Tag Archives: Christianity

Is Ruth a Rapist?

You were probably expecting something pertaining to same-sex marriage today.  This article does focus on the story of Lot, but as we know, that story has nothing to do with homosexuality or gay marriage.  I previously wrote about rape in the Bible and how, contrary to popular criticism, the rapists are handed some of the most severe punishments in the Old Testament.  However, this only seems applicable to male rapists; it’s troubling that the female rapists in the Bible all seem to get away with it with impunity.  Lot’s daughters rape their own father by deception in Genesis 19:30-36.  Tamar, in disguise, similarly tricks her own father-in-law into sleeping with her in Genesis 38.  While technically not a rape, Potiphar’s wife sexually assaults Joseph in the next chapter.

Lot’s daughters are the example of the most intertextual importance.  The story shares a common form to Noah’s post-survival narrative which suggested sexual misconduct by his son, Ham (Gen. 9:18-28).  But more importantly, the oldest unnamed daughter gives birth to Moab (19:37), and this incestuous etiology informs the complicated Israelite-Moabite relationship in the rest of the Bible, from their co-existence after the conquest of Canaan, to their place in the genealogy of the Lord.  Particularly, this should be contrasted with a difficult passage in the only book of the Bible named after a Moabite, Ruth.  Sunday school lessons tend to focus on Boaz’s compassion for Ruth as she gleans in the field, while ignoring their overnight encounter.  Scholars are in disagreement of this incident at the threshing floor in chapter 3:

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!  Ruth 3:7-8

'Landscape with Ruth and Boaz', Josep Anton Koch, 1768

‘Landscape with Ruth and Boaz’, Josep Anton Koch, 1768

Moral sensibilities tend to predetermine the interpretation that this was an asexual encounter.  The protagonists, it is argued, could not have committed anything considered sinful by virtue of this book’s placement in the canon (This same rationale also drives a sanitized interpretation of Song of Solomon).  But if “uncovering his feet” is an obscured euphemism, their spending the night together is harder to overlook.  To modern standards of mutual consent, Ruth’s actions while Boaz sleeps border on assault even if there was no sexual contact.  It also doesn’t help that she leaves almost shamefully “before anyone could be recognized” (3:14).

There are obvious comparisons intentionally made to Lot’s daughters in the text, and it is through this lens that it can be better understood.  Instructed by a relative, Ruth sleeps with a close relative after he has been drinking, as Lot’s oldest daughter impregnated herself with her drunk father and then compelled her sister to do the same.  Lot was unaware when his daughters lay down or got up, but while Ruth enters stealthily and leaves without being recognized, she does reveal herself to Boaz in the middle of the night.  Ruth’s narrative is deliberately structured after the prior rape incident, but as a literary construction it actually functions as its opposite.  Lot’s daughter gives birth to Moab through incest and rape, but it is her descendant Ruth who redeems her people even as she is redeemed by her near kinsman.  Unlike her ancestor, Ruth does not engage in deception and seeks a legitimate and lawful relationship with a man who had previously shown interest in her. As is typical for Biblical narratives to undo a curse in a like manner to its origin, the ambiguity of the passage in Ruth can be attributed to the text’s forced similarities to Lot’s daughters.  Scholars and clergy will forever debate the extent of Ruth and Boaz’s premarital romance, but it should certainly not be confused with the rape text that it intends to counteract.

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How Did Christianity Become the New Relativism?

“It’s true for me”  This was said during a famous debate between conservative political commentator and Christianity-enthusiast Bill O’Reilly and atheist scientist Richard Dawkins.  In my fundamentalist upbringing, I had been conditioned to eschew this wishy-washy postmodernist thought.  “True for me but not for you” was liberal, “worldly” thinking that Christians were supposed to know how to combat, not use themselves.  Yet here it was the conservative Christian saying it and not the godless liberal.  Apparently just as shocked by this role-reversal, Dawkins responded with the absolutist logic which I had previously only associated with Christianity: “You mean true for you is different from true for anybody else?  Something’s either got to be true or not.”

Christianity and relativism have been at odds since the dawn of postmodernism.  Christianity is a religion which makes absolute claims of truth, and relativism is an ideology which rejects the very concept of absolute truth.  Yet strangely, it is increasingly Christians who have unwittingly been the proponents of relativism in recent times.  I’ve previously written about how sectarianism tends to prioritize subjective and relative morality over objective morality.  Most Christians today haven’t transcended the culture of postmodernism even if they claim to be against it; they are still very much products, if not prisoners, of that mindset.

Even Christians who believe relativism is a problem may not be able to correctly identity what relativism actually is.  For instance, some Christians erroneously oppose any religious pluralism because they have mistaken it for cultural relativism.  But while relativism is a form of pluralism, not all pluralism is relativistic.  Pluralism, in the narrow distinction between the two, is simply the tolerance of opposing beliefs; it is the pragmatic acceptance that those who hold beliefs which are untrue still have the right to equally coexist in the same society.  Relativism, on the other hand, is a doctrinaire opinion that there is no objective truth.  Relativism leads to the same tolerance as pluralism, not for the admirable reason that people who are wrong should still be treated fairly, but rather because it cannot make an evaluation of right or wrong in the first place.  Pluralists, however, can still tolerate relativists without losing objective truth.

Unfortunately, Christians have not only attacked the wrong problems but also promoted the wrong solutions. For years Christians have been incorrectly told that absolutism is the counter to relativism.  They’ve been led to believe that as long as they refuse to compromise on their beliefs then they are immune to relativistic influences.  Doubling down on the Bible or church authority as their sole argument for everything, they’ve ignored that this sort of weak reasoning can and is exercised by people of all faiths.  Christians are usually at a loss to explain why Islamic or Mormon claims to absolute truth on the basis of their sacred texts differ in any way to Christian claims to absolute truth based only on the Bible.  Obviously, anyone can be an absolutist on any position, that in itself is not a remedy for relativism.  The missing component is objective truth, truths which can be communicated and accepted without first having to believe in a religion.  Religious identity is the last resort of people who have failed to present an objective truth.  Saying “I can’t have an abortion because it’s taking an innocent life” is a more compelling argument than saying “I can’t have an abortion because I’m Catholic.”  If the only justification you have for why you do something a certain way is your religion, then you probably don’t have a sufficient reason; otherwise, you would have given that as your reason in the first place.

