Monday, January 4, 2016

UNDERSTANDING THE FORMIDABLE SCOFFER


Tim Keller, in a sermon I listened to recently, said, "If you want to increase traffic to your Internet blog, the best way to do it is to show your Internet audience that you are a rank scoffer and a mocker of God." I know now one reason why there hasn't been much traffic to my blog; I'm no God-scoffer. 

To be a formidable God-scoffer on the Internet there are a few rules to follow:

1) You must demonstrate your superiority as a scoffer through offering your audience dogmatic anti-God views and a closed mind on anything regarding serious study or comprehension of the Christian religion. 

2) You never admit any doubt about any of your views on God; in fact, while you are openly encouraged to doubt the validity of moral absolute truth, you must never, never doubt your absolute conviction that there absolutely is no God.

3) In the face of rational and thoughtful arguments against your view, you must always respond to their arguments with the aim to ultimately disrespect your religious opponents; always belittling their religious views, always mocking, always disdaining any notion of the reality of God.

Scoffers have not come into existence because of the Internet. God-mockers indeed have had centuries to perfect their point of view and supposed justification for rebellion against God.  Wisdom literature in the Bible is replete with descriptions of the mocker.  In fact, there are categories of adjectives dedicated to this kind of individual in Scripture.  

Here are just a few adjectives that are used: scornful, presumptuous, intellectually arrogant, haughty, insolent, close-minded.  Furthermore, scoffers always seem willing to overstep the boundaries of social interaction; in Scripture their pride is described as boundless; boiling up inside them to the point of overflowing, as in Psalm 73:5-9 (NRSV):

They are not in trouble as others are; 
they are not plagued like other people. 
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; 
violence covers them like a garment. 
7 Their eyes swell out with fatness; 
their hearts overflow with follies. 
8 They scoff and speak with malice; 
loftily they threaten oppression. 
9 They set their mouths against heaven, 
and their tongues range over the earth. 


Some of you may recall that there was a prolific volume of verbal persecution/backlash that flooded the blogosphere in defense of homosexuality after an April 30, 2012 event at the National High School Journalism convention. 

The stated purpose of this gathering was to bring awareness of the problem of bullying in high schools to high school students. What ensued during the program was an opportunity for Dan Savage, an outspoken homosexual, in the middle of his discussion on bullying at high school, to turn his speech against bullying into a powerful, outspoken bully-rage where he demonstrated his skill at taunting, jeering and cursing Christianity and his clear repudiating statements against homosexuality. 

Dan's favorite answer to the question of "Why must homosexuality be right?" is "because the Bible says it's wrong." You can watch a 3 minute clip on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzrxhzHxBlU (Content Warning!!).

Interestingly, Scripture suggests that, of all the Old Testament categories allocated to scoffers like Dan Savage, the intellectually arrogant, sarcastic mocker is the fool with the least hope.  And the reason he has the least hope is because this type of mocker is essentially a doctrinal Pharisee who's arguments sound like this: "Here's how I know I'm right about everything; I'm right."

Two different kinds of God-haters
There is an important distinction to be made regarding scoffers; there are different kinds of God-haters. There are those who deny the very existence of God, as in Psalm 14:1; 53:1 = "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." 

The persons who are referred to in Psalm 2 are not your practical atheists.  The verbs used to describe them here in Psalm 2 include: they conspire, they plot, and they set themselves against and take counsel against the Lord and His anointed

"Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” (NRSV).

These are technically misotheists. Strictly speaking, the term misotheism (Gr. miso -- hate; theos -- God) maintains a negative attitude towards God without making a statement about His existence or nature.  This is an important distinction. 

Bernard Schweizer is an associate professor of English at Long Island University in Brooklyn. He specializes in the study of controversial public intellectual iconoclasts (those rebels who attack cherished societal beliefs).  His third book is entitled Hating God.  In that book he makes a distinction between the two groups of people who hate God: Those who hate God as an idea, but don't recognize his existence in reality; and those who truly believe in God’s existence, and yet hate and scorn his character in their state of religious rebellion.

