No! Not … the comfy chair!

By this point, I’ve come to expect the Spanish Inquisition.

This is how things work in the evangelical subculture, where stridency is rewarded with prominence. You invite suspicion, inquisition and spontaneous catechism whenever you quote anything from the Bible that’s outside the usual limited parameters — such as anything it says in hundreds and hundreds of passages about wealth and possessions and the poor. You can expect the same thing whenever you question any of those things that everybody seems to know the Bible says even if it never actually says them.

There’s a very strange if … then logic at work behind this steady stream of questions and questioners. The idea seems to be that if you believe that Jesus said to feed the hungry, then you must not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Or if you believe that the origin stories of the early chapters of Genesis were not written as journalistic accounts (“Dateline: Eden”) and thus should not be read as such, then you must not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, vindicated by God and victorious once and for all over sin and death.

Very, very strange logic, that. I do not see how the supposition follows, but I am no longer surprised to see the supposition made. (It’s being made again, right now, as the next wave of inquisitors parses the words “for all” in the paragraph above. I shall be hearing from them shortly, I’m sure.)

Ultimately, I suppose, the logic of this illogic is the idea that any Christian who is not precisely and exactly the kind of Christian that one’s particular megapastor or favored author or radio host demands all Christians to be isn’t really a Christian at all, just a “liberal” impostor claiming the name to lead the unwary astray. For most of my inquisitors, it seems, the world is filled with such impostors. And that makes the world a very scary place.

I remember being taught what it meant to live in such a frightening, perilous world. It was not pleasant.

Responding directly to my catechists rarely gets at the root of their fears, but every once in a while I try to respond anyway, so let me do that again here with the latest “Gotcha!” inquisition from comments.

INQUISITOR: “So what happened to the physical body [of] Rabbi Yeshua bar Joseph after he was executed as an insurgent in the year 33 CE?”

MY ANSWER: I highly doubt that Jesus was executed in the year we call 33 CE.

Pin-pointing the date of Jesus’ birth is a tricky business due to the general difficulty of dating most first-century events precisely and due to the thin and not quite harmonious clues in the Gospels. Not to mention the complications that arise simply from the fact that no one living in 33 CE thought of themselves as living in “33 CE.”

I had a brilliant astronomy professor in college whose best guess, based on the sort of thing that would have gotten the attention of the magi as the “star” of Bethlehem, was that Jesus was born in what we would call 6 BCE. As he was much smarter than I and had given the matter much more thought than I likely ever will, I’m prepared to go along with that guess on this bit of adiaphora.

Now, see, what happens next is my inquisitors note that if I can’t accept the clear biblical teaching about the date of Jesus’ death, then I obviously don’t respect the infallible authority of the scriptures, and therefore, they assume, I’m John Shelby Spong.

(They haven’t actually read anything by Spong, but they’ve been assured that he is eeeevil. I haven’t read anything by Spong either, so I really can’t say.)

The arithmetic is straightforward and simple: If I do not believe what the Bible says about the date of Jesus’ death, then I must not believe that Christ is risen or that Christ is Lord. If I don’t accept the simple, straightforward fact of what the Bible teaches about the dates of Jesus’ birth and death, then I must not really be a Christian at all — just one of those liberal impostors your pastor warned you about.

Funny thing, though: the Bible doesn’t actually say what year Jesus was born or what year he died. Any guess as to those dates is nothing more than that — a guess.

And this, in a nutshell, is the dynamic of the never-ending evangelical inquisition. People who insist that the Bible says what it never actually says attack anyone who refuses to pretend that it does, accusing those people of not taking the Bible seriously because they refuse to substitute fantasies, fabrications and far-fetched extrapolations for the actual thing itself.

Hence again that constantly repeated exchange: “About 4.5 billion years.” “You Spong you!”

The inquisitors are ever-eager to exclude, condemn, ostracize or categorize away anyone who refuses to play along with the idea that “the Bible clearly teaches” things it does not clearly teach or things it clearly does not teach. That is not the right way to go about being right. Mainly because it’s wrong.

Young-earth creationism? Not in the Bible.

Premillennial dispensationalism? Not in the Bible.

Idolatry? That’s in the Bible, quite a bit of it, actually, but it’s not what the Bible teaches.

Gandhi is damned to eternal conscious torture? Not in the Bible.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and chauvinism of every kind? See “Idolatry” above.

Light travels at roughly 186,000 miles per second? Not in the Bible — but still true!

That last one I’ve included as an example of a whole other category of statements that prompts more catechizing by evangelical inquisitors who have been taught to be suspicious of any truth from any source other than the Bible. (“You keep claiming that Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota,” they say, “where in the Bible do you find support for this claim? Sola scriptura!“) That’s a related, but separate, confusion that I will have to try to address separately in a separate post.

Now I realize that the main substance of my most recent inquisitor’s question wasn’t primarily concerned with the precise date of Jesus’ death. The main substance of his question was an attempt to catechize me on what happened to Jesus after his crucifixion. My answer will not satisfy him, because it is an answer only to his spoken question and not to his unspoken fears. But let me tell you what I believe happened.

I believe Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried in a grave that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

And then, on the first day of the week, he rose again.

Mary saw him. A bunch of us did. Scores of us.

And so we know that Jesus, who was descended from David according to the flesh, was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace. So Christ Jesus died, yes, and was raised, and is at the right hand of God and indeed intercedes for us so that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is what I believe happened to Jesus after his execution. And that, by the way, is actually in the Bible. Although I suppose it doesn’t really count, since it’s from Paul and, you know, Paul was one of those sentimental, liberal, unbiblical impostors who failed to stand with Team Hell.

Anyway, that’s the short version of my answer. For a longer version, I’d recommend N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. It’s a massive book — luminous, but not light reading. But then when one is tackling the subject of the most important thing that ever happened, one shouldn’t expect a quick and breezy read. (I should confess I haven’t finished it yet myself, so let me reserve the right to revise or amend this recommendation if Wright takes some unexpected, bizarre turn near the end of the book.)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    Let’s see if I can head this particular digression off before it even starts:

    I believe Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried in a grave that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

    And then, on the first day of the week, he rose again.

    Mary saw him. A bunch of us did. Scores of us.

    And so we know that Jesus … was declared to be Son of God …

    Fred is not trying to convince anyone else that this is true. He is not attempting to convert us to Christianity. He does not consider the above train of logic to constitute valid evidence in a court of law, nor is it a legitimate basis for an apologetic argument.

    He is saying what he believes, as a Christian, and is positing that this is the focus, and indeed the point, of the Bible, and that this is the most relevant part of said Bible for the Christian faith.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Well said, Fred.

  • Reverend Ref

    You know . . . I’ve been following Slack/Fred for years and comment much less than I probably should; but it’s posts like this that make me wonder why Fred isn’t an Episcopalian.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I often have this reaction when I read Evangelicals critical of Evangelical culture. They frequently seem to be trying to reinvent traditional mainline Protestantism.

    Another good blog is Internetmonk. The previous owner of the site, the late Michael Spencer, used the term “post-Evangelical” to describe what looked to me an awful lot like pre-Evangelical mainline Protestantism. I commented once to that effect, and he responded in a way that suggested he was very uncomfortable with the idea: a vestige, I suspect, of Evangelical distain of mainline Protestantism (which, after all, was Evangelicalism’s main competition/target for the past few decades). Since he passed away, the site has been run by a group of posters. At least one of them seems to have accepted the logic of the argument and is now Lutheran.

    In Fred’s case, my sense is that he maintains his self-identification as Evangelical partly out of stubborn refusal to give up the name to the Bozo Brigade and partly so as to be in a position to influence the discussion within Evangelicalism. Convert to a mainline church and he would be dismissed as an apostate. Maintain the self-identification as Evangelical and he is harder to dismiss out of hand. This also relates to his explanation of his recent relocation to Patheos.

  • http://reasondecrystallized.blogspot.com/ extremities

    In reply to the earlier idea of “post-Evangelical”, as someone who has left Evangelicalism I don’t really consider myself anything except Christian. There isn’t really a protestant denomination that I find attractive. I strongly dislike the Catholic and Orthodox churches as institutions, though I’m rather attracted to some of their doctrines. For example, the Orthodox flatly reject (and this is going back to Fred’s notion earlier about things that are not in the Bible) the Medieval nonsense of Penal Substitution.

    I suppose that once you come out of what you were raised as you can look back through the whole of Christian history and theology and see things that you like and don’t like; the problem then becomes of finding a group identification that believes anything even remotely near what you do.

  • http://style92.livejournal.com/ style 92

    Not directed personally at you, but I frankly don’t like it when people identify as “just Christian.” It’s a major dog whistle that has a whole lot of meaning tied up into it. For one, “Just Christian” usually means Evangelical; For two, it’s often used by Evangelicals to beat up on “out groups” of Christians. Usually Catholics and Mainline protestants are the targets. As in, a group of various denominations gets together, and they go around in “what are you?” “Well, I’m Catholic!” “I’m Methodists” “I’m Presbyterian!” “I’m Lutheran!” “I’m Episcopalian!” then someone huffily says, “well I’M Christian!” as in “The rest of you are not.”

    Again, I don’t want to knock you extremities, if you don’t feel comfortable aligning with a particular group, but “Just Christian” has nasty connotations all it’s own.

  • http://reasondecrystallized.blogspot.com/ extremities

    hmm, i see where you are coming from. in my particular case, i was raised evangelical and left it; I still like Jesus, but there’s not really any given group of His followers that I want to be associated with just at present.

    when i get asked what I am, I say ‘Christian’, and usually follow it up with either an ‘-ish’ or a ‘mostly’. most of the people who ask me do so in a non-religious context where the choice is something more along the lines of ‘atheist, agnostic, christian, muslim, etc’, as opposed to a religious context where the choice is between different flavors of Christian. it’s been a while since anyone asked me what i was and meant the question to refer to denomination. if it happened, i suppose that i would say something along the lines of ‘i’m not really anything’.

    what I was trying to get across was something along the lines of, “while still belonging to the overall set of Christians, I have left subset A but not actually joined subsets B, C, or D, either.”

  • http://brainfroth.wordpress.com Froth

    I’m wincing here, because a few years ago I probably would have called myself “just Christian” – meaning that I was a real, true Christian, not fooled by any of those heresies.
    I am, thankfully, not that person now. I’d probably identify as “Christian – I’m part of St X’s C of E” in mixed company, because I haven’t been confirmed as an Anglican and as things stand I don’t want to be.* In the kind of group you’re talking about, a group of Christians of various flavours, I think I’d call myself Anglican, because that’s the useful information.
    But still – I’ve been that kind of smug jerk, and it stings to know it.

