Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Apologetics from the Side

posted by Scot McKnight

This time from Christopher Hitchens, who was interviewed in The Portland Monthly by Marilyn Sewell, whose words are in bold:

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.



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RJS

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:14 pm


He gets the point – even if he doesn’t believe it. There is another interesting question and answer toward the end of the interview:

You write, ?Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and the soul.? You use the word ?soul? there as metaphor. What is a soul for you?

It?s what you might call ?the x-factor??I don?t have a satisfactory term for it?it?s what I mean by the element of us that isn?t entirely materialistic: the numinous, the transcendent, the innocence of children (even though we know from Freud that childhood isn?t as innocent as all that), the existence of love (which is, likewise, unquantifiable but that anyone would be a fool who said it wasn?t a powerful force), and so forth. I don?t think the soul is immortal, or at least not immortal in individuals, but it may be immortal as an aspect of the human personality because when I talk about what literature nourishes, it would be silly of me or reductionist to say that it nourishes the brain.

He gets it – but he doesn’t get it. He defines religion in a rigid fashion, claims that the natural is so much more powerful than the “nonexistent” supernatural (earlier he say The natural world is quite wonderful enough. The more we know about it, the much more wonderful it is than any supernatural proposition. — and then resorts to the transcendent.



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dopderbeck

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:45 pm


Some real clunkers here. Such as “We have no proof, as with Jesus, that he ever existed. We only know from witnesses to his life that he did.”
Um — witnesses have no evidentiary value? There goes the entire Western legal system.
Still, it is sobering to see where truly liberal theology ala Tillich ends up — God as nothing but a metaphor for some vague feelings.



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hlvanburen

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm


“Um — witnesses have no evidentiary value? There goes the entire Western legal system.”
As many studies have shown, eye witnesses are often quite unreliable. If they were always reliable we would believe all those folks who claimed to see Elvis or claimed to have been abducted by aliens.
http://agora.stanford.edu/sjls/Issue%20One/fisher&tversky.htm
“Several studies have been conducted on human memory and on subjects? propensity to remember erroneously events and details that did not occur. Elizabeth Loftus performed experiments in the mid-seventies demonstrating the effect of a third party?s introducing false facts into memory.4 Subjects were shown a slide of a car at an intersection with either a yield sign or a stop sign. Experimenters asked participants questions, falsely introducing the term “stop sign” into the question instead of referring to the yield sign participants had actually seen. Similarly, experimenters falsely substituted the term “yield sign” in questions directed to participants who had actually seen the stop sign slide. The results indicated that subjects remembered seeing the false image. In the initial part of the experiment, subjects also viewed a slide showing a car accident. Some subjects were later asked how fast the cars were traveling when they “hit” each other, others were asked how fast the cars were traveling when they “smashed” into each other. Those subjects questioned using the word “smashed” were more likely to report having seen broken glass in the original slide. The introduction of false cues altered participants? memories.”
http://atheism.about.com/od/parapsychology/a/eyewitness.htm
“Prosecutors recognize that eyewitness testimony, even when given in all honesty and sincerity, isn?t necessarily credible. Merely because a person claims to have seen something does not mean that what they remember seeing really happened ? one reason why is that not all eyewitnesses are the same. To simply be a competent witness (competent, which is not the same as credible), a person must have adequate powers of perception, must be able to remember and report well, and must be able and willing to tell the truth.
Thus, such testimony can be critiqued on several grounds: having impaired perception, having impaired memory, having inconsistent testimony, having bias or prejudice, and not having a reputation for telling the truth. If any of those characteristics can be demonstrated, then the competency of the witness is questionable. However, even if none of them apply, that does not automatically mean that the testimony is credible. The fact of the matter is, eyewitness testimony from competent and sincere people has put innocent people in jail.”
So much for the legitimacy of eyewitness testimony as absolutely proving the existence of Jesus.



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Karl

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm


There were lots of liberal Christians like this interviewer in our Episcopal diocese. Including many who wore clerical robes and some who were delegates to the ECUSA national convention. It was strange to go from being the trouble-making liberal in one (uber-reformed evangelical) church – for thinking women should be able to exercise teaching and leadership gifts and that it is an important part of the church’s mission to serve the poor – to being considered (and called) a Fundamentalist at our next church – for thinking that it’s kind of important that Christians believe in the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ. We realized that for all of evangelicalism’s problems, the grass wasn’t necessarily greener in the mainline pasture.
Yes, at least Hitchens gets it, indeed.



