A Christian Pastor Responds (Part 2)

Pastor Mike Clawson responds to your questions.

Part 1 is also available here.

The Unbrainwashed asked me a rather blunt question that I rather liked:

Do you actually believe that a dead Jew came back to life 2000 years ago to save us?

Yes. Next question. :)

Actually, let me be more specific. I don’t just believe a Jew named Jesus came back to life. I believe that God himself became one of us – wrote himself into the story as it were – so that he could show all of us what it means to be truly and wonderfully human. And he came as an impoverished member of a despised and oppressed people to show us how to pursue a way of love and justice in a world of violence and oppression. He died as a demonstration that non-retaliation and self-sacrifical love is the only way that hatred and injustice will ever ultimately be overcome. And he was raised to life as a vindication of this message – to prove that he was not just a naive idealist who got himself killed, but that the God of the universe is actually Lord and victor over the forces oppression and violence, and over death itself (the ultimate tool of the oppressor). The dead Jew, Yeshua Mashiach (Jesus the King), came back to life to show that that power can only be overcome through weakness, violence through peace, and oppression through a willingness to suffer for the sake of others, even for your oppressor.

But there was another similar question by S.G.E.W. that was more to the point that I think Unbrainwashed was really getting at:

Do you believe in the literal, physiological ressurection of Yeshua ben Joseph? Specifically, did he lose all bodily functions (no heartbeat, no neurological activity, etc.) for several days and then regain full functionality?
If so: how can this be rationally explained in any way?
If not: what’s the effective difference between you and an agnostic?

Yes, I do believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. How can this be rationally explained? Well, let’s suppose you believe in the existence of an all-powerful God who created this universe and all the natural laws by which it operates. If that is the case, then what is so irrational about believing that this God has the power to sometimes change the normal way that these laws function? Do I know exactly how he did this? No. I suppose if there had been a 21st century scientist with the proper equipment present in the tomb, she might be able to tell us what exactly happened from a physiological standpoint at the moment of resurrection – that is to say, I don’t think it was a completely un-natural event. It could have been observed and studied if we had had the capability back then. But it is a super-natural event in that it is an example of how God is at work to restore and renew his creation. Jesus’s resurrection is simply the first example of what will one day be true for all of us. In that sense you could say that this is a neo-natural event, in that it is the beginning of God creating a new nature out of the old.

At any rate, I see nothing contradictory or irrational about believing that an all-powerful God could do such a thing. Just because something almost never happens doesn’t mean it could never happen. And, just speaking personally, I don’t feel the need to know exactly, scientifically, how it happened in order to believe that it did.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Pastor, Mike Clawson, The Unbrainwashed, Jew, Jesus, God, agnostic[/tags]

  • http://humanistsforlabour.typepad.com/ The Labour Humanist

    With the greatest of respect….thanks for explaining your views…but what on Earth was this huge omnipotent god figure doing for the first 30 years of its life inside jesus’ body…sight seeing? Chilling out? Taking a sabbatical!!!

  • valmorian

    Yes, I do believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. How can this be rationally explained? Well, let’s suppose you believe in the existence of an all-powerful God who created this universe and all the natural laws by which it operates. If that is the case, then what is so irrational about believing that this God has the power to sometimes change the normal way that these laws function?

    How does this differ from making the assumption that if you believe in the existence of Thor, then it would be rational to believe that lightning is caused by him throwing it from mount olympus? Can science explain this? No, but that’s ok, because we have faith that it is so…
    … so that makes it rational. um.. yeah…

  • Vincent

    Thor didn’t live on Olympus….

    Anyway, my follow up would be why did god do it so often back then (Lazarus, the saints in the city etc.) but then hasn’t repeated the act since?

  • valmorian

    Oops, don’t know how I missed that.. but Hey, MY Thor lives on Olympus! ;) Why not!? I take it on FAITH!

  • Jonas Green

    In referring to the literal physical resurrection of Jesus, Pastor Clawson responds:

    Yes, I do believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. How can this be rationally explained? Well, let’s suppose you believe in the existence of an all-powerful God who created this universe and all the natural laws by which it operates. If that is the case, then what is so irrational about believing that this God has the power to sometimes change the normal way that these laws function? Do I know exactly how he did this? No. I suppose if there had been a 21st century scientist with the proper equipment present in the tomb, she might be able to tell us what exactly happened from a physiological standpoint at the moment of resurrection – that is to say, I don’t think it was a completely un-natural event.

    The problem I have with his argument is that it is almost if not identical to rationalizing a questionable fairy tale to force it to fit into our natural world.

    If one posits a God who created the Laws of Nature, and initiated the matter & energy of the Universe to a explain why there is something rather than nothing, why does it necessarily follow that that particular God is the God of Christianity? One need not concede theism to believe in this God, this one is of a Deist, one could even concede a Deist who designed the Universe to eventually create Intelligent Sentient life forms (example: Humans) who admire the wonders of the Natural world.

    Pastor Clawson’s explanation is not rational. It requires Faith in a God who can alter the laws of Nature, when he pleases. It is Irrational because if it weren’t everything we have learned through science, as when as the entire scientific process would be invalid. His hypothetical 21st century scientist would get completely unreliable readings.

    What would be the point for example of learning the physics involved in Air Travel – calculations to give you take off speed, runway length for landing, and take-off, airspeed necessary to maintain altitude, if at a whim God can alter the constants involved.

    One of the first songs I learned was about The Titanic, which as most of you may know sank on its maiden voyage. One line from the song was “The Lord’s almighty hand said the ship would never land.’ Really is that why? Is it because in 1912 women weren’t allowed the vote, and Women Suferagists (people for the women’s right to vote) were on board? Did it sink because God didn’t want women to vote, or because it sailed to close to Icebergs, and hit one in a way it wasn’t designed for? Did the Challenger or Columbia Shuttle investigations reveal an angry God as the cause of the accidents?

  • Mriana

    Sorry Pastor Mike, but I prefer Bishop Spong’s idea of a “spiritual” resurrection. It makes a little more sense than a bodily one. The idea of a bodily one seems like a mythological dream, IMHO. No insult intended. Now a spiritual one, I can see possibilities, esp the way Jack explains in so many of his books, articles, and letters.

    According to Jack, Paul wrote that Jesus’s resurrection was a spiritual one, not a physical one. I’m going to have to hunt down the verses in Paul and alike that Jack referred to as he wrote about the idea of a spiritual resurrection.

    Whatever the case, I can not believe it was physical. It is not logical, IMHO.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Just because something almost never happens doesn’t mean it could never happen. And, just speaking personally, I don’t feel the need to know exactly, scientifically, how it happened in order to believe that it did.

    So what keeps you from believing every looney who claims they are on a mission from God or are the reincarnation of Jesus himself? Seriously, just because it has only happened once before “doesn’t mean it could never happen”. How do you draw the line between things you want to believe without any scientific evidence and things you don’t want to believe because it doesn’t jive with your faith? And why should anyone give any credence to anything you profess to believe when you admit that you don’t even need to understand your own beliefs?

    I hope you can at least see how hard it is for some of us to take you seriously when it appears you don’t take your own beliefs seriously, or at least you don’t want to look into them seriously.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    How does this differ from making the assumption that if you believe in the existence of Thor, then it would be rational to believe that lightning is caused by him throwing it from mount olympus? Can science explain this? No, but that’s ok, because we have faith that it is so…
    … so that makes it rational. um.. yeah…

    Hemant has a post here called “18 Unconvincing Arguments for God”. If were ever going to write an article called “18 Unconvincing Arguments for Atheism” (which I’m not) this whole Thor/Zeus argument that I’ve heard a dozen times would definitely be on the list. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but it’s really a simple category mistake. Use of this argument just reveals an unfamiliarity with (or misunderstanding of) basic philosophical concepts.

    In the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics there are several different possibilities for what we can believe about gods and more fundamentally, about the basis of all existence (what philosophers call the Real). There is theism, pantheism, panentheism, polytheism, naturalism, etc. Each category has its own distinct principles and arguments for one are not the same as arguments for the other. Likewise, arguments against one do not necessarily work as an argument against another.

    So in the case of polytheism (Thor) vs. theism (God), there is a big philosophical difference between belief in an all-powerful Creator who exists “outside” of the observable universe and belief in a powerful but limited and created being who exists within the observable universe. These two beliefs are not even in the same category and the arguments for or against their reality or unreality are totally different.

    So go on believing in Thor if you like, but it really has nothing to do with my belief in a Creator God.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Sorry Pastor Mike, but I prefer Bishop Spong’s idea of a “spiritual” resurrection. It makes a little more sense than a bodily one. The idea of a bodily one seems like a mythological dream, IMHO. No insult intended. Now a spiritual one, I can see possibilities, esp the way Jack explains in so many of his books, articles, and letters.

    According to Jack, Paul wrote that Jesus’s resurrection was a spiritual one, not a physical one. I’m going to have to hunt down the verses in Paul and alike that Jack referred to as he wrote about the idea of a spiritual resurrection.

    Whatever the case, I can not believe it was physical. It is not logical, IMHO.

    I understand that point of view Mriana, but the reason I’ve not accepted that belief for myself is that I don’t really subscribe to the dualistic dichotomy between the physical and spiritual that this theory is based on. That’s seems to be a more Greek/gnostic influenced view (very neo-Platonic actually), not a Hebraic/Jewish one. (That’s not to say the Greeks might not be right after all, but personally I prefer a more “earthy” religion. :) )

    The reference you’re thinking of is in 1 Corinthians 15, and yes Paul says that we are raised to a “spiritual” body. But in a Hebraic/Jewish context “spiritual” is not at all the opposite of “physical”. “Spiritual”, in a Jewish worldview, means being in harmony with God’s Spirit, so the opposite of this is not physical but “worldly” or “out of harmony with God’s Spirit”.

  • The Defenestrator

    So in the case of polytheism (Thor) vs. theism (God), there is a big philosophical difference between belief in an all-powerful Creator who exists “outside” of the observable universe and belief in a powerful but limited and created being who exists within the observable universe. These two beliefs are not even in the same category and the arguments for or against their reality or unreality are totally different.

    Except that they’re the same in every way. Thor never had as much power attributed to him as YHWH, but both of them are equally believable if you’re willing to take their existence on faith.

    Sheesh. Theism vs. polytheism… where do you get this stuff?

  • Mriana

    I understand that point of view Mriana, but the reason I’ve not accepted that belief for myself is that I don’t really subscribe to the dualistic dichotomy between the physical and spiritual that this theory is based on. That’s seems to be a more Greek/gnostic influenced view (very neo-Platonic actually), not a Hebraic/Jewish one.

    I take it you are familial with Spong’s work? Yes, Jack is into the Gnostic Gospels too. I don’t believe in dualism either, but I find it more comprehnsible than a bodily resurrection. I do think he gets a little more complicated in it than what appears on the surface and IF it were a spiritual resurrection, then the Trinity makes more sense. How else are you going to get a spiritual being such as the Holy Spirit? You can have a spirit with physical form. Thus, it much easier to explain the 3 in 1.

    Given that, how would you explain the Trinity, if you believe in a physical resurrection? A body is not spirit, but rather the physical reincarnation of the spirit. Yes, I realize he appeared in the physical form to Thomas and the other disciples, thus feeling the holes in his hands would not be possible in the story.

    Plus, not to poke fun at your resurrection idea, the physical form would take eons to reach the idea of a tri-level universe (The idea comes from Norse Mythology). Although IMHO, we do not live in a tri-level universe.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Mike C, I’m not going to spend 50 posts arguing about this. But when you say things like:

    And, just speaking personally, I don’t feel the need to know exactly, scientifically, how it happened in order to believe that it did.

    You highlight exactly why the faith-based viewpoint must (and will inevitably) be ridiculed and eliminated from serious public discourse. Because it relies ultimately on a personal, internal, subjective wish-fulfillment fantasy (belief). It therefore must remain an internal and private matter which cannot be argued or discussed meaningfully except as archetypal mythological or cultural interpretation. The resurrection is no different than the Phoenix myth or any other myth of death and renewal.

    By saying you nevertheless think it happened, but you don’t care how, you have conceded the argument on the facts, and replaced it with a deliberate denial of the value of facts.

    This is an intellectually and I daresay morally bankrupt position. (If you consider the pursuit of truth, as something congruent with human reality, to be a moral objective).

    Your above statement is the classic “special pleading,” or “appeal to other ways of knowing.”

    Again, from looking at your site, and reading a little more of your writings, you seem to be a very nice and fair-minded person. But none of those things mean squat when you are dealing in the realm of philosophy, metaphysics and truth-claims.

  • valmorian

    So in the case of polytheism (Thor) vs. theism (God), there is a big philosophical difference between belief in an all-powerful Creator who exists “outside” of the observable universe and belief in a powerful but limited and created being who exists within the observable universe. These two beliefs are not even in the same category and the arguments for or against their reality or unreality are totally different.

    Seriously, you’re going to claim it is a category mistake simply because Christians place THEIR particular God-concept into a territory that, say, Zeus doesn’t fall into and that somehow justifies the same sort of claims that are made for Zeus?

    I see Christians claim that God exists “outside” the universe, but I have yet to hear one explain what they mean by that. It’s an ad-hoc rationalization to justify the extreme lack of evidence for said God.

    The arguements for the reality of Polytheistic gods (at the time they were believed in) and the Monotheistic God are NOT different, they’re both appeals to the unexplained and an attempt to explain it by virtue of something “greater”. Just as Thor and Zeus become responsible for the creation of lightning, God becomes responsible for the creation of the universe.

    You can’t grab the same concept, put it in a bigger box, and then claim it’s substansively different.. at least not with any intellectual honesty.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    If one posits a God who created the Laws of Nature, and initiated the matter & energy of the Universe to a explain why there is something rather than nothing, why does it necessarily follow that that particular God is the God of Christianity? One need not concede theism to believe in this God, this one is of a Deist, one could even concede a Deist who designed the Universe to eventually create Intelligent Sentient life forms (example: Humans) who admire the wonders of the Natural world.

    You’re right Jonas. Belief in Jesus doesn’t necessarily follow from belief in God. But of course I was only trying to answer the question of why I don’t think belief in the resurrection is irrational, not how I make the connection between belief in God and belief in Jesus. That would be a topic for a different thread.

    Pastor Clawson’s explanation is not rational. It requires Faith in a God who can alter the laws of Nature, when he pleases. It is Irrational because if it weren’t everything we have learned through science, as when as the entire scientific process would be invalid. His hypothetical 21st century scientist would get completely unreliable readings.