    *Myself of five years ago would regard me as a heretical apostate who was going to burn in Hell. Myself in twenty years may think me as blind and foolish now as I was then, and get confirmed.

  • http://style92.livejournal.com/ style 92

    extremities, Froth, this is where I have to come clean: I don’t have a particular denomination either. And, at one time, I also used that as an excuse to say “Just Christian.” Part of the reason I got up in arms over it is because of my personal shame. But without explaining it, I was being hypocritical in getting on your case, so I’m sorry.

    Personally, if pressed, I say either “non-denominational” or even “between denominations.” Mostly because I think that’s a less loaded way of saying it, but even “non-denominational” can come across a bit loaded too.

    It’s a touchy subject because “Just Christian” can be used to legitimately describe the faith of some but is also a huge horrible Evangelical dog whistle. I have no real answers for it.

  • http://brainfroth.wordpress.com Froth

    I sometimes describe myself as a “denominational mongrel”.

    Or as a “former Good Little Evangelical,” depending on mood and company.

  • Anonymous

    I like Froth’s proposals for alternatives for “just Christian.” I imagine “Christian but non-aligned” would also work. It seems the sort of thing that, to avoid the dog-whistle, would be best if presented slightly humorously.

    “Non-denominational” is also an odd term, since, used of an individual, it can mean one is not associated with a denomination. But used of a church, it can mean either not associated with a denomination or associated with one of the denominations that pretend they’re not denominations.

    We don’t seem to have had a Doctor Who discussion on the new site, but I could imagine Ten or Eleven trying to explain what it means to be “just Christian, no really, not associated with a denomination” very fast for about a paragraph and a half. And if I could speak with the tongues of men or of TimeLords (or of men who have played TimeLords), I’d give it a shot. But I can’t. So you are all spared.

  • Lindenharp

    “We don’t seem to have had a Doctor Who discussion on the new site, but I could imagine Ten or Eleven trying to explain what it means to be “just Christian, no really, not associated with a denomination” very fast for about a paragraph and a half.”

    When I try to imagine what the Doctor (any Doctor) would say, all I can hear is Jack Harkness grumbling, “You people and your quaint little categories!” Admittedly, he was talking about sex, but I think it could apply to many of the labels we humans choose for ourselves and each other.

  • Camparisoda

    I’ve always kind of wanted Fred did a “Why I am an Evangelical” post to clear some of these things up. It’s clear for me where he differs with the movement, but not always where he still stands with them, and not, say, Methodists or something.

  • Anonymous

    And so we know that Jesus, who was descended from David according to the flesh, was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace. So Christ Jesus died, yes, and was raised, and is at the right hand of God and indeed intercedes for us so that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Amen bro

  • Anonymous

    Well Fred that is exactly what I believe

    The only thing IMHO worth believing in

  • Anonymous

    Hey, would you mind not throwing those of us who don’t agree with you out with the trash? Or at least not doing so out loud? There are quite a few people here who don’t believe as you and Mr. Fred do, and our beliefs aren’t any less valid than yours simply because you don’t share them.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t want to throw you out with trash.

    But when you believe in God you have to be a witness and you have to tell other people where you believe in and what the reasons are why you believe.

    and I didn’t want to speak out loud or to insult or attack you: I only wanted people to know where I believe in.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell others what you believe. What I was commenting on was the “And it’s the only thing worth believing in” part. That isn’t necessary if your aim isn’t to be condescending.

  • Anonymous

    Look everyone has his own opinions and that opinion is his own choice and no opinion is the same like no human is exactly the same.
    So we have all our different opinions and what I wanted to say is that I believe in God because it is my opinion that God is the only thing worth believing in.

    please I don’t want to sound condescending but I REALLY believe that: it is the reason why I am a christian
    because I am not interested in that God makes me rich but because I believe that god IS love.

    And that to him all humans are equal and that he loves them all.

  • Anonymous

    Alrighty. You’re missing the point, so I’m just going to leave it alone.

  • Anonymous

    why?

  • cyllan

    I don’t know about Baby_Raptor, but I hesitate to venture into such a conversation (on why you’re being condescending and a jerk) because we’ve been down this road before. It leads to a really wearying conversation that goes like this:

    True Believer: I’m not being condescending or a jerk; I just think you are completely wrong.
    Other Person: My life experiences have pointed me in this direction: X, Y, Z
    TB: Well, that’s fine, but I think you’re missing out on the actual Truth. I’m sure if you’d considered it more, you’d see that I’m right.
    OP: I have considered things. I have prayed/thought/experienced my life, and your Truth is not Mine.
    TB: But my truth is a universal truth; can’t you see that I’m right?
    OP: Raaaaaaaaar!

    So, let’s just pretend we’ve had this already and move along.

  • Ursula L

    It’s rude.

    By saying your beliefs are the only ones worth believing in, you’re telling everyone else that their beliefs are not worth believing in.

    There are some things that are wrong to believe in. But for those beliefs, it is important to articulate why they are wrong to believe in. Fred does this, regularly. But there are also many beliefs that are beneficial, or neutral. And the people who have those beliefs should be natural allies in working to persuade those who have harmful beliefs. Dismissing everyone and everything that isn’t exactly what you believe as not worth believing in breaks down the potential for discussion and undermines the effort to mend the world from the harm caused by truly bad beliefs.

  • Anonymous

    I choose some strong words about some things I have strong believes in my apologies if I was rude.

    I should have said that in my own life I always try to live by those principles, it is often very hard and many times I fail to do the right thing.

    Because sometimes you can become some so focused with it you forget that other people have different views and that it is difficult if those clash with each other because you are so focused on your own.

    Sorry

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    OK; I’m new enough here that I will wade into this.*

    Consider two fictional people, Alice and Barry.

    They, like you, profess what I’ll call here the Subjectivist’s Creed: “everyone has his own opinions and that opinion is his own choice and no opinion is the same like no human is exactly the same. So we have all our different opinions.” And they, like you, ground their Christian faith in that Creed: “I believe in God because it is my opinion that God is the only thing worth believing in. […] I am a christian […] because I believe that god IS love. And that to him all humans are equal and that he loves them all.”

    One day Alice and Barry meet Charles over lunch and they share the Creed with him.

    Charles replies “No, that simply isn’t true. All of us live in the same world, so we we should expect our experiences of the world to converge over time. And we arrive at our opinions based on our experiences of that world, and therefore we should expect our opinions to converge over time. For example, if I put my hand on a hot stove and experience pain, that will shape my opinion that hot stoves are painful to touch. If you do the same thing, you’ll reach the same opinion. We will come to a shared opinion, because our opinions are being shaped by a common experience of a shared world. It simply isn’t true that our opinions about hot stoves are our own choices operating independently of one another; they are instead constrained by our experiences of the world.”

    “Well, OK,” say Alice and Barry. “That’s your opinion, and that’s fine, and we disagree, and that’s fine too.”

    Charles rolls his eyes a bit, because he’s seen too many burn victims for him to treat “hot stoves are painful” as an opinion no more valid than any other, but he decides to let it go. They aren’t claiming that stoves aren’t hot, after all. Nobody’s actually getting burned. Nothing to ruin lunch over.

    “But really,” continue Alice and Barry, “stoves aren’t important… what’s really important is the nature of God. And God is love. We truly believe that. That’s why we’re Christians.”

    “Well,” says Charles, “I don’t. I’ve seen no evidence of that. In fact, if God is the structure that organizes the universe, then as far as I can tell from looking at the world God is math. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘truly believe,’ but I certainly consider that far more likely than any competing theory. That’s why I’m an atheist.”

    Alice, a true believer in the Subjectivist’s Creed, nods happily. “That’s your opinion,” she says, “and just as valid as ours. Thank you for sharing it with us.”

    But Barry, a more recent convert who has not fully embraced the Creed, balks. After all, it’s one thing to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude towards people’s beliefs about stoves… the fact is, for whatever mysterious reason, most people do seem to agree that touching hot stoves is painful, even though they all arrived at that opinion independently. But Charles really doesn’t believe in God! (Sure, Barry thinks, Charles says “God is math,” but that’s not actually God.)

    “No, you don’t understand,” says Barry. “God is love. And God is the only thing worth believing in. This business about math and theories and whatever doesn’t matter; only God matters. We truly believe that!”

    “You have no evidence for that,” replies Charles, “and I’m unconvinced. In fact, given the number of people I know who have been treated in a profoundly unloving way by the events of their lives, it seems pretty unlikely to me. But, hey, y’all can believe that if you want to, and we can enjoy our lunch together.” Charles smiles at Alice, and Alice smiles back and decides Charles is actually kind of cute.

    “But, no!” says Barry, genuinely distressed. “This is important! God is love! And God is the only thing worth believing in! All your blah-blah-blah about ‘evidence’ and stuff isn’t important if it gets in the way of believing in God! Atheism is wrong! And stop looking at Alice that way!”

    At this point, Alice apologizes and drags Barry away for further indoctrination in the Creed, which he clearly hasn’t understood the full implications of, and Charles finishes his lunch.

    My experience of people who espouse the Subjectivist’s Creed as applied to theology is that more of them are like Barry than like Alice. ** They use this idea of “well, we all have our own opinions, and this is mine” to insulate themselves from ever being convinced of anything by others, but they present their own opinions as though other people could be convinced by the truth of them, and when pushed far enough the facade of ecumenicism cracks.

    So I’ve learned to be a little suspicious when people present their theological beliefs in the guise of “this is just my opinion.”

    ======

    * – Just to be clear, I have nothing but respect for the folks who have opted out… this really is a wearying conversation to have.

    ** – And rightly so, because Alice is simply wrong about the world… the fact is that not all opinions about the world are equally valid. Some things are true, and some things are not true.

  • Anonymous

    you are right there are no problems there are just people.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If at some point you feel like explaining how your response relates to the comment you’re responding to, I’d be willing to listen. As it stands, I feel rather foolish… as though I’d tried to have a serious discussion with a chatbot.

  • Anonymous

    Well in my defense I am a longtime lurker and English is not the language I normaly use so it is kind of difficult to explain myself without looking like a chatbot.