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Travis Greene

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm


hlvanburen, “So much for the legitimacy of eyewitness testimony as absolutely proving the existence of Jesus.”
Nobody said “absolutely prove”. Yes, eyewitness testimony is prone to mistakes. All knowledge is. But we don’t therefore throw it out entirely, particularly when multiple witnesses agree.



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Kristen

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:34 pm


Now waitaminnit.
I have every respect for Elizabeth Loftus. My first quarter in law school I got mugged (eeek! Can I go back to my idyllic liberal arts college campus now? No, guess not. Welcome to Chicago!) — I frustrated the police to no end because I would not identify the alleged assailant as confidently as they wanted me to do. I was a philosophy major and learned about Elizabeth Loftus in epistemology class. I consulted with my sister who was a psych major. She concurred. I stuck to my account that “I think that’s him” but could not be positive. No indictment issued. Seriously pissed off police and prosecutor. I didn’t go outside after dark for the next year.
Even though, just between you and me and the interwebs, it probably was that guy.
However. I firmly believe Elizabeth Loftus is right that I cannot be all that confident it really was him. And there are a whole lot of innocent people in our prisons, convicted by sincere but mistaken eyewitness testimony offered by people who didn’t get to my advanced epistemology seminar (which really is just about everybody).
But remember my sister the psych major whom I consulted before testifying at the preliminary hearing? The one whom I’ve known since I was three years old and my parents brought this little squiggly pile of blankets home from the hospital? I have EVERY confidence I could identify her. That goes into an entirely different category than Mugger Guy. I could tell you all sorts of things about Psych Major Sister, which I’ve picked up through observation but that’s an entirely different sort of observation than those few terrifying minutes. Even Elizabeth Loftus would say so.
The sort of eyewitness testimony we see in the Gospels is more like my observations of my sister, not observations of Mugger Guy. These are people who lived intimately with Jesus for years. That’s a fundamentally different sort of thing than the isolated incidents that Elizabeth Loftus studies, and far less prone to disastrous error.



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Tyler

posted February 1, 2010 at 10:52 pm


What are your overall, brief thoughts on this Scot?



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hlvanburen

posted February 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm


“But we don’t therefore throw it out entirely, particularly when multiple witnesses agree.”
Do you throw out entirely the testimony of the alleged thousands of people who have seen Elvis in person since his death in 1977? Or the hundreds of people who have claimed to have had a close encounter of the third kind, many of whom describe very similar details in the appearance and behavior of the aliens?
My guess is that you, like me, dismiss these folks as mistaken, misleading, or misguided. Yet their testimony in many cases is every bit as compelling as the testimony of the witnesses contained in the New Testament. Or, for that matter, the testimony of the witnesses given in the Book of Mormon, or any other ancient religious text.



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Tommy Jalisco

posted February 1, 2010 at 11:36 pm


Eye witnesses who saw Elvis or claim alien abduction are not willing to die in horrific ways (crucifixion) to ensure that others believe their accounts. People who saw Jesus were indeed willing to be burned to death, tortured, and even dismembered while living. They KNEW where they were going, and it was a far cry better than live here.



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hlvanburen

posted February 1, 2010 at 11:43 pm


“The sort of eyewitness testimony we see in the Gospels is more like my observations of my sister, not observations of Mugger Guy. These are people who lived intimately with Jesus for years. That’s a fundamentally different sort of thing than the isolated incidents that Elizabeth Loftus studies, and far less prone to disastrous error.”
One small correction. We have no evidence that the authors of these texts actually did live with Jesus for all those years. They make that claim in some cases (but not all), and many Christians accept the validity of those claims on faith and because the details seem to line up with other accounts in the Bible. But in all honesty we have no evidence that the authors of the Gospels are who was claimed in them.
And, as we know from our recent history, the farther you get from the time of an event, the less reliable our memory of that event becomes. Even accounts by those most intimate to a situation can take on a “truthiness” in later years.



