November 8, 2006

BibleRosary
Photograph by Chris Sloan, 28 Nov. 2009 [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]
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Table of Contents


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I. Relationship of the Bible to the Church

II. Tradition (Apostolic)

III. Sola Scriptura (Scripture as the Only Infallible Authority)

IV. Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture

V. Material and Formal Sufficiency of Scripture / Rule of Faith

VI. The Canon of Scripture

VII. Deuterocanonical Books (So-Called “Apocrypha”)
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VIII. Biblical Archaeology / Israel
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IX. Biblical Accuracy / Alleged Biblical Contradictions and Difficulties
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I. RELATIONSHIP OF THE BIBLE TO THE CHURCH
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Apologetics-Oriented Biblical Commentary on Philippians (RSV) [1998]

Apologetics-Oriented Biblical Commentary on Colossians (RSV) [1998]

Laymen’s Greek & Hebrew Bible Resources for Free [1-22-02; linked sources added on 11-28-16]

“Why Don’t Catholics Read the Bible?” [6-26-02]

Catholic “Three-Legged Stool”: Scripture, Tradition, & Church: Dialogue with an Anglican on the Catholic Rule of Faith (vs. Jon Jacobson) [10-31-02]

The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete / Interpreter + Bible Passages that the Church has Definitively Interpreted [9-14-03]

“Biblical Evidence” from the Catholic Point of View [2-1-08]

Bibles & Catholics, Sunday School?, Memorization, Etc. [9-25-08]

Books by Dave Armstrong: Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths: A Source Book for Apologists and Inquirers [4-18-09]

How Do Catholics Approach & Interpret Holy Scripture? [6-17-09]

Catholic Interpretation of Scripture (Hermeneutics / Exegesis): Resource List (Links) [6-28-09]

Were Vernacular Bibles Unknown Before Luther? (+ later Facebook discussion) [6-15-11]

Reply to a Lutheran on Tradition & the Patristic Rule of Faith [1-10-12; additions on 2-20-18]

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Dialogue on Authoritative Bible Interpretation in the New Testament (vs. Reformed Baptist Elder Jim Drickamer) [1-14-17]
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Was the Catholic Church Historically an Enemy of the Bible? [National Catholic Register, 3-27-17]
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Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura [originally July 2003; somewhat modified condensation: 4-5-17]
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Catholics R More Biblical Than Protestants? (Dialogue) (vs. Dustin Buck Lattimore) [5-3-17]
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The Analogy of an Infallible Bible to an Infallible Church [11-6-05; rev. 7-25-15 and 6-7-17; published at National Catholic Register: 6-16-17]
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Why Are Catholics So Deficient in Bible-Reading? [National Catholic Register, 11-22-17]
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Catholic Biblical Interpretation: Myths and Truths [National Catholic Register, 12-3-18]
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II. TRADITION (APOSTOLIC) 
 
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Classic Reflections on Tradition, Sola Scriptura, & the Canon [9-14-92]

Assumption & Immaculate Conception: Part of Apostolic Tradition (dialogue w James White) [June 1996]

Dialogue on “Tradition” in the New Testament (vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen) [1996]

Apostolic [Quasi-] Protestantism?: Dialogue with Eric Svendsen [6-26-96]

Dialogue on “Perspicuous Apostolic Teaching” (vs. James White) [May-June 1996]

“Tradition” Isn’t a Dirty Word [late 90s; rev. 8-16-16]

Books by Dave Armstrong: Bible Conversations: Catholic-Protestant Dialogues on the Bible, Tradition, and Salvation [June 2002]

William Webster vs. Tradition, Development, & Truth [4-10-03]

“Moses’ Seat” & Jesus vs. Sola Scriptura (vs. James White) [12-27-03]

Binding, Authoritative Tradition According to St. Paul [2004]

Refutation of “Catholicism Refuted”: Pt. II (Tradition, Papacy) [12-10-04]

James White’s Critique of My Book, The Catholic Verses: Part I: The Binding Authority of Tradition [12-30-04]

Refutation of James White: Moses’ Seat, the Bible, and Tradition (Introduction: #1) (+Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI) [5-12-05]

Bible and Tradition Issues: Reply to a “Bible Christian” Inquirer (Particularly Regarding St. Augustine’s Position) [3-1-07]

Nature of Tradition & Church: (vs. Two Lutheran Pastors) [10-9-07] 

Martin Luther’s Remarkably “Pro-Tradition” Strain of Thought [1-18-08]

Erasmus’ Hyperaspistes (1526): Luther’s Anti-Traditional Elements [2-10-09]

Biblical Evidence for Apostolic Oral Tradition [2-20-09]

25 Brief Arguments for Binding Catholic Tradition [2009]

Tradition, Succession, Apostolic Deposit (vs. Calvin #25) [7-1-09]

Tradition, Church, & the Rule of Faith (vs. Calvin #27) [7-6-09]

Biblical Evidence for True Apostolic Tradition (vs. “Traditions of Men”) [6-23-11]

Bible on Submission to Church & Apostolic Tradition + Biblical Condemnation of the Rebellious & Schismatic Aspects of the Protestant Revolt [8-27-11]

Biblical Evidence for the Oral Torah [10-18-11]

 “Tradition” Is Not Always a Bad Word! [written specifically for children: 12 or younger; 2-12-14]
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Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura [originally July 2003; somewhat modified condensation: 4-5-17]
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Tradition is Not a Dirty Word — It’s a Great Gift [National Catholic Register, 4-24-17]
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Dialogue on Oral Tradition & Apostolic Succession (vs. John E. Taylor) [5-17-17]
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 III. SOLA SCRIPTURA
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Debate: Church Fathers & Sola Scriptura (vs. Jason Engwer) [8-1-03]

Ten Church Fathers & Sola Scriptura (vs. Jason Engwer) [8-1-03]

Sola Scriptura: Unbiblical!: Refutation of Dr. Richard Bennett [9-15-03]

Refutation of Dr. John MacArthur’s Sola Scriptura Defense: “The Sufficiency of the Written Word” [9-15-03]

Biblical Argumentation: Same as Sola Scriptura? [10-7-03]

Quick Ten-Step Refutation of Sola Scriptura [10-10-03]

“Moses’ Seat” & Jesus vs. Sola Scriptura (vs. James White) [12-27-03]

Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment Are Logically Circular [1-28-04; slight modifications and abridgment on 9-5-17]

Difficulties of Authority: Luther, Calvin, & Protestantism [4-11-04]

Sola Scriptura is Self-Defeating and False if Not in the Bible (vs. Kevin Johnson) [5-4-04]

Jerusalem Council vs. Sola Scriptura [9-2-04]

Analyzing Luther / Protestant Traditions of Men Inevitable [9-29-04]

Dialogue: Lutherans, Sola Scriptura, & the Church Fathers [5-29-05]

Levites and the Old Covenant System vs. Sola Scriptura [4-9-06]

OT Levites & Priests: Closer to Sola Scriptura or Catholicism? [4-9-06]

Catholic Rule of Faith and Binding Authority: Old Testament Analogies [4-9-06]

Cardinal Newman: “The Principle of Continuity between the Jewish and Christian Churches” (Catholic Authority) [Facebook, 4-9-06]

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman on the Authoritative Interpretation of God’s Revelation (Over Against Sola Scriptura) [Facebook, 4-9-06]

Sola Scriptura: Church Fathers (?), & Myself (?), by Analogy [2-7-07]

Lutheran Chemnitz Wrong Re Fathers & Sola Scriptura (mostly dealing with St. Irenaeus and Tertullian) [8-29-07]

Lutheran Chemnitz: Errors Re Fathers & Sola Scriptura (including analysis of Jerome, Augustine, Origen, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Lactantius, Athanasius, and Cyprian) [8-31-07]

1 Timothy 3:15: Sola Scriptura or Visible Church Authority? [10-2-07]

Papal Infallibility Doctrine: History (Including Luther’s Dissent at the Leipzig Disputation in 1519) (Related also to the particular circumstances of the origins of sola Scriptura) [10-8-07]

Sola Scriptura Debate (vs. C. Michael Patton) [10-19-08]

Sola Scriptura: Catholic Scholars vs. Apologists on its Illogical Nature? (E.g., Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI], Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Henri de Lubac) [11-13-08]

Unbridled Sectarianism, Sola Scriptura, Luther, & Calvin [6-24-09]

St. Paul’s Word Selection vs. Sola Scriptura [4-3-10]

Dialogue with a Lutheran: Church Fathers & Sola Scriptura (vs. Nathan Rinne) [10-13-11]

Mass Baptisms in Acts & Future Binding Church Decrees (Cardinal Wiseman) [1-10-12]

Sola Scriptura, 2 Tim 3:16-17, & “Man of God” [1-27-12]

Biblical Argumentation is NOT Sola Scriptura [5-8-12]

Books by Dave Armstrong: 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura [May 2012]

Answer to Sola Scriptura “Prooftexts” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 & Romans 16:15-16 (vs. David T. King) [6-26-12]

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10-Point Biblical Refutation of Sola Scriptura [National Catholic Register, 12-11-16]
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Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura [originally July 2003; somewhat modified condensation: 4-5-17]
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Catholics R More Biblical Than Protestants? (Dialogue) (vs. Dustin Buck Lattimore) [5-3-17]
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3 Effective Biblical Refutations of Sola Scriptura [National Catholic Register, 11-12-17]
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David T. King Ignores Sola Scriptura Biblical Disproofs (Incl. lengthy analysis of 2 Peter 1:20: “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”) [11-13-17]
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The New Testament Canon is a “Late” Doctrine [National Catholic Register, 1-22-18]
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IV. PERSPICUITY (CLEARNESS) OF SCRIPTURE

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Baptismal Regeneration: Central Doctrine, According to Luther & Lutheranism [1996]

Dialogue: Clearness (Perspicuity) of Scripture and the Formal Sufficiency of Scripture (vs. Carmen Bryant) [6-8-00]

Dialogue: Church Fathers on Perspicuity & Sola Scriptura [6-11-00]

The Sufficiency & Perspicuity of Scripture & the Trinity [6-16-03; slightly revised on 1-20-04]

The Revised Fundamentalist Baptist Version (RFBV) [5-18-04]

Is the Bible in Fact Clear, or “Perspicuous” to Every Individual? [2007]

Luther: Scripture Easily Grasped by “Plowboys” [11-1-08]

Erasmus’ Hyperaspistes (1526): Sola Scriptura and Perspicuity of Scripture [2-12-09]

25 Brief Arguments Regarding Biblical “Clearness” [2009]

The Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture: A Summary [1-22-10]

The Anglican Newman (1833-1838) on the Falsity of Perspicuity (Clearness) of Holy Scripture [3-7-11]

The Bible: “Clear” & “Self-Interpreting”? [February 2014]

Perspicuity (Clarity) of Holy Scripture [11-21-15]

Protestant Unity on “Central” Doctrines?: Baptism as Test Case (vs. Methodist Philosophy professor Jerry Walls) [1-9-17]

Dialogue on Authoritative Bible Interpretation in the New Testament (vs. Reformed Baptist Elder Jim Drickamer) [1-14-17]

The Clearness, or “Perspicuity,” of Sacred Scripture [National Catholic Register, 11-16-17]

Biblical Interpretation & Clarity: Dialogue w an Atheist [5-26-18]

Is Inspiration Immediately Evident in Every Biblical Book? [National Catholic Register, 7-28-18]

Bible “Difficulties” Are No Disproof of Biblical Inspiration [National Catholic Register, 6-29-19]

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V. MATERIAL AND FORMAL SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE / RULE OF FAITH
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The Sufficiency & Perspicuity of Scripture & the Trinity [6-16-03; slightly revised on 1-20-04]
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Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura [originally July 2003; somewhat modified condensation: 4-5-17]
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VI. THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE

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Development of the Biblical Canon: Protestant Difficulties [2-26-02 and 3-19-02, abridged with slight revisions and additions on 7-19-18]
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The New Testament Canon is a “Late” Doctrine [National Catholic Register, 1-22-18]
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Is Inspiration Immediately Evident in Every Biblical Book? [National Catholic Register, 7-28-18]
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VII. DEUTEROCANONICAL BOOKS (SO-CALLED “APOCRYPHA”)

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How to Defend the Deuterocanon (or ‘Apocrypha’) [National Catholic Register, 3-12-17]
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VIII. BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY / ISRAEL
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IX. BIBLICAL ACCURACY / ALLEGED BIBLICAL CONTRADICTIONS AND DIFFICULTIES   
[see also related papers in the Atheist and Agnostic section]
 

Master List / General / Resources

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Jesus 

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Gadarenes, Gerasenes, Swine, & Atheist Skeptics (vs. Jonathan MS Pearce) [7-25-17]
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Atheist “Refutes” Sermon on the Mount (Or Does He?) [National Catholic Register, 7-23-17]
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What Does “Turn the Other Cheek” Mean? [National Catholic Register, 7-20-19]
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Death of Judas: Alleged Bible Contradictions Debunked (vs. Dave Van Allen and Dr. Jim Arvo) [9-27-07]
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Genesis, Adam and Eve, and Other Early Figures

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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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“Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?” (Dr. Dennis Bonnette, Crisis Magazine, 11-24-14)
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Modernism vs. History in Genesis & Biblical Inspiration [7-23-18]

Scripture, Science, Genesis, & Evolutionary Theory: Mini-Dialogue with an Atheist [8-14-18; rev. 2-18-19]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Loftus Atheist Error #9: Bible Espouses Mythical Animals? [9-10-19]

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Massacres and Wars of Annihilation / God’s Judgment

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Last Updated on 18 September 2019.

