Thursday, April 10, 2014

GOSPEL TRAJECTORIES & THE RESURRECTION (questions as well as sources to read or listen to)

1) Cross-Examining the Four Witnesses, Parts 1 and 2
Episodes 130-131 of this free podcast:

2) Concerning just the resurrection, if you are debating the subject with others or yourself, I would start by asking how many FIRST-person statements we have of people who say Jesus after his execution, "appeared" to "me."

In the NT I only know of Paul stating briefly that "Jesus appeared to me," in 1 Cor and Galatians with no details at all. 1 Peter also has a first person statement but many scholars rank that letter as late and apocryphal. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1peter.html

So the only FIRST-person statement we have is from Paul with no details. Does God expect everyone to believe less than first person tales? And what exactly are we to believe concerning Paul's statement since all it consists of are the words, "he appeared to me."

Note that in 1 Cor. Paul uses the word "appeared" with no distinctions. But according to Luke-Acts the raised Jesus had ascended bodily into heaven never to return in the body until the day of judgment, before Paul became an apostle, so whatever appeared to Paul was not the bodily raised Jesus, yet Paul implies in 1 Cor that he was blessed with the same sort of appearance as everyone else. And since none of the appearances in 1 Cor are told first hand, but being told second hand or more, and since 1 Cor includes no descriptions of each appearance to compare one with the other, we know very little about any of them. Who was among the "over 500 brethren?" Where did each appearance take place? When? What time of day? How light or bright was it? How near or far away from Jesus were each of these people? How certain were they concerning what they were seeing? Did Jesus say or do anything, or nothing, during each appearance? We don't know. There are also discrepancies between the 1 Cor. list and later tales in the Gospels.

See also the award winning book, Scripting Jesus, for a discussion of the changes one can see in the retellings of the resurrection story over time, from Mk to Mt, Lk, etc. http://www.amazon.com/Scripting-Jesus-The-Gospels-Rewrite/dp/0061228796

Also note how the alleged words spoken by the resurrected Jesus grew more numerous over time from Mk to Mt to Lk Acts and John. The story grew over time:


You can trace various trajectories that the Jesus story took over time as it was retold/rewritten from Mk to Mt to Lk to John

There is also a gospel trajectory related to how Judas is presented in the Gospels:

One can see Gospel stories growing bolder with various retellings from Mark -->John, attempting to enhance belief, also some deletions of negative sounding tales/passages in the earliest Gospel, Mark. Not all trajectories follow through all four Gospels, some just branch off from Mark to Matthew, or from Mark to Luke respectively. Matthew and Luke differ most from each other where they could not follow Mark, i.e., in their beginnings and endings, their nativity and post-resurrection tales, that start at an earlier point than Mark and end at a later point than Mark. And like Matthew and Luke's extended endings, at some point believers also extended Mark's ending (of which more than one extended ending exists).

And one can see where parts of the fourth Gospel appear to have been constructed based on information and tales found in earlier Gospels--for instance in the tale about Jesus being anointed with oil in John, it is a story that combines elements from earlier anointing stories in earlier Gospels. Or the feeding miracle. Were the newly constructed stories in John due to the fluid memory/theological artistry of John, or of preachers in his community who knew those tales in the earlier Gospels? See this post that explains which elements from earlier Gospels made their way into the anointing tale in the fourth Gospel:

You can also see how the tale of Jesus' burial became more aggrandized over time from Mark to Matt, Lk, John:

“Here’s the problem. When you look at Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the story of the burial of Jesus, knowing that Mark is the basis for Matthew and Luke and that possibly (this is debated in scholarship) they may be the source for John, you watch the body’s burial get steadily better. It’s a hasty hurried burial in Mark. By the time Matthew and Luke read Mark and develop the story it’s a burial in a tomb in which nobody else has been laid and they’re explaining to you why Joseph of Arimathea was able to be a counselor for Jesus but not against him on Thursday night as it were. The story is developing, and by the time you get to John’s account the burial of Jesus is — I wouldn’t even say royal — it’s transcendental, there’s so many spices used they would have filled almost the entire tomb, it’s a magnificent burial, it’s the burial of the son of God when you get to John. What happens is that as a historian when I retroject that trajectory of a burial that keeps getting better and better, and ask what was there in the beginning, it doesn’t look very good. It looks like all they might have had in the beginning was a hope that maybe some pious non-Christian, a Jew, out of respect for the Jewish law of Deuteronomy, would have buried Jesus’ body (instead of letting the Romans do what they usually did with the people they crucified, which was to toss the bodies in a common grave). But if a Jew asked Pilate for the body and gave it a burial that immediately raises the issue that the writers of the Gospels also must have seen, namely wouldn’t Joseph also have buried the two robbers, presumably fellow Jews, who were with Jesus? And wouldn’t there at least be three in the tomb? Would it be a public tomb for criminals? Then how would we know which was Jesus’ body? And so you can see the Gospel writers, I think, grappling with the difficulties of trying to have Jesus rescued from a common grave — a story whose original I don’t think is historical and which grew in the telling over time. I think it is their fervent hope, their best hope, that somebody took care of the body of Jesus." -- John Dominic Crossan as heard on “Jesus and Crucifixion, a Historical View,” Fresh Air from WHYY, Mar. 20, 2008 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88675603 (with some edits by ETB)

The first three Gospels grow in length in the order Mk, Mt, Lk (while the fourth Gospel, John, only grows shorter because it lacks a birth narrative, all parables, all exorcism tales, though it does have a very talky narrator, explaining so much more than any of the narrators did in any of the previous Gospels, and of course interpreting everything in his own theological terms, and a very talky Jesus as well whose theological terms simply mirror those used by the author, and whose dialogues with others (not to mention Jesus' alleged final prayer) go on and on, like the author as well. Most scholars do not take seriously that the words of Jesus in the fourth Gospel are authentic, but more the result of following the theological outline of the fourth Gospel author.

