August 22, 2019

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

His words below will be in blue.

*****

He wrote an article called, ” ‘This Howling Conflict between Mark and John’: Yet so many Christians don’t seem to have a clue” (10-26-18).

Even if there wasn’t a Beloved Disciple, there is a Beloved Gospel—and that would be John, in which Jesus has a superhuman commanding presence. Well, as seen through the eyes of adoring faith. For those who aren’t so adoring, that ‘commanding presence’ looks more like bragging, insufferable egregious egotism. Which is what can happen—as in John’s case—when the author isn’t even trying to depict a real human. . . . Mark was schooled in Greek tragedy . . . and constructed his Jesus story accordingly, i.e., he made Jesus a real human who agonized over his fate; Mark assumed that even the Son of God could do that.

But John would have none of it; a human Jesus was out of the question. As an exercise to shock Christians out of faith-complacency, I suggest that they read Mark and John back-to-back. It should jump out at them, . . . If they aren’t puzzled—if they aren’t alarmed—then they’re not paying attention. Someone is lying about their Jesus. . . . 

John . . . doesn’t even mention—as do Matthew, Mark, and Luke—that Jesus was distraught [during the time when His Passion was imminent], . . . 

Really? Not human, and not distraught?:

John 11:32-33, 38 (RSV) Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [33] When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; . . . [38] Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; . . . 

John 12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

John 13:21 When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

Dr. Madison cites Louis A. Ruprecht, Jr.:

• “The Synoptic story of Gethsemane raised two critical questions that are nearly impossible to answer. First, if Jesus was alone when he prayed, then how can anyone know exactly what he said? Second, if Jesus was on such intimate terms with God, then how can their wills be so dramatically out of sync at the very end of the story? John’s evangel cuts the complicated Gordian knot of such questions with a very simple answer: Jesus didn’t pray that way.” (p. 74)

• “If the Synoptic story of Gethsemane is a story about praying in the face of temptation prior to betrayal, then John’s is no longer the same story at all.” (p. 74) . . . 

• “…John had to erase the dramatic episode that Mark located in Gethsemane—a powerful story about prayer and temptation, about the sheer humanity of Jesus’s doubts and the awful depth of his suffering. Mark’s tragedy hinges on the fact that we are witnesses to the collision between two wills, a tragic struggle for self-definition in which we are invited to participate and to recognize as our own. John simply cannot tell a story like that because his theology cannot allow for a collision of wills between Father and Son or for a divided picture of Jesus.” (p. 76) Remember these key words: his theology cannot allow. . . . 

Ruprecht makes it starkly clear that Mark and John thought very differently about Jesus. . . . 

• “… we modern people must work very carefully, with more finally developed historical habits, to be able to feel the shock that John’s evangel might have created in an ancient Christian audience that knew and admired Mark’s version. The power of Marks performance has something to do with Jesus’s passionate humanity, something to do with compassion in the face of unimaginable suffering, and it has everything to do with tragedy. John turned all this upside down by writing an anti-tragic evangel in which Jesus’s humanity is muted and all compassion, much like the wavering disciples, has fled.” (p. 101) . . . 

“Gethsemane admits a level not just of humanity, but of actual doubt, and that Luther finds completely unacceptable in the Savior of humankind.” (p. 174) . . . 

Unbeknown to most of the folks in the pews, the New Testament is a minefield of conflicting, contradictory theologies—as well as portraits of Jesus that cannot be reconciled. Oblivious to all this, they show up to worship. It’s comforting to hear nice verses read from the Good Book on Sunday morning. So there was a howling conflict between Mark and John? That would be too much information.

There is no supposed “collision of wills between Father and Son” in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus made it clear (as recorded in those three Gospels) that His will was fully in line with the Father’s will that He suffer and die for the sake of all men. There is no hint that He disagrees with that or that he “doubts”; only that He is agonized over what is to come (as any human being would be):

Matthew 26:36-42 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsem’ane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.” [37] And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zeb’edee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. [38] Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” [39] And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” [40] And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? [41] Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” [42] Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.”

Mark 14:32-36 And they went to a place which was called Gethsem’ane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” [33] And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. [34] And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” [35] And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. [36] And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” 

Luke 22:39-42 And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives [where Gethsem’ane is located]; and the disciples followed him. [40] And when he came to the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” [41] And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, [42] “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” 

Likewise, the unity of the wills of Jesus and God the Father was also expressed by Jesus in John’s Gospel: “And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29); “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn 12:27); “I lay down my life, that I may take it again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18) 

Moreover, Jesus shows no inclination whatsoever to not willingly suffer and die for the purpose of redemption, and indeed, rather casually predicted what was to come, over and over: as seen in all four Gospels:

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Matthew 17:22-23 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, [23] and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 

Matthew 20:17-19 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, [18] “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, [19] and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 

Matthew 26:1-2 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, [2] “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 

Matthew 26:31-32 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [32] But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 

Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 10:32-34 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; [34] and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 12:1-11 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. [2] When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. [3] And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. [4] Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. [5] And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. [6] He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ [7] But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ [8] And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. [9] What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. [10] Have you not read this scripture: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; [11] this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Luke 9:22 . . . “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 

Luke 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” 

Luke 18:31-33 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. [32] For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; [33] they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 

John 2:19-21 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body. 

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 

John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, . . . 

John 10:15, 17-18 . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” 

John 12:23-24 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 

John 12:31-33 “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; [32] and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what death he was to die. 

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (cf. 14:18-19, 27-29)

John 16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; . . . (cf. 16:7, 16-22, 28; 17:13)

There is no imagined “difference” or “contradiction” in these respects (or any other) between Mark and John, or Matthew and Luke, and John. It’s simply one of many “Madison myths.”

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Photo credit: Christ in Gethsemane (1886), by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 20, 2019

Two Donkeys? / Fig Tree / Moneychangers

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “The Day Jesus Cursed a Fig Tree: …and followed the deed with bad theology” (1-25-19)

The theological agenda of the gospel authors included Jesus as a fulfillment of scripture—everybody knows that, right?—so they frequently quoted OT texts out of context.

Dr. Madison doesn’t, alas, tell us how he thinks Matthew cited Zechariah 9:9 out of context, so there is nothing here to refute. It’s simply one of his gratuitous and groundless swipes at Jesus and the Gospel writer.

Matthew failed to grasp the technique of the parallelism in Hebrew poetry (line 1: say something; line 2, say the same thing using a different word), and reports that Jesus rode on two animals, a donkey and a colt. (Matthew 21:7) Yes, Matthew could be that goofy . . . 

Matthew does not report that Jesus rode on two animals. He wrote: “they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon” (Mt 21:7, RSV). He can hardly have sat on (let alone ride) two animals at once.  Does Dr. Madison think Matthew was trying to present Jesus as a circus stunt rider? How silly are we gonna get? There must be some other sensible meaning. But then, what does “them” mean in this verse? And why two animals? It does seem strange at first glance. Apologist Eric Lyons, in a comprehensive article on this very issue of the colt and the ass, writes:

Mark recorded that Jesus told the two disciples that they would find “a colt tied, on which no one has sat” (11:2). . . . 

Mark, Luke, and John did not say that only one donkey was obtained for Jesus, or that only one donkey traveled up to Jerusalem with Jesus. The writers simply mentioned one donkey (the colt). They never denied that another donkey (the mother of the colt) was present. . . . 

[W]en Matthew’s gospel is taken into account, the elusive female donkey of Zechariah 9:9 is brought to light. Both the foal and the female donkey were brought to Christ at Mount Olivet, and both made the trip to Jerusalem. Since the colt never had been ridden, or even sat upon (as stated by Mark and Luke), its dependence upon its mother is very understandable (as implied by Matthew). The journey to Jerusalem, with multitudes of people in front of and behind Jesus and the donkeys (Matthew 21:8-9), obviously would have been much easier for the colt if the mother donkey were led nearby down the same road. . . . 

Greek scholar A.T. Robertson believed that the second “them” (Greek αυτων) refers to the garments that the disciples laid on the donkeys, and not to the donkeys themselves. In commenting on Matthew 21:7 he stated: “The garments thrown on the animals were the outer garments (himatia), Jesus ‘took his seat’ (epekathisen) upon the garments” (1930, [Word Pictures in the New Testament], 1:167).

Two Bible translations, whose purpose is to provide an exceptionally literal rendering of the Greek biblical text: Amplified Bible and Wuest Expanded Translation, concur with this interpretation:

They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their coats upon them, and He seated Himself on them [the clothing].

And they placed upon them their outer garments. And He took His seat upon them [the garments].

New American Standard Bible also brings out this more specific meaning:

and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.

“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.”

D. E. Nineham, in his 1963 commentary, noted: “This story is one of the most difficult in the Gospels, for it approximates more closely than any other episode in Mark to the type of ‘unreasonable’ miracle characteristic of the non-canonical Gospel literature.” (p. 298) C. F. D. Moule, in his 1965 commentary: “It is very odd that Jesus should condemn a fig-tree for having no fruit when it was not even the season for fruit.” (p. 89)

Apologist Kyle Butt offers a plausible explanation:

One prominent question naturally arises from a straightforward reading of the text. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree that did not have figs on it, especially since the text says that “it was not the season for figs”? In response to this puzzling question, skeptical minds have let themselves run wild with accusations regarding the passage. . . . 

When Jesus approached the fig tree, the text indicates that the tree had plenty of leaves. R.K. Harrison, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, explains that various kinds of figs grew in Palestine during the first century. One very important aspect of fig growth has to do with the relationship between the leaf and the fruit. Harrison notes that the tiny figs, known to the Arabs as taksh, “appear simultaneously in the leaf axils” (1982, 2:302) This taksh is edible and “is often gathered for sale in the markets” (2:302). Furthermore, the text notes: “When the young leaves are appearing in spring, every fertile fig will have some taksh on it…. But if a tree with leaves has no fruit, it will be barren for the entire season” (2:301-302).

Thus, when Jesus approached the leafy fig tree, He had every reason to suspect that something edible would be on it. However, after inspecting the tree, Mark records that “He found nothing but leaves.” No taksh were budding as they should have been if the tree was going to produce edible figs that year. The tree appeared to be fruitful, but it only had outward signs of bearing fruit (leaves) and in truth offered nothing of value to weary travelers. . . . 

[I]n a general sense, Jesus often insisted that trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down (Matthew 7:19; Luke 13:6-9). The fig tree did not bear fruit, was useless, and deserved to be destroyed: the spiritual application being that any human who does not bear fruit for God will also be destroyed for his or her failure to produce.

