Bryan Fischer doubles down on Christianity as a state religion

Yesterday, Bryan Fischer doubled down on his view that the First Amendment does not recognize claims of non-Christian religions. He wrote:

The leftwing political websites lit up over my column of last week in which I took the position that the First Amendment provides no guarantees to practitioners of the Islamic faith, for the simple reason it wasn’t written to protect the free exercise of Islam. It was written to protect the free exercise of the Christian faith.

First of all, it was not only left wing blogs lighting up. Notably the Volokh Conspiracy knocked down Fischer’s strange moves. Eugene Volokh is not a left-winger and neither am I.

Fischer reaffirmed his view that the First Amendment only covers Christianity.

This view of the First Amendment is confirmed by a review of the debate surrounding the First Amendment in Congress in 1789. A re-reading of the all the entries in the congressional record of the debate over the First Amendment reveals no mention — zero, nada, zilch — of Islam.

Instead, as the Founders grappled with the wording of the First Amendment, they road-tested several variations, all of which make it clear that the objective here was specifically to protect the free exercise of the Christian faith.

Here are some of the alternative versions that were considered:

  • “Congress shall make no law establishing One Religious Sect or Society in preference to others.”
  • “Congress shall not make any law, infringing the rights of conscience or establishing any Religious Sect or Society.”
  • “Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed.”
  • “Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion…”
  • “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

The last, of course, is the wording Congress finally chose and passed on to the states for their approval.

In my view, the context of the House of Representatives debate over the religion clause undermines Fischer’s conclusion that the Representatives only had Christianity in view. Here is a lengthy excerpt of discussion of James Madison’s proposed amendment regarding religious freedom. First the language as proposed on June 8, 1789:

The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.

And then later in August, the House took up various amendments as a Committee of the Whole. As the matter was being developed, various suggestions were offered, some of which Fischer describes in his column. The following excerpt provides a look into Madison’s explanation of his amendment.

Mr. Madison said, he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience. Whether the words are necessary or not, he did not mean to say, but they had been required by some of the State Conventions, who seemed to entertain an opinion that under the clause of the Constitution, which gave power to Congress to make all laws necessary and proper to carry into execution the Constitution, and the laws made under it, enabled them to make laws of such a nature as might infringe the rights of conscience and establish a national religion; to prevent these effects he presumed the amendment was intended, and he thought it as well expressed as the nature of the language would admit.

The new government would not establish a religion, would not prefer one, and would not compel citizens to worship contrary to conscience. These rights are individual rights, not granted to a particular religion, but instead to citizens directly. The amendment was not written to protect any religion, Christian or otherwise.

Then the Representative from Connecticut spoke to what he perceived to be unintended consequences.

Mr. Huntington said that he feared, with the gentleman first up on this subject, that the words might be taken in such latitude as to be extremely hurtful to the cause of religion. He understood the amendment to mean what had been expressed by the gentleman from Virginia; but others might find it convenient to put another construction upon it. The ministers of their congregations to the Eastward were maintained by the contributions of those who belonged to their society; the expense of building meetinghouses was contributed in the same manner. These things were regulated by by-laws. If an action was brought before a Federal Court on any of these cases, the person who had neglected to perform his engagements could not be compelled to do it; for a support of ministers, or building of places of worship might be construed into a religious establishment.

By the charter of Rhode Island, no religion could be established by law; he could give a history of the effects of such a regulation; indeed the people were now enjoying the blessed fruits of it. He hoped, therefore, the amendment would be made in such a way as to secure the rights of conscience, and a free exercise of the rights of religion, but not to patronize those who professed no religion at all.

There is debate about what Huntington meant here. Perhaps he was hoping to protect the ability of religious groups to exact offerings from those who had committed to pay, even if they no longer professed religion. However, what seems clearer is Huntington’s positive reference to Rhode Island. Rhode Island was a leader in establishing religious freedom of conscience. In Rhode Island, all faiths were welcome to exercise belief, following the teaching of Roger Williams. Williams wrote in his “A Plea for Religious Liberty:”

Sixthly, it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the Word of God.

If we are to understand the intent of the First Amendment via what some Representatives said, then it seems important to go further and capture more of the context. Along with the refusal of the first Congress to allow religious tests, Madison’s Amendment provided strong protection for individual conscience without regard to membership in a religious group, such as Christianity. By Fischer’s logic, the Representatives favored Christianity as a religion, the very thing the Amendment expressly prohibited.

Please note that the evidences of Christianity found by Fischer in his reading of the Congressional debate do not cite Christianity. In fact, the phrases he believes prove that the Constitution only protects versions of Christianity (denomination of religion, religious sect, etc.) were not kept in the final amendment. Even if some legislators only wanted to protect Christian sects, the final wording did not do so.

Furthermore, direct references to Christianity were not a part of the debate on Madison’s amendment. In fact, there is a perfectly good word for Christianity that was not used in any versions of the First Amendment – that word is Christianity. Instead, those debating Madison’s amendment stuck with the general word religion.

Finally, let me examine one additional precursor to the debate on religious freedom. The Virginia legislature passed a law regarding religious freedom in 1786. You can read the entire statute here. Of interest to understand the thinking of Jefferson and other legislators on religious freedom is an amendment to the statute which ultimately failed. Thomas Jefferson in his collected works, tells the story: 

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

Fischer apparently refers to the Virginia case in his column but dismisses the relevance of it.

Some critics have pointed to the religious liberty plank in the Virginia constitution, and the statement of some of its advocates at the time that it specifically provided for the free exercise of Islam as well as Buddhism and Hinduism. But this only illustrates my point, because that has to do with religious expression in a state constitution, not the federal constitution.

While the application is indeed limited to Virginia, this passage does speak to Fischer’s contention that the Founders meant Christianity when they said religion. Jefferson and no doubt fellow Virginian Madison had the broader view of religion as an expression of individual liberty of conscience.

Ultimately, in my opinion, Fischer’s effort to prove that the First Amendment establishes Christianity as a state religion fails.

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  • David Blakeslee

    Need to get your law degree soon.

    :). Let’s start a fund.

  • http://www.debbiethurman.com Debbie Thurman

    I am from the land of Monroe, Madison and Jefferson. The latter authored Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom, and expressly asked for that credit to be included in his epitaph. It’s on his headstone at Monticello. I think we ought to send Fischer a copy of said statute, which had great bearing on the First Amendment.

    Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786

    II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

    You can read the whole thing here.

    In Jefferson’s words, there was now “freedom for the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindu and infidel of every denomination.”

    That about sums it up.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Fischer:

    A re-reading of the all the entries in the congressional record of the debate over the First Amendment reveals no mention — zero, nada, zilch — of Islam.

    Throckmorton:

    In fact, there is a perfectly good word for Christianity that was not used – that word is Christianity.

    Zing!

    “Hoist by his own petard” is the perfect description for Fischer, here — especially if you recall that although the phrase historically signified “blown up by his own bomb,” the French etymology of petard suggests a humorous double entendre: “toppled by his own flatulence.”

  • Jayhuck

    After reading about the meaning and origin of the word Petard, the phrase “to hoist with his own petard”, and the back-story of Thomas Jefferson’s estate, I believe it is time for bed. I’m a little worried that my dreams, should I have them, will be, um…odd! Night all :)

  • Lynn David

    Fischer reminds me of a word from the deep recesses of my youth: numbskull.

  • Richard Willmer

    Attila the Hun is ‘left-wing’ compared with Fischer!

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  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Fischer shares a common misconception that sadly is refuted all too seldom. The Founding Fathers were not, on the whole, “good God-Fearing Christian Men” and the country was not established as A Christian Nation. A good many of our national heroes would be considered enemies of faith and the family by many of those who claim their heritage.

    Can you imagine electing a president today who took scissors to the Bible and created his own out of the parts he liked?

    While most did identify as “Christian” and it was a time of much more conservative personal behavior, the religious influences were in many ways much more liberal than today. While Bible Believing Christians tell themselves that religion which accepts a little bit of everything and considers it all valid is a nambly-pamby New Age modern abomination, that is precisely what the 18th Century Unitarians existed for (yes, it was mostly Christian doctrines they were accepting broadly, but the idea of lenience was their guiding principle.) And, in New England, the Unitarians were large and popular.

    Additionally, while some founder identified as Christian, their theology was Deist. Their God was much more hands-off and would never, for example, send a hurricane to punish New Orleans. He was a Creator but not really much of a personal deity. He established some Natural Laws (not the modern Catholic Church’s adoption of the term) but wasn’t too interested in what individuals did with them.

