Showing posts with label #Apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apologetics. Show all posts

29 May 2023

The flood story.

In Genesis there’s a story about a massive flood. Rain for a month and a half; waters which covered every hill in the area, and killed every living thing. It was, states the author of Genesis, God’s way of getting rid of the violence in the land: He got rid of everybody except this one righteous (well, righteous enough) family.

Starts like this.

Genesis 6.11-21 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined.
The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!
all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face,
the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them.
Look, the land is ruined!
14 Make yourself a box of cypress trees.
Make living spaces within the box.
Plaster it from the inside to the outside with asphalt.
15 This is how you’ll make it:
A box 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high.
16 Make a window in the box, a cubit from the top.
Make a doorway in the box’s side.
Make bottom, second, and third floors.
17 Look at me: I bring the deluge of waters on the land
to destroy all flesh on it,
the breath of life under the heavens:
Everything on the land dies.
18 I raise my relationship with you.
Come into the box.
You, your sons, your woman, your sons’ women with you.
19 All living things, all flesh:
Two of all comes into the box to live with you.
They’ll be male and female.
20 From the bird to its kind,
from the animal of its kind,
from all which swarms the ground of its kind,
two of all comes to you to live.
21 Take with you all the food you can eat.
Gather it for yourselves.
It’s for food, for you and them.”
22 Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

So God has this man, Noah ben Lamekh, build himself a big black box…

Yeah, black box. What d’you think an ark is, a boat? What, were the Hebrews carrying around the Boat of the Covenant through the desert for four decades? Did Indiana Jones excavate a Nazi-killing gold boat, or am I remembering that movie all wrong?

But you’d be forgiven if you made the mistake of thinking a תֵּבַ֣ת/tevá is a boat. After all, American popular culture has the image of a boat cemented in everybody’s brain. Noah built a boat, they say—and on dry land! How the neighbors must’ve laughed and jeered at Noah and his kids for building a boat on dry land. Then when the floodwaters came, boy did they get their comeuppance.

Except it nowhere says in the bible, nowhere in Genesis, that Noah built a boat. That bit about the jeering neighbors? Not in the bible either. I know; you’ve been told this story so many times, you half remember it being biblical, don’t you? Nope. Go read Genesis 7 again. Isn’t there. Never happened.

Wait, what about those people in Kentucky who made the Ark Encounter, the life-size Noah’s Ark which they claim is totally based on the bible? Again, read your bible. Read that bit of Genesis 6 I just translated, in any translation you please. But remember, “ark” means box. God told Noah to build a box. Covered in כֹּֽפֶר/kofér, “bitumen,” or asphalt, so it wasn’t be bare or stained wood, like the Ark Encounter depicts it. It’d be black as the roads outside your house.

Arguably log-cabin style, ’cause it’s made of עֲצֵי גֹ֔פֶר/ačé-gofér, “trees of cypress.” God didn’t say planed wooden planks. I know!—you imagined Noah building a boat, so of course you imagined him building it out of planks, but there’s nothing in the bible to describe what Noah did with the trees once he chopped ’em down. Now, figuring a cubit is half a meter (or half a yard, if you’re American like me), Noah was instructed to make it 150 by 25 by 15, square. Not with a curved bow to easily cut through water, and certainly not with a rudder—who’s gonna steer it? What’s its destination? Why would Noah presumptively assume his box would even float?—for all he knew, it might stay where it was, underwater, watertight, waiting for the floods to pass.

The Kentucky monstrosity is entirely based on popular Christian culture, based on what generations of American preachers and their art have speculated about Noah’s box. Something which actually requires less faith in God than Genesis is describing. ’Cause they imagine Noah built something seaworthy, that could survive on its own—instead of something God would have to miraculously preserve, and did.

So whenever skeptics ask me whether I believe the bible’s flood story, I can’t give them a simple yes. I do believe the story. But the story I believe is the plausible one we find in the bible. Not as it’s told by young-earth creationists, who turned it into Christian mythology… then turned that into junk science.

14 October 2021

God, the unmovable first mover.

When Christian apologists try to argue in favor of God’s existence, one of the more popular arguments is the “first cause” idea. If you’re not familiar with that name, it’s because all sorts of people refer to it by all sorts of terms. “Prime mover,” “unmoved mover,” “unmovable mover,” or “first mover”; “first cause,” “final cause,” “uncaused cause,” “universal cause,” or “universal causation”; “causal argument,” “argument from motion,” or “cosmological argument”; or simply “nothing comes from nothing.” Formally it’s the cosmological argument.

