Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Imprecatory Prayer

I was asked, on another blog, about my view on imprecatory prayer. The catalyst for the inquiry was the shenanigans of Gordon Klingenschmitt.

I have written about Mr. Klingenschmitt before. Klingenschmitt is a former Navy chaplain who was discharged for misconduct. The misconduct involved raising funds for religious purposes (in his case, making videos for evangelical Christianity) off duty, in uniform, at the Pentagon. This is violation—and a breech of ethics.

At the time I wrote that Klingenschmitt could have garnered some respect if, like true civil disobedients, he announced that he both expected and accepted his punishment. But no, he whined like a pants-peeing three-year-old and played the Christian persecution card—which he has since turned into a cottage industry.

This embarrassment of a Christian has posted imprecatory prayers on his website, such as:


"Let us pray. Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who issued press releases this week attacking me personally. God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround us and tell lies about us. We bless them, but they curse us. Therefore find them guilty, not me. Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people. Plunder their fields, and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus' name. Amen."

Mikey Weinstein is the research director of Military Religious Freedom Foundation. (One who, along with his organization—which in general I have no problems with—is nevertheless prone to unseemly sensationalism.) He is suing Klingenschmitt for inciting violence via imprecatory prayer. Personally I think that is utterly bogus—but that's another matter. And it doesn't diminish the fact that Klingenschmitt is a jackass.

The question I was asked was: what do I think of imprecatory prayer?

I think it has no place in the life of a Christian.

In questions like this, I look for New Testament precedents. Did Jesus employ imprecatory prayer? No. Did the apostles? No. Did the first century church of Acts? No. The recipients of Paul's epistles? No.

Given that there is no example of a imprecatory prayer in the New Testament1 we can ask: was there an occasion pregnant for its use? A biblical teachable moment which provided a golden opportunity to give an example of an imprecatory prayer?

Of course there were many, beginning with Jesus. He had the opportunity to call the wrath of God down upon his murderers. There was Peter and John, persecuted in Acts 4. They did choose civil disobedience, but unlike the miserable Klingenschmitt they chose neither to whine about their punishment nor invoke prayerful visions of violence and reduced life spans upon their oppressors. Paul had almost continuous opportunity, but (just to take one example) instead of calling for God to smite Nero (arguably the greatest oppressor of Christians of all time) he instead writes that we should pray for those ruling over us, not against them. 2

Assuming for the moment that imprecatory prayer, even if acceptable, is "beneath" the dignity of our Lord during his earthly suffering, we can continue to look elsewhere. Perhaps the single best opportunity occurs in Acts 7, when, ironically, Paul (Saul) is the oppressor. The victim is, of course, the very first Christian martyr, Stephen. (Don’t correct me and say the first martyr was Jesus—you know what I mean.) After giving the most overlooked theologically significant sermon in the bible, where for the first time the idea that Christianity is not Judaism is made explicit, Stephen is stoned to death. Does he call for God's wrath on the Sanhedrin? He does not. Instead he imitates Christ in what can only be called the anti-imprecatory model prayer for the New Testament:
Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)
Klingenschmitt is praying just the opposite: Hold their sin against them God—punish them and cut off their descendants—for they know exactly what they are doing!

Yet he portrays himself as a modern Stephen—a persecuted Christian.


1 The only possible instance in the New Testament is an obscure passage in the most obscure of books: 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev 6: 9-10). But this appears to be eschatological and generic, not specific to an identifiable living enemy. Besides, it’s in Revelation. Who knows what it really means? Not me, and I couldn’t venture a guess. Clearly it is a pretty wobbly nail to hang an "imprecatory prayer is instructed in the New Testament" coat on.

2 The closest example I can think of when it comes to Paul is his anger over the Judaizers when he writes: As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Gal 5:12.) But he is a) not praying and b) not asking God to castrate the agitators by divine, supernatural surgery.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Earth to Liberty U: "You chose poorly"

Liberty University is one of those places where the inmates run the asylum. In all my dealings with their so-called science faculty, which thankfully have been rare, the comment I heard most frequently was a disparaging reference to other Christian schools as being "Christian in name only." This would be any other Christian school, no matter how conservative, that did not demand a YEC view. Calvin College, Grove City, Wheaton—CINOs one and all according to chowderheads on Liberty's science faculty.

Further evidence for their ineptitude is their upcoming conference called "The Awakening." The purpose of this conference, according to this CNN article, is to "'empower a new revolution' around issues of faith and core social values."