The same-sex marriage battle is a fascinating study of how conservatives in general have lost all sense of objectivity.  At seemingly every turn, they have contradicted their own arguments if it suited their cause.  When the Defense of Marriage Act was on the books, they argued that federal law trumped state law, but after DOMA was ruled unconstitutional (and even before) they’ve been champions of so-called “states’ rights” ever since.  Conservatives heavily criticized the Obama administration for not defending DOMA before the Supreme Court, but then remained quiet when governor Scott Walker similarly refused to defend Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry in court.  Contrary to purported claims about executive duty and the rule of law, the rightwing will seemingly take up whichever argument they feel will support their predetermined crusade.  While there’s no denying these conservatives are absolutely against gay marriage, their duplicitous attempts to try to achieve their ends at any cost betray any claim to objective reasoning.

There are numerous things that churches have absolutely opposed in no uncertain terms, only to completely reverse their positions later: abolition, women’s suffrage, integration, interracial marriage.  The Republicans’ latest retreat into “religious freedom” measures–allowing business owners, workers, or officials to refuse business or involvement in same-sex wedding ceremonies out of personal religious beliefs–underscores the consummation of modern Christianity’s journey into fully realized postmodernism (it should be pointed out that there was never any regard for religious freedom of churches who performed same-sex marriages before it was legal).  As has already been demonstrated in case after case, conservative Christians are completely at a loss to present any objective reasoning why consenting adult same-sex couples should not be afforded the same legal protections as opposite-sex couples.  Now that this loss seems inevitable at the Supreme Court level, conservatives seem to be preparing to cease universal bans and instead allow individuals to opt out.  It’s noteworthy that conservatives didn’t really entertain this solution in their past failed culture wars.  While some Christians still tried to maintain segregation in their private schools, they don’t try to allow volunteers at polling places to refuse women, or to permit businesses or state officials to refuse interracial weddings.  These Christians are now put in the awkward position of having to justify why a nationwide ban was considered so absolutely necessary yet the same practice is now permissible on a personal level.  There just doesn’t seem to be an objective way to re-phrase “I won’t provide this service for you that I do for everybody else because you’re gay.”  Effectively, these individuals would be telling gay couples that their beliefs are “true for me but not for you.”

Conservatives would argue that this is merely a legal compromise on an issue forced upon them, but that alone doesn’t explain why this strategy is being deployed here when it wasn’t for other positions they opposed just as absolutely.  This is likely because conservatives came to the simple realization that there were no satisfactory reasons to forcibly segregate drinking fountains.  Conversely, conservatives have held their ground more capably on the abortion issue where they were able to find objective arguments based on life ethics.  If conservatives behaved the same on gay marriage as they do on abortion, then we ought to have expected a stronger reaction than it simply being a matter of personal conscience (but perhaps they’ll surprise me and start an insurrection in June).  While they may not be intentionally relativistic in their reasoning, this nevertheless has all the trademarks of it.  Little by little, conservatives are eroding a cooperative pluralistic society by not merely tolerating nonfactual beliefs, but by permitting those beliefs to have dominance over facts.  Conservatives haven’t outright rejected that an objective truth exists, yet their inability to objectively support their positions has netted the exact same results as if they had.  Or perhaps worse, it looks like they’ve achieved cultural relativism without the pluralism that usually accompanies it.

Conservatism, with Christianity at the helm, is now steering us towards a relativistic society where individuals are free to ignore anti-discrimination laws if they claim it violates their personal beliefs.  As much as they want to limit it just to homosexuality, I have yet to hear a good reason why sincerely held beliefs on sexuality should be protected more than equally sincere Bible-based beliefs on racial superiority or gender inequality.  They might argue that sexual orientation shouldn’t be a protected class, usually for disingenuous reasons such as claiming homosexuality is a choice, somehow differing from other protected categories like religion, pregnancy, or marital status which are also choices (I should also point out that, contrary to what many conservatives erroneously think, the classes in anti-discrimination laws do not single out minorities, women, or gays for heightened protection; instead they are based on universal attributes applicable to everyone: race, gender, and sexual orientation).  I would counter-argue that needing to protect classes of people should be unnecessary in the first place, and contrary to Republican assumptions, an individual doesn’t actually need to be a member of a group on an itemized list to make a valid case of discrimination.  It says more about the flawed deontological morality of these discrimination advocates that they only seem to believe it’s wrong to refuse service to a black person just because the law specifically prohibits discrimination on race.  Ultimately, their problem is the same fault underlying all relativism: they don’t really know basic right and wrong.

In a bizarre twist of the Republican party’s role reversal from formerly being the progressive party to presently being the conservative party, the GOP has also become a powerful champion of postmodernism.  Their challenges to the Affordable Care Act have been some of the most blatant postmodern arguments in recent memory.  The first case challenged the birth control provisions strictly on the personal beliefs of the employer, because they disapprove of birth control or incorrectly believe it causes an abortion.  The present case before the court amounts to trying to invalidate the law on the basis of a strict reading of a typo rather than the stated intent of the law, which commenters have compared to the “Moops” doctrine from the sitcom Sienfeld.  Of course, the irony is that the ACA originated as a conservative idea, effected in Massachusetts by Republican Governor and Obama Presidential opponent, Mitt Romney.

A side effect of the Right’s opposition politics is an inability to articulate what they actually stand for.  They seem to be willing to reverse a position to spite an opponent, or commit to one in spite of facts.  Even when I specifically ask conservatives what they’re for, I get a response that’s merely a restatement of what they’re against.  Liberal positions, on the other hand, do not depend on a pre-existing “other” to oppose.  When liberals stand for equality, we mean that everybody should be treated the same under the law; inequality does not need to be an antecedent.  Positions, not principles, seem to drive conservative strategy these days.  Principles are what guide us to conclusions, whereas positions are fixed conclusions irrespective of principles.  The use of contradictory arguments to support the same position is patently unprincipled reasoning.  While changing a position because of new information is admirable, changing principles relative to a position is not.

Maybe objectivity is something Christianity has lost, or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention in my youth and conservatives never really had a grasp on objective truth.  Either way, if Christianity is going to find its foothold, it cannot be with the same logic advanced by conservatives for the past decade.  Just pointing out conservative relativism can get you accused of being a relativist yourself, but only because that identifies your opposite belief as liberal and conservatives associate liberalism with postmodernism.  Conservatives need to stop basing their beliefs on what their opponent believes and find out in objective terms what they actually believe themselves.

