Sunday Toons: More shame and honorAugust 24, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Last week we started looking at JP Holding’s “parody” post on the subject of atonement, but ended up spending most of our time looking at his views on hell. This week, I want to finish up with the original post, which (once you wipe away some of the froth and foam) does actually try to make a point or two.
Despite his protestations, honor and shame were the spoke upon which Biblical society revolved. It was as important to them as paying the bills is to us. I’d recommend that Dumpy read some works by credible scholars on this subject (like Malina and Rohrbaugh), but since he is still a fundy at heart, still reading “death” in the Bible in terms of nothing other than physical death (rather than wholesale separation from God), I may as well ask him to tie his own liver in a knot while wing-walking on an SR-71. The chances are better he can do that than grasp Biblical scholarship.
I don’t know where Holding got the idea that fundamentalists have never heard of death being separation from God, but it was a quite common theme in the evangelical denominations I was formerly associated with, and especially in the conservative Christian college I attended. Nor can I tell where he got the idea that I’ve said anything denying that shame and honor were important to the ancients. Obviously, it was important to people in the past, just as it continues to be today. If anything, we’ve become more civilized and less brutal about “shaming” people than the ancients were—for all his talk about shoving things down my throat and choking me, I trust Holding would not really do physically the violent things he expresses verbally—but shame and honor are a huge part of theology, politics, professional sports, and many other areas.
In ancient times, however, literal physical violence was how shame and humiliation were inflicted. Holding himself alludes to this fact a number of times, so it’s hard to see what makes him think that emphasizing the importance of the shame in any way diminishes the physical violence by which shame was inflicted. The greater the violence, the greater the shame; the greater the physical suffering, the greater the shame. Indeed Holding suggests that his post on the topic was motivated primarily by his reaction to Mel Gibson’s The Passion, and his desire to divert attention from the physical suffering of Jesus to something less abhorrent.
Moreover, Jesus’ own references to eternal torment follow the same model of shame and mortification through suffering endless pain. Though of course, Jesus never had the opportunity to “read some works by credible scholars on this subject (like Malina and Rohrbaugh),” so maybe he was just poorly educated and had no ability to grasp biblical scholarship (just like me, wow!). That would explain some of the snide things Jesus had to say about people who put their trust in the teachings of men instead of in the Word of God.
I do agree with Holding, however, about the importance of good scholarship. Every step you take away from the idea that the Bible is the sole authority for truth is a step in the right direction. I just don’t think that the scholarship here actually supports the conclusion he wants to make it draw. Then again, when you’re limited to the kind of scholarship that, by definition, can only “discover” things by making comments on the comments of other commentators, you’ve got a fairly weak basis for drawing scholarly conclusions about the real world anyway. All you’re really doing is a study of human literature, and all you’re learning is what men have thought and said (and how effectively they’ve said it).
Meanwhile, on the topic of the power humans have to put God to shame, Holding writes:
Dumpy needs an education here. He doesn’t understand that there are two types of honor in this ancient paradigm: Inherent (what you get by virtue of being you, like being in a rich family) and ascribed (what comes as a result of what you do and what others do respecting you). The former God has in spades, and that, truly, can NOT be taken away. On the other hand, the latter can be, and no omni-ness will change that. Nesws flash, Dumpy: You don’t get “forward thinking” by doing “bassackwards research” into your subject matter.
Sadly, Holding seems to have neglected to explain how, exactly, this changes anything. Then again, perhaps he doesn’t know himself. He seems to have a certain mental blind spot that prevents him from understanding the difference between insulting someone and actually damaging their reputation. (This would certainly explain his continued reliance on spittle-flecked tantrums as his primary strategy for “rebuttal” of my arguments.) But what he overlooks is the fact that an insult is only an attempt to harm someone’s reputation. Depending on the target’s reaction, the attempted humiliation could just as likely backfire and embarrass the instigator (like McCain having so many million-dollar estates he has to hire people to help him remember how many he owns, and then calling Obama “elitist”!).
Sin ought to lack the power to genuinely damage God’s reputation for at least three reasons: first of all, because very few cases of sin involve any actual, conscious intent to insult Him; second, because God’s omniscience would prevent the kind of character assassination that requires whispering things behind His back (i.e. without His knowledge); and third, because His infinite wisdom and power would ensure that He could always respond in a way that vindicated Himself and returned the shame to the one who foolishly tried to inflict it. And that’s assuming God would even care in the first place!
Imagine this: you are walking down a sidewalk. As you pass by, the vibration from your footfalls causes a tiny ant to slip and drop the cookie crumb it is carrying. The ant becomes extremely angry at you, and calls you every shameful, humiliating, disgusting insult in the ant vocabulary, questioning your mother’s purity, your father’s virility, and your relationship with various people, animals, and things that you really shouldn’t be having any sort of relationship with. As you walk away, leaving a steady stream of ant-speak vituperation trailing behind you, how much harm has your reputation really suffered?
Shame and honor are qualities that exist among peers, not between the Infinite and the insignificant. And, while I know Holding doesn’t regard the Bible as an adequate source for scholarly information, it’s still quite clear that the founders of the Jewish and Christian religions had strong opinions on the subject of the relative stations of God and man, and the incalculable inferiority of the latter with respect to the former. To demean God’s honor to the point that it is susceptible to being destroyed by the unjust and meritless accusations of unworthy sinners, is to truly insult and blaspheme God. Let’s just call Him the Holy Wimp, then, if He’s truly that helpless to protect His own dignity and reputation.
We close with this little gem:
Whiner Dumpy goes on to say, it would be easy for [God] to offer us choices between multiple good alternatives, allowing us to develop our free will without ever impugning His honor. Like He didn’t? Is poor Dumpy that far out of self-control mode? Or He could behave like any responsible parent, and intervene whenever He sees us about to do something that will ultimately cause us (eternal) harm, and thus prevent the insult to His honor from happening in the first place. God did intervene — that’s what the Bible is here for. That spoiled kids like Dumpy still want to go their own way and cry is not God’s fault. How ironic that Dumpy says, When you complain about a real God… it does not diminish the God, it merely exposes you as a whiner. He sure got THAT right.
Three pitches, three strikes. According to Genesis 3, God offered mankind this kind of choice: “Don’t eat the fruit, and you’ll be OK, or eat the fruit, and damn yourself, your loved one(s), and all your future descendants to mortality, sin, and (in most cases) eternal punishment.” Speaking as a parent myself, I’d have to say that does not qualify as a choice between multiple good alternatives. Likewise, in our subsequent choices, there have been alternatives that have been “bad,” i.e. sinful, since we would not have sinned if sin had never been an option. Strike one.
Men wrote the Bible, and they and others declared that their writings were from God. This is not the same as God showing up to intervene whenever one of His beloved children was about to make a mistake that would corrupt their character and damn them to eternal punishment. In fact, it’s not even close. Holding himself mocks the idea that I would try to base my understanding of theological issues on merely reading the Bible without years of study of scholars like Miller, Malina and Rohrbaugh. And he has a point: the Bible wasn’t much use when it was first given, and has become even less reliable as a source of instruction as time and cultural changes have made its original meaning(s) less accessible. Strike two.
And strike three? Well, I’m not complaining about a real God…