Monthly Archives: February 2011

Interacting with Luke 2:22-24 — Pulling Apart Leviticus 12

How do we understand Leviticus 12 in light of the New Testament? First, it is important that we look at Luke 2:22-24. Here, Mary fulfills the obligations of the Law by presenting herself at the Temple and offering the sacrifices as prescribed. In this case, she offers a pair of doves, suggesting that Mary and Joseph were poor. The dove offering was for those who could not afford the lamb offering (Lev 12:8).

But what does this mean? How could Jesus be born into such an unclean state? Or, if we hold that childbirth is in itself sinful (see earlier post for that discussion), how could Jesus, who is sinless, be brought into the world through sin?

Indeed, the Church has come up with all kinds of creative ways around this supposed problem. (I, for one, don’t have a problem with the idea that Jesus descended into the muck and mire of human brokenness. It does not, in my understanding, pollute or compromise Jesus’ sinlessness).

For example, in order to protect Jesus’ divinity, his sinlessness and his perfection, it has been suggested that Mary was herself sinless.

If this is the case, then we get teachings such as she didn’t actually experience lochia bleeding after the birth of Jesus. Mary’s presention of an offering at the Temple was not to render her clean, but to “keep up appearances.” This lack of lochia bleeding would suggest then, that lochia bleeding is part of the Fall, and not part of the original design of childbirth.

If, Jesus’ sinlessness and perfection means that he cannot cause another person to enter into a state of sin, then it has been suggested that immediately after the birth, Mary’s womb was closed by the Holy Spirit so that she did not become unclean because of Jesus.

Origen taught that Mary did not experience lochia bleeding and the resulting uncleanness, because she was a virgin, and as such she really didn’t need to offer a sacrifice of atonement. How having sexual relations would impact the mechanics of labour and delivery and thus, lochia bleeding is beyond me. Indeed, what would he say about menstrual bleeding, since it happens to women independent of their sexual activity. (This, of course, is outside the realm of this current blog post, but Origen’s Homilies on Leviticus make for a fascinating read).

Next up: Some Concluding Thoughts.

Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Three- We Are Just Too Pretty for God to Let Us Die

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.
**************

In this series of posts, we are employing the theoretical and empirical literature in the psychology of religion as we examine the character Malcolm Reynolds (“Mal”), and the loss of faith that accompanied his defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley. A crisis of faith like Mal’s is often a turning point, after which a person’s religious life is never the same. This could result in a turning away from religion, or a deepening and maturing of one’s faith (Exline & Rose, 2005).

In the last post, Mal’s family background was examined in light of Paul Vitz’s “defective father hypothesis.” Today, we examine another of the “risk factors” that may have predisposed Mal to respond to Serenity Valley with apostasy: the relative maturity of his faith.

When we see Mal in the Battle of Serenity Valley, there is no questioning the sincerity of his faith. But the maturity of that faith is a separate matter. We are shown only one clue in connection to this issue in the Battle of Serenity Valley. Mal announces his intention to shoot down an enemy aircraft, and when his comrade Zoe asks if he thinks that they can succeed, Mal holds up the cross that he wears around his neck and says, “You even need to ask?” What we see here is Mal connecting his belief in God to victory in battle.

This kind of “magical thinking” (a focus on supernatural forces bringing about what one wants) characterizes what Gordon Allport (1950) called “immature religion.” When confronted with suffering and evil, the religiously-immature person typically cannot continue as before. “A faith centered in self-advantage is bound to break up” (p.120). The outcome of such a crisis will either be an intensification and maturation of one’s faith, or else a collapse into turmoil and doubt. Allport recounts two cases of veterans (both of Protestant upbringing) who were severely wounded in battle. One’s reaction involved a deepened spirituality and commitment to God, while the other became a militant atheist.

