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Is God Pro-Life or Pro-Death?

Babies

This is the second in a series of posts on the “dark passages” of the Bible. These are texts which understandably raise the eyebrows of both nonbelievers and believers who encounter them and say, “How can that be in the Bible if it is God’s own word?” In my previous post I took up the problem of violent Old Testament passages in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s claim that violence is contrary to God’s nature. My book Dark Passages of the Bible likewise deals with this and various other areas of the Bible that seem to contradict what Christians believe today. Today I’d like to comment on Psalm 137, a short text which is at once one of the most profound as well as troubling imprecatory texts in the Bible.

In Psalm 137 we have before us a hymn whose context is clearly exilic, meaning that it was written after the Jewish people had been carted off into Babylon in 586 B.C. Before discussing, we should read the poem in its entirety:

"By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the LORD's song
in a foreign land?
 
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
 
Remember, O LORD, against the E'domites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Rase it, rase it!
Down to its foundations!”
 
O daughter of Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall he be who requites you
with what you have done to us!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!"

The plain sense of the last pair of verses is a proclamation of blessing—in particular that a man will be blessed by God because he has killed his captors’ little children. This is a point at which atheists understandably say to believers, “Really, your God would bless that type of person? What a hateful, pathetic, bloodthirsty god—a god made in man’s image indeed! This doesn’t sound like a very ‘pro-life’ God.” Even C.S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, describes Psalm 137’s concluding outburst as “devilish.” According to Lewis, the harboring of animosity is at once “profoundly natural” but also “profoundly wrong.” Does this mean it shouldn’t be in the Bible or that it constitutes an error on God’s part?

Though Psalm 137 does not have God directly making this troublesome curse, the problem cannot be skirted merely by pointing out that the human author is the one saying these hateful things rather than God. Why does this not help? For traditional orthodox Christianity, which includes Catholicism, the Bible is God’s word in human words, and we believe that lying, falsehood, and hatred are incompatible with the nature of God. As the Second Vatican Council authoritatively put it, whatever Scripture’s human authors assert is also asserted by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if the human author of Psalm 137 asserts an error, we are saying that the Holy Spirit is also asserting an error.

For a Catholic, the question ultimately then revolves around the following question: what precisely was the human author of Psalm 137 asserting? In Catholic biblical exegesis, this assertion refers to the primary message an author wishes to teach or communicate. For a Catholic, the doctrines of biblical inspiration and inerrancy do not mean that every sentence in the Bible is a reflection of God’s mind on a given matter. Rather, the Bible is God’s word in human words. To use an expression from the Church Fathers, it was part of his divine pedagogy or teaching method to gradually reveal himself to his people. As part of this process, he accommodated himself to our human weaknesses and ennobled feeble humans in such a way that they have become bearers of his word. Naturally, these humans were not going to perceive God’s will perfectly from day one of his divine revelation but rather grow in this perception over time. This is why Pope Benedict states that Catholics should not simplistically treat any given Old Testament text as a definitive illustration of how we ought to act or believe without seeing it as part of a plan that is fully revealed only in the person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, when Christians are challenged by non-believers to defend a particular Old Testament passage, they end up trying to defend the indefensible and, to borrow an expression from Thomas Aquinas, thereby make the faith look ridiculous.

What, then, is the assertion of Psalm 137? The Catholic must first be clear that it is not to teach that celebration is in order when the children of our enemies are killed. Now if you are an atheist, you are probably (and understandably) going to respond: “You’re pre-determining that this biblical text can’t be saying the crazy thing it seems to say since you’ve already begun with the assumption that it can’t be wrong.” Believe it or not, the Catholic would actually agree with the atheist here. Yes, our prior commitment to Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible does a priori preclude the possibility that God’s revealed word asserts error.

But does this mean that the Catholic position is irrational and indefensible? As I said in my previous post, Catholics can’t expect a nonbeliever to accept our particular interpretation of a text like Psalm 137 if said person hasn’t first accepted the existence of God, the incarnation of Christ, and the Bible as his revealed word expressed in human words. What we can do is offer a reasoned explanation for the presence of thorny texts in such a way that one could see how it would be illuminating if faith in Christ is granted.

Up to this point I have merely been discussing what Psalm 137 does not intend to teach, but we also have to offer a positive statement of what the author intended to assert. In the present psalm as in any biblical text, an author might wish to make multiple points. In this case, there are two related purposes of the psalm when read in light of the whole. On the one hand, it is a hymn of hope for liberation and confidence in God’s covenant faithfulness. Thus the beautiful words in which the psalmist reminds the people of God’s promise: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!” God has bound himself to Israel in covenant. He cannot go back on his promise to remember his people.

Though expressive of hope, Psalm 137 is at the same time a national hymn of sorrow. As the text relates, Israelites cast into Babylonian captivity wept bitterly as they were mocked by their captors who asked them to sing songs of their native land which had just been destroyed. The psalm is thus an occasion for the nation to pour out its anguish to God over the loss of land, family, and cult. Its aim is not to assert a universal truth claim about children in relation to evil and revenge. One cannot simply isolate the last pair of verses from the context and message of the whole. Rather, the central thrust of Psalm 137 is its cry of longing for God and for God’s good gifts to be restored.

To be sure, the frightful side of human nature shines through in this psalm, but for the Christian this makes the text all the more real, more meaningful. In this way it becomes a prayer which we today (with proper caution and making due distinctions) can each take up in our own lives. Catholics call this the moral sense of the text, an application to our own life’s circumstances of what we have learned from the experience of God’s people in ages past. We today find in our own heart the same emotions of despair and hope, hatred and love, that God’s people of old experienced. The psalm teaches us that we should not try to hide our deepest and darkest thoughts from God. Rather the psalms teach us to get these out in the open so that God can help us live our sorrows in him and eventually heal our brokenness.

A final dimension of Psalm 137’s moral sense is something picked up on by Christianity already in its first centuries of reflection upon the text. I refer here to the beautiful and practical exegesis of Origen in his important treatise Against Celsus. Following the familiar lines of patristic-medieval thought, he comments:

"The just give up to destruction all their enemies, that is to say their vices, so that they do not spare even the children, that is, the early beginnings and promptings of evil. In this sense also we understand the language of Psalm 137...For, “the little ones of Babylon” (which signifies confusion) are those troublesome sinful thoughts that arise in the soul, and one who subdues them by striking, as it were, their heads against the firm and solid strength of reason and truth, is the person who “dashes the little ones against the stones”; and he is therefore truly blessed."

For Origen, there is no question as to the psalm’s meaning: the “little ones” who are to be slain are not human children but rather “the early beginnings and promptings of evil.” He justifies the psalmist’s words by appealing to the etymology of the word Babylon, which is related to the word “confusion.” According to Origen, these nascent vices are called “the little ones of Babylon” because they arise in the form of troubling thoughts that confuse one’s soul. The message of the psalm is that we should put an end to our evil behavior at its outset—when it is still in its infancy, so to speak—lest it eventually develop into an unbreakable vice.

In line with centuries of Catholic thought, I believe that Origen’s interpretation is spot on. However, I would also caution believers that it is not sufficient on its own. Catholics out there who think that jumping to this moral sense of Psalm 137 does justice to its violent outburst of vengeance need to ask themselves: Does Origen’s exegesis respect the text of Psalm 137? Yes, the Catholic should happily recognize the spiritual sense of the text, but was the psalmist really thinking about crushing his vices when he composed this psalm? While some Catholics refuse to admit that the psalmist actually entertained the hateful thoughts he appears to entertain, the principles I have offered above are an attempt to seek truth in the text while admitting the presence of troubling statements which atheists (rightly, I believe) take to be obviously at odds with the nature of God if such a being exists.

In any event, I think any Christian—and indeed any person who reflects upon his vices—can find great wisdom for life in Origen’s approach to Psalm 137. Regardless of whether my above attempt to determine the text’s literal sense is sound, I hope we would all be able to learn from Origen’s exhortation to blot out nascent defects in our lives before they grow up and develop into full-fledged vices. This is precisely the sort of exegesis that makes a difference in our lives, and for the Catholic it represents the most important purpose of the Bible. But he who wishes to truly appreciate Scripture must pay attention to both its spiritual and literal senses. As I put it in a recent interview with Brandon Vogt, Catholics must beware of whitewashing difficult biblical texts by jumping to their spiritual sense without seriously taking into account the challenges these texts present on the literal level.

To conclude, I’d like to acknowledge and reiterate that ascertaining a biblical text’s intention is not always an easy task. Catholics must respectfully disagree with some of our Protestant brethren who believe that the Bible’s meaning is perspicuous. Exegesis often requires a lot more patience and skill than many Christians possess. Above all, it requires us to recognize that the many troublesome passages of the Old Testament ultimately only make sense insofar as they are seen as part of a progressive revelation by which God gradually prepared his people for the coming of Christ. In the words of Pope Benedict, which I cited in my previous post, “It follows straightaway that neither the criterion of inspiration nor that of infallibility can be applied mechanically. It is quite impossible to pick out one single sentence [of the Bible] and say, right, you find this sentence in God’s great book, so it must simply be true in itself.” According to Pope Benedict, problematic passages in the Old Testament are “valid insofar as they are part of the history leading up to Christ.”

On the same token, biblical exegesis also requires a degree of intellectual humility that I find atheists and believers alike sometimes lack. Especially in today’s world where we get much of our information in short bursts of data via social media outlets, it is very common to find folks assuming that if they don’t understand a claim at first glance or if its meaning is not readily apparent to them, then it’s not true. When the Catholic asks for the chance to clarify or make further distinctions, atheists often accuse him of backpedaling, covering his tracks, or obfuscating the ostensible meaning of the text he is trying to defend.

When I engage in discussions like the present one—especially in an online context—I am always reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words in his book Miracles. Explaining Christianity to someone who thinks it is easy and simple is a lot like trying to explain quantum physics to someone who conceives of atoms as tiny little balls which comprise everything in the material universe. At every turn we have to multiply distinctions and rule out false analogies proffered by our interlocutors. It sounds a lot like backtracking, and sometimes it is in fact backtracking. But sometimes this is what it takes in order to make a reasonably adequate explanation for something immense and beautiful. If Christianity is true, then it is with good reason that Catholicism has long regarded theology as “queen of the sciences,” the study of that being who is most immense and beautiful.
 
 
(Image credit: Flavor Yellow)

Dr. Matthew Ramage

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Dr. Matthew Ramage is Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine College. Before coming to Benedictine, he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University, worked in campus ministry, and taught Religious Studies at the University of Illinois. He is a language buff and has competence in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Follow his writings at TruthInCharity.com.

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  • David Nickol

    In line with centuries of Catholic thought, I believe that Origen’s
    interpretation is spot on. . . . Does Origen’s exegesis
    respect the text of Psalm 137?

    I would say that Origen's exegesis does not respect the text, if by "respect the text" is meant to call attention to something implicit or inherent in the text. There is simply nothing in the psalm that conveys the principle that "the just give up to destruction all their enemies" and that by enemies is meant "vices." Robert Alter translates the passage in question as follows:

    Daughter of Babylon the despoiler,
    happy who pays you back in kind,
    for what you did to us.
    Happy who seizes and smashes
    your infants against the rock.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Another reason why God might permit man's word to be his word in this case is that he agrees with the underlying human conception that every unjust evil inflicted on an innocent person must be fully avenged.

      However, Jews smashing the skulls of E'domite babies would only create new injustices.

      God can, however, make the cause of innocent suffering, which is sin, be the means by which ultimate revenge is taken on sin, that is, the redemption of the world.

      So, from the perspective of the Redemption, it could be said that the Jews' profound innocent suffering in exile, united to the theandric innocent suffering of Christ, lets them participate in the salvation of the world. That is the revenge which ultimately smashes sin to pieces.

    • DAVID

      I think that Origen's interpretation works by way of implication. I can almost put it in terms of a syllogism:

      The Jews saw the Babylonians as evil.
      Christians are to kill their own evil habits.
      Babylonians are evil habits.

      Its obviously not a perfect syllogism, and it doesn't work if you're looking for a direct statement in the text. But it works by way of implication.

      The author of this article states that the reason that God would allow such cruel words to be used in the Bible is because the Bible is not only a moral text but also an historical text. It chronicles the moral development of a people who are being prepared for Christ. As such, it would be dishonest to leave such things out. If the authors of the OT were completely pure of heart, there would be no need for Christ, and no need for a New Testament.

      • David Nickol

        Your attempt to construct a syllogism doesn't bring any clarity to the issue that I can see. However, your observation that the psalm conveys something historically true is right on target. One of the problems seems to be that some apparently have an idea that there must be a moral lesson embedded in every passage in the Bible. If it's not in the literal meaning, then it must (they seem to think) be hidden in some way. But it seems obvious to me that there is no moral lesson discoverable in "Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" Why would anyone feel the need to find one? If you want to find religious meaning in the psalm, it seems more reasonable to me to observe that the Israelites, with God as their protector, suffered a devastating military defeat and exile from their homeland, and they don't lose their faith, or blame God for allowing it to happen. Even in the depths of their misery, they still turn to God.

  • Max Driffill

    So the whole of Catholic Theology then is a game of ignoring the text? Not respecting the text in the passages that one finds troubling?

    • David Nickol

      So the whole of Catholic Theology then is a game of ignoring the text?
      Not respecting the text in the passages that one finds troubling?

      I don't think that is quite fair. The theory that God brought the Jews along gradually to an understanding of what is right and wrong allows Catholic interpreters to say that at this stage of Jewish history, the author of the psalm was not stating a moral principle decreed by God that killing your enemies' children was a good thing to do. The task is to find some justification for the psalm being included as scripture. One might say it has at least some minimal "religious content" in that during their worst moment, the Jews poured out their hearts to God. That was a legitimate religious response to their situation, even if in pouring out their hearts, they pray for vengeance. Praying in this situation is right, but what they are asking for is wrong. Turning to God when they are helpless is right, but asking for revenge is wrong.

      I think that were the Bible looked upon as the history of a people, but with nothing supernatural about it, it would be quite natural to see the development from primitive ways to more civilized ones, and to recognize the core that was there and trace its developments. So in a purely naturalistic sense, there is something to be said for Dr. Ramage's approach. We are not proud (I hope) for all of American history, and yet we can look at the history of the United States and follow certain themes as they develop, repudiating certain parts of our history (e.g., counting slaves as three-fifths of a person) as something that was certainly done, but something that we do not count as what we now understand the United States to stand for.

      Having said that, I don't think allegorical interpretation is really a valid approach (unless the text itself is presenting an allegory). I think it is a bad way to approach scripture, and certainly inventing a benign allegorical interpretation of a problem text that was not written as an allegory doesn't make the problem go away.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I like your analogy between Jewish and American history. In apologetics one must merely show an argument to be reasonable, and I think your naturalistic interpretation of Jewish history is reasonable.

        On the other hand, your claim that giving an allegorical interpretation to a passage of the Bible that is not obviously allegorical in its literal sense is one that 2000 years of Catholic Biblical exegetes would disagree with.

        • David Nickol

          On the other hand, your claim that giving an allegorical interpretation to a passage of the Bible that is not obviously allegorical in its literal sense is one that 2000 years of Catholic Biblical exegetes would disagree with.

          Allegorical interpretation of texts that the historical-critical method do not reveal as intended allegories by their human authors is pretty much dead. Note the following from The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible by The Pontifical Biblical Commission:

          In the New Testament, there is a single mention of “things spoken allegorically” (allgoroumena: Ga 4:24), but here it is a question of typology, that is, the persons mentioned in the ancient text, are presented as
          evoking things to come, without the slightest doubt being cast on their historicity. Another Pauline text uses allegory to interpret a detail of the Law (1 Co 9:9), but he never adopted this method as a general rule.

          The Fathers of the Church and the medieval authors, in contrast, make systematic use of it for the entire Bible, even to the least detail — both for the New Testament as well as for the Old — to give a contemporary interpretation
          capable of application to the Christian life. For example, Origen sees the wood used by Moses to sweeten the bitter waters (Ex 15:22-25) as an allusion to the wood of the cross; he sees the scarlet thread used by Rahab as a means of recognising her house (Jos 2:18), as an allusion to the blood of the Saviour. Any detail capable of establishing contact between an Old Testament episode and Christian realities was exploited. In every page of the Old Testament, in addition, many direct and specific allusions to Christ and the Christian life were found, but there was a danger of detaching each detail from its context and severing the relationship between the biblical text and the concrete reality of salvation history. Interpretation then became arbitrary.

          Certainly, the proposed teaching had a certain value because it was animated by faith and guided by a comprehensive understanding of Scripture read in the
          Tradition. But such teaching was not based on the commentated text. It was superimposed on it. It was inevitable, therefore, that at the moment of its
          greatest success, it went into irreversible decline.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Allegorical interpretation of texts that the historical-critical method do not reveal as intended allegories by their human authors is pretty much dead.

            I don't get this sense from the document from which you quote. While it is true, from the Catholic perspective, that any "spiritual" sense in which a Biblical text is read must have a foundation in the literal sense, the literal sense does not require a text to be allegorical for it to be legitimately interpreted in an typological way. The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac does not have to be allegorical in the first place for it to be legitimately interpreted as an allegory of Christ.

          • David Nickol

            Can you cite any reasonably recent Catholic biblical scholars (say, since Vatican II) who offer allegorical interpretations of Old Testament texts as exegesis?

            The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac does not have to be allegorical in
            the first place for it to be legitimately interpreted as an allegory of
            Christ.

            Well, Isaac wasn't sacrificed (to be very literal). Also, I wouldn't call the story of Abraham and Isaac an allegory of Christ. Like allegorical interpretation, I think typology as a way of linking the Old Testament and the New Testament is also pretty much dead today. We of course recognize its use in the New Testament, but I don't think serious Catholic biblical scholars would claim to find new "fulfillments" of Old Testament passages that the New Testament authors didn't find.

            I think modern Catholic biblical scholarship has "let go" of certain things that even well educated, "modern" contemporary Catholics still cling to and defend. This is the reason why so many Catholics are appalled by the New American Bible, which is the product of perfectly mainstream Catholic biblical scholarship, and yet I have run across many people who claim it is heretical. The idea that the official Bible for the United States, produced and authorized by the USCCB and available on the Vatican web site contains heresy is ludicrous.

