Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


How seminary ruins one’s faith

posted by Rod Dreher

This comment from a parish priest showed up in the (excellent) “Pastors who don’t believe in God” thread. I think Father makes such an important point that it deserves to be highlighted. I especially like his analogy to entering into a marriage in which one is conditioned to be constantly critical of one’s spouse and suspicious of her proclamations of love. Here’s what Father wrote:

I’m coming late to this discussion, so forgive me if I repeat anything that’s already been said. But this survey, and the responses of the people in, they don’t surprise me at all. And that saddens me, deeply. It is sad but true how many pastors and priests lose their faith in God but then just keep on trucking. In some cases it’s because they value a kind of politics over any other consideration. But for most, it’s just a sense of ennui about what one is supposed to do. Rod, you hit the nail on the head by highlighting that bit about the seminaries. Textual criticism will be the death of us. And I say this as someone who believes that historical criticism and form criticism and all the rest have great value and shouldn’t be abandoned. But the problem is that these are ALL THAT IS TAUGHT in biblical classes in many seminaries today. And when the only approach that one ever learns towards the Bible is criticism, then all you know how to do is be a critic. Is it any wonder you lose your faith in what the Bible teaches? Imagine going into a marriage with the only approach you know that of constantly criticizing your wife and questioning her motives and her honesty. It would be a short walk to divorce. But what this sort of thing really does is re-emphasize for me that the primary calling for so many of us who are called to pastoral leadership in this generation is one of catechesis. This is a time when the faith needs be taught anew (as opposed to teaching a new faith). It’s going to take brave men and women to answer that call, but we have to pray that it will come to pass, because people are thirsty for truth and have no idea why. These sort of pastors are raised up out of congregations where they were never taught the truth, never taught that one can be thoughtful and intelligent and still hold to the faith once delivered to the saints. We have to reclaim that.

Well said. There is a middle ground between a fundamentalist belief that everything in Scripture must be literally true, and believing that none of it is true. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is at best a noble lie, and not worth giving one’s life for. Seminaries that in one way or another teach pastors that it’s all probably a noble lie are engaged in a form of assisted suicide.



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John T

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:09 am


It is interesting that for years the clergy tried to keep the Bible away from people. For centuries it was a crime to even own a Bible.
In the book Fifteenth Century Bibles, Wendell Prime wrote: “Thirty years after the invention of printing, the Inquisition was in completely successful operation in Spain. Of 342,000 persons punished by it in that country 32,000 were burned alive. It was the Bible which brought them to the flames of martyrdom. Equally terrible was this engine of destruction in Italy, both at the north and south. Archbishops, aided by the Inquisition, were consuming fires for both Bibles and their readers. Nero made some Christians shine as lights in the world by setting them on fire, sewed up in sacks, covered with pitch, using them as candles to illuminate the scene of his debaucheries. But the streets of European cities blazed with Bible bonfires.”
Now in modern times the Bible is available but as many have commented here, in many seminaries a so called higher criticism is taught that has eroded confidence in the Bible as God’s word.
George Washington, the first president of the United States, hailed the Bible in these words: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible . . . He is worse than an infidel who does not read his Bible and acknowledge his obligation to God.”
President John Adams called the Bible “the best Book in the world.”
President Thomas Jefferson had this to say: “I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands . . . The Bible makes the best people in the world.”
Abraham Lincoln called the Bible “the best gift God has ever given to man . . . But for it we could not know right from wrong.” He further stated “I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this Book upon reason that you can, and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man.”
The Bible itself says at 2 Timothy 3:16
“All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:12 am


If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is at best a noble lie, and not worth giving one’s life for.
Well, that does not necessarily follow. If one really felt that a noble lie was crucial to social order, or if one had a great deal of emotional attachment invested in a noble lie, one might think it worth giving up one’s life for on that basis – “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done,” and all that.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:17 am


Now in modern times the Bible is available but as many have commented here, in many seminaries a so called higher criticism is taught that has eroded confidence in the Bible as God’s word.

President Thomas Jefferson had this to say: “I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands . . . The Bible makes the best people in the world.”
John T, surely you are aware of Jefferson’s editing of the Bible using his own version of higher criticism?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_bible
The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was Thomas Jefferson’s effort to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists



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hlvanburen

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:33 am


If preservation of the Christian faith and theological tenets stands on ignoring the truth of how the Scripture that underpins these tenets was created (both in its original form and in the subsequent canons), then what does that say about the ultimate “truth” of this faith?



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Richard

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:34 am


“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
I don’t think Jesus has started making styrofoam millstones. These seminaries are not engaged in assisted suicide, they’re engaged in murder.



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Jim

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:51 am


I recently read N. T. Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God”; a very dense work and a difficult read. The first 125 plus pages are an overview of various approaches to the New Testament, covering all the movements; form criticism, historical criticism, etc. My overall impression after slogging my way through this was how fashion-driven modern scholarship is. It seems every new crop of scholars has to come up with the newest, latest, and greatest approach. I was also struck by the amazingly meager results of all these approaches. An older approach (say ten years ago) is put aside and a new one moves to the foreground primarily because the older approach really didn’t illuminate, turned out to be a dead end.
To be honest, most, though not all, of these critical movements are based on highly questionable assumptions and built on fantastic speculative apparatus. I think most of it is a huge distraction; it doesn’t really matter, for example, what the specific order of the Synoptics is. To offer an analogy, suppose people argued endlessly about the order of Haydn’s symphonies (there is scholarly debate on this) instead of listening to the music. Wouldn’t people find that puzzling? Similarly, all this time devoted (I would say wasted) on things like the Synoptic ‘Problem’ or the literally non-existent Q is just a huge distraction which does not assist anyone in understanding what the Gospels teach. It’s a sad situation.
Jim



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:00 am


Well, that does not necessarily follow.
It may not necessarily follow in strict logic, but it is what the Bible itself teaches:
… if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. (1 Co 15.14-18)
The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is the linchpin of the Gospel, and if it be false then indeed the Christian faith is no more than “a noble lie.”
I am reminded of a (possibly apocryphal) story of a liberal professor in a Roman Catholic seminary who taught his students that the resurrection was only a metaphor, and that it would make no difference whatsoever to the teaching of the Catholic faith if the bones of Jesus Christ were to be found. As the students — future RC priests — were leaving the classroom at the end of the lecture, one of them was heard to say “if they find the bones of Jesus, I’m going to go out and get laid.” It was the seminarian, not the professor, who had the significance of the resurrection right.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:14 am


Chris, I think you are misinterpreting my meaning.
Rod asserted that a noble lie is not worth giving ones life for.
I suggested that and individual might have reasons for thinking otherwise that did not depend on whether or not the belief was true or not.
About that passage from Corinthians – there is no way to know whether or not Jesus returned from the dead. At best, one can believe it to be true without proof. Paul is making an emotional appeal.



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B

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:19 am


I got my BA in Religion (and Soc, but religion was one of my majors,) and we studied all sorts of textual criticism.
Whenever discussing faith with my fundamentalist friends, they’re absolutely aghast at the things I say and wonder how I can have faith if I believe all these other things. One of them sat there and looked at me, fork twirling her spaghettis and said, “B, you’re one of the most interesting Christians I know.”
To me, it just is. I consider Christianity to be a grand mystery, so that even if the Bible isn’t squeaky-clean perfect, hand-written by God and dropped on Moses’ head, it’s still relevant and wonderful and transmits the very deep and basic truths of our faith. Of course, this means I’m aghast at Christians who never pick up a Bible, aren’t interested in studying it, or who say it’s a “terrible book”.
Some people study the Bible in this way, and they break – their faith dies. Some people aren’t nearly so bothered.
I did a feminist critical study of Proverbs 1-9 and 31 for one of my classes. You know what? It’s still one of my favorite sections of the Bible. :)
But then, my professors are an Episcopalian laywoman, a Methodist Minister, a Jewish archeologist who nearly has the credentials to be a Rabbi, and a guy who went to seminary for a little while, but decided his real calling was academia.



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:41 am


There is no way to know whether or not Jesus returned from the dead. At best, one can believe it to be true without proof.
Not quite. One can believe it because one trusts the testimony of those who reported it. We do that with historical sources all the time. We do not have “proof” in the sense that you are talking about that Caesar crossed the Rubicon or that Marco Polo actually went to China. We have written records of such events from people whose knowledge and reporting of the events is deemed (for good reason) to be reliable. We who confess the Christian faith trust that the Apostles’ knowledge and reporting is reliable. To look for a higher standard of “proof” than that is not reasonable.
Paul is making an emotional appeal.
No, he is not; you are missing the point of the passage. St Paul is not using emotion to “prove” the resurrection; the resurrection is the major premise of his logic, a truth to which his readers have already committed themselves on other grounds (viz., that they have trusted the testimony of St Paul who originally preached it to them — see above). He is using charged language, not to stir up emotions in his readers to bolster their faith in Jesus’ resurrection (St Paul surely knew that any faith grounded in emotion is weak indeed), but to emphasize the centrality and importance of the resurrection in the Christian Gospel, in order to bolster their faith in the general resurrection. In other words, he is teaching not Jesus’ resurrection (in which his readers already believe), but our own.
The New Testament documents were written in and for an existing community of faith (a “going concern”) which already believed the Gospel on the basis of the Apostles’ preaching. If you read them as if they were written as apologetics to “prove” something to post-Enlightenment skeptics like us, you will surely read them wrong.



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hlvanburen

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:55 am


“I am reminded of a (possibly apocryphal) story of a liberal professor in a Roman Catholic seminary who taught his students that the resurrection was only a metaphor, and that it would make no difference whatsoever to the teaching of the Catholic faith if the bones of Jesus Christ were to be found. As the students — future RC priests — were leaving the classroom at the end of the lecture, one of them was heard to say “if they find the bones of Jesus, I’m going to go out and get laid.” It was the seminarian, not the professor, who had the significance of the resurrection right.”
Strange that the seminarian is the one credited with “getting it right.” In essence what this phantom seminarian has done is admit that his faith is merely an insurance policy against hell. Take away the benefit and there is nothing else to the faith that is meaningful or meritorious to him.
How shallow can one be? Is this not the perfect example of the “what’s in it for me” approach to religion that is so often condemned by theologians, not just Christian but Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.?
A while back on the Nietzsche thread the many people talked about how one can have any transcendent belief (a belief in something bigger than them) without theism. Yet here in this example we see a seminarian being credited for his very Nietzsche-like belief.
Clearly the only reason that this seminarian is in the faith is to get the benefit of salvation. Is this really the kind of person you want leading your congregations?



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hlvanburen

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:59 am


“Not quite. One can believe it because one trusts the testimony of those who reported it. We do that with historical sources all the time. We do not have “proof” in the sense that you are talking about that Caesar crossed the Rubicon or that Marco Polo actually went to China. We have written records of such events from people whose knowledge and reporting of the events is deemed (for good reason) to be reliable. We who confess the Christian faith trust that the Apostles’ knowledge and reporting is reliable. To look for a higher standard of “proof” than that is not reasonable.”
And yet for many Christians the higher standard is exactly what they apply to the faith claims of other religions. Whether it is Latter Day Saints, Muslims, Buddhists, or Pastafarians, many Christians dismiss the written records of people who testified to the accuracy of these faiths. One function of Christian apologetics as practiced by evangelicals is to take the written records of other faiths and dissect them in exactly the same way that the Critical method does with the Bible.
If it is unreasonable to search for the higher standards within Christianity, do you agree that it is also unreasonable to make similar searches within other faiths?



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:06 am


what this phantom seminarian has done is admit that his faith is merely an insurance policy against hell.
Not at all. He is recognizing that the resurrection is central to the Gospel. If that is not true, then the Gospel falls and all of the implications of the Gospel no longer follow. That has nothing to do with treating Christianity as “fire insurance.”
They say that if you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny anymore.



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:32 am


Re: It is interesting that for years the clergy tried to keep the Bible away from people. For centuries it was a crime to even own a Bible.
A total myth. Back in the Middle Ages literacy was rare and books were expensive, hence the fact that most people were unable to read Scripture– but not because they were deliberately forbidden to do so. And yes, the Church in the West rejected translation for far too long (though there had been some translations made in earlier centuries, e.g., into Old English and Old Norse), but it’s also true that a lot of unauthorized translations had appallling errors in them
Re: It was the Bible which brought them to the flames of martyrdom.
Nonsense. In most cases in Spain it was the fact of Jewish or Lusmin ancsetry and perhaps sympathies– or else being critical of His Majesty’s government as the Spanish Inquisition also functione as the royal secret police. All of which is indeed outrageous, but your initial statement is false.
As for these Founding Fathers you qoute, you are aware that they were, at best, heterodox and liberal Christians (Adams was a Unitarian)? Indeed, their religious attitudes seem at times rather Strausian: Religion may or may not be true, but it’s good for masses so one ought favor it as a tool of social control.



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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:50 am


The trouble with only or constantly studying modern writers and modern methodoligies is that each generation is convinced of its own ability to always get things right and that people of the past always got things wrong. Christian clergy–especially the great Churches of Tradition Catholic and Orthodox–should spend most of their time studying the teachings, insight, and witness of the Church Fathers and saints and their understanding of The Faith and the Bible. We forget that a lot of modern religious scholarship is based on making a name for yourself (and possibly big cash) through the sensationalism that thrives on tearing down the Christian Faith. How many book jackets of modern provenance scream “Dr. Blah, Blahs new research will shake the foundations of faith.” or “New scholarly discoveries that will rock the Vatican and all Orthodox believers, etc.”???
The way to academic success is frequently to be the loudest iconoclastic scholar on the quad. Consequently, modern scholarship should have a fairly limited role in being used in courses and forced on future members of the clergy.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:59 am


Strange that the seminarian is the one credited with “getting it right.” In essence what this phantom seminarian has done is admit that his faith is merely an insurance policy against hell. Take away the benefit and there is nothing else to the faith that is meaningful or meritorious to him.
How shallow can one be?
Very much to the contrary! The seminarian was a young man who was being asked to give up the possibility of a wife and children, of riches in the world, and sexual pleasure for the sake of the Gospel. If Jesus was not really the Son of God, who rose from the dead for our salvation, what meaning would this young man’s sacrifice have? The young man was being asked to sacrifice his life for the sake of serving Jesus as His priest. If you find the Christian life easy, you aren’t doing it right — and that is vastly more true for the clergy. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, living the authentic Christian life is not worth the sacrifice. I would say someone who looks upon what this seminarian said and sees nothing but “fire insurance” is the one who has a shallow understanding of the Gospel and its implications, not the other way around.
By the way, that story comes from me — the priest who married Julie and me told me that story happened in his seminary class.