    I don’t think I understand your use of the word “rational” here. You seem to be conflating “scientific” with “rational”. Science is one type of rationality (actually one type of rational methodology) but it is not the sum total of rationality.

    But at any rate, I also don’t understand your argument about how a resurrection would produce unreliable results. Science is an observational method, thus if something like a resurrection happened, then theoretically we could observe it, see what was happening, and reform our current scientific theories based on what we observe. I’m not sure what is unscientific about that or why the results would be “unreliable”.

  • Mriana

    Sorry, not done yet.

    Secondly how do you rectify the 3 different versions of the tomb story of the authors of Mark, Mattew, Luke, and John. I put them in that order because Mark was written first after Paul’s writings.

    Third, how do you explain the countless of times the virign birth to the resurrection has been rewritten in almost every religion from Zoreaster, to Romulus (no not the planet in Trek lol ) and Remus (again not Trek) Then there is Buddha and Osiris. Not to mention Mithra. This is something even Spong talks about in his book “Resurrection: Myth or Reality?” Robert Price has even spoke of the myths that were rewritten to write the Christ story. Not to mention Acharya S and something I had long recognized long before I ever read any of their books or asked Spong and Price about it. To me, a rewriting of stories long since past makes sense to fit the thinking of the masses in the Second Centruy (even though Paul wrote some 50 years after JC’s death and the others followed). The way of thinking has never changed much within some groups of Christianity.

    Forth (which actually refers back to my second question), Paul did not seem to know anything about the tradition of an empty tomb visited by women. He said nothing about it. Each version in the Gospels is different as to how many women, where the man sat or not, and what he said, if anything. All are very much different.

    Not to mention the virgin birth stories themselves being imbellished starting from the mistranslation of almah (young woman) in Isaiah 7:14 from Hebrew to Greek (virgin). Isaiah was actually talking about his son and wife, not predicting a coming messiah. Matthew either had no knowledge of the mistranlation or when he wrote his story he had to deal with the illegitemacy of Jesus in some way. He obviously knew about the other virgin myth stories, to write his version. Mark and John never talk about a virgin birth even. Matthew, had three women of ill-repute in his description of Jesus’s geneology: Tamar, who had a relationship with her father-in-law, which was considered incest to the Jews, Ruth who seduced Moab, Rahab a prostitute, and Bathsheba who had an affair with King David, had her husband Uriah murdered, then married King David.

    That geneology is apaulling to the Jews so they shouted, “We were not born under fornification!” and “Nothing good can come out of Nazareth.”

    Then in the Book of John, John denies a virgin birth not once but twice and refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph.

    None of the stories are alike. Which leads me to believe one writer took one account and built on the previous making it more amazing than the first. Let’s see if I can write something from Paul. Let’s see if I can out do the author of Mark and so on.

    Then of course, the Gospels written according to the Hebrew Litergical Calendar, which adds to the stories. I could list the various holidays celebrated throughout each in order as they appear in each Gospel, but you get the idea. It all spins out into lovely stories, much like the ones in the OT do, but more creative.

    I do hope what I’m saying makes sense to you, because it would be interesting to read your response to all I’ve learned from my mentors. No, Archarya isn’t one, but Price and Spong are. Good Epsicopalians I might add, even if I don’t attend anymore. I do occassionally touch base with those two though. :D

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Let me just give one general response to those who took the last sentence of my post as some kind of appeal to faith or an unwillingness to seriously examine my own beliefs.

    I said:

    And, just speaking personally, I don’t feel the need to know exactly, scientifically, how it happened in order to believe that it did.

    I was NOT saying that I just accept the resurrection on blind faith. What I WAS saying is that the physical mechanics of the resurrection, the “how”, is mostly unimportant to “whether” or not it happened. My post did not at all address my reasons for believing that it did happen – and you would be wrong to assume that I had never considered such reasons for or against. The only point my post was making is that if it happened, there is no reason to think that such an occurrence is rationally impossible or unscientific. The question of whether it actually did happen or not is an entirely different question, and not one that I’m terribly interested in getting into here.

    I hope that clarifies. Sorry for the confusion.

  • http://www.themorphememan.com M_James

    Science is an observational method, thus if something like a resurrection happened, then theoretically we could observe it, see what was happening, and reform our current scientific theories based on what we observe.

    Mike, if we could do all of that, then Jesus rising from the grave wouldn’t be “supernatural” anymore.

    It’s the same way that we, as humans, use to believe that “virgin births” were somehow miraculous and supernatural. But now that we’ve studied them and see that they happen quite frequently in nature, they have lost their “mystical” status.

  • Mriana

    The arguements for the reality of Polytheistic gods (at the time they were believed in) and the Monotheistic God are NOT different, they’re both appeals to the unexplained and an attempt to explain it by virtue of something “greater”. Just as Thor and Zeus become responsible for the creation of lightning, God becomes responsible for the creation of the universe.

    It is my understanding that originally in the OT the Jews worshipped more than one god. El (a god of war, if I remember right) and Eloheim (excuse the spelling) and immanual (both eloheim and immanual mean “God with us”), as well as Baal (the golden calf), and many other names were worshipped by the Jews and when their religion “evolved” they had male and female. They dropped the male when they “merged” the other gods into one, so that they could be montheistic. I’m paraphrasing what I’ve learned from memory, because I don’t have my notes in front of me on that, but it goes something like that.

    Of course, I don’t want to insult Pastor Mike. I know he probably has a different take on this.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey Mriana,

    Good questions regarding the reliability of the gospels. I address them broadly (not specifically) in an upcoming post about how I interpret scripture. Rather than discuss each example you’ve listed directly, let me just say that I think it’s a mistake to read the gospels as if they have to conform to Modernistic standards of history and biography (i.e. that they all have to agree in every detail) and that if they don’t they must therefore all be deliberate fiction or myths. I think there is a “third way”. I have no problem with saying that the gospel authors edited and arranged the basic facts of Jesus’ life to fit the particular theological message they were trying to convey. The gospels are like portraits, not photographs of Jesus’ life. Thus if each author paints the picture a little differently that doesn’t mean I should just assume the whole thing is a myth.

    And regarding your question about the similarity to other ancient myths, I’m struck by C.S. Lewis’ conversion story (another good Anglican!). It was precisely his realization that Christianity was so similar to all the other ancient myths that eventually persuaded him to believe in the truth of Christianity. He reasoned that if the Christian story actually was true, then we should expect that God would have been preparing people from lots of different cultures to understand and accept this story by “telling” them about it ahead of time through their own myths (this seems to be essentially Paul’s argument to the Greek philosophers at the Aeropagus in Acts 17:24-28). As Lewis puts it, in Jesus we have the True Myth, or “myth-become-fact”.

    I guess it comes down to whether you think that the gospel writers were just copying these older myths and there is no deeper truth to them, or whether you think these older myths were foreshadowing some deep truth about God and the world which was ultimately realized in real life story of Jesus.

    BTW, let me introduce you to one more good Anglican – Bishop Tom Wright. He is a New Testament scholar of the first order and is friends with some of your guys like Borg and Crossan even though he disagrees with them about things like the reliability of the gospels or the reality of the resurrection. Start with some of the articles on the page I linked to. You might also find this book interesting, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue. And if you want to get really deep into it, try Wright’s 740 volume: The Resurrection of the Son of God. I think you’ll find he directly addresses precisely the questions you are raising (cf. the book description on the Amazon page).

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    That should read “740 page volume” :P

  • miller

    Mike, this is pretty unpersuasive, but I guess being persuasive wasn’t your goal.

    When I see stuff like this, the only way I can at all sympathize with your view is by looking at it all as a big metaphor. Even metaphorically interpreted, it’s pretty unappealing to me, since I’m not even convinced that Jesus, as described by the Gospels, represents the ideal person.

    I’ll just argue one point for now. You said,

    So in the case of polytheism (Thor) vs. theism (God), there is a big philosophical difference between belief in an all-powerful Creator who exists “outside” of the observable universe and belief in a powerful but limited and created being who exists within the observable universe. These two beliefs are not even in the same category and the arguments for or against their reality or unreality are totally different.

    You are missing the point of the Thor/God argument. The point is that god-beliefs are socially constrained, while the objective truth is not. It doesn’t matter that Thor is the particular example used. I’m sure we could come up with many examples of all-powerful creators who would also suffice. The many versions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to start. Add to that the limitless other possibilities within imagination. Some of them have some ridiculous claims, and their justification is basically the same as yours.

  • Mriana

    The gospels are like portraits, not photographs of Jesus’ life. Thus if each author paints the picture a little differently that doesn’t mean I should just assume the whole thing is a myth.

    I can’t argue that depiction.

    As Lewis puts it, in Jesus we have the True Myth, or “myth-become-fact”.

    I was not convinced by his essay “Myth Became Fact”. We had to read it in the C.S. Lewis class I took not too long ago and well, I questioned him (if it were possible) in various places ofhis essay. As I said, I was unconvinced that it was not rewritten myth and I have yet to find Zeus holding up the world. Humm… Com to think of it, IF he just held up the world, the rest of the universe would collaspe. Oh never mind. The image of things collapsing around him is funny in my head.

    I must make clear though, that I do believe in, to make it simple and not go into details all over again, a “Ground of All Being”, “Divine Spark”, or what have you- a non-theistic god, sort of like Spong. I was highly influenced by Anthony Freeman’s “God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism”, but eventually went to Spiritual Humanism. At one point, I had totally disregarded the Bible, even after reading Spong, but Robert Price somehow managed to bring me back to it. Like Price, though, I can’t say I believe in the Bible. I certainly don’t love it like he and Spong do. So, as you may have guessed, you aren’t exactly talking to an atheist when you address me, just not a theist.

    I’ve heard of Borg (on my wish list at Amazon). Spong speaks highly of Borg, so if Wright is a friend of Borg, and Borg a friend of Spong, I guess he can’t be too bad. I haven’t read anything by Borg yet, but I’ll give Wright a listen. I can’t say no to a real Biblical scholar, esp if he is an Episcopalian. I just can’t resist listening to Episcopal priests and bishops, even though I’ve quit attending church. I know the intellectualism won’t be going out the door when I open the cover of Wright’s book and begin reading.

    When intellect walks out the door concerning any religious text, I get nauseated and irritable.

    I guess it comes down to whether you think that the gospel writers were just copying these older myths and there is no deeper truth to them, or whether you think these older myths were foreshadowing some deep truth about God and the world which was ultimately realized in real life story of Jesus.

    I don’t know. I’m with Robert Price on this one- IF there ever was a historical Jesus, he is so buried in myth that we will never find him, esp after all of this time. Although, Spong tries hard to unbury JC. Besides, I’m a writer. I know all the crazy stuff writers do, if they think they can get away with it. I did this with Peter David’s “Imzadi”- I wrote a more satisfying version of it, which is on my website. Oh but it’s one of my earlier works and needs polishing.

  • miller

    Mike, this is pretty unpersuasive, but I guess being persuasive wasn’t your goal.

    When I see stuff like this, the only way I can at all sympathize with your view is by looking at it all as a big metaphor. Even metaphorically interpreted, it’s pretty unappealing to me, since I’m not even convinced that Jesus, as described by the Gospels, represents the ideal person.

    I’ll just argue one point for now. You said,

    So in the case of polytheism (Thor) vs. theism (God), there is a big philosophical difference between belief in an all-powerful Creator who exists “outside” of the observable universe and belief in a powerful but limited and created being who exists within the observable universe. These two beliefs are not even in the same category and the arguments for or against their reality or unreality are totally different.

    You are missing the point of the Thor/God argument. The point is that god-beliefs are socially constrained, while the objective truth is not. It doesn’t matter that Thor is the particular example used. I’m sure we could come up with many examples of all-powerful creators who would also suffice. The many versions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to start. Add to that the limitless other possibilities within imagination. Some of them have some ridiculous claims whose justification is basically the same as yours, so forgive me if I think your claims are ridiculous too.

    Question: Is there a part 3?

  • miller

    :(
    I hate it when my first post doesn’t seem to go through, then I make a few modifications, post it, and my two different drafts appear. It’s embarrassing.

  • Mriana

    When I see stuff like this, the only way I can at all sympathize with your view is by looking at it all as a big metaphor. Even metaphorically interpreted, it’s pretty unappealing to me, since I’m not even convinced that Jesus, as described by the Gospels, represents the ideal person.

    Miller, that’s basically what it is, IMO, but as a writer, I can deal as long as all intellect doesn’t go out the window. However, let’s not go into that, I almost got a bit grumpy once already with some of Pastor Mike’s replies. It’s not worth a grump fest, as to what is intellectual or not. How to handle metaphor or not. Pastor Mike is being nice, so it’s fair to return the favour and not go into that territory.

    I challenged him once with the knowledge I have and he gave a pretty good unbiased response, as well as mentioned at least one Biblical scholar I can give some respect to. Most Anglican priests and bishops, unless they are afraid of something, won’t feed you a lot of BS. Freeman was the only one I know of who was excommunicated for his ideas. Spong stood up to others and avoided that whole mess and then others, like Borg, followed almost closely behind Spong.

    However, I will warn you, if you read Spong and alike, you can become disillusioned about the Bible or it will reinforce what you already believe. I saw it as myth to begin with, so that idea was reinforced. I’ve never put much stock into myth, because for me, it’s just more story writing.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Mike, this is pretty unpersuasive, but I guess being persuasive wasn’t your goal.

    Let me absolutely clear about that. “Persuading” has never been my goal. I’m not doing this Q&A thing so I can convince any of you to become Christians. I’m doing this to help clarify my own beliefs and those of people like me. I want to help you understand, not necessarily “accept”.

    You are missing the point of the Thor/God argument. The point is that god-beliefs are socially constrained, while the objective truth is not. It doesn’t matter that Thor is the particular example used. I’m sure we could come up with many examples of all-powerful creators who would also suffice. The many versions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to start. Add to that the limitless other possibilities within imagination. Some of them have some ridiculous claims whose justification is basically the same as yours, so forgive me if I think your claims are ridiculous too.

    No, I got the point. But if we’re talking about another “all-powerful creator” just by a different name, then in philosophical terms we’re really talking about the same thing. I don’t care if you call it God, Yahweh, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster – if it shares the same characteristics as the theistic conception (e.g. an omnipotent, transcendent Creator) then at least on that philosophical level the arguments for or against are the same. (Once you’ve decided that theism in general might be correct then you can worry about which version of theism you believe in – but that’s a lower order question. First things first.)