    I still find it difficult to explain myself on a computer I would have rather talked face to face with you about the things I believe in.

    Sorry for anyone that I might have insulted

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Actually, I apologize for the “chatbot” comment. It was rude and uncalled for.

    I especially regret it in light of the language barrier, which I hadn’t realized but which in retrospect I should have considered plausible.

  • Anonymous

    apollogies accepted

    no hard feelings.

  • Anonymous

    flat, despite the fact that English is not your first or preferred language, you have obviously been doing well in it, if no one realized that. (If I could post in another language such that native speakers of that language assumed I was also a native speaker, I’d be quite pleased!)

  • Lizzy L

    I believe this too.

    I also believe that light travels (roughly) at 186,000 m/p/s.

  • Hawker40

    In a vacuum, of course.
    How fast it travels in a carpet cleaner is subject to much speculation.

  • dc-agape

    I don’t comment here much, but I would like to say two things. Thank you Fred for being the “correct” type of Christian! But I do find one of your logic statements to be similar to the argument you made in the post. The concept that Jesus is the son of David is not proved in the Bible. He has no genetic contribution from Joseph. Yet the only proof that David is his forefather is in the opening of Matthew/Luke. The assumption that Mary is also from the same lineage is not taught in the Bible, humans have added that to the original document.
    Paul assumes this concept and but only mentions it once in the first chapter of Romans.

  • Sisuile

    Jewish life in this period is matrilineal and patriarchal. From what we can tell, the legal geneology is patrilineal, because only men could legally inherit and the religious and ethnic identity is matrilineal. So Mary is the important genetic contributor in terms of which house, even without the complications of “fathered by God”. Christ could not have been “of the house of David” (who is one of the exceptions, probably because he is such a Big Name) if Mary was not of the house of David. That’s how one traces Jewish-ness, then as now.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    Ever stop to think that Joseph might have, oh, adopted Yeshua as his son? Blood/genetics don’t make a family, people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Ever stop to think that Joseph might have, oh, adopted Yeshua as his son?

    The bible makes it all but explicit that he did so.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    Well, there you go, then.

  • http://eatdrinkandbemarysue.wordpress.com Mary Sue

    I am the granddaughter of Robert.

    Robert did not donate any genetics to my father. Therefore I am not the genetic descendant of Robert. Robert adopted and raised my father. My father calls Robert ‘Dad’. If I had been born male, I would have been named after him and proudly carried that name through life.

    Genetics may start a family, but it takes a lot more than DNA to make someone a member of that family.

  • Anonymous

    Aye, and amen, and well said indeed.

  • Bruce

    It seems many people believe in the idea of what “the Bible” means to them far more than they do the actual Bible. (I also believe one can substitute “Constitution” for every instance of “Bible” in that sentence and yield a similarly true statement.)

  • http://twitter.com/sburchill Scott B. Burchill

    Nice post, Fred. I, for one, do not believe in the resurrection of Christ. But I appreciate your faith and your willingness to share that faith and your musings with me. I find them very thoughtful and well reasoned. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I read AndrewSshi’s comment I didn’t hear the voice of a Christian inquisitor, but an atheist one.

    Every once in a while, an atheist commenter will swing by and wonder openly at the existence of a smart, nice, liberal Christian blogger. Such people are obviously morons. But I can sort of sympathize with an atheist’s curiosity about Fred’s opinions of the relevant historical events, because that’s what is going to come up whenever we feel like maybe there’s something to this Christianity thing after all – did all of this Really Happen, or is it just a Nice Story? And more centrally: is this whole “God” concept really real, or is it just a Nice Idea?

    (The person in this video is not me.)
    http://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3#p/c/A0C3C1D163BE880A/10/SbXJC6KsYWs
    “I suddenly faced the possibility that the beauty I saw in the Christian religion and my perception of God was just beauty. Like carefully crafted art… Like a poem, or a story, that was deeply touching – but not true.”

    All that said, it’s obvious that anyone asking Fred this question is, at a minimum, being extremely rude. Liberal Christians like Fred face this question constantly from people who are asking not out of genuine curiosity, but out of a drive to delegitimize, condemn, and expel; to paint him as a subversive deceiver, tempter, and corrupter. We atheists do not this answer so much that it justifies giving liberal Christians even more grief.

  • Anonymous

    “All that said, it’s obvious that anyone asking Fred this question is, at a minimum, being extremely rude.”

    Really? I mean, sure, it’s a question that can be asked rudely – “you don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” – but it seems very natural to be curious about the religious beliefs of people who don’t seem to fit in the categories you’re familiar with. Something like: “Fred, I’ve seen you criticize people for thinking that God intervenes in certain ways in the world today and for thinking that many of the more spectacular things described in the Old Testament actually happened exactly as written and for thinking that Revelation is about something that will happen exactly like that as opposed to being a metaphor. So I’m honestly curious – do you think that God is making stuff happen in the world today in an active way (that is, not just letting the laws of physics do their thing), and do you think that any of the miracles described in the Bible actually happened, more or less, as a result of God acting in the world (the Resurrection, for example)?”

    Perhaps that isn’t sensitive enough yet – maybe the fact that there are people who wield this kind of question as a weapon means that you’ve got to make very clear that that’s not what you’re doing – but I’ve got to believe that you can take the rudeness out of the question so that you can permissibly ask about the religious beliefs of a man who writes a blog about religious beliefs. Maybe the answer is “I’m not comfortable sharing that” and maybe the answer is to point out certain presuppositions in the question, but is it really not kosher for someone motivated by honest curiosity to ask?

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I did go a little too far, but if there is a polite way to ask a question like that, then not only the phrasing but the context has to be right. And the context of the previous thread, remember, was a bunch of fundamentalist assholes trying to delegitimize Team Love’s Christianity. Asking a question most often asked to clobber people with in a thread about clobbering people isn’t a good idea.

  • Kevin Alexander

    Hi Morilore,
    “Every once in a while, an atheist commenter will swing by and wonder openly at the existence of a smart, nice, liberal Christian blogger. Such people are obviously morons.”

    I think that I’m the moron you’re talking about. I think that Fred has come to his faith in Jesus because he understands on some level that what Jesus said is true. He just hasn’t evolved ( sorry about the word) to the point that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Jesus even existed. For instance, I could prove that Sherlock Holmes was a real person by pointing out that Dr Watson went to 22 Baker St. and found Holmes there, how could that be possible if Holmes wasn’t real?
    Ultimately, it’s not about whether for not the person who says something is real, it’s about whether or not what he says is true.

  • Anonymous

    “I think that Fred has come to his faith in Jesus because he understands on some level that what Jesus said is true. He just hasn’t evolved ( sorry about the word) to the point that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Jesus even existed.”

    Condescending much?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    I think that I’m the moron you’re talking about.

    Yup.

    I think that Fred has come to his faith in Jesus because he understands on some level that what Jesus said is true. He just hasn’t evolved ( sorry about the word) to the point that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Jesus even existed. For instance, I could prove that Sherlock Holmes was a real person by pointing out that Dr Watson went to 22 Baker St. and found Holmes there, how could that be possible if Holmes wasn’t real?
    Ultimately, it’s not about whether for not the person who says something is real, it’s about whether or not what he says is true.

    Oh goddamnit.

    Look, everyone, I’m sorry. I tried. I really did. Hell, I even snagged the first post, and avoided all mention of the word “First!” to focus solely on dodging this stupid line of discussion. Maybe if I had tried harder, or if I were simply more skilled, I would not have failed us all.

    So.

    First off, how the fuck do you know whether Fred thinks that Jesus’ message has worth only because Jesus existed?* That was nowhere in this post. I can only conclude that you read blogs the way Lahaye and Jenkins read scripture.

    Second, I think that Fred has made it plenty clear that good and evil are not simply defined by what God says. That’s the point of half his LB dissections: Yes, it is true that L&J are entirely wrong about what the Bible/Jesus says, but it is also true that if God existed and took those actions, then God would be wrong.

    Third, you’re acting like Fred got converted by the “Bible says the Bible’s true” argument. Again, since he has never implied anything of the sort, either you’re being disingenuous, or you’re so small-minded that you simply can’t conceive of any other reason someone would be a Christian. Which is quite an impressive feat, given the number of Christians here who are constantly talking about their faith.

    Fourth, if you were sorry about the word, you wouldn’t have used it. Your stupid parenthetical implies that you were reluctant to use that specific term because you knew it would aggravate people, but you didn’t have another one that conveyed the same meaning.

    I can only conclude that you have no idea why people would get angry at you for saying that. It’s not because we all have residual trauma associated with the word “evolve.” A different word would not have helped. People get angry because the substance of your statement is offensively condescending. Fred is not Christian because he has yet to “evolve” or “progress” or “grow” or “mature” into an atheist; he is Christian because he believes certain things to be metaphysically true of existence. If you want to know why he believes those things, you can ask him, or you can read his many, many writings about religion.

    In any case, we’re not impressed with your grade-school dissection of fallacies in apologetic arguments. You should really catch up to the state of the discussion around here.

    ———-

    * Also, I honestly was not aware that anyone disputed Jesus’ existence. His divinity, sure, but how is his existence in doubt?

  • http://www.aqualgidus.org/ Michael Chui

    * Also, I honestly was not aware that anyone disputed Jesus’ existence. His divinity, sure, but how is his existence in doubt?

    Plenty of people don’t believe that Jesus Christ was a historical person who walked the earth, myself included. Go educate yourself on this viewpoint; Google is your friend.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > Maybe if I had tried harder, or if I were simply more skilled, I would not have failed us all.

    So, I can’t decide whether this is intended as a sincere apology, or more as an implicit invocation of the site’s readership on your side of the subsequent discussion.

    If it’s the former, it seems uncalled for… it’s not actually your responsibility to suppress lines of discussion you consider unproductive, so the fact that you did not do so does not merit apology.

    If it’s the latter… well, it also seems uncalled for, as it suggests that you’re some kind of community spokesperson articulating our collective will.

    Now, I certainly agree with you that it’s rude (slash-offensive-slash-condescending-slash-etc.) to imply, as Kevin does, that Fred and others are less “evolved” because they consider Jesus’ purported divinity relevant to the value of his purported teachings.

    And I do understand that the community norm here is that such rudeness is dealt with by extended and unfriendly discussion.

    I don’t consider it my place to object to that custom, however unpleasant I may find it personally, so mostly I try to ignore it when that custom is invoked, which it frequently is.