    It is not by accident that our documents speak of a Creator and Nature, but not a savior. They could all agree that there was a founder of the universe, but not too much beyond that. They didn’t see it as their role – or as God’s will – that they encode their doctrine as civil law.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Timothy : A very good point.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    A good many of our national heroes would be considered enemies of faith and the family by many of those who claim their heritage.

    Word up.

    My advice to religious conservatives is that they’re perfectly entitled to claim, say, George Washington as a “Christian”, provided that they’re also willing to accept a flaming modernist/liberal/radical theologian like John Shelby Spong as a “Christian.”

    IMHO, it’s quite reasonable to say flatly that Spong isn’t a Christian, on the grounds that he doesn’t accept such utterly key doctrines as the literal, physical Resurrection of Christ– which means he takes a running broad jump over the line between mere heresy and outright apostasy.

    But if you’re a Christian who prefers to exclude someone like Spong from the category of “Christian”, then you have no logical right to claim Washington as “one of our own,” since the evidence from G.W.’s own papers suggests that he regarded Jesus of Nazareth as a Very Wise Teacher, and nothing more. In other words, Washington’s theological views on Jesus were probably similar to those of Spong.

    Can you imagine electing a president today who took scissors to the Bible and created his own out of the parts he liked?

    “Mr. Jefferson” also famously wrote, in a private letter to his nephew, that the young man ought to study the Bible diligently, but that he should read the Bible as one reads the Iliad and the Odyssey — that is, being attentive to the moral lessons, but with an appropriate degree of skeptical reserve about the historical accuracy, and with particular skepticism about the supernatural events.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    he should read the Bible as one reads the Iliad and the Odyssey — that is, being attentive to the moral lessons, but with an appropriate degree of skeptical reserve about the historical accuracy

    Although, NB: Jefferson was writing in the era before the archeological digs of Heinrich Schliemann — in Jefferson’s day, the opinion of many scholars was that the city of Troy had never existed at all, and that the Iliad was therefore not “highly embroidered history” loosely based on fact, but a pure myth cut from whole cloth.

    And it’s possible that Jefferson may have had similar opinions about the historicity of the Bible, because he didn’t have access to some of the later archeological discoveries that at least partly supported a real-life basis for some of the Bible’s historic accounts.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    I think the wise Christian is best served by avoiding the temptation to read the Bible as though it were a history book written by an all-knowing deity. It wasn’t written for that purpose and reading it as such can only lead to disillusion and disappointment (or, alternately, the adoption of some pretty wacky ideas).

    If your faith in the divine and your appreciation for the wisdom and moral direction of Scripture is based on the necessity of the earth being only 6,000 year old, then you’re either going to soon have no morality whatsoever or spend your life convincing yourself that Adam rode a dinosaur. And neither disillusion or delusion are happy prospects.

    I heard on some History channel program that a number of Holy Land architects and researchers are starting to conclude that Joshua was not a person. Rather Joshua was a title like “General”. We already know that the Bible use Pharaoh collectively, and this may be the same. Because it seems that ruins of the cities that match up geographically with those listed as Joshua’s conquests fell over a span of hundreds of years.

    For me, if that is true it’s interesting but it doesn’t take away any of the wisdom of scripture. But for those who need a literal understanding (which includes Fischer, I presume) it simply cannot be true. Otherwise God’s a liar and he’s a fool.

  • David Blakeslee

    I am tracking this conversation…and would like Timothy’s and Throbert’s opinion on this question, sans reference to History Channel Authority:

    “Given the understanding of History as a science both ‘pre-christian’ and in the centuries immediately following Christ, Is there a document written parrallel to these biblical documents which is more historically sound/accurate?”

    If we answer Josephus, Thudydides and others…did they try to cover the breadth of history contained in the Old Testament as well as narrate the meaning of the God-man connection?

    I think you can get what I am driving at…and maybe ask the question better.

    My conclusion is that in the context of the cultures extant at the time; the History recorded in the Bible cannot be equaled or exceeded, by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Syrians and Egyptians.

    We can criticize the historical record of the Bible from a 21st century set of values about what is “good history,” that is kind of like criticizing it based upon 21st century science about what is good medicine (take wine for a stomach complaint).

    Anyways, I wish your perspective after sharing mine.

  • Ann

    David Blakeslee,

    Hope you don’t mind me inserted a comment that you specifically asked Timothy and Throbert about -

    Anyway, have you been to Israel? Geographically, what is referenced in the Bible, especially the new testament, is, on an onging basis, being validated by archeologists.

  • stephen

    Ann, not so. Most of it is cornflakes. One example, Sodom and Gomorrah. No trace has ever been found. I think the point that people were trying to make is that it is at best counter-productive and at worst bonkers to try to read the Bible as anything more than a series of fables that teach a moral point of view.

    In more serious news I’ve just read that 15 people, including 10 UN workers, have been killed in Kabul in a protest over Terry Jones’s recent burning of a Q’uran. What seems to have began as a peaceful protest against Jones’s actions turned violent. And this is the result.

  • Ann

    Stephen,

    Have you been to Israel? Geographically, many references in the Bible, especially the new testament, can be historically linked. I wasn’t referring to anything else.

  • David Blakeslee

    I don’t think Timothy was saying this:

    at worst bonkers to try to read the Bible as anything more than a series of fables that teach a moral point of view.

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  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    Well, of COURSE the “new testament” is going to have places “validated.” I mean a lot of those cities are still standing (nazareth, bethlehem, jerusalem). And yes, I HAVE been to Israel. Those documents, whose copies we have date from about the 3rd century at BEST, aren’t even that old.

    Things that CAN’T be validated: a census taken at the time of Jesus, or the “killing of the innocents” by Herod.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Ann,

    Yes, the geography of the Bible is not fictional. It does, after all, tell the story of a people in a place.

    But we should not assume that a pile of stones where the Bible said a pile of stones would be is an evidence that the Bible story about the destruction of that city is factual in its details.

    And why would it be? Does God have some need for an eternal record of the date of the destruction of a city some thousands of years ago? Is that what is really important in the tale?

    Or, rather, is there another truth that God wants us to consider and the Bible uses a tale – perhaps even one with some history behind it – as a vehicle for this message.

    Think of it this way: we can tell the story of the Civil Rights Struggle as a recitation of dates and events and names. Or we can tell the Civil Rights Struggle through the eyes and experiences of those impacted.

    The second method may get a date wrong, confuse who was leader of what group, and grossly overstate the attitudes of the parties. But it has a truth that exceeds a fact-list. It provides meaning and purpose. Yes, the fact list will show that Strom Thurman was opposed to equality, but his explanations about the culture and presumptions and how, over time, he grew from those positions and came to oppose them is a far more compelling story.

    I believe that the Bible is the second form of story telling. I gives the feeling of the events, and provides insight into how the Israelites saw themselves and their place before God. If we insist on historical accuracy, however, then if it proves to be incorrect we’ve lost both the facts and the feeling.

    David,

    We can criticize the historical record of the Bible from a 21st century set of values about what is “good history,” that is kind of like criticizing it based upon 21st century science about what is good medicine (take wine for a stomach complaint).

    I agree. Which is why I say that we should not read the Bible as either a history text or a medical text. It is neither.

    As for whether it is more accurate or less accurate than other ancient historical texts may be interesting, but I fear that such comparisons only feed into the temptation to step away from the wonder, the mystery, and the message of the Bible in order to turn it into something that meets the expectations of 21st Century skeptics.

    Let’s not argue our faith on their terms. Let’s not insist on the inerrancy of historical factual detail. We end up in a position where we have to prove the accuracy of every word when they need only one disparity to dismiss the entire thing.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Stephen,

    I apologize if I gave you the impression that that the Bible should not be read as anything more than a series of fables that teach a moral point of view. Indeed, I don’t think that the Bible stories are either fables or simply morality tales.

    I think that they are the telling of the tale of the world from a specific perspective. And interestingly some of the Bible stories are also told by other cultures and otehr people. It shouldn’t surprise us that the heroes and villains often had switched roles.

    Further, the Bible also was challenged by the limitations of others to understand. And if we consider those limitations, it can be pretty amazing what we can discover.

    For example, in what has to be the biggest sticking point between people of faith and people of science, I see confirmation of divine wisdom in scripture, And my challenge to both scoffers and literalists is the same: set aside your presumptions and sit down and read the biblical Creation Story. And then read what is proposed in the Theory of Evolution. Just read them.

