Bad Catholic’s “Mere Christianity”

The editors at Patheos picked up a post by Bad Catholic and placed it on the main page under the title, “Answer This, Atheists!” I think they’ve misunderstood something, because BC’s post isn’t a question or a challenge. It’s an attempt to explain the Christian answer to human suffering – which I guess you could call the core OS of the religion – in a way that’s approachable by non-theists. That makes it a version of C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity.”

BC’s own title is An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out, which is a bit condescending but probably honest. But like most other attempt to create a “mere Christianity,” it’s hard to know how to respond beyond saying, “Yes, that’s nice, thank you for explaining your theology to me.”

For example, his big opening is the line, “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”

One of the annoying things about being a materialist is that I’m never sure how to react when someone throws this kind of thing out. It’s obvious that they feel that it’s a very powerful statement, but my initial reaction is, “Yes … And?” I’ll leave the philosophy to others more qualified, but the lack of purpose is something that I’ve just always believed.

BC would likely respond by saying that a purpose for our suffering is something that all humans crave when suffering. I can only answer by saying, first, that craving does not establish the existence of a purpose, and second, not all humans. I have family members who have suffered greatly in war and in health and yet are the family atheists.

It should also be noted that there are many streams within other religions, notably within Buddhism, that are less concerned with the purpose of suffering and more concerned with the causes of and solution to suffering. Sometimes these great edifices of theology seem to be beside the point.

But maybe the greatest problem, for both BC and CS Lewis, is that there is no one “mere Christianity.” We atheists, who more often than not are ex-Christians, are well aware of the fact that Christianity has multiple explanations for suffering. There’s the Deuteronomic explanation, (“You suffer because you’ve angered God.”), the enrichment explanation (“Suffering is necessary for human development.”) and the warfare explanation (“Suffering exists because we’re caught in a middle of a war between God and Satan.”), just to name a few.

Despite his claim to “explain Christianity,” the most that BC can give us is his own view of the purpose behind suffering. And while he’s willing to explain that view to us, he doesn’t provide any reason to prefer this explanation over other Christian explanations. Or, to go beyond the scope of his post, any other religion’s explanation. Or no explanation at all.

So, yes, that’s nice, thank you for that report. Now please sit down so the next person can have a turn.

  • machintelligence

    Since “design therefore God” didn’t work we now must accept “suffering therefore God”?
    WTF

    • FO

      Wouldn’t that imply that God is an evil bastard?

      • Brian K

        Satan was right? LOL.

      • Paul

        Back in the 80′s I was working as a low level bureaucrat at a large state hospital. One of the people just below me was one of those severely born again types who go out on Friday and Saturday nights and preach from the street corners at people who are drunk or stoned or on their way to become either one or both.

        We were watching the news and in the opening of the network national news program the teaser talked about flooding caused by one hurricane, a town in tornado alley ravaged by tornadoes, a couple of small wars and a terrorist attack somewhere. After that I asked him “you believe that god controls everything that happens right?” He answered that this was correct. I answered that if these teasers were an example of his god at work then he is praying to a truly evil bastard.

        This is like the people who claim that god never gives you more than you can handle. This tells me that this invisible sky daddy is pushing people right to the edge. But everyday there are those who can’t handle it who commit suicide, drink or do drugs, or who just go wildly out of their minds. Seems like maybe he needs some sensitivity training or maybe its an anger management problem.

        I don’t believe in god, satan or even evil as a force outside of us. Evil is like pornography – people may not be able to define it but they know it when it happens to them. Often what we see as evil is not evil from the viewpoint of the person who performed the act that was defined as being evil.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    There are two problems with B.C.’s piece. First, he labels non-believers “atheists,” even if that term might not apply to them. He also assumes some of the “objections” he answers, are ones only “atheists” would make, even if people of other religions … especially of non-Abrahamic faiths here … might also make the same ones.

    But that aside, the major fallacy behind B.C.’s piece is that “atheists” somehow don’t understand what Christianity is, what it says, or why a lot of people cling to it. He assumes all he has to do is clear up their (erroneous) misconceptions, and they’ll all magically convert to Christianity, perhaps his Catholicism specifically. All the non-believers here can relate, I’m sure, to having to listen to some blustering windbag Christianist insist we’ve never heard his/her “message” before; that we’re all totally ignorant of Christianity; and in some cases act as though we can’t possibly have ever heard of Jesus Christ before. They’re unwilling or unable to conceive of the fact that someone might arrive at non-belief out of knowledge, not out of ignorance.

    Most non-believers I’ve come across are far from ignorant about Christianity, or religion in general. This cynical, cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen was raised Catholic, then became an evangelical, and as a result of all that, finally concluded that Christianity … and religion generally … is just one giant, steaming load heaved straight out of the back of the barn. I know much more about Christianity and its many forms than the average Christian will ever find out.

