Anthony Sacramone, a former editor of First Things and former author of the defunct blog Strange Herring, has written an article about losing his Christian faith. He is still a conservative of sorts, but he now says this:
One day, should enough people care, and the proper venue provide itself, I will attempt a more thoroughgoing explanation of what happened, of the internal revolution that has left me with no more confidence that the New Testament is reliable, inspired, true, or “inerrant” than I do that astrology, Marxism, or the Happy Healthy Vegan Kitchen is reliable, inspired, true, or inerrant.
If you are surprised or stunned by that last sentence, believe this: no more than I….
Frankly, the existence of an evil deity has far more explanatory power to me in relation to this vale of tears than either no god or a “good” god. But he doesn’t make for nearly as appealing Christmas carols.
I am very saddened to hear this. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Sacramone’s honest and heart-felt writing over the years, even as I got the sense sometimes that he was teetering near the edge.
As he says, he may in the future provide more details on his journey to where he is now. Suffice it to say, however, that he did drop a hint in his article:
In fact, I believe some of the worst pathologies of leftist-progressive thought has its roots in Christianity’s inability to come to terms with its own internal contradictions. For that matter, I have never understood how conservative pro-lifers could find support for their cause in the cult of YHWH, which, as Jon D. Levenson has shown, began with a fetish for child sacrifice that was only extinguished later in its history. (In fact, the early history of this deity, one of several in a Near Eastern pantheon but singled out by ancient Israel as its God, illustrates a near penchant for the killing of children. Think of the Flood and Canaanite-massacre narratives, not to mention the Matthaean infancy story, in which how many babies were supposedly slaughtered because a providential star led “wise men” to Herod first rather than directly to Bethlehem? Fortunately—for some Near Eastern families of antiquity, at least—this episode is a fiction, merely a reboot with different actors of the story of the slaughter of the Hebrew babies in Exodus.)
Nevertheless, because I am a conservative, I do not suddenly believe that the American experiment would be perfected if all religions were wiped from the cultural landscape….
The link to the chapter by Jon D. Levenson hit me pretty hard, because four years ago I had an LC-MS friend send it to me as well who, I got the impression, found the argument compelling (and he wanted me to read it).
Before I read it and replied to him (my friend, that is), I said this:
Well, evidently [child sacrifice] was legitimate among some of the neighbors – and, as false worship in Israel increased, those immersed in these things certainly would be tempted to take that Exodus 22 passage in isolation and use it apart from its full context, right?….
Since the fall, sacrifice is as natural as breathing for mankind (see Girard’s insights here as well). Even those things considered most valuable among us – the things that seem to be the greatest cause for hope (like firstborn and firstfruits) – die and need to die because of sin. The core concept is this: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. We need bloodshed to absorb and protect us from the consequences [and] judgment that bloodshed-causing sin brings on itself (Passover as analogy here). What we are dealing here in Exodus 12 and 13 are sin offerings: God is showing, through the example of the firstborn (again what is considered among us on earth to be more valuable and hope-giving than a firstborn? I note that the wider creation to is redeemed… donkeys in Exodus 13 : ) ), that it is only through bloodshed that He provides (Jungel’s work here is good if I recall….) that the groaning creation is set right – even the things on earth that seem to be indicators of the most hope. No, apart from God’s provision, there is no hope. We are condemned. Yet death conquers death. What is hopeless brings hope. What is meaningless brings meaning.
Now – how much did the Old Testament folks think along contours like this? Well, the faithful among them at least understood the core truth that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. And they surely knew of the Promise. That much is unmistakeable.
Also note: even thank offerings (not sin or guilt) that involve the shedding of blood would not exist if it were not for the power of sin in man that demands atonement.
After I read the article, this was my reply to him:
Babies. Children. Sacrifice. So – I also finally read the article you gave me. Thank you again for copying it for me and desiring to engage me (I presume) on this issue.
In response, I’ll just *try* to ask questions. Answer any you feel comfortable answering and have time to answer.
By the way, the whole idea of Christians asking questions like these has been on my mind lately. The whole question of “intellectual honesty” (3) as it relates to “academic freedom” (which we know, no institution of higher learning has en toto, as there are always parameters) is a difficult one. Here at Concordia, it seems there is the potential for a new openness regarding the homosexual question (have run into this 2 x in the past week as regards some encounters with leadership here on campus). Some may cheer, and others might wonder if God is sending us a strong delusion (2 Thes 2:11). I take that latter view very seriously, even as I struggle to know how best to handle issues like these.