    And then ask yourself how you would explain what came to be as proposed by the Evolutionary Theory to a bronze age nomadic tribe of desert wanders. How would you talk to people who know nothing of genetics, planetary movement, ice ages, dinosaurs, atomic explosions, vacuum, matter and energy, or even the vaguest notion of a vast empty outer space?

    Is it not possible that you might start with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. “

  • Ann

    Yes, the geography of the Bible is not fictional. It does, after all, tell the story of a people in a place.

    Yes, and that is all that I was referencing

    But we should not assume that a pile of stones where the Bible said a pile of stones would be is an evidence that the Bible story about the destruction of that city is factual in its details.

    I agree

    And why would it be? Does God have some need for an eternal record of the date of the destruction of a city some thousands of years ago? Is that what is really important in the tale?

    I’m not sure what God needs. I think the importance of a tale or story depends on the individual, their purpose for reading it, and what they discern from it. Hopefully, it will bring out the best in them.

    Or, rather, is there another truth that God wants us to consider and the Bible uses a tale – perhaps even one with some history behind it – as a vehicle for this message.

    Again, I am just not sure what God wants us to consider – I just know what I think about God.

    Think of it this way: we can tell the story of the Civil Rights Struggle as a recitation of dates and events and names. Or we can tell the Civil Rights Struggle through the eyes and experiences of those impacted.

    The second method may get a date wrong, confuse who was leader of what group, and grossly overstate the attitudes of the parties. But it has a truth that exceeds a fact-list. It provides meaning and purpose. Yes, the fact list will show that Strom Thurman was opposed to equality, but his explanations about the culture and presumptions and how, over time, he grew from those positions and came to oppose them is a far more compelling story.

    I agree

    I believe that the Bible is the second form of story telling. I gives the feeling of the events, and provides insight into how the Israelites saw themselves and their place before God. If we insist on historical accuracy, however, then if it proves to be incorrect we’ve lost both the facts and the feeling.

    Yes, I can understand this point of view. I was only referring to geographical sites that the Bible references and how they have been found. I wish the Bible mentioned Masada, but it doesn’t.

  • stephen

    This is not good enough. All you good Christians deal with the slaughter in Kabul directly caused by one of your own.

  • stephen

    Timothy, the Bible is fairy stories for those of us too afraid to face our death. Grow up. And deal with your Bible in Kabul.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    “Given the understanding of History as a science both ‘pre-christian’ and in the centuries immediately following Christ, Is there a document written parallel to these biblical documents which is more historically sound/accurate?”

    If we answer Josephus, Thudydides and others…did they try to cover the breadth of history contained in the Old Testament as well as narrate the meaning of the God-man connection?

    [record-scratch sound effect]

    Say what?!

    Not that the “meaning of the God-man connection” isn’t important, but since when has it ever been a criterion for judging the accuracy of historic narratives?

    But even if we allow for the sake of discussion that the God-man connection ought to be considered here, comparing the entire Bible to the writings of Josephus Flavius is obviously going to put the latter at a severe disadvantage, since he was just one guy.

    In the case of the Bible, believers and non-believers may disagree in their estimates of how many human authors were involved (e.g., was the Pentateuch written by Moses alone, or by multiple anonymous contributors?). But what both sides can agree on is that the Bible in its entirety is an anthology of writings by numerous authors who lived in different eras and who wrote in different genres.

    Thus, if you want to talk about how Classical Latin literature compared with the Bible in terms of overall quality, it doesn’t really give you a meaningful picture if you simply contrast the Bible with, say, Vergil’s Aeneid. Rather, you should compare the Bible with an anthology of excerpts from Vergil, and Julius Caesar, and Cicero, and Juvenal, and Tacitus, and Catullus. (Note: My list includes some Roman writers whose primary genre was “history”, and some who represent other genres, like moral essays and love poetry.)

    But conversely, if you wanted to focus on the historicity of the Aeneid alone, it would be a bit more meaningful to compare it with just the book of Exodus — after all, these two works belong to the same basic “literary genre”, namely, “A history of how our forefathers escaped perilous circumstances, wandered around for quite a long time, and eventually laid the foundations for what would become a mighty kingdom.”

    (Mind you, Exodus might still come out well ahead of the Aeneid in terms of archeological validation, but at least you wouldn’t be “stacking the deck” quite so much from the get-go. Whereas if you compare the Aeneid with the whole Bible, some people on the “Bible side” will attempt to score easy points by saying, “Aha, they’ve found the tomb of Caiaphas!” — although demonstrating the historicity of Caiaphas doesn’t even prove the historicity of his own contemporary Jesus, much less have anything to do with the historicity of the “escaping-wandering-founding” narratives contained in Exodus and the Aeneid. )

  • stephen

    Throbert. People are dead.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    My conclusion is that in the context of the cultures extant at the time; the History recorded in the Bible cannot be equaled or exceeded, by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Syrians and Egyptians.

    We can criticize the historical record of the Bible from a 21st century set of values about what is “good history,” that is kind of like criticizing it based upon 21st century science about what is good medicine (take wine for a stomach complaint).

    While this is a fair caveat, it should apply equally to ancient Greek and Roman and Egyptian historians: if you cut the Bible some slack on the grounds that it would be unfair to judge the Bible by 21st-century standards of “accurate history,” then the ancient Greeks and Romans et al. must be granted the same amount of slack, or else you’re just moving the goalposts.

    And when “Bible believers” and “secular skeptics” get into arguments about the Bible’s historic accuracy, what often happens is that both sides start moving goalposts around to their personal advantage, and things quickly turn into a totally useless pissing contest.

    P.S. Actually, a literal pissing contest is far MORE productive — at least your Kegel muscles get some exercise and you make room for more tasty beer! ;-)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    People are dead.

    For some reason, Ecclesiastes 1:9 comes to mind.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    the historicity of the “escaping-wandering-founding” narratives contained in Exodus and the Aeneid.

    By the way, for those unfamiliar with the Aeneid, the gist of it is:

    The Escape: Our hero “Aeneas the Pious” was a prince of Troy (on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey, and only a couple hours’ drive from Istanbul) who survives the Greek conquest of the city and leads a ragtag bunch of Trojan refugees away from destruction and/or enslavement by the Greeks.

    The Wandering in the Wilderness: Aeneas and the (mostly male) Trojans sail hither and yon around the Mediterranean. Along the way, they run into Polyphemus the Cyclops from the Odyssey, and Aeneas breaks the heart of the beautiful Carthaginian queen Dido, thereby creating a backstory for the Rome/Carthage wars that happened centuries later.

    The Founding: Eventually Aeneas and his people reach central Italy, make war with the Latin-speaking inhabitants, and then reach a truce and intermarry with the local women — thus giving the Romans a blood/ethnic/linguistic connection both with the indigenous Italians and with the Glory That Was Troy.

    So, in some ways “Aeneas the Pious” was a Moses-like figure in that he led his people from very bad circumstances and on subsequent wanderings in the wilderness (and he was, as already mentioned, exceptionally pious in his devotion to the gods and to moral duty). But on the other hand, Aeneas was not a “lawgiver” as Moses was, and the “tragic romance” episode with Queen Dido doesn’t have a parallel in the Exodus account.

    P.S. Although the Aeneid is very much a deliberate and conscious rip-off of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (Cf. that whole Cyclops episode), there’s no evidence that Vergil had the slightest familiarity with the Hebrew Scripture — and any plot parallels with the Exodus are accidental. There are, after all, only so many plot-archetypes to go around — thus, the “escape-wandering-founding” model has probably appeared independently in the literature of many different cultures.

  • stephen

    And so.. fundie evangelical whack jobs on hiatus from cursing innocent gays cause multiple deaths in Kabul.

    Explain to me all you conservative holier than thou christian evangelical assholes how you deal with this.

    I cannot begin to unload my contempt on you.

  • stephen

    Throbert: Ecclesiastes 1:9 comes to mind. No it doesn’t.

  • Ann

    Explain to me all you conservative holier than thou christian evangelical assholes how you deal with this.

    I cannot begin to unload my contempt on you.

    Stephen,

    Well, I don’t consider myself a conservative holier than thou christian evangelical a-hole, so I don’t qualify to answer your question.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    stephen – you will have to unload it somewhere else. Just like all those conservatives you dislike, you are engaging in black and white thinking and violating commenting guidelines. Like some of them, you are on moderated status.

  • ken

    stephen# ~ Apr 1, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    “This is not good enough. All you good Christians deal with the slaughter in Kabul directly caused by one of your own.”