Sometimes it’s called “the Kalam,” which is short for “the kalam cosmological argument.” Which is a lousy abbreviation for the idea: Kalam is short for عِلْم الكَلام/‘ilm al-kalām, “the science of words,” i.e. Muslim apologetics. The kalam cosmological argument is simply the way Muslims phrase the first cause idea. It’s grown popular because apologist William Lane Craig likes to use it. Hey, truth is truth, whether we get it from Muslims or ancient Greek pagans. But properly, kalam refers to any Muslim apologetics… and you do realize they defend very different ideas about who Jesus is.

As for ancient Greek pagans, they had very different ideas about who God is too. They believed in gods many and lords many. While they did allow it was possible to argue the existence of a One God above all their other gods, local patriotism kinda required you to worship the city’s god, and if you worshiped that god it was expected you’d worship Zeus, the king of gods; so you weren’t really allowed to be a monotheist. Whenever Christians rejected all gods but the One, they’d call us atheist, and sometimes kill us in nasty ways.

But you could still talk about the One God, and many of the ancient Greek philosophers did. Socrates of Athens (ca. 470BC–399BC), Plato of Athens (428BC–347BC), and Aristotle of Athens (384BC–322BC) all did. Aristotle was the guy who posited, in his Metaphysics, the idea there’s a first cause in the universe; a force which started all movement in the cosmos, while it itself does not move, for movement would imply something else moved it. It’s the one fixed point in the universe, an eternal substance which can’t be material, for material things decay. It is, functionally, the One God.

I tend to describe it like yea: Everything in the universe was invented or started or changed by something else. Someone invented and built the computer you’re reading. Some power plant generated the electricity running through it. (And workers built the plant, someone designed the plant, Michael Faraday invented the dynamo, Benjamin Franklin figured out how electricity works, yada yada.) Everything can be traced to a cause. This cause can be traced to a previous cause. And so on.

All the way back, that is, to a point. At some point in the remote past, all these chains of cause and effect work back to one thing. One event which started the process. One event which started everything. Aristotle of Athens called it the “unmoved mover.” Scientists call it the Big Bang—but even that doesn’t take us far enough, ’cause why’d the Big Bang go bang? Did something cause that?

Yes, Christians say; and that’d be God.

13 October 2021

God’s existence. In case you don’t consider it a given.

The existence of God, and proving it, isn’t really a theology subject. It’s a Christian apologetics subject. Theology is the study of God—and it takes God’s existence as a given. Of course he exists. Duh. Otherwise what’s there to study?

The bible likewise takes God’s existence as a given.

Genesis 1.1 KJV
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
John 1.1 KJV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The authors of the scriptures had to explain Jesus’s existence, but they never do explain God’s. Because he’s just there. Existing. Creating. Not battling the universe, nor Titans and other gods, so he could reign over them and control the elements: He created the universe. Humans and devils might stand against him from time to time, but it’s no contest as to who’s right, and who’s gonna win.

So we don’t have to argue God’s existence to fellow Christians. Should have to, either. If a Christian doesn’t believe in God they can’t very well follow Jesus, who is God and comes from God. It makes no logical sense to follow someone who claims, “I was sent by space aliens” when you don’t believe in space aliens—unless of course you’re a con artist who’s using other people’s beliefs to get money or sex out of them.

But Christian apologists insist we should start every theology discussion, every theology class, every theology textbook, with an obligatory lesson on what a God is, and how we know he exists. The better-written books likewise point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted, with no preliminary explanation: “See, a ‘god’ is an almighty cosmic being, and here’s how we know only one of ’em exists…” God’s just there. Always has been.

The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. People throughout history, including today, have God-experiences. God continually talks to people. And performs the occasional miracle, and many of us have witnessed one. He may be invisible, but his presence among believing Christians is so blatantly obvious, we don’t have to deduce him from nature or logic. In fact, if we have to resort to logical deduction to prove God… we need to seriously question our obedience, devotion, trust, and belief systems. ’Cause if God’s not living and active in our lives, ain’t his fault. We’re the ones who aren’t honestly seeking him.

So why do apologists persist on using logical deduction to prove God’s existence? Well… they’ve been convinced they really oughta learn how to. By whom? By the sucky Christians I just described. A lot of cessationists don’t depend on personal testimony of what they’ve seen and heard from God, like the scriptures demonstrate; 1Jn 1.1-3 they depend on reason. They’re replaced an interactive relationship with God, with belief systems which justify an absent God—so really, logical deduction is all they have left.

