Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Magic and God

I developed an interest in magic at a very young age. In the photo I am performing an act for my family at age 12. This was not my first such show. I had the Howdy Doody Magic Kit several years before this. I also did magic with chemicals about this same time. In fact I could produce some very Biblical effects such as changing water into wine and the wine into milk.

Over the years I learned a number of tricks as well as how most magicians pulled off their stage effects. Speaking of magicians one of my favorites, or I should say two, are Penn and Teller. These guys do some amazing stuff.

Teller, despite his name, never talks in public. Penn Jillette does all the blatter for the act. They have been performing together for the last 38 years, which is longer than a lot of people stay married these days.

Penn is the big one. He is six foot seven inches tall and has put on a few pounds over the years. Teller is the little guy, but very athletic, agile (especially for a 65-year old man) and adept at slight of hand.

I haven't brought these guys up to talk about Teller or magic. I want to talk about a difference in religious outlook between Penn Jillette and myself, and why I bring this up is because we share a childhood experience so similar it is almost magic in itself.

Penn Jillette, who is a very intelligent and fair minded man, a reasonable Liberal and someone who can discuss issues without rancor or ridicule is also an Atheist and a vocal one. He wrote a book promoting his Atheistic views called, God, No!. We'll come back to that book in a bit. But first, Penn Jillette has explained how he became an Atheist this way.

As a boy, he tells us, his parents forced him to go to church, which he didn't like. He made a deal with his parents. He would join the church youth group if they did not force him to go to church. In youth group he began to argue with the others about the Scriptures. The minister originally encouraged him, suggesting he read the Bible, advise Penn took so he was better equipped to make his arguments. He did this until the minister suggested to his parents he should no longer come to the group. Penn asserts it was reading the Bible that turned him Atheist and insists anyone who read the Bible from cover to cover would also become an Atheist.

Now as a boy my parents forced me to go to church. I didn't like going. When I got a driver's license I made a deal with my folks. I would go to Sunday School, but not church. They agreed. I later switched from this to MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). I even was elected President of the youth group. As such I started a series of discussions in which I claimed I would play Devil's Advocate just for the sake of argument. However, I wasn't playing. I was trying to attack Scripture. I wasn't asked to leave youth group. I was actually praised for making meetings so interesting that attendance grew. Like Penn Jillette I did eventually become an Atheist and a vocal one. But unlike Penn Jillette I am now a Born Again Christian. I have also read the Bible cover to cover, several times, and doing so has not turned me back to being an Atheist. I obviously did not see the content of Scripture that same way Penn says he saw it.

I do want to mention Penn Jillette's intro to his book, God, No!.

First let me say if you are going to do anything as extreme as kill your child because God told you to do it, you better be really, really, really sure it was God. And I'm going to tell you right here that if some voice told you this it wasn't God.

I have three children. They should not be here. My wife was told, assured, exhorted to even forget the idea, because she could never possibly have a child. She had all ready lost seven. But by the mercy of God she had three. I also want to point out that her having these children was not what turned me from Atheist to Christian. No, the first of these children came over a year after I turned to Christ. These miracles didn't lead me to believe in God, they simple confirmed it.

God is not going to ask me to kill any of my children.

Now I believe such a thing happened once to a man named Abraham. I admit, I have not memorized the Bible, so perhaps there is another such case I somehow forgot, but I think there was only Abraham. Abraham was told by God to take his son, the one promised by God to Abraham and his wife Sarah, his seed and her egg, and sacrifice the lad.

There are foreshadowings here pointing to the coming of Christ, God's only begotten son, who would be sacrificed for men, but unlike Christ, Isaac did not die. God told Abraham to stop as he prepared his son for death. In the film, "The Bible" on the History Channel, when God tells Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice the boy, Abraham asks, "Why Lord, haven't I proved my faith enough."

Well, no, he hadn't. Abraham was promised a son by God, but instead of having faith this would happen, he took Sarah's advice and had a child by her maidservant, a boy named Ishmael. Ishmael would prove a thorn in Israel's side until this very day. So Abraham had not proven his faith at all by that act. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac did.

So you might ask, why wouldn't God ask the same of me. Well, for one thing God never told me to move from one place to another. God did not physically come visit my home, sit down to dinner and promise my wife she would have children. I never stood with God and argued with him about what he was going to do to some city (Reference Genesis 18). If you read the Bible cover to cover you will find God dealt with human kind in different ways at different times.