Also, according to Liberty's Press Release:

Among the topics addressed during the two-day conference at the Lynchburg, Virginia school include "abortion, the economy, religious liberty, marriage and homosexuality, Sharia Law, the Middle East, Human Sex Trafficking, Reaching Minority Communities and Using New Media and Technology to Power a Movement."

Well they got the perfect headliner, as least as much as the marriage topic is concerned. Newt Gingrich has been married three times. He certainly qualifies a world expert on marriage and infidelity. Who better to headline a conference on core values at a "Christian" university than an adulterer?

It's like the yahoos at Liberty woke up and asked themselves: what can we do today to be an utter embarrassment to the Christian community? I know--we'll bring Newt Gingrich into to discuss family values! That's assuming, of course, Ted Haggard is already booked!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Not a verse. It was my time today for a 5K run. I started running about three months ago, with a goal to break 25 minutes for a 5K. Nothing spectacular--but it almost killed me. Yesterday I did a truly annoying 25:01. Today I broke through with room to spare.

I'm not going to try to go faster--or even reproduce this time--at least for a while. I am going to shift to slower and longer. In a few months I'll give the 5K another shot.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jerry Coyne's vexing connundrum: If you think God is possible, how is it there are PAIN + SUFFERING??

Jerry Coyne's silliness is evident as he takes advantage of the tragedy in Japan to reiterate, for the Nth time, his supposed problem-of-evil smackdown of theism. He writes:
This—the presence of horrible things caused not by humans, but by other features of nature—is the Achilles heel of theistic faith.
"Concern troll Jerry" likes to tell us that our omnibenevolent god would not allow bad things to happen to good people. Therefore, he regrets to inform, our god does not exist.

If that argument held water, Christianity could not have survived the first-wave of first-century persecutions, or the unimaginable slaughter of friends and loved ones resulting from the Jewish rebellion against the Romans.

Of course Jerry—like people who aren't too bright are habitually doing—likes to imagine that his simpleminded argument a) possesses a slam-dunk quality and b) humanity had to wait millennia for someone of his unique intellect to introduce it.

His argument is on par with the nitwit antievolution argument: God made man in his own image, god is not a monkey, therefore evolution does not exist. Or the famous bad antievolution e-argument about "PYGMIES + DWARFS??" that explains the title of this post.

Yes, attempts to develop a satisfactory theodicy have been spectacularly unsuccessful. But the failure in that regard does not constitute a demonstration of Gods nonexistence. It only indicates a failure in that regard.

Jerry always employs, even if by implication only,  a crude strawman: the strawman of an omnibenevolent god. But Christianity does not teach that God is omnibenevolent. There are countless examples in the bible of God acting in a manner that is anything but benevolent. Not to mention the supreme act of non-benevolence: consigning some to eternal torment.

God  does not promise, anywhere, that people will not suffer.  Indeed God, at times, at least in the past, directly intervened to cause, by divine fiat, the suffering of some. And God could always and can always, at the very least, prevent the suffering of everyone.

For Jerry to imagine what we have always read and acknowledged about God is proof that he doesn't exist is only proof that Jerry don't know jack. God promises the inevitability of suffering, not its absence.

For Christians, "God, why did this happen?" is our heartfelt, natural, human, emotional lament when we are faced with personal suffering or human suffering on such as scale as we see in Japan. But it is an emotional appeal--a prayer if you will--not an insoluble theological question. In the theological classroom, when our emotions are in check, we know the unfathomable question is not: "why do bad things happen to good people?" but "why have you shown mercy to me?"

Friday, March 04, 2011

Morgan Shepherd is da Man

Morgan Shepherd is an evangelist and a 69 year old NASCAR driver.

His shoe-string budget racing team is  famous for its paint scheme featuring a "Racing for Jesus" logo. He also operates a charitable organization.
Oh, he is also well-known for his hobby of rollerblading around the track and on pit lane.

The other day Morgan Shepherd acquired a new title: crime-fighter. As reported on Racing News Digest:
As Shepherd was getting out of his car at a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas Monday three young people came running out of the Wal-Mart with security in hot pursuit. Shepherd grabbed one of the kids (he estimated the kid was 18-19 years old) and got him down to the ground.

“I caught one of them just as they were getting ready to hop a little wall at the end of the parking lot,” Shepherd told WMGT, an NBC affiilate in Macon, Ga. “I yanked him down and got on top of him.”

