Thursday, July 25, 2013

Christian Patriot

Can a Christian be a patriot? Some Christians would unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. They can't understand how I can be a Christian and not be a patriot. But I'll be honest with you; I have struggled with that question for a lot of years.

I came of age during the Vietnam War. I watched the war unfold on TV. I saw some of the atrocities committed by a few, a very few, American soldiers, and I was repulsed by them. I thought the domino doctrine of our government stupid. And I became quietly anti-war and anti-government. Of course, attending Portland State University, the Berkelely of the North, probably influenced my youthful opinions. Several years into the war, however, I met some Montagnards who found refuge here as the war threatened their villages and their entire culture. They were Christians and an ethnic minority in danger of suffering genocide at the hands of the Communists, and I began to recognize that this war, no matter the rational of our government, was protecting innocent people. So I volunteered for the Marines.

God and the Marines felt I was unsuited. The Marines didn't think my eyesight was up to par. I'm not sure what God thought, but my guess is that he knew I could not kill anyone, even an enemy. The point is that I did a flip-flop and have been doing so ever since.

Can a Christian be a patriot? As a Christian I have allegiance to the King of kings. In a very real sense, I am a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and only a sojourner in the nation of my birth. In practice, throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have regularly had to choose God's moral rule over the dictates of human rulers. For that reason we have usually been suspected and often accused of being rebels and dissidents and dangerous. Often we have been - and are still - hunted by our governments, arrested, imprisoned and executed. Can a Christian swear allegiance to a government that could do that? I thought not. I am a Christian.

But what is a patriot? Here are the definitions: 1.a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. (classic) 2.a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government. (American) My father-in-law, who was a Christian and and a patriot and who served in the Navy during WWII, believed that it meant his country right or wrong. We had our debates over that. I can not as a Christian and in good conscience be a patriot in that sense.

I would prefer to define patriot in the second sense. In the beginning of our nation, of course, those two definitions were not in conflict. Our founding fathers, who were many of them Christians, could love, support, and defend the United States of America with devotion because the United States of America was founded upon the principles of individual rights (freedom) and non-interference by the federal government. In this sense, I am a patriot.

I am a patriot. I believe God has, as the Declaration of Independence declares, created all men equal and has endowed them with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In so far as this government or any government affirms that truth and allows those rights, I can and will love, support and defend it. I am a patriot.

In so far as my government does not affirm and allow those rights, I will oppose it because I am a patriot.

Of course, no country perfectly represents those values in practice. The United States allowed slavery for more than eighty years. Some of the founding fathers owned slaves at the same time they signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. That was truly insane.

Many Christians patriots, however, opposed slavery both in the North and the South. They argued against it. They wrote against it. They demonstrated against it. They disobeyed the laws of the land that protected slavery in order to assist slaves in their journey north to freedom. They fought a war. Some paid for their patriotism with their substance and their lives. I have stood before their graves. They were patriots.

That they succeeded was in great measure due to the wisdom of our imperfect founding fathers who recognized a truth they were not living. The documents created by these founding fathers continue to be the guide for our nation directing us toward the defense and implementation in our society of those God given rights. And they affirm the right of free men and women to argue against, write against, demonstrate against, and disobey the laws of this land when the practice of freedom falls short of the ideal. I am such a patriot.

That does not mean I am going to resist, or believe I can resist, to the point of taking up arms, though some think it could come to that for patriots in the days to come. It has in the past. In any case that would be pretty ineffectual. I have only one gun that shoots, a hunting rifle I haven't fired in fourteen years. It's under my bed if anyone comes looking.(Oh yes, I do have a pocket knife with a blade longer than three inches.) And I am old. Armed resistance is out of the question. Totally silly. And I have serious reservations about it being ever right. Passive resistance is another thing.

But I am a patriot. I will defend this nation and the principles of freedom it was founded upon. I will argue. I will write. And I will disobey those laws that deny and limit the freedoms won and defended by the lives and blood of millions of patriots past and present, yes, and those who are now serving in Afghanistan and serve in our military in other places defending the freedom we enjoy. I honor you. Thank you.

No nation lasts forever. Every nation will ultimately be judged by the only wise and righteous judge. This nation will be judged. As a Christian, I am absolutely convinced of that. But I believe I too will be judged, and in part that judgment will be based on how I stood for truth and righteousness. I find at this juncture of history I must declare with a Christian of the past who was faced with similar infringements of truth and righteousness: Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. I am a Christian patriot.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I have had a bit of fun today satirically poking fun at some of the conspiracy theories I've mined from the Internet. But there is a serious side to all this. Though most conspiracies are probably phony, not all are. The most obvious of the real conspiracies we face is the plot of our government to gather information about every aspect of our daily lives. (Is it too strong to call it a plot?)

