Responding to “10 Myths About God” (2 of 3)

Responding to “10 Myths About God” (2 of 3) September 11, 2018

Let’s continue critiquing a Christian ministry’s video series of ten myths about God (part 1).

Myth 4: Jesus is not God. Our hosts tell us that the most important question in the Bible was asked by Jesus: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Correct answer: Jesus is the god-man. There are nonbelievers who say Jesus was a great man and a wise teacher, but they get this big question wrong.

The evidence argues that Jesus was just a legend. The impact of the religion that grew up around his story has been huge, but that alone doesn’t contradict my position. As for Jesus being a great and wise teacher, I don’t find that in the Bible, but if you find some good stuff there, that’s great.

C. S. Lewis said, “Let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.” Bullshit. Thomas Jefferson took a razor to the Bible and created his famous Jefferson Bible, keeping only the wisdom of Jesus and dropping all miracles.

Just because it’s not history doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain wisdom. I bet I’d find more keepers in The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran than in the Bible.

We’re also told in this video that “Jesus is presented [in the Bible] as the eternal God, the second person of the eternal Trinity.” Not really, and this brings us to the next myth.

Myth 5: The Trinity was invented. “What the Council of Nicaea said was that the Bible clearly teaches that there is a Trinity.”

The first problem is that, in the Trinity department, this council only rejected Arianism, which stated that Jesus was subordinate to and created by God the Father. The concept of the Trinity (with the Holy Spirit pulled into the partnership) wouldn’t be finalized until succeeding councils.

Now let’s respond to the claim that the Bible “clearly teaches that there is a Trinity.” It doesn’t. Arianism wasn’t popular just out of spite; the Bible supports it. For example, Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Imagine going back in time and asking Paul to explain the Trinity to you. He wouldn’t know what you were talking about, because the Trinity was a later invention. It wouldn’t have been familiar to the earliest Christians.

Could Jesus have known the truth of the Trinity but not bothered to make it clear in his teachings? Far more likely is that he (or the gospel authors who put words into his mouth) also had no notion of the concept.

What you do see in the New Testament is the divinity of Jesus evolving with time. Sort the books chronologically and see the evolution. In Romans, Jesus was “appointed the Son of God” at his resurrection. In Mark, Jesus becomes divine earlier, at his baptism. In Matthew and Luke, it’s at his birth. And in John, since forever. In a similar way, the idea of the Trinity evolved through the writings of the early church fathers until it was codified in pieces in the fourth century.

I write more about the Trinity here and here.

Myth 6: Good works get us to heaven. That’s true for many religions, but not Christianity. Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Yes, the Bible does make clear that faith alone gets you into heaven—except for all the places where it argues the opposite. The Bible also says that repentance wipes away sins (Acts 3:19). And that water baptism is necessary for new life (Romans 6:4–5). And that works are at least necessary if not the sole route to heaven.

  • James 2:8–26 acknowledges faith but puts the focus squarely on works, including keeping the Law. For example, it nicely skewers faith here: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18–19).
  • In heaven, the dead are judged “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12).
  • Jesus explains “Love your neighbor as yourself” with the Parable of the Good Samaritan and makes clear that good works like these get one “eternal life” (Luke 10:25–37).
  • The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats makes plain that those who make it to the Kingdom do so through their good works. Faith isn’t even mentioned (Matthew 25:31–46).

Our hosts tell us, “You and I can’t do enough good works to get to heaven.” Can they not have read these and other verses that point to the role of good works?

Next, “We’re born with a negative bank account . . . and there’s no way you can work yourself out of this debt we have to God.” This reminds me of the refrain, “I owe my soul to the company store” from the song “Sixteen Tons,” which made clear the debt slavery forced on Kentucky coal miners during the Depression. God owns you just like the mine owned its workers? Not a pleasant image.

And what did we do to deserve getting born with this debt? Apparently, our hosts are also unfamiliar with this verse: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16).

To be concluded next time.

You either have a god who sends child rapists to rape children
or you have a God who simply watches and says,
“When you’re done, I’m going to punish you.”
If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would.
That’s the difference between me and your god.
— Tracie Harris, “The Atheist Experience”

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/26/14.)