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The Republican Party Is a Cult

The Republican Party has changed considerably in my lifetime.  When I was a kid, my impression was that conservatives dressed conservatively, were well groomed, well behaved, spoke intelligently, and valued principles.  I never expected to see a vulgar reality TV star like the Duck Commander, Phil Robertson, delivering folksy speeches at conservative political events in a full beard and camouflage.  But they’ve had more than just a cosmetic makeover, with the infusion of the Tea party the GOP has undergone dramatic ideological and epistemological changes.  Their positions may have remained more or less the same, but what is noticeable is how much their principles have changed in order to remain static.  For instance, the party defended the federal Defense of Marriage Act while simultaneously championing “states’ rights” to regulate marriage, so long as the end result was a ban on same-sex marriage.  Republicans also criticize the Obama administration for dereliction of duty in not defending DOMA at the Supreme Court, but were then silent when Governor Scott Walker refused to defend Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry in court.  This ends-justified mentality seems closer to what I’ve observed in cults, and in many ways I would argue that’s exactly what the Republican Party is becoming.

Cults love to catch people off guard with new information, this is the signature tactic of a successful cult.  It’s precisely why Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses still go door to door, as prepared speakers trying to catch unprepared people in their homes, or why Scientologists try to catch passersby in a public park to offer a “free stress test.”  It doesn’t even matter if the information they offer is true or not, the fact that the listener is unfamiliar with it gives the cultmember illusory superiority.  The advantage is that the cultmember doesn’t actually have to be more knowledgeable on a subject, they just have to have knowledge of something that the other person doesn’t.  It matters little how much a Christian knows about the Bible, if they don’t know anything about the Book of Mormon then that’s a weakness the Mormon missionaries will focus on.  Zealous Christians trying to convert the missionaries would have to know more about the Book of Mormon than the Mormons to have any hope of succeeding. 

It doesn’t stop with converts, either.  Secret doctrines are the stock in trade of cults, and even the initiated are incrementally bombarded with previously hidden information as a means to keep them advancing further, like when Scientologists reach level OT III and are finally shown L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi creation myth.  The distinction between a religion and a cult can sometimes seem arbitrary, but students of religion can easily recognize a cult when they reach the limit of information that can be acquired as an outsider.  You can learn everything about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. without having to convert to those religions, but you can’t learn everything about Mormonism or Scientology without being a member (although the internet is changing that).  Even then, the selective information that is taught on the inside differs from the total information available on the outside.  Cultmembers characteristically operate with a different set of “facts” than nonmembers.  A conflict between the cult’s “facts” and reality are dismissed as a conspiracy by their organization’s perceived enemies–which can literally include anything outside the cult.

The most frustrating part of debating with today’s Republicans is having to be on top of all the latest conservative conspiracy theories.  It can be difficult to discuss any political topic with a Republican because they frame most subjects with assumptions that aren’t based in fact.  Claiming Obama is a Kenyan, Muslim, or socialist can derail any serious talk about the President or his politics.  And just like with a cult, it doesn’t matter how knowledgable an outsider is on factual information, because the Republicans are more knowledgable on false information.  Though they might really not know anything about economics or ecology, they’ll consider an opponent ignorant if he’s unfamiliar with Cloward-Piven, Agenda 21, Saul Alinsky, or climate change denial.  The secret doctrines of conspiracy theories have become the norm for the GOP as it has become more and more cultic, to the extent that members might not even be aware of how pervasive they are.  Even conspiracies that originated on the Left, like 9/11 truthers and birthers, have found their forever home in the GOP.  As with cults, their more extreme beliefs tend to be omitted from content accessible to the general public, aside from strategically positioned dog whistles.  Nevertheless, although not all Latter-day Saints are initiated in the temple rituals, all Mormons must accept that all of Christianity is a Satanic conspiracy against the one true church and the Bible, not just a theological disagreement.  Similarly, issues that are in reality just disagreements on politics are interpreted by Republicans to be conspiracies of gays, atheists, or liberals to intentionally destroy marriage, the church, or America.  Republicans seem determined to steer the political conversation towards outlandish claims which inhibit rational political debate.  Rightwing positions on meteorology, sexual orientation, evolution, and U.S. history actually require a conspiracy of elitist academics and liberal media to explain why the overwhelming majority disagree with them.  As with religious cults, if there is a real conspiracy it is to be found inside the party. 

Cult doctrines are notoriously difficult to rebut because they tend to be circular and interdependent on each other.  The Book of Mormon being true depends entirely on Joseph Smith being a true prophet, and faith in the LDS church as the only true church rests on belief in the Book of Mormon.  It’s simple enough to logically articulate why it’s wrong, yet trying to short circuit this reasoning in the Mormon mind can be an insurmountable challenge.  Although their worldview is really a fragile house of cards that should be able to topple with the removal of one or two fundamentals, their belief systems can be so convoluted that they actually forget when information has been refuted and still rely on that false information as the basis for other beliefs.  Similarly, it can be difficult to unravel rightwing doctrines.  Even when Republicans admit that birtherism is a fraud, it doesn’t seem to shake their underlying belief that President Obama is somehow ineligible to be in office; at its worst, birtherism was never more than a pretext for a preconceived prejudice.  Trickle down economics doesn’t work yet Republicans still blindly push it because it supports their tax policy.  Failure to find WMD’s in Iraq hasn’t diminished their faith in the justification of the Iraq war.  Half of Republicans still believe they were found, and Republicans have shown to be more confident in this erroneous belief after being told correctly, like a Mormon “testifying” that the Book of Mormon is true when confronted with evidence to the contrary.  On top of that, cultmembers are trained to distrust sources critical of their religion, and the Republican Party’s distrust of the so-called “liberal media” has only worsened with the rise of blatantly biased conservative outlets and forwarded emails beneath the radar of fact checkers and peer review.  In a sea of conservative misinformation, too many Republicans are helpless to discern truth.