    At any rate, if you think that the arguments for one version of the theistic God are ridiculous, that’s fine, and of course you would legitmately think that all similar arguments are ridiculous as well. My point though is that arguments for a theistic are not the same as the arguments for a polytheistic god, and thus to say that the arguments for belief in Thor are ridiculous doesn’t necessarily mean that the arguments for Yahweh are ridiculous, because they are not the same arguments. You have to deal with each worldview on its own terms.

  • Miko

    And he came as an impoverished member of a despised and oppressed people to show us how to pursue a way of love and justice in a world of violence and oppression. He died as a demonstration that non-retaliation and self-sacrifical love is the only way that hatred and injustice will ever ultimately be overcome.

    If this was his message, why did he claim to come to bring war, not peace?

    (On an unrelated topic, you also skipped the “to save us” part of the first question in your response.)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    Science is an observational method, thus if something like a resurrection happened, then theoretically we could observe it, see what was happening, and reform our current scientific theories based on what we observe.

    Mike, if we could do all of that, then Jesus rising from the grave wouldn’t be “supernatural” anymore.

    Hey Michael,

    I think we’ve already covered this ground quite a bit in the “Miracle” posts at my blog and in the long discussion at Dan Harlow’s blog, but to restate it briefly again: just as I don’t make a dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, I likewise don’t make a sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Just because something has a natural explanation doesn’t mean that it is not also a supernatural event. “Supernatural”, in my theology, doesn’t have to do with the causation of an event so much as it’s purpose or telos. The Resurrection is a supernatural event because it is a way that God is working out his purposes in the world, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of describing the event in natural terms as well. The two, IMHO, are not opposites.

  • Miko

    If were ever going to write an article called “18 Unconvincing Arguments for Atheism” (which I’m not) this whole Thor/Zeus argument that I’ve heard a dozen times would definitely be on the list. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but it’s really a simple category mistake.

    It’s not a simple category mistake until you explain how the categories are meaningfully different. Both polytheism and monotheism are subcategories of theism, so unless you can come up with a reason why the argument works for polytheism but not theism, the fact that subcategories can be created is pointless.

    In any case, what about believers that choose to reject all of the Norse gods except Thor, thus forming a monotheistic Thor-religion? It’s not that far-fetched, seeing as the book of Genesis is full of references to belief in other gods that have since been rejected by the Jews and Christians, making Judaism a monotheistic religion only in its modern form, and Christianity as well with the added caveat that you have to believe that three and one are the same thing.

  • Anthony Rasmussen

    Sometimes I, an atheist, forget all the implications of my atheism – and I definitely think many theists don’t recognize the implications.

    To most atheists, the following have equal truth value:

    theism == polytheism == deism == panentheism == pantheism == christian god == muslim god == jewish god == mike c’s god == 9/11 hijackers god == Inquisitor’s god == popeye the sailor man == flying spaghetti monster == ra == thor == boogyman in my closet == astrology == creationism == ghosts == afterlife == e.s.p. == homeopathy == reincarnation == “My Cocoa Puffs Cereal told me to comb my hair”.

    Essentially, any argument in favor of theism is an argument in favor of Cocoa Puffism.

    If I’m honest to myself, and to theists/Cocoa Puffists, about the full implications of my atheism, then I don’t beat around the bush: I think they are, at their Sunday best, deluded. This is an important card to lay on the table in my relationships.

  • diana

    Michael,

    I’d like to ask this: if your child had cancer, would you take him to an oncologist, or would you pray?

    If you would do both, why?

  • Darryl

    At any rate, if you think that the arguments for one version of the theistic God are ridiculous, that’s fine, and of course you would legitmately think that all similar arguments are ridiculous as well. My point though is that arguments for a theistic are not the same as the arguments for a polytheistic god, and thus to say that the arguments for belief in Thor are ridiculous doesn’t necessarily mean that the arguments for Yahweh are ridiculous, because they are not the same arguments. You have to deal with each worldview on its own terms.

    Demonstrate the difference in the arguments. Then, wait for the scorn that follows. This is an argument of smoke. There is no formal difference among the arguments that you might make. Differences in the trappings of the many gods that we have invented alters not a wit their status as fantasies. One fantasy is as good as another. Almost every one of the responses is spot on. I especially liked BlackSun’s and Anthony’s.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    And he came as an impoverished member of a despised and oppressed people to show us how to pursue a way of love and justice in a world of violence and oppression. He died as a demonstration that non-retaliation and self-sacrifical love is the only way that hatred and injustice will ever ultimately be overcome.

    If this was his message, why did he claim to come to bring war, not peace?

    Great question! Perhaps it’s because the way of peace and justice is actually very divisive. It challenges the powers that be. And when the oppressed stand up for justice, it often brings violent retribution. (Just look at the way our own government acts so suspiciously towards pacifist groups, or how governments and corporations around the world often put down peaceful demonstrations with violence, or how we treated Martin Luther King Jr. and other peaceful civil rights marchers back in the 1960′s.)

    (On an unrelated topic, you also skipped the “to save us” part of the first question in your response.)

    Actually I didn’t – my whole first paragraph on the significance of the Resurrection describes exactly what I think it means for Jesus to save us.

  • miller

    Mike, if one takes the view that all conceptions of an all-powerful creator are different versions of the same thing, then I would concede that the Thor argument is useless. But I wouldn’t call it useless in all cases. That’s all I really took issue with.

    Of course, I took issue with some of the “18 unconvincing arguments for God” too, since most had at least some degree of value.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It’s not a simple category mistake until you explain how the categories are meaningfully different. Both polytheism and monotheism are subcategories of theism, so unless you can come up with a reason why the argument works for polytheism but not theism, the fact that subcategories can be created is pointless.

    Things within this universe can (in theory) be observed and explained through science, yes? And things outside or before this universe cannot, yes? So, for instance, everything that has resulted from the Big Bang can in theory be observed scientifically, while, as any Nobel Prize winning physicist will tell you (see chapter 1, page 1), we have no scientific data at all for anything that came before the Big Bang.

    Polytheism, as it is classically defined, is belief in super-powerful beings within this universe – they exist within our cosmos and are a part of the created order. Thus, in theory, if the polytheistic deities exist then science ought to be an acceptable tool to use to prove their existence. We should be able to go to Mount Olympus and find them there. The argument against polytheistic deities then is that we don’t actually find them in the natural world. There is no observable data to suggest any such beings exist within the created order.

    Christian theism, on the other hand, posits the existence of an eternal God outside of the created order, outside of the very universe. Science therefore is an inadequate tool to prove the existence of such a God. And using the same argument that we use against polytheistic deities – i.e. that we don’t find evidence of God in the natural world – really kind of begs the question, since, if he does exist, the entirety of the natural world is evidence of him at work. Thus the arguments for or against the existence of a theistic deity will have to be less empirical than those for the existence of polytheistic deities.

    But as for what those reasons are, well, we’ve already been over that ground quite thoroughly over here, and I see no reason to go on rehashing old arguments.

    Peace,

    -Mike

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It is my understanding that originally in the OT the Jews worshipped more than one god. El (a god of war, if I remember right) and Eloheim (excuse the spelling) and immanual (both eloheim and immanual mean “God with us”), as well as Baal (the golden calf), and many other names were worshipped by the Jews and when their religion “evolved” they had male and female. They dropped the male when they “merged” the other gods into one, so that they could be montheistic. I’m paraphrasing what I’ve learned from memory, because I don’t have my notes in front of me on that, but it goes something like that.

    Of course, I don’t want to insult Pastor Mike. I know he probably has a different take on this.

    Not really Mriana. In general I agree with you (though I might quibble perhaps on a few of the details). As I’ll explain in an upcoming post, I think the Bible describes a progressive revelation of God to his people. The ancient Jews most certainly did not have the same conception of God that we do. It was something that evolved and was shaped over time as God revealed more of himself to Israel and further refined their views. Abraham was almost certainly a polytheist and thought of El as simply his particular tribal deity. Moses probably thought of YHWH as the greatest or most powerful of the pantheon of gods. But by the time of Isaiah and Daniel (and some of the Psalms) you start to get a more robust monotheism.

    The difference between myself and the “process theology” folks though, is that I think it is our conceptions of God that are always changing, not God himself.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I take it you are familial with Spong’s work? Yes, Jack is into the Gnostic Gospels too. I don’t believe in dualism either, but I find it more comprehnsible than a bodily resurrection. I do think he gets a little more complicated in it than what appears on the surface and IF it were a spiritual resurrection, then the Trinity makes more sense. How else are you going to get a spiritual being such as the Holy Spirit? You can have a spirit with physical form. Thus, it much easier to explain the 3 in 1.

    Given that, how would you explain the Trinity, if you believe in a physical resurrection? A body is not spirit, but rather the physical reincarnation of the spirit. Yes, I realize he appeared in the physical form to Thomas and the other disciples, thus feeling the holes in his hands would not be possible in the story.

    Plus, not to poke fun at your resurrection idea, the physical form would take eons to reach the idea of a tri-level universe (The idea comes from Norse Mythology). Although IMHO, we do not live in a tri-level universe.

    BTW, Mriana, I have to apologize, but I really didn’t understand any of what you said here. I’m not following your argument about the Trinity, and I have absolutely no clue what you mean by a “tri-level universe”.

    Sorry, I’m sure I’m just too dense or distracted at the moment. Sick two-year olds will do that to you. :)

  • Mriana

    I think it is our conceptions of God that are always changing, not God himself.

    I can’t disagree with that.

    Tri-level universe in Norse mythology Asgard was the realm of the gods, the highest level. In Christian mythology it’s heaven and generally depicted as above the clouds.

    pantheon.org/articles/a/asgard.html

    While there are nine levels in Norse Mythology there are three in some Christians thoughts. heaven-earth-hell.

  • http://danharlow.com Dan Harlow

    Mike:

    I really appreciate you taking the time to answer everyones questions and I also appreciate your patience. Hopefully my following two questions won’t make things more difficult :)

    Mike C responded to Miko:
    So, for instance, everything that has resulted from the Big Bang can in theory be observed scientifically, while, as any Nobel Prize winning physicist will tell you (see chapter 1, page 1), we have no scientific data at all for anything that came before the Big Bang.

    This brings up a paradox, for myself at least.

    The universe is typically described as a closed system (I believe the first law of thermodynamics explains this), yet on occasion a God supposedly interacts with this closed system.

    Now, to build upon that logic, it is believed by theists that each person has a “soul”, a spiritual entity or manifestation which reveals its true self to a God upon death for judgment/salvation/damnation. It is also believed that this soul “lives” “inside” each of us and we are responsible to it.

    Yet, how can a closed system, such as our universe, also contain elements that can freely move between the physical and “supernatural” realms?

    Bruce asked:
    So what keeps you from believing every looney who claims they are on a mission from God or are the reincarnation of Jesus himself?

    I find this to be an interesting point as well because how exactly does one tell the difference?

    There have been numerous people down through the ages who have claimed to prophets. The church of Mormon is founded on the belief in later day saints, Islam believe Muhammed to be te one true prophet, and to a lesser degree, there have been many people who believe they are doing Gods work.

    In fact, even people who terrorize abortion clinics believe what they are doing is inspired from the word of God as have some serial killers who think God told them to kill.

    Now, it’s pretty easy to dismiss a serial killer, but what about the abortion bombers? Or what about some guy in, say, Kansas who starts his own religion and, though on the surface it appears to be a cult, is otherwise peaceful.

    In short, how can one tell if God is speaking to someone? What criteria is used to dismiss or include that person within a belief in a Christian God?

  • http://danharlow.com Dan Harlow

    Mike:

    One more thing.

    You have been very gracious to answer all of our questions, yet, has there ever been a time in your atheist conversations (either now or previously) where it caused you to question your own faith?

    Maybe a better way to put that is, has there ever been a time where an atheist posed a question or situation that stumped you? If so, did that cause you concern for your own beliefs, or was it just a matter of you needing more time to think about what was presented before you could reply?

    I ask because I am interested in the thought process one goes through to confirm their beliefs in the face of difficult situations.

    I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pester you with questions, especially since so many other people have very good questions as well, but I can’t help myself :)

  • Darryl

    When Mike C. makes the “within the created order/outside of the created order” distinction he is cheating. I’ve already pointed this out at Dan Harlow’s site: http://danharlow.com/?p=613 You can have a theistic god that is “outside of the created order,” but you can’t have a God of the Bible that is such. Mike can hardly argue as a Theist one moment and then as a Christian the next when the gods are not the same. The God of the Bible–especially in its incarnate version–acted and acts in the physical universe. If that is the case, Mike’s argument is meaningless. I never did get an answer from Mike on the very point that pulls back the curtain on this subterfuge. Maybe he’ll address it here.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    You can have a theistic god that is “outside of the created order,” but you can’t have a God of the Bible that is such.

    I’d like to know what you base that on. You can create a cake and not end up in it. You can avoid it being in you too. Who knows? Maybe God didn’t tell them all the clues.

    Arguing the exitence or non-existence of a non-physical entity is entirely meaningless since there is no frame of reference and no data. It would be entirely impossible to know if any logic, math or science we have would be applicable. None of which means you have to believe or disbelieve. I think that, the never without a saying, Carl Sagan pointed out that absence of evidence wasn’t evidence of absence. But it goes farther than that, you are free to believe or disbelieve where there isn’t any evidence. I’m beginning to think more that there really isn’t a difference between belief and knowledge except for the amount of data that can be analyzed and the reliabilty that can be assumed. I don’t believe that the two actions are different, just the degree. A lot of what we “know” is a socio-politcal matter, it depends on what other people are willing to agree with us on. But the individual is free to not believe or to believe. And they should be able to say which one it is or if they abstain from the question.

    Things don’t always have to be a bitch, it’s just that people make them so.

    By the way, miracles, if they exist, are also entirely outside of what can be analyzed. The incarnation especially since it’s held to have happened exactly once in human history (no possible comparison) and in the remote past with no medical examiniation or physical evidence. That doesn’t mean you have to believe it, just that you can’t know it to have happened or not to have happened.

    This site is a breath of fresh air after looking at the whiny, crybaby, sites all week. I commend you for putting a postitive face on your community instead of a sneer, a sharl, and a snivel.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Tri-level universe in Norse mythology Asgard was the realm of the gods, the highest level. In Christian mythology it’s heaven and generally depicted as above the clouds.

    pantheon.org/articles/a/asgard.html

    While there are nine levels in Norse Mythology there are three in some Christians thoughts. heaven-earth-hell.