Speaking of the Gospel order, Mk first, Mt second, one can see that Matthew reproduces more of Mark than Luke does. And Matthew usually just inserts passages or parables right into the Markan narrative. So Matthew is plainly the closest to Mark. And though it is debated whether the author of Luke lacked access to Matthew, or had indirect verbal access via others, or direct access to a copy of Matthew's Gospel, still, Luke's general outline seems to echo Matthew's, i.e., starting with having Jesus' born in Bethlehem (via different tales than Matthew employs), and adding a longer genealogy than Matthews' since Luke's goes back not just to Abraham as Matthew's did, but all the way back to Adam. Luke also features not just one miraculous birth tale, as in Matthew, but adds a second miraculous birth tale, that of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, even having people sing holy songs, it's a liturgical musical! Obviously a later creation, a more involved work of literature than what we find in Matthew, including an added brief tale to fill in the time from between Jesus' birth and baptism, i.e., a tale from Jesus' boyhood.

Luke's post-resurrection tales are also more involved than Matthew's, with added sightings, and a bodily ascension tale, and no line as in Matthew that "some doubted." Luke's post-resurrection tales also take place in and around Jerusalem, a more impressive cosmopolitan setting, while the two earlier Gospels, Mark and Matthew had the disciples being commanded to venture to Galilee to see the risen Jesus, "He has gone before you to Galilee, there you will see him." Luke does not say that Jesus had gone before them to Galilee to be seen there, not at all. Luke adds far more alleged post-resurrection words of Jesus than Matthew, and new parables that are longer and more artistic than any seen before, like the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, etc. Neither does Luke simply insert lines and new material into Mark like Matthew did, but Luke has taken the time and effort to blend information into Markan story segments unlike Matthew who more often simply inserts stuff here and there in a cruder fashion.

I would add another trajectory as well, involving tales of Jesus raising other people. For instance In Mk Jesus is asked to HEAL someone's daughter who is "at the point of dying," he gets there and people are mourning, saying she has died and Jesus clears the room and raises her in the company of her immediate family and some disciples. Matthew repeats the tale, though when Jesus is first asked to come he is told that the child has ALREADY "died," not being merely "at the point of dying" as in Mark. Luke repeats the same tale, but Luke adds a second resurrection miracle tale in his Gospel, that of a child who was not merely "raised" inside a private home, such a miracle being seen by only a few, but in this new tale, Jesus raises a child who is ON THE WAY TO THE CEMETERY, and this child is raised publicly. So this new resurrection miracle is grander than any that appeared in Mk and Mt. But in the fourth Gospel, John, the grandest resurrection miracle is found, someone raised not privately in a house, and not on the way to being buried, but someone already buried, for a few days, and that resurrection is the most public of all, and becomes the reason the Pharisees seek Jesus' own death due to how people were reacting to this very public resurrection, which also was apparently near Jerusalem, nearer Jerusalem than the others in the earlier Gospels if I recall.

Of course, Jesus' miracles in the Gospels also resemble reworked versions of miracles of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, including the raising of children, sometimes even copying the exact Greek phrases and settings as one can read when one compares the miracle tales in the Greek O.T. (the Septuagint) with the Gospel miracle tales involving Jesus.

Additional red flags emerge as we note that Jesus' most public miracle was the feeding of the multitude, but there is no mention of where it took place according to the earliest Gospel, Mark which mentions two such feedings, both of which took place "in the wilderness," much as the OT tale of people being fed by God in the "wilderness." Both such tales are equally vague as to the whereabouts where such miracles took place. The feeding miracle in the Gospels also resembles that of the feeding of many men with just a little bread, as in another OT tale involving a miracle-working prophet. It is only later Gospels that try to pin down the location of the feeding miracle. Luke says it took place in Bethsaida, But Mark, the earliest Gospel, does not say that, in fact Mark says that after the feeding miracle the apostles got into a boat to go to Bethsaida, but they don't even make it to Bethsaida because they get sidetracked. So we know from Mark that neither healing miracle that he mentions took place place in Bethsaida, only in "the wilderness." And we also know that Luke could have derived his name of the town, Bethsaida, from Mark since that Gospel says the apostles got into a boat and tried to reach Bethsaida AFTER the miracle. But that is of course to simply use a name mentioned in Mark that is NOT directly connected with the feeding story, and, Interestingly, you can see that Luke is merely stitching matters together loosely in his retelling of the Markan tale because as soon as Luke mentions Bethsaida he copies the rest of Mark that says it was in "the wilderness," so Luke simply reverts back to what Mark originally wrote (editorial fatigue), so Luke's story remains derivative to Mark's, and Luke probably added a place name to make it sound a bit more convincing. But as we have seen, that's not what the earliest version says, it says wilderness.

Other miracles of Jesus are only seen by few apostles like the walking on water, the calming of the storm, the transfiguration. And according to the earliest version of the transfiguration tale, in Mark, the disciples are even told not to tell anyone about the transfiguration miracle until later.

