What’s The Real Problem Here?

What’s The Real Problem Here? November 18, 2019

Editor’s Note: This former minister, now well versed in criticizing Christian thinking, applies his expertise to a fund-raising letter he received from the seminary where he received his Master’s degree.  It makes me wonder how many of these kinds of letters are falling into the hands of clergy who no longer believe. /Linda LaScola, Editor

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By Paul Adams

I received a remarkably honest five-page letter from my alma mater, Luther Seminary.  The letter cites widely known statistics about the decline of religious identity and participation in the United States.  It also provides forecast data implying the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be effectively dead by 2041.

These types of letters from the “Office of the President” are typically sent by schools to solicit donations.  (You may have received and recycled such letters in the past.)  This one doesn’t explicitly ask for money, but gives some analysis of the situation and what the seminary proposes to do in response.  Their conclusion?

“…we’ve done considerable research into this trend by listening deeply to the church, and the core challenge that’s emerged is this: too many of our congregations struggle to help members form deep Christian identity, practice, and faith.”

What?  THAT is the problem?  That explains the decline of religion in the United States over the last 50+ years?

I appreciate honesty and good research methods and data analysis.  The letter shows some of each of these, which is admirable.  But here is the core problem: a seminary, by definition, exists to train religious leaders.  The religion itself can never be called into question.  Sure, the methods a religion uses to achieve its aims can be scrutinized, but the religion itself?  Never.

And this is the fundamental problem with their analysis.  They cannot consider the most obvious and likely cause of the decline of religion:

People are finding it harder and harder to believe this stuff anymore

Why can’t they consider this as a possibility?

A hundred years ago, they might have funded a push into evangelism – to convince people to convert through the power of personal testimony.  If an evangelism strategy worked, this letter would certainly mention it!  But it never comes up.  Why?  Personal testimony doesn’t work in a world in which it is ridiculously easy to access resources that teach people about what truth is and how to discover it.

Just one YouTube video channel, The Atheist Experience, has over 80 million video views as of the middle of 2019.  This channel focuses on teaching people how to think – the basic processes of good logic and rational thinking.  Once you know just a little bit about how to think rationally, any personal religious testimony is incredibly simple to dismiss for its logical fallacies and broken methods that, by definition, lead to false conclusions.

And this is just one single YouTube channel.  There are thousands and thousands of free, accessible resources for the public – videos, podcasts, social media accounts, blogs, Meet up groups, and more.  (There’s even this thing called The Clergy Project I happen to know something about that recently celebrated having over 1,000 former religious leaders join its ranks.)

Lines of religious argument that used to take years of intensive study to argue against can now be revealed as bullshit in seconds.  So, if people can no longer believe religious claims because they find them to be fundamentally false, the letter’s analysis and conclusions become comically absurd.

The letter’s argument begins with, and I quote:

“We live in a culture that makes it hard for people to imagine and be led by God…”

Allow me to use some basic logic I learned from watching YouTube on my phone and deconstruct just the first line by asking some important questions:

  • Which god, specifically, are you talking about?  Why did you choose to talk about this god instead of the thousands of other gods available to talk about.
  • Why do you believe that particular god exists?
  • If you are monotheistic, how did you determine that other possible gods do not exist?
  • If you are polytheistic, why should I care what your god thinks or does as opposed to the other gods?
  • If your god is all-powerful, why is something as petty as culture strong enough to stop your god?
  • If your god isn’t all-powerful and something as petty as culture can defeat him, why should I give a damn what your god thinks or does?  Why do you even call him a god?
  • Why do you imply that non-religious people lack imagination?  Is this conclusion objectively demonstrable?  If you believe this to be true, and I am non-religious, why should I care what you say?  If you deny this is the case, why have you used such language in the very first sentence of your argument?
  • What tangible and measurable negative impacts come from not being led by the god you claim exists?
  • For all questions above, please provide good, objective evidence to support your conclusion.  Links to a double-blind study conducted by a reputable, independent research organization (or better yet, multiple organizations) would be especially helpful.
  • In the absence of actual evidence or studies, please provide the conceptual framework that would allow an objective analysis to test each hypothesis for its veracity in the future.

I would love to get satisfactory answers to my questions, and I’m open to the possibility that someone could do so.  But my experience so far with these types of conversations makes me skeptical.

And this is just the first line of their argument in their letter.  It only gets more absurd as it goes along.

Asking questions of another person to get them to defend their truth claims – the Socratic method I’ve used above – is SO EASY TO DO.  My graduate degree from this seminary was undone in minutes by watching a few videos on my phone.  Anybody that is interested in learning how to think can do so.

So, the next time someone makes a claim about the world, don’t just accept it.  Remember that the claim itself has no truth-value until it has been demonstrated to be true.  And if an organization makes truth claims they can’t support, for God’s sake, stop giving them your hard earned money.  Better yet, do it for yourself.  Your wallet – and your brain – will thank you.

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Bio: Paul Adams converted to Christianity as an adult as a way to seek truth in the universe before finally coming to the conclusion that he was looking in the wrong place. He is a seminary graduate who worked in a number of church leadership roles for many years. Today, he happily works in non-profit leadership, and gratefully applies the lessons of his past to his current work.

 


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  • davidt

    Yes modern theology exists at the level of 13th century bubonic plague doctors. Their scientific miasmatic theory lead to the raven mask filled with healthy smelling things to ward off the plague.

    Like in ancient times when science believed genetic defects actually existed and homosexuality was a mental disorder. Unicorns being more real than all of that old nonsense. The intellect is very stupid. Theology is idiotic.

  • Michael Neville

    They seem to give the idea that the disappearance of Christian churches is a bad thing. They should justify that idea.

  • Excellent article. In some of my own YouTube videos I make the statement that “seminaries exist to manufacture clergy,” to which someone commented that it was “disrespectful.” Well, yes, of course, it was meant to be! I now consider seminaries a blight on the landscape, because Sam Harris was right to say that “theology must not be considered a branch of human ignorance.” Paul Adams, your list of questions is on target. My plea to theists is” Please show us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about god(s).” Visions, prayers, revelations, scriptures fail this test; for many reasons, not the least of which is that theists don’t accept the visions, prayers, revelations, scriptures claimed by other theists. They don’t trust each other. Why should WE trust them?

