Tag Archives: Bible

Now that’s chutzpah!

Over at the Huffington Post’s Religion section – which rivals Fundies Say the Darndest Things! as the most consistent stream of ROFL-inducing religious babble on the whole internet – one Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, of Rabbis for Human Rights North America, posted a piece entitled “Building Bridges of Freedom: The Interfaith Movement to End Slavery”.

After describing her organization’s efforts to combat slavery and human trafficking – without question a noble and laudable endeavor – she proclaims its impetus:

Jewish values demand that we protect the most vulnerable members of our society. We’re just past Passover, when we celebrate the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and the Jewish experience of having been slaves becomes the basis for the Jewish moral code. Because we were slaves, we are expected to protect the stranger in our midst — to know their heart.  So important is the commandment to protect the stranger that the Torah mentions it more than the laws of keeping kosher or observing Shabbat. Victims of human trafficking are today’s stranger.

Oy vey! Didn’t I tell you this is some funny stuff?

If the Jewish experience is the basis for anything (assuming, for the sake of argument, that there really was an Exodus, which most archaeologists and anthropologists strenuously doubt), it’s the notion that it’s better to own slaves than to be one, particularly if you can nab them from foreign nations:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim as a source of your crusade against slavery and human trafficking the very tradition that so obviously and explicitly condones them.  It’s as if the Rabbi is completely ignorant of her own scriptures—or hopes the rest of us are.

16:9-20 & 666 – numbers that debunk the Bible

Dr. Richard Carrier recently published a comprehensive article on Mark 16:9-20.  If you’re not aware, these final verses in Mark are unquestionably a later interpolation, i.e., falsification or forgery.  This is a pretty devastating verdict on the Bible’s own claim of divine inspiration.

Some Christians, no doubt, will reject this verdict, so allow me to present an even more devastating proof.  If you tally up the number of verses in Mark, less the interpolation, what do you get? 666!  That number, of course, is the Mark of the Beast (no pun intended), aka, Satan!  Satan has provided an unmistakable sign of his influence on the New Testament!  Muslims were right all along; the Bible is corrupted, and not just be its authors, but by the Lord of the Underworld himself.

This second “proof” is made completely tongue-in-cheek, of course, but there are many Christians who take great stock in biblical numbers.  Christian end-times prophecy is particularly indebted to creative numerological exegesis, yet Mark’s verse count is certainly as clear-cut, if not more so, than anything they’ve come up with.  Will they thus renounce the Bible?  Don’t hold your breath.

Nonetheless, whether it’s damning evidence or evidence of damnation, many Christians will shrug their shoulders and ask, “So what?”  Inerrancy is of no great concern to them, and I gotta say, that confuses me a lot.  If the creator of the universe’s main way of getting you to know him was through a book – which by itself is fraught with problems – you’d think he’d take great care to ensure its integrity.  That he didn’t is a huge gimme point for Bible skepticism.  It opens the door to legitimate doubt about any Biblical claim.  Or, as one apologist website put it even more starkly:

The issue is not simply “Does the Bible have a mistake?” but “Can God make a mistake?” If the Bible contains factual errors, then God is not omniscient and is capable of making errors Himself. If the Bible contains misinformation, then God is not truthful but is instead a liar. If the Bible contains contradictions, then God is the author of confusion. In other words, if biblical inerrancy is not true, then God is not God.

Any Christian who denies inerrancy care to refute such logic? (Bonus question: What is your method for delineating between errant and inerrant scripture?)

Atheists/agnostics know more about Christianity than Christians do

The revelation that atheists and agnostics are the groups most knowledgeable about major world religions has, unsurprisingly, gone viral among atheist blogs and sites.  One interesting tidbit that seems to have been lost, however, is that they’re even more knowledgeable about the Bible and Christianity than Christians, as an aggregate, are.  If you don’t consider Mormoms as Christians, as many Christians don’t, then the knowledge gap is even larger, since Mormons top everyone, and thus skew the results in Christians’ favor.

