I am a bit depressed after reading a book by John Gray (professor at London School of Economics) called Straw Dogs. After reading this, I have been looking at the Humanist worldview and measuring it against my own. I am going to try to soften the blow of some incredibly piercing ideas brought to us by professor Gray by sharing with you something uplifting first. I will then do my best to tie these thoughts together in a way which will help us draw some conclusions and make application to our lives. We are going to look at a story that is very familiar. One of the problems with familiar stories, and specifically parables, as noted by Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey, is that they run the risk of being over familiarized. This one in particular is a favorite of parents, teachers, and even Humanists, because many interpret it to say that it declares for humans to simply–look out for others. Though this is a true and a noble concept, there is something even deeper here that I think we will find to be more important.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
I wonder sometimes if we really “ought” to do things or if we do them out of convenience. Funny that I have these thoughts because as I shared earlier, I have just stumbled across a book called Straw Dogs written by Professor John Gray. This is not John Gray of the Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus fame. This is John Gray, the professor of political thought at the London School of Economics. In the book he argues vociferously that people only do moral things because they are convenient, and secondly, that all morality is made up– and he goes on to say that it is the residue of the fabricated religion known as Christianity. This idea of being “manmade” is the idea of psychological projection theory. One would see this in the writings of Feuerbach and then propelled even further by Freud.
One of the central themes of his book is that Secular Humanism is untenable. This I agree with entirely. In fact, I agree with much of the book, except for one thing–we will get to that in a minute. Much like Friedrich Nietzsche, the nihilist philosopher, I appreciate the complete honesty of this man. In a time dominated by the new atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett), it is rare that you read work by an atheist who is willing to logically follow his atheistic, naturalist worldview to its logical end. I could say more here, but for now, let’s consider his thoughts.
Gray addresses Humanism, Darwinism, Naturalism, atheism, and Christianity. He takes them all head on–though he only devotes a brief amount of time to Christianity. He summarizes Christianity in a few paragraphs. He reduces Aristotle to a few pages–Augustine to a few lines. I dont even remember reading any thought from Aquinas. He refers to the Christian faith as a religion started by Paul, not Jesus. He reveals his misunderstanding of history in many ways, but nevertheless, he makes a well articulated argument, even if it is out of touch.
On the subject of Humanism, he says,
“Humanism is not science, but religion–the post Christian faith that humans can make a world better than any in which they have so far lived. In pre-Christian Europe it was taken for granted that the future would be like the past. Knowledge and invention might advance, but ethics would remain much the same. History was a series of cycles, with no overall meaning.”
Gray goes on to say that,
“Against this pagan view, Christians understood history as a story of sin and redemption. Humanism is the transformation of this Christian doctrine of salvation into a project of universal human emancipation.”
He is onto something here. If you remove God from the equation, there is really no meaning in life. Dostoevsky says it brilliantly: If God doesnt exist, then everything is permissable. If there is no God, there can be no objective morality. This is precisely what Nietzche argued in the 19th Century. Gray agrees with this. Further he says that Humanism in a way takes captive ideas from Christianity and claims them for its own.
Gray elaborates on this idea with this statement:
“The prevailing secular worldview is a pastiche of current scientific orthodoxy and pious hopes. Darwin has shown that we are animals; but–as humanists never tire of preaching–how we live is ‘up to us.’ Unlike any other animal, we are told, we are free to live as we choose. yet the idea of free will does not come from science. its origins are in religion–not just any religion, but the Christian faith against which humanists rail so obsessively.”
So, Gray accurately points out that the Humanist who vehemently denies the absolute position of the Bible, takes the portions of the Bible that he agrees with, erases the name Christianity, and superimposes the term Humanism over top of it. This is where the idea of Humanism comes from. It isn’t science he says, but ultimately has roots in religion. It’s a dialectical synthesis of religious ideas and secular fulfillment.
G.K. Chesterton once said,
“Progress in its modern sense is the comparison to that which we have not yet established the superlative.”
I think he is right. Gray also makes an astute statement about progress.
“Humanists turn to Darwin to support their shaky modern faith in progress; but there is no progress in the world he revealed.”
In fact, Richard Dawkins, the noted atheist and biologist has made it clear, “we are dancing to our DNA.” He is saying that we do not have the freedom to make choices or to progress and improve ourselves. We are what we are. We are the product of a mindless, unguided, deterministic set of chance events. We are the random outcome of time plus matter plus chance. In this equation there is no room for progress based on our intelligence. Our intelligence is a product of the random firing of cells. Progress is deterministic.