    Thanks for clarifying Mriana. I agree that the “tri-level universe” idea is a pagan one that entered Christian theology from the outside. I don’t find much evidence for it in the Bible and it is certainly not how I view the universe.

    (Actually I find that most Christians don’t actually view the world this way either. Even growing up in a conservative Christian background it wasn’t too long before the grow-ups explained to us kids that heaven wasn’t really up in the sky somewhere and hell wasn’t actually underneath the earth. Most people realize that if such places actually exist they’d have to be on some other plane or dimension.)

    Personally though, I don’t necessarily think heaven and hell are separate places at all. Orthodox Christian theology has always said that our ultimate hope is in the renewal and resurrection of this creation, this same mono-level universe, not in being whisked away to some other place in the afterlife (despite what more recent “Left Behind” heresies teach).

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey Dan,

    has there ever been a time in your atheist conversations (either now or previously) where it caused you to question your own faith?

    Maybe a better way to put that is, has there ever been a time where an atheist posed a question or situation that stumped you? If so, did that cause you concern for your own beliefs, or was it just a matter of you needing more time to think about what was presented before you could reply?

    I ask because I am interested in the thought process one goes through to confirm their beliefs in the face of difficult situations.

    I’m constantly questioning my own faith – that’s part of the process of growth. And there have been many times in conversation with you guys that I’ve considered whether you all might be right after all. It’s a very real possibility for me.

    However, those times of doubt really weren’t because any of you posed a question that was too hard. I’ve considered nearly every argument atheists can come up with many times, both recently and the first time I seriously considered atheism about a decade ago, and there really aren’t any that I find absolutely earth-shattering or totally convincing. (Though there have been plenty that I’ve had to think about more closely.) As I’ve said here many times before, I think there are no absolute arguments either way for atheism or theism. Both, in my mind, are good, valid, rational ways of looking at the world. Both are very real possibilities. So for me it has always been about a choice between two equally valid options rather than trying to find the perfect argument that would clinch one or the other for me.

    I’ll tell you what does work to make me lean one way or the other: a positive vision, an explanation of the world from either the atheist or theist perspective that makes good sense, as opposed to a purely negative critique of the other side. I’m not interested in atheist arguments about why theism is stupid or irrational, nor vice versa. As far as I can tell, both sides already have adequate responses for any critique you can throw their way. What I’m interested in is knowing how your own view provides me with a elegant, positive description of why things are the way they are.

    I actually compare it to political talk radio – it doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to Air America or to Rush Limbaugh, all they ever do is complain about the other side. But frankly, I don’t want to hear you bitch and moan about what the Dems or the Republicans are doing wrong. I want to hear about what positive solutions your side has to offer instead. The side that can offer me the best positive solutions is the one that will win me over.

    So far for me, that side has been theism, and specifically Christianity. It helps me make the most sense of the world, of the whole of my experiences, not just the parts that can be measured by the physical sciences (though those are included too under the Christian worldview). I guess you could say that atheism just feels to narrow and constricting for me. Theism seems like a bigger tent. In theism I can have science and spirituality. In atheism I’m only allowed the former.

    (I don’t want to speak for her, but I’m guessing that’s also probably partly why Mriana describes herself as a non-theist but not an atheist. For many of us spirituality is too much a part of our experience to just say that there is nothing there.)

    Anyhow, I guess I’d echo what C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    I hope that answers your question Dan. Thanks for asking.

    -Mike

  • Darryl

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Your objections are answered at the link I mentioned.

  • Darryl

    As I’ve said here many times before, I think there are no absolute arguments either way for atheism or theism. Both, in my mind, are good, valid, rational ways of looking at the world. Both are very real possibilities. So for me it has always been about a choice between two equally valid options rather than trying to find the perfect argument that would clinch one or the other for me.

    Your view makes me wonder just what you mean by “good, valid, rational ways of looking at the world.” It cannot be what I mean by these concepts. To think that atheism and theism are both “very real possibilities” strains at the very notion of the possible.

    But, that is not my primary criticism of your argument. You continually retreat to this apparent dialectic between atheism and theism for the purposes of argument, but it is a subterfuge. What you ought to be contrasting is atheism and the God of the Bible. That is the god you say you believe exists. Go back and plug this god into your statement and see if it has the ring of truth to you:

    . . . I think there are no absolute arguments either way for atheism or the God of the Bible.

    I would agree that there are no “absolute” arguments for either, but only because I do not believe in absolutes. But, I cannot possibly put the arguments for an atheist perspective on the universe on an equal footing with those for the God of the Bible.

    I’ll tell you what does work to make me lean one way or the other: a positive vision, an explanation of the world from either the atheist or theist perspective that makes good sense . . .

    Theism: a positive vision? Theism is only the sparsest of visions. There is certainly nothing “positive” about it. If a god exists; it exists—what’s inherently positive about that? This is the same kind of bait and switch argument. You argue a sterile theism to prop open the door, and once inside you insert Christianity. Isn’t it Christianity that has provided you with your “positive vision?”

    So far for me, that side has been theism, and specifically Christianity. It helps me make the most sense of the world, of the whole of my experiences, not just the parts that can be measured by the physical sciences (though those are included too under the Christian worldview). I guess you could say that atheism just feels to narrow and constricting for me. Theism seems like a bigger tent. In theism I can have science and spirituality. In atheism I’m only allowed the former.

    There it is. Theism is just a vehicle of argument. There are no ethics in theism; there is no Golden Rule; there is no spirituality. Where is the unconditional love in the cosmological argument? Where is the self-sacrifice of the Prime Mover? At some point Christianity must be put forward. It seems to me that you have fallen in love with the good parts of Christianity. You love its poetry. Your dilemma, as I see it, is that you have to take the bad with the good—it’s a package deal. You have to embrace quite a few, but not all, of the absurdities of Christianity. If I am correct, and all that is good about your faith comes from the human imagination, then I neither require your faith, nor any other, in order to have a positive vision of life.

  • Miko

    Mike C said:

    I’m constantly questioning my own faith – that’s part of the process of growth. And there have been many times in conversation with you guys that I’ve considered whether you all might be right after all. It’s a very real possibility for me.

    I’d say the same exact thing from the opposite side. Not so much regarding any particular religion such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam–since I find most of their tenets so odious that I’d rather go to their version of hell than worship their version of god even if they were true–but the general idea of the existence of a god. This is almost certainly a good thing, since I’d rather ask the right questions than get the right answers if it were a binary choice between the two.

    I think that the argument definitely hinges on the epistemological value of faith: if I had faith, I would believe in god; but if I don’t believe in god, why would I want to have faith?

    Back before my atheism moved from implicit to explicit, I’d never really even considered the possibility that a god could exist. While that pretty much follows by definition of the word “implicit,” it’s still an interesting observation. Would you say that your own questioning was also enhanced by entering into the atheist-theist dialogue? How do you deal with that questioning as a pastor?

  • Miko

    Darryl said:

    Theism: a positive vision? Theism is only the sparsest of visions. There is certainly nothing “positive” about it. If a god exists; it exists—what’s inherently positive about that? This is the same kind of bait and switch argument. You argue a sterile theism to prop open the door, and once inside you insert Christianity. Isn’t it Christianity that has provided you with your “positive vision?”

    That all depends on what you mean by the word “god.” If you say that “god is energy” and so exists in a lump of coal, then the statement “god exists” is not positive in addition to not meaningful. On the other hand, if you say that “god is love,” then the statement “god exists” is positive although still not meaningful.

    In any case, theism or atheism can have positive value beyond the truth of their propositions. Strong atheism’s statement that “a god does not exist” is no more inherently positive than the converse: value comes solely from what we make of it.

    For example, the German Christian pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famous not so much for opposing the Nazis as he is for being the only German Christian pastor to do so (publically, at least), while most other Christians were apparantly swayed by the fact that Hitler was a Catholic and justified his Holocaust using explicit religious language. As an atheist, I believe I would have been more likely to oppose the Nazi regime as well since I would be using critical thinking skills not hampered by faith in Hitler’s authority. How do I know I’m not deluding myself? Well, I rejected Bush’s arguments for war with Iraq when 90% of the US population was for it on the grounds that he had absolutely no evidence for it beyond “god told me to.” Distilled to a general rule, this becomes “Believing things just because other people do is not a good idea.” All of a sudden, being an atheist is a tremendously positive force in my life and decision making processes that goes far beyond the issues relating to the actual existence of a god.

    I’m sure that Mike C could similarly give examples of how theism benefits his thought processes on issues far beyond whether a god actually exists, although I wouldn’t presume to guess what they might be. And perhaps these benefits hold even if that god isn’t the god of Christianity.

  • Miko

    He [Jesus] died as a demonstration that non-retaliation and self-sacrifical love is the only way that hatred and injustice will ever ultimately be overcome.

    So I’ve been thinking more about this one today and am struck by some similarities to a story the Buddha told about his penultimate incarnation: while he was sitting in meditation in a forest glade one day, the wives of a local monarch happened across him and asked him for spiritual teaching, which he proceeded to offer. When the monarch came by later, he was enraged (presumably because he wanted to keep his wives ignorant and tractable) and dealt the pre-Buddha a fatal wound. One of the monarch’s attendants then pleaded that the pre-Buddha not use his dying breath to put a curse on them; instead, the pre-Buddha used it to offer a prayer of benediction to his killer and his kingdom.

    Similar to your interpretation of the Christian version, the Buddhist version as I understand it teaches non-retaliation and unconditional love. However it differs in that it teaches these as values in and of themselves as a means of personal purification, and not as an overarching means of ending hatred and injustice.

    I wonder if this is really a very good way to go about ending hatred and injustice. (And since they’re still around about 2,000 years later…) Gandhi’s attempt at it ended up with the British leaving, followed immediately by an even worse conflict springing up between the Hindus and the Muslims. While retaliation is certainly a way to not end hatred and injustice (Ireland comes to mind), I doubt that non-retaliation is enough.

    Are we perhaps focusing on the physical manifestations of hatred when we should be looking at the internal thoughts of individuals? For example, have Christians who say that one of the greatest joys in heaven shall be watching the damned writhe in agony in hell completely missed the point? What do you say to them?

  • http://stevencarrwork.blogspot.com/ Steven Carr

    Pastor Mike Clawson’s belief that God can do anything, so he can resurrect people underlines the falsity of the Bible.

    The disciples were allegedly given the secret of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4), were personally given the power to raise the dead (Matthew 10).

    They had spent 3 years with Jesus , seeing people being raised from the dead.

    They had seen Moses return from the dead to walk the earth.

    They had heard Jesus prophesy his resurrection many times.

    And they still deserted Jesus, and initially regarded claims of Jesus rising from the dead as nonsense, and Thomas had to ask to touch the wounds.

    These people , hand-picked by Jesus, to spread the word, had less faith than Pastor Mike.

    Pastor Mike’s faith is living proof that the Biblical stories are false.

    Let us not forget that many early converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse.

    Paul assures them that the resurrected Jesus became a spirit, which he had not been before the resurrection.

    Even in Thessalonika, many converts to Jesus-worship were getting worried that some of their fellow Christians had died and were now corpses.

    Pastor Mike’s faith is proof that these early Christians did not share his faith in the resurrection of corpses.

    Isn’t that a disproof of the idea that they were converted by tales of a corpse rising from the grave?

  • http://stevencarrwork.blogspot.com/ Steven Carr

    Mike C, recommends Wright’s book on the resurrection.

    Wright spends over 700 pages, yet never once finds space to quote hin full , Paul saying ‘the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’.

    Why? Because the typology Paul uses obviously implies that all Christians will become spirits when they are resurrected. Wright cannot allow his readers to think that, so he never quotes the verse in full so his readers can see the whole context.

    As for Mike C.’s clam that ‘spiritual’ means ;living in harmony with God’….

    Paul says Jesus had a spiritual body at the resurrection.

    Jesus was supposed to be God made flesh. How much more ‘spiritual’ can a body be than one that is God made flesh?

    In Mike’s sense of the word ‘spiritual’, God-made-flesh has a spiritual body from the Incarnation on.

    Paul uses spiritual to mean ‘made of spirit’.

    The Christians in Corinth knew that corpses dissolved into dust.

    Paul explains to them how stupid it is to imagine that a resurrected being will be made from the dust of the ground that corpses dissolve into.

    1 Corinthians 15 ‘The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.’

    In Paul’s view, Christians are presently in Adam’s body. They have the nature of the first Adam and have bodies formed from the dust of the earth.

    Those bodies will return to dust, but the resurrected body of Jesus was not made from the dust of the earth. It was made from Heavenly material.

    Paul has already told the Corinthians that heavenly materials are made out of different materials to earthly bodies, just as a fish is made out of different materials to the Moon.

    1 Corinthians 15 again ‘Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.’

    Corpses and resurrected beings are totally different things in Paul’s view. Nobody expects a fish to turn into the Moon. And Paul regarded the Corinthians as idiots for thinking that their resurrection would have had to involve a corpse turning into a resurrected being (which both he and the Corinthians knew was impossible)

    Paul does not think a corpse turns into a resurrected being, for the same reason Paul did not think a fish turned into the Moon. They are different things.

    Paul hammers this home to the Corinthians ‘You do not plant the body that will be’ . ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ , ‘If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.’ and so on.

    Clearly Paul is not teaching that the Corinthians will die and then get their corpse back and live in that.

    How could he be teaching that? Paul was the person who asked ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ (Romans 7:24)

    Paul knew he was in a body of death, and he wanted OUT.

    Paul did not think the body and spirit would both be saved. He wanted to be rescued from his body of death.

    All of this makes no sense whatever on the view that Paul’s world was turned upside down by the news that the body was going to be saved.

    Other Christian letters also betray the notion that flesh was doomed. ‘All flesh is grass’, writes the author of 1 Peter 1:24. He did not think the flesh and bones would be saved. He knew flesh would be destroyed.

  • Anthony Rasmussen

    “god is love,” then the statement “god exists” is positive … In any case, theism or atheism can have positive value beyond the truth of their propositions.

    God is Cocoa Puffs. Cocoa Puffs, therefore God. But do you drink the chocolate milk in the bowl?

    *anthony’s late night anti-intellectual response for the month*

  • Jonas

    But at any rate, I also don’t understand your argument about how a resurrection would produce unreliable results. Science is an observational method, thus if something like a resurrection happened, then theoretically we could observe it, see what was happening, and reform our current scientific theories based on what we observe.