Atheists are generally not surprised by the news, as we’ve been saying for a long time that the Bible, taken as a whole, is a powerful tool against Christianity.  To maintain faith, it has to be sanitized, processed, and effectively censored for the believing masses.  How many Christians are aware, for example, that the Bible says their god tortured and eventually killed an innocent newborn for the sins of its father?  And this is simply one barbarism among dozens of others.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, summed it up nicely:  “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people.  Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.”

Debating Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ

More than blogging, I enjoy a good online discussion, which I’ve continuously engaged in since the days when Usenet was pretty much the only game in town for that sort of thing.  In fact, I probably post more on other peoples’ blogs than I do my own, simply for the debate.

A couple months ago, I came across a Christian, Ron, who apparently found Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ so undeniably compelling, he decided to give it a fuller airing on his blog. Unusual for a Christian, however, Ron practically invited skeptical responses to his posts.

A little background: Lee Strobel is very popular among some Christians who are not entirely comfortable taking their religion’s claims wholly on faith.  His books, which have sold very well, provide a seemingly solid rational defense of Christianity.  Skeptics and freethinkers, acknowledging this popularity, have reviewed Strobel’s works and have come away…less than impressed.  Their main criticism is that, while Strobel strives to position himself as a skeptic by posing questions to experts a skeptic would allegedly ask, the fact of the matter is, Strobel is an unabashed advocate who’s presenting his case on its best possible terms.  This is crystal clear by the soft-ball questions he asks – and doesn’t ask – but also by the “experts” Strobel interviews, who almost without exception share the exact same beliefs he does.  An excellent recent demolishing of an example of the Strobel façade was recently concluded by Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism.

I don’t think Christians are aware of how poorly Strobel’s works are viewed by outsiders.  They’re often recommended to us by Christians who cannot see the works’ inherent fallacies and obvious bias.  Demonstrating this to Ron, it seemed to me, would be a worthwhile pursuit.

Although for various reasons it’s taken Ron a little longer to respond than he intended, he’s finally posted a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to my first set of brief objections to The Case for Christ. Because Ron has obviously put in a significant amount of time and effort into his rebuttal, I think it only proper I respond in kind.  My conclusion is that Ron doesn’t significantly refute or materially address my objections.  He’s also mistaken on more than a few matters, as I will show.

My first objection was to note that the omission of full disclosure about Strobel’s first expert, Dr. Blomberg.  I regarded this as important information in assessing Blomberg’s credibility.  For instance, say someone recommends you buy a new product.  Very well, lots of people – from friends to strangers – do this.  But then you discover this person is a paid salesman for the product’s manufacturer.  This information will naturally cause you to treat that person’s recommendation with heightened skepticism.  You know that person has special motives, in this case, a financial interest, in you following their advice.  Further, you highly suspect that person will give you only the most positive information about the product and not any negative.  This is why full disclosure is so important.

I noted to Ron that Dr. Blomberg is an evangelical Christian (as is Strobel), and this should have been mentioned.  Why?  Because evangelicals stress “conversionism” and “activism”, according to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.  Essentially, they’re Christianity’s aggressive salesmen.

Ron dismisses this objection on the following grounds (summarized):

1)      It’s irrelevant

2)      Everyone has an agenda

By raising this objection, Ron accuses me of committing the fallacy of “Circumstantial Ad Hominem”.

Referencing that last link will show why Ron’s rebuttal is invalid.  To be a true fallacy, I would have to dismiss Dr. Blomberg’s claims based on his background, but this is not something I ever did.  Instead, I merely noted that he’s not a neutral expert, but “one who’s trying to put the best possible spin on the  evidence, by both highlighting certain things, and also not disclosing other things.”  As the nikzor.org citation states:

There are times when it is prudent to suspicious of a person’s claims, such as when it is evident that the claims are being biased by the person’s interests.

And this is precisely the basis for why I object to the failure to disclose all of Dr. Blomberg’s background.  He has a personal commitment in getting you to believe what he believes, and therefore we should greet his claims with some suspicion.