  • Don Camp

    I can appreciate,Paul, your disenchantment with faith and the religious establishment resurfaced in the letter from your seminary. I get the same kind of solicitations from my seminary. That disenchantment could only be exacerbated by the questions and doubts your list of questions imply. I can only say that I’ve been there and done that. My conclusions have been different, however.

    A professor many years ago in a philosophy of religion class used the non-falsibility argument to plant doubt. Never mind that his argument was over stated and used really identify and to attack Christians in the class. But he did me a great favor. He forced me to think more critically about the faith that I had received without much critical thinking. The result was an ongoing process of thinking through my faith.

    The result has been that the questions you listed were answered and my confidence in Christianity grew stronger and more rational. For example:

    Which god, specifically, are you talking about? Why did you choose to talk about this god instead of the thousands of other gods available to
    talk about.

    My undergrad work was done in literature. I began to read fairly widely and I became aware of the literature associated with other gods in the myths. I also saw the huge difference between any of the god claims, if I can call them that, of these other religions. Primarily the difference was that these mythical gods didn’t do anything that could be distinguished from natural phenomena. The God revealed in the Bible, however, did things. I don’t mean simply creation. I mean things within the reach of history. One of those things was the calling of Abraham and the creation of a nation. The calling came with a promise (Genesis 12) to bless Abraham’s descendants, to preserve them, and to make them a blessing for the whole world.

    That promise has worked out in history for going on 4000 years despite serious attempts to destroy the Jews. These people who have been attacked, taken captive and removed from their land, declared illegal, persecuted worldwide, forced to convert to Christianity, and murdered (most recently by the Nazis) yet endure. They have returned to their land as a nation. They have defended themselves while surrounded by enemies. And they are perhaps the strongest military force in the Middle East. That is unique among all the peoples of the world.

    In the midst of all this antagonism, the Jews have made the most significant contributions to science,medicine, and the arts of any people per capita. They have been truly amazing. They have seriously blessed the world. And that is not to speak of the blessing of Jesus, who if you recall was a Jew.

    That looks to me like God did and is doing something that can be observed. BTW the Jews are one way the God of the Jews can be falsified. If the Jews ever disappear as a distinct people, we can say that God is falsified.

    For that reason I regard Judaism and Christianity and the God who brought forth both as the only God who can reasonably be regarded as real.

  • Odd; when I moved in those circles we always used to joke with people training to become vicars at Oxford that they were in the “Vicar Factory,” and it was generally laughed off, even though it was recognised that there was a grain of painful truth to the joke.

    I think it was normally recognised that:
    PI) I want to serve Jesus through Ministry
    PII) I want to do this through the Anglican Church
    PIII) In order to do this I must be trained and ordained through the right channels.
    C) This is a tick-boxing exercise so I can get on with the job I’m destined to do!

    I’m surprised people can’t see this line of thinking when faced with the obvious truth of why seminaries exist and how education works.

  • Jim Jones

    > too many of our congregations struggle to help members form deep Christian identity, practice, and faith.

    They can’t convert non-believers to their sect – and they can’t keep their sect members convinced.

    > Just one YouTube video channel, The Atheist Experience, has over 80 million video views as of the middle of 2019.

    As a measure of the demand that exists, it is estimated that 13 million copies of The God Delusion have already been downloaded in unofficial [Arabic] translations.

    Recognizing the difficulty many Muslims have accessing books on skepticism, atheism and evolution, Richard Dawkins is making his most popular titles available for FREE DOWNLOAD in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and Indonesian. The titles being made available include River Out of Eden, The Magic of Reality, The Blind Watchmaker, and The God Delusion.

    To see what is currently available and to download your own copies of these important books, head over to The Translations Project (Link).

    Please share this post, to make sure as many Muslims was possible have the opportunity to read Dawkins’ books.

  • Tawreos

    What? THAT is the problem? That explains the decline of religion in the United States over the last 50+ years?

    Well, it isn’t like they can actually admit that the proliferation of smart phones means that their claims can be fact checked in real time and that their failure to recognize that means that they have lost the war and are just trying to prolong their inevitable destruction.

  • Jim Jones

    > my confidence in Christianity grew stronger and more rational

    Wishful thinking is a powerful drug.

  • Jim Jones

    Sure, but isn’t it time that people went to counselling schools to learn to offer effective support to the emotionally damaged, instead of to fantasy factories?

  • Jim Jones

    Theology is science that failed to figure out that it needed real tests for truth.

    Instead it is totally based in logical fallacies, mainly argument from authority.

  • Abraham himself is widely considered a mythical father-figure for the Jewish people. So much for “History”.

    Pretty much every single people-group in history can trace its history through times of upheaval and persecution. There is nothing special in this regard vis-a-vis Jewish history (apart from the intensity of that persecution with modern scientific inventions by the Catholic nations). My own descent from Palatinate refugees whose lands were sacked by the French in the 1700’s, who were moved to British colonies in America, then via wars to Africa, has no Jewish ancestry involved (that I’m aware of), but I’m here despite that so that makes us descendants “chosen by God”?

    The modern military might of Israel owes a lot to the influence of the US, which has a strong political interest in de-stabilising traditional Islamic rule of the middle-east, and has funded their military and covered for their atrocities.

    And the idea that we would expect a down-trodden group to fail to produce individuals of talent and great merit is un-evidenced and in my view not at all expected. If anything, adversity breeds innovation (not that this applies to the likes of Einstein, who was well educated and made many of his discoveries while in Germany definitely not underpriviliged by the society that would later persecute his people).

    Finally, if you’re willing to make the leap from these tenuous (at best, outright ignorant in my view, lies at worst) beliefs about Jewish history to a magical being that exists outside time and space, you haven’t really thought through exactly what constitutes good evidence for an existential claim of that magnitude.