Image via David, CC license

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  • Grimlock

    Yes, the Bible does make clear that faith alone gets you into heaven—except for all the places where it argues the opposite.

    It’s almost as if the Bible is a collection of texts, written by different authors, each with their own theological views and motivations. But surely that’s not the case.

    • Jim Jones
      • Grimlock

        Oh, that’s simply fantastic! That last one was perfectly placed. I pictures someone going “Almost there, I’ve been perfect so far… Shit.”

        • Ficino

          This is almost what was going through my head as I walked up to receive my Ph.D. diploma. “If they’re going to stop the joke before it gets to the finish line,” I said to myself, “they better pull the plug on me fast.”

          But no one said anything until there I was, standing on stage, and the big envelope was shoved into one hand while I tried to figure out how to shake hands with the other.

          They never nailed me. Bwa ha ha!

          So now I’m Dr. Ficino, in a manner of speaking.

          But will it go down that way when St. Peter is in charge of the queue? Hmm…

        • Greg G.

          But no one said anything until there I was, standing on stage, and the big envelope was shoved into one hand while I tried to figure out how to shake hands with the other.

          AIUI, at that point, they only retract the PhD if you fail the handshake.

        • SirWill

          “Shit, I only used three fingers instead of my whole hand to shake!”

          “TO THE ABYSS WITH YOUR PhD!”

      • Raging Bee

        Judging by that chart, it looks like everyone’s best chance is to go for one of the loopholes! I’m sticking with Paganism and Marcus Aurelius’s advice.

    • Raging Bee

      Heaven forefend!

  • RichardSRussell

    There are nonbelievers who say Jesus was a great man and a wise teacher, but they get this big question wrong.

    Here the apologists offer an accurate assessment. Such nonbelievers are wrong indeed. Jesus was neither a great man nor a wise teacher — and may not even have been a man at all!

    • Grimlock

      […] and may not even have been a man at all!

      If he was in fact a woman, I’m completely giving up on making sense of the trinity.

      ETA: Because that’s totally what you meant… Right?

      • I never could make sense of the trinity, but if there was a woman in there somewhere – a male, a female, and an androgynous spirit – it might be a little more sensible

        • Carol Lynn

          There’s a multi-gendered god, a son, an amorphous spirit, and, in some cases, a mother off to the side you can appeal to if it looks like you’ve offended any of the others.

        • Bob Jase

          Don’t forget all those saints/demigods you can pray to.

      • ThaneOfDrones

        God is a hermaphrodite, and the Trinity is a circle jerk.

  • Jim Jones

    > What you do see in the New Testament is the divinity of Jesus evolving with time.

    I’ve been on eBay for 20 years. It has changed a lot too. But they didn’t keep making it up because .

    • Len

      Stories evolve in the telling. It’s like originally, Superman could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Later on, he could fly. Even stories of him as a youngster – Superboy – (which came later) had him flying, not just leaping.

      • Jim Jones

        Jesus is not nearly as impressive as Superman. Which is interesting.

        • Bob Jase

          There have been thousands of stories about Superman told in the past ninety years yet only one story about Jesus (with some retroconning) which says a lot about which has more potential.

        • Carol Lynn

          That’s only because Superman is already American Jesus fan-fiction.

        • Tommy

          And Superman died for our sins in Metropolis. Then he was resurrected from the grave and now sits on the council of the Justice League. Hallelujah!

        • Cynthia

          Technically a creation of an American Jew and a Canadian Jew FWIW.

        • Carol Lynn
        • Cynthia
        • Carol Lynn

          That’s awesome! Another example of the created work being able to be interpreted in ways the creators did not expect.

        • Joe

          Another thing: There were no Superman apologists, or agnostics, in Metropolis.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Myth 6: Good works get us to heaven.

    That’s true for many religions, but not Christianity.

    I wouldn’t fight this myth to hard if I were Christian. The “You can’t get in by doing good things, you have to kiss god’s ass to get in heaven” excuse makes god look worse, not better.

    • eric

      That particular Q&A is an obvious Protestant dig at the RCC, since the question of whether good deeds are relevant to salvation was one of the key factors in the split.