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September 3, 2019

Atheist and former Christian Acalibre commented on my paper, Masturbation: Thoughts on Why it is as Wrong as it Ever Was., and I replied. His words will be in blue.

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Why stop there, Dave? In Matthew 5.30, where he’s speaking in an entirely sexual context, Jesus advocates cutting off one’s right hand if it ‘offends’ you. He’s clearly talking about masturbation, as well as other sexual sins. You ignore him at your peril; he wouldn’t have issued this command if he hadn’t meant it.

Learn about biblical hyperbole. Here’s some help for you to do that.

I like that Jesus words are always hyperbole or metaphor when you don’t like what he’s saying. I guess ‘treat others as you like to be treated’, ‘go the extra mile’, ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘give to all who ask’ are similarly hyperbolic and can also be safely dismissed.

That’s how you see it. In fact, there are such literary genres and figures and one can intelligently determine when they are present in Scripture. It takes study, and people like you have no interest in that if it establishes traditional Christianity and morals (it goes against your agenda), so you simply bloviate without knowledge, as you have done.

No, I simply ask you how you know when Jesus is speaking metaphorically or hyperbolically and when he should be taken literally; how do you distinguish?

Surely the one who said to have faith like a child does not expect years of study simply to know when to take him seriously.

That’s a completely different thing. He was saying (proverbially), “be trusting of God, rather than always being cynical and questioning, as is too often the case with adults.” It’s a different principle from the notion of studying Scripture in order to better understand it.

We have to study more because we are in a “rationalistic, post-“Enlightenment” Greek-influenced, post-scientific culture, whereas the Bible was written in a pre-scientific, pre-philosophical, agricultural, Hebrew, ancient near eastern culture, rich with poetry and non-literal literary devices and expressions. Because we think very differently than they do, we have to learn about their culture and how they thought and wrote. They were not “stupid” and “primitive”: as atheists are always making them out to be: just different and further back in time.

They thought very differently, for example about time and chronology, and had notions such as “block logic” (very unfamiliar to us in our culture and ways of thinking today): both of which I have written about.

To the casual observer it does indeed seem that when believers like yourself don’t like what Jesus is telling you to do, you decide he’s using hyperbole, and when he’s not placing too much of a demand on you he can be taken literally. Demonstrate how this is not the case: are commands like ‘go the extra mile’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ hyperbole or not? And how do you know?

Those two are proverbial: which are general exhortations that hold in a broad sense, but which allow exceptions. I recently wrote about “turn the other cheek”.

We know by becoming familiar with the different forms of non-literal expression in biblical times. It’s through practice and study. And by cross-referencing.

So, for example, I was writing about how Jesus said, “if you don’t hate your family, you’re not worthy of me.” This is hyperbole: the extreme contrast. But in another Gospel, Jesus gives the literal meaning, which is how the hyperbole is interpreted: “if you love your family more than me, you’re not worthy of me.”

And that brings to mind another principle of biblical interpretation: “Interpret the unclear or difficult verse in light of related ones that are more clear and more easily understood.”

We learn all this by studying Bible commentaries and linguistic aids, and the rules of hermeneutics and exegesis (Bible interpretation). At the link I provided (about hyperbole) is mentioned a book about figures in the Bible. I quote:

Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger catalogued “over 200 distinct figures [in the Bible], several of them with from 30 to 40 varieties.” That is a statement from the Introduction to his 1104-page tome, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). I have this work in my own library (hardcover). It’s also available for free, online. Bullinger continues, in the Introduction [now I quote it directly]:

All language is governed by law; but, in order to increase the power of a word, or the force of an expression, these laws are designedly departed from, and words and sentences are thrown into, and used in, new forms, or figures.

The ancient Greeks reduced these new and peculiar forms to science, and gave names to more than two hundred of them.

The Romans carried forward this science . . .

These manifold forms which words and sentences assume were called by the Greeks Schema and by the Romans, Figura. Both words have the same meaning, viz., a shape or figure. . . .

Applied to words, a figure denotes some form which a word or sentence takes, different from its ordinary and natural form. This is always for the purpose of giving additional force, more life, intensified feeling, and greater emphasis.

[Bullinger devotes six pages (423-428) to “Hyperbole; or, Exaggeration”: which he defines as follows:]

The figure is so called because the expression adds to the sense so much that it exaggerates it, and enlarges or diminishes it more than is really meant in fact. Or, when more is said than is meant to be literally understood, in order to heighten the sense.

It is the superlative degree applied to verbs and sentences and expressions or descriptions, rather than to mere adjectives. . . .

It was called by the Latins superlatio, a carrying beyond, an exaggerating.

[I shall cite some of his more notable and obvious examples (omitting ellipses: “. . .” ):]

Gen. ii. 24. — “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.” This does not mean that he is to forsake and no longer to love or care for his parents. So Matt. xix. 5.

Ex. viii. 17. — “All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt”: i.e., wherever in all the land there was dust, it became lice.

I Sam. xxv. 37. — Nabal’s “heart died within him, and he became as a stone”: i.e., he was terribly frightened and collapsed or fainted away.

I Kings i. 40. — “So that the earth rent with the sound of them.”

A hyperbolical description of their jumping and leaping for joy.Job xxix. 6. — “The rock poured me out rivers of oil”: i.e., I had abundance of all good things. So chap. xx. 17 and Micah vi. 7.

Isa. xiv. 13, — “I will ascend into heaven”: to express the pride of Lucifer.

Lam. ii. 11.— “My liver is poured upon the earth, etc”: to express the depth of the Prophet’s grief and sorrow at the desolations of Zion.

Luke xiv. 26. — “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother”: i.e., does not esteem them less than me. So the verb to hate is used (Gen. xxix. 31. Rom. ix. 13).

John iii. 26. — “All men come to him.” Thus his disciples said to John, to show their sense of the many people who followed the Lord.

John xii. 19. — “Behold, the world is gone after him.” The enemies of the Lord thus expressed their indignation at the vast multitudes which followed Him.

Gary Amirault highlights more biblical examples in a similar article:

[T]is verse is a hyperbole, an exaggeration for effect:

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24, NIV)

It is not too difficult to determine that this is a hyperbole, an exaggeration. Because the English language is full of Bible terms and phraseology, this Hebrew idiom has become part of the English language. Therefore most English speaking people know the real meaning of that phrase: “You pay close attention to little things but neglect the important things.” [Dave: or, “you can’t see the forest for the trees”]

However, here is a hyperbole that the average Bible reader may miss and formulate doctrine from which may end up being harmful to themselves and others.

“Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23b, NIV)

The Bible is full of exaggerations like the one above which are not to be taken literally. Careful attention, comparing scripture with scripture, knowing the Bible and its author thoroughly, making certain not to necessary apply things to ourselves which weren’t meant for us individually and some basics about the original languages are needed to prevent us from misinterpreting various scripture verses like this one. . . .

“If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out…” Matt. 5:29 (I met a Christian who actually tried to pluck out his right eye because he had a lust problem. This is an example the kind of problem a Bible translation can cause if one is not informed of the various figures of speech found in the Bible.)

[The literary device of antithesis, or contrast also seems more specifically applicable to the verse we are considering. Bullinger writes about this in his pages 715-718:]

A setting of one Phrase in Contrast with another.

. . . It is a figure by which two thoughts, ideas, or phrases, are set over one against the other, in order to make the contrast more striking, and thus to emphasize it. [footnote: “When this consists of words rather than of sentences, it is called Epanodos, and Antimetabole (q.v.).”]

The two parts so placed are hence called in Greek antitheta, and in Latin opposita and contraposita. . . .

It is called also contentio: i.e., comparison, or contrast. When this contrast is made by affirmatives and negatives, it is called Enantiosis, see below. The Book of Proverbs so abounds in such Antitheses that we have not given any examples from it.

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I guess ‘treat others as you like to be treated’, ‘go the extra mile’, ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘give to all who ask’ are similarly hyperbolic and can also be safely dismissed.

These are not hyperbolic. The golden rule is literal ethical advice that applies to all situations. If we want to be treated lovingly, we should also do the same with other people. This is a principle present in virtually every ethical system in all times and places (as C. S. Lewis documented in his book, The Abolition of Man).

“Give to all who ask” is also a general ethical principle, but has a proverbial element in that it isn’t always literally possible to do so. The idea is that we should have a giving heart and be willing to help the less fortunate, insofar as we are possibly able to do so.

Clearly hyperbolic passages would be, for example:

Mark 11:23 (RSV) Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

Matthew 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Matthew 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

‘Clearly’ they’re hyperbolic? How so? I thought knowing this involved study? Now it appears it’s self-evident.

I see. So you think Jesus talking about having a log in your eye is being literal, huh? How ridiculous are we gonna get?

Nevertheless, Jesus’ point is that with faith, seemingly impossible things are possible. Why don’t we see these things being realised by his followers today?

Many times we do witness extraordinary things. But people like you dismiss them out of hand, because you can’t allow the possibility that Christianity is true (having rejected it as an apostate). There are healings, but there are not always healings, and not healings at command, as if God were our genie.

And why, despite his other ‘literal ethical advice’ (‘advice’?), do we not see all Christians actually doing what he suggests? You’ve turned his words into mere textual exercise, his commands into optional bits of ‘advice’. Well done. As I suggested originally, you pick and choose what you accept on the basis of whether it’s easy or to your liking. The radical stuff you dismiss with quasi-intellectual sleight of hand.

I was speaking generically and in a certain sense when I used the description, “literal ethical advice.” I agree that that could be misunderstood (which is exactly what you did). But I never intended to imply at all that the Golden Rule was merely optional advice. Of course it is a binding command from Jesus. This is not arbitrary picking and choosing, as you charge. I simply was not as clear as I could have been.

As expected, you reject the explanation out of hand. It would make no sense from a purely rational, “understanding of literary genre” point of view, but it becomes more understandable in light of what the Bible says about the rebellious, atheist mind, which becomes “darkened” after a while (“they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools”: Romans 1:21-22, RSV).

I try to have a serious conversation and reply to your questions, which I assume were sincere, but you bring it right back down to mockery and foolishness. Why is that? From the Christian view, it is likely because of the following dynamic:

1 Corinthians 2:14 “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

2 Timothy 3:7 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

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Photo credit: KlausHausmann (10-4-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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July 30, 2019

Libby Anne was raised (like so many atheists I have encountered) as a fundamentalist Protestant and later became an atheist. Her blog on Patheos is called Love, Joy, Feminism. Today I am responding to her piece, “Jesus, the Trinity, and Subterfuge” (7-29-19). I want to focus on her specific claim as to whether Jesus claimed to be God or not. Her words will be in blue.

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I spent my evangelical childhood and adolescence studying apologetics; as a young adult, . . . 

I don’t know how she missed all the biblical passages I shall bring to bear, then . . . As I mentioned in a recent reply to another atheist:

It’s one thing to simply state, “I don’t believe or accept what the Bible / Christianity teaches.” We understand that this is (broadly speaking) the position of the atheist.

It’s quite another, on the other hand, to state, “The Bible teaches particulars x, y, and z” . . . which opens one up to the possibility of being shown that the claims made are demonstrably false statements as to fact.

Thus, in the present instance, Libby is making assertions about what Jesus did or did not claim. Thus, it is a discussion of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and exegesis). And that is my area. I’ve been doing apologetics for 38 years, with special emphasis on the Bible, both as an evangelical and as a Catholic.

Early Christians argued over who Jesus was precisely because he never directly claimed to be God. He was vague

This is absolutely false, and I will thoroughly refute it below (as the bulk of this reply). But first let me briefly tackle a few other claims she makes.

Seeking to understand the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, early Christians came up with varying ideas—some argued that he was an ordinary person whom God raised up and elevated to some semi-divine level, effectively adopting as his son; others argued that Jesus was God’s son, preceding from him and subject to him. 

This completely ignores the distinction between heresy and orthodoxy. Christianity was clear from the beginning that Jesus was divine, and that the Holy Trinity (albeit less developed than it was later: like all doctrines) was true. Whoever denied these things were heretics (not Christians), and recognized as such by the early Church.

These early Christians, remember, did not have a settled canon of the Bible, and relied instead on a broad array of writings, some of which are now lost.

That’s correct. But the Gospels and several of Paul’s epistles were accepted as canonical fairly early on. And there was a robust apostolic tradition: as can be seen in the writings of early figures like St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp.

The doctrine of the Trinity took hundreds of years and multiple church councils to create. You would think that if it were all that important, Jesus would have been clear about it—what better time for a deity to speak directly to complicated doctrinal issues than when they’re literally here, in person! . . . 

When it comes to the Trinity, the New Testament is confusing at best. If the Bible were at all clear about this, it wouldn’t have taken hundreds of years and multiple church councils to work out the relationship between God and Jesus (don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit).

All Christian doctrines develop over time, just as, for example, science or philosophy are constantly developing as time goes on. We would fully expect this. Christians (despite constant atheist charges to the contrary) think just like everyone else does. And with thinking comes further understanding — more in-depth knowledge and comprehension — over time. Development of doctrine is my favorite topic in theology and one of my specialties. I have a web page about it and a book as well.

The Holy Trinity is fairly apparent in Holy Scripture itself, as I have contended: though not utterly obvious. It takes a little work and study  to see the whole “biblical picture. I also compiled, as one of my earliest apologetics projects, very lengthy collections of the hundreds of biblical indication for the deity of Jesus and the Holy Trinity. I shall draw from those today.

And that brings us back to our main topic: a reply to Libby’s contention: that Jesus “never directly claimed to be God. He was vague.”

