Myth of Positive Hits

Christian radio stations across the country regularly use a variation of “Positive Hits” as a tagline. It is a nearly ubiquitous brand among the religiously motivated broadcasters. It seems the branding is meant to indicate the music is accessible and has an upbeat/affirming message. This assertion, at least the “positive” bit, seems to go unchallenged (record sales may not reflect the “Hit” claim).

Some parents often chose to play Christian radio in the car when their kids intending to save them from crassness and possible vulgarity of secular radio. The faithful are sure the lyrics and messages proffered by these songs are uplifting and encouraging, but is that the case? When the content of the various christian music genres are examined, are they any more positive, uplifting, or meaningful than your average secular song about love, partying, breakups, etc.? Is it better to focus on the content of religious songs psychologically?

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To test this I am going to look at 10 of 2017’s most popular christian/gospel songs according to iTunes. I will be examining the lyrics and running them through a Sentiment Analysis tool. This is a tool used by webmasters and the like to quickly assess the positivity or negativity of reviews, comments, etc. online. While I understand my viewpoint is subjective, advertisers use these tools regularly to make branding and product calls.

At the time of writing this, these were the iTunes Top 10 Christian Songs for 2017.

  1. All My Hope (feat. Tauren Wells) By Crowder

 

I’ve been held by the Savior
I’ve felt fire from above
I’ve been down to the river
I ain’t the same
A prodigal returned

All my hope is in Jesus
Thank God my yesterday’s gone
All my sins are forgiven
I’ve been washed by the blood

I’m no stranger to the prison
worn shackles and chains
But I’ve been freed and forgiven
And I’m not going back
I’ll never be the same
That’s why I sing

There’s a kind of thing
That just breaks a man
Break him down to his knees

God, I’ve been broken more than a time or two, yes, Lord
Then He picked me up
And showed me what it means to be a man
Come on and sing

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.3
  • polar: 0.7
Polarity
  • pos: 0.3

  • neg: 0.7

At a glance this may seem positive, evoking thanks and song, so why did the analysis come back negative? While it is true the song is about redemption, the majority of the lyrics recount how awful the person is invoking images and metaphors of criminal identity, bondage, and being broken absolutely as a person. Once more, the person didn’t do anything to change their identity/status or build themselves back up. It is only because God killed Jesus in his stead that he is forgiven, made whole, free. There is nothing the vocalist values about himself or his actions.

2. Even If By MercyMe

 

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now
Right now I’m losing bad

I’ve stood on this stage
Night after night
Reminding the broken
It’ll be alright
But right now
Oh right now I just can’t

It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Good thing
A little faith is all I have right now

But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word

But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

It is well with my soul

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.4

  • neg: 0.6

The person is losing, broken, and unable to fix it. There is redemption, but not in anything the person can do. Their self worth is found entirely in clinging to Jesus and milking God for hope and strength. Again, this person’s identity is that they are inherently bad. Outside of a superbeing’s assistance there is nothing they can do to fix this. Essentially a mantra of self deprecation.

3. O Come To The Altar By Elevation Worship

 

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin, Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well, Jesus is calling

(chorus)
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ

 

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today, there’s no reason to wait, Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born, Jesus is calling

 

(chorus)
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ

Oh what a Savior, isn’t He wonderful
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him, for He is Lord of all
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen

Oh what a Savior, isn’t He wonderful
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him, for He is Lord of all
Sing hallelujah, Christ is risen

(chorus)
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ
O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neutral.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.8

  • polar: 0.2

A clear trend emerging. Christians’ favorite songs of 2017 start with them being broken, bad, failed, etc. and then redeemed by the murder of a willing but innocent man. I am a little surprised the analysis came up neutral, but given it doesn’t take into account the myriad problems with vicarious redemption. Singing negative lyrics about your state of being and positive ones about superbeings is not a net positive or even neutral and the concept of murdering the innocent in lieu of the guilty is a repugnant idea.

 

4. Control (Somehow You Want Me) By Tenth Avenue North
Here I am, all my intentions
All my obsessions, I wanna lay them all down
In Your hands, only Your love is vital
Though I’m not entitled
Still You call me Your child

God, You don’t need me, but somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me, somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life and the way it should go
Oh, God, You don’t need me, but somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me, somehow that frees me
To open my hands up and give You control
I give You control

I’ve had plans shattered and broken
I have hoped in, fall through my hands
You have plans to redeem and restore me
You’re behind and before me
Oh, help me believe

 

You want me
Somehow You want me
The King of Heaven wants me
So this world has lost its grip on me

Oh, give You control
Oh, I want to give You control
I give You control

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.2

  • neg: 0.8

Even putting aside this song was clearly written in a guilty but gushing fit for reading 50 Shades of Grey, this is one the more disturbing so far. “I’m not entitled”, “You don’t need me, but somehow You want me”, “You want me. Somehow You want me”, “Oh, give You control

Oh, I want to give You control, I give You control”. What terrible sentiments to repeat over and over. What terrible ideas to play to children. This song reads like someone needs to be placed in protective custody or a shelter because sooner or later god is going to take it too far and kill them. To anyone in BDSM, good on ya. Go for it, but I don’t get the sense that’s what is going on here. Repeating how great your abusive relationship is not positive.

