Wind and Water

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

—Matthew 16:18 (RSV)

The biblical metaphor of the church built on rock is interwoven throughout Christianity, used as a metaphor for the presumed stability and eternality of the faith. The Catholic church points to two thousand years of continuous tradition as proof that they are the rock in question, while other denominations cite their alleged correct interpretation of scripture, the belief that God is on their side, their anticipation of end-times vindication, or other details.

I say, let them have their analogy. We have a better one.

I wrote in “Belaboring the Obvious” that there are many pundits who confidently assert the futility of debating religion, claiming that no one ever changes their mind. I was very happy to see a substantial number of commenters step up to count themselves among that allegedly non-existent multitude. And, as I’ve pointed out, our numbers are growing generation by generation and even year by year. We’re still nowhere near a majority, but our growth is ongoing.

If reason seems futile, that’s only because it doesn’t produce dramatic changes of opinion in every case, or even in most cases. Human psychology just isn’t that malleable. The persuasive power of reason is less like a great torrent that sweeps away houses, more like the gentle dripping of water on stone. It may seem like a weak force, a tiny, imperceptible thing against the massed strength of rock. What could a few drips of water ever do to the hardness of stone?

But be not deceived: gentle as it may seem, weak as it may seem, water is the stronger of the two. It may work at a rate too slow for humans to perceive, but it has been one of the major forces shaping the surface of our planet. Given a million years, the soft, ceaseless pounding of waves can pulverize rock into soft sand. Given ten million years, it can erase impact craters or carve vast canyons through stone. Given a hundred million years, it can wear away mountains to nothing.

Over the span of a human lifetime, stone seems invulnerable. But if we could see with the eyes of geological time, it would be ephemeral as mist. We could see mountains upthrust, sharp and craggy, and then sink again as they were gentled by the scouring of erosion and carried piece by piece to the sea. We could see roots split stone, acid dissolve it, and lichen eat it away, transforming it into soil. We could see frost wedge itself into cracks and expand, pushing apart solid rock. We could see stone of all kinds crushed, metamorphosed, and ultimately subducted and melted.

The mightiest mountain is inevitably worn down to nothing by erosion, and in like manner, even the most powerful religion can be undercut by reason and fade away, brought low by forces it once scorned as beneath notice. So, let them have their rock – we are wind and water. We are a million falling drops, a million wind-blown particles, slowly wearing away at their supposedly solid foundation one grain at a time. And given enough time, we are the stronger. They may not notice the spreading cracks, but they are there nonetheless. We have seen what the future brings, and we know the trend is on our side.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • LindaJoy

    I have been reading Greek history lately and there was a rather large movement of skepticism for a couple of hundred years BC, but it died out to superstition as conquerors kept changing the political and religious dynamics. I am hoping we don’t see that happen again. What I think might change that is that Europe, the UK and the United States have been politically fairly stable for long enough to let the debate over reason take a better hold. You see how Europe has become so much less religious, Britain too. The other thing that may change this whole scene is the internet. Whenever there is an article having anything to do with religion in our large city paper, I get on and challenge statements, ask probing questions, share facts about religious history etc. etc. I have found many religionists getting on at first to bash me, but then they keep coming back and making more conversation and asking questions. As long as I keep my responses pertaining to facts and reason, they stay on. I couldn’t tell you if any of them move to atheism or agnosticism, but I’d be willing to bet that those little seeds of doubt are being planted. If you read the interviews with the atheist soldier who is suing the Pentagon for his treatment in the military, he said that he went into the service as a Bible believing Baptist who felt he was “fighting for the Lord”. He met some skeptics in his unit, got into conversations with them, and slowly began to see that he really didn’t believe all that stuff. The skeptics did not try to convert him to atheism. They just answered his questions and he listened to their conversations. When he started his own freethinkers group, that’s when his commanding officer and others started to harrass him. He is now stateside. They had to bring him home because of the threats made against him by the Christian soldiers. Anyway, the internet may speed things up in terms of change, as long as atheists persist in fact driven, rational, non-combative conversations online. It helps to have a good familiarity with the Bible (or other religious texts), history, mythology, and all the current arguments made particularly by Christian Dominionists about US history, evolution etc.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Go to the beach and you will see boulders, now reduce to the size of and grains.

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    As an ex-Taoist, the analogy of water wearing away rock is a familiar one. Nice to know I can still use it!