Cultmembers generally resent the allegation that their organization is a cult.  Republicans reading this are probably thinking the same thing right now.  While it’s understandable that nobody likes the stigma associated with the term “cult”, cultmembers are often more concerned with perception than with actually being less cultic.  Cults tend to have several predictable responses to this accusation, none of which involve being less controlling or open to facts.  The first strategy is to argue that if their group is a cult, then every other religion must be a cult too.  This false equivalency projects the cult’s own secretive, conspiracist, and controlling qualities onto religions that are demonstrably dissimilar.  And while theology, like politics, can be unproven hypotheticals, factual disagreements, such as the origin of your sacred text, are verifiable.  Likewise, politicians on both sides will have differing opinions on the possible outcome of a policy, but currently only the Republicans want to have their own facts.  In the end, “both sides do it” is a weak defense for a religion or party that considers itself exceptional compared to its competitors. 

The second strategy to deflect the cult label is to argue against a stereotype of a cult, a uniformed commune of groupthinkers.  But the truth is, most cults aren’t isolated communities of identical people who all dress alike and think exactly the same, yet they’re nevertheless cultic.  Their membership may be from all walks of life and diverse on a spectrum of ideology and loyalty to the organization: some beginners, some moderates, some extremists.  Structurally, however, the organization is still a cult, and they just exploit the demographics of their membership to make people think otherwise.  The Mormon church goes to great lengths to station minorities in visible missions, both as an attempt to dispel the effects of generations of racial segregation, but also to make themselves appear less homogenous.  Their “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign was trying too hard to fight the stereotypical image Mormons themselves had created.  The GOP has been just as obvious lately in trying to push minorities, women, and young people in front of the cameras, despite its older, whiter, and manlier base pushing them out of the party.  But it’s one thing to make a woman the face of your organization when she’s just volunteering at the front desk of the temple visitor center, it’s another to make an unqualified person your vice presidential candidate because she’s a woman.  Both are undeniably deliberate and shamefully desperate, but at least they’re only superficial. 

The way cults exploit individualism and ideological variances is far more troubling.  No matter how brainwashed people are, they still can’t be programmed to think and act exactly the same all of the time.  Unlike normal religions, members of cults pass through different phases, a fake diversity that the organization will often use to give the illusion of personal variety even if the end goal is to eliminate those differences.  The Church of Scientology perfected the technique of separating novices from the advanced, which helps put a more friendly, relatable face to the general public while isolating the brainwashed zombies.  Full disclosure can be a catch-22, somebody unprepared to receive a ridiculous doctrine could easily be turned off to the organization with that information.  From my own personal experience, the GOP’s fringe tends to be more guarded about its conspiracy theories when interacting with moderate Republicans than with me.  They don’t expose sympathizers to questionable information that could potentially alienate them, but they don’t mind wasting their enemy’s time with those arguments.  Those at the lower level can also serve as a distraction from the more extreme initiates, providing a moderate voice to attack their critics while never criticizing the organization itself.  Although cults strive for complete assimilation, they can also use a member’s individuality for self-serving marketing.  Scientology wrote the book on this strategy by intentionally seeking out charismatic and eccentric celebrities as brand ambassadors.  The Republican Party has taken this to the next level, recruiting the Duck Dynasty cast in full costume, turning politicians into cable news pundits and infomercial hosts, and making candidates and reality TV stars interchangeable.  It’s not just the striking absence of this hucksterism in the Democratic Party, it’s that the Republican Party seems to have no problem being the agency for stardom in the same way that the Church of Scientology has been for aspiring actors.

It’s no secret that the Republican Party has become more conservative in the last 15 years.  Ideological purity has pressured members to take gradually more extreme positions, to the extent that even revered Republicans like Ronald Reagan probably wouldn’t be conservative enough to survive in today’s party.  Every four years the GOP goes through a succession crisis comparable to the Mormons after the death of Joseph Smith, and it will only keep getting worse as they keep losing. In Republican campaigns, every election seems to be the end of the world.  That’s not really hyperbole, they literally believe that.  Democratic candidates may also believe it would be disastrous if they lost (they’re usually right), but they’re not literally apocalyptic about it.  The Republican Party actually mobilizes their base to vote by speculating that their opponents may literally be the eschatological Antichrist.  But this isn’t just exploiting evangelical’s beliefs, because this eschatology has been hijacked to become something that’s no longer distinctly Christian but rather distinctly Republican.  For example, it didn’t matter that Mitt Romney was a Mormon of polygamous descent, who created the precursor to the Affordable Care Act in a state with legal same-sex marriage.  Billy Graham considered him the only candidate standing up for Biblical values, even though it’s only due to political expedience that Mormons today no longer practice polygamy, and only coincidence that Mormons oppose homosexuality (Mormons only believe this because it’s what their current prophet says, not because of anything in the Bible; their prophet could change this at any time).  Somehow a Mormon candidate couldn’t be the Antichrist just because he’s a Republican.  Every election cycle, the alarmist GOP positions themselves as the only hope between mankind and doomsday.  Their repeated failed predictions don’t seem to have eroded faith in the party any more than the Watchtower’s multiple failed Second Comings.  Cults often fatalistically condition their followers to self-destruct if they lose faith, making them think that if the cult’s teachings are untrue, then no religion can be true either.  Similarly, Republicans seem to be conditioned to abandon hope in politics or the country if their party can’t get their way.

There is no easy solution, without a fundamental demographic upset I think we may be past the tipping point.  For the Mormon church to stop being cultic would mean to stop being Mormon, and I think this may be true of what the Republican Party has become.  Too many definitive Republican positions are based on arguments which are verifiably false, to abandon those arguments would be to entertain the possibility of different conclusions.  The Republican Party has shown their willingness to change their principles to continue holding to a pre-determined conclusion, not the other way around as they need to do. 

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Undoctrination

 “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
  This bumper sticker slogan popularized by some conservative Christians  encapsulates a fundamental flaw in the way many Christians see their faith.  Aside from the fact that this statement does not include any distinctly Christian descriptor and could just as easily be said by any theist–Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Baha’i, etc.–this mindset is a nonstarter in any religious conversation with a non-Christian even if it were referring specifically to the Bible.  If these Christians were really honest with themselves, then the Bible ought to say something to the effect of this statement, but it doesn’t.  It becomes apparent that the intent of this motto is not the advancement of Christianity, but instead the promulgation of a philosophy to make the religion doctrinaire:
doc·tri·naire /däktrəˈner/ adjective:  seeking to impose a doctrine in all circumstances without regard to practical considerations.
  Now in the broadest sense, any belief system can be said to be doctrinaire compared to a belief system without any distinctive doctrines (such as New Thought or Unitarian Universalism), but for the sake of clarity I will focus the meaning here to a specific methodology of doctrine formation.  Doctrines themselves are not necessarily problematic, the problem is when the doctrine itself is the starting point for a belief, rather than basing belief on reason, fact, or evidence.  A real doctrine should be the conclusion of an argument, not the origin.  The logic in the above example works just the same with the more straightforward re-phrasing: “I believe it, that settles it.”

