Biblical Mercy

Biblical Mercy

Edward T. Babinski
Friday, December 17, 2004
Subject: Dave Armstrong-Ed Babinski update

Dear Dave,

A friend of mine who left the fold, named Phil, took a gander at our debate. He may or may not add his comments to your blog-site. But I thought Iʼd pass Philʼs comments along, especially since I have not had time till now to reply myself.

As for a second go round between us, what can I say? The Bible is not my book, itʼs merely a book to me. While you have claimed it in faith to be yours. How dare I or anyone else comment on any part of it in less than adoring fashion? God shall smite those like me, for it says He will. Where? Why in the Bible of course. So itʼs you and “God” and your circular reasoning against my common sense. Furthermore, is there really any need for me to say much more, or rather should I let the Bible do the speaking, and simply invite everyone to read the Bible as they would any other book? In your case, read the following verses as if they came from the Book of Mormon, or the Koran, and tell me honestly what kinds of things you would have to say about them then:

Fathers will eat their sons, and sons will eat their fathers; for I [the Lord] will execute judgment on you …I [the Lord] will draw my sword from its scabbard and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked_ my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north_ My fury will mount up in my anger, and in my zeal and blazing wrath I declare.
- Ezekiel 5:10; 21:3-4; 38:18-19

The children of Israel stoned Achan and his daughters …burned them with fire …raised over them a heap of stones. And the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger …The Lord hardened their hearts to meet Israel in battle in order that He might destroy them utterly, that they might receive no mercy.
- Joshua 7:24-26; 11:20

The Lord said, “[Because] she has rebelled against her God …[Samarian] infants shall be dashed to pieces and women with child ripped open.”
- Hosea 13:16

The Lord said, “Slay man and woman, infant and suckling.”
- 1st Samuel 15:3

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
- Psalm 79:5

Thus says the Lord of hosts; I was jealous of Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.
- Zech. 8:2 (See also: Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24, 29:20; Psalms 78:58; Ezek.16:38, 36:5-6 and Joshua 24:19)

You shall fear (no other gods) only Yahweh …for He is a jealous God. Otherwise His anger will be kindled against you and He will wipe you off the face of the earth …In the cities He gives you leave alive nothing that breathes …utterly destroy them …show them no mercy …or Yahweh will destroy you utterly …The Lord delivered them before us …we …utterly destroyed the men …women, and the little ones of every city …If your brother, son, daughter, wife, or your friend who is your own soul, entice you away secretly, saying, “Let us go serve other gods”…you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death …These curses shall come on you …because you would not obey the Lord …you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters …I [the Lord] will make mine arrows drunk with blood.
- Deuteronomy 2:34; 5:9; 6:13,15; 7:2,4; 13:6-9; 20:16,17; 28:45,47,53; 32:42

I shall make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one anotherʼs flesh in the siege …A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lordʼs work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed_ You are My war-club …with you I shatter old man and youth. _ young man and virgin.
- Jeremiah 19:9; 48:10; 51:20,22

Such verses bring to mind a question: Is “heaven” really going to be a vacation paradise for obedient child slaughterers? I can just hear the pool-side chat, “We killed everyone in the city as God commanded_or thought we had. Then I spotted a heap of blankets rustling in an alleyway and yanked them aside, and there was a trembling young girl and her pregnant Mom. You should have seen the look on their faces as I raised my sword and_Hey waiter, can I get another Bloody Mary? Boy, I just love this place!”

I suppose it comes down to how highly you prize even the most imprecatory of the psalms, viewing them as “holy writ.” Psalms like these:

Let (my enemyʼs) prayer become sin…his days be few…his children fatherless…his wife a widow…wandering about begging…seeking food far from their ruined homes…let a creditor seize all he has…strangers steal from him…none to extend him a hand…nor to his orphaned children…let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, And do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off their memory from the earth…But Thou, Oh Lord, deal kindly with me.
- Psalm 109:7-15,21

The wicked…go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies…Break their teeth, O God…let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth (miscarriage) of a woman, that they might not see the sun…The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance, he will wash his own feet in the blood of the wicked.
- Psalm 58:3,6,8,10