Religious struggle provides opportunities for either psychological growth or deterioration, depending on how one handles the situation (Raiya, Pargament, & Magyar-Russell, 2010). One aspect of this is the attempt to find an explanation for one’s struggle that fits within the pre-existing religious framework. Hunsberger, Pratt, and Pancer (2002) examined how young people dealt with their struggles and religious doubts. Those who sought out and consulted “anti-religious” literature for guidance were more likely to have become less religious two years later, while those who sought out “pro-religious” literature were more likely to have increased in religiousness and decreased in doubt two years later.

Would Mal’s religious struggle have ended differently if he had “done his homework” after Serenity Valley? It is impossible to say, but a study of scripture and history might have shown Mal that, whether one is talking about the Christian samurai at the Battle of Sekigahara, the fall of the Roman Empire, or Israel enduring the Babylonian Exile, being one of “God’s People” has never guaranteed victory in military conflicts.

In the next post, Mal’s disappointment and anger toward God will be discussed in light of Julie Exline’s research on religious struggle.

References:
Allport, G. W. (1950). The individual and his religion. New York: Macmillan.
Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. (2005). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 315-330). New York: Guilford Press.
Hunsberger, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S.M. (2002). A longitudinal study of religious doubts in high school and beyond: Relationships, stability, and searching for answers. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 255-266.
Raiya, H. A., Pargament, K. I., & Magyar-Russell, G. (2010). When religion goes awry: Religious risk factors for poorer health and well-being. In P. Verhagen, H. van Praag, J. Lopez-Ibor, J. Cox, & D. Moussaoui (Eds.), Religion and psychiatry: Beyond boundaries (pp. 389-411). London: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

It Has Begun

Justin Taylor has a post up about Rob Bell’s upcoming new book, and at 432 comments (!) the knives are out. Even before people have read the book, they are throwing around the “H” word.

So my questions:

Just because we call someone a heretic does it make it so?

Who, in an individualistic church culture like North America, has the authority to declare someone a heretic?

Does having a different theological position automatically justify the label of heretic?

Of course, for all the hoopla over at TGC, it might have the opposite effect than the critical comments intend. The controversy will probably serve the publishers best, as it will push sales of the book quite high.

Edited to add: Kevin Young also has a post up about Rob Bell and universalism. Check out: To Hell With Hell. (HT Craig)

Edit #2: Jon Coutts offers his reflections here. I especially appreciate this comment:

Undoubtedly this is one of the more difficult questions in theology. I am not sure if I admire Bell’s boldness or find his promotional teaser a bit flippant. Regardless, this is not an open and shut theological issue and it deserves careful consideration and gracious dialogue, and I imagine that is what he’d hope for. You can’t reduce everything to principles, label everyone by those principles, and then proceed as the guardian of truth rather than a person in communion with faith seeking understanding. At this point Bell raises questions, but does not merit condemnations. If anything, the main question we might ask is why it isn’t called “Jesus is Victor”?

Another Adventure with Anglicanism

I’ve been attending an Anglican church for the last six months or so. (You can see previous posts on the adventures here and here).

There are many things I like about this particular Anglican church. It has a good mix of ages and a strong core of seniors. (I’ve really worried about churches that are missing an entire generation of Christians, especially when it seems intentional). I love the liturgy, and I love celebrating communion every week (I will admit I’m struggling with the real wine instead of grape juice, but that’s not a theological issue, it’s more a “my meds and wine don’t play nice with each other” issue).

My biggest learning curve, at the moment is the hymnal. There are so many hymns in Common Praise that are so new to me. And, when they do have “classic” hymns, in many cases the words are slightly different. Part of it is theological differences, and part of it is an attempt to be gender inclusive. For example, the other week we sang “To God be the Glory”, and the words were changed to take out the “He”s. I understand why they have done that, but it was just enough to trip me (and more than several people in congregation) up as we sang.

One song we sang a couple of weeks ago, has been bouncing around in my head because as we sang it, I began to question the theology of it. The song is Bring Many Names. Basically the song takes different images (in particular familial images) and puts them together to describe God.

So God is portrayed as strong mother, warm father, old God, young God, and great God.