    Much of B.C.’s piece is also theodicy, which is laughable because ultimately, all theodicies are logical failures. Every one that’s ever been offered, and every one that ever will be offered. They all fail, and there is no way around it. Believers have told each other that theodicies work … without regard to the fact that they don’t … so they view them as compelling. But I know better.

    The way I know a religionist is desperate to appear reasonable and thoughtful is for him/her to spew theodicy at me. But when they do, I know they’ve already lost their own argument. There is no need to do anything more but dismiss such people are pretentious clowns who don’t even know their own religion well enough to understand what it is and what it means.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      Very well said. I come up against this trope a lot, that atheists are somehow disconnected from Christianity and unable to understand it, or are ignorant of what it really is and are tilting at imaginary windmills as they decry the vile god of the OT a la Dawkins. Unfortunately this seems to be grounded in extreme projection – it is usually Christians (and theists in general) who are so cut off from any concept not familiar to them that they are the ones who don’t understand atheism. That is why we have endless circular arguments where they claim atheism and evolutionism (ugh) are just other religions, and the whole “you can’t prove there is no god” thing that totally misses the point of where the burden of proof lies and all those classic, tired arguments. Christians aren’t going to get anywhere with atheists until they stop trying to force atheism into a frame of their own making. It’s dishonest, it’s annoying, and it usually derails any discussion before it begins by forcing the atheist to explain what their actual position and knowledge is and how having knowledge of religion actually contributed to their conclusion.

      As an aside, I thought Lewis’ Mere Christianity was absolutely terrible and it’s kind of depressing that it is counted among the best apologetics has to offer.

      • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

        Yeah, I agree Mere Christianity is vastly overrated. Lewis has done much better work. For instance, Screwtape Letters … which is actually very amusing; it hits its mark (given that it’s written to a Christian audience). Then again, it’s not very kind to a lot of the Christians he was writing to, and of course it ended up providing Lewis a platform upon which to trumpet his own piety. Sanctimony is a powerful motive for religionists.

        I also agree with you that a lot of apologists are dishonest with regard to the things they say about non-belief. Any apologists who’ve talked with many non-believers can’t possibly truly buy into all the crap they spew. I think what happens is they’re caught up in what they view as their own cleverness, and focused on the goal of converting people at all costs; they simply don’t care that a lot of what they heave at people is irrational and asinine.

        • Alex

          The funny thing is, for people “focused on the goal of converting people at all costs,” they do an absolutely pathetic job of it. They seem to develop their apologetics based on what generates applause from their fellow believers, rather than trying to find out what might *actually work* to convert people. Of course, for most intelligent, scientifically literate, intellectually engaged atheists, the answer to “what argument might convert you” would be some form of concrete proof that the apologist cannot supply (e.g. fossil mammals embedded in pre-Cambrian rocks).

    • Dave

      Hi PsiCop – it must be pretty awesome being able to just walk around having all the answers, being totally closed to any alternative views and being dismissive and mocking of anyone with a different opinion. I also like how you dimiss a book that has sold millions of copies and written by someone of large talent and intelligence as “vastly overrated”. I also like the word asinine but I must admit I don’t know what it means.

      Whenever I read these atheist blogs I get a distinct sense of nastiness and unpleasantness and it reminds me what its like to live without the peace that comes from God – de colores PsiCop!

      • Mogg

        So… PsiCop isn’t allowed to have an opinion if it doesn’t agree with yours? There are lots of books that have sold millions of copies that are vastly overrated – Fifty Shades of Gray being the most recent example in a long line of books that belong in that library. Then of course there’s the Bible, the most printed book in the world, which is inconsistent, unevenly edited, and contains some of the worst horror stories you never wished to hear as a child. Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it good. At least PsiCop has read Mere Christianity, which is more than I can say for many Christians I know who own a copy.

        You get a distinct sense of nastiness when you read Atheist blogs? Given that you came in here calling someone close-minded, dismissive and mocking and admitted your inability to use a dictionary, I’m not at all surprised. How about coming in with a non-accusatory manner and taking ten seconds to plug ‘asinine’ into a search engine before commenting? You might find people friendlier, and you also might learn something.

        • Dave

          PsiCop can have a different opinion to mine, what I object to is the total arrogance of his opinion. That he has all the answers and anyone else with an opinion is an idiot.

          The bible isn’t a book, its a collection of books.

          And yes popular doesn’t equal great but I think Mere Christianity is a great book and so do a lot of other people so I take offence at his dismissiveness and think it is just designed to denigrate a very good book to suit his point of view.

          I did call him close minded, dismissive and mocking because thats what he is, I’m not being nasty just calling it how it is. And yes I mocked him back but thats all you can do with that kind of arrogance.

          I try to come into the atheist zone open minded, but there is definitely a different feel and tone about it and I just think thats stems from our core beliefs, which of course are crucial to who we are and become.