If we buy into naturalism, we have to agree that we are no different from animals. Darwin has shown us this. Now Gray proposes,
“Humanism can mean many things, but for us it means belief in progress. To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody nowadays, but it is groundless. For though human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same: a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive.”
“In the world shown us by Darwin, there is nothing that can be called progress. To anyone reared on humanist hopes this is intolerable. As a result, Darwin’s teaching has been stood on its head, and Christianity’s cardinal error–that humans are different from other animals–has been given a new lease on life.”
In making this statement, Gray asserts that as we have seen, in a purely naturalistic world, there can be no real ‘progress.’ At the end of the day, we are still animals dancing to our DNA. Now, the Humanist REJECTS this. They are not going to be lumped in with animals. We may argue that the wolf and the dog have the same ancestor–but the Humanist is not for a moment going to buy into the fact that he is a savage beast incapable of progress. Gray answers this poignantly:
“Darwin showed that humans are like other animals, humanists claim they are not. Humanists insist that by using our knowledge we can control our environment and flourish as never before. In affirming this, they renew one of Christianity’s most dubious promises–that salvation is open to all. The humanist belief in progress is only a secular version of this Christian faith.”
Then Gray makes perhaps the most poignant and accurate statement in his book:
“A truly naturalistic view of the world leaves no room for secular hope.”
Because of this–Gray says morality is up to mans own choosing. There is no law to which me must abide. We must instead become either the strong or the weak. Consider:
A sixteen-year old prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp was raped by a guard. Knowing that any prisoner who appeared without a cap on morning parade was immediately shot, the guard stole his victim’s cap. the victim once shot, the rape could not be uncovered. the prisoner knew that his only chance of life was to find a cap. So he stole the cap of another camp inmate, asleep in bed, and lived to tell the tale. The other prisoner was shot. Roman Frister, the prisoner who stole the cap, describes the death of his fellow inmate as follows:
“The officer and the kapo walked down the lines…I counted the seconds as they counted the prisoners. I wanted it to be over. They were up to row four. The capless man didn’t beg for his life. We all knew the rules of the game, the killers and the killed alike. There was no need for words. The shot rang out without warning. There was a short, dry, echoless thud. One bullet to the brain. They always shot you in the back of the skull. There was a war on. Ammunition had to be used sparingly. I didn’t want to know who the man was. I was delighted to be alive.”
What does morality say the young prisoner ought to have done? It says that human life has no price. Very well. Should he therefore have consented to lose his life? Or does the pricelessness of life mean that he was justified in down anything to save his own? Morality is supposed to be universal and categorical. But the lesson of Roman Fristers story is that it is a convenience, to be relied upon only in normal times.
Morality is a thing of convenience? Let us investigate this further–but through the eyes of Jesus.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now this is very interesting. In this culture, it is quite normal for the teacher to sit and the student to stand when reciting knowledge to the teacher. Here, however, it doesn’t seem that the student is standing out of humility or in a quest for knowledge. It seems rather that this ‘lawyer’ is standing to test Jesus. It is interesting to note that he didn’t ask, “How can I obey God,” which is the natural question for a religious lawyer to ask, but, “How can I inherit eternal life?” It seems that perhaps the lawyer is trying to trap Jesus by means of His answer and then take even some trivial word and shape it into evidence that Jesus’ enemies could fashion into a denial of the validity of the law of Moses.
He said to him,
“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
And he answered,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him,
“You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Now, Jesus has answered this question in another passage before, and the fact that he answered it differently doesn’t imply that there are multiple ways to eternal life. What it implies is that Jesus wanted to answer the question differently for methods of teaching. 2+2 and 2×2 both equal, what? Notice, Jesus answers the question with a…question. This is not a contradiction. He wants the thinker to believe and the believer to think. Jesus refusal to answer the question directly shows that Christ was aware exactly of what this lawyer was trying to do. He was aware of the scheme. Indeed when facing questioners we need to always understand that content in the pursuit of knowledge is always prior to intent. This lawyer asked a flawed question. What can anyone do to inherit anything? Inheritance, by its nature, is a gift from one family member or a friend to another person. If you are born into a family, or perhaps adopted into a family, then you can inherit. Inheritance is not payment for services rendered. The questioner in this story is a religious lawyer who is fully aware of such issues.