  Doctrinaire thinking is not unique to Christianity.  Communism is an obvious example of a doctrine system that’s tried often despite all evidence demonstrating it simply doesn’t work (as is trickle-down economics).  Other religions, like Islam and Mormonism, are even more doctrinaire, demanding belief in their sacred texts first for their books’ claims to be believable.  Even the total rejection of doctrine can ironically become a doctrinaire position.  The difference with Christianity, however, is that doctrinaire thought is not essential to believing Christianity, and I would argue the religion is better without it.

  Doctrinaire faith leads people to seek support for pre-determined beliefs, as opposed to the proper method of arriving at conclusions based on supporting facts.  A doctrinaire believer is characterized by having their own set of “facts” in harmony with their faith but in conflict with reality.  These doctrinaire assumptions can eventually distract from their original intent altogether and take on a life of their own.  For example, racist doctrines devised to discourage race mixing, such as black skin being the mark of Cain or rock music coming from darkest Africa were still perpetuated by people removed from segregation who no longer saw themselves as racists.  The insistence of a literal reading of Genesis started as an attempt to defend the Bible against equally-literalist critics in light of scientific discovery, but has now become an association of so-called “ministries” that focus entirely on their interpretation of Genesis as if that were the essence of Christianity.  Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter comes to mind as a literal embodiment of doctrinaire ideology, going so far as to try to make it a physical reality in theme park form.  In this way, doctrinaire doctrines tend towards redundancy, because the end goal is just to support the original premise.

  But does Christianity actually need to be so doctrinaire?  Its basic assumptions about life are well grounded in observable reality:  men are imperfect, prone to do wrong, and die once.  In contrast, the doctrines of reincarnation or inherent divinity found in eastern religions, or pre-existence in Mormonism, require unprovable doctrinal assumptions.  The cardinal belief of Christianity in life after death is demonstrated by a man rising from the dead and supported by witnesses.  One does not have to believe in a book first to believe this is true.

  Not only does it unnecessarily affect theology, but doctrinaire beliefs can pollute the overall practice of Christianity in the most basic ways Christians treat other people.  Much of the criticism the church has earned in the last centuries have been due to indefensible policies that people would only accept if they already believed a certain version of Christianity.  Church leaders jump to the conclusion that every natural disaster, every epidemic, or every act of terror is God punishing innocent people for some unrelated sin because faith.  At a loss to explain why things are right and wrong outside of a deontological “because we say so”, they try to control people with empty threats of hell and damnation which they never have to prove.  Christians perpetuated the inequality of women, blacks, and gays based on nothing more than a prejudiced scripture reading.  I expect some of my readers might cringe at my inclusion of gays in the list of the oppressed, but when institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention have cried wolf about slavery, lynching, segregation, women’s suffrage, abortion (whichever side you’re on, they’ve been on the other side at some point) and interracial marriage, it’s hard to convince me that banning same-sex marriage is the one thing they’ve been right about.  Strangely, when I grew up in a fundamental baptist church, I was taught that Southern Baptist churches were wrong, but never for the obvious reason that they only exist because of a split over slavery.  Looking back at historical sermons from the South, it’s a marvel that the church today has so easily forgiven its past racists when those same preachers effectively condemned virtually every Christian living today as Satanic heretics.

  Some might argue that churches arrived at those horrible conclusions because of a misreading of Scripture.  That may be true, but that certainly hasn’t stopped the same churches from being repeat offenders.  The convenience of doctrinaire thinking is that you always find what you were looking for in the Biblical text, therefore the solution should not just be a commitment to better Bible reading, but a complete overhaul in how we formulate doctrines.  I don’t demand or expect that every Christian on earth could instantly convert to my way of thinking, but I will attempt to lay out some guidelines that I think everyone could consider whether they come from a literary or literalist approach to the Bible.  First, Christians should take inventory of their essential beliefs and determine, like the ones I listed above, those that are grounded in reality.  These principles, rooted in love, life, and liberty, should be the driving force of the faith that we communicate to the world.  Next, we should calculate the risk of positions that have the potential to cause more harm than good; a position that can’t stand up to objective scrutiny probably isn’t suitable for public policy, and we should avoid looking like we just want to control the behavior of unbelievers. Christians should be especially cautious when judging others, focusing less on subjective sins and more on universal, objective morality.  Note that as critical as I am of certain churches for documented moral lapses, I have still never judged them as strongly as they have judged me for imaginary reasons.  Some have accused me of trying to create a “Christianity for atheists”, but that’s not really my intent.  I’m not trying to strip Christianity of doctrines or the supernatural, I just want to promote and strengthen its best doctrines which all too often take a back seat to shameful ideologies.  Perhaps in that way it is a Christianity for atheists, I always want to present a Christianity that’s for everybody.

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Unsaved

A Sunday school song I used to sing in my childhood:

One door and only one,

And yet its sides are two,

I’m on the inside,

On which side are you?

Looking back, I have to wonder the intent behind having children recite this verse over and over.  After all, it’s not a song of praise or worship.  It doesn’t embody any distinctly Christian theology (aside from a nondescript allusion to Jesus as the “door”, which probably went over the heads of most children).  The only purpose it seems to serve is to to establish and reinforce an ingroup and outgroup mentality.

An ingroup is a social group to which a person identifies as a member, whereas an outgroup is one in which they do not identify.  I would say that the clear motive behind a song like this is indoctrinating an ingroup mentality, not a statement of faith or a belief in exclusivity as some might argue.  After all, this song is taught to children of all ages and levels of understanding, by those raised in the church and by first time visitors alike.  Far from evangelism, what it taught children even from before the time they made any personal confession of faith (let alone understood the concept), was to divide the world into two groups: those on the inside, and those on the outside.

