Combating Indoctrination: How to Have a Productive Conversation

Here are philosopher A.C. Grayling’s thoughts on why religion is still around:

The major reason for the continuance of religious belief in a world which might otherwise have long moved beyond it, is indoctrination of children before they reach the age of reason, together with all or some combination of social pressure to conform, social reinforcement of religious institutions and traditions, emotion, and (it has to be said) ignorance – of science, of psychology, of history in general, and of the history and actual doctrines of religions themselves [1].

To be clear and anticipate some objections, the fact that someone is indoctrinated into a religious belief doesn’t mean it is automatically false, nor is the problem of indoctrination limited to specifically religious ideologies.  However, there is a clear correlation between indoctrinating children and religious belief.  People tend to believe what they were raised to believe to the extent that they either don’t have access to outside information or self police by selectively exposing themselves to information that they already agree with.  Even an open minded person may not be able to overcome the tangled web of social pressure, reinforcement, and emotional attachments developed in childhood for their faith tradition.  If this is the case, how might we break through to someone who is heavily indoctrinated?  I have found that using pointed questions (like these) in conversation to be immensely helpful.  When arguments get heated, both parties tend to be focused on what they are trying to say and are often formulating their next response while the other person is talking.  Being friendly and asking questions can go a long way.


  1. A.C. Grayling, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism, p. 13

Tim Challies Being Consistent on Original Sin

The teaching of Scripture is clear: even if I never committed a sin throughout my entire life, I would still be justly condemned to hell because of the original sin of Adam…If we are to believe that Christ stands as our representative in the act of redemption, we must also believe that Adam stands as our representative in the act of becoming a fallen people. We cannot have one without the other. [1]

After doing much study and reflection on this topic, I find myself simply shaking my head and realizing I am unable to know from Scripture what happens to all infants who die. While I would like to believe that all children are immediately ushered into heaven, I simply do not find Scripture to support the idea that God will categorically overlook the imputation of Adam’s sin that is held against all humanity, and even the tiniest child.  It seems to me that those who adhere to the view that all children are saved must gloss-over or downplay original sin, and that is something I cannot do. Children who die in infancy are as fully implicated in Adam’s sin as I am and are thus fully deserving of hell. [2]

Unlike Challies, many (not all) modern Calvinists are unwilling to bite the bullet and accept the implications of their theological system.  One implication of Reformed theology is that it would be fair for God to consciously torment children dying in infancy for eternity.  To put this concept more forcefully, if an aborted child were to wake up for the first time to millions and millions of unending ages of the omnipotent floodgates of the fierce wrath of God that is vastly disproportionate to her strength to bear it, this would be fair.  Many Calvinists might concede this (they would have to), but would seek to defang the doctrine by essentially claiming that “God would never do that”.  Challies is right to argue that there is no historical or biblical* precedent to argue this way.  The only precedent in the Reformed tradition is to offer hope to Christian parents that their children dying in infancy are part of the “elect” group of infants (See WCF Chapter 10 and The Canons of Dort article 1/17).  This is just one example among many of the moral and logical dilemmas in the Calvinist system (I have written on these dilemmas extensively, for more see here and here).  But this specific dilemma brings together the implications of meticulous divine sovereignty, original sin, God’s freedom in election, and hell (seen as eternal conscious torment) in a particularly unsettling way.  It is no wonder so many people are inconsistent on this point, and I don’t blame them.  However, it may be more fruitful to question the integrity of the theological system than to maintain such inconsistencies.

*If Calvinism is the theological system through which you interpret the Bible

Inerrancy and Slavery

Slavery is a barbaric institution that the human race has thankfully all but rid itself of (though human trafficking is still a problem).  Though this is the case, it is my contention that if a person accepts the doctrine of inerrancy, there was/is no biblical basis to end the practice.  Why do I single inerrancy out?  Because it could be argued by non-inerrantists that the overall thrust and “grand narrative” of the Bible moves toward redemption and freedom (See N.T. Wright for example), but an inerrantist cannot make this sort of argument because they are bound to affirm the inspiration of every specific text.  An argument from general principles will not work if it can be shown that specific texts contradict those principles.  It is no secret that many people charge that the Bible supports slavery, and use this (as well as many other things) to argue against it’s divine inspiration (See Sam Harris here).  In this post I will seek to show that their charge is correct and that a consistent inerrantist cannot condemn slavery.

Reformed Perspectives on Disciplining Slave Owners

In the Old School [1] Presbyterian general assembly of 1845, the following conclusions were reached about the relationship of Church discipline and slavery:

“The existence of domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the southern portion of the country is no bar to Christian communion…Do the Scriptures teach that the holding of slaves, without regard to the circumstances, is a sin, the renunciation of which should be made a condition of membership in the church of Christ? It is impossible to answer this question in the affirmative without contradicting some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.  That slavery existed in the days of Christ and his Apostles is an admitted fact. That they did not denounce the relation as sinful, as inconsistent with Christianity; that slaveholders were admitted to membership in the churches organized by the Apostles; that whilst they were required to treat their slaves with kindness, and as rational, accountable, and immortal beings, and if Christians, as brethren in the Lord, they were not commanded to emancipate them; that slaves were required to be obedient to their masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, with singleness of heart as unto Christ, are facts which meet the eye of every reader of the New Testament. This Assembly cannot, therefore, denounce the holding of slaves as necessarily a heinous and scandalous sin, calculated to bring upon the Church the curse of God, without charging the Apostles of Christ with conniving as such sin, introducing into the Church such sinners, and thus bringing upon them the curse of the Almighty…since Christ and his inspired Apostles did not make the holding of slaves a bar to communion, we, as a court of Christ, have no authority to do so” [2].  