Jesus did not throw a temper tantrum and curse the fig tree even though it was incapable of producing fruit. He cursed the tree because it should have been growing fruit since it had the outward signs of productivity. Jesus’ calculated timing underscored the spiritual truth that barren spiritual trees eventually run out of time. As for personal application, we should all diligently strive to ensure that we are not the barren fig tree.

Upon arriving at the Temple (v.15): “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.”

What provoked Jesus to do this? Why was he upset about money-changers and dove-sellers? Jesus himself had once told a man he’d healed to “offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded,” meaning the sacrifice of a bird (according to Leviticus 14). The Temple existed for this form of devotion.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges provides an answer:

the tables of the moneychangers] The Greek word signifies those who took a small coin (Hebr. Kolbon, Grk. κόλλυβος, perhaps a Phœnician word) as a fee for exchanging the money of the worshippers, who were required to pay in Hebrew coin. This exaction of the fee was itself unlawful (Lightfoot). And probably other dishonest practices were rife.

Encyclopedia Judaica (“Money Changers”) confirms that this interest-taking was contrary to Jewish Law:

In the period of the Second Temple vast numbers of Jews streamed to Palestine and Jerusalem “out or every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), taking with them considerable sums of money in foreign currencies. This is referred to in the famous instance of Jesus’ driving the money changers out of the Temple (Matt. 21:12). Not only did these foreign coins have to be changed but also ordinary deposits were often handed over to the Temple authorities for safe deposit in the Temple treasury (Jos., Wars 6:281–2). Thus Jerusalem became a sort of central bourse and exchange mart, and the Temple vaults served as “safe deposits” in which every type of coin was represented (TJ, Ma’as. Sh. 1:2, 52d, and parallels). The business of money exchange was carried out by the shulḥani (“exchange banker”), who would change foreign coins into local currency and vice versa (Tosef., Shek. 2:13; Matt. 21:12). People coming from distant countries would bring their money in large denominations rather than in cumbersome small coins. The provision of small change was a further function of the shulḥani (cf. Sif. Deut., 306; Ma’as Sh., 2:9). For both of these kinds of transactions the shulḥani charged a small fee (agio), called in rabbinic literature a kolbon (a word of doubtful etymology but perhaps from the Greek κόλλυβος “small coin”; TJ, Shek. 1:6, 46b). This premium seems to have varied from 4 percent to 8 percent (Shek. 1:6, et al.). The shulḥani served also as a banker, and would receive money on deposit for investment and pay out an interest at a fixed rate (Matt. 25:27), although this was contrary to Jewish law (see below; *Moneylending ). . . .

The activity of the Jewish banker, shulḥani, was of a closely defined nature, as his transactions had to be in accordance with the biblical prohibition against taking interest (ribit).

John Lightfoot’s commentary on Matthew 21:12 adds more relevant information:

[Overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.] Who those moneychangers were, may be learned very well from the Talmud, and Maimonides in the treatise Shekalim:– . . .

At that time when they paid pence for the half shekel, a kolbon [or the fee that was paid to the moneychanger] was half a mea, that is, the twelfth part of a penny, and never less. But the kolbons were not like the half shekel; but the exchangers laid them by themselves till the holy treasury were paid out of them.” You see what these moneychangers were, and whence they had their name. You see that Christ did not overturn the chests in which the holy money was laid up, but the tables on which they trafficked for this unholy gain.

Note that Jesus specifically concentrated on two groups: the moneychangers and those who sold doves. This was mentioned in the current account from Mark (above), and in the parallel stories (Mt 21:12-13; Jn 2:13-16). His anger at the moneychangers has just been explained. They were unlawfully extracting interest, which would hurt the poor the most. Why did He go after the dove sellers? It’s a similar reason. The Experimental Theology blog explains:

As most know, the preferred sacrifice to be offered at the temple was a lamb. But a provision is made in the Levitical code for the poor:

Leviticus 5.7 Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.

By going after the dove sellers we see Jesus directly attacking the group who were having economic dealings with the poor. When the poor would go to the temple they would head for the dove sellers.

The point being, while we know that Jesus was upset about economic exploitation going on in the temple, his focus on the dove sellers sharpens the message and priorities. . . . Jesus’s anger is stirred at the way the poor are being treated and economically exploited.

Hence, He described this scenario with these people who exploited the poor, a “den of robbers” or “den of thieves.” Dr. Madison asked why Jesus was upset. I have provided an answer, through these excellent commentaries. Now Dr. Madison knows more than he did (so do I).

He blends wording from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, which have no relevance whatever to this incident—but Mark knew that he could get away with it.

• In Isaiah 56, the prophet looks forward to the day when all nations will bend the knee to his own god, Yahweh, and in that sense only will the temple be a house of prayer for all nations, i.e., when they have converted. Nor is this verse (7) a denunciation of the gory business of the temple; the text reads: “…their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

All Jesus cited was “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Mk 11:17), which is from Isaiah 56:7. The point is that this is its central purpose: a place of worship and praise and prayer and ritual sacrifice: not of collection of unlawful interest and exploiting the poor, contrary to the Jewish Law. That’s all Jesus was saying.

It doesn’t follow (as with partial analogies) that every jot and tittle of a prophecy must be applicable to the situation about which it is cited. New Testament citation of the Old Testament is a long and complex subject in and of itself (see one article that gets into that). The same Isaiah 56:7 refers to “my house of prayer” (God speaking) before it says it will be called the same.

• In Jeremiah 7:11, the prophet blasts the wickedness of the people of Israel, and no amount of worship at the temple can cancel that reality. Thus the temple is a sham: “ Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” Den of robbers seems to have been an allusion to the sin that annulls the value of worship, not to the practice of selling animals and exchanging currency.

Here is the passage and some context as well:

Jeremiah 7:9-11 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, [10] and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, `We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? [11] Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD. 

The moneychangers and sellers of doves were stealing by extracting unlawful interest and excessive prices for items sold to the poor (the birds). 7:6 also states: “do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow”. So the passage is exactly applicable. The passage in its larger context lists a bunch of sins: two of which applied to the temple situation in Jesus’ time (stealing and exploitation of the less fortunate), and so He cited it accordingly. Yet Dr. Madison claimed that both passageshave no relevance whatever to this incident.” Poppycock!

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Photo credit: Entry of the Christ in Jerusalem (1897), by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 19, 2019

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

[Dr. Madison’s critique of chapter 8 was so silly, repetitive, insubstantial, and non-exegetical that it deserved no reply, so I passed over it]

Dr. Madison called this installment: “Jesus the Cult Fanatic, At It Again: Christians pretend not to notice…” (11-16-18)

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, suddenly disappears, verse 42: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” Wow. Anyone who obstructs belief in the cult leader deserves a grim fate. This is script for the fanatic who was Mark’s hero.

Huh? All He’s saying is that if one messes with the innocent, trusting faith of little children, they are in a very bad spiritual place.  My RSV reads: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin . . .” It’s protecting children: hardly a “controversial” notion or example of Dr. Madison’s so-called “bad Jesus.” This would arguably cover pedophilia and other forms of child abuse, too. This kind of polemics is over-the-top ridiculous. Dr. Madison seems to make ever-more lousy arguments as he goes along.

But it gets worse. Priests and preachers wave off the next few grim verses (43-48) as metaphor or hyperbole, but couldn’t a compassionate Jesus have chosen his words more carefully? Unless you chop sin out of your life—literally—you aren’t a good bet for making it into the Kingdom.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”

It’s my guess that if many Christians ran into a street preacher shouting these words, they would cross the street to get away. But why is it okay when Jesus says these things, solemnly recited as part of the white noise on Sunday mornings?

The self-mutilation metaphor cannot be considered appropriate for sane religion; moreover, Jesus declines to specify exactly what he has in mind, i.e., the sins that hands, feet, and eyes can commit to deserve severe punishment. This has given license for preachers for centuries to fill in the details, according to their own personal biases about sin.

This is, of course, non-literal hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration to make a point. I dealt with it as a common phenomenon in Scripture in my paper, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family?

Please don’t tout Jesus as greatest ethicist who ever lived if he taught that, for their mistakes, fallible human beings could end up in a place where the punishing fire never ceases. Our role models for morality cannot be mean and vindictive.

An eternal hell can easily be defended as a just notion, and I have done so many times:

Replies to Some Skeptical Objections to the Christian Doctrine of Hell (“Religion Is Lies” website) [5-24-06]

Biblical Annihilationism or Universalism? (w Atheist Ted Drange) [9-30-06]

Dialogue w Atheists on Hell & Whether God is Just [12-5-06]

Hell: Dialogue with a Philosophy Graduate Student [12-26-08]

Dialogue: Hell & God’s Justice, Part II [1-2-09]

Can Hell Actually be Defended? My Shot … [10-7-15]

Atheism & Atheology (Copious Resources, including on hell) [11-5-15]

A Defense of Hell: Philosophical Explanations of its Plausibility, Necessity, and Factuality [12-10-15]

Exchanges with an Atheist on Hell & Skepticism [12-17-15]

How to Annihilate Three Skeptical Fallacies Regarding Hell [National Catholic Register, 6-10-17]

Hell as a Deterrent: Analogy to Our Legal Systems [10-3-18]

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus had given his disciples the ‘authority’ to cast out demons (one aspect of magical thinking found in the gospel). But it turns out that they weren’t always up to the task. In the heart of chapter 9 we learn about a demon that resisted their magic. A father had brought his mute, deaf son to be healed; Jesus was furious that they had failed. Instead of calming asking what might have gone wrong, he lashed out: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (v. 19)

We can see that the text never says that Jesus was “furious.” That’s simply wishful thinking on Dr. Madison’s part: always desperately and vainly looking for “bad Jesus.”

The father reported that his son had been like this since childhood: “It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him…”

Now comes one of the most poignant texts in the gospel. The desperate father pleads, “…but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus had snarled at the disciples,

He merely rebuked them for lack of belief (and He later explains why: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer”: 9:29). And so Dr. Madison calls this reply of Jesus, “a smug, smart-ass answer.”  Really? There are times when Jesus gets truly angry (righteously indignant), such as his encounter with the moneychangers at the temple and with the Pharisees (Matthew 24). This is not one of them; nor is it “proof” that Jesus was sinfully angry at all. It’s just one of the innumerable “Madison myths.” Dr. Madison adds:

Gee, the disciples hadn’t tried that [prayer, to remove the demon]?

Probably, but just not enough: is also a reasonable interpretation. To offer an analogy, it would be like saying that “getting over the death of a loved one comes through crying.” There is momentary crying and there is extended, anguished soul-level weeping and wailing. All of us who have experienced great tragedy, including loss and grieving know the difference well. That’s how prayer is, too. It’s a matter of degree. And this seems to be a plausible take on this incident. The disciples needed to pray more, and with more faith. But they lacked it; hence Jesus’ chastising rebuke (just as all good parents do with children, where necessary for their own good).

now he belittled the father. Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” The poor guy might have wondered if his own lack to belief could have been a factor in his son’s disability. He wants to make amends, “Help my unbelief!”