    LindaJoy, I’m (uncharacteristically) optimistic that the skeptical movement won’t be dying out this time around. If anything, I think the noise and hubbub currently being generated by the Religious Right is indicative of their crumbling position. Their persecution complex is a response to the rise of free thinking, and as the drips wear away their foundations, the furore will increase – until the day the foundations are finally gone.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommy

    One thing I like to point out is that the civilization of pharaonic Egypt lasted nearly 3,000 years before finally disappearing. Christianity has been around for less than 2,000 years. It helps to put things into perspective.

  • David D.G.

    Awesome analogy, Ebonmuse! I confess that I am sometimes impatient for faster progress, but “slow and steady wins the race,” to borrow a similar metaphor. Thanks for the encouraging words.

    ~David D.G.

  • Steve Bowen

    One thing I like to point out is that the civilization of pharaonic Egypt lasted nearly 3,000 years before finally disappearing. Christianity has been around for less than 2,000 years. It helps to put things into perspective.

    The ancient Egyptians didn’t have the internet. Even more pertinantly they did not have the wealth of knowledge or the scientific rigour to back it up. We do, and the more the fundies of all religions bleat the less credible their position becomes.

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    Nice metaphor, and especially appropriate considering those YECs who refuse to believe that the Grand Canyon could have been formed over millions of years by precisely this process. Perhaps they also refuse to believe that tiny local changes made by reason could possibly wear down their edifice of stone.

  • Alex Weaver

    The biblical metaphor of the church built on rock is interwoven throughout Christianity, used as a metaphor for the presumed stability and eternality of the faith.

    Although, if you were in a flippant mood, you might observe that the ultimate foundations of these churches are the minds of their believers… ;)

  • mikespeir

    I expect the Christian religion to last a lot longer than 3000 years. It has the advantage of having coming along at just the right time in history and in the right place to gain a foothold in the world like none other before it. It has acquired a mass and momentum that will keep it going for a long time indeed.

    We atheists sometimes make the mistake of putting all our emphasis on reason, neglecting the fact that people are as much emotional as they are rational. When we can, we strive to be rational. But we react the way our pre-rational ancestors did when placed under life-threatening duress. If the world continues on as it has for the last few centuries, we can expect to see the bud of rationalism bloom and propagate. (Religion will not die out, but attempt to assimilate this.) On the other hand, if some catastrophe overtakes us that forces us to again scratch for survival, expect mysticism to regain the upper hand.

  • LindaJoy

    Alex- yes, I would agree that religious believers have rocks in their heads.

    Mikespeir- You are right. Just like science and astronomy, when the evidence gets too overwhelming, the Catholic church will co-op skepticism and rationalism and call it their own!

  • Kaltrosomos

    Nice article.

    Mikespeir, I like your comment. It’s true that atheists can make the mistake of only focusing on reason. But there is also an emotional aspect to religion, an emotional pay-off.

    So we don’t just need to rationally refute the religious superstitions of believers, but also offer an emotionally satisfying alternative. A complaint I’ve often heard from theists is that if there really was no god, then the universe was nothing but a cruel joke and a nightmare. It seems they have invested quite a lot of their emotional being into religion, and I think that for some of them even if they can be rationally convinced that what they believe is false, they won’t give it up for emotional reasons.

    So not only do we need to prove that current religions are false, but we also have to offer something better in return. Otherwise we do become open to the claim that our philosophy isn’t a constructive or positive one, but simply something based on negation.

    Also of interest, I’ve been reading a book recently by a theist who wants religion, as LindaJoy put it, to “co-op skepticism and rationalism and call it their own!”. The book, ‘Romancing The Universe,’ by Jeffrey G. Sobosan, notes that historically theology has ‘married’ philosophy. But, Sobosan says, philosophy carries nowhere near it’s old cultural weight. Philosophy, for the most part, is a minority interest. On the other hand, science is now in high regard. So, what’s the solution? ‘divorce’ philosophy and marry theology to science instead!

    Though i’m sure the author intended the image as a good thing, i couldn’t help imagining a parasite moving from one worn-out host to a fresh new one. If theology has to steal all the thunder from science in order to keep afloat, that’s telling me something.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Nice post. Your metaphor of slow, steady erosion of the foundations of faith fits my experience. In my case, it took a long time for the cracks in my belief system to join together and start crumbling the rocks, bit by bit. Once the rocks began crumbling, however, the avalanche began.

  • Mrnaglfar

    People have believed in Christ for roughly 2000 years.

    People have been atheists for as long as there have been people.