          Cheers

          • Mogg

            Wow, you got all that out his one sentence opinion on Mere Christianity, his somewhat positive opinion on The Screwtape Letters, and his thoughts on apologists which he clearly stated were just his thoughts? That’s pretty… interesting.

          • Sunny Day

            Dave, please stop “tone trolling”, it makes you look sad.

            • Dave

              Written text can have a tone. And I’m not trying to troll I’m just coming in and reading and interacting.

              And yes phrases like ‘pretentious clowns’ and saying that perfectly reasonable arguments are laughable and claiming ‘I know better’ do leave a passage with a certain “tone”.

            • Sunny Day

              Ah I see. It’s a combination of not knowing how to use the reply button, mis reading what someone wrote, and getting all but-hurt because you identify with pretentious clowns that spew theodicy.

              It’s easy enough to fix.
              First, it seems you have the reply button well in hand now, congratz!
              Second, Pis Cop was saying HE knows better, not YOU know better.
              Third, you can either stop identifying yourself with clowns, or show how Psi Cops views on theodicy are all wrong.

          • Len

            Paul, you think Mere Christianity is a great book, others disagree. Here’s some reading for you where Deacon Duncan spends a lot of time examining the book (chapter by chapter) and analysing its many flaws. You’ll sometimes have to go forward a few entries to get to the next chapter, but it’s an interesting read.
            http://blog.evangelicalrealism.com/2010/07/04/xfiles-the-myth-of-mere-christianity/

            • Len

              Dave, please excuse me – for some reason I called you Paul. Sorry.

      • blotonthelandscape

        He’s not alone; Bishop NT Wright of Durham, hailed as the modern CS Lewis, and author of “Simply Christian”, came to much the same conclusion i.e. nice for the times but woefully inadequate in the face of modern atheism.

        He was a man who believed pets went to heaven, and his most popular arguments (in my experience) are “Mad,Bad,God” and “One House Many Rooms”, both woefully inadequate arguments. He was a product of his time, sure, but that doesn’t excuse his modern defenders from updating their arguments.

        A lot us remember the “peace that comes from God”. We just call it by it’s true name: blissful ignorance. We have discarded our need for false comforts in favour of seeking truth.

        If we appear nasty it’s because you’re projecting that onto our words. As much as I’d prefer a friendly conversation over a few pints, we’re stuck with the internet as the means of holding these conversations; this means we lose a lot of the conversational context, including body language and tone of voice, which you would need to make a proper inference as to our intentions.

        • Dave

          maybe it’s blissful ignorance, but then again maybe its not, maybe you’re wrong. You have no proof of that.
          I too seek the truth and I hope you continue to look for it, BUT with the possibility that something may exist beyond what you can see touch hear and feel. You should be open to that possibility, otherwise you may be missing the truth.There will never be any definitive proof either way so I don’t think you should close off one possibility, particularly in light of the figure of Jesus Christ.

          • Yoav

            If your god interacts with the physical world then even if it can’t be detected directly it’s effect should be detectable, if your god doesn’t interact with the physical world than it is irrelevant and there is no reason to bother about it and when Darth Benedict is casting a spell the cookie remain a cookie.
            What about the character of jesus? should I also keep an open mind about the chance that my Hogwarts acceptation letter is on the way, particularly in light of the figure of Albus Dumbledore.

          • blotonthelandscape

            I’m not closed to that possibility, I just see no way of knowing whether or not that possibility is actuality. Neither do you. So when you grandstand with your belief in something you cannot possibly know, I see no reason to take you seriously.

            Jesus Christ does not represent something “beyond what you can see touch hear and feel”. Whilst I’m agnostic as to his actual existence, the records of him are of a physical man, who spoke words, touched people, and interacted with physical reality. The claims attributed to him hold no more water than the claims you yourself make.

        • Dave

          The thing about being Catholic is, the more I embrace it, the more my life becomes, which reinforces its truth for me. I don’t mean that I get the job I want and have more money or anything, my life just becomes fuller and happier and more peaceful; without question. So why would I turn away from that? I’m not saying just do it because your life will be better because we should always strive for the truth, but it is kind of indicative and is definitely a piece of the puzzle that should be examined.

          • Mogg

            That’s funny, my life became fuller and happier and more peaceful when I left Christianity, without question… perhaps something other than belief or lack of it is at work, or perhaps the argument from personal experience has very little value :-)

            • Dave

              Maybe, but I suppose it depends on where you were at with christianity.
              I just can’t get past Jesus though. Its hard to argue he didn’t exist at all. It’s hard to deny his impact. And it’s hard to rationalise him away. When I look at him honestly in light of the evidence (particularly the new testament) I can only arrive at the decision that he really was who he said he was. And once you’re open to that possibility a whole world opens up before you and its amazing and awesome. You obviously don’t agree but I hope you have another look at it one day. Thanks cheers

            • Yoav

              Actually since there is exactly zero evidence for jesus (and no, the buybull can’t be used as evidence for the reliability of the buybull) arguing he didn’t exist is actually quite easy.