      • Tommy

        And it depends on how one defines ‘good deeds’.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          I think most of them define it as “donating lots of precious cash to our church”

        • Tommy

          Yeah. I believe that ‘works’ according to Paul was simply religious observances and rituals like going to church, reading the bible, tithing, taking communion and so on. I don’t think ‘works’ meant acts of kindness or loving your neighbor or just genuinely being a good human being towards others.

        • Greg G.

          Paul and James were talking about following the OT law when they refer to works. Read Galatians 2:16 (“so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”) and Galatians 3:6, then James 2:17-26 to see how James combined those. Then see Paul’s response in Romans 4:1-3 and 4:10-12, pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith before he did any of the works.

          James also reacted to Galatians 5:14 about loving your neighbor fulfilling the whole law in James 2:8-11. But Paul wins the argument with Romans 13:8-10, by pointing out that if you love someone, you won’t murder and steal from them.

          (Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 verbatim as James wrote it, which is somewhat different than how Paul quoted it in Galatians.)

          Edit: Changed Leviticus 19:18 to Genesis 15:6. The part of Leviticus 19:18 is the same in all three epistles.

        • Whereas James made it excruciatingly clear that by works he was talking about providing food and and a roof for the needy. It’s no wonder Christians today really don’t like James.

        • Greg G.

          James was really all about following the Old Testament law. Even doing good works for the needy comes from that:

          Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (NRSV)7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8 You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9 Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

          Paul thought loving your neighbor would satisfy the Old Testament law but James thought one followed the law and the love part was irrelevant.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2018/09/responding-to-10-myths-about-god-2-of-3-2/#comment-4092341415

    • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

      Especially in the flavors of Christianity that say that God doesn’t take the good works into account at all. God would rather let a mass murderer who kisses his ass into heaven before a toddler who never heard about Him….

      • Greg G.

        The Free Will argument implies that God’s system makes the murderer’ free will supersede the free will of the victim. God is accused of mass-murder in the Bible. I think mass-murder might be one of the works that gets you into heaven.

        • Doubting Thomas

          It also implies that the morally correct thing we should do is act “godly” and let the murderer carry out their free will and not try to stop them. Yahweh is big into inaction.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    The word Trinity appears in the Bible (KJV) zero times.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      The word Neo appears in the Bible (KJV) zero times as well.

      • Greg G.

        The Greek versions have νεος and νεον for “new”, which is where the prefix “neo-” comes from.

        I would like to find Carrie Anne Moss in the Bible, or anywhere else.

  • Pofarmer

    OT.

    So on Facebook today I Tried the burning fertility clinic the limo on a guy who turned out to be Catholic and a proponent of natural family planning. It’s amazing the lengths they will go to to absolutely not answer the question.

    • Susan

      I tried the burning fertility clinic dilemma on a guy who turned out to be Catholic.

      Uh oh.

      It’s amazing the lengths they will go to absolutely not answer the question.

      Not really amazing.

      But, yes.

      Standard.

      • Pofarmer

        So, how do you get someone to understand, that acting like a fertilized egg iis a child is going to cause more,not fewer, abortions?

        • Greg G.

          You can read it for them and tell them but you can’t understand it for them.

        • Pofarmer

          The problem is so many of them are theologically hidebound from understanding.

    • Doubting Thomas

      I asked Shem the Penman whether he thought people in Biblical times were more ignorant than people today. After asking repeatedly, he said it was a loaded question and refused to answer. Apparently the idea that people in the information age know more than people from the stone age isn’t as obvious as I had expected.

      • Pofarmer

        Shem is one frustrating person.

        • Sophotroph

          He’s stuck in “smart teenager” mode, where the fact that he’s cleverly discerned a few things that many others have not makes him think he’s a unique intellectual beacon who was put on earth to enlighten us plebs.

          Dismantling one of his points (which are never wrong) is a good way to get banned from his comment section if you’ve ever said anything even slightly rude he can use as an excuse.

          The wedge he’s trying to drive between “good science” (agrees with him) and “scientism” (does not agree with him) makes me think he’s angling for a grant from the Templeton Foundation.

          Trying to exempt “meaning” from any scientific scrutiny, as if it was a magical substance, reeks of special pleading.