    I think atheism wins the time debate.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Kaltrosomos:

    So not only do we need to prove that current religions are false, but we also have to offer something better in return. Otherwise we do become open to the claim that our philosophy isn’t a constructive or positive one, but simply something based on negation.

    I couldn’t agree more! That’s the very reason I founded the Humanist Symposium: to offer evidence that atheism is a positive, fulfilling worldview in its own right.

  • Jeff T.

    This verse was the first verse that planted the seed of atheism in me many decades ago. I reasoned that if this verse was true, and that the Church could withstand the powers of death being hurled against it, then where was it for 1886 years? My particular denomination was founded in 1886 so if this was the true Church, then why had it been non-existent for 1886 years? I also applied the same question to the Mormon Church founded in 1830 and even the entire Protestant Reformation which officially began in 1517.

    I could not and still can not resolve this blatant contridiction. In my mind, the Catholic Church was the only Church to have withstood the test of ages and the assault of death for nearly 20 centuries. I was left with the conclusion that only the Catholic Church could be the rock of ages, or no church was. What a punch this simple verse packed.

  • LindaJoy

    Of course the “rock” that the Vatican was built on, “Peter’s rock”, was actually the temple that was built for the pagan god “Mithras”. You know, the god born on Dec. 25th to a virgin, his birth in a cave attended by shephards, communed with his followers using bread and wine, was hung, visited Hades for three days and then rose to heaven. He’s coming back some day too. The skies will be so crowded! The rock of Peter indeed!

  • Arch

    So not only do we need to prove that current religions are false, but we also have to offer something better in return. Otherwise we do become open to the claim that our philosophy isn’t a constructive or positive one, but simply something based on negation.

    This has been an issue I have been bringing up all the time and not getting answers to. First, the fact that there have been atheists around for a long time says nothing about the authority of the stance. And atheists are very un-united in their beliefs. Second, I continue to ask for concrete, rational explanations of where truth comes from, how the universe evolved from nothing, how human beings evolved from this self-dependent matter, and how our lives have purpose if we are simply cosmic slime that evolved into man. I find no convincing atheistic answers to these questions.

    Peace

  • OMGF

    Arch,

    Second, I continue to ask for concrete, rational explanations of where truth comes from…

    In threads where it is completely off topic. This thread it’s sort of on topic, so I’ll answer. Truth comes from studying the universe around us, and the best way we’ve found to do this is scientifically. Faith adds nothing to the search for truth. Religion adds nothing. Your complaint that atheism doesn’t lead one to truth is misplaced in that religion is even worse in that regard. Religion leads one to beliefs that either true or not are held as truth.

    …how the universe evolved from nothing…

    Physics. And, once again I fail to see how “goddidit” adds anything to the conversation.

    …how human beings evolved from this self-dependent matter…

    Random mutation and natural selection (along with other mechanisms like genetic drift, etc.) Again, how does “goddidit” lend anything to the conversation?

    …and how our lives have purpose if we are simply cosmic slime that evolved into man.

    Our lives have the purpose that we ascribe to them. We make our own purpose. Once again, I fail to see how the existence of a god ascribes purpose to our lives. If anything, the Xian myth devalues human life, in that our purpose would be subservience to some genocidal dictator.

    I find no convincing atheistic answers to these questions.

    So instead you go with the unconvincing non-answers of religion? That makes no sense.

  • 2-D Man

    First, the fact that there have been atheists around for a long time says nothing about the authority of the stance.

    Apologetics ministries rarely hesitate to point this out as “evidence” for whatever religion they happen to be selling.

    And atheists are very un-united in their beliefs.

    Actually, atheists are more united in their beliefs than the religious. Consider how many different religions there are, first. Now consider how many different sects there are of each religion. Atheists may take different stances on secular matters, but the supernatural beliefs are the same: there is no god.

    …how the universe evolved from nothing…

    One thing that you still need to establish is the question, why is this relevant? Do you actually need an answer to this question? If the answer supplied by science is insufficient, does that mean that your particular brand of answer should be taken without evidence?

    …and how our lives have purpose if we are simply cosmic slime that evolved into man.

    Does your life really need some external source of purpose to be important to you? To those around you? Really? Think about this one for a bit and I’m sure you’ll agree that you don’t need a god to have a purpose.