Ingroup/outgroup psychology is prevalent in a lot of religions, but it’s noticeably pronounced in the world of Evangelicalism, particularly on the outgroup side.  It has been said that developing a belief in assurance of salvation was the defining moment that distinguished Evangelicals from their Puritan and Protestant forbears.  In fact, some Evangelicals practically make a secondary conversion out of this today.  I can recall going to Baptist youth camps as a teenager, where the attendees were mostly from church groups like me.  The fire and brimstone sermons and altar calls were directed not just to the lost, but also to the faithful, where preachers encouraged the teens to go forward to talk to a counsellor either to pray a standard “sinner’s prayer” to be saved, or receive assurance that they already were saved.  The college hosting the camp would record and report on the number of decisions made, first those who had accepted Jesus as their lord and savior, and second those who had received assurance of their salvation.  In retrospect, it seems almost absurd to me how people who sincerely believed Christianity, attended church regularly, tried to be like Christ, and had made a public confession of faith were made to feel as if they were missing something in their life.  After all, they generally weren’t struggling with any doubt about the truth of their religion, it was the sincerity of their faith that probably caused them to respond; instead what they questioned was their salvation.

You see, to Evangelicals one’s salvation isn’t just an act that occurs when one converts or believes, their salvation is a status if not a status symbol.  Indeed, questioning another’s salvation (or even just being perceived as doing that, such as by calling out an obvious heresy in their theology) can be seen as a supreme insult in Evangelical circles.  They tend to divide the world into the “saved” and the “unsaved”, but not from any reading of Scripture.  The word “saved” appears numerous times in the Bible, of course, but always as a verb, never as a noun or adjective the way Evangelicals use it.  The word “unsaved” never appears at all.  There are certainly many Biblical words that they could choose to refer to non-Christians, such as “lost” or “unbelieving”, but this distinct term persists so prominently in the Evangelical lexicon largely because it serves their outgroup mindset.  “Lost”, for instance, is a difficult word to apply in a predominately Christian society where most of the prospective converts are simply members of other denominations, not other religions.  It’s also hard to use “unbelieving” when they’re trying to seed insecurity among fellow believers.

It’s troubling on many levels how Evangelicals express their soteriology through terms entirely absent from the Christian Scriptures.  In comparison, Islam has the term “kaffir” to refer to non-Muslims, which is used repeatedly in the Qur’an by prophet Muhammad.  Often misunderstood in the West to mean “infidel”, this term more closely resembles a derogatory slur.  Outgroup hostility is undeniably written into the doctrine of Islam, but this need not be the same in Christianity.  In contrast, while Muslims freely use “kaffir” derisively to people’s faces, Evangelicals are more guarded with how they use “unsaved.”  You don’t really see them telling prospective converts that they’re “unsaved”, it seems to be a word limited to insider conversation.  In that sense, it can be borderline cultic, a secret doctrine reserved for the initiated.  And like in an Islamic state that becomes 100% homogenized, wherein the Muslims simply target other sects of Islam for outgroup hostility, similarly Evangelicals in ideological isolation may start to focus on their own co-religionists as the outgroup.

Considering how these same Evangelicals try to be Biblical in almost every other area, it would seem easy for them to avoid the potential problems of this word by simply not using it.  Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.  Just challenging the Evangelical ingroup/outgroup complex can be seen as an attack on the essence of Christianity itself, effectively putting oneself in the outgroup.  Even if you aren’t of the outgroup mindset, suggesting that it’s wrong to Christians who are may ironically be perceived as outgroup hostility towards them.  They may not only be unable to relate to a Christianity without it, it may be so ingrained in their nature that they cannot imagine anybody else not thinking the same way too.  Evangelicalism seems to have become an obsession with classifying people into “saved” or “unsaved” groups, graduating beyond mere assurance of salvation to assurance of damnation (other people’s, that is).

Of course, there are many ways to end up on the outgroup list.  Seemingly inconsequential disagreements, like not believing a six-day, literalist interpretation of Genesis or not thinking the U.S. Constitution has any basis to ban same-sex marriage or marijuana (even if one personally doesn’t approve of either) can cause you to lose your salvation status among your friends.  Historically, it could have been for supporting integration in the Bible belt.  Once you’ve been “outgrouped” by Evangelicals, it can be hard if not impossible to recover your standing among them.  Different rules of engagement are employed when they interact with the “unsaved.”  They may hold beliefs that further alienate the outgroup, such as believing that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the unsaved, or that the unsaved can’t really understand the Bible.  The outgroup mindset has an unfair advantage (in their mind, anyway) in that they can shut you out because they believe you’re going to hell, but if you don’t really believe people are damned for petty political differences, then you can’t even honestly fake it in return, not even to level the playing field (even though they may mistakenly think the field is level anyway because they assume everybody would naturally think that).  Outgroup psychology trumps the universal languages of logic and reason, an outsiders ideas and views are rejected simply because they’re an outsider, like the Republican party’s irrational opposition to the “Muslim, Kenyan, socialist” Obama.

When the outgroup hostility isn’t even based in reality, but on imaginary criteria there’s little that can be done about it.  But if you’re an Evangelical reading this who feels threatened that I criticized a cherished children’s song or knocked the legs out from under your core theology, don’t write me off because you consider me an outsider.  You can think whatever you want about the fate of my soul (which you conveniently never have to prove), but I can still appeal to your desire to live a Biblical faith.  Just stop using the word “unsaved”.  That’s all I ask.  Limit yourself to the terms actually used by Jesus and his followers in the Bible, and you may find your theology naturally changes because of it.  You may then ask yourself whether certain songs or words are used for a theological purpose, or whether it simply serves the outgroup mentality.  Just like me, you may find your outgroup mentality eroded when the words that reinforced it are no longer available to you.  You may risk becoming less Evangelical, but you may gain becoming more Christian.

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Islam = Antichrist

a church in Mosul with the cross removed by ISIS

a church in Mosul with the cross removed by the Islamic State

Islam is antichrist.  No, this isn’t a fanatical End Times-obsessed piece trying to insert persons or organizations into John Nelson Darby’s dispensationalist eschatology, as seems to be commonplace these days.  I am not an alarmist claiming ISIS is a sign of the end of the world.  My interest in making this claim is not to advance an unprovable prophetic timetable, effectively reducing the Bible to a coded warning that only has meaning to believers already convinced that it predicts a specific eschatology.  This study of doctrinal differences is not intended to suggest Islam is wrong because it is not Christianity, which would merely be an inversion of the Islamic method of claiming Christianity is wrong simply because it is not Islam.  Instead, I’m going to present a rationally-based comparison of what each religion factually teaches to demonstrate that Islam is undeniably antichristian by design.  That is to say, this is not a biased polemic by a non-Muslim attempting to demonize Islam, this can be objectively argued regardless of whether one believes either religion or not.