My struggle is with the fifth verse:
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

I sing and I read it, and all I can think of is process theology. Does God grow? On the other hand, is the fourth verse any better, where it suggests the opposite that God is an old, aching God?
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!

And I can’t even stretch it and try to explain the fifth verse as being about Jesus, because the entire hymn is directed at God the Father and not at Jesus specifically.

The last verse tries to capture the mystery and infiniteness of God, but ends up calling him “joyful darkness”:
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!

I have no problem with the idea that God is never fully known, indeed that is very Scriptural. But He is darkness far beyond our seeing? Maybe I am too predisposed to imagery of Light in the New Testament…

Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Two- Our Father Who Ain’t Good for Much, Fei Hua be Thy Name

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.

**************

In this series of posts, we are employing the theoretical and empirical literature in the psychology of religion as we examine the character Malcolm Reynolds (“Mal”), and the loss of faith that accompanied his defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley. A crisis of faith like Mal’s is often a turning point, after which a person’s religious life is never the same. This could result in a turning away from religion, or a deepening and maturing of one’s faith (Exline & Rose, 2005). Today, we examine one of the “risk factors” that may have predisposed Mal to respond to Serenity Valley with a loss of faith.

The psychology of atheism (lack of belief in a god or gods) and apostasy (renunciation of one’s religion) are understudied topics when compared to the research that falls within the category of “psychology of religion,” whether one chalks this discrepancy up to ideological biases within the social sciences (Stark, 1999), or to less sinister methodological difficulties (Bainbridge, 2005).

Psychologists who examine the irreligious, in the same way that psychologists of religion investigate variables that influence conversion into a faith (e.g., Granqvist & Hagekull, 2001), investigate variables that influence deconversion out of a faith. One such investigation involves the effect of family background, and one’s childhood relationship with one’s parents, on the way in which one views God.

In the Firefly episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” Mal mentions having grown up without a father. Instead, he was raised by his mother and “about forty hands” on his mother’s ranch. Paul Vitz (1999), Professor of Psychology at NYU, argues that some atheists adopt their position as the result of unresolved difficulties involving their fathers. Vitz employs the same logic that Sigmund Freud used in The Future of an Illusion (Freud, 1927) to explain belief in God. Freud connects belief in God to a desire for a caring and protective father. One’s feelings toward one’s father are connected in Freudian psychoanalysis to the Oedipus complex (Freud, 1913), which occurs as a part of natural personality development between the ages of three and six.

Children at that age begin to comprehend the concept of gender, and they feel attraction toward their opposite-sex parent (yeah… Freud was a twisted little freak-monkey who had sex on the brain). This makes the same-sex parent a rival, and the child experiences hatred and resentment toward the same-sex parent. Even if this conflict is resolved in a relatively healthy manner, Oedipal urges are never entirely dispelled. But if the Oedipus complex is not properly resolved, it may result in a fixation at that stage of development, influencing the way in which the child comes to understand authority and sexuality. As Freud describes God as a projection of our father image onto the universe, a desire to be loved and sheltered by one’s father can result in a desire that there be a loving and sheltering “heavenly father.”

Vitz extends Freud’s theory, connecting rejection of God to unresolved Oedipal issues that result in animosity toward one’s own “defective” father. Such animosity may come about for a number of reasons, including the father being “absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family” (Vitz, 1997, p.9), as is clearly the case with Mal’s father.

As Gordon Allport put it nearly five decades before Vitz, “It seems curious that Freud insists that belief in God is a projection of dependence and love associated with the earthly father, he overlooks the fact that by the same token atheism may be construed as the projection of ambivalence or hatred associated with the male parent” (Allport, 1950, p.118). As partial support for his “defective father hypothesis,” Vitz offers profiles of such prominent atheists as Karl Marx, Madelyn Murray O’Hair, Baron d’Holbach, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Sigmund Freud himself, all of whom had fathers who were absent or weak or abusive. Mal’s fatherless childhood may have predisposed him to respond with resentment when God appeared to fail him at Serenity Valley.