    Terry Jones did not directly cause the violence in Afghanistan. While his ignorance probably did contribute to it, that is very different than being a direct cause of it. What Jones did was denigrate the religious text of a religion he didn’t like. And guess what stephen, you are doing the same thing with your posts here. Perhaps, not as extreme as what Jones did, but I can see the same hatred and ignorance. You just picked a different religion to target than he did.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    By the way (after coming back from a late-night grocery run for tomorrow morning), I had mentioned above that in Thomas Jefferson’s time, a lot of scholars thought that the Iliad was a “myth cut from whole cloth,” and that the city of Troy had not existed at all. Subsequent archeology has confirmed that Troy was “more or less” real and stood in the same general region of northwest Turkey as Constantinople/Istanbul. However, archeology has not actually proven that the Iliad‘s account of the Greek sacking of Troy is at all accurate, but only that there indeed was a Troy and that it had been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.

    Anyway, this reminded me of something else related to the historicity of the Bible and to “degrees of historical accuracy.”

    I studied Russian in college and my favorite Russian novel of all time is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The story is set in Moscow circa the late 1920s — in other words, after the death of Lenin and in the early years of the Stalin regime. And the title character known as “the Master” was a fictitious Soviet writer who was forcibly incarcerated in an insane asylum for the “crime” of writing a novel that portrayed Jesus of Nazareth as a real historic figure. Not, mind you, as the promised Jewish Messiah or the Son of God, but simply as a real person who lived and breathed in early 1st-century Jerusalem.

    And representing Jesus of Nazareth as a historic figure like Julius Caesar offended the Stalinist authorities, who favored insisted on a “Total Myth” hypothesis about Jesus — that the Gospels were not “highly embroidered” accounts woven around a small kernel of historic fact, but that no such person as Jesus the Nazarene had ever walked the earth. Thus, the Official Soviet Opinion of that time was willing to entertain the possibility that the Gilgamesh Epic was very, VERY loosely based on a real Mesopotamian king, and perhaps also that the Exodus led by Moses had some faint grounding in fact, but Jesus had to be as imaginary as Peter Pan.

    So, going back to the Bible and its historicity, I would agree that modern archeology has in many cases put the nail in the coffin of the radical “Total Mythicist” position that Soviet Stalinists favored, by confirming that various persons and places actually existed and certain events actually happened. But disproving the “Total Myth” hypothesis is, obviously, not the same as proving that the Bible is “historically reliable and accurate.”

    P.S. Okay, I kinda went on a tangent here — because mainly I wanted to recommend The Master and Margarita as a fantasy work that deals seriously with Christian themes, though without being a “Christian fantasy” in the sense that the Narnia books are. (And I’m not sure if Bulgakov was himself a believing Christian, though the novel ultimately seems to affirm that Jesus was the Christ.)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Timothy, the Bible is fairy stories

    Indubitably — but I think Timothy’s position is that the fairytales in the Bible are not just any old fairytales — they are fairytales told to us by God Himself.

    And to any believer who is offended by the fairytale comparison and objects “Well, why would God make up a bunch of lies?”, I would respond with the old Russian proverb:

    Skazka — lozh,

    Da v nei namiok,

    Dobrym molodtsam urok!

    Which literally translates more or less as:

    “The fairytale is a lie,

    Yet in it is a hint –

    For kindhearted A+ students, a lesson!”

    And a bit loosely, for the sake of rhyme:

    “Fairytales are a mountain of lies…

    …but with hinted-at lessons for the good and wise!”

  • http://www.debbiethurman.com Debbie Thurman

    FWIW, I took a Latin course on Roman satire (mainly Horace and Juvenal) in college. I recall reading in the original language references to historical events and people that were mentioned in the New Testament, including Jesus. I found that fascinating.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    I recall reading in the original language references to historical events and people that were mentioned in the New Testament, including Jesus

    This would probably have been from Tacitus, who circa 116 AD wrote:

    Consequently, to get rid of [the rumors that he himself had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians by the populace.

    Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

    Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

    Note, however, that some critics have suggested that the bolded paragraph may not be the authentic words of Tacitus, but was inserted later by Christian scribes — thus, the original simply mentioned “those who are called Chrestians” [sic] without explaining the etymology of the name, and went directly on to describe how they were arrested and tortured.

    Others argue that the section referring to the execution of Christ in Judea is partly the writing of Tacitus, but was later expanded somewhat by Christians. (For example, there’s a case to be made that it was an anachronism to call Pontius Pilate a “procurator,” and that if the real Tacitus had actually made reference to Pilate, he almost certainly would’ve used the correct title “praefectus” instead. Of course, that doesn’t disprove the authenticity of the entire passage, but only suggests that the name-dropping of Pilate was a later interpolation.)

  • http://www.debbiethurman.com Debbie Thurman

    Wasn’t Tacitus more of a historian? Horace, Juvenal, Lucilius, Ennius, Perseus were the satirists. Maybe one of them was quoting Tacitus, but they had plenty to say about the culture of the day. It was a long time ago for me. :)

  • David Blakeslee

    Timothy, and Throbert,

    Thanks for checking in so thoughtfully on my question.

    I don’t need the Bible to be perfect by today’s standards. It is, however, singularly magnificent for its time period.

    Furthermore, the emotional intelligence contained in the narrative seems to have been persuasive, creating a value system for western culture which is certainly robust, and I would argue adaptive, as well.

    Throbert:

    I do agree that the better comparison is Roman Literature or Greek Literature and Biblical Literature. Sorry about the apples and oranges.

    …to add: The Greeks and the Romans dependency on the Fates seems to be the early precurser to scientific determinism.

    Now, to a discussion of Free Will, and the Biblical Paradox that allows it.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Debbie, you’re right that Tacitus was a historian, not a satirist.

    I do know that the passage I mentioned from Tacitus is widely cited as being the earliest writing (c. 116 AD) by a pagan Roman author that clearly refers to Jesus as a historic individual who lived in a particular time and place, as opposed to merely mentioning him in a non-specific way as “the deity of the Christians”.

    And just for completeness, the earliest known pagan Roman reference to Christians that very specifically mentions “Christians” by that name (instead of just calling them “an annoying new cult” or whatever) is from Pliny the Younger — it would’ve been written c. 110 AD, so less than a decade prior to the Tacitus passage. However, P the Y mentions Christ only as “the god those people sing hymns to,” and not as a person who actually walked the earth.

    But on the other hand, the Pliny quote is valuable in that he’s talking about his personal first-hand encounters with Christians who were under his jurisdiction as governor — while Tacitus is commenting on events that had happened a half-century earlier in the reign of Nero. (Tacitus would’ve been only around 8 years old when Rome burned in 64 AD, and he was probably born and raised in Gaul or possibly Spain, and didn’t set foot in Rome until late in his teenage years. So odds are he was relying on second-hand accounts rather than his eyewitness memory of events.)

    So anyway, if you read a Latin satirist who referred to Christ and/or Christians, it was presumably someone who postdates Tacitus and Pliny the Younger.

    P.S. Incidentally, I did NOT know all these specific dates off the top of my head — I had to double-check on wikipedia! ;-) But I’m familiar in a general way with the Tacitus and Pliny the Younger quotes (as well as the famous passage from Josephus), because these three non-Christian authors are so frequently cited and analyzed in any debate about the historical reliability of the NT.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    By the way, as long as we’re discussing “satirical references to Jesus by pagan Romans,” we should definitely consider the (in)famous “Alexamenos Graffito”, which was scratched onto a wall in Rome and portrays the crucifixion of a dude with the head of a donkey. Another man is standing at the foot of the cross and the Greek caption says either “Alexamenos, worship (your) god!” or “Alexamenos worships (his) god.”

    There are two problems, however, in classifying this as an “early non-Christian reference to the crucifixion of Jesus”.

    First, the graffito can only be dated to the rough period 100 AD – 300 AD — so it might have been more or less contemporaneous with the Tacitus and Pliny references, or it could have been from as much as two centuries later. But there’s no reason to believe that it’s chronologically a lot closer to the events of the NT than the quotes we have from Tacitus and Pliny.

    Second, the intended significance of the graffito, and the actual religious beliefs of the anonymous author, are disputed, and there are at least three different interpretations:

    (1) Many people have (understandably!) taken it as a given that the graffitist was a pagan whose purpose was to mock the Christian faith of Alexamenos. So the message was simple and crude: Christians like Alexamenos are idiots who worship a crucified donkey!

    (2) But some scholars have hypothesized that the artist himself was a Christian, and that Alexamenos belonged to a pagan religion whose worship practices and iconography superficially resembled those of Christianity (such as, perhaps, Mithraism). So the take-home message of the caricature was along the lines of: Real Christians, don’t be fooled by cheap pagan knock-offs of our faith — Alexamenos may use mystical icons of a cross, as we do, but his false god has the head of a donkey!