  • Well, sure, but that’s a whole different thing to what I was getting at.

  • Jim Jones

    It does seem like religion is dying. Islam relies on murder to prevent apostasy and to compel conversions. Other religions are denied that tool.

  • Linda LaScola

    It’s certainly a bad thing financially if you work for a seminary and want future generations to be Christian.

  • Ann Kah

    I gave up on religious belief at about the age of twelve or thirteen (although my family circumstances meant I still played the game for a while longer) because I simply found it impossible to believe in the supernatural in any form, and it certainly wouldn’t be much of a god if it didn’t have supernatural powers, would it? If you can prove the supernatural, you’d have to show your evidence to my physical senses …in other words, it would be NATURAL at this point, not supernatural.

  • Brian Davis

    It also provides forecast data implying the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be effectively dead by 2041.

    Then what is the point of training more seminarians? It’s like getting a letter from a carburetor repair school saying “Our industry is withering away so it’s vitally important that you contribute to enable us to train more unneeded carburetor repair techs.”

  • Linda LaScola

    Would make sense if the techs were taught how to convince people they really do have an ongoing need for a carburator

  • Brian Davis

    “Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 3 months since my last tune up. Father, I can’t overcome the desire to play with my idle jet. I lie in bed at night and think about Holly’s big secondaries, and before I know it I’m flooded.”

  • Michael Neville

    It’s bad for you personally if you have to find an honest job but is it bad for society?

  • Steven Watson

    This is what should happen when Sola Scriptura meets the HIstorical Method: JC goes Pfft! Dunno why it take’s you guys so long to jump ship. It was bloody obvious the first time I read all the Hauptebriefe properly when I was fifteen that the wrong end of the stick had been grasped.

  • Steven Watson

    theology must not be considered a branch of human ignorance.

    I think you mean now

  • Steven Watson

    You want delusional loonies counselling people? Boot’s on the other foot!

  • Steven Watson

    History? Heads up, Abraham hasn’t been “history” for decades; practically the entire Tanakh has been invalidated as “history” and the apostle Paul didn’t seem to think JC was a person crucified on earth, let alone teaching. Do try and keep up.

  • Paul Adams

    Each person’s particular experiences have a powerful impact on how they are able (or unable) to think critically and honestly about their lives. We all have our blind spots, and for some it is religion. For others, they may be able to think critically about religion, but struggle to do so in other areas.

    Part of the contradiction about being human is the recognition that even as we try to think and act logically, we depend on the emotional and automatic parts of our brain to survive and thrive. If we were robots running a logic program, we could probably eliminate the irrational processes from our “brains” pretty quickly. But we’re not…

  • Steven Watson

    It doesn’t need a PC; let alone a smart ‘phone. If you’ve been taught history properly in high school and have an IQ higher than a rock, it should be bloody obvious from reading the silly book properly.

  • Paul Adams

    Yes – salesmanship! Or, as religion calls it, evangelism…

  • Paul Adams

    It’s fascinating how many people come to a definitive conclusion about religion in their early teenage years, either for or against it. And yet for others (like me), they form their opinions as adults, and then change them again later. It would be interesting to see if there are lifelong trends for the teenage deciders vs. the adult deciders…

  • Paul Adams

    And yet I’ve been to so many church strategy meetings in my life where they talked about leveraging technology for the benefit of the religion. The threat of information available through technology was never, ever discussed, even once.

    Were my fellow church-goers in denial, or were they simply ignorant of what was out there? I tend to assume the latter…

  • Paul Adams

    I’ve seen a dramatic shift in tone in the religious communities I used to be part of in the last few years. Before that, there was a genuine sense that the decline of religion was a solvable problem. Now, I’m seeing an increase in a fatalistic perspective on their religion, and a sharp increase in language using the death of Christ as a metaphor for the death of church. Makes sense – this story makes them think that the decline of religion is still solvable in a roundabout way, because they’ll get resurrected after they fail.

  • Steven Watson

    I know all that. I still react with “Please? No one can be that stupid, surely?” It had already struck me taking Catechism for Confirmation several years earlier that Roman Catholicism looked a lot like a Hellenistic mystery cult that had misplaced its esoteric teachings very early and had been a husk with its clergy incomprehendingly going through the motions ever since. Now I know no-one haunted libraries or wolfed down the Brittanica quite like I did, but come on! Okay; I’ll stretch and give you a bye. However what was it Robinson wrote in Honest to God wayback in 1963? You get taught an awful lot of stuff in Seminary but it somehow never makes it into sermons. John 8.44 is apt for the lot of you.

  • Paul Adams

    I always appreciate people who seek to use critical thinking as a way to improve the accuracy of how closely their concept of the world matches reality. I hope you continue to apply critical thinking methods in as many aspects of your life as possible and to never stop learning.

  • Paul Adams

    Thanks, David. If we use your metaphor of seminary as a factory, then the market for its products are shrinking. A business might recognize this and adjust its behavior in the face of predicted financial losses, but seminaries are (ultimately) dependent on donors to keep their doors open. Donors just don’t think or act the same way that businesses do, and may be willing to take considerable losses with the idea that their products still serve some useful purposes. Perhaps they do still serve some useful purpose, but even donors won’t give money forever if they don’t get any perceived value for their contributions…

  • Steven Watson

    Shhh! ditch the car analogy, the last thing we need is more Used Car Salesmen! 🙂

  • Paul Adams

    Before I even attended seminary, an independent adviser I worked with remarked that the M.Div would have been long dead and gone if it wasn’t for certain denominations requiring it for ordination. Most everyone I knew that attended (with an occasional exception) was jumping through the hoop their church told them they had to in order to get a full-time ministry job. So the students knew it, at least…whether the donors or anyone else did is a different question.

  • Steven Watson

    Well, since they don’t seem to grasp that the Book refutes itself its hardly suprising other things don’t register.