            • Mogg

              Let’s just say that I gave it more than a good chance and was an extremely reluctant deconvert :-)

              If Jesus was a real person, I don’t think he intended for his followers to eventually become a dominant political and social force over several continents, and that is the impact Christianity has had, more than anything else. Very often the impact of Christianity has been extremely unlike what he himself is reported to have said, and those reports, now the New Testament, were written many decades after the fact with plenty of time for myth-building, exaggeration, editing and so forth from people who weren’t in most cases first-hand witnesses. There is no external corroborating evidence which doesn’t rely on the traditions of Christianity or what Christians said of themselves – no Roman records of Jesus’ existence or execution, no records of the uproar Jesus supposedly made in the Jerusalem area, nothing. What kind of evidence is that? Not strong.

            • Dave

              Yoav – Testimony equals evidence and the NT is a testimony and manuscripts exists so there is a fair bit more than zero evidence.

              And if you were going to build a myth, is this really the one you would build – a man that asked us to become like cannibals and eat his flesh? Why didn’t they edit that bit out? Thats the bit that turns a lot of people off. Even the bit about being God, no one else has claimed that with any kind of ability to not be laughed off. It doesn’t read like it has been edited or morped to sound more appealing. It sounds more like the truth, and then if it is the truth then the holy spirit does exist and then every word is correct and meaningful. I’ll read it again tonight in view of your comments though.

            • Mogg

              Testimony is considered evidence in a court of law, but in science is considered a poor form of evidence, in the knowledge that even eyewitness testimony can be heavily flawed, biased or misremembered. Scientific evidence must be written in such a way that if anyone wants to replicate your results or, for non-repeatable branches of science like archaeology, backed up with physical evidence which anyone can check for themselves. Even a court of law has particular standards for testimony – it must be the person who witnessed events who testifies, they cannot use notes written after the event, they must withstand cross examination. The New Testament authors would all fail as witnesses on that standard – most of the traditional authors are second-hand witnesses to Jesus at best, some of them, particularly the Gospel writers, are thought to be reliant on the writing of others, and all of the authors are writing about events long after Jesus’ time. The earliest New Testament book is thought to be written about 20 years after Jesus’ traditional date of death, and it was one of Paul’s letters. The Gospels are much later – anywhere between 40 and 70 years after the fact, and the three synoptic Gospels are all thought to be by second-hand witnesses. The Gospel of John, which was by far the latest written, contradicts the synoptics in major ways. None of the authors are available for cross-examination, so the best we can do is look to other ancient writing for support of what they say. In that regard, they fail dismally – almost all of the events which can reasonably be expected to be cross-checked in other ancient sources do not match up.

              I personally wouldn’t choose cannibalism as a myth, but I am not an early Christian. Who knows how that came to be included? Maybe the real Jesus, if he existed, said something like this, but the books were written well after the fact, so it’s impossible to tell for sure without any further discovery of documents. There have been lots of claims about a human coming from God or the gods, being a son of a god, being sent by God or gods – pretty much compulsory for anyone in the ancient world who went on to rule a nation or tribe, for a start, but legends or claims of divine descent of heroes, prophets and so forth were by no means unremarkable in the Greek tradition which in turn heavily influenced the entire Roman Empire, of which Judea was a part. Paul was reputed to have been born and brought up in a heavily Greek-influenced part of the Roman Empire, and many early Christians would likely have been familiar with those legends as well. The Gospels do read like they have been edited – edited to include a bunch of legends that were quite common around the Ancient Middle East, like resurrection, dying for sin, claims of divine descent. It certainly doesn’t sound like the truth, given that nobody experiences miracles and resurrection in any verifiable manner.

            • Mogg

              I should add – my dates are approximate, but those are generally accepted ballpark figures as I remember them. I could look it up if you really want.

            • blotonthelandscape

              Eye-witness testimony is routinely shown to be an unreliable method of preserving facts about an event. Whilst it is accepted in courts of law, it should always be treated as the lowest form of evidence, and in the face of the otherwise ridiculous claims made in the bible can be discounted as altogether inadequate.

              And when we have a compilation of eye-witness accounts like the bible, which was preserved in a dubious, politically biased and unsophisticated manner, why would we take it seriously. Particularly when the specific claims are absurd. For a good run-down see Carrier: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html and http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/.

              Why did followers of the God Attis preserve the bit about ritual self-castration? Why did people drink the Kool-Aid? Why do people submit to unpaid manual labour at SeaOrg? Mystics do crazy things in the pursuit of superstitious beliefs.

