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Archive for November, 2009

Oh, it’s that time of year again, when someone in the press dutifully cranks out yet another article about how the Vatican is looking for ET life. How many of these have I read that all say essentially the same thing, and where the Vatican representative is basically clueless about the theological options? (I speak here of biblical theology, which can be quite different than canon law or catholic historical theology).  What year is it?

But here you go.

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Sorry I got away from the “Blogging with Barry” series. I have to admit I’m getting a little bored with it, especially given the startlingly poor logic Dr. Downing is bringing forth to defend his ideas (it just gets repetitive). I think for what remains of his original post to which I’m repsonding, I’ll just insert a note when readers can find what I’d say in an earlier post — posts 1-4).

Same procedure. Unless it is preceded by “MSH” the words are Barry’s.

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WE NEED A SIGN FROM GOD

It seems to me we need a sign from God., but if God gave us a sign, would we have the spiritual wisdom to interpret the sign properly, or would the church be embarrassed by its blindness?

MSH: It might just be blessed by its discernment. Just because the church isn’t *seeing* the same “sign” that you are doesn’t mean it’s wrong or blind.

The church in the world now seems to have little interest in seeking a sign from God. That might be a good thing, since Jesus says an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. (Mt. 16:1-4) But my sense is our modern generation, including the modern church, is so evil and adulterous that we do not even recognize the fabulous sign from God which we have been given as a wonderful gift of grace to renew the faith of our faithless generation. I suspect that if the signs that have been to our generation had been given to Sodom, the city would have repented. (Mt. 11:20-24)

How faithless is our generation? Books by atheists like Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), have sold wonderfully to a generation in love with the scientific idol that we have created with our own hands. That idol threatens to destroy us all in one big nuclear blast, of course.

Here is Richard Dawkins: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser ….” (The God Delusion, p. 31) Dawkins is best known for his promotion of the theory of evolution, and has done battle with Christian creationists and intelligent design advocates. He is to England what Carl Sagan was to the United States.

Notice that Dawkins is not just an atheist, he describes himself as an evangelist for atheism, and he thinks that it is bad for us to allow anyone to even go on believing in the God of the Bible. Can we suppose for a moment that none of the thinking of Dawkins, even if he is not named, does not spill into the class rooms of our public schools, and our universities? Are we surprised that a kind of nihilism has broken out among our students, who sometimes express their despair by shooting a few classmates (instead of expressing nihilism in the approved way, by shopping addictively?)

Modern theology has no answer to Dawkins, other than to say, “I don’t care what you say, I still believe.”

MSH: I was agreeing with you about Dawkins to this point. No answer to Dawkins and his ilk? Hardly. Ever heard of Alister McGrath? He has doctorates in theology and biochemistry. He wrote a book called The Dawkins Delusion. How about Timothy Keller? He’s a pastor-philosopher, and his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism was very high (it may have hit number 1)  on the NY Times bestseller list. I could literally give you a grocery list here, but I won’t. If you think there’s no response to Dawkins other than a “sign,” you’re very under-read in this area.

And of course to tell Dawkins he should believe the Bible is infallible would be to joke with him, and he would joke back: prove it! So I believe our generation needs God’s help. We need a sign, a sign that may not make Dawkins believe, but will make him less certain. For I believe in God by faith, but it is a faith not just in the Bible, but a faith that God is alive and well, and knows the mess the church, and our atheistic culture, is now in. God needs to do something to restore the plausibility (not the provability) of Christian eschatology. I believe UFOs in the midst of our space age culture have done that redemptive work, making our eschatology plausible again, but the church is blind to God’s sign, God’s gift to us.

MSH: I can see you’re angling for needing a (UFO) sign to prompt belief — but you wrote what you wrote years ago – ?

MY EXODUS HERMENEUTICS

If I am to be charged with hermeneutical rape, it likely has to do with my interpretation of Exodus that my critics have in mind. Notice where we are now not only in liberal biblical studies, but also in all our secular university “religious studies” programs, in understanding Exodus. Walter Brueggemann is one of liberal Protestantism’s most respected Old Testament scholars. He is Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, author of many books, including An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (2003). I have attended some of his lectures, and respect him very much.

MSH: And he’d laugh at your eisegesis in Exodus where you have UFOs and aliens. I’m familiar with Brueggemann, and he wouldn’t buy any of this.

But what is his basic assumption about the “historicity” of the book of Exodus? Basically, he agrees with archaeologist William Dever, that Exodus never happened. He quotes Dever who says, “The whole ‘Exodus-Conquest’ cycle of stories must now be set aside as largely mythical, but in the proper sense of the term ‘myth’; perhaps ‘historical fiction,’ but tales told primarily to validate religious beliefs.” (Quoted in Brueggemann, p. 54; in Dever’s book What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and When Did They Know It? P. 121)

MSH: Another logic lesson for everyone. So, who is Dever? Does everyone in the field of archaeology and biblical studies agree with him? Are there no problems with his reconstructions? What are his presuppositions? If most do (and that would be fair to say about those scholars who share his presuppositions — and that is the majority, but far from the vast majority), then are we to conclude that truth is determined by consensus? Has the consensus ever been wrong?