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MargaretE

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:01 pm


“In essence what this phantom seminarian has done is admit that his faith is merely an insurance policy against hell. Take away the benefit and there is nothing else to the faith that is meaningful or meritorious to him.”
hlvanburen, you don’t get it. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then he’s just another prophet/teacher. His “message” may still be “meritorious,” but it’s no longer divine truth. If Jesus wasn’t God incarnate, why should we place our faith in him over somebody else with a “meritorious” message? Far from being “shallow,” this phantom seminarian has a deep longing to know and serve the true God; he understands that, if there IS no such thing, then one might as well dedicate oneself to the pursuit of earthly pleasure.



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MargaretE

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:03 pm


I posted before reading Rod’s last post. Yes, what he said…



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Christopher

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:11 pm


“How many book jackets of modern provenance scream “Dr. Blah, Blahs new research will shake the foundations of faith.” or “New scholarly discoveries that will rock the Vatican and all Orthodox believers, etc.”??? The way to academic success is frequently to be the loudest iconoclastic scholar on the quad. Consequently, modern scholarship should have a fairly limited role in being used in courses and forced on future members of the clergy.”
Oh so true!! The names of Dennis Crossnan and Elaine Pagels leap to mind here. The whole “Jesus Seminar” that pops up in the press every so often is merely a publicity stunt used to further a certain ex-priest’s academic career and book sales. Biblical studies as a field can be contrasted with far more dynamic disciplines such as psychology or sociology in that the latter fields have scads of new raw data coming out all the time. In such disciplines, it is fairly easy to conduct research, do dissertations and get published with exciting and provocative findings or theories. The flow of new data in Biblical studies is a tiny trickle compared to other disciplines. So scholars who wish tenure or grants are forced to engage in endless reimaging and reconstitution of the original source materials. The closest thing to new data is the odd archeological find which persons in Biblical studies inevitably misinterpret in ways archeologists never would. The way to create a reputation, invitations to conferences etc … is to invent something quite new, shocking or exciting. From this environment comes intellectual abominations like “The Gnostic Paul.”



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La Dolce Vita

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:46 pm


I’ve been to seminary (Protestant) and the professors who taught OT and NT were thoroughly versed in the various schools of modern biblical criticism, shared this knowledge with their students and remained men of strong faith. But I wondered about some of my classmates.
To assert that the only way to take scripture seriously is to take it literally is to plant one’s faith on the sandpile that Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, et al, can easily wash away with a tide of literalistic logic. I have been struck by the similar mindsets shared by, say, Bart Erhman — a former biblical literalist who lost his faith entirely by virtue of recognizing the absurdity of literal claims — and a literalistic humanist like Hitchens.
All text attains an integrity that is independent of the author’s intent, either conscious or subconscious, or the historical and cultural context of authorship. Yes, we can examine all those things rationally and the examinations can be enlightening. But these examinations do not destroy the ultimate integrity of the text,
Apply this thinking to Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and it will lead you to some interesting places. Apply this to the Bible and you’ll quickly find that this is not the shallow end of the pool and no place for shallow thinking.



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:49 pm


Rod,
By the way, that story comes from me
Thanks for reminding me — now that you mention it, I do remember reading it on an earlier incarnation of your blog or somewhere else online that you have written (NRO?).
It’s a great story.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Jon, I don’t know that the translation and printing of the bible into English was contraversial. William Tyndale was arrested by church authorities, jailed for over a year. He was then tried for heresy, strangled and burnt at the stake.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:57 pm


I have to say that religion seems like a pretty fragile enterprise. It’s basic claims to truth are holy books which are true because they claim to be true. When people investigate them they get accused of ruining people’s faith. If they are true then they should be robust to withstand critical investigation.
recaptcha: Appropriations jimmying – great now it’s commenting on poltics.



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:58 pm


Elena Grall,
I was tempted earlier to say that hlvanburen is not well enough informed or well enough educated with regard to Christianity to be weighing in as cavalierly as he seems to be. I chose to bite my tongue instead in case I was being unfair. Thanks to several others hear for saying what I wanted to say.



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John E, - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:08 pm


We who confess the Christian faith trust that the Apostles’ knowledge and reporting is reliable. To look for a higher standard of “proof” than that is not reasonable.
It seems to me that the problem with that line of thought is that the claim that Caesar crossed the Rubicon or that Marco Polo went to China is an entirely different sort of claim than that Jesus rose from the dead.



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:14 pm


It’s worth noting that many of the openly atheist “clergy” like John Shelby Spong and also many of the heretical (and closet-atheist?) “clergy” like Gene Robinson come from fundamentalist, biblically literalist backgrounds. Their conversions from one kind of errant fundamentalism to another and an even more errant kind are analogous to the political conversions of many leftists into neo-conservatives, except that while the latter is more of a lateral move where error is concerned, the former is a clear descent to an even lower degree of accurate perception of the truth.



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm


an entirely different sort of claim
A different sort of claim, yes; but not an entirely different sort. It is more than an historical claim, but it is not less than an historical claim. Accepting the historical claim is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for embracing and confessing the Christian faith. St Paul said if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain (that is, the historical claim is a necessary underpinning of Christian faith); but he also said no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost (that is, the historical knowledge is not sufficient, apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit).



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John T

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:39 pm


John E. – Agn Stoic
There is no doubt that Thomas Jefferson was a deist, but the comment I was making was in regard his view of the Bible. Despite his editing as you reference he still was influenced and respected the Bible as his quote indicates.
Many of the founding fathers would not be considered “Orthodox Christians” by any means. John Adams was a Unitarian. Even George Washington as Michael Novak says in his book Washington’s God, had “the Hebrew idea of God”.
What they all had in common was they read the Bible and it had a great influence on their lives. At times because of inclement weather rather than travel to church they would stay home and read the Bible. (After all you didn’t just jump in your car and drive to church in those days). In colonial America the Bible was a prized possession of most families and in many cases is what many learned to read.



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John E, - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:39 pm


We who confess the Christian faith trust that the Apostles’ knowledge and reporting is reliable. To look for a higher standard of “proof” than that is not reasonable.
A different sort of claim, yes; but not an entirely different sort. It is more than an historical claim, but it is not less than an historical claim.
I dunno, Chris, it seems to me that extraordinary claims require a higher standard of proof than ordinary claims, which, I suppose is what you are getting at when you discuss the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit’.
One thing I’m not sure I get is whether or not you are saying that it is just as reasonable to accept the historical claim that Marco Polo went to China as it would be to accept the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
I would say it is not reasonable since in our everyday experience, we see people going to China, but do not see people coming back from the dead.



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John T

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:45 pm


RE: A total myth. Back in the Middle Ages literacy was rare and books were expensive, hence the fact that most people were unable to read Scripture– but not because they were deliberately forbidden to do so
Jon, I would be interested in the references as to why you feel that way.
In 1199 Pope Innocent III wrote such a strong letter to the archbishop of Metz, Germany, that the archbishop burned all the German-language Bibles he could find.
In 1229 the synod of Toulouse, France, decreed that “lay people” could not possess any Bible books in the common tongue.
In 1233 a provincial synod of Tarragona, Spain, commanded that all books of “the Old or New Testament” be handed over to be burned.
In 1407 the synod of clergy summoned in Oxford, England, by Archbishop Thomas Arundel expressly forbade the translating of the Bible into English or any other modern tongue.
In 1431, also in England, Bishop Stafford of Wells forbade the translating of the Bible into English and the owning of such translations.



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michael

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:06 pm


Your title should have been “How seminary can expose one’s lack of faith”. Any Christian needs to honestly face the actual processes, sources, and editing that was done to create the Bible. If you lose your faith because of that new knowledge, I’d wonder if your faith was ever in Jesus, rather in some particular version of church tradition.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm


A typo botched my reply at 12:50 PM. It should say: “Jon, I do know that the translation and printing of the bible into English was contraversial.”
Banning a translation of a book into your langauge is a defacto ban on the book.



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GrantL

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:37 pm


John T – it is highly ironic that you would quote Jefferson of all people to claim the goodness of the bible. Jefferson was not a Christian but, like many of the Enlightenment’s influential political thinkers, a deist. Moreover, he published his own version of the bible that removed all references to Jesus’s miracles and other supernatural events. His view on the “goodness” of the bible is vastly more complex and interesting than you have attempted to present.



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:49 pm


Re: In 1199 Pope Innocent III wrote such a strong letter to the archbishop of Metz, Germany, that the archbishop burned all the German-language Bibles he could find.
Again, these would have been amateur translations. There are whole websites dedicated to the disastrous (and often hillarious) consequnces of poor translations in the modern world (see: http://www.engrish.com for some English-Japanese mishaps). Is it any surprise the Church would want to suppress potentially poorly translated works? And yes, I did agree that the Church ought to have authored its own translations long before it did (which was in the 1500s I believe).
Meanwhile anyone who did want to read Scripture needed only learn Latin to do so– a language every educated amd literate person in western Europe did learn. And did you know that to this day Islam only recognizes the Arabic text of the Qu’ran as canonical, in fact some schools even ban translations? I actually think they have a point and in some ways we’d better off if we had kept the Bible in Greek and Hebrew.
Re: In 1233 a provincial synod of Tarragona, Spain, commanded that all books of “the Old or New Testament” be handed over to be burned.
I suspect you left something out in the above: are you claiming that every last Bible in Spain was burned, even those in monasteries and churches? Somehow I doubt that.
Re: In colonial America the Bible was a prized possession of most families and in many cases is what many learned to read.
This is true, and othen enough the Bible was used even to teach people how to read, as Homer was used in the ancient world to teach people Greek. But again: books were not all that cheap even in the 1700s and most families might only own a Bible and maybe one or two other works. Still, it is regrettable that whatever one’s theology, we are losing the common culture that we once had when everyone was brought up reading from Scripture whether they believed it or not. and at least the unbelievers knew what it was they were not believing.
Re: It’s worth noting that many of the openly atheist “clergy” like John Shelby Spong and also many of the heretical (and closet-atheist?) “clergy” like Gene Robinson come from fundamentalist, biblically literalist backgrounds.
Since when is there a Fundamentalist/literalist tradition in the Episcopalian Church? Also, why do you name Robinson as heretical? I am well aware that his living situation is profoundly uncanonical, but that is not the same as heresy. Has he actually taught heretical doctrines in the same manner that Spong plainly has?



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Geoff G.

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:51 pm


I kind of object to the idea that textual criticism is somehow akin to harping on one’s wife or husband.
To me, textual criticism is reading a text in the context it was written in with an understanding of the literary devices employed in that time and understanding that it was written from a particular point of view.
Being able to read the Bible critically from this point of view has nothing whatsoever to do with whether (say) the Resurrection is literally true or not. Sure, maybe the synoptic Gospels were written 50 years or so after the events they depict. So what? People write histories all the time of events that happened centuries in the past with an eye towards reporting the literal truth, and often do a pretty good job.
Likewise, history itself was a well-known genre in the day and age when the Gospels were written, so there’s no reason to suppose that Matthew, Mark and Luke weren’t reporting the facts as best as they could.
In the same way, interpreting certain parts of the OT as metaphor does nothing to diminish the value of the books contained therein from a religious point of view. And I will also point out that there are indeed several books in the OT that seem to be quite decent history (viz. I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, etc.)



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the stupid Chris

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:07 pm


Two things:
First, has anyone here read Jack Miles’ books? God: A Biography and/or Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God?
Second, the major problem with seminaries is that they’re very busy teaching “subjects” in an objective manner to their students (how could they do otherwise?) whereas faith is as objective as being in love. Indeed true faith is a matter of being in love, not about dire consequences for your own hide.



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Geoff G.

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:10 pm


Just to clarify my analogy here, the interlocutor characterizes textual criticism this way:
Imagine going into a marriage with the only approach you know that of constantly criticizing your wife and questioning her motives and her honesty.
If we have to use this analogy I would rather characterize good textual criticism as not even the gentle and loving reproof of a beloved spouse that Christians are supposedly all enjoined to (let alone the visions of crockery flying and belongings getting tossed out the second-floor window), but rather the ability to gain a deeper understanding of one’s spouse.
As a student, I spent a little time working with some classical poetry, teasing out references, inside jokes, investigating historical context, and doing, in general, the very sort of thing that textual criticism calls for. Did that diminish my love and appreciation for those works? Quite the opposite. It gave me a much deeper and fuller understanding.
Outside of the academic world, perhaps the best analogy is with a film critic, who will very often rejoice in the excellence of a favored work. Criticism should not be about merely tearing things to shreds.



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rr

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:21 pm


quote: “I have to say that religion seems like a pretty fragile enterprise. It’s basic claims to truth are holy books which are true because they claim to be true. When people investigate them they get accused of ruining people’s faith. If they are true then they should be robust to withstand critical investigation.”
MH,
We agreed on many things on the thread about the costs of college, but here we disagree. First, many historical sources, especially ancient ones, which aren’t generally questioned or are even thought to be generally accurate are no different than Scripture in that they claim to be true because they claim to be true (if that statement is accurate at least). In fact, in some cases there is more archaeological proof for the Scriptures than other ancient sources. Of course, if Scripture is true then it has a lot more implications on people’s lives today than if Caesar’s account of his conquest of Gaul is trustworthy.
Otherwise, many people in fact have investigated the Scriptures and found them truthful. Those who are accused of ruining peoples faith in this thread are seminary professors who see the Scriptures as full of falsehoods and still remain (dishonestly I would argue) in the church and as professors of theology. And since students at some seminaries, especially mainline Protestant ones, receive an education with mainly these kinds of professors, it is little wonder some of them lose their faith. If most of my professors in graduate school had been Marxists, I’m sure it would have influenced me to some degree.
Finally, I agree with those on this thread who have criticized the “Jesus Seminar” and similar fadish publications of theological liberals and skeptics. Really, much of it is rather provincial and tends to project whatever left-wing ideological current is in style at the time upon Jesus. Older left-wingers such as Dominic Crossan, who saw Jesus as a proto-revolutionary of sorts is a good example. Considering how fadish and predictable there work typically is, I’m rather skeptical of the skeptics.
RR



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John M.