              Note also that myths aren’t built by individuals. In the case of christianity, many people belonging to various competing sects over hundreds of years formed the christianity we recognise in catholicism today. That change still goes on, whether it’s making the appointment of female priests a major crime or full-on protestant revolutions, christianity continues to be reformed and rebuilt and change. And every iteration depends on what came before. So no one person decided that the Eucharist transubstantiated. It’s the culmination of various beliefs about different dogmas around a specific doctrine. And once you have accepted those, it’s not a big leap to be convinced of the logical progression to the eating and drinking of literal flesh and blood.

              And lots of people have claimed to be God, Sai-Baba being the most recent of great fame. And his followers numbered in the millions, coming from all walks of life and all over the world. Jesus managed a band of disaffected Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine. And even then most of the writings we have on his legacy are by Paul, a man who only ever met people who claimed to follow Jesus (I am, naturally, giving short shrift to his vision). Besides, there are many scholars who claim that Jesus never called himself God (in fact, there are places where he quite explicitly says he isn’t God).

              Another possibility is that he was deified after his death, again a phenomenon which still happens even today. Your belief is sounding more and more like uninformed closed-mindedness to the possibility that you’re wrong.

              To say it “doesn’t read like it’s been edited” is to show a profound ignorance of the formation and state of the bible, which is by its nature a set of unrelated texts edited together for the sake of preserving and enforcing a narrow set of dogmas. Regardless of whether the actual stories appeal to you on a basic level, to use that as evidence that it didn’t appeal to ancient roman pagans is anachronistic at best.

            • Dave

              Name one contradiction in the gospels of a matter of substance and not just verbal style or detail.

              And name one of the other figures who claimed to be God that anyone knows the name of or cares about today.

            • blotonthelandscape

              One contradiction in the gospel of substance: Jesus date of birth: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

              On God-men, I believe I’ve already mentioned Sai-baba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathya_Sai_Baba

            • Dave

              The date he was born is not of any substance or consequence. You got any real contradictions that matter beyond small details?

              Sai baba? I’ve never heard of him and by the quick look he doesn’t appear to be of any actual consequence.

              I’ve gotta go to bed now unfortunately.

            • Troutbane

              “Name one contradiction in the gospels. I will then determine out right that they are not a matter of substance, verbal style, or detail because the Bible is perfect and has no contradictions because the Bible is perfect.
              And name one of the other figures who claimed to be God that I have heard of, but, of course. there cannot be because the Bible is perfect because the Bible is perfect.”

              There ya go, fixed.

            • blotonthelandscape

              He has millions of followers all over the world (although mainly in India), including well-educated westerners.

              If a date reference lacks substance, I fail to see what contradictions you may require, as little else in an historical text could possibly be substantial. Here’s a playlist of some short videos comparing the gospels’ accounts of different events in a humorous manner: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6F8036F680C1DBEB

              Feel free to tell me all of these are trivial. Some are to do with dates, others people, and yes, some (like in whose names we should be baptized) I agree are trivial, but still there. I pretty much expect it from you at this point.
              Then of course there is the question of whether Jesus really claimed to be the Messiah. This is either a substantial contradiction, or a falsification of the claim that he is the messiah: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2529F79EEAF4B995

            • Dave

              I watched the video, but its still just technicalities and ignores the vast amount of consistency which is incredible given the time. In particular I think the content and messages are remarkably consistent and arguably entirely consistent. Have a good think and see if you are coming at this from a predjudiced position and actually searching for technical errors so you can go – aha! there is one so its all wrong. Ignoring all the consistency and the fact that something truly remarkable happened back there 2,000 years ago. If you can’t even consider that well the conversation is over.

              Cheers big ears!

            • Yoav

              We already went over this in the forum some time ago, Dave you may find it instructive.

            • Nox

              “If it is the truth then the holy spirit does exist and then every word is correct and meaningful.”

              So if some words are not correct and only selected words are meaningful, would that indicate it is not true?

              “When I look at him honestly in light of the evidence (particularly the new testament) I can only arrive at the decision that he really was who he said he was.”

              We don’t know who he said he was.

              This is why the reliability of the gospels does affect the question of Jesus. Because all the information you are basing your assessment of Jesus on is based on the assumption that the gospels are accurate. If the gospels can’t be bothered to be factually correct, they are a poor source for factual claims. This also ties in with why C.S. Lewis is held in contempt of logic.

              The number of people who think Mere Christianity is a good book does not make it good. No more than the number of people who think the bible is reliable makes the bible true. A bad argument is still a bad argument, no matter how many people accept and reuse it.

              Lewis’ most well known bad argument comes from Mere Christianity, and is now known as the trilemma (or “Lunatic, Liar or Lord”). The reasoning is the same as your statement here. The basic premise is that according to the gospels Jesus claimed to be god, and anyone claiming to be god must either be lying, crazy or telling the truth. Since Jesus as depicted in the gospels doesn’t match Lewis’ conception of a delusional person, he rules out lunatic. And Lewis is pretty sure that Jesus as depicted in the gospels isn’t the type of person who would lie about something like that, so he rules out liar. So based on the starting assumption that the new testament (which already plainly states the conclusion Lewis was trying to get to) was entirely accurate, Lewis manages to eventually conclude Jesus must have been god.