    That said, I personally would prefer not to participate in it, so I would appreciate it if it weren’t invoked on behalf of the community as a whole, as though we were somehow monolithic in the desire to suppress or publicly berate such rudeness.

  • Kevin Alexander

    “I can only conclude that you have no idea why people would get angry at you for saying that.”
    You are exactly right here, I don’t understand you. But the misunderstanding goes both ways. No one addressed the substance of what I was trying to say so I’m guessing that it was my language that was offensive. It wasn’t meant to be, I’m more used to thicker skinned people.
    I’ll weigh in again later and try to not offend but first I need to learn how. In the meantime I’ll go back to lurking so that I can catch up to the state of discussion.

  • Anonymous

    Dude, you literally said that you thought Fred was a Christian because he hadn’t thought of something you had. That’s basically like saying that Fred is a Christian because he’s not as smart as you. That’s an unacceptably rude thing to say regardless of how well you phrase it.

    Now, if you want to talk about “how much does it matter whether those events actually occurred, if the things Jesus said were correct” then I’ll let the Christians in this thread answer that because I’m an atheist and I should not presume on their behalf.

  • Anonymous

    No one addressed the substance of what I was trying to say so I’m guessing that it was my language that was offensive.

    I think it’s more than just that the phrasing offended some people–although obviously it did. My best guess is that was said wasn’t addressed because it presupposed a certain understanding of the relevance of Jesus’ historicity that I gather most people don’t share and therefore see no need to discuss. It also presupposed, via the misuse of the word “evolve,” an assumption about the direction and method of developing understanding that, quite honestly, makes precious little sense.

    Here’s the original sentence:

    I think that Fred has come to his faith in Jesus because he understands on some level that what Jesus said is true. He just hasn’t evolved ( sorry about the word) to the point that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Jesus even existed.

    –finishing up with a statement to the effect that it’s more important whether Jesus is “true” than whether he is “real.”

    Trying to figure out “true” versus “real” is problematic enough, and, while it might spark energetic discussion around the coffee machine at the Jesuit dormitory, I am not all that surprised it didn’t get picked up here.

    I did think Nicholas Kapur responded to the content as well as the tone, but I could be wrong.

  • Kevin Alexander

    @Dash1 ” It also presupposed, via the misuse of the word “evolve,” an assumption about the direction and method of developing understanding that, quite honestly, makes precious little sense.”
    Thanks for clearing that up for me, I wondered where I’d gone so wrong and was genuinely surprised by the vehemence of the response.
    I’m not so sure that I misused the word evolve. My understanding of the word is different than most peoples, so I shouldn’t have used it.
    I got most of what I know about evolution from Stephen Jay Gould. He devoted many of his essays over the years to try to fix the the misunderstanding that evolution has a direction. It doesn’t. To evolve means simply to change, it doesn’t necessarily mean something got better, it doesn’t mean that something has moved up the tree of life. It just means that it has moved farther out some branch, a matter of change and time. There’s no value attached. That’s how I used it so I was surprised to be accused of being condescending.
    Thanks again, I love this site and I’m going to keep trying to learn the language.

  • http://brainfroth.wordpress.com Froth

    It’s not your use of “evolve” that has caused the problem. It’s your statement that if only Fred was as clever as you, he’d be an atheist. That’s insulting, however prettily you phrase it.
    And this has already been explained to you and you’ve ignored it, so why am I bothering?

  • Robert

    I interpreted that statement as Fred has not realized that the content of the message is more important and mutually exclusive from whether or not the person who delivered the message even existed in the first place.

    Granted, he made that claim in a very condescending manner; but I think it’s a valid claim to make and one worth discussing. What’s more important: The message, or the man the message is attributed to? If the man never existed, does the message no longer hold meaning and value? Can you call yourself a Christian if you believe the message is more important than whether or not Jesus existed, or if you believe he never existed in the first place?

  • http://brainfroth.wordpress.com Froth

    It is not given to me to decide who can and cannot claim the name of Christian.

    For myself: the message of Christ is not only the moral teachings, important though they are. God was made human, and lived among us, and died, and lives again, and through that death and that life comes healing and wholeness. Christ is not just a teacher – he is the living water and the bread of life and the sacrificial lamb. The message is the messenger.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    It is one worth discussing, but it’s also worth going back to the original post.

    “Every once in a while, an atheist commenter will swing by and wonder openly at the existence of a smart, nice, liberal Christian blogger. Such people are obviously morons.”

    I think that I’m the moron you’re talking about.

    Opening with “I’m an atheist, and I’m wondering openly at the existence of a smart, nice, liberal Christian blogger” is going to color the way one’s post is read — and not inaccurately, as far as I can tell.

  • Anonymous

    Well, actually, to take the full introduction, here’s what Morilore said:

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I read AndrewSshi’s comment I didn’t hear the voice of a Christian inquisitor, but an atheist one.

    Every once in a while, an atheist commenter will swing by and wonder openly at the existence of a smart, nice, liberal Christian blogger.

    So I took KA’s response as a humorous acknowledgment that he was an atheist commentator who was surprised to find a smart, nice, liberal Christian blogger or that he had expressed such a view at some point. I believe that was his first contribution to this particular discussion.

    And, speaking purely for myself, I really wish that we could find some space between “I didn’t like the way X (or “you”) phrased that” and “X is (or “you are”) a moron.”

  • Kevin Alexander

    Thanks Robert, you said it better than I did.

  • Kevin Alexander

    ” It’s your statement that if only Fred was as clever as you, he’d be an atheist. That’s insulting, however prettily you phrase it.”
    I didn’t mean it that way and I apologize if that’s what it sounded like. Obviously Fred is way cleverer than I am, after all he can express himself and not be misunderstood, a talent that I plainly don’t have.
    The point that I was trying to make is that while it’s possible to argue whether or not the things that make us human are gifts from God or not or even whether or not God exists, it’s still not possible to argue whether or not those things such as love, compassion or a sense of morality exist. It’s only a question of where they come from.
    The thing that I struggle with is the accusation that has been thrown at me all my life that I’m not fully human, that I can’t know what love is if I don’t accept this or that god, as though the purported provenance had anything to do with the existence of the thing itself.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I didn’t mean it that way and I apologize if that’s what it sounded like.

    What is with all the “I apologize if” statements lately?

    Friends! Strangers! Little green peoples from Alpha Centauri! If you want your apology to be read as genuine, apologize that you did something. “I apologize if” implies doubt as to whether you really did the thing you are apologizing for, so you’re only offering that apology conditionally. Because you think that apologies are only available in a limited quantity or something, and you don’t want to have wasted one if it turns out the person telling you that you sounded like a condescending jerk was in fact totally lying about that.

    Consider the following:

    Person A: “Ow! You just stepped on my toe!”
    Person B: “Really? Oh. I apologize if I stepped on your toe.”
    Person A: “WTF? I just said you did step on my toe. What the frak is up with the ‘if’? You think maybe I’m mistaken about OW MY TOE IS IN PAIN?!”

    See how silly that sounds?

    KA, given that a bunch of people said that’s exactly what it sounded like, cut the frakkin’ “if”. There is no “if.” Learn how to apologize genuinely, sincerely, and unconditionally.

  • Anonymous

    @Kevin Alexander

    I’m not so sure that I misused the word evolve.

    May it please the Court, discussant withdraws the term “misuse.” (I refuse to identify myself as either “prosecution” or “defense” or even, for our UK-English-based readers, “defence,” so I’m going with “discussant.”)

    Point well taken. The problem with the term “evolve” is that it has a bunch of different meanings, each of which carries different connotations. It seems odd to me to speak of a single organism, such as Our Gracious Host, “evolving” in the Gould sense. The kind of evolution he is describing is evolution by natural selection, and extends over generations (and generations and generations).

    When one speaks of an individual as not being “evolved,” however, and when that usage occurs in a religious context, it tends to evoke a rather different connotation of “evolved,” one in which an individual gains increasing spiritual knowledge or competence. In this context, the Dalai Lama has sometimes referred to someone as a highly evolved spiritual practitioner. But then he’s got the chops. (Although Penn Jillette would disagree.)

    That may be what people were responding to. I was thinking of the Gouldian sort of use of the term–or better, the Jerry Coyne use of the term (which is much the same)–in which it makes little sense to talk of an individual as evolving. And I suspect if His Holiness the Dalai Lama were to drop by and question Fred’s spiritual evolution, a few of us might leap to Fred’s defense and perhaps do so with a bit of asperity.

  • Anonymous

    @Kevin Alexander

    I’m not so sure that I misused the word evolve.

    May it please the Court, discussant withdraws the term “misuse.” (I refuse to identify myself as either “prosecution” or “defense” or even, for our UK-English-based readers, “defence,” so I’m going with “discussant.”)

    Point well taken. The problem with the term “evolve” is that it has a bunch of different meanings, each of which carries different connotations. It seems odd to me to speak of a single organism, such as Our Gracious Host, “evolving” in the Gould sense. The kind of evolution he is describing is evolution by natural selection, and extends over generations (and generations and generations).

    When one speaks of an individual as not being “evolved,” however, and when that usage occurs in a religious context, it tends to evoke a rather different connotation of “evolved,” one in which an individual gains increasing spiritual knowledge or competence. In this context, the Dalai Lama has sometimes referred to someone as a highly evolved spiritual practitioner. But then he’s got the chops. (Although Penn Jillette would disagree.)

    That may be what people were responding to. I was thinking of the Gouldian sort of use of the term–or better, the Jerry Coyne use of the term (which is much the same)–in which it makes little sense to talk of an individual as evolving. And I suspect if His Holiness the Dalai Lama were to drop by and question Fred’s spiritual evolution, a few of us might leap to Fred’s defense and perhaps do so with a bit of asperity.

  • Anonymous

    P.S. The speed of light (in vacuum) is exactly 299,792,458 meters per second. (The meter has been defined as the distance light travels in one second divided by 299,792,458.)

    This pointless diversion brought to you by Wikipedia.

  • Michael P

    It’s all a big “No True Scotsman” argument, isn’t it?

  • Anonymous

    If you do not accept the literal truth of everything in the Bible as I have explained it to you, then you are a heretic. Now we must examine you to discover what sort of heretic you are. Do you fit into one of the existing branches of the taxonomy of heresy or have you invented a new way to fall by the wayside? An inquisitor’s work is never done.