            Having said that, I should also say I tend to read in certain areas, and my viewpoint may be biased. Certainly I look for Catholic scholars who focus on the historical-critical method. Maybe I am mistaking the part of Catholic scholarship that I am interested in for the whole. This is why I ask for examples of contemporary Catholic scholars who would actually put forward their own allegorical interpretations of scripture as valid exegesis, or even who believe that the Old Testament is full of "prophecies" of events in the New Testament.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Scott Hahn uses the allegorical or typological approach in his teaching all the time. If it is true that no biblical scholars are offering new allegorical readings of OT texts, the probable reason is that the OT was pretty much exhausted by the Church Fathers. They mined all the gold nuggets and there's probably only fine dust left for those seeking originality.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Have you read Pope Benedict XVI's books, "Jesus of Nazareth"? (Particularly Part I). I think in that book he tries to illustrate good scholarship and draws attention (especially in the introductin of part I) as to the limitations of too much emphasis on the historical-critical method.

            I agree with him. This business of trying to be too mechanical with the Bible, while it's useful to an extent, is ultimately going to fall short of the treasure available to the faithful in the scriptures.

            Also, regarding the Good Samaritan parable:
            When I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I actually think almost exactly the same thing. Devil's attack. Fallen nature of man. Christ's redemptive action. Life to the full. (Although... I can't say I've ever equated the inn-keeper with St Paul!). I was actually surprised when I read that list of equations in your post that I had reflected on very similar lines of thoughts myself without ever having known what St Augustine wrote on the subject.

          • David Nickol

            So is it your belief that when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he had in mind all of the symbols you and Augustine find in the story, including references to St. Paul. What were those who first heard the parable from Jesus himself supposed to make of it?

          • Moussa Taouk

            Oh David. Who knows exactly what was in Jesus' mind at the time He uttered those blessed words? Maybe He meant to relate Himself as THE Good Samaritan. Maybe He meant for us to accept the invitation to be co-Good Samariten. Maybe both. Maybe He saw how a young lady who feels used and abused as an object of sexual gratification, and who reads this story at such a time in her life in the 21st century, might gain strength of spirit in knowing that she who is thus wounded will be tended to by the One who Loves all and treasures all as beloved for their own sake. Maybe He knew of the proud Bishop or the angry nun who keep away from the small and poor and pitiful of society, and who draw from reading the passage a renewed vigour for shaking of their lethargy and engaging the lowly and serving their brethren.

            Maybe Jesus knew all this. In His divine nature I'm sure He did. In His human nature perhaps not. I'm not sure. But all that kind of misses the point.

            The point is the treasure that is there in those words. A message that is somehow... dare I say... ALIVE. Somehow ready to hit at the heart of man and draw him in to the person of Christ who is the answer to every human yearning. And I guess what I'm trying to say is that the mechanical reading of scriptures, while useful as a historical exercise, has the limitation in that it can't touch that treasure and watch that liquid gold trickle through its fingers.

          • David Nickol

            Have you read Pope Benedict XVI's books, "Jesus of Nazareth"?

            I have the books, and I have read parts of at least two, but I have not read any of them all the way through. For those interested in the historical Jesus, Benedict has little of interest to say, since he believes the Jesus of the Gospels is the historical Jesus. An exception is his analysis of when the Last Supper took place. He does not accept any of the proposed "solutions" to harmonize the Synoptics with John, and concludes that John is correct and the Last Supper was not a Passover meal.

          • Moussa Taouk

            If I remember correctly (and I'm not one with the strongest of memories!) he concludes that it was not the Jewish passover meal because on the day of passover Jesus was to be the lamb slain on the cross for the sake of us. And that rather the Last Supper was kind of like the NEW passover meal of the new creation in Christ, in which He offers us His very self as the life-giving bread.

            Anyway, I'm sure we're saying the same thing.

          • Hegesippus

            de Lubac.

          • David Nickol

            Mind you, you claim that OT/NT typological links no longer exist today.

            Of course the links exist—that is, when a New Testament author cites and Old Testament passage and makes some connection, there is an obvious link. But the link is from the New Testament to the Old Testament. That is, New Testament authors were making use of the Old Testament. But Old Testament authors weren't "predicting" the New Testament, any more than the New Testament was predicting Christ figures in later literature that followed.

            Abraham/Isaac not an allegory of Christ?

            I would say I don't believe so. What I mean by that is that I do not believe God set up what happened with Abraham and Isaac so that Christians could later say, "Look, this is a prefiguring of, or an analogy to, the death of Jesus."

            There is some "advanced" theology that I am not well versed enough to discuss competently, but if Abraham had actually killed Isaac, it would have been a human sacrifice. I would prefer not to see Jesus as a human sacrifice.

            It is a fundamental aspect to exegesis and is a thriving area.

            Please give me two or three examples of contemporary exegetes discovering new cases of Old Testament passages being "fulfilled" in the New Testament. If this is a "thriving area" in biblical studies, examples should be readily available.

      • Steve Law

        "I don't think allegorical interpretation is really a valid approach (unless the text itself is presenting an allegory). I think it is a bad way to approach scripture, and certainly inventing a benign allegorical interpretation of a problem text that was not written as an allegory doesn't make the problem go away."

        Yes, but texts don't categorise themselves. And they can contain meanings on multiple levels: literal, metaphorical, symbolic, allegorical, ironic (in which the meaning is the precise opposite of the text) etc etc. So it's not that simple - modern language isn't that simple, let alone classical language from a time when literal and metaphorical hadn't been differentiated. (There are interesting arguments that 'literal' didn't have the meaning we give it until the Enlightenment and the metaphysical split between subject and object.)

        Personally I'm happy with 'divinely inspired' rather than the 'inerrant revealed word of God'. If the bible was written by human beings then it will inevitably contain some embellishments and distortions, and not just through error but by the HPtFtU.

        • David Nickol

          So it's not that simple - modern language isn't that simple, let alone classical language from a time when literal and metaphorical hadn't been differentiated.

          I don't think it is necessary to maintain that anything having to do with interpreting an ancient text is simple. I think the question is whether you can make a reasonable case from the text that an allegorical interpretation was intended by the author (or, if you believe scripture is inspired, by God). If you take a look at St. Augustine's "key" to interpreting the parable of the Good Samaritan I reproduced in another message, can you really make a case—based on the text—that that is what Jesus had in mind? And can you make a case from the Psalm reproduced in the OP that the children referred to were intended by the psalmist or by God to refer to "the early beginnings and promptings of evil"?

          Unless you want to posit that Augustine and Origen were themselves inspired when they made their allegorical interpretations, you need to be able to make a case that the interpretations can be demonstrated by citing the text. If only one person can see an interpretation, it can hardly be accepted as the meaning of the text in question.

      • stevegbrown

        Hello. Haven't been here in awhile. David, I too like your explanation.
        I would think that the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision would be a better example because you are incorrect about the counting slave as 3/5's a "person". It was an agreed upon way of crediting the Southern states' voting census. It actually helped take away some of the voting power of the South. The slave-ownering states wanted to count their own slave populations towards qualifying the number of electoral votes their state could have been credited with. They wanted to count each slave as 1 whole vote without giving them any rights. That was adding insult to injury: take away their freedom and then get electoral credit for having enslaved them.
        Just sayin'. Cheeres
        Steve B

    • Max, that's precisely the opposite of what Dr. Ramage said. If you're going to comment here, please represent others' positions fairly.

      • Max Driffill

        Brandon saying I am being unfair isn't the same as demonstrating that I have been. I would also point out that I was asking two related questions.

        I'm trying to understand what looks like a really poor way to approach a text, any text, but specifically a text that many use to arrogate the authority to tell everyone else how to live in every facet of life.

        The author claims that the unbelievers questions about the spilled blood god seems to delight in and which litters the ground of the Old Testament like are not valid. We do not have the privileged view of scriptures. We don't share their a priori beliefs about the bible. From where are these beliefs derived? From selective readings of the bible, coupled with infinite hours spent parsing and rehashing preferred text by people who had the authority to make their opinions gain intellectual mass with in a specific community. There is no reason to trust that this biased heuristic tool (the a priori assumptions and beliefs about the text) will help anyone as they tackle a difficult text that is often at odds with itself. However it does seem clear that this method would allow a troubled believer to smooth over the grisly consolations of the Old Testament. Undoubtedly, the reading is easier knowing, in advance that you worship a loving, all caring, life cherishing god when you read of this same god sending two she-bears to kill 42 children for calling a man who was actually bald, bald.

        • "Brandon saying I am being unfair isn't the same as demonstrating that I have been."

          You insinuated that Catholics, and presumably Dr. Ramage, simply "ignore the text." But this article demonstrates just the opposite. Dr. Ramage carefully examined and analyzed the text using several hermeneutical frameworks. It's therefore demonstrably untrue that he ignored the text. I'm confused at how you arrived at that conclusion.

          "The author claims that the unbelievers questions about the spilled blood god seems to delight in and which litters the ground of the Old Testament like are not valid."

          Again, this is demonstrably untrue. Where did Dr. Ramage claim that the questions of unbelievers of this or any topic are "not valid"? You're misrepresenting him.

          • Ben Posin

            Again, from an outside perspective, Dr. Ramage is using these "hermeneutical frameworks" to avoid the implications of what appears to be straightforward language. From where I sit, this "analysis" IS an effort at ignoring the text. You are attempting to have discussion with atheists, to have dialogue and pursue truths. If you are to do this, you need to step outside your own biases and accept that people can see things differently from you without being dishonest. I accept that you are speaking in good faith when you try to dispute that Dr. Ramage is ignoring the text. I think you're wrong, but I don't think you're dishonest about this or trying to misrepresent anyone. Are you equipped to take a similar attitude towards Max? I can't say your posts suggest this, but hey, we all have room to grow.

          • David Nickol

            Again, from an outside perspective, Dr. Ramage is using these "hermeneutical frameworks" to avoid the implications of what appears to be straightforward language.

            I disagree. As a believer in biblical inspiration, Dr. Ramage believes there are two "authors" of this psalm—the psalmist and God. He is not denying that the psalmist said, and quite sincerely meant, that it would be great to smash the Babylonians' children on the rocks. He is rather dealing with the question of what God intended to be conveyed by those lines.

            It seems to me that everyone is in agreement about the psalmist was saying. In order to disagree with Dr. Ramage, you need to disagree with his theory of inspiration, which means you need to have your own theory of inspiration. What is it? Are you saying, "Although I don't believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, if it is, then when the psalmist says, "It would be great to dash children against the rock," that means God himself thinks, "It would be great to dash children against the rock"?

            Dr. Ramage, atheists, and theists should all be able to agree on the literal meaning of this psalm, and as I said, I think everybody does agree on the literal meaning. So to disagree with Dr. Ramage, you have to disagree about the "religious" meaning, and I am not sure how an atheist can disagree about the "religious" meaning, since an atheist would not agree that it has a religious meaning.

            It seems to me atheists often adopt an ultra-fundamentalist theory of divine inspiration and use it to criticize Christians who have a theory of inspiration that is not fundamentalist. But atheists should not have a theory of inspiration at all.

          • Ben Posin

            Well...maybe I'm not following you completely, because it seems a bit simpler to me. I'd say it's the very insistence that there is a religious or inspired meaning in old testament passages that is consistent with supposed new testament values IS a willingness to ignore the text as written.

            "Are you saying, "Although I don't believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, if it is, then when the psalmist says, "It would be great to dash children against the rock," that means God himself thinks, "It would be great to dash children against the rock"?"

            Presumably, my main way to know the mind of God would be through the messages God chooses to give to us--why else is he supposed to have inspired a book about himself and the world? If God wants to discourage the smashing of children against rocks, he didn't do a good job inspiring this psalm.

            But that's really a more general point; this isn't really a piece of scripture I'd choose to beat up on, as it's the psalmist expressing opinions, and words or actions aren't being directly attributed to God. So in this particular case, I'm open to the idea that maybe it's not definitive of God's character. But I disapprove of the good doctor's general method, whether applied here or to more worrying scripture, like God's exhortation to genocide or Elisha and the bears.

          • Susan

            Well...maybe I'm not following you completely, because it seems a bit simpler to me

            It seems a bit simpler to me, too. Dr. Ramage is assuming the existence of a particular deity and that the stories of this deity resonate from the catholic bible.

            On this basis, he's playing by rules that would not be accepted in either historical or literary analysis in order to arrive at the assumption theists are trying to prove, based on the assumption that what theists are trying to prove is real.

            This might be useful for theists who are trying to balance evidence with their assumption (or acceptance) that Yahweh is an existent deity, that he "divinely" revealed/s himself and that the catholic bible is the most profound thing ever written down... but the concessions it requests are far too deep for a site that aspires to create dialogue between catholics and people who don't accept the catholic position.

          • Susan, perhaps I can ask a question. Assuming Catholicism was true--which would mean that God exists and inspired the BIble--would you agree with Dr. Ramage that this passage presents no contradiction to Catholic theololgy?

            If you don't think so, please explain why.

            But if you do agree, then you're aligned with Dr. Ramage's point, which is that on Catholicism, this verse presents no problem. Therefore, it cannot be reasonably used against Catholics as an apparent contradiction with God's character.

          • Susan

            Susan, perhaps I can ask a question. Assuming Catholicism was true--which would mean that God exists and inspired the BIble--would you agree with Dr. Ramage that this passage presents no contradiction to Catholic theololgy?

            If we assumed those things, could any passage represent a contradiction?

            This is going at things backwards.

          • Hegesippus

            It's called defending when under attack.

            It also enables a more objective understanding for everyone who observes the different viewpoints.

          • Susan

            It's called defending when under attack

            What do you mean?

            It also enables a more objective understanding for everyone who observes the different viewpoints.

            What does?

          • Hegesippus

            'he's playing by rules that would not be accepted in either historical or literary analysis in order to arrive at the assumption theists are trying to prove'

            Such rules are very late entrants to the "game", have no historical basis, are a priori designed to limit 'theists' in their interpretations of texts, which are intended for them and ignore the consistency of Christian exegesis over nearly two millennia.

            Catholic exegetes are not required to obey strictures designed to hobble them.

          • Susan

            Such rules are very late entrants to the "game",

            To which game? This is a web site that is ostensibly presented as a dialogue between catholics and atheists.

            are a priori designed to limit 'theists' in their interpretations of texts

            I didn't realize that historical and literary analysis were "designed to limit theists".

            the consistency of Christian exegesis over nearly two millennia.

            By what standard?

            Catholic exegetes are not required to obey strictures designed to hobble them.

            How were they designed to hobble them?

          • "Again, from an outside perspective, Dr. Ramage is using these "hermeneutical frameworks" to avoid the implications of what appears to be straightforward language."

            I'll grant that you might disagree with Dr. Ramage's interpretation of the text, but that's a far cry from "ignoring" the text. Wouldn't you agree?

            He unquestionably and sincerely engaged the passage, both in light of its history, biblical context, and theological tradition. Someone "ignoring" the text would do none of this.

          • Matthew Ramage

            Thank you.

          • Ben Posin

            Brandon,

            I'm a bit amazed that you favor such liberal interpretation of bible verses while remaining wedded to so literal an interpretation of Max's comment, expecially given the available context. I don't think anyone could or would suggest that Dr. R has "ignored" the psalm in question by not acknowleding what it actually says, or by, I don't know, talking about a different psalm instead. When Max talks about a "game of ignoring" the actual bible, I take that to refer to the decision to disregard the plain meaning of problematic passages, in favor of unjustified a priori assumptions that seem to directly conflict with the text's plain meaning or implications. Given the context, I think Max's word choice is reasonably clear and accurate, but maybe you would have been happier if he'd said "disregarding" instead of "ignoring?" Seems like a pretty small thing to be bothered by.

            So if you were giving Max a warning like those that you say people banned were giving, maybe it would be reasonable for you to now say that such warning probably wasn't justified, and won't be charged against him? But maybe that wasn't a "warning," it's not easy for me to tell.

      • Ben Posin

        Is this one of those warnings we've been hearing about? If you decide that a later post of Max's is not representing someone's position fairly, would you consider it reasonable to ban him?

        Understand that while Max's post doesn't delve into the nuances of what the author is trying to say, others here may not agree with you that it's an unfair statement. For my own part, I think when you get past the lengthy rhetoric at bottom Dr. Ramage is tying himself in knots to permit himself to disregard the plain meaning of the passage. While Dr. Ramage might consider it exegesis or scholarship, I think that from a non-Catholic perspective it's reasonable to consider it a "game of ignoring the text" --or at least of ignoring the natural meaning of the text.

        What I'm trying to work my way around to is this: it might be worth thinking about whether you have biases that influence when you think someone is misrepresenting someone else's position. Many have commented on this website that you have posted articles that misrepresent atheists. Considering this is the kind of thing I'd hope someone interested in truth would do.

  • The Catholic must first be clear that it is not to teach that celebration is in order when the children of our enemies are killed. Now if you are an atheist, you are probably (and understandably) going to respond: “You’re pre-determining that this biblical text can’t be saying the crazy thing it seems to say since you’ve already begun with the assumption that it can’t be wrong.” Believe it or not, the Catholic would actually agree with the atheist here. ... Catholics can’t expect a nonbeliever to accept our particular interpretation of a text like Psalm 137 if said person hasn’t first accepted the existence of God, the incarnation of Christ, and the Bible as his revealed word expressed in human words. What we can do is offer a reasoned explanation for the presence of thorny texts in such a way that one could see how it would be illuminating if faith in Christ is granted.

    So you agree that this text constitutes evidence against "the existence of God, the incarnation of Christ, and the Bible as his revealed word expressed in human words"?

    It's fine to argue that, given different assumptions, a different conclusion follows. Just be wary about taking the different assumptions too seriously.

    You may be able to force strange meanings onto the text to make it compatible with your prior beliefs. But the fact that you are motivated to do so should have been a red flag. All those inner feelings of struggle, confusion, and uncertainty should vibrake the whole web of supporting beliefs until the most flawed strand breaks; to hold everything else fixed in place while just letting the one unignorable difficulty snarl itself into bizarre knots is what is "irrational and indefensible". If it's followed as a method, it will leave your web of beliefs a nightmarish tangle.

    • Steven Dillon

      There seems to be a deep epistemic circularity at work here. These texts count as evidence against inerrancy, unless you already accept inerrancy? But, how do get to belief in Biblical inerrancy when these texts should prevent you from doing so?