Moving along, I charge that Strobel is either ignorant of New Testament (NT) gospel problems, or does not raise them because he’s an evangelical, primarily due to the failure to raise the synoptic problem.  To the second charge, Ron repeats the accusation that I’m committing the fallacy of circumstantial ad hominem. I already dealt with this accusation, showing that it misunderstands what the fallacy actually is.  As to the first charge, Ron dismisses it as “just a baseless personal attack”.

Why is the failure to address, let alone discuss, the synoptic problem significant?  Because Strobel and Blomberg attempt to bolster the credibility of the gospels by claiming they’re based on eyewitness testimony.  Yet, if eyewitnesses actually wrote the gospels, then why do the synoptic gospels “share a great number of parallel accounts and parables, arranged in mostly the same order, and told with many of the same words”? (emphasis mine)  This is extremely strange – inexplicable, in fact — if they’re truly independent, eyewitness accounts as Blomberg and Strobel would have us believe.

Curiously, Ron includes a lengthy, meandering discussion of the synoptic problem—not so much what it actually is, mind you, but over whether the synoptic problem is a problem in and of itself.  That Ron felt the need to discuss the topic in depth, of course, only demonstrates just how important the question is, thus supporting my point that to exclude it bespeaks an agenda, not scholarship.  Perhaps Ron didn’t read carefully all of what he posted, but the conclusion of his discussion practically proves this.  As he quotes from a Christian scholar:

The issue is not a matter of believing or not believing the Bible; it is a matter of believing, and then seeking to understand as best we can that which we believe (“faith seeking understanding”).

In other words, don’t follow the evidence to arrive at a belief, but believe first, and then find the evidence to support your belief.  This, I submit, is the real purpose of The Case for Christ: to provide that “understanding,” no matter how flimsy or biased, to bolster a pre-existing belief.

Next up, I noted a rare, critical concession by Blomberg.  As he admits, “strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.”

Perhaps after his long discourse on the synoptic problem, it was getting late and Ron wasn’t thinking clearly, because he replies, “While it is true the gospels are strictly speaking anonymous, it does not logically follow we do not know who wrote them.”

Sorry, but not knowing who wrote something is the very definition of anonymous.  He cites another source explaining how we would know, say, the Gospel According to Matthew was in fact written by Matthew (Levi).  But if true, that would no longer make the gospel anonymous, would it?  Thus, Ron’s own authorities are in disagreement.

Continuing on the subject of authorship, I’m not impressed with Blomberg’s claim that there was “unanimous testimony” in the early church that the gospels were written by their putative authors.  The question of authorship didn’t arise until well into the second century (long after their real authors were dead), and when it did, just how the church fathers ascribed authorship shows how much it was based on guesswork and conjecture.  Perhaps Ron overlooked it, but on his own blog, in a reply to someone who challenged my objection, I linked to an article by Dr. Richard Carrier titled “Ignatian Vexation” showing how truly muddled the question of authorship and dating of the gospels actually is.  Blomberg actually weakens his argument by noting the uncertainty over the authorship of John, but falls back on the “unanimous testimony” defense.  What he doesn’t mention – and Strobel fails to follow-up on – is that this uncertainty is a result of historical critical scholarship of the NT conducted over the past couple centuries.  Clearly, then, the early church was more interested in attaching names to works than finding out just who its authors were.

To my point that, even if assuming the gospels were written by their putative authors, Mark and Luke are not eyewitnesses, and so their gospels would in truth be hearsay, Ron concedes.  But he says I imply by this that “second hand information or hearsay should not be admitted to the conversation or is not worthy of belief”.

Not really. My real point is to undercut the whole notion that the gospels are “eyewitness evidence,” which is the chapter heading in Strobel’s book.  Second, I mention it to attack their credibility, that we should treat their claims with greater suspicion.  After all, they were not at the scene of the events they described.  They relied on someone else’s recollections, which, in the case of the gospels, were finally written down many decades later (can you remember with any specificity a conversation you had last month, must less 40 years ago?).  This hardly makes for accurate history.  And then there are the problems with poor copying, redaction, embellishing and so forth, which we have indisputable proof occurred over many centuries. For a riveting elaboration of this subject, I highly recommend the Evans/Ehrman debate on whether the New Testament misquotes Jesus.

