Why the Golden Rule Isn’t So Original

The ‘Golden Rule’ is much older than any monotheism, and…no human society would have been possible or even thinkable without elementary solidarity (which also allows for self-interest) between its members. – Christopher Hitchens, “Is Christianity Good For The World”, Christianity Today, May 8, 2007

The golden rule is something you don’t have to teach a child. There is no need to say, “And if you don’t follow this rule, you’ll burn in hell.” – Christopher Hitchens, “Hitchens, Sharpton and Faith”, The New York Times, May 7, 2007

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that…The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Love and Laws

A comedian I really like tweeted the following:

Recognizing that this is a tweet and is therefore limited to 140 characters, also recognizing that she is an atheist and therefore probably doesn’t have a robust understanding of prayer, also that she is a comedian so this is a schtick, I’d still like to use her tweet as a springboard to engage this a bit.

First, I don’t know anyone who thinks prayer for shooting victims is all that needs to be done. It is a generalization that is unfair to “religion”. Many religions operate hospitals; have chaplains in hospitals, police forces, and prisons; and many people from many different stripes of religion are on different sides of the gun control debate.

Second, her assumption is that the answer to gun violence is gun laws. Gun laws, in and of themselves, are incapable of stopping gun violence. I’d just point to the tragic case of Chicago which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and some of the highest gun violence and deaths in the nation as well. The number of laws on the books has swollen over the past few decades and crime is not abated in the least.

Third, prayer is actually more effective than adding laws to laws. Christians (a subset of “religion”) believe that when we pray, we are asking the greatest Power in the universe to employ the greatest wisdom in the universe motivated by the greatest love in the universe to act on the situation we care deeply about but only understand a fraction of. It is not simply sending positive thoughts at the clouds. God is capable of changing human hearts and ruling over nations.

“So,” I can image her asking, “why doesn’t he do something about this? Either he is indifferent, incapable, or imaginary.” Not so fast. God has done things about this and we’re ignoring them. He has told us that humans are created in his image and therefore are sacred. Instead we have determined that humans are sophisticated animals and nothing more. When you degrade human life, don’t be surprised when it is treated and taken cheaply. If we were to understand humans the way God has made us, we might take human life much more serious.

The other thing we’ve done to ignore God’s method of restraining this kind of violence is that we’re getting rid of capital punishment. The non-religious opposition to this is very confusing to me. If, as atheists assume, humans are mere animals why shouldn’t we kill them if they become this dangerous?1There is a Christian opposition to capital punishment but that is beyond the point I’m trying to make here. Since we are made in God’s image, God doesn’t give us that kind of liberty in executing people. Because humans are created in his image, anyone who kills a human is to be killed (Gen. 9:6). The punishment must fit the crime. Instead we no long punish but seek to rehabilitate and therefore the punishment never ends. Executing murders is not meant to teach people who to not kill, it is intended to show how special human life is and remind people what the consequence is of taking it.

To be fair, the way we’re currently employing capital punishment needs very much to be reformed. It is not being applied fairly. But that doesn’t mean that we should throw it out instead of addressing it.

So two of the ways that God has given the nations to control violence are largely cast aside and then people complain about the results.

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1. There is a Christian opposition to capital punishment but that is beyond the point I’m trying to make here.

What’s in a Title?

You know those titles of the Psalms? The ones that are usually in small caps? Did you know that those are part of the original Hebrew text? There isn’t a known edition of the Hebrew scriptures that doesn’t have those titles so we should assume they are inspired along with the rest of the text.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:1–3)

The title of Psalm 30 is, as best as we can determine, inspired. Psalm 30 is written by David or about David (“of” can mean either) and it is about the dedication of the temple. David had died before Solomon built or dedicated the temple (1 Kings 2:10) so this may be a song David had written to be sung at that event. Or it is written to describe David and his relationship to the dedication.

Now, David didn’t rise from the dead and attend the dedication of the temple (Acts 2:29), but David and the temple mean more in the Bible story than they do solely in the Psalms and so they mean more in the Psalms than they do at first read there.

There is a Biblical promise of David’s son who would build the temple and reign forever (2 Sam. 7). In one sense, that was Solomon since he built the temple. But in another sense it isn’t since he didn’t reign forever.

The connection between the temple and resurrection in the New Testament is clear:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19–22)

The Psalm goes on in verse 9:

What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Again, death is involved but the question the Psalmist asks is if there was to be profit in his death. Will the dust praise God? Again, Jesus gives the answer:

As [Jesus] was drawing near [to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey]—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:36–40)

Jesus is heading to his execution, his crucifixion. His death, complete but not final, will ensure that the rocks and the dust they will become don’t need to praise God. His death will draw in people who will praise God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).

