That people act in ways that hurt others grieves the heart of God. There is such a thing as righteous anger though. The difficulty is in how to combine God’s love with our anger in one prayer.

Here are a few helpful images from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

-        Christian baptism represents the death of the old sinful self.

-        The wages sin pays is death (Romans 6:23).

-        The Lord’s Prayer asks for God’s will to be done.

-        Revenge is God’s domain (see Romans 12:19, which quotes Deuteronomy 32:35).

These points can be combined together as follows:

God, you know my hurt and anger toward Fred Phelps. I know that you love Fred Phelps and desire his repentance—that he should renounce his evil actions (his sin), and practice them no more. I ask that you bring his evil actions to an end. God, hasten the death of his sinful self or hasten his physical death, so as to put a stop to his evil actions. God grant me the peace to accept your will in all situations. I release my desire for revenge to you. Open my heart so that if he repents of his sin I may only see the new creation you have wrought in him instead of the person who has caused so much pain. As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, I too will affirm “not my will but yours be done.” Amen.

Cement

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

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How to be like Satan

How to be like Satan 2

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

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          A question I have been asked from time to time is: how does theology matter in everyday life? It is a good question, and it points to a problem. To put it bluntly, the question wouldn’t be asked unless there were people who can’t see how theology makes a difference in everyday life. For this particular blog post on theology in the daily grind, I would like to talk about the problem of evil (why bad things happen if there is a good God). In fancy theological language the problem of evil is called “theodicy.” I am not proposing to solve this most difficult and disturbing of theological problems, but instead to look at one issue.

[How do you pronounce “theodicy?” …it rhymes with odyssey.]

People often have an aversion to talking about bad things. When they do talk about them it is to find a way to defeat or overcome those bad things. In the church, miracles are frequently hoped and prayed for. God is petitioned to intervene and put a stop to some bad thing. You don’t really hear the average person praying for bad things to happen, though it does happen. There is even a name for it: imprecatory prayer (for examples, read the book of the Psalms, and you will find plenty). In any case, you don’t generally hear people praying for their own or others’ bad circumstances to continue.

[God, please smite my enemies in some suitably nasty manner.]

This brings us to the first conundrum. If human beings are mortal, and if people always pray for healing, sooner or later those prayers for healing are not going to work. This is the dark side of the miracle. If you believe in miracles, there will be times when miracles will not happen. This leads to that sorrowful question many people face, “why didn’t God heal me? Why didn’t God perform that miracle that many prayed for? Some have gone so far as to say that not enough people prayed for that miracle, or they didn’t pray with enough faith. If you follow the logic however, you know that miracles will not always be forthcoming.

[Have a little faith.]

The first way to be like Satan is to tell someone they didn’t have enough faith for their miracle to come. The go-to verse of people accusing others of not having enough faith is Matthew 17:20. I think Jesus may have been employing a bit of hyperbole in that passage, but I have been told by a fellow Christian that if a person had enough faith they could be immortal. Nonetheless, it is bad enough to be mired in some horrible circumstance, then you get told it’s your own fault! No, the simple theological truth of the matter is that while God loves everyone, miracles will never be a certainty.

[That which does not destroy me makes me stronger – Friedrich Nietzsche]

The Bible goes even further than that. Those bad circumstances can actually be used or turned toward some good. “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose” says the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:28 CEB). Romans 8:28 is an often cited scripture, and a much misunderstood one. It doesn’t mean God causes all of the bad things in order to test us and bring about some “good.” God may have a plan to bring some good out of a given bad thing.

[Didn’t God have a plan for some bad thing to happen to Jesus?]

Jesus knew he was headed to Jerusalem to be executed by the Roman authorities (crucifixion was a peculiarly Roman form of capital punishment—Jews used stoning). To say being executed on a cross was a horrible way to die was an understatement. Like most people, Peter doesn’t wish for bad things to happen to his good and dear friend (Matthew 16:22). It is bad enough to struggle with some bad thing that is a part of your life yourself. It is much worse when people tell you that God will surely take away that bad thing.

[WWJD?]

How did Jesus react? In Matthew 16:23 he calls Peter, “Satan!” What does this mean in practical terms? When someone tells you they are suffering from some bad thing, very often one of the worst things you can tell them is that God will fix it. God will certainly not always fix it, because miracles don’t always happen. Further, God may even have a plan to bring some good out of the bad thing.

[Don’t be Satan.]

There are couples who struggle with infertility. There are people with MS. Managing diabetes is a daily affair for some. Loved ones don’t always get better. There are many other bad things that are a part of people’s lives. Some bad things can be used for good, even for the salvation of the whole world!

[What do I do?]

In regard to his imminent crucifixion, Jesus simply asked to let God’s will be done (Matthew 26:39 and 42). It doesn’t hurt to pray that God’s will be done (I seem to recall a famous prayer with that as one of the lines in it). Perhaps if you feel God will intervene with some kind of miracle it would be best to take Jesus’ advice and pray in secret (Matthew 6:6). It is not easy to accept the bad things that are a part of your life. I can tell you, when you sense that God is not going to provide a miracle to liberate you from your bad thing, it hurts a lot to be told that God will take that bad thing away.