5. Old Church Choir

There’s revival and it’s spreading
Like a wildfire in my heart
A Sunday morning hallelujah
And it’s lasting all week long

Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
It’s the rhythm of a gospel song
Once you choose it, you can’t lose it

There ain’t nothing
There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

(chorus)
I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing cause I’ve been restored
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

When the valleys that I wander
Turn to mountains that I can’t climb
You are with me, You never leave me

There ain’t nothing
There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

(chorus)
I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing cause I’ve been restored
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

Clap your hands and stomp your feet
Till you find that Gospel beat
Cause He’s all you’ll ever need
He’s all you’ll ever need

(chorus)
I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing cause I’ve been restored
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is pos.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.7

  • neg: 0.3

Finally. I would agree. This is kind of positive. There is still the element of restoration, redemption, salvation via someone else’s doing insinuating the author was bad or guilty and the relationship still very co-dependent, but overall the song’s mood is positive and focuses on upbeat and light hearted themes. It definitely comes off as a celebration of a feeling and reasonably healthy relationship.

6. O’ Lord By Lauren Daigle

Though times it seems
Like I’m coming undone
This walk can often feel lonely
No matter what until this race is won
I will stand my ground where hope can be found
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

Oh, O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry
Your love is lifting me above all the lies
No matter what I face this I know in time
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right

Your strength is found
At the end of my road
Your grace it reaches to the hurting
Still through the tears and the questioning why
I will stand my ground where hope can be found
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

Oh, O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry
Your love is lifting me above all the lies
No matter what I face This I know in time
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right, right

I will stand my ground
I will stand my ground

I will stand my ground where hope can be found
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

Oh! O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry
Your love is lifting me above all the lies
No matter what I face this I know in time
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right (take all what is wrong)
You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right
(Right, so right)
Make it right, right

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.1
  • polar: 0.9
Polarity
  • pos: 0.5

  • neg: 0.5

And after a brief reprieve, we are right back to self loathing, co-dependency, and putting all hope in outside forces. I would agree at the analysis’ split. The song is slightly repetitive and vapid. It doesn’t conjure any extreme or gratuitous metaphors of how terrible she or the need for redemption is, but she still clearly has a terrible view of her own self worth.

7. Different By Micah Tyler

I don’t wanna hear anymore
Teach me to listen
I don’t wanna see anymore
Give me a vision
That you could move this heart, to be set apart

I don’t need to recognize the man in the mirror
And I don’t wanna trade Your plan for something familiar
I can’t waste a day
I can’t stay the same
I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me

And I don’t wanna spend my life stuck in a pattern
And I don’t wanna gain this world but lose what matters
And so I’m giving up everything because

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me

I don’t want to spend my life stuck in a pattern
I don’t want to gain this world but lose what matters
So I’m giving up everything because

I know, that I am far from perfect
But through You, the cross still says I’m worth it
So take this beating in my heart and
Come and finish what You started
When they see me, let them see You
‘Cause I just wanna be different, yea

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Oh is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different

I just wanna be different
So could You be different
In me

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.3

  • neg: 0.7

Oy vey, anyone feeling positive yet? Feel hit after hit after hit, but not positive. It really is astonishing how these songs are mirror images in sentiment and codependency. This person doesn’t even have basic senses like hearing and sight outside of god.

8. Bleed The Same by Mandisa

We all bleed the same
We’re more beautiful when we come together
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided

Woke up today
Another headline, another innocent life is taken
In the name of hatred
So hard to take
And if we think that it’s all good
Then we’re mistaken
‘Cause my heart is breakin’

Are you left, are you right
Pointing fingers, taking sides
When are we gonna realize

We all bleed the same
We’re more beautiful when we come together
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided
If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other
If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided

Tell me who are we
To judge someone by the kind of clothes they’re wearin’
Or the color of their skin
Are you black, are you white
Aren’t we all the same inside
Father, open our eyes to see

Only love can drive out all the darkness
What are we fightin’ for
We were made to carry one another
We were made for more

We all bleed the same
We’re more beautiful when we come together
We all bleed the same
So tell me why, tell me why we’re divided
If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other
If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry
We all bleed the same
Let’s stand united, let’s stand united

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neutral.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.7

  • polar: 0.3

I actually would rate this song positive in message. While the content is couched in bleeding and innocents being killed daily, the main thrust of the song is unity, love, and togetherness. These are ideals worth aspiring to and for the most part the ability is attributed to the listener, save the one comment on blindness, therefore empowering. The first positive hit. Well done…?

9. Broken Things by Matthew West

If grace is a kingdom
I’ve stopped at the gate
Thinking I don’t deserve to pass through after all of the mistakes I’ve made
But I heard a whisper
As Heaven bent down
Said, “Child, don’t you know that the first will be last and the last get a crown?”

Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King
I wish I could bring You so much more
But if it’s true You use broken things
Then here I am Lord, I am all Yours

The pages of history they tell me it’s true
That it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use
It’s the rebels and the prodigals; it’s the humble and the weak
The misfit heroes You chose
Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me

Grace is a kingdom
With gates open wide
There’s seat at the table just waiting for you
So, come on inside

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.5

  • neg: 0.5

Yep, about down the middle. The person is bad, sucky, and unworthy. There’s also a classist edge to the song. Beggars, bad. Prodigal, bad. Rebels, bad. Even the heroes are “misfit”. There are plenty of contexts those identities are not negative. God is super cool and nice and just swell. We’re shit We get it Positive Hits.

10. Reckless by Jeremy Camp

Everytime I try to play it safe
Holding back just a little part of me
I find myself forgetting what
I say that I believe
The promise of Your Word
Is all I need
I’ll lay my life down
And give it up

I’ll give it up

(Chorus)
I wanna be reckless
Cause You are endless
I wanna be shameless
And shout Your greatness
I will not be afraid
To surrender my way
And follow who You are
I wanna be reckless, reckless

I will lose my life
And just let go
Because I know this world is not my home
With fearless faith
I won’t be moved
Unshakeable inside Your truth
You laid Your life down
And gave it up
So I’ll give it up

(Chorus)
I won’t waste any more time
My life’s Yours it is not mine
Use me Lord no matter what’s at stake

 

Sentiment Analysis Results

The text is neg.

The final sentiment is determined by looking at the classification probabilities below.

Subjectivity
  • neutral: 0.2
  • polar: 0.8
Polarity
  • pos: 0.4

  • neg: 0.6

To cap if off we have someone relinquishing their life. This person is handing their life and mental autonomy to being that claims to have committed worldwide genocide via flooding, thinks justice is killing the innocent to save the guilty, creates earthquakes, hurricanes, and gives kids cancer. His “truth” is made of virgin birth, walking on water, and monotheism as a triune god.

In summary, the top 10 Christian songs of 2017 are clearly not positive. It would be safe to say many of them outline an abusive relationship if the person they were sung to was a significant other. To be fair, I ran the top 10 secular pop songs in 2017 and they had a similar result in the sentiment analysis. About the same neg to pos rate, but secular radio stations don’t claim to be positive, encouraging, uplifting, etc. the way Christian stations do. They just play hits, which is more true in their case than when Christians use that term.

The important difference is the reason they are rated negative. The songs were about relationship break ups, struggling up from the streets, and agressive sexuallity. In every song self respect, personal autonomy, and fighting for worth were hallmarks.

Struggle as a subject in art makes for great emotional fodder. We relate to it, are molded by it, and come together through it. There is no issue with enjoying many negative themes in art forms, but constantly repeating self deprecating codependence mantras shrouded in a myth of “positive” is nothing if not abusive and damaging. It should concern us a culture that 80 million Americans chose to listen and sing music that devalues their humanity and play it to their children to instil “good values”. This is a market based on beguiling the masses into thinking they don’t have enough worth to listen to their own cognitive dissonance.

These songs don’t contain good values. They are not appropriate for children. They are not Positive Hits.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

 

 

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Open Letter to Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Grothman

This is an open letter in response to the comments made by Congressman Grothman regarding the SCOTUS gay marriage ruling. http://www.rawstory.com/2015/07/wisconsin-republican-says-marriage-decision-insults-christians-who-died-in-the-religious-civil-war/

Congressman Grothman,
I am a Wisconsinite and I recently heard your reaction to the gay marriage decision. I respect your candor and honesty, but you severely misrepresented Pres. Lincoln, the Civil War, and our nation.

Pres. Lincoln was almost certainly not a Christian.”The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.” — Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis in “Lincoln the Freethinker”.
Clearly he held a public persona of faith, but as a politician I’m sure you can understand publicly holding a position you don’t personally believe.

The Civil War was not religious war. How dare you simplify the worst conflict in our history. Moreover if it was a religious war, what was the opposing religion? This was not Sunni vs. Shia or Catholics vs. Protestants or The Crusades. It was about states rights, taxation, independence, and slavery. Which brings up the fact Ministers were for slavery and used the Bible to justify limited rights of black people just as you seem to use the Bible against the LGBTQ community. Pastor Ebenezer Warren, in 1861, delivered a sermon entitled, “THE SCRIPTURAL VINDICATION OF SLAVERY”. It was published in The Macon Telegraph. In this sermon, this Christian Pastor speaking to, as you said, “a much more religious country”, said, “Both Christianity and Slavery are from Heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time; and therefore both have been protected and defended by God’s omnipotent arm from the assaults, oppositions and persecutions through which they have passed.” This seems very similar to the persecution rhetoric Christians have been bandying about since the SCOTUS decision.

Lastly, you speculate the 620,000 Americans who died in that war would be appalled at the SCOTUS application of the 14th amendment. What reason do you have to assume those brave people would agree with you? There were certainly Liberals, Progressives, and homosexuals who died in that war. We are a nation of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Spiritualists, Buddhists, non-believers, and so on. Who are you to speak for those who died for what they believed? You called the judges “arrogant” and yet you claim to know the minds of dead heroes when you don’t even seem to understand the most basic reasons they fought in that great war. Pride goes before the fall Congressman. You are on the wrong side of history and some day someone will be quoting you to show how backwards and regressive our secular nation once was.
Signed,
Someone who believes Wisconsin deserves better


The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Fourteen: The Dance of God and Epilogue) Final Post

reason for God

Chapter Fourteen: The Dance of God and Epilogue

Pastor Keller, believing he has convinced the reader of his position, spends the last chapter reiterating and poeticizing the gospel through the idea of “dances”. He follows this with the “Epilogue”, a section intended to show the reader how to become a Christian. These chapters are largely reiterating the previous chapters, speaking in mystical terms or simply recruiting the reader in prayer and faith. Keller feels he has made his argument clear by now so I must follow suit.