          If he’s not trying to find a way to sell atheists on NOMA without raising any alarm flags, he’s having a miraculously specific set of accidents.

      • Otto

        He wrote a post taking a stand against absolute free speech. I wanted to know how he intended to determine what speech is allowed and what is to be censored, and how he thought it should be done. He then rambled on about how free speech was intended to benefit the minority in society and that now it is being used by the majority to marginalize the minority, but he would not answer the questions.

        • Pofarmer

          YEAh he tends to be a little muddle headed

        • Doubting Thomas

          I think he has good intentions, but often times it seems his emotional thought overrides his reasoning and he ends up doing dumb shit to defend his position.

        • Otto

          I do agree with that, and I agree with him on some stuff, but ffs… try and have a discussion or god forbid you disagree with him about some point, and he flies off the rails… accuses you of not understanding his position, and starts the insults.

          I will still check out his topic occasionally but I have pretty much stopped commenting, he treats people like shit.

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          I love when he accuses people of being atheists for the wrong reasons, like all of these “new” atheists who aren’t atheists for the same reason he is.

        • Otto

          Well of course he is right…just ask him.

        • Pofarmer

          I wasn’t aware there was a wrong reason to be an atheist.

        • Michael Neville

          Of course there’s wrong reasons for atheism. Just ask Shem, he’ll explain them to you. Basically he doesn’t like Christopher Hitchens or P.Z. Meyers and thinks Richard Dawkins is an ass.

        • Pofarmer

          Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have created space for more people to be atheists than the Shem’s of the world ever will.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I did see a story about a pastor who became an atheist after he read the book about Jesus being a conspiracy created by the Romans to subdue the Jews. It turns out that some pastors are gullible. Who knew?

          That’s about as close as I’ve heard to a “wrong reason” to be an atheist.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, yes. Christians are never gullible, obviously.

        • Greg G.

          I am still pissed at him from when he was commenting here. He complained that I was not providing evidence so I posted some of the evidence I had. Then he complained it was “a wall of text.”

        • epeeist

          I had a similar experience with him. He seems to be in favour of rational or evidence based arguments when they support the conclusions he agrees with, otherwise…

        • That’s particularly rich, given that he just wrote a post complaining about people asking for evidence, calling pretty much all such behavior “sealioning” without distinction.

        • Greg G.

          That happened four or five years ago. I haven’t paid much attention to him since then but I have come across some of his comments here and there.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Shem doesn’t like it when facts are brought to the party.

        • Otto
        • Greg G.

          Harumph!

        • Pofarmer

          That’s depressing.

      • ThaneOfDrones

        I like to point out that I know more about physics than Isaac Newton. I’m certainly not as smart, but I have a few more centuries of accumulated scientific progress which he didn’t have access to. Newton never accepted (or even heard of) relativity and quantum mechanics.

        • Greg G.

          Newton may have come up with relativity and quantum mechanics if he hadn’t got caught up with determining that God was not the Trinity.

    • Ficino

      I was just reading this morning in Aristotle that the embryo first *becomes* an animal, only later during gestation *becomes* a human or horse or whatever.

      • This was the basis for most medieval Christian thinkers to allow abortion through what we would call the first trimester. The Aristotelian position on fetal likeness was so strong that this remained the essence of the Catholic position until Aristotelian logic went finally and completely out of style with Hegel in the 19th century.

    • Otto

      I have never understand why intentionally having sex when a woman is (hopefully) not ovulating is any different than using a condom or the pill.

    • Let the tap dancing begin.

      I’ve struggled with a similar issue on the spectrum argument. I say, “The newborn is a person, but the single cell 9 months earlier wasn’t” and then invite them to replace “person” with a better word. I don’t believe I’ve had a single Christian respond with a reasonable answer.

      • Pofarmer

        I let it drop. But they came up with “The Frozen embryo is a little frozen child.” Shit you not. Uhm, you can’t freeze a child for any length of time and reanimate it. That should be your first clue that an embryo is not a child. When words cease to mean things it’s anybodies game at that point.

        • “A little frozen child” with teeny, adorable hands and fingers and eyes and ears, right?

        • epeeist

          When words cease to mean things it’s anybodies game at that point.

          *Cough* Clement Agonistes *Cough*