In fact according to the Gospels there is no tale about Jesus entering a major city in Galilee and doing a miracle there. There were several big cities in Galilee we know from writings and archaeology, but all the places Jesus visited and allegedly performed miracles were far smaller. Small towns. In fact when Jesus does visit a city, it is Jerusalem and he gets crucified there. According to the two earliest Gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus is not depicted healing or exorcising anyone in the one big town he visits, Jerusalem. (Only in the last written Gospels, Luke and John, does Jesus allegedly perform healing miracles in Jerusalem, and they only mention two, the healing of the servant's ear which was cut off at Jesus' arrest, per a very short line in Luke, and the healing of the lame man by the pool per John).

Of course Jerusalem is supposedly where Jesus' biggest miracle took place, but according to the Gospels themselves, no one in Jerusalem actually sees Jesus exit his tomb, if there was a tomb (see Crossan above). And according to the earliest two Gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus appeared to his male disciples in Galilee first, not Jerusalem, the message at the tomb being, "He has gone before you to Galilee, THERE ye shall see him." Even Luke, who has the disciples remain in Jerusalem to see the risen Jesus there, does not have anyone but the apostles accompany Jesus out of that room and out of Jerusalem ("he led them") to a nearby mount where they alone got to see Jesus rise up to heaven, per Luke-Acts.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Moral Question

Moral values, like moral behaviors appear to have more than one basis behind them, by which I mean morality does not appear to be driven totally by one's conscious mind, nor does it appear to be something that is totally due to genetic predispositions, nor totally due to repeated lessons from birth that eventually become ingrained behavior patterns requiring little to no thought.

And the "moral" question appears to be a sub-division of all questions regarding what humans find agreeable and disagreeable. The vast majority of us like

1) being healthy rather than chronically ill or in pain;

2) eating rather than starving;

3) having at least a little money rather than living in abject poverty;

4) sharing peace and happiness rather than living in fear of having our lives or belongings taken from us at the whim of others or at the whims of natural accidents, diseases and disasters.

Such "choices" seem undeniably obvious to us, being a species with a long shared biological background, large brains, similar sensory organs, similar nerves that record similar feelings of pain and pleasure, and a similar psychological need to feel wanted and belong, rather than mocked and shunned, and a hunger to be in the presence of other members of our species like our family and others who stimulate us physically, verbally, and mentally. Hence, joys shared are increased, while sorrows shared are reduced. (Two notable exceptions would be psychopaths--who usually show signs while very young that they have a much diminished sense of empathy; or, complete hermits who attempts to isolate themselves from the family or society in which they were raised.)

Second, we all know life is a risky business. Painful, joyless experiences occur no matter what one's belief system. For instance, it has been said that "in a cosmos without God anything is possible," but even in a cosmos WITH God, anything is possible. So we seek ways to avoid the worst and accentuate the best. We make laws, hire police, as well as develop ways to increase our happiness, i.e., music, drama, parks, arts. And courts to argue continually over how far most people in a society ought to be allowed to go in pursuing their anger, vengeance, as well as their pleasures, based on how such pursuits affect the lives of others in that society. In a similar vein, senators, governors, city councils and courts pass regulations regarding city planning, safety and health in order to help us avoid other things we dislike, such as debilitating accidents, illnesses, foul water, and natural disasters.

No doubt there's both an attraction toward being sociable and the opposite, i.e., self-centered impulses as well as the possibility of being irritated by others or acting aggressively toward others.That is the old evolutionary trade off seen in all large-brained mammalian species, even the most sociable ones. There is also the fact that a species with large brains can grow addicted to nearly anything, which can lead to some very anti-social behaviors. The brain does not discriminate concerning what kinds of behaviors feed it the chemicals that give it internal pleasure. Not to mention other jury-rigged features of the mammalian-brain-mind, like the numerous cognitive biases we are all born with and subject to. Luckily, studies in behavioral and cognitive psychology have allowed us to grow more cognizant of such limits to sociability, and also, most intelligent brain-minds throughout history have pointed out the obvious benefits of mass civilization over mass barbarism. With civilization we can extend our curiosity and imagination beyond the stars, while with barbarism we can merely stick spears in each other and tremble in fear of what lies over the nearest darkened hillside.

RECOGNITION OF UNFAIRNESS probably arrived with the evolution of new types of brains that could compare situations in increasingly more generalized ways. Such recognitions preceded the arrival of humans on earth. For instance, monkeys sense when someone else is getting a "better deal" for the same token, and they complain about that by THROWING BACK the cucumber they were paid for handing over their token, once they see the monkey in the cage next door getting a more sought after food like a grape for the same token. This resembles in some ways the Wall Street Protests: http://youtu.be/gOtlN4pNArk

Speaking of morality in an evolutionary sense, Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:

Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection… Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.(Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.

These [priority] systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt--though of course usually an unsuccessful one--to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.

If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we--being creatures subject to gravitation--could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwin’s idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention. [Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001]

Monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation/forgiving behaviors (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) which means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates... Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order… When social animals are involved... antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human. [Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates]

The bottom line is that it appears that humans have been teaching EACH OTHER how to behave for a very long time. And not just adults teaching adults, but also adults teaching their children. So, the process begins early in life and continues throughout life. Children naturally tend to act in ways that annoy or harm others or harm themselves, therefore humans begin teaching or training other humans how to behave at a very young age. It's natural for large-brained mammalian parents to deliver lessons in behavior to their children. So morality evolved not only among and between adults but also as part of the human developmental process as directed by parents. Humans have been teaching other humans how to behave, generation after generation, ages before even a written language was developed. Large-brained mammalian species from apes and dolphins to elephants form tribal societies that involve teaching the young how to behave. In one case I read about, juvenile elephants moved to another territory by themselves started acting like "Lord of the Flies" children, rampaging and even trampling animals of other species, until some older elephants were added to the mix, who disciplined the adolescents and taught them lessons in how to act.