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hlvanburen

posted February 1, 2010 at 11:53 pm


“Eye witnesses who saw Elvis or claim alien abduction are not willing to die in horrific ways (crucifixion) to ensure that others believe their accounts. People who saw Jesus were indeed willing to be burned to death, tortured, and even dismembered while living. They KNEW where they were going, and it was a far cry better than live here.”
We have Muslims dying daily in the sincere belief that they are headed to heaven to be tended by a few dozen virgins because they blew up some infidels. Does that sincere belief make the case that their belief is in fact the truth?
Or do the corpses of the follower of Jim Jones testify to the accuracy of their belief that they were following their leader into some sort of promised land. How about the Branch Davidians, or the Heaven’s Gate cult? Does the fact that they died for their beliefs mean that they were accurate?
Throughout history many people have died for causes they were convinced were true.
People can be convinced that what they are doing is for a greater cause than themselves, and that their death will lead to something better, a reward in the afterlife for them and/or salvation for others. They are often led by charismatic people who know that the stories being offered are false, but yet tell the story and lead the people into death. Jim Jones fits this category quite well.



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at_brown

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:04 am


Personally, I think the argument that a person’s testimony is validated by their willingness to die is not as convincing an argument that was eluded to earlier: the depth and breadth of the testimony given. In the case of Jesus we are not merely talking about a testimony consisting of “I saw him” or “he waved at me”…it goes far beyond that. We have the testimony of multiple persons concerning an extended period of time, set in a specific historical and cultural context.
I suppose an argument could be made that Abraham Lincoln did not exist, but then one must deal with everything that comes as a result of that: What about the emancipation proclamation and the gettysburg address? What about John Wilkes Booth? etc.
So it is with Jesus. If we are unwilling to accept the testimonies given, we must be willing to deal with everything that comes with it. We must also evaluate our standards of acceptance regarding historical record, and be willing to place anything below that standard under the same amount of scrutiny without bias.



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Phil M

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:05 am


Christopher Hitchens “gets it” only in so far as it suits him. His entirely accurate definition of a Christian in the quoted instance is not a problem for him since it is compatible with his generally poor understanding of Christianity. I would use the word “disingenuous” rather than “poor” in the previous sentence, but I get the impression that he really does force himself to only accept a medieval/fundamental representation of Christianity as representative for all of Christendom.
Perhaps “obtuse” would be a better word.



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at_brown

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:10 am


I did a poor job editing my earlier post. This might make sense of the first sentence
Personally, I think the argument that a person’s testimony is validated by their willingness to die is not a very convincing argument.
A more convincing argument was eluded to earlier: the depth and breadth of the testimony given.
Sorry if it was confusing.



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Tommy Jalisco

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:22 am


I wasn’t discussing “truth.” I was commenting upon which beliefs people are willing to die for. The Mohammedans commit suicide and murder – that is NOT love.
It is harder to be murdered for what you believe in, but happens willfully in Christianity. That is true love.
Nice try…



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tripp fuller

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:53 am


Amazing!



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Ken J

posted February 2, 2010 at 12:56 am


My best evidence for Jesus’ reality is in my relationship with Him.
He entered in to my space, revealed Himself as He rescued me from death.
He spoke to me in comfort and confronted my beliefs lovingly; mainly through His goodness revealed to me daily in the moments as we walk together.
I find excitement in reading the scriptures as they reveal the like experiences of others as He walked with them. No matter what my circumstances were, He never turned away from me. His word, the guarantee; His presence, the seal and constant reminder.
Happiness comes and goes; as does abundance and want. But His joy overshadows it all.
My life was lost but valuable beyond my comprehension because of what He did for us all on the cross (including me; what a surprise!). The experiences of our walk together has become the word of my testimony.
With this assurance, i know i can do all things He calls me to; even to overcome this world; to love not my own life to the point of death.



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Your Name

posted February 2, 2010 at 7:25 am


GOD is pure love. I do not believe GOD discriminates against those who practice the Golden Rule. I do not believe GOD would condone his name being used for monetary gain, power or control over the most vulnerable in our society or to cause pain or suffering yet these are some of the acts that have been done in the name of various religions. Anyone that perpetrates, aids or abets in such in my opinion is a hypocrite and not truly of GOD.



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Rick in Texas

posted February 2, 2010 at 9:38 am


What you have here, Scot, is a troll who shares the last name of the 8th US President.