  • Paul Adams

    It is increasingly rare for accredited seminaries to try and offer degrees or training in areas that are formally regulated by professional organizations (i.e., counselors). I know that some pastors try to do this work without any training, and often do a lot of damage in the process. But in the academic world, the bridge between what a seminary can offer and what a secular program can offer is so massive that most seminaries don’t bother anymore…because they know they would be producing utterly unemployable graduates. (Yes, insert joke about unemployed pastors here…but a seminary should at least be able to produce pastors their church can employ).

  • Paul Adams

    Institutional momentum is a powerful thing. As long as a seminary can convince its donors to pay to keep the doors open, they have justified their ideas (in a market sense, at least). Luther Seminary is only in the position it is in, to be able to send out confident letters like I received, because they received a $21.4 million gift out of nowhere a year ago. Before that, they were having massive financial problems, selling off property, laying off staff, and closing programs left and right. This one-time donation won’t change their trajectory…just delay the inevitable. But that much money sure makes the leaders feel like what they are doing is working on an emotional level…

  • Paul Adams

    I’ve found the most honest theology is intellectually consistent, and genuinely tries to tie everything together into a consistent whole. But if you don’t (or can’t) examine the fundamental assumptions at the core of the theology, the internal consistency is ultimately pointless.

  • Jim Jones

    Ironically, the decline of religion IS still solvable but requires actions which are different from those most people use church for. Still, some sects DO do those things, the Mennonites for example.

  • Steven Watson

    And if you have a bent for believing miracles, I can see what a $21.4 million gift from of the blue might have you thinking.

  • Linda LaScola

    I hope you didn’t come here just to say how superior you think you are compared to people who go to seminary.

  • Linda LaScola

    This sounds like a study that should be done.

  • Linda LaScola

    Sorry, You’re wrong. I know many people with an IQ “higher than a rock” who were or are religious.

  • Linda LaScola

    I heard a lot of this when doing interviews with non-believing clergy. Many didn’t like what they were learning about the actual history of religion, or were in denial about it. But they just did what was needed to pass the tests and move on.

  • Jim Jones

    > Yes, insert joke about unemployed pastors here…

    I point out to them that seminar and workshop production is a growing field, very suited to those who can preach. For less than $20 you can buy the two best (IMO) books on this.

    It can be a nice life if you don’t mind travel and hotels.

  • Linda LaScola

    And the money keeps the leaders employed! And the donor will go straight to heaven when they die. At least I assume they think they will.

  • swbarnes2

    Primarily the difference was that these mythical gods didn’t do anything that could be distinguished from natural phenomena.

    Meddling in the Trojan war wasn’t “history”? And 10 plagues and Hebrews wandering the desert for 40 years is?

    These people who have been attacked, taken captive and removed from their land, declared illegal, persecuted worldwide, forced to convert to Christianity, and murdered (most recently by the Nazis)

    “God didn’t protect his people from calamity; they made it only be the skin of their teeth, and only got their land back because Europeans felt guilty” isn’t as good an argument as you seem to think it is.

    And they are perhaps the strongest military force in the Middle East.

    Let me guess, rather than look it up, you prayed, and God told you to say that?

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/02/26/ten-strongest-military-forces-middle-east/#30c2d40216a2

    https://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing-middle-east.asp

  • Don Camp

    Meddling in the Trojan war wasn’t “history”?

    I am not sure that the Trojan War did not happen. It is quite likely that there is some historical basis for the Homeric story.

    only got their land back because Europeans felt guilty” isn’t as good an argument as you seem to think it is.

    It hardly matters HOW the Jews got their land back. After Babylonia fell to the Persians, Cyrus relocated the Jews and many other dislocated people back in their homelands. That was not of the Jews’ doing, but it accomp0lished God’s purpose nonetheless.

    Let me guess, rather than look it up, you prayed, and God told you to say that?

    No. I read the newspapers.

  • mason

    The greatest threat to Evangelicalism and all the theisms is the Internet, google & other search engines. Information that exposes all the absurdities, contradictions, immorality, scientific nonsense, etc. of all the Abrahamic religions are available to anyone in just a few minutes. When I was a teenage none of such literature was even available in our public library. https://skepticsannotatedbible.com/

  • Steven Watson

    I wrote should be, not is, bloody obvious. what should be ordinary reading comprehension seems to be an ability lacking right across the Theist to Atheist, Left to Right, and any other gamut you might want to consider. It isn’t something I can fathom; but I am aware of it.

  • mason

    Possibly the reality is you were a very voracious reader at a young age compared to the general population. Given that fact, in your judgement of the general population of those culturally bullied into religious nonsense as credulous children, by what age should they have realized they’ve been bamboozled, or you’d consider them dumber than a rock?

  • mason
  • Steven Watson

    That does rather depend on where you live, the next town over might be different again, never mind the next county, state or province and let alone nation. I had my suspicions about Xtianity confirmed from reading stuff in my local libraries when I was a kid in the early seventies.

  • Don Camp

    the apostle Paul didn’t seem to think JC was a person crucified on earth,

    When I hear people say that, I wonder how much they have themselves considered the biblical text and particularly the Pauline letters. It sound to me you are getting your ideas from the Internet, not the text itself.

    Paul was by his own report in Galatians (1:13) on site in Jerusalem within a matter of a couple of years after Jesus was crucified. He was involved in persecuting early Christians there. It would be very hard to imagine that he did not know about and believe that Jesus was not only a real person but was crucified under the Roman Pilate.

    Not only so,but he also knew personally many of the Apostles including Peter (Cephas, his Hebrew name) and James, the brother of Jesus. It would be very hard to imagine that Paul did not hear from them their recollections of Jesus including his crucifixion and resurrection.

    The idea that Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was an actual person or that he had been crucified has no basis in the text and no basis in any other literature of the first century.

  • Steven Watson

    He’s not the first notable to make that point, but it to the good that high profile folk keep making it.

  • mason

    One of the most common things mentioned/posted (actual quotes) by participants on The Clergy Project are “How could I have ever believed that batsh&t crazy stuff,” or “What took me so long to snap out of it,” or “When I think of all the years I wasted believing that.”