    (3) Yet another possibility is that both the artist and Alexamenos were nominally Christian, but they belonged to different (and rival) factions in the early church that each considered the other to be heretical. If this was indeed true, then we may reasonably speculate that Alexamenos belonged to a church that practiced veneration of crucifix imagery, while the artist belonged to a church that considered it improper to represent Jesus on the cross. Perhaps the artist thought that Jesus Christ should only be shown post-Resurrection, or perhaps he believed that artistic representations of the Word Made Flesh should be purely allegorical — e.g., Christ could be drawn/painted/sculpted as a lamb or a blazing fire or a bunch of grapes or who knows what, but not as a human figure — or perhaps he thought that Christ should not be visually depicted in any way, shape, or form. But for whatever reason, he had some sort of strong theological objection to cross/crucifix images. So the artist’s intended meaning may have been something like: Real Christians, don’t be taken in by heretical so-called “Christians” like Alexamenos, who blasphemously worships idols of Jesus dying on the cross — you might as well worship a donkey!

    In short, the image may be a pagan satire of Christ, or a Christian satire of “Jesus lookalike” paganism, or one Christian’s satire of another Christian’s “heresy.”

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Stephen :

    In response to your point, I take the view that the kind of people who burn the Qu’ran (and spit venom at gays and others) are really no different from the kind of people who carried out the murder of UN personnel in Afghanistan: both are people for whom ideology trumps humanity, and neither is in my view representative of any kind of ‘healthy’ religion or spirituality.

    Where I take issue with your ‘approach’ is that you seem to be taking a line that says ‘because one so-called Christian does such-and-such, all Christians are bad’. This would be rather like someone else saying ‘because this gay person abused a child, all gay people are a threat to children’ – complete rubbish, of course.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    the kind of people who burn the Qu’ran (and spit venom at gays and others) are really no different from the kind of people who carried out the murder of UN personnel in Afghanistan

    Well… let’s not overstate the case. Unless you’re literally talking about some sort of mutant cobra-person, “spitting venom” at people is another way to say “hurting their feelings.” Of course It’s cruel and thoughtless and reflects badly on the person doing it, but the target can always choose to shrug it off and say, “So what if Fred ‘Poltergeist 2′ Phelps calls me a f@g? When that a-hole isn’t picketing funerals, he’s probably dragging little girls into other dimensions through the TV, and I frankly don’t WANT the respect of a semi-skeletonized zombie-ghost, or whatever he is.”

    Being murdered by a lynch mob is not something one gets over so quickly, on the other hand — so we’re talking about very different levels of depravity.

    both are people for whom ideology trumps humanity

    In this case, I’d say instead that they both have a self-trumping ideology: namely, belief in a deity who is Sovereign over the Entire Universe — and yet, somehow, can’t do his own darn smiting of people who offend him.

    To paraphrase Captain Kirk, “What would God need with a starship — or a hitman?”

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    …to add: The Greeks and the Romans dependency on the Fates seems to be the early precurser to scientific determinism.

    Now, to a discussion of Free Will, and the Biblical Paradox that allows it.

    Again, I’d point out that “the Greeks” and “the Romans” cover a whole lot of ideological ground — like, in the case of the Romans, there was the common-folks religion that was centered around ancestor-worship, and the state religion that mainly focused on a few of the major “Olympians” like Jupiter and Minerva as well as the deified living emperor, and the religion of the philosophers that tended to talk about divinity in a more abstract way.

    In the case of the Greeks, I’m pretty sure that Aristotle (for one) took human free will as a given, and did not feel it necessary to defend Free Will against the metaphysical challenge posed either by “the Fates” or by the physical determinism that was observable in the cause-and-effect behaviors of moving objects. (Of course, you can argue that Aristotle’s failure to anticipate and rebut the metaphysical objections to Free Will represents a blind spot or shortcoming in his arguments.)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Oh, another thing for David B. to chew on, in re Free Will in the Bible and in pagan cultures. Some Christian and Jewish thinkers have observed that Socrates’ “Euthyphro Dilemma” implicitly suggests a question about the Free Will of God Himself. In a nutshell, is God able to say, “Murder is good — thou shalt commit murder; But kindness to orphans is evil — thou shalt not be kind to orphans”?

    Socrates’ version was, of course, framed in polytheistic terms, but philosophers and theologians from monotheistic traditions have taken it up in a slightly different wording and grappled with the conundrum of whether there are external moral principles by which even the Supreme Being must be constrained, or whether the Supreme Being’s own moral pronouncements are essentially subjective and thus seemingly “whimsical.”

    P.S. Oh, I also wanted to make a quick response to this:

    Furthermore, the emotional intelligence contained in the [Biblical] narrative seems to have been persuasive, creating a value system for western culture which is certainly robust, and I would argue adaptive, as well.

    I would totally endorse this, though I would insist on adding that the Bible alone could not have produced Western culture as we know it — the dynamic tension between “Jerusalem and Athens” was essential to the results. Or, in modern terms, American society at large generally benefits from the arguments between traditionalist Christians and secular humanists.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Throbert : I agree with your last point. Allied to it is the (false, in my view) notion that the Bible is ‘synonymous’ with Christianity: it is the Church that promulgates Christian dogma, some of which (e.g. the Assumption of Our Lady – a doctrine that was not formalised until 1950) is not strictly (as in ‘literally’) ‘biblical’, but influenced by inter alia platonic philosophy.

  • Jayhuck

    Richard,

    notion that the Bible is ‘synonymous’ with Christianity

    That really depends upon your vantage point. Most people within the Church, especially those of the Roman and Eastern varieties, would, I believe, view the Bible and the Church as inseparable. The Church created the Bible as we know it today, and it alone says that it can interpret it. There is much more to this idea of course.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Jayhuck :

    I understand your point. However, the ‘claims’ of certain ecclesiatical hierarchies notwithstanding, there is no doubt that Christian dogma is informed not only by biblical texts, but also by ‘tradition’ (which is – or should be – itself an ‘evolving’ thing) and ‘reason/conscience’, as well as insights gained from the created order (often through Science) and cultural development. Furthermore, there are many things suggested by a prime facie reading of particular biblical texts that I, and other Christians, simply do not accept – but this is not being ‘unchristian’, rather it is taking account of such things as reason and conscience (after all, we have brains and consciences, and we are supposed to use them). Those who wrote the texts that now form the Bible were themselves human beings with necessarily limited insight into ‘the infinite God’.

    (A point I think fundamentalists often forget is that, if the Bible is ‘the whole story’, then both the Second and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity effectively become redundant!)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Christian dogma, some of which (e.g. the Assumption of Our Lady – a doctrine that was not formalised until 1950)

    Note that “not formalized” is the key phrase here, since the general concept of Mary experiencing a bodily resurrection, and her tomb being found empty, is fairly ancient and definitely preceded the West/East schism in 1054 — though, as you say, it has no grounding in the canonized NT.

    Among Roman Catholics today, the belief is that Mary’s fate was parallel to that of Enoch in the OT (in that she was taken simultaneously body and soul to heaven before suffering physical death), while Eastern Orthodoxy says that she had a natural death and her body lay in the tomb for a few days (thus paralleling both Jesus and Lazarus) before being physically resurrected and lifted to heaven.

  • Jayhuck

    Richard,

    Furthermore, there are many things suggested by a prime facie reading of particular biblical texts that I, and other Christians, simply do not accept

    Most Christians, at least the ones I know who understand the tradition of the Church, the importance of the Councils and the writings of the Church Fathers and those who engage in Christian apologetics would probably agree with you that a mere prima facie reading of the Bible is a bad idea.

    Those who wrote the texts that now form the Bible were themselves human beings with necessarily limited insight into ‘the infinite God’.

    I agree. The tradition I was most recently involved with though, Eastern Christianity, does not rely on the Bible as the sole authority for Christian living. The Bible is understood differently, understandably, by those within and those outside the Church.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    David,

    Furthermore, the emotional intelligence contained in the narrative seems to have been persuasive, creating a value system for western culture which is certainly robust, and I would argue adaptive, as well.

    Yes indeed.

    Throbert,

    In this case, I’d say instead that they both have a self-trumping ideology: namely, belief in a deity who is Sovereign over the Entire Universe — and yet, somehow, can’t do his own darn smiting of people who offend him.