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Helen

posted February 2, 2010 at 9:58 am


Rick, why do you say that? That commenter is presenting what he (or she) believes to be true about eyewitnesses and the authors of the gospels. Why does that make him/her a troll?
I’ve noticed that when Christians post about atheists on their blogs, atheists often show up and comment.



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Ray Ingles

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:05 am


Tommy Jalisco – I’m aware that there are a lot of traditions that say the Apostles died terrible martyr’s deaths for their preaching… but I’m not aware of much in the way of independent evidence for that. Indeed, some apostles have multiple different traditions about how and where they died.
It’s a bit like the account of five hundred people seeing Jesus resurrected. Interesting, but not quite the same as five hundred accounts of that…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite willing to believe there was a wandering preacher named Yeshua in Judea back then, who stirred up trouble and got executed. But beyond that, things get fuzzy.
By comparison, almost everything we know about Socrates comes through Plato, and it’s generally accepted that as time went on Plato stuck more and more of his own words in his teacher’s mouth. (It doesn’t strike me as terribly unlikely that a similar progression exists in the Gospels – the oldest existing manuscripts of Mark, for example, don’t include 16:9?20.)



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Ray Ingles

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:09 am


RJS – you write, He gets it – but he doesn’t get it. He defines religion in a rigid fashion, claims that the natural is so much more powerful than the “nonexistent” supernatural… and then resorts to the transcendent.
What if he just doesn’t think it’s supernatural? That it might be rather different from what’s called ‘material’ causes but is nevertheless comprehensible?
Me, I don’t even see the need to go that far, but just because one thinks something isn’t explained yet doesn’t mean that it must be forever unexplainable.



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dopderbeck

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:29 am


hlvanburen — Please. Nobody seriously doubts that Socrates and Jesus were actual people — or for that matter, that there existed thousands of other important historical figures for which we have only indirect evidence. This is the sort of argument no educated person should take seriously.
Whether all these people actually did and said all the things attributed to them in the writings that describe their lives is a different question.
Ray Ingles (#21) — most Christians, outside of a few literalists (and I would say at this point they are very few, though perhaps a vocal few), agree that the Gospel narratives are not word-for-word transcripts, that the narratives are shaped by the interpretive communities and writers that produced them, and that there are textual variants and accretions over time. This presents various fascinating issues and problems, but is not problematic anywhere near to the degree that radical skeptics suggest.
Nevertheless, I’m glad that you at least agree that there is no sound reason to deny that Jesus or Socrates even existed.



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Your Name

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:31 am


Why is anybody replying to hlvanburen? We have no evidence that he/she exists. There is just some text on a website. And of course texts don’t record anything but the extremely biased views of unidentifiable and alleged witnesses. Better to be completely skeptical. If one can’t identify a mugger, or remember the colour of his sweatshirt accurately, the mugging likely never happened. Besides, nothing can be true unless I’ve personally experienced it, and even then I don’t trust myself. I could be hallucinating, or hooked up to the “Matrix”. In fact, I should even be skeptical about the doctrine of skepticism. And of course, I assume that hlvanburen lives his/her life consistently, always skeptical. People on the moon? Hardly, just doctored photos. Starving people in the third world? I’ve never seen any. Napoleon? Never existed. Socrates? Legend. Plato? also legend. Cleopatra? Ditto.
Regards,
#John