I will go on, but I first want to say that ninety-nine percent of the people who serve us in the military and public services, like the police, are great patriots whom I would trust my life to. In fact, I do trust my life to them every day. Many are my friends, and I do not mean anything that follows to impugn their character or the service their render to us. It is the system I have little confidence in, not the boots on the ground.

What do I mean then? I mean that we have created in the last few years the technology to spy on ourselves - and apparently have the will to do so - unknown in any society including the paranoid societies of the old Soviet Union and present day China. And we are doing just that. We are doing just that largely without question and are being told it is for our own good.

Here are some of the facts. The NSA is recording our email activity and can at any moment search every email we send or receive. They may not be doing so, but they can. They can also record and search the data records for every phone call we make. Are they doing so? Probably not. That would be mindlesss. But they can. The technology is there. But isn't that information secure? Sure it is; just ask Edward Snowden, though Snowden is the least of our concerns. It appears more and more likely that it is our own government that we need fear because it is our government that has the power.

In addition to that data, our government and private corporations are capable of tracking our every move. The gps chips in our smart phones can be read. We know that. We already use that for good purposes as we track down lost or stolen phones. But the technology is in place to do far more. Is it being used? Yes, some stores track shoppers in their stories to find out where they go and where they stop. The cash registers, of course, track our purchases. Oh yes, we get rewards for allowing the tracking. But the technology is there to do far more. And our credit card use is in data files accessible to the government, if it should wish to have it. And since 9/11 we have laws in place that allow the government that power.

How about not signing up for rewards programs or how about paying with cash instead of credit? Sorry, it won't work. The government has the technology to track us via the security cams scattered around our cities using face-recognition technology. Or the government can follow our movements using cameras that scan the license plates of cars parked in parking lots or parked along the street. And government agencies are using that technology. We are told it is for our good, of course. It will locate stolen cars and track criminals. We may be thankful for that. But the technology can do far more than find criminals.

So what about buying online? Forget about it. Our credit cards are tracked, and even our Internet usage is tracked. Look at the ads on the side bar of your Facebook page or the pop-ups on various sites. Those ads are specifically selected for you based on the record of the sites you've visited. I, for example, check out new cameras now and then. So, on my Facebook page I get ads for cameras and photography courses. And you get ads for the things the Internet site's algorithms determine are your interests. That is all done automatically by the computer, but the technology allows far more.

It may be the Internet knows more about you than you know about yourself. Take time to study the ads that pop up on pages you visit. That is who you are, you know.

Is all this the inevitable result of the technologies that are being developed? Is this invasion something we should just get used to and hope it is relatively benign? History has proven that such confidence in government is dangerous. But isn't our government different? I'll leave you to decide.

My purpose in this blog is not to be inflammatory or cause anxiety. It is also not to endorse fears about black ops helicopters and internment camps. It is simply to point out the obvious - and to relate it to Christian worldview.

Most Christians are aware of the predictions (prophecies) about the end of this age that are found in our Bible. If you are not I recommend reading Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation. (If you are not a Christian, you might think this is all really stupid, akin to the Mayan calendar and the Y2K scare, but still it might be worth

considering.) At no time in history have these things seemed more realistically possible than right now. Understand, I have never been prone to prophecy scares. I think they are more often than not designed to serve the ends of the organizations that promote them (forgive me if I am wrong)and have often resulted in extreme craziness like Branch Davidian. But it would take a particularly obtuse individual reader to miss the correlation between the clear words of the Bible and the events unfolding today.

That said, what shall we do? Jesus seems clear on that point. 1) Go on doing what he has given us all to do. That is to proclaim the mercy of God available to all who would hear and trust in him. 2) Be ready. We can neither forestall nor hasten the end of this age. But we can be prepared.

Being prepared does not mean to hunker down in our bunkers. It does not mean to put up a supply of arms and ammunition, or at least I can not find that idea in what Jesus said. It means to be spiritually ready, for the Lord could return at any moment. It also means to be prepared for the possibility of very hard times ahead.

I know that for some Christians the theology they hold to tells them that God will take them out of the world before the difficult times called the Great Tribulation. I hope they are right, but I am not counting on it. Christians around the world today are experiencing difficult times, even suffering death for their faith. Why should I think I will escape? Be ready, Jesus says. Be ready to trust God whatever the days ahead bring. Be ready to stand true for him through anything. Be ready to suffer for his sake, for he has warned us that we likely will.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Was there a Source?