Now the answer that the lawyer gives is a good one. Note that even Jesus is impressed. In summary, the lawyer quotes Jesus’ synopsis of the law (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31). Jesus tells the lawyer, “Fine, follow your own advice. Live up to these standards and you will indeed inherit eternal life.” To inherit eternal life, all he must do is to consistently practice unqualified love for God and his neighbor. Now, is Jesus saying that salvation can be earned? Well, if anyone can meet such a standard of holiness, surely they do not need grace. However, as Paul points out to us, the law is not the problem, the problem is man. So basically, when this man asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “You must jump over this 50 foot tall wall.”
He recalibrates his thoughts. He must be thinking to himself, “I know I must love God and my neighbor to earn salvation.” Now, to define these two…To love God is to keep the law, duh. Now, who exactly is my neighbor. I must have clarification here.” Luke helps us out here with the words, “But he desiring to justify himself…”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer is hoping for a concise list that he can follow. He wants a system that is based in pragmaticism–that is–a system of doing. Notice that most religious systems come to us by way of 3 types of thinking. We either see a system of thinking or epistemological theory, a system of feeling or existentialism, or a system of doing known as pragmatism. Jesus is going to shatter this man’s expectations. To see this more clearly, think of it this way–the man wanted to know if the system he should live by had to do with a) Right thinking, b) Right feeling, or c) Right doing. The Christian ideal is not based in any of these–even though–there is no knowledge like knowing Jesus, and even though–there is no feeling like experiencing the life changing love of Christ, and even though–Jesus said, “You will know true Christians by what they do.” The Christian system is not based in any of these three. In fact, most heresies arise out of an over abundance of one of these three in the life of a Christian. Indeed the Christian system is based in being. The being of Christ. We are who we are because of who we are in Christ. Christianity is not something we do, but rather it is something that we are.
Back to the issue at hand:
Think about our own language and experience. We think in threes. An Englishman, and Irishman, and a….. Scotsman. Now, Jesus is about to tell him a story that will shatter his expectations. This is what Jesus does. He takes our humanly expectations and redefines them in Heavenly terms.
Jesus replied, A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead…
Now anyone who knows anything about this time period and about the geography of this area knows that there is a road between Jerusalem and Jericho. It runs through the middle of nowhere. This road is traveled; however, it is a danger zone, and is a hotbed for thieves, ambushes, and danger. Now, these robbers beat the man until the point of death. Robbers in the Middle East are known to beat their victims only if they resist. It seems that he must have been a guy that resisted being robbed and therefore suffered a beating.
The first man to encounter our victim is a priest. Now this is entirely normal for a priest to travel this route. After all, he was probably on his was down the mountain from Jerusalem to Jericho. Many of the 1st century priests lived in Jericho. They would go to Jerusalem for a two-week assignment and then return home. Now, along with this, priests were known to be wealthy. Menahem Stern writes,
“Towards the close of the Second Temple period, the priesthood constituted the prestigious and elite class in Jewish society.”
There is no way he made this journey on foot. He was riding a beast. My reason for saying this is simple. He could have easily carried this man to safety. It would have been in this sense–convenient. There is a problem. Then as is the practice now, people in the Middle east are identified by their clothes, language, or accent. Now this man was half dead. No language or accent. He had no clothes either. How could such a man be identified? There was one other possibility. We will get to that in a minute.
The priest had a dilemma. If this man were a Jew, and a law-abiding one at that, he would have been responsible as a priest to help him. This victim was naked and unconscious–kind of difficult. This man was also wounded and half dead. If the priest approached him, he would become ceremonially defiled, and he would need to return to Jerusalem to be cleansed in a week-long ceremonial purification. This wouldn’t be convenient. In the mean time, he wouldn’t be able to eat or collect from the tithes–this would also extend to his family and servants!
So was the man a Jew? Well, we do not know. It would have been very simple to find out. This is where we find out that the man was lying face down. He must have been. If he had been on his back, the priest would have been compelled to help. You see, Jewish men have a procedure done to them as children called circumcision. I shall not say anymore. Google it. All he had to do was look. It was too inconvenient for him.
Next, we get a Levite. Now these men served many of the same functions as priests, for they were basically high-ranking assistants. Since the priest had set the precedent, and the Levite was just following the priest, the Levite was free to just pass by. After all, how could the Levite exercise moral judgment and upstage the discretion of the priest? Did he think he understood the law better than the priest? This would insult the priest.