I realize Ron is simply repeating an old Christian chestnut when he references the ancient documents rule in support of gospel reliability.  This rule, which modern NT scholars, even Christian ones, no longer reference, holds that if a document is “at least twenty years old; in a condition that makes it free from suspicion concerning its authenticity; and found in a place where such a writing was likely to be kept,” it is deemed authentic.  Only the first condition applies to the gospels.  There is no single document of any of the gospels.  The earliest versions of the gospels are fragments.  These fragments are copies, of copies, of copies, etc., of the originals.  And finally, the originals don’t exist.  In other words, the ancient documents rule cannot possibly apply to the gospels.

On the topic of dating, I fault Case for glossing over just how unsettled the subject is among scholars, and reference the site earlychristianwritings.com for a more balanced discussion.  Ron, unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree, but then launches into an attack on this website.  For example, he says that some documents are dated to 30 AD, which “can not possibly be correct” because 33 AD is the actual year of Jesus’ death.  Also, some of the documents are “not Christian at all” but heresy.

I mention these objections because they show critical gaps in Ron’s understanding of some basic history.  The reason for the 30 AD date is because NT scholars cannot precisely pin down the year of Jesus’ death, due to an irreconcilable dispute between the gospels of Matthew and Luke over just when Jesus was born.  This comes out in Case (pg. 42), where Blomberg says, “If Jesus was put to death in A.D. 30 or 33…”  Also, it’s indisputable that early Christians were utilizing a wide variety of gospels and other writings that didn’t make it into the canon.  Calling them “heresy” is an ad hoc charge from the perspective of the victorious Christian sect which had eliminated all its rivals after many centuries.  See Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities for more.

Ron doesn’t like that I called the mention of “hostile witnesses” in the discussion about gospels dating a red herring.  First, Ron says Blomberg actually stated “hostile eyewitnesses”.  True, he does, but “hostile witnesses” is the phrase that Ron used in his original post.  No biggy.  To the meat of my objection.  Inclusion of hostile eyewitnesses in the subject of gospels dating is irrelevant because there’s no evidence provided such eyewitnesses existed.  It’s also irrelevant because the presumed existence of hostile eyewitnesses is germane to the topic of gospels accuracy, not dating.  Blomberg and Strobel would likely answer there’s no record of hostile eyewitnesses because the gospels were accurate; thus, such witnesses would have nothing to write about, presumably having verified the accuracy of gospel “facts” ( then wouldn’t they have written that too?).  But I have a better explanation: history doesn’t record any hostile eyewitnesses because no one cared about such a tiny religious sect, among the thousands of others existing in that part of the world.

Ron replies that of course some cared: local Jewish authorities opposed Christianity from the beginning; within 30 years of Jesus’ death the Romans were persecuting it, putting to death Peter and Paul.

Putting aside the accuracy of these claims, Ron is sidestepping the issue.  Our discussion is about gospel accuracy.  When I say no one cared, I mean, no one cared about the veracity of a tiny religious sect’s theological claims.  Political and religious authorities of course would care if citizens went around spreading “heresy” or undermining the official religion—which was the basis for Christian persecution.

Someone else who didn’t seem to care much about gospels “facts” is, ironically enough, the Apostle Paul himself.  Nothing in his epistles references any of Jesus’ supposed sayings, miracles, travels, parables, key sermons, prophecies, exorcisms, his divine birth, or even the location of his crucifixion and resurrection!  Ron, argues that this objection is a fallacious argument from silence, since Paul’s silence is taken as evidence of his ignorance.  What Ron doesn’t realize, however, is that the argument from silence is valid when two conditions are met: “the writer[s] whose silence is invoked in proof of the non-reality of an alleged fact, would certainly have known about it had it been a fact; [and] knowing it, he would under the circumstances certainly have made mention of it. When these two conditions are fulfilled, the argument from silence proves its point with moral certainty.” (Gilbert Garraghan, A Guide to Historical Method, pg. 149).  To use one of Ron’s own examples to show the many instances in which these conditions were met, when the Thessalonians inquired of Paul as to the timing of Christ’s return, it was not for wont of Jesus’ own predictions on the question that Paul cited none of them (cf. Mark 13:24-31, Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27).  How better to reassure the Thessalonians than to harken back to the words of the Son of Man himself?  Earl J. Doherty has compiled a list of 20 compelling silences which provide even further validity to this argument from silence.