I feel like a mosquito on a nude beach: where to begin? To read the New Testament and miss all these is like looking up in the sky on a clear summer day at noon and not being able to locate the sun. I don’t mean to be crass or insulting, but it’s really just about that bad.

All passages will be from RSV. Jesus’ own words will be in green:

*****

Direct Statements of Jesus’ Equality with God the Father

John 5:17-18, 21-22 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” [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.… [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. [22] The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,” (cf. 16:14-15; 17:10)

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man… will repay every man for what he has done. (cf. Rev 22:12; Ps 62:12; Is 40:10)

John 14:7-9 “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (cf. 12:45)

[The Old Testament plainly taught that God was the judge of men:

1 Samuel 2:10 …The LORD will judge the ends of the earth… (cf. Gen 18:25; 1 Chr 16:33; Ps 7:11; 9:8; 96:10; Is 2:4; 33:22)

Psalm 50:6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! (cf. 58:11; 67:4; 82:8; 94:2; Jer 11:20)

Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (cf. 3:17; Ezek 18:30; 33:20; Joel 3:12)]

John 10:30, 33 “I and the Father are one.”… [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.”

Eternal and Uncreated

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he. (cf. 8:28; 13:19; Ex 3:13-15)

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Revelation 1:17 …Fear not, I am the first and the last, (cf. 2:8; 22:13, 16; Is 44:6; 48:12)

Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega,… [identified as Jesus in 22:16] (cf. Rev 1:8; 21:6)

[God alone is eternal and uncreated:

Genesis 21:33 …the LORD, the Everlasting God. (cf. Ex 3:14; Ps 90:2; 93:2; Is 40:28; Hab 1:12)

Romans 16:26 …the eternal God…. (cf. Dt 33:27; Is 57:15; 1 Tim 1:17) ]

Divine “I” 

Jesus teaches in His own authority (“I say to you”) in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:18-34, etc.), and many other passages. The prophets, in contrast, spoke as God’s messengers in the second person (“The Lord says…”). He often talks in a way in which only God could speak. For instance, when He addresses the seven churches in the book of Revelation, He is clearly speaking to them as God (Rev 1:17-3:22). Perhaps the most striking example of this occurs in Matthew 23:

Matthew 23:34, 37 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes… [37] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

Eternal Creator

Revelation 3:14 …the beginning [arche] of God’s creation.

Revelation 22:13 I am… the beginning and the end. [identified as Jesus in 22:16] (cf. 21:6)

[Arche is the Greek word for “beginning” — from which we derive our word “architect.” Its literal meaning is “origin, active cause, source, uncreated principle.” Thus, Revelation 3:14 Jesus is saying that He is the “architect” or creator of the universe. In 21:6 arche is also applied to the Father, so it can’t possibly mean “created being.”]

Jesus is Worshiped, and He Accepts Worship

John 5:23 that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

[God alone is to be worshiped:

Exodus 34:14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), (cf. 20:3)

Deuteronomy 8:19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish. (cf. 11:16; 17:3; 29:26; 30:17; 1 Ki 9:6-9; Jer 16:11; 22:9; 25:6; Dan 3:28)

Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (cf. Mt 4:10) ]

Jesus is Omnipotent

John 5:21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. [implied: the Father’s unique characteristics are also possessed by the Son; cf. 2:19; 3:35; 5:19-20; 6:40; 10:17-18; 13:3]

John 10:28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. (cf. Dt 32:39; Jn 10:29)

[God alone is omnipotent:

Job 42:2 I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. (cf. 11:7-11; Prov 19:21; Is 14:27)

Jeremiah 32:17 …Nothing is too hard for thee, (cf. Gen 18:14; Dt 32:39; Ps 33:9; Is 46:10; Jer 32:17; Rom 1:20) ]

Jesus is King of the World

John 18:37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world,…” (cf. 1:49; 12:13, 15; 18:36; Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2)

[The Old Testament taught that only God was such a king:

1 Samuel 12:12 …the LORD your God was your king. (cf. Ps 95:3)

Psalm 10:16 The LORD is king for ever and ever; (cf. 24:8, 10; 47:2; 84:3; 98:6; 103:19; Zech 14:9, 16)

Isaiah 33:22 …the LORD is our ruler, the LORD is our king; he will save us. (cf. 43:15; 44:6; Jer 10:10; Mic 4:7; 1 Tim 1:17; Rev 15:3) ]

***

Photo credit: Christ Pantocrator (Church of St. Alexander Nevsky, Belgrade); photo by Petar Milošević (2-20-17) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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May 26, 2019

This is a follow-up discussion: brought about by an atheist’s response to my article, “Atheist vs. Christian Ignorance of the Bible: A Brief Observation.” The words of gusbovona will be in blue.

*****

Atheist here.

1. Part of the problem atheists have with the Bible is that they suspect its god doesn’t care about communication with humans precisely because one must work to figure out exactly what the Bible means. Presumably the god of the Bible would know what would communicate effectively without the danger of mis-interpretation. And, a Bible that requires interpretation looks too much like a Bible with no deity behind it.

All books require interpretation, so why would it be the case, according to you, that somehow the Bible, granting for the sake of argument that it is inspired revelation from God, would be the simplest book in the world? I think that is actually the last thing we would reasonably expect in such a book. If the Bible were so simplistic that any young child could immediately grasp it, we can be assured that it would be roundly mocked by atheists even more than it is now. They would say, “you expect us to believe that this tripe was written by an infinitely intelligent, omniscient God?!” See my article: Why We Should Fully Expect Many “Bible Difficulties”.

It’s not so much a question of simplicity (although an argument can be made for the simpler, the better) as it is of the need for interpretation.

I grant that all writings need interpretation, but some need more than others, and the difference can be vast; the less interpretive difficulty, the better, in general, would you agree?; and the vast amount of interpretive difficulty with the Bible argues for a lack of divine influence.

There is a certain middle ground. I believe that the main doctrines of the Bible are indeed clear, once one attains a fair amount of familiarity with it (learns the basics of hermeneutics and exegesis and systematic theology). Then it’s relatively easy to interpret it. But history shows that folks, generally speaking, need guidance in terms of having definite answers: “the Bible / Christian faith teaches thus-and-so.” That is the role of an authoritative Church and tradition, which the Bible itself teaches the necessity of (I wrote four books about the topic of biblical and Church authority), and which is one of the strongest rationales for Catholicism and Orthodoxy, over against Protestantism.

Theological truth also entails complexities, the more one gets into it, just as science and philosophy do. Philosophers and logicians talk about elegant simplicity, but that doesn’t always hold. Relativity and quantum mechanics and black holes are very complex and counter-intuitive, but they are considered to be profoundly established in physics and astronomy, more so than Newtonian physics, which is simpler and far more intuitive.

The Bible also teaches that men do not understand the Bible and spiritual truths because of their own corruption and rebellion. Hence the Apostle Paul writes: “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, RSV). And Jesus taught the same:

Matthew 13:10-13 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [11] And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

This “spiritual” factor understood, it then becomes a causative factor in the ability to interpret Scripture properly. One has to be open to the things of God. If not, they won’t “get it.” And this is what I consistently see in atheist attempts to interpret the Bible. There is no willingness to properly learn (very little intellectual humility), and there is outright hostility. This is why I compare the atheist view of the Bible to a butcher’s view of a hog. The Christian views it as “Shakespeare from God” or as a wonderful painting, that has to be unpacked and revealed to be the marvel that it is. This takes some significant effort and labor, but it’s not at all impossible.

You are still conflating simplicity/complexity and interpretation. My point was about interpretation. Something very simple can still need to be interpreted correctly, and something complex can require very little interpretation.

Yeah, I agree. As I have argued, there are both simple and complex aspects to understanding the Bible and interpreting it.

***

2. Can you give an example of someone disrespecting the Bible?

I provided many in the links in the above paper. Here is one of my personal favorites, though, because of the astonishing and amusing ignorance of the view set forth: Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski).

It’s difficult for me to guess exactly what statement in the link you provided that was disrespectful. Can you just quote a single sentence or a paragraph? Or do you mean that mis-interpreting the Bible to contain an absurd cosmology is the disrespect itself?

The latter. But broadly speaking, to ask an apologist like me to list the ways in which atheists disrespect the Bible and Christianity is like asking me what I love about my wife (I’m very happily married). It’s very difficult to answer, because it’s a thousand things. So I provided a list of my articles that deal with this topic. The evidence is ample therein, and in many other dialogues of mine with atheists. Bob Seidensticker is Classic / Textbook Exhibit #1 of atheist biblical ignorance and hubris. And he challenged me to defend the Bible. Once I started doing so and refuting his nonsense, he fell off the face of the earth. What a coincidence . . . Please tell him “hello” from me if you ever talk to him, and let him know I’m still alive and kickin’. :-)

I didn’t ask you to list the ways that atheists disrespect the Bible. I asked you for an example. I can take the example of Biblical cosmology, but I didn’t want you think I was asking for a list, or even an exhaustive list.

***

3. You appear to trust your “long experience in dialogue” over a scientific study. Are you aware of the dangers of accepting one’s long experience in an empirical matter?

The topic is very complex. As I noted: “People have differing levels of understanding in all human groups.” It would highly depend on how the research was conducted (unfortunately, the link I thought I made to the study is not there), but, as with any large group, one has to take into account differing degrees of education. Thus, if we surveyed “Christians” completely at random, sure, we would see a lot of ignorance, since most Christians (to our shame) are poorly educated in theology: which is a large reason why I became a professional apologist.

The comparison needs to be between educated Christians, who understand Christian doctrine, and atheists who also have a fair degree of biblical knowledge (or claim to, anyway). This is where my experience in dialogue becomes quite relevant, because I think I have demonstrated over and over, that many atheists who make out that they are such experts on the Bible, are far from it. So, for instance, one could consider my 32 refutations of one atheist who makes these claims: Bob Seidensticker (I see that you follow his blog). He shows himself to be biblically and theologically ignorant (in matters of simple fact) and out to sea again and again.

Or one could observe how abominably ignorant Richard Dawkins: one of the most renowned atheists, is about Bible matters, in my paper on that: Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion”.

In other words, what we need to do is compare the most knowledgeable in each camp, not take some survey of Joe Blow Christian on the street vs. the typical atheist, who is usually relatively more educated (because they are usually persuaded to be an atheist in hyper-secularized academic settings).

I think you misunderstand my comment. I wasn’t talking about you disagreeing with atheists like Seidensticker, I was talking about you reaching a conclusion based on your personal experience even though it differed from a scientific study:

Grimlock: 

If the average atheist’s knowledge of the Bible is abominable, the average Christian seems to be even worse off. (At least in the US.) [source from Pew Research]

You: 

So I reject a view that holds that they are more ignorant of the Bible (as an entire class) than atheists. It’s a joke. And I know so for certain, from my own long experience in dialogue.

The two things are not mutually exclusive. As I have explained my view in much greater depth, it is seen, I think, that it’s perfectly complimentary to any of these studies. I freely grant that Christians en masse are scandalously ignorant of theology, too. So it is necessary to compare the “cream of the crop” of both camps, to make a penetrating, insightful comparison. You have to get a theologian or apologist like myself up against a proclaimed atheist “expert” on the Bible, to see how each party fares.

It seems to me that a survey that says that Christians know less about the Bible than atheists do is mutually exclusive with a conclusion (in your case, drawn on personal experience) that rejects the idea that Christians are more ignorant of the Bible than atheists.

***

 

Photo credit: Tobias Van Der Elst (7-16-17): Morteratsch, Canton of Graubunden, Switzerland [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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April 29, 2019

Google Analytics Blows That Out of the Water

Popular online atheist and anti-theist polemicist Bob Seidensticker and one of his clone-sycophants claimed that I was trying to use his site merely to drum up traffic on mine. Their words will be in green and blue, respectively.

*****

This is the guy that I banned, and explained why in great detail (because he’s a big shot atheist online). Three days later I saw this nonsense. There was a huge flatulent fuss on his site: a “feeding frenzy” against me. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever observed online (and that’s sayin’ somethin’!). One of the more entertaining and humorous motifs among many (I almost lost my dinner, laughing) was this charge, that I blew out of the water with objective facts:

“MR”: Clearly using you to try to drum up traffic to his site. Not sure how that helps him when he just turns around and bans everyone. Guy seems a little mental to me, though. This isn’t normal behavior unless you’re a 13 year old.

Bob Seidensticker: Is he just trying to get clicks on his posts?? Pathetic. [link]

Nice try. First of all, I was second in traffic for the last month of records at Patheos Catholic, out of some 65 blogs. Secondly, we have a way to actually see what is generating traffic, called Google Analytics (Bob can do this for his site, too). Checking out mine for the period of July 1st to now, I see that the top ten most-visited posts have nothing to do with atheism:

1. Cain and his wife
2. Chappaquiddick
3. Papal guidance
4. Death penalty
5. Biblical canon
6. Death penalty
7. Early development of the papacy
8. Luther’s view of priestly celibacy
9. Titles: “Catholic” or “Roman Catholic”
10. Death penalty

Looking at the next ten most popular, I see two articles about atheism. Two out of top 20 hardly suggests that I have to rely on Bob‘s site (or any atheist site or interaction with them) to drive traffic to mine. It’s ridiculous, and those are the objective stats to prove it. This isn’t a normal “argument” unless you are a three-year-old.

To his credit, Bob acknowledged the stats (he could hardly deny them), but then he just made another potshot:

As for MR’s comment, he’s just trying to make sense of your actions. And they don’t make sense. And that could just be our fault–we assume that acting like a thoughtful adult is the best route. If you’re succeeding by being a petulant schoolyard bully, that is surprising.