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hlvanburen

posted February 2, 2010 at 11:10 am


“Whether all these people actually did and said all the things attributed to them in the writings that describe their lives is a different question.”
Exactly, and that is the thrust of much of Christian apologetics with regards to the accuracy of Scripture. It is a huge step to move from the position “history shows that a person named Yeshua existed in that time frame” to “therefore he did exactly what the authors of the NT narrative claimed.” And as the Council of Nicea demonstrated only certain accounts are to be considered acceptable. Accounts that were considered to have been written earlier (such as the Gospel of Thomas) were rejected primarily because they did not conform to the agreed to parameters for entry into the Canon of Scripture, in spite of the later narratives clearly having pulled significant portions from these rejected texts.
Ultimately the Christian position on the accuracy of the Gospel account must come down to an element of faith. Faith that the authors were accurately recording the accounts of those mentioned in the narrative. Faith that those who copied these accounts over the years did so accurately, as we do not possess the original manuscripts penned by said original authors. And ultimately faith that any discrepancies in the overlapping areas of the narrative are not sufficient to devalue the entirety of said narrative.
To go even further, the believing Christian exercises faith that the numerous accounts in other holy writs that were compiled in ways quite similar to how the NT was assembled are deficient, based on witness accounts that are faulty, or that contain contradictory accounts within their pages that are sufficient to disqualify the whole from consideration.
I would suggest that to the atheist/agnostic/skeptic the NT account fails the credibility test in exactly the same way that the Christian feels that the Quran, Dhammapada, or Book of Mormon fail a similar test.
Finally, as for trolling, if you do not wish to have atheists or other skeptics offering commentary to correct your misconceptions about them, perhaps you should prevail upon Beliefnet to not brandish this blog so publicly. I only came here because I saw the topic mentioned on the blog home page of Beliefnet and was curious. A gated community would keep nasty skeptics like me from correcting your erroneous impressions of us, or from actually educating you as to what some, and perhaps many of us actually believe.



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hlvanburen

posted February 2, 2010 at 11:14 am


“By comparison, almost everything we know about Socrates comes through Plato, and it’s generally accepted that as time went on Plato stuck more and more of his own words in his teacher’s mouth.”
Of course there is one other difference. Plato does not present Socrates’ words as the exclusive path to salvation. They are merely presented, sometimes forcefully, as a reason for how human beings act and think as they do. Such is the nature of philosophy.
However, I am quite confident that if a cult began insisting that Socrates was the only true son of God, and that those who failed to follow his teachings were bound for hell, there would be a number of good skeptics questioning the authenticity of the statements attributed to him.
Of course, it’s not Socratism that seems to have taken over one of the two major political parties in our nation, now is it?



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dopderbeck

posted February 2, 2010 at 11:47 am


hlvan (#25, 26) — the argument from Hitchens that I initially responded to in comment #2 was that we can’t even know that Jesus existed because our knowledge of him comes only from “witnesses.” I think we’ve now established and all have agreed that this is a silly argument.
You’re now making an entirely different set of arguments about the general reliability of the Gospels, the relationship of “faith” to belief and knowledge, whether Platonism is an exclusivistic or “religious” system (actually, I think it is on both counts), whether religious / Christian ideas have “taken over” both the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S., and so on. I’m sorry that I don’t have time to address all these fissiparous strands of thought, but I think it’s fair to say that they reflect a revisionist account of the history of Western thought that is so radical as to be unintelligible.



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Pat

posted February 2, 2010 at 1:28 pm


WOW! He may not believe in Christianity, but he seems to know what’s authentic and what’s not.



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Alan K

posted February 2, 2010 at 1:28 pm


Interesting to see what direction this thread has gone. With regards to eyewitness accounts and the reliability or unreliability of oral tradition, I encourage everyone to take a look at Kenneth Bailey’s insightful article on how storytelling takes place in Middle Eastern communities. Enjoy.
http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_tradition_bailey.html



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hlvanburen

posted February 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm


Re: doperbeck in #27
Revisionist and radical, am I? To suggest that those accounts in the NT gospels may have been exaggerated, adjusted to fit the writer’s own bias, or a product of a socio-political movement rather than an accurate account of the actions of a person named Yeshua/Jesus is somehow revisionist or radical? An interesting take you have on that, doperbeck.
Do you also believe that those who question the accounts given in the Quran are equally radical and revisionist? If not, on what logical basis do you make such a distinction?
Does history concur that an individual named Jesus/Yeshua existed at roughly the time delineated in the gospel accounts? Yes, there is evidence to support that. Does that existence mean that the remainder of the account (his deity, his miracles, his resurrection, and his eventual return) must then follow as equally accurate and probable? No, it doesn’t.
As a modern example, take a look at the plethora of books that have been released by former “intimates” within the last few Presidential administrations. We have accounts that seem to condemn the actions of a given President, and other accounts that celebrate the same actions. Which ones do you believe? Most likely you believe the one that agrees with your preconceived notions about the subject of the revelation.
Those who opposed Bill Clinton will believe the accounts that are unflattering, and refuse to accept any evidence to the contrary. Likewise those who supported him will dispute any negative take on his actions, no matter how well documented. The same is happening with George W. Bush, and will happen with Barack Obama. The accuracy of any insider’s account will hinge not on the provability of the statements but, rather, on the predisposition of the reader.
I see the gospel accounts, and the remainder of the NT, in similar light. Until demonstrated otherwise, they are best viewed in my opinion with a healthy dose of skepticism. And I believe that view is supported unintentionally by both the text itself and the manner in which it came to us as Holy Writ.
If that is radical, then so be it.