Some people wondered why in a recent series devoted to the Torah I spent most of the time talking about religions other than Judaism or Christianity.  The reason is that I strongly believe interreligious studies are a highly beneficial but regrettably neglected way to better understand one’s own faith.  Christians often fail to understand how the boundaries of orthodoxy that separate other religions from Christianity differ from the divisions that separate between denominations within Christianity.  As a result, they may incorrectly engage people of other religions within the framework Judeo-Christian thought, failing to make the necessary paradigm shift to understand a completely foreign belief system.  Without realizing it, they may treat Islam as another church, the Qur’an as another Bible, and Muhammad as another prophet.  This can be troublesome because prophets, sacred texts, and theologies are not actually interchangeable like that.  The Bible makes very different claims about its authorship than does the Qur’an (although I will concede too many Christians want the Bible to be a revealed text dictated word-for-word by God similar to what the Qur’an claims, even though the Qur’an itself fails to measure up to that claim), and people tend to believe in different religious teachers for dramatically different reasons.  After all, everyone would more likely gravitate to the same figure if they were all looking for the same thing in a religious teacher, but the truth is Muslims are conditioned to seek a far different personality in Muhammad, just as they are to seek a different personality in Jesus Christ.

Christ

It’s a well-known fact that Islam’s principal theology is the complete denunciation of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, rejecting the deity and sonship of Christ, the fatherhood of God, and the Trinity.  Of the many examples in the Qur’an:

“O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three” (Trinity); desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.”  An-Nisa 4:171

In Islam, shirk, or equating “partners” beside God, is the greatest sin, and is unforgivable (I can’t resist going off course momentarily to comment on Islam’s horribly flawed moral center which prioritizes subjective theology over objective immorality, such as harming other people.  This tends to result in a tribalistic deontology in which Muslims don’t seem to care much about harming others over petty theological differences).  The explicit rejection of the deity of Christ is embodied in the shahada, the creed Muslims recite to convert to Islam:  “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.”  To reiterate: one absolutely cannot be a Muslim and believe in the deity of Christ in any sense, simply converting to Islam is a rejection of this distinctly Christian doctrine.

Interestingly, however, Christianity has never really been so totally strict in its adherence to Christ’s divinity or the Trinity.  For centuries this was openly debated among theologians until mostly settled at the Council of Nicea, nevertheless Arianism, Unitarianism, Modalism, and other heresies persisted throughout church history.  At the risk of sounding heretical I would say it has always been possible to be a Christian and not believe in the deity of Christ or the Trinity.  To the many supposed Trinitarians gasping that I might say such heresy is permissible, I like to point out that most of them likely confuse Modalism for Trinitarianism.  Even among professed Trinitarians, accurately understanding this doctrine has never been an absolute requirement.  So while Islamic Unitarianism and Trinitarianism may be mutually exclusive concepts, Christianity has still never been as hostile to Unitarianism to the severity that Islam is toTrinitarianism.

Crucifixion

Unlike in Islam, theology is actually secondary to Christianity.  The Qur’an had nothing else to offer from a (supposedly) singular author centuries removed from the events and eye witnesses he described.  Muhammad’s claims could not have gained traction unless followers were dogmatically required to accept it in its entirety on a theological basis.    Christianity, however, relied on compelling arguments and the testimony of witnesses to back its claims.  One didn’t have to blindly believe in a prophet or a sacred text because for the first decades of Christianity no New Testament even existed; the idea of a written record came about only later, as a form of preservation.  Rather than being driven by theology, they were driven by events, namely the life of Christ.  And the single-most important event in the life of Christ was his death and resurrection.  Christians can possibly get everything else wrong about their religion, as evidenced by the wide range of irreconcilable theology across thousands of denominations.  According to Christ’s own teachings, his followers’ identity was observable by their actions, not by knowledge of a series of creeds.  But the Passion is one definitive belief of which the absence calls into question a group’s Christian identity.  As a matter of course, Islam rejects such a disgraceful death for a prophet of God, and consequently his resurrection:

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.  Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.”  An-Nisa 4:157-158

Once again we see Islam uncompromisingly set itself at variance with a Christian doctrine, so that one could not be considered a Muslim and still hold that belief.  This ironically puts Islam in an awkward position, because it still holds to the belief of a general resurrection into eternal life either in heaven or hell, yet it has no rational basis for such a belief like Christianity does.  The three theories available for what happens after death are: annihilation, reincarnation, and resurrection.  Annihilation is simply the belief that one’s existence ends when one dies; while it cannot easily be proven, this is admittedly a very logical assumption, which is why it is generally the default position for atheism (it also seems to have been popular in Judaism).  Reincarnation is the belief that one’s existence continues on in another form after death; while popular among eastern religions, it is virtually impossible to prove objectively.  Resurrection is the only available theory which could possibly be proven objectively, all it would need is for somebody to die and rise again.  In fact, it doesn’t actually even need to be a historical event, a belief system that teaches resurrection on the basis of someone hypothetically dying and living again would still be more logical than another which doesn’t.  Before Christianity, Judaism had no real consensus on what happens after death, clearly Islam borrowed its appealing afterlife theory from the Christians, yet the Muslim’s hope in an afterlife rests purely on dogmatic theological claims and not on any reality.