[For those who would like to see multitudinous examples of Bob and his clone-followers acting like “thoughtful adult[s]” be sure to visit just the one “discussion” thread which was a “feeding frenzy” against me. You’ll see in about thirty seconds that his standards for discourse are vastly different than mine. It will be most “enlightening”, I guarantee. Bob complained about my merely posting what he and others said about me in this thread, and wanted me to take it down. Too bad: live with it! It’s public. If I am to be lied about by a bunch of fools, the very least I can do in response, is simply expose the idiotic inanities]

MR, undaunted, continued on in the face of all evidence:

Still doesn’t mean you aren’t trying to use Bob to drum up traffic to your site. And your behavior is still that of a 13 year old, though it appears others appear to find you even more immature. Have you been drinking or something? This is not normal behavior.

***

For those who would like to see how Seidensticker attempts to “argue” against Christianity and the Bible, I have now written 32 direct refutations of his nonsense (after he himself challenged me to make replies): all completely ignored by him.

My banning of him on my blog and Facebook page has no relation to whether or not he can answer. These posts are public to all. All he has to do is reply on his blog, and then notify me of it by email: apologistdave [at] gmail [dot] com. Then I will counter-reply. But he can’t use the lame excuse that his banning on my blog makes it impossible for him to reply. Thus, it appears that he is intellectually (not technically) unable to do so.

Lastly, Bob himself bans people from his blog. He banned me. Many (if not most) atheists do so (to different degrees, but they definitely do). They are no different from Christians in that regard. I ban when someone doesn’t abide by my simple rules of conduct, which have been consistently enforced the entire 22-year time that my blog has been online. Absolutely anyone is welcome and will not be banned, as long as they conduct themselves in a civil fashion. Banning has absolutely nothing to do with what a person believes, and everything to do with how he or she conducts himself. I’m sure I’ve banned far more Christians than atheists.

***

(originally 8-11-18 on Facebook)

Photo credit: GregReese (11-16-18) [PixabayPixabay License]

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November 9, 2018

*****

Cassidy McGillicuddy, who goes by “Captain Cassidy” runs a blog called Roll to Disbelieve.  She describes herself and her views as follows: “I was raised Catholic by a very fervent family, converted to evangelicalism in my teens, and became a full-on fundamentalist shortly thereafter, . . . But shortly after college I figured out that my religion’s claims weren’t true. . . . I’m a humanist, a skeptic, a freethinker, and a passionate student of science, mythology, and history. . . . I care more about what people do than on what they call themselves. I don’t think of myself as having much of a specific religious or non-religious label beyond “ex-Christian,” . . .

Cassidy wrote a post entitled, “Why Christians Need Satan to Be An Idiot” (11-1-18). I love the little psychological judgment there. In it she takes me to task, by “critiquing” [???] an article I did about Satan: “Satan is Highly Intelligent—and an Arrogant Idiot” (National Catholic Register, 11-27-17).  As usual, I wasn’t informed of it so I could reply. I just happened to run across it last night. Her words will be in blue.

***

First of all, to get an idea of the polemical / insulting spirit in which Cassidy undertakes this criticism, I cite her comment in the combox under her post (11-4-18), with my reply:

I originally thought I must have banned him [i.e., me] from here already, but since we’ve never really delved into his blathering, he has no real reason to care about us so I probably haven’t. When I think about Christians who are bullies but wilt like orchids under a hair-dryer when they get pushback, he’s one of the first people I think of!

Really? That must be why I wrote 30 papers (yes, thirty: all on different topics he wrote about) in response to atheist Bob Seidensticker (at his initial urging), without one peep in reply: because I’m the coward and he is obviously intellectually confident . . .

Thanks for letting me know, by the way, about this piece, so I could reply. It’s a sign of your sublime intellectual confidence [sarcasm alert!]. I had to run across it. Having done so, it’ll get a full reply tomorrow. It looks to be a very fun piece. I look forward to it!

Will you flee to the hills, too, like Bob always does, after you are critiqued? Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

Now onto her paper itself:

When I was a Christian, every single Christian I knew had two completely contradictory opinions about Satan. First, everyone thought he was beyond infernally intelligent. But second, everyone thought he was a stone-cold IDIOT. 

It’s not contradictory at all: rightly understood. And I explained this in my article. There is intelligence / cleverness / brain power / ability to analyze and be subtle and sophisticated / high IQ. That’s one thing. And then there is wisdom and knowledge, which is the ability to arrive at truth and an understanding of reality as it actually is, as opposed to falsehood and pretense and self-delusion or plain befuddled ignorance.

Satan possesses the first quality, and utterly lacks the second. Thus, he can be described simultaneously asinfernally intelligent” (the perfect description of that) and an “idiot”: because they are referring to two different things. As usual, the atheist / skeptic thinks it is a contradiction when it is not at all (they love to do this with the Bible, and one of my sub-specialties is to refute such efforts).

Perhaps the reason that Cassidy doesn’t grasp this distinction (which isn’t rocket science) is because some atheists / agnostics / humanists have an outlook which is quite similar to Satan’s: the denial of God, or undue skepticism towards Him, while usually having above-average brain power, IQ, and “book learning.” They can’t see the forest for the trees: just as Satan couldn’t. They stand outside of reality, in terms of spiritual and metaphysical matters. More on this below.

And that may also (I speculate) account for Cassidy’s anger and insults in her paper. Perhaps she understands down deep that these same criticisms of Satan apply to her and other non-Christians (i.e., to the intransigent sorts among them, who have been informed of Christian truths and the gospel — have enough knowledge to understand and believe — and reject them). 

Catholic author, conspiracy theoristchest-thumper, and zinger-flinger Dave Armstrong somehow missed the message that Jesus wanted him to love his enemies and forgive seventy times seven. He finds way more pleasure in doling out abuse, dripping condescension, and blistering scorn.

Apparently, for Cassidy (follow her link above), any philosophical defense of Christianity (such as the teleological argument) is “conspiracy theory”. That would be news to the philosopher David Hume (often erroneously regarded as an atheist), who held to a form of the teleological argument, and believed in some sort of deity (though not the Christian one). I need not waste any more time with silly personal insults like this, which have no relation to truth. As for the charge of abuse and so forth, this is, in my opinion, essentially code language for “a Christian who dares to get uppity and critique atheism and their atheist intellectual superiors and overlords”.

Even this line of mine (the previous sentence) will be classified as a species of “abuse” because atheists usually are unaware of how condescending they routinely are towards Christians. Thus, when we fight back against lies told about us, we get this accusation (almost to the extent of atheist paranoia and abject fear of any serious criticism of themselves). We can’t win, no matter what we do. We either take the lies and do nothing, or if we oppose them, then we’re accused of yet more false charges. I’d rather stick to the issues.

(Sometimes he insults people who know far more about his chosen topics than he does, like John Loftus and Edward Babinski. The responses he gets are uniformly satisfying and educational to read.)

People may read my exchanges with Loftus (who exploded into the stratosphere and melted down to goo when I critiqued his deconversion story) and my discussions with Babinski (one / two / three), and make up their own minds. Cassidy thinks I got slaughtered (what a surprise). Whatever the case may be, I am happy to present both sides of these debates on my site. That’s what I do: I engage in debates and dialogue: just like this present effort. And I have scores and scores of debates with atheists (see my Atheism web page). Folks can read, use their critical faculties, and decide who made the more plausible case and arguments.

Armstrong decides Satan is “stupid.” Mainly, his argument consists of this following (and unsupported) burst of mental arithmetic:

  • Satan knew better than anybody what his god liked, wanted, demanded and expected.
  • He didn’t need to be “a rocket scientist” to guess what would happen to him if he didn’t fall into line.
  • He rebelled anyway.
  • What kind of nitwit even does that? Only someone really dumb!
  • Corollary: when TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like himself tell us unwashed heathens the totally-for-realsies penalties for rebellion and we reject their control grabs, we reveal to King Them that we are just as dumb as Satan is.

The first four points, notwithstanding some bias, basically present what I argued. The last one emphatically does not. Belief or nonbelief is an extremely complex matter, and it doesn’t help to caricature what Christians believe about it. I make a sharp distinction (following the New Testament) between “open-minded agnostics” (who aren’t sure God exists, but open to possible proof) and “rebellious” atheists (like Satan!): who know that God exists, but reject Him anyway.

I don’t hold that all atheists are automatically wicked and evil; quite the contrary, I contend that some atheists may be saved in the end, given certain conditions of invincible ignorance and what they have been taught (or not taught). I think my position is quite tolerant and irenic: compared to what many other Christians say. I base it on biblical teaching. Cassidy was in anti-intellectual fundamentalist circles in her past life (so she would have observed — and perhaps joined in on — a lot of Dumb Christianity™). I never was. Most Christians (the vast majority: especially through history) never were.

My view, then, is far from thinking all atheists are “dumb” and “evil.” Some are (just as some Christians are, too: and some of those will be damned). It comes down to each individual case. Our job (and particularly mine, as an apologist and evangelist) is to share the Good News of Christianity and the fullness of Catholicism. God goes from there, and people may accept what we share or reject it or remain undecided.

Cassidy says in her profile that “I’m generally friendly to the idea of spiritual stuff, but I want evidence for it.” I take her at her word, which means I would classify her as an “open-minded agnostic” rather than “rebel” (a la Satan).  She has not ruled God out altogether.

I’m focusing on this post because it reveals the toxic Christian playbook in such detail. Though nowhere near all Christians believe in Satan (or Hell, for that matter), the ones who do definitely qualify as toxic. Nor is this belief exclusively evangelicalplenty of Catholics just like Dave Armstrong believe in a literal Satan. So his opinion represents a commonly-held opinion in those nastier ends of Christianity. Indeed, I heard exactly the same sorts of statements about Satan in both Southern Baptist (SBC) and Pentecostal (UPCI) churches.

Note what she is saying: all Christians who hold to the actual historic teachings of Christianity: in this instance, the existence of Satan and hell, are bad people, and “toxic Christians.” Lest we miss what she means by this, let’s follow her link above and see how she understands it:

Zealotry demands control over other people’s lives even if those people aren’t even members of its group. It is not love but hate, though zealots may relabel hate as love to make its members think that by harming others, they are really showing love to them (though the people being harmed are not fooled in the least).

Zealotry doesn’t care about facts in its rush to push its bizarre understanding of “truth;” it will do whatever it must to spread itself, because spreading itself is what is important. Love, truthfulness, faithfulness, a servant’s heart, charity, none of it matters to a zealot. The ends justify the means. . . . 

So when I talk about a “toxic Christian,” I’m talking about that narrow subset of zealots who harm others in the name of their religion, want to force their narrow interpretation of their religion’s dictates on everybody else, confuse love with hate and abuse with caring, and care more about proselytizing than they do about following their religion’s primary commands. They are a poisonous cloud of gas seeping over every surface and poisoning everything they touch, and their form of religion just spawns more people like themselves: zealots ready for the cause.

According to her, any Christian who merely believes in hell and Satan (standard Christian beliefs) are “toxic” and hateful, despicable scumbags. But if we start discarding Christian beliefs, like good theological liberals and dissidents, then we are fine and dandy in her book, because we are more similar to her. Very charitable and tolerant, isn’t it? Contrast that with my irenic, ecumenical view that atheists might possibly be saved and should be treated with respect and charity and approached as sincere individuals.

Cassidy has decided beforehand that hundreds of millions of Christians are evil and wicked wascally wascals because they dare to accept the historic Christian beliefs about hell and Satan. Talk about massive bigotry! And this would explain her hostility to me, wouldn’t it?: since I believe in Satan, and critique his behavior. That means that I am a scumbag, by definition. And scumbags and morons need not be treated with civility and charity. All the while she lectures us Christians about charity and behavior . . . the ironies here are very rich and sad.

It’s not that there aren’t many millions of Christians who do a lousy job at both properly living the Christian life (trying to be Christlike) and at sharing (or bearing witness to) the faith. There certainly are, and I roundly criticize them all the time, because they give Christians a bad name. What is so objectionable and beyond insulting is that Cassidy classifies everyone who believes in hell and Satan as a “toxic Christian”: someone who hates others and is not Christlike at all. This simply doesn’t follow. Reality and the facts of the matter are not nearly that simple and simplistic. We can’t classify millions of people as morons simply because we disagree with them on some point of theology (or anything else). This is the classic bigoted or prejudiced outlook.

By the way, the United Pentecostal Church (UPCI) is not Christian, but rather, Sabellian heresy, which is a denial of trinitarianism and the orthodox doctrine concerning Jesus. This is apparently part of Cassidy’s background (we know she at least attended such churches), which would partially explain some of her confusion about and rejection of true Christianity.

Christians talk this way for a reason. They seek to reassure each other that while there’s everything to fear, they’re all perfectly safe because ultimately, Satan is easy to defeat because he is an idiot.

This isn’t true as a blanket statement. Mainstream Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) teaches that he can certainly be defeated by Jesus and for us, through the power of the Holy Spirit granted to us as Christians, but not that this is easy-as-pie. Top the contrary, most Christian groups teach that we have to be constantly vigilant against the wares of the Evil One: against “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” It takes faith and work and perseverance.

Toxic Christians fear their enemies for their greater intelligence, popularity, and reach–and also for their apparent lack of fear of Christian threats and retaliation, which are such devastatingly effective tools in their culture. At the same time, they hate those enemies for what they see them as taking from the tribe.

The Goal.

Greed.

Fear.