In the next post, we will use the very few clues that are available to us to consider the maturity of Mal’s faith before the Battle of Serenity Valley.

References:
Allport, G. W. (1950). The individual and his religion. New York: Macmillan.
Bainbridge, W. S. (2005). Atheism. Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 1, 1-24.
Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. (2005). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 315-330). New York: Guilford Press.
Freud, S. (1913). The interpretation of dreams (A. Brill, trans.). New York: Macmillan.
Freud, S. (1927). The future of an illusion. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Granqvist, P., & Hagekull, B. (2001). Seeking security in the new age: On attachment and emotional compensation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, 527-545.
Stark R. (1999). Atheism, faith, and the social scientific study of religion. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 14, 41-62.
Vitz, P. C. (1997). The psychology of atheism. Paper presented at New York University. New York, NY.
Vitz, P. C. (1999). Faith of the fatherless: The psychology of atheism. Dallas, TX: Spence.

Malcolm Reynold’s Loss of Faith Part One– Firefly and the Psychology of Religion

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.

**************

The television show Firefly centres around a crew of misfits who operate on the space vessel Serenity. The show is set in the distant future, a time in which Earth had become overpopulated and humanity responded by moving out into space and terraforming a large number of planets and moons into suitable habitats. At the time in which the events of the show take place, the inhabited planets had recently been unified, with or without their consent, by the Alliance. Malcolm Reynolds (often called “Mal”), the captain of Serenity, had fought on the losing side of this conflict, and he and his crew now eke out a living on the fringes of the Alliance, supporting themselves through smuggling and other criminal activities.

In the pilot episode of the series, we see that Mal took part in a pivotal battle (the Battle of Serenity Valley) between the Alliance and the “Independents” who resisted the Alliance’s hegemony. Mal was a Sergeant in the Independents’ forces, and he is shown to have been a person of cheerful optimism and sincere Christian faith. Mal believed that God would provide victory for the Independents and their righteous cause. When the Independents were crushed by the Alliance, Mal’s faith was similarly crushed. Six years later, Mal (now captain of a space ship named after the place of his defeat) has become hardened and embittered (though he retains a sense of humour and a deep nobility of character), and he demonstrates resentment toward God in particular and religion in general. In the few episodes of Firefly that were produced, and the spinoff film Serenity, this is demonstrated primarily in his interactions with Shepherd Book, a wandering priest who joins Mal’s crew.

Topics in this series of posts will include an examination of Mal’s loss of faith, drawing from the small but growing research literature on the psychology of religious conflict and apostasy. Certain “risk factors” in Mal’s background and personality, known to increase the likelihood of apostasy, will be identified. Mal’s reaction to the Battle of Serenity Valley will be analyzed as a case of disappointment and anger directed toward God. Finally, questions will be raised about Mal’s future as it relates to this issue.

Part Two: Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Two- Our Father Who Ain’t Good for Much, Fei Hua be Thy Name

Part Three: Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Three – We Are Just Too Pretty For God to Let Us Die

The Need For Atonement — Pulling Apart Leviticus 12

Does uncleanness automatically equal sinful?
If childbirth is not sinful in and of itself, but it is the blood that renders the woman unclean, much like semen renders a man unclean, is the bleeding actually sinful?
Why would a biological process that there is no way to control be a means of sin?
If there is a difference between uncleanness and sin, why then does Leviticus 12 require an atoning sacrifice?

The inherent mystery of childbirth points to an event in which the woman enters into a space that functions between life and death. In bringing life into the world, there is the danger of death, not only for herself, but also for the child. The woman, in giving birth, participates in a process of redemption, and thus the need for atonement is not so much to cover over sin, as it is “an occasion for establishing in the heart of the mother herself and her community, a more accurate assessment of that process’ character.” (see Ephraim Radner, Leviticus, Brazos Theological Commentary, pg 128).