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:37 pm


I guess I am just a contrarian on this site, but my journey came to the opposite place by the same route. I have never been an outright athiest, but after drifting away from the church of my youth, I was pretty close to feeling that there was nothing out there to believe in. I drifted back to church in the same way, just feeling empty and needing something, not sure what. Then I lightening of a sort struck and I got sober after years of addiction. (Sunday morning hangovers in church were a big part of my journey.) Everything else in my life fell away and I more or less “arrived” at seminary by default. I wanted to “get” this religion business that seemed to be a need in my life but couldn’t square the fundamentalisms all around me with that longing. Seminary, in particular the various schools of criticisms (textual, historical critical, etc.) gave me back my religion. I gained a sense of how the Holy Spirit moves through history and speaks through humans, giving us glimpses of the Divine. I came to understand how She works through these human and historical processes like the ones resulting in the Canon to speak to us and reach our hearts and transform us. This is Grace. Learning these things changed my life and allowed me to embrace Christianity, worts, historical and institutional sins and all.
Has anyone else had this kind of experience?



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Jon,
Neither Spong nor Robinson was raised in the Episcopal church, but they were both raised in Protestant fundamentalist backgrounds — the exact denominations, I’m not sure.
As for Robinson and heresy, I don’t know what he preaches week to week, though I suspect that it closely resembles whatever is said by the liberal talking-head on the Sunday tit-tat shows week to week.
That being said, Robinson is on record — if nowhere else, in a New Yorker profile — as saying that one of the things that attracted him to seminary in the Episcopal church was an assurance from an Episcopal priest that one was not expected to believe everything in the creeds contained in the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.
Now, what particular parts (or the entirety?) of the creeds Robinson disbelieves, I’m not sure.
But I think that disbelieving any part of statements of Christian doctrine and dogma as basic as that would qualify one as a heretic or heterodox.



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episcopal priest

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:59 pm


Jon,
Bishops Spong and Robinson make much of their “fundamentalist” upbringings and count the Episcopal Church as the reasonable place where they could have faith and reason together. The lore at the seminary where Bishop Spong’s brother taught ( I was his student) was that they actually weren’t raised as fundamentalists, but that’s beside the point. Bishop Robinson’s biography and public statements say that he was encouraged by the Episcopal chaplain at Sewanee to just skip over the parts of the Creed that he disagreed with. Whether he still does, or not, I have no idea.



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Connie Connie in Wisconsin

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm


Those who attend seminary with only a Sunday-school faith and aren’t taught well will have no answers when better educated church members press them with difficult questions about the origins of Christianity and its contradictions. My experience with ELCA clergy training is that it’s a combination of critical biblical studies as well as faith development. In addition, the pre-ordination questioning that takes place at/near the end of seminary would require lying to pass if one were an atheist.
As for seminary professors, they should rotate in and out of teaching and pastoral roles. No, not everyone is great as a pastor, but if that’s who you’re training, you should be fluent in the role.
Some of Rod’s confusion about this issue stems from his background. He admits he’s never been a big reader of the Bible. Certainly Catholicism doesn’t emphasize scripture reading as much as it does reading other writings of the church fathers (not sure about Orthodoxy’s view of the Bible’s role). Anyone with passing familiarity with the Reformation knows that the Catholic church did not want the Bible written in an easily accessible language (oh, yes, by all means, just learn Latin [not even its original language!] if you want to read it–but don’t worry, instead just let the priest tell you what he wants you to know). LOL. 21st century humans have moved beyond that level of “faith,” and the inconsistencies in the Bible deserve some answers. (Which day were humans created on? What were the names of the first 12 disciples?)
For better or worse, Protestants believe in primacy of the Bible. If that’s your foundation, your pastors had better understand it. its origins, and its weaknesses.
And yes, the biblical literalists have a lot to answer for in contributing to the loss of people’s faith. If you insist that the fall of Jericho is historically true, when archeological evidence shows that it’s not, that can be a terrible blow if you don’t have another way to interpret the stories and understand why they are there.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm


rr, If we agreed all the time then the forum wouldn’t be interesting.
First, I agree that if someone believes a religion is false then they shouldn’t be teaching at a seminary, or admit to being part of God’s loyal opposition. But how much can they disagree before they should step aside?
Second, you are correct that people accept many historical claims at face value. But as you point out these claims are generally within the bound of the ordinary. Indeed many of the claims of scripture are within the bounds of the ordinary too. For example I have no problem with the idea that someone named Jesus existed and said many of the things claimed. But it’s the extraordinary parts that are more interesting, have greater implications, and would seem to require proportional documentation.
Now is there a way to verify extraordinary historical claims or are we out of luck? For example, in historical records there were claims of guest stars appearing in the sky. Before modern astronomy you had to accept them or assume they were bogus. But once astronomers learned about stellar remnants they could verify many of these claims of guest stars and verify the dates. Not too shabby.
So I’d hope that God would be similarly robust and could both take a few knocks and leave remnants that could be verified.
But this is probably me slipping into my scientism/skeptic mode again and not really understanding the whole concept of faith.



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:38 pm


Re: Bishops Spong and Robinson make much of their “fundamentalist” upbringings and count the Episcopal Church as the reasonable place where they could have faith and reason together. The lore at the seminary where Bishop Spong’s brother taught ( I was his student) was that they actually weren’t raised as fundamentalists, but that’s beside the point. Bishop Robinson’s biography and public statements say that he was encouraged by the Episcopal chaplain at Sewanee to just skip over the parts of the Creed that he disagreed with.
Faith and reason together? Really? The unspeakable ‘Bishop’ Spong’s ‘faith’ is skimpier and less substantial then Miss Rima Fakih’s bikini. I don’t think he’s particularly reasonable, either. Reason would say that if Jesus was lying about being the Son of God, then there’s no particular reason to believe him about loving one another, either.
What parts of the Creed did Robinson not believe him? If he means the Nicene creed, that’s absolutely a minimalist statement of the Christian faith, and I don’t see why you would want to call yourself a Christian if you don’t believe in, say, the Virgin Birth. If Luke was lying about something that important, then why believe him about anything else?
In a broader sense, though, I think that Connie Connie is right, and that evangelical Protestant literalism leads to many people turning to liberal modernism as a reaction. Just the same way the excesses of Nestorianism led to the equal and opposite reaction of Monophysitism.



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Cecelia

posted May 31, 2010 at 5:02 pm


Interesting comments – I admit to not knowing much about biblical criticism but I do know something about the style of writing in antiquity and the early middle ages when the Bible emerges. I think a problem contemporary readers of the Bible have is a failure to understand the norms around communication in those days – it helps to understand the style of writing in say secular works like the tributes to famous Romans in order to understand the style of the Bible. People of the time did understand those norms and so they interpreted the Bible stories in ways that we seem unable to access. I think it is not helpful to attempt to impose modern conventions/interpretations on something written when those conventions did not exist and played no role in the development of the Bible.
Another thing that goes I think to Chris’s comments – can we have faith in the accuracy of a Bible that is based on older oral traditions and hence written down long after the eye witnesses died?
I’d offer a secular example to answer that question – the copy of Homer that we have was written 800 years after he lived – yet we do not question the accuracy of that source and accept it as THE version of the Iliad and Odyssey. All of our sources for what was going on in the ancient world were written many hundreds of years after the event and were copied over and over – yet we accept their version of our history. It seems unreasonable to apply a different standard to the Bible.
We fail often I think to understand how radical much of what is in the Bible is. Of course some of that radical stuff seems repulsive to us now while other things are still inspiring. Cramner and Henry XIII discovered after making the Bible more available that woman and the lower classes started getting “ideas” that were not consistent with the interests of the elites – and hence they sought to prohibit woman from reading it – actually making a law to the effect that only the male head of the family should read the Bible. Consider too that while most of the population was illiterate and could not read the Bible in any language – their churches and public places were full of illustrations of the stories of the Bible in a symbolism that was easily interpreted by them.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:13 pm


Reason would say that if Jesus was lying about being the Son of God, then there’s no particular reason to believe him about loving one another, either.
What?!?! Come on Hector, that doesn’t even make sense. There are rational reasons based on the idea that altruism enhances the success of group cohesion for people to think that loving one another is a good idea.
If Luke was lying about something that important, then why believe him about anything else?
Well, to give Luke the benefit of the doubt, obviously he wasn’t around at the time and was simply repeating an – at best – second hand account.
Or…following Cecelia’s comment above about literary conventions during that era, Luke wrote about Jesus being born from the union of a God and young woman because that was the literary convention of how God-Men/Heroes were born at the time.
Today they come from rockets launched from dying planets, or being bitten by radioactive spiders. Plus ça change…



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:20 pm


Re: Well, to give Luke the benefit of the doubt, obviously he wasn’t around at the time and was simply repeating an – at best – second hand account.
Wrong- church tradition holds that Luke was friends with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and interviewed her for his gospel, so it would have been based on a first-hand account.
Re: Luke wrote about Jesus being born from the union of a God and young woman because that was the literary convention of how God-Men/Heroes were born at the time.
Nonsense, all those Greek demigods were conceived through sexual union. Accounts of virginal conceptions are very rare, at best. In fact I’m not aware of one (though the Zoroastrians did _prophecy_ that their saviour would be virginally conceived.)



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:40 pm


Hector, the whole point of being a skeptic is that when someone says tradition holds something to be true you assume that is flimsy proof. Urban legends are always told from the perspective of someone who knows the parties involved. I’ve read enough of snopes and played the game telephone to be wary.
Now it is possible to create documents that can be certified to be true and alterations can be detected. But Luke didn’t know about public key crypto so we can’t be sure how much of that document he wrote.



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:41 pm


Cecelia,
The former-atheist and scholar of ancient, medieval, and renaissance literature C. S. Lewis said that part of what convinced him of the authority the Gospels contain was how very *unlike* ancient myth-literature they are. No serious and intellectually-honest scholar of that kind of literature could ever mistake the Gospels for a series of literary myths of the sort that you describe. And aside from the fact that the Gospels bear little generic relationship to any form of myth-literature, the content of the supposed “myths” they describe is — despite what you may have heard — really without parallel. There are slain and resurrected gods elsewhere. And there are are messiahs elsewhere. But there is no slain-and-resurrected god incarnate in the form of a messiah anywhere else than in the Gospels. The Gospels are historical accounts and the events they describe are more well-documented and attested to than the vast majority of events that we take to have occurred in the ancient world, much more on faith than we take the Gospels. It is only in the heavily-biased, partial, subjective, myopic, and parochial context of the very recent “Enlightenment” world-view that some confuse for neutral “common sense” that the events recounted in the Gospels seem incredible at all.



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rr

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:47 pm


MH,
I think I know where you are coming from and can sympathize to a degree. A few observations:
quote: “But it’s the extraordinary parts that are more interesting, have greater implications, and would seem to require proportional documentation.”
I agree that the extraordinary parts are the most interesting and have the greatest implication. Sometimes the truth is quite strange or extraordinary, sometimes it isn’t. But why do extraordinary claims necessarily need more proof? Christianity can be defended historically, logically and so on. But at some level you either believe it or you don’t, you either have faith or you don’t. When I use the term faith, I use it in the sense of trust. And trust always comes down to the source. If my wife told me she saw a ghost (an extraordinary claim) I would be more likely to believe her, who doesn’t lie to me, than say if a student of mine who is known as a compulsive liar told me that he studied last night (an ordinary claim). At any rate, I think the matter is more one of trust than ordinary vs. extraordinary truth claims.
Otherwise, how much proof does God need to verify things? And why does God owe us any proof to begin with? Just some things to think about.
RR



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:10 pm


Wrong- church tradition holds that Luke was friends with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and interviewed her for his gospel, so it would have been based on a first-hand account.
Well Hector, yes, I did get the number of hands confused, but really now … perhaps Church Tradition was conveniently made up after the fact? Is that really so inconceivable?
Nonsense, all those Greek demigods were conceived through sexual union.
Just how different is the result of indwelling than that of sexual union?
It is only in the heavily-biased, partial, subjective, myopic, and parochial context of the very recent “Enlightenment” world-view that some confuse for neutral “common sense” that the events recounted in the Gospels seem incredible at all.
Elena…
Really? It is only recently that the idea of someone returning from the dead seems incredible? It is only recently that the idea of someone raising someone else from the dead seems incredible? It is only recently that the idea of someone walking on water seems incredible?
Because it happened all the time in the past?
“There’s Ulgar, didn’t he die a couple of days ago?”
“Yeah, but he came back from the dead.”
“Oh, that’s all right then.”
“How’s Bob coming along? I heard he got raised from the dead last week?”
“Yeah, he’s a little stiff, but getting around okay now. Still smells a bit, though.”
You seriously want to argue that only recently would the idea that the events recounted in the Bible seem incredible? Seriously?



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm


John E,
I’m a Christian, so I believe that scripture and tradition are, while not infallible, generally reliable guides. In particularly, I place my trust that the Gospel writers were faithfully recording the facts of the matter. So no, I don’t think it’s likely that the Gospel writers made up the story. The virgin birth is attested by Matthew, Luke, (by implication) John and Paul, backed up by noncanonical early Christian texts like the Protevangelium of James which probably draw upon independent traditions, nearly universally accepted by the early church, prophecied in Ezekiel and Isaiah, and makes reasonable sense, so I accept it.
The real question is why some so-called Christians reject it, and the answer isn’t far to seek. I accept all the traditional Mariological teachings (that she was a perpetual virgin, that she was sinless, that she was assumed into heaven corporeally, etc.) because they seem to me to be very important and core issues. Historically, people who deny the Mariological teachings usually deny other teachings as well, the classic example being the Nestorians, whose dislike for the title ‘Mother of God’ led them into denial of the unity of Christ’s person. In our time, denial of the Mariological teachings is usually a stalking horse for denial of the Christian teachings about the protection of human life. Scratch someone who denies the virgin birth, and nine times out of ten you’ll find a bought and paid for shill of the NARAL or other pro-abortion outfits. I’m willing to bet that ‘Bishop’ Spong never saw an abortion he didn’t support.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:34 pm


Hector, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you grow up in a Hindu family?
If so, what does it seem to you that the Christian holy writings and tradition have over those in the Hindu tradition that would lead you to accept one and reject the other?



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Geoff G.