    I’d say that they also share a greater respect a devotion to the trappings of their faith – the veneration of paper and ink, the demand for religious supremacy, the outward demonstrations of personal piety – than they do to the deity they profess to worship.

    Jayhuck,

    Most Christians, at least the ones I know who understand the tradition of the Church, the importance of the Councils and the writings of the Church Fathers and those who engage in Christian apologetics would probably agree with you that a mere prima facie reading of the Bible is a bad idea.

    Ahem….

    There are more than a few Christians for whom a prima facia reading of the Bible is not only a fabulous idea, but regularly practiced.

    Who needs tradition when you have the word of God right there in your hands? All those indulgences-selling idol-worshiping Catholics with their Councils and Church Fathers can’t stand up against the guidance of the Holy Spirit, praise God.

    And the Bible is the transcribed Word of God, holy in its own right and infallible in every word. Every jot and tittle. Amen.

    But, of course, obscure and somewhat questionable “facts”, especially those which are out of the mainstream and obviously unaccepted by The World, can be readily adopted and lead to a whole new wonderful take on scripture. As part of the “few that be” who find the straight gate and narrow path, you don’t want to be in too much agreement with worldly people who call themselves Christian but who are just going through the motions.

    So, for example, should you read somewhere about the parallels between Jesus and Horus and should you note the too-similar structure of the ankh and the cross, then you may become open to discovering that “the word used in the Greek for ‘cross’ really means pole.” So Jesus was crucified on a pole, and the Church’s adoption of the ankh and calling it a cross is just another of its compromises with The World.

    And the next thing you know, you’ve sawed the crossbar off of the communion plates. Or so I’ve heard…

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    The tradition I was most recently involved with though, Eastern Christianity, does not rely on the Bible as the sole authority for Christian living. The Bible is understood differently, understandably, by those within and those outside the Church.

    Just to give a perspective from entirely outside any Christian tradition, in Judaism the word Torah by default refers to the five books of Moses — aka the “Pentateuch.”

    However, when Jews today speak of “studying Torah“, they very definitely do not mean simply “studying the Pentateuch”; they mean studying the Pentateuch within the context of the rest of the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh), and both of these must be read properly through the lens of the Talmud — i.e., the massive canon of “post-Scripture” rabbinical commentaries that are sometimes referred to as “Oral Torah.” (Because they didn’t start to be written down and formalized until after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and prior to that had been transmitted only from mouth to ear.) Mind you, the Talmud is so lengthy that very few non-rabbis ever read the entire thing, but lay Jews still rely on excerpts from the Talmud as a guide to proper interpretation of Scripture itself.

    So a rather rough Christian analogue for the Talmud would be the aggregate writings of all major “Church Fathers” and theologians like Origen and Augustine and Jerome and Aquinas, and I suppose the collective attendees at the 1st Council of Nicea — with the difference being that the Talmud eventually became a thoroughly formalized, canonical compendium accepted by nearly all extant Jewish denominations, whereas Christians wouldn’t necessarily agree among themselves as to which post-Biblical writers are truly indispensable to properly understanding Christian theology.

  • Emily K

    It’s true, Throbert, and thanks for pointing out that fact about Judaism. Too often the Christians rely on their own Gospel-written stereotypes about Jews adhering to THE LAW as if Pharisaism is a form of fundamentalism. It isn’t.

    In fact, Pharisees were the only Jews to survive the temple destruction BECAUSE of the flexibility built into worship. Don’t have a temple? No problem. Use the Beit Kinesset (house of gathering). All you need is a Minyan (10 people or more). Can’t offer animal sacrifices? No problem. God has said that a contrite heart is more valuable to Him than sacrifices anyway. Think you’ve fallen too far from a moral path and can’t come back? Think again. Come as close to God as you can and He can come the rest of the way.

    In fact without the Oral Torah with the written Torah (Halakha, collectively), the scriptures in Judaism can’t properly be understood. Look up the verse in Exodus – “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.” – to see this necessity demonstrated. Wikipedia actually explains it really well.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    In fact, Pharisees were the only Jews to survive the temple destruction

    Well, there are the Karaites — a small Jewish sect still existing today that some scholars have seen as a remnant of the Sadducee tradition, because the Karaites and the Sadducees both rejected the Oral Torah.

    But apparently that’s a minority opinion, and most scholars say that the Karaites were a Middle Ages offshoot of the Pharisaic/rabbinical tradition, and had no sort of direct “evolutionary” connection to the Sadducees — any more than modern birds are direct descendants of pterodactyls despite some superficial points in common, like wings! (The Karaites themselves claim to go all the way back to the Second Temple period — thus, they were around at the same time the Sadducees were — but regard themselves as a completely independent Jewish tradition with no direct ties to either the Sadducees OR the Pharisees, or for that matter the Essenes.)

    But regardless of their origins, the Karaites may be the closest thing that existing Judaism has to a sola scriptura position.

  • Emily K

    yes, agreed. though, I believe they DO still make animal sacrifices, despite the fact that there is no official temple, which is the only place sanctioned for them.

    There are also Ethiopian Jews; I believe they also have a different take on scripture – though I could be wrong.

    Anyway, what I meant more was that if you walk into Kinesset Israel or Beth Shalom synagogues, you are in the middle of the Pharisees. When you talk to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom I believe has worked with Gentiles and Jews alike, you’re talking to a Pharisee.Hillel the Elder, who said the Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself in about 100 BCE, was a Pharisee. (and an influential one at that.)

    And today, “Pharisee” is a synonym for hypocrite in mainstream western culture. And people don’t even know how hurtful that is. Shame.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    By the way, Emily, perhaps you know that some NT scholars have argued that Jesus himself was raised in the Pharisaic tradition, and that his relentless scolding of the Pharisees portrayed in the Gospels should thus be understood as a sort of internecine bickering — in other words, he was particularly hard on the Pharisees precisely because he felt a closer affinity with them. (An approximate analogy might be a dissident Roman Catholic cursing out the Pope while nonetheless identifying as “loyal to the One True Church.”)

    On the other hand, it’s also argued that Jesus was overall nearer to the Essenes, theologically. But we can probably rule out a Sadducee upbringing because of Jesus’s apparent familiarity with the rabbinical “Oral Torah” tradition and even more so because of his constant mention of the afterlife, about which the Sadducees discouraged even speculation.

    On the third hand, a non-Christian reader may hypothesize that Jesus’s alleged hostility towards the Pharisees was a slightly later invention of the Gospelists, as the rift between traditional Jews and converts to the new Messianic cult widened. That is, very early Christians began putting words into Jesus’s mouth in order to rationalize their own feuds with Pharisaic Jews.

  • Jayhuck

    Throbert,

    You sound like someone whose recently been studying Jewish faith and history. Is this an interest of yours?

  • Jayhuck

    who has

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Hillel the Elder, who said the Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself in about 100 BCE, was a Pharisee.

    Hillel is a particularly ironic case! As a Pharisee, he certainly would’ve defended and promulgated the ritualized dishwashing and other purity taboos that Jesus disparaged as persnickety, over-complicated, and generally missing the point of God’s Law…

    …yet Hillel also rose to the mocking challenge of a pagan who said, “I’ll bet you can’t summarize that ridiculously complicated Torah of yours while standing on one foot!”

    To which Hillel’s brilliantly concise reply was: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to other people. That is the whole of the Law — the rest is merely commentary. Go thou and study.”

    Of course, Hillel’s summary notwithstanding, the five books of Moses actually do contain a huge mass of seemingly trivial rules, like “Don’t eat shellfish” and “Don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers.” And then the Oral Tradition that eventually became the Talmud adds even more minutiae and complexity. I mean, you can blame the rabbinical tradition of the Talmud for turning this:

    Thou shalt not boil a kid goat in its mother’s milk!

    …into this:

    You can’t have a slice of cheese on your smoked turkey-breast sandwich! In fact, you can’t eat a turkey sandwich and a grilled-cheese sandwich within less than three hours of each other, and just to be extra-safe, if at all possible you should keep the cheese and the turkey in separate refrigerators!

    Now, granted, the kosher specifications derived from the Talmud do seem to over-complicate the original law to the point of being almost comical.

    But you know what else the Talmud “over-complicates”?

    Stoning people to death for adultery or homosexuality!

    Leviticus 20:13 was nice and simple — “If two men have buttsecks, kill ‘em both.” But along came those awful snap-judgment Pharisees with their whole “oral tradition,” which added the strict requirements that there had to be a minimum of two eyewitnesses, that the offenders had to have been warned against the sin in advance, and that the trial must be heard by a 23-man jury, with at least 13 “guilty” votes to convict.