    Interestingly enough, people have been asking for concrete, rational explainations to a lot of weird things in various religious doctrines and getting nothing. Everything so far has been inconsistent with the observable world, or so nebulous that there’s no way to tell if it’s right or wrong.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “Second, I continue to ask for concrete, rational explanations of where truth comes from, how the universe evolved from nothing, how human beings evolved from this self-dependent matter, and how our lives have purpose if we are simply cosmic slime that evolved into man. I find no convincing atheistic answers to these questions.” — Arch

    Arch,
    To be precise, atheism provides no answers to these questions. Those answers are properly found in the realm of science. “Atheism” is merely a label describing those of us who don’t believe in god.

    There is a body of evidence indicating that the Universe came into being either through the Big Bang, or through a random wave fluctuation. We came about through natural selection. There is plenty of material covering both of these fields, written in a style laypersons can understand, at your local library. I would encourage you to look into the following authors: Carl Sagan, Kip Thorne, Stephen Jay Gould, Issac Asimov (dated, but very lucid). Read “Origin of Species”; it’s hard to go wrong with source material. Good luck.

  • Arch

    OMFG,

    I find your response to not be soundly argumentative, but rather just repeatedly bouncing a statement back at me. Why does science have truth and where does it get authority? How did anything in the realm of science come to exist in the first place?

    2-D Man,

    Your argument about unification of atheists was based on those that state that there is no God, while you argued against the unification of theists based on divergences in doctrine. I’m saying that there are serious divergences among those who deny God, just as you stated that there are divergences among theists.

    Further, an answer regarding creation in which you uphold that the answer supplied by science is sufficient, seems to fall short of a thorough argument. As I stated above, where does science have its beginning and where does it get authority to exist? Is science rational? What controls science or determines its direction?

    I also do believe that the purpose of life is very important, and that without God, we would not be here or have a purpose to begin with.

    Thumpalumpacus,

    Thank you for your cordial dialogue. Regarding your statement, I would like to ask how the Big Bang could have taken place of its own accord, or how random wave fluctuation could occur from nothing. I would also like to mention that the Big Bang theory is not imcompatable with theism at all–a theist simply recognizes God’s presence being the source of matter existing and expanding to begin with–the existence of waves as well. They do not have the authority to create themselves, but must be created.

    Peace.

  • Adam

    mikespeir, Chaplin and Ebon,

    I expect the Christian religion to last a lot longer than 3000 years. It has the advantage of having coming along at just the right time in history and in the right place to gain a foothold in the world like none other before it. It has acquired a mass and momentum that will keep it going for a long time indeed.

    Is it just a happenstance that Jesus came when it did? I would say no. I am going to try and flesh this out the best I can:

    [extremely long preaching comment deleted —Ebonmuse]

  • OMGF

    Arch,
    You do realize that you are making one big god of the gaps argument, right?

    Why does science have truth and where does it get authority? How did anything in the realm of science come to exist in the first place?

    Science has the best we can come to truth because it is objective, measurable, verifiable, repeatable, etc. Science isn’t “Truth” but it does tell us about the world around us through the scientific method. I’m not saying that it tells us “Truth” but that it gives us information about the world. Religion, however, has given us no information about the world around us.

    The realm of science came about because people made observances and discovered they could detect patterns and make inferences and predictions about future patterns. It’s that simple.

    Is science rational? What controls science or determines its direction?

    Yes, it is rational and it is controlled by empirical evidence. What can you give evidence for? What can you verify and repeatably show? This is science. It’s authority comes from the fact that it works.

    I also do believe that the purpose of life is very important, and that without God, we would not be here or have a purpose to begin with.

    And what basis do you have for that statement?

    Regarding your statement, I would like to ask how the Big Bang could have taken place of its own accord, or how random wave fluctuation could occur from nothing.

    Not from nothing, but from a singularity or a potential well of energy, or maybe spawned from a previous universe. We don’t know the particulars, but it’s a logical fallacy to simply plug up the holes in our knowledge with “goddidit.”

    I would also like to mention that the Big Bang theory is not imcompatable with theism at all–a theist simply recognizes God’s presence being the source of matter existing and expanding to begin with–the existence of waves as well.

    No, a theist inserts god into a place where there need not be one and is no evidence for.

    Finally, back to the beginning,

    I find your response to not be soundly argumentative, but rather just repeatedly bouncing a statement back at me.