              If you’re just going to start by assuming the gospels are true, why not just assume the gospels are true and jump right to lord, rather than try to dress it up as a logical induction, unless Lewis was simply trying to give the false impression that his uncritical acceptance of dogma was a rational conclusion derived from the evidence. If you’re willing to start by assuming the gospels are a reliable source, and you just want some reason to believe Jesus is god, there’s a more direct path from A to B there. If you’re not willing to start with that assumption, then Jesus might have been any number of things, including nothing. Liar, lunatic and legend are still completely viable possibilities. But so is simply misunderstood. Aside from not knowing if he existed, we do not know what Jesus actually said. He may have never even claimed to be god.

              There is no reason to assume Jesus did make this claim unless you are already assuming the reliability of the gospels. The only reason to think he necessarily claimed to be god is to believe the gospel of John (name one place in the synaptics where Jesus refers to himself as god or the son of god). The gospels (especially John) were written several years after 33 AD by anonymous men who never saw Jesus. These non-witnesses relate events even a witness would be thin evidence for. They disagree with each other and with basic logic. They inaccurately record history and have a clear agenda of promoting a particular view of Jesus over accurately recording history. They misquote themselves and the old testament. They are riddled with plot holes, and bring up questions they don’t answer. And among this confusion, one of them says he called himself god’s son. And that is your only reason and Lewis’ only reason for thinking he must be who he said he was. You were told he said that by the same unreliable source that told you he was that in the first place.

              The new testament can’t really tell us much of anything about Jesus. It is evidence that some people in the 1st and 2nd centuries believed certain things about Jesus. And it documents different enough things about him that the new testament is evidence that Jesus if he existed was subject to heavy mythologizing. It is not evidence that he existed or that he said any particular thing.

              As you are describing the new testament not only as documentation of the historical existence of Jesus, but an accurate description of who Jesus was, disagreement on biographical details between the canonical gospels is not a small detail. For the gospels to be an accurate biography of Jesus they would need to accurately report biographical details. Otherwise they are reporting things which aren’t true, which would seem to suggest some danger to assuming everything they report is true.

              Matthew says Jesus was born before 4 BC. Luke says Jesus was born after 6 AD. At least one of these must be wrong. They are not just stylistically different. They are not just focusing on different details. They are factually opposing statements. They are reporting the same event happening once ten years apart.

              It is only Matthew and Luke who say anything at all of Jesus’ life before he started his ministry (in Mark and John he just shows up with no backstory and starts jesusing). Those conflicting sketchy anecdotes you would call small details, are most of what the bible even says about the first thirty or so years of Jesus’ life.

              So there’s one. But nearly every detail of Jesus’ life that is mentioned at all in the bible is mentioned in two or more conflicting forms.

              When was Jesus born?

              Where was Jesus born?

              Did Joseph live in Nazareth and go to Bethlehem for a census (that bears no resemblance to how the romans conducted censuses), or did he live in Bethlehem then flee to Nazareth to escape the murder of all the infants in Bethlehem (which no historian of the era or the other three gospels mention at all) (and without warning his neighbors) (and all this to fulfill a prophecy that “Matthew” imagined)

              Was Jesus descended from David?

              Was Joseph descended from Solomon?

              Who were Jesus’ apostles?

              Who were Jesus’ first apostles?

              Where/how did he meet his first apostles?

              Did James and John already know Peter and Andrew before they all became apostles?

              Where was Jesus baptized?

              Was Jesus baptized?

              Did John the baptist know Jesus?

              Did Jesus start his ministry before John was imprisoned?

              Was John the reincarnation of Elijah?

              Where was Jesus three days after his meeting with John?

              How long was Jesus in the wilderness before Satan showed up?

              Where was the sermon on the mount?

              How long was Jesus in the tomb?

              Did Jesus tell his apostles in advance that he would be crucified and resurrected?

              What was Jesus accused of at his trial?

              Did the sign posted on the cross include Jesus’ name?

              Did both the thieves crucified with Jesus revile him, or did one repent on the cross and receive a promise of redemption from Jesus?

              What was Jesus given to drink, while on the cross?

              What time of day did the crucifixion occur?

              What were Jesus’ last words on the cross?

              Was Jesus killed by the romans or the jews?

              Was Jesus crucified on a cross, or hung from a tree?

              What did the centurion in charge of the crucifixion say after Jesus died?

              Was there an earthquake coinciding with the death of Jesus?

              Was Jerusalem overrun with zombies?

              What did the roman soldiers do with Jesus’ clothes?

              What did they do with Jesus’ body?

              Who discovered that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb?

              Was the stone still there when they got to the tomb?