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:48 pm


Elena Grell:
There are slain and resurrected gods elsewhere. And there are are messiahs elsewhere. But there is no slain-and-resurrected god incarnate in the form of a messiah anywhere else than in the Gospels.
The general theory is that Jesus was initially a messiah figure (much like many others before and after him—Bar Kokhba for one). Following the crucifixion, however, the disciples were faced with either admitting that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all, or to come up with some alternate explanation for what had happened. Given how much people hate to be shown to be wrong, they attached a death-and-resurrection narrative to the story (already extant in Egypt and probably therefore known in Judea as well).
In other words, syncretism, which is scarcely a new phenomenon.
As I said above, nothing in the historical record really denies the traditional interpretation of Scripture. But I do think that Lewis is really overstating the case quite a bit. The Eastern Mediterranean had all kinds of strange sects and religions popping up at the time, with a fair amount of cross-fertilization going on.
The Gospels are historical accounts and the events they describe are more well-documented and attested to than the vast majority of events that we take to have occurred in the ancient world, much more on faith than we take the Gospels.
While I generally agree that the Gospels, particularly the synoptic Gospels, are a useful historical tool, whatever their religious significance, this statement is also a bit of an exaggeration.
For instance, the census and taxation of the Empire as described in Luke, is kind of problematic for several reasons.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:55 pm


Elena, I figured something out: You employ what I see as circular logic. That alone explains why I can’t offer much rebuttal to your conclusions.
As to your supporting assertions: No where in literature, its analysis, critique or documented sources, no where in cultural anthropology or archeology is it required that a source be followed exactly to prove that it was a source for some more recent story, myth, or theme. Neither is anyone looking to prove that the story of Jesus is wholly derivative. Only literalists are offended by the suggestion that it is partially derived or by even the notion that someone would ask that question.
If you state a matter of faith, then you have nothing to fear from scholarly rebuttals. If you make a statement based in scholarship, be prepared to have your research questioned and your conclusions rebutted. Using scholarship to support faith, or vice versa, is your first step on the circle.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:56 pm


rr, here’s where we bump into a difference in temperament and world-view. If I saw a ghost I would not trust my own senses and would seek external verification like trying to take a picture of the ghost or catching it for study. If I was Abraham I would assume that I was insane and might jump off a cliff to save my child from me.
rr said, “Otherwise, how much proof does God need to verify things? And why does God owe us any proof to begin with?”
Well certainly God makes up the rules and if he doesn’t want to offer proof then I’m up the creek. But there’s the problem of multiple competing claims about the nature of God and what is demanded of us. Not all of them can be correct and the stakes are pretty high. But how do you tell which claim is correct?
Now a century ago people were exposed to a lot less of the rest of the world. So faith was likely easier because they had less awareness of these multiple world views. Religious skepticism even among the clergy is likely because of that too.



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:06 pm


John E.,
My point was not that there weren’t people who before “the Enlightenment” who doubted that the events recounted in the Gospels *did* happen the way they are described.
Instead, my point was that only after “the Enlightenment” have (some) people doubted that such events *could* happen, even in the face of quite a bit of historical evidence, much more historical evidence than has been available to most people at any prior point in the last 2,000 years, that they *did.*
It is a measure of the bias, partiality, subjectivity, myopia, and parochiality of the “Enlightenment” point of view on these things that its advocates have had to manufacture the fanciful notion that a lion’s share of Western civilization as we know it today — and almost all of Western moral values, including their own — are premised on conspiratorial lies told to shore up preposterous claims made by either a charlatan or a lunatic.
And it is a measure of how perverse and how bizarre the “Enlightenment” perspective is that its advocates want more or less to retain the civilization and moral values that we have received on the basis of those conspiratorial lies told long to shore up those preposterous claims — outside of whose veracity neither a lion’s share of that civilization nor its values have any real basis at all.
Nietzsche called this view “the English disease” and associated it with Victorian atheists like George Eliot, who insisted upon maintaining Christian moral values without their basis in a Christianity who’s creedal tenets she denied and indeed attacked.
What makes this condition a “disease” is that it involves a kind of delusion and a kind of weak sentimentality even more unhealthy — from Nietzsche’s point of view — that orthodox Christian faith, which at least was not parasitic on prior systems of belief that it attacked and sought to destroy, even as it stayed as dependent upon them as a lamb to the teat of a ewe.
Better to be a Nietzschean “blond-beast” or lion or to be a Christian lion-lamb or lamb-lion than to be either a snarling wolf in a lion-lamb’s or lamb-lion’s clothes or a sniveling weasel in a blond-beast’s clothes the way most secular humanists or secular liberals or secular progressives are.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:38 pm


Elena Grell, isn’t half a loaf better than none? If I were Christian I think I would prefer a bunch of sniveling weasels in a blond-beast’s clothes to a real Nietzschean “blond-beast”. At least I would find common values with the sniveling weasels if not common beliefs.



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Jim

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:46 pm


This is a wonderful thread; thanks to everyone for so many insightful posts. A few comments of my own follow:
Elena, I have also observed that some of the most intense critiques of a traditional interpretation of the Gospels come from former fundamentalists; Bart Ehrman tops the list. What strikes me about Ehrman (and others) is how brittle his faith was. Just the tiniest wiff of tinkering sends him into spirals of baseless speculation. Another thing which strikes me about this group of former fundamentalists is their seeming inability to take the interpretations handed down in the tradition seriously. I mean, do they really think that the Church Fathers didn’t notice discrepancies and variations among the Gospels? They act like only enlightened moderns recognized these differences and I consider that a real blindspot.
Franklin, perhaps this may sound surprising, but I actually have come to the conclusion that it is the scholarly community that is living in fear; not the traditionalists. My observation has been that traditionalists are more than willing, indeed eager, to engage in debate and discussion with the scholarly community; there are many posts on youtube and at various locations on the web that support this. When I watch these kinds of debates I often observe that the traditionalists have a thorough knowledge of the scholarly community’s views, but the opposite is not the case. If on upholds a traditionalist perspective, the scholarly community tends to automatically conclude that one does so solely as a matter of tradition and faith; not because someone has actually examined the material and concluded that the inherited tradition got it right. Yet there are many examples of contemporary writers on the New Testament who have made exactly that journey.
Sincerely,
Jim



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:47 pm


Re: My point was not that there weren’t people who before “the Enlightenment” who doubted that the events recounted in the Gospels *did* happen the way they are described.
Sure there were: many of them were known as Jews. And even among the non-Jews there were people who dismissed the whole business as a scam. But before the Enlightenment coming out and saying so was apt to result in nasty consequences (even for the Jews sometimes) so other than the occasional monarch, like Frederick II, who was powerful enough to get away with flaunting unbelief, people kept their doubts to themselves.



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:54 pm


Re: Instead, my point was that only after “the Enlightenment” have (some) people doubted that such events *could* happen
Elena,
If you look back to the ancient world many of Christianity’s critics, among both Jews and Pagans, openly scoffed at the events in the Gospel, objecting that virgins do not conceive nor do the dead come back to life. St Paul himself noted that the Gospels’ claims were a stumbling block and rather incredible to non-believers. There is nothing uniquely modern in naturalistic skepticism here.
Also, when refering to the Enlightenment it’s best to keep in mind that it wasn’t a unitary cultural phenomenon; there was a Christian Enlightenment as well as a secular one; and British, French, American and German Enlightenments all with different flavors.



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Erin Manning

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:41 pm


Geoff, as a former lit. major I understand what you’re saying re: criticism, and I agree: Scripture should be able (and in my opinion, does) to withstand ordinary criticism.
But even in lit. classes I sometimes encountered the kind of criticism that I would have to call agenda-driven criticism. It might have been feminist-oriented, or the student might have had some pet peeve or other against the authors of a certain time period and their racism, classism, prudishness, etc.–but the whole work would end up being seen through that lens, and not to its credit. Few works, unless they really *have* been written as a secret Jungian-inspired lesbian progressive aristocratic post-realist anti-repression fantasy (for example) can stand up to being relentlessly measured by that kind of standard.
From what others have written here, I think there’s a difference between careful, traditional Bible scholarship which is both aware and not immediately dismissive of the past and even ancient work in this field, and the kind of Bible scholarship which seeks to prove that (again, for example) Mary was raped by a Roman soldier, Jesus’ body was eaten by wild dogs, and the Apostles were ambitious con-men who nonetheless endured persecution and even execution in defense of their “noble lie.” Too much of the latter sort of criticism, especially presented as being important ideas worthy of consideration by professors who would like their names to be on the cover of the next sensational “Jesus–Man or Myth? Why the Galilean Preacher’s Reinvention as Messiah was a Zealot Plot to Overthrow Caesar,” blather of a book is going to have a negative effect on the sort of person who thinks that the Bible contains a great deal of truth, and is even the inspired word of God (though that’s probably too productive of derision to be mentioned aloud in class).



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:01 pm


Re: There is nothing uniquely modern in naturalistic skepticism here.
For the record, atheism and materialism have a long history in Indian/Hindu culture- they were called Charvakas and flourished during the 6th-8th century AD, but probably originated a hundred years or so before Christ.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C4%81rv%C4%81ka
Re: For instance, the census and taxation of the Empire as described in Luke, is kind of problematic for several reasons
Fair enough, that’s _one_ of the few places where I think the Gospels are not historically accurate. Oddly enough I have no problem believing in virgin births, raising people from the dead, and assorted other miracles, but the census account strikes me as a detail probably made up by Luke- we may not know much about how God works, but we do know how the Roman imperial bureaucracy worked, and that wasn’t it. I’ll concede, while holding the Gospels to be generally historically truthful, that this one detail was probably fictitious.
Re: But I do think that Lewis is really overstating the case quite a bit. The Eastern Mediterranean had all kinds of strange sects and religions popping up at the time, with a fair amount of cross-fertilization going on.
I think you’re not quite doing Lewis justice- his point is a little more subtle then that. The point he’s making is that there was no other religion that does quite what Christianity does. For example, the historical detail in St. Luke’s Gospel is, as far as I know, not present in the myths or theological writing of other religions. Hinduism, for example, has accounts of numerous divine ‘incarnations’, but they all have at least two striking differences from the story of Christ.
1) All of them tend either towards Docetic or Adoptionist understandings, i.e. none of them presents a God-Man who is simultaneously as perfectly divine and perfectly human as Christ.
2) None of them includes the kind of historical and factual detail present in the Gospels- detailing that Jesus died at three in the afternoon, that his ministry started when Lysias was the tetrarch of Abilene and so forth, that he wrote in the dirt during the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery, etc.
Which both help persuade me that the various Hindu avataras may have been appearances of angels, or myths foreshadowing the Incarnation of Christ, or fictions (though personally I doubt they were mere fictions) but none of them reads (to me) as a convincing account of the Only Begotten Son of the Father, in quite the same way as do the Gospels. The Hindu myths are shadows: Christ is the substance. And I say this as someone who has a deep and abiding respect for the faith of my ancestors, and I would be the last person to slang it.
I don’t think it’s easy to find, in any other religious tradition, texts that are _both_ as filled with historical detail and verisimilitude, _and_ as charged with deep theological meaning, as the Gospels. You tend to find one or the other, not stories that are simultaneously Myth _and_ Fact.



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:08 pm


Instead, my point was that only after “the Enlightenment” have (some) people doubted that such events *could* happen, even in the face of quite a bit of historical evidence, much more historical evidence than has been available to most people at any prior point in the last 2,000 years, that they *did.*
Elena, where is the historical evidence that a dead man returned to life?
It is not unreasonable to doubt that a dead person could come back to life. Dead people coming back to life is not observed to happen.
If you want to claim that you believe by faith that such did happen, okay, well and good, but it isn’t the sort of thing that is supported by historical evidence.
– are premised on conspiratorial lies told to shore up preposterous claims made by either a charlatan or a lunatic.
There is a third option – that it is a legend. Geoff G. discussed that above.
Nietzsche called this view “the English disease” and associated it with Victorian atheists like George Eliot, who insisted upon maintaining Christian moral values without their basis in a Christianity who’s creedal tenets she denied and indeed attacked.
Nietzsche’s views aside, what exactly is wrong with maintaining a set of moral social values for pragmatic reasons?
What makes this condition a “disease” is that it involves a kind of delusion and a kind of weak sentimentality…
No, it involves a hard-headed pragmatic view that the moral values of the day worked pretty well and maintained a stable society.
Better to be a Nietzschean “blond-beast” or lion or to be a Christian lion-lamb or lamb-lion than to be either a snarling wolf in a lion-lamb’s or lamb-lion’s clothes or a sniveling weasel in a blond-beast’s clothes the way most secular humanists or secular liberals or secular progressives are.
Really?
Okay, why is that the case? Why is it better to behave that way?
We have in modern history an example of a religion that makes outrageous claims about the death of its founder, that being the Báb whose followers went on to develop the Bahá’í faith.
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A1b#Execution
On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to the courtyard of the barracks in which he was being held, where thousands of people had gathered to watch his execution. The Báb and Anís were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad of Christian soldiers prepared to shoot.[7] Numerous eye-witness reports, including those of Western diplomats, recount the result.[26] The order was given to fire and the barracks square filled with musket smoke. When it cleared the Báb was no longer in the courtyard and his companion stood there unharmed; the bullets apparently had not harmed either man, but had cut the rope suspending them from the wall.[27] There was a great commotion, many in the crowd believing the Báb had ascended to heaven or simply disappeared. But the soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed, giving his final instructions to his secretary. He and Anís were tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad of Muslim soldiers was ranged in front of them, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed.[7] In the Bábí–Bahá’í tradition, the failure of the first firing squad to kill the Báb is believed to have been a miracle.
How is the evidence that Jesus came back from the dead any better than the evidence that the Báb miraculously escaped the first attempt to execute him?



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rr

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm


quote: “Not all of them can be correct and the stakes are pretty high. But how do you tell which claim is correct?”
You can’t. Human reason is useful. But this is where its limitations are most manifest. Faith in Christ-who is the way , the true and the life-is a gift from God, it is pure grace. Spiritually, ones eyes are opened by grace, not by reason, which is why reason cannot fully verify God’s truth.
RR



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rr

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:23 pm


quote: “How is the evidence that Jesus came back from the dead any better than the evidence that the Báb miraculously escaped the first attempt to execute him?”
Why does it matter how Bab escaped? He was still killed the second time and didn’t rise from the dead for anyone’s salvation. Sorry, this story isn’t remotely close to the story of Christ.
RR



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:32 pm


Why does it matter how Bab escaped? He was still killed the second time and didn’t rise from the dead for anyone’s salvation. Sorry, this story isn’t remotely close to the story of Christ.
The question I’m posing has to do with the value of recorded eyewitness testimony.
My point is that we have another unlikely story of a miraculous occurrence supported by eyewitness testimony. Is that story any more credible than the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection.
And as for this – Faith in Christ-who is the way , the true and the life-is a gift from God, it is pure grace. how come I haven’t been graced with this gift? Was Calvin right about the Elect?