  • Anonymous

    And also on the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, I highly recommend Resurrection by Rowan Williams, now A of C but then a little-known Bishop of Monmouth, Wales. It’s a short book, just over 100 pages long, but it’s worth reading slowly. Sit down in a comfy chair; its chief weapon isn’t surprise.

    Which reminds me, unlike Fred, I have read John Shelby Spong. Can’t say I’m crazy about him, but it’s been a dozen years since I read him, and while I’ve got a sheaf of notes in a drawer somewhere that explain what the nature of my disagreements with him were, it would probably take me a day I don’t have just to find the notes. I will add that friends I respect tremendously think much more highly of his writing than I do.

  • hapax

    @DC-Agape: “The concept that Jesus is the son of David is not proved in the Bible”

    It’s important to understand that in the context of the times that the Gospel stories emerged, being the “Son of David” isn’t a genetic claim; it’s a political /eschatological claim.

    To simplify RADICALLY, during intertestamental times, when the land of Judaea was conquered by a series of empires, the interpretation grew that the various Biblical guarantees “to David and his House forever” were to be understood as prophetic promises that the Jewish people would be eventually given political independence again, under the sovereignity of a “Son of David.”

    One of the radical innovations of Christianity (and possibly, some other mystical Jewish sects) was the reinterpretaion of these promises as relating to an entirely different sort of sovereignity — possibly apocalyptic, possibly as an alternate social dynamic independent of political power, possibly within the perspective / orientation of each individual, possibly some combination of the above.

    As such, Jesus / Early Christianity’s assertion of his being the “Son of David” is entirely irrelevant to his genetic heritage — indeed, is in fact strengthened by a lack of clear genealogical descent.

    (Rather like Jesus’s statement [probably in the Q source] that God is able to raise from the very stones “sons to Abraham ” — a shocking claim indeed to contemporary Jews who relied on their genealogical claim to the Abrahamic covenant for much of their religious identity)

  • mytwocents

    I understand the sentiment. I think there are a lot of Pastors that keep quiet on some subjects because of the backlash from their members. Churches are not perfect places. Although I don’t agree with Fred on everything he says (I’m not sure that I agree with his entire list of “not in the bible” above), I find myself at odds with certain doctrines taught some places as biblical fact. It takes time to change these mindsets. And as people grow in their faith and biblical understanding, new understanding comes about. Our understanding when we become christians is so limited, that is why we are saved by faith, and not by understanding everything. I’m sure that our brains would explode if we were required by God to know everything to be legitimate christians. So I guess we have to settle for just patience and perserverance for our fellow believers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Chaltab Benjamin Andy English

    “I think that I’m the moron you’re talking about. I think that Fred has come to his faith in Jesus because he understands on some level that what Jesus said is true. He just hasn’t evolved ( sorry about the word) to the point that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Jesus even existed.”

    It’s condenscending because you have no reason to think this, except that you can’t seem to concieve that a person might consider this idea and then reject it. Fred does not believe in the Ressurection because he can’t comprehend the idea of metaphysical truth being independent of historical fact. In fact, much of his interpretation of the Bible is based on that very premise. He has chosen to believe in a literal Ressurection after weighing the arguments; it’s not a failing of his intellect to ‘evolve’ to your level.

  • Erp

    @sisuile

    Christ could not have been “of the house of David” (who is one of the exceptions, probably because he is such a Big Name) if Mary was not of the house of David. That’s how one traces Jewish-ness, then as now.

    Not correct. Being Jewish at some point became matrilineal but one’s house was always patrilineal. One is not a priest or a Levite unless one’s father was a priest or a Levite. One is not of the house of David unless one’s father is of the house of David.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    And again, adoption might account for that little discrepancy.

  • Again

    ‘…but it’s posts like this that make me wonder why Fred isn’t an Episcopalian’
    I have been reading for years, and commenting likely far to much, but the main reason is that Fred is a Christian – the intervening centuries and sects and schisms are part of the problem.

  • Guest-Again

    Just more chum in the water –
    ‘The event is being webcast by the American Family Association and last night David Barton got the festivities underway by explaining to the audience that all of our economic and tax policies ought to be dictated by the Bible … and that means getting rid of the minimum wage because it was opposed by Jesus:’
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/barton-jesus-opposed-minimum-wage

    It isn’t really primarily about religion at this point – but religion works just fine to help conceal the class warfare that is at the heart of so much current American ‘fundamentalism’ – the religion of the free market, just like in the Bible.

  • Anonymous

    Man I couldn’t finish the webcast but when I went to church today the sermon was also about the cleaning of the temple.
    And I can only think about how mr Barton is whoring out his God and his teachings and rules.
    I can only think about what the bible said about false idols and using your lord’s name in vain

  • Guest-Again

    ‘Plenty of people don’t believe that Jesus Christ was a historical person who walked the earth, myself included.’
    Which is interesting, in a mild sort of way. Where do you draw the line – Mohammed as sufficiently documented historical personage, the prince later known as Buddha as a likely (or considerably less likely) historical personage, Lao Tzu as an insufficiently documented historical figure, and a certain Arthur as almost certainly mythical? Where would Gilgamesh fit into this, as a historical figure?

    Everyone is entitled to their own perspective on history, of course, but it would seem that such a position regarding a rabble rousing rabbinical figure would logically require a lot of seemingly accepted history to just vanish in lights of inadequacy when looking at the past from today using such a filter.

    For what it is worth, I think any tales concerning these historical, possibly historical, and almost certainly mythical, figures which detail anything supernatural are clearly false – but that someone founded Buddhism, with a name resembling Siddhārtha Gautama, would certainly meet standards my for historical accuracy, much less a figure like Mohammed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    The idea is that its probably not a good idea to say “Well, wouldn’t it be horrible if our criteria were too strict? That would have consequences that would be crazy!”

    Its instead better to just ask: What is our evidence, how certain should it make us, and specifically how certain of what?

    As it happens, our prospective evidence is the gospels, the writings of Paul, the various forged letters purporting to be writings of Paul, the rise of early Christianity and other religious movements of the era, some non biblical writings that were considered credible by some but didn’t make it into the Bible, and some historians a century or so later. Some aspects of these things point towards Jesus as a historical character. Others point away. Still others are no evidence at all once you look into them.

    My personal take is that I’d be awfully surprised if there were absolutely no historical Jesus character at all, but also that the historical methodology currently and popularly used to support his existence is absolutely trash. Trash to the point that I see it as a moral failing.

  • http://brainfroth.wordpress.com Froth

    “Trash to the point that I see it as a moral failing.”

    Well, it’s good to know how much credence you give to the honesty and scholarship of people who disagree with you.
    I suppose it’s better to attack the methodology than the people, but if that’s the kind of respect you bring to this discussion, I’m going to be safer keeping out of it.

  • Anonymous

    @Guest Again

    Any word on if that includes the law in the Old Testament that says all debt has to be forgiven every 7 years? Doesn’t sound like something most American Republicans would support…

  • Guest-again

    I just can’t quite stop with the idea of historical personage – would Peter count? That is, the Peter that the Catholic Church considers to be its founder? Paul, formerly known as Saul? But at some point on the chain between then and now, history has to become sufficiently accurate to make it ‘true’ – Mohammed most definitely is a historical personage by any commonly accepted definition.

    The filter or process used to say that this or that historical figure actually existed or not would seem to make a major difference in how history is viewed when applied as a principle. Whether or not a single figure named Jesus existed is not really that interesting – but the process used to claim that Jesus was or was not a historical figure would not seem possible to restrict to just one case. (Again, not the supernatural tales – they can all be dismissed as being something which simply have no place in what is considered a historical record, apart from tracing such tales’ later effect on people and societies.)

    Time to get back to work.

  • Elizabby

    Or if you believe that the origin stories of the early chapters of Genesis were not written as journalistic accounts (“Dateline: Eden”) and thus should not be read as such, then you must not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, vindicated by God and victorious once and for all over sin and death.

    Definitely this. I’m not an American or an Evangelical, so I didn’t know this “rule” until I started roaming around the internet. I was chatting with some lovely Christian ladies on a forum board, when I happened to mention that I wasn’t a Young Earth Creationist and didn’t “believe” in a literal Genesis… then the roof fell in! Suddenly I became “the enemy” and someone to be rigorously questioned, evangelized and pitied as being lost and blind and not a RTC – and told to go read “Answers In Genesis” to learn the error of my ways. Very weird experience. Around here you’d have to go a long day’s drive to find a YEC, As far as I know.

  • http://style92.livejournal.com/ style 92

    My condolences Elizabby. I hate it when something like that kills the conversation. They had no right to assume you were not a Christian or you were the “enemy” based on that alone.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    You know . . . I’ve been following Slack/Fred for years and comment much less than I probably should; but it’s posts like this that make me wonder why Fred isn’t an Episcopalian.

    Perhaps because he has roots in the Evangelical community and doesn’t want to abandon his people?

    It’s a rather sad comment on the state of Evangelical Christianity that nowadays it seems many of the brightest and best are obliged to evangelise to their brethren rather than with them, but if they reach out and knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend within their own community, it can only benefit everyone.

  • Anonymous

    [Pokes head out in embarrassment]

    Gah, Fred does read all of his comments. Since I made the comment that occasioned this post, I figure it only makes sense to poke my head out and say that I was 100% wrong in my suspicion.

    Not the first time I’ve been wrong on the internet, and probably not going to be the last, either.

  • Anonymous

    As another quick note, I’m not actually an evangelical (or “fundamentalist asshole,” if you will). I actually hope that Clark and Bell are right about the overall nature of the universe (and fear that some of the more ruthless Reformed theologians of the earlier seventeenth century are right about the nature of the universe). I don’t think the natural sciences are a lie designed to lead humanity astray and generally believe that Fred is right that Biblical commands to love and faithfulness don’t depend on gender.

    The reason that I wondered if Fred believes in the supernatural is that I’ve encountered statements that what matters in Christianity is this world rather than the next in writings like those of Bishop Spong, who argues that Jesus the man rotted in the ground, but that later on Peter realized that he lives in us all. But then, since plenty of Christians who full-throatedly believe in the supernatural also emphasize social justice, I should probably be less twitchy.

    This isn’t the only time that I’ve expressed myself in a way that makes me feel perilously close to being a concern troll. I should probably reel in my desire to be contrarian.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    This isn’t the only time that I’ve expressed myself in a way that makes me feel perilously close to being a concern troll. I should probably reel in my desire to be contrarian.

