Worth Reading - 5/27

You know the Tower of Babel story. The ancient people living on the plain of Shinar said,

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4)
The Mesopotamians’ had one aim: to make a name for themselves. God is not present in their aim. They are aiming at their own greatness.

And in these ancient Babel-onians we can see a picture of ourselves. Like them, we are sinners too often full of pride and selfish ambition, giving way too much thought about what others think about us and what our legacy will be. Like them, we too often have a ridiculous, exaggerated desire for our own glory and can put great effort into marshaling our resources and systems to achieve it.
Few things embody the religion of Silicon Valley better than the idea of The Singularity. In 2045, according to futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, the exponential increase in technological innovation will reach a point where humans transcend biology and merge with technology, becoming functionally immortal as spiritual machines, no longer dependent on our embodied condition. In short, technology will provide the answer to the fundamental human anxiety, mortality, and will lead us towards the most basic aspiration of traditional metaphysics and religion, union with divinity. When describing the Singularity University, co-founded by Kurzweil, and its ideas, Lanier says: “these are ideas with tremendous currency in Silicon Valley; these are guiding principles, not just amusements, for many of the most influential technologists … All thoughts about consciousness, souls, and the like are bound up equally in faith, which suggests something remarkable: What we are seeing is a new religion, expressed through an engineering culture.” The title of David Silva’s documentary on The Singularity sums up the religiosity at its core: “Turning into Gods.”
It’s easy to point to the culture wars and see them as a proxy for living out our faith. There are real dangers to a nation when the powers-that-be succumb and embrace societal sin. But fighting these battles, while important, is not enough to spread the gospel. The church, having turned in to itself in so many places, no longer provides the moral yardstick by which people measure cultural norms. While we must continue to stand for truth and religious freedom, it is not enough to get us back to a path of societal renewal. We must also return to the basics of personal holiness and care for the physically, morally, and spiritually destitute.

When the tyranny and paganism of Rome was at its height, James assigned in his epistle a surprisingly simple role to the church. He wrote that a “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). In applying his words to today, we can and should continue our fight for truth in the public square, but only as long as we continue to live in holiness and demonstrate that Jesus lives within us by caring for those who are suffering, doing so with both love and in truth.
All we need, apparently, is the red letters. The Old Testament God is angry and vengeful and not very Christian, but New Testament God is great. Old Testament God is just God in his teen years when he was ready to fight if you looked at him the wrong way. But New Testament God has grown up. He doesn’t lose his temper over little things any more. He’s chill now. He listens to NPR and loves Portlandia and is kinda embarrassed by all that wrath and judgment stuff in the Old Testament. So don’t worry about that 2/3 of the Bible. Just read about Jesus and you have everything you need to understand Christian ethics.

Of course, to any student of church history this thinking should sound familiar. All of these arguments trade in a form of Marcionism, the ancient Christian heresy attributed to Marcion, a second century Christian who rejected the Old Testament.

What particularly frustrates about this approach to arguing about capital punishment–or any other ethical issue where an Old Testament text is often mentioned–is that it needlessly gives away so much. The argument ultimately turns on a basic reductio–you appeal to this Old Testament text to support your argument, be it something concerning capital punishment, same-sex marriage, or something else entirely–and I whip out an obscure OT law that appears to us today to be obviously absurd, thereby destroying your argument.