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:34 pm


rr, are you from a Calvinist tradition? The notion that only God’s grace can open ones eyes sounded Calvinist to me. I was curious if that was in other traditions as well.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:45 pm


Hector, thanks for that interesting link on C?rv?ka. I had heard there were atheistic strains of Hinduism, but didn’t know what it was called. Without an afterlife the whole dharma concept seems to fall apart, so it’s hard to see how you could hold Hinduism together.



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Richard Barrett

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:46 pm


As both C. S. Lewis and the matter of textual criticism have come up in this discussion, I am reminded of a story I heard told over the weekend about The Screwtape Letters. Supposedly, Screwtape was written before WWII but published after WWII. When a particular scholar talked about how Screwtape was heavily influenced by WWII, Lewis is purported to have said something to the effect of, “If people can’t correctly analyze what I wrote while I’m alive, why should I believe they’re going to get it right with a work where the author has been dead for centuries?”
If anybody knows the details about this anecdote more specifically, I’d be all ears.
Richard
(CAPTCHA: “man roar”)



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:52 pm


Richard Barrett, in the Screw Tape Letters Wormwood’s patient is in a war and at the end is killed in combat. Screwtape points out the no atheists in a fox hole dynamic to Wormwood, so I can see how a reviewer thought it was about WW II.



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:53 pm


Re: Without an afterlife the whole dharma concept seems to fall apart, so it’s hard to see how you could hold Hinduism together.
Well, whether the Charvakas were Hindu or not is an interesting question, it boils down to how you define ‘Hindu’. It’s hard enough to define what a Christian is- and Hinduism, unlike Christianity, doesn’t have the equivalent of the Creeds.
I know quite a few people who are atheist or agnostic but still consider themselves Hindu- like Judaism, Hinduism is sometimes viewed as an inherited identity as much or more than a confessional/creedal one. Some of my Hindu relatives would definitely consider that one can be an atheist but still ‘culturally’ Hindu, same way that one can be an Jewish atheist. Personally I’d define it in creedal terms, and I wouldn’t consider the Charvakas (or my atheist relatives) to be Hindu in any meaningful sense. Then again, as a Christian, I’m not sure that anyone cares about my opinions about what makes a Hindu….:)



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:55 pm


I probably should have put a spoiler warning on that post, sorry if I spoiled the plot.



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:13 pm


From my memory of reading Screwtape, the plot referred to very specific incidents associated with WWII such as taking shelter against bombs, etc.
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Screwtape_Letters
In the last letter, it emerges that the Patient has been killed during an air raid (World War II having broken out between the fourth and fifth letters), and has gone to Heaven.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:20 pm


OK John E, now I don’t feel so bad. I didn’t say where the patient’s soul went to! But you’re right air raids were WW II not WW I. The planes in WW I didn’t have the range or capacity.



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rr

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:25 pm


MH,
No, I’m a confessional Lutheran. Lutherans have some similarities with Calvinists, especially on original sin/total depravity, and salvation by faith alone through grace alone. As far as predestination, we believe in single predestination. Those who have faith in Christ and are among the elect have faith only because of God’s grace, while those who ultimately reject Christ have only their own wickedness to blame. But we don’t believe that God predestines anyone to damnation. We part ways with the Calvinists on double predestination. How single predestination work out logically? Well, it’s a mystery that humans can’t totally comprehend.
RR



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Elena Grell

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:42 pm


Let me briefly address a number of objections to my previous post:
When people in Jesus’ time disbelieved in His immaculate conceptions and divinity and resurrection, they did so not on the Enlightenment grounds that such things *can’t* happen but rather on the grounds of their various competing theologies, in terms of which such things *don’t* happen or have never *yet* happened. A subtle distinction, but a distinction nonetheless. The miraculous aspects of Christian history threatened an Enlightenment world-view is closed, in an irrational and a priori way, to the possibility that miracles ever *have and ever *could* occur. The various theologies with which Christianity had to compete were not closed to the possibility of miracles *per se,* but they rejected — via large amounts of willful blindness — the miracles of Christian history, because those miracles threatened their bases. Self-interest and self-delusion was involved in each case, but of different sorts.
As for historical evidence of the miraculous aspects of Christian history — over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ and many of them were still alive at the time when the books of the New Testament — both the Gospels and Paul’s epistles — began to circulate. And many of the thousands more who saw Jesus preach were also still alive. Why then weren’t the “myths” and “legends” contained in the New Testament books rebutted within living memory of the history they recounted by any of the many eye-witnesses still around with a basis for doing so? Why has it taken 2,000 years for, say, John E., an ocean away, speaking another language, from the vantage point of another culture, to recognize obvious errors that hundreds, even thousands of people made at the time. And what accounts for those errors?
Are we really to believe that more than 500 hundred people simply went mad and hallucinated Christ returned from the dead? Are we to believe that thousands of people who saw Jesus preach were gulled via massive and invisible conspiracy into believing, against all precedent, that He had risen from the dead? Are we to believe that Saint Paul was able to organize that kind of conspiracy and suppress the actual content of what Jesus’ taught, which somehow managed to anticipate the received ideas and reflexive opinions of rich, white North American and Western European secular humanists and secular liberals by 2,000 years?
Is that what we’re to believe?
If so, I’ll take the gospels, which have the advantage of not being daft beyond belief.
captcha: she embodies ; )



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hlvanburen

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:44 pm


“I was tempted earlier to say that hlvanburen is not well enough informed or well enough educated with regard to Christianity to be weighing in as cavalierly as he seems to be. I chose to bite my tongue instead in case I was being unfair. Thanks to several others hear for saying what I wanted to say.”
Well I commend you on your restraint in not saying that. But I have a question for you. Have you come to these conclusions about me based on your knowledge of my educational/theological background, or simply on the basis that I hold a position contrary to yours?
Mr. Dreher, thank you for the clarification and explanation of the story. You will no doubt be surprised if I disagree with your conclusion. The seminarian in question who believed that if the lone fact of Jesus’ resurrection were shown to be wrong, his sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel would be for naught is, at least from my standpoint, missing much if not most of the message of the Bible. He is mired in the same literalist miasma that fundamentalists find themselves tied into.
In speaking with Buddhist monks who have, like your seminarian, given up what we would consider the normal comforts of life for a life of denial, meditation and teaching, I discovered something that perhaps applies here. I asked these monks a question. If it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Buddha never existed, that the sayings and teachings compiled into the various sutras were not of the Buddha but were, instead, from other teachers/writers that simply built on the Buddha myth, how would their faith and their dedication change.
To a person they answered that the reality of the Buddha or the authenticity of the writings mattered little. What mattered was that, if sincerely applied and tested, they worked, and have worked for centuries. Their faith, as it were, was born out not by some belief in words written on a page handed down from scribe to scribe. Rather they said it was based on taking the teachings and testing them in their lives. Living out the teachings through the tests life threw at them is what convinced them of their truth.
To these men and women, belief in the existence of the Buddha was important in their faith and practice, and helped bolster them at times. But if that belief were taken from them they felt it would do little if anything to damage their belief in the truthfulness of the teachings.
This is what a first hand experience with truth gives you, Mr. Dreher. And while I am confident that the story as related about the seminarian was brief and missed much detail, it left me with the feeling that the seminarian had never really handled the genuine article of faith if his belief in it could be so shaken by one simple fact being disproven. There may well be more to his story that goes unrelated, but that is my take on what has been told so far.



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godisaheretic

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:47 pm


not “ruined”… should be How Seminary Changes One’s Faith.
it’s like this:
perhaps those who believe in Hell are the only ones who go there.
so there’s no assurance that a “ruined” traditional faith is bad.
the bottom line:
it’s the fault of God that there is no good solid evidence to determine anything about the so-called Afterlife.
so: don’t blame seminaries, blame God!



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Cecelia

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:03 am


Elena – you utterly misinterpreted my comments – at no point do I refer to the Bible as “myths”.
The Bible does conform to the literary conventions of the time though – that is to say – the FORM that people used when describing events or people during that time period.
I will use the word “myth” now – the Old Testament does read very much like the origin myths groups use to develop identity. There are many tales in the Old Testament which are shared by other ancient cultures- most notably the flood story which is almost a universal among origin stories. While there is some archeological support for some Old Testament stories there is by no means a lot and in fact there is archaeology which disputes many claims about various Israeli wars with Philistines etc. And of course there is yet no solid evidence to support Exodus. I would agree with CS Lewis though that the New Testament is not like the Old. Clearly not an origin myth but a rather detailed description about the life of a specific person at a specific time. That the Gospels draws from older oral traditions may mean some inaccuracies develop when these oral traditions are finally written hence the conflicts we see in the 4 versions – but by and large oral traditions tend to be passed down intact so I see no reason to doubt that the core elements of the New Testament are accurate.
Elena said: No serious and intellectually-honest scholar of that kind of literature could ever mistake the Gospels for a series of literary myths of the sort that you describe.
I did not describe the Bible as a literary myth -I described them as conforming to literary norms of the time. If you read the post – my reference to Homer (which as it turns out – was not quite a myth) was to demonstrate the legitimacy of oral traditions hence the legitimacy of the oral traditions the Gospels are based on. I would note that a great deal of what CS Lewis and other scholars of his era understood about the classical and medieval world has since been refuted – largely based on archaeology and the application of technological advances to the material culture of the time. Lewis and other scholars of his era made the best judgments they could based on what was available but their view was informed by a lack of information and the biases of their age. So I would not immediately classify a contemporary scholar who disagreed – based on more information than Lewis et.al. had – as dishonest.



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Quiddity

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:07 am


Rod, echoing Paul, writes, “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is at best a noble lie”.
I’ve never understood that position. I guess Rod defines Christianity as a religion where Jesus must be divine. I don’t think that has to be the case. The Ebionites, who surely can claim to be in touch with the original Jewish-Christians, held that Jesus was a great prophet and that his teachings, along with the Hebrew Bible, constituted a new religion. Were the Ebionites Christians? I think so.



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:10 am


Elena Grell writes: “As for historical evidence of the miraculous aspects of Christian history — over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ and many of them were still alive at the time when the books of the New Testament — both the Gospels and Paul’s epistles — began to circulate. And many of the thousands more who saw Jesus preach were also still alive. Why then weren’t the “myths” and “legends” contained in the New Testament books rebutted within living memory of the history they recounted by any of the many eye-witnesses still around with a basis for doing so?”
Wow…where to start. Perhaps with the witnesses, as this is likely the weakest leg on which the story is built. Josh McDowell in his book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” makes exactly the same claim regarding these witnesses. How could 500 witnesses be wrong? If the accounts were wrong, why didn’t they come forward and clear up the errors?
The Book of Mormon listed witnesses who, under their signature, testified to the truthfulness of the account given by Joseph Smith regarding how he encountered the angel Moroni on a hill in NY state and was instructed to dig up some golden plates. We have accounts of witnesses who saw Baha’u'llah and read his letters which became the foundational scriptures of the Baha’i faith. We have accounts of witnesses who have seen healings, done healings, and been healed by various and sundry Christian evangelists. Yet we look upon these accounts with skepticism, even though they are built on, in some cases, stronger direct testimony than the accounts given in Scripture.
And within the secular world I would simply ask you how many people have witnessed Elvis walking among us, or have seen aliens step from flying saucers.
“Why has it taken 2,000 years for, say, John E., an ocean away, speaking another language, from the vantage point of another culture, to recognize obvious errors that hundreds, even thousands of people made at the time. And what accounts for those errors?”
LOL…there have been people recognizing obvious errors since the institution of the Christian religion. Why else would there be over 30,000 denominations/sects of Christianity, each one claiming some area where it and only it has interpreted the Scripture correctly, or where its translation is the only correct translation. To imply that this is something new to the 19th century (when Westcott and Hort published their first NT) is disingenuous to say the least.
Why did a German in the Catholic church find so many errors in the practice and teachings of said church some 1100 years after its inception, highlighting these differences in writing beginning what we call the Reformation? Why did an American in New York find similar errors some 1500 years after the canon was settled, and in doing so begin what today is one of the fastest growing Christian denominations in the world, that being the Latter Day Saints?
Ever since the stories of Jesus were set down in writing there have been people finding errors in them. Is this not what the many great councils of the church over first three centuries AD deal with? Is this not what Jerome, Erasmus, and Wycliffe deal with? Is this not what Westcott and Hort dealt with? Is it not what is done with each and every revision of the Nestle-Aland text, and with the dispute between the supporters of the Critical Text and those few who put the Majority Text into prominence?
Textual criticism has been with us since the words were first set to papyrus and parchment. As long as we write it will continue.