    This is a real issue for you then. You wish to accuse atheism of not having answers as if your religion does, as if you should default to your religion in the absence of real answers from the other side (or what you consider to be real answers). Yet, this is fallacious thinking from the get-go. Why should atheism be held to a higher standard than your religion? You are positing that your religion is right until and unless some other thought can attain the standards that you are unwilling to subject your own religion to. You have no answers for the questions you pose, no real answers anyway, because “goddidit” is not a real answer. It doesn’t answer any of these questions, it just pushes them back one level and raises more questions still.

    Finally, I don’t see what is not sound about pointing out the empirical evidence we have for evolution, both biological and stellar. You asked where we came from, I pointed out that we have evidence for the processes and we understand those processes well. This, to you, constitutes an insubstantial answer? If this is not an answer worthy enough for you, then why even ask the question? You won’t accept anything we say anyway.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Arch –

    I’m not exactly sure that the BB took place “of its own accord”; your assumption that it had no antecedent Universe is unsupported. It is entirely possible that the BB occurred using the ashes of a previous Universe.

    As to how random wave fluctuations can occur from nothing, I’d suggest “Black Holes and Time Warps” by Kip Thorne, as the discussion is long, technical, and somewhat off-topic.

    I would disagree with your thought that BB theory is compatible with theism; I argue that theism is incompatible with any science.

    Furthermore, you seem to exempt god from this “need to be created” argument. Of course, I understand your need to pinch off the looming infinite regress, but that doesn’t excuse your doing so. If things extant cannot create themselves, thus requiring god, then who created god? And who created metagod? And so on.

    Finally, when you write “a theist simply recognizes God’s presence being the source of matter existing and expanding to begin with–the existence of waves as well.”, I would reword the sentence a little: “A theist simply assumes god’s presence . . .”, for it is only an assumption until you show evidence. Given that you assert god’s existence, the burden of evidence lies firmly on you.

  • OMGF

    Adam,
    Anyone could write a post-hoc character that meets those vague prophecies. It’s not that hard. Yet, you have no evidence that any of these things actually happened. Take Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem for instance. The gospel writers don’t agree on where/when/how/why and it’s pretty much a stretch in each case as to how they got there, simply so that their Jesus character could be born in the Messiah’s birthplace. It’s all self-referential.

    Herod died in 4 BCE, not 6 CE.

    Also, I find your post-hoc rationalizations to be rather weak. The Genesis story, for instance, is stretched pretty thin to make that into some prophecy of a messiah.

    Did Jesus come from the Davidic line? If not from Mary’s side of the family, then no. Joseph was of the Davidic line, but Jesus did not come from Joseph, remember?

    Also, if almah means young, unmarried woman, then Mary didn’t fit the bill. She was married.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Adam –

    Citing the Bible as evidence of Jesus’s divinity is rather like releasing a murderer based upon his protestations of innocence. That you accept the Bible as a source of evidence at all seriously undermines both your cogency and your credibility. Certainly you can marshal objective evidence to support your claim — that is, if such evidence exists. Until then, d’ya mind sparing us the preaching?

  • Paul S

    Well put Thumpalumpacus!

    It always amazes me when Christians use the Bible to try and prove the authenticity of the Bible.

  • Adam

    Thumpalumpacus and Paul S.

    That you accept the Bible as a source of evidence at all seriously undermines both your cogency and your credibility. Certainly you can marshal objective evidence to support your claim — that is, if such evidence exists. Until then, d’ya mind sparing us the preaching?

    Here are some outside sources, besides the bible, that prove Jesus Existed, you can look into it if you’d like:

    Flavius Josephus
    the Babylonian Talmud
    Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan
    the Annals of Tacitus
    Mara Bar Serapion
    Suetonius’ Life of Claudius and Life of Nero

    My whole point is that Christ was prophecized about, and that he started the Catholic Church, quoted by Ebon, in the bible verse, to start this thread.

  • Arch

    thus requiring god, then who created god? And who created metagod?

    This is precisely where we can see the need for something to exist of its own accord; something that is not created and that has authority to create. Matter does not have that authority. One can say that there is rational evidence otherwise but I find none of it convincing. The existence of God is not an attempt to fill gaps but rather a rational conclusion–a necessity given the fact that matter exists and that we are here. Matter is not eternal and does not have the power to will its existence.

    I would reword the sentence a little: “A theist simply assumes god’s presence . . .”, for it is only an assumption until you show evidence. Given that you assert god’s existence, the burden of evidence lies firmly on you.

    The stance that God does not exist is just as much of an assumption as you stated here.

    Peace.

  • AtheistCrusader

    Arch, I was not taught much about god as a child. I do not assume he/she/it exists, any more than I assume leprechauns exist. Please prove to me that your god exists. I am open to being convinced. I just need some proof.