Every terrible thing these Christians do is driven by one of those two emotions (and sometimes both at once). The harvest of those dark seeds is terror and rage. Indeed, terror and rage propel them. These emotions feel familiar.

Ideally, manipulating these two emotions will produce either a lessening in their own fear or an increase in others’ fear, which will bring about an increase in their own power and holdings–or a lessening in that of their enemies. That motivation about covers moral panics in general. But it applies beautifully to all the other awful stuff they do.

Faux-psychoanalysis from a hostile, bigoted perspective, rather than objective rational analysis, and so unworthy of a reply . . . Cassidy continues on in this vein. She’s in her own little world: thinking that all Christians are somehow like the anti-intellectual fundamentalist ones she used to be part of. It’s very common among atheists and agnostics: identifying the whole with a small, poor representation: throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Not only is Satan himself super-smart-but-abysmally-stupid, but so is anybody else who refuses to fall into line.

As I have already stated: this isn’t true: not for thinking Christians. It only is for lousy Christians who haven’t thought-through or loved their faith very well: again, the ones Cassidy used to be among. That is not — repeat, NOT — the whole ball of wax. But we can’t prevent her from employing this fallacy and this caricature and stereotype over and over, to the cheers of her fan club.

The rest of the post simply repeats ad nauseam the same fallacious views (repetition doesn’t make a flimsy, non-substantive pseudo-argument any better). Very disappointing. I was expecting much better, but I suppose the insults were a clue that it wasn’t to be.

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Cassidy “responded” on her blog (after banning me there):

You are just one tiny piece of exactly why Christianity is declining. You, personally, shout to the whole world that absolutely no gods of infinite love and grace inhabit you, and that you can’t even take your own religion’s commands seriously.

It’d probably blow control-freak Christians’ little minds to realize just how little anybody cares about their various tantrums.

Abusive people are their own kind of drama. They can’t help but act out, but acting out makes their situation worse, which makes them act out worse… He’s exactly why his religion is failing. He shows us . . . that no gods of love inhabit him–and that his “faith” is really his permission slip to abuse others.

So I don’t care what this guy has to say. He offers nothing whatsoever of interest or value to anybody. He’s a hateful, spiteful, reactionary, vengeful, rage-filled bore just like the rest of his tribe, howling and beating their chests with their fists and lashing out at any criticisms. Hell, I won’t even remember he dropped by in a day or two.

It’s downright amazing to see their ingenuity in avoiding the commands attributed to Jesus himself. That wriggling comes in second only to their pretenses at rationality.

Christian hypocrisy just reminds me that Christianity is morally bankrupt. So many people just like this guy can operate in the religion and even flourish in it because there’s nothing real to its claims. It should be impossible for him to be like this. And yet here he is, and nobody will ever convince him that he is a stone-cold hypocrite who ought to be ashamed of himself for the way he sets back the cause of Christ. The ways of a man truly are right in his eyes, eh? This is why religion is poison. The foxes voted themselves long ago to be the keepers of the henhouse, and they don’t see any problem with that–and they sure don’t care what the hens might have to say about their self-granted liberties.

Who’d want to join a group that allows someone like that to run roughshod over people? Literally the only reason people put up with Christians is because we had to. We don’t have to anymore.

The fact that someone can be a Catholic author, fully complicit with all the ghastly things the Catholic church is doing and has done, and look down on others is just mind-blowing. But that’s how controllers and oppressors are. When they have no real defense, they hit offense as hard as they can.

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Photo credit: Lucifer (1890), by Franz Stuck (1863-1928) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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October 5, 2018

In became aware of a post by a man, Michael Boyle, who recently left the Catholic Church for Anglicanism, entitled, “For the Letter Kills, but the Spirit Gives Life” (10-5-18). He writes (mentioning yours truly):

In the last week, I have found articles from two writers who I have discussed in these electronic pages–Melinda Selmys and Damon Linker–announcing that they are leaving the Roman Catholic Church.  While there are differences in the rationales offered by both for their decisions, I think one can see a thread of commonality between them.  Selmys points to an ethos of control and manipulation from the hierarchy toward the folks in the pews, cleverly set up with the parallel to the archetypal abusive spouse.  Linker points to that same ethos manifesting in a different way, in the form of an aesthetic sense of the “uglyness” of the current situation and the revelations.

Both of those reactions are subjective, emotional reactions, to be sure.  And it was almost a certainty that folks would attack those reactions on precisely those grounds.  You can see that kind of push-back in the comments’ section of Selmys’s posts, but the clearest articulation of the idea can be found in a posting titled “Leaving the Church for Insufficient Reasons (Damon Linker)” by a Dave Armstrong.  In the piece, Armstrong weighs Linker’s “arguments” for leaving the Roman Catholic Church and declares them to be wanting.  “I understand this on a purely emotional / ‘passionate’ level but not at all by a reasonable analysis.”

It is here, in the first paragraph, the Armstrong makes his core mistake.  Linker (and Selmys as well) is not making arguments–he is testifying to an experience.  And Linker and Selmys are altogether right to do so, because Christianity is, at the end of the day, an experience of encounter with God and the risen Jesus in one’s own life.  Faith is the place of encounter between the finite us and the infinite beyond.  The nature of that encounter is what it is, and Linker is reflecting on and testifying to the nature of that encounter in his current situation.

All of theology–doctrines, dogmatics, liturgy, and all the rest–is an explanatory super-structure that is in the service of the individual person making sense of his or her necessarily idiosyncratic encounter with the Divine.  We participate in a tradition in order to make sense of what we are experiencing.  It is unavoidable that we will compare our personal experience to the rubrics laid out by a particular tradition.  And, if we find that there is a disconnect between the tradition and our experience, we will feel that as an internal division.

That’s why Armstrong’s statement that “[p]eople generally leave the Church because they have an insufficient grasp of apologetics and theology” is completely wrong.  People leave a church community because they cannot reconcile a disconnect between their personal experience of faith and the “apologetics and theology” of that church community.  This disconnect could be because they don’t understand the theology sufficiently, but there is no particular reason to assume that is the reason, especially when you are talking about highly educated, committed folks who have studied these issues in substantial depth.  Like, for example, Linker and Selmys.

Having made whatever argument he has, and freely admitting that he doesn’t know me from Adam (that is mutual), he then decides on a course of (surprise!) personal attack:

I don’t know Dave Armstrong.  But in reading his piece, I have to wonder whether he actually has any subjective experience of God or the risen Christ at all.  Because all of this business of whether or not Linker’s answers are “sufficient” (sufficient for whom?) reads like he has turned the Christian faith into the worst and most asinine parts of high school policy debate.  . . .

But there is another element wholly absent from Armstrong’s presentation, and that is the work of the Spirit.  I am becoming more and more convinced that the #1 problem with modern Christianity (in its Roman Catholic, mainline/evangelic Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox forms) is the way it has functionally written the Spirit out of the faith, either shunting it off into mysticism pitched as the province of “elite” believers, or domesticating it as a property of the institutional structure that guarantees its legitimacy. . . .

Armstrong, I suspect, is totally uninterested in that sort of thing [“promptings of the Spirit” — previous paragraph].  After all, he’s got all the answers, and he has a flow sheet to prove it.  But that kind of faith–of proofs and arguments and whether or not reasons are “sufficient”–that’s the faith (or, perhaps, “faith”) of the letter that kills, as St. Paul says.  Armstrong and his dopplegangers in the evangelical and old-line liberal Protestant worlds (who are all playing the same basic game, just with a different set of arguments) are sucking the life out of the Christian faith, making it into this bloodless, frigid intellectual exercise.  And it’s dying, and rightfully so.

What an ability to read souls, Michael has: to say in one place, that he doesn’t “know” me; then to effortlessly move on to conclusions that I couldn’t care less about the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, perhaps have no “subjective experience of God or the risen Christ at all” and am turning Christianity into a “bloodless, frigid intellectual exercise.”

Wow! I give him an A for colorful rhetorical flourish, but an E in charity, cogent thinking, and accurate description of someone else’s viewpoint. Once again we have the supposedly far more “tolerant” person being quite intolerant about others, about whom they know little or nothing. He needs to examine himself, not me.

Oddly enough, it just so happens that I recently wrote several comments in which the Holy Spirit and equally important non-theological aspects of Christianity were front and center. For example, from two days ago (to a former atheist, now Christian):

The Holy Spirit brings about all conversions. My position is that atheists are usually converted (if at all) by being shown profound love; the love of Christ (not a bunch of arguments). I wish I had more opportunities to do so.

And replying to a Jewish atheist, also two days ago:

Christianity is not just a set of beliefs, but also a moral code and way of life: according to our founder, Jesus.

And again, to the same person:

Christianity is not just about doctrinal beliefs. It’s also about a moral code. Hatred and bigotry is not consistent with that code. I also defend the notion that atheists can be good people, and even be saved.

And to another atheist friend of mine, two days ago:

As a Christian, I don’t try to behave according to my moral views in order to escape hell (I worry very little about hell). I do it because it’s right: as I believe I know both in my head and in my heart. And the Christian seeks to be like their Lord Jesus, Who commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Seeking to do that (as best we can: very imperfectly indeed!) in turn leads to joy, peace, and fulfillment, as I and many millions of Christians have experienced in our own lives. I’m happy to bear witness to it. But again, neither the reward nor the punishment if we don’t act in a loving manner is (or should be) our motivation to do it. It’s because it is right, and more like how our Lord acted.

That’s just in the last two days, in spontaneous combox comments (that I woudn’t have recorded for posterity in a new blog post, but for this exchange). I don’t need to defend myself any further against such ludicrous charges (I’ve given far too much effort to that already), but I would simply note that I also edit books such as Quotable Catholic Mystics and Contemplatives (2014): which can hardly be characterized as “apologetics and theology”; nor is it some “anti-Holy Spirit and Christian experience” effort.

Apologetics is my field of expertise (as a professional apologist and author), but it is not — repeat, NOTALL that I am. So now let’s move away from these asinine personal attacks on my Christian commitment (and even rudimentary understanding of spiritual matters) and back to the topic at hand: why folks are leaving the Catholic Church. Michael has given his theory. I’ve given mine, in my examination of reasons why Damon Linker left, and those of others, such as Rod Dreher and novelist Anne Rice.

In these latest instances (Michael himself and Melinda Selmys), the reason is that the Catholic Church didn’t conform to their own preferences. They wanted to make the Church into their own image, rather than vice versa. Bottom line: it’s good old private judgment and the Protestant rule of faith, rather than belief in one, indefectible, infallible Church: to which one yields, in faith, with the belief that God (not ourselves) has ordained it so. I defended this Catholic rule of faith in a recent article for National Catholic Register: “Catholics Accept All of the Church’s Dogmatic Teaching.”

Melinda and Michael were unwilling to do that. They made themselves — in effect — their own popes. It’s really that simple. Melinda was raised Anglican, and went back to it. I used to be a fervent evangelical Protestant (and was an apologist then, too, for nine years), and so am well-acquainted with how the worldview works.

Michael, a lifelong Catholic, as best I can tell, is now thinking like an Anglican and a Protestant, and so has also migrated there. Dreher became Orthodox. Rice, as far as I can tell, is an “uninstitutional” theist. The issue of homosexuality was key to her, as it is to Michael. He wrote (on 8-27-18):

My doubts really got started when I left the Dominicans in ’03; by the time you get to 2011 or 2012, I was basically intellectually where I am now as an Episcopalian from a doctrinal standpoint.  But it took four years, and one false start, before I was ready to worship full time in an Episcopal Church, and another year before I was received.

This is why it is basically useless, and often counter-productive, to make “arguments” to people to try to get folks to leave the Roman Catholic Church, or any church for that matter.  Anyone who is inclined to listen to any of the arguments has already considered them, and probably agrees with whatever you have to say.  There are thousands and thousands of Roman Catholics in America who are sitting in the pews every Sunday who are horrified by the church’s positions on LGBT people, or are hoping one day to see their daughters up on the altar, or wish they had a say in who their leaders are, or any of the myriad of ideas you could come up with as “arguments.”

He talks about the Holy Spirit and experience, which are great, and I’m all for them (contrary to his false accusations against me; I’ve had many profound spiritual experiences, including miraculous healing, and so have my wife and four children), but I highly suspect that this is the bottom line: belief in the moral permissibility of homosexual sex, female priests, and a democratic rather than hierarchical Church. He put up with contrary teachings for years, despite his “pick-and-choose” / cafeteria Catholic dissent, and then it just became too much: too much “cognitive dissonance.” Oh, but wait; there’s more:

There is also the fact the Roman Catholic Church, just as much if not more than evangelical churches, pushes the notion that it is the only real Christian church.  Yes, yes, Lumen Gentium talks about how other Christian bodies “subsist” in the Catholic Church, but the unspoken message is always that this is the only true game in town.

Yes, there is but one Church (which is quite different from the claim that there are no other Christians, which we absolutely reject: Trent recognizes the validity of Protestant baptism), because that is what the Bible clearly teaches. it knows nothing whatsoever of denominations, or any institutional division at all in the Christian Church, founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, in His commission to St. Peter, as its first leader (Matthew 16). I didn’t come up with all this. It’s in the Bible, clear as day. I merely defend it, as a believing Catholic, who believes in an inspired, infallible Bible as well.

So now, Michael has given three broad theological / moral reasons for rejecting the Catholic Church (note that none of these things are experiential and subjective):

1) The range of moral sexual practice (and definition of marriage).

2) The priesthood (women ought to be allowed for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church). If it is so right and obvious, why didn’t Jesus allow it? The beef is really with Him.