Again, how is this belittling the father? Dr. Madison is apparently quite the mind-reader: and most of what he seems to observe are alleged “negative” thoughts. The man asked Jesus, “if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us” and  Jesus replied, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes” (9:22-23). I have noted repeatedly in these replies how faith is tied in with healing in Scripture: not always, but probably the great majority of times. So Jesus was saying that it was not merely a matter of His own divine power, but also of the faith of the man (and with use of more hyperbole).

There are two pieces of bad advice—actually bad theology—in this story which have no doubt caused much Christian anguish for centuries.

• Belief is a key to overcoming illness—it just has to be strong enough: “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Jesus condemned “this faithless generation.”

• Add some prayer to that, and the magic will work: the demon could be vanquished “only through prayer.”

The devout who actually do read the gospels for guidance on how to live and survive, and assume that Jesus is telling the honest truth, sense that these are unreasonable expectations. They know that, far too often, belief and prayer don’t work in the face of chronic suffering, and they beat themselves up for failing. This is not healthy religion. Shame on Jesus for this bad advice.

I have dealt with the repetitive, droning theme in Dr. Madison’s overall polemic (which doesn’t become any more true merely by repeating the same tired lies): Madison vs. Jesus #10: Universal Answered Prayer & Healing?

Mark’s gospel is saturated with miracle, magic, superstition, and fantasy: Jesus glowed on a mountaintop while having a chat with long-dead heroes. Such stories emerge from imaginations fired by religious zeal. If only Christians could read the gospels carefully, meticulously, critically—and wise up that they’ve been conned.

[I pass over further slanders and blasphemies against Jesus and the Holy Bible, such as these. One has only so much patience — even by God’s supernatural enabling grace — with this sort of bilge. I ain’t Job]

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Photo credit: Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple (1610), by Cecco del Caravaggio (1588-1620) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 16, 2019

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “How Come Jesus Didn’t Know Better?: Jesus and the demons” (4-20-18).

[I pass over Dr. Madison’s rant against angels, demons, Satan, and benevolent dead saints. He gives no arguments and merely assumes that such beings are self-evidently false and superstitious (“Mark chapter 3 is a major embarrassment to devout Christians who have learned to think like citizens of the 21st Century,” etc. ad nauseam); hence, nothing in this section to refute or interact with. I deal with arguments, not bald self-assumed infallible and invulnerable ravings]

Perhaps the most regrettable part of this pronouncement comes at the end: You’re not allowed to insult one of the big shots in the spirit world:

• “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” (vv. 28-30)

We have to assume that the Christians who ‘love their Jesus’ don’t pay much attention to this text—or are as heavily into magical thinking as the guy who wrote it. Everything else can be forgiven, but not blaspheming the holy spirit? Of course this makes no sense whatever from the standpoint of rational ethics.

It’s because this blasphemy is rejection of God Himself (Whom the Holy Spirit and Jesus are). It’s calling evil good. Hence, it can’t and won’t be forgiven in the sense that there is no repentance and the person has completely and utterly rejected God (completely hardened their hearts, as the Bible often expresses it). Jesus said this after the hostile “scribes” charged that He was “possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (3:22, RSV; cf. Jn 10:20). They were saying He was either a demoniac or an idol- or devil-worshiper. And so Jesus replied (quite sensibly and logically):

Mark 3:23-26 . . . “How can Satan cast out Satan? [24] If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. [25] And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. [26] And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.”

He completely nailed them for something that made no sense whatsoever: the devil literally fighting against himself by allowing one of his supposed agents / demons to cast out other of his demons. Huh? Then He made the point that lying about God in this way was so evil that it would lead to damnation (the absence of any more forgiveness and the presence of “eternal sin” in hell). Jesus adds in the parallel account in Matthew:

Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (cf. Lk 11:20: “. . . by the finger of God . . .”)

How in the world this is “regrettable” and how it supposedly “makes no sense whatever from the standpoint of rational ethicsis, I’m afraid, beyond me. It would be like calling a doctor who just did a successful eight-hour heart surgery on a patient (saving her life) an “evil man who serves Satan”: as if what he did was a bad thing, only deserving of scorn and derision. That’s a very wicked lie; and it would richly deserve precisely the rebuke that Jesus gave an even more outrageous and vicious lie.

In effect, Jesus was expressing the thought that, “if you call even the benevolent God evil or in league with Satan and demons, then there is no hope for you, as you have rejected the sole source of your possible salvation.” And that is merciful and perfectly rational and ethical. He’s telling them that they are in extreme spiritual danger, just as any caring person would warn another about impending physical danger, if it is potentially present (say, for example, walking out into a powerful hurricane). They were playing with fire. If they didn’t know that, then they did after Jesus informed them.

Mark declared at the opening of his gospel that Jesus was the son of God, so the hushing of the demons helped explain why this status wasn’t as well known as it could have been. Furthermore, Mark needed to explain why Jesus came to a bad end; yes, it was necessary theologically (Mark 10:45: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”), but how was the bad end plotted?

In chapter 3, Mark introduces this theme. After Jesus had once again (as at the end of chapter 2) challenged the religious bureaucrats on Sabbath rules, we read in v. 3:6: “The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

This simple statement reflects the omniscient perspective that novelists enjoy; they can tell the reader what characters are thinking—or in this case, conspiring. Those who want to believe that Mark is history have the burden of explaining how the author could have known what he reports in verse 3:6. Of course, the novelist can write what he wants, but the historian has to gather the facts. If the gospel was composed 40 or 50 years after the death of the protagonist—and after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE—it’s hard to conceive how the author could have documented the plotting of the Pharisees and Herodians. Did they even keep written records of what they were up to? Did such records survive? How would he have had access to them?

It may have been speculative in some sense, I suppose, but if so, it was a quite plausible speculation, since Jesus’ enemies gave many hints that they hated and despised Him: up to and including violent threats and infiltration of Jesus’ own twelve disciples, to get someone willing to betray Him (and the incident I just dealt with, where they accused Him of being “possessed by Be-el’zebul.” After all, all the Gospels (as Dr. Madison never tires of pointing out) were written after the death of Jesus; so they also had the benefit of hindsight. The fact is that Jesus was tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin, in an illegal kangaroo court, complete with absurdly conflicting “witnesses”:

Mark 14:55-59 Now the chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. [56] For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. [57] And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, [58] “We heard him say, `I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” [59] Yet not even so did their testimony agree.

We know at least part of these proceedings were public in nature (such as the incident with the crowd yelling for Jesus’ crucifixion), and so the hatred of Jesus could have been observed. Moreover, there were many other public and observable hints of same:

John 10:31-33 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. [32] Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” [33] The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

That was a public incident, and that is how the Gospel writers could know — fairly certainly — that there was such a plot to kill Jesus. John himself could write what he did elsewhere precisely because of what happened in the incident above:

John 5:18 This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus was threatened with stoning or other bodily harm by the scribes and Pharisees other times as well:

John 8:59 So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

John 11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”

Luke 4:28-30 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. [29] And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. [30] But passing through the midst of them he went away.

If an historian (whether professional or “amateur”) made the statement, “John Wilkes Booth hated Abraham Lincoln and sought to destroy him” or “Lee Harvey Oswald hated John F. Kennedy and sought to destroy him” would they be justified, and accurate? I submit that most would think so, based on the documented facts of the two assassinations. Likewise, with Mark’s speculation.

Now, as for the particular assertion of a pharisaical plot with the Herodians (which is Dr. Madison’s main objection here), this is not implausible at all, to put it mildly. There were several outward indications. Herod the Great was determined to kill Jesus, and had all the male children of Bethlehem two years and under killed in the effort to do so (Mt 2:1-16). Would the mothers of those children forget about this? His son Herod Antipas also killed John the Baptist (Mt 14:3; Lk 9:9). Luke records “chief priests and the scribes” along with Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate all in league against Jesus:

Luke 23:10-12 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. [11] And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. [12] And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Some good Pharisees were aware of Herod’s plotting and warned Jesus:

Luke 13:31-33 At that very hour some Pharisees came, and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” [32] And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, `Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.  [33] Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.'”

This is more than enough external verification for Mark to surmise as he did (even considered separately from the question of biblical inspiration).

“Oh, this tidbit is based on eyewitness accounts and/or reliable oral tradition.” So say those who want Mark to be history. But that is conjecture, wishful thinking—actually it is a ‘faith’ statement—for which there is no evidence. We have no idea where such information could have come from; it is based on the omniscient perspective of the novelist. He is introducing another component of his plot.

I just showed how it is altogether plausible and hardly a stretch at all to so conclude. But (to play his game for a moment) Dr. Madison, in his manifest sagacity and wisdom, doesn’t want this to be true, and engages in mere conjecture and wishful thinking. As the old proverb goes, “a man convinced against his will retains his original belief still.”

Yet More Embarrassment

Mark 3 ends with another text that many Christians would like to wish away, and has generated apologetic rationalization. It makes it hard to ask What Would Jesus Do?

• “…they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’” (vv. 32-35)

On the most generous interpretation, Jesus is here expanding his understanding of family—but it still sounds like a rebuff of this kin. We wonder how well Jesus and his family got along, based on these verses, also in chapter 3 (vv. 19-21):

• “Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, ‘He is beside himself.’”

James Spencer Northcote provides a great answer to this line of reasoning:

We are quite at liberty to imagine, if we like, that Our Lord, after uttering the words which the Evangelists have recorded, rose up and proceeded to grant His Mother the interview she had asked for; there would be nothing at all strange in such a supposition; on the contrary, it is more possible than not; but it is not certain. All that we are told is that He answered the interruption in these words, “Who is My mother and My brethren? And then looking round about on them who sat about Him, He saith, Behold My mother and My brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, he is My brother, and My sister, and mother.”

I need not say that these words were not really an answer sent to His mother and brethren, but rather a lesson of instruction addressed to those “who sat about Him;” nor can it be necessary to point out to anyone who is familiar with the Gospels, how common a thing it was with our Blessed Lord to direct His answers not so much to the questions that had been put forward, as to the inward thoughts and motives of those who put them; how sometimes He set aside the question altogether as though he had not heard it, yet proceeded to make it the occasion of imparting some general lesson which it suggested. This is precisely what He does now.