    Reading you post it was bloody obvious I’d never heard or read the word Hauptebriefe so doing what I always do, I checked the dictionary. I suppose I’m somewhere in the rock category on the Watson Intellectual Scale, especially since I didn’t dare to really think for myself about my indoctrination and discard the nonsense until I was the advanced age of 30 I know TCPs who were in age from 50’s up to 80 till they broke the chains of indoctrination. So I suppose they would be the hardest of rocks; diamonds.

    For many, maybe most humans, unraveling the many cultural, emotional, intellectual factors that are involved in their indoctrination is a myriad matrix of variables. Maybe fate played a part in the fact you were able to get loose from the spider web at age 15. I know people who did so much younger and they weren’t avid readers at all. Maybe consider yourself very fortunate and not be quick to disparage the intellect of those not as fortunate as you but still struggle to break free of the ecclesiastical web.

  • davidt

    “it needed real tests for truth”

    Odd the origination of the Christian text itself was actually a total rejection of what collectively was assumed to be “real tests for truth”

    One could say the text is the the total rejection of truth existing in writing, and that truth became written.

    It’s a paradox and It’s post literate.

  • Jim Jones

    > Often referred to simply as Romans, it is one of the seven currently undisputed letters of Saint Paul.

    I regard 4 epistles as authentic, based on textual analysis and the conclusion that all four had a single author and the assumption that this was Paul.

  • Jim Jones

    It’s not Mithraism but it reminds me of Mithraism.

    > You get taught an awful lot of stuff in Seminary but it somehow never makes it into sermons.

    If it did, there’d be very few Christians.

  • Jim Jones

    Speaking as a one time tube radio repairman and TV tech . . .

  • Jim Jones

    I wish the whole bible was done like Exodus by R Crumb.

  • Jim Jones

    Why didn’t Paul ever see Jesus? He lived at the time and in the place where he should have.

    But then I’ve never seen Slender Man.

  • Jim Jones

    “My god how the money rolls in”.

  • Steven Watson

    How many on that Global Firepower Index are ever likely to go to war with Israel? Of those which could make more than holes in the road with innaccurate rockets? Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties, Turkey is more or less an ally, Iran is too far away, and nearly all of them are heavily reliant on outside advisors and tech support. On paper these countries might impress, but when the rubber hits the road, only Turkey is likely to win an offensive war against Israel and they look the least likely of all to go to war with Israel any time soon. Never mind that Israelis, mistakenly or not, view things through a lense of existential threat. They have The Bomb and they would use it too.

  • Steven Watson

    I’m a fan of the Brick Bible myself.

  • I was brought up in a denomination that was very strongly supportive of the Jews, and made similar arguments to you. To this day, the first thing that will be said to apostates like me is “What about the return of Israel to their land?” However, while I can’t tell for you, my expectation of those I do know is that if, for some reason, the state of Israel ceased to exist they would figure out some other explanation for it rather than giving up their belief. Personally, I don’t think it’s a strong case.

    However, I also think that Christianity’s supposed Jewish roots are a weakness, not a strength. The New Testament appropriates and misuses many prophecies (or claimed prophecies), and neatly spiritualises many of the practices that are literal in the OT. The God of the Jews made so-called eternal covenants that Christians have since rejected (around circumcision and the Levitical priesthood, for example). If God did indeed bring forth Christianity out of Judaism, he did it poorly.

  • Steven Watson

    I’d probably agree with you. I know many are intent on writing them all off altogether; but that just leaves you with no place to start. The furthest I’d go is that those four are heavily redacted cut and paste jobs with interpolations.

  • Steven Watson

    I’m not disparaging; I just find it incomprehensible. My apologies if I gave another impression.

  • Steven Watson

    Certainly not. I’ve never got it and simply don’t see how anyone else ever did. It isn’t arrogance; its perplexity.

  • Steven Watson

    The resemblances are tantilising, but so are the differences. Compounded by our just not knowing enough or ever being able to know enough. The various mystery cults were very close- chested to begin with and then you had deliberate erasure and simple neglect to retain what little was known

  • Jim Jones

    It’s great, but a little too easy to dismiss.

  • Steven Watson

    An interesting comparison. Paul has been thought by many to have been schizotypal. I’ve never looked into Slender Man before; but it is notable how many people who could be similarly described have mistaken the character for a reality.

  • mason

    Thanks you … I hope I may have offered some assistance to comprehend some of the why factors.

  • Steven Watson

    Not all the New Testament and maybe not even a majority. When the invidual texts were written, they were for the most part the writings of Jews and affiliated others. Both what we know as Christianity and Judaism are a later outcome, the survivors of a riot of heterodoxies. Most of what is mistaken as anti-Jew is one stripe of Jew at odds with another; just as you find in the Tanakh. Read without the very post- Intertestamental crud; its a whole different kettle of fish.

  • mason

    The perplexity I have is how the entire rest of my immediate family of 6, never were able to shake off the mental enslavement shackles of Evangelical indoctrination, but I do understand how they are so deeply mired and conditioned culturally, still in fear of hell fire, and lacking in intellectual and emotional fortitude to even entertain a single cogent thought or question about their irrational beliefs and the blatant contradictions of their “scriptures.”.

  • mason

    Perhaps it’s greed that holds the heart reins of believers. The natural world and Universe(s) with all its super wonderfulness https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ab9d3cf11dd57c171dab1e1d202a091042a92664b1c13c5e9d6ab832be1d7a22.jpg just isn’t enough for the greedy.

  • mason

    Why? Or was that satire?

  • Linda LaScola

    I was perplexed by it too, which is part of the reason I wanted to do research with clergy.

  • Jim Jones

    Archetypes are common. Classic ones are King Arthur, Robin Hood, William Tell and more recently John Frum, Ned Ludd and more.

    Lady Godiva existed except that wasn’t her name (it was Godgifu) and the stories about her are complete fantasies.