A favorite Christian apologetic is to claim there wasn’t enough time for legendary development to occur from the time of Jesus’ death to the writing of the gospels, thus supporting their historical authenticity.  I objected that’s bunk, because history records other indisputable examples of legendary development which occurred even faster.  Ron chides me for providing no such examples, and true enough, I didn’t — at the time I wrote that.  But in a follow-up post on his own blog, before Ron crafted his lengthy reply, I did provide such examples:

Alexander the Great – Within 30 years after his death, “remarkable” legends appeared.

Sabbatai Sevi – A “dizzying whirl” of legends appeared in the very first year of his seventeenth century messianic movement.

The Angel of Mons – WWI legend developed over a period of just months.

These are a few examples of mythical growth from the book Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened Inside the Black Box?

I’m not at all clear about Ron’s point in his mention of verses from the Pauline epistles 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Colossians.  It’s not my contention that Christianity emerged from a completely blank slate, nor is it my view that theology requires legendary development.  Yes, some things mentioned in the gospels are also mentioned in the epistles.  So what?

Ron seems not to appreciate my point about how much the NT authors relied on the Old Testament (OT), for he merely replies that they cited it insofar as to show how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.  No, no, no.  It goes much deeper than that.  There is so much of Jesus’ “life” that has an  OT parallel or reference that some scholars, such as Robert M. Price, wonder whether any of it is authentic at all (see esp. his book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man).

I thank Ron for taking such effort to advance the debate and answer criticisms.  I’ll continue to post objections to Case on his blog and defend my views here.

An evil sacrifice

The Bible relates a story of an innocent person, punished for someone else’s transgressions, and ultimately put to death for them.  Christians would identify this person, especially today, “Good Friday,” as Christ Jesus, and extol his sacrifice as a supreme demonstration of God’s love for us.  But this is not the person about whom I speak.  Instead, I refer to another:

After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”  (2 Samuel 12:15-18)

Most people would be morally repelled by the notion of destroying a child for any naughtiness it may have committed.  And excepting the insane or the lobotomized, practically everyone would be aghast and outraged that a child would be tortured and destroyed for someone else’s misdeeds.  “Barbaric injustice” is probably the phrase that captures the collective sentiment best.

So when this is done to Jesus, “the perfect innocent and son of God,” Christians celebrate it?  They tell the world it’s a cause for rejoicing?  They use it as part of their sales pitch to join them?  Sorry, I cannot subscribe to a moral code that calls this good.  Punishing innocent beings for the faults of others is evil in my book.  Even if I grant the Christian god exists, he would be no god I could worship out of love.

Communism’s Christian roots

I’ve lately been reading Robert Service’s excellent Comrades!: Communism – A World History, a book which aims to deliver a “general account of communism around the world.”  Like many works so grand in scope, Comrades starts at the beginning: the origins of communism.  Service does a superb job describing these origins, enumerating the many influences on the ideology throughout history.  Two facts stand out: 1) as a vision of the ideal society, types of communism existed long before Marx and Engels in the 19th century; 2) a significant number of those influences were Christian thinkers, taking from Christian doctrines.  This latter fact is something I wish to explore further here.

Before I get into that, it might be useful to define what we mean by “communism”.  Service correctly notes how stubbornly it has defied definition.  “One communist’s communism is another communist’s anti-communism,” he writes.  Still, there are at least two core elements virtually all communisms (with a small “c”) have built upon: 

  • Common, as opposed to private, ownership of property and the means of production
  • “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

What those who identify themselves as communist or socialist have never agreed on is the means to achieve this vision.  Marx and Engels, members of a long line of communist theorists, by no means settled the debate, but they were the first to thoroughly elaborate an allegedly scientific analysis of why capitalism would inevitably collapse and lead ultimately to communism.  They drew inspiration from wide-ranging array of philosophers, economists, historians, and scientists, both classic and contemporary.   