Even Dr. Madison almost stumbled into the truth: “On the most generous interpretation, Jesus is here expanding his understanding of family.” Exactly! Jesus took the opportunity to show that He regarded all of His followers (in what would become the Christian Church) as family. Similarly, He told His disciples, “I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). It doesn’t follow that this is “a rebuff of this kin” (i.e., his immediate family). He simply moved from literal talk of families to a larger conception and vision of of families as those who do “the will of God.” Thus, Jesus habitually used “brethren” to describe those who were not His immediate family:

Matthew 5:47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Matthew 23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.

Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

Matthew 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Luke 22:32 “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

We see that “brethren” is used 191 times in the New Testament, mostly in this sense. So is “brother” (116 times in the New Testament). “Sister” is also used in the epistles, referring to fellow Christians who are female:

Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen’chre-ae,

1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound.

Philemon 1:2 and Ap’phia our sister and Archip’pus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

James 2:15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,

Arguably, all of this might be thought to have started in the words of Jesus here under consideration. It’s not a rebuff of His mother and father and half-brothers and/or cousins (also called “brothers” in the New Testament; Jesus was an only Son); it’s simply the beginning of the Body of Christ, and the Christian Church being regarded as one large, extended family.

Lastly, Jesus refers to His own mother as the mother of John, when He asked His disciple to watch over her after Jesus’ death:

John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 

And of course, we have the long tradition of calling priests (in Catholicism and Orthodoxy) “father”: the biblical basis for which, I have written about. And female leaders of nuns and religious are called “Mother”; for example, Mother Teresa; now St. Teresa of Calcutta, or Mother Angelica, who founded EWTN. Monks are called “Brother” and nuns, “Sister,” etc.

Never forget this while reading the gospels: they are theological tracts meant to advance the Christ cult at the time of their composition. It wanted followers who would not put family first. This ‘rebuffing’ text in Mark thus aligns well with the infamous verses, Luke 14:26-27:

• “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

This text is quite a challenge for believers who want to revere Jesus as a great moral teacher, but it fits perfectly with the cult mentality of the time. . . . Christians say, “Well, Jesus couldn’t have meant that,” . . . It means exactly what it seems to mean.

Not at all, as I showed in a past refutation of the same argument from Dr. Madison, and also a related one, having to do with Jesus’ falsely alleged hostility to families.

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Photo credit: Christ Appearing to His Mother (1496), by Juan de Flandes (fl. by 1496–1519) [public domain / Picryl]

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April 16, 2019

Be of good cheer!

All three rose windows survived. The two iconic towers with their wonderful bells are still standing. Notre Dame can and will be rebuilt. The entire stone frame is still more or less intact. Other cathedrals have been restored: some, with far worse damage (and some even from scratch). The most precious relics were saved, too, by heroic action.

I have collected several articles below about cathedral rebuilding and restoration.

Images appear to show that Notre Dame’s prized rose windows survived the mammoth blaze that engulfed the cathedral on Monday.

The archbishop of Paris confirmed the fire had spared the three 13th-century stained glass masterpieces, French CNN affiliate BFM TV reported.

The iconic rose windows are among Notre Dame’s most recognizable features. The earliest window, which punctures the west facade of the cathedral, dates back to 1225. The north and south roses were created in 1250 and 1260, respectively. (Notre Dame Miracle? Rose Windows’ Stained Glass Appears to Have Survived Savage Blaze, Katherine Hignett, Newsweek, 4-16-19)

As a devastating fire tore through the revered Gothic cathedral on Monday, toppling its spire, many feared these treasures might be lost forever. . . .
The Paris Fire Brigade tweeted that the cathedral’s stone construction has been “saved,” as have the “main works of art.” As more information emerges, what has been rescued from Notre Dame is becoming apparent. . . .
What Was Saved
*
• The Crown of Thorns, which some believe was placed on the head of Jesus and which the cathedral calls its “most precious and most venerated relic,” was rescued from the fire, according to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
*
• Hidalgo confirmed the Tunic of Saint Louis and other “major” works were also saved.
*
• The facade and twin bell towers, the tallest structures in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in the late 19th century, survived the blaze.
*
• The Rose windows are a trio of immense round stained-glass windows over the cathedral’s three main portals that date back to the 13th century. The Archbishop of Paris said all three have been saved, reports CNN affiliate BFM TV.
*
• The original Great Organ, one of the world’s most famous musical instruments, dates back to medieval times. Over the years, organ makers renovated the instrument and added onto it, but it still contained pipes from the Middle Ages before Monday’s fire. . . .
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“We managed to protect the most precious treasures in a safe place,” a Paris City Hall spokesperson told CNN. (Rose windows of Notre Dame are safe but fate of other treasures is unclear, (Rose windows of Notre Dame are safe but fate of other treasures is unclear, Emanuella Grinberg and Jack Guy, CNN, 4-16-19)

[T]he Church of England has already predicted that Notre Dame – no matter how much it lies in ruin – will stand whole again.

“No matter the destruction, the spirit of what it means to be a cathedral can and does survive such catastrophes,” said Becky Clark, the Church of England’s director of cathedrals and church buildings. “All have been rebuilt, sometimes taking on new forms, to stand as reminders of eternity and resurrection.”

Throughout the centuries, famous churches and other holy places have been laid to waste by war, fire, sabotage, earthquakes and just plain old age. And in the case of many, they were rebuilt to their former – or more contemporary – glory.

Here’s a look at some of the more famous examples of resurrected holy buildings:

1. London’s Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built from 1087 to 1314, the legendary structure, sheathed in wooden scaffolding during a renovation, was completely gutted in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

. . . the cathedral was rebuilt with a new design by the noted Sir Christoper Wren and was completed by 1710. Today, the new St. Paul’s stands as one of the most famous and recognizable sights in London. . . .

2. Germany’s Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady.) Built in the 18th century, the church was spectacularly destroyed by Allied forces in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. . . .

A massive effort to rebuild the church began in 1994 with the help of modern technology. The rubble was carted off stone by stone. Builders, using thousands of old photographs and recollections of worshippers, finished the work in 2005. . . .

3. Italy’s Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino. The abbey, about 80 miles southeast of Rome, was a noted holy place for monks that had endured for over 1,000 years prior to World War II. But in February 1944, Allied bombers dropped about 1,000 tons of explosives on the town. The abbey and its adjoining church were turned to rubble. Among the treasures lost were the elaborately detailed frescoed walls of the building.

The abbey was rebuilt by 1964 . . .

4. New Zealand’s Christchurch Cathedral . . .

5. Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. (Cathedral resurrection: A look at famous houses of worship reborn after destruction, Mike James, USA Today, 4-15-19)

See also:

How to rebuild a gothic cathedral: The future of Notre Dame (Oscar Holland, CNN, updated 4-16-19)

Notre Dame: how a rebuilt cathedral could be just as wonderful (The Conversation, 4-16-19)

French billionaires and companies pledge $450 million to rebuild Notre Dame (CNN, 4-16-19)

On the Loss of Cathedrals (“SkipSul”, Ricochet, 4-15-19)

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Photo credit: artonthefly (9-30-12). South stained glass rose window in Notre-Dame de Paris (the most celebrated) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

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July 23, 2018

This all occurred when a man came onto one of my comboxes, chiming in about an existing discussion with an agnostic / deist, saying about himself, “I’d be OK with the label progressive or even liberal.” He has (by his own report) a Ph.D. in philosophy from Catholic University, Washington, D.C.”, and is “a retired teacher of Church, theology, liturgy, the Bible, science, children’s books, traditional virtues, social justice, ecological responsibilities, . . .”; also a “lector, cantor, and extraordinary minister of communication in my parish.” I highly commend him for all those activities / accomplishments, and admire it, but it doesn’t follow that every jot and tittle of his theology is, therefore, without error, according to magisterial criteria.

A wide-ranging discussion about biblical inspiration, the knowledge of Christ, alleged errors in Scripture, historicity and symbolism in Genesis, literal biblical interpretation, and what Catholics required to believe ensued. I’ve edited it only slightly. The absolutely unabridged version can be found at the above link. My friend’s words will be in blue.

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I’ve been following with interest your discussions with Dave Armstrong. I note one of your questions was about ranges of belief in Catholicism. Perhaps that is where I fit in. I’ll tell you about myself, and you can decide whether what I have to say might be worth your while.

I am Catholic. I’d be OK with the label progressive or even liberal, but I do intend to stay within the Catholic tent. When it comes to the Bible, that tent is fairly large. I stand with scholars, both Catholic and mainline Protestant, who use a variety of methods for interpreting the Bible, including: historical criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, literary criticism, and (there must be) more. The gist is that the Bible is a human product and can be analyzed like any human product.

Officially the Catholic Church says that God “made full use of [the human authors’] faculties and powers.” (Catechism 106) I’d put it more bluntly: There’s no obvious clue that God was operating in the formation of the Bible, and I don’t think there ever was.

Here are some conclusions, by the type of scholars I mentioned, regarding some famous Bible problems:

• The first 11 chapters of Genesis are stories, not history. This includes the story of creation in 7 days, the Adam and Eve story, Cain and Abel, those very old folks in the genealogies, Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. I realize that here Dave and I disagree as do Catholic scholars, but my position is not considered controversial. 
• Where the Bible does present history, it’s never straight history but always geared toward the faith of the authors and their communities. 
• The Bible is not consistent with itself or with what can be known from historical records and archaeology. Somewhat more controversial, but still within bounds for Catholics: The mass migration of Exodus probably didn’t happen; there may have been a small band of escaping slaves who joined up with a newly forming Israelite culture. Joshua’s blitzkrieg through Palestine probably didn’t happen; archaeologists doubt even the existence at that time of the cities Joshua was supposed to have massacred. 

See my paper: “Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal: Findings of Recent Archaeology”.

• I would go so far as to say, with competent scholars (I’m only an amateur), that besides scientific and historical errors, there are also moral and theological errors in the Bible.

Again Dave would surely disagree, but I think it’s wrong to attribute massacres and “hardening of hearts” to God’s will.

[God didn’t harden hearts, as I have explained]

In other words, some of the points that you have raised I completely agree with. Modern Bible scholarship has made it possible for me to stay Catholic. I have written in detail about a number of issues in Bible interpretation . . . 

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Here are your [i.e., the agnostic / deist’s] two recent questions: -Can there be moral and theological errors in the New Testament as well as the Old?
-If we accept that Christ was fully human as well as fully divine, could he, as a human being, speak in error?

I’m inclined to say yes to both, but there are complications, which I’ll get to shortly. Your second question about Jesus doesn’t specify moral and theological. Clearly Jesus can make some mistakes. I’m thinking of Mark 2:25-26, where Jesus misidentifies the priest who gave David and his band bread from the house of God.

I see two complications that make it hard to identify precisely a theological or moral error in the New Testament. I feel fairly comfortable talking about the first, not so much the second. The first deals primarily with the Gospels, also Acts and Revelation, I think.

