It seems that all that really appeals to me at the moment is to make responses to articles or websites, such as the lengthy response I made to the website “God is imaginary” (which begins here) or Mark Sandlin’s post (which begins here). Another article from salon.com, which is dated July 2014, caught my attention simply because of its title, “9 Sinister Things the Christian Right Does in the Name of God“. It is a reblog of a post from the website “Stuff Fundies Like“. While each of the 9 points the article makes are fallacious in their own right, there is one point in the lead-in to the points that, from a scriptural standpoint that needs to be addressed, simply in the accusation it makes.
Now, as believers, we should never really expect for people who are not to accurately represent positions that we hold or, more importantly, the revelation that we hold as revealing the perfect will of God for his creatures. They have to constantly make assertions that they feel they do not have to support with evidence and logical argumentation because, quite simply, they believe that their word should be enough. But let’s deal with the assertion that the article puts forward then, in subsequent posts, we’ll deal with the points.
The article’s author, Valerie Turico, after giving credit to the website I have mentioned, talks about something called “Christian persecution complex” as if it is something false. Now, while I agree that some denominations tend to focus too much on it, others don’t focus on the reality of it enough. But that’s another point that needs to be addressed at a later point, rather it is an assertion that she makes later in the article that needs to be addressed.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives his disciples a lot of contradictory advice. Modern day followers pick and choose, but one piece that often gets ignored is this: Be harmless as doves. This advice is not only profoundly moral; it is profoundly self-protective. Far fewer people would be entertaining themselves with fantasies about lions if more Christians took this little nugget seriously. A huge part of the antagonism that even moderate Christians face from outsiders is due to the fact that too many devout believers claim a righteous mandate to say and do things that are truly horrible.
Now, where in the Book of Matthew does it make the “contradictory
” statement “Be harmless as doves
“? One, she doesn’t say and, two, what is this contradictory to? It’s easy to assert that something is a contradiction, but unless you say what it is in contradiction to, the statement can simply be dismissed. Further, she makes a category error that sound exegesis of the text in question exposes.
So, where does this “contradictory” statement, supposedly come from? A quick search of my concordance revealed that it does indeed come from the book of Matthew, chapter 10:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:16-20, ESV)
A little context helps, because we get to see what Jesus is referring to, namely to reality of what his disciples would face later, after Christ had ascended (Matthew’s gospel is written in a reflective manner), which is, that’s right, persecution.
Now, we have to ask some questions. We have to ask, firstly, what exactly is going on?
Well, Matthew has just recounted the naming of the 12 disciples, 11 of which would later become the apostles, and Jesus is sending them out as missionaries. Then Jesus gives them a warning: be wise as serpents and innocent as doves in v.16. Why does he say this? Because he is sending them out as “sheep among wolves“. Now, in our culture, we do not necessarily understand the concept that Jesus is articulating here, but in the first century, against the agrarian background of the disciples were seeing a terrible picture of reality that they would one day see played out in their lives as they, and later believers, would indeed be driven out of the synagogues, as Jews, and dragged in front of various ruling authorities in various places and have demands made of them.
Now, the images that Jesus uses seems, to the casual observer, to be contradictory: a serpent and a dove. However, these two different creatures, have a remarkable similar trait: they tend to avoid open, hostile confrontations, in favor of their ability to run away from them. But, by using two creatures who have different strategies for survival, he also makes a statement about how different those who take his name are to be: unique, undiluted, and strangely appealing.
I would argue that the word that she chooses to us, “harmless”, doesn’t mean what she would like for it to mean. But we shall see if her a-contextual Scripture reference has anything to do with her complaints as we proceed.