    In Clawson’s model, Resurrection is so unlikely as to REQUIRE a suspension of the laws of nature, in his case by an intervening deity. If this can happen there is no telling when it might happen, thus data learned by the scientific method is unreliable.

    Whereas if laws of nature are unchanging, it need not matter where they came from. example: acceleration due to gravity (‘g’) is 9.8m/s^2 now, as it was when first discovered, and as it will be in your children’s science class, and will be in 100 years. It is not required that an intelligent deity created the universe for it. The universe could have always existed, or came into being one subatomic particle at a time, on it’s own (through an obscure, difficult to understand law of quantum physics or any other method undiscovered)

    Since we can calculate ‘g’ by experiment the belief that it’s value is 98m/s^2 it is not a matter of Faith, but an expectation based on experience.

    According to the Biblical story, people from that time did see the result of the resurrection, empty tomb, thomas touched the wounds. holy water spurting from the dead body. These are all tiny miniature experiments, and results if we believe these stories. You need not have a PhD and a science degree to make observations, and draw conclusions.

    However these reports above can not be relied on, and there are better more simple explanations of how these stories came to be in the Bible.

  • Jonas

    Mike C

    I’ll tell you what does work to make me lean one way or the other: a positive vision, an explanation of the world from either the atheist or theist perspective that makes good sense, as opposed to a purely negative critique of the other side. …
    What I’m interested in is knowing how your own view provides me with a elegant, positive description of why things are the way they are.

    There are far more religions that one named Christianity, vs. not having a religion. For me it is two things. 1st that there is a difference between wanting something to be true, and something being true Which is why in response to the damnation selling Prostlytizer I don’t just switch to a religion with a nicer God. (ex: Paganism, or Wicca) Richard Dawkins said he couldn’t imagine being an atheist before Origin of Species was published. He’s right. for his field, without a better explanation than ‘god did it’ to explain life, one needs god.

    2nd Morality need not come from God. If God gave us morality, why this particular rule set and not another? Where did god get his values, if from another source then he is redundant. If we are capable of discovering them, then he is not needed, and if he made them up the rules are arbitrary. (Plato first made this argument)

    This leads me personally to Humanism for a Moral sense. Fear of punishment in an afterlife, or a divine sense of Justice to balance the scales is not necessary to lead ‘The Good Life‘ Being Good is important, but to humanity, not God. (paraphrasing Einstein)

  • Steven Carr

    Pastor Mike might believe in the resurrection of a corpse from the grave, but what is clear is that early converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth did not.

    Even the Christians in Thessalonika were worried about their fallen Christian brethren, who were now corpses.

    Paul calls the Corinthians idiots for puzzling over how corpses come back, and reminds them that Jesus became a spirit.

    In fact, Paul pretty much denies that resurrected beings are made of the dust of the earth that corpses dissolve into.

  • Steven Carr

    Sorry about the doube posting of the same point. My mistake!

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Mike C, in light of your answers in part 2, I’ve got to say that I find your answers to part 1 much less convincing. If you indeed believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead and that the other supernatural stories of the Christian religion are true, then how can you honestly say that you take the good in all religions seriously? Do you also believe that their supernatural stoiesw are true? What makes you think that the “facts” of Chrsitianity are true but only the pleasant philosophies of other religions are true?

  • Mriana

    this same mono-level universe, not in being whisked away to some other place in the afterlife (despite what more recent “Left Behind” heresies teach).

    Well, it is a mon-level universe and I think if we want heaven we have to make it for ourselves. Earth is what we make it, which can be heaven or hell. Of course we humans have to strive to make it heaven. Everything people imagine heaven to be we have already here, we just need to work on making the world better.

    Besides, IF there is a heaven, it would get boring eventually, just as eternal punishment would loose it’s meaning after a while. Thus, it’s right here under our noses and most don’t seem to know it or that humans have to work on making heaven themselves on earth.

    IMHO, the “Left Behind” series is a joke generated by greed for money. Don’t get me started on that “Left Behind” video game that I think is a virtual training ground to teach children to kill non-Christians and again generated by greed for money.

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  • Mriana

    Humm… I can’t find it now, may have scrolled past it each time, but thanks for the book review, Steven. I much appreciate it. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Just to clarify one of my previous statements: when I said I want a philosophy that presents a “positive” vision, I mean “positive” not in some moral sense but in an epistemological sense – i.e. in terms of affirming what you actually do believe versus simply denying (or attacking) what you don’t believe.

    I hope that helps.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Steven,

    You are more than entitled to your interpretation of what Paul means by “spirit” vs. “flesh”. Of course, nearly 2000 years of Christian theology supports my belief that these passages should be interpreted as referring to a bodily resurrection, but you never know, Paul may have really been a gnostic after all.

    Of course, if you have read Wright’s “Christian Origins” then you probably already know his argument against that hypothesis that the early Christians were actually gnostic dualists – in short he (rather convincingly IMHO) argues that the gospel narratives really only make sense in a 1st century Jewish context, not from a Greek gnostic context. (And of course from a Hebraic perspective there is no matter/spirit dichotomy.)

    Wright also points to the historical fact that in the first three centuries of Christianity it was the believers in the bodily resurrection who were being persecuted and martyred for this belief, not the gnostics. It seems strange then to suggest that Jesus and the earliest Christians were actually gnostics (which is a perfectly safe belief system that is not too likely to get anyone martyred – why would Caesar care if you wanted to find personal spiritual fulfillment?) but then, sometime after the time of the apostles, some Jews came along and reinterpreted this gnostic gospel to a more this-worldly and politically subversive version (with a literal King Jesus and a bodily resurrection) that was bound to get them persecuted and killed. I mean, I suppose it could have happened that way, but it seems unlikely to me.

    Peace,
    -Mike

  • Steven Carr

    Mike produces nothing to counter the obvious fact that early converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth simply scoffed at the idea of a corpse being raised from the dead.

    What is the relevance of pointing out that a century later, Christians believed a corpse rose from the grave?

    We already know that.

    In fact, second century Christians felt they had to forge a letter by Paul (called 3 Corinthians today), where they rewrite 1 Corinthians 15, and made Paul say all the things that the real Paul never said.

    Mike C.
    ‘And of course from a Hebraic perspective there is no matter/spirit dichotomy.)’

    Is this a joke?

    Did the Witch of Endor raise Samuel’s physical corpse?

    Or look at 1 Corinthians 15.

    Paul calls the Corinthians ‘idiots’ for wondering how a corpse can come back from the dead (Wright claims this is just abuse by Paul, without Wright ever wondering why Paul thought people were fools to think resurrection involved a corpse returning.

    Paul then compares the resurrection of the dead to a series of dichotomies that trash the idea that there was no dichotomy.

    1 Corinthians 15
    39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.

    Paul creates dichotomies between heavenly andd earthly things as stark as the dichotomy between a fish and the moon.

    Only an idiot thinks a fish can turn into the moon, and only an idiot thinks a corpse can turn into a resurrected being.

    Pace Wright, Paul was not simply absuing Jesus-worshippers for wondering how a corpse can turn into a resurrected being.

    Paul actually has a logical train of thought, which Wright dare not follow , because his salary as a Bishop depends upon him preaching orthodox Christian doctrine..

    Paul is saying that an idiot wonders how a corpse turns into a resurrected being, because just look at the dichotomies between earthly things and heavenly things.

    Fish, birds, stars, the sun, the moon, men. They are all different categories of things, and Paul produces all these categories to tell the Corinthians that they are making a category mistake to think that a corpse should turn into a resurrected being.

    Later, Paul makes more dichotomies between earthly bodies and heavenly bodies.

    47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

    Corpses are made from the dust of the earth.

    Paul himself introduces the dichotomy between the dust of the earth and resurrected, heavenly beings.

    The Corinthians were idiots for wanting earthly bodies back and being worried about how the earthly body could come back from the grave.

    It won’t. The earthly body was Adam’s body. We have already had Adam’s body , and it died. What idiot wants dust back?

    Remember, Paul has asked in Romans 7:24 ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death?’

    Paul wanted out of his body of death. He didn’t want the first Adam’s body back.

    That is why Paul calls the Corinthians ‘idiots’ for wondering how corpses can be restored. Only an idiot wants an earthly body back, when people will be made from heavenly materials.

    Of course, Wright’s only comment on that is to say that Paul was just being foul-mouthed and abusive, when Paul called the Corinthians fools.

    Paul was far more than just abusive.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    You argue a sterile theism to prop open the door, and once inside you insert Christianity. Isn’t it Christianity that has provided you with your “positive vision?”

    Gee Darryl, you got me! I confess: I do believe in the Christian version of theism. (You say this as if it is an accusation rather than a statement of the obvious.)

    Honestly though, I really am reflecting the intellectual process I went through in arriving at my current beliefs. I did first make a choice between an atheist or theist (or “other”-theist) worldview. Once that decision was made, then I was able to consider which version of theism made the most sense to me. We have to take first things first – work out our beliefs one step at a time. So for me choosing to believe in theism was just the necessary first step to then being able to explain my experiences with spirituality and the things that I found convincing about the Christian story. (Again, that’s part of why I describe it as a “bigger tent”.) But I don’t see anything wrong with returning to that step in my process and unpacking it a little further in my discussions here with you guys. The whole process would be a little too much to address all in one go. It’s more manageable to take it one piece at a time.

  • Steven Carr

    Mike C
    in short he (rather convincingly IMHO) argues that the gospel narratives really only make sense in a 1st century Jewish context, not from a Greek gnostic context.

    CARR
    So what? Paul contradicts the Gospels totally.

    In Luke, Jesus claims he is not a spirit, and takes pains to trash the disciples belief that he is made out of some sort of material that, by its nature, can pass through walls.

    In Paul, Paul says outright that Jesus became a spirit.

    In the Gospels, the risen Jesus eats.

    In 1 Corinthians, Paul states that God will destroy both stomach and food.

    The Gospels have the traditional Jewish view that the resurrected body will be identical to the corpse, and kept alive by God. (The wounds of Jesus are no longer mortal wounds for example, and Jesus is still made of easily recognisbable flesh and bone)

    Paul says Jesus was made of heavenly material, and that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

    So Wright’s point is irrelevant.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Steven,

    As I said, you’re more than entitled to your particular interpretation. I’m not really interested in getting into an argument about biblical exegesis with you here on an atheist website. I respect your opinion, and I can see why you’d read the texts that way, but it’s not the interpretation that I have come to for myself. As I’ve said, I’m not here to persuade you or anyone else to agree with me. I only want to clarify and explain my own views. I’ve already explained how I read that passage, thus I don’t really have much more to say.

    But I did want to comment on the laughability of your ad hominem attack on Wright. You said:

    Paul actually has a logical train of thought, which Wright dare not follow , because his salary as a Bishop depends upon him preaching orthodox Christian doctrine.

    My friend, Wright is a Bishop in the Anglican church – one of the most liberal Christian denominations out there. If Bishop Spong can get away with not even believing in a theistic God, much less the bodily resurrection without losing his position or salary within the Anglican Church, I don’t think Wright is too concerned about toeing any party lines either.

  • Steven Carr

    Living in Durham, I know Bishop Tom Dunelm better than you, and he is not a liberal.

    I see Mike C. still cannot defend his belief that the earliest Christians believed in a literal, bodily resurrection of the corpse of Jesus from the grave.

    It obviously isn’t true, as converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoffed at the idea.

    So, in a spirit of reasonableness, Pastor Mike will respect my opinion, not argue with it and carry on believing falsehoods.

  • Anthony Rasmussen

    Anthropologists try to minimize the impact they have on the tribes they study so that accurate data can be recorded. They definitely don’t try to teach them about electricity – in some tribes, that kind of talk can get you killed! But moreso, it interrupts the natural cultural evolution of that society (see Prime Directive :)

    Psychologists also try to minimize their impact, and maintain boundaries, with their patients. It is the patient that must see themselves through their problems, and the psychologist can only guide from a distance, or gather data in the case of research.

    Always remember that theists continue to suffer from evolutionary byproducts that served humanity when we were tribal (falsely attributing agency and mind, misinterpreting affective responses, overemphasizing the authoritativeness of leaders and documents, etc). Also remember that these byproducts lead to a real, active delusion on a day-by-day basis in the modern world.

    So you should decide how you will approach our modern day tribespeople (especially the shamans): as an anthropologist, or as a psychologist.

    While you can try to be their friend, note that a friendship between a research anthropologist and a wild tribesman would be quite difficult and, likely, inappropriate.

    It’s also unwise, and inappropriate, to debate them about their magic rocks, healing calf urine, and sacred scrolls. You cannot, and should not, win such debates for obvious reasons.

  • Loren Petrich

    Seems like metaphysical gerrymandering to me.

  • Mriana

    Mike, most of the Gnostics were persecuted and killed or forced to convert to the more worldly form of Christianity. To reach Gnosis (knowledge) is to not live in this world. This world was not real to the Gnostics. In the Gospel of Mary, Jesus was to make her a man (not in the literal sense, but that is what he said). The Gospel of Mary shows the dispute between her and another apostle, which is referred to in the NT. Apparently, Mary Magdeline was very much a part of JC’s ministry and not just a widow rich woman who supported his ministry. No, I’m not saying they were married, just that she was very much a part of his ministry when you put the Gnostic stories with the N.T. stories.

  • Mriana

    Steven, Mike is right about Bishop Spong, he is a non-theist. Therefore, like Mike, I seriously doubt Wright even cares about getting into trouble for voicing his interpretation or thoughts on the matter. Heck, you can be an atheist and be part of the Episcopal Church.

    I know this because I use to attend and I am still contact with many Anglicans.

  • Steven Carr

    The Gospel of Mary is just as much junk as the Gospel of John.

  • Mriana

    Steven Carr said,

    May 19, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    The Gospel of Mary is just as much junk as the Gospel of John.

    I never said it was anymore reliable than the rest, but it does support the idea that JC we an equal opportunist.

    I do have a question for you, Carr, are you that insecure about your beliefs or ideas that you feel the need to attack literary references that support another idea in another book? I never said it was fact, I just stated another reference that was related and supported some of what was said. This does not mean I was saying anything about it’s factuality. It’s almost like saying, “In “The Lorax”, the Lorax spoke for this group or that group and in “The Who”, the little people were supported, so therefore this could be implied about that.” Nothing more.

    Though fiction, a child could learn something from “The Lorax” and The Who”. In this case, the Gnostics support the idea that JC was an equal opportunist and quite possibly trying to make earth heaven. Make out what you want about that, but it’s just another book supporting another.