Communion

It’s my theory that Islam was deliberately engineered as a system to suppress competing religions.  Some of these efforts may have been unintentional and only have the coincidental benefit of Islamic supremacy.  Other choices in constructing Islam were harmless and merely intended to make Islam decidedly different from its neighbors.  For instance, the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer, was obviously an innovation to differentiate itself from Christian church bells and Jewish shofars.  Friday prayers were picked because the Jews already had the Sabbath and the Christians had Sunday.  Other choices, however, seem to have an underlying sinister intent.  The Muslim requirement for a divorced woman to consummate a marriage with a new husband before being able to return to her ex-husband is clearly a deliberate albeit nonsensical, if not outright mean-spirited, negation of the Hebrew prohibition against remarrying an ex-spouse after another marriage (Deut. 24:1-4).  It’s likely that the Muslim aversion to dogs is based on little more than an attempt to suppress Zoroastrians, for whom dogs are considered sacred animals.  Similarly, I suspect the Islamic prohibition of alcohol was designed to some extent to try to ban the widespread Christian custom of the Eucharist.  Originally, the alcohol ban was specific to coming to prayer inebriated (An-Nisa 4:43), as it was believed the Christians did by incorporating wine into a religious ritual.  This total rejection of one of the primary symbols of Christianity made it clear that Christian customs, just like the distinct Christian beliefs mentioned above, were unwelcome in the mosque.  In practice, this was far different from Mormons similarly electing to substitute water in place of the sacramental wine within the confines of their own church (although I would also argue to a lesser extent that this substitution still makes Mormonism anti-Christian).  It’s one thing to have uncompromising custom variations in a pluralistic society, it was another thing entirely in the conquest days of Islam when churches were forcibly converted into mosques.  Unlike the early church who felt at home in the synagogue without forcing radical changes on the Jews already there, Islam attempted to co-opt existing religious infrastructures while simultaneously eradicating the traditions of those communities.

Conclusion

As is typical of Islam, tolerance is a one-way street on which Islam expects to receive but gives none in return.  Islam doesn’t just prohibit certain beliefs and customs among its own members, it considers such things a sin for all people, including non-Muslims.  I would venture to say that tolerance as is understood in the West is a non-existent concept in Islam.  This can be demonstrated by Westerners who think they’re having an interfaith dialogue with Muslims when they promote tolerance because “we’re all God’s children”, unaware that they’ve just committed an unpardonable sin in Islam.  Under total Muslim supremacy, not only can a Muslim not believe like a Christian, it is difficult if not impossible for a Christian to believe like a Christian.  To the Muslim mindset, a good Christian is one who doesn’t commit shirk by believing  that Jesus Christ was God or the Son of God, doesn’t believe Jesus was crucified, and doesn’t memorialize his shed blood when they drink wine.  The tolerance that Muhammad extended towards Christians as “people of the book” really applies as long as Christians don’t actually hold orthodox Christian beliefs.  This amounts to zero tolerance, otherwise any religion could say they tolerate others as long as those people believe and behave the way they want them to.  People like to think of Indonesia as a tolerant Muslim country because it allows five religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Hinduism), whereas intolerant countries like Saudi Arabia only permit Islam.  But if you don’t have the freedom to believe any of the thousands of religions banned in Indonesia, like Mormonism, Sikhism, Judaism, Jainism, Baha’i, or just plain atheism, then really you have just as much freedom of religion as any non-Muslim in Saudi Arabia.  Freedom of religion only on Islamic terms is not actually freedom.  This is the reason why I say Islam is antichrist, because it forces Muslims and Christians alike to be less Christian.

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The Hebrew Hercules

The story of Samson stands out.  It interrupts the middle of the book of Judges with a narrative that almost could have been its own book.  While it’s nearly unmentioned again in the rest of Scripture, it remains one of the most popular Bible stories in art, Sunday school, and cinema.  In the modern age it’s inspired not only at least a dozen different superheroes of the same name, but possibly even the weakness of the most famous costumed hero, Superman.  Yet this is really not a new phenomenon, it often surprises Jews and Christians to discover that the story and character of Samson shares uncanny similarities to one of the most famous myths of the Greco-Roman era, Hercules.

Not only are both characters strongmen, their lives are structured in similar ways upon further inspection.  The similarities are not always immediately apparent, while no other source is required to compare the Samson narrative, the Hercules similarities must be compiled from various materials spanning different cultures and time periods, in which the main character and the supporting cast of gods change names (presumably to protect the innocent).  No single source on Hercules or Heracles contains all the similarities like the book of Judges conveniently does for Samson, so the parallels have to be analyzed rather selectively.

The birth narratives, for instance, are an easy correspondence since logically both events take place at the same point in the story.  In Judges, Samson’s childless parents are visited by an an angel of the Lord and promised a child if his mother obeys all his instructions.  Samson’s father offers a sacrifice to YHWH and the angel ascends to heaven.  The varied stories of Zeus seducing a married woman to produce Hercules have little similarity, except for act 5 of Paulus’ play, Amphitryon, in which Jupiter ascends to heaven after announcing the birth of Heracles.

Hercules is probably most famous for his Twelve Labours, and while the Biblical authors don’t seem as focused on devising a fixed cycle of labours for Samson, his adventures can nevertheless be easily be compared.  Hercules’ first assignment, for instance, is to slay the Nemean lion, and Samson’s first feat of strength is to slay a lion with his bare hands in Judges 14:5-6.  This similarity is a point of assurance for Christians wired to think that all parallels to other religions and myths but be original to the Bible, as lions are not indigenous to Greece.  Scholars are therefore of the consensus that the Hercules myth has been imported from elsewhere.

As a general rule, borrowed texts tend to exaggerate and embellish upon the original source, and the Hercules myth continues to become even more fantastic whereas the Samson narrative stays mostly grounded.  Hercules battles mythical creatures, but Samson traps foxes and uses them to burn crops (Judges 15:3-5) and kills Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15:15).  In Judges 15:19, God miraculously provides Samson water out of the ground; compare to the Argonautica Book IV, in which Hercules searches “for water but nowhere was he like to see it.  Now here stood a rock near the Tritonian lake and of his own device or the prompting of some god, he smote it below with his foot and water gushed out.”

After removing some city gates (Judges 16:3), the rest of Samson’s labors are spent foiling the tricks of Delilah, but eventually he falls prey to her seduction and loses his strength.  Like Hercules, Samson would need to perform another labour to make up for this failure, and also serve as a slave (Apollodorus’ The Library 2.6.2).  Embellishing again, the Hercules story requires him to make up two more labours, but Samson needs just one shot at redemption.  The Bible story is well known how an enslaved Samson triumphs over the Philistines in his death by collapsing their own temple on them. The heroic Hercules is ultimately spared the humility of Samson’s tragic end as a blinded, feeble prisoner, but we nevertheless find a similarity in the History of Herodotus, in which Hercules is captured:  “The Egyptians put on him wreathes and led him forth in a procession, to sacrifice him to Zeus; and he for some time kept quiet, but when they were beginning the sacrifice on the altar… he slew them all.”  (Book II, Chapter 45)

Samson by Solomon J Solomon, 1887

Samson by Solomon J Solomon, 1887

 

 

 

 

 

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