33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
This is a shocker. The audience is clearly not expecting this. As I noted earlier, they are expecting this man to fall into a pre-supposed category. The priest, the Levite, and the common Jew? What do we get? We get a Samaritan. This part of the story explodes in the faces of its listeners. Again, we get a costly demonstration of unexpected love. The hero of the story is not a Jewish layman but a hated outsider. I doubt if settlers in the American West told stories in the nineteenth century with “a good Indian” as the hero of those tales. Here the parable assumes the wounded man to be a Jew. It would have been more acceptable to the audience if Jesus had told a story about a good Jew who helped a wounded Samaritan on the way to Shechem. The Jewish audience might have managed to praise a “good Jew” even though he helped a hated Samaritan. It is, however, a different matter to tell a story about a good Samaritan who helps a wounded Jew, especially after the Jewish priest and Levite fail to turn aside to assist the unconscious stranger!
35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The Samaritan then risks his life by transporting the wounded man to an inn within Jewish territory. Such inns were found in villages, not in the wilderness. There are no archaeological remains to indicate that there was an inn in the midst of the wilderness between Jerusalem and Jericho at the time of Jesus. The listener to the story would naturally expect the Samaritan to take the wounded man down to Jericho where an inn could be found.
Now, clearly the Samaritan is expected to unload the wounded man at the edge of Jericho and disappear. A Samaritan would not be safe in a Jewish town with a wounded Jew over the back of his riding animal. Community vengeance may be enacted against the Samaritan, even if he has saved the life of the Jew. Ken Bailey points out,
“I have personally heard of and witnessed these grim realities in the Middle East.”
The next day he took out and gave two denarii to the manager and said, SPEND MONEY ON HIM “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend (Compensating for the thieves) I, on my return, I will repay you.” This last scene takes place the following day at the inn. Two denarii would have covered the bill for food and lodging for at least a week and perhaps two.”
The overlooked reality of the Samaritan’s final act is that he risks his life to care for this man in a Jewish inn.
Ken Bailey helps us with perspective:
“Putting the story into an American context around 1850, suppose a Native American found a cowboy with two arrows in his back, placed the cowboy on his horse and rode into Dodge City. After checking into a room over the saloon, the man spent the night taking care of the cowboy. How would the people of Dodge City react to the Native American the following morning when he emerged from the saloon? Most Americans know that they would probably kill him even though he had helped a cowboy.
After the Samaritan paid his bill he had yet to escape the town. Was there a crowd awaiting him outside the inn? Was he beaten or killed? We do not know. The story is open-ended, and as with many of Jesus’ parables the listener must supply the missing conclusion. Why did the Samaritan expose himself to potential violence? At the time, people could be sold as slaves if they could not pay their debts. Jesus’ parable of the unjust servant mentions this grim first-century reality (Mt 18:25). Any lodger in a commercial inn who could not pay his bill risked being sold as a slave by the innkeepers, who, in general, had bad reputations. This particular victim had nothing, not even clothes. The Samaritan was obliged to make a down payment and pledge himself to settle the final bill lest his rescue of the wounded man be in vain.
Without such an extraordinary effort the Samaritan might as well have left the poor man to die in the wilderness. In this parable the Samaritan extends a costly demonstration of unexpected love to the wounded man, and in the process Jesus again interprets the life-changing power of costly love that would climax at his cross.”
In this story, do we see any evidence of convenience? Hardly. As I stated above, we see a costly demonstration of unexpected love. This is Jesus. This is the gospel. This is grace. This is our mission.
Michael Ramsden tells a story about a missionary in Afghanistan who was carrying Bibles in a satchel when he was stopped by police. He was actually stopped by dogs who latched onto his leg and drug him over to the cops. This allows the cops to keep their guns sighted on you. When he was about half way to their truck, the officers yelled for him to drop his bag—so he did. When he got to them, they asked him what he was doing there, and began to search him. They found six Bibles on his body. They became furious and wanted know why he had these Bibles and demanded to know on what authority he was giving these away.
They asked him if he had a license. He replied, “Yes I do.” They said, is it from the Afghan government? He laughed and said, “No.” In reply to his laughter and due to the fact that he was Pakistani, they asked, “From the Pakistan Government?” He replied, “No.” Perplexed, the officers had one last question: “U.N.?” “No,” he replied.
“Where is this license from?” they demanded. The man replied, “It is in my bag, may I go and get it?” So he went to his bag, pulled out another Bible, turned to Matthew 28 and read to them: “Go unto all the nations and make disciples…” He said, “This is my license.”
Are we prepared to give our lives for the gospel? If we aren’t, it doesn’t matter what words we use, what arguments we deploy: the world will never be impressed. It is never convenient to live for Christ.