Biblical Reflections

From the point of view of scripture, was this pronouncement of the assembly right?  Did (does?) the church have the authority to call slavery sin and to discipline its members accordingly?  There are two main objections to this pronouncement:

  1. Slavery is always a sin unless God positively commands or allows it (The OT)
  2. 1 Timothy 1:10 condemns slavery in the NT period

I will come back to these as I unpack their argument.  The first thing that must be noted is that the statement argues exclusively from the data of the New Testament.  The assembly was well aware that God had encouraged Israel to purchase people from the nations around them to become their property as slaves for life, and they could be passed down to their children as inherited property (See Leviticus 25).  However, they were interested in what the responsibility of the church was in a non-theocratic context. First, they point out that it is an obvious fact that slavery was a reality during the time of the early Church. Why does this matter?  Because we can observe how the apostles deal with slavery when it is not from the positive command of God.  As the Assembly notes, slavery, or the relationship between slave and master, is never denounced as a sinful relationship or institution.  Nowhere is it implied that this is inconsistent with Christianity. When we read the New Testament, we find that masters are commanded to be kind to their slaves, not release them.  In addition, slaves are always commanded to obey their masters and accept their lot.  What else do we see when we look at the New Testament? Paul commands the saints who are in Ephesus [3] to stop threatening their slaves because Jesus is the ruler of both slave and Christian master [4].  Similarly, the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae [5] are to treat their slaves fairly since even the masters have a master in heaven [6].  Paul explicitly tells slaves that their Christian masters are brothers [7].  Philemon, a Christian slaveholder, is called a fellow worker [8].  Paul then returns Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus.  But to what end? Philemon is not requested to set Onesimus free, but…to love him, and to see in the converted slave his brother in Christ [9].  What does this mean?  It means slaveholders were admitted into membership in the churches of the Apostles.  They are regularly addressed as part of the congregations.  Why is this so important? It is possible to justify the slavery (and many other things) in the Old Testament by arguing that outside of the positive command of God, these things are always wrong.  But if the Apostles admitted slave-owners into the church, that means that owning slaves in a “non positive command” context is not considered an unrepentant sin.  This is why the statement concludes by saying that the church does not have the authority to bar from membership those whom the Apostles allowed in under analogous conditions.  What of 1 Timothy 1:10? Paul includes kidnappers in one of his lists of sins [10].  But why is this surprising, and how does it prove that slavery is wrong?  The Old Testament law said that kidnappers should be put to death [11], while allowing for the type of slavery in Leviticus 25 and for virgin women to be taken as plunder.  Obviously the law has a very narrow meaning regarding what constitutes as kidnaping.  Kidnapping in this context, and in Pauls context, is the stealing of someone else’s slave or the false sale of a freeman [12].  There is no reason to think that Paul is suddenly expanding the meaning of the biblical concept of kidnapping, especially considering the fact that slaveholding is not considered an unrepentant sin to be disciplined.  Given all of this data, on what authority could a consistent inerrantist living in the south bar slave-owners from church membership?  On what authority could they be disciplined for owning slaves if they treated them according to Pauline instructions? Does the church have the authority to discipline someone for something that the Bible does not say is sin?  This is the dilemma for the consistent inerrantist, and one reason among many that I find this way of looking at the Bible untenable.  

  1. A group led by Charles Hodge that was skeptical of revivalism and was concerned with the “spirituality of the church”
  2. Quoted In: John Murray, Principles of Conduct, Appendix D
  3. Ephesians 1
  4. Ephesians 6
  5. Colossians 1
  6. Colossians 4
  7. 1 Timothy 6
  8. Philemon
  9. Jac J Muller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon, P. 169
  10. See the NASB translation
  11. Exodus 21:16
  12. Calvin’s Complete Commentaries, 1 Timothy 1:10

Preaching to the Choir: On Pop-Apologists and Their Craft

The Amateur Exegete

I’m not a very intelligent individual nor am I an exceptional writer. This blog, my presence on Twitter, and my (slowly) growing YouTube channel represent my rather insignificant contribution to the world of biblical studies (and sometimes atheism). But though my influence is small, it is fundamentally honest. I try to do my homework and write what I actually think is the case on biblical texts and related subjects. I do my best to cite my sources and not misrepresent scholars upon whom I depend as a mere amateur. And when I’m shown to be wrong on the facts, I do my best to acknowledge error and align my views to fit the facts.

Quotemining and Plagiarizing

Compare my approach with the many pop-apologists out in the world. As is often the case, their lack of epistemic humility leads them to making numerous errors in their writing and speaking. Take

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The Solid Firmament of Genesis 1

Paul Seely explains:

There is not a single piece of evidence in the OT to support the conservative belief that the raqia was not solid.  The historical meaning of raqia, so far from being overthrown by the grammatical evidence, is confirmed by it.  The historical-grammatical meaning of raqia in Gen 1:6-8 is very clearly a literally solid firmament…it is not the purpose of Gen 1: 7 to teach us the physical nature of the sky.

Read the full paper here


Knowledge Without God?

Dan Linford and Jennifer Benjamin write:

Van Til concluded Christian theism is a necessary precondition for the possession of knowledge as such, a position we call “Van Tillian Presuppositionalism” (VTP).  VTP is now the basis for a variety of conservative Christian movements. We show the response VTP advocates offer to the problem of evil–a version of skeptical theism-results in ineliminble radical skeptical doubts. We conclude that VTP cannot ensure epistemic security. Only the autonomous use of human reason can avoid radical skepticism.

Read the full paper here