Lastly, among large-brained primates, there's the fascinating species of chimpanzee known as the bonobo. Last I read there was no record of a bonobo killing another bonobo in nature compared with the pan species of chimpanzee that is known to kill each other and hunt monkeys for food. It is hypothesized, based on what evidence we have, that the bonobos branched off from other chimp species after some ancestors crossed a river in Africa and began living on the side with far fewer predators and more abundant food sources, but there is a further curiosity...

'Without a doubt the most peaceful species of chimpanzee is the “bonobo.” Among bonobos the females--not the physically larger males--dominate the hierarchy, and casual sex soothes all conflicts. Bonobos even engage in such human-like practices as French kissing, face-to-face sex in the “missionary” position, promiscuity, and homosexuality.

'The discovery of such a species of ape with such behaviors disturbed the creationist Christian reviewer of the book, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, who wrote, “In an evolutionary framework the integration of such sexual features [as promiscuity and homosexuality, both of them favorite pastimes among bonobos] into human society is out of the question, but the Judeo-Christian tradition indicates that promiscuity and homosexuality are secondary events, coming into the world after man’s ‘fall’ and dragging the whole of creation into a new pattern of life.”

'Aside from the fact that this “Christian” explanation for the “sexual features” of bonobo behavior doesn’t explain why the other well known chimp species (pan), does not engage in such behavior [Is the other species less ‘fallen?’ By how many degrees of ‘fallenness?’], it also seems to me most unfair that these attractive, harmless chimps should have been affected in any way by Adam eating a piece of fruit. But I will admit that they seem to enjoy the results.' [Dr. Colin Groves, commenting on a book review in Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, No. 1, 1999 that was written by creationist, Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer]

When early tribes of humans became city dwellers they could no longer know everyone in their tribe at a glance since their tribe was now a whole city, so they could not know what kinds of behaviors they might expect or enjoy or fear from others, and neither could the whole tribe still be involved in ostracizing or ousting or reacting to unwelcome behaviors, so the creation of laws and their enforcement by the ruler seemed like a more impersonal and natural next step beyond tribalistic morality.

But to continue to add a person tinge to such laws, plenty of ancient civilizations claimed such laws were handed down or inspired by a personal divinity,

such as the story set in stone of the Babylonian sun god Shamash handing down or inspiring the laws of King Hammurabi even before the earliest possible dates for the time of Moses and his reception of laws from the Hebrew high god, Yahweh. Neither is that the only case earlier than Moses of Egyptian and Mesopotamian laws being handed down or inspired by gods. (Even the story about a Hebrew king receiving directions for how Yahweh wanted His temple built was preceded in time by a rock-carved tale of an Egyptian king having rec'd directions direct from his god on how that god wanted his temple built.)

The OT contains divinely inspired "moral" laws nobody but the most hard-nosed Calvinist adores, and even then they adore them from afar, knowing that they'd get arrested if they starting stoning homosexuals, witches, women-not-found-to-be-virgins on their wedding nights, and disobedient children in their mid-teens.

In the NT, Jesus left a long list of commands to his followers, including, "take no thought for the morrow, or what ye shall eat or drink" "sell all you have and give it to the poor," "give to all who ask, asking nothing in return," "love your enemies," but again, those are adored from afar, not to be confused with a "morally objective" list of laws to be enforced by government.

In fact nowhere in the Bible is mass murder, slavery (which is never called a "sin," but slaves are to be duly disciplined even with physical punishment as even Jesus taught in a parable), polygamy, concubinage, the persecution of witches, homosexuals, heretics and blasphemers, and the stoning of adulterers and disobedient children, and the beating of children till they are black and blue, condemned, but each is divinely instituted and/or acceptable based on the era and circumstances.

What appears to have happened in the history of human morality and lawmaking is that humans have been learning (not without effort, and only after centuries of conflict, exploration, discovery, and increases in worldwide communications) to recognize the value of "the other" in ever widening circles, from tribal laws to city-state and national laws to international laws, including a greater recognition of equality and/or tolerance for racial minorities, females, gays, and people of other religions. Some seek to grant greater equality and protection to chimpanzees (especially those being used in laboratory experiments), or to a variety of species being slaughtered, in danger of extinction, or eaten.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Golden Age of Christian Apologetics? Renaissance?

What if it’s not a new golden age or renaissance but that the arising of so many apologetic ministries as well as the attempts by more Christians to seek degrees in ”philosophy of religion” (and flood the college market in that particular arena) only proves that when a dam starts to leak in places it takes more and more fingers to stick into each fresh hole, i.e., to keep at bay increasing waves of potential ”doubters” and ”leavers” from becoming a full blown flood?

Baptizing infants into a Christian church and expecting Christianity to take over the world that way, and also holding periodic revivals has proven insufficient, because churches keep splintering, and world religions continue blaming each other for going down the wrong trail or even damning each other to hell.*SEE NOTE The ”power of Christ” alone no longer appears sufficient to compel crowds of people in the U.S. to convert (though Pentecostal revivals seem to be working fairly well in some third world nations, i.e., without the necessity of courses in apologetics).