    So, as Emily said, the Pharisees definitely get a bad rap.

    P.S. I’m definitely not saying that adulterers and homosexuals et al. were never stoned to death back in the days when Hillel and later Jesus were walking around the general vicinity of Jerusalem, but rather that when it happened, it was far more likely to be an extrajudicial “mob lynching” than a legal execution ordered by the Jewish religious court.

  • Richard Willmer

    Lev. 20 : 13 is very very far from ‘simple’, unless one makes a veritable bag-load of assumptions!

  • Emily K

    The Talmud complicates as well as it explains and describes. The Exodus verse I mentioned is one of the positive aspects of having the Talmud – it’s explanatory; it describes the fact that the Hebrew used was an expression used at the time to refer to monetary exchange.

    The over-complication becomes a positive development for gays and people opposed to the death penalty by making such a punishment nearly impossible to carry out, legally speaking.

    The idea of over-complication carries spiritual significance to some Jews and I believe is a way not to keep from angering God, but rather to demonstrate love and piety by placing “fences around the Torah.” That is, someone is so devoted and loves God so much that they want to put “fences” around His decrees, like a person who keeps a shining jewel on a pedestal, and refuses to touch it but simply admire it; and goes further and puts a glass box around it. Not that people don’t do the same out of fear or guilt; but i don’t believe it always is the case.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    but rather to demonstrate love and piety by placing “fences around the Torah.”

    Yes, exactly. With regard to the apparent illogic of treating poultry as “meat” for purposes of not eating meat with dairy, the relevant verses in Exodus and Deuteronomy about “not boiling a kid goat in its mother’s milk” are seen as not simply relating to ritual hygiene, but have an ethical basis — it’s about avoiding (symbolic) cruelty to animals.

    For this reason, the rules about not breaking this prohibition became even more stringent than the ones about not eating pork or shellfish — i.e., some “extra fencing” was placed around the meat/dairy rule, to avoid an accidental violation or even the appearance of a violation.

    After all, It’s difficult to be totally certain that an “all-chicken” meatball or sausage fried in butter has no minced veal in it; moreover, if a Jew was seen eating a breaded chicken cutlet with cream sauce, a Gentile might think that it was a breaded veal cutlet, and accuse the Jew of hypocrisy.

    Of course, a breaded cutlet of any kosher meat such as chicken or beef or mutton might likewise be mistaken by a Gentile for a breaded pork cutlet, also leading to a charge of hypocrisy — but from the Jewish POV, a false accusation of eating pork is less dire than a false accusation of mixing meat and dairy.

    Also, a Jew is not even supposed to buy a cheeseburger for a Gentile friend — lest they be “aiding and abetting” an ethical wrong that may cross over into breaking one of the Noachide laws binding on Gentiles. (One of the explicit Noachide laws forbids eating the flesh from a still living animal; thus, insofar as “not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk” is about cruelty to animals, it may be seen as falling under the general penumbra of the Noachide law.)

    On the other hand, a Jew may in good conscience treat a Gentile friend to pork lo mein or shrimp cocktail, as there’s no “cruelty” in eating pork or shellfish — those are bans rooted in symbolic cleanness rather than Noachide ethics, and are only binding on Jews.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    You sound like someone who’s recently been studying Jewish faith and history. Is this an interest of yours?

    Yes, very much — I would go so far as to say that learning about Judaism pulled me away from the “strong atheist” (i.e., metaphysical naturalist) position that had characterized me for most of my 20s, and towards my present “agnosticky Deist” view.

    It was a long, gradual process that resulted from conversations with many different Jews of different denominational backgrounds, from Orthodox to Reform to essentially atheist, but in the last case they were coming to atheism from a different direction than I did.

    By the way, I didn’t really become interested in Judaism until circa 2002 or early 2003, as a result of initially trying to learn more about the Israel/Palestine conflict in the wake of 9/11.

    A lot of the conversations were about international politics, at first, but when Israeli Jews found out I was a Gentile American, they would sometimes hazard a guess that I was supportive of Israel because I was an Evangelical Christian, and I’d be like, “Oh, actually, I was raised Catholic, but I’ve considered myself an atheist since my college days.”

    And sometimes my Jewish interlocutor would answer, “It’s funny, I’ve met any number of ‘ex-Catholic atheists’, but people who were raised in Protestant Christianity often just call themselves ‘atheists’ rather than ‘ex-Protestant atheists’. I can relate to that as a Jew because we often think it quite normal to describe so-and-so as being an atheist and Jewish at the same time.” And from there, the conversation would often take a departure from politics and get into faith/cultural identity and comparative religion and whatnot.

    Also, of course, similarities and differences between Jews and Christians on the matter of homosexuality sometimes came up, too.

    So, Judaism has been of interest to me for much of my 30s, but I’ve never thought seriously about conversion.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    essentially atheist [Jews], but in the last case they were coming to atheism from a different direction than I did.

    As an aside, I had often hung out on Internet atheist forums in my 20s, but as a result of talking to Jews, I began to realize just how “Christian-centric” a lot of the”atheist arguments” actually were. (Not because all atheists have a special animus towards Christianity, mind you, but because on English-language, U.S.-based forums about atheism, the overwhelming majority of the participants are themselves ex-Christian, with only a minority being either lifelong atheists from childhood, or ex-Jewish or ex-Muslim or ex-Hindu, etc. So the focus on Christianity reflects the personal journeys of the average participants on these forums.)

    For example, as you might expect, ex-Jewish atheists don’t feel much need to spend time “debunking the Trinity” as a theological concept, while ex-Christian atheists will talk a LOT about how incoherent the Trinity is.

    But perhaps as a less obvious example, the whole famous “Problem Of Evil” thing is, likewise, a frequent obsession of ex-Christian atheists, but AFAIK doesn’t seem to preoccupy the attention of ex-Jewish atheists nearly as much. (I don’t know why, exactly, but I would guess that it reflects an underlying difference in how Jews were taught to think about theodicy.)

  • Emily K

    I happen to subscribe to a progressive theology, though traditional – I love ritual and tradition, but not to the point of doing so out of fear. I can’t stand the Black Hatted Hierarchy. The Haredi are predominantly desipicable in my eyes. They were formed as an opposition to progressive Judaism – formed because they wanted to be separatist.

    I don’t believe that every Gentile needs to be bound by the Noachide Laws – that’s silly. Everyone who wants to come to Judaism is welcome to come to it; forcing others to do so (even in a watered down way) will in no way hasten the coming of the Moshiach, to put it into terms the Ultra Orthodox would understand.

    I don’t see being Jewish as a requirement to follow a set of rules as the Haredi do, because that’s not what brings me meaning religiously. Rather, I see it as a responsibility to carry and teach (when inquired) the history of the People I was born into.

    My Dad’s an atheist and still attends Synagogue (a Reform one). He participates in Jewish community things and celebrates holidays with sincerity. Still doesn’t believe God exists, however. He’s hardly the only one like him.

  • David Blakeslee

    Humbled by the things I do not know about Religious texts that shape our world.

    Throbert,

    Comments on the Koran? Its author, historical relevance and comparison with other secular and religious literature of it’s day?

    Regarding:

    [record-scratch sound effect]

    Say what?!

    Not that the “meaning of the God-man connection” isn’t important, but since when has it ever been a criterion for judging the accuracy of historic narratives?

    It took me a couple of days to figure out why I created this link. And although I appreciate your metaphor, I actually think that the ‘screech’ sound effect you may be hearing is due to our acculturation of specialization in the social sciences.

    If we are culturally relevant to the periods of time when the Bible was written: there was no such thing a Sociology, Psychology, Theology, History, Economics, and Political Science.

    My take on this means that history and “exploring the God-man” connection was understandably intertwined…(as I think it is for many non-specialized people here in the 21st century; they see their relationship with the social sciences from a unified whole).

    So criticizing the Bible historically, is like criticizing it Economically, Psychologically and Sociologically: It is a Specialty-Centric (weird self-created word): setting the specialty as judge and jury of a generalized topic, as well as being retrospective.

    Kind of like a Westerner going to proselytize a second-third world culture: ethnocentrism?

    Ugggh…hope you can track that.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Emily K.:

    When you talk to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom I believe has worked with Gentiles and Jews alike, you’re talking to a Pharisee.

    Richard W.:

    Lev. 20 : 13 is very very far from ‘simple’, unless one makes a veritable bag-load of assumptions!