Scholars say that the Gospel writers have differing theologies. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they contradict each other or that one or more of them are wrong. The complication consists in the fact that these writers embed their theologies in story. It’s commonly said that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) don’t give us straight history but history interpreted in the light of faith. We might say, well, there are the facts of history and their interpretation, and you should be able to find both in the Bible. Presumably we could agree on the facts and disagree on the interpretations. But then we see that individual author’s “facts” contradict each other. (The reports surrounding Jesus’ resurrection are a striking example.)

What’s going on here is that the Gospel writers present their theologies in story form. They adjust or make up details and even whole events (or they choose from different stories floating around in oral or written form) to get across what they wanted to say. So getting at the theology is always our (also the original readers’) interpretation. In the long run I think that’s a plus. Christian theology is not stuck in a first-century slab of concrete. It can develop; it can respond to new facts and ideas. But not in any way it pleases. It does, after all, have a text to which it has to be faithful.

It’s different with the letters, which are less story-like and more like essays. They are always in response to particular situations, and understanding the situation has a great deal to do with understanding the response. This is an area I’m not so familiar with.

After avoiding the “chase” for so long, I’ll cut to it now. I think it’s a theological mistake when the Gospel of Mark says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (16:16) You could try to interpret your way around this, but I think it’s better just to say that’s not right. The Bible as a whole shows that God is both more just and more merciful than that.

There are many heterodox assertions to disagree with here. Do you even believe that the Bible is inspired (“God-breathed”) revelation? Catholic liberalism is not the same as orthodox Catholicism: the doctrines that we are required to believe as Catholics.

My responsibility as an apologist is to proclaim and defend what the Church teaches according to her authoritative magisterium.

my position is not considered controversial

It certainly is if you deny the historicity of “Adam and Eve . . . Cain and Abel, . . . Noah and the Flood” because the Catechism and the New Testament directly contradict you.

I have stated many times — in agreement with Pope Benedict — that early Genesis uses symbolism (e.g., the trees, the snake), but that there are also actual persons and events that literally took place in history (including the very fall of mankind, leading to original sin). See my papers:

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Defending the Historical Adam of Genesis (vs. Eric S. Giunta) [9-25-11]
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Adam & Eve of Genesis: Historical & the Primal Human Pair? (vs. Bishop Robert Barron) [11-28-13]
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New Testament Proofs of Noah’s Historical Existence (Seton Magazine article, 22 April 2014)
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Dave, I think the image of a tent might be helpful here. As I see it, we occupy different parts of the Catholic tent. (To you I’m outside the tent, but let’s keep the image for a while.) I don’t expect you to come over to my area of the tent, but I hope you can see that I’m in the tent. One reason I think you should is that I’m relying on Catholic sources. One of my favorites is “The Catholic Bible (NAB), Personal Study Edition,” published by Oxford University Press, with an imprimatur. That imprimatur doesn’t prove the contents are correct, but it does indicate a certain level of acceptance by the Church. Then there’s “The Catholic Youth Bible,” St. Mary’s Press, also with an imprimatur. Here’s what this one says about Genesis Chapters 1-11: “As you red these chapters, remember that they were written not as historical accounts or scientific explanations but as inspired stories that share a faith perspective and teach important religious truths.”

I don’t know what you think of the theologian and Bible scholar John L. McKenzie. Here’s a scholar who has never been disciplined or censured by the Church; on the contrary, his writings have met with wide acceptance and commendation. He says this about the first 11 chapters of Genesis: “The effect of this series of myths … is powerful. It denies to man any escape from responsibility for the human condition. We are sure that the author had a broad acquaintance with ancient Near Eastern mythology, that he chose some myths and rejected others. … Lacking history, ancient scribes dealt with the reality which lies beyond experience by mythology. It deserves to be treated seriously ….” (“The Old Testament Without Illusion,” p. 51) McKenzie uses the category “myth”; other more recent scholars think that’s misleading and prefer the term “story.” Either way, and without necessarily agreeing, I don’t see how you can say these ideas are either controversial in Catholic scholarship or heterodox.

You are an apologist. I salute you for that. I’m pretty sure that good work can be done better if it would admit the possibility, at least, of more than one Catholic way of interpreting Scripture.

You’re a Catholic who holds to several ideas that are impermissible within Catholic dogmatic theology. I asked you if you denied the inspiration of Holy Scripture. You didn’t reply. If so, you seriously think that is consistent with Catholicism? You’ve claimed that the Gospels contain theological mistakes. Mark 16:16 is [in some respects] typical Jewish hyperbole. Rightly interpreted, it means, “baptism is normally essential for salvation (but there can be exceptions).” The latter presupposition is understood. The Bible teaches baptismal regeneration in several places. To not believe is to be condemned. This is self-evident. In the Bible, “believe” includes the actions we do as well.

I specifically replied to your claims about early Genesis. It’s not straight history; it contains symbolic and allegorical or metaphorical elements. But it also contains historical things as well. Among these were the persons mentioned: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah. The NT itself regards them as historical figures, as I proved in one of my papers.

Adam and Eve are mentioned eight times [as actual human beings who existed in history] in the Catechism. Here is most of my most directly relevant article, since you seem to not want to read it or interact with it.

God made a covenant with Noah. It’s pretty difficult to make a covenant with an imaginary, fictional person. Thus, the Catechism refers to Noah and the flood, and what is called the Noachic Covenant, nine times.

There is also abundant NT evidence of the casual assumption that all these early human beings were indeed historical figures. Paul connects Adam with Moses, in Romans 5:14. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 and 15:45 he draws a direct parallel between Adam and Jesus Christ: the one bringing death upon the human race, and the other being the cause of spiritual and eternal life (pretty weird, if Adam didn’t even exist historically). He again mentions Adam and Eve and assumes they were real persons, in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Jude 14 describes Enoch as a descendant of Adam. St. Paul refers to Eve as having been deceived by the devil, in 2 Corinthians 11:3.

Our Lord Jesus refers quite literally to Abel:

Matthew 23:34-35 (RSV) Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (cf. Lk 11:51)

The author of Hebrews includes Abel in his catalogue of the heroes of the faith:

Hebrew 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. (also, he refers to “the blood of Abel” in 12:24)

Noah is included in this same recitation of heroic faith. Note how Abraham is mentioned in the next verse. There is no indication whatsoever that one was a real person and the other a mythical figure only:

Hebrews 11:7-8 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

St. Peter believed that Noah was a real person too:

1 Peter 3:18-21 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, . . .

2 Peter 2:4-5, 9 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; . . . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

Again, the text moves from the fallen angels to Noah, and then to Lot (2:7), who lived in the time of Abraham, and was his nephew, to the time he was writing. St. Peter is arguing by analogy: “God rescued Noah and Lot; He can do the same for you today.” This makes absolutely no sense if the earlier people are imaginary, because you would have the real fallen angels (demons), then the imaginary Noah, then back to reality with Lot and the early Christians. This utterly violates the tenor and nature of the passage, as is the case in similar passages noted above.

This is your burden: the New Testament, and also what the Church teaches about these early figures. They were real people. Ven. Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis (1950) refers to the historical elements of the first eleven chapters of Genesis:

[T]he first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, . . . (section 38)

Cardinal Ratzinger [later, Pope Benedict XVI], in his 1986 book, “In the Beginning…”: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Our Sunday Visitor, 1990, translated by Boniface Ramsey, OP) writes about Genesis and Adam:

In the Genesis story that we are considering, still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. (p. 89)

Pope St. John Paul II, in a 1986 teaching about original sin, stated this about early Genesis, Adam, and original sin:

II

1. In the context of creation and of the bestowal of gifts by which God constitutes man in the state of holiness and of original justice, the description of the first sin which we find in the third chapter of Genesis, acquires a greater clarity. It is obvious that this description which hinges on the transgression of the divine command not to eat “of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” is to be interpreted by taking into account the character of the ancient text and especially its literary form. However, while bearing in mind this scientific requirement in the study of the first book of Sacred Scripture, it cannot be denied that one sure element emerges from the detailed account of the sin: that it describes a primordial event, that it is a fact, which according to Revelation took place at the beginning of human history. For this very reason, it presents as well another certain element, namely the fundamental and decisive implication of that event for man’s relationship with God and consequently for the interior “situation” of man himself for the reciprocal relationships between people and in general for man’s relationship with the world. [my bolding emphasis]

The saint-pope is talking about history, not myth. In the entire public audience he used the word “history” or “historical” 13 times. The word “myth” never appears. “Symbolically” appears once: describing “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil” or a characteristic thereof. I fully agree!

CCC 390 states:

The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

These things aren’t optional or up for grabs. This is Church teaching. If you deny it, then you dissent from Church teaching on these points. You need to understand this and be straightforward about it.

Dave,

A few things that I do believe:

• Holy Scripture is inspired. God was indeed working through human authors to communicate the truths necessary for salvation, as the Catechism says. 
• All human beings are descended from the same first human beings. All of us have inherited the consequences of their original sin; those consequences include concupiscence, or sinful inclinations as well as effects in the material and social worlds.
• The Catholic Church has allowed many ways of interpreting Scripture in its history. Since Pius XII’s Divino afflante spiritu, that has included modern historical-critical methods. 
• Today the Church does not teach that one must believe and be baptized to be saved nor that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” I admit that one can interpret Mark 16:16 to make it come out right, but I wonder if that isn’t just reading in to the saying what we now believe—eisegesis rather then exegesis.

I did read some of your work on the symbolic nature of the early Genesis chapters. I appreciate that. But I don’t think you’ve recognized that an entire story, e.g., the Flood story or the Babel story, may be of a literary genre other than history. How else can one deal with the fact that the entire Flood story appears to be based on an earlier Babylonian tale, with just enough changes to communicate God’s truth rather than Pagan nonsense? How do you deal with the lack of scientific evidence for a worldwide flood during the time when humans were on earth.

The New Testament evidence that you cite isn’t compelling. No Catholic doctrine says the apostles, evangelists, and even Jesus couldn’t have believed erroneously that certain stories in their Scriptures were historical. A striking example is Jonah, a pretty obviously made-up tale, which Jesus thought was true history. Well, I suppose you don’t believe Jonah is made up at all, but a lot of Catholic scholars do. How many Catholics are you willing to write off as heterodox?

Just to pick out one of your arguments: “God rescued Noah and Lot. He can do the same for you today.” You say this analogy makes no sense if the earlier people are imaginary. But it makes sense if the author didn’t know the characters were imaginary. It even makes sense if the author did know they were imaginary. (Incidentally, what Catholic doctrine tells you that Lot was a real person or, if real, that the story of his rescue from Sodom is real.