3) Ecclesiology (democracy rather than hierarchy, just like the non-denominational congregation I used to attend: with Al Kresta as pastor, by the way), and a denial of the unique ecclesial status of the Catholic Church (indefectibility and ecclesial infallibility, and of course the papacy is also disposable, in this thinking).

In sum: it’s sex and Church government. I understand these views. I formerly held most of them myself. I used to have extremely liberal views about sexual matters, held to low Church / congregational ecclesiology, and absolutely despised conciliar and papal infallibility (it was the very biggest objection I had to Catholicism, and I fought ferociously against it).  Lastly, Michael explains: “I may not be a Roman Catholic anymore, but I believe in Catholicism just as much as I ever did.”

This is the old Anglican Via Media game. I understand (though reject) that as well, since Cardinal Newman (I’ve edited three quotations books of his thinking: one / two / three) was the primary theological influence in my own conversion, and that was the game he had also played, in the Oxford Movement, of which he was one of the leaders. He dismantled this historically absurd ecclesiological reasoning in his Essay on Development and spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro vita Sua.

Why do you think it is that, out of all the people he could choose to rail against, in defending folks leaving the Catholic Church, Michael Boyle chose me (someone whose writings he has no familiarity with)? Well, it’s because I am defending all of what the Catholic Church actually teaches and requires of her members.

Because he has rejected that (as have the others he mentions), he has to somehow be against me, personally (because, sadly, that is the age we live in: all disagreement becomes personal and acrimonious), as the defender of that which he now despises. You saw how it became personal above, with ugly, completely slanderous attacks on my very Christian walk and commitment to my Lord Jesus.

I don’t have the slightest animus against Michael or against Melinda: fellow Patheos blogger and one whose writing I have often complimented; and she is a Facebook friend, too. I personally like her (we’ve chatted on several occasions), and won’t stop doing so just because of this. I have a principled disagreement with them about the nature of the Catholic Church.

Her exodus from the Catholic Church was not primarily because of the sex scandal, either. It was because of things that she (seemingly) never agreed with, and can no longer “put up with” (my phrase, not hers). This is not merely my speculation. Read her own words on her blog (from the combox):

It’s really not about the child sex abuse scandal. It’s about clericalism and patriarchy. I know patriarchy is less of an issue in Anglicanism and I’m pretty sure clericalism is as well. But I’m not “converting” to Anglicanism in the sense “Now I see the light! The Anglicans are the One True Church.” I’m just going where I’m allowed to say “I worship here, but I think those people over there are also, equally, following Jesus.” (10-4-18)

I’ll be talking in future blog entries about why, specifically, I felt I couldn’t stay Catholic without compromising my intellectual integrity and risking my relationship with God. But the sex abuse crisis was really just the thing that made me decide it was time to go. It wasn’t the cause. (10-4-18)

I don’t see the sex abuse crisis as the essential problem. I think that it’s the really ugly and obvious symptom of the underlying problem, which is essentially clericalism and patriarchy.

I also can’t make out what the difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation actually is in terms that make actual sense. I think it’s almost certainly one of those disagreements that is more semantic than theological — I know that a group of theologians recently came to the conclusion that one of the big soteriological controversies basically amounted to “We pretty much mean the same thing but we have different definitions of the terms we’re using so it makes it look like we disagree.” I suspect that it might be a similar situation, with the word “substance” being used equivocally.

But honestly, even in the Catholic church it’s understood that a priest having an inadequate Eucharistic theology does not stop the Eucharist from happening. I don’t think Christ is sitting there thinking “No. This denomination didn’t quite describe the mystery with the ideal (completely inadequate) terminology, so I’m just not gonna come and be present in their sacrifice.” Basically, I don’t think the Eucharist works because we do the right things and think the right things. I think it works because the Good Shepherd wants to feed his flock. (10-2-18)

As far as the Eucharist goes, the only reason I ever had for considering the Eucharist to be the sole property of the Catholic Church (plus the Orthodox) is that the Church said so. A few months ago I was visiting my mother’s Anglican church, as I often do when I’m home for important religious holidays. It felt very much like I was in God’s presence there, and I prayed to be allowed to go home. You could think of it like asking for a transfer. I wasn’t given an answer at the time, but I’ve been praying and waiting on it and I finally got the go-ahead — or, at least, I think so. Discerning God’s will is always hard, but on the other hand, the same could be said of the discernment process that led me into the Catholic church in the first place.

Anyway, I consider the Anglican Eucharist to be valid and you’re allowed to be a transubstantiationist if you’re an Anglican. So that problem isn’t really one for me. (10-2-18)

[O]ne of the big issues that I have is that priests are men (in the gender exclusive sense.) I understand about warts and controversies, but the abuse scandal touched on a lot of other things for me — one of which is the fact that I can no longer buy that the hierarchy’s arguments for why we must have a specifically male hierarchy are being made in good faith. And that’s a bigger deal than some priests being evil (which I always understood to be the case.) [10-2-18]

I just don’t have the psychological resources right now to put up with an institution that treats me like a second class citizen, and then insists that this is how God intended it to be. [10-2-18]

I don’t think that the Anglican church is the One True Church. I think the catholic church is one, holy and apostolic — but that membership in it is not defined by fidelity to a particular hierarchical system. I see the church as being like a tree with branches. Or a vine. Or a mustard plant. A living thing that branches out in different directions. I’ve thought that for a long time now — that the insistence that the different churches are not in communion with one another is basically a matter of egos and resentments and not wanting to give up or share power on the parts of various different church leaderships. . . . I partly left because I no longer felt like it was intellectually honest to call myself a Catholic, given the degree to which I think the RCC is in serious error on certain points (like infallibility). I wanted to be able to fight the good fight without the cognitive dissonance. And I needed a safe place where I could take my kids and teach them about God without putting them in the firing line of homophobes and misogynists. (10-2-18)

So what (summarizing) are Melinda’s reasons? Is it not being able to follow Jesus and be led by the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church? Or sexual abuse by priests and bishops? No: it’s “clericalism” and “patriarchy” (an all-male priesthood) and Anglican ecclesiology and belief that non-Catholic and non-Orthodox ordinations are valid,  in terms of the Real (Substantial) Presence taking place on other altars; and the homosexual issue.

Whether she ever held to the full Catholic teachings (the whole ball of wax) is for her to determine and discuss, if she wishes. But she sure disbelieves several elements of it now. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise if a person who believes what she has expressed, decides to leave the Catholic Church.

If you see me leave the Church, then you’ll be shocked, because I have firmly believed all of Catholic teaching and defended it, these past 28 years: with no end in sight.

We need to properly understand why people leave, so we can try our best to prevent folks from leaving in the future. If anyone wants to know why Catholics believe what we do, I’ve written about all these issues on my blog, with it’s 2000+ articles, and in my 50 books. It’s what apologists do.

We must know why we believe what we believe, or else we may find ourselves outside the door of the Church, by choice, or strongly tempted to bolt for the door. If we have inadequate reason to believe in something, then we will have no adequate reason to stay, once the critics come after us, and/or what we believe.

[see also discussion with Melinda (or, Mindy) underneath the cross-posting of this on my Facebook page]

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Photo credit: magica (3-12-17) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

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May 22, 2018

This was a discussion in one of my blog comboxes. The words of atheist “Grimlock” will be in blue.

***

What would convince you that God has revealed Himself: thus causing you to believe in Him? Bob never answered this. Perhaps you will be willing to.

Always an interesting question to ponder. The short answer is that I’m not sure – the longer answer involves some rambling, so let’s go with that one.

Let me start off with what would convince me of the existence of gods with supernatural abilities, like Tor, Zeus, and (you probably won’t agree) Jahve of the Torah/OT. Supernatural are here defined as mental capabilities or existence not reducible to physical phenomena. I’d be convinced that Tor existed if he showed up in all his red-haired glory (yes, red), and controlled lightning and the storms. You could set up experiments to this effect under controlled circumstances. Of course, if supernatural abilities were common (like, say, in the X-men), then I’d obviously have a fairly low threshold to accept claims of supernatural abilities, because my background knowledge would indicate that it’s perfectly normal.

You could then start escalating the power of the beings in question. Say, you have someone who can create matter ex nihilo – this could also be verified. This being might not be able to change existing matter, and would so be limited in this respect. But we’re getting someone. Another being might be able to manipulate matter, even on a grand scale. Maybe it could create a few new stars on common, just to show off.

But now we’re starting to see the rough shape of a problem. Where is the limit? How do you distinguish a being that can reconfigure and move around existing matter from a being that can reconfigure, create, and move around existing matter? I can’t really see how. This problem comes in focus once you add more capabilities – absolute instinctive knowledge (intellectus, I believe this is called), absolute moral character, et cetera.

Thus, I can see how you can in principle demonstrate the existence of really powerful beings. It’s not really that complicated. Of course, we haven’t demonstrated any such existence, even of the most minor supernatural ability. But I’m not sure if this approach can even in principle demonstrate the existence of a omni-god. It could get us quite a bit along the way, and the existence of the supernatural would definitely increase the probability of theism.

Another approach would, I suppose, be convincing philosophical arguments. But the more philosophy I learn, the less likely I find it that one can find premises that can be sufficiently well justified. This is in part related to how I find the prior probability of theism to be very low given our background knowledge, which would have been improved by demonstrating supernaturalism.

So, the general approach would have to be something like this: Increase the prior probability of theism given our background knowledge, for instance by demonstrating the existence of the supernatural. Then proceed to demonstrate through empirical evidence the existence of at least one being with an impressive array of powers, and no limitations that we can verify. That’d be enough for me to get to some form of theism. Getting from there to some form of classical theism would, as near as I can tell, only be possible with some philosophical arguments that are more convincing than those with which I am familiar.

I think Jesus fulfilled most of these requirements you demand to believe (see many scholarly resources that demonstrate the historical argument regarding Jesus). That’s a major reason why I’m a Christian.

Interesting. I don’t think I see how he fulfilled the requirements for an omni-god, though.

Here’s how I see it. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that the miracle stories in the gospels are entirely accurate. Jesus then demonstrated some fairly impressive powers – certainly some healing abilities, some form of self-healing, the ability to some extent reconfigure existing matter, and some others.

But that only gets us to supernaturalism, and some sort of powerful being that I guess you’d refer to as a lowercase-g god. But we can certainly conceive of many more impressive arrays of powers. (I’m a comic books fan, after all.) This gets us to some form of theism, but it doesn’t get us to an omni-potent god. Jesus having impressive powers doesn’t demonstrate truthfulness or great knowledge, after all.

I would say that He showed enough for His claim to be God in the flesh to be credible. It would be tough to strictly “demonstrate” omnipotence (or omniscience), but what Jesus did do was quite extraordinary: healings, raising people from the dead, walking on water and through walls, rising from the dead, appearing several times after death, and ascending to heaven.

You and atheists to a person will blow all that off as fairy-tales, insufficiently documented by trustworthy sources (what else is new?). But it does (in my opinion) satisfy (if believed for the sake of argument) what you were asking for above.

Yes – some form of theism, but not Christian theism, or any variant that involves – for instance – an omni-god, or a god as the source of all of reality.

It should be sufficient. But it won’t be, because there are a host of factors causing unbelief and relentless skepticism towards Christianity and God. If we answer one thing; it’s only one of a thousand that the relentless skeptic will throw out. Even if we adequately answered all 1000 they would still not believe (in almost all cases).

Well, it’s hard to summarize my skepticism towards the gospels, but if you’re curious or wanna have that discussion I could certainly give it a try. It’s probably less than a thousand reasons.

Nevertheless, there are atheists who become Christians, so I will keep making my arguments, trying to persuade atheists to do so.

So, this is where I’m coming from. When I talk to Christians online, I will often be told that the God of Christianity is fundamentally different from the old gods. I’m told that the Christian God is not some super-being like a comic book character, but rather the underlying or ultimate source of reality, unmoved mover, powerful beyond limits, the ultimate source of morality, and such.

Okay, fair enough. But this should then mean that demonstrating the existence of a super-being demonstrates the existence of something fundamentally different from the Christian God.

And the miracles of the Jesus in the Bible are exactly that. The acts of a super-being, like the gods of old, or comic book characters of our time. If you want the Christian God to be fundamentally different from the old gods, then you must also accept that demonstrating the existence of one doesn’t demonstrate the existence of the other.

Where does this reasoning go wrong, in your opinion? Have I perhaps misunderstood the other Christians with whom I have discussed, or have they perhaps misunderstood something?

Or perhaps an analogy might be better:

If a being arrived, claiming to be the old Norse god Tor, would you believe him? Would you believe him if he also claimed to be omni-potent, and the source of all reality? To demonstrate this, he could perform supernatural feats. His strength makes the world move. He drinks enough to make the ocean levels sink noticeably. His two rams can be killed, but will live again the next day, despite being literally eaten. He can send thunder and lightning wherever he pleases, and he can – of course – fly. Would this make his claims to being the omni-potent source of all of reality be plausible?

Well, there are some remote or surfacey similarities with earlier gods and some essential differences (the biggest being monotheism itself). G. K. Chesterton in his classic, The Everlasting Man presents a brilliant argument for how earlier paganism foreshadowed Christianity in many ways. See an online copy.

C. S. Lewis (who cited that book as the biggest influence on his thinking) argues the same in various places. So, for example, if we’re told that there were earlier myths of a dying and rising god, and that this is the “origin” of Jesus Resurrection, we casually say “yep; heard that” [ho hum] and go about our business. It proves nothing one way or another, anymore than finding ancient Greek atheists disproves present-day atheism because it was chronologically older and more primitive.