While today’s Christians tirelessly strive to promote atheism as the genesis of communism, a claim I’ve refuted many times on this blog (see right sidebar), they’ve never explained why no atheist thinker mentions anything like it until the 19th century.  In contrast, communist principles are found at the very birth of Christianity:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45, NIV)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37, NIV).

 These passages excited the imaginations of later Christians, inspiring real and theoretical applications.  One of the most influential was Catholic Saint Thomas More’s Utopia.  Published in the early 16th century, it described a society free of private ownership and unemployment, where communal living is the norm, and worship of all forms is tolerated, except forms of non-worship like atheism. Other similar works by fellow Christian thinkers followed, including The City of the Sun and Description of the Republic of Christianopolis.  Christian sects such as the Anabaptists, the True Levellers, the Plymouth colonists, and the Mormons made attempts to put communist principles into practice.  They weren’t successful, to put it mildly.

The industrial revolution begun in the 18th century resulted in some severe side-effects, such as social dislocations and abysmal working conditions, which in turn provided fertile ground for the rapid growth of leveling ideologies like communism. Christians were among the vanguard in the “social justice” movements that emerged in the 19th century, both as leaders and ideologists.  A roundly influential tract was written by Joseph Proudhon titled What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government, the famous conclusion of which was “property is theft.”  Proudhon cited the Bible as the primary influence on his beliefs.

Another popular figure in the early 19th century proto-communist movement was Wilhelm Weitling, who wrote Gospel of Poor Sinners, a book which traced communism back to early Christianity.  Weitling produced another work, Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom, which was praised my Marx. It was influential among the founders of the League of the Just, whose goal was “the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth, based on the ideals of love of one’s neighbour, equality and justice”.  The League of the Just would later become the Communist League.  Marx and Engels were members, and they were commissioned to draw up a manifesto for the organization.  They did just that, and so came into existence The Communist Manifesto.

Although Christians were prominent in founding and promoting communism, it would be a mistake to view communism as primarily a Christian ideology until Marxism.  Indeed, many Christians going back centuries defended private property, and they opposed communism in both word and deed (but sometimes not for the most noble of reasons…), particularly Marx’s religiously-unfriendly brand of communism.  Yet it would also be a mistake to deny communism’s indebtedness to Christian scriptures and thinkers, a rich legacy from which a sizable number Christians draw even up to the present time.  Liberation theology is the most notable species of Christian communism that remains alive and well, albeit in an evolved form.

Needless to say, most Christians have not taken it kindly when confronted with communism’s kinship to their religion.  They primarily object that the social order described in works like Acts was a voluntary arrangement, not one to be imposed by force as attempted by the Marxist-Leninist brand of communists, or that it was applicable only to that time period.  The objections are peculiar in that Christians have never denied themselves the right to be guided by scripture in questions about how the social order should be arranged; abortion and gay marriage being two notable, contemporary examples.  Moreover, if indeed it’s the case that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), then it would imply the Christian god has sanctioned the communist ethos described in Acts as his desired state for everyone, or at least for his followers.  Even if Christians blanche at imposing it on unwilling participants, either democratically or dictatorially, that doesn’t prevent them from imposing it on themselves.  That all Christian attempts at doing so have failed cannot indicate a problem in the principles themselves, since they were “God-breathed” and thus infallible.  Christians, why are you running from your communist heritage, rather than embracing it?

The Hand of God?

I’m a listener of NPR, primarily because its commentators most rarely mouth the silliest things among those who inhabit MSM-land.   Nonetheless, facepalm moments do occur, and since this is a blog that promotes skepticism, I’m going to pick on a commentary made today by Scott Simon in his “Haiti and the Hand of God.”

