In our time planning for worship last week, we spent quite a while discussing Mark 3, particularly verse 29. Here is the whole section in context:
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.
I am not going to get into the long debate about what exactly it means to "blaspheme the Holy Spirit." We did not reach in conclusions in our meeting, but it helped to discuss it together with friends. So first things first, if and when you get to a piece of scripture that is just baffling, find someone else to talk to about it. Bonus if the people you dialogue with are different than you. Find a young kid or a war veteran or a person in prison or an artist or a lawyer. The fancy word for this kind of reading is "dislocated exegesis." But how to read scripture is not the main point of this post. And if you want my thoughts on blaspheming the Holy Spirit, here you go- I find it helpful to remember that this entire set of verses is said to be some sort of parable. And from what I know about parables, they hide just as much as they reveal. They function on multiple levels, and it is hard to build systematic theologies around them. Also, it is important to remember who Jesus is addressing. It is the teachers of the law, the religious elite who are in view. This is why it is slightly amusing when I see the way that this verse about blaspheming the Holy Spirit has been taken up in Atheistic apologetics.
I have never been too disturbed by the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc) or their project to disprove the existence of God. I know it would seem that PhD holders who have made it their mission to prove the un-existence of God may seem troubling, but it just isn't. I take them about as serious as I do the well-meaning Christian scholars who try to prove the existence of God. Both roads are a dead end. Both use the tools of the scientific rationalism to solve a problem given to us my scientific rationalism. It is a circular argument, and not worth our time as we seek to understand the faith we proclaim. It is the cart leading the horse. It is a dead end.
Which brings us to the main part of this post (How was that for an intro?). On Richard Dawkins's website for Reason and Science, he has extended a challenge to people. Here are his words:
Called "The Blasphemy Challenge," this campaign encourages participants to commit what Christian doctrine calls the only unforgivable sin — blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…Participants who videotape their blasphemy and upload it to YouTube will receive a free DVD of the hit documentary THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE, which normally sells for $24.98… More than 160 participants have already blasphemed the Holy Spirit and earned free DVDs during the pre-launch phase of the Blasphemy Challenge. Their videos can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=7D6338FA4A19B4C3
While anyone can participate in The Blasphemy Challenge, the Rational Response Squad is focused on reaching a young demographic. To publicize The Blasphemy Challenge to young people, today the Rational Response Squad begins an online advertising campaign focused on 25 sites popular with teens such as Xanga, Friendster, Boy Scout Trail, Tiger Beat, Teen Magazine, YM, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen.
The videos I viewed are nothing surprising. But it all reminded me that at the heart of the New Atheism is another religion, not the repudiation of all religions. Their focused campaign looks just like the corresponding Christian campaigns to convince non-christians that there is a God who can be proved to exist. It is all a dead end.
Jesus is speaking in parables to the religious leaders. Those who take on the blasphemy challenge are simply misappropriating an insider warning.
One last word from Juan Luis Segundo on Mark 3:29,
The blasphemy resulting in bad apologetics will always be pardonable…What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious. The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing to recognize, with "theological" joy, some concrete liberation that is taking place before one's very own eyes.