This is my summary case for skepticism and reason.

Why I don’t believe in a god.wallpaper167999_quotes

The burden of proof is on the believer. You cannot ask to have a negative proven. It is like asking why don’t you believe you can fly or to assert there are pixies on the surface of Mars. No one questions why we don’t believe in things which there is no evidence. Belief in god, even according to Tim Keller, requires faith and by definition that belief does not rely on material evidence or logical proof.

Secondly those who choose to believe in a god do it arbitrarily, usually contingent on parent’s belief or geography. Since the Sumerians started writing history down six thousand years ago humans have cataloged about thirty-six hundred gods/super-beings. Why choose Jesus over Zeus, Allah, or Ganesh? The answer again is faith. It does not make sense nor serve you well to arbitrarily assign a super-being characteristics you must live your life.

Why do skeptics care if others believe?

Religion by its very nature is divisive. We see evidence through the annals of history.  It causes strife and division from the family to the global level. Humanity’s growth and self awareness is held back by pointless and unanswerable arguments of “who is the true god”. Since there can be no empirical evidence one way or the other at this point, we are forever trapped in this argument. Skeptics, unencumbered by this debate, see more important and answerable issues fall to the wayside.

Secondly, religion muddies the moral and scientific waters. Sensible, good, and intelligent people are often lead to assert moral claims society intuitively knows is wrong. Religion has negatively effected female and minority roles, and the balance of power in society. It holds education in our schools back. It catches us up in debates which belong in philosophy and metaphysics but somehow find their way to our governments and social sphere.  tumblr_lzbvm1e1u21qbofuso1_500

What is the skeptic’s moral compass?

We all understand murder, theft, rape, and the like are wrong. There is no need for a god to know these truths. To be a good person is a struggle for the believer and skeptic alike, however the reasons are much clearer to the skeptic. It is not about the next life or pleasing a deity, but rather good and proper use of the gift of life and to serve their fellow humans. It could be summed up as: Serve and love each other. If you are not able to serve and love, at the very least, do no harm. While there are nuances to this ideal, it will serve any and all quite well in everyday life.

Secondly, there is nothing keeping the skeptic to see the moral value of wise teachers who came before them. Unlike a believer there is nothing to keep the skeptic from finding value in the teachings of Gandhi, Jesus, or Confucius. The believer must regard the teachings of other doctrines warily inspite of the truth wrapped within. The skeptic is not mired in these irrational misgivings and celebrate all self-evident truths.images

To my fellow skeptics:

I want to instill this truth in all of you: No one learns from someone they hate. While your passions may run deep, I encourage you to listen before speaking, ask before telling, and discuss rather than debate. Leave the harmless alone: Do not take faith from children. You wouldn’t tell a six year old there is no Santa, in same way leave Jesus/Allah/Astrology alone. If a young adult asks about these issues, guide, don’t force.  Leave the elderly to their beliefs unless they engage the discussion. Live your life beyond the reproach of believers as to undo the myth we cannot be moral and faithless. Admit logic/science currently has limits and you are never finished learning. Make your voice heard through voting, public service, and personal example. If we are as confident of our position as we claim, let our speech and demeanor reflect it.  Let us exemplify the logic and sensibility we so often evoke. Finally, realize the service and love of your contemporaries far outweighs the importance of undoing faith.

 

Drive fast. Take Chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger

 


The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Twelve: The (True) Story of the Cross)

reason for God

For those of you who have been following along thus far I apologize for the repetitiveness of this post, but as Pastor Keller reiterates his arguments so must I with counter arguments.

Chapter Twelve: The (True) Story of the Cross

This chapter starts with a quote from Ganhdi accepting the teachings, sacrifice, and example of Jesus but not accepting there was “a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it”. (P. 186) The next quote is from Malcolm Muggeridge bemoaning his turning away from the cross even though he “should have worn it.” (P.186)

Pastor Keller demonstrated his ignorance of his faith in the first sentence saying, “The primary symbol of Christianity has always been the cross.” (P. 186) Christians used signs of life like the fish or lamb for the three or so centuries of its youth. Not until Constantine do we see the faith represented by a torture device. Interestingly this is not long after the introduction of original sin. Keller says people often struggle with forgiveness more than the existence of God. They wonder why God had to use “divine child abuse” (P.187).

The First Reason: Real Forgiveness Is Costly Suffering

Keller apologizes an event where you lend a neighbor your car and he backs into your gate. He lists three options: One, He pays the damage. Two, you pay the damage. Three, you share the cost. The point he is making is ” damage must be borne by someone. ” (P.187) He’s forgetting there is a fourth option. Let it go. Splitting hairs maybe, but at least round out your analogy.