    Collorary: What do you think of people like me, since I am not aware of the existence of god? Do you think my life has no purpose, since I didn’t get the memo from your god on what my purpose is? If you think god has a purpose for me regardless of whether I am aware of it, what does that say about free will? Does free will exist or not? Can god have a purpose for me that I am not aware of, while allowing me free will at the same time?

  • bestonnet

    None of which came from the time Jesus was alleged to have existed nor from a time when witnesses were alive.

    Not to mention that the mention of Jesus Christ in one of your non-biblical sources has been shown to have been a fraud.

  • goyo

    Adam:

    The preparation was staggering, lasting thousands of years, and it all converges in Christ. This is an important motive of credibility. If God wanted to enter human history as a man, it would make sense that He would prepare humanity. God formed a special group of people for 2,000 years in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

    For you, a motive of credibility is that god spent 2,000 years to prepare a special group of people to bring forth the messiah?
    Guess what?
    That to me, is proof that there is no god. Why would the creator of the Cosmos need to “prepare” anybody for anything?
    He would just bring him forth. Or better still, why use a man? Why not just save everyone?
    Don’t you see the ridiculousness of your belief?
    You’ve wasted a lot of time and space presenting those old prophecy stories that we all have heard (and refuted) before.
    You’ve made your god surprisingly human with all of these forays into his creation’s time and space to deal with small matters such as which nation or king would come forth for this or that reason.
    Good grief!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Don’t feed the trolls, folks.

    Both Arch and Adam have been given multiple warnings in the past about preaching and derailing threads. Since they’ve chosen not to abide by those warnings, I’m banning them both for two weeks. If they’re willing to behave themselves in the future, they can return; if they’re not, the next ban will be permanent.

  • Jeff T.

    Ebon, it was a beautiful argument that you presented. I ventured slightly off topic just to comment on that verse and why it was important to me. Reading some of Arch & Adam’s comments, I had the mental image of the rock screaming in discontent as it was chipped away by the wind and water.

    Slightly more on topic, I can not accept that the Catholic Church was the rock, due to the fact that it condones a Priesthood of Pedophiles and sexually repressed deviants… I also cannot understand how anyone could try to defend this relic of the dark ages.

  • Paul S

    Adam said:

    Here are some outside sources, besides the bible, that prove Jesus Existed, you can look into it if you’d like:

    Flavius Josephus
    the Babylonian Talmud
    Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan
    the Annals of Tacitus
    Mara Bar Serapion
    Suetonius’ Life of Claudius and Life of Nero

    Josephus’s “golden paragraph” has been acknowledged to be a much later addition to his Testimonium Flavianum. There is no mention of Josephus’s description of Jesus by any theological writer before the 4th century where it was quoted by Eusebius (of all people!).

    The Babylonian Talmud was compiled in the 6th century and makes no specific mention of a Jesus character.

    Likewise, Pliny the Younger does not mention Jesus in his letter to Trajan, but merely describes a group of Christians who meet to sing a hymn to Christ.

    The alleged comment by Tacitus was not quoted until the 5th century (he supposedly wrote about a “Christus” aroung 117 CE) by Sulpicius Severus. How come no one mentioned this comment in almost 300 years?

    Bar Serapion’s writings do not mention Jesus, but a “Wise King.” Why wouldn’t he mention Jesus by name?

    Seutonius does not mention Jesus, but “one Chrestus,” which does not mean “Christ” in Greek, but merely, “the good.” And he is referring to a Jewish agitator in Rome, not Judea.

    Likewise, The Life of Nero does not mention Jesus.

    My whole point is that Christ was prophecized about, and that he started the Catholic Church, quoted by Ebon, in the bible verse, to start this thread.

    Just because the Bible says a Messiah will come, and the Bible says the Messiah came, doesn’t make it so. And I’ll bet if you ask Ebon, the Bible cannot be used as a historical document.

    PS-I thought Peter started the Catholic Church

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Let’s try to get this back on track…

    Reading the comments today, I had a thought about this remark by Jeff T.:

    I reasoned that if this verse was true, and that the Church could withstand the powers of death being hurled against it, then where was it for 1886 years?

    …In my mind, the Catholic Church was the only Church to have withstood the test of ages and the assault of death for nearly 20 centuries.