    Unfortunately, the Gospel of Mary was one of the books the Church tried hard to destroy and did not want people to read, saying it would cause them to go to hell or something like that. IMO, I think they were trying to keep stories that would cause women to demand equal opportunities out of the hands of the people. There wasn’t a lot of literature before the printing press and those who could read shared what they read or made pictures in story form so that others could learn. The Enlightenment is a good example of what the Church feared so much.

    A good example of the picture learning are the pics in churches which were once in story form for the illiterate. Of course, they were still told what they had to believe or else. Thus, the Reformation was a good thing, except the churches really did not advance much beyond the theses Luther nailed to the Church. Thanks to the printing press though, those ideas got out to the public. The Church of Rome lost and had to regroup.

    I think the Inquistitions came after the reformation and then later the Enlightenment. The Inquistitions were a terrible time for people like us, but truth be known, I believe one cannot have Enlightenment unless they know where they came from.

    So to criticize a piece of literture, without considering the time it was written is, IMO, to close the door on enlightenment. Would you disregard Dada art and literture because it’s time has pasted or because it is useless as well as deliberately irrational? I think it is boring and dull, but you learn a little about that time period through the literature too.

    The Jews took the OT (Torah) with all its laws to heart and some still do, even though most of it is not applicable for today. Even so, you can get an idea about Hebrew society and culture back then and of todays Jews who follow Kosher ideals.

    In that respect (cultural and societal), it is historical. The Lorax shows the cultural values of today concerning the environment. 100 years from now it will hopefully be just a thing of the past. Same with “Horton Hears a Who” concerning minority groups and we can teach our children that this was where we were at one time, but not anymore.

    We no longer think the sun rotates around the earth and a bat is a bird, but at one time, people did. Obviously women’s rights were some what of an issue 2000 years ago or the battle between Mary and another disciple would not have been mentioned in either piece of literture.

    In that respect, it is not a piece of junk. So, even though I am a non-theist and a Humanist, I can still see some use for the literature. I would really hate to bury it and end up going back to such a time all because we forgot where we came from socially and culturally. Even the Hammerabi and The Book of the Dead, written long before the OT/Torah, shows cultures and societies long since past.

  • Steven Carr

    MRNIA
    I do have a question for you, Carr, are you that insecure about your beliefs or ideas that you feel the need to attack literary references that support another idea in another book?

    CARR
    Gosh, all I did was say that an anonymous piece of fiction was junk, a remark which would be totally innocuous if I was talking about a political novel, or a novel about sport.

    Yet somehow, religious novels are held to be immune from criticism, and people who criticse them are ‘insecure’

  • Mriana

    No Carr, you misunderstood my question. Religious works aren’t immune from criticism anymore than other works, but that is not constructive critism. I meant exactly what I was trying to ask, Are you that insecure about your beliefs as an atheist, that you have to attack religious things in such a way that is not constructive?

    I am not insecure about my Humanist beliefs that I cannot say something constructive or ask a question in a way that is less offensive.

    In the third thread on this topic, Pastor Mike asked, “I’m rather mystified why doing so has brought out so much scorn, ridicule and hostility. Is this really the kind of attitudes you want atheism to be known for?”

    I personally want him to take with him what I want Humanism to be known for- reason and compassion.

    It is not reasonable to show this man scorn, ridule, and hostility when he has not shown us any of that from himself. It is more reasonable to say, “OK I accept your gift of friendship and in return I will give you what I hope to be a more positive view of atheism (or Humanism, whichever the case).” This also shows, IMO, compassion. Compassion that shows dignity to the human.

    Who knows, that compassion may lead him to question some of his beliefs or it may not, but more importantly it will hopefully show him what Humanism is not. Can you say the same thing about your form of atheism?

  • Steven Carr

    How does pointing out the lack of historical markers in Mark’s Gospel or calling the Gospel of Mary ‘junk’, any way of showing Pastor Mike scorn, ridicule or hostility?

    I see the first response to atheists pointing out facts is to declare atheists rude for pointing out facts.

    Is Christianity really so delicate that pointing out that Mark’s Gospel has no chronology is treating it with scorn, hostility and ridicule?

    Of course, I asked Pastor Mike to defend his bizarre reading of Paul that when Paul said ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death?’, that Paul was teaching that the body would be saved.

    Pastor Mike is not interested in dialogue. He simply doesn’t care whether what others say is true or not, all he cares about is that he can tell them what he believes.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey writerdd! You said:

    Mike C, in light of your answers in part 2, I’ve got to say that I find your answers to part 1 much less convincing. If you indeed believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead and that the other supernatural stories of the Christian religion are true, then how can you honestly say that you take the good in all religions seriously? Do you also believe that their supernatural stoiesw are true? What makes you think that the “facts” of Chrsitianity are true but only the pleasant philosophies of other religions are true?

    I don’t quite follow you. Why would affirming the resurrection of Jesus require me to disbelieve in the stories of every other religion? As C.S. Lewis pointed out, being a Christian doesn’t mean that I have to think that every other religion is 100% wrong. All that is required is that I favor Christianity on those points where they differ – which may not be very numerous when we come right down to it – most religions share much in common. (Though even when we do differ I would still want to be open to possibly rethinking my own beliefs in relation to what the other says. I’m open to truth wherever I find it.)

    When it comes to other religions I believe what Paul said in Acts 17 about God revealing himself to people in all cultures and time periods. If that is true, then I can eagerly engage with other religions as places where I can potentially learn more about the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.

    Not to mention that religions can’t really be engaged as a whole anyway. Every individual believer is unique. There is no monolithic Islam for instance, but only individual Muslims with whom I can dialogue with and learn from and perhaps teach, rather than reducing them to some massive and clumsy category.

  • Steven Carr

    Does Mike C. think more of sincere Muslims who preach that Christians are going to Hell, and that Jesus was not crucified than he does of insincere Muslims who doubt these Muslim doctrines?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I’m pretty sure I already answered your question in my previous reply Steven.

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  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    The universe is typically described as a closed system (I believe the first law of thermodynamics explains this), yet on occasion a God supposedly interacts with this closed system.

    Now, to build upon that logic, it is believed by theists that each person has a “soul”, a spiritual entity or manifestation which reveals its true self to a God upon death for judgment/salvation/damnation. It is also believed that this soul “lives” “inside” each of us and we are responsible to it.

    Yet, how can a closed system, such as our universe, also contain elements that can freely move between the physical and “supernatural” realms?

    Hey Dan, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to these particular questions of yours.

    Regarding this issue, you may have noticed in another thread that I stated I don’t believe in a non-corporeal “soul” that floats around inside of us somewhere. In my view, “soul” is what we would call a “psychological” term (actually the word “psyche” is the same Greek word that we translate “soul”). In other words, the soul is just a way of describing the totality of who we are – mind, body, will, emotions, etc. It is our self-consciousness and self-awareness. Again, it’s not some “spiritual entity” separate from ourselves that goes somewhere else when we die. As I said in the other thread, I think that conception is a neo-Platonic/Gnostic conception that has crept into Christian theology via Greek philosophy.

    As for whether God himself can break into this closed system – I think he can – though whether that affects the first law of thermodynamics (i.e. whether God’s interventions adds energy to the total system), I don’t know. I don’t see that it would have to. God could act via the natural system he already set up (we’ve talked about this already over at your blog). But even if he did add energy to the system, surely that’s not an inconceivable impossibility. We don’t know for certain that the universe is a closed system (according to some theories of black holes and other space-time anomalies, it actually is not), we just posit that it is because matter and energy tend to be preserved in nearly every physical interaction we observe. But that observation doesn’t exclude the possibility of more energy coming in from the “outside” as it were.

    And really, how would we know whether it does or not? We don’t have a giant thermometer to help us keep tabs on whether or not the total matter/energy content of the universe is holding constant or not (how would we even measure such a thing?) Thus if new energy entered the system, would we really have any way to know it?

    You also asked:

    In short, how can one tell if God is speaking to someone? What criteria is used to dismiss or include that person within a belief in a Christian God?

    Good question. Basically we use the same faculties of discernment that anyone uses in any area of life – that is, we take the new data and compare it against what we already know to be true. If it fits in, or expands our previous knowledge in some way, or challenges some parts of our knowledge but in a way that connects with other parts of it, then we will accept it. That’s just how human reasoning works, whether Christian or not.

    Within the Christian tradition several aspects of this “web” of knowledge are often mentioned: including scripture, reason (which includes science), experience (which includes our moral sense), and tradition (which means listening to the wisdom of the past). New revelation should resonate with each of these. If it doesn’t then we either reject it as false, or reexamine our previous beliefs to see if we need to expand our understandings.

    Of course, there are some considerations that take priority for me. I think our obligations towards justice and love for others take precedence over any revelation or theological ideas. As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:
    “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (See, it’s not just a sappy wedding passage! :) )

  • Mriana

    As for whether God himself can break into this closed system – I think he can – though whether that affects the first law of thermodynamics (i.e. whether God’s interventions adds energy to the total system), I don’t know.

    OK, now this is what I don’t understand about theists- Why would God want to “break into” anything? It has no need to “break into” anything IF It is the source of all life. IF It is in us and all around us, there is no need to “break into” anything. It’s already on earth, much like ruach, as Spong even makes reference to in his books. “Ruach was not external, but rather, It emerged from within the world and was understood as its very ground, its life-giving reality” (Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die pg 60, slightly paraphrased). He goes into nephesh too, but long story short, It’s here on earth already and is part of the earth as well as in us. It’s life itself, the source of life.

    So, I do not understand this concept of a supernatural being “breaking into” anything. What does He do? Punch a hole in the universe with his fist? (Sorry. Not trying to be smart, but that is a comedic mental image I get and I’m ROFL)

    OK, OK I think I have it together again. Sort of. I really don’t mean to make fun, but the mental images I get from what is said just crack me up laughing. I’m truly sorry. Where was I? Yes…

    There’s no need from my concept for a God to do this. Why would God want to be apart from His creation instead of a part of His creation? This has never made sense to me, not even as a child. Of course, I see “god” as an It with nor form, gender, or substance anymore than the wind has, and is much a part of the earth as wind or dirt, just as we are made up of the elements of the earth.

    I guess this is why I have no concept of heaven and hell being… I don’t know where, except right here on earth and so it is what we humans make it. When we die, we just become part of the earth again, but live on in people’s hearts and minds.

    This maybe the frustration and irritation other people are having- they just do not understand the concepts being discussed- like this supernatural deity that keeps popping up in the conversations (giving us these cartoon mental images that make some of us laugh) or heaven and hell or resurrection, etc.

    These human concepts make no sense to those of us who view the world differently and some, like in my case, have held a completely different concept for a lifetime. So, this one about a supernatural deity “breaking into” is alien to us and in some cases gives us humourous mental images.

    I really wish others could laugh and let it go until they have a real question, but then again, you (Pastor Mike) may not understand what I’m asking with this one. I hope you don’t take offense either.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Mriana, I’ve been meaning to reply to you about this for a while but we keep getting sidetracked. You said:

    Mike, most of the Gnostics were persecuted and killed or forced to convert to the more worldly form of Christianity. To reach Gnosis (knowledge) is to not live in this world. This world was not real to the Gnostics. In the Gospel of Mary, Jesus was to make her a man (not in the literal sense, but that is what he said). The Gospel of Mary shows the dispute between her and another apostle, which is referred to in the NT. Apparently, Mary Magdeline was very much a part of JC’s ministry and not just a widow rich woman who supported his ministry. No, I’m not saying they were married, just that she was very much a part of his ministry when you put the Gnostic stories with the N.T. stories.

    You’ve also mentioned the gnostic gospels on a few other occasions, as well as the Jesus Seminar and their revisionist versions and later datings of the canonical gospels. Perhaps I’m reading you wrong but you seem to agree with those who believe that gnosticism was a more authentic expression of Christianity and that their gospels are either concurrent with or even predate the canonical gospels. I’d like to head off a fruitless debate about this by letting you know that: yes, I am very familiar with all of this (I even have my own complete copy of the Nag Hammadi texts and have studied first hand all of the gnostic gospels you mention; but that no, I don’t agree with those who believe that gnosticism was a more authentic expression of Christianity, or even that it was ever considered part of the mainstream of ancient Christian belief.

    The thing is that both of us probably have scholars and experts we could point to that support our views. What I want to suggest is that if we want to discuss these issues, both of us should try to avoid speaking as if our views were an unassailable consensus view. Some scholars support your newer theories, others have good reasons for disagreeing. As long as we can acknowledge the debate I think we’ll be better off.

    Personally I think many of methods and presuppositions of the Jesus Seminar folks are rather suspect, thus I think many of their conclusions are misguided. (For some of my reasons why, check out Wright’s critique of their work.)

    From what I’ve studied of the gnostic texts as well as Greek philosophy and Classical history in general I also find some of the claims of scholars like Pagels and Ehrman about the historical significance of Gnosticism rather suspect as well. It’s interesting stuff, no doubt, but I don’t think there is much evidence to suggest that these views were ever considered as a legitimate and mainstream alternative to orthodox Christianity. It seems obvious to me that from the beginning gnosticism was a syncretic mixture of orthodox Christian beliefs and Greek mystery religions that was essentially an entirely different religion from that of the historic church. (The closest parallel I can think of is the difference between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity – we share a lot of the same ideas and stories, but when you get down to the details it’s really a whole different religion.) I agree instead with Wright who says that the canonical gospels, and the whole history of early Christianity really makes far more sense if we interpret Jesus’ message and mission in terms of first century Judaism, not second or third century Gnosticism.

    But again, I know that you have a different opinion about all this based on your own studies, and I’m fine to agree to disagree. I’m not sure either of us has the time to go point by point through all the arguments for either side right now. (Though we can do some of that if you want to. :) )

    Peace,
    -Mike

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    OK, now this is what I don’t understand about theists- Why would God want to “break into” anything? It has no need to “break into” anything IF It is the source of all life. IF It is in us and all around us, there is no need to “break into” anything.

    Hey Mriana,

    You views seem more pantheistic or panentheistic than my own. I am a classical theist in that I think that God is in some way distinct from his creation while still yet intimately involved in it. (To me this is part of the beauty and wonder of God – that he/she can create things which are not himself.) Thus, if God is still involved with his creation there is some sense in which he acts on it from the “outside”.

    Though on the other hand, I don’t entirely disagree with you. As Paul says about God in Acts 17, “In him we live, move and have our being”. There is a sense in which God’s “spirit” (ruach or pneuma) does permeate creation. The problem I think is partially one of language – we are trying to use our limited and metaphorical language to express ideas that go beyond our ability to conceive. We may both be expressing a similar reality in different ways.