Keller argues forgiveness is agony since you are alleviating the need for justice but internalizing that debt. I would say the opposite is true of forgiveness. It is not internalizing debt, but rather let the loss and the hurt go. As T. D. Jakes says, “I think the first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It’s a gift you give yourself.” Not to say that is easy by any measure, but the lack of forgiveness rots us with anger and resentment. People are rarely bettered by refusing to move on from wrongdoing. Keller is trying to paint forgiveness as pain so Jesus’ blood sacrifice holds merit. He says, “Everyone who forgives great evil goes through death into resurrection, ” (P. 192) The moment you forgive a weight is lifted from you. Anyone who has truly forgiven even the smallest grievance knows this. There is no sense of death in act of forgiveness. You may attribute something akin to death in the wrong doing, but that is completely separate from forgiveness.

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The Forgiveness of God
Keller attributes a very human issue to God in this section saying, “no one “just” forgives , if the evil is serious. ” (P. 192) He also points out Christians believe Jesus is God so God was inflicting “the pain violence, and evil of the world into himself. ” (P. 192) Even for the believers the one in three monotheism concept is difficult to wrap their heads around and most decide it is a matter of faith, but if you break it down in simplest terms: God made sin. Must punish us for that creation. Wants to forgive so he tortures and kills himself in physical form while simultaneously forsaking himself to pay the debt owed to himself incurred by the system he has utter control over from before the beginning.knock-knock-jesus

The Second Reason: Real Love Is a Personal Exchange

Keller accurately points out to love someone who is need or in danger it costs something to the lover. If you are to love your children you must “decrease that they may increase”. (P. 194) I heartily agree. The problem comes when Keller attributes this to human limitation to God. He closes this section by saying, “how can God be a God of love if does not become personally involved in suffering, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain we experience? The answer to that question is twofold. First, God can’t. Second, only one major world religion claims that God does.” (p. 195) The first one “can’t” is unbelievable. Pastor Keller has argued over and over God’s ultimate power. His creation and control of everything. His infallibility. Suddenly when it matters most God “can’t”? If forgiveness without blood sacrifice is God’s kryptonite, how are we to believe all the other powers attributed to him have any merit? I would much rather a God who was divine in this area and human in every other. The fact he killed himself for the debt owed to himself is greatly diminished by this limitation humans overcome.

The Great Reversal

Christians often cite their deity as unique and special since Jesus experienced everything we do, which is simply not true. He didn’t experience old age, the loss of his mother, the temptation of cheating on his wife, mistreating his children, war and the evil and horrors only soldiers know, and most importantly mortality and the insecurity of what happens after death to name a few. Inspite of this Keller seeks to make a case based on God fully experiencing the human condition. Keller also tries to paint Christians as superior through “a reversal of values regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth.” (P. 196) He says Christians give away money, look at power to be used only as service, and doing away with racial and class superiority. Again, this is simply not true. Any Christian charity seeks to serve and further their message. History is clear on where Christians stand with classism and racism. To give an over simplified example: “Sell the Vatican. Feed the world.” –Sarah Silverman   Christianity has many good tenants of service and forgiveness, but those are hardly unique to the faith and at day’s end they are just as concerned with the status and longevity of their religion as any other organization. Some would say more so.

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The Story Of The Cross

Keller is painting the story of Jesus as something that is part of our story. Jesus having to die for our sins is humbling since he was glad to do it. In the previous section Keller points out Jesus asking God to do it some other way in the garden and while on the cross crying out “why”. This does not sound like someone glad to be in the situation. Commendable Jesus did it inspite of his qualms, but there’s no potency in it since he is in utter control of the situation. It makes no sense why an all powerful, all knowing being would ask himself to change the rules and then deny himself. He knows everything and can do anything. Why the theatrics and self limitation? It smacks of humans dipping from their own experience rather than the identity of an all powerful being.

Keller spends the chapter limiting God while simultaneously exalting him as utterly superior to humans. Moreover if a sixteen hour torture session resulting in temporary death is the payment required for the sin in all of time, how is eternal hell a justifiable punishment for an individual’s sin? Even if Jesus was perfect and willingly sacrificed, hell still seems rather steep payment for even the worst of us.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger

 

 


The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Eleven: Religion and the Gospel)

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Chapter Eleven: Religion and the Gospel

Keller begins this chapter with a quote from Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde saying it is a good example of “describing his evil self using classic Christian categories:” (P. 175) He explains the struggle of Jekyll is base nature and ego is  a example of sin nature. Keller says there are two forms of evil and self-centeredness. One: breaking all the rules. Two: Keeping all the rules and becoming self righteous. Keller says the latter is the more damaging, like the pharisees.