    If you limit your perspective to the various sects of Christianity, then yes, the Catholic church has been around the longest. But I think we can take a slightly wider perspective and ask: where was Christianity until the first few centuries CE?

    If you read the New Testament, it’s clear that one of the topics Paul discusses a lot is how Jesus was a “divine secret,” a mystery that God had hidden from the world for much of its history (Ephesians 3:1-5, Colossians 1:26). Why would he say this? Because he was addressing the obvious point: if Christianity is the way and the truth and the life, why did no one know about it for the thousands of years prior? Since it was based on Judaism, why was Christianity teaching doctrines like the Trinity that no Jew had ever heard of before? (Along similar lines, I asked in “An Almighty Screwup” why God didn’t just send Jesus immediately after the Fall if that was his plan all along anyway.)

    Every religion, no matter when it begins, has to deal with the problem of why God waited so long to unveil it. The divine secret is a common answer; another is that God sent a new message because the churches of the day had become irredeemably corrupt. To my mind, if you accept such arguments for Christianity in general, there’s little reason not to accept them in the case of any particular denomination, however late-arising.

    All these excuses, however, are insufficient against the argument that a true religion, taught by a universal god, would be universally known throughout humanity’s history. Anything less falls prey to the argument from locality, one of the surest markers of a man-made belief system.

  • Bill Sheehan

    “And I went to the rock to hide my face, and the rock cried out, ‘No hiding place!’…”

    I like your analogy, and it is quite apt. Harris published a book, and I wouldn’t read it. Dawkins published a book, and I wouldn’t read it. I started to wonder what I was hiding from, and decided to look into them after Lent. During that holy season, however, I would continue to pray and observe the devotions of my church. And then the walls came a-tumbling down until I had nothing left but an earnest desire for God to exist and the sad realization that wishing doesn’t make it so.

    But you show that it’s not a barren desert of unbelief out here in the reality-based world. There are patient and thoughtful people like yourself who’ve set up oases of peace and reason. Thanks for the drink!

  • kaltrosomos

    Your comment on why God took so long to reveal his true religion gave me an interesting image, Ebon.

    It’s the garden of Eden, and Eve has just learned from the serpent that the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is good to eat. Eve goes over to take a fruit from the tree, and out from behind it steps Jesus, robed and bearded. He holds out his hand like a policeman at a crosswalk and yells “STOP!”

    “Adam! Adam!” Eve shrieks. Adam wakes up, sees that strange fellow Jesus and thinks Jesus has bad plans for his wife, and goes over and clocks the savior one. Jesus falls down unconscious. While Adam and Eve are staring down at Jesus and scratching their heads, wondering who it is, God roars:

    “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY BELOVED SON, YOU IDIOTS??!!”

    Adam and Eve hide behind some bushes, as in the traditional narrative. But God knows exactly where they are. God is so furious that he wipes their minds and reinvents the story as it’s set down in the bible, figuring that maybe if there’s more time in between man’s creation and the introduction of Jesus, things will go better.

  • OMGF

    kaltrosomos,

    …figuring that maybe if there’s more time in between man’s creation and the introduction of Jesus, things will go better.

    Why does god need to “figure” anything? I mean, shouldn’t he know since he’s all omniscient and stuff?

    I know we aren’t supposed to feed the trolls, but…
    Arch,

    The existence of God is not an attempt to fill gaps but rather a rational conclusion–a necessity given the fact that matter exists and that we are here.

    No, it is not a rational conclusion, it is god of the gaps. You have a lack of knowledge about where matter/energy came from (which can neither be created nor destroyed, so what is here could very well have always been which you seem to be ignorant of) so you insert your god as the “answer” without ever considering that your god is not an answer to the question, you have no reason to select that answer over any other one, etc. It IS god of the gaps and it’s fallacious. And, you can hide from my words and not address me all you like, it doesn’t change the fact that your arguments are lying in tatters.

    Oh, and BTW, rejecting your assumption of god due to lack of support for it, is not an assumption in itself.

  • OMGF

    Oh, and it occurs to me that in Kaltrosomos’s story, god is reduced to being a liar and a hypocrite (since he tells us not to lie).

  • lpetrich

    Mara bar Serapion is not exactly a very good source; he seems to want to say how terrible it is to disregard someone who is very wise. And his other examples mangle history in the process. The Athenians’ execution of Socrates in 399 BCE was not followed by any great calamity, though Athens had suffered a terrible plague some years earlier in 430 BCE during the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. And as far as can be determined, Pythagoras had successfully fled Samos and died at the ripe old age of about 90, and Samos had never subsided to below sea level.