In my research for my book The Story of Jesus According to Matthew, it soon became obvious that there was considerable debate on the source Matthew used and whether Matthew was dependent upon the gospel of Mark (which would imply that he was not an eyewitness). I found that the view of the ante-Nicene fathers, in particular Papias, that the Apostle Matthew wrote first and Mark later was the most reasonable. But several questions remained to be answered.

The first question was why there was so much similarity between Matthew and Mark and Luke. Though there is no consensus, the majority opinion of scholars is that Matthew and Luke used Mark as their source for many of the narratives contained in the their gospels. (Small narratives contained in a larger story are called pericopae, meaning a set of verses that form a unit or, in other words, a chunk.)That made sense for several reasons.

    Mark is grammatically and syntactically rougher than either Matthew or Luke. This can be seen in the English translations, where many of Mark's transitions are made with the simple word "immediately," but is even more obvious in the Greek text. It is supposed that the latter writers improved the literary quality of Mark as they borrowed from it. The opposite - Mark's use of Matthew, for example, but making the story rougher - seems unlikely.
    And many of the pericopae found in Mark and in one or both of the other gospels are shorter in Mark. In other words, Matthew and Luke tend to add information to what is supposed by many scholars to be the original source. Their conclusion that Mark is the first rests upon the text critical principle that the shorter version is more likely the original.

The second question is what was the source. It seems clear that there was a source that Matthew and the writers of Mark and Luke drew from. The similarities among these gospels are just too striking in too many places for there not to have been a common source. Not only so, but that source had to have been a document (or oral tradition) in the Greek language; the Greek texts of these shared narratives are simply too close to allow for each author translating from Aramaic.

It is also clear that the source (unless there were multiple sources) was used by all three authors but selectively. That is, in some instances Matthew and Mark include a particular pericope such as the calling of Peter and Andrew in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20 - which are virtually word for word the same in the Greek - but Luke does not. In other instances, Matthew and Luke share a piece, such as the details of the temptations in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, that is completely absent from Mark.

That similarity between Matthew and Luke has led some Bible scholars to hypothesize a two document source, Mark plus a document which is no longer extant called Q. (Q means source.)

In either case, Mark is regarded as prior in time to Matthew. I've come to a different conclusion. I believe that Matthew was the first of the four accounts of Jesus' life (including John) contained in the New Testament. I recognize that there is a common source, of course, but I've come to the conclusion that source was the "teaching of the Apostles" which is mentioned in Acts 2:42, "All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals, and to prayer."

The teaching of the Apostles must have been oral at first. It must have included the things that Jesus said and did. It likely was in Aramaic, for that was the common language of the Jews in Jerusalem gathering as believers in Jesus in those early days. But as the group of believers grew, and especially as it began to include believers who were not Aramaic speakers but Greek speakers, the teaching of the Apostles would have had at least a second version in Greek. It is likely, also, that as time went on this oral narrative would have been written down, thus making it more or less settled in form and accounting for the similarities in the three gospel quotes from that source.

That accounts most logically and biblically for the source of all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It also accounts for the rougher literary quality of Mark, since these "sayings" were probably not polished pieces of writing and not yet connected in a larger narrative such as the gospels.

There is one more puzzle, however. Papias wrote that Matthew originally wrote in Hebrew (perhaps he meant Aramaic). If that were so and if the Gospel of Matthew is a translation into Greek (by Matthew or by someone else) why are there no indications in the text of translation? Translation is a creative process. No two translations of the same text by different translators will be the same. Certainly, the similarities among the three gospels are such to preclude that Matthew is a translation. They all must be using the same source, and that source must have been in Greek.

The solution is Matthew. Matthew was at least bi-lingual and probably tri-lingual. He was a tax collector. He would have spoken and written well in Greek and Aramaic. And he was a Levite, evidenced by the name which Mark and Luke use for him of Levi. That implies he was well acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures and able to both read and write in Hebrew, for that was the education of the Levites.

It is likely that Papias was right: Matthew did write his gospel narrative first in Hebrew. In that case, he had available to him the Aramaic version of the teaching of the Apostles - which he would have had a part in compiling since he was present and was one of the twelve. But his second, the Greek text we have, was not a translation. It was a rewritten version, composed in Greek using the Greek version of the teaching of the Apostles - which the other two writers, Mark and Luke, also used.

This logical and biblical approach to the Gospel of Matthew enables us to see the gospel as the work of an eyewitness to Jesus' life and to the priority which the earliest Christian writers affirmed.