Damage of Pharisaism

Keller paints the Pharisees as a group trying to buy their way into heaven, to stack a resume’ for God’s approval, but deep down they know they are not living up to what Keller calls standards. I assume he means the Levitical laws.
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Again, the Pharisees did not have a concept of Hell and the Levitical laws were not written to keep Hebrews out of it. They are a social and moral code written to help the Hebrews commune with God and live good lives. Keller says the pharisees are like the legalistic Christians who cause other Christians to reject faith and never return to the Church. With 613 mitzvot (commandments) Hebrews are to adhere to, it seems Keller has a point, but lets keep in mind Jesus said to keep the law of Moses and the prophets. The difference with Jesus is the introduction of Hell and human sacrifice. If you gathered sticks on the Sabbath you may have been stoned to death (Numbers 15:32-35), but your soul wouldn’t have gone to hell for eternity. Its not until scapegoating in the form human sacrifice does the afterlife become perilous. While I am not in defense of Judaism, Keller is misrepresenting a culture and religion to make his more attractive.

The Difference of Grace

“There is, then, a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding  that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. ” (P. 179) He is absolutely right, but not for the reasons he thinks. Keller supposes one is done for fear of hell and the other is done is gratitude for the life we have been granted through the sacrifice of Jesus. Religion vs. Gospel. He seems to think the nature of God is consistent and we are the ones who change perception on how to be saved from hell. In reality it is the change of how we perceive God which changes, thus changing God. Which is more important, mitzvot or acknowledging human sacrifice and eternal torture? If I believe in YWHW Jesus was a prophet and hell is a Zoroastrian concept. If I believe in Jesus I am still supposed to follow the Talmud, however I am saved by grace so if I fail I am not damned. Keller repetitively tries to paint the Hebrew religion as doing good works to avoid hell and Christianity as superior since they acknowledge there is no way to be good enough, but Jesus forgave us of that too. I’ll say it one more time. HEBREWS AREN’T TRYING TO GET OUT OF HELL. THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN IT.

The Threat of Grace
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Keller is addressing the concept of grace allowing believer’s to act as they please because God will forgive them. He says if you feel this way you haven’t really entered into “radical” belief. If you truly believe in Jesus you will feel obligated to live your life in service of his sacrifice and this is a joyous way to be. I agree you think you are born evil, hell is real, and vicarious punishment through human sacrifice is a just solution, then sure you will be grateful. If you don’t think you are born evil, hell is like Hades (a myth), and human sacrifice for the purpose of vicarious redemption is always wrong, martyr or otherwise. This hardly seems like a healthy world view. It has been said you cannot love others until you can love yourself. How can someone who believes they were born deserving the worst possible of punishments ever truly love themselves? Secondly, if you were on trial for a crime, lets say graffiti, and the judge finds you guilty however he says you are forgiven because he is going to kill his child in your place. All you have to do is be grateful to him and his child for their sacrifice and you will have joy. Compulsory gratitude. This clearly is not a moral thing to do and it was cause utter guilt in the “forgiven”, not joy. You would be morally obligated to tell the judge not to kill his child and offer to take a punishment appropriate for the crime. There is no reason for an all powerful god to operate this way. Creating us without sin nature, not creating hell, not requiring innocent blood as the solution, so on and so forth are superior solutions. The central Christian tenants of scapegoating and compulsory love are far from moral and certainly not joyous.

Keller seems to feel he has convinced the reader at this point of the mystical ideas and intends to drive home Christianity’s superiority to other faiths. Grace on its face is an appealing idea, however grace by murdering the innocent for predestined crime put in place by the judge takes the joy and reprieve right out of it.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger


The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Ten: The Problem Of Sin)

reason for God

Chapter Ten: The Problem Of Sin

Seeming to abandon quoting skeptics Keller quotes H. G. Wells instead. The first quote sings the praises to the accomplishments of humankind. The second, miserable in the horrid actions of humankind. After making the case the world’s perfection must indicate a creator Keller does a one-eighty and starts this chapter by saying, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world.” (P. 159) He says Christianity points to sin as the culprit admitting the concept is ludicrous and offensive to many because they don’t understand what Christians mean by the term.

Sin and Human Hope
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Keller says the impression the doctrine of sin as a bleak and pessimistic view of human nature is incorrect because we are not at its mercy the way the body is at the mercy of cancer. We can be redeemed and this is a cause for hope not pessimism. First, the idea humans at birth are literally doomed because of original sin (which wasn’t even formalized until the second century) is dismal. The idea our souls are created with something so repugnant God would send unbaptized babies (I realize this is not the universal stance) to eternal hell fire is nearly the worst possible concept of human nature, redemption available or not. Keller says until we can admit we are very flawed, sinners, we cannot be liberated and improve. I agree we can’t hold ourselves in too high of esteem. We need to identify and address our short comings and strive to improve the lives of others, some more than others, but the idea we enter this world with a blight on our very nature so evil God considers eternal hell a just punishment is sepulchral.