Atheistic, non-believers may say contemptuous things about God, but when they do so, they are simply giving the thumbs-down to what they conceive is a fictional villainous character, whom they deem to be a figment of society's imagination.  Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins highlight this group. (Interestingly, and ironically enough, this type spend a considerable amount of energy enumerating the flaws of this fictional character; which leads one to have a deeper appreciation for G. K. Chesterton's comment, "if there were no God, there would be no atheists."  Think about it).

The second group is the group described in Psalm 2, and made up of people like Dan Savage. Schweitzer says these are "brave, visionary, intelligent people who reject God from a sense of [their own] moral outrage.  The reason they reject God is because of the amount of injustice and suffering that they witness in this world."  

But what they reject is not God himself; they reject rather the commandments and laws of God that keep them from a freedom to do as they please. 

Schweitzer says that this rejection of God's laws and commandments, without rejecting God, in its various manifestations, "is a dark, disturbing and perplexing strand of religious dissent. But at the same time, it is an attitude toward the divine that shows just how compelling belief can be."

Misotheists then are those who believe in God but engage in a lifelong struggle with his apparent indifference to the world he has created. They wrestle with the character of God. Modern day misotheists include such literary lights as Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, John Milton, Emily Dickenson, Robert Frost, and others.  These are men and women who do not question God's existence, but deny that He is merciful, competent, or good.

These people, according to Schweitzer, "make a negative leap of faith, trusting their own judgment, and placing their sense of moral outrage above the fear of God."  They classify Him as malicious.  The reason they reject God is because of the amount of injustice, natural catastrophe and suffering that they witness in this world." But what they reject is neither the idea of God, nor God himself; they reject the way God rules from a sense of [their own] moral outrage.  They value their own judgment about what is right and wrong over God’s judgment about what is right or wrong.

"Simply put, … Misotheists did not profess atheism in reaction to their sobering understanding of the universe. Instead, their anger at the unabated reign of sickness, poverty, crime, famine, corruption, and war in many parts of God’s own world prompted them to want to shake their fist at the Almighty. Hence, fundamentally the impulse to denounce God is born from [their] intrinsic moral imperative."

Numbers 15:30-31 "'But the person (soul) who acts defiantly (acts with a high hand), whether native-born or a resident foreigner, insults (blasphemes, reviles) the LORD. That person (soul) must be cut off (excommunicated or killed) from among his people.  Why?  Because he has despised (treated as worthless, treated with contempt, looked down his nose at) the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment (nullified, violated, broken His word and commandment); that person (soul) must be completely cut off. His iniquity will be on him.'"  

The implication of the expression is that it was done in full knowledge of the Law (especially since this contrasts the person whose fist is high with the sins of ignorance in Numbers 15:22-29).  This is a reference to the blatant defiance of the word of the LORD. 

The misotheist never quite understands that he is in rebellion to God as much as any unbelieving atheist.  His pride, arrogance and complete lack of humility and willingness to submit to the sovereignty of God and His Messiah are at the heart of his hatred.

In his commentary on Job, Calvin really pinpointed the misotheist’s issue: "The principle enemy we must contend against is … our rebelliousness to God's decrees.  Even though we find it strange and contrary to all reason and equity, we must nevertheless bow our heads and say, "Lord, however deep are the abysses of your judgments, we do not presume to reject them.  We must say, Lord we are in your hand, it is not for us to impose a law on you, to summon you now, to tell you to do this or that.  Above all we must not complain; to 'murmur' against the Lord is the first symptom of rebellion.  It is a good beginning when a man can subject himself in all humility and reverence to God and renounce himself, when your Creator prevails over you and has entire mastery over you.” 

"If people continue to believe in a God whose laws and commandments they find to be contemptible, then this is a testament to the power of belief, albeit, a twisted, unconventional form that is so perplexing as to strain our common understanding of faith to the breaking point."


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