              Were there angels at Jesus’ tomb? Where they actually angels or just men? Was there one or two of them? Were they inside or outside the tomb? Were they there before Mary (and the others?) arrived or did they appear after?

              What (if anything) did the man/men/angel/angels say?

              What did Mary do after she talked to the men/angels?

              Did post-resurrection Jesus appear to five hundred people or just to Mary and his surviving apostles?

              How did Judas die?

              Did Jesus ever claim to be the son of god?

              This is not the complete list, but it’s a biblical number and should be sufficient to make my point. Every one of these questions is subject to at least two conflicting answers in the new testament.

              You will of course say these are small details. To be fair, they are small details. But all the gospels give us are these small details. This minatiae is what the gospel authors decided was worth including. These random bits of useless contextless information are all the gospels tell us about Jesus. Where are the major details of his life? If you want them you’ll have to look in even later stories. Most major details of the traditionally accepted life story of Jesus are conspicuously absent from the new testament. Even if we took them as somehow accurate, the gospels tell us almost nothing about Jesus. Nothing close to a complete biography, just a few strings of anecdotes. And those strings of anecdotes can’t even agree with each other on what happened.

              And it is no better on the matter of Jesus’ character and teachings. None of the Jesuses portrayed in the new testament are fully developed characters, but there are still some conflicting character traits. One Jesus is egalitarian, one is a jewish supremacist. One Jesus is indiscriminately pacifistic, one is indiscriminately violent. One adheres to an orthodox interpretation of torah, one radically reinterprets the Torah. One says his purpose is to serve man, one demands all of humanity bow to him. There is not one specific character. There are fragments of some very different characters using the same name.

              There are teachings which don’t mesh with each other. But those are about conflicting ideas, and not something that can be reduced to a list. Still, if all the words the gospels attribute to him were accurately quoted (separate question from if Jesus was just wrong about some things) all the red letters combined make nothing close to a comprehensive belief system. Just scraps of platitudes and parables. Most of the teachings that christian tradition has attributed to Jesus are also conspicuously absent in the gospels. All we have are these minor details. And for those details we have only the gospels and the traditions built on the gospels, and whatever degree of reliability we assign to these shaky sources.

              So while you may not prefer to think of it this way, the question “are there errors in the bible” does relate to the question “is the bible inerrant”. And the question “are the gospels reliable” is necessary groundwork for any “was Jesus X” questions.

              If you realize the gospels can not all be telling the truth, at some point you will need to ask which one, if any, was telling the truth. This requires asking how the gospels came to be written, and how the authors came by the details they mention. If you look at this question with an open mind, it will quickly become apparent that they made most of those details up, and none had a real Jesus to compare their characters to. And then the questions of whether Jesus existed, and what if anything he claimed, become very different questions.

              “Its hard to argue he didn’t exist at all. It’s hard to deny his impact.”

              What impact has Jesus himself ever actually had that he would really need to exist for? The jews and romans of his time didn’t even seem to notice him. It would be quite hard to argue that christianity has had no impact. Much easier to argue that its impact has been a mostly negative one. I don’t see anyone arguing that the existence of christianity hasn’t affected the world. But you don’t need an actual Jesus for that. You just need people to be willing to believe miracle stories without evidence.

              None of the gospels represent anything close to an eyewitness account. But even if christianity’s own account of its origins were true, we would be talking about a very small group of initial witnesses, followed by two thousand years of hearsay upon hearsay. It is already established that almost every generation of christians have taken someone’s word about christ. In theory you already believe that the vast majority of christians have never seen Jesus. The only part that is in any dispute is where the story came from initially.

              Your own stated reason for believing these things you didn’t see is the testimony of texts which can’t be bothered to get the details right. We know that people are easily impressed and that christianity has always treated faith as a virtue. With the two thousand years of historical precedent of people believing Jesus existed because an unreliable source told them he did, why should it be so inconceivable for the first generation of christians to be convinced by hearsay (particularly since even in christianity’s own account of its origin, christianity didn’t get off the ground until a guy who never met Jesus started traveling to places far from Judea and telling other people who never saw Jesus, that Jesus existed)?

      • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

        Re: “… it must be pretty awesome being able to just walk around having all the answers …”

        Nowhere in my comment — or anything else I’ve ever posted online — have I ever claimed to have all the answers. Never once.

        Re: “… totally closed to any alternative views and being dismissive and mocking of anyone with a different opinion …”

        But I’m not “closed to any alternative views.” If I had been, I wouldn’t previously have been an evangelical Christian, and I wouldn’t later have become an agnostic. I would have been what I’d been raised to be — a Catholic — and would never have changed my mind one bit.

        Re: “I also like how you dimiss a book that has sold millions of copies and written by someone of large talent and intelligence as “vastly overrated”.”