Blessed [or happy] will be the one who dashes your little ones against the rock.
- Psalm 137:9

Do I not loath those who rise up against Thee, Lord? I hate them with perfect hatred.
- Psalm 139:21-22

It also comes down to how avidly you are willing to defend hyperbole like this as holy writ:

He will deliver you…from the deadly pestilence…
A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you…
no evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your dwelling. For He will give his angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and cobra; the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot…Because you have set your love upon Me [Yahweh], therefore I will deliver you…with long life I will satisfy you.
- Ps. 91

I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread.
- Ps. 37:25

No doubt different people enjoy different types of literature, poetry, movies, music, even different types of worship and sermons, and everyone defends their likes and dislikes. One person may even enjoy one flower more than another. Yet “fundamentalistic” Christians (whether of the Catholic or Protestant variety) appear to be living in a garden in which only their flowers—their holy writ with its poetry, hyperbole, metaphors and allegories—are deemed the kings of the garden, while all other religious literature is deemed less than truly “holy,” even if you compare the imprecatory psalms to the most sublime and insightful passages found in Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem books, or secular novels.

I find it interesting that you continue to defend the Bible as holy writ (“metaphorical, allegorical, and hyperbolic holy writ” in cases, though it remains unclear exactly what that may mean in terms of it being “holy” above and beyond all other wonderfully insightful metaphors, allegories and hyperbole found throughout world literature).

No doubt “fundamentalistic” believers of various religions, denominations and cults all love emphasizing what appears to them to be the incomparable “distinctiveness” of their particular holy book and holy doctrines, even to the point of endorsing the ultimate distinction, that of some people entering into heaven while others are cast into a lake of fire (however metaphorically or hyperbolically you wish to interpret such “firey” verses).

I am also hardly surprised that a faith that places “holy” value (whether metaphorically, hyperbolically, or however such stories and commands may be interpreted) on such fabulous bits as the story of the garden of Eden; the ark and flood story; the tower of Babel story; the Exodus story (in which upwards of a million desert-stranded Israelites and a huge mixed multitude together were commanded to pick up camp and move every day for forty years—led by a pillar of fire at night, a pillar of smoke by day, their clothes never wearing out, and their sacrificial apparatus running each day for those million+ people); along with animals being bled because “the life is in the blood” (isnʼt the “life” primarily in the brain and nervous system?) and then burning their carcasses so God could “smell the soothing aroma,” and donʼt skimp on the foreskin cutting too, and being sure to deliver the firstling of the flock to the priests, and letʼs not forget, “The man who does not heed and obey the priest shall die” (Deut. 17:12); and bloody tales of the slaughter of men, women and children (Egyptian, Canaanite and even Jewish) at Yahwehʼs decree, and how the Israelites honored Yahweh by “not keeping their swords from bloodshed;” then skipping past the Hebrew Bible to the inter-testamental Hebrew period during which the figure of “Satan” grew to the most inflated mythical proportions (the “god of this world” and “prince of the power of the air”); finally winding up in the “New (and improved) Testament,” and a God who only feels truly satisfied after He gets beat up and killed on earth—only then does God feel in a truly forgiving mood—though not too forgiving, because thereʼs still eternal hell for folks who do not:

Believe in Godʼs son (Mark 16:16; John 3:18,36, 8:21-25, 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; I John 5:12),
Repent (Luke 13:3,5),
Get born again (John 3:3),
Get born of the water and of the Spirit (John 3:5),
Believe everything in the gospel (Mark 16:16),
Eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood (John 6:53),
Become like a child (Mark 10:15)
Do good deeds, esp. for needy people (Matt. 25:41-46; Rom. 2:5-10; John 5:28-29; James 2:14-26).

Thereʼs even some stern warnings for those who arenʼt “Christian” enough “Christians”:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: DEPART from me, ye that work iniquity.
- Matt. 7

And that servant, which knew his lordʼs will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be BEATEN with many stripes.
- Luke 12:47

But the most dire warnings and firey consequences are directed at those who “do not believe”:

[Jesus] said, Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
- Mark 16:15 [A verse not found in the earliest known manuscripts of Mark; but most would agree a Christian probably wrote this and other verses in the last half of Mark chapter 16. In fact three added endings to Mark have been found. So, make of such additions by Christians to their own Gospels what you will.]