  • Don Camp

    Paul was not himself from Jerusalem. He was from Tarsus. If Paul was not in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus there is certainly the possibility that he was in Tarsus. But there are some pretty certain things. As I said before, Paul knew people like the Apostles and the earliest Christians who did see Jesus.

  • Jim Jones

    Go through the epistles sometime. Write down everything Paul learned from Peter/Cephas. See how much there is.

    Why didn’t Philo of Alexandria document Jesus or Christians?

  • That’s a rather large brush you’re painting with there.

  • Jesus Mythicism, regardless of what merit we as atheists may find in it, is not worth raising with Christians; it’s simply too easy to pigeon-hole as a crank theory. It’s also far from established in academia (regardless of the reasons for that), so the demand to “keep up” seems premature.

  • Guestie

    A commenter on another blog referred to the Epistles as 2000 year old blog posts. The “text itself” of much of the NT is someone’s opinion. It isn’t clear to me why those opinions should be granted more credibility than blog posts or comments on blog posts.

  • Linda LaScola

    There were several clergy (nuns, priests, ministers) in my Master of Social Work program at Catholic University. Their motives, as far as I knew them, were to be educated and eventually to be licensed by the state to provide professional counseling.

    Several of the professors were clergy as well, with academic degrees in psychology/social work/sociology.

  • Don Camp

    Because the readers of those texts saw in them the spark of inspiration which I do not find in any blog post I am aware of. That means they were God-breathed taking them beyond mere opinion to the level of a divine message. If you have the time you might go to http://drcpublishing.net/Philo.html and read some of the writings of the post-apostolic fathers. Mot people can detect the difference.

  • Guestie

    Isn’t seeing a spark of inspiration a matter of opinion? Most people in the world don’t regard the text of the NT as divine, after all. I’ve been told that the Koran, when read in Arabic, is a work of such sublime beauty that it is all the evidence for God that anyone could need. I regard that as an opinion.

  • Re. Trojan wars, you’re missing his point. The stories of the wars include reference to mythical beings and Gods aiding and abetting various factions. That the Trojan war has an historical basis would, on your reasoning, be evidence for the existence of these gods and beings. Hence your dismissal of other God’s existence on your methodology is unfounded, and your claim that your God is special is only true in the sense of “special pleading”.

    Re. Jewish homeland, you are using a premise that God intended for it to happen in order to justify a conclusion that God exists, which is circular; either God exists as a known fact, and intended for the Jews to be relocated, OR the relocation is evidence of God’s existence because god’s will is the only plausible explanation for the relocation.

    As such, that we have naturalistic (mundane) explanations for the recent events IS relevant. Hiding behind historical obscurity in referencing Cyrus (whose reasons are unknown) is also a failure, as it gets us nowhere.

  • This is special pleading; nothing more, nothing less. Surely you don’t earnestly find any edification of your faith in these bland assertions?

  • Linda LaScola

    “god-breathed” – haven’t heard that expression before.

  • mason

    and there’s always delusional hope … life blood of the believer in all ancient messiahs https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9c69d85cd3810341c3cb266c88e0c67a760eb780889dd6f50eb309837d34d2ee.jpg

  • swbarnes2

    How many on that Global Firepower Index are ever likely to go to war with Israel?

    Goalpost moving. What a great example of Christian integrity!

  • swbarnes2

    What newspapers? I cited newspapers, you didn’t. So cite your sources. An omnipotent God could have prevented you from lying. Instead, you fell flat on your face, and everyone can see that your Christian integrity isn’t worth spit.

  • Ann Kah

    Well, it’s been more than 65 years since then for me, and I’ve never seen anything since then that would cause me to change my mind, so…..

    The barrier to be overcome for many people is that first step, where one can give serious consideration to the claims of religion. I suspect that the longer that step is postponed, the harder it must be to open one’s eyes to the possibility that everything you were taught about religion (even worse, everything you taught your own children) must be reconsidered in the light of reason.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    “We live in a culture that makes it hard for people to imagine and be led by God…”

    Just the fact that this ‘god’ has to be *imagined*, rather than known…

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    Part of the contradiction about being human is the recognition that even as we try to think and act logically, we depend on the emotional and automatic parts of our brain to survive and thrive.

    This.

    Ask anybody trying to change eating behaviors to lose weight 🙁

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    There you go, asking a thoughtful and relevant question!

    😉

  • Don Camp

    I edited to include links and citations.

  • Don Camp

    It is the literal translation of the word theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:17, usually translated “inspiration.” “Inspiration” of course means in breathed. The theo in the Greek word means God.

  • Maltnothops

    Perhaps you simply haven’t read the right blog posts.

    Your comment reminds me of a conversation I had with an Christian woman a few years ago. She said she could see the light of Jesus in certain people’s faces. I asked what color the light was. She replied that she was using a figure of speech. I asked if there was any physical manifestation. She said yes. I asked what it was. She said she could just tell. How, I inquired. It was obvious, she said. Did the light give off heat, I asked. No. Was there an aroma? No. Could she see anything at all? Yes, the light of Jesus. Describe it. I can’t. Was there a sound? No. What made it obvious? It just was. Perhaps it was your imagination. No. How could you tell? I just could. How? If you believed you would understand. So it isn’t actually obvious if most people can’t detect it?

    So, tell us more about this “spark of inspiration” that, in your opinion, people you’ve never met saw in certain texts but not others. And then describe how you know that the only possible explanation is that they were “God-breathed” by your particular god. And be sure to explain what God-breathed means too.

  • Maltnothops

    The link below is to Bible Gateway. It shows the English translation of 2 Tim 3:17 from dozens of translations. I see “God-breathed” in one of them. It is possible that I have overlooked another one or two but the vast majority include neither ‘god-breathed” nor “inspiration”.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/2%20Timothy%203:17

  • Maltnothops

    If a blogger— let’s call him Paul — wrote a blog post and the blog post included the claim that the blog post itself was inspired by God, would that be sufficient evidence that the blog post was indeed inspired by God?