Under Lesser Burdens


Surely now God has worn me out;
he has made desolate all my company…
He has torn me in his wrath and hated me;
he has gnashed his teeth at me;
my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. – Job 16:7, 9

In his misery Job thought God hated him and was his adversary. And yet he continues to hold out hope that God would hear his cries and deliver him. He still believed that God was just and would do the right thing if he could only argue his case before him.

In a few chapter, while still in his distress, Job will confess:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

What an example of enduring faith in the face of hardship. Our pain will very seldom rise to what Job suffered but may our faith and trust in God never sag under lesser burdens.

Google Morality

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A while ago, I did a podcast test segment the point of which was to discuss the problem with trying to “be good for goodness sake.” That is, ethics without God, ethics based on a general notion of “good.” I said that it wouldn’t lead us into a time of great human flourishing, rather, it will lead to a new breed of Pharisee.

It appears that the moral relativism born in ’60s, nurtured in ’70s, and come to blossom in ’80s has given birth to what I call “Google Morality”. Whatever social media buzzes about now defines what is right and what is wrong (though buzz tends heavily toward what is wrong) and there are social warriors who will enforce it with very little sympathy, empathy, or consideration of other viewpoints.

Think I’m just making this up? Though it has been my unvoiced opinion for a while, no less than The Atlantic has written on this phenomena. And I quote:

The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming…

This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.

See? It isn’t just me and The Atlantic is no bastion of conservative, Judeo-Christian ethics. I hate that the article ends on Trump but up to the point where his name appears, the article is pretty good.

Edit: I should have noted that this was part b to this part a.

The Wisdom of Dr. Anthony Bradley

A while ago I happened upon Dr. Anthony Bradley on Twitter and I was impressed. He speaks with clarity and wisdom on racial issues and that’s rather hard to come by these days. So often when he says something that challenges me, I shut up and listen and ponder. Relevant Magazine’s recent interview with Dr. Bradley did that to me again. He discusses the history of slavery and evangelicals in America. He pulls no punches and at the same time, calls us to remember the gospel in light of our failures.

Here are a few quotes that highlight the clarity and charity of the man. Please, read the entire interview and think about it.

iu“Part of me wonders if our resistance to telling the story is our lack of confidence in recognizing that just because Christians practice the faith incorrectly and inappropriately at times doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Perhaps we are so used to believing this narrative that Christianity is right and good and true because of what Christians did as opposed to understanding that Christianity is right and good and true because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The truth of Christianity is not dependent upon the actions of God’s people at any given moment in history…

“I would argue that evangelicals often put themselves in positions where they believe minorities should come to them and be received. But moving forward, evangelicals as far as possible given their geographic location need to move toward minorities and be in their churches and be in their schools and be in their neighborhoods to create opportunities for solidarity and reciprocity…

“I would say that white churches need to go in communities and partner with the black churches and the hispanic churches and the Asian churches that are already there. It’s hard to imagine a minority neighborhood anywhere in this country that has a high concentration of people for whom there are not already existing churches. The idea that evangelicals need to move in and set up a flag for the Gospel and start something that’s not already there tends to overlook the decades if not centuries of work of Christians in churches that have been laboring in those neighborhoods already.”

But Some Doubted

There is a way in which doubt can establish faith rather than undermine it.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Some people believe that and the way they explain the Biblical accounts is to say that years later they were written by manipulators in order to turn a good teacher into a god to galvanize a movement that was beginning to fray.

There are historical, theological, and textual problems with this answer, but let’s leave them aside for the moment and ask what kind of writings such manipulators might manufacture. How would they tweak history to convince people 100 to 200 years later (according to skeptical timelines) that Jesus came back to life?

You might put words in Pauls mouth to the tune of:

“He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:4-8)

Years after Paul’s death there would be no way to actually verify any of this. These writings would be taken as inspired scripture which you’re not allowed to question so there you go. Jesus rose even when he didn’t.

I’m giving the skeptic a lot of leeway here. There are problems with the idea of anyone accepting modified writing or with their sudden appearance 200 years later if they were made up. But let’s let them have those for now.

A more sophisticated approach might be the story of Thomas’ doubt in John 20:26-29:

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

You see? Thomas came around! A story like, were it fake, would serve to strengthen the deception. “See? Thomas didn’t believe it either! But Jesus said you’d be blessed it you believe without seeing.”

What you would not expect to see if people are trying to establish the lie that Jesus rose from the dead and everyone back then knew it and believe it is this:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matt. 28:16-17)

These supposedly fabricated stories would seek to establish the supposedly ancient truth that Jesus rose and people saw him. Why would they include this? The disciples saw the resurrected Jesus and they worshipped him. “But some doubted.” What more proof did they need? He’s standing right in front of them!