The author of the Gospel of John may have wanted to emphasize not only what Mark 16:15 says (“whoever does not believe will be condemned”) but also that:

He who does not believe is condemned already.
- John 3

“If anyoneʼs name was not found written in the book of life, he was THROWN into the lake of fire.” Rev. 20:15

“If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be CAST into everlasting fire.” Matthew 18:8

What does being “thrown” or “cast” into “fire” symbolize? Seems like serious stuff even metaphorically, but of course to someone like you, a fan of Lewis and Chesterton, I suppose itʼs merely a metaphor combined with hyperbole, and essentially refers to nothing nearly as dire as being cast into fire, or being tortured deliberately by a deity. Though some Biblical interpreters living in less kindly or civil ages of mankind understood the phrase as reflecting pain and torture deliberately inflicted by God that would make mere earthly “fire” appear tame in comparison. They argued that the Biblical authors employed the concept of feeling oneʼs skin burning on every inch of oneʼs body, due to the lack of even more painful concepts of torture, not less painful ones.

Historical religious scholars say that the “hell fire” concept rose to prominence during the Hebrewʼs intertestamental period and was adopted by first century apocalyptists including the early Christians. Hellʼs continuing evolution led some Christians to write in the names of the apostles Paul and notably, Peter, some apocalyptic scenarios that were fairly popular in early Christianity:

If Satan was the source of error and evil, false teaching and wrongdoing were not merely mistaken: they were diabolic. The division between a Christian “community of goodness” and an “outer world of evil” could easily become too pronounced. The idea of Satan magnified the difference between “true” and “false” Christians and between Christian sinners and saints_Like Satan, the Last Judgment was a force that Christians exaggerated and then claimed to be able to defeat_This teaching was reinforced by an equally powerful ally, the Christian idea of sin. Sin was not just the sin of an action, or even an intention, but also the sin of a thought, even a passing interest in an appealing man or woman. This combination of rarefied sin and eternal punishment was supported, as we shall see, by books of vision and revelation that were probably more widely read than modern contempt for “pseudepigraphic” forgeries allows: acquaintance with the Apocalypse of “Peter” would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church (we happen to know that “Peterʼs vision of hell” was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it.
—Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p. 326-327, 330-331, 412

Also, what does “being tortured by thirst and denied a drink of water” symbolize? I am speaking of the parable in Luke about the former rich man dying, going to Hades, and being tormented by an unquenchable thirst, but who sees the former beggar, Lazarus, enjoying himself in Abrahamʼs bosom. The tortured rich man begs for a drop of water, but is told none can be given. So the rich man made another plea, a relatively unselfish one at that, asking that Lazarus be sent back to the world of the living to warn the rich manʼs brothers so they donʼt wind up like him. Such a plea was denied and the tortured rich man was told, “They have the prophets.” But in the last Gospel (John) it appears something more can be done (contra the parable in Luke), a real “Lazarus” (himself a wealthy man) is raised from the dead! And if your name happens to be “Thomas” and you have some doubts, Jesus will make a special return resurrection visit to allay your doubts, though the Gospel writer quickly added, “it is more blessed to believe without seeing.” Isnʼt that the same lame argument used by all faiths? “Just believe! Itʼs more blessed that way!” But Iʼll take “seeing” ahead of that “extra blessing” any day of the week.