    You asked a question, and you got an answer to that question. To me that sounds like the purpose of the internet, or at least one of its purposes.

    You might be interested in this post about the etiquette of asking.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, but my fear is degenerating into the theologically conservative version of Scott the Libertarian, which is why I’ve tried to avoid wading too deeply into the comments on Fred’s posts on l’affaire Bell so far.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    I may be an atheist, but I definitely want to start shouting “Sola scriptura!” whenever anyone asserts a fact as an axiom. “Kat is over at Matt’s apartment.” “Sola scriptura!”

  • agia

    The reference to religious people as automatically less intelligent always baffles me. Like, I may think that Pascal’s Wager is the dumbest thing I ever heard of, but I would admit that Pascal is about 1000 times smarter than me in every other respect.

    also i was very much amused at the atheist blog post linked above which exhorts people to study evolutionary psychology while neglecting other scientific fields of equal importance, such as phrenology.

  • Guest-Again

    ‘which exhorts people to study evolutionary psychology’

    Thus proving the need for people to believe something as truth which is easily proven false by relying on facts, experience, or just a little critical thinking.

    Evolutionary psychology is just the latest attempt to scientifically prove that someone’s cultural beliefs are actually revealed truth, and when someone points out how easily these ‘truths’ are contradicted by simply living in another culture or knowing a bit of history, the response can be an enlightening insight into what makes someone a true believer in the currently named field of evolutionary psychology.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Evolutionary psychology is just the latest attempt to scientifically prove that someone’s cultural beliefs are actually revealed truth, and when someone points out how easily these ‘truths’ are contradicted by simply living in another culture or knowing a bit of history, the response can be an enlightening insight into what makes someone a true believer in the currently named field of evolutionary psychology.

    Maybe you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater, here? I’ll admit evolutionary psychology gets WAY overused, but it seems pretty undeniable to me that “not only are humans evolved form apes, we are a LONG way from completing the process.”

  • Caravelle

    it seems pretty undeniable to me that “not only are humans evolved form apes, we are a LONG way from completing the process.”

    I agree we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater on evolutionary psychology but I’m not sure what that sentence is supposed to mean. Evolution isn’t a process that ever gets completed. And phylogenetically speaking, no amount of natural evolution will make us not-apes. Surely there are better ways of expressing the concept that our mind and behaviors were shaped by evolution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Indeed. Human beings are and always will be apes, at least as long as we continue to be physical, biological beings.

  • Rikalous

    Well, it is technically possible that we develop tails or feathers or something else that would classify us as something other than apes. Not saying that it’s very likely, but it’s definitely possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Nope, we’d still be apes that had developed an unusual evolutionary adaptation. Clades are determined by ancestry not by features (although features can be used to figure out ancestry based on parsimony).

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I think that Fred has come to his faith in Jesus because he understands on some level that what Jesus said is true. He just hasn’t evolved ( sorry about the word) to the point that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Jesus even existed

    If you find yourself apologizing before you say something, you still have the option of not saying it. If you say it anyway, you’re usually proving that you didn’t mean the apology.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    The trouble with mainstream establishment religions is that they are caught up with mainstream establishment concerns, whereas “the ax is already laid to the root of the tree”. Protestantism was originally a radical reinvention of religion, and as far as I can see independent Evangelical churches are where radical reinvention (sometimes) continues, which is what I read Jesus as calling for.

    For me, it’s Jesus’ life that is inspirational. Personally I wish his Baptism got the attention that gets lavished on his Execution. God coming into the world, that’s the undeniable miracle. Personally speaking.

  • Anonymous

    I agree

  • Anonymous

    The trouble with mainstream establishment religions is that they are caught up with mainstream establishment concerns, whereas “the ax is already laid to the root of the tree”. Protestantism was originally a radical reinvention of religion, and as far as I can see independent Evangelical churches are where radical reinvention (sometimes) continues, which is what I read Jesus as calling for.

    Raised Plymouth Brethren, so I’m pretty sure I’m getting all your dogwhistles there. But just to make sure–and because some of those dogwhistles can depend upon interpretation, could I ask you to be specific about what you are talking about?

    Independent Evangelical churches, in the U.S. at least, are now pretty thoroughly mainstream, if by mainstream you mean “associated with the sociopolitical positions held by the wealthy and powerful” (even though most members of such churches aren’t necessarily among the wealthy and powerful themselves).

    As for the mainstream establishment religions (do you mean Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist in the U.S., for example, and Shinto in Japan?), I’m not sure what “mainstream establishment concerns” they are caught up in that the local independent Bible church isn’t caught up in. I do know that the ones who seem to be focused on feeding the hungry and housing the poor seem to be (in my locality) the Episcopalians and Presbyterians, along with the Unitarians. (Granted, Unitarians aren’t mainstream establishment in most places.)

    So I’m confused. I think I know what you meant, but what it sounds like you’re saying doesn’t match what I’m seeing out there in the world, so either we are seeing very different things, or we have different definitions, or I have simply gotten what you said wrong. So could you please clarify?

    Many thanks.

  • Anonymous

    But I am trying to work on it so I can explain myself better.

  • Anonymous

    but if i say something stupid please let me know

  • Leum

    With regard to Jesus’ descent from the house of David, it’s worth noting that enough generations had passed between David and Jesus that David’s seed would be so widespread that the surprise would be if Jesus *wasn’t* descended from David.

  • PJ Evans

    That’s about like the people who say they’re descended from Charlemagne, apparently with the belief that this makes them important somehow. (My response is closer to, ‘That and five dollars will get you a cup of coffee.’ Srsly, there are millions of people descended from Charlemagne. Maybe even hundreds of millions – I haven’t tried to calculate it, because it’s meaningless for most purposes.)

  • Hawker40

    I have read that 5% of the world’s population can trace descent to Timijen (Ghengis Khan). That percentage goes up if you are Mongolian or Chinese.

  • Anonymous

    That’s not really the best conclusion to draw from the Y-chromosome analysis. Many of those people are descended from Ghengis Khan’s close paternal male relatives. And since it’s been such a long time, it’s harder to know if the mutations happened after Ghengis Khan, or before him within a few generations, so that can spread the load out even farther to include some of his cousins that might be distant from him. It’s hard to trace genes back to just one person, and it’s more accurate to trace them back to a group.

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    Don’t confuse “descended from David” (which after more than 900 years would be almost certain) with “descended in the male line from David”, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

    (If you don’t understand why, ask yourself this question: why don’t we all have the same surname?)

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    It’s been about a year since I read Spong, but IIRC, he says that while he doesn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected, it doesn’t particularly matter since it is the crucifixion that matters. While the resurrection was a tacked on thing to try to add to claims of Jesus’ divinity, the fact that he gave himself to be crucified for humanity’s sins (regardless of who was responsible for crucifying him) is what makes Jesus’ tale so important.

    I guess I’m a moron as well, though in my case my wonderment about someone like Fred is more of being pleasantly surprised than skeptical.

    And add me to the list of people who don’t exist for disputing the historicity of “Jesus.”

    @PJ, A more fun game than if you are descended from Charlemagne is to figure out how many different ways you can trace your ancestry back to Charlemagne. I’ve found about 4.

  • PJ Evans

    Once you get to just about any king/emperor in Europe, you have about a zillion, because they’re almost all descended from Chuck the Great and his several wives and mistresses.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like I should apologize for using such harsh words habitually. For clarification, the “fundamentalist asshole” I was referring to earlier was Al Mohler, not anyone posting in this thread. And the “morons” I was referring to were atheists who acted like Fred Clark couldn’t possibly be a Christian or must secretly be an atheist because he’s too smart or too nice, not atheists who were surprised and delighted to discover such a person. By the latter standard I would indict myself if I meant it that way.

  • Matt

    Genuine question here, i’m not a catechist. But when you say that Paul’s gospel doesn’t include Hell, what do you do with the “flaming fire” and “eternal destruction” of 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10? Or is 2 Thessalonians one of those most-likely-non-Paulian letters?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    But when you say that Paul’s gospel doesn’t include Hell, what do you do with the “flaming fire” and “eternal destruction” of 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10?

    Matt, Fred didn’t say that Paul doesn’t mention hell, but that Paul “failed to stand with Team Hell”. Which, based on his previous posts, I’m taking as meaning that Paul doesn’t share the same ideas about hell as “Team Hell” does.

  • Matt

    Matt, Fred didn’t say that Paul doesn’t mention hell, but that Paul “failed to stand with Team Hell”. Which, based on his previous posts, I’m taking as meaning that Paul doesn’t share the same ideas about hell as “Team Hell” does.

    Deird, I’m pretty sure Fred has repeatedly said in past posts that the idea of Hell is entirely absent in Paul’s writings. I’ve been waiting for a comment thread with Paul/Hell mentioneed it in that wasn’t to far gone to bring up my question for a while now.

  • Anonymous

    You are correct that Fred says that Paul says nothing about “the doctrine of hell.” Two ways to reconcile that statement with the passage you cite. One is to say that discussing the “doctine of hell” is different from making a passing reference to hell.

    The other, related, is to say that the passage in question isn’t about the doctrine of hell. Here it is.

    God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

    The first phrase you pull out, “blazing fire” seems to be about the glorious appearing of Jesus, not where any of the bad people are going. The second, “eternal destruction” sounds like annihilationism and thus in fundamental conflict with the doctrine that hell is a place where people’s souls are tortured for eternity.

  • Matt

    That’s an interesting perspective. As much I really /WANT/ paul to never say anything about hell, it’s hard for me to blow off “eternal destruction.” Definitely interested in hearing others’ takes.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OPDTGMVEFDYDKHEXSNNWOFNWY Jim

    I have a similar level of discomfort. I’ll check tonight, but in text I have at work, that passage is marked in italics, indicating that there is some disagreement regarding its inclusion.

  • Rikalous

    Well, it’s hard to say what Paul meant without someone explaining the connotations of the Hebrew word that got translated as “destruction”, but “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” is certainly suggestive. If someone were annihilated, there wouldn’t really be anything to shut out. To me it sounds like Paul’s condemning people to the “virtuous pagan” section of Dante’s Inferno, a place where the only eternal punishment is being separated from God with the knowledge that you screwed up your chance to spend all that time in paradise.

  • Thalia

    It seems like this Inquisition requires the mimicry of a lot of shibboleths. Evil is so disappointing /-snark.

