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Guest post: The flat tire and the gospels

Guest post: The flat tire and the gospels October 18, 2021

This is a guest post by a long-time commenter at this blog, Richard S. Russell. Richard is a retired research analyst (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction) and long-time activist in the realms of atheism, science fiction, and liberal politics. He has more opinions than any ten people should legally be allowed to have but makes up for it by giving them away as fast as possible. He blogs irregularly at richardsrussell.blogspot.com.

We begin with a joke.

It was the night before the Chemistry 217 final exam, but the brothers of Beta Beta Sigma were not in the mood to study. They hit the bars, then the party circuit, then their private stash back at the frat house. Just before Jack passed out, he mumbled to the rest “Be sure to wake me up for the Chem final at 9.” But moments later the others were out of it, too.

Needless to say, when they regained consciousness around 11 the following morning, they were disgusted to realize that they’d missed the final altogether and would probably be getting F’s for the course. They quickly hatched a desperate scheme to at least give them a shot at taking the test late.

“Gentlemen!” exclaimed Prof. Hume, as they filed sheepishly into his office. “We missed you this morning. To what do I owe the honor?”

Matt spoke first: “Well, uh, Dr. Hume, we feel really bad about this, but we’re hoping you’ll understand.”

“Yeah, see, we were off last night for Luke’s wedding rehearsal, and it’s about 90 miles away, and on the way back we got a flat tire.”

“And we didn’t have a spare,” Mark added, “and it was in the middle of nowhere, and we couldn’t get a cell-phone signal, and there was no traffic. It wasn’t until this morning that a state trooper finally stopped and promised to send a tow truck to get us.”

“Uh huh. And by the time the truck arrived, the exam had already started, so we couldn’t call you or anything. But we’re hoping you’d let us take the test anyway.”

And they all looked properly hangdog and repentant, not to mention rumpled and grungy.

“Well, fellas, I understand that these things can happen. Head across the hall and distribute yourselves around the classroom while I run off a few extra copies of the test for you.”

On the way there, the brothers were smirking and giving each other winks and nudges.

Then they got the exam. Handwritten. Here it is, in its entirety:

Q1 (5%). Explain the formula H2O.
Q2 (95%). Which tire?

OK, you can see how this played out, can’t you? If Matt, Mark, Luke, and Jack really had had a flat tire, the second question would have been even easier to answer than the first. But, since they hadn’t, their answers were all over the map, just like common crooks put into separate interrogation rooms by the cops. The mere fact that any of them disagreed on that answer constituted prima facie evidence that all of them were lying.

Which brings us to the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, allegedly written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All concerned—Christians, atheists, Biblical scholars, adherents of rival religions—agree that the cornerstone of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Easter is the most important holiday in Christian churches. No less an authority than Saint Paul wrote “… if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). This event is so important that it’s the one story that appears in each of the four gospels.

But, of course, it’s a different story for each of them.

Dan Barker, former fundamentalist child preacher and now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has a simple challenge for Bible believers: “Tell me what happened on the original Easter Sunday. Just a simple chronology. Who went where and did what and said what and saw what? And in what order? Be sure to include everything mentioned in any of the gospels.”

Nobody can meet this challenge, because the gospels are horribly contradictory. (Don’t take my word for it, read them yourself: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20–21. Also Acts 1:3–12 and Paul’s tiny version of the story in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8.)

What should we conclude from this? That one apostle got it right and the rest differed in a few of the minor details? No. This is the most important story in all of Christianity, and if the gospels were divinely inspired—as true believers invariably assert they were—then their ultimate author was God, who’s supposed to be omniscient, so the four stories should be entirely consistent.

Just as consistent as which tire went flat.

If that were the truth.

The only reasonable conclusion is not that some of the gospel writers were slipshod, or mistaken, or forgetful, or embellishing. It’s that all of them are lying.

True believers have engaged in child rape, torture, mayhem, murder, and genocide, all for the greater glory of the Biblical God. What on Earth makes anyone think their consciences would bother them so much that they’d draw the line at mere lying, cheating, stealing, plagiarism, and forgery?

I always refer to the Bible as the world’s oldest, longest-running,
most widespread, and least deservedly respected Rorschach Test.
You can look at it and see whatever you want.
And everybody does.
— Richard S. Russell

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/16/17.)

Image from Gareth Williams (license CC BY 2.0)
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