  • Don Camp

    No

  • Don Camp

    It’s a little more complex, but try biblehub.com Use this link to the interlinear Greek and English. (An interlinear Bible has the Greek and the English in a quite literal translation together. ) https://biblehub.com/interlinear/2_timothy/3-16.htm

    Click on the number above the Greek word. It will take you to a lexicon entry.

    It happens that theopneustos is a hapax legomena which means there is only one use of the word in the Bible. However, theopneustos is made of two Greek words theo (God) and pneustos (breath) . That seems pretty plain.

    The lexicon entry suggests this was a word coined by Paul, so looking at the two root words is the best path to understanding what Paul meant.

    2 Peter 1:21 expresses inspiration as “carried along by the Holy Spirit. “

  • Don Camp

    Perhaps you simply haven’t read the right blog posts.

    Perhaps not. Could you point me to one you find is penetrating and uncovers the deepest thoughts and intents of your heart – Yes,I know you’ll have trouble with :heart.” So read it as the inner man. – and either attracts you to the truth written or repulses you because you do not want to face the truth?

    So, tell us more about this “spark of inspiration” that, in your
    opinion, people you’ve never met saw in certain texts but not others.

    I’ve already explained that inspiration is marked by being penetrating and revealing of the thoughts and intentions of the heart and that the reader is either drawn to it or repulsed by it. I would add that it results in conviction or rejection of sin when that is uncovered.

    Consequently, the inspired text is life changing. I do not mean on the level of learning something new. I mean on being confronted by a truth about myself that needs changing.

    Self help books may give advice on how to change your life. Inspired texts drive one who responds positively to them to appeal to God to change us. Or it drives one to resist and reject any change. Given the tone of your replies I would guess that you reject the idea that you need any change.

    by your particular god.

    I find interesting and perceptive truth in other texts such as the Quran and Buddhist teachings or the wisdom of Odin. Wisdom is wisdom wherever you find it. But I do not feel convicted or changed by either. That is enough evidence for me that the biblical texts standout as different.

  • Don Camp

    No. There are criteria for making that judgement. One of them is to beware of false prophets. Another is whether the message agreed with previous inspired scripture and the character of God. As a safe-quard most Christians from the first century forward have limited inspired scripture to the Old Testament and to scripture written by the apostles or associates of the apostles.

    That does not mean a teacher of blogger can not say worthwhile things. Most Christians just would not raise that to the level of scripture.

  • mason

    and to compound matters even worse, there are so many God brands to try and choose from … so perplexing https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9158bf9294e8847481f7ca4f69e957fd2f1e465240cffaf0499b5ee052dda525.jpg

  • mason

    I was a kid in the 40’s … very different world

  • Steven Watson

    Ahhh! That would make a difference. I’ll defer to your greater mileage and wisdom. 🙂

  • Steven Watson

    What goalposts and what has Xtian integrity got to do with it ? Saddam had the Fourth Largest Army In The World, Schwarzkopf simply massacred it. The US Army’s conclusion at the time was if the if they had swapped weapons with the Iraquis they would have STILL massacred them. The only soldiers in the Middle East are the Israelis, the Jordanians, and the Turks. The only generals and staff that know what they are doing are the Israelis.

  • Maltnothops

    You’ve omitted your primary criterion: “readers of those [blogposts] [see] in them the spark of inspiration”. If they see that, then the blogposts are God-breathed. Right?

    And the same goes for the Koran, etc. If readers see the spark of inspiration, then those texts are divine.

  • Maltnothops

    “Could you point me to one you find is penetrating and uncovers the deepest thoughts and intents of your heart“

    How could I possibly know whose opinions might meet that criteria? You might try the Cranach blog. Veith seems up your alley.

    I think “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss is penetrating. I read it to my kids religiously when they were young. Way better than Paul’s letters.

    “read it as the inner man. – and either attracts you to the truth written or repulses you because you do not want to face the truth?”

    False dichotomy. You’ve left out at least one whopping big category: It appears not to be true.

    “Given the tone of your replies I would guess that you reject the idea that you need any change.”

    Not above an ad hominem, eh? And a non-sequitur to boot. Surely you know that neither my tone nor whether I think I need change has anything to do with the divinity or lack thereof of biblical epistles or more recent blogposts.

    “I do not feel convicted or changed by either. That is enough evidence for me that the biblical texts standout as different.”

    Any Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or Jholian would say the same, substituting only the name to their divine texts.

  • Maltnothops

    “Could you point me to one you find is penetrating and uncovers the deepest thoughts and intents of your heart“

    How could I possibly know whose opinions might meet that criteria? You might try the Cranach blog. Veith seems up your alley.

    I think “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss is penetrating. I read it to my kids religiously when they were young. Way better than Paul’s letters.

    “read it as the inner man. – and either attracts you to the truth written or repulses you because you do not want to face the truth?”

    False dichotomy. You’ve left out at least one whopping big category: It appears not to be true.

    “Given the tone of your replies I would guess that you reject the idea that you need any change.”

    Not above an ad hominem, eh? And a non-sequitur to boot. Surely you know that neither my tone nor whether I think I need change has anything to do with the divinity or lack thereof of biblical epistles or more recent blogposts.

  • Maltnothops

    I don’t understand. You wrote that a term is “usually” translated as ”inspiration”. I showed that it usually isn’t. That is the point you should be addressing.

  • Don Camp

    “I do not feel convicted or changed by either. That is enough evidence for me that the biblical texts standout as different.”

    And that puts you in a category beyond faith – at the moment. Faith is not the result of careful weighing of evidence. Even if you were to do so and come up with the conclusion that faith in God and in the inspiration of the Bible make sense, that is not faith. Faith responds to that evidence by the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Faith embraces the facts, it does not generate the facts, but facts are not enough.

  • Don Camp

    you are straining at gnats. The two words mean exactly the same thing. You might go to my profile and look at my explanation and translation of theopneustros

  • Maltnothops

    You seem to be suggesting that most translations of the Bible are woefully incorrect — and yet at the same time you suggest that biblical texts are the evidence of divinity. Odd.