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:31 am


MH, as the other outspoken materialist here, maybe you can relate to and comment on this line of thought I have going on.
I would like it if the Christian world view was correct, if for no other reason than I would prefer survival after death to oblivion when my brain dies.
I also find the idea of a loving God appealing, if for no other reason than He might be willing to explain the nitty-gritty details of how Creation works.
However, wanting something to be so is not a reason for believing something to be so, and while I don’t understand what it is that folks talk about when they use the word ‘faith’, I don’t think it is assenting to a series of propositions just because I want it to be true.
Now the whole edifice of Christianity, the Tradition, the Scriptures, the Magisterium, just doesn’t look to me all that different from what other major religions provide, so I can’t see that as a reason for believing in Christianity. I can’t imagine that faith is the same thing as acceding to an Argument by Authority.
Now we have rr’s explanation of his beliefs that “those who ultimately reject Christ have only their own wickedness to blame”, but in what sense is it wicked to decline to assent an argument that has, to me anyway, no compelling reason to accede to it?
My confusion is further compounded by the claim that faith is a gift of grace and that it is only by God bestowing this gift on me that I can have faith. Well, I think I would notice if this gift were bestowed on me, and I honestly don’t think it has been. Surely, such a thing is something one would notice, right?
And is not noticing something the same as rejecting it?
I know that the standard answer is to pray for faith and I still do so. Just did so now, in fact, with the same result as always – no response that I can detect, as as I mentioned above, one would think that one would notice such a thing.
So in the absence of such a gift of grace of faith, I figure that the best I can do is to use my human reason and observation of history to figure out a good way to live, because I take it as axiomatic that it is good to do good, and also to try to learn about how the universe works, because that is fun to do and may help me turn things into food.
Elena asks, “Are we really to believe that more than 500 hundred people simply went mad and hallucinated Christ returned from the dead?” To which I can only respond that stranger things have happened, even within my living memory. I might also advance the possibility that the accounts related in the Acts of the Apostles might not have actually occurred as written.
She also asks, “Why then weren’t the “myths” and “legends” contained in the New Testament books rebutted within living memory of the history they recounted by any of the many eye-witnesses still around with a basis for doing so?” to which I can only point out that many people have rebutted the arguments and theology associated with Scientology, but that belief system still is going strong.
Not that I am equating the two belief systems – I much prefer a Christian oriented society to that of one built around Scientology.
Now I don’t really have any certain ideas about what happens after death since there isn’t any data to go on, but if what I can see is all that there is, then it seems likely that when my brain dies, all that I am ceases to exist. I don’t look forward to that, but try to remain stoic about it.
And if it turns out that I’m wrong and the Christian world view is correct, all I can imagine saying at the Last Judgment is, “Sorry, but I never really got the ‘faith’ thing.” Maybe He’ll be merciful, but maybe not. That would suck if He weren’t. I can’t just make myself have faith in something.



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Elena Grell

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:02 am


hlvanburen,
With all due respect, and with no insult intended, your comments continue to suggest that you are not sufficiently informed about or educated in the basic terms of this debate to make conversation with you — at least on this subject — fruitful to me.
To take but one example, your conflation of hypothetical debate about the matter of Christ’s divinity and resurrection just after Christ’s own time with the very different matters concerning authority and scripture debated in the Reformation is simply absurd, whether that conflation is a mistake born of simple ignorance, which is the most sympathetic view to take, or where it is a really ineffective and rather condescending and insulting rhetorical dodge of the questions I raised.
In any case, the question that your gambit brings up, which I think is not a question that you hoped to raise, is the question of why the Church did not at split at the very start between (A) those who recognized “the truth” of the Jesus Seminar’s secular humanist or secular liberal view that Jesus was merely an exemplary moral guide, a first century secular humanist or secular liberal; and (B) those who were gulled either by the lunatic and/or charlatan Jesus’s preposterous claims about himself or by the subsequent massive invisible conspiracy led to St. Paul to misrepresent Jesus’s teachings and to spread outright and deliberate lies about Jesus’s divinity and his return from the dead, lies that would, of necessity, have involved, at minimum, hundreds of people having been brought in on the conspiracy, among the most successful conspiracies ever, since it has left no historical trace, despite the hundreds of people who would have had to have been involved.
Again, I believe that the absence of rebuttals against the Gospels from among the thousands of eyewitnesses to different parts of Gospel history is — or ought to be — much more of a problem for you than you seem to want to let it be.
And, again, I think you have to engage in at least … at least … as much fantasy and wishful-thinking to spin out a tall-tale whereby our Western civilization and even our emerging contemporary global civilization has been founded in very large part on acts of either mass lunacy and/or mass charlatanry that somehow yielded a set of moral virtues and principles that we still should continue to adhere to 2,000 years later, even after the self-evident lunacy and/or mass charlatanry on which they were based has been exposed by folks like you and John E.



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Elena Grell

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:11 am


John E.,
There can be no value-neutral determination of what’s “pragmatic.”
Mussolini made the trains run on time, as the saying goes.
And Hitler no doubt made the trains to Auschwitz run on time.
There’s no reason whatsoever in principle that a society based on quasi-Nietzschean values like Hitler’s could not work — in a pragmatic sense — on its own terms just as well as our own semi-Christian civilization works — in a pragmatic — on its own terms.
In fact, it could be argued that a society based on Hitler’s values did succeed on its own terms to about the same extent as it failed, since what the Nazi era yielded in the longer term was a Europe dominated by a prominent, prosperous and largely de-Christianized Germany with hardly any Jews.
Sounds like a partial success to me, in “pragmatic” terms.
PS: China seems to “work” in “pragmatic” terms — would you just as soon live there as here?



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Geoff G.

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:17 am


Erin Manning
But even in lit. classes I sometimes encountered the kind of criticism that I would have to call agenda-driven criticism.
I would certainly expect a seminary to have its own “agenda-driven criticism” in place, even though that form of criticism may not live up to my and your level of understanding. It seems to me that the agenda ought to be to explicate the theology in terms of the text in question, possibly to examine other interpretations of the text and (hopefully) to adequately explain why those other interpretations are less persuasive.
Mary was raped by a Roman soldier, Jesus’ body was eaten by wild dogs, and the Apostles were ambitious con-men who nonetheless endured persecution and even execution in defense of their “noble lie.”
The “Mary was a prostitute who had sex with a Roman soldier” story is actually very old. It turns out to be part of Rabbinic Judaism’s response to Christianity that dates back to the ancient world itself. (It’s present in the Talmud and possibly in the Mishnah, so perhaps might date to sometime in the late 2nd century). Obviously, Rabbinic Judaism had ample reason to discredit Christianity (as did Christianity have reason to discredit Judaism; at that point they were serious competitors). The story’s interesting as a historical artifact, but not exactly terribly convincing as real history; aside from the relatively late date of the story, there’s a big motive here to undermine and discredit the story of the virgin birth.
I also only meant to advance a theory for how the Resurrection narrative in the Gospels might have come about if the Resurrection never occurred. My description of that theory seems to imply a conscious “con” on the part of the Apostles. If, however, it is true that there was, in fact, no Resurrection, I find it far more likely that the men who most fervently believed that Jesus was the Messiah sincerely convinced themselves of the Resurrection. There’s no deliberate dishonesty required, no “noble lie.”
And, as my previous post indicated, and as Elena Grell says, there are people who at least thought they saw Jesus in the flesh after the Crucifixion, whose observations were duly recorded in the synoptic Gospels. Whether that means that the Resurrection truly occurred or that there was a large exercise in self-delusion among Jesus’s followers is a question that I will not answer; it’s well above my pay grade.



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godisaheretic

posted June 1, 2010 at 2:05 am


not above my pay grade…
there are “reports” of persons seeing the resurrected Jesus.
those are stories.
flimsy stories.
after over a thousand biblical pages, there are a mere few paragraphs of resurrection stories.
less likely that the stories are accurate history.
way more likely that the stories are fabrications.
knowingly fabricated or not, doesn’t matter.



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Hector

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:24 am


Re: The “Mary was a prostitute who had sex with a Roman soldier” story is actually very old. It turns out to be part of Rabbinic Judaism’s response to Christianity that dates back to the ancient world itself.
Yeah, I was thinking of pointing that out- Jewish critics of Christianity (and perhaps pagan Roman ones as well) peddled the story that Jesus was sired by a Roman soldier named ‘Panther’, and I’m familiar with an early-medieval Persian Zoroastrian text which mocks the story of the Virgin Birth as well, probably influenced by the Panther story.
Re: The story’s interesting as a historical artifact, but not exactly terribly convincing as real history
Also because ‘Panther’ is clearly a fake name, chosen because the leopard is associated with lust, and because it’s a near anagram of ‘parthenos’ (virgin).
Elena,
Indeed. One of the things that makes Christianity more convincing (to me) then, say, Islam, is that it doesn’t rely on the word of one singular witness like Muhammed. It relies on the testimony of many independent witnesses- at least eight writers of the New Testament, plus more if we include the noncanonical writers- who had no particular reason to agree with each other.
And yes, those who wrote about the life of Jesus included episodes in which he interacted with known historical figures like Herod and Pilate. Herod outlived Jesus by quite a bit, and was exiled to France if I recall correctly; it would have been easy for anti-Christian polemicists to talk to him before he died and verify that the story of his interview with Jesus was made up.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:28 am


Again, I believe that the absence of rebuttals against the Gospels from among the thousands of eyewitnesses to different parts of Gospel history is — or ought to be — much more of a problem for you than you seem to want to let it be.
Eh? The rebuttals are recorded in the New Testament itself.
There is mention that “The Jews” put forth the story that the body was stolen. See Matthew 28:11-15.
There is mention that people claimed that the folks at Pentecost were drunk. This is countered by the claim that it was too early for them to be drunk.
My own life experience has shown that it is never too early to be drunk.
In the face of this – the fact that these objections are mentioned in the New Testament, I do not understand your continued claim that there are no eyewitness rebuttals. They are recorded right there in the Bible.
As for the following:
There’s no reason whatsoever in principle that a society based on quasi-Nietzschean values like Hitler’s could not work — in a pragmatic sense — on its own terms just as well as our own semi-Christian civilization works — in a pragmatic — on its own terms.
I can only suggest that you are responding to an argument that I have not made.



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Fr. J

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:00 am


“The trouble with only or constantly studying modern writers and modern methodoligies is that each generation is convinced of its own ability to always get things right and that people of the past always got things wrong. Christian clergy–especially the great Churches of Tradition Catholic and Orthodox–should spend most of their time studying the teachings, insight, and witness of the Church Fathers and saints and their understanding of The Faith and the Bible.”
I think this about says it all (although I’m inclined to want to see a more expansive list of “great Churches of Tradition,” but that’s a debate for another time). Lewis has a great essay about this which appears as an introduction to the 1950s translation of Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” which is still available from St. Vlad’s. Lewis says that even if we read all sides of a modern argument, we still won’t come to realize how much we’re being shaped by being in the modern environment because two diametrically opposed authors of one era unwittingly share many assumptions about the world that simply don’t exist in an earlier time. Of course, one can make too much of this and simply assume that everything that was said in antiquity is of more value than what is said today, which is an assumption that really doesn’t have any logical grounding. But I think that most people in our own era are more inclined to the error of thinking too little of the voice of ages past rather than too much.



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JB

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:37 am


Hmm. This is faith we’re talking about, not Boolean algebra. It doesn’t have to be either “yes” or “no.” Fundamentalists (and some non-fundamentalist Orthodox of varying denominations) insist on “yes or no,” and dismiss people of faith who have periods of doubt, who don’t see literal Resurrection as the center of the faith (even when they believe in it), who have a hard time being convinced by arguments based entirely on revelation that is offered to some but not all, who have come to the conclusion that the fact that the Apostles were convinced is not entirely different from the fact that cargo cultists were convinced, to put it bluntly.
Can some of these posters not see that the desire to find the core of Christianity that is not dependent on magic isn’t a sign of modern weakness and self-indulgence, but a sign of seriousness and struggle?



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:42 am


…who have come to the conclusion that the fact that the Apostles were convinced is not entirely different from the fact that cargo cultists were convinced, to put it bluntly.
Can some of these posters not see that the desire to find the core of Christianity that is not dependent on magic isn’t a sign of modern weakness and self-indulgence, but a sign of seriousness and struggle?
Thank you, JB, thank you very much for that.
I’d like it if Christianity were true – I just don’t have any reason to believe it to be true.



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:16 am


rr, thanks for the response as I was not aware that Confessional Lutherans held similar views to Calvinism. Here’s what I find puzzling, how did they decide that single predestination was correct while double predestination was not?
John E, I relate to your feelings as a universe where things happen for a reason (even bad ones) would be preferable to one where things happen because they can happen. But being outside the Christian mindset I don’t expect their explanations to be fully understandable. Like you I need to see a claims rooted in something verifiable by multiple people before I can accept them. Also, I think belief is a feeling while dogma is an argument from authority. I think the spiritual but not religious people have belief but can’t accept dogma because they’ve been conditioned to distrust arguments from authority.
Your inability to have faith would be answered differently be different people. A Calvinist would answer your question by saying that you were predestined for perdition (which strikes me as a harsh). A conservative Rabbi would probably say that since you’re not a Jew don’t worry about it so much about it, just try to be a righteous gentile and all will be well. I would say that your temperament, personal experience, and modernity’s second big bite at the apple made you a skeptic and religion is probably not for you.
So I try to approach these dialogs assuming that convincing the other person through logic is not going to happen and that I am not likely to be convinced either. The best I think we can hope for is trying to understand a bit about the other point of view and perhaps why someone else finds it appealing.
Elena Grell, game theory predicts there’s every reason to believe that nice guys finish first, while a society of blond wolfs would fall apart. In nature cooperation is more common than competition and your body is really a cooperating colony of cells and organisms (some you, some friendly fellow travelers). If this wasn’t true there would be no multi-celled organisms. Indeed cancer is an example of this equilibrium breaking down. Now in a sense societies are macroscopic colonies of organisms similarly cooperating and they are always striving to reach an equilibrium of balancing self interests. They can become cancerous and go wildly out of control but that often proves fatal for that society.



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Elena Grell

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:23 am


John E.,
What I’m noting the absence of isn’t *dismissals* of the Gospel account by those who were *not* eyewitnesses to the events it describes.
Instead, what I’m noting is the absence of is *rebuttals* of the Gospel account by those who *were.*
What I’m noting is the absence of competing accounts from those who knew Jesus, those who followed Him, those who saw Him preach, that contradict the Gospel account in favor of some version of what we might refer to in shorthand as the Jesus Seminar account.
And what I’m also noting is the absence of competing accounts either from any of those who presumably later recovered from the spontaneous, collective mass-lunacy that led over five hundred people to believe they had seen the resurrected Christ or from any of those who presumably later turned whistle-blower against the conspiracy by the disciples or by Paul to propagate the lies that were the basis for the Gospel account.
And that’s to say nothing of the unprecedented and the unparalleled long-term success that the Gospel account has had in laying at the very least the single most significant pillar of first a Western and now an emerging global civilization that you have made clear you would like to see maintained, even despite what you take to be the lunatic and conspiratorial origins thereof.
That’s a whole lot for an obscure, provincial lunacy and/or conspiracy in backward and unenlightened times to have done — it’s a remarkable amount of “pragmatic” benefit for it to have had, highly improbably and purely coincidentally.
I like how in your cosmology (A) the universe came into being wholly by accident and (B) that there was a coincidental fit between an obscure, provincial lunacy and/or conspiracy in backward and unenlightened times and what subsequent progressive and enlightened times would come independently to verify as the most “pragmatically” effective set of moral virtues on which to found a society, as judged on “value-neutral,” utilitarian grounds.