The Meaning of Sin

Keller cites Soren Kierkgaard saying humans are made to believe in God and love him supremely centering their lives on him above everything else. “Anything other than this is sin. ” (P. 162) This argument there is no fulfillment outside of God is an old and tired argument. If this is the case was everyone pre-Abraham miserable and listless? Are all who never heard about Jesus floating through life never finding meaning? All the joy, love, art, music, created and enjoyed apart from Christianity would beg to differ. This is an incredibly limited and myopic world view which asserts the vast majority of people who have ever existed were not only empty and without identity, but in the Christian view in eternal punishment. Keller says finding your identity apart from God “only sets the stage for continual disappointment.” (P. 163) He says we all want redemption and only God can impart it to us. Humanity may want purpose and affirmation their individual lives have meaning, but unless we are told there is something fundamentally wrong with us, redemption doesn’ t enter the picture. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Any of the Dalai Lamas likely found identity and meaning outside of God, but according to Keller this is impossible and they lived their lives from disappointment to disappointment.
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The Personal Consequences of Sin

So under the definition identity is found in God and no where else Keller seeks to prove “there is no way to avoid this insecurity outside of God” (P. 165) saying if your identity is being a parent you can loose you children, if you are an athlete you can loose you physical prowess so on and so forth. Keller says God is the only constant. Clearly this is not the case since there are so many variations of Christianity and while when pressed Christians identify with whatever denomination they subscribe to e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Evangelical, so on. The interpretation of who God is, what he wants, how is to be worshiped, and how salvation is truly acquired varies wildly. They may see eye to eye on God’s name but more than once they have come to blows over the details. So if you make your identity as a Catholic you are at the same mercy of insecurity since you may end up in an area dominated by Protestants and they seem to be making sense. Yes, you still believe in the same God, but who he is and your relationship with him (your identity) is in utter peril.  What if you subscribe to a specific preacher like Tedd Haggard and he fails so completely the way he did. Doesn’t that make you second guess the teachings you have built your identity? The point is the Christian God‘s personality and desires are up for debate and the identity you have you still chose and it can be lost or taken. A better assured identity is one of compassion and service. If you sculpt who you are around the service and love of self and others because it is empirically right, nothing can take it from you.

The Social Consequences of Sin

Keller propones the only way to social unity is through loving God and all other social identities are fodder for separation and tension. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the latter, the former is patently false. Not only is there constant disagreement within the Church, but history has shown religion to be one of the most polarizing organizations no matter who or where. Keller is essentially calling for a world wide Christian Theocracy. The horror that would be. The Fore Fathers were largely driven to escape theocracy because they saw the inherent evil it causes. “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782. They saw the only way for a society to be at peace is to leave God out of it.

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The Cosmic Consequences of Sin
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Keller once again shows his hubris on our role in the universe. He talks about the creation in Genesis and how it was “all good” until sin was introduced; then, “the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled.” (P. 170) First off Keller doesn’t seem to take Genesis literally until now. Its as if he actually thinks “disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death…” (P. 170) are the result of original sin. We don’t have dominion over the planet; microbes like viruses and bacteria do. Most of the planet is uninhabitable by humans. Keller referring to the pitfalls of this planet as a cosmic event is ludicrously out of touch with size and state of the cosmos. The first definition of “cosmic” is:  Of or relating to the regions of the universe distinct from the Earth, and yet Keller references only the earth when talking about the “cosmic consequences”. He cites an event which there is literally no proof, acts as though we are the reason for the planet earth, and has zero concept of microcosm this galaxy is in comparison with the cosmos. It is painfully stupid to read.

We Can Put It All Right?

Pastor Keller does his best to put the fear of God in the reader pointing out if you chase career, money, ambition, you will be left wanting. He reminds us family and career can’t die for your sins. If one does not believe in sin, the wages of, or redemption through human sacrifice the second tactic holds no water. I submit again the idea we are born damaged goods redeemed through human sacrifice is immoral and baseless. Keller argues something must become the “Lord of your life. ” (P. 173) and that lord should be Jesus because you will be fulfilled and forgiven of your sin. I agree a person who pursues tangible selfish goals will be less fulfilled, but God is not the necessary answer either. Compassion, love, service of others will bring fulfillment. If you choose to believe in original sin, that is your prerogative, but until its introduction two hundred years after Christ’s alleged existence all of humanity got on just fine without believing they were born bad and deserving of the worst of all possible punishments. Maybe if we spend more time focused on love and less on the hypothetical peril of our souls we can put it closer to right.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger


The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Nine: The Knowledge Of God)

reason for God

Chapter Nine: The Knowledge Of God

Once again Pastor Keller doesn’t begin with a skeptic’s complaint against god. He starts off with two dialogues. One is a back-and-forth publish by the Metropolitan asserting obviously god exists since our thoughts don’t seem to be wasted. We have a sense something is listening to our internal monologue. I personally don’t feel my thoughts are being listened to and if I did it wouldn’t be a comfort. Partially since that is the height of loss of privacy, but als0 my thoughts aren’t interesting. The second dialogue is the summary of a conversation Keller had with a couple who “didn’t believe in much of anything”. The dialogue basically goes the couple knows there are somethings empirically moral to defend like the rights of women. Keller asks them how they know these things to which the couple banally replies, “everyone knows this.” He accurately points out this isn’t an argument, it’s an assertion. He says we hold ourselves to a higher standard than animals since we don’t hold them accountable for trampling the rights of other animals. The couple in his dialogue flounder and keep falling back on the rights are just self evident. Plainly this couple is not representative of genuine skeptics since even though they did not have any specific beliefs they approached a pastor for guidance. Moreover they aren’t able to see the obvious holes in Keller’s points.
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We treat animals differently for clear reasons. The biggest being most animals live symbiotically with their environment. Humans are a rare animal which consumes more than is needed, whose waste often doesn’t benefit the ecosystem, and left unchecked will destroy the ecosystem in the name of comfort and convenience. When an animal deviates from this symbiosis, as with rabies or chronic wasting disease, we do “hold them accountable”. Also an animal cannot reason, justify, or explain why it does what it does. We assume in general an animal acts in a way instinct developed to ensure their species. Humans can make the decisions to flout instinct and act in ways it clearly bad for the individual and the species. Once more we can “justify” these foolish actions. There are many obvious reasons humans regard themselves as separate from the animal kingdom, god or no god.