      • There shouldn't even be an escape to circularity. The texts count as evidence against the author's backdrop religious assumptions (e.g. inerrancy) whether or not we accept those assumptions. If we accept some belief rationally, it should just mean that the evidence in favor outweighs the evidence against. We should never end up in a position where what we believe changes whether we treat an observation as evidence. That would be an epistemic sinkhole. :(

    • asker42

      We aren't advocating changing the meaning of the text per se. We can still acknowledge what it historically says and at the same find a different meaning that is more in line with the identity of Christ.

  • Artur Sebastian Rosman

    I suppose the Jewish history of inventing the abortion abolition position would be apropos here. It's true it starts out with only applying to the Chosen People, but then it progressively gets universalized as with the 10 Commandments, especially through Christianity:

    http://cosmostheinlost.com/2014/01/22/abortion-natural-law-antisemitism/

    • David Nickol

      I suppose the Jewish history of inventing the abortion abolition position would be apropos here.

      I don't understand what you are saying. I don't think Jews invented the "abortion abolition position." Jewish Law uses Exodus 21:22-25 to justify abortion under certain circumstances, and it fits in the Jewish understanding of an unborn child as not fully a person. Could you please clarify—without starting a discussion of abortion?

  • Skeptical Christian

    Just like to say that the psalm was written by a human not by God hence why all thea agony invovled in the psalm. I think the psalm was just pouring out his/her hatred for the Babylonians after they had all been taken captive.

    • David Nickol

      Just like to say that the psalm was written by a human not by God . . . .

      Well, of course there is no problem at all for those who do not believe the Bible was divinely inspired. But it is a fundamental assumption of Dr. Ramage that it it was.

      • Skeptical Christian

        I believe that some of the Bible was divinely inspired but there seems to be a lot of human emotions in the way its been worded and a lot of jewish history in it to be assumed that it was wholly
        divinely inspired..

        • David Nickol

          Are you saying there is too much Jewish history in the Old Testament???

          • Skeptical Christian

            Not at all!!!

  • This particular passage is not that difficult. He is not actually suggesting someone kill little babies. He is using a graphic figure of speech. The message is that God blesses the oppressed and not so much the oppressor. he Babylonians have done an injustice that God will remember.

    Why does the psalmist use such a graphic way of saying it? He is a child of his time. What does military defeat look like in 500BC or whenever that is? It looks like a massacre. That is what he describes. He is a poet.

    The thing to understand is that God leads us into truth one step at a time. Believing in justice for the oppressed is a step forward. Rethinking how warfare should work is another step. God will get there but that is not to be taught for many centuries.

    There are passages where actual people are being killed. I find those harder to swallow but many of the same reasons apply. We need to rejoice that God has caused man to progress so far that even the things that were good back then seem evil to us now.

    • David Nickol

      The thing to understand is that God leads us into truth one step at a
      time. Believing in justice for the oppressed is a step forward.
      Rethinking how warfare should work is another step. God will get there
      but that is not to be taught for many centuries.

      While I am somewhat sympathetic to this argument, it is nevertheless true that there are plenty of commands given by God in the Old Testament that seem perfectly arbitrary. I had an interesting conversation with an Orthodox Jew once who said he resented efforts to try to come up with reasons for things like dietary restrictions (e.g., perhaps health reasons were actually behind prohibitions on eating pork) because to him, the point was to obey God, not to ask for reasons. If God communicated as directly with his Chosen People as the Bible would have us believe, it wasn't necessary for them to be led along so gradually that they were morally indistinguishable from all their contemporaries. They just had to be told what to do and do it. They didn't need to understand to obey. They also were people with the same mental capacities as people of today, and so they could have been taught anything people today can be taught.

      I am reading ancient history at the moment, and it seems like all the peoples of the time (Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Israelites, etc., etc.,) did was fight wars to try to expand their territory, or fight wars to try to become independent of the people who dominated them. I don't see that the Israelites were significantly different from any other warrior peoples of the time.

      • Obedience was one of the lessons they needed to learn. They were pretty inconsistent with that. They were also to learn other lessons. Like caring for the poor.

        Were they morally indistinguishable? Many prophets complained about precisely that. Israel's obedience was so spotty they really didn't look that different. Still they kept a consistent religion and they did eventually learn to die for their faith. By Roman times the Jewish religion was considered quite strange. Every other religion fit into the basic pagan mindset. Judaism did not.

        Then when Christianity came from Israel it was even more shocking. The one place that did not tolerate new religious ideas put forward the most radical new idea ever.

        • David Nickol

          Obedience was one of the lessons they needed to learn.

          I would say (speaking from my own personal interpretation of biblical events which I think is at least in partial agreement with Dr. Ramage's) that the God Christians worship today cannot be thought of as teaching the Israelites obedience by having them obey commands that required intrinsically immoral behavior. We of course must judge the ancient Israelites by the standards of their time and location. But we cannot imagine that it was really God's will that Saul carry out the extermination of the Amalekites, or that it was God's will for Saul to be punished for failing to do so.

          Also, we (or at least I) rightly scoff at television evangelists who claim whole countries are punished by God with military defeat, natural disasters, and so on, for their alleged wickedness. I don't see how we can reject the idea of a God who does such things while at the same time believe that the God of the Old Testament actually did such things.

          • You need to have a fuller understanding of why people die. That is why does anyone ever die. If God can allow a person to die as He obviously does then why is it impossible for many to die? It is the same question. If many can die then can God use the death of many for some positive purpose? I have no trouble seeing that God had a positive purpose in the death of the Amalekites.

            Why did Saul disobey? It was not because he was so overwhelmed with love and just could not kill these people. If he disobeyed for that reason he would not have been punished. He disobeyed because he wanted trophies to display. A captured king and the best of the Amalekite's wealth that could be publicly sacrificed to God. Of course everyone would be reminded just who had lead the soldiers in that battle. That disobedience was punished.

          • David Nickol

            You need to have a fuller understanding of why people die.

            I have been participating in forums like this since the early days of the personal computer, before we even had access to the Internet, and that is one of the most remarkable things anyone has ever said to me.

            So okay. Explain why people die.

          • I am just trying to get to the root of the problem. Death feels wrong to us. It feels wrong to God too. It was never meant to be that way. We were made for immortality. Yet God gave us death. Partly as punishment for sin. Yet somehow the punishment becomes a deliverance. It gives us a chance to be saved from sin. To leave us forever in this life of sin would be more like hell than heaven.

            Th point is that whatever answer you give to why people die just scales up for why many people die. If one death does not diminish God's love and justice and mercy then many deaths do not either.

          • David Nickol

            If one death does not diminish God's love and justice and mercy then many deaths do not either.

            The problem with commands to commit genocide in the Old Testament is not that it results in people's deaths. The problem is that for God to command a human being to kill another, innocent human being is for God to command murder. Murder is intrinsically evil. If God can command human beings to commit intrinsic evils, the idea of objective morality is worse off than if there were no God at all. There is simply no room in Catholic moral thought for the idea that God would instruct one human being to murder another. And deliberately killing the infants of an enemy tribe is clearly and unequivocally murder.

            the idea that God would gradually lead his people to an ever greater understanding of morality is defensible. The idea that God would command a primitive people with a still-developing sense of morality to commit intrinsic evils because they didn't know any better is not defensible.

          • David Nickol

            I have no trouble seeing that God had a positive purpose in the death of the Amalekites.

            You so realize, don't you, that (unless I am profoundly mistaken) you are in much more significant disagreement with Dr. Ramage (and Brandon) than I am?

            I would say (and I think Dr. Ramage and Brandon would agree) that God did not order the slaughter of the Amalekites. It was not part of God's plan that the Israelites kill women and children (and I would go so far as to say it was not part of God's plan that the Israelites kill anyone, except perhaps defensively). The commands in the Bible, in God's very words, to stone adulterers or kill witches or execute two men who engaged in homosexual acts were not commands from God. It is wrong today to deliberately kill an innocent child of even your worst and most dangerous military enemy, and it was just as wrong in Old Testament times. It is intrinsically wrong, which means to do it, even if you are convinced God has commanded you to, is still wrong. God does not command human beings to kill innocent children, because it is not in God's nature to command human beings to commit acts that are intrinsically wrong. There is simply no way to pin on God, as we understand him today, commands to kill innocent children or even adults guilty of most crimes that carry the death penalty in the Old Testament. In Catholicism, the prohibition on doing evil so that good may come of it is absolute. It applies to human beings even if they think they are getting orders from God, and it applies to God himself in that God by his nature is incapable of doing evil or commanding anyone else to do it.

            I am not sure why you are not criticizing the OP. Is it that you don't realize you and Dr. Ramage are in profound disagreement?

            God did not tell the Israelites to stone adulterers or kill witches or slaughter the children of enemies because they were not advanced enough to understand more morally advanced ways of dealing with adulterers, witches, or enemy children. God did not tell the Israelites to stone adulterers or kill witches or slaughter the children of enemies . . . PERIOD.

          • I didn't really get that from the OP. Like I said, Psalm 137 gives a lot a lot of leeway for interpretation because it does not refer to an actual act but just to an act imagined by the author. An evil act, to be sure, but describing evil acts in poetry is very different from doing it.

            Reading the previous post it seems Dr. Ramage would interpret some passages differently then I would. God did work in a violent world. Did people understand God's will to be violence? I think Dr. Ramage would say Yes to that. Did God know they had such an understanding? Obviously He did. God allowed them to act on that understanding without correcting it? God allowed that understanding and action to be recorded and understood as His word? That word was not clarified until Origen?

            If he would agree to all of that then we have a pretty small disagreement. Maybe only a matter of terminology.

    • David Nickol

      The Babylonians have done an injustice that God will remember.

      Why is the military conquest of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians an "injustice" when the Israelites took "the promised land" by military force in the first place, with orders directly from God to wipe out the original population?

      • Taking the promised land was God working out His plan of salvation. He chose to do that though a display of military power. He showed them that He was a more powerful warrior than anyone. Then He showed them that there was something more powerful than violence. That is love.

        Who rightfully owns the land? As creator God owns everything. He can give it to whomever He chooses.

        • David Nickol

          It seems to me you are trying to breathe life into the kind of interpretation Dr. Ramage trying to kill. God is God, and if he wants the Israelites to take the Land of Canaan by military conquest and to slaughter the inhabitants, well, that's okay. If the biblical authors record that God commanded genocide, then God did command genocide, and it was the sacred duty of the Israelites to carry it out. Sometimes, apparently, wars are good things, and not just wars, but wars of aggression and slaughter.

          Over the course of many centuries, just war theory has evolved, and there is no way the Israelite conquest of Canaan and the slaughter of the native peoples can be justified by such theory. I think the only reasonable conclusion is that it was not part of God's "plan of salvation" to have Israelites conquer Canaan by military force and genocide. Wars of aggression can never be divinely approved, whether in the 21st century A.D. or in the 16th century B.C.

          I am giving my own understanding of Dr. Ramage's theory, but as I understand it (and I am of course open to being corrected), if God slowly, slowly led the Jewish people to an understanding of good and evil or right and wrong, a great deal of what biblical accounts attribute to God must be chalked up to the ancient Israelites' very limited understanding of what God desires. Exactly how much of the military conquest by Israelites is actually historical is an open question, but I think whatever military success in wars of aggression and genocide the ancient Israelites attribute to God must be considered evidence of their mistaken understanding of what God desires. I don't think it can be maintained that God used to give his blessing to wars of aggression and genocide, but that somehow over the centuries he changed his mind. If wars of aggression and genocide are wrong today, they were wrong when the Israelites fought them.

          • Why is it any different then stoning a couple who was caught in adultery? Why is it different than sleeping with a slave girl to have a child? You get this problem over and over again. God seems OK with something and then fuller revelation comes out and He is not OK with it.

            Do you want to say those passages are not historical? I don't see how that helps. It is in scripture. God allowed those accounts to stand and none of His prophets disassociated God from those things, not even Jesus or the apostles.

  • [Warning for soft hearts: You may want to skip this. What follows is a harshly worded but serious hypothetical question that is entirely fair given the subject matter of the article.]

    So if I were to tell you I'd be happy to take your little ones and dash them against the rock, would you interpret that in a salutary way?

    If not, then you should do the same for Psalm 137. Catholics who choose not to do so for Psalm 137 should not kid themselves that they are finding another meaning in the text. It is most correct to say they are rejecting the text. And they are right to do so. They are right on Catholic grounds, because Catholicism finds murder abhorrent and believes that to be more important than the unambiguous meaning of the text. They are right on secular grounds, because secular folk find murder abhorrent and do not ascribe any authority to the text.

    • "So if I were to tell you I'd be happy to take your little ones and dash them against the rock, would you interpret that in a salutary way?"

      It depends on the context. Surely we would interpret your words differently if uttered in a poem or novel than in a barside chat. Wouldn't you agree?

      Depending on the context, the phrase "little ones" and "dash them against the rock" could refer to any of many things.

      Regardless, the question isn't how we would interpret *your* words but how to interpret the words of the psalmist. What you would mean by the same phrase, but in a different context, is irrelevant to what the biblical authors may have meant.

      • It depends on the context. Surely we would interpret your words differently if uttered in a poem or novel than in a barside chat. Wouldn't you agree?

        No, that's bullshit. Or, if you're offended by the colorful word, you may edit it to read, "deceitful or pretentious".

      • David Nickol

        But it is crystal clear what is meant in Psalm 137. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says:

        Such atrocities occurred in ancient Near Eastern warfare (Isa 13:16; Hos 13:16; Nah 3:10) and were no doubt committed by the conquering Babylonians. In an extreme example of the law of talion (Pss 54:7; 64:8;, 109:17-19; 140:12; 141:9-10) the psalmist hopes that his people have the opportunity to "pay them back" in kind for what they have done.

        The Jewish Study Bible says:

        Thoughts of retribution are commonly found in laments (5.11; 35.4-8; 69.23-28; 79.10; Lam. 1:21-22; 3.64-66; 4.21-22). On dashing babies against rocks, see 2 Kings 8.12; Isa. 13:16; Hos. 14.1; Nah. 3.10). Against the rocks, Heb "ha-sela," "the Rock" (possibly Petra) the fortress-city of Edom and also an epithet for Edom (2 Kings 14.7). The gist of the pun is that the rock-fortress protecting Edom will become the vehicle for Edom's punishment.

        Dr. Ramage does not even question the literal meaning of the text. As I understand it, he is just trying to justify its inclusion in the Bible by giving it a second meaning to cling to once the literal meaning is accepted as what the human author meant but what God would not condone.

        • "But it is crystal clear what is meant in Psalm 137."

          I disagree and I think this is an unwarranted assumption. More so, it's a characteristically Protestant belief. As Dr. Ramage noted, Catholics don't hold to the perspicuity of Scripture.

          "Dr. Ramage does not even question the literal meaning of the text. As I understand it, he is just trying to justify its inclusion in the Bible by giving it a second meaning to cling to once the literal meaning is accepted as what the human author meant but what God would not condone."

          I agree, and I think this is much closer to the truth. It acknowledges what Dr. Ramage set out to prove, namely that Psalm 137 does not suggest God condones the murder of babies.

          But if that's the case, what issues (if any) do you have in this passage? Or would you agree that this passage is wrongly used as a club with which to beat the Judaeo-Christian worldview?

          • David Nickol

            What I would say is "crystal clear" about the passage under discussion is that the psalmist was expressing a wish for the Babylonians to have done to them what they did to the Israelites. As the New Jerome Biblical Commentary says, "The psalmist hopes that his people have the opportunity to 'pay them back' in kind for what they have done." What I think the atheist and the contemporary Catholic exegete can agree on is that God is not putting the thought in the psalmist's mind of how delicious it would be to smash children against the rocks. Atheist, of course, don't believe God inspired the Bible, for obvious reasons, and contemporary Catholic exegetes don't believe that every idea expressed by the biblical authors reflects an accurate understanding of God's will.

          • Very well said, David. I completely agree.

          • Matthew Ramage

            Agreed.

          • David Nickol

            Or would you agree that this passage is wrongly used as a club with which to beat the Judaeo-Christian worldview?

            I don't think there is a Judeo-Christian worldview, especially when it comes to the Bible. I used to participate in a very "mainstream" forum (First Thoughts over at First Things) in which there was a mix of "conservative" Christians, some Catholics, and some Evangelicals. The Evangelicals (or some of them) had no problem with, say, God commanding the slaughter of the Amalekites. Basically, if God said to do something, it was the right thing to do. And of course, if the Bible said that God commanded genocide, then there was no question that God did command genocide. I am sure there are many Catholics who would argue that if the Bible says that God commanded genocide, then he did, and it was right for those he commanded to obey. However, I would not say this is the position of the Catholic Church.

            When I want a Christian view of the Bible, I generally look for Catholic references and Catholic authors. I use the NAB a lot as a reference, so I think I am pretty familiar with Catholic biblical scholarship "in action." I can see, however, how certain Catholic doctrines might exasperate people who are not familiar with what Catholic scholars actually write. For example, from Dei Verbum we have:

            Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

            It does go on to qualify that somewhat, and of course Catholics have never been fundamentalists, so Catholic biblical scholars don't engage in the kind of mental gymnastics fundamentalists do to prove that the Bible is literally true. But I think people who read Dei Verbum might be surprised to read the big-name Catholic biblical scholars (Raymond Brown, John P. Meier, Joseph Fitzmyer), who do not show any signs of bending over backwards to follow any sort of official guidelines. Of course, this is distressing to some "conservative" Catholics, but I think it is true that Catholic biblical scholars have a lot more freedom than official documents like Dei Verbum might seem to allow, and only a very small number of scholars see anything approaching disciplinary action by the CDF. The last case I can remember was involved the book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Margaret Farley (an ethicist, not a biblical scholar).

          • "But it is crystal clear what is meant in Psalm 137."

            ... As Dr. Ramage noted, Catholics don't hold to the perspicuity of Scripture.

            This is a good summary of the whole discussion. The non-Catholics' view is that the text means what it says. The Catholics' view is that the text means what they say.