But Matthew’s account could serve to undermine the entire covert attempt to fool people. You can’t let that kind of doubt slip through or the whole thing could unravel on you.

So why did Matthew include it? Probably because it really happened. People are not so simple as to believe just because they have evidence. We all doubt sometimes and the disciples were no different. After all, people don’t usually rise from the dead. Even in the pre-scientific mindset of the first century, Lazarus rose from the dead because Jesus told him to. But Jesus just rose.

That leads to another problem with fabricating this story. Even by the third century, women were not given equal status in society. So when the gospels say that women reported that Jesus rose, it again kind of undermines the attempt at deception.

So is it satisfying to believe that these masterminds who attempted to turn Jesus into something more than a rabbi were genius enough to fudge the scriptures and at the same time dopy enough to do it so poorly? It isn’t to me. So even when I question and wonder and, yes, doubt I still look at the scriptures and believe. But some doubt.

Labor and Politics and God

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. – Lev. 19:9-10

Notice that God commands that they are not to consume all of the fruits of their labors for themselves. Sow to the edges of your field and tend all of your vines. But when you reap, you intentionally leave some for the poor.

Also notice that God does not command them to harvest the rest and deliver it to the poor.

Work is good and so is sharing the fruit of your labor. At the same time, work is good for the poor. Keep this in mind when you hear the politicians debating about income inequality. The fault is probably not solely located on one side or the other.

God continues in Leviticus and says:

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. – Lev. 19:15

Too often only one side or the other is cited as the problem. The progressives blame only the rich and the conservatives blame only the welfare state. If we’re to do no injustice either for the poor or the great, we have to understand that many do indeed reap to the edges of their fields. They consume all that they make only for themselves by taking the highest possible wage they can. At the same time, others refuse to rise and go glean from the edges of the fields. It seems below their dignity to work for minimum wage or minimum wage can’t compete with the government benefits they receive. Or they are not allowed into the field at all.

It is injustice against the rich to just assume that we’re not taxing them enough and it is injustice against the poor to trap them on welfare. We need to weigh these issues with impartiality. That just doesn’t happen in a political campaign when people are trying to appeal to their base by speaking to their prejudices in order to secure their votes.

We can surely do better than this for the great and the poor alike.

Podcast Test Run


This is a test run of a segment for the potential, future podcast Cruciform. The production value of this audio segment is not great; I didn’t record it to test that but to see if the content would be sufficient and if my voice is not too annoying.

Please comment on the content of this podcast. Did it hold your attention? Is something like this a podcast you would want to listen to? Aside from better recording, how can we improve?

My ultimate goal is to have a quarterly podcast on a specific theme. It would be a longer podcast with different segments covering that subject. First, I have to finish my ministry licensing paper, then I’ll consider Cruciform.

Thank you for listening and commenting.

Links to resources mentioned in this segment:


Filled with the Holy Spirit


What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”?

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit – Luke 1:41

Remember that in Luke 1:15, the angel Gabriel told Zachariah, Elizabeth’s husband, that her baby John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

So what we have here is John in Elizabeth’s womb and he’s filled with the Holy Spirit, but Elizabeth herself is not. At least not until Mary visited her. And then she is. For a while you had a spirit filled individual inside an individual who was not spirit filled.

John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb illustrates the point of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. John hears Mary’s voice and, presumably, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, he knows that that means that Jesus is near. Elizabeth tells us that John leapt for joy.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does when he fills people, he leads them to action, he shows them the joy of knowing Jesus.

At that moment, then, Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and she exclaimed that Mary was blessed and so was the fruit of her womb. Again, the Spirit lead or enabled Elizabeth to do something, to say something, to “exclaim with a loud cry”.

The point is that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a matter of geography. The Holy Spirit resided within the confines of Elizabeth’s body but he was not filling and enabling her.

Another way to think of it is to recall that God is ubiquitous, or omnipresent, or in simple terms, he’s everywhere. But if I say that God is inside that tree or that mountain, aren’t I approaching animism or spiritism or pantheism or something?

Not really. God was within Elizabeth but he wasn’t filling her in the way he was filling John. God can be “in” a rock but that doesn’t mean that the rock is divine nor that he’s giving life to the rock. He is present but not the same way he is with his people.

So have you been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do you know? What happens to you when people start talking about Jesus? Do you yawn, get angry, or does it bring you joy? A better way to ask might be, does it ever bring you joy since I have yawned, gotten angry, and felt joy while listening to radio ministries.

The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit does something when he fills someone even though he is omnipresent.