    Tying both of these together — (Orthodox Jewish) Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is quoted at the very end of this rather long essay by (Conservative Jewish) Rabbi Simchah Roth, titled Dear David and subtitled Homosexual Relationships: A Halakhic Investigation. The “David” of the title is a young gay Jewish man who had anonymously written to Rabbi Roth begging for spiritual guidance, and Roth very pointedly gives the help-seeker a pseudonym that relates to the great King David.

    It’s divided into two sections, with the first focusing on what Jewish homosexual men and women are obligated to do or not do in order to avoid violating the Torah, and the second part addressing what the Jewish community’s obligations to homosexual Jews, insofar as recognizing same-sex relationships and the eligibility of homosexuals for clergy positions, etc.

    With the understanding that some of Roth’s analysis isn’t directly relevant to Christians or other non-Jews, and with the caveat that Roth is specifically representing Conservative Judaism (thus, neither Reform rabbis nor Orthodox rabbis would endorse everything Roth says), the essay is very much worth reading, and I think it’s generally accessible for people with minimal knowledge of Hebrew religious terminology.

    First, it gives some idea of how one school of rabbinical Judaism (i.e., the Conservative movement) has revised its thinking about homosexuality in recent decades;

    Second, it illustrates the “majority scholarly consensus” and “congregational autonomy” approaches of rabbinical Judaism;

    Third, you get some appreciation for the exhaustive attention to detail, and the reliance on Talmudic citations to help illuminate Scripture, as when Roth takes up the question, “Why can’t Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 be seen as prohibitions on male/male mutual masturbation?” (Partial answer to this: the Talmudic rabbi known as “Rambam” pointedly says that the transgression known as mishkav zakhur occurs “from the moment of penetration” — thus, whatever mishkav zakhur meant, it was clearly not understood by the ancient rabbis to cover non-penetrative acts.)

    Finally, it may suggest some constructive lines of argument for homosexual Christians to draw on, as for example, when Roth makes the case (at some length) that openly homosexual Jews should not be excluded from liturgical functions.

  • David Blakeslee

    Regarding “Christian Centric Arguments for Atheism”

    CS Lewis writes in the Abolition of Man that this is the case; furthermore he argues the the moral code, or Tao, is embedded in each person and is constantly effecting the decisions…whether they ascribe to Christianity or not.

    To me, the whole gay rights debate could gain greater strength by appropriating Christian beliefs that being sinners is not reason not to create protective rights (for safety, fair treatment and so on).

    Appealing to the Tao in each of us will get this done.

    Attacking Christians as haters, calling them anti-gay and comparing them to Fred Phelps (or Bahati and Sempa and Lively) seems like a needless, polarizing and hopelessly generalizing blunt act of aggression…

    Christianity is flawed in its expression and action…such a blunt attack undermines the general good of a Faith system that has been largely adaptive for Western Culture:

    —in the pursuit of human rights

    —in the exploration of science

    —in the care of vulnerable, needy and exploited populations.

  • Jayhuck

    David B -

    Attacking Christians as haters, calling them anti-gay and comparing them to Fred Phelps (or Bahati and Sempa and Lively) seems like a needless, polarizing and hopelessly generalizing blunt act of aggression…

    I think you should keep in mind that not all gay people do this. Saying that all gay people attack Christians as haters and comparing them to Fred Phelps seems like needless and polarizing speech as well. As for the term anti-gay, I understand why this would be off-putting to some people. I try not to use the expression as much anymore, but its definition does make it applicable in many circumstances.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    The Haredi are predominantly despicable in my eyes.

    Hmmm — in my time, I’ve talked with some Orthodox Jews online who were (AFAIK) coming from the Haredi tradition — i.e., the so-called ultra-Orthodox “Black Hats”, as distinguished from the so-called Modern Orthodox. And FWIW, they certainly didn’t behave “despicably” towards me.

    However, I’m aware of the possibility that they were much nicer to me than they would’ve been to Emily (i.e., a Jew who is overtly non-Orthodox) precisely because I, as an overt Gentile, wasn’t making any truth-claims about “Jewish identity” and proper interpretation of Torah and whatnot.

    I have also sometimes read comments by Haredim being disdainful of Reform and Conservative Jews, and of not accepting conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis, etc.

    P.S. Years ago, when I was living in Brooklyn, I got a very polite sexual proposition (by email) from a Jewish man who was “ultra-Orthodox” (he mentioned having a beard and side-curls), apparently because he had seen an online ad in which I expressed an interest in “frot” and a general disinclination for anal sex. I wrote back that I wasn’t sure, and that it would be difficult for me to be intimate with a guy who was so traditionally religious, for fear that he would be beating himself up with guilt over activity that I considered to be innocent, natural, and affectionate. He didn’t respond, so I guess he was indeed still at the “wracked with guilt” stage… :-(

  • David Blakeslee

    Jayhuck,

    I am not generalizing to all gays, and I am thinking out loud really. Anti-gay, homophobe and heterosexist all have their appropriate application and they are hard not to use when discussing public policy.

  • Emily K

    Well, if Ultra-Orthodox men weren’t wracked with guilt and stuffed inside closets, they wouldn’t feel the need to troll the want ads for sexual intimacy. They could go on shiduch or have a marriage to a nice man arranged for them. But that’s a problem the larger UO community has.

  • Emily K

    you’re probably right RE: the Gentile vs. Non-Orthodox Jew following her own personal truth.

    I’ve met Haredim that were perfectly nice. If you’re on a plane with them, you’re a man, and you’re Jewish (and not orthodox), they’ll often have you don tefillin (a mitzvah to do so). I saw this happen a lot flying to and from Israel.

    They probably feel threatened by us. We can be traditional and progressive at the same time.

    Modern Orthodox are just fine by me – I know of a guy who is a psychotherapist and has a gay son he is absolutely accepting of.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    David Blakeslee,

    Attacking Christians as haters, calling them anti-gay and comparing them to Fred Phelps (or Bahati and Sempa and Lively) seems like a needless, polarizing and hopelessly generalizing blunt act of aggression…

    Just as a matter of curiosity, when you personally compared me with Bahati and Sempa recently in an entire unprovoked attack, was that a needless, polarizing and hopelessly generalizing blunt act of aggression?

  • David Blakeslee

    Timothy,

    Do you want to continue this discussion here? I have suggested a different venue.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    I missed that venue suggestion. Would you care to restate it?

    And did the venue change happen, by any chance, to include an apology? Because I missed that as well.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    No? Nothing?

  • David Blakeslee

    Timothy,

    Breathe.

    I left my response a day ago…

    Your comment comes and then is followed an hour later by sarcasm…

    I sent you an e-mail through your BTB site after Warren had closed the other thread. Maybe you never received it.

  • Jayhuck

    Anti-gay, homophobe and heterosexist all have their appropriate application and they are hard not to use when discussing public policy.

    David Blakselee , I am unclear what you mean by the above statement

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    David,

    Just so we are clear, I left two comments on two threads. You responded to one and ignored this one.

    And, no, I did not get your email. If you would like to forward it again, I look forward to reading what you had to say.

    I can be reached directly at TimothyDKinLA@yahoo.com

  • Jayhuck

    Isn’t is wonderful when a person who posts asks you to breath? Not patronizing at all :)

  • Jayhuck

    Just as a matter of curiosity, when you personally compared me with Bahati and Sempa recently in an entire unprovoked attack, was that a needless, polarizing and hopelessly generalizing blunt act of aggression?

    LOL

  • Eddy

    patronizing: displaying or indicative of an offensively condescending manner

    Might be just me but I didn’t see the suggestion to breathe as ‘offfensively condescending’. As David clarified, he had left his last comment a day prior to receiving two from Timothy in an hour’s time. The second comment “No? Nothing?” was Timothy’s petulance at David not responding to HIS post within an hour after he had taken a day to respond to David’s.

    In that context, “Breath” was akin to “Hold your horses!”, “Gimme a break!” with the reminder “it’s a blogsite not an online chat…I may not be online when you comment and might not be in an hour either…give me reasonable time to see and read your comment before implying sarcastically that I have nothing to say”.

    It wasn’t ‘offensively condescending’ at all especially when you consider the sarcasm that it was in response to.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    David,

    I still have not heard from you.

    So I am still uncertain whether comparisons to Bahati and Sempa are objectively needless, polarizing and hopelessly generalizing blunt acts of aggression or whether this is a subjective classification.

    I am also uncertain whether an apology was proffered.

    Do feel free to contact me at timothydkinla@yahoo.com if you continue to believe that the venue in which you insulted me is not the proper venue in which to apologize. Assuming, of course, that you apologized.

    Timothy


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