Shepherd said that, in a matter of seconds, a Las Vegas police officer tossed him handcuffs and chased the other two suspects.

“I cuffed him and sat on top of him,” Shepherd told WGMT. “The police department officers showed up and asked if I could hold him a while longer while they ran down the others. I told them he wasn’t going anywhere.”

While Morgan Shepherd was holding the suspect he took the opportunity to talk to him. The suspect was expressing fears of going to jail while asking Shepherd to let him go.

“I didn’t tell him a 69-year-old man chased him down,” Shepherd joked. “He was probably 18 or 19. I told him he shouldn’t be stealing stuff. There is just too much of this stuff going on.”

“So many people these days would just sit and watch those guys run away,” Shepherd said. “People need to get up and help stop this type of stuff.”
I also paid tribute to Morgan on my NASCAR Comix site. For completeness I'll post that comic here, too. (Click to enlarge.)

OK, if you have to explain jokes then you've lost--but these comics require NASCAR knowledge. In the first panel, the Daly Planet is not a misspelling--there is a very popular NASCAR blog by that name. The last panel refers to a current, big story in NASCAR Nation: some of press was severely criticized as unprofessional for breaking out in cheers when Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500. One was even fired.

The bottom line is, I want to be like Morgan Shepherd when I grow up.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

An Atheist Meta Myth

The Center for Inquiry is launching a Living without Religion campaign. This is the latest tit-for-tat skirmish in the oh-so-tiresome billboard wars. Personally, as purely a matter of tatse, if I must see a billboard I'd rather see a 3D cow telling me to Eat Mor Chikin than either a Christian or atheist billboard.

The message is rather bland—to the point of sleep-inducing:
"You don’t need God-to hope, to care, to love, to live."

For whom is this message intended? I can't decide. Is it intended for atheists? That seems odd. Is there a large number of atheists who are sad about being atheists? It doesn't seem so to me. At least I never met an atheist who admitted to such.

Or is it intended for Christians—if so, to what end?

I guess I think it is intended for Christians. Consider this blurb from the CFI press release:
"With this campaign, we are aiming to dispel some myths about the nonreligious,” said Ronald A. Lindsay , CFI president & CEO. “One common myth is that the nonreligious lead empty, meaningless, selfish, self-centered lives. This is not only false, it's ridiculous. Unfortunately, all too many people accept this myth because that’s what they hear about nonbelievers."
This is a meta-myth. A myth about a myth. Atheists seem to be in love with the idea that we spend our time denigrating, fearing, and misrepresenting them.

Show of hands: how many of you—when you do hear something in church about the group atheists (which I contend is many orders of magnitude less frequently than atheists imagine) actually hear something closer to this:

It is shameful that you cannot tell Christians from atheists—many of whom are far better than we are at charity, caring for the poor, parenting, preserving marriage, etc…

rather than anything resembling Ronald A. Lindsay's fantasy?

If I ever heard a pastor say anything about "empty, meaningless, selfish, self-centered lives" he was almost certainly chastising Christians, not insulting atheists.

I have heard--far more often-- pastors attempting a call to action by comparing Christians unfavorably to atheists--as opposed to saying anything along the lines of: they're a miserable lot, they are.

Lindsay and other atheists love to perpetuate the meta-myth that Christians perpetuate an unfavorable myth about them. Part of the rather strong atheist persecution complex.

As for the billboards—I think a solution is that Christians and atheists should get together and fund a billboard that we can both agree with. I propose:
If you are an atheist pretending to be a Christian, STOP RIGHT NOW!!. It's OK to come out of the closet.
Like Ronald Lindsay, Jerry Coyne, gets it bass-ackwards, unsurprisingly buying into the meta-myth.

Jerry--we rarely think about you at all. When we do, it is most likely to mock your obtuseness, not to claim you live an immoral, meaningless, unfulfilling life.

UPDATE: Okay, next time I have a glaring spelling error in the title someone please let me know! I feel like I've been walking around all day with a piece of spinach stuck between my two front teeth.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The ACLU sux

at making it easy for some to perpetuate the myth that they only defend the atheist hordes.

Not that those who do will likely stop.

Once again they defend Christian expression:

ACLU defends Floyd athletes over Ten Commandments

I don't suppose the ACLU can tell those students: If you want to post the law, don't post the Ten Commandments, which was a covenantal document for a now extinct nation--post instead the Sermon on the Mount.

No, that's not their job is it?

I have never joined the ACLU--but that's not because I have any particular reason not to. I admire them greatly.