A Biblical Look at Blasphemy

I’ve recently saw this video on my Facebook newsfeed, and I thought I share a few thoughts and insights.

Pakistan has a blasphemy law where if someone insults the Prophet Muhammad, then that person will be sentenced to death.

The Bible also has its own blasphemy law: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:13-16)

People might say that they see no difference between the two laws. In a sense they are right in terms of how the law is defined, but they are wrong in terms of how the law is applied.

Some of the things to consider when looking at the application of the law:
-accusation
-determining guilt
-deciding punishment
-enforcement of sentence
-who enforces the penalty

Both Islam and Christianity are similar in their accusation, determination of guilt, and type of punishment sentenced, but they differ in the aspects of enforcement of sentence and who enforces the penalty.

At one time, both Islam and Judaism expected the religious community to enforce the death penalty on blasphemers.

However when Jesus of Nazareth came into human history, He changed everything. When a person commits blasphemy, that individual deserves the death sentence, but what Jesus did was unique.

The concept of substitutionary atonement is powerful. Jesus let himself be treated as if He was the one who committed blasphemy instead of the one who actually committed the crime so the guilty person could go free.

Indeed, the Pharisees believed that Jesus was committing blasphemy when He assumed the prerogatives of Godhood by saying things like “I and the Father are one”

“At this, the Jews again picked up stones to stone Him. But Jesus responded, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?”

“We are not stoning You for any good work,” said the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because You, who are a man, declare Yourself to be God.” (John 10:31-33)

The irony is that it was the Pharisees who were committing blasphemy in refusing to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Nevertheless, Jesus was treated as a blasphemer so that guilty sinners could go free and glorify in Christ their Savior.

“For our sake he [the Father] made him [the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Also Jesus said, “Furthermore, the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23)

When it comes to the death penalty, it would no longer be the community of God to enforce that punishment as under the Mosaic covenant, but Lord Jesus Himself under the new covenant.

Therefore, when a person commits blasphemy, they do deserve the death penalty, but when Jesus changed human history through His death and resurrection, that person can choose between the following destinies:
-trust in Jesus to be the perfect sinless sacrifice to take his place against the Father’s wrath and to be the resurrected great high priest who intercedes on his behalf or
-face the consequences of his sin which will be enforced by Lord Jesus Himself.

In a sense, Jesus can either die in your place or punish you Himself.
He is either your Savior or your Judge.

As Psalm 2:12 puts it:
“Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

 

Seeking Common Ground on the 2A

The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The premise behind the 2nd Amendment is that American citizens should be able to protect themselves against a tyrannical government by having access to firearms.  For the security of a free country, citizens should be able to purchase and keep firearms.  Thus our Constitution classifies civilian access to firearms as a fundamental human right.

The phrase, “shall not be infringed,” is rather problematic, though.  If we were to consider guns and ammunition as consumer products, the phrase “shall not be infringed,” would come off as justifying unfettered capitalism.  Gun manufacturers could produce any weapon that they want without any federal safety regulations, and their customers may consequently suffer from bad product designs.  In addition, if background checks are seen as an infringement on citizens’ 2nd amendment rights,the general public may suffer from people exercising their 2nd amendment rights in an irresponsible and destructive manner when there are no effective background checks in place.

The situation with the relatively easy access to our guns appears similar to what this country had with food poisoning before Upton Sinclair wrote his book, “The Jungle,” which led to Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In addition to regulating the meat industry, the FDA also regulates the production, sales, and use of drugs to maximize public health.  Without federal safety regulations, both the meat and drug industries would lead to greater harm to the public.  I fear that a similar situation has come about with our current legislative status regarding guns.

My proposal for reducing gun violence in America would be to create and enforce an universal background check for all gun sales, so people who are likely to use guns for malicious purposes and less likely to get guns through legal avenues and have gun violence restraining orders where if someone demonstrates an intent to harm themselves or others, then their 2nd amendment rights are temporarily restrained until they get the help and counsel that they need.

The situation for gun violence restraining orders is not unlike where if you have a child that is about to run around with scissors, you would temporarily prevent that child from possessing the scissors and then proceed to teach the child the importance of not running around with scissors.  Likewise, if someone demonstrates an intent to harm themselves and others, then a close friend or family member should be able to petition the local court to temporarily remove their access to firearms and then get them the mental health service that they need to work out their issues better.