I would have you read this from the USCCB webpage on the introduction to Genesis:

How should modern readers interpret the creation-flood story in Gn 2–11? The stories are neither history nor myth. “Myth” is an unsuitable term, for it has several different meanings and connotes untruth in popular English. “History” is equally misleading, for it suggests that the events actually took place. The best term is creation-flood story. Ancient Near Eastern thinkers did not have our methods of exploring serious questions. Instead, they used narratives for issues that we would call philosophical and theological. They added and subtracted narrative details and varied the plot as they sought meaning in the ancient stories. Their stories reveal a privileged time, when divine decisions were made that determined the future of the human race. The origin of something was thought to explain its present meaning, e.g., how God acts with justice and generosity, why human beings are rebellious, the nature of sexual attraction and marriage, why there are many peoples and languages. Though the stories may initially strike us as primitive and naive, they are in fact told with skill, compression, and subtlety. They provide profound answers to perennial questions about God and human beings.

Final thoughts: The first chapters in Genesis do indeed pertain to history in a true sense, as Pius XII says. That’s their whole point–to tell us what our history with God is like. My point is that they don’t have to BE history to do that. I’ve already agreed with the part in which you quote Ratzinger on the sin of our first parents.

1. You don’t accept the Catholic view of biblical inspiration if you think Scripture is filled with errors. This is contrary to Pope St. Pius X’s Decree Against Modernism (Lamentabili Sane, 1907), and the Pontifical Biblical Commission (1909) [related article / 2nd article / 3rd article].

See Denzinger, #3401-3519 and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp. 101-102 in the 2018 version; pp. 92-93 in the older version. I have been giving you scriptural and magisterial arguments. You offer me liberal / modernist (or modernist-influenced) / heterodox scholars and bishops’ documents, which are not magisterial. The bishops are only magisterial in union in ecumenical councils, as ratified by popes.

2. Adam and Eve (the ones described in Genesis) were the first primal human pair. This belief is not necessarily contrary to either evolution or genetics.

For a solid philosophical / scientific defense of monogenism (all human descent from one primal pair), see, “Science, Theology, and Monogenesis,” by Kenneth W. Kemp (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 217-236, 2011).

Abstract: “Francisco Ayala and others have argued that recent genetic evidence shows that the origins of the human race cannot be monogenetic, as the Church has traditionally taught. This paper replies to that objection, developing a distinction between biological and theological species first proposed by Andrew Alexander in 1964.”

Dr. Kemp is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He obtained an M.A. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Notre Dame in 1983, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the same university in 1984. He is fluent in seven languages besides English, and also knows four more languages to some extent.

Another serious, extensive philosophical / scientific explanation that is consistent with traditional Catholic theology and dogma is from Edward Feser: “Modern Biology and Original Sin” (+ part two). Dr. Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California.

3. Scripture is interpreted differently according to the literary genres involved (and in harmony with the magisterium). I have no problem with that. I’m not a Protestant fundamentalist. I was Protestant, but I’ve never been a fundamentalist.

4. As to the Flood, so what if other cultures mentioned it? We would fully expect that. I don’t see how that casts into doubt the Scriptural story.  C. S. Lewis makes a similar argument about how pagan precursors to Christianity were how God planned it, in His providence. Far from being disproofs of Christianity, they confirm it. Chesterton makes an elaborate argument along those lines in his Everlasting Man (a marvelous book, and the one that Lewis said was his biggest influence).

The Flood need not be universal at all. I didn’t believe that as a Protestant, having read Bernard Ramm’s excellent work, The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Nor do the six days of creation have to be literal (as Augustine argued against in his time). I’ve written about the non-universal flood, too. Even the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia (“Deluge”) stated that the Flood didn’t have to be interpreted as literally universal:

Neither Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations, render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth.

I’ve also argued vigorously against young earth creationist flood geology (which presupposes a universal flood).

5. You dismiss the clear NT evidence about early Genesis figures and events as actual (not merely fables) by attributing error to the text and the persons writing them. This is contrary to the Catholic view of inspiration, as explained, and also, when it involves Jesus,. contrary to the de fide Catholic dogma that He is omniscient, and cannot make such errors even in His human nature (which is always united with His Divine). This is simply more modernism, condemned by the Church over 100 years ago.

6. You dismissed, for example, the historicity of Lot. That casts into doubt the entire Sodom and Gomorrah narrative. Since that was in the time of Abraham, perhaps you doubt his historical existence, too? Jesus referred to Noah and the Flood, and Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as literal historical events:

Luke 17:26-32 (RSV) As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man.  [27] They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.  [28] Likewise as it was in the days of Lot — they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built,  [29] but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all — [30] so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed.  . . . [32] Remember Lot’s wife.

So you ignore that by using the time-honored modernist game of denying scriptural inspiration and/or the omniscience of Christ.

7. USCCB and other documents of bishops have no magisterial authority. This one you cite was simply in error, as it contradicts clear Church teaching.

You are operating on a head count of (liberal) scholars. I operate on the basis of the magisterium of the Catholic Church: what all Catholics are bound and obligated to believe. This is why you openly (in this thread) called yourself a “progressive or even liberal.” Yes you are. You’re a modernist, who chooses to openly dissent against various Church teachings that Catholics are required to believe.

I don’t despise you (not at all!). I admire your zeal and amiability. I’m trying to help you by correcting your errors, in my capacity as a Catholic apologist. It does no one any good to believe falsehood. If you want to pick and choose what you want to believe, that’s not the Catholic rule of faith; it’s Protestant (what I used to believe). And it’s what is called “Cafeteria Catholicism.”

I can’t in good conscience and in my duty as an apologist, let what I firmly believe to be false teaching regarding Holy Mother Church, Holy Scripture, and even our Lord Jesus, go out unopposed.

There is a reason why St. James wrote: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, RSV). I tremble over that every day. Woe unto me if I lead anyone astray.

Dave,

Once again thanks for taking the time to respond. I’m not sure how long we can go on like this. It’s good to hear opposing views, but there comes a time when we’ve said all we can say.

We clearly have serious disagreements. The one that bothers me most – and is hardest to understand – is that you persist in calling my ideas heterodox. The approved scholars and bishops I referenced in my last answer ought to be enough to convince you that, though I may be wrong, it’s a bold move to call us all heterodox. That label may apply to some liberals, but that doesn’t mean there are not different, legitimately Catholic points of view on a spectrum from fairly conservative to fairly liberal. Now to your specific points:

1. I don’t know how many errors there are in Scripture, but there definitely are some. (I never said “filled with errors.” I mentioned an error that Jesus made, and you didn’t respond to that. Here’s another error. Luke says Jesus was born near the end of Herod the Great’s reign and also that there was a Roman census at the time. The only Roman census anywhere near that time was ordered by Quirinius in 6 A.D. Herod died in 4 B.C. No big deal. A simple error that anyone could make who’s trying to remember or research back about 80 years. I don’t have Denzinger or Ott available. I took the opportunity to read the Oath against Modernism. There’s nothing in it concerning Scripture that I disagree with. Pius spoke pretty strongly against the idea of development of dogma. I don’t know if he meant there could be no such thing or if there could be a kind of development which does not contradict what was believed before.

2. I agree with what the Church teaches about Original Sin and the origin of the human race. An article in “First Things,” which I can’t find, explained the Catholic doctrine in conformity with modern science. There may have been an initial gene pool of a couple thousand human-like ancestors, as science now thinks. But God instilled into one or a pair of these a spiritual soul. This would be the original Adam and/or Adam and Eve. They may have mated with others in the group. If so their children would have both spiritual souls and the consequences of whatever sin the first pair undoubtedly committed. While the others would have continued mating among themselves, their children would not have human souls unless and until they or their children mated with a descendant of “Adam and Eve.” After several generations (I don’t know how many statistically) all of the descendants of the whole original group would have “Adam and Eve” for a direct ancestor. This works for me. 

3. No problem. Welcome to the Church.

4. A real disagreement on the Flood. (Cain and Abel would be another and oprobably also Methuselah.) Sure it’s possible that a Pagan story could have been God-directed. I’ll gladly admit that interpretation into the Catholic “tent.” But it seems like grasping at straws to me just to save the New Testament’s references to the Flood as a real event. Much more natural simply to see the Flood story as a story, modified from an original that was also just a story. I don’t see why God can’t have stories in his book. Stories are wonderful things. 

5. Here you object to my attributing errors to New Testament authors and even to Jesus. You mention Jesus’ omniscience, which you claim even for his human nature. That is surely wrong. If Jesus were omniscient in his human nature, it wouldn’t be human nature. A very old monk (old at the time decades ago) explained to me: Jesus had a divine and a human nature. Once in a while that divine nature enlightened or maybe empowered the human nature so that Jesus in his human nature could be aware of some truth or perform some deed that otherwise is humanly impossible. The point is this didn’t happen on a regular basis but only as needed. Otherwise, at other times, Jesus could make mistakes the same as the rest of us.

6. I don’t dismiss the historicity of Lot, although I would say his historical existence is neither certain nor Catholic dogma. The U.S. Catholic bishops say (I’m remembering this rather than taking the time to look it up), “It is reasonable to accept that the patriarchs are the historical ancestors of the Hebrew people. Notice that, even for the patriarchs, they don’t insist on it; it’s “reasonable.” Lot isn’t even a patriarch. I expect that the patriarchs are real people, but nowhere does the Church say (you might be able to correct me on this) that all the stories about the patriarchs are historical events. I won’t insist on anything here since it gets away from my main interest, which is the first 11 Chapters.

7. I agree that a document put forth by the American bishops has no magisterial authority. I’m not asking you to believe what they or any liberal or progressive or even middle-of-the-road scholar says. But these people, especially the bishops, know their faith. They’ve been brought up on Denzinger. They aren’t about to go spouting heterodox opinions. The bishops, at least but not only they, believe that what they are saying is acceptable Catholic theology. And a more prudent group of Catholics, I think, would be hard to find. All I’m saying is that it would be prudent for you to admit that their statements are (not necessarily correct, but) at least within the Catholic fold.

Finally, you mention your role as an apologist and my picking and choosing what I want to believe. You and I both have or believe we have good reasons for our choices. I’m thinking that your work as an apologist is directed toward a narrower range of choices that it needs to be. I think you are more certain of your choices than you have a right to be. I might be the same, but my point is neither of us should reject the other as heterodox or outside the faith. I also think apologetics will go better if we don’t force positions on others that the Church doesn’t force.

I agree that we have exhausted the usefulness of this discussion. We’re basically ships passing in the night. I will make just a few responses (referring to your own listed numbers).