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dopderbeck

posted February 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm


HL (#30) said: Those who opposed Bill Clinton will believe the accounts that are unflattering, and refuse to accept any evidence to the contrary. Likewise those who supported him will dispute any negative take on his actions, no matter how well documented.
I respond: Really? So nobody who either “opposed” or “supported” Bill Clinton is qualified to evaluate his Presidency at all? Not to mention that “oppose” and “support” are the only two rather ill-defined categories available?
I suppose this means that you aren’t qualified to evaluate Christopher Hitchens’ arguments, since you obviously “support” him. Nor can you evaluate whether it’s ok to torture babies, since (I assume) you “oppose” torturing babies.
Again, you’re taking a basically true principle — everyone has biases — and you’re extending it ad absurdum — everyone has biases, therefore nothing anyone says corresponds at all to reality. This is, of course, a self-defeating claim, because the person making it also has biases. In any event, I don’t understand Hitchens et al. to be radical postmodernists, which renders these over-the-top arguments about testimonial bias all the more baffling.



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hlvanburen

posted February 2, 2010 at 2:30 pm


Alan K, thanks for the link. I look forward to diving into it this evening.



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hlvanburen

posted February 2, 2010 at 2:59 pm


re: doperdeck #31
“Again, you’re taking a basically true principle — everyone has biases — and you’re extending it ad absurdum — everyone has biases, therefore nothing anyone says corresponds at all to reality.”
I believe Ronald Reagan put it best when he offered a response to the Soviet’s proffered nuclear disarmament proposal.
Trust, but verify.
The claims made by Christianity essentially are that belief in the account of Jesus’ life as given in the NT is essential to salvation. That is an extraordinary claim, and one that should be tested, for the stakes are rather high. After all there are several other religions making similar claims regarding their precepts.
When pressed about the accuracy of the gospel accounts the issue of “eyewitnesses” comes up. How do we know these are eyewitnesses to the events in the accounts? Because the authors say they are. And how do we know the accounts of these authors are accurate? Because they cite eyewitnesses.
Circular logic at best, deception at worst. Yet a whole industry within Christendom has blossomed at trying to “prove” these claims using logic, reason, and evidence.
At its core Christianity requires faith. How do we know this? Using your logic we know this because the Bible states it.
Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
So, my question to you is simple. If it is faith that is essential in accepting the account of the life of Jesus, and thereby accepting the salvation offered by him, why is it that so many Christians struggle with “proving” the accuracy of the text to those who have chosen not to believe?
And a follow up…why is it that so many Christians seem reluctant to accept that their salvation is based on faith and not logic?