*NOTE Of course some members of each world religion react in the opposite fashion, by growing more tolerant and cooperative, i.e., the moderates and liberals in each different religion tend to get along better than the conservatives do in the same religion.

Apologetic argumentation is also an invitation to get Christians to read atheist books, or if they dare, to read classics in biblical criticism like Strauss’ Life of Jesus Critically Examined (now in free audio online); or, Schweitzer’s The Search of the Historical Jesus, and, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, The questions will always be there, because written words do not prove their own authority, historicity or inspiration.

Speaking of questions, look at the history of the oldest most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the U.S., Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Harvard was founded as a seminary for conservative Christian ministers. Then some conservative ministers became alarmed at the growing ”theological excesses” of Harvard and founded Yale in reaction. Now look at Yale. It’ is now far less conservative than its founder’s views, just as Harvard has become. Apparently any institution that continues to attract the brightest professors and students who also attempt to interact with all the questions of their field raised by other scholars worldwide, cannot miss that fact that questions of history involve probabilities galore, making the retention of highly conservative Christian beliefs problematical. Or take Princeton, once the home of verbal plenary inerrantist, B. B. Warfield. Conservative Christian professors left Princeton to found a more conservative seminary, Westminster. In fact all of the most highly conservative seminaries and institutions of higher Christian learning in the U.S. are relatively youthful compared with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and demand signed statements of faith, so that they don’t hire professors who dare to leave the door open to questions and/or interpretations of the Bible that are not ”approved.”

Speaking of a renaissance, if there is one going on, one that is truly new, like never before, it appears to be a renaissance of atheist, humanist podcasters, screen writers, song writers, novelists, artists, and comedians whose beliefs range from ”not very devout” to ”blasphemous,” including scientists whose belief in ”God” is less doctrinal or non-existent, compared with the average beliefs of the rest of U.S. society. There are also increasing numbers of ”emergent” Christians, or ”very moderate” Evangelicals a growing number of whom believe the Bible is a ”thoroughly human” book, and neither infallible nor inerrant according to older definitions of inerrancy.

And for the first time in history there have been atheist bestselling books that did not merely consist of a character in a novel or play who was atheistic, but books advocating in non-fiction fashion for a belief in atheism. Previously there had been agnostic bestsellers, such as Bertrand Russell’s works. Shelly’s The Necessity of Atheism was a mere tract printed in 1811, and never a bestseller. But at the start of the 21st century we saw not just the first bestselling book advocating for atheism, but three of them.

I would add that whenever a book came out that posed some sort of challenge to ”what the Bible says,” or even just to ”what some Christians believe the Bible says, as opposed to what other Christians believe,” such books generally produce tsunami’s of replies. In the days of Christian emperors, and through the Middle Ages and Reformation such books were confiscated and burned. But with the advent of the printing press that became more difficult. Perhaps Christian apologists hope they can flood the market rather than burn books, i.e., simply produce far more books than ”atheists” do? Differential reproduction? How Darwinian a notion!

Personally, I don’t expect to see any particular religious belief, denominational belief, unorthodoxies galore, superstitious beliefs, or non-religious philosophical points of view die out soon. And everyone may imagine what they wish when it comes to how ”the other folks” will ”wind up in eternity.”

All I have are questions that I think are justifiable, and which remain, regardless of all the hypothetical replies each person constructs to try and justify what they ”believe.”

WE ARE ALL GREATER ARTISTS THEN WE REALIZE when it comes to maintaining our ”views” of the world

Most people either avoid reading material based on views they oppose, or they read them and STILL manage to slough off the questions raised. The mind is a marvelously creative artist when it comes to finding ways to maintain whatever worldview it acquires rather than juggling and shifting between different worldviews which takes too much mental energy. After all, why move into a new house when you can just rearrange some of the furniture in the old one (and also keep any mad relatives locked away in an attic out of sight? All those unplumbed depths of questions that continue to remain unanswered in anything but a strictly hypothetical fashion and which will always bother us.) We all do that mentally creative furniture arranging to varying degrees, but of course we also each think WE are the ones who do it to a lesser degree than the ”other guy.” Which makes me wonder why any Infinite Being would consider it perfect justice to punish people based on their ”wordviews/beliefs.”

QUESTIONS I ASK MYSELF (As Oscar Wilde once put it, ”Converting others is easy, converting oneself is difficult.”)

Was the universe created so that humans could arise and build churches, write holy books and pass collection plates so that more churches could be built, more holy books printed, and clergy paid to explain the true meaning of these books, though the ”true” meaning of sections of Genesis to Revelation remain debatable, and Christians remain the greatest debunkers of each other’s views?

Was the universe created so that a particular species of Homo sapiens could arise — with unknown numbers of cousin species like ancient great apes (and hominids) arising in the process, but nearly all of them going extinct? (Keep in mind that the number of species of great apes now living on our planet is far smaller than the number of species of great apes that lived in the past, and the same goes for hominid species. In fact, earth was once truly a planet of the apes. In the Miocene Epoch, 24 to 5 million years ago, some 30 known species lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe, before hominids arrived on the scene, and there must have been many more species of ancient apes and hominids that did not leave behind much of a fossil trail, because great apes live in the savannas or forests where decomposition is almost assured rather t than fossilization. Genetic analysis even suggest that only a single species out of all those extinct species of great apes gave rise to all living apes and hominids, including humans (click HERE). This suggests that ”natural selection” or perhaps a ”tinkering” was going on. It is difficult to see a straightforward plan taking place in nature’s lengthy tale of endless branching forth and endless pruning. And if you stopped and looked at any particular species in a past epoch, one might be tempted to think, ”Ah, this is where all the former development has lead,” but that would be a mistake because there would be more changes ahead.

