Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Problem of Evil - Solved

This is Week Ten of Giford's Bible Study Programme.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, 'Whence comest thou?'
Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, 'From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.'
And the LORD said unto Satan, 'Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?'
Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, 'Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.'
And the LORD said unto Satan, 'Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.'
So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

Job 1:6-12
Length: 3/5

Controversy: 0/5

The Book of Job is one of the truly great philosophical treatisies of the ancient world. It deals with timeless questions, such as how people of religious faith can understand the existence of suffering in a divinely ordered world, and why good people suffer while the evil prosper; and the author does not seem to feel compelled to come to easy answers.

Unfortunately, it appears that a later writer has added a prose introduction and coda to the poem, in which we are given a simple reason for Job's suffering: Satan has made a bet with God. So the book as it stands today offers a trite and simplistic vision of a cruel and whimsical deity as the explanation for evil.

The central, and much longer, part of the book (also believed to contain a lengthy insert by a third author) deals with Job's friends trying to explain to him why a just man such as himself must suffer. They try a range of arguments, with a heavy emphasis on 'You must have done something to deserve this, God must have His reasons for torturing you, and it is not for you to know them.' With the addition of the introduction quoted above, we can of course see the answer to this. God's reason for torturing Job is because of a pompous bet with Satan, and God Himself later shows up and refuses to explain this to Job in what can only be described as a rant:
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? [...] Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; [...] Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? [...] Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.
- God
The foundations of the Earth are a subject we will be returning to.  There will be more on unicorns in Week 15.

Daily Mail Turns 50 Shades of Puce

As is so often the case, what the Daily Mail finds 'outrageous', I find quite amusing. 

I notice that (as so often seems to be the case in Daily Mail articles) it is not actually specified who is 'outraged'.  Presumably not any avid reader of the Bible, who will be familiar with passages such as
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Real Ten Commandments

This is Week Nine of Giford's Bible Study Programme.
And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: Ye shall destroy their altars.

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; and thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Exod 34:10-28
Length: 3/5
Controversy: 2/5

It will come as no surprise that there is one - and only one - set of commandments described in the Bible as 'The Ten Commandments'. What might be slightly surprising is that it's not the list that most people think of.

Although these are clearly described as 'the ten commandments' in the text, and the more familiar set (of which there are not ten) are not, this is a step too far for many Christians. I have yet to hear of any Christian group demanding that these be displayed in courtrooms in the US, for instance.

For more details, see here and here.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Bath Forum

Now here's a funny thing that I noticed in the press recently. 
There is an organisation local to me known as Healing On The Streets, or HOTS.  I have come across them a few times, setting up banners offering faith healing in the local city centre, and sending a delegation to a local Creation / evolution debate (ironically serving to undermine the Creationist, who was trying to argue that Intelligent Design is not a religious viewpoint).  They seem to include members of Bath City Church, based in the Bath Forum - hence the title of this post. 

It seems that they have been taken to the Advertising Standards Agency over claims made on their website and some of their fliers.  An article appeared on a local news website.  Under the headline 'It's official: God does heal say Advertising Standards Authority ruling', it reads in part:
A Christian group is to be allowed to claim that ‘God can heal’ following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority yesterday. 
But Healing on the Streets has been told it can only use the phrase on its website and cannot include it on printed material.


Speaking after the ruling, a spokesman for Healing on the Streets, which is based in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, welcomed the ruling and said the group would “continue to express our beliefs”. 
He said: “The revised adjudication does not apply to what is on our website, meaning we can continue to express our beliefs that God can and does heal, as well as providing information and testimonies explaining all about Healing on the Streets.

“HOTS Bath will continue to fulfil its commitment to demonstrate the love of God through healing of body, mind and spirit on the streets of Bath and elsewhere.”
A spokesman for the ASA confirmed: “We acknowledged that HOTS volunteers believed that prayer could treat illness and medical conditions, and that therefore the ads did not promote false hope.

“However, we noted we had not seen evidence that people had been healed through the prayer of HOTS volunteers and concluded that the ad could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.”
So how does that sound?  A win for the faith-healers?  A bit 50/50? 

Well, flick over to the actual verdict from the ASA

There were three points of complaint brought against HOTS.  The first of these was:  
the claim that the advertiser could heal the named conditions was misleading and could [not] be substantiated
and the second:
the ad was irresponsible, because it provided false hope to those suffering from the named conditions ['Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness' were mentioned in the leaflet] 
Ruling: 1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA acknowledged that HOTS sought to promote their faith and the hope for physical healing by God through the claims in the ad. However, we were concerned that the prominent references to healing and the statement "You have nothing to lose, except your sickness" in combination with the references to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought such as arthritis, asthma, MS, addictions, depression and paralysis, could give consumers the expectation that, by receiving prayer from HOTS volunteers, they could be healed of the conditions listed or other sicknesses from which they suffered. We concluded the ad was misleading.
Pretty clear-cut.  So it must be the third point that was the win for HOTS, right? 
The ASA challenged whether the ads could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.

Ruling: 3. Upheld
We understood that HOTS volunteers were instructed to give a letter to the recipients of prayer which told them they should not stop taking their medication or following the advice of medical professionals. However, we considered that, because the leaflet made claims that through the prayer offered by HOTS volunteers people could be healed of specific medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought such as arthritis, asthma, MS, addictions, depression and paralysis, the ad could discourage people, and particularly the vulnerable or those suffering from undiagnosed symptoms, from seeking essential treatment for medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. We concluded the ad breached the Code.
Erm, so hang on a moment.  What the ASA has actually ruled is that the advert is misleading, that claims of healing cannot be substantiated, that it breaches 'CAP Code rules 1.3 (Social responsibility), 3.1 and 3.6 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 12.1 and 12.6 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).'  But the ASA has ruled that websites do not fall under its jurisdiction. 

So this is the great victory leading HOTS to claim that 'God can heal' - that misleading, unsubstantiated and socially irresponsible advertising is outside the remit of the ASA when placed on a website.  Colour me unimpressed.