    I understand why many atheists seem to think that even bothering to talk about such things is a waste of time. When you’re dealing with concepts that go beyond language it can often feel like you’re just spouting meaningless phrases. However, I’m convinced that it is still worthwhile. As Peter Rollins points out in his book “How (Not) to Speak of God”, our theology should not be an attempt to describe God so much as a worshipful response to an overwhelming and transforming encounter with God.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    BTW Mriana, I meant to include a link in my previous post to this blog post of mine that might give you a better picture of how I conceive of God’s interactions with his creation.

  • Mriana

    Perhaps I’m reading you wrong but you seem to agree with those who believe that gnosticism was a more authentic expression of Christianity and that their gospels are either concurrent with or even predate the canonical gospels.

    No, I don’t. All I can say is, I don’t know. The date on the Gospel of Mary is said to be 100 years after the author of John wrote his books. Then I read and hear other things earlier or later than that. I really don’t know.

    I have a lot of respect for those who worked on the Jesus Seminar- Spong, Price, Armstrong… To be quite honest, I have to agree with Price- if there ever was a historical Jesus, he is buried under so much myth, we’ll never find the real man. Cesear Augustus has more sources concerning his life and is buried under less myth. So, I honestly do not know if there ever was a historical Jesus.

    You see a theme here? :lol:

    The Bible has been written so many times, it’s hard to tell. My 18 y.o. showed me a newer Bible (forgot what new translation it is) and it reduced the 10th commandment to “You shall not covet your neighbor’s property.” There was no wife, maidservant, manservant, ass, ox or anything else. Just “You shall not covet your neighbor’s property.”

    Sigh. So, it is set to modern times now. People and animals are not written property. I’m sorry, but the original was written for those people and the newer versions are rewritten just to get young people to become Christians, IMHO. It is not written to reflect the cultural and societial values of the times nor does it show the literature of the period. That version was rewritten to be more attrative to modern day thought.

    All were written by humans, but even Price says they have been editted and rewritten so many times (in some case obviously more than one person to one text), we can’t figure out anything about about the man for the myth. Spong tries to unbury the man out from under all that myth, but IF JC ever lived we really don’t know anymore because the text has been doctored, editted, embellished, etc so much, there is nothing left.

    We would have to go back to the original Hebrew (O.T.) and Greek (N.T.) texts to even get an idea if JC ever did live, IMHO. So, if we were all honest with ourselves as we look over all of this stuff, I think the only conclusion is to say, “I don’t know and I don’t know if we will ever know”.

    I once heard it said that “I don’t know” is the first step in knowledge. But you’ve studied this more than I have. You have a doctrite, I assume? So, you may feel more comfortable saying you do know. (that’s not meant as an insult, but giving you credit for years of education.)

    As for that webpage on Wright. I have to run, but I’ll get to it later.

  • Mriana

    Hey Mriana,

    You views seem more pantheistic or panentheistic than my own. I am a classical theist in that I think that God is in some way distinct from his creation while still yet intimately involved in it. (To me this is part of the beauty and wonder of God – that he/she can create things which are not himself.) Thus, if God is still involved with his creation there is some sense in which he acts on it from the “outside”.

    Oh I wish I had time to read your links, but yes pretty much. I can’t explain it right now in too much detail, but maybe later if you want to hear more. Even as a child I felt this unknown something around and within. I’d feel it from my pets in times I felt so painfully down- almost like wind touching my skin, but different. That makes it sound paranormal. I don’t mean it that way, but take Spong’s view, if you’ve ever read his books and put it in us all (even animals and the earth itself)- like an inner drive, divine spark, or life force.

    Thus when we die, we are decaying dust again. No duality, no reincarnation, just die and return to the earth. Your brain shuts down and you cease to function. The Divine Spark, life force, or inner drive burns out.

    I know, sounds weird, but I’m out of time to make it clearer. If you have questions, I can explain better later.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey Mriana,

    All were written by humans, but even Price says they have been editted and rewritten so many times (in some case obviously more than one person to one text), we can’t figure out anything about about the man for the myth. Spong tries to unbury the man out from under all that myth, but IF JC ever lived we really don’t know anymore because the text has been doctored, editted, embellished, etc so much, there is nothing left.

    We would have to go back to the original Hebrew (O.T.) and Greek (N.T.) texts to even get an idea if JC ever did live, IMHO.

    I understand this feeling, but I think you might want to take another look at what you’ve been told about the unreliability of the texts. Despite what Price et al. have told you (and I don’t mean to disrespect them, I just disagree on some points) the gospel accounts are actually amazingly well-supported in terms of the number of ancient manuscripts available (over 24,000!), and the oldest fragments are actually so close to the actual life of Jesus and the Apostles that it seems very unlikely that very many myths and legends could have been built up around them in such a short period.

    Check out this site – it’s a listing of some of the oldest New Testament fragments and manuscripts we posses. The oldest is from ~AD 125, less than a century after the time of Christ. We also have thousands of quotes from early church leaders such as Irenaeus (182-188 AD), Justin Martyr (before 150 AD), Polycarp (107 AD), Ignatius (100), Clement (96 AD) and many other second and third century fathers. All but eleven verses of the New Testament could be reconstructed through their writings alone.

    The proximity of these manuscripts to the actual events is stunning (nearly unparalleled in ancient literature actually – most of which are Dark Age copies of copies). Because of this, it is almost certain (IMO) that nearly all of the NT was composed before the end of the first century. According to some scholars Paul wrote most of his letters within two decades of Jesus’ crucifixion and Mark likewise wrote his gospel roughly 30-40 years afterwards. In historical terms 30-40 years is just not enough time for such complete fabrications and mythologies to arise as Price and others suggest. Of course, anything is possible, but it doesn’t seem likely to me. Others will disagree of course (especially if one has a philosophical presupposition that miracles can’t happen and therefore miracle stories must automatically be considered myths), but personally I think it makes more sense to believe that the gospels are, for the most part, first or second hand accounts of actual events. But YMMV.

  • Steven Carr

    The earliest Gospel has none of the markers that ancient historians used to indicate that they were writing history….

    Nor do we need to have a ‘presupposition’ that miracle’s can’t happen.

    All we need to do is observe that Christians are not hypocrites.

    That means we can examine the New Testament using the tools Christians use to examine the Koran and the Book of Mormon.

    The results are in http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm

  • Steven Carr

    Mike is peddling the accuracy of the text, just like Josh McDowell

    Can it really be reconstructed from patristic quotes?

    Let us look at one example – Matthew 19.17 /Mark 10.18/Luke 18.19

    One very early Church Father is Justin. In his Dialogue 101.2 (probably from the 140s or 150s) , we read “One is good, my Father in the heavens.” This very early quotation is not what we read in the Bible today.

    Perhaps he was just working from memory, or did he have a manuscript which differed from today’s Bibles?

    EPHREM: Commentary on the Diatessaron, XV.9, in both the original Syriac and the Armenian (2 manuscripts) reads: “One is good, the/my Father who [is] in the heaven.”

    Ephrem died in 373, and the Syriac manuscript of the Commentary is fifth century. And Tatian, of course, composed the Diatessaron (the gospel harmony upon which Ephrem was commenting) about 172, on the basis of the gospel texts current then. And this citation agrees precisely with Justin’s, allowing for the differences in Syriac and Greek. We now have two independent sources which show that the 2nd-century manuscripts of this Gospel verse differ from what is read today.

    IRENAEUS: Haer. V.7.25 (pre-185): “One is good, the/my Father in the heavens.”
    Another second-century source confirming the ‘wrong’ version of Matthew 19:17.

    HIPPOLYTUS: Haer. V.7.25 (pre-222): “One is good, the/my Father in the heavens.”
    Another early Christian Father has the ‘wrong’ version.

    CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Strom. V.10.63 (composed c. 207):”One is good, the/my Father.”
    At least Clement drops the ‘in the heaven’ phrase.

    PSEUDO-CLEMENTINE HOMILIES: XVI.3.4 about 260 AD. “For one is good, the/my Father in the heavens.”
    Another early Church Father disagrees with the ‘correct’ version of the Bible.

    VETUS LATINA MS e (apud Matthew, 5th cent.): “Unus est bonus, pater.”
    This is the second most ancient manuscript and it also has ‘Father’

    VETUS LATINA MS d (apud Luke, 5th century.): “Nemo bonus nisi unus Deus pater.”

    ‘Father’ again.

    I wonder why this verse was changed. Bibles of today read that no one is good except God alone. This is fine for Christians who believe that Jesus is God. But if the manuscripts read that no one is good except the Father, then there would be trouble for Trinitarians, who believe Jesus is God, but not God the Father. So it was changed.

    The evidence of the earliest manuscripts is that Christians were prepared to change anything in the scriptures to suit their own private agendas.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE
    It seems obvious to me that from the beginning gnosticism was a syncretic mixture of orthodox Christian beliefs and Greek mystery religions that was essentially an entirely different religion from that of the historic church.

    CARR
    SO that is why early converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse and why Paul tells them that Jesus became a spirit, who lives inside them.

    Why does Paul ask ‘Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ – clearly Paul wanted out of his material body. He wanted to be rescued from it.

    MIKE
    In historical terms 30-40 years is just not enough time for such complete fabrications and mythologies to arise as Price and others suggest

    CARR
    Nonsense. How long did it for Scientology to get a hold, or Mormonism or the Roswell incident?

    How long did it take after the Jewish War before Josephus was claiming that a heifer had given birth to a lamb? 10 years?

    Paul, of course, was already complaining in his day about fake stories about Jesus – see 2 Corinthians 11:4.

    Mark’s Jesus could well have been one of those false Jesus’s that were already being preached about in Paul’s time.

  • Mriana

    Check out this site – it’s a listing of some of the oldest New Testament fragments and manuscripts we posses. The oldest is from ~AD 125, less than a century after the time of Christ. We also have thousands of quotes from early church leaders such as Irenaeus (182-188 AD), Justin Martyr (before 150 AD), Polycarp (107 AD), Ignatius (100), Clement (96 AD) and many other second and third century fathers. All but eleven verses of the New Testament could be reconstructed through their writings alone.

    That looks like different translation of the OT and NT. The dates attributed to them would not be eyewitness accounts, any more than Paul’s was. 30 to 40 years after his death IMO is enough time to make up what you want about a person that you make a story about. I’m sorry, Pastor Mike, but I’m just not convinced by any of these dates. Even I can take story from Isis, Mithra, and alike, throw in Jesus and make it sound like it would fit for the time. Of course carbon dating would give it away. It is also my understanding that Paul wrote more like 50-60 years after JC supposedly died. These dates are younger than that. They say AD or CE andlong after the death. I’m just not convinced.

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  • Miko

    It is also my understanding that Paul wrote more like 50-60 years after JC supposedly died.

    The chronology I’ve heard places Paul’s writings around 55 CE (although his visions came earlier), Mark around 70 CE, Matthew and Luke around 90 CE, and John around 120 CE. The numbers, unfortunately seem to fluxuate wildly in both directions depending on whether the source wants them to have been written earlier or later.

    Of course, the amount of time after Jesus becomes irrelavent if they weren’t actually writing about a historical person. Paul’s story of his conversion experience, for example, seems very similar to the symptoms for temporal lobe epilepsy. I’m currently neutral on whether there was an historical Jesus, but I’ve seen nothing to show that all of Christianity didn’t trace back to one man having a seizure.

  • Mriana

    Miko said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    It is also my understanding that Paul wrote more like 50-60 years after JC supposedly died.

    The chronology I’ve heard places Paul’s writings around 55 CE (although his visions came earlier), Mark around 70 CE, Matthew and Luke around 90 CE, and John around 120 CE. The numbers, unfortunately seem to fluxuate wildly in both directions depending on whether the source wants them to have been written earlier or later.

    Of course, the amount of time after Jesus becomes irrelavent if they weren’t actually writing about a historical person. Paul’s story of his conversion experience, for example, seems very similar to the symptoms for temporal lobe epilepsy. I’m currently neutral on whether there was an historical Jesus, but I’ve seen nothing to show that all of Christianity didn’t trace back to one man having a seizure.

    Estimated dates vary. Some theologians prefer the later date and some the earlier date. Paul – 50 to 75 years after JCs death, Mark 65 to 90 years after JC Matthew 80-90 Luke 70-100 John was around the turn of the first century.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    The chronology I’ve heard places Paul’s writings around 55 CE (although his visions came earlier), Mark around 70 CE, Matthew and Luke around 90 CE, and John around 120 CE. The numbers, unfortunately seem to fluxuate wildly in both directions depending on whether the source wants them to have been written earlier or later.

    I’m open to various possibilities on when exactly the gospels were written. We’re talking about a largely oral culture here, so it doesn’t affect the credibility in my mind to suggest that the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life could have been passed around by word of mouth before being written down.

    However, I think there is good evidence internal to the texts themselves (apart from any discussion of manuscripts, etc.) that suggest that most of the gospels (or at least the three synoptics) were likely written before AD 70-73. One reason for this is that Matthew, Mark and Luke all focus quite heavily on the impending catastrophe, the “Day of the Lord” or “Coming of the Son of Man” (cf. Mark 13, Matthew 25 & Luke 17). This event (which “Left Behind” fundamentalists wrongly interpret as the “End of the World”) is clearly a warning about the natural consequences of an armed revolt against Rome, which were proved true by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the Romans in AD 70. The texts don’t make an exact prediction of when this will happen (if they had been written after the fact, you’d think they would have referred to it so as to say “see, Jesus’ warnings came true”), and the thrust of the text seems to be to warn people away from the behaviors that Jesus said could result in this destruction, or else to prepare Christians to be “ready to run” when it does happen (cf. Luke 17:31 or Matthew 24:15-21). But why would the gospel writers bother to include these kinds of warnings about events that had already taken place? A post-70 dating of the gospels kind of makes this major theme rather irrelevant. It seems more probable to me that the gospels were mostly written in the mid-60′s as direct warnings to the Jewish people (with some Jewish Christians among them) who were rushing headlong into revolt against Rome.

    But anyhow, like I said, I’m open to other possibilities.