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Northerner

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:48 am


I am coming in new to the discussion so I apologize if I am adding something that has already been said.
Bringing up how one could lose one’s faith in a seminary is a very real danger. I recall a good article by Michael Dubruiel in the New Oxford Review about an established young construction worker who read the gospels and how they really resonated with him. He followed the Lord’s advice and sold his house and all his belonging’s and gave them to the poor and entered a seminary. In the seminary he was introduced to historical criticism and was taught that none of the miracles were true. He called himself a fool and left the seminary and returned to his previous life.
At my current employment, there is a colleague who is married with children and when asked he will say he is an Oblate. He told me he studied for the priesthood with the Oblates and finished nearly all of the education but then left. The man who he refers to as his mentor is a notorious dissenting Oblate priest. There is hardly a trace of Catholicism left in him today and he is now an agnostic. I did not press him on what happened but he must of had faith at that point of his life when he was planning on giving up marriage, children, and a rich worldly life to devote himself to serving the lord. At least he had the dignity to leave. This may have something to do with a straight man leaving to live a fulfilling lay life.
I think many of the diocesan seminaries have been cleaned up today and the problem cases involve religious orders. I do not think the historical critical method should be overly stressed in the seminaries. As Albert Schweitzer said, it is mostly a method to strip the original meanings and insert ones own agenda into the meaning of Christianity. Research shows that the gospels were written by men who were alive at the time of Jesus. Who are we to question them? Seminarians should be studying them in faith. The early church fathers should be studied in detail.
A year or two ago, Rod posted about a female Episcopalian pastor who ministered at a prison and contradicted most of Orthodox Christianity. The inmates embraced Islam in that it gave them answers and no doubts. These are the results of liberal Chrisitianity. It can only smother and kill faith. The faith needs to be taught with authority, zeal, and love.



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rr

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:59 am


quote: “rr, thanks for the response as I was not aware that Confessional Lutherans held similar views to Calvinism. Here’s what I find puzzling, how did they decide that single predestination was correct while double predestination was not?”
MH,
On the basis of Scripture. Lutherans believe that the Bible teaches that salvation is totally through the grace of God and indeed is predestined. But Lutherans don’t see anything in Scripture that indicates that God actually predestines anyone to unbelief and ultimately damnation. That is ascribed to the individuals own wickedness and resistance to grace. The Calvinist teaching of double predestination is logical. However, the problem for Lutherans is that it attempts to resolve a mystery that human reason cannot resolve while going beyond what Scripture teaches.
quote: “Can some of these posters not see that the desire to find the core of Christianity that is not dependent on magic isn’t a sign of modern weakness and self-indulgence, but a sign of seriousness and struggle?”
First, magic has nothing to do with Christianity. It simply isn’t accurate to use the term magic. But Christianity does believe in the supernatural and miracles. The problem for your point of view is that without the supernatural, there simply is no core of Christianity left. If Christ did not rise from the dead, the whole enterprise is a fraud and there is little if anything worth preserving. The desire to find the “core” of Christianity that is not dependent on the supernatural is akin to the desire to find the “core” of democracy while stripping it of individual rights, the rule of law, free elections and representative assemblies.
RR



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:26 am


John E. “I’d like it if Christianity were true – I just don’t have any reason to believe it to be true.”
This is the conclusion I arrived at several years ago, after studying the Bible for a good number of years (seventeen, to be exact) and spending about five years in the pulpit of conservative Christian churches.
The Bible, like the Tao te Ching, the Dhammapada, and a host of other writings of various other culutres, inspires and guides in many ways. But as we study the text of the Bible closely from a scientific, scholarly approach, we are finding more and more evidence that supports the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.



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readingbill

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:36 am


From reading the responses, I can see that many posters are deeply steeped in theological thought. But how many have actually attended a class in seminary? Perhaps more than I think, but it seems – not many.
Rod, you’re living in Philly now. I know it’s difficult balancing family, writing, a new job, etc., but there are a number of good seminaries in that area where you could audit a class or perhaps get a Lilly scholarship to take some classes. The Lutheran Theological Seminary is nearby in Germantown, or if you really want an experience in the belly of the beast, drive a little farther to Lancaster Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and which holds that it’s possible for – gasp – gays and lesbians to be called to ministry. The New Testament guy there has a Southern Baptist background.
Or just visit a seminary – particularly those infidel liberal and progressive seminaries, spend some time in the library, attend a lecture or chapel service, get a vibe.
You may be surprised at how faith-building they can be.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:52 am


MH:
A conservative Rabbi would probably say that since you’re not a Jew don’t worry about it so much about it, just try to be a righteous gentile and all will be well.
That is probably good advice.
I would say that your temperament, personal experience, and modernity’s second big bite at the apple made you a skeptic and religion is probably not for you.
And you are likely very correct about that.
Elena, to answer the points you brought up, I would ask you who would be motivated to preserve these other accounts and also if there might be a competing tendency to destroy them as Christianity grew in influence.
As for the idea that Christianity’s success proves its truth, well then why would that not also apply to Hinduism, or any other religion with a long track record?
John E. “I’d like it if Christianity were true – I just don’t have any reason to believe it to be true.”
hlvanburen: This is the conclusion I arrived at several years ago, after studying the Bible for a good number of years (seventeen, to be exact) and spending about five years in the pulpit of conservative Christian churches.
Well, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has gone through this line of thought…thanks…
Captcha: byronic Kramer – well that’s a strange combination indeed…



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JB

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:57 am


rr, I don’t think that Christianity is meaningless without miracles and the supernatural. Actually, I think it challenges us even more if we don’t get to be ordered around by invisible beings.



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Northerner

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm


As for the idea that Christianity’s success proves its truth, well then why would that not also apply to Hinduism, or any other religion with a long track record?
I will not get into your reasons for not believing, but the statement above is utterly false. Hinduism and Budhism only have regional infuences. However, whether nations have a Christian background or not, all of the nations of the world have been influenced by Christian thought and it’s offspring: Western Civilization.
The system for caring for the sick and elderly *hospitals* is a Christian institution that can be found in every nation of the world. Likewise, the university system is a Christian export as well. Universities were once Catholic semiaries.
The systems of law and government throughout any half-civilized nation have origins in Christianity. No other religion has a more global influence then Christianity.



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Erin Manning

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Geoff, it seems to me we have three choices, when considering the Gospels:
a) Accept that Christ really did rise from the dead, and that what the Apostles wrote, taught, and preached was the truth;
b) Accept that the Apostles were the world’s most unfortunate con men, who failed to become rich or powerful by their elaborate con, but ended up executed as criminals and unable to profit by the spiraling out of control of the con they started; or
c) Accept that the eleven original Apostles (minus Judas) plus (later) Matthias were all so hysterically delusional that sometime between the execution of Jesus and a week or so later they went from being terrified they were next on the Roman hit-list to declaring that Christ had arisen and had appeared to them and to others on multiple occasions, some involving numerous eyewitnesses; and that their sincere belief in this mass-hysteria included a shared delusion that after a certain time Christ arose on a cloud into Heaven, commanding them to continue His work with the guidance of a Spirit they didn’t yet know. Not only that, but this mass-hysteria was so compelling to them all that all but St. John eventually died for it.
In other words, we can believe of the Apostles only three things: that they were truthful and accurate, that they were liars and con-men, or that they were madmen and idiots. We can’t believe that they were sincere good teachers who got carried away or who were later misunderstood by their followers–that’s just not a realistic option.
Interestingly, the same is true of Jesus, as many great Christian writers have pointed out. We can believe He was who He said He was; we can believe He was a liar and con-man of the worst kind, or we can believe He was a delusional madman. Either Lewis or Chesterton, I can’t remember (or possibly both) said that the one thing we *can’t* believe of Him was that He was merely a good man, a preacher, who never meant for any of His followers to take Him so wrongly. That option is not really open to any scholar of the slightest bit of integrity (who does not, that is, simply dismiss the whole of the Gospels out of hand as an interesting bit of fiction).



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Peter

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm


We can’t believe that they were sincere good teachers who got carried away or who were later misunderstood by their followers–that’s just not a realistic option.
Why not? I’m not getting your point.



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:57 pm


Erin Manning, the problem with your argument is that a Mormon would reason identically about Joesph Smith’s claim about the golden plates and his early followers who claimed to have seen them. They also suffered great hardship on the march to Salt Lake City, but why would they do that if they were con men?
recaptcha: Unusual Natural



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Northerner

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm


MH, the difference is there is not a shred of historical evidence to support the Mormon’s claims. Not only that, much of Mormon’s original text is totally false today (people living on the sun and on the moon, non-white people being created from a demon, etc.).



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rr

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm


quote: “rr, I don’t think that Christianity is meaningless without miracles and the supernatural. Actually, I think it challenges us even more if we don’t get to be ordered around by invisible beings.”
Well, we’ll just have to disagree. I don’t think it challenges us at all if the supernatural and miraculous aspects of it are false. If that is the case, in my view Christianity is basically worthless.
quote: “But as we study the text of the Bible closely from a scientific, scholarly approach, we are finding more and more evidence that supports the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.”
You’re kidding, right? Those involved with the Jesus Seminar brought heavy ideological baggage to the table. Their philosophical and ideological presuppositions strongly influenced their conclusions. Crossan, for example, was basically a Marxist, which is why his Jesus was a revolutionary of sorts. The idea that the Jesus Seminar and similar schools of thought are in any way objective or scientific is a laughable myth. Oh, the myths of modernists…
RR



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Northerner

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm


But as we study the text of the Bible closely from a scientific, scholarly approach, we are finding more and more evidence that supports the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.
This is another example of feeble-mindedness of those who claim to do research based on a “scientific approach”. As RR mentioned, the participants of the Jesus seminar brought feavy ideological baggage to the table. Not only that, their procedures are laughable. They would put different opinions and than they would vote based on different coloured beads. If they all voted that Jesus did not raise Lazurus from the dead then the included it in their findings. If they voted that Jesus fed the multitude by encouraging them to share.
The ignorance of the scientific method is astounding. Real scientists did not come to conclusions based on votes. They do it on repeatable experiments. The Jesus seminar was agenda and media driven.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm


There are some here, Erin amongst them, who know that I am quite in opposition to many of the assertions being promoted here, and without going into detail — they not being why I’m writing this post — I have to ask:
Why is it that a Good Thing that started in antiquity must be rebutted by a claim of malice aforethought? I have a very strong agreement with Erin’s latest point (her multiple-choice list) and would just expand it: If it matters why the “founders” did what they did, then it would have mattered well before now and their initial malice (ulterior motives, whatever) would have surfaced long since. Which of you are willing to claim that the Apostles knew and planned for the Christian hegemony established by Constantine centuries later? Talk about your leaps of faith!
How we come to recognize a Good Thing stems from its consistency over time. A tradition is born not from how well its “inventors” profited from it, but from how many and for how long people benefited from it. Some Things declined in effectiveness over time, and survived and flourished because people looked to the tradition, decided that at its core it was still Good, and caused it to adapt beyond its original form to retain or regain its effectiveness.
Jim, your observation is well taken. I would offer a balance to it, by also observing that traditionalists are highly motivated to “conserve” tradition (an original meaning of “conservative”), and at their core they are protecting tradition from attack. I don’t mean to insist that they are also fearful (though some of them clearly were and are), but that while we notice it and see how it informs the rhetoric, it need not be the primary motivation involved.
Elena, when it comes to citing the NT as a primary and proven source, and that if it can’t be found in there, it must not exist, I suggest you return to the Council of Nicea and the later discovery of “rejected” gospels at Nag Hammadi. I don’t mean to argue that those gospels should have been included (I wasn’t “there”, and I obviously have no stake in that debate), but they are a rich and (arguably, yes) accurate documentation of contemporaries and next generation believers having doubts and calling some things into question. As I understand it, one of those authors was the intended target in the coining of the phrase “doubting Thomas”.



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aaron

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Who knew Josh McDowell debated on message boards under the pseudonym Elena Grell?



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm


Northerner, to a non-Christian the claims about turning water into wine, Lazarus coming back from the dead, the loaves and fishes, and the resurrection all seem equally false as people living on the Sun.



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Northerner

posted June 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm


MH, to this day a multitude of non-Christian people have believed the claims about turning water into wine, Lazarus coming back from the dead, the loaves and fishes, and the resurrection and have been converted.
Whether you believe it happened or not is besides the point. There is no way you can prove it did not happend. However, it has been proven that people do not live on the moon and on the sun.



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Rick

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm


Interesting thread.
Rod, your priest-correspondent points out that a “hermeneutic of suspicion” undermines faith.
But imo even neutral scholarly investigation of Scripture can challenge faith too.
Consider: In times past it was a very severe challenge to faith when science began demonstrating that the Bible’s cosmology was not literally true.
Today, it can be a challenge to come to terms with the fact that the historicity of many Biblical events (say, the infancy narratives) is doubtful.
Is it possible to preserve an authentic faith in the midst of these challenges?
I think so — not by ignoring scholarship, and not simply by increasing one’s devotion, but primarily through authentic scholarship that sifts and “re-centers” the faith…so that faith does not assume or require the scientific accuracy of the Bible’s cosmology, or that every Biblical event be historical, etc.
(Bible scholar Raymond Brown was without peer in doing this; and as an aside he is owed a debt of gratitude, and an apology from many conservative Christians).
But one note: This sifting and re-centering can only be taken so far.
I think faith can survive in one who believes the Infancy Narratives are theological story-telling rather than history. I don’t think the same is true with regard to the Resurrection.