- …first of all, as I said in my previous email about this stuff, you may have to educate me as to why JEDP lives. Levenson’s argument on pages 3 and 4 strike me as odd, to say the least, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Now, I know there are issues with the simple “inerrantist” opinion, things that Sasse pointed out (i.e. there was no properly Christian theory on the nature of inspiration [i.e. it is a fact but what is the process?], what does it mean that they are also truly human literature, what about the fact that it was common for disciples to write books under their master’s names [i.e. Pythagorus, Isaiah?], why is almost every important event in the history of salvation told not once, but twice or even more often, what about situation like the David of Samuel or the pious David of the Chronicles,(why two version of Israel’s history and what seem to be contradictions?), is it the Hebrew canon or the Septuagint (not just a “translation”!) – why does the N.T. recognize both? Are we working with the concept of truth of Greek philosophy, i.e. Aristotle’s logic?, in what way do we see truth and in what way must it be believed….?, what does it mean to do thorough historical research accompanied by thorough dogmatic thought?), but I do not need to accept uncritically this JEDP scholarship, do I? What is one book that I absolutely must read as regards this?
- Regarding Ezekiel 20:25, 26 (to dive right in), let’s assume that the laws God gives to indeed have to do with child sacrifice (as, I admit, it does seem to be the case, on the face of it). If that were indeed the case, why would it not be perfectly reasonable to think that the laws that God gave them, were simply the religious “codes” or “laws” of the godless – i.e. the Canaanites, or Israelites influenced by Canaanite practice? I know that Hammurabi’s “code” did not really have to do much with religious matters, and that even Jahweh notes that the gods of other nations did not care enough about their people because they did not give them their law (as Yahweh did), but still – of course these nations had some of their own “theological or moral ideals” (which could be seen to go hand in hand with the concept of “law” – see Psalm 94:20 and Isaiah 10:1 here) – their gods most definitely preferred sacrifice, not obedience! Why is it not the best explanation that, given the rest of the other “anti-infant sacrifice stuff” in the prophets and the Torah (again, JEDP here I know….) God gave the Israelites over to what they, in fact, wanted (and with this, perhaps the hope that some, at least, would come to their senses)? This is not to say that God desired this, but that he gave, after numerous attempts to alter the situation, man what he wanted – even as, as Luther says, “God is all in all”, as he energizes all of the life and activity of life in the universe – not to mention allows and permits certain things (therefore, he “does” them) , and uses evil for good in His plans as they unfold for us in history, even as they all times exist simultaneously for Him as He not only actively controls all things, but also reacts to His creatures, losing no control, but always actively remaining the Captain of the ship (in what sense is God “behind” all things? – in a sense like this…God only “decrees” Pharoah “do” evil [i.e. lets him do it] after numerous attempts to change Pharoah, and when Pharoah continues resisting as he does, he is appropriated into God’s plan for His glory in the way He is….)
- Again, if we assume that Ezekiel 20:25 and 26 does indeed connect these laws to child sacrifice, it seems to me that this would mean that the Israelites were not being faithful to God’s Law because they were being idolaters (Ezekiel 20:18) – why should we assume that many Israelites (perhaps most, with only a few faithful remaining, a la Elijah) innocently misread Exodus 22:28-29 instead of assuming, that first, through the lure of the idolatry of the nations (i.e. unbelief and bad-character-forming actions) they had fallen into the practices of the nations (i.e. child sacrifice) and then, they perhaps justified their actions by reading Exodus 22:28-29 out of context (i.e. chapter 13:2,13)? (further, how would reading Exodus 22:28-29 in this way, given the failure to account for chapter 13 be a “literal interpretion” (8)?!) I also note that Levenson himself sees the Laws given as God’s retaliation for idolatry (7). Therefore from my view, It’s not that God perverts their hermeneutics, but that he confirms them in their sin, which has caused them to previously adopt faulty hermeneutics (sin=spin) to justify their actions. Why is this not the best way to look at things? It certainly seems to flow with the rest of the biblical accounts, does it not?
- When Levenson writes: “Could it be that Jeremiah’s hearers saw themselves as apostates or syncretists but as faithful YHWHists following the ancient tradition of their religion?” I get very confused. Is this not always how syncretists and apostates see themselves? When is it otherwise? Does Kathryn Jeffries Schori see herself as an apostate and syncretist? Definitely not. Nevertheless she is.
- Levenson quotes Greenberg “at least from the time of the last kings of Judah it was popularly believed that YHWH accepted, perhaps even commanded [child sacrifice]” and then he comments “What is curious in Greenberg’s comment is his certainty that popular practice was so radically separate from the normative religion.Why , if there is no evidence in the Bible (outside of Ezek. 20:25-26) for the sacrifice of the first-born son to YHWH, did so many Israelites come to adhere to such a practice?” (end quote) I reply: why, if there is no evidence in the Bible that homosexual activity is permissible did so many who follow the lead of Gene Robinson and Kathryn Jeffries Schori, did so many Episcopalians (and ELCA, and Presbyterians, etc. etc. – in spite of the fact of the Orthodox presences around them!) come to adhere to such a practice? I know – from their (your?) perspective – the passages in Romans could very well be the equivalent of the “bad laws” of Ezekiel 20. How to know? The Spirit of course. But why is it wrong to ultimately approach the Scriptures (after as much historical investigation as desired has been engaged in) with the view that Jesus himself seems to have of the Old Testament? Believe like a child the simple words? (saying, it might seem this other view is likely, but ultimately, there is much we can’t confidently assert here….)