By now you’ve probably heard Christian televangelist Pat Robertson’s claim that the Haitian earthquake is a consequence of that country’s “pact with the devil” some two hundred years ago.  This is standard fare for Robertson, so you’d think that most people by now would simply dismiss his blatherings as more incoherent rants of a loon rather than the outrage with which they were typically greeted.  To his credit, Simon is with the former camp, but attempts to cut Robertson deeper with the view that “[I]t’s hard to detect the hand of God, much less His loving touch, in [Robertson’s] remarks.”

Now it’s symbolic of theism’s incoherency that the irony of this statement is completely lost on believers like Simon, for where is the “loving touch” of the “hand of God” detectable anywhere in all this? If Simon–or any other believer sees it–by all means please produce it.  Because, right now, all the rest of us see is a lot of suffering.  Needless. Gratuitous. Devastating.  On a people already ground down by poverty, corruption, and horrible government.

If Simon were to delve a little deeper into his own theology, he’d realize he really has no basis to object to Robertson’s comments, because the latter could very well be right.  As Isaiah 45:7 (NIV) reads: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (emphasis mine).   Makes you kinda wonder whether the loving touch of God’s hand is what produced the Haitian calamity.

Reasonable or foolishness?

During a conversation with a Christian, I was reminded of a most excellent verse from the Bible:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In other words, the Christian gospel is purposely designed by its god to appear delusional to non-believers.  When Christians wonder why everyone else scoffs at their beliefs, they need only recall this verse.  The confusion is intentional.

I got to admit, this is a brilliant rejoinder to those who dismiss your message as crazy.  “You don’t understand what we’re saying?  That’s the way it should be!” For a long time, the looniness was touted as a point in the faith’s favor.  As early Christian apologist Tertullian put it, “I believe because it’s absurd.  It’s certain because it’s impossible.”

But then came the Age of Reason, and suddenly, being absurd wasn’t so great.  Ever since, Christianity has been forced to justify itself on rational and empiricist grounds.  Tract after apologetic tract has strived to demonstrate that the Christian faith is grounded in reason, science, and actual history.  As one of the more notable latest products of that endless stream, William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, states “…it will be apologetics which, by making the gospel a credible option for seeking people, gives them, as it were, the intellectual permission to believe.”

Unfortunately, “intellectual permission to believe” is precisely not what the Christian gospel is supposed to offer.  According to the apostle Paul, the message is unintellectual, unreasonable, irrational, i.e., foolishness.  That is its virtue, a sign to the growing believer that the “power of God” is at play.

But Christians can’t have it both ways.  Either their message is absurd, or it’s reasonable (unsurprisingly, Craig never mentions 1 Cor. 1:18 in his book).  If it’s reasonable, then Paul is wrong.  If Paul is wrong on this, what else is Paul wrong about?  Christians can’t argue their gospel is reasonable without fatally wounding their theology.  But if they argue it’s absurd, then welcome to the club of bizarre beliefs, of which this world is littered.  Christianity becomes no better than Scientology.  Such is Christianity’s conundrum, but it’s a bed of it’s own making.

Oh, those glorious days of religion in the classroom

Many of today’s Christians lament how religion (by which they mean their religion) has been stripped from the public school curriculum.  They yearn for the days when the Bible was as much a part of learning as the three Rs.  But thanks to godless liberals, that’s no longer the case.  The results are as sad as they are predictable.  Just one example: biblically conservative teens are one of the most sexually promiscuous groups among their believing peers.  Who knew children of Christian evangelicals were so dependent on the public school teachers to imbue them with the proper morals?  But I digress…

We all know there were sound legal and constitutional arguments for keeping religion in the home and church. But that’s all foolishness to God, say militant Christians.  Yet, there were very practical reasons too, which unfortunately have been either overlooked or quietly swept under the rug.  One of them relates to a tragic and deadly incident in Pennsylvania some 160 years ago known as the “Philadelphia Bible Riots”. 

I’ll leave it to you to read the full story, but here are the essentials:  In the 1840s, Philadelphia public schools were dominated by Protestants.  Bible-reading, KJV-style, took place every morning.  This didn’t sit well, to say the least, with the growing number of Irish Catholic immigrants, who took theological direction from Rome and from a different bible.  Mix the traditional Christian brotherly love between the two sects, add a dash of demagoguery, bake in the fires of burning homes and buildings, and what do you get?  Ten persons dead, twenty wounded, and $5.8 million in property damage (in current dollars).