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James-Michael Smith

posted February 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm

dopderbeck

posted February 2, 2010 at 4:08 pm


hl (#33) said: How do we know these are eyewitnesses to the events in the accounts? Because the authors say they are. And how do we know the accounts of these authors are accurate? Because they cite eyewitnesses.
I respond: What New Testament scholar makes this sort of argument? It’s a straw man. Read Bauckham and NT Wright, among others, on the Gospel traditions. Nobody who knows what they’re talking about makes simplistic claims like this. Which isn’t to say the Gospels are necessarily “accurate” — but it is to say that informed scholars who argue for their basic accuracy make much more sophisticated arguments than this.
hl said: At its core Christianity requires faith. How do we know this? Using your logic we know this because the Bible states it.
Huh? Where did I say that? Christianity requires faith at its core because (a) all human knowledge claims require faith at their core (logical positivism died an ugly death decades ago); and (b) Christianity makes some claims that exceed the limitations of ordinary empirical verification — something no informed Christian denies. I don’t know this because the Bible tells me so, I know it because it’s obviously true, and the Bible’s epistemology is entirely consistent with that understanding.
hl said: If it is faith that is essential in accepting the account of the life of Jesus, and thereby accepting the salvation offered by him, why is it that so many Christians struggle with “proving” the accuracy of the text to those who have chosen not to believe?
I don’t think I’ve made any effort here to “prove[] the accuracy” of the Biblical text. I’ve merely been responding to grossly overstated arguments that the Gospels must have no “historical” value whatsoever. The general reliability of the Gospels, of course, is of great interest to all Christians, because there is a great deal of important religious and ethical teaching in the Gospels, and also because the Gospels witness to the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
But if you think Christianity would evaporate without the Gospels, you are mistaken: the textual development of the various New Testament documents shows that a growing Christian community existed before the Gospels were written. Of course, it’s true that, for some whose theology of scripture requires it (a relative minority, BTW), perfect “accuracy” in all details of the Gospels is also essential. I suspect that many of the popular-level arguments you might have encountered are more about proving the “inerrancy” of the Gospels than about their general reliability.
hl said: And a follow up…why is it that so many Christians seem reluctant to accept that their salvation is based on faith and not logic?
One reason, perhaps, is that this statement misrepresents the nature of Christian faith and draws a false dichotomy between “faith” and “logic.” Faith is not opposed to reason or logic. Contrary to Dawkins, et al., faith is not blindly believing that which cannot be true according to reason. Faith is a commitment that always entails reasons. I cannot, for example, know for certain that my wife loves me, but I have strong faith in her love, based in significant part on the evidence of her actions towards me.
Now, it’s true that some Christians seem to prioritize the certainty of “logic” over the certainty of faith. Again, it may be that some of the popular-level apologetic material you’ve encountered takes this approach. I don’t believe that is consistent with the mainstream of the Christian tradition, which always has recognized the limitations of human knowledge claims, and therefore prioritizes faith (in the classical statement of how faith and reason relate, “faith seeks understanding”). Nevertheless, the assumption that faith and reason are opposites is simply false — another straw man.
Let me ask you this: why is it that so many “skeptics” deny that, at some point, they must rely on foundational beliefs that cannot be positively verified? Are you just unaware that even the most resolute foundationalist epistemologists admit that some basic beliefs — say, in the basic adequacy of human perceptual equipment — must be taken without “proof?” Why is it so important to your belief system to deny the obvious fact that all claims to knowledge involve some degree of “faith?”



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Helen

posted February 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm


hlvanburen (25): A gated community would keep nasty skeptics like me from correcting your erroneous impressions of us, or from actually educating you as to what some, and perhaps many of us actually believe.
I think they do it because they’d feel responsible if what you posted caused serious damage to anyone’s faith. They want to do all they can to prevent that happening on their watch.
Christian communities that aren’t gated – I suppose they must be trusting God to protect peoples’ faith. And maybe they’re hoping you’ll see the light if you show up and interact. Maybe the love shown you by the Christians here will win you over :-)



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Helen

posted February 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm


I’d be very interested to see how Hitchens justifies his statement about what a true Christian is. I suspect he can’t justify it since the only justification of it I can think of relies on faith.



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Ann

posted February 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm


@hlvanburen #30 — It seems you are unaware that the theories of textual transmission behind the Qu’ran and the Bible differ in significant ways. The Qu’ran is considered to be the verbatim dictation of Allah in Arabic via the angel to Muhammed (thus, all translations from the Arabic are not infallible).
Neither the Jews nor the early Jewish Christians understood the writings included in the OT or, later, NT as verbatim transmission. Most Christians, today, don’t read or apply Scripture according to verbatim transmission theory. (cf. Scot’s book, The Blue Parakeet)
I don’t consider this statement in #33 an accurate one, either: “The claims made by Christianity essentially are that belief in the account of Jesus’ life as given in the NT is essential to salvation.”
What is belief? From the Hebraic/Christian perspective, belief is embodied action. I believe that as I walk and live “in Christ” I am saved by God, but I suspect you have no idea what “in Christ” means, nor any idea what I understand that I’m being saved from, and you’ve reduced Christianity to a propositional absurdity that would be unhelpful to argue. Hitchens demonstrates an equal unwillingness to understand, given his oppositional rhetoric which is antithetical to listening.