Was the universe created so that a particular species of Homo sapiens could finally arise, a very late comer on the scene, arising at the last microsecond of cosmic time and in danger of falling back into either barbarism or extinction in the next microsecond? Keep in mind that the stars can continue to burn for billions of years should Homo sapiens turn belly up tomorrow, because the stars burn via fusion and have tons of hydrogen and helium to burn (even young-earth creationists find it hard to debate the evidence that stars can burn for billions of years). As our sun ages, it will expand, burn up planet earth, and then slowly grow cold, of course our planet could undergo mass extinction events via a host of cosmic means, including earth-produced volcanic eruptions if one of several supervolcanoes should erupt (Yellowstone is due). Furthermore, massive stellar nurseries have been found in parts of the cosmos where new stars continue to form at a fantastic rate (google ”star formation”). Were the stars ”designed” to have enough fuel to burn for billions of years before the arrival of our species, and burn for billions more after our arrival? Why? I am not asking for a hypothetical reply, I’m sure anyone with enough ingenuity could come up with one. As I said, we are all greater artists than we realize when it comes to keeping our beliefs afloat. And if our species avoids extinction for a long enough period of time, will we still be the same species? Or will we be looking back and chuckling at today’s ”humans” like we chuckle at our ancient ancestors who thought that learning to control ”fire” was the most awesome thing humans could dream of discovering?

Do genuine ”accidents” happen, including deadly ones? A lot of religious people feel more comfortable believing there’s a reason behind everything that happens, but so do ”conspiracy” minded folks who want to believe that history is not a record of human stupidity and accidental outcomes, but that a hidden hand of some vast conspiracy directs world affairs. In both cases, such beliefs add more ”meaning” to people’s lives, rather than the idea that sometimes things just ”happen” that way. As the saying goes, the basis of all superstition is that people are prone to remember all the ”hits” and forget about all the misses and near hits that are possible.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I used to be a huge fan of C. S. Lewis' apologetic arguments, but today I have my doubts (ht: Tyler Vela)

I was a huge C. S. Lewis fan, read all of his Christian writings, but also read Beverslius' book on C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion http://www.amazon.com/Search-Rational-Religion-Revised-Updated/dp/1591025311 and wrote my own criticisms of Lewis' arguments:


C. S. Lewis Resources: Pro and Con

My journey and the role C. S. Lewis played in it

The Beliefs of Two Christians Compared: C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com/2012/01/linvilles-carnival-and-babinski-on-cs.html AND http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/12/beliefs-of-two-christians-compared-c-s.html

Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason

C. S. Lewis and the Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

Edited Collection of C. S. Lewis' final letters (with a bit of Hitchen on Lewis at the end) http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/04/edited-collection-of-c-s-lewiss-final.html

C. S. Lewis's "Man or Rabbit?" and Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" http://etb-biblical-errancy.blogspot.com/2012/04/c-s-lewiss-man-or-rabbit-and-eric.html

Moral Objectivity, C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert, Edward T. Babinski http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/06/moral-objectivity-c-s-lewis-victor.html

The Gospel of John and C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis’ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”
Some Reflections on C. S. Lewis’ “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/04/c-s-lewis-modern-theology-and-biblical.html

Literary Criticism and Historical Accuracy of the Gospels -- C. S. Lewis, Jesus, Boswell's Johnson, and the Usefulness/Uselessness of Literary Criticism to Nail Down Historical Truth http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/04/literary-criticism-and-historical.html

Did the historical Jesus speak about the necessity of being "born again?" Questions raised by Bart Ehrman and David Friedrich Strauss http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2013/10/did-historical-jesus-speak-about.html

Scent from heaven? Who nose? Do tales of Jesus' anointing, resurrection & bodily ascension, bear the aroma of truth? http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/02/perfumed-jesus.html

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Christian "Insider/Outsider" Way of Looking at the World Questioned

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, "Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?" Manjusri replied, "I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?"
-- Zen Koan

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!
-- Edwin Markham, from the poem " Outwitted”

I suddenly thought, "Is there really that much difference between 'them' and 'us'?" I had always accepted the qualitative difference between the "saved" and the "unsaved." Until that moment, it was as if I and my fellow-seminarians had been sitting in a "no-damnation" section of an otherwise "unsaved" restaurant. Then, in a flash, we were all just people.
-- Robert M. Price, "Testimony Time," Beyond Born Again

Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men.

By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
-- William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mourner’s bench”--asked for prayers of the faithful--had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences--how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become.

They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ‘em both, in a great measure.”

Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring.

I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.
-- Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”

I had what I consider a “spiritual epiphany” regarding “evangelicalism” in high school when a group of friends and I drove to an evangelistic rally and heard the preacher rail on and on against the evils of drinking, smoking, and other things. The evangelist was a spectacular showman and implored the audience to take heed, come forward, let go of any liquor bottles or packs of cigarettes in their possession, repent, and sin no more with God’s power. Each word of the evangelist blazed with the certainty that God would heal His people’s sinful ways and a choir was singing with trumpets blaring and the audience grew very excited. My friends all deposited their packs of cigarettes on the growing pile in the center of the rally and prayed with the ushers and pleaded with me to do so as well for the good of my soul.