Rob Boston, author of the article linked above, arrives at some very important lessons from the riots.  Here are a couple:

[R]eligion is taken so seriously that when people believe that their religious rights are being violated, they are capable of responding in ways that shock.

Isn’t that the truth!  What is it about religion that sometimes relieves one of all civilized behavior?

[D]espite the claims that state-sponsored religion in public schools would be a unifying factor, history shows that it is a divisive one that quickly causes people to take sides.

One of the beneficial consequences of the separation of church and state in this country is inter- and intra-faith peaceful co-existence, which has traditionally been the exception rather than the rule throughout the world.  It’s ironic that some of those who most strongly advocate for a religious presence in the schools would probably now be arguing against it had the principle not been enforced.  Even more ironic is that it’s secularists who may actually be responsible for preserving the skins of Christians who so frequently revile them.

How do Christians explain their higher incidences of sin?

The news that conservative states tend to be the biggest consumers of online porn (with heavily Mormon Utah occupying the top spot) is but the latest in a string of moral embarrassments that have left Christians red-faced.  Earlier research showed that the highest incidences of teenage pregnancy are there too, in spite of popular chastity movements like “True Love Waits” intended to reduce teenage sexual activity.  And that’s not all.  In the so-called Bible Belt, rates of murder, divorce, and domestic violence tend to be among the highest in America, as well.

Christian apologists rationalize these facts by explaining that “we are all sinners, Christians included”, but this misses the point.  The issue is not that Christians do bad things in the first place, but why they do many of them more frequently than their non-religious counterparts.  This is an anomaly; a deviation from the expected state of affairs, where Christians “ruled by God” should be “convicted of their sin” and do less of it than those governed by more secular (read: inferior) ethics.  So, why the worse behavior?  While Christians scramble for an answer, allow me to venture a few of my own.

I think the main reason is that Christianity discourages the development of a strong sense of moral intuition.  Adherents are taught moral commands, but are rarely given substantive, practical, or rational reasons for their basis.  In other words, they know what they shouldn’t do, they just don’t understand why very well, other than “because God said it”.  Unfortunately, a pragmatic approach to moral issues is out of the question for Christians, because it would open the door to questioning a broad range of moral commandments, and thus undermine the entire basis of moral absolutism.  The downside of such a system is seen most dramatically when the adherent believes that they have divine sanction for their behavior, which removes that sole, divine constraint.  In contrast, humanist ethical systems place more emphasis on the practical consequences of a breach.  Avoid gluttony not because God says it’s a sin, but because the health consequences are diabetes, higher medical costs, and lower life expectancy.  These ethical systems are also adaptable, able to respond to new information, experience, technology, and realities.

Another possible reason for the higher incidences is that since many commands lack a negative or immediate consequence for disobedience (which is odd given God’s alleged omnipotence and omnipresence), disrespect for all commands is fostered.  By way of example, think of a country like Mexico where laws and regulations are many, but enforcement is lax or non-existent.  Such a situation tends to breed increased lawlessness overall, particularly when prohibitions are viewed as improper, irrelevant, or counter-productive.  Many militant Christians understand this problem, which is why they’re often so eager to establish a link between sin and calamity, however tenuous. (But have you noticed that such calamity is rarely, if ever, blamed on the infidelity of their own communities? Hmm…)

A final possible reason is that Christians are actually morally confused, mostly due to the moral schizophrenia of the Bible and the behavior of their prominent leaders.  If you’re a Christian, mixed messages abound.  For example, the Bible proscribes killing (Exodus 20:13), except when it prescribes it (Exodus 22:18 and 31:15).  Slavery, polygamy, and violence can all be justified there, or they can be condemned.  Among popes, pastors, and preachers can be found the most truly reprobate behaviors.  What’s a little porn compared to gay hookers and meth?

I know Christianity helps some people behave better, but at least in some ways, it makes them act worse.  Mr. Apologist, why is that?