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hlvanburen

posted February 2, 2010 at 7:55 pm


Re: Ann #38
“It seems you are unaware that the theories of textual transmission behind the Qu’ran and the Bible differ in significant ways. The Qu’ran is considered to be the verbatim dictation of Allah in Arabic via the angel to Muhammed (thus, all translations from the Arabic are not infallible).”
My exposure to Christianity comes primarily from the evangelical side of the faith, where the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy carries significant weight.
http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html
Most relevant to our discussion here are the following affirmations from that document:
“WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”
“WE AFFIRM that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.”
“WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.”
And the following disavowal:
“WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”
I am also somewhat familiar with the dubious claims from Dr. Peter Ruckman, Brandon Staggs, and other KJV-onlyists regarding the deficiencies they see in all English translations that have come from the Westcott-Hort Critical Text.
In recent years I have begun studying the work of the Jesus Seminar, which seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to issues of historicity and accuracy of the text base.
“What is belief? From the Hebraic/Christian perspective, belief is embodied action. I believe that as I walk and live “in Christ” I am saved by God, but I suspect you have no idea what “in Christ” means, nor any idea what I understand that I’m being saved from, and you’ve reduced Christianity to a propositional absurdity that would be unhelpful to argue.”
Setting aside the 20+ years I pursued the Christian faith, or the 7+ years I was a minister in that faith, I suspect you are correct in that I have no idea what such weighty matters such as “sola fide” and “sola Scriputra” might have to do with an understanding of the Bible or applying its teachings to one’s life. But even acknowledging my own deficiencies and lack of experience in the matter of understanding what constitutes a Christian walk, I would suggest that the apparent disagreement within the body of Christ that results in (according to Wikipedia) over 38,000 denominations that have split over various and sundry minutia pleads against your your understanding of what “in Christ” means would be the exemplar by which to judge all other self-proclaimed followers of Jesus.
“Most Christians, today, don’t read or apply Scripture according to verbatim transmission theory.”
No, most Christians today seem quite content to read and apply Scripture in accordance with their own political and social prejudices. Thus you have both the anti-GLBT rights Pat Robertson and the pro-GLBT rights Gene Robinson turning to the same body of Scripture for support of their various positions.
Of course these Christians are simply following the examples set for them by their church fathers, who seemingly went schismatic at the drop of a hat (sometimes throwing down the hat themselves to provoke it).



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Helen

posted February 3, 2010 at 7:43 am


Ann(38): I believe that as I walk and live “in Christ” I am saved by God, but I suspect you have no idea what “in Christ” means, nor any idea what I understand that I’m being saved from, and you’ve reduced Christianity to a propositional absurdity that would be unhelpful to argue. Hitchens demonstrates an equal unwillingness to understand, given his oppositional rhetoric which is antithetical to listening.
hlvanburen(39): […] the 20+ years I pursued the Christian faith, or the 7+ years I was a minister in that faith,
Ann it looks like you suspected wrong regarding hlvanburen. Unless you are going to discount all his (her?) experience because you think he (she?) somehow must have “missed the point” (which many Christians do rather than accept that people really do leave their faith).
However I think you may well be right that Hitchens has no evangelical Christian experience which is why it seems odd to me to see Christians making a point of Hitchens using their definition of “Christian”. It seems to me that he only ascribes to it so he has a very definite target to aim at, when I read the quote in context. How can he complain about ‘Christians’ if he allows the group defined as Christian to include many who share his own frustration with the behavior of (some) evangelical Christians? It really muddies the water.
(Evidently, accepting that self-professing Christians constitutes a much wider and varied group than just fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals, then specifying his complaints are only about some of the group, doesn’t seem to be an option he’s willing/able to consider. Even though, as I said, I wonder how he can justify asserting only some of them are Christians when he can’t appeal to faith-based arguments to substantiate his position)



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hlvanburen

posted February 3, 2010 at 11:30 am


“How can he complain about ‘Christians’ if he allows the group defined as Christian to include many who share his own frustration with the behavior of (some) evangelical Christians?”
I guess he can do it in the same way that some Christians define the broad group of non-theists by pointing to Hitchens, Harris or Dennett, in spite of the fact that there are indeed a good number of non-theists who take issue with their tactics.



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Helen

posted February 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm


Agreed – I’m equally unimpressed when they do that.



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