Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brother Will vs. Vox Day: The requirements of Christianity

At Vox Popoli: Mailvox: Are Christians "required to be dicks"?, Vox Day cites four verses to defend Christian dickishness. Two are offered to support expelling self-professed Christians who "willfully and proudly" disobey Christian teaching:
2 Thessalonians 3:6: "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us." 
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 "I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”"
Two are offered to support silencing or expelling false teachers:
James 3:1: "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."
2 Peter 2:1: "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves."
I agree that the Bible supports the internet advice, "Don't feed the trolls." But I'm fascinated by the context for those verses that Vox Day doesn't dwell on because they don't support a conservative's concept of Christianity:
  1. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2, what is "the teaching you received from us"?
  2. In 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, who are the "greedy"?
  3. In James 3:1, why is it that "we who teach will be judged more strictly"?
  4. In 2 Peter 2:1, who are the false teachers who will "secretly introduce destructive heresies"?
In Matthew 22, Jesus taught,
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Since these are the greatest part of Jesus's teaching, two questions arise: What does it mean to love God, and how do you love your neighbor as yourself?

The Corinthians' quote tells what people who love God and their neighbors are not: "anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler". Breaking that down:

1. People who love God and their neighbors have sexual relationships that are moral—to use the King James Version, they are not fornicators, or to use Wycliffe, which may be clearer here, they are not lechers. The teaching is simple: People who love God and their neighbors have honest and responsible sexual relationships.

2. People who love God and their neighbors are not greedy. Jesus said if you want to be perfect, give your wealth to the poor. But he didn't demand perfection—he praised Zacchaeus, who only gave half of his possessions to the poor, which Zacchaeus may have learned from John the Baptist, who said those with two coats should give one to someone who has none, and those who have food should give half to those who have none. Jesus taught that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven, then added that with God, all things are possible. In the context of his teachings, that means God can help the rich share at least as much as Zacchaeus did.

3. People who love God and their neighbors are not idolators. Idolators both worship idols and own them—they spend time and money on things that don't help them or anyone else. In Matthew 9, Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" He was referring to Hosea 6.6: "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." Idolators turn God into an idol when they focus on ritual rather than improving the lives of others.

4. People who love God and their neighbors are not slanderers. Honesty is one of Jesus's recurring themes, as shown by his harshest epithet, hypocrite, the person whose words and deeds don't match.

5. People who love God and their neighbors are not drunkards. In the context of Jesus's teachings, one of the first reasons would have to be that drunkards often hurt themselves and those around them, and rarely help anyone.

6. People who love God and their neighbors are not swindlers—or to use the KJV, extortionists. Which is to say, you must not exploit anyone. The Greek word that's being translated is harpax, "a extortioner, a robber". Perhaps the simplest way to say this would be that people who love God and their neighbors don't take advantage of others. Which, Brother Will has to point out, doesn't leave room to profit from the work of others.

I'll stop now, with this advice: Don't use Jesus to defend dickery. Here's 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 from the 1599 Geneva Bible for lovers of God and their neighbors to ponder:
Love suffereth long: it is bountiful: love envieth not: love doth not boast itself: it is not puffed up:
It doth no uncomely thing: it seeketh not her own thing: it is not provoked to anger: it thinketh no evil:
It rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth:
It suffereth all things: it believeth all things: it hopeth all things: it endureth all things.
Love doth never fall away, though that prophesyings be abolished, or the tongues cease, or knowledge vanish away.