I would also like to see an analogous system for purchasing firearms that we already have with our automobiles.  We have driver’s education classes and applications for a driver’s license before people are able to legally drive cars, even if they purchased one for themselves.  I do not see why we cannot have mandatory gun safety classes where a professional firearms instructor mentors people about using guns in a safe and responsible manner.  We could require citizens to go through rigorous checks before they receive a license to purchase and carry firearms.  These kinds of systems would help reduce the number of people killed by gun violence.

Now I have been hearing “since the premise of the 2nd Amendment is to give citizens the ability to fight back against a tyrannical government, why would we give the government the power to strip us of the very right that would help us fight it?”

To me, I feel this calls for a medical analogy.  2A Defenders are like cells that secrete immunosuppressants (strike down gun control laws) for fear of an autoimmune response (tyrannical government).  However, their immunosuppressive effects are to the point that the whole body (the country) suffers from secondary infections (irresponsible gun owners who purchased guns through legal means).  If we were to empower the immune system (the government) a little better, we could prevent some of these secondary infections from happening.

In other words, sometimes the gun lobbying has been acting like HIV and giving this country AIDS with respect to gun violence and the country is suffering from some preventable secondary infections of gun violence.  Now granted, not all acts of gun violence come from legal avenues, as criminals by definition, will find ways around the law to pursue gun violence, but we had a few incidents that could have been prevented or at least delayed if we had tougher gun laws.  So why should we give the government the power to strip us of our right to fight back? It is to help promote public safety in protecting them from citizens exercising their 2nd amendment rights in an irresponsible manner.

I am not asking for a mass confiscation of guns, but a very targeted confiscation of guns from people who show signs of using them in an irresponsible and destructive manner.  Now granted, perhaps we should not give the government this power for fear that someone could hijack the system and label us as political opponents and use that as justification to disarm us before forcibly imposing a hostile agenda on us.  But I feel that perhaps we could still keep our government accountable and be vigilant for any signs of such a hostile takeover from happening.  We can still protect our neighbors from preventable instances of gun violence and still keep our 2nd amendment rights and keep our government accountable to us.

However, if for whatever reason, we still decide not to let the government have the power to infringe our 2A rights, could we not still hold civilian access to firearms accountable through other means?  I already argued that safety regulations would benefit the gun industry just as they already have with automobiles, drugs, and meat.  If such regulations do not happen at the federal level, they would have to be at least from the lower levels, such as state or local.  The presence of safety regulations should be a given, but now it becomes a question of how do we enforce such regulations effectively, if we were to forego federal aid.

Also I am against gun-free zones, as I feel responsible gun owners should be free to carry their weapons in public for self-protection if need be, but only in conjunction with a standardized regulatory structure.  Again it would help if we had something equivalent to the DMV where you can get a license for gun ownership and such a license was state-specific, but recognized in other states as well.   Also schools could use armed protection, whether it be by teachers who volunteer or by school resource officers.

Another thing I would consider are mandatory fingerprint recognition gun safes or equivalent for those gun owners who store their weapons at home and have small children present.  Considering the case of Jesse Osborne, he might have done less harm if his father’s guns were locked away in a safe (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-south-carolina-school-shooter-20180303-story.html). Now granted, his motivation would have pushed him to seek guns nevertheless, but at least it would have been harder and longer for him to do so.

These are some of my thoughts.  I like the idea behind the 2nd amendment, but I am against any irresponsible interpretations of it where it is considered an unrestricted, unlimited civilian access to firearms.  I am also against the other extreme, where we give the government too much power that we systematically disarm all citizens from possessing firearms.  So my middle ground is that we protect the 2nd amendment but perhaps we give the federal government, or some other regulatory agency, the power to regulate and temporarily restrict civilian access to firearms to protect people from preventable instances of gun violence.   I understand that not all instances of gun violence are preventable, but some of them can and should be.

On Civil Disobedience

Image result for civil disobedience

Civil Rights

What are civil rights?

One working definition would be that civil rights are an expansive and significant set of rights that are designed to protect individuals from unfair treatment; they are the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment (and to be free from unfair treatment or discrimination) in a number of settings — including education, employment, housing, public accommodations, and more — and based on certain legally-protected characteristics.

In a sense, civil rights are the concrete legal expression of the abstract moral concept that humans have certain inalienable rights to be treated with respect and dignity.