            A charitable understanding of that position would be to say that Catholics are operating under a different definition of what "means" means. Roughly: what a text "means" to non-Catholics is the facts/thoughts/feelings/values that the author intended to express and convey, but what the text "means" to the Catholics here is the moral or theological lesson they are to learn from it. But whereas a Jewish, progressive Christian, or humanist approach would mostly say the lesson we should learn is that vengeance can make us into monsters, Brandon, Origen, and perhaps others are apparently committed to "plug-and-play literalism", where any alternative definitions no matter how ludicrous can be swapped in or out of the text's words, and the resulting sentence then would be taken "literally".

          • "This is a good summary of the whole discussion. The non-Catholics' view is that the text means what it says. The Catholics' view is that the text means what they say."

            This is not a fair summary of the discussion. Everyone agrees that the text "means what it says." But the question is, what is the text saying?

            Also, the second part of this paragraph--"he Catholics' view is that the text means what they say"--seems to imply that non-Catholics just read the text plainly, without any subjective, interpretive framework. But this is not true. Everyone filters the text through something, whether it be a wider, informed tradition or their own subjective lens.

            So again, both groups--Catholics and non-Catholics--are asking the same question: what's my view about what this text says? It's the answers that are different--not the question.

          • I'm not interested in playing word games, Brandon. I don't believe we're asking the same question and getting different answers, because I don't believe there are any actually different expectations of experience here. But if you want to play a word game and rephrase that way, then I'll just go one more level deep, past a disagreement over "means" to a disagreement over "says". I'm saying the text "says" a series of words that in non-doctrinally-sensitive scenarios everyone agrees are best interpreted by assuming the customary usages of the writer's contemporary linguistic community. You're saying the text "says" what a person constrained by a particular version of Catholic theology wants to not understand when they read those words.

          • Danny Getchell

            Is it permissible for an individual Catholic to read this text at face value? To decide that yes, in this instance, what the psalmist wants is also what God wants??

          • David Nickol

            The non-Catholics' view is that the text means what it says. The Catholics' view is that the text means what they say.

            Here's a paragraph from Joseph A. Fitzmyer's The One Who Is to Come that I think is clarifying:

            A Christian interpreter of the Old Testament should be able to agree with a contemporary Jewish interpreter of the Hebrew Scriptures on the literal meaning of a given passage, even one mentioning māšîaḥ, or one related to such a concept, before the Christian invokes his or her canonical meaning. After all, the extent of the writings that the Jewish interpreter regards as the written word of God is identical with the Old Testament that the Christian interpreter seeks to expound. For the Christian canonical sense of the Old Testament is a "plus," a sense added to the literal meaning of the Old Testament. That meaning ma be a "closed" meaning for the Jewish interpreter, but it remains "open" for the Christian interpreter, who has to recon with the literal meaning in its historical formulation and take into account all the aspects that it may have that allow it to be "open" to the subsequent Christian interpretation."

            No one is disputing that the psalmist in this case was writing about what a joy it would be for Israelites to smash the children of Babylonians on the rocks. No one is saying that the "real" meaning is to be found by taking it other than at face value. Exactly what Origen himself thought I am not quite sure, but in this discussion, the face-value meaning isn't being denied. Dr. Ramage is merely claiming that the "religious lesson" to be derived from the passage is to be found by an alternate method of interpretation. I happen to disagree with Dr. Ramage and find Origen's interpretation to be the result of creativity—inventing something that is not in the text—rather than exegesis. But it nevertheless remains that the literal meaning, taking the text at face value, reading it like any other ancient document, is not being erased and substituted with Origin's meaning.

          • For the Christian canonical sense of the Old Testament is a "plus," a sense added to the literal meaning of the Old Testament.

            ...But it nevertheless remains that the literal meaning, taking the text at face value, reading it like any other ancient document, is not being erased and substituted with Origin's meaning.

            Thanks, that would indeed be a perfectly acceptable way of putting it. I've no desire to tell folk what religious lesson they should learn from a text. But I do think it does a disservice to the cause of rationality in religion to insist, as some commentators here did, that ordinary phrases only have meaning relative to an individual's choice of filters and so "could refer to any of many things".

  • David Nickol

    Although the lines from Psalm 137 are particularly shocking because of their graphic nature, let us not forget for one moment that the Israelites were a warrior people. God gave them the "promised land," according to the biblical accounts, by enabling their military conquest of the inhabitants. The NAB begins Deuteronomy 7 as follows:

    Destruction of the Nations in the Land
    When the LORD, your God, brings you into the land which you are about to enter to possess, and removes many nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—and when the LORD, your God, gives them over to you and you defeat them, you shall put them under the ban. Make no covenant with them and do not be gracious to them.

    In a note to Deuteronomy 2:24 we have the following:

    Under the ban: in Hebrew, herem, which means to devote to the Lord (cf. 7:1–5; 20:10–18). The biblical text often presents herem as the total extermination of a population as a manifestation of the will of the Lord. It is historically doubtful that Israel ever literally carried out this theological program.

    Aside from the graphic language, it should come as no surprise that the Israelites would contemplate the killing of the children of their enemies. It was what God commanded them to do. We find it shocking to hear of dashing children against the rocks, but when the Israelites carried out genocide "offstage"—for example, in the extermination of the Amalekites—are we to imagine that they humanely killed the children by lethal injection?

    Now, as I read Dr. Ramage, he is not saying God ordered the Israelites to commit genocide. (Also, if the NAB is correct, we have reason to doubt that accounts of them doing so are historically accurate.) He is not saying it is acceptable for good people to wish to smash their enemies' children against rocks. He is saying (I believe) that God was bringing a primitive people along gradually, and they may have thought of some of their primitive, warlike ways inn terms of religious duties when they actually were not far enough advanced to understand what was truly good. I personally see problems there, though perhaps not insurmountable ones.

    Where things really go awry, in my opinion, is trying to find justification for the "dark passages" once the dark elements have been rejected. As I see it, Dr. Ramage is not "explaining away" the dark passages. He is rejecting as unacceptable the ideas they express when interpreted literally. So I don't see him whitewashing anything or sweeping anything under the rug. The psalmist who found delight in the idea of smashing children against the rocks was thinking an evil thought.

    What I can't buy is a secondary interpretation of the text once it is acknowledged that, as the human author intended it and as it reads when taken at face value, justifies its inclusion as part of what is allegedly God's word. There are two problems. First, as I have said before, there is simply no justification in the text for Origen's interpretation. Would anyone else have seen in the text what Origen did? I can't see how. It's sort of clever. It reminds me of the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who can explain how every word in the English language (and apparently every other language) is derived from the Greek. If you allow yourself enough "freedom," you can make things mean anything you want them to.

    • Moussa Taouk

      "Would anyone else have seen in the text what Origen did?"

      Yes, I think so. If the Bible is being read with the eyes of seeking the salvific message of the scriptures then I think other spiritually mature people would have seen a similar message.

      I'm no Bible scholar, but I think the people of Israel often (if not usually) can be seen to symbolise the individual person's soul. Bablylon and Egypt would therefore clearly symbolise evil and sin. And the tension between captivity in Babylon/Egypt vs returning to God's promised land is the tension between the soul's bondage in its inclination to sin vs the soul's true freedom in the life of virtue.

      • David Nickol

        I'm no Bible scholar, but I think the people of Israel often (if not usually) can be seen to symbolise the individual person's soul. Bablylon and Egypt would therefore clearly symbolise evil and sin.

        Are you implying that God manipulated the histories of Israel, Babylon, and Egypt so that the accounts written about them in the Bible would be symbolic?

        • Moussa Taouk

          Your question hits at God's relationship to the world and to history. I feel inadequate to comment too much about that. Something about secondary causation and what-not. But at any rate, no that's not at all what I was getting at.

          I was getting at the way in which the Bible can be read. That indeed the way Origen read this portion of the Bible isn't necessarily a one-off reading by one individual. Rather, that anyone seekind for the salvific message contained in the scriptures can arrive at a similar interpretation or understanding as did Origen.

    • Matthew Ramage

      Thanks, David. While disagreeing with me, I think you have fairly represented my argument. It is understandable that one would not grant Origen's interpretation (or any 'second meaning,' to use C.S. Lewis' phrase). It must be admitted that using this method texts can be taken to mean something entirely contrary to their intention. For the Catholic, however, the reality of divine authorship and the spiritual sense of Scripture is a non-negotiable. Again, I certainly understand if the non-Catholic doesn't buy it. As I understand it, whether or not one accepts the presence of such a sense as in the Catholic tradition goes back to where we stand in our prior premises. From reading below it seems you have articulated this well. Thanks for the intelligent charitable comments--"critical" in the best sense of the word.

  • Interesting. I think the author loved Jerusalem quite a bit and felt really bad about being in exile. I think he was angry at the Babylonians for the exile. By "little ones" I think he meant children. I think he may have being hyperbolic, but I think the he really did want to go to war and commit crimes against humanity against the Babylonians in taking back his homeland.

    After all, he worships a God that, at least in scripture had already: killed all babies and children on Earth in the Flood. Killed all the babies and children in Sodom and Gomorrah, ordered the killing of infant Amalekites, allowed a law to be written requiring disobedient children to be taken to the outskirts in town and to be stoned to death, allowed Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter to him, and personally slayed the first born Egyptian son so that Pharaoh would let the Jews go from another exile.

    Sure these might be metaphorical passages as well reflecting sinful human corruption tainting the pure Holy Spirit which is guiding the Jews towards a place of loving their enemies and turning the other cheek. But this is a stretch. A huge stretch.

  • "Yes, our prior commitment to Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible does a priori preclude the possibility that God’s revealed word asserts error.
    But does this mean that the Catholic position is irrational and indefensible?"

    By "error" I assume you mean the possibility that these words could have anything resembling an immoral intent. If this is the case, there is no point in having a discussion as you have taken the position that these dark passages cannot be actually dark no matter what.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      This could help to clarify what "error" means (both from the Catechism of the Catholic Church):

      107 The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the
      inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed
      by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture
      firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for
      the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred
      Scriptures.”

      108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity
      is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written
      and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living.” If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.”

      I take this to mean that everything God wanted in the Scriptures is in the Scriptures just the way he wanted it. But what is in them must be interpreted. You can't just assume that every statement reflects God's view.

      • Wow. Is anyone saying the plain and ordinary reading of the 'dashing little ones' is anything other than killing children?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The literal meaning is as you say.

          • I say plain or ordinary meaning because that is the convention I am familiar with. It just means the interpretation you would take based on a general knowledge, rather than a technical or context specific sense.

            The plain meaning of text is that the author is very upset with the Babylonians to the extent he suggests one would be happy at killing their children. This doesn't mean he literally wants to do this.

            I can accept that the author might either actually intend this, humans do kill innocent children, God himself did it in Egypt. I can also accept that the author might be being hyperbolic. I don't accept that a maximally good god would intend this meaning however. Especially knowing that people would read it as suggesting god had no problem killing children.

  • Moussa Taouk

    This goes back to the question of whether "good" makes sense without God. The Catholics here don't seem to find any back-breaking inconsistencies in this passage given the different ways in which the passage can be read etc.

    My question is to atheists whose sensibilities seem to be shocked by the statement. Why, from your angle of seeing the world, is it shocking?? I would have thought that the sentiment of the auther is the most natural thought to have given his situation. It seems to me that you're using a standard of goodness (perhaps that has ultimately piggy-backed on the teachings of Christ) to formulate your criticism of the scriptures. I see something of a contradiction in that world-view.

    But the question is: what is your standard for measuring whether something is good?

    • Susan

      This goes back to the question of whether "good" makes sense without God.

      To begin with, what do you mean when you say "good"? Don't give me examples. Give me definitions and standards.

      When you have done that, explain what Yahweh has to do with it.

      The Catholics here don't seem to find any back-breaking inconsistencies in this passage given the different ways in which the passage can be read etc.

      But they break their backs to read the passage in a way that they can salvage some goodness from it. So, without the notion of "good", they wouldn't have to do that. They don't find goodness in that passage, they put goodness into it. That's humans doing that, not a deity.

      I would have thought that the sentiment of the author is the most natural human sentiment to have given his situation.

      Do you really think so? There are people who have endured unthinkable experiences who don't have the urge to dash babies against rocks. To dash the heads of those who are culpable against rocks maybe, and sometimes not even that, but not babies.

      It seems to me that you're using a standard of goodness (perhaps that has ultimately piggy-backed on the teachings of Christ) to formulate your criticism of the scriptures.

      "Goodness" does not rely on the stories of Jesus. I don't even think most of the stories of Jesus were particulary clear about "goodness". The ones that were don't seem to be unique or unprecedented.

      What seems to be happening here is an attempt to shoehorn "goodness" into the catholic bible when we are appalled by passages. So, you are trying to force it to fit a standard of goodness that most of us share in order to maintain your belief that Yahweh exists, is a "deity", is "good" and that he inspired the bible.

      If goodness came from Yahweh, such contortions wouldn't be necessary.

      I see something of a contradiction in that world-view.

      That doesn't mean it's there. ;-)

      • Moussa Taouk

        "To begin with, what do you mean when you say "good"? "

        Haha. Hellooooooo Socrates. Welcome back! I missed you, you know that?! Now... this is exactly the point. I think i know what I mean when I say "good", and it has to do with God. In fact my definition and standard and answer to many other questions is "God". But let's park that because you perhaps can't relate given that you assume God doesn't exist. You (if I may put it this way) aren't fluent with the "God language". But I on the other hand can speak (somewhat fluently) the non-God language. So therefore let's speak your language. I love Socrates. Let me try to imitate him for a bit.

        What do YOU mean by the word "good"? Is it a meaningful concept to say some actions are good and some are evil? Or is that meaningless? If meaningful, what does it mean? What is your standard for judging good and evil? If meaningless, then would it be true to say that dashing children against the rock is not evil, nor good but simply an event?

        • Susan

          Hi Moussa,

          You (if I may put it this way) aren't fluent with the "God language".

          Make no mistake, Moussa. I have heard that language all my life. I went to catholic schools and have listened to theists of all sorts for years. If you mean by "assume" that Yahweh doesn't exist, you mean I assume the null position until given a good reason to accept the assertions of humans about the existence of vaguely defined deities who humans claim exist, then... OK, but you haven't put it very well. .

          "Good" can mean many things. There is culinary good, civic good, artistic good, moral good. It's not a very clear word. It relies on our intuitive assumptions and is rarely probed for specific definitions.

          As a starter for "moral good", (which is what I think you mean) I would suggest "that which protects sentient beings from unnecessary suffering and alleviates their inevitable suffering". It's not perfect but I think it gets us started.

          What is your standard for judging good? Saying it's your deity doesn't work or you have no standard for judging your deity good. You must be judging Yahweh good from a separate notion of goodness or your judgement is meaningless.

          would it be true to say that dashing children against the rock is not evil, nor good but simply an event ?

          Not based on my definition. Dashing babies against rocks is a clear violation of my definition. No contradiction there.

          Now, what is your standard for judging "good"?

          • Moussa Taouk

            Haha. You crack me up. Culinary good? What's that?! I imagine that's subjective. Anyway... sidetrack. I just thought that was funny. It'd be interesting to investigate your thoughts on those other kinds of "good". But yeh, let's stick to the moral good.

            Now ok... let me just say... we're parking my standard. Honest, Susan. I want to learn from you. My answers are "God", "God" and "God". I don't have much to offer. He is the standard of judgement. Good is His nature. He is IT. See? That's all I've got. There's not much I can teach you that you don't already know. So let ME learn from YOU.

            So with your definition... I have a couple of questions:
            1. Does "good" have to involve suffering? Can it not involve pleasure? For example, "I built a cubby house. It made me happy". Was it therefore "good" that I built the cubby house, or is that a neutral act that is neither good nor bad unless it somehow involves suffering?

            2. Who decides what's necessary suffering and what's not necessary? Is it the person doing the suffering or the person who is inflicting the suffering?

            3. Are there levels of suffering at which something becomes evil? Or is ANY suffering inflicted on a sentient being considered evil? For example, is milking a cow evil because you're keeping her lactating longer than she needs to and you're also robbing the young from the milk (and affections) of its mother?

            4. Is a bit of suffering worth it if the derived pleasure is going to be a lot? e.g. is it worth killing a cow if it will feed 50 starving people?

            5. How do you know if a being is sentient? Should you err on the safe side and assume that all creatures are sentient unless it's proven otherwise?

            6. If person X sees person Y inflicting suffering on a sentient being, is it then good for person X to cause suffering to person Y or is that STILL evil?

            7. If Mr X has a definition of 'good' that is different to yours (e.g. it's good to do that which gives me pleasure, and I don't care about the suffering of sentient beings) does it not come down to brute force as to whose definition we follow? i.e. is your definition not entirely subjective to your 21st century sensibilities?

            Thanks.
            MT

          • Susan

            Culinary good? What's that?! I imagine that's subjective.

            That's how "good" works. We use it to describe our preference for strawberry or vanilla but then pretend it has an existence all its own when it comes to discussing morality.

            And morality tends to be about very important issues, issues that can have dire consequences for sentient beings. So we need to explain what "good" means in moral situations. Get closer to it.

            Now ok... let me just say... we're parking my standard.

            You brought up a specific question about atheists regarding "good and evil" and asked if they were meaningless without your choice of deity, Yahweh, and asked if the terms lacked meaning without him and even said you saw a contradiction.

            That's just gobbledygook if you park your definition. It's a meaningless question unless you define your terms. Defining your terms clearly is fundamental.
            Most of your seven questions are good ones. As I said, my definition wasn't perfect. You had asked it in the context of "good and evil" so I addressed that area.
            But I'm glad you asked the questions. We have to think about those things.

            No Yahweh required.

            You asked a question, I asked you to clarify the question, you didn't and now you are asking me more questions to answer on terminiology you chose and have not defined.
            How can anyone answer you, then? You haven't explained what you mean.

          • Moussa Taouk

            The problem is that we don't speak the same language when we say the word "good". It's no good (ummm... or should I say "useful") me defining it because you won't understand what I'm on about.

            The other problem is that atheists DO use the word "good". But it's not clear to me what they mean by "good". I CAN understand their language because I can speak both the language of the spiritual reality AND the language of material reality. Since "good" is not a material reality I'm interested to know in what sense atheists understand that word. Obviously when you use the word you think of minimising pain. David thinks of utilitarianism. Atilla the Hun thought it was strength/power (though he might not have been atheist!). Others might think "it's a dog eat dog world... so good is eating other dogs". You know? I want to know... is there a standard?