If you don’t like “heterodox” substitute “wrong” or “in error” or “mistaken.” I deny that there is or should be “a spectrum from fairly conservative to fairly liberal.” One either accepts Catholic doctrine (orthodox) or picks and chooses (cafeteria / heterodox / modernist / liberal / progressive / dissident; make your choice). It’s not difficult to determine what the Church teaches. You say you have neither Denzinger nor Ott. You should obtain them.

1. I wrote about the census issue at great length.

Pope St. Pius X condemned evolution of dogma, but was a big proponent of Cardinal Newman and development of dogma (an essentially different thing) that Newman excelled in writing about (the thing that made me a Catholic). See my paper in reply to an anti-Catholic apologist who argued the same point.

4. “I don’t see why God can’t have stories in his book.” Me, neither. My point is that they are true stories, just as Tolkien told C. S. Lewis that there was such a thing as a true myth, and that Christianity was that. This played a key role in Lewis’ conversion from atheist to Christian.

5. As to Christ’s human knowledge, Dr. Ott provides the following dogmatic statement:

Christ’s human knowledge was free from positive ignorance and from error. (Sent. certa.) Cf. D2184 et seq. (p. 165)

Dr. Ott explains “Sent. certa.” (pp. 9-10) as follows:

A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

See also the related article by Fr. William Most: “An Ignorant Jesus?” The most interesting and in-depth treatment of our topic that I have found is “The Double Consciousness of Christ”, by Bertrand de Margerie, S. J. (Faith and Reason, Spring, 1987). Those who wish to truly have a “handle” on these issues are strongly urged to read this entire piece.

7. Bishops can’t be wrong en masse? You are obviously unfamiliar with the massive (and abominable) dissent after Humanae Vitae (an infallible doctrine), that almost split the Church. If even that almost occurred, then clearly they can be wrong in individual statements, and are not protected by the Holy Spirit from error, since these aren’t magisterial.

[last paragraph] “neither of us should reject the other as heterodox or outside the faith.” I do not; repeat, NOT believe that, as I have already indicated (“You’re a Catholic who holds to several ideas that are impermissible [i.e., what I’ve been calling “heterodox”] within Catholic dogmatic theology.”).

May God bless you abundantly in all your endeavors.

***

Photo credit: Abraham, Sarah, and the Angel, by Jan Provoost (1462-c. 1529). Abraham was a real, historical person, who lived at the time of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah: both mentioned as historical persons and events by Jesus [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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June 9, 2018

There has been talk, in light of the recent tragic suicide of the chef and cultural commentator Anthony Bourdain, to the effect that Christianity or religion generally has little impact on the happiness or personal fulfillment of persons in this life (or not much more than is the case for non-believers). According to the Bible, this is massively untrue, as I documented in my previous post.  But we can also back up the Bible’s claims regarding an increase of hope, comfort, peace, and joy, by social science.

Before I begin, let me make it abundantly clear what I am not arguing (since many people these days are quick to jump to conclusions):

1) That any particular suicide can be fully explained by a one-dimensional religious / theological analysis.

2) That Christians don’t suffer in this life, just like everyone else (I made it abundantly clear that this is nonsense, in my previous paper).

3) That the person who commits suicide is automatically damned. This is not true at all. We don’t know the fate of any individual soul in the first place, but in the case of suicide, usually serious depression is involved, which impairs a person’s judgment and will to such an extent that they cannot be said to have made the decision with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will (two of the three conditions for objective mortal sin to have occurred). This is Catholic Church teaching: not just my own opinion. We’re not to judge souls: especially not their eternal destiny.

4) As for atheists in particular, I have made it clear in my writings, that they are not “evil” merely by being atheists, and that they may be saved (see, e.g., Romans 2), and that the Bible distinguishes between “God-rejecters” and “open-minded agnostics”. And I have freely granted that atheists have legitimate gripes against a great deal of Christian stupidity and judgmentalism sent their way.

That said, I do contend (as a general proposition) that a serious Christian commitment will lead to a more fulfilled, purposeful, meaningful life than it would have been otherwise; also, that — again, as a general proposition –, atheism leads to less of those things, up to and including a nihilistic despair that the entire universe is ultimately meaningless. How that works out in specific cases is exceedingly complex, and there will be a million exceptions for a thousand reasons. That’s why I’m only speaking very broadly (i.e., sociologically). I’m not addressing individual cases (including Anthony Bourdain). I commented earlier today in one of my comboxes:

Some comments from Catholics seem to me to suggest that the Christian life is scarcely different in these respects than the non-believing life. I vehemently disagree with that. If it is not vastly different, I would neither be a Christian, nor defend it as my occupation (because the Bible would be shown to be untrue in its claims). We would have no basis for going around proclaiming the Good News and hope and the prospects for peace and joy, despite any suffering we go through. And I would have to deny my own life experience and that of many others whose lives have dramatically changed for the better. But the good news is that the Good News is true, and that Jesus doesn’t just save us from hell, but also gives us all these blessings in this life, too.

These increased blessings, I contend, lead in fact (among many other things) to lower suicide rates. The only reasonable, objective, facts-based way to determine that is through the studies of social science (I majored in sociology and minored in psychology). I shall now proceed to survey the results of many studies along those lines.

1) “Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt” (Kanita Dervic, M.D., Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Michael F. Grunebaum, M.D., Steve Ellis, Ph.D., Ainsley K. Burke, Ph.D., and J. John Mann, M.D.) [The American Journal of Psychiatry, December 2004]

Excerpts:

RESULTS: Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder.

CONCLUSIONS: Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients.

Suicide rates are lower in religious countries than in secular ones (12). . . . An inverse relationship between religious commitment and suicidal ideation has also been reported (58–10).

Religious commitment promotes social ties and reduces alienation (33). We found weaker family ties in religiously unaffiliated subjects, and family members are reported to be more likely to provide reliable emotional support, nurturance, and reassurance of worth (37). Our finding is consistent with reports about less dense social networks among atheists (38), although whether distancing from one’s family facilitates disaffiliation from the family’s religion or vice versa is not known.

The greatest protective effect of religion on suicide is reported to be present in subjects who have relatives and friends of the same religion (38). Although in our study social network was not independently related to suicidal behavior, stronger feelings of responsibility to family were found in religiously affiliated subjects, who were also more often parents and married. Responsibility to family was inversely related to acting on suicidal thoughts. Most religions stress the importance and value of family. Thus, consistent with previous reports (5630), a commitment to a set of personal religious beliefs appears to be a more important factor against suicidal behavior than social cohesiveness per se.

2) “The Effect of Religious Commitment on Suicide: A Cross-National Analysis” (Steven Stack) [Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Dec. 1983]

Research on the relationship of religion and suicide has relied almost exclusively on the concept of religious integration as a causal variable. The present paper proposes an alternative linkage, based on the concept of religious commitment. A theory is developed that argues that a high level of commitment to a few life-preserving religious beliefs, values, and practices will lower suicide levels.3

3) “The effect of religion on suicide ideation” (S. Stack & D. Lester) [Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Aug. 1991]

The present study tests both models with national data on 1,687 respondents. No support is found for the Durkheimian model at the individual level, but some is found for the religious commitment model: the greater the church attendance the lower the approval of suicide. The effect of religiosity on suicide ideation is independent of education, gender, marital status, and age.

4) “Suicide Acceptability in African- and White Americans: The Role of Religion” (Jan Neeleman, Simon Wessely, Glyn Lewis) [The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, January 1998]

Rates of suicidal behavior are lower among African- than white Americans. We analyzed the association of suicide acceptability with religious, sociodemographic, and emotional variables in representative samples of African- and white Americans (1990). Adjusted for ethnic response bias, the former were less accepting of suicide than the latter (odds ratio.60; 95% confidence interval.41,.88). Orthodox religious beliefs and personal devotion predicted rejection of suicide best; this effect was equally strong in both groups. The comparatively low level of suicide acceptability among African-Americans was mostly attributable to their relatively high levels of orthodox religious beliefs and devotion, as opposed to practice and affiliation, although sociodemographic and emotional differences contributed as well. These results are interpreted using the cognitive dissonance model. Given rapid secularization among the young in the United States, these findings may help explain the rising suicide rates among white and, especially, African-American young people.

5) “Tolerance of suicide, religion and suicide rates: an ecological and individual study in 19 Western countries” (Jan Neeleman, D. Halpern, D. Leon, Glyn Lewis) [Psychological Medicine, Sep. 1997]

Results. Higher female suicide rates were associated with lower aggregate levels of religious belief and, less strongly, religious attendance. These associations were mostly attributable to the association between higher tolerance of suicide and higher suicide rates. In the 28085 subjects suicide tolerance and the strength of religious belief were negatively associated even after adjustment for other religious and sociodemographic variables and general tolerance levels (odds ratios: men 0·74 (95% CI 0·58–0·94), women 0·72 (95% CI 0·60–0·86)). This negative individual- level association was more pronounced in more highly religious countries but this modifying effect of the religious context was apparent for men only.

Conclusions. Ecological associations between religious variables and suicide rates are stronger for women than men, stronger for measures of belief than observance and mediated by tolerance of suicide. In individuals, stronger religious beliefs are associated with lower tolerance of suicide. Personal religious beliefs and, for men, exposure to a religious environment, may protect against suicide by reducing its acceptability.

6) “Dimensions of Religion Associated with Suicide Attempt and Suicide Ideation in Depressed, Religiously Affiliated Patients” (Matthias Jongkind MSc, Bart van den Brink MD, Hanneke Schaap‐Jonker PhD, Nathan van der Velde MSc, Arjan W. Braam MD, PhD) [Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, April 2018]

Abstract: There is substantial evidence to support the claim that religion can protect against suicide ideation, suicide attempts, and completed suicide. There is also evidence that religion does not always protect against suicidality. More insight is needed into the relationship between suicidal parameters and dimensions of religion. A total of 155 in‐ and outpatients with major depression from a Christian Mental Health Care institution were included. The following religious factors were assessed: religious service attendance, frequency of prayer, religious salience, type of God representation, and moral objections to suicide (MOS). Multiple regression analyses were computed. MOS have a unique and prominent (negative) association with suicide ideation and the lifetime history of suicide attempts, even after controlling for demographic features and severity of depression. The type of God representation is an independent statistical predictor of the severity of suicide ideation. A positive‐supportive God representation is negatively correlated with suicide ideation. A passive‐distressing God representation has a positive correlation with suicide ideation. High MOS and a positive‐supportive God representation in Christian patients with depression are negatively correlated with suicide ideation.