        I believe I commented on C.S. Lewis’s talent, and stated that I thought he had done some good work. I simply don’t think Mere Christianity is very good, and is not the best he’s done. That a book “has sold millions of copies” does not grant it any veracity and it doesn’t make it good; to believe so is a fallacy, variously known as the democratic fallacy, or the fallacy of the many, or the appeal to consensus, or the bandwagon fallacy, or argumentum ad populum.

        Re: “I also like the word asinine but I must admit I don’t know what it means.”

        So look it up. There are lots of free online dictionaries you could use. I’m glad to hear that something I typed caused you to educated yourself.

        Re: “Whenever I read these atheist blogs I get a distinct sense of nastiness and unpleasantness …”

        Whenever I hear from religionists, I get exactly the same sense. I’m picking up more than a whiff of it now, in fact. I wonder where it’s coming from?

        Oh, and you must not know that many Christians, if you think none of them are unpleasant. I can think of more than a few who are pretty much the worst sorts of people imaginable.

        Re: “… it reminds me what its like to live without the peace that comes from God …”

        But … God doesn’t give people “peace.” People give it to themselves, by convincing each other that some deity they’ve never met and never will meet has done it for them.

  • Mogg

    I’m with Vorjack in failing to understand why the concept of meaningless suffering is so unacceptable to BC. Sure, it’s not a nice feeling to feel like you’re a victim of random misfortune, and our pattern-seeking, explanation-creating, storytelling brains have difficulty coping when there’s no answer to the question “Why?” We create gods to provide meaning, not the other way around.

  • A3Kr0n

    Why are atheists on Patheos?

    • blotonthelandscape

      Why not?

    • Sunny Day

      I hear it pays well.

    • Makoto

      Why visit the Atheist Channel on Patheos if you don’t think atheists should be here?

    • Custador

      Why are Christians in government?

  • vasaroti

    Just another pointless attempt to anthropomorphise the universe, another flavor of solipsism..

  • http://scotteriology.wordpress.com Scott Bailey

    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”

    This is no more true than

    ““Any Christmas celebration that claims that there exists no Santa cannot grant purpose to Christmas.”

    or

    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to boredom.”

    Life can suck, therefore, I need magical fairytales; and if you don’t accept my myths then you can’t “really” experience life and have a good philosophy… eff-off with that crap please.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    But isn’t all theistic explanation of anything–purpose, meaning, suffering, Justin Bieber–nothing more than one man’s opinion? Even we atheists have somehow internalized the belief that theology is something more than that, something that needs to be discussed and debated, when it really nothing more than belief, conjecture, wild speculation, flight of fancy and sometimes pure vindictiveness.

  • Elemenope

    I continually get the sense that Christians are really, really, really uncomfortable with the Book of Job, because it upends pretty much all proffered explanations for suffering.

    • John C

      Au contraire, eminent Elemeno. Job is one of my fav’s :)

      • Brian K

        Is this because you really worship the Demiurge, John C, rather than your ineffable godlet of light and love?

      • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

        Of course it is, because you’re a quisling like Job who would be happy to see his family brutally killed so long as you can cling to your piety and allegiance to a brutal, capricious bully who you truly fear.

      • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

        Because stories of shameful abuse of power tickle your torture porn fantasies?

    • Stony

      Elem, I was taught that Job was pure allegory, and that Job represented the state of man, any man, at any time. That life was capricious but one must hold steadfast. That the beginning gives you the clue that it is just a campfire story (God and Satan are off walking or shooting craps or what have you). This was comforting to a point, but it still an utterly cruel story, and shows the God character as equally cruel to Satan.

  • ORAXX

    Theology is the only field I know of that has multiple, irreconcilable, paradigms, all of which are based entirely on conjecture. As f field of study, Theology deserves no more respect than astrology.

    • Jeff C

      Only field? Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Naturopathy. Take every alt-med paradigm, most of which claim to be the one true cause of all disease, and mix them all together. The wikipedia page has a list of “Methods” that starts with Acupuncture and ends with Rolfing.

    • Rob

      True. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, Theology is the study of nothing.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    Suffering is their problem, not ours. Natural Selection favors the ability to suffer so it can be used as a driver for behavior that better passes genes, that provide it. For example, suffering if something bad happens to your children moves you to take steps to see that does not happen, which tends to put more of those genes into future parents who do the same. Without it, we would not be here and you would not be reading this. That is the “purpose” of suffering. I have written more details here.

  • Keulan

    Well, that article was dumb. There doesn’t need to be a philosophical reason for pain and suffering. As others pointed out in the comments of Bad Catholic’s article, the empirical reason for pain and suffering is purely evolutionary. Pain is your body telling your brain that something is wrong, so that you can avoid doing whatever it is that is causing harm to you. If you are unable to feel pain, you probably won’t survive very long.

  • ryan seeley

    “the lack of purpose is something that I’ve just always believed.” Sounds like another religion to me

    • Sunny Day

      Then you’re not thinking it through.


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