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Thursday, May 01, 2008

This Just Wasn't the Year for Jesus

When Zach Johnson won the Masters Golf Tournament last year, he credited the victory to his faith in Jesus. This year, that faith placed him well back in the pack. My goal in pointing this out is not to make fun of faith in Jesus, but of the heretical idea that this faith is a route to worldly success. Augustine trounced that view 1600 years ago -- isn't it time we gave it a rest?

10 comments:

  1. Well I thought I trounced this easy mocking the last time you brought it up, and you aren't giving it a rest...

    OK first, yes it's easy to ridicule the particular formulations of Christians on this point, just like you could easily make fun of people criticizing neo-Darwinism. But I don't think a pro golfer should be the representative of a subtle theological point.

    Second, I am not being a stick in the mud. One of my favorite lines when Comedy Central actually featured stand-up comics was a guy who said, "You never hear football players say, 'We were winning until Jesus made me fumble.'"

    OK so now we've got that cleared up. Gene, are you saying Augustine said that people should be proud of themselves, and that when they achieve something in this world, it's on their own power, not God's? Because that's all this golfer meant.

    And you're right, faith in God doesn't necessarily yield success in this world--after all Satan is the prince of this world. So that's precisely why it's not a contradiction that that golfer didn't win this time.

    Again, I don't know exactly what the golfer's words were last year, but I'm sure he meant the following:

    ==> "I am grateful to God for giving me the ability to win this contest. I could not have done it without His help."

    That is not the same thing as:

    ==> "Because I had faith in God, I won this tournament."


    And then for cases where there really does seem to be a contradiction--like, a tornado goes through Bible country, and the people who were spared thank the Lord, while the relatives of the people who died don't blame God--that is also not really a contradiction. Because we aren't making purely factual statements when we "thank" and "blame" someone for something. E.g. you wouldn't blame Einstein for discovering special relativity.

    So if God does something "miraculous" that makes your life on Earth easier, you are grateful, since He is the creator of the universe and has the perfect right to put you in a Nazi camp if He thinks that will best serve His interests. And if He does put you in a Nazi camp, you suck it up because that's what Job would have done.

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  2. Bob, I am not saying this is logically contradictory, but that it's heretical. It springs from Calvin's original heresy of using worldly success as a sign of God's grace. Yes, of course, in one sense, as the moslems say, "Allah is the sustainer" -- God is the root of everything that happens in the universe, and there is nothing wrong with praising God for life's existence. The point is, rather, that when you start down the road of "Thanks for my wealth," "Thanks for letting me win the Masters," etc., you are cultivating spiritual pride and flirting with the temptation to make God a way to boost your own ego.

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  3. When David slew Goliath, if he had said, "I thank the Lord for delivering us from this giant," would that have been heretical?

    (BTW I'm not cheating. I haven't looked it up to see exactly what was said, if anything, immediately after this episode. As a former Catholic I don't know the Bible very well.)

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  4. Gene, I think most people who credit God after a triumph are trying to eschew the credit themselves. Rather than being a sign of hubris, I think it is at least an attempt at humility.

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  5. Dick and Bob -- I have some extensive thoughts here I think should be on the top level, so watch for them there, under "Personalism and Impersonalism."

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  6. Nam myoho renge kyo?

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