For many modern scholars, including seminary professors, Moses is now a literary figure in a religious play, somewhat like Hamlet in a Shakespeare play. Thus modern scholars come at the Bible with a literary interest, and religious interest in the sense that the book of Exodus illustrates how a unique ethnic group developed their sense of their god, and their destiny. (Mythology in the good sense, whatever that is.)

The modern church has no chance of making its way through the wilderness on Brueggemann’s manna from the sky, no matter that he is one of the best manna bakers we have.

MSH: Boy, you have very little faith in the God whom you claim to follow. And you are quite under-exposed to the responses to scholars like Dever on the other side, just as credentialed, just as experienced.

This is stone, not bread. (Mt. 7:9) Obviously right at the center of this mythology is the central power of God, the angel of God who led the Exodus in the “pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night” (Ex. 13:21,22) This strange Exodus UFO is said to hover in the sky during the 40 years of the Exodus. I have suggested that the pillar of cloud and fire is not only shaped like many modern UFOs are reported to look, but if UFOs carry the angels of God, then we may be looking at the reality that created the biblical religion. That means, what we now call UFOs were the power of the Exodus, and it is my faith that they are a power working under the direction of the God of the Universe.

MSH: This is hermeneutical poppycock. Ancient Hebrew writers knew what a cloud was. They also had words for “silver(y)”; “metallic”; “round”; “oval”; “flying”; etc. — the vocabulary they would use if they saw some craft other than a cloud. This makes the Israelites sound like idiots. Give them some credit.

Of course, it is for this belief that I am charged with hermeneutical rape, downright blasphemy, or being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. (For my response to the wolf charge, see my article at Strong Delusion: “Barry Downing’s Response to Gary Bates.” )

I am not going to repeat here what I have treated at length elsewhere. (See Chapter 3 in my book, The Bible and Flying Saucers , which deals almost exclusively with Exodus; also see “Did a UFO Part the Red Sea?” UFO Magazine , Vol. 5, No. 2, 1990. Also see my Strong Delusion article: “UFOs: What Does Christ Require of Us?” ; “Exodus as a Paradigm of UFO Strategy,” MUFON UFO Journal , October 1994; “Radiation Symptoms in Exodus,” Flying Saucer Review, May-June 1972; “Some Questions Concerning Dr. Menzel’s Biblical Exegesis,” 1973 MUFON Conference Proceedings, Kansas City, Missouri.)

I suggest that the pillar of cloud, the Exodus UFO met Moses at the burning bush,

MSH: Uh, check the text, Barry — there is no reference to a pillar of cloud at the burning bush (Exodus 3 for all you who want to read it). THIS is precisely why your hermeneutic and eisegesis cannot be trusted. You simply insert details into the text that favor what you’re saying, assuming people won’t look (and yuo’ve been right there to a large extent). Ridiculous.

orchestrated the plagues in Egypt, including Passover,

MSH: Guess what? No pillar of cloud ever mentioned with the plagues or Passover either! Who’da thunk that?!

led the Jews up to the Red Sea, parted the Red Sea, fed the Jews manna on their wilderness journey, gave them the law at Sinai, and left them in the promised land to work out their, and our, salvation.

MSH: Ditto my notes above. We only see the pillar of cloud clocking the Egyptians before the crossing and during the journey to Canaan. It’s easy Barry — get some Bible software or something! Look it up.

Let me quote just one and a half verses regarding the parting of the Red Sea to explain the hermeneutical issue: “And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, discomfiting the host of the Egyptians, [breaking] their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily.” (Ex 14:24, 25a)

At this point in the text, the Jews have crossed on dry ground to the other side. But the Egyptians are in hot pursuit, in their chariots, in the open sea channel. What happens next? Most of us, with our Sunday School memory, would say Moses raised his hands, and the walls of water collapsed on the Egyptians. This did happen, but later.

The Egyptians were tooling along in their chariots just fine, perhaps it looked to the Jews, safe on the other side, that they were not safe after all. The miracle that seemed to save them may have been a hoax. The Jews watched with anxiety when suddenly things changed. Notice that the Exodus UFO is hovering directly over the open channel. (Imagine a long fluorescent light tube, hovering parallel to the sea, and just above it.)

MSH: Yeah. We have to imagine it, since it’s nowhere in the text.

The Lord, in the pillar of cloud and fire, “looked down.” What does this mean?

MSH: A wild guess: he looked down out of the cloud.

The Egyptians were knocked flat, the horses struggled under a heavy burden, the chariot wheels broke—from the Lord’s ‘look down.” Some invisible force that came from above, from the Exodus UFO, broke the chariot wheels and paralyzed the horses. Hmmmm.