The Bible does present Jesus as omnipotent (in His Divine Nature) and the Creator and Sustainer of Creation as well. Jesus said He would raise Himself in His Resurrection.

The Messiah and the nature of God had been developing doctrines for some 1800 years before Christ: back to Abraham. Jewish religion (in the main) was monotheistic from the beginning. As such, it had little relation to either Roman and Greek polytheism / paganism or eastern conceptions.

If someone claiming to be Tor showed up, no, I would not believe him, because I am a monotheist, based on the development of that thought these past 3800 or so years.

Look, that’s interesting and all, but it is a bit besides the point. The question is if Jesus’ miracles is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of something different than a super-being. And, unless you want to claim that the Christian God really is “just” such a super-being, it is clearly insufficient.

The example with specifically naming the being Tor is really not relevant. Let’s instead call the being Johnny. Johnny shows up, displays impressive superpowers, and claims to be the ultimate source of reality. Is the display of such superpowers sufficient to justify his claims? I think this is clearly not the case. Do you agree?

Yeah, but on different grounds. The true God can never be named “Johnny.” LOL

You’re getting hung up on irrelevancies.

Do you think that a being demonstrating superpowers is also sufficient to demonstrate that this being is also the source of all of reality and an onni-god? If yes, we’re down to our disagreement being about the validity of such a leap. If no, then we agree that Jesus’ miracles are not sufficient to demonstrate the existence of an omni-god.

Sorry for injecting humor . . .

It’s irrelevant what I think, in the sense that nothing will likely convince you. It’s usually the case that no evidence is ever sufficient to dissuade the atheist from their positions.

Let’s recap, shall we? At your request I sketched out what I might require as evidence that a God has revealed himself. Now, you have not criticized this approach. Rather, you claim that Jesus fulfilled the demands that I lay out. I take this to mean that you don’t find my approach entirely horrible.

Then I point out that the miracles of Jesus, even if one grants their historicity, only gets you to some superbeing. Not to an omni-god or a being that’s the ultimate source of reality. I’m trying to resolve our differences on this topic that you brought up. But you apparently refuse to deal with this challenge to your position.

First off, I was following up on the topic you chose, namely that Jesus satisfied most of the criteria I set for believing in a god. (Which, after asking about, you did not even remark on whether you found reasonable or not.) As Jesus clearly didn’t come close to satisfying the criteria for an omni-god, your claim is simply false. If you were bored of the topic, then you should say to explicitly, instead of simply changing the topic. One of us was staying on the topic. Another one was switching the topic. If you wanna stop discussing a particular topic, then say so.

In the future, could you just let me know if you lose interest in a topic, or don’t have the time to follow up more? I’ll do my best to do the same.

If you point out specific errors in reasoning that I make, I will certainly do my best to evaluate and correct them as objectively as I can. If you don’t, I’ll remain fairly confident that I’m being tolerably rational.

Atheists are rarely if ever convinced by any evidence for God. Otherwise, they would become theists, and they rarely do that, right? Hyper-rationalism and/or scientism are my interpretation of why atheists can’t be convinced of theism. It’s some premises of theirs that I think causes it: that I disagree with. And I have been quite open and honest about that. Certainly you guys have all kinds of theories for why we Christians believe what we do.

Sure, it could happen because it has (I have several friends who are former atheist Catholics). So I was generalizing. Basically, I was saying, “it’s exceedingly unlikely that I will convince you of God’s existence (especially not by arguing about Thor analogies to Jesus), and so I’ll take a pass on this particular discussion.”

Moreover, when I gave my longest reply, that I thought was a decent answer, you replied: “Look, that’s interesting and all, but it is a bit besides the point.” Anyone can make those judgments. You thought that about my reply, and I would say the same about the extended analogy to Tor, which I think is a rabbit trail. Goose and gander . . . You want to talk more about that, I don’t, just as I would have welcomed further input on my reply, but you deemed it as “besides the point” and moved right back to your assertion. We both acted in essentially the same way.

Dialogue requires each party to be willing to continue to interact with the other guy’s points. Neither of us is willing to do that presently, which to me shows that this specific topic is exhausted. It’s not just what topic, but how long to talk about it, and in how much detail.

My losing interest in this topic has nothing to do with strength of argument, either. It has to do with whether the Christian is willing to deal in excruciating detail with endless atheist arguments and demands for “proof” and “evidence.” I will do it to an extent (and enjoy it); other times I see that the topics are too complex and multi-faceted to be able to devote the required time or effort to it, so I simply stop. You see me doing both things in this discussion. The present arguments are far more interesting to you than to me.

As I said, I think what Jesus did and revealed is quite sufficient to substantiate His claims of being God (Yahweh) in the flesh. You disagree (of course). There’s not much more that one do, going down that road. It is what it is. I simply observed that if we give a semi-satisfactory reply in atheist’s eyes, then they always come up with another objection. It never ends. I think it’s self-evident that we’re not obliged to keep answering those questions forever. So at some point in a given argument, we opt out.

The most important thing, I think, for the success of atheist-Christian discussion is to narrow the topic down as much as possible. This sub-topic, in my opinion came to an end when I said I thought Jesus fulfilled these conditions and you didn’t. I’m not sure where else you think we could go with it.

[The above is a shortened / slightly edited version of the initial discussion. It went on quite a bit longer in the original combox, but I think most of that would be a tedious discussion for readers (especially when we got into a few more ‘personal” disagreements, which got a bit testy), so I decided to not include it. It can be read there in its entirety]

**

I think I might actually want to revisit the Tor analogy you brought up, and pursue it (which could be added to the blog dialogue). In retrospect I probably tired of that specific topic sooner than I should have (and I think my argument would be quite strong, followed-through more so). Some of my reluctance was simply being busy with other things.

Sounds good to me. Definitely up for continuing the discussion. I’d like to try to summarize the analogy, and specify what I think is the scope of its applicability. Right now it’s in bits and pieces spread out over multiple comments. 

I started writing, and after about an hour I realized I was failing miserably at summarizing. So I saved what I’d written, and might post it somewhere. Here’s my (now third) try at summarizing:

The question, as I see it, is what does Jesus’ miracles demonstrate, if we grant that they actually occurred?

They reinforce the idea that He was Who He claimed to be (God / Yahweh in the flesh). His miracles and Resurrection show that He has power over the elements of nature (precisely as God would have). His character of being loving and forgiving shows that He is benevolent and all-loving, as Jews and Christians believe God to be (not so much, sadly, Muslims). He forgave the ones who crucified Him, etc. People demand signs, and so He bowed to their wishes and provided them. As St. Paul stated:

1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (RSV) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The Book of Acts refers to His post-Resurrection appearances and their purpose:

Acts 1:3 To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.

The same author, Luke (who was a Gentile, not a Jew), gave the reasons for why he wrote the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, [2] just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph’ilus, [4] that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

The famous “Doubting Thomas” story shows Jesus’ perspective on the relation of faith and evidence:

John 20:24-31 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” [26] Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them [implying that He supernaturally “went through” the doors or walls], and said, “Peace be with you.” [27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”  [being physical proved that He was not only a spirit, or only in the imagination; also that He was truly resurrected and had conquered death] [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [29] Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” [30] Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

My position is that we then grant the existence of supernatural phenomena and some form of theism. This might be called a theism of lowercase-g gods, akin to the polytheistic gods of old, or modern-day superheroes (of comic book fame). But these types of (admittedly impressive) powers are a far cry from what is claimed by Christians with whom I usually argue. In their eyes, god is the underlying source of all of reality, omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. These are fundamentally different properties than those displayed by the miracles of Jesus, which essentially boils down to modifying stuff, such as (self-)healing, walking on water, reconfiguring water to wine, and such. So granting the historicity of Jesus’ miracles would get us to theism, but not to classical theism, or Christian theism in particular.

I disagree. It’s not just the miracles; it’s also what He said about Himself, and what the Bible says about Him. As I wrote above:

The Bible does present Jesus as omnipotent (in His Divine Nature) and the Creator and Sustainer of Creation as well. Jesus said He would raise Himself in His Resurrection.

The link goes to my exhaustive paper of biblical proofs showing all of this. Agree or disagree with them, they are certainly there: stated in the New Testament (following up from the Old).

Jesus’ miracles are consistent with all this, if not strict proof. When He walks on water or through walls, and raises the dead (including Himself), this shows that He has extraordinary power over nature, precisely as God is described as having. This is stuff that God would be able to do, as part and parcel of His omnipotence. And it’s how the Bible describes Jesus:

Philippians 3:21 . . .  the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Colossians 1:16-20 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. [17] He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [18] He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. [19] For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Hebrews 1:3 . . . upholding the universe by his word of power. . . .

These statements are based on similar ones from Jesus Himself:

John 5:21, 26 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. . . . [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, [i.e., self-existent, non-created, eternal; cf. Rev 22:13]

John 10:17-18 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; . . .

In order to demonstrate this point I use the analogy of Tor, of norse mythology:

If a being arrived, claiming to be the old Norse god Tor, would you believe him? Would you believe him if he also claimed to be omni-potent, and the source of all reality? To demonstrate this, he could perform supernatural feats. His strength makes the world move. He drinks enough to make the ocean levels sink noticably. His two rams can be killed, but will live again the next day, despite being literally eaten. He can send thunder and lightning wherever he pleases, and he can – of course – fly. Would this make his claims to being the omni-potent source of all of reality be plausible?

And I replied:

The Messiah and the nature of God had been developing doctrines for some 1800 years before Christ: back to Abraham. Jewish religion (in the main) was monotheistic from the beginning. As such, it had little relation to either Roman and Greek polytheism / paganism or eastern conceptions.

If someone claiming to be Tor showed up, no, I would not believe him, because I am a monotheist, based on the development of that thought these past 3800 or so years.

You blew that off by saying, “Look, that’s interesting and all, but it is a bit besides the point.”

My aim here is to more easily separate the powers from that rather different properties of the philosopher’s god. I aim to clarify the distinction between a powerful superbeing and the philosophically nuanced god of Christian theism. Demonstrating the existence of the former does not come close to demonstrating the fundamentally different entity of the latter.

I agree. Jesus exhibited and talked about everything that characterized the already revealed God of the Old Testament, according to Scripture, as I showed in my paper about His Godhood and also the accompanying one about the Holy Trinity.

Now, one could raise object[ion]s to this. For instance,

Objection 1: Tor is known to belong to a pantheon wherein he’s not even the most powerful.
Counter 1.1: The analogy can easily be modified to do away with this issue.
Counter 1.2: The mythology could be wrong.
Objection 2: The powers described above are not as impressive as those displayed by Jesus
Counter 2.1: The analogy could easily be modified to consider this.
Objection 3: The miracles of Jesus include him being the incarnation of the Christian god.
Counter 3.1: If one wants to assume this, the argument becomes circular, and thus very uninteresting.
Objection 4: Jesus displayed powers fundamentally different from those of a superbeing.
Counter 4: Possible, but I can’t think of any.

Jesus is in no way analogous to Tor / Thor, who is simply an imaginary god, among many in Norse mythology. There is no historical evidence (that I’m aware of) for such a “god.” If you think there is, by all means produce it. The events of Jesus’ life, on the other hand, are historical, and verified by eyewitnesses: recorded in books that have been repeatedly / profoundly verified as accurate by archaeological discoveries and historical research.

This is entirely besides the point. As I remarked above,

My aim here is to more easily separate the powers from that rather different properties of the philosopher’s god. I aim to clarify the distinction between a powerful superbeing and the philosophically nuanced god of Christian theism.

As such, whether Tor was an historical figure, or had an historical core, is irrelevant. The analogy is about impressive feats of power, and what they imply. Thus I am removing the case of displaying impressive feats from the context of the Bible in order to investigate what is implied by impressive feats of power.

My contention is that such feats of power implies supernaturalism and some variant of theism. But not the god of Christianity. This is because the ability to reconfigure and mess around with stuff inside our universe is a fundamentally different category of properties from what is attributed to the god of Christianity. A being having power does not demonstrate a being being omnipotent. A being that’s able to make dead entities alive again does not mean that this being is ontologically non-contingent or is the ultimate source of reality.

It may not prove it to your satisfaction (some standard of “absolute proof” that you seem to demand), but it can show (as I stated) that it is quite consistent with such notions, and that it is arguably what we would expect to see of a person Who claims to be God in the flesh. It’s difficult to conceptualize what Jesus could have done to flat-out demonstrate that He was omnipotent. How would one demonstrate such a thing? But He did what could be seen and observed: to verify His claims: raise others from the dead, raise Himself, walk on water and through walls, etc.

As such, it is completely irrelevant whether the mythological entity Tor actually existed in the real world, as it’s a hypothetical question: Assume that a being showed up, and displayed impressive feats of power, like a god of old, or, say, Superman. This being then claimed to be the source of all of reality, be omnipotent, without peer, et cetera. Assuming all this, would its claims be reliable?

Tor’s wouldn’t; Jesus’ claims would be, because He summed up what had been foretold for a thousand years in the Hebrew Scriptures, and He didn’t appear to be either a liar or a lunatic.

I think not.

I think so. :-)

And if not, then the same applies to Jesus – his miracles, as described in the Bible, if we grant their authenticity, would not demonstrate the existence of any of the really impressive properties attributed to the Christian god.

We disagree on that. If you think Jesus’ miracles didn’t do that, tell me what He could or should have done to convince you that He is God / Yahweh in the flesh. And then tell me why your particular demand should be considered as sufficient or necessary as “proof” for all human beings, and superior to what Jesus actually did.