7) “Religiousness as a Predictor of Suicide: An Analysis of 162 European Regions” (S. Stack & F. Laubepin) [Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Jan. 2018]

Abstract: Research on religion as a protective factor has been marked by four recurrent limitations: (1) an overemphasis on the United States, a nation where religiosity is relatively high; (2) a neglect of highly secularized zones of the world, where religiousness may be too weak to affect suicide; (3) restriction of religiousness to religious affiliation, a construct which may miss capturing other dimensions of religiousness such as the importance of religion in one’s life; and (4) an overwhelming use of the nation as a unit of analysis, which masks variation in religiousness within nations. The present article addresses these limitations by performing a cross-national test of the following hypothesis: The greater the strength of subjective religiousness, the lower the suicide rate, using small units of analysis for a secularized area of the world. All data refer to 162 regions within 22 European nations. Data were extracted from two large databases, EUROSTAT and the European Social Surveys (ESS Round 4), and merged using NUTS-2 (Nomenclature of Statistical Territorial Units) regions as the unit of analysis. Controls are incorporated for level of economic development, education, and measures of economic strain. The results of a multiple regression analysis demonstrated that controlling for the other constructs in the model, religiousness is associated with lower suicide rates, confirming the hypothesis. Even in secularized European nations, where there is a relatively weak moral community to reinforce religion, religiousness acts as a protective factor against suicide.

8) “Moral Objections and Fear of Hell: An Important Barrier to Suicidality” (Bart van den Brink, Hanneke Schaap, Arjan W. Braam) [Journal of Religion and Health, Feb. 2018]

This review explores the literature to test the hypothesis that ‘moral objections to suicide (MOS), especially the conviction of going to hell after committing suicide, exert a restraining effect on suicide and suicidality.’ Medline and PsycInfo were searched using all relevant search terms; all relevant articles were selected, rated and reviewed. Fifteen cross-sectional studies were available on this topic, and raise sufficient evidence to confirm a restraining effect of MOS, and sparse data on fear of hell. MOS seem to counteract especially the development of suicidal intent and attempts, and possibly the lethality of suicidal attempts.

9)  “The association of personal importance of religion and religious service attendance with suicidal ideation by age group in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health” (Daisuke Nishi, Daisuke Nishi, Ryoko Susukida, Naoaki Kuroda, Holly C. Wilcox) [Psychiatry Research, Sep. 2017]

Highlights

  • Religious beliefs are associated with less suicidal ideation in all age groups.
  • This inverse association is stronger in older adults and young adults.
  • Religious attendance is associated with less suicidal ideation in older adults.
  • This inverse association is seen when attendance is more than 25 times per year.
  • Understanding these associations potentially informs assessments for suicide risk.

Abstract

Religiosity has been shown to be inversely associated with suicidal ideation, but few studies have examined associations by age group. This study aimed to examine the association between religiosity with suicidal ideation by age group. This study used a large nationally representative sample of 260,816 study participants from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Religiosity was defined as self-reported importance of religious beliefs and frequency of religious service attendance. The association between religiosity and suicidal ideation was assessed by multivariable logistic regression analysis stratified by age group (18–25, 26–34, 35–49, 50–64, 65 or older). The importance of religious beliefs was inversely associated with suicidal ideation in all age groups. The association was the strongest in people aged 65 or older, followed by people aged 18–25. Religious service attendance was also inversely associated with suicidal ideation in people aged 65 or more when attendance was more than 25 times per year. These findings may be helpful to understand age in relation to the relationship between religiosity and suicidal ideation. Particular attention to religiosity among older adults as a protective factor for suicidal ideation may be helpful in clinical settings.

10) “Can Religion Protect Against Suicide?” (Michael A. Norko; David Freeman; James Phillips; William Hunter; Richard Lewis; Ramaswamy Viswanathan) [The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Jan. 2017]

The vast majority of the world’s population is affiliated with a religious belief structure, and each of the major faith traditions (in its true form) is strongly opposed to suicide. Ample literature supports the protective effect of religious affiliation on suicide rates. Proposed mechanisms for this protective effect include enhanced social network and social integration, the degree of religious commitment, and the degree to which a particular religion disapproves of suicide. We review the sociological data for these effects and the general objections to suicide held by the faith traditions.

***

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller (Sep. 2009) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

***

March 8, 2018

This is the mindset of radical Catholic reactionaries today, directed not only against Blessed Pope Paul VI, but also against Pope St. John Paul II.

***

Bloviator extraordinaire Chris Ferrara wrote on 2-28-18 at The Remnant:
 
But now the seemingly imminent canonization of Paul VI, following approval of two purported miracles which, based on the information published, seem decidedly less than miraculous (to be discussed in Part II of this series), has provoked widespread incredulity about the canonization process itself, going even beyond the skepticism that greeted the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II. How could the very Pope who unleashed what he himself lamented—too little too late—as a “spirit of auto-demolition” in the Church, including a “liturgical reform” that led to what Cardinal Ratzinger called “the collapse of the liturgy,” the same Pope who wondered how “the smoke of Satan” had entered the Church during his tumultuous reign, be raised to the altars as a model of Catholic virtue for veneration and imitation by all the faithful?
 
And here are the sorts of idiotic, quasi-schismatic, reactionary comments underneath this disgraceful article, that The Remnant has no problem allowing (while folks like me are censored and deleted over there):
 
Sam Sham • I do not accept the validity of any of Jorge Bergoglio’s “canonizations.” I would have a tough time accepting canonizations done by anyone since the silly relaxation in the process and elimination of the “devil’s advocate.” In the case of two popes and the inevitable designation of Paul VI, this can be seen as nothing more than the “canonization” of Vatican II.
Maggie • There is NO way that I can accept Paul VI as a “saint”. He was, at the very least, an extremely weak pope and what occurred under his pontificate has been a travesty. I know of no cult of devotion for him nor are the so called miracles without questions.
 
Barbara • I simply cannot, and will not, venerate or emulate John Paul II or Paul VI, or John XXIII because they have done so many things that are displeasing to God. How to I know this? My eyes and ears are open – the fruit of these Papacies is plain for all to see. The fruits of their pusillanimity is all rotten and destructive. Pope Francis, and John Paul II before him, is using canonization as political statement and it’s just plain wrong.
Babs Byrne • I don’t have a problem with refusing to accept or acknowledge Paul VI as a saint after reading Fr Luigi Villa’s account of his life and his refusal to have any Catholic symbols on or near his coffin/grave. His mother’s grave has Masonic symbols on it. If Pope Benedict canonized Paul VI I WOULD have a problem.
See also the short article (with a video) from editor Michal Matt: “SAINT Pope Paul VI? (When Pigs Fly!)” [caps in original], from 2-10-18. The little introduction blesses us with the following analysis:
Down in the catacombs, Michael Matt looks at the life and legacy of one of the worst popes in history—the man Pope Francis now intends to canonize in October. Does papal infallibility seriously come into this farce? Please! At this point, claiming the Holy Ghost has anything even to do with such an obvious political stunt—aimed at canonizing the revolution of Vatican II—borders on the blasphemous.
***
 
The Remnant is not the only reactionary rag doing this. Rorate Caeli (remember them? They’re the guys who trashed Pope Francis on his first day in office; utilizing Holocaust denier Marcelo González as their source to do it) also excoriates “the astonishing canonization” of Blessed Pope Paul VI in an article from 2-27-18, by Fr. Pio Pace (complete below):
 
Perhaps Paul VI had remarkable and heroic virtues in his private and secret life. But, as Pope, he is the object of not little debate: he promulgated the most liberal texts of the Council (Gaudium et Spes, Unitatis Redintegratio, Nostra Aetate, Dignitatis Humanae); he led a liturgical reform that turned sacred liturgy upside down and inside out; and several other things, big and small, such as the suppression of the extremely ancient and venerable Roman Subdiaconate.
Paul VI fully embodies Vatican II. It is precisely for this reason that he has been chosen for canonization, as the Popes of the Council and post-Council, who have been canonized one after the other: John XXIII, John Paul II…
 
Is Paul VI presented to the Church as an example due to the publication of Humanae Vitae? Or rather for his “ecumenical gestures”, such as having given in 1966 to the archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, his pastoral ring and a chalice — which allowed Cardinal Coccopalmerio to affirm that the Anglican ordinations could be considered valid: “What could it mean for Paul VI the fact of giving a chalice to the archbishop of Canterbury? If it was to allow for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, it was out of consideration for valid ceremonies, right?” And we could go on: John Paul II was an example for the solid defense of Humanae Vitae, or rather for having organized the sadly famous “Assisi meeting”?
*
We must dare say it: by canonizing all Vatican II popes, it is Vatican II that is canonized. But, likewise, canonization itself is devalued when it becomes a sort of medal thrown on top of a casket. Maybe a council that was “pastoral” and not dogmatic is deserving of canonizations that are “pastoral” and not dogmatic.
 
***
 
Good ol’ Catholic Family News certainly didn’t want to miss this opportunity to bash Pope Paul VI, or to be outdone by its fellow reactionary fanatics. In an editorial of 2-6-18, entitled, “The Imminent ‘Canonization’ of Paul VI” it thunders:
 
CFN will be covering this unhappy development on the web and in our upcoming March issue in depth; we recommend reading Fr. Luigi Villa’s Paul VI Beatified?, available online here in the interim.
 
The ‘canonization’ of Papa Montini is nothing else than a ‘canonization’ of the sordid agenda and disastrous orientation of Vatican II, the abysmal Novus Ordo Missae, and the embarrassing entirety of post-conciliar legislation and innovation.
 
. . . we . . . . [should] resist this fixed ecclesiastical farce, . . .

Then there is Phil Lawler: the respectable, renowned, mild-mannered Catholic journalist widely described and praised as orthodox and measured and calm and collected and objective and scholarly (not given to extremes or fanaticism at all; no, not him!) and slow to arrive at difficult conclusions (etc., ad nauseam). He wrote that the pope was:

leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. . . .  radical nature of the program that he is relentlessly advancing. . . encouraged beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the prior teachings of the Church. . . . a Roman pontiff who disregarded so easily what the Church has always taught and believed and practiced on such bedrock issues as the nature of marriage and of the Eucharist . . . a danger to the Faith . . .

Oh, sorry! I was confused for a moment there. Lawler was writing about Pope Francis, not Blessed Pope Paul VI. It was such similar “sky is falling down” rhetoric that I got it mixed  up (my bad). He wrote these remarks in the Introduction to his book, Lost Shepherd. But he never remotely proved the assertions in the book. Thus, I have described reading it and waiting for the “proofs” of these serious charges — that never came –, as similar to “peeling an onion.”

***

Photo credit: Chicken Little. Photograph by Dave Walker (12-12-06) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license] Chicken Little, you may recall, was the  young chick in the children’s fable, who believed the sky was falling after an acorn landed on her head.

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