I refused.

No sooner had the emotion-filled rally ended, no sooner had we traveled a few blocks in our car, than my friends bummed cigarettes off me.
-- Dr. Charles Brewer, Professor of Psychology (as told to ETB 7/18/06)

An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it...), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddy’s clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”

There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.

If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of one’s head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I don’t go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?
-- Robert Anton Wilson

There is an old story of a missionary trying to convert an Indian. The Indian made a little circle in the sand and said, “That is what the Indian knows.” Then he made another circle a little larger and said, “That is what missionary knows, but outside there the Indian knows just as much as missionary.”
-- as told by Robert Ingersoll

There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who think there's only two kinds of people in the world, and, all the rest.

Toleration was born of lengthy experience and reasoning, not divine revelation. Divine revelation taught men to both hate and love "with a vengeance." So naturally, many Bible believers for centuries abundantly loved all "insiders" (or those whom they were hoping to lead "inside"), and viewed all "outsiders" with suspicion or derision.

One consequence of literally believing the Bible involves psychologically projecting what one knows is worst about oneself onto "outsiders," (and blinding oneself to the existence of genuine goodness in "outsiders"). It also involves projecting what one knows is best about oneself onto "insiders" (and blinding oneself to the existence of evil in fellow "insiders").

One biblical belief in particular creates and magnifies the force of such "projections." Namely that, "Insiders are all going to heaven, while outsiders are all going to hell." So there can't be anything essentially wrong with "us" (we are "born again," we are "sanctified," we are "baptized in the Holy Ghost," we have the "correct faith," we are the "elect" and so on), while there must be something essentially wrong with "them" (otherwise they would not be "eternally damned," which they "obviously" are-just look at what they believe).

But, as Joseph Campbell pointed out concerning the growing human population and our increasingly fragile natural and political environments:
We can no longer hold our loves at home and project our aggressions elsewhere; for on this spaceship Earth there is no "elsewhere" any more. And no mythology that continues to speak or to teach of "elsewheres" and "outsiders" meets the requirements of this hour.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

R. Joseph Hoffmann does not like lowbrow humor, mere insults, or The Blasphemy Challenge. We agree in many ways, but I have still responded to his piece, The Moral Apathy of Atheism: Leaving it to the Snake, rjosephhoffmann

I disagree with Hoffman without being diametrically opposed to everything he wrote in his piece here. For instance, the famous "blasphemers" he mentioned in his piece indulged in anti-clerical humor, not necessarily "atheist humor." Anti-clerics (people who poke fun at the behavior of priests or practices of a religion) have been around since the days of the pre-Socratics.

But until the late 1800s there remained anti-blasphemy and anti-heresy laws on the books of Christian nations, though decreasingly enforced. Christian Roman Emperors Theodosius and Justinian, condemned "heretics" such as "anti-Trinitarians," and in their law books called them "demented, insane," and worthy of being judged by the full force of the state. And so the argument went for centuries, with popes, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, all arguing and agreeing that rulers must persecute heretics and blasphemers.


On the Justinian Code of Laws

Protestant Catholic Defenses of the Necessity to Persecute Heretics

Christians 0, Christians 0 (the early church)

Christians 1, Pagans 0

Christians 0, Christians 0 (from the Reformation Till Today)

So I'm in favor of a day to commemorate the movement away from anti-blasphemy/anti-heresy laws. People ought to be reminded of just how strongly both Catholics and Protestants argued in favor of such laws. And how strongly some Islamic groups still do.

I also agree with Voltaire and Twain that religion could stand to be satirized. Though I would agree with Hoffman if he's merely saying that atheists should do more than just call religionists "stupid." There's certainly no wit in doing merely that.

I also understand where Hoffman is coming from. Like Kurtz before him, Hoffman craves serious discussions between atheists and theists, and also wishes to forge alliances between humanistic atheists and theists of all religions. Neither imagine religious belief and practices will end soon. They are interested in Christians, Muslims, atheists, all being the best and brightest they can be--to help maintain the bonds of civil society and civilization.

On the other hand... People, especially younger folks, tend to be less well controlled, more highly excitable, less predictable than Hoffman at his age. Neither are atheism and atheists all alike, neither does Hoffman explain why they should be. One even doubts whether there ever was a completely "new atheism" as some journalist claimed by inventing the phrase.

Neither are all atheists interested in nothing but serious dialogue any more than all Christians are. At heart we're all still primates who want alpha males to do the work of leading us, shepherding us, heroes we can point to, whom we can claim "win debates," or authorities we can cite. So we can feel like "winners," like we "know things beyond a doubt." So we can feel empowered. That's often why people join mass movements, to attach their fragile individual egos to something greater or more enduring than their own individual lives. Read Hoffer:


As for Kurtz himself, I've read some of his works, and met him. He was a serious individual, hard working, and also liked to drink. (I prefer total sobriety.) He invited me to a conference after Prometheus Books published my book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. But I found the jokes and chatting in the bar more entertaining and interesting than the lectures at the conference. But then, I was never much of a fan of mass movements, pep rallies, spectator sporting events, etc. I liked to be left alone to read books, especially about people's unique individual intellectual and spiritual journeys, and share written dialogues with others, and pluck on my guitar.