Speaking of “seeing”—we are told in the Gospels that multitudes got to see Jesus arrive in Jerusalem, and cried out “Hosanna!” and waved palms, laying them on the ground before him, what a triumphal entry! But how many got to see the even more triumphal moment when Jesus conquered death, left town, and rose bodily up into heaven? The Gospel of Luke (not Mark and not Matthew) says that after Jesus rose from the dead he showed himself to the remaining eleven apostles and ate food in their presence to convince them he was “not a spirit” because, “Does a spirit have flesh and bones?” Lukeʼs Gospel adds that the next thing this “flesh and bone, not a spirit, food eating,” Jesus did was to “lead” the apostles to Bethany, a town near Jerusalem, and there Jesus rose bodily up into the sky. Luke and Acts describe these events as only being seen by the remaining eleven apostles, viz., Jesus “led” them from a room in Jerusalem to Bethany, and then rose bodily up into the sky. But not a lot of people witnessed the walk through Jerusalem and the rising into the sky. No “Hosannas!” No palms being waved. A relatively quiet “victory lap” Iʼd say, as quiet as Santa when he leaves presents in the night and vanishes. (But no one is demanding that you believe in Santa under penalty of being cast or thrown into eternal hell fire.) In Acts, Luke says the apostles didnʼt even begin to preach about Jesusʼ “resurrection,” until seven weeks after Jesusʼ death. Another quiet period. Hmmm. Seven weeks later? Am I supposed to believe this stuff literally? A lot can happen in seven weeks, people can grieve and ponder and dream and have all sorts of cathartic experiences, and come up with hypotheses, excuses and other things in seven weeks. Moreover, when the apostles began preaching with Jesus after those seven weeks, they undoubtedly entered Jerusalem to a lot less acclaim that Jesus did. They had been gone for seven weeks, so they were not exactly drawing crowds all over the countryside as Jesus allegedly did before he entered the city to acclaim. So, I bet the apostles didnʼt march back into the city with people shouting “Hosanna!” They probably blended into the vast crowds already entering the city at that time for the next major Hebrew festival that takes place seven weeks after Passover. So Peter probably started preaching on a street corner like other apocalyptic cults of that day and age. Iʼm sure that any success he had at gaining converts was interpreted as a sign that Jesusʼ mission was supposed to continue. Christianityʼs rebirth fueled the enthusiasm that fueled more impressive retellings of stories about Jesus and the early churchʼs own rebirth. Moreover, there is no mention of Peter knocking on the high priestʼs front door, or Herodʼs, or the Pilateʼs. It would seem that the earliest Christian preaching started out “under the radar” so to speak, one cult among others (Josephus mentions an Egyptian in Jerusalem who had tens of thousands of followers who predicted the end of the world and led his followers out into the desert. He also mentions a prophet who was roaming the streets predicting Jerusalemʼs destruction. And signs in the sky of armies fighting, allegedly seen by “everyone.” Sure. The Dead Sea scrolls even demonstrate that a hundred years before Jesusʼ day there were Jewish groups expecting the end of the world within a “generation” of a Teacher of Righteousness). Gospel stories about there being a “large hubbub” about Jesusʼ resurrection immediately after it happened in Jerusalem, are probably later exaggerations, hyperbole. *smile* Even the earliest incarnation of the “empty tomb” story in Mark, ended with the saying that “the women told no one,” and the earliest known copies of that Gospel simply ended there with the women telling “no one” about the empty tomb. When they finally did tell someone is simply not reported in Mark, though other early Christians probably filled in the blanks at the end of Mark most eagerly with their own tales, such as the women running back to tell the apostles immediately. That is one way a story can grow. But it does not follow that the empty tomb story itself was an early tale in Christianity. Because if the Gospel of Mark did simply end his empty tomb tale with the woman telling “no one” then there is no telling when such a story first arose. But it is easy to see how it the blanks were later filled and expanded in Matthew, Luke, and John.

Also compare what Lukeʼs “angel” at the empty tomb said with what Markʼs “young man” at the tomb said. Markʼs young man says most definitely that Jesus has “gone before you to Galilee [a whole province away from Judea, out in the country], there you will see him.” (Matthew agrees.) But Lukeʼs angel says something quite different so Jesus is not “going before” the apostles to Galilee to be seen there, out in the country. Instead, the story had apparently changed before it reached Lukeʼs ears. In fact the number of words and the doings of the resurrected Jesus grow larger in number and description as you progress from Mark to Matthew to Luke to John. Commonsense should give one reason to pause, just as it should when Pinnochioʼs nose grew longer with each new lie. Various N.T. scholars have commented that if the story about Jesus being “seen in Galilee” is the earliest story (most probably earlier than the resurrection stories in either Luke or John) then that is probably the province to which the apostles retreated after Jesusʼ death in grief and to ponder matters before they regained the courage to walk back into Jerusalem seven weeks later and begin preaching and seeking followers for their dead yet glorified (as they viewed him) leader.