***

I read in an older comment of yours (within the last month) that you used to be inclined to think Jesus was a myth (like Tor), but now you think He existed:

I believe that I have previously identified myself on this blog as having an inclination towards a mythicist view. This is no longer the case, though I certainly am highly skeptical of what can be said of the historical Jesus.

Good; I’m delighted to hear that. If you hadn’t made that change, I wouldn’t even discuss it with you, because I think the mythicist position is intellectual suicide and not deserving of any consideration at all.

I suspect that I may be missing something in your reasoning, though, or not following it. I trust that I have sufficiently laid out my own reasoning (which presupposes the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible: held for many other reasons).

Yes, you seem to be missing something. But your parenthesis here highlights one difference. I’ll make two clarifications in response to your latest comments.

And lean on repeated[ly] in your comments.

If this is a presupposition, it seems to me that you have already assumed the existence of the existence of the Christian god. But as this discussion started with this claim,

I think Jesus fulfilled most of these requirements you demand to believe. That’s a major reason why I’m a Christian.

That doesn’t seem like a reasonable presupposition, as it makes your reasoning circular. Simply assuming that the Bible is telling the truth about the existence of such a being and that Jesus both made such claims and were telling the truth is just… well, it’s presupposing what you want to prove, and is circular reasoning.

Not for this particular discussion. I hold to the inspiration of the Bible, and I hold to the existence of God, for many reasons (not confined to the Bible; e.g., as a “properly basic belief”: which is a philosophical criterion). But in our present discussion, only the historical accuracy of the Bible is directly in play. That accuracy is conformed by non-religious archaeological and historiographical scholarship and research and findings. That in turn gets us to a place where we can accept the accuracy of the eyewitness reports of what Jesus said and did.

Thus, when I am commenting about those things, it’s not just “religion” or religion per se: it is, rather, discussion of what actually (or purportedly) happened in history. It’s true that one has to accept the possibility of miracles, which is another discussion. You probably don’t; I do, so that colors our perception and interpretation of reputed miracles. In any event, I’m saying that Jesus actually said and did these things, and that they serve to demonstrate that He actually was God in the flesh, and omnipotent and omniscient, etc.

The circular reasoning would be on your end:

1) Premise 1: There is no God.

2) Premise 2: There is no such thing as miracles (because of the laws of science and the non-existence of a God Who performs them).

3) Conclusion 1: Thus, Jesus can’t (rationally, plausibly) claim to be God.

4) Conclusion 2: Thus Jesus didn’t perform [inherently impossible] “miracles” that substantiate His claims to be [the non-existent] God.

Your view would rule out certain conclusions from the get-go, and is circular (the conclusions already being assumed in the premises). A view that Jesus was historical, based on massive secular scholarly evidences, with the openness to the possibilities of miracles and God’s existence, is not circular. It’s simply accepting some premises that you reject.

So, instead I think what you presuppose is something along the lines of the following: That the authors of the Bible believed that they knew there existed a being with the properties attributed to the Christian god, such as omnipotency, being the source of all reality, et cetera. But how would they claim to know this? I can think of three possibilities:

1) They knew this because Jesus performed miracles, and claimed to be such a being.
2) They believed for other reasons.
3) A combination of (1) and (2).

They believed based on the existing revelation of the Old Testament, fulfilled prophecies, the continuing existence of the Jewish people against all odds, etc. Jesus’ actions were consistent with what they understood of God’s nature.

But (1) is what I’m criticizing with my analogy, so we’re back to that being a flawed approach. So they might have believed to know this for entirely different reasons, i.e. option (2). But if so, then these reasons would be sufficient, and Jesus’ miracles and presence would be redundant for demonstrating the existence of the Christian god.

What Jesus’ miracles did was to prove that there was such a thing as the incarnation: God becoming man (and by extension, the Holy Trinity, with the Holy Spirit, too). That was the startling new development of the Old Testament theology of God.

Now, as Jesus’ miracles in and of themselves only demonstrates the truth of supernaturalism, option (3) would require them to have reasons sufficient to demonstrate the existence of the omni-god given the truth of supernaturalism and some form of lowercase-g gods theism.

Thus if this were to be convincing, you have two options:

(i) Demonstrate the Jesus’ miracles demonstrate the properties attributed to the Christian god, thus making the ‘other’ hypothetical reasons discussed above redundant. (This is exactly what I am contending, in part with the analogy.)

I have contended that they do exactly that.

(ii) Demonstrate the existence of such a being as the Christian god, given the truth of supernaturalism and a olden gods-style variant of theism.

The existence of God is suggested in many different ways. See the “Theistic Arguments” section of my “Philosophy, Science, & Christianity” web page.

If you choose (i), then we’re back at discussing what Jesus’ miracles demonstrates. If you choose (ii), it seems to me that you concede that Jesus didn’t provide enough evidence to demonstrate the truth of Christianity.

I think He proved that He was God in the flesh by what He said and did: understood as a development of the existing Old Testament revelation. He was the Jewish Messiah: understood in the Christians sense as also being God the Son / Son of God (which are two ways of saying the same thing).

You’re not convinced. I am. That comes as some sort of surprise to you? :-) It does take faith and (God-given) grace to believe it, after all (as we believe). It’s not just a question of reason. But we say that it is a reasonable faith: not incompatible with reason at all, and not a blind or irrational faith. It simply goes beyond what reason can provide for us.

I hope this cleared up some misunderstandings, and made it more clear what I am trying to get at.

It helped, yes. But we’re still poles apart, and there seems to be no way to bridge the gap. That’s how it usually is, in atheist-Christian discussion. I’m just glad we can talk in a civil fashion, and that perhaps you can see that I am not an irrational or dishonest person, or lack thoughtfulness, simply because I’m a Christian, and a Christian apologist. I just read another comment which argued that I couldn’t possibly be intellectually honest, because I’m a Catholic apologist. It sounded like Bob Seidensticker’s position, once again . . .

***

Consider the following propositions:

1) The miracles performed by Jesus in the New Testament (based on a list from Wikipediaare in and of themselves sufficient to demonstrate the existence of the Christian god.
2) The miracles performed by Jesus in the NT are, when combined with philosophical arguments, sufficient to demonstrate the existence of the Christian god.
3) The miracles performed by Jesus in the NT are, when combined with assuming the truth of all statements in the Bible, sufficient to demonstrate the existence of the Christian god.

My analogy with Tor deals with (1) above, not with (2) or (3). I get the feeling that you are arguing for (2) or (3).

To try to explain why I believe (1) is false, consider the following. We have the set of properties G belonging to the Christian god, containing such as
g1 = Ontological non-contingency
g2 = Omnipotency
g3 = Omniscience
g4 = Omni-benevolence
g5 = Ultimate source of all of reality
g6 = Being supernatural
g7 = Ability to reconfigure all of reality, including heal and resurrect living beings
g8 = Full control of the weather
g9 = Ability to do whatever desired to other supernatural beings, including killing, exorcising, or turning into orange socks

Then consider the set of properties, J, demonstrated by Jesus in the NT, containing such properties as
j1 = Ability to reconfigure parts of reality, including some healing and some resurrection of some living beings
j2 = Ability to control parts of the weather
j3 = Ability to chase away demons
j4 = Being supernatural

Seen as such, the properties the Jesus demonstrate g6 (by j4), strict subsets (i.e. parts of) g7-g9 (by j1-j3), and doesn’t even come close to g1-g5.

Consider, then, Tor. Tor demonstrates the following properties, in the set T,
t1 = Ability to control parts of the weather
t2 = Ability to kill supernatural beings, e.g. ice giants
t3 = Being supernatural
t4 = Some control over life and death, through his rams.

Seen as such, Tor can demonstrate the existence of g6 (by t3), strict subsets (i.e. parts of) g7-g9 (by t1, t2, and t4), and doesn’t even come close to g1-g5. The same as Jesus.

This is the strength of the analogy. Comparable deeds of power, attached from the Christian cultural context, makes it apparent that such powers does not demonstrate the existence of the omni-god of Christianity.

If you disagree, i.e. believe in proposition (1) above, the burden is on you to show otherwise. If you believe (3), you are making presuppositions that I find entirely unjustified, and if you believe (2) we differ (rather significantly) on the relative weights of various philosophical arguments.

I think we’re just going round and round. I have argued that what Jesus did was entirely consistent with Who he claimed to be, and what we can reasonably expect to see; not that it is absolutely undeniable strict demonstration. But the impossibility of strict demonstration (a=a types of “certainty”) is almost always the case with anything in philosophy, so I don’t see it as all that big of a deal.

In other words, I think it is unrealistic expectations that you seek. Religious faith is not the equivalent of philosophical inquiry in the first place. It has some of those elements, but it requires faith also. Science and philosophy also require “faith” in a specific and limited sense, insofar as there are always unproven axioms that have to be accepted to proceed (e.g., 1 . I exist. 2. My brain exists. 3. Logic is reflective of reality. 4. Conclusions about the real world can be drawn from the logic reflected upon in my assumed brain, which is assumed to be part of “me” and assumed to be trustworthy and “truth-producing” in its analyses.).

As I have alluded to already, I believe: what would be a scenario in which Jesus “demonstrated” that He was omnipotent to your satisfaction? The examples I raised are enough, in Christians’ eyes. They sufficiently provide enough for Jesus’ claims to be plausibly believed in. So what is it He would need to do to absolutely “prove” it to your satisfaction? Make the stars rearrange themselves to say “Grimlock is a hyper-rationalist” (in Norwegian, of course)? Then you would believe He is Who He claims to be? That would be sufficient evidence for an all-encompassing power over nature?

But if we want to reason like you’re attempting to do, we would simply say, “well, that was impressive, but it still doesn’t demonstrate omnipotence, because it only proved that He could do that.” There is always something else the ultra-skeptic can propose that wasn’t demonstrated; therefore leaving the ironclad proof of omnipotence lacking. You always have an out. And if an argument always has an easy out, I don’t consider it particularly worth considering in the first place. It’s not telling us much. It’s not advancing the discussion.

It’s the nature of the beast that any Being Who was truly omnipotent would never be able to absolutely prove that He was. If you think otherwise, then by all means, describe for us what such a demonstration would look like? You demand it, so you must have some idea of what it is that would satisfy your demand. I say that the demand is unable to be / can never be fulfilled. At best we can only observe things that highly suggest omnipotence, but do not absolutely prove it.

It’s the same with omniscience. It’s easy for you to say that Jesus hasn’t absolutely proven or demonstrated that He was that. The same challenge applies: what would such a demonstration sufficient for you look like? How could He possibly prove such a thing? How do you prove that you have all knowledge? Right off the bat, this would logically entail more knowledge than the non-omniscient observer would have; therefore the latter wouldn’t be able to comprehend those aspects of knowledge that he knows nothing of, that are beyond him.

In that sense, a limited analogy would be our trust in scientists or philosophers or mathematicians or engineers: all folks who know far far more about particular fields of knowledge than the average person. We place our trust in them that they know this stuff, that helps create marvels in the real world and make life happier and easier. It’s a sort of faith in a sense. We acknowledge that we don’t know a lot of things, but that Expert X over there knows this stuff we don’t know. And we trust him or her to act benevolently with that information.

Secondly, there wouldn’t be enough time for us to listen to this Being prove that He knows everything. To take just one example out of the millions of tidbits of information that would be required: there are billions of galaxies. God (Jesus) would have to describe each one, the history of each one, the entire history of each star and each planet and each electron involved with each thing.

Even assuming we had time to listen to all that, how do we know each tidbit of information is accurate? And that’s only astronomy and physics. It would take thousands of lifetimes to sit and listen to all that information, that would “prove” that He was omniscient. And that’s simply absurd.

Likewise Jesus can’t conceivably strictly “prove” that He is all-loving and the source of all creation. He can only do things that are obviously consistent with those claims (e.g., dying on the cross to save mankind, forgive and heal people, and exercise power over the elements, including raising Himself from the dead).

Etc., etc. There are propositions and arguments that are impossibly demanding, and thus, ultimately meaningless and irrational. Your present argument is one of those, as I believe I have just demonstrated. If something cannot possibly be demonstrated: not even in our imaginations as hypotheticals or word-pictures, then it’s not worth considering any further.

Impossibly demanding and inconceivable demands such as these, I conclude, are absurd and ultimately meaningless. As such, they pose no counter-argument to either the possibility of omni- beings, or the possibility that Jesus is one.

The (philosophical-type) believer approaches it from common sense: “If there is such a thing as a God with omni- qualities a, b, c, what would we reasonably expect to see in a man Who claims to be that God in the flesh? What kind of things could or would He do [not absolutely demonstrate according to some philosophical standard] in order for us to credibly, plausibly believe His extraordinary claims?”

And when we see Jesus (assuming the accuracy of the accounts on other rational grounds, as we do), we see exactly what we would reasonably expect: He heals, He raises the dead; He raises Himself. He has extraordinary knowledge; He predicts the future, etc. It’s more than enough for us to say, in faith: “He’s God.”

You don’t have that faith. I pray that one day you will. In the meantime, your demands here make no sense, because they are impossible to meet and I say again that you can’t even present a hypothetical demonstration of an omnipotent and omniscient being absolutely proving He possesses those attributes, which would meet your own demand. Therefore, the entire line of reasoning can be dismissed, as of no relevance or even reasonable meaning.

[Grimlock made a further reply in the combox,  and I made a brief final comment]

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Photo credit: Thor (1901) by Johannes Gehrts (1855-1921). Xylograph after the drawing / painting, by Eduard Ade (1835-1907). Thor crashes through the heavens wielding the lightning-sparking hammer Mjöllnir, the gloves Járngreipr, and the belt Megingjörð. He rides his chariot, pulled by the goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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