Human Rights

The next question would be “Where do human rights come from?”

There are three possible answers to this question (per Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz):
-human rights come from God. God has created us and endowed us with certain inalienable rights
-human rights are based on “natural law.” People have rights because nature dictates that they should.
-human rights are created by us.  It is in the interest of societies to grant people rights.

There are problems with the latter two choices.
-The natural world is ruled by violence and predation, and so nature does not seem to be the best basis for looking for fundamental laws that protect the weak of society.
-If human rights are created by us, then logically, rights that are granted by the majority can just as easily be taken away.

If human rights come from God, then we have a reliable foundation for human freedom and dignity.  The foundation transcends time and culture because it is ultimately rooted in God’s unchanging value.

Human Dignity

We intuitively believe that humans have an intrinsic worth that deserves protection.  The Bible explicitly declares that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Here is my reasoning process:
-God is eternally worthy and deserves to be honored.
-Humans are made in the image of God.
-Therefore humans have a derivative value that deserves protection.

It would follow therefore that to honor God properly, you would have to love your neighbor.

Perhaps this reasoning is behind why Jesus stated “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:27-40).

Thus we have a conception of human rights that should translate into civil rights that are ultimately held accountable by God Himself.

Human Laws and God’s Laws

In other words, all human laws are to be subservient to the laws of God, to promote the obedience of them with constituents, and never to be either contrary to them, nor co-ordinate, or independent of them; but are to be treated just as the bylaws of corporations are in respect to the laws and will of the sovereign power, which have all their life and power therefrom.

There is just one problem: the translation from human rights to civil rights does not always come so smoothly.  In other words, laws do not always reflect this universal standard of human rights.

Why do we fail?

Laws are rules that govern human behavior.  They act as an extension of governmental authority, and this authority ultimately comes from God and thus should be used for God.  However in our attempt to make good laws to promote the public good, a society will run into mistakes.  Paul once said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).”  Paul’s statement underlies how we humans have an imperfect impression of God’s perfect justice, but that does not mean the problem is with the standard but instead our problem lies with our failure to meet that standard well.  The failure of human laws to conform to God’s laws comes as a function of our finiteness and fallen state.

As a function of our fallen state, societies may deny certain members human rights because they have legislation that actively persecute them (Fugitive Slave Clause in the Constitution), or they lack any legislation that protects them (when the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments did not exist yet), or the legislation does exist but it is poorly enforced (Jim Crow laws served to undermine the rights protected by the 13th to 15th amendments).

Laws are ideas codified into text and enforced in society

We live in a world where ideas can be free-floating and not bound to any standard.
But we then have to examine whether these ideas conform to a moral standard or not.
Laws are when abstract ideas take concrete expression in society, and therefore we have a moral obligation to consider whether a particular concept would promote the public good and honor God and neighbor.

When we are examining laws, we have to examine the idea, concept, or premise being promoted.
For example what idea is better: regulated access to guns or indiscriminate, unlimited access to guns?  If we are using public good as a standard, we should quickly come to the conclusion that regulated access to guns would be morally superior as this position would protect the public from the irresponsible misuse of guns.

Thus you can have an idea or concept which, if codified into law, contradicts the standard of universal human rights (the right to safety in this case).

Likewise with the Fugitive Slave Clause, the lack of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, or Jim Crow laws; the essential idea behind these legislation is the failure to recognize members of the public as fellow human beings that deserve protection.  The idea that African Americans do not deserve civil rights stands in stark contrast to the fact that they have inalienable human rights by virtue of being made in the image of God like any other member of the human race.

All of this is to say that human laws do not stand on their own, but are ultimately held accountable to a greater standard of God’s justice.  It is precisely because that we are able to make and remove laws that we run into the problem that our laws do not always conform to God’s laws.

Civil Disobedience

Being made in the image of God, we have some sense of God’s laws, and we ought to strive to make laws that conform to those standards.  However in our process of doing so, we will run into problems where our laws do not conform perfectly to those God-given rights, and we need to point those discrepancies out and seek to rectify them.

This is where civil disobedience comes into play.

Authority and laws are not independent entities; they are meant to be subservient to God.
All authority comes from God, and therefore should be used for God and not against Him.
Therefore when God gives authority to government, it should not be used in a manner that contradicts Him.