    Returning to what Ebonmuse blogged about, Tom Flynn has written OP-ED Who’s Afraid of Faith-Based Charities? He noted that after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Church had been the only game in town for a lot of important stuff.

    “In 500 c.e., if Warlord A wanted to send a letter, he had to call in a cleric to write it down: few others were literate. When the letter reached Warlord B, he had to call in another cleric to read it to him.” However, the Church lost its more-or-less monopoly on literacy long ago.

    Diplomacy? Five centuries ago, the Church helped negotiate the division of South America between Spain and Portugal. But it is now almost entirely secular. Art? The Church used to be the biggest sponsor of it, but that’s now mostly secular. Tom Flynn then argues that that’s been happening to charity and social services over the last couple hundred years.

    I note that the emergence of science from medieval philosophy and theology followed the same pattern, with religion and the churches gradually retreating. The familiar conflicts between science and religion were from various theologians not wanting to retreat; many early scientists used various theological arguments that in retrospect look like “God of the Gaps” arguments.

    Likewise, education has also become more and more secular over the centuries. Many medieval universities had been associated with the Church, but their present-day survivors are mostly secular. Edward Babinski has noted an interesting phenomenon related to that in Antony Flew’s Conversion; when a university starts getting too secular for the tastes of some of its members, those members go off and found a new university. Which in turn becomes too secular and spawns a new one. The result is what Babinski has noted, that most fundie “Bible colleges” are relatively young.

    Technology has grown more secular. Ringing of church bells used to be very popular for warding off lightning, even though it got many bell-ringers killed by (you guessed it) lightning. Theologians were divided on whether lightning was made by a pissed-off God or made by some evil demon that lives in the air, but they agreed on the bell-ringing part. Ben Franklin’s lightning rod was only gradually accepted, with some of its defenders trying to argue that it was not heretical, but it very clearly worked.

    Medicine has also, with exorcism and faith healing and the like gradually getting replaced by scientific medicine, including psychiatry.

    I think that some theologies are confessions of defeat, like fideism. Medieval theologians would claim that the truth of the One True and Holy Catholic Faith was demonstrable, but someone who talks about how God “can’t be proved” and how one needs to perform “leaps of Faith” is clearly admitting having a weak case.

    And short of a collapse of society comparable to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, religion will retreat even further. Ebonmuse has blogged on community-building and stuff like that, and scientists have attempted to understand why religion happens.

  • LindaJoy

    BillSheehan- if you are still reading this thread. Welcome. This is the best site I have found since I moved out of the world of faith. I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

  • DKrap

    All of the arguments by Adam and Arch simply need to be ignored. Although I do not contribute very often to the comments at this site, their preaching is inappropriate and I thank Ebonmuse for barring them for two weeks. Why not two lifetimes?

    Anyway, everything in this book of theirs should be discarded and ignored. The book has marginal authenticity, unknown authors and has not been updated, ever. If this book is the one and only one true authority, why does it not contain one shred of ture information about the current world? Surely, this book that speaks the truth would have informed all of man-kind about electricity and the Internet? What about heart transplants, the germ/virus disease theory or something as simple as washing your hands after you defecate?

    As a third generation atheist, I am proud that I can ignore the rants and ravings of these people about anything and everything of which they know nothing. Religion is another name for ignorance due to brainwashing.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    DK –

    I wouldn’t be so sure. The Nicene Council voted on its contents; it has undergone numerous translations; and those possible avenues of modification only touch upon the inadvertent. There’s no telling the mods that have been sneaked in by those with axes to grind. All the more reason to distrust this as a source of anything but insight into a Bronze Age society.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    You can’t measure the survival rate of religions into the future by looking at how long they have survived in the past. We live in a time of far more rapid change than ever before, especially on social and cultural matters. The prejudices against homosexuality stretch back at least a millennium, too, but here in the UK homophobia went from the majority position enshrined in law to an illegal form of discrimination disliked by the majority in less than twenty years.

    Contrast http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28 1988 with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equality_Act_(Sexual_Orientation)_Regulations 2006 – this turnaround reflects not just the change in government, but a huge corresponding change in national mood.

    (sorry no hyperlinks – the comment parser appears to be very very broken)

  • Allen Uribes

    I came upon this after reading “The Grindstone of Persuasion”. I really enjoy and am inspired by this idea of wind and water eroding the insanity that is religion.

    Thank you for sharing.