  • muteKi

    http://www.birequest.org/docstore/2011-SF_HRC-Bi_Iinvisibility_Report.pdf Off topic, this was an interesting read (a look at the treatment of bisexuals in society).

    On topic: Ah, historical biblical scholarship. I’ve taken/am taking a couple classes on that actually. The main thing I come away with is, indeed, a sense of frustration in terms of methods. Results are very dependent on starting interpretation and, heck, personal biases — far more so than any hard science. Scholars, in publications designed primarily for the public (rather than the field’s journals), tend to overstate the historical case for a lot of biblical events (Philistines didn’t reach anywhere near Israel/Judah until long after the . Asking a question like “Was there a historical Jesus?” requires everyone to be on the same page regarding what “historical” means.

    One major issue remains that of using external sources to confirm stuff said in the Bible — are the externalities what we think they are, or does analyzing them under the assumption that they’re related to the Bible cause us to misinterpret what they actually are? Is absence of evidence a sign that something didn’t occur, or should we assume that a Bible passage is historical evidence enough if it doesn’t make claims to the supernatural?*

    Ultimately, I’m glad I’m going into Computer Science.

    ====
    *Actually, the answer is even then, “Well, maybe not.” For example, Esther probably isn’t; the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign doesn’t seem to match up with the time the book is set. And even then, there’s very little in terms of mention of God (although this is not true for the Greek translation). Its history ends up being suspect as a result.
    And of course, there’s the Merneptah Stele, which is the first external reference to a “people of Israel” (or at least mentions Israel as a distinct ethnic group). It says that their culture was wiped out (by the Pharaoh Merneptah) along with several others in the area. Not surprisingly it’s viewed as a falsehood made to make Egypt look a lot better than it is; but then, what about, say, the whole book of Joshua? (Which itself, detailing the destruction of all the cultures surrounding Israel — a genocide — is contradicted by the start of Judges, which implies that Israel’s neighbors were not wiped out and existed together in a state of peace.) So then: Why is the Bible more true than that Stele? Certainly they can’t both be. If it’s because it was inspired by God, isn’t this all circular reasoning?
    Yes, this is in some sense secondary to the question of the historical Jesus, but as Jesus is to us primarily a scriptural figure, I think it has a lot to do with how we analyze what was written about him.

  • muteKi

    That’ll teach me to post after having a beer; that one incomplete line should be:

    “(Philistines didn’t reach anywhere near Israel/Judah until long after the time that Abraham was around; indeed, their time was much closer to the exile. To what degree, then, would the writings Abraham be historic? If everything was correct except these couple anachronisms? Can we assume that the anachronisms were added later but most of the other stuff is right? Does this mean we can’t view scripture as divine if it’s got errors like this?*)”

    ===
    *A lot of people complain about picking and choosing lines of scripture to follow or being, say, “cafeteria Catholics”. On the one hand I can see their frustration as it’s usually made to criticize basing a moral viewpoint on a couple short phrases from the Bible with no concern for the context in which they were written or shared, but on the other hand, the Bible wasn’t handed down by God as a single document (and indeed, between Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Gnostic Christians, and various Jewish sects, there isn’t an agreement on which books are part of the Bible) so at one time people had to pick and choose what was and wasn’t part of their canon, and various groups had very different ideas on this. It’s one thing that makes the sort of Bible-based epistemology frustrating to discuss, and one sticking point I’ve had with people trying to argue against my Christianity (i.e., non-Christians arguing that I was asinine for not taking the position of Team Hell, like the day before Fred first blogged about Bell’s book, amusingly enough).

  • Guest-again

    ‘And add me to the list of people who don’t exist for disputing the historicity of “Jesus.”‘
    Which is fine, and as noted by muteKi, requires a certain agreement on what ‘historical’ means. Which is why my mild interest remains – what standard is used? If Jesus is not a historical figure (and yet again, this has nothing to do with the supernatural – that is not history as rationally understood), then who else is or isn’t using the same standards?

    And ‘Jesus’ as historical figure means, very more or less, someone who fits, for example, the description of a rabbinical rabble rouser killed by Roman occupiers. Or someone who was interested in what we would call theology, and was something along the lines of a scholar or wandering preacher. Several other variations available upon request – it isn’t as if Jesus is a particularly well documented figure, to put it mildly.

    As an example, here is some information from Wikipedia about Solon –
    ‘Knowledge of Solon is limited by the lack of documentary and archeological evidence covering Athens in the early 6th century BC.[5][6] He wrote poetry for pleasure, as patriotic propaganda, and in defence of his constitutional reforms. His works only survive in fragments. They appear to feature interpolations by later authors and it is possible that fragments have been wrongly attributed to him (see Solon the reformer and poet). Ancient authors such as Herodotus and Plutarch are the main source of information, yet they wrote about Solon hundreds of years after his death, at a time when history was by no means an academic discipline (see Anecdotes). Fourth century orators, such as Aeschines, tended to attribute to Solon all the laws of their own, much later times.[7] Archaeology reveals glimpses of Solon’s period in the form of fragmentary inscriptions but little else.’

    Without attempting to prejudge, is Jesus more or less ‘historical’ than Solon, who is considered one of the major sources leading to what we consider democratic government based on the rule of law?

    Mild interest, no more – which may explain the lack of any answer based on a framework.

  • http://twitter.com/sotonohito55 sotonohito

    Finding evidence for people 2000+ years ago is difficult if they aren’t major political or military figures.

    However, despite the acknowledged difficulty, I’m inclined to suspect that there may not have been a historic Jesus. It doesn’t much matter from my POV, but I’m inclined to that position for a couple of reasons.

    First is the utter, blatantly, manifestly, fake birth story. If they’re making up stuff about his birth, why wouldn’t we think they just invented the man entirely? Start with a foundation of lies, and the whole seems like a lie as well.

    The other thing that causes me to suspect that there may not have been a historic Jesus is that, assuming the stories in the Gospels are true, he **WAS** a major political figure. All four Gospels describe Jesus riding into Jerusalem in a major, triumphal, parade attended by a sizable percentage of the city’s population. In a rebellious territory held under semi-tenuous imperial rule. The Romans paid attention to potential rabble rousers, they made notes, we have surviving records of lesser events. More to the point, that sort of event, and many of the other events attended by many people, are the sort of thing that would likely have left an enduring historic record. Yet there isn’t one.

    Siddhartha, living centuries before Jesus, left a historic record. We have non-Buddhist sources for his life. Yet Jesus is a historic void.

    Mohammad, living just 600 years more recently, left a historic record. We have non-Muslim sources for his life. Yet Jesus is a historic void.

    Which isn’t to say that he didn’t exist historically. He may well have. Anyone who claims that they can be certain that he didn’t exist is, I think, quite foolish. But there is also plenty of room for reasonable doubt as to his existence. As with so many historic matters the honest answer is “I don’t know, and unless we make a new discovery we probably never will know for sure”. I’m inclined to doubt that he existed as an actual person but I will not claim that is the only reasonable, or rational, stance.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting points. I will just take issue with the point about the fake birth story. Legends routinely develop around historical figures. It would not be particularly wise to list among the reasons why George Washington never existed the widespread and patently false story about chopping down the cherry tree.

    I realize that that was not your main point, and that the two cases are not otherwise parallel, but I did think it worth noting that the problematic nature of some aspects of an account don’t stand as a negation of the entire account.

    Bart Ehrman does a nice job of laying out the kinds of arguments historians accept for what kinds of things one looks for to establish the likelihood that some event was real or invented.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Dash1 wrote: “I realize that that was not your main point, and that the two cases are not otherwise parallel, but I did think it worth noting that the problematic nature of some aspects of an account doesn’t stand as a negation of the entire account.”

    This is true, but its also true that you can’t just take a scalpel and remove the problematic aspects of an account, and then treat the remainder as if it stands on its own. It didn’t stand on its own. It stood with the problematic part.

    chris the cynic wrote: “I also have a bit of trouble seeing, “This part of the story is obviously false,” as evidence supporting the idea that the person isn’t real.”

    It’s not conclusive evidence. But its certainly evidence! While you would come up with false positives if you assumed that all things about which false stories were told were non existent, you’d also come up with false negatives if you refused to consider the falsehood of one aspect of a story when considering the veracity of another. Just imagine trying to apply that to, say, the Simpsons.

  • Parisienne

    I could be completely wrong about this, but I think that in much of the Ancient World, once a man had recognised his wife’s child as his own, the child was irrevocably considered his for all legal purposes. At the time it was basically impossible to prove who a child’s biological father was. Which explains why some societies went for matrilineal descent – without modern genetics, you can be much more certain about who the genetic mother is than the you can about the father.

    (Even today, genetic tests show that a surprisingly high number of people’s genetic father is not their mother’s husband. Most of them (neither the children, nor the husband) don’t know about it.)

  • Anonymous

    @Guest-again: Jesus is considerably more historical than Solon, because the four Gospels are believed to have been written before 100 A.D., placing them within living memory of when Jesus is believed to have lived.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Iain-King/514746942 Iain King

    If any of you enjoy reading SF (and I think Fred does) I recommend getting a copy of Surface Detail, Iain Banks’ newest Culture novel. It’s set in societies where technology allows for the creation and running of Hells (i.e. actual afterlife Hell may exist, but we can make a virtual one and put virtual copies of the deceased into it just to make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them), and the war that escalates from the pro- and anti-hell factions dissension.

  • Philly_Adam

    I’d have been happier with the good stuff at the beginning, rather than at the end of your essay, but well said, Fred.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Don’t know where I heard this, Slack, but the 19th Century Social Gospel ended up a Gospel without personal salvation, only good works; and the 20th Century Fundagelical backlash to it ended up as a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. And these two have been trading Anathemas and damning each other to Hell ever since.

    And over at Internet Monk, they have a couple trolls (usually the Truly Reformed) with Perfectly Parsed Theology. For some reason, they’re always denouncing everyone else as Heretics and Apostates. (The Universe cannot have two centers…)

    The original IMonk often cited a 19th Century type example called A.W.Pink as a warning to such Perfectly Parsed Theology. Pink was a theologian (don’t remember the denomination) who parsed his theology so precisely that ALL churches were Heretic and Apostate. He spent every Sunday for the last 20-30 years of his life worshipping alone at home because he could never find a church whose Theology was Properly, Perfectly Parsed.