Citizens should only obey government inasmuch as the authority remains obedient to God. If that authority is used in a manner that goes against God, then the contradiction needs to be exposed and rectified. In the meanwhile, citizens have a moral obligation to disobey laws that contradict God’s character.

Richard Baxter said it this way: “No human power is at all to be obeyed against God: for they have no power, but what they receive from God; and all that is from him, is for him. He giveth no power against himself; he is the first efficient, the chief dirigent, and ultimate final cause of all. It is no act of authority, but resistance of his authority, which contradicteth his law, and is against him.  All human laws are subservient to his laws, and not co-ordinate, much less superior.  Therefore they are ipso facto null, or have no obligation, which are against him: yet is not the office itself null, when it is in some things thus abused; nor the magistrate’s power null, as to other things.”

Christians should not obey the government, when obedience would mean disobeying a command of God. This is indicated by several passages showing approval of disobedience to governments. For example, when commanded not to preach the gospel, Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Another example is found in Daniel 3:13–27, where Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship the golden statue; they stood firm against the king: “we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:18). God rescued them from the fiery furnace, thus confirming his approval of their stand (Dan. 3:19–30). Other examples of obeying God through disobedience to civil governments include the Egyptian midwives (Ex. 1:17, 21), Esther (Est. 4:16); Daniel (Dan. 6:10); and the wise men (Matt. 2:8, 12).

Thus disobedience is not always bad; only in reference to God’s authority is it condemned. Sin has its own authority and so does Satan but obeying them over God’s authority would be wrong.

Lord Jesus once said you cannot serve two masters.  He pointed out that there is trade-off.  Obeying one master means disobeying the other.  So if you had to disobey, then let it be with respect to evil.

The role of protests

Protests are appropriate because they signal to the government that something needs to change.
-Rosa Parks protested against segregation which violated the individual right to equal treatment
-Japanese internment camps violated the individual right of Japanese Americans to freedom from incarceration for the sake of public safety, but this violation was unwarranted as they were all innocent.
-Student walk outs protest the right to nearly unlimited access to guns which came at expense of school safety.

All of the above have in common a legislative environment that contradicted God’s laws.
People should challenge human laws that stand against a person’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights that are ultimately an expression of God’s character.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in the civil rights movement.  Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.

The one universal constant for a human being, who is made in God’s image, ought to be obedience to the God who created the creature.

Evil must be resisted and no moral man should patiently adjust to injustice.

Jesus Christ

Jesus was once asked: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
He answered, “Which one of you has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:10-12).

Jesus points out that the Pharisee’s laws stood in contradiction to the universal principle of doing good for your neighbor. He is appealing to a higher standard than the concept that the Pharisees held.  Laws defined as rules that govern human behavior are not always good.  It depends on how the rules are defined.  They can be defined properly or improperly, depending on how they promote the good of your neighbor.

In another instance, Jesus said: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7: 9-13)

Here Jesus points out that the tradition that the Pharisees held in such high esteem contradicted God’s law enshrined in the Ten Commandments.  Therefore we see that when human laws contradict God’s laws, then the human law must give way to God.

Moses

Even in the Exodus account, Moses tells Pharoah: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)

Even a pagan ruler, with all his authority, is not exempt from accountability to the God of Israel.  This is because Pharaoh is also made in the image of God just as much as Moses is.  When Pharaoh held Israel in captivity, he did so in contradiction to God’s command that he let them go.  Pharaoh tries to deny his accountability to God, but his stubborn refusal does not exempt him from the reality of his accountability.  He still remains accountable to God whether or not he believes in God’s authority.  His lack of belief in God’s authority does not negate God’s authority.  Pharaoh’s failure to submit to God led to severe consequences for him and his country.

Thus all authority given to government, even pagan ones, must be held accountable to God.

Summary

God’s authority is an absolute standard.
Human authority is a derivative of God’s authority and thus will always remain accountable to God.
Therefore it stands to reason that human authority should strive to conform to God’s standards as much as possible.

When human authority, expressed through laws, fails to conform to God’s standards, citizens (especially Christians) have a moral obligation to pursue civil disobedience for the greater purpose of obedience to God.
We also hope and pray that government would change their mind to rectify their error and thus bear fruit in keeping with repentance by removing legislation that harm the public and replace them with legislation that promote the public good.