  • Don Camp

    I did not say “woefully incorrect.” And I don’t believe they are. But you do not understand the process of translation from one language to another. There is rarely if ever a one to one correspondence between words in two languages, any two languages. That is what makes translating interesting. Maybe a class in linguistics would help.

    Fortunately, inspiration is not bound to the precise words. Translations can be as penetrating and life changing as the original, which very few people can read.

    There are good translations and poor translations no matter what languages we are talking about. Try Chinese to English or Korea to English. Google’s translation is definitely a poor translation. Better to rely on a real person who is emerged in both languages to the point they think and dream in both.

  • Maltnothops

    I encourage you to read more blog posts.

  • swbarnes2

    An honest person would understand that saying “Israel has the strongest military in the Near East” is a straight up lie. I know you know this, because bringing up America beating the Iraqi army 20 years ago is a deliberate smokescreen to distract from your lie.

    Your Christian integrity will not allow you to be honest.

  • swbarnes2

    You included no links abort the Israeli army being the strongest in the Middle East! You prove my point, you cannot be honest. You lie and lie and lie again, because you have no integrity. Your Christianity teaches you this.

  • Don Camp

    You are increasingly focus on small details rather unimportant to the topic. If I concede your point here, could return to something more significant?

  • Jim Jones

    I fail to see how anyone can believe in any man made religion if they truly comprehend the enormity of the universe. It’s unutterably enormous.

  • Jim Jones

    Who else is like me? Never, ever, once believed, never saw a reason to.

  • Steven Watson

    Erm… no. Morale is to material as 3 is to 1. Throughout history there have been militaries that performed better than they should have on paper and militaries that performed worse. The Iaraelis will chop the legs off almost any opponent they are likely to come up against and Arab militaries will fold like a cardboard box. The Israeli military is about fighting wars. Second up is oppression. Arab militaries are either fripparies; instruments of oppression; or both. The rulers can’t have them too competent or they risk being overthrown. Politics gets in the way of their armies ever being any good at actul fighting. See their pathetic performance present day against Daesh or the Houthis.

    I’d prefer Israel wasn’t am Apartheid ethnostate and I believe a lot more pressure needs to be brought to bear to get them to nix that behaviour; but their neighbours are, even the best of them, worse. I’ve no time for extremely mysogynistic, rascist, barbarian tyrannies.

  • Steven Watson

    It only not in DSMV 5 with all the other bonkers crazy because we are still giving religion a get out of jail card. Distinction without difference. I can’t see any good reason not to keep them away from blunt cutlery, let alone vulnerable people or children.

  • Steven Watson

    I just read what is on the page, mate; I don’t use pretzel logic to make it say what it doesn’t. What is read cannot be unread; what is seen cannot be unseen; there need only be one black swan. I can see an end-run that might “save” Christianity from us; but they have to go back to their earliest texts and take in what we should expect to see and a couple of things that, as history stands, look to make their story impossible as history. There are some very curious things attested outside of orthodoxy and the reach of orthodoxy’s swords. As it stands it isn’t fit for purpose in the third millenium. It’ll go extinct of its own accord if there isn’t a radical reformation. I’m not “demanding” anything of them; I’m twitting those I see as very silly people.

  • Steven Watson

    Likes are mysterious. My preference in Bible translations is for Tyndale’s incomplete masterwork. I think the Mona Lisa is rubbish. I just like them or not. It isn’t something that lends itself to explanation for me. Aesthetics? My eyes glaze over.

  • Steven Watson

    Seconded. I’d suggest you have just the right people to hand to make it so as well.

  • Steven Watson

    I think most people grasp things at a human scale; the further you go from that, the lesser the number that grasp. Plus we tend to teach/socialise the wonder out in childhood, which doesn’t help.

  • Steven Watson

    I can’t recall that far back but I was always, I think, too knowing. I always thought about religion and put it in context with other knowledge that either rendered what I was listening to impossible or that they had gotten it backwards. I think I intuited patterns; Christianity was never unique for me. It was part of a set of things, all claiming to be true. Since I never saw any way of distinguishing any one of the set from another; it rendered them all lies. I’d say now if you’ve a dozen things in the probablity space the odds of any one being correct are 12 to 1 against. There are a lot more religions than that; they add a new one every week; and the atheosphere expands apace. (even more so the Icouldn’tgiveacussosphere!)The odds just get longer and longer.

  • Jim Jones

    Even if gods were possible, there’s no chance human guesswork is correct. And at least we come to quantum mechanics based on evidence. For gods there is none.

  • I guess I assume that you’re taking part to persuade, but if you just need to have a rant at a random person on the internet, I guess you may choose your argument differently.

    Not disagreeing with the merits of mythicism personally (agnostic on it myself), just saying that a Christian will see the argument and write you off as a conspiracy theorist. It’s a kind of mental permission to write off your arguments. It’s really not worth bringing up until you have a fair amount of credibility with them already.

  • That’s not true. It doesn’t meet the DSM V criteria. But feel free to live in your little bubble where everyone is either super-nuts and dangerous or perfectly sane and trustworthy. I’ve tried, but in the end it’s just easier to accept them as fellow humans who happen to be wrong about something.

  • Steven Watson

    Credibility… with Xtians? Why on earth would I want that? Then I’ll have to go figure the hole in my reasoning or check myself in to psychy. If I’m ever credible to Xtians; it most likely means I’ve lost the plot.

  • Steven Watson

    That’s the conclusion I came to after weighing the ‘evidence’. It’s all gravy. 🙂

  • Linda LaScola

    I have met people like you, but as far as I can tell they are pretty unusual – at least in this culture which usually teaches belief from an early age.

    I think it might be a form of insight (a sense of knowing, irrespective of whatever you’ve been taught) – or a talent (e.g., perfect pitch) – that is rare.

  • Jim Jones

    I suspect I may be slightly autistic. I do know I’m highly risk averse, and trusting without verifying is a risk IME.