  • Keromaru

    “Interesting points. I will just take issue with the point about the fake birth story. Legends routinely develop around historical figures. It would not be particularly wise to list among the reasons why George Washington never existed the widespread and patently false story about chopping down the cherry tree.”

    Not only that, but modern scholarship is in widespread agreement that the birth stories were later developments. Mark, the earliest gospel, doesn’t mention it; nor does Paul; and John, the latest gospel, also skips it, being more concerned with Christ as incarnated God than anything else.

  • chris the cynic

    We don’t seem to have had a Doctor Who discussion on the new site, but I could imagine Ten or Eleven trying to explain what it means to be “just Christian, no really, not associated with a denomination” very fast for about a paragraph and a half. And if I could speak with the tongues of men or of TimeLords (or of men who have played TimeLords), I’d give it a shot. But I can’t. So you are all spared.

    I’m not sure that spared is the right word. You giving a speech as the Doctor sounds pretty awesome to me.

    I also have a bit of trouble seeing, “This part of the story is obviously false,” as evidence supporting the idea that the person isn’t real. By the same reasoning I could reject the reality of my sister or Alexander the Great. Real people get fake stories told about them. That’s part of what it is to be real for reasons that I don’t quite understand but I assume are deeply rooted in some part of human nature or other. Fiction springs to life surrounding everyone and everything.

    If Jesus were real then the we would expect fake stories to be told about him. So if you can point to a story about him that is obviously fake, it seems to me like saying, “A implies B, and B is true.” Not evidence for A by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly not evidence against A. It is, in fact, exactly what we would expect if A were true.

    If the whole story were obviously false, or even larger chunks of it, that would be a different matter. But when it comes to obviously false birth stories… well then I give you the Roman Empire. And I’m pretty sure that one was real even though its various contradictory birth stories could not be. (I’m reading book one of Livy’s history of Rome right now, even Livy doesn’t believe this stuff.)

  • http://twitter.com/sotonohito55 sotonohito

    If Jesus were fake I’d also expect fake stories to be told about him. The thing about blatant lies involving Mr. Washington or Mr. The Great and Mr. The Hun is that we have other records of their actual historic existence that don’t involve the blatant lies. If the only thing we had suggesting that Washington lived was a book with the cherry tree lie, I’d think it was reasonable to doubt Washington’s existence too.

    But given that the only claims of the reality of Jesus come from Christian sources the blatant lies told about his birth would seem consistent with his being fictional.

    Again, I don’t claim that this means he must have been fictional. There might have been an actual Jesus, just with a lot of lies and exaggerations surrounding him.

    As for the whole story? I’m really not trying to be offensive, but all of it looks about as truthful as the birth story. Water doesn’t suddenly turn into wine. A couple of loves and a bit of fish won’t feed a multitude. Dead guys don’t suddenly get up and walk around living again. The story as a whole is crammed with what, to me, seem like blatant lies. I’m not at all surprised that none of it was written down until long after the supposed events took place.

    Just to reemphasize, I’m not claiming I know for sure that there really wasn’t a historic Jesus. There might have been, there were certainly enough radical rabbis in that area at that time, what’s one more?

    Still, I do consider the blatant lies to be evidence against Jesus, as do I consider the total lack of any genuinely contemporary records. Not one of those twelve guys Jesus surrounded himself with could be bothered to write anything down, or hire a scribe if they were all illiterate? Not one single record of a giant parade through the capitol of a conquered kingdom, the sort of thing that would really interest the occupying Roman power, survived?

    It’s possible of course, but it seems somewhat unlikely.

  • chris the cynic

    If Jesus were fake I’d also expect fake stories to be told about him.

    That was pretty much my point. Except I would place my emphasis on the “also”.

    Any time we have two situations that would both lead us to expect X to be true, I don’t find X being true to be meaningful evidence.

    As for the rest of the story containing obvious falsehood, I was thinking more along the lines of discovering the Pilate had outlawed crucifixion, that the gate in question had been closed for renovations during a 50 year period that included when Jesus could have been there, that the water on which he was said to have walked wouldn’t have existed due to drought, that … that sort of thing.

    I’m not a Christian, I’m not going to try to convince you that changing water to wine is something that happened. I probably wouldn’t try that even if I were a Christian.

    A lot of things that would really interest the people in power don’t survive. Only some of Julius Caesar’s writing survives and if I were Augustus I’d be more interested in preserving that than some scribblings about a failed prophet in Judea.

    Seriously, who cares about Judea? They lost Sappho. Sappho. Considered one of the greatest poets who ever lived, the only person who is ever looked on as Homer’s equal. That’s what they lost.

    The Sibylline Books which they used to make decisions for more than a eight hundred years? They destroyed those intentionally. Those played an important role in the Catiline’s rebellion, an actual attempted revolution whose goals are reported to have included setting Rome on fire. Which do you think was more important to the Romans, an attempted revolution in Rome itself, or a parade that did not in any way lead to a revolution in Judea?

    For me the best example of things that would have interested the Romans not surviving is Sulla’s memoirs. There is no way that I can believe that the Romans would have been more interested in the life of Jesus, whom they would view as a dead upstart in Judea, than they would in Sulla’s firsthand account of his life. Jesus was nobody to them, Sulla was someone who shaped their world to the point that without Sulla the Rome they knew would have been unrecognizable. And yet they somehow managed to lose every single copy of his memoirs. Every last one.

    I should probably offer some kind of conclusion. The argument that Jesus existed would obviously be much stronger if we had some kind of text affirming this outside of the sixteen surviving gospels (and the various fragments of other gospels that survive.) But, the lack of such documents does not strike me as in any way supporting the argument that he didn’t exist because we know about many, many other documents that would have been much more important to the people with the power to preserve documents at the time than Jesus’s life would have. If Jesus existed and actually did everything the gospels say he did (which I’m pretty sure would have occasionally required him to be in at least two places at once) I don’t see any way the Romans would have seen that as more important than Sulla or Julius Caesar. I don’t see any way they’d be more interested in preserving it than Sulla and Caesar.

    If we did have things from the Romans saying that Jesus was a real person I’d immediately suspect they were forgeries, not because I think Jesus didn’t exist but because I really don’t think the Romans would care enough for them to survive. Unless it was an example of accidental preservation (which does happen, see the Sappho poem we recently discovered) it just doesn’t make any sense for such a thing to survive. The Romans at the time wouldn’t care that much, and by the time Romans would have cared they could no more have recovered and such records than we can recover Pliny the Elder’s History of the German Wars.

    None of this is to say that Jesus did exist, but that we don’t have preserved Roman records of something the Romans would have cared about a lot less than things the Romans didn’t manage to preserve isn’t compelling evidence against it to me.

    If there were some letter to Rome saying, “Hey, this guy held a parade and I later killed him,” do you really think it would get precedence of Sulla’s memoirs? Because I don’t.

    To Fred and those like him it was the most important moment in the world. To the Romans it was Tuesday. We have notoriously bad records of what happened on random Roman Tuesdays.

    The lack of outside evidence strikes me as nothing more than a lack of evidence. It doesn’t support any position in my eyes.

    And in other news: damn it, I’m supposed to be translating Livy. This was not supposed to take so long, or take up so much space. I apologize for the length of this.

  • Anonymous

    “Any time we have two situations that would both lead us to expect X to be true, I don’t find X being true to be meaningful evidence.”

    Not to nitpick too much, but this isn’t true for most values of “expect” and “meaningful”. If I have a slightly biased coin – 51% heads 49% tails – I (in one sense) expect it to come up heads. In another sense, I can expect either outcome since neither would be very surprising. If I have an extremely biased coin (99% heads), I definitely expect it to come up heads. The same could be said for an even more biased coin (99.5% heads). However, if you tell me that you’ve randomly selected one of two coins with different amounts of bias, and you flip that coin and it comes up heads, that is meaningful evidence in favor of the coin being the more biased of the pair. Obviously if you do that enough times I’d be able to tell you with arbitrary confidence which of the coins was which.

    The impact of this kind of evidence is in many cases small, but it can certainly be meaningful. The existence of fake stories about a person are probably meaningful evidence as to the person’s historicity, even though we would expect to see fake stories about both real and entirely fictitious people. I lean towards saying that they’re evidence that the person existed, but I haven’t thought about it too much.

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    While a result of ‘heads’ is meaningful evidence, it might or might not be very meaningful; but fortunately we can quantify this exactly:

    Let’s assume coin 1 is biased 51% heads, and coin 2 is biased 99% heads. I don’t know which of the two coins is chosen, but I know you’ve chosen one of them. I therefore have a prior of 50% (or odds of 1:1 which makes the computation simpler) for you having chosen coin 2.

    Bayes theorem says:

    O(coin2 | heads) / O(prior for coin2) = P(Heads | coin2) / P(Heads | coin1)

    so O(coin2 | heads) = 0.99/0.51 = 1.94

    So the odds are just slightly worse than 2:1 in favour of the biased coin having been chosen. We can extend this to multiple trials trivially; for example, if there are four coin tosses coming up heads, heads, tails, heads then the odds are about 7:1 in favour of the UNbiased coin having been chosen. (4x heads would give us about 93% probability of it being the biased coin).

    It’s absolutely essential in these cases not to neglect the prior probability. As a different example, suppose I don’t know in advance whether you have an unbiased coin or a double-headed coin, and I have no particular reason to suppose you’d be using the latter. I might assume initially there are only 1:1000 odds that you’re not using a fair coin. In this case, knowing you’ve tossed heads once only changes those odds to 1:500, and you have to get heads 10 times in a row before I can seriously consider the possibility (odds roughly even) that you’re not using a fair coin, and 15 times in a row before I can consider it reasonably certain (>97% probability) that you’re using a double-headed coin.

    This is, in effect, just a way of putting numbers to the principle of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”; a low prior probability can always be overcome by evidence, but it requires good evidence to do it.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    As for the whole story? I’m really not trying to be offensive, but all of it looks about as truthful as the birth story. Water doesn’t suddenly turn into wine. A couple of loves and a bit of fish won’t feed a multitude. Dead guys don’t suddenly get up and walk around living again. The story as a whole is crammed with what, to me, seem like blatant lies. I’m not at all surprised that none of it was written down until long after the supposed events took place.

    Ah, I see. So, because there is no such thing as the supernatural, Jesus couldn’t have existed.

    Forgive me if I have a problem with your initial assumption, there.