There is another reason. God talked with Abraham before the Law was given to Moses. That came a few hundred years later. The essence of the Law is the Ten Commandments. Although with the Resurrection of Christ many of the Mosaic Laws became moot, the Ten Commandments remains as valid now as then. One of the Ten Commandments is "Thou Shall Not Murder".

You see, my problem is not that love and morality are more important to me than my faith, because I am a human and to tell the truth my love and morality are not always what they should be. This is one of the reasons I needed forgiveness and salvation in the first place. No, it is that my faith in the mercy and justice of God is so strong that I know he would never ask one to break his own commandments. Thus I know God would never tell me to murder my children any more than he would tell me to seduce my neighbor's wife.

Now Penn Jillette says that reading the Bible cover to cover would make anyone an Atheist. He has said:

"I think because what we get told about the Bible is a lot of picking and choosing, when you see, you know, Lot's daughter gang raped and beaten, and the Lord being okay with that; when you actually read about Abraham being willing to kill his son, when you actually read that; when you read the insanity of the talking snake; when you read the hostility towards homosexuals, towards women, the celebration of slavery; when you read in context, that "thou shalt not kill" means only in your own tribe—I mean, there's no hint that it means humanity in general; that there's no sense of a shared humanity, it's all tribal; when you see a God that is jealous and insecure; when you see that there's contradictions that show that it was clearly written hundreds of years after the supposed fact and full of contradictions.  I think that anybody... you know, it's like reading The Constitution of the United States of America. It's been... it's in English. You know, you don't need someone to hold your hand. Just pick it up and read it. Just read what the First Amendment says and then read what the Bible says. Going back to the source material is always the best."

What I see is Penn picking and choosing from the Bible. When you do take the Bible in context from beginning to end you see these things, slavery, prejudice, hostility, war are the things of men not following the directions of God. God works within the framework of the real world, pointing us to what is better and right. Take for instance the statement, "When you see, you know, Lot's daughter gang raped and beaten, and the Lord being okay with that."  Really? Really? First of all, the offering of Lot's daughters (See genesis 19) to the mob came from Lot. This was a man's solution to the problem and the kind of wrong-headed thing we do when we take things into our own hands (just like Abraham and Hager producing Ishmael). The facts are that Lot's daughters were not gang raped and beaten. They were rescued, along with Lot and his family from that situation by the grace of God. God was not approving of such behavior. God destroyed Sodom for such behaviors.

I believe in God and Penn Jillette does not. I do not dislike Penn because of this. He has a God-given right to believe what he believes as do I. He says when he became an Atheist there were about 9% of Americans sharing his belief and now there are 20% and he calls Atheism "the fastest growing religion in America".  So we have twenty-percent who believe there is no God. So fine, for then if we take Penn's quote above they are left with no God, just rape and beatings and hostility and slavery and war and crime and all the other miseries that mankind inflicts upon itself and without hope. 

I have something even better than hope. I have faith.


Pastor Randy Scott said...

Reading in context is certainly the key. The sad part is, if a lost person or someone who has no relationship with God. Reads the bible they are only going to see what Satan wants them too! If they stick with it and read further they will see what God wants them to and it will change their lives!!! As you for sure are a witness!! Thank you for your commentary on The Bible series they sure have skewed it for sure!!

The Geezers said...

Well, with my upbringing as a Lutheran protestant, I have to say that I lean Penn's way on this, as there is little about the biblical depiction of God that leads one to believe in that version. Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" is well worth the effort, as it makes a convincing case for the cultural definition of God being a social/political evolution rather than a genuinely spiritual one.

I wouldn't exactly call myself an atheist. But I don't see how rational people can believe literally in biblical dogma. We seem to have made huge steps backwards from the time of Meister Eckhart, who by acknowledging the symbolic, rather than literal, truth of Christian doctrine, was really onto something that has been since lost.

Larry Meredith said...

People must come to their place about their faith. Obviously I disagree with The Geezers questioning "how rational people can believe literally in biblical dogma". Despite he, she or their conclusion, I still consider myself a rational person and the something I believe has been lost is understanding God by the modern world.