Speaking of which, simply compare the story of Markʼs “young man” at the empty tomb with the figures you meet at the empty tomb according to the later three Gospels. Mark mentioned a “young man” who followed the soldiers who led Jesus away on the night of his arrest, till the soldiers turned and saw the “young man” and tried to grab him but tore off his clothing instead, so the “young man” fled away naked into the night. Is this the same “young man” that Mark depicts the women meeting in the empty tomb, dressed in white? Coincidence? The other Gospels donʼt even mention the story of the “naked young man” who flees away on the night of Jesusʼ capture. They just turn the person in the empty tomb into an “angel” or even “two angels” (in Matthew and John). Again, you can see the Gospel stories growing like Pinocchioʼs nose.

One last commonsense thought: If you have already justified to yourself folks being “cast into a lake of fire” [sic—metaphor] for not believing like you, then justifying the most imprecatory of the psalms as “holy writ” should be a relative breeze in comparison.

Speaking of the mindʼs ability to justify stuff, I am reminded of how C. S. Lewis once justified the possibility of God granting eternal life even to insects by “combining a heaven for mosquitoes with a hell for man.” Amazing what the mind can do, once you begin justifying stuff.

Religion is a puddle from which a gnat may drink and in which an elephant may bathe. And even the weakest disputant is made so conceited by what he calls religion, as to think himself wiser than the wisest who thinks differently from him.

Fist Fight at Holy Site

Greek Orthodox and Catholic Franciscan priests got into a fist fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Christianityʼs holiest shrine, after arguing over whether a door in the basilica should be closed during a procession. Dozens of people, including several Israeli police officers, were slightly hurt in the brawl at the shrine, built over the spot where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried. Four priests were detained, police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said. Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by several denominations that jealously guard territory and responsibilities under a fragile deal hammered out over the last centuries. Any perceived encroachment on one groupʼs turf can lead to vicious feuds, sometimes lasting hundreds of years. Mondayʼs fight broke out during a procession of hundreds of Greek Orthodox worshippers_Church officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that at one point, the procession passed a Roman Catholic chapel, and priests from both sides started arguing over whether the door to the chapel should be open or closed. Club-wielding Israeli riot police broke up the fight_ In 2003, Israeli police threatened to limit the number of worshippers allowed to attend an Easter ceremony if the denominations did not agree on who would lead the ceremony_ But a year earlier, the Greek patriarch and Armenian clergyman designated to enter the tomb exchanged blows after a dispute over who would be first to exit the chamber.
—Associated Press, 2004

Local psychiatrists speak of a Jerusalem syndrome. A hundred-odd pilgrims and tourists are treated each year at Kfar Shaul Hospital, the government mental-health center serving the Jerusalem area, for breakdowns related to this syndrome, which involves messianic fantasies and delusions of being Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, or other Biblical characters. Many have a strong grounding in the Bible. In Jerusalem, they suddenly take off their clothes or shout prophecies on street corners, only to revert to normal after a few daysʼ treatment.
—Amos Elon, Jerusalem: City of Mirrors


P.S., I bet you are already familiar with the revelation of “Julian of Norwich” (a 13th century female Christian mystic), but I thought Iʼd share it, since it is a more upbeat quotation with which to end this email than the two above.

A revelation of Jesus, experienced and recorded by Julian of Norwich:

Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that I needed to know, answered with this assurance: “Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done.—This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.

And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows: our faith is grounded in Godʼs word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that Godʼs word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned,—And given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time. And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.”

[Both quotations above, are from the so-called “Long Text,” and they occur in Julianʼs account of her 13th revelation. The first quotation is from Chapter 27 of the Long Text, and the second is from Chapter 32. The modern English is from Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text and Long Text), trans. Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin, 1998). The first quotation is from page 79, and the second quotation is from pages 85-86. The original Middle English versions of these passages can be found in A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, Part Two, ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978). That edition is the one usually cited in scholarly works on Julian. The first quotation is from page 405, and the~second is from pages 423-26. C. S. Lewis, the beloved 20th-century Christian author, cited the words that Julian reportedly heard Jesus say, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” in his novel about heaven and hell, The Great Divorce.]

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