Don’t be like Satan!

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© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

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The Death of Christian Discipleship (Untimely Meditations or Unfashionable Observations)

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

So the saying goes… “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

…that is unless you count death, which is more certain than taxes.

Heraclitus had it right, Plato had it wrong—life is change.

The greatest failure of the Christian religion was to get rid of the need to “make disciples,” and instead substitute a prayer to grant the Christian convert an afterlife where God can disciple them directly instead of other Christians. Disciple-making is hard work! Getting someone to say the “Sinner’s Prayer” is easy. That is how Christianity became a religion of death. God commanded people to love one another and care for this world, but that was transformed into Christian apathy about one’s neighbor (unless it is a fellow Christian, but not always) and caring about Heaven and Hell.

Thus says Tim LaHaye’s sycophantic followers, “We welcome the end-of-days when God will come to earth again to destroy the world and burn our neighbors in hell (while we escape by being raptured into heaven)…”

“…When they all die God will sort them out…”

“…May they all die so God can sort them out…”

“…Kill them all and let God sort them out…”

“…In the love of Christ.”

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Art by Lee Karl Palo

Art by Lee Karl Palo

Untimely Meditations or Unfashionable Observations are meant to provoke thought. They are not necessarily meant to convey the author’s actual opinion, and may be hypothetical in nature. The style is inspired by a certain oft-misunderstood European philosopher of the late 19th Century (he would have preferred to be called a European philosopher rather than a German philosopher) – “Dionysus.”

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© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

 

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The Soul? (Untimely Meditations or Unfashionable Observations)

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

          Why would someone want to believe in a particular concept? That is the question people often forget to ask. We certainly inherit many beliefs from the culture we are born into. Tracing those beliefs back to where they originated can be a tricky matter—it is part archaeology and part psychology. One concept that has endured is belief in the soul. Typically a soul is seen as the essence of a person that is incorporeal, and goes on existing after the death of the body. Some people believe the soul passes on to an afterlife in heaven or hell following death. There are others who believe the soul can become reincarnated in another form. So where did the idea of “soul” come from?

It may surprise you to learn that belief in the soul does not originate with the Bible. The Hebrew word translated as “soul” in many English translations of the Old Testament has more the character of “life’s breath” than some immortal immaterial substance. In the work of translation it can often be difficult to find a word in the target language to adequately represent the word you are trying to translate. There is often no option for translators to have a “one to one” correspondence of words in a given translation. With the Bible, the Greek speaking authors of the New Testament generally used the Greek word the translators of the Septuagint had chosen to represent the original Hebrew concept. It would be a mistake to think the New Testament authors had in mind the Greek philosophical concept of the soul found in Plato rather than the Hebrew concept.

Sooner or later death is certain. “You are soil, to the soil you will return” reads Genesis 3:19b. Near-death experiences aside, death is observed to be permanent (there is a point at which no resuscitation is possible). Death can be very traumatic for those losing a loved one, and it isn’t generally pleasant to contemplate one’s own future death. What if the concept of “soul” was developed to deceive anxious persons into believing that their existence might have more permanence than death would seem to imply? Perhaps Socrates’ arguments for the immortality of the soul (in Phaedo) are a smokescreen to hide his own anxiety over his imminent death.

What I find fascinating about the Bible is how there is no talk about the migration of an immortal immaterial soul to a heavenly realm upon death. Rather, the Bible talks much more about the resurrection of the body (see N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope). Human immortality is not an intrinsic quality, rather it is a gift of God.

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Nietzsche (by Lee Karl Palo) 001 (small)

Untimely Meditations or Unfashionable Observations are meant to provoke thought. They are not necessarily meant to convey the author’s actual opinion, and may be hypothetical in nature. The style is inspired by a certain oft-misunderstood European philosopher of the late 19th Century (he would have preferred to be called a European philosopher rather than a German philosopher) – “Dionysus.”

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© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They’ll Know We are Christians by our… (Untimely Meditations or Unfashionable Observations)

By Lee Karl Palo

© 2013 Lee Karl Palo

I was told “Christians are assholes” by someone I know. That is sad. But is it true? Generally speaking, I think “Christians are assholes” is probably the most accurate statement to represent Christians across America today. Certainly there are exceptions, but to someone outside of the faith, can they reasonably be expected to look for exceptions to the rule? How does the song go? “They’ll know we are Christians by our love!” Those outside the church could probably say “we’ll know they are Christians by their hypocrisy.” I think more Christians need to hear “Christians are assholes”, including myself. We need to realize just how damaging our “Christian” witness can be, and often is. We need to be inspired to be better witnesses of Christ. I won’t offer an excuse to those outside the faith, just an apology. I pray people can see that in reality “not all Christians are assholes.”

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Untimely Meditations or Unfashionable Observations are meant to provoke thought. They are not necessarily meant to convey the author’s actual opinion, and may be hypothetical in nature. The style is inspired by a certain oft-misunderstood European philosopher of the late 19th Century (he would have preferred to be called a European philosopher rather than a German philosopher) – “Dionysus.”

Nietzsche (by Lee Karl Palo) 001 (small)

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© 2013 Lee Karl Palo

leekarlpalo@gmail.com

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