Friday, November 01, 2013

On the Christian apologetic "Argument for God's Existence Based on Morality / Moral Duties" (hat tip: Matthew Flannagan at MandM )

The Christian apologist's "argument from moral duties" as seen here is merely a twist on the "argument for God based on morality." But there is no validity to either argument once you consider that even in a cosmos "with God" all pain-inducing acts of nature on humans (as well as humans on humans) remain possible just as in a cosmos "without God." So the "argument" reflects the Christian apologist's fear that we live in a wild and wooly cosmos and their hope that people's behaviors can be controlled if we all agreed to their particular philosophical/religious views including their unproven assertion that a list of human behavioral likes and dislikes comes "from God."

But does such a list of likes/dislikes come from God? Humans are prone to constructing top ten lists of what they like or dislike on any subject under the sun, we spend loads of time rating and comparing things inside our heads, and many items on such lists no doubt overlap, especially in the sense of "I don't like even the thought of some other person in reality taking away my life or belongings based on that other person's whims. Neither do I like the psychological displeasure of being called insulting names, etc." Those particular dislikes are found on a vast number of people's inner lists and incorporated into a vast number of holy books, dramas, novels and books of practical moral philosophy spanning ages, not just "in the Bible." Apologists who want to play at proving God via the "moral argument" should also consider how many large-brained mammals like being part of a society of other large-brained mammals, and engage in peacemaking behaviors so as to remain a part of that society. They should also consider that many animals, especially those with large mammalian brains share not only loads of pain receptors but mirror neurons. And lastly they should consider the brain-mind's ability to foresee how pain can come round again to the person who inflicts it if pain or social disorder is allowed to continue and expand. Those make at least as much explanatory sense as the assertion that "God did it," but without necessarily disproving God, nor affirming the existence of God.

Also, apologists should consider that when human societies were tribal and smaller in number everyone could learn each other's behavior patterns and could together shun a person that had high pain-inducing behaviors, or employ feuds and vendettas on rival tribes. Neither was there much to lose in the way of all the benefits of modern civilization if one lived back in tribal times and one's reed or mud hut was burned to the ground, compared with say, blowing up a modern day metropolis and destroying an enormously complicated infra-structure of food production, storage, and a thousand different inter-connected business establishments. In the case of the tribesmen, they just need to build another reed hut, which they might be able to do with natural materials growing not far from them.

But as human societies grew, everyone could no longer know each other personally and act together to shun those whom they all knew to practice the most pain-inducing behaviors, therefore abstract generalizations and laws and peace-keeping tactics grew in importance.

Today we are connected more globally than ever before, with videos of people from different places showing their aggressive as well as day-to-day, and peace-making practices in their societies, and we see more of ourselves in outsiders than ever before. While computers continue to break down language barriers, and, movies, novels, and other materials are shared and distributed worldwide, which means we are all learning to recognize how much we share rather than lacking direct vision of outsiders and their lives in all their fullness and diversity.

Today we also live relatively peacefully in enormous cities packed with millions of us (something other primates probably could never do), and amuse ourselves in a wider variety of non-murderous ways than ever before. So today the problems we face together on this planet appear to be the enormous amounts of energy and other products made from nature to support such a huge interconnected worldwide population, and if our infrastructure grows too polluted or our energy supply is cut off, civilization could revert to barbarism and a billion or more people could suffer. That appears to be the danger today, not the problem of how many people are going to hell because they don't believe like certain Christian apologists assure us we all must believe.

Speaking of which, I wonder if Christian apologists have considered how many people will die and wake up in heaven who knew little to nothing about Christianity while on earth? What kind of a Divine Plan is it that includes such facts as these:
*Half of all human zygotes naturally perish before the develop to the point of being born, as even admitted by a pro-life doctor.

*About 20-30 percent of zygotes undergo a twinning after which one of the twins is reabsorbed into the womb or the remaining zygote.

*Until the 18th century half of all children born died before reaching the age of eight years old due to many natural diseases and infections they are prone to.

*Natural disasters have killed large populations indiscriminately for tens of thousands of years. Not to mention that according to estimates by a renowned population bureau, seven billion human beings had lived and died on earth before Jesus was born,

*Christianity is spread via human beings, which leaves much of the world unevangelized and/or told confusing information or wrong information, and even many who heed the call to become Christians wind up nominal ones, leading to many people who know little to nothing about "true" Christianity as "evangelicals" define it.

IF "God forgives and saves" all those dead zygotes, and all those children who died from 1-8 years old, and the 7 billion people who died before Jesus was born, as well as those who have not heard the Gospel or heard a confused message or the wrong message,

THEN heaven will be filled to overflowing with people who arrived there knowing little to nothing about Christianity. Great Divine plan. (While those of us, who do know something about Christianity, are damned?)

Makes sense I guess (if you happen to be someone like yourself).

Reminds me of the old joke involving the missionary and the Eskimo. An Eskimo hunter asked the local missionary priest, “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”

“No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.”

“Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?”

Of all the failures of which we have any history or knowledge, the missionary effort is the most conspicuous. The whole question has been decided here, in our own country, and conclusively settled. We have nearly exterminated the Indians, but we have converted few.

There is an old story of a missionary trying to convert an Indian. The Indian made a little circle in the sand and said, “That is what the Indian knows.” Then he made another circle a little larger and said, “That is what missionary knows, but outside there the Indian knows just as much as missionary.”

Great minds in evangelical seminaries across the country continue to dispute among themselves as to what is to become of the heathen who fortunately died before meeting any missionary from their institutions.

Robert Ingersoll