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm


“Whether you believe it happened or not is besides the point. There is no way you can prove it did not happend.”
Just as you cannot prove that the angel Moroni did not visit Joseph Smith, or that you cannot prove this world was not was really created by a god made of pasta, or that you cannot prove that Santa does not exist.
Proving a negative is impossible. Thus it falls upon those who make a claim to offer proof of said claim.
“However, it has been proven that people do not live on the moon and on the sun.”
Really? How so? While I am not a scientist I would venture to guess that the best any scientist would say regarding these two instances is that, as far as our explorations and knowledge take us, we have not found human life either on the moon or on the sun. If your exploration has proven there are none there, perhaps you could share it with these scientists.
Far too humorous captcha: to claptrap



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Jim

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm


To Franklin Evans: Thanks for your reply and comments. I enjoy reading your posts, finding them well thought out.
I have a take on the Gnostic Gospels for your consideration; it is based on an historical comparison to something that happened to Haydn during his life. Haydn became the most popular composer of his day in Europe. As his popularity grew publishers began publishing music that was not written by Haydn, but putting his name on the music because they knew it would sell. In those days there was nothing Haydn could do about it and he seems to have accepted the situation with his usual graciousness.
I would suggest that these pieces not written by Haydn, but published under his name, are ‘Gnostic Haydn’. What do these compositions tell us about Haydn’s music? In a word, nothing. Because he didn’t write them. They tell us something about Haydn’s popularity and the influence he was exerting on musical culture, but they don’t actually tell us anything about his music.
I think there is a similar relationship with the Gnostic Gospels and other alternative Gospel narratives. My sense is that they were written in response to Christianity’s growing presence and popularity in an attempt to claim Jesus as part of other traditions. I am thinking specifically of the Hermetic tradition, but other traditions seem also to have adopted this strategy.
Like the ‘Gnostic Haydn’, I don’t think the Gnostic Gospels actually tell us anything about Christianity itself, or about Jesus; that is to say just as one cannot learn anything about how Haydn wrote music by studying works not written by him (even though attributed to him), so also one cannot learn anything about Christianity or about the teachings of Jesus by studying the Gnostic Gospels and scriptures because they are made up and lacking in any actual historical basis.
Just a few thoughts,
Jim



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm


Most of what you posted does not add anything to the arguments made in the discussion. No, we cannot disprove the Mormon claims you mentioned. However, the Mormon claims I mentioned already are disproven with 99.999% certainty. I know of no scientists that would entertain the thought that there might be people living on the moon or the sun. There is also no historical evidence for Mormon North American pre-Columbian history. Your logical reasoning is quite flawed.



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Northerner

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm


The last post was by me and addressed to hlvanburen.



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Rick

posted June 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm


Jim,
Interesting post.
Would you agree that many of the canonical books of the New Testament (and the Old Testament, for that matter) are attributed writings too…clothing the Gospel or Epistle writer with the mantle of authority of an Apostle from an earlier era?
Or would you hold, for example, that II Peter was authored by Peter?



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Franklin Evans

posted June 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm


Jim, your take is reasonable on its face, but you go beyond my own self-imposed (and very reasonable) limits: I depend on the professional opinions of those who have a stake in this (the authenticity of the Gnostic texts, in this case), and I find them to be quite reasonable as well. I have a strong academic interest, even with my own choice to pursue a non-Christian path.
My only question, out of curiousity, is how do you reconcile your logic with the Nicean council’s debate over those texts that were eventually rejected? Is there evidence (I ask out of specific ignorance) that they approached them as you do, or did they reject them for other reasons that seemed valid to them at that time? I do recall, correction accepted, that many texts were rejected not primarily for authenticity questions but because they were simply inconsistent with (if not outright contradictory to) those texts the consensus wanted included. That last, as I recall, fits the rejection of the Gospel of Thomas.



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Hector

posted June 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm


Re: Either Lewis or Chesterton, I can’t remember (or possibly both) said that the one thing we *can’t* believe of Him was that He was merely a good man, a preacher, who never meant for any of His followers to take Him so wrongly.
They both said it. I believe it was St. Anselm who said it first. Chesterton put it thusly: lots of people throughout history have believed they were God, but a great man (in the moral sense) knows he isn’t God, and the greater he is the better he knows it.
Re: Like the ‘Gnostic Haydn’, I don’t think the Gnostic Gospels actually tell us anything about Christianity itself, or about Jesus;
Jim,
I wouldn’t totally agree with you. There’s a whole spectrum of noncanonical works, gnostic gospels, etc. Some of them, you’re right, are of quite late date and have frankly whacky cosmologies. Others of them (the Apocalypse of Peter, Protevangelium of James, Ascension of Isaiah, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas) are from roughly the same era or just a bit later (end of the first century) as the canonical scriptures. Many of them were fairly widely read in the early church though not eventually included in the Bible. Not surprisingly, they also tend to be closer to the New Testament works in their Christology and cosmology. I think some of those writings can be profitably read as a supplement (not a replacement for) the Gospels.



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm


Actually teapots orbiting Mars and men living on the Sun are both claims that can’t be disproven at the present time. We can’t travel to either place and exhaustively search them. But knowing what we know about how the universe works we can assume they are unlikely to be true.
Now depending upon your point of view the idea that water could turn into wine would fall into the same camp. While elements can transmute into other elements, the energy released would flash BBQ anyone standing nearby.



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Jon

posted June 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm


Re: Northerner, to a non-Christian the claims about turning water into wine, Lazarus coming back from the dead, the loaves and fishes, and the resurrection all seem equally false as people living on the Sun.
There’s a big difference here. The Biblical miracles are presented as one-off events: as deliberate anomalies in fact. Everyone in antiquity knew that the dead do come back to life and that water cannot be turned into wine. The whole point of a miracle is that it’s miraculous. By contrast the idea of people (assuming you mean carbon-based intelligent life like us) living on the sun is suggested as something natural and non-miraculous and we know that is not possible.



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Hector

posted June 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm


Re: By contrast the idea of people (assuming you mean carbon-based intelligent life like us) living on the sun is suggested as something natural and non-miraculous and we know that is not possible.
Yup. As Chesterton put it, I can believe the impossible more easily then the highly improbable.
Let’s put it another way. I heard a lot of folklore when I lived in Africa. One story was that certain people made deals with the dark spirits to attain long life and the ability to survive mortal wounds. Another story was that domestic cats had been known to hybridize with civet cats. Now in point of fact I don’t believe either story (I do believe, as a Christian, in the existence of demons and dark spiritual forces, but I don’t believe that it’s possible to make deals with them or have them do your bidding. The devil is a liar, after all). But I would say that the second story is _substantially_ more implausible than the first, and while I could be brought to believe the first if I witnessed it with my own eyes, nothing could make me believe the story about the civet and the cat. We don’t know much about the spiritual world, and few of us really know the ins and outs of inhabitants. We do know something about mammalian taxonomy, and that’s enough to tell us that civet cats and domestic cats can’t and don’t intermate.



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm


Northerner: “No, we cannot disprove the Mormon claims you mentioned. However, the Mormon claims I mentioned already are disproven with 99.999% certainty.”
These are completely irrelevant to the claims that the golden plates were revealed by an angel to Joseph Smith and to the statement of the witnesses. And, given your tone I suspect you would agree with me that the burden of proof is on the Mormons, not on those who disbelieve. This is as it should be.
Northerner continues: “I know of no scientists that would entertain the thought that there might be people living on the moon or the sun.”
The same could be said of computer graphics some 1000 years ago, yet here we are. Again, the lack of anyone entertaining the thought does not, in and of itself, preclude it from being the case. But again, I detect the same healthy skepticism in your tone that I saw earlier. If indeed someone were to believe that people were living on the surface of the sun, the burden of proving such would be on them.
You seem quite capable of exercising healthy skepticism with regards to the fantastic claims of faiths you do not hold as your own. There is hope for you that you will not end up drinking kool-aid in a jungle somewhere.



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:30 pm


Hector: “We do know something about mammalian taxonomy, and that’s enough to tell us that civet cats and domestic cats can’t and don’t intermate.”
So, if I read your post correctly, the following would be accurate statements of your position with regards to the intermating of domestic cats and civets:
- Written witness accounts of such interbreeding, accounts that were written some time ago by witnesses who are long since dead, would not carry much weight with you.
- Written accounts by people who claimed there were witnesses, all of whom were long dead, would not carry much weight with you.
- An interview of someone who claims to have witnessed some interbreeding might carry a bit more weight with you, but you would still be skeptical.
- An actual physical specimen presented for DNA analysis would carry substantial weight, but would still need to be thoroughly investigated for fraud before you would accept it.
Are these accurate statements?



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hlvanburen

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm


“The whole point of a miracle is that it’s miraculous.”
And generally heard about second or third hand. And in most cases such instances of miracles are not subjected to unbiased scientific testing for verification.
Thus you have people pulling chicken gizzards from cancer patients and claiming that they healed the person. Or you have people claiming to bend forks with the force of their mind only, all the while playing shenanigans and sleight of hand to manipulate the fork.
And finally there is that strange penchant to trust miracles done within your own faith circles, but distrust those done in other circles.



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:59 pm


Hector, I wonder if L Ron Hubbard ever read that Chesterton quote. It would explain a lot.
recaptcha: where canasta – great now it wants to play a game.



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:22 pm


hlvanburen, I don’t think you should apply for a job at a parochial school.



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Hector

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:42 pm


MH,
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can supply the passage from Chesterton so you can see it firsthand. From his short story, “The Curse of the Golden Cross.”
‘Not at all,’ replied the priest calmly; ‘it’s not the supernatural part I doubt. It’s the natural part. I’m exactly in the position of the man who said, ‘I can believe the impossible, but not the improbable.’’
‘That’s what you call a paradox, isn’t it?’ asked the other.
‘It’s what I call common sense, properly understood,’ replied Father Brown. ’It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible. But I’m much more certain it didn’t happen than that Parnell’s ghost didn’t appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand. So it is with that tale of the curse. It isn’t the legend that I disbelieve — it’s the history.’



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Hector

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:47 pm


Re: Are these accurate statements?
More or less. Here’s the thing: I’m more skeptical of the claim that ‘a civet and a cat interbred’ then I am of the statement, “Jesus turned water into wine.” The first statement tells us that the laws of nature are different then what we know them to be; the second statement tells us that sometimes God and his agents carry out one-off violations of the laws of nature. The claim that miracles occasionally occur doesn’t really change our understanding of the world that much- it allows that the laws of nature are what we observe them to be, but also stipulates that they’re occasionally suspended. A world in which two mammals from different families could interbreed, however, would be a world in which our whole understanding of genetics and evolution would have to be re-evaluated. Therefore, I’m much more skeptical of the former then of the latter.



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MH

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:19 pm


Hector, thanks for the quote. I guess I remain more likely to believe the unlikely then the impossible. But I suspect that more people are in your camp.
In other news this thread is #2 on the leader-board, but #1 has over 100 more posts. So get cracking people.



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aaron

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:29 pm


More or less. Here’s the thing: I’m more skeptical of the claim that ‘a civet and a cat interbred’ then I am of the statement, “Jesus turned water into wine.” The first statement tells us that the laws of nature are different then what we know them to be; the second statement tells us that sometimes God and his agents carry out one-off violations of the laws of nature.
Why is the civet-cat interbreeding not a one-off violation of the laws of nature?



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:39 pm


We have the technology, or soon will, to create a civet-housecat hybrid…



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:40 pm


Come to think of it, how much of the stuff we do routinely today would have seemed miraculous two-thousand years ago?



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Jon

posted June 2, 2010 at 6:34 am


Re: Why is the civet-cat interbreeding not a one-off violation of the laws of nature?
If we are talking about A civet and A cat then it would be a one-off. But it sounds from the original story that we are talking about civets and cats customarily and normally interbreeding.



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hlvanburen

posted June 2, 2010 at 9:00 am


“hlvanburen, I don’t think you should apply for a job at a parochial school.”
ROTFLMAO…yeah, I think that bridge has been burned several times over.



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Northerner

posted June 2, 2010 at 11:06 am


Jon, thanks for the clarification on miracles.
hlvanburen, so you try and back your beliefs by trying to demonstrate that there *may* be human life on the moon on the sun. What lengths one has to go through to convince themselves of their disbeliefs.
As Chesterton said, when one loses faith in God he does not lose faith in that he will believe in anything.



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hlvanburen

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm


“hlvanburen, so you try and back your beliefs by trying to demonstrate that there *may* be human life on the moon on the sun. What lengths one has to go through to convince themselves of their disbeliefs.”
LOL…no, I merely underline the absurdity of your claim that we cannot prove that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen. Of course we cannot prove a negative.
Can you prove that it did happen?



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hlvanburen

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:24 pm


Northerner, allow me to offer one more item to elaborate. You accept that there is no human life on the Sun not on any proof or disproof, but on the knowledge that you possess regarding the nature of the Sun and the requirements of human life. The assertion that there is human life on the Sun is rejected out of hand by you and by most sane people because it violates everything we know and understand about ourselves and our environment. And you will hold to that rejection until it is proven otherwise.
That’s exactly where I and many others stand with regards to the resurrection of Jesus. We apply exactly the same standards of evaluation and discernment to that claim as you do to the claim of human life on the Sun.
Now, if I were to suddenly come upon a book that was the core of a religious tradition that claimed, in spite of all that we know about science, there existed a culture of humans living on the back side of the Sun, I would expect them to offer a lot more proof than just the writings of some alleged witnesses or the “changed lives” of generations of people who believed in this culture.
Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. And I am sorry, but so far that criteria has not been met…neither with human life on the Sun nor with the resurrection of Jesus.



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Northerner

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:28 pm


Now that this thread has wound down, my apologies to anyone (hlvanburen) I may have been a little too mean to.
I have atheist friends. I regularly get together with one and we have a lot in common in terms of hobbies as well as politics. How he ridicules and denounces religious believers yet at the same time his politics is very conservative and traditional and he has a great respect for family life and good morals in society. He is probably more Christian influenced then he realizes.



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hlvanburen

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm


“He is probably more Christian influenced then he realizes.”
Or perhaps he merely adheres to values that transcend religious barriers, values that happen to have become adopted by Christians over the years but are not exclusively Christian.
Oh, by the way…Northerner. Would you mind if I used you as a reference for a job application at a local Christian school? :-)



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fbcx

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:29 pm


It is easier to question faith than to have faith. The doubts you argue so strongly in support of are based solely in science as you understand it today. All you are really able to say is that science, as we understand it today, cannot prove the existence of God or the resurection of Christ or any other religious concept for that matter. 700 years ago science could not prove that that world was round or that people could travel through the air at twice the speed of sound or even guess at the incredible complexity of human life that we know today. I think it might be wise to consider that faith may be way ahead of science and that science is only in its infancy and struggling to catch up to the real truths of faith that are out there. Maybe you are the bigger fool. Just saying…



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MH

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm


fbcx, Eratosthenes proved the Earth was round and measured its circumference around 240 BC. That’s much longer than 700 years ago.



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justsaynotoatheism

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:32 am


No, No atheist will be getting a recommendation to work at a Christian school. YOu have no place there.



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