MSH: Hmmmm, indeed. These details are not in the text. I challenge you, Barry, to give us all the text – -chapter and verses– where Egyptians were knocked flat off their horses by “an invisible force” (it was by the water, and water isn’t invisible), chariot wheels broken, horses paralyzed.  Give it to us. Again, you are deliberately duping readers here. NONE of this is in the exodus account of the account of the crossing. ZERO. This is inexcusable on your part.

Now let me illustrate the difference between what I do and what you do. Readers can click here to view an exciting 6:21 video of me searching the Bible for any of this claptrap. You don’t have to take my word — I’ll show you. In the video I search for “pillar of cloud”; “pillar” AND “cloud” in the same verse; “chariot”; and “horses”.  There’s no audio — I do the search, then scroll through the results slowly, so people can read the results and find your material absent. The exodus from Egypt is really only described in the book of Exodus, but there are other references to it scattered in Joshua and in some Psalms (so look closely there), but I’ll scroll through everything for the overkill. I then search for “Red Sea” and do the same, just to make sure I hit all the Red Sea passages so I don’t overlook anything. I don’t need to make up material and insert my own ideas.

This is a strange note of “mythology” to have been saved all these years. The “story” does not need this part. Just let the walls of water collapse, and let the Egyptians drown. Why bother with chariot wheels breaking? By the way, the reason “breaking” is in brackets is because in the RSV translation, the editors used the word “clogging” in reference to the chariot wheels, but noted that the actual Hebrew says the wheels were broken by the force from the pillar of cloud. The editors could not make sense of breaking wheels, and invented mud to clog the wheels, which would not be found on dry ground, of course. (Ex. 14:22; 29)

MSH: As the video showed, there are ZERO verses in the Bible that have the pillar *doing* anything to the horses or chariots. It’s a Barry Downing fabrication. And think about what it would mean, Barry. Early in your response you expressed your faith, pretty clearly I might add. But your reading of this passage now has the God of Israel in a space craft, meaning that he needs technology to travel. What happened to omnipresence? Omnipotence? The idea that Jesus expressed with complete clarity, that God “is a spirit” (John 4:24). you’ve just made God subject to the laws of nature, which means he’s a created being, which means he isn’t God by ANY biblical definition. In short, you don’t have much of a theology. Maybe “exo-theology” is better. But you don’t need that; you just have to quit inserting details into the text. And as an aside, the word in Exodus 14:25 for “clogging” isn’t a mystery. I want to see proof of what you say – show me the RSV note (give me an edition, a copyright year, something) that says the wheels were somehow affected by the cloud. I don’t believe it exists. Show us. My reason is that the Hebrew word behind the RSV English is a very common verb (swr -”to turn aside”; note that the LXX may have something different — it’s where the “clogging” translation actually comes from). Doesn’t seem too complicated to me. Exodus 14 has the Egyptian chariots going into the midst of the sea. “Dry land” simply means something that can be walked on – it’s not under water. It doesn’t mean there’s no water in it like it’s a desert. Humans can walk on ground that heavier object (like horses and chariots) cannot. Anyone who’s had a bike or car stuck knows that the wheels “turn aside” in ways you don’t want them, making for inoperative conditions. Pretty simple, A common word, and one very apt here.

I have wondered if the propulsion system of a modern UFO might have the power to part the Red Sea, or any body of water.

MSH: Here’s an even better question about the propulsion system, Barry. Since you associate fire (pillar of fire; cloud = smoke) with the UFO’s propulsion system, how is it that a combustion engine is capable of space travel? Huh? Can you introduce us to an astrophysicist who would affirm that combustion engines are capable of deep space travel? Give us a break.

I have noticed that some modern UFOs are huge, up to a mile long. They are sometimes called “cloud cigars,” in other words, cloud-like cylindrical columns. Modern UFOs sometimes burn the ground where they land. Could this power dry the sea bed? And most of all, could modern UFOs in fact be a sign that the angels of God are still with us? This is what I have wondered. Is this eisegesis, am I just “reading UFOs” into the Exodus text, with no justification? Is this hermeneutical rape

MSH: Well, it looks to me like you’re “doing violence” to the plain content of the text.

, or more accurately, hermeneutical adultery, or are my critics blind to the presence of the angels of God in our skies, as religious leaders were blind to the healing of the blind man in John chapter 9? Are our modern scribes ignoring what is “new” in our treasure chest?

MSH: No, this critic isn’t blind to what you see in the text. Someone who can’t see what isn’t there isn’t blind. In fact, it’s the opposite: he sees the vacuousness of what you’re saying quite clearly.

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Gary Bates has written a lengthy review of The Fourth Kind. If you haven’t seen the movie yet amd care about reading spoilers, you may want to defer reading the review. If you have no time at all for a spiritual explanation for alien abduction, you won’t want to read it, either. Whether you think “alien abduction” is a synonym for demonic activity or not, it’s hard not to put such deliberate trauma (whether events in the movie are real or not) in the category of evil.

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I know — where’s the news in that?  Well, it’s being promoted as based on a true story, but it isn’t, at least as far as the investigative journalists who’ve looked into it can determine.  Details are in this review.

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