  • Mriana

    Luke all focus quite heavily on the impending catastrophe, the “Day of the Lord” or “Coming of the Son of Man” (cf. Mark 13, Matthew 25 & Luke 17). This event (which “Left Behind” fundamentalists wrongly interpret as the “End of the World”) is clearly a warning about the natural consequences of an armed revolt against Rome, which were proved true by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

    Pastor Mike, from what I understand, the Gospels were written according to the Hebrew liturgical calendar. In which case, when John was yelling about “the end” it was actually Rosh Hashanah- the Jewish time of repentance (Matt 3:2 Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.). The Easter Narrative was Passover. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) Jesus was healing the sick. The specific words of Yom Kippur were placed on John’s lips, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29, 36) The Jews use an unblemished make lamb as an offering around this time. It’s rather sick IMO, but I can see it quite clearly. Spong discusses this in his book “A New Christianity for a New World, mostly in chapter 5 and 6.

    I have other sources of course that say the same thing, but I don’t see any prophetic warning in any of it. It’s my opinion of course based on what I’ve learned.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE C
    This event (which “Left Behind” fundamentalists wrongly interpret as the “End of the World”) is clearly a warning about the natural consequences of an armed revolt against Rome, which were proved true by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

    CARR
    Not all of it. and Matthew has Jesus say this is ‘just the beginnings of the birth pangs’. Matthew also says that at about that time (immediately after), the elect would be gathered from the four winds.

    There was no gathering of the ‘elect’.

    For Matthew, the destruction of the Temple was just the start of the ‘birth pangs’.

    Can Mike think of no reason why Gospel writers should not put such prophecies in the mouth of Jesus?

    I wonder why God blessed the violent revolt of the Maccabees (which even made it into scripture in some Bibles)

    Wright goes so far as to imply that some people involved in the violent armed revolt of the Maccabees (spelling?) were martyrs.

    Of course, Rome was a rather more serious opponent.

    This is why the armed Macabbean revolt was spurred on by devotion to God, while the armed revolt against Rome was spurred on by rebellion against God (at least , according to some apologists)

    Perhaps God really is on the side of the big battalions!

    Paul, of course, betrays no knowledge of any prophecy by Jesus of the impending destructiion of Jerusalem.

    Not even in Galatians 4, where Paul talks about the 2 Jerusalems.

    Surely if Wright is right about the destruction of Jerualem being a *central* part of the teaching of Jesus, Paul would have hinted at how his Lord and Saviour had spoken on the subject of the present Jerualem, the one that
    wa not free and in slavery.

    Not even 2 Peter can point to any prophecy by Jesus.

    Scoffers were claiming that nothing had changed with the arrival of Jesus, and 2 Peter cannot produce one example of anything which *had* changed.

    All he can say is that there will be changes in the distant future.

    Surely if 2 Peter was written by a Peter in the 60s Ad , who knew Jesus had predicted calamity for just a few years hence, he would not start talking about ‘a thousand years’.

    And if 2 Peter was written after 70 AD by a Christian who knew that Jesus had predicted the fall of Jerusalem, he would have pointed out that things had changed , so the scoffers whole argument was wrong when they said nothing had changed.

    2 Peter could only have been written by a Christian who did not link the destruction of Jerusalem with Jesus.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Well, I’m not entirely familiar with that connection, though it wouldn’t surprise me and I don’t see that it rules out the prophetic warning either. Both layers of meaning could be going on at the same time. The gospel writers were all very good at tying in Jesus’ message with Old Testament parallels. The overriding message for all of them seems to be that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Israel. He is doing for them what Israel could not do for itself – i.e. truly honor the Covenant. This seems central to Jesus’ self-identity and his understanding of his mission.

    But this is directly tied into his apocalyptic warnings about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The OT Covenant was about Israel being a blessing to the nations (cf. Genesis 12:1-3) to bring God’s reign of justice and peace to the whole earth (cf. Isaiah 58 & 61). When Jesus comes along he declares that he himself will fulfill Israel’s role by establishing a kingdom of peace and justice that will include all of the nations (cf. Luke 4:16-27), but he also warns that if Israel continues to pursue a way that runs contrary to his kingdom of peace and blessing to the Gentiles they will face destruction (again, not as a threat, but simply as a warning of the natural consequence of pursuing the way of violence – “if you live by the sword you die by it”).

    Interestingly, Jesus saw this event both as a great tragedy that he hoped to prevent (cf. Luke 19:41-44) and as the vindication of his ultimate message and the sign that would establish his reign of peace. The symbols of the Old Covenant had to pass away before the New Covenant could fully come.

    Oh, and just a point of clarification. John, IMO, is probably the only one of the gospels that (IMO of course) was likely written after AD 70. As you pointed out, there is far less of the apocalyptic warnings about destruction in his gospel. That’s because when John wrote the apocalypse had already happened. There was no need to warn about it anymore. Instead he focuses on what comes next – i.e. what does it mean to live in the New Covenant, as a member of the New Israel? How does the New still connect with and fulfill the Old (hence all the Jewish festival parallels I suppose).

    Anyhow, that’s just how I’ve come to understand the message of the gospels in light of a 1st century Jewish context.

    Oh, BTW, one more tangential thing. You said:

    The Jews use an unblemished make lamb as an offering around this time. It’s rather sick IMO

    Only if you’re a vegetarian (which maybe you are, I don’t know), otherwise it’s no different than any other time anyone slaughters an animal for food. (They didn’t let the meat go to waste. It was part of the way the priests were supported. They got to eat the offerings. :) )

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    BTW, my last comment was in response to Mriana. It looks like Carr and I cross posted.

  • Miko

    However, I think there is good evidence internal to the texts themselves (apart from any discussion of manuscripts, etc.) that suggest that most of the gospels (or at least the three synoptics) were likely written before AD 70-73.
    …which were proved true by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

    If you believe in prophecy. Otherwise the reference is an indication that they couldn’t have been written before 70 CE.

  • Mriana

    Mike C said,

    May 25, 2007 at 1:11 am

    BTW, my last comment was in response to Mriana. It looks like Carr and I cross posted.

    I don’t see your reply. I see what I posted and then Carr’s post and then this one. :( Did it get lost in the virtual hole?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    If you believe in prophecy. Otherwise the reference is an indication that they couldn’t have been written before 70 CE.

    Not necessarily. Predicting that the Romans would violently crush any Jewish revolt doesn’t really take special powers. (Everyone was already pretty familiar with the Roman’s MO.) Jesus warnings can be read as simply a warning of what would likely happen if the Jews continued on their path towards armed rebellion, not as a definite prediction of the future (after all, Jesus admitted that he didn’t really know precisely when the destruction would happen).

    Of course, since I do believe in predictive prophecy I think it is both a warning and a foreseeing of the future. Though, IMO, the question of whether or not predictive prophecy is possible is a prior philosophical assumption that shouldn’t enter into discussions about the dating and historicity of the text. It’s sort of a circular argument whichever way you go with it.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I don’t see your reply. I see what I posted and then Carr’s post and then this one. :( Did it get lost in the virtual hole?

    Weird, I can see my own post but apparently you can’t. (Is this a problem just for Mriana or can no one see my post?) Let me copy and paste it again and see if it works this time (btw, I originally linked to all the scripture references for you, but I don’t have time to go back and put those all in again. Sorry, you’ll just have to look them up for yourselves. ;) )

    I said:

    Well, I’m not entirely familiar with that connection, though it wouldn’t surprise me and I don’t see that it rules out the prophetic warning either. Both layers of meaning could be going on at the same time. The gospel writers were all very good at tying in Jesus’ message with Old Testament parallels. The overriding message for all of them seems to be that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Israel. He is doing for them what Israel could not do for itself – i.e. truly honor the Covenant. This seems central to Jesus’ self-identity and his understanding of his mission.

    But this is directly tied into his apocalyptic warnings about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The OT Covenant was about Israel being a blessing to the nations (cf. Genesis 12:1-3) to bring God’s reign of justice and peace to the whole earth (cf. Isaiah 58 & 61). When Jesus comes along he declares that he himself will fulfill Israel’s role by establishing a kingdom of peace and justice that will include all of the nations (cf. Luke 4:16-27), but he also warns that if Israel continues to pursue a way that runs contrary to his kingdom of peace and blessing to the Gentiles they will face destruction (again, not as a threat, but simply as a warning of the natural consequence of pursuing the way of violence – “if you live by the sword you die by it”).

    Interestingly, Jesus saw this event both as a great tragedy that he hoped to prevent (cf. Luke 19:41-44) and as the vindication of his ultimate message and the sign that would establish his reign of peace. The symbols of the Old Covenant had to pass away before the New Covenant could fully come.

    Oh, and just a point of clarification. John, IMO, is probably the only one of the gospels that (IMO of course) was likely written after AD 70. As you pointed out, there is far less of the apocalyptic warnings about destruction in his gospel. That’s because when John wrote the apocalypse had already happened. There was no need to warn about it anymore. Instead he focuses on what comes next – i.e. what does it mean to live in the New Covenant, as a member of the New Israel? How does the New still connect with and fulfill the Old (hence all the Jewish festival parallels I suppose).

    Anyhow, that’s just how I’ve come to understand the message of the gospels in light of a 1st century Jewish context.

    Oh, BTW, one more tangential thing. You said:

    The Jews use an unblemished make lamb as an offering around this time. It’s rather sick IMO

    Only if you’re a vegetarian (which maybe you are, I don’t know), otherwise it’s no different than any other time anyone slaughters an animal for food. (They didn’t let the meat go to waste. It was part of the way the priests were supported. They got to eat the offerings. :) )

  • Mriana

    There it is. Guess the virtual hole spit it back out again.

    Oh, BTW, one more tangential thing. You said:

    The Jews use an unblemished make lamb as an offering around this time. It’s rather sick IMO

    Only if you’re a vegetarian (which maybe you are, I don’t know), otherwise it’s no different than any other time anyone slaughters an animal for food.

    I am a vegetarian. I have been since I was 12 (seems like a lifetime since I was born in ’66). Long story, but my life long friend Old Bossy was turned into jello and my bull calves, which I literally got into the pin and played with, were turned into veal (my bio-father made that decision, otherwise it never would have been done.) I had a pet runt pig named Wilber after Charlotte’s web. Pet chickens and thought it so funny when my mother beheaded one and she (the chicken) got away. My mother didn’t get chicken that night, but it puts new meaning into the saying “like a chicken running around without it’s head”. Too bad she died alone in the woods. :(

    I was an only child, so I had unusual playmates, but my grandfather showed me what he called “God’s Country” when I was very little. He would tell me to stand perfectly still when we saw a beautiful awe inspiring creature. There is nothing more numinous then being close enough to reach out and pet a deer as the two of you gaze into each other’s eyes only to have the spell broken when it turned to continue on its way. (My grandfather had already told me not to touch) Or to stand so still, that a passing wolf walks past you several feet away, only to make brief eye contact with you as it glances your way and then continues down its path.

    Now THAT was god to me as a child and still is in some respects in even though I understand the neuro-psychology behind it. Not the animals, but that numinous transendent feeling you get when you have that brief connection and feeling of oneness with the animal, the world, and the universe. There is some sort of electricity flowing between you and that individual, be it human or another animal.

    One cannot do harm to anyone with that sort of concept of god. To do so would be to kill that awesome oneness with the source of life- the earth (ruach, so to speak). Thus why I can clearly understand Spong’s concept of god. (BTW, my grandfather never carried a gun during these jaunts with me. He always hunted without me and only killed what they needed, but was compassionate to my distaste of it and never preached when I refused to partake in his kill after my grandmother cooked it.)

    Something else Spong said in the forward of Freeman’s book “God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism” that I dearly love and is in my paper concerning C.S. Lewis not truly being an atheist (I made an “A” and it’s on my website currently):

    “This God is rather beyond every concept, beyond theism, beyond supernaturalism, beyond the God of the Church and the gods of men and women. I experience this God, I do not explain this God.”

    So, you see, even though I do not believe in the theistic God, but rather a non-theistic one, I have kept my spirituality. That special connection with nature that inspires awe and wonder. To kill, IMHO, would be to destroy that numinous transendental connection with “the Holy the Other” as Spong puts it. Such violence would violate this bond, so yes, I do take issue with the cannibalism, barbarism, blood sacrifices, and burnt offerings in the Bible and have great respect for those philosophies that have similar views to what I experience in life.

    This is something that Hope Humanists also has respect for too, thus why I fell in with that group of Humanists. They see it as being a part of being human, part of the human experience and of the human.

    As for your citations, I still don’t see them as prophisizing anything. Jews connected things to the past all the time, in an effort to make things relate to each other within their teachings. The authors of the Gospels did the same thing in an effort to attract the Jews, but it was not convincing enough to them. Predicting the apocalyps was an inevitable thing, much like being able to predict what will happen if the Shrub does not end this war with Iraq now. It is easy to surmise what will be hell on earth, when you know oppression and violence can only lead to one thing- more violence. History repeats itself under such conditions. Nothing new.

    Earth, to me, is heaven and hell. It is the humans who make it either heaven or hell, even in Bambi, which my mother could not read to me without me screaming, “It was the humans who did it!” (killed Bambi’s mommy and caused the fire), the humans created hell on earth. Luckily, Bambi and Fauline survived to experience heaven again, along with Flower and Thumper. So, as much as I don’t like Disney, that story is a great example as to how earth can be heaven or hell. I prefer the Lorax though, which is another great example of humans creating hell on earth… UNLESS… we as humans do something to make it heaven. The Lorax “prophesies” came true- on earth, but again, the Lorax was just stating what should have become obvious much sooner than it did.

    I see it the same way with the Bible. Stories that show similar things, but prolifically more graphic and for that time. It has nothing to do with now, except for the fact that history repeats itself and humans can be quite violent. Which is sad.

    Of course, this is where “God in Us” plays a part too, with love, reason and compassion, but this is not a theistic God I speak of, but rather our inner drive and desire to make things better, which makes “God in Us” only a label for those who cannot comprehend that it is the human standing on their own two feet striving to make the world better. But I digress.

  • Steven Carr

    MIke C

    Predicting that the Romans would violently crush any Jewish revolt doesn’t really take special powers.

    CARR
    Depends if you believe or disbelieve that God would be on the side of the Jews (as he was in the Maccabean revolt)

    Many Jews at that time had great faith that one revolt would be as successful as the other.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE
    but he also warns that if Israel continues to pursue a way that runs contrary to his kingdom of peace and blessing to the Gentiles they will face destruction (again, not as a threat, but simply as a warning of the natural consequence of pursuing the way of violence

    CARR
    Doesn’t Hebrews praise many of the people who took part in the armed Macabbean revolt?

    Why didn’t the Jews face destruction when they pursued that way of violence?

    Because God was on the side of the big batallions?