            My answer in one word is Christ. He is the revelation of Goodness to mankind. He is my standard as taught to me by the authority of the Catholic Church, who is given that authority to teach on matters of faith and morals by Christ.

            But do I ALWAYS have to explain my position? Can't I simply learn your perspective of how you think the world operates? You see? By explaining to you my thoughts you're going to ask me another pile of questions, and then another pile of questions after that, I'll never get to learn your view on the matter. You'll make me realise that I don't have good empirical justification for my beliefs and in short that I'm a fool (as everyone who debated Socrates concluded!). But we can just bypass all that. Because I already know all that. I don't know anything! I'm a fool!! But we can't just go on and on proving and re-proving this fact. We must at some stage see if your view makes more sense than the one I hold. See if perhaps your thoughts on the matter of goodness (if you believe such a concept to exist) is more coherent than my pitiful poor foolish empirically non-verifiable view.

            So in honesty I'm curious about how you answer those questions. Also, I glean from your response that goodness is a matter of taste similar to culinary pereferences. If that's the case, would you conclude that the psalmists' taste regarding retribution for injustice done against him is ok? Maybe I'm reading too much subjectivity into your view, but that struck me as ultimately your position on the concept of "goodness".

            Thanks.
            I gotta go now. Have a great weekend you lovely woman! :)

          • Susan

            It's no good (ummm... or should I say "useful") me defining it because you won't understand what I'm on about.

            Give it a shot or don't ask the question. Catholics don't own the word. I answered you when the burden was on you to answer me. YOU asked the question. YOU suggested that "good and evil" were meaningless without Yahweh. YOU said there was a contradiction there.

            But you haven't explained what you're talking about.

            My answer in one word is Christ.

            One word answers won't do. You'd have to measure that one word answer by some standard of goodness.

            By what standard, do you claim that "Christ" is "good"?

            But do I ALWAYS have to explain my position?

            You asked me to explain mine using terminology that doesn't make any sense. My point is that how can your question be answered if you don't explain what you're asking?

            I'm not playing games with you. You ask me why "good and evil" have meaning without your specific choice of deity (among tens of thousands of unevidence deities across human history) and I'm asking what you mean by the terms and why they require your deity.

            See if perhaps your thoughts on the matter of goodness (if you believe such a concept to exist) is more coherent than my pitiful poor foolish empirically non-verifiable view.

            I'm just asking you what you're talking about when you say "goodness". I don't think you're a fool at all or I wouldn't ask.

            It's a respectful question that comes from a sincere desire to get you to ask a question that is answerable.

            Edit- to acknowledge points I ignored the first time... and as usual, for grammar, spelling and (stupid disqus) spacing.

          • Moussa Taouk

            AAArrrghhh. I can't help it. Ok. One more before I go. Ralph!

            It's like saying, "the standard of addition is the number 1." and then you say, "yeh, but what is the standard of 1?"
            You can't reduce it any more. That's the standard. 1 IS the standard. Maybe there are better examples. Like the standard of the power of gravity. There's nothing more to compare it to. It just IS the standard. Or let's take the speed of light as being the standard by which we measure distance. Ok... that speed of light is THE standard from which we derive a 1m distance (and all subsequent distances).

            In the same way, the standard for "good" from a God-centric perspective is "God", and this is fully revealed to man in the person of "Christ". That's the standard. You can't go back any further. But this is God language. I can't translate it for you into material language.

            Now my question is: in the non-God language, YOU sometimes use the word "good". What do YOU mean when you say that word?
            Ok, you mean lack of suffering. Thank you for going out on a limb, and taking a risk to put a definition around this word.

            Now, if I may explore what YOU mean by "good" (not what I mean, but what YOU mean when YOU use this word), it would be good to know how (from a non-God view) you process the 7 questions that I posed. If YOU don't ever use that word, and you in fact find that word to be meaningless or simply an individual's preference etc, then that answers my question!

            Ok, now I'm going for real. The sun's setting!

            Blessings.
            MT

          • Ben Posin

            Moussa,

            I hate having to descend to this level, but nuh uh, you're the one who doesn't get it.

            The common understanding of the word good in this context, the ordinary usage, involves something one ought to do, something worthy of emulation, appropriate behavior, etc. Where the argument comes in, of course, is figuring out how to decide what sorts of things should be considered good.

            You have stated that God is the way that one answers this question, that God is the standard, etc. But what you haven't done is explained why. As of now, you've given no reason that God is the standard, and not, say, my friend Joe, who I think is a really great guy, and would make a fantastic standard of goodness.

            In flatly stating that good=God, you have vaulted over the normal, useful meaning of the word good, and basically redefined the word good to equal God, which seems like a waste since we already have a word for God, and now we need a new word for appropriate behavior. I've been cringing a bit reading your exchanges with Susan, and, frankly, if you aren't able to recognize this when it's flatly pointed out to you, I think it's pretty much time people give up this conversation.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Ben,

            Sorry about your cringing, brother.

            I understand your frustrations. But perhaps you would be less frustrated if you realise the following:
            - I'm a Catholic, and I trust the teachings of the Catholic Church on issues of faith and morals.
            - If I am asked to do so, I am more than happy to try to explain why I equate God with goodness. Although, given my very limitted training, I know from the outset that my answers will most likely not satisfy very clever people, especially skeptics.
            - I'm wondering how atheists (given they don't rely on the authority of the Catholic Church) make sense of goodness. What drives them one way or the other? How do they judge something to be either "appropriate behaviour" or inappropriate behaviour?
            - I don't get why asking a question regarding how someone else views a particular concept means that before I can do so I have to evaluate my own understanding of my concept. Why can't i get others views on a subject in order to be a learner rather than a teacher? Surely if a student in class asks a teacher how something works the teacher doesn't reprimand them for first giving an exposition of their (the student's) theory. They just answer the question.

            MT

          • Ben Posin

            Moussa,

            I've spent too much time having discussions here and elsewhere on this subject--enough that I'm jaded and think you're being a bit disingenuous. Theists are used to framing the question in a certain way, in wondering how an atheist grounds or decides upon "goodness" without God--and this gets tiresome, given that theists don't seem to get very far when asked to explain exactly what it is that God adds to the mix.

            I mean, seriously: I expect that you could guess at my answer if you wanted to. My sense of goodness is based in my feelings of empathy for other people, my reasoning ability, and my innate sense of fairness. Which part of this weren't you expecting? If I didn't have these attributes, which are evolution's legacy to me as part of a social species, I wouldn't be able to engage in moral reasoning. And indeed, there are sociopaths who don't have these attributes, and feel no qualms in doing things I think of as immoral. Of course, I and some other atheists would argue that when Christians pick and choose bits of the old testament to pay attention to, they are exercising the same sort of moral judgment atheists do...they just wrap it in fancy language and pretend that they are not making a moral judgment of their own, but are reading the "inspired" meaning.

            This is the part where my cynicism expects you to ask me to dig deeper, and ask if my moral system must be subjective, that there's no objective basis for my desire to limit the suffering of other people and myself, no ultimate bedrock. Before going there, understand that there's no point in asking that question BEFORE establishing what exactly it is that God brings to the mix that's any more objective. HINT: nothing.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I've spent too much time having discussions here and elsewhere on this subject--enough that I'm jaded and think you're being a bit disingenuous.”

            This is the first time I’ve dialogued with atheists, and so I don’t have your experience. If it’s tiring for you to have the conversation again (which I sympathise with) then, although I prefer conversing about the topic for myself,
            I’d be nevertheless happy to read a good conversation that you or someone else has had before on the internet that addresses my question. But I say that conversations are like a chess game. After the initial few moves (or arguments) it’s always a new a unique game (conversation) that unfolds. But I can understand a person eventually getting sick of chess.

            I mean, seriously: I expect that you could guess at my answer if you wanted to.

            I can guess as to the various available options. But I don’t know which option you choose. So unless I ask I risk ridiculing atheism in my mind in a false manner because I might be making an incorrect guess. After all, if I was to
            guess the atheist position, I’d be thinking “If I were an atheist then this is how I would differentiate and this is how I would behave with regards to “good” from “evil””. But I make a very bad atheist, so it’s best that I don’t provide the answer to myself.

            “My feelings of empathy for others…”

            This is ok when the “others” behave towards you in a way that suits you. What of people that behave towards you in a way that doesn’t suit you? This can range from people that irritate you by the way they behave even though they
            mean you no harm, all the way to people that bite off from you and your goods as much as they can.

            Also, this relies on your feelings. How do you know whether others who don’t share your feelings are sociopaths or whether you with your feelings are the sociopath? (Not intending to sound condemning here… just asking).

            “… my innate sense of fairness.”

            Again, this sounds good in peace time, but what of the times when you are being oppressed? I take it that fairness (synonymous with justice?) would lead you to
            the principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” when you’re wrongly done by?

            Also, would you still be fair if others didn’t exhibit that same sense of fairness?

            Finally, this all works fine if we’re going off pure instinct (or innate feelings). But the thing becomes complicated when you introduce consciousness. Because one might have a sense of justice, but then there is a part of us that
            says, “why should I not take this pen home from my work place. They have heaps of pens and a pen isn’t going to send them broke”. And in so doing, one can easily “rise above” their innate sense of justice in order to serve their own agenda. Therefore, would you say that our “lower” sense of fairness is the thing to go by? Or is our “higher” ability to transcend that sense and calculate and scheme
            to serve our own purpose the thing to go by?

            Please excuse the long post.

          • Ben Posin

            Moussa,

            No, I don't excuse your long blog post, because even despite my warning you are following in exactly the track I cynically predicted. Yes, moral questions can be tricky, and relying on things like empathy, reasoning, and concepts of fairness can call for something of a balancing act at times. But I have absolutely zero interest in exploration of the alleged limits of the source of my morality with you at this point. I get that you think it may be lacking or subjective, but you've steadfastly refused to show that it's lacking something some other approach actually provides. Maybe morality just IS somewhat lacking or subjective, whether we like it or not. I don't know for sure, and this talk isn't helping me figure it out.

            You are wasting my time--or, to be more fair, I am wasting my time in having this conversation with you, because you claim to want to understand how there can be good without God, but refuse to address what God actually brings to the picture. If you do want to continue this conversation, address that, which you've said you can do.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I appreciate your acknowledgement of the limitations of the individual's ability to define "goodness".

            I, a theist, sometimes share that perplexity of knowing what is right and what is wrong. And so we share that perplexity to an extent.

            The difference that God brings to our perspectives is: Standard.

            The difference is that I appeal to a Standard of Goodness that is outside of my own self. While as far as I can see, the atheist position is to appeal to a notion of goodness that is within their own self. Alternatively, they might be able to use their consciousness to "rise above" subjective inclination as their guide, and look rather to work with the framework of evolutionary theory to further the flourishing of our species. I see limitations and potentially serious problems with both options. I don't know if there is a third option (hence my enquiry).

            The alternative (for theists... or at least monotheists) is that there is a Goodness that is the very nature of God, in whose image we are made, and which standard (of goodness) we seek out and are called to emulate.

            Thanks for the conversation. I hope it wasn't a total waste of time for you.

          • Ben Posin

            Moussa,

            I really don't know how to be much clearer. Why is God a standard for goodness? Why is emulating God more admirable than emulating my friend Joe? That would be a standard external to myself--and it's one that really cares about helping the poor, being nice to strangers, and definitely against genocide and bashing babies against rocks. Or maybe we should all get together and hash out some rules that seem pretty reasonable and would make a lot of people happy, write them down, and make that our standard for goodness. That would be an external standard too.

            You haven't explained at all why I should consider God to have any connection to morality. You're just calling his nature goodness, but I have no idea why. I've tried to explain this to you before on this thread, in this sequence of posts...but so far I've seen no sign that you understand that an explanation is wanting.

            I'm not trying to lead you down some socratic trap or anything, so I'll try to make this clear from the outset: to the best of my understanding, God has no logical or reasonable connection to morality. The existence of a God doesn't make morality more objective, the absence of a God doesn't make morality less objective. And I've yet to see a convincing argument otherwise.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Why is God a standard of goodness?”

            There’s your question, and there’s the question that I THINK you’re asking.

            To answer the question that you ARE asking, I can only give clues as to why I believe that God is the standard of goodness, but not hard evidence as such. The pre-requisite beliefs (for the clues to apply) are:

            - God exists
            - Jesus is God’s final revelation of Himself to man.
            - God made man in His own image.
            - God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this life and to be happy withHim for eternity in the next life.

            I then observe that man seeks Goodness. He seeks it and seeks it. The desire for Goodness is intricately in the heart of man. Given the pre-requisites above, I conclude that this innate desire is the seeking for God (because of our innate desire “to know” Goodness (from the 4th pre-requisite) and because we desire good and are repulsed by evil (3rd pre-requisite)).

            There is also the idea that some things are bad (hating others), some things are good (tolerating others) and some are much better (loving others for their own sake without any hope of gain for one’s self as a result). To make that differentiation there must be a standard of goodness (because without a standard they're all equally valid). Since human subjectivity doesn’t lead to a “standard”, then the standard must be outside any human subjectivity. I can only think (given the above pre-requisites) that God is that standard.

            Ofcourse I could be wrong. It could be that God's nature is not goodness as we perceive it. It could be that God is (may the Lord forgive me for blaspheming) actually what I currently consider to be evil. And He migh be playing tricks on us so that we THINK He is good in order that He might somehow derive pleasure out of leading us in false ways. That's a possibility. But I trust that Jesus wasn't sent to deceive us. I trust that the pre-requisites are true. Therefore I trust that goodness is the very nature of God. So, there's an element of faith there... i.e. trusting what appears to be true.

            That’s to answer the question you’re asking.

            But what I THINK you’re asking is (please patiently correct me if I’m wrong): Even if God exists, how would one know what is good and what is bad? The Bible doesn’t seem to help with that (baby-dashing). So you’re going back to the same method that I would use in judging good and bad. Therefore God (even if He exists) adds nothing to the evaluation of good and evil.

            Is that about right?

          • Susan

            Hi Moussa,

            The difference that God brings to our perspectives is: Standard.

            Then, by what standard do you judge your deity good?

            Ben really boiled it down, below:

            The existence of a God doesn't make morality more objective, the absence of a God doesn't make morality less objective.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "Then, by what standard do you judge your deity good?"

            I might be well trained enough to explain the correct technical Catholic position on this question. But here's how I understand it:

            I don't judge God to be good. As in... I don't superimpose the quality of goodness onto God and conclude that God fits my criteria for goodness. Because if that were the case, then you'd be right. That would make God superfluous in the whole question of having a standard by which to measure goodness.

            Rather, I judge everything OTHER than God as to whether or not it is good. I can make that judgement by appealing to the standard of goodness. And I believe that standard to be God. Maybe the more interesting question is: How do I know how well something measures up to that standard?

            But the fact that I'm convinced that there must be a standard points to the existence of a standard. That standard is God. I don't judge God. I use God's nature to judge other things.

            If God's nature was that the strong kill the weak to assert their strength, then that would be the standard for what the "good" thing to do is.

          • Susan

            That standard is God.

            You mean the catholic deity. Yahweh. The catholic Yahweh.
            Sorry. It's not fair to call one deity "God" when no one's explained

          • Moussa Taouk

            "You mean the catholic deity."

            I happen to believe that the Catholic faith is the true faith. But my argument doesn't necessarily appeal to the Catholic faith. Although, probably for my proposition to make sense it might have to be the notion of God as understood by the monotheistic faiths. I'm not confident enough with other faith systems to defend how goodness and their understanding of god(s) are related.

            Your response is valid when it comes to answering the "interesting" question of how I measure things up against the Standard of Goodness. To answer that I would indeed have to appeal to the Catholic faith. But to explore the idea of a standard of goodness, I need only appeal to a deity whose nature is goodness. This covers at least the monotheistic faiths and probably more. (e.g. I think it covers Plato's notion of God?).

          • Susan

            But to explore the idea of a standard of goodness, I need only appeal to a deity whose nature is goodness.

            How would you know its nature is goodness?

            http://www.answers.com/topic/euthyphro-dilemma

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Susan,

            Thanks for the link. I agree completely with St Thomas Aquinas' response to the problem.

            "How would you know its nature is goodness? "
            I've had a crack at answering this as best I could in reply to Ben Posin's most recent post above. Not sure if you've seen it yet. But basically it's based on the presupposition that we are made in God's image, and also that there is a standard for goodness. And in addition that this rests on trusting that what seems to be true in this regard (standard of goodness, and our innate desire for goodness) is in fact true.

          • Sample1

            Most people on this planet, when they say "god" mean something else.

            +5, hadn't heard it put that way before. Fact. I like.

            Mike, faith free

          • Michael Murray

            I wonder sometimes if people forget the effort required to make moral decisions even if you do believe in God. It still requires human beings to sit down and interpret what God requires. Look at the vast volumes that Catholic Theologians have generated, Islamic Hadiths, Rabbinical commentary, etc.

          • Susan

            Also, I glean from your response that goodness is a matter of taste similar to culinary pereferences.

            Then you missed my point about strawberry and vanilla vs. moral issues which have much, much higher stakes.

          • Sample1

            I'm interested to know in what sense atheists understand that word.

            Waving! Hey Ho! Atheist here!

            As a person who is faith-free (yes that's my new descriptor, like it?) I would say--backed up by always being told this by people around me who I would also call good--that I'm way more moral than the Christ you described. I don't think it's unfair to say, therefore, I'm good and Jesus would have a lot to learn from me.

            That said, I do not want you to worship me.

            Mike

          • Susan

            As a person who is faith-free

            I like that. It reminds me of Q. Quine's "not a person of faith".

            The trouble around here is that it won't be seen through the fog of equivocation.

            I don't think it's unfair to say, therefore, I'm good and Jesus would have a lot to learn from me.

            Nice knowing you, Sample 1. All the best. ;-)

          • Sample1

            Screen shot! :)

            Mike

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Mr Mike.

            "...faith-free... (do you) like it?" - no. Haha. I can't say I'm a big fan. It's a side-topic, but I think it mistakes true freedom for false freedom. Which incidentally I think is a major factor in people not believing in God.

            If you're more moraly good than Jesus that's pretty impressive, seeing as Jesus is the standard of Goodness.

            But Mike, this doesn't really answer my original question. what is your standard for determining that you are more good-er than Jesus? I take it that you use people's affirmations to define (or at least confirm) what you deem to be good. But what is it that you deem to be good? What defines your morality as being "better than" Jesus? Such statements presuppose that there is a standard by which you measure morality.

            The only way out of this is to say "there is no standard... goodness is what each individual wants it to be" OR "the standard of goodness is X", OR "I (Mike) am the standard of goodness".

            If the third is true (and if you also happen to be the standard of Truth and Beauty) then I beg you to allow me to worship you and model my life on yours.

            Thanks.
            MT

          • Sample1

            MT,

            Such statements presuppose that there is a standard by which you measure morality.

            We atheists (including most of the heretofore banned ones) have addressed this claim of yours many, many times on this site.

            I do see that you are new here, so perhaps you weren't aware of that. Have a look around at the link I am providing and feel free to peruse the topics therein for a better understanding of what, as I've said, has been addressed and answered many times already.

            https://strangenotions.com/morality/

            Mike

          • Moussa Taouk

            Thanks mate. No, I never knew it's been addressed before. I'll have a look.

            Cheers.
            MT

          • David Nickol

            My answers are "God", "God" and "God". I don't have much to offer. He
            is the standard of judgement. Good is His nature. He is IT.

            How does this help human beings determine the meaning of good and evil or use those meanings to choose from several possible actions in a given situation?

            It seems to me that if I say my answers are utilitarianism, utilitarianism, and utilitarianism, I have given at least as good an answer as you have.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Man, I understand what you're saying. And I agree. But all I want to do is to know the ATHEIST POINT OF VIEW. I'm happy to offer my (poor and limitted) view and open myself to all kinds of (constructive) criticisms in some other thread where an atheist challenges the theists how they come to differentiate good from evil, or what standard they use to know what is "good".

            Actually when you say "utilitarianism", well... that actually answers my question a fair bit. Thanks! Haha. although admittedly I had to look that up on wikipedia to be sure. I'm learning a fair bit on this site!

            I might then ask though, why that? Why not something else? For example it's not something that works within the framework of evolution, yeh? It's like, "each to his own boys... the toughest make it, the softest too bad!".

            Also, Does that mean you're willing to gamble on the "goodness" of humans... that they'll also behave according to that concept? Because it seems that you need the vast majority to be utilitarians if it is to work. Otherwise the clever ones will PRETEND to be utilitarian so they can take advantage of the gullible ones and to maximise their OWN happiness rather than working towards overall maximum happiness and minimum suffering.

            Have a good weekend Mr Nickol. It's been a good week of conversation.

          • Michael Murray

            I might then ask though, why that? Why not something else? For example it's not something that works within the framework of evolution, yeh? It's like, "each to his own boys... the toughest make it, the softest too bad!".

            But that doesn't work in evolution. I'm no expert in this stuff but let me give it a go.

            Given how long it takes for human babies to grow to an age at which they can reproduce you have to, at the very least look after your children or your genes don't increase in frequency. So there is evolutionary pressure to look after your direct descendants and your partial descendants who you share some genes with. So, not surprisingly, you find, as Bruce Springsteen puts it "we take care of our own".

            Possibly as a result of responding to that pressure humans developed various altruistic and empathic habits. Have a look at mirror neurones for example. Other primates do the same thing. There are experiments where monkeys are offered food but taking it triggers an electric shock for another group of monkeys. The monkeys refused to take the food for quite a long time.

            Once you have these brain systems in place we tend to apply them to everybody and even other species. This history of ethical thought to me seems to be an expansion of the small partial descendants "in" group we take care of to a larger and larger group. Or to put it another way the group of people we think should have the same rights as us expands over time. With some setbacks of course. Jesus had some input in suggesting that apparently our enemies should be part of the "in" group. Later we decided slaves and women should be "in" and black people and most recently homosexuals. Many people want to include embryos from the point of conception. More and more we seem to be including animals. I think the development of artificial intelligence will bring us an interesting ethical dilemma. Are they in ?

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Michael. Thanks for a thoughtful response.

            If the evolutionary mechanism has programmed us to look after our own, then:

            - how are anomalies to this explained? For example: if my family is "bad" in the sense that they hurt others unjustly, then I feel a massive obligation to tell the police about them even if it means life-long imprisonment and no more flourishing of our gene pool. In this case, doesn't the desire for "goodness" trump the gene pool?

            - is it "good" to maximise the "in" group? why? If extended to other human tribes and powers, doesn't that mean more chance of them dominating us? If extended to other species, isn't that going to result in other species out-competing us? I don't see how, on pure evolution, it is "wrong" to kill a dolphin if dolphin fin soup tastes nice or how it is "good" to not kill dolphins and making them part of the "in" group if that means less fish for us.

            MT.

          • Michael Murray

            I think the evolutionary mechanism is just the background or underpinning. It is the reason we have a moral sense which is often argued comes from God. Being rational beings we build cultural rules and laws over the top of this. Your feeling of obligation to hand in your family I would put down to this. Of course if your family are really bad they will have taught you that your first responsibility is to protect them.

            I don't really understand why it's not good to decrease circle of humans and species we try not to cause more than necessary suffering to ? I guess I would take that as a given.

            Michael

          • Susan

            Man, I understand what you're saying. And I agree. But all I want to do is to know the ATHEIST POINT OF VIEW.

            The "atheist point of view" consists of one position on one subject. You and I don't believe in almost every god that other humans believed in. I don't believe in your god either

          • Moussa Taouk

            The "atheist point of view" consists of one position on one subject.

            Fair enough. That's true in the simplest sense. But then there are offshoot questions that arise in the absence of this "one" subject. Humans have appealed to that One Subject to guide their path in life. If you drop the Subject out of the equation, then that leaves a moral and intellectual vacuum that begs to be filled.

            One of the offshoot questions that arises is how to decipher whether something is good or whether "good" is meaningful in the absence of The Subject about Whom we disagree.

            So far it seems the question of goodness is not adequately answerable and the vacuum remains.

          • Susan

            But then there are offshoot questions that arise in the absence of this "one" subject.

            So, you keep saying. You haven't explained why that is so.

          • Moussa Taouk

            With the example of morality as an offshoot question, to put it simply:

            As a Catholic I believe that God is the standard of Goodness, and so I can know what is good by applying Jesus' teachings. Further, I have the living voice and authority of the Catholic Church to guide me in that knowledge of good and bad.

            If you take away the God element, then that system of knowing good and bad collapses and leaves a vacuum. And I don't know what coherent system could fill that vacuum.

          • Sample1

            I don't know what coherent system could fill that vacuum

            Thank you for sharing that fear or concern or challenge (depending how you view it). Do correct me if it's something else.

            Even though you directed this to Susan, I intend to think about it, but honestly, thank you for putting that out there. I see that as an honest statement and I suspect you aren't alone.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not sure what kind of answer you expect to get in a comment box to a list like that. Any ethical system, requires a lot of work to get from general principles like the Golden Rule, Ten Commandments or "God, God, God" to application to real life scenarios. It doesn't matter whether you start with humanism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism there is still a lot of work to be done.

            If you are really interested in the detail of non-theistic ethical systems then have a look on the internet starting with humanism.

    • David Nickol

      My question is to atheists whose sensibilities seem to be shocked by the
      statement. Why, from your angle of seeing the world, is it shocking?

      I don't think I'd want to meet anyone who did not have a negative reaction at the thought of dashing babies against rocks. Sensibilities do not require "grounding" in some ultimate truth to be justified. Humans do not need to intellectually justify finding babies or kittens or puppies appealing or finding the thought of dashing babies or kittens or puppies against rocks disturbing. It is human nature. A very plausible case can be made that evolution is responsible for instinctive positive feelings toward babies (kittens, puppies, etc.). Whether these things are attributable to God or to evolution can be debated, but whichever is the case, human nature is still human nature.

      • Moussa Taouk

        I can understand your answer in times of peace and tranquility. And in modern western society. When one is level-headed and cool-minded and looking at history with objectivity (i.e. not involved in the situation). So yeh ok, I guess I can see that people on this website would be shocked at the image because they're not actually involved in the situation.

        But it wouldn't take a lot, I think, to put one's self in the author's shoes, and to come to terms with that other aspect of human nature. The (let's call it) animal aspect of human nature. The pure instinct. The rush of blood and explosion of anger at being wronged.

        Here is a man who was living happily in his home in Jerusalem. He got dragged away from his beloved city and bound in chains. He had done nothing to deserve the bashing and lashes and denagration that he was subjected to. He is mocked and spat on and used for others' entertainment. He is hungry and thirsty why the ugly cowards laugh with their chicken-filled mouths and wine-soaked chins at the victims, and rub salt in their wounds by asking them to play for them a song of zion.

        Maybe you wouldn't want to meet me or any other middle eastern man, but in that situation, if not for my crucified Lord who spoke divine words from His cross and thus offered forgiveness even to His torturers... if not for that standard that He commands me to strive for... then I assure you I would thirst for the opportunity to do as much harm as is in my power to my enemies.

        So I guess that's the point. Without a standard of goodness, then
        THAT reaction of THAT man in THAT situation (rather than the reactions of people here... which you're right about) is I think perfectly justified. To me the story is in one sense an illustration of where humanity necessarily WAS, and the journey of where humanity IS (or at least can be) as a result of the fulness of the revelation of goodness in the person of Jesus.

    • Michael Murray

      It seems to me that you're using a standard of goodness (perhaps that has ultimately piggy-backed on the teachings of Christ) to formulate your criticism of the scriptures. I see something of a contradiction in that world-view.

      Well much of what is regarded as Christ's moral teaching is some variant of the Golden Rule which predates Christianity. So I'm not sure who is doing the piggy-backing.

      • Moussa Taouk

        When I wrote that I was thinking specifically of the standard of goodness used by the West, which rests pretty much on Jesus' teachings.

        In addition, the teachings of Jesus are beyond the goldern rule. "Do to others as you would have them do unto you" is one thing. But "if a mans slaps you on your right cheek, turn your left cheek also" and "if a man steals your cloak then give him your tunic also" and "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" etc.

        If you apply the golden rule to the poor character writing the psalm then you'd get the result of justifying what he dreams of doing to his enemies and even their children. You'd think, "If I ever did something so unjust then fine, I deserve the full force of the retaliation."

        Alright, gotta go. Have a good weekend all!

        • Susan

          When I wrote that I was thinking specifically of the standard of goodness used by the West, which rests pretty much on Jesus' teachings

          What is "the standard" and how does it "pretty much rest on Jesus' teachings"?

        • Michael Murray

          In addition, the teachings of Jesus are beyond the goldern rule.

          Sure. Which is why I said "much of" and "variant of". Perhaps I should have said "built on".

          Do you really think the moral standard of the West is built on things like "if a mans slaps you on your right cheek, turn your left cheek also" ? I don't notice many countries pursuing this as their foreign policy.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Western civilisation has inherited much from Christianity. Some immediate examples that come to mind:

            - "Turn the other cheek" influences our (meaning Westerners') shock at the thought of revenge killing. Whereas "an eye for an eye" seems to be the most just and natural way of going about things.

            - "Amen I say to you, as long as you did it (i.e. feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick etc) to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." influences our attitude towards how we treat the most vulnerable... from the poor to the unborn to the sick to the elderly.

            - "whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart." influences the high regard for respecting others and not misusing them sexually.

            - Marriage (especially monogamy) is influenced by Christianity.

            Probably other things like politics (democracy?) and religious tolerance are derived from inherently Christian attitudes... but I don't think I'd be able to effectively argue the case givin my limitted historical knowledge.

            MT

          • Michael Murray

            I don't disagree with Christianity having had a (continuing) strong cultural influence. Christianity has been a powerful political and cultural force in western society. It would be a little weird if it hadn't had an influence.

            - "whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart." influences the high regard for respecting others and not misusing them sexually.

            I disagree strongly that Christianity has been helpful on matters of human sexuality but that's really a different discussion.

        • Susan

          Alright, gotta go. Have a good weekend all!

          Good night Ralph. Pleasant dreams. :-)

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VYtiyjqx7E

    • Susan

      This goes back to the question of whether "good" makes sense without God

      Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

      • Moussa Taouk

        "Live a good life".

        That's the problem. Knowing how to live a "good" life. This has implications because if part of being good consists in being devout to "the gods" then one would need to know that in order to live a good life, and so in that case the 'gods' WOULD care "how devout you have been".

        In addition, I think we can both agree that it was "wrong" for Marcus Aurelius to persecute Christians owing to their different beliefs. But that presupposes a standard of goodness that can even be used to place even Philosopher Kings in the scales of right and wrong.

        And thus I am left with the question: does "good" make sense from the atheist world view?

        PS. I sympathise with the quote if the message derived from it is "do your best to know what is good, and live by that". But if the quote leads to sloth in seeking the Good, or the pride to ignore the Good and choose instead one's own preferences... then I can't sympathise with that because such would be a vice.

  • Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but do some of the commenters here have the view that asserting the inerrancy of Scripture requires that we be willing to state a general rule of conduct from Scriptural passages that describe particular conduct with approval?
    Alternatively, do you have the view that asserting the inerrancy of Scripture requires that we conclude that God endorsed specific conduct on a particular occasion, if the Scripture writer speaks of it with approval?
    I think I would have a problem with the principal of inerrancy if either of these views were valid. But I don't think they are. I can't cite to authority, but perhaps someone could help me out.

  • Sample1

    Is God Pro-Life or Pro-Death?

    I would point out that this very title reflects a quasi-political American rallying slogan rather than, as the author notes, a scriptural writer's (chiselers?) mindset .

    In other words, for a person who is faith-free like me, it's a turn off of epic proportions to see a title like this meet contradiction in the very first few paragraphs. The author may have something valid to conclude, but I've pointed this out in prior articles, if the audience is the atheist community, such efforts in dialogue should be tidied up. At least for me because I'm not going to finish reading it.

    As such, I have nothing to say about this topic.

    (See what I did there?)

    Mike

    • Susan

      (See what I did there?)

      You sly fox, you.

  • Paul Sho

    All the imprecatory psalms in the Sacred Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit; we should not shy away from them.
    The "problematic" part of Psalm 137 means precisely what it says. However unless one realizes that the ultimate (real) enemy of the ancient Jews and modern Catholics is Satan and his demonic cohorts one can not fully appreciate the importance of this prayer section, whether "problematic" or not.
    I doubt if Adam and Eve contemplating the loss of the Garden of Eden would have shied away from this so-called "problematic" part.

    • David Nickol

      Are you saying that the psalm should be interpreted to mean, "Happy shall he be who takes Satan's little ones and dashes them against the rock!" In Christian theology, Satan doesn't beget any "little ones." Also, remember that the Christian conception of Satan as a a "fallen angel" was not known in Old Testament times.

      . . . the ultimate (real) enemy of the ancient Jews and modern Catholics is Satan and his demonic cohorts

      I don't think it is good theology to think of the world as the setting for a pitched battle between Catholics and "Satan and his demonic cohorts." Luke 10:18-19 indicates to me that Jesus has defeated Satan.

      I think many Catholics reinterpret Satan to be more of a symbol than a malevolent, active being who once was an angel. Whether or not Satan is real, attempts to pin present-day problems on him (for example, Archbishop's Chaput's assertion that the devil is the force behind Internet porn) are usually embarrassing. There is no need at all to invoke supernatural forces to account for the popularity and prevalence of pornographic material on the Internet.

      • Paul Sho

        Believe and don't doubt, satan has many little ones. It is only those who know there are spiritual wars, being waged by both sides, that can see them.

        • David Nickol

          Believe and don't doubt, satan has many little ones . . .

          Let's take a look at the passage again, using the translation from the NAB:

          Blessed the one who seizes your children
          and smashes them against the rock.

          Now we have children referring to three things—first, literally, the Babylonian (or Edomite) children; second, according to Origen, "those troublesome sinful thoughts that arise in the soul"; and third, according to you, Satan's "little ones."

          • Paul Sho

            The Sacred Scripture is a treasure trove out there in the open but few can know it. They are inspired by the Holy spirit and to understand all their layers of meaning you also need inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Indeed all three interpretations you give are correct; and there are more.
            .
            "so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” (cf Mark 4 v 12)

          • David Nickol

            The Sacred Scripture is a treasure trove out there in the open but few can know it.

            I do not recognize this kind of talk as an accurate reflection of Catholic thought. The Bible is not filled with mystically encoded messages meant only for an elect few.

            Even if the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is a text like any other text. There are no hidden meanings available only to those with divine help in perceiving them.

  • Geoffrey Miller

    So...why exactly is the text of Psalm 137 troubling?

    It's an anguished cry for justice in an unjust world. If I had witnessed a conquering army killing children in the streets, I do believe I would cry out for revenge in pretty much the exact same way. Of course I probably wouldn't go through on my word, but I would definitely voice murderous intentions against the enemy at least in my heart. And in the heat of the moment, I'd say that kind of anger and revulsion is a perfectly wholesome and natural human feeling.

    The Bible isn't a list of moral propositions. It's a living text of history, poetry, and other prose that one integrates into the narrative of their own life story. The murderous intentions in Psalm 137 are later answered by God in Jonah, when he says to the irritable prophet who wants him to destroy Nineveh, "And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals” (Jonah 4:11)?

    We are rightly angered by the losses in our own lives. We care about those who are dear to us. But if we open our hearts, we will see that we are all beloved children of God. This realization is the result of a natural growth from anger to forgiveness to love, and you can't short-circuit the process. Neither can the Bible. Anger has to first experience its own futility to redress the wrong which stirred it.

    And that is why this Psalm exists.

    • Sample1

      I would definitely voice murderous intentions against the enemy at least in my heart.

      Can't say that I would, nor would I consider modeling that behavior for children to witness.

      Mike, faith-free

      • Geoffrey Miller

        It's a natural human instinct, Mr. High & Morally Mighty.

        If a guy chained a four-year-old girl to a post and made her watch him shoot her parents, then raped and killed her, and I witnessed it and lived to tell the tale, then I assure you, I would not be thinking happy thoughts of forgiveness about that man for many, many years, if ever.

        That's what the Babylonians did to the Jews. The author of Psalm 137 witnessed some serious shit. Sample1, your grandstanding requirement for him to act meek as a lamb is inhumane and cruel.

        • Sample1

          Please consider the commenting guidelines and refrain from ad homs like Morally Mighty, even if I take them to be fairly accurate.

          We are just different I guess. It happens.

          Perhaps if the writers (chiselers?) of ancient texts had read Sapolsky, Harris and 21st century science-based psychologists, they too would have reconsidered their knee-jerk vengeful writings.

          Mike, faith-free

          • Geoffrey Miller

            They did reconsider their knee-jerk vengeful writings. Did you not read any of my original post?

          • Sample1

            Sorry, I don't see it. Please elaborate.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Really? I'll just quote the relevant portions:

            The Bible isn't a list of moral propositions. It's a living text of history, poetry, and other prose that one integrates into the narrative of their own life story. The murderous intentions in Psalm 137 are later rebuked by God in Jonah, when he says to the irritable prophet who wants him to destroy Nineveh, "And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals” (Jonah 4:11)?

            We are rightly angered by the losses in our own lives. We care about those who are dear to us. But if we open our hearts, we will see that we are all beloved children of God. This realization is the result of a natural growth from anger to forgiveness to love, and you can't short-circuit the process. Neither can the Bible. Anger has to first experience its own futility to redress the wrong which stirred it.

            And that is why this Psalm exists.

          • But the whole point of this article is that Psalm 137 is also the precisely intended words of the Holy Spirit. If they are simply human venting, fine. You can't have it both ways.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            All I can say is, you're talking as if literature, including divinely inspired literature, always presents itself as a series of propositions. As if me calling my girlfriend "honey" means that she is a sweet substance secreted by bees.

            That's not the case.

            The word of God encompasses an affirmation of righteous anger, an acknowledgment of its ultimate futility and even undesirability (see Jonah), and a healing resolution of forgiveness and mercy as a way forward. God speaks through human words. But if you isolate one passage from the larger whole, the story constructed by the entire community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you'll miss the truth and only see one human being venting.

          • Sample1

            I'll take this response to Brian Green Adams as the elaboration I was seeking.

            Mike, faith-free

          • If it was a single instance of a human venting that would be one thing, but the bible is teeming with children being killed apparently at God's command or by God himself. I have noted a number of these in my comments here.

            I think we need to accept that what we are doing is interpreting. We all have biases, and the bias of Christians is that they must interpret the word of God consistent with what Jesus has said. This is simply a bias that prevents a reasonable discussion of anything other than a theological interpretations which atheists like myself see no reason to countenance.

            That said, I am unfamiliar with the book of Jonah and I will give it read at your suggestion.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            I would also recommend looking at the book of Ruth and Wisdom of Solomon. The Bible is in a constant conversation with itself, and records the evolving experience of many generations and their encounters with God.

          • Susan

            We all have biases, and the bias of Christians is that they must interpret the word of God consistent with what Jesus has said

            The more fundamental bias is that it is the word of a god, at all.

            No explanation has been given to justify that assumption.

            And it seems to ignore the evidence.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlnnWbkMlbg

        • Geoffrey, are you seriously suggesting that telling people to turn the other cheek and love their enemies and act like a lamb is "inhumane and cruel?"

          Certainly Jesus is aware of what is to come in human history, he knows that humans posses the ability to rip babies from the wombs of mothers, torture and kill by the millions and that they would be doing this for centuries. He would have known that similar conduct was about 40 years away in Jerusalem when the Romans were going to come and crush the Jewish resistance and destroy the temple. Can you remember his advice to them?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Geoffrey, are you seriously suggesting that telling people to turn the other cheek and love their enemies and act like a lamb is "inhumane and cruel?"

            No, but telling them they shouldn't feel angry and have thoughts of revenge at first is cruel. That's a natural stage you have to go through before you can make peace with what happened. That doesn't mean you should necessarily act on those thoughts. In most cases, you shouldn't.

            But if you're in a war zone, and you spot the enemy troop who raped and killed the little girl in my hypothetical, then I wouldn't say you'd be a monster for marking your first bullet for him. He's violated something deep, offended what it means to be human at the root. He's an enemy not just to you, but to all humanity.

          • I think you are missing the point. We were discussing the text and someone suggested they might feel like turning the other cheek and loving their enemy. And you ridiculed this sentiment as being all high and morally mighty. What would Jesus say?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            No, I didn't ridicule Sample1 for having that sentiment. I just said it was unfair and cruel to expect, as a matter of fact, that everybody should feel the warm fuzzies for an enemy right off the bat.

            It's not wrong to feel the urge to strike back at someone. It may be wrong to act on that urge by channeling it into physical violence in most cases, but it's not wrong to feel angry and want someone else to feel your pain.

            Sample1 seemed to be acting smug by saying that it is wrong to be angry and voice that anger. And that seems unhealthy to me, like you have to deny a part of your humanity to pull it off. It's like facing grief and skipping right over denial and straight to acceptance. There's nothing wrong with going through the steps along the way.

          • David Nickol

            I just said it was unfair and cruel to expect, as a matter of fact, that everybody should feel the warm fuzzies for an enemy right off the bat.

            As I noted elsewhere, we're not talking about killing enemies on the battlefield. We're talking about killing their children. It would be nonsensical to hold the psalmist personally culpable for harboring violent thoughts when he is only expressing a sentiment common to warrior peoples of the times. The psalmist might not merely have thought it was permissible to exterminate enemies of the Israelites. He may have viewed it as a duty required by God. The problem is that what the psalmist says is in the Bible, and therefore according to Catholics and most other Christians, it is the inspired word of God.

            The predictable response is that one must read the Bible as a whole, and in the context of the whole Bible, we can see that slaughtering children is not something of which God approves . . . even thought in parts of the Bible, he directly, in his own words, commands it.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            I don't know, David. After thinking about it, I don't think passages like Psalm 137 are even being read in the right way. In my opinion, the psalm represents a creative and subversive way for the Hebrews to express their displeasure as captives of the Babylonians. And in that sense, it belongs to the same category as classic, crude, schoolyard ditties. I mentioned this in a previous comment which got voted down, probably because the lyrics of these songs are incredibly violent. But nobody ever dreamed of acting upon them.

            Thoughts?

          • Look, no one here would deny that it is instinctual to feel urges to revenge, even violent revenge. Sample1 did not say that, he or she said "I don't know". Atheists dismiss this kind of literature as being hate-filled or, like you say, hyperbole. We really wouldn't care, except theists come along and say that "the Bible is God’s word in human words"

            I don't care how angry I was, or what someone had done, I would never, ever, suggest that it should make someone happy to kill the perpetrator's innocent children. This is sick and immoral in any context and the only response is that it is to be deplored.

            The suggestion in this article that what the Holy Spirit meant was that "little ones" were "vices" is ridiculous and a reckless use of language at best.

          • David Nickol

            The suggestion in this article that what the Holy Spirit meant was that "little ones" were "vices" is ridiculous and a reckless use of language at best.

            I am in almost total agreement, but I think it is not quite accurate to say it is being argued that "what the Holy Spirit meant was that 'little ones' were 'vices.'" (At least I hope that is not what Dr. Ramage means.) I think it must be acknowledged by everyone—including the Holy Spirit!—that what the psalmist meant was exactly what the psalmist said—"Happy shall he be who takes your little ones [that is, Babylonian children] and dashes them against the rock!" I don't think we can imagine the Holy Spirit hovering over the psalmist and saying, "Where the psalmist writes children, my meaning is "vices." I don't think it is being argued that the psalmist's meaning must be ignored and the Holy Spirit's meaning must be taken as the "real" meaning. If the theory is to have any credibility at all, it must be that the psalmist's meaning is the real meaning, but that an analogy can be made to "children" representing "incipient vices," and the passage can be used by analogy to argue that incipient vices must be nipped in the bud. So I think that the theory, interpreted with great care, has to distinguish between meanings and uses. The meaning is what the psalmist said. But what the psalmist said can be used to make an analogy that has a moral lesson about nipping vices in the bud, not killing energy children.

            While I don't think the theory is untenable on its face, but in this case, I find the evidence unconvincing that there is, in the text, anything to justify the belief that it was intended (by the Holy Spirit or anyone else) to be used to teach the lesson that vices must be nipped in the bud. I don't think that is any evidence of that in the text. I think someone giving a homily and using this text might explain why Israelites thought it was necessary to wipe out non-Israelites so that they didn't serve as a temptation for Israelites to stray from their own ways. The homilist could argue that while it was wrong to exterminate enemy children, the principle of nipping evil in the bud is a good one for authentic evils. It seems to me this is the thing that homilists sometimes do. But they might do the same thing with literature other than scripture, or even with popular entertainment. But just because a homilist can make use of a text like that, and perhaps a hundred homilists can each find their own way to make the same text "relevant," that certainly does not mean that the Holy Spirit packed a hundred different meanings into the text. As I said elsewhere, biblical texts are still texts, and they can't do anything that other texts can't do.

          • I am reminded of a Mr Show sketch satirizing Louis Farakhan, the character explaining what he meant when he called for the "beheading of all white women". It's worth a watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tjq8KsGrlL4

            I used to be an actor and I am well familiar of how any text can be interpreted in any way. In college I had to play a teen who raped a disabled child and we had to show the beginning of the attack on stage. Yes, there is a way to for that character to subjectively "justify" his behavior. You can stretch anything.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rimers_of_Eldritch

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Yeah, but there's nothing really dark to justify about Psalm 137. Numbers 16 and other stuff, sure. But Psalm 137?

            I've done my best to explain how slaves singing about doing horrible things to their masters, at their masters' request, and in a language their masters don't understand, is subversive and funny. I'm passionate about this point not as a Christian, but just as a lover of literature who feels that everybody's being boneheaded and missing the point of the poem.

            No babies are being killed.
            Just slave owners being unknowingly humiliated.

            You want to rage about tribalism and genocide? Fine. Pick an appropriate passage. But flat-out dismissing Psalm 137 as an angry hate-screed, like many secular humanists are prone to do with anything they don't understand, just upsets and saddens me. You're missing so much.

            By the way, I am a disabled person in a wheelchair who was abused by a bus driver as a very young toddler. I don't even remember the incident (fortunately). Yet even if I did, I wouldn't get mad about your role as an actor. Because I understand that its literary context is not calling for a repetition of that act. I'm asking you to do the same for Psalm 137.

          • David Nickol

            Yeah, but there's nothing really dark to justify about Psalm 137.

            Two days ago, Psalm 137, according to you, was "an anguished cry for justice in an unjust world." You said, "If I had witnessed a conquering army killing children in the streets, I do believe I would cry out for revenge in pretty much the exact same way."

            Now you say Psalm 137 "is subversive and funny," and you feel that everyone who disagress with you "is being boneheaded and missing the point of the poem."

            I don't think you can have it both ways. Either it's an "anguished cry for justice" or it's "subversive and funny," but it can't be both.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Now you say Psalm 137 "is subversive and funny," and you feel that everyone who disagress with you "is being boneheaded and missing the point of the poem."

            I don't think you can have it both ways. Either it's an "anguished cry for justice" or it's "subversive and funny," but it can't be both.

            You raise excellent points, David. And as an aside, you're probably my favorite commenter on here. It's always a pleasure to dialogue with you. You're reasonable, scholarly, and sharp-witted.

            I really haven't been as clear as I should have been in this thread. I took it for granted that other people would see immediately that it is entirely possible for poetry to be an "anguished cry for justice" and "subversive and funny" at the same time. In our own culture, Monty Python and South Park spring to mind. They mock political and philosophical opponents with horrific fantasy violence quite frequently.

            That Psalm 137 is divinely inspired doesn't mean we should smash babies. It means that God can be found in the human experience of anguish and subversive humor. Feeling down in the dirt and having no other recourse but to mock your oppressors behind their back doesn't remove one from the life of grace. God remains beside us in that hardship. Inspiration, more than giving a list of moral propositions, "canonizes" certain aspects of life experience as valid ways to access and interact with the divine.

            The Catholic view of divine inspiration is much broader and stranger than that you may encounter with other Christians. For instance, here is a quote from Dr. Peter Kreeft on the divine authorship of the Lord of the Rings. He made this speech shortly after 9-11.

            We thank both authors of the Lord of the Rings. The inspired one and the inspiring one for pulling aside the curtain just a little. One of the many reasons we voted the Lord of the Rings the greatest book of the century and why the movie will probably be the most successful movie of all time is our desperate need for it. That is not why Tolkien wrote it, but it is probably one of the reasons why God did. Of course it's inspired; it's got God's fingerprints all over it. The Lord of the Rings is a long and beautiful alarm clock and we're sleeping beauty. Our war did not begin in Manhattan but in Eden. And our enemies are not merely terrorists of the body but terrorists of the spirit. Principalities and powers. And they come not from Afghanistan but from hell. You do not need to commit the sin of allegory to see the similarity between hell and Mordor. "Strider said in a low voice, 'they come from Mordor. From Mordor Barliman, if that means anything to you.' And to Frodo, 'do you want them to find you? They are terrible.'" I recall Ingmar Birdmen‟s description of the angel of death in the seventh seal," It's the angel of death passing over us. The angel of death, and he's very big. "Saruman had slowly shaped Isengard to his shifting purposes and made it better as he thought being deceived for all those arts and subtle devices for which he forsook his former wisdom and which fondly he imagined were his own came from Mordor." And so did the little local evils in the Shire that had to be scoured. "This is worse than Mordor' said Sam 'much worse in a way, it comes home to you as they say because it is home and you remember it before it was all ruined.' 'Yes' said Frodo, 'this is Mordor, just one of its works.'" and at the very end of the war, "'the very end of the war' said Merry. „I hope so' said Frodo and sighed, the very last stroke, but to think that it should fall here at the very door of Bag End. Among all my hopes and fears, at least I never expected that." But we should. The Great War begins and ends in your house.

            Anything that is good and true, and that reflects and resonates with authentic human-divine experience, is divinely inspired. The Bible above all else, since it contains the types from which the other stories we tell spring, but those stories too are included.

          • I think I have said this many times, it is not the human frailty in being hyperbolic that I object to. It is the fact that this is being portrayed as part of a wholly good book and the words are perfectly consistent with the same god that tells us to turn the other cheek. That is simply not the same character that is being portrayed in the Old Testament.

            Rather than being merciful and empathetic, God is the one killing and this is reflected in this passage. It is not God trying to quell Abraham's anger at the Sodomites, but rather Abraham trying to ask that he spare the city for the sake of the innocents. Whether Pharoah wants to let the Jews go or not, God hardens his heart until he can kill scores of children. God tells Abraham to kill his own child, is careful to order that not even the Amalkite infants are spared, and when the humans don't kill everything, they are in trouble. There is no reflexive human emotion in the law place alongside the 10 commandments, ordering humans to stone their children to death for disobedience. None when bears are sent to rip apart children for teasing a prophet.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            I think I remember reading somewhere that in ancient Middle Eastern wars, they would kill all the children because if they survived custom dictated that they would have to go all out to avenge the deaths of their fathers once they came of age. So if you wanted to end an enemy, the only accepted way was total annihilation. So, you could tie it into the vice analogy like that.

            Of course, this system was pretty messed up to say the least, but people didn't view themselves as individuals back then. And lots of people didn't see children as full human beings. That took some real growth on the part of humanity. And I don't see why it's a big problem for the Bible to document and even facilitate that growth. We all start out with distorted views of ourselves, God, and the world, and then move toward clarity.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Again though, I'm not really convinced the Psalmist actually wants to kill women and children. I don't think he does. He really just wants the Babylonians to know and feel the pain they've caused him. And the best way he can express this is by imagining them coming to meet the same fate. And I don't get why such a cry of anguish is hateful or disturbing. It's just an angsty poem pouring out his feelings. It's perfectly psychologically healthy.

          • Susan

            Again though, I'm not really convinced the Psalmist actually wants to kill women and children.

            Despite the fact that he SAYS, "Happy shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!"

            In 2014, there are places in the world where children are being slaughtered in tribal warfare and genocides. Why do you think the psalmist is special, that this is simply a cry of anguish?

            And I don't get why such a cry of anguish is hateful or disturbing.

            Because it IS hateful and disturbing. He wants to smash babies to death.

            It's just an angsty poem pouring out his feelings.

            No, it isn't. It's an expression of a desire to smash babies against rocks.

            It's perfectly psychologically healthy.

            I give up.

            Do you see what you're doing here?

            This is the trouble with believing that the writing of humans is "sacred", infused with some supernatural meaning.
            Passages like this are treated with "It's not really that bad." or "But this is what (insert deity here) wants us to learn from it."

            There is nothing in any of the books that comprise the many "bibles" that show any sign of being anything but human, as human as all the other mythologies.

            This passage is an example of some of our cruellest, most ignorant and most destructive tendencies. The tendency toward tribalism, the tendency toward actions that perpetuate the worst possible conditions and a glib disregard for the innocent and vulnerable as long as they are part of the "other".

            There's a lot to be learned from it at face value but once people decide it's "sacred", things start to get very weird.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Susan, did you ever sing playground songs like this as a kid? Did you seriously consider enacting their lyrics?

            On top of Old Smokey

            All covered with sand
            I shot my poor teacher
            With a red rubber band.

            I shot her with pleasure
            I shot her with fear
            I shot her because she
            Was drinking my beer.

            The Bible has some pretty disturbing passages, but Psalm 137 just isn't one of them. It's a facetious slaves' song poking fun at their masters in the only way they could. They'd probably get killed if their Babylonian masters actually understood what they were singing. But, their masters didn't, and their poem survived so we can be in on their joke over 2500 years later.

            I swear, 3000 years from now, archeologists are going to dig up the following video and condemn the Learn for Life Foundation of Western Australia for its campaign of terror to keep kids in school. They'll say:

            We know that 21st century kids regularly served as child soldiers, so obviously this is yet another example of the violence people were willing to inflict on kids. They made a video about blowing them up, so obviously, that's what they wanted to do. This video is an example of some of our cruellest, most ignorant and most destructive tendencies. The tendency toward conformity, the tendency toward actions that perpetuate the worst possible conditions of education and a glib disregard for the innocent and vulnerable and free-spirited as long as they are part of the slackers.

            http://youtu.be/STHpMUYeznQ

          • Susan

            Susan, did you ever sing playground songs like this as a kid?

            No. That's irrelevant, though. If that's what they sang in your school yard, you were just a kid and likely to sing what got sung.

            It's an entirely different scenario than a human adult singing about smashing the babies of his conquerors (because he lost that match, not because he didn't play by the same rules) in human writings that are asserted here at Strange Notions to be inspired by a deity.

            All this in a climate where slaughtering babies by smashing them against rocks might have seemed perfectly normal.

            They smash your babies; you smash their babies. From a member of a species that has a history of committing nightmarish acts against one another INCLUDING) babies and where this behaviour still exists in 2014.

            A world where people smash babies is a nightmarish world. Particularly nightmarish because that sort of thing has always LITERALLY happened and it still LITERALLY happens.

            Yet, yer feller in the catholic bible was no more invoking the smashing of babies than a seven-year-old in the playground really wants to kill his teacher for drinking his beer.

            You haven't explained where you got this brilliant literary insight. You just think you have it. It requires ignoring the most vile atrocities of human behaviour and how common place they have been for most of our history and how they LITERALLY exist in 2014.

            It's hilarious.

            I'll bet neither one of us sang anything like this in the playground:

            Tick tock, tick tock
            Smash your baby on a rock.
            Blessed am I; blessed am I.
            (All around the circle)

            Belief in the sacred seems to require some disturbing defense mechanisms.

            Edit- I almost violated Godwin's law more than once while I was typing that. That means I should probably give up on this exchange.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Okay. Have it your way. I'll go Devil's Advocate.

            Blind evolutionary forces created a violent, overly tribalistic species that smashes babies. Probably because the people who smash others' babies perpetuate their bloodline, and so are "fit" according to natural selection. They effectively eliminate the competition, after all. So their genetic and cultural propensities to violence get passed along.

            Now, by a fluke, you feel repulsion toward these acts. So what? Male bees' testicles explode when they impregnate females--it's a case of sexual suicide--but bees don't complain about it. It's just a part of what they do. Your moral revulsion to that, or anything else, is nothing more than a culturally conditioned program in another meat machine, one that arose from a universe without purpose or order. And the very fact that genocide exists indicates that not everybody has the same program. Most people don't, if you go by appearances alone.

            So why sit in judgment on those who lack our programming? There is no such thing as superior or inferior sentiments. All our sentiments are ultimately the work of blind forces that really don't give a damn about babies or us. And going by a purely atheistic worldview, to me it seems like the violent will long outlast the compassionate. You and I are evolutionary rejects, doomed to be consumed by the bloodthirstier iterations of the human species if a horrible strain of bacteria doesn't get us first.

            Not believing in the sacred seems to require some disturbing realities.

            So yeah, I'll take what you call defense mechanisms any day of the week, because your way gives me no justification for my sentiments, no reason to think that I can appeal to them to protect myself from others, and no hope whatsoever that we will ever escape the nightmare of this world. We are deluded meat machines, deluded to think that we are free persons. But we are really at the mercy of mindless genes and dark cultures, doomed to bite and devour each other before we ultimately succumb to oblivion. And nothing atheism, or humanism, can say will sugarcoat that horrible fact of your belief system.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            You haven't explained where you got this brilliant literary insight. You just think you have it. It requires ignoring the most vile atrocities of human behaviour and how common place they have LITERALLY been for most of our history and how they LITERALLY exist in 2014.

            Yeah. I did. Psalm 137 is a slave song. It was written and sung by Babylonian captives to jeer at their masters without their masters knowing it. That's the historical facts of the case. I'm not just pulling this out of my butt. The Jewish slaves had zero power, will, or ability to act on the taunts in this song.

          • Susan

            Yeah. I did. Psalm 137 is a slave song

            OK. You've decided to dismiss the context of human history, where ideological tribalism slaughters babies. No problem. We'll just skip over that.

            Psalm 137 is a slave song. Brilliant, subsersive art forms have occurred all across history that don't talk about dashing babies against rocks.

            I'm done. I give. I mean it this time.

            You have responded to none of my points.

            I'm actually feeling queasy from this exchange.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            OK. You've decided to dismiss the context of human history, where ideological tribalism slaughters babies. No problem. We'll just skip over that.

            No, I haven't. I absolutely have not. You seem bound and determined to read the worst into my posts. I just said in a previous post that the Bible has some pretty disturbing passages. Numbers 16, for instance. But Psalm 137 isn't one of them. That's the present topic of conversation.

            I've done my best to explain how slaves singing about doing horrible things to their masters, at their masters' request, and in a language their masters don't understand, is subversive and funny.

            No babies are being killed.
            Just slave owners being unknowingly humiliated.

            There's plenty of blood to swoon at and feel queasy about elsewhere. Psalm 137 ain't the place.

          • But this is not a reflexive cry of anguish. Writing in the 5th century bce was not a simple thing. Only a few people could write and when they did they were thoughtful about it. Materials were much more limited. Moreover, this is not simple writing, this is writing that is supposed to be in concert with God.

            If you are writing about a god that killed scores of children to free you from the last exile, I think it is extremely reasonable to conclude that both were intending the same here.

            I think some anger can be healthy, but never when it is expressed like this. Having sentiments of killing for revenge is bad, having them about killing innocent children in revenge is sick.

          • Geoffrey Miller
          • David Nickol

            . . . . I wouldn't say you'd be a monster for marking your first bullet for him.

            I wouldn't either. But making an analogy to the psalm, we wouldn't be talking just about killing the rapist. We'd be talking about also killing his wife and children.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Right, but I'm not really convinced the Psalmist actually wants to do that. He really just wants the Babylonians to know and feel the pain they've caused him. And the best way he can express this is by imagining them coming to meet the same fate.

    • David Nickol

      The problem, however, is that what the Babylonians (or Edomites) did to the Israelites is the same thing that God commanded the Israelites to do to the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The psalmist who wrote about dashing children against rocks has not gone off the deep end and come up with something so unthinkable that the Israelites would not really do if given the opportunity. He is describing what God himself had ordered the Israelites to do to the peoples they conquered (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

      1 When the LORD, your God, brings you into the land which you are about to enter to possess, and removes many nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—2 and when the LORD, your God, gives them over to you and you defeat them, you shall put them under the ban.

      To "put under the ban" is to destroy totally, killing men, women, children, and cattle.

      • Geoffrey Miller

        This is, of course, assuming that the violence against the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites was not retrojected back into the narrative later as a kind of poetic venting. As my Anselm Academic Study Bible says.

        • David Nickol

          The Jewish Study Bible and The Torah: A Modern Commentary say things that seem quite similar to what your Anselm Academic Study Bible says, and the NAB says, "It is historically doubtful that Israel ever literally carried out this theological program." However, that doesn't really make the problem go away. The biblical authors are still depicting God as commanding complete extermination of conquered peoples, whether it actually happened or not.

          As is quite clear to the atheists, I think, you run into serious problems when you hold up the Bible as teaching exactly what God wanted it to teach, and then say, "Well, God didn't actually tell the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekites. The biblical authors just put those words in God's mouth. You must look at those passages as poetry." The problem is that with too strong a theory of divine inspiration, although you may be able to justify saying, "The authors attribute such-and-such to God, but mistakenly so," you still have to find some kind of "lesson" in the passage to justify it being there at all.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Well, the lesson is that God helps one overcome enemies and never compromise with evil. Also, a lot of the stories are really entertaining.

            I mean, think of Psalm 137 again in context. The Babylonians ask their captives to sing songs about Zion, and the Jews reply with a song about dashing the Babylonians' babies against the rocks. Except the Babylonians don't get it because it's in Hebrew.

            That's subversive, ironic, and pretty funny.

          • Susan

            the Jews reply with a song about dashing the Babylonians' babies against the rocks

            That's subversive, ironic, and pretty funny.

            Subsersive and ironic, maybe.

            Funny, no. It's beyond the pale. We're talking about dashing babies against rocks. Not dashing the culprits against rocks.

            BABIES!

            Why do I even have to type that?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Susan, Chillax. It's a subversive little ditty that probably belongs to the same genre as schoolyard classics like:

            Hi Ho Hi Ho
            It's off to school we go
            With razor blades and hand grenades
            Hi Ho
            Hi Ho
            The teacher bit my toe
            That dirty rat!
            I bit her back!
            Hi Ho
            Hi Ho
            It's off to home we go
            With razor cuts and blown up BUTTS!
            Hi Ho Hi Ho Hi Ho

            On top of old smokey, all covered with sand; I shot my poor teacher with a big rubberband;
            I shot her with pleasure, I shot her with pride;
            How could I miss her, she's forty feet wide;
            I went to her funeral, I went to her grave;
            I didn't throw flowers, I threw hand-grenades;
            I blew up the city, I blew up the town;
            I blew my poor teacher right out of the ground;
            I took one look at her, she wasn't quite dead;
            I pulled out a bazooka and blew off her head.

            Now, no schoolboy was serious about actually doing these things, but back in the day, these songs were "great green globs of greemy grimy gofer guts" of fun to sing. It was a way to vent anger and frustration creatively, to get a giddy feeling for breaking the rules by saying things you shouldn't say. Like the word "butts."

            And the more I think about it, the more Psalm 137 fits this description. And yes, slaves singing songs about getting revenge on their masters at their masters' urging because their masters' don't understand the slaves' native tongue...that's pretty darn funny.

            And nobody should have to explain why.

    • So, in Jonah god apparently "repents" his intentions to Nineveh, but he did not with the Sodomites, the Gomorians, the Egyptians, the Cananites, or the antediluvian everyone. What is the difference? The Ninevehinians bowed down in supplication to Yahweh under the threat of destructioon. The only interpretation I can come up with is that Yahweh's intent was "obey me or die", which is what he said to Adam.

      • Geoffrey Miller

        Well, most people think Jonah was written as a satire to poke fun at the xenophobic tendencies of the Jewish ruling caste of the day and remind them that God is the merciful lover of all people. The thing is, Biblical literature is really different and you can't just approach it from a modern mindset. So what you're getting from the text is totally different than what I'm getting. You've got to really imbibe the context and the modes of thinking that people used back then and that many religious people still use today.

        And that's something you can't get from a combox.

        If you really want to understand these stories, and how anyone could possibly find good things and inspiration in them, your best bet is twofold:

        (1) Get a good, scholarly study Bible to get religious and secular perspectives on the backgrounds of the stories. I would highly recommend: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3RJQ1FYFDOHR3/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R3RJQ1FYFDOHR3

        (2) Find a synagogue and talk to some rabbis. See how they read and interpret their own Scripture. Do the same with Christians. You can't get a good sense of a text without studying the communities who produced it.

        If you're not interested in understanding us, then my advice is to just live a good life as best you can and acknowledge that some people obviously think in a totally different way than you do. But that doesn't mean we're bad people on the verge of enacting another genocide or something.

        • I am not interpreting it from a modern mindset. I am also not interpreting it from a religious of Christian mindset that presupposes it must be interpreted as moral by today's standards.

          In ancient times, actually until very recently, mass murder of one's enemies, sacking cities, killing one's own children, genocide, was not considered necessarily immoral, but within the jurisdiction of powerful leaders. I think this is why it is commonplace throughout the OT. I think my interpretation is much more consistent with the understanding from ancient middle east.

          I don't think Catholics are bad at all. I think they are much better than the character of the deity in the Bible and that they generally ignore such passages and cherry pick some decent things said by Jesus.

          I think we've dashed this one on the rocks. I appreciate your comments. Please feel free to visit my blog and share your perspective. http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Dude, which you like to guest post on my blog or even do a podcast? You're writing is incredible.

            I apologize if I assumed you knew less than you do. It's just that the fact you had not yet read Jonah surprised me. I still think you could really benefit from at least buying the study Bible I recommended. Another good one is put out by Anselm Academic. And if you want a more traditional take, try the Ignatius Study Bible.

          • Maybe! Please email me at briangreenadams@gmail.com

  • Howard

    As long as we're looking seriously at the straightforward interpretation of the Psalm, it might help to note that what we have here is something specific, not a general principle. The problem most people have is when they read it as a general principle. So if a modern prophet said, "The next person to arrive at this church driving a blue 1993 Chevy Impala with exactly 2 hub caps will be especially blessed," it would be understood that he was identifying a person, not stating a divine preference for General Motors. The Neo-Babylonian Empire when it was overthrown by Cyrus the
    Great. Did God bless Cyrus the Great? Everyone in the ancient world would have agreed He did.

    As for C.S. Lewis, his writings clearly show that he finds the works of pagan antiquity in every way preferable to Hebrew antiquity. During his lifetime, the Catholic Church would not have flinched from saying he was a heretic because he refused to enter the Church; why should anyone be surprised that a heretic would utter heresy?

  • Susan

    As this is supposed to be a site where atheists and catholics can "reason together", I'm not sure how this helps things along.
    It's yet another artlcle that assumes what Brandon (further down) would like us to assume. That catholicism is true and that a deity inspired the catholic bible.
    Without this presuppositional approach, everything in the article is meaningless except as information about how catholics NEED to interpret the bible to make it consistent with their beliefs. This assumes that many of the atheistswho post here aren't ex-catholics, which is a mistake, and though that is interesting in that sense, it's no more convincing than a similar article on the intricacies of astrology.
    I don't blame the writer who has done his best to explain his religious take on a deeply disturbing passage written by a human from a very long time ago. The trouble is that the article was written by a catholic for catholics.
    The only possible response from a non-catholic is "You can't be serious." This is not mean disrespectfully. All I see is cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.
    No one's explained why a non-believer should see anything other than that.

    • Moussa Taouk

      Hi Susan. I sympathise with your entry here especially because I think I can see how (very) far down the line of "assume nothing" you are. So it's not surprising that you don't get much out of the article.

      I THINK the main point of posting an article such as this is to answer a particular question of a particular kind of atheist. One who has dismissed Christianity because of all the "dark passages" in the Bible. I think this article is a small testimony in answering that person's concerns. That is to say "What we can do is offer a reasoned explanation for the presence of thorny texts in such a way that one could see how it would be illuminating if faith in Christ is granted."

      So I think it's aimed at the person who perhaps can see the logic of God's existence (from say the cosmological argument), but can't quite see how such a God can be the Christian God given such passages in the Bible.

      Anyway, I think it's relevant, but I concede that it has little relevance for someone coming at theism from your angle.

      • Susan

        I think I can see how (very) far down the line of "assume nothing" you are.

        On this subject, it might appear that way. I don't assume the truth of the assertions here from catholics on the existence of the catholic deity. Most of the rest of the world doesn't either. What you take for granted, most people don't on the subject of the catholic deity.
        I'm not very far down the line at all.

        Anyway, I think it's relevant, but I concede that it has little relevance for someone coming at theism from your angle.

        Thank you Moussa.
        ,

        • Michael Murray

          I'm not very far down the line at all.

          I would have thought you are standing right next to the Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, Bahai, Buddhists, Jews, Zeusists, Wiccans, New Agers, ... oh and those strange Atheists.

    • Jimi Burden

      I was thinking the same thing, Susan. God inspires and commands evil but it's not considered evil as long as we read it in light of Jesus coming centuries later. With a belief in God, any means are justified by the end.

      • Susan

        With a belief in God, any means are justified by the end.

        Thank you for putting your finger on the problem.

  • vito

    60 to 80 per cent of humans die before even implanting in the uterus without any fault on part of other humans. What does that tell us in terms of God being pro-life/pro-death?

    • Andy Thomas

      Hi vito - do you think the Catholic position that those who have gone to be with God (and we have a strong hope that that includes unborn children who have died) are actually more alive than we are, might answer your question for you?

      • David Nickol

        those who have gone to be with God . . . are actually more alive than we are

        If that is the case, we might ask why those of us who were destined to live a life on earth (and risk eternal damnation in the process) got the short end of the stick. As you acknowledge, the Church doesn't pretend to know what happens to infants who die before birth. But if they are actually more fortunate than those who survive to be born, grow to adulthood, and are judged at the moment of death and possibly sent to hell, the whole thing seems unfair.

        • Andy Thomas

          Hi David, if adults have a choice in the matter of where they end up, how is it unfair?

      • vito

        There is a number of problems with your argument.
        First, the Catholic Church does not KNOW where the unbaptised babies go (point me to an official source, if you have different information). Not so long ago the belief was that it was limbo or even hell. Anyway, hope is not enough. If you hope, you do not know , and that means a possibility of hell/limbo.
        Second, even if death before birth meant automatic heaven, how come it is such a big deal if pregnancy is terminated in the uterus. It seems by doing that you would be giving the "victim" a free pass to heaven. Why then all the efforts to save the lives of the unborn??? They appear then to be at least meaningless if not evil...
        Anyway, we must agree: is death for unborn people a good thing or a bad thing. You seem to be arguing that death for them is a good thing.
        Third, as David Nickol correctly points out, it is seems unfair and cruel that some people simply get a free pass to heaven, which they receive without any effort whatsoever, while others not only have to suffer through life but also face a good chance of ending up in hell. You could hardly come up with anything more unfair than that.

        • Andy Thomas

          Hi Vito, in regards to your original concern though - if the unborn end up with God, and those who are with God are more alive than we are, do you think that means that God is somehow pro-death?

          • vito

            Yes, he would seem to be pro-death in the sense of human life on earth, i.e. the only life we KNOW really exists. Otherwise, if your theory is that somehow death actually means life, then you can safely call abortionists pro-life, and you should also resist or at least detest all the efforts of medical staff to safe babies in the womb that suffer life-threatening situations and doctors try to save them. These people are trying to prevent babies from going to heaven and are thus making them "less alive" (moreover, once born, they will become qualified for hell)
            Not to mention that I find the whole creation of 'humans' (zygotes) that last for a few hours or days and have no traits of a real person, no human body, no brain, no consciousness, no emotions, no responsibility, and then killing them off just to take them directly to heaven to be completely meaningless.

          • Andy Thomas

            Hi vito, you raise some interesting points that are worthy of further discussion, but just so I am clear: are you saying that God, the author of this earthy life, is also pro-death? How would you defend that conclusion?

  • Doug Shaver

    Does this mean it shouldn’t be in the Bible or that it constitutes an error on God’s part?

    I see no reason to assume that those two are the only options. If the author believed it, and the Bible is a record of its authors' beliefs, then it should be in there. If it's also an error, then the author made a mistake. I have no problem believing that the Bible's authors were sometimes wrong.