- Obviously, I do not think that the “the latter opinion… better fits the biblical data: YHWH once commanded the sacrifice of the first-born but now opposes it”.
- Regarding Molech (10), why should God not execute Molech by the instrument of his own choosing – Tophet? Why not put him down via his own bread and butter? Does Levenson have no sense of sweet poetic justice?
- Why not assume that at the time Micah writes he does not condemn child sacrifice because he didn’t need to – because it was now widely known now due to Hosea and Isaiah having made known the teachings of the Penteteuch again. Why not assume that everyone in their audience basically now knows this? Just because the pagans may have thought that child sacrifice was the greatest act of devotion to god – i.e. he desired [a cult of child] sacrifice not obedience – does not mean that the prophet expected his readers to buy into this.
- Top of 12: “presented lovingly to his Lord”. Ugh. As to why the account of Abraham and Isaac survived in the midst of this condemnation of child sacrifice (which, according to my reading of Genesis, I believe is condemned in that very book as well), why should we not assume that the most important thing here is that Abraham was willing to ***obey**** God here when it was, understandably really, really hard? Levenson, states Gen. 22 shows that Abraham’s piety “was not to be taken as paradigmatic – a most unlikely interpretation”. Why not say that it *is* but that the key point is to let God be God. To listen to Him even when He seems to contradict what He says elsewhere, because we trust Him to fulfill His promises? To think that He desires obedience, not sacrifice? Paradigmatic indeed – but not because of a general piety that embraces child sacrifice as part and parcel of this piety! Why is Levenson’s suggestion here not bordering on ridiculous and parody? If this were as important as he claims why would this practice not be continued in the Scriptures (again, one must assume JEDP….) by other prominent and respected fathers of the faith?
- Regarding Jephthah (not a prominent and respected father of the faith, by the way), the author of Judges is notoriously vague on whether many of the things he shares are descriptive rather than prescriptive, but I’d suggest the last line of the book should have the most weight here (everyone did what was right…) Why not simply assume that Jephthah, though heroic, is simply evidence of how incredibly affected Israel was by their neighbor’s views? I think this simply underscores the tragedy of how badly off the Israelites were. And yet, God was merciful and worked through such corrupt folks as these, who had gotten so far from the truth.
- I don’t think II Kings 3:26-27 necessarily underscores the “full acceptability of this act even to the Israelite author of this narrative”. I think it could just as well underscore how much the demons appreciated and actually reciprocated child sacrifice. It really works. See Girard as well.
- P. 16 and 17: God is in the dock everywhere here. It is hard for me to not see all of this reasoning as undermining the message that the Scriptures really present. Our Spirit-suppressing hermeneutics are a sight to behold.
I know my saying this might cause you to feel that you want to stop the conversation, but I hope not! Know that I think all of us are permeated with the Satanic, since his venom is deep within us, infecting us, killing us and driving our relationship-killing actions as you say.
But Christ is risen as well, as you say.
(end of email to my friend)
My friend never responded to my questions though I will not assume it is because he would not be able to provide answers to them. It’s just as possible it may have simply fallen off his radar.
In any case, I hope that if these questions are not helpful to Mr. Sacramone, they may at least be helpful to others who have read Levenson.
Our God does not desire the death of the wicked – whether they be old or young – period. Jesus, who bid the little children come to Him, fully reveals to us the face of YHWH. Little ones to Him belong… they are weak and He is strong.
And this strong one – again, who is the only one who can help us understand the Old Testament in its depths – puts to flight the lies of the evil one. As I noted in a recent post about Martin Luther’s view of Scripture, summing up a recent paper from my pastor (partially quoting him):
“Luther gives the impression of believing ‘Scripture to be a coherent whole, in spite of its many writers, languages, historical contexts and transmission issues… [and] Where conundrums were discovered he let them be.’”
In other words, if the explanation that I am hinting at above in my questions to my friend is not the correct one, there is, rest assured, another one. Christ shows us the kindness of God – even as He still speaks of hell! (He is decidedly not a safe and tame lion!) – and reveals His firm desire to save all from all the myriad varieties of unlove, unlive, and unlight that Satan would peddle.
“Jesus loves me” – and all – “this I know“, by the grace of God. That grace that continues to reach out to, and be there for, Mr. Sacramone as well.
Much love to you sir!