While Kiuchi argues that childbirth brings a woman under God’s wrath, he does also see the time of uncleanness and the corresponding atonement as a time of reflection on the general condition of humanity. Childbirth is, then, “…actually appointed by the Lord as one to remind the mother of her spiritual condition…Thus the prescription reaffirms the reality of the Fall and its ongoing nature, which tends rarely to be considered by humanity.” (see Nobuyoshi Kiuchi, Leviticus, Apollos OT Commentary, 219).

On the other hand, perhaps a distinction should be made between sin and impurity. The requirement for a sin offering does not automatically mean that a sin has been committed. As Levine notes, “All impurity, however contracted, could lead to sinfulness if not attended to, and failure to deal properly with impurity aroused God’s anger.” (see Baruch Levine, Leviticus, JPS Torah Commentary, 74)

Of course it is possible that the need for a sin offering arises from actual sin. Milgrom points to the writings of Rabbi Simeon, who suggests that the need for an offering is not because the act of childbirth is inherently sinful, but because during her labour pains, the woman “uttered a rash oath, which she never intended to keep.” (see Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, Anchor Bible, 759).

Regardless, the instruction to present an offering demonstrates two things. First, the sin offering and burnt offering are the same regardless whether the child born is male or female, thus demonstrating some measure of equality.

Second, this is one of the only places where a woman is given instruction and is specifically demonstrated to have an active role in the life of the Temple (tabernacle) sacrificial system.

Next up: Leviticus 12 and Luke 2:22-24

Reading Leviticus 12 with Genesis 1-3 — Pulling Apart Leviticus 12

Next up in our examination of Leviticus 12 is the question, “Is childbirth itself sinful?” I’ve already pointed out that the text seems to indicate that it is the blood that renders the woman unclean, not necessarily the act of childbirth. Indeed, the text is silent as to whether the child is considered unclean at birth. This is in contrast to records from the Hittite culture, for example, that specifically state that a child is rendered unclean through the act of childbirth. (See Jacob Milgrom’s commentary on Leviticus, Anchor Bible, 750).

But, some Christian scholars do indeed see the child as being born unclean. Nobuyoshi Kiuchi in his commentary on Leviticus (in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series) argues that the ritual separation and atoning sacrifice cover not just the mother but also the child. (We’ll look at this a bit more, when we talk about Leviticus 12 and Luke 2:22 in a later post).

To start to answer the question above, we need to spend some time going back to the beginning. In Genesis 1:28 God commands the first humans to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Procreation appears to be part of the original design for humanity, even before the Fall.

Of course, the question is raised: to whom does this command ‘be fruitful’ apply? Rabbis in Second Temple Judaism believed that the command applied only to the men because the whole command is to be fruitful, multiply and subdue, and it is only the job of men to subdue the earth. (see Tal Ilan, Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine, 107).

Would lochia bleeding have been part of the original design of childbirth? If, as most scholars argue, the lochia bleeding is best compared to semen, rather than bleeding in general (see previous posts), than I would suggest that post-partum bleeding could be seen as part of the original design of procreation, as there is nothing to suggest that before the Fall, insemination would have occurred by any other method than semen emission.

Of course, we also need to take into consideration the curse in Genesis 3. Here, the woman is told that because of her sin, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” (Gen 3:16). Pain will be increased, and yet there is still the hope of childbirth. Indeed, the serpent will be defeated by Eve’s offspring, and while we as Christians tend to see this as Messianic, it also has a non-messianic element. For every child born, the continuation of the human race is guaranteed. The serpent does not ultimately win.

And as we read the entire book of Genesis we see this dramatic tension over and over again. Is humanity doomed to extinction after Cain kills Abel? (No, God gives Adam and Eve another son, Seth). Is the promise to Abraham doomed? (No, God eventually gives Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac). God does not condemn childbirth when he pronounces curses in Genesis 3, and indeed the command to “be fruitful and multiply” is repeated several times in Genesis (Gen 9:1; 9:7; 35:11).

Next up: The Need for Atonement