Keller says there is a “free-floating morality” and God provides the ground work for it. Ironically he uses the issues of women’s rights and the Nazi treatment of the Jews as examples of things we generally understand to be morally reprehensible. If God is the basis for this morality, why are the women of monotheism so often kept as second class citizens on the directive of God? If God is the reason we understand the Holocaust is morally wrong, why did he command so much destruction in the taking of the promise land? Not only did God command genocide, he assisted the Hebrews by holding the sun in the sky so a routed army could be more expediently dispatched, opening up the earth to swallow entire armies, and drowned the Egyptian army under orders from a Pharaoh whose heart had been hardened by God. These people’s only crime was they occupied the land God promised the Hebrews or were following commands of a ruler. Not only does it make no sense why an all powerful being has to use these methods to acquire some land he wants to gift to a group of humans he likes more than the rest of us, but Keller cites two moral truths God regularly violates as proof our morality comes from God.

The Evolutionary Theory Of Moral Obligation

Here Keller essentially says evolution has attempted to explain morality through survival of the fittest and how alturalism benefits us as a species and failed. He again threatens to paint himself in the corner with yet another god-of-gaps argument. While many scientists would disagree evolution doesn’t explain general morality, even if it were so, a failure in science one step closer to the right answer. Keller argues hostility outside ones group is good evidence evolution doesn’t give us our moral code. Again he has chosen one of the easiest moral upsets in the practice of religion. If anything seperates us from each other assuring there cannot be middle ground,  it is religion. As Sam Harris puts it. “We have Christians against Muslims against Jews, and no matter how liberal your theology, merely identifying yourself as a Christian or a Jew lends tacit validity to this status quo. People have morally identified with a subset of humanity rather than with humanity as a whole.”

The Difficulty of Human Rights
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Keller says there is a question of where human rights come from and that if they come from the mass as guidelines for general betterment they must be discovered not created. He agrees with Dworkin there must be something beyond utility to individual rights. He once again makes the leap to God as the reason. I think a simpler step would be higher and lower degrees of happiness and quality of life as indicators beyond the utility of individual rights.

The Grand “Sez Who?”
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Basically Keller is saying someone has to lay down the law otherwise we are morally lost at sea. The fact all societies come with the same general rules like don’t murder or steal indicates we don’t need a god to show us the way through a text. It wasn’t as if the Hebrews were killing each other willy-nilly until Moses came back with the ten commandments. They did however start killing each other en masse after Moses commanded it for worshiping the Golden Calf on which he smashed the tablets. Even if humans do get their morals from a central higher source, the God of the Bible is likely not it. He is a jealous, genocidal, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, misogynist. He may have been redeemed by Jesus somewhat, but he clearly is not the apex of morality and there is no reason to jump from having a sense there needs to be a standard to that standard is the Trinity.

The Argument For God from the Violence of Nature

Keller begins by agreeing with Ann Dillard, a writer, when she said “all of nature is based on violence”. (P. 154) He expounds on this saying if we know a loving peaceful god made the earth then we know where morals come from. He says “There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural.” (P. 155) He uses this idea to insert the need for a “supernatural” to judge right from wrong. He attempts to say the world is broken and in need of a redeemer and this is evidence God dictates morality.

The entire premise of his argument is nature is based on violence, which is clearly not the case. I admit there are many violent acts in nature, but there are many non-violent actions like a butterfly pollinating flowers, photosynthesis, or the formation of a stalagmite. Furthermore the violence of a lion eating a zebra or a fire clearing a forest is not a moral violence in need of redemption. Life springs from the violence of nature. It is its function and rarely deviates from it. If redemption is needed for this kind of violence one could easily argue we see it in the lion cub born on the flesh of prey or the new growth made possible by the reduction of the canopy. Keller seeks to vilify all of nature to indicate God gives morals.

The Endless, Pointless Litigation of Existence
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Keller says he has not tried to prove the existence of God, rather that we already know he exists. He attempts to reinforce this by pointing out eventually the human species will likely end and without God to commit actions to memory, to judge there hasn’t been a point to any of this and “Whether we are cruel in the end would make no difference at all. ” (P. 157) Even if there is no ultimate point to our existence to be good for the time we do exist, to make the most of our society, to become the best species the universe ever had, does it matter there isn’t anything to pat us on the back or scold us for short comings? I say no. The value of a good action is in the action, not the reward. Keller tries to say it is dishonest to say that humans have inherent dignity and deny God’s existence. The God of the Bible does not value all human’s dignity clearly and Keller’s attempt to prove morals can’t exist without a super-being’s over-site are flimsy at best.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger