Jim Anderson at Decorabilia replied to my criticism of his earlier post, which itself criticized Benedict’s lecture. I started writing this as a comment over “there” but it outgrew that format. The remainder is “below the fold”.
On the “blood/sacrifice” point. Your skills at rhetoric and its terminology exceed mine. I’m unclear on what you are saying by pointing out your statement was an irony observed not a defeater, as I think it is an irony missed in that I’d have to agree with Peleologus and continue to insist God is not pleased by human sacrifice.
Your next point (which is I guess an echo of your Pascal quote) in which you ask, “Can Christianity claim to be all carrot and no stick”. Well, there is at least one (and there may be others) major strands of Christian theology that might make that claim. Orthodox soteriology makes no claims to the fate of unbelievers just that by following Orthodox tradition is the best and surest way to salvation. Orthodoxy claims to be holding fast to Chrsitianity which was held prior to the division (engendered by the recover/rise of the West and the filioque controversy), hence it might be appropriate to think that for Paleologos and a (small but) significant fraction of today’s Christian believers this Pascalian outlook is not appropriate.
I won’t go so far as to say you were wrong in your interpretation of Romans, just that I’m skeptical because Romans is a unified work and somewhat difficult. I’ll attempt the rashness perhaps this weekend as per your request. I’ve bounced off Moo’s commentary on Romans a few times this may give me impetus to try again. (to be fair to Mr Moo I’ve mostly tried to read it on business trips and airplanes)
On Hosea. From the ESV Reformed Study Bible’s introduction to Hosea.
The question of how to interpret the personal events of Hosea’s life that symbolically parallel his prophetic message has long perplexed readers of the book of Hosea. Are the details given in chs. 1 and 3 about Hosea’s family life to be understood literally or allegorically?
Although these debates continue the profound meaning of the prophet’s marraige(s) as a picture of the Lord’s relationship with Israel is clear
Ok, it’s clear to you it’s not figurative … but scholars debate so I think my question is not unwarranted, although as well given that there is debate your point may be taken as a possibility. Even if it is to be taken literally, one might ask, if God might rightly ask of a man as a result of theophany/prophetic experience to live his life and preaching as a strong living symbol for others to take his message more strongly even if those actions taken are sinful? If sin is doing that which takes us away from God, is it sin to do anything when instructed directly by God?
On Abraham/Isaac Mr Anderson wrote:
I’d be willing to grant Abraham a pass for his extreme faith in God’s crazy-sounding order to sacrifice Isaac, yet it still proves that a good God might ask something we’d expect from a devil-God.
In the previous I merely alluded to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. This little book is a meditation on exactly this event. A taste
There lived a man who, when a child, had heard the beautiful Bible story of how God tempted Abraham and how he stood the test, how he maintained his faith and, against his expectations, received his son back again. As this man grew older he read this same story with ever greater admiration; for now life had separated what had been united in the reverent simplicity of the child. And the older he grew, the more frequently his thoughts reverted to that story. His enthusiasm waxed stronger and stronger, and yet the story grew less and less clear to him. Finally he forgot everything else in thinking about it, and his soul contained but one wish, which was, to behold Abraham; and but one longing, which was, to have been witness to that event. His desire was, not to see [ … various facets of the story … ] His wish was, to have been present at the moment when Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw Mount Moriah afar off; to have been present at the moment when he left his asses behind and wended his way up to the mountain alone with Isaac. For the mind of this man was busy, not with the delicate conceits of the imagination, but rather with his shuddering thought.
The man we speak of was no thinker, he felt no desire to go beyond his faith: it seemed to him the most glorious fate to be remembered as the Father of Faith, and a most enviable lot to be possessed of that faith, even if no one knew it.
There was a question asked of the Gods in one telling of the Ring cycle in which it is asked why they did such things to Men. The answer was something akin so that Heroes can be Heroic. Abraham got to show his greatness by God asking of him such a terrible thing. This would have been a “devil-god” if indeed it had crushed Abraham’s faith or had he been forced to immolate his son. But it didn’t and he wasn’t.
You quote of Joshua you point as the most problematic (and as you point out there are others). I’ll instead jump to an earlier (perhaps even more “damning” passage, in your light), Sodom and Gomorrah, which God himself destroys instead of via proxy. However, prior to its destruction there was a short conversation Abraham has with the Lord. This passage (Genesis 18) is part of a series of events which are sort of a “political education” of Abraham. In this one, wherein Abraham sort of bids the Lord down on “how may innocents” might be spared in order to stay God’s wrath. He is wise enough to not try to talk God down to zero. From this we might learn that insistence on “no collateral” casualties in enacting political solutions is not desired. In a theory of Just War, if one insists on killing no non-combatants there would be no war (or more precisely you lose all wars). Personal Justice and the Just actions of a State are measured differently. On this last point Mr Anderson complains
Olson’s last rhetorical questions are haunting: “Was Carthage wrong? Was God?” If we are to answer the question in the affirmative or negative, we must judge His character, His motivation, His reasonableness. If we are unable to answer, we have no grounds for assuming He is reasonable.
From Wiki on Aphophatic Theology
Likewise, God is not evil. (To say that He can be described by the human word ‘good’ limits Him to what good means to humans.)
Part of this disagreement comes from one’s perception of God as an moral agent. Is God more like a State or a Person in His judging his actions (if judging His actions is even apt). It may have been just, right and good for Rome to seek the annihilation of Carthage. It would not have been just or good for Cato to go on a homicidal rampage while visiting the city of Dido as a private citizen.
If one looks to my earlier (naive) semi-axiomatic statements about God, wherein God is taken as an ansatze in which the Platonic ideal of Good/Beauty and the Creator are identified as being one and the same. That identified thing (the Ideal and Creator) is called God. In this framework, “judging” God by Humans becomes somewhat confusing. On the other hand … identifying that formulation of God with the God of the Bible is the likely objection Mr Anderson would raise. However … I would expect that Mr Anderson and most Christians would decide differently when granting the merits of unrevealed details of the reasons why such commands or actions were necessary or commanded.
One might even ask the question of when those actions of God’s call men from the mortal plane, is that a bad thing? Perhaps life on this mortal coil is worse than being called home earlier. What if it was a blessing to those infants to be called back to Him without having to suffer through three score and ten (or less) years of pain and suffering (with just a dollop of joy)?