You wanna prove God’s existence? It’s super easy when you can point to God-experiences. And I still find it bonkers when I meet a Christian who claims they’ve had God-experiences… yet when they encounter skeptics, the first thing they resort to are apologetics arguments based on logical deduction. Dude, you could simply give them a word of knowledge, like Jesus did to Nathanael!

John 1.47-50 KJV
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

Didn’t take Jesus three hours in a coffeehouse to at least convince Nathanael he was somebody to reckon with. It took Jesus two statements which peered directly into Nathanael’s soul, and the lad believed. Beat that with a stick.

But I digress. You wanna know about the logical arguments for God’s existence? Fine. Let’s talk.

12 October 2021

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

About three years ago, on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was stopped by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night. Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish. I was just walking past his synagogue.

He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time; I walk a lot, and they bike past me, and sometimes they stop and chat. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I have a Buddhist coworker and pick his brain now. I’ve had Wiccan coworkers; same deal.

I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.

I realize certain Christians are gonna be outraged I dared let work get in the way of this “opportunity.” But with all due respect, there was no opportunity. In the two minutes we spoke—in which I told him I’m Christian, and he started going off on how we Christians typically (and often inappropriately) set aside the Law—it was made quite clear he wasn’t open to correction. Certainly not from a gentile; he’s one of God’s chosen people and he doesn’t care that Paul said we Christians are included in God’s choice. To him I’m not, we’re wrong, and that’s that.

I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. Which freaks some Christians out, ’cause they’re afraid they might convince me to turn heretic or apostate. No they won’t; I know Jesus better than that. But I went to journalism school, where we were trained to always go to the original sources, ’cause anything else is hearsay. Fellow Christians haven’t received such training at all, regularly believe the hearsay, and regularly bear false witness.

So I learned—the hard way—it’s a huge mistake to ask fellow Christians about other religions. Or even other denominations within Christianity: Ask a Fundamentalist about Roman Catholics, and he’s never gonna quote a Catholic, unless it’s out of context; he’ll quote other Fundies. Ask a Calvinist about Arminianism, and she’ll just quote other Calvinists. Most Baptists can’t describe Anglicans, nor Methodists describe Presbyterians—nor vice versa—without criticizing their respective theologies. We easily bite and devour one another. Ga 5.15 Stands to reason we’re gonna suck even worse at describing other religions.

There’s nothing wrong with being biased in favor of your own religion. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all the competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. So you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.

So when I wanna understand Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and heretic Christians, I find there’s simply no substitute for going to people of those religions and hearing it from them directly. Yes, they confuse my curiosity for wanting to convert, which is why I gotta tell them upfront I’m not converting; I just want facts. Usually they’re fine with that… but I can hardly blame ’em for trying to nudge me in their religion’s direction just the same. I would.

First time I tried this was with a Muslim in Sacramento, decades ago. I listened to his testimony… and could totally relate. He grew up in church (same as me) and was put off by the fact his church was full of hypocrites (same as me). They praised Jesus in church, said Amen to everything Pastor shouted at ’em, but it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon before they relapsed to the same pagan lifestyle as their neighbors. Whereas the Muslims he knew, whose mosque he eventually joined, were no hypocrites: They were Muslim all week long. I couldn’t argue with that argument whatsoever. (Though I’ve met plenty of Muslim hypocrites since.)

I spoke with that Muslim for hours. But I should point out: At no point in our conversation was I remotely tempted to quit Christianity and give Islam a try. Never crossed my mind.

03 August 2021

Why must Christian apologists argue?

To argue means to give reasons or cite evidence in support of one’s ideas, actions, or planned actions. Like when you argue your case in court: You’re trying to convince the jury, judge, or justices to take your side, and giving good reasons why they oughta. Sometimes they’re gonna challenge those reasons with reasonable questions, and we oughta be able to reasonably answer those questions. If we can’t, we lose.

Then there’s the other definition of “argue”: To fight. With words, although in these types of argument, what they’re really going for is a win. By any means necessary. Reason has little to do with it; in fact they’d much rather hurt your feelings than offer a reasonable response.

The biggest problem in Christian apologetics is the temptation to stray from reasonable arguments, and start fighting. ’Cause once we do that, we lose.

Fighting turns the person we’re just talking with, just having a discussion with, into the enemy. Now we’re no longer trying to win them over. Now we’re trying to win. And when we do that, we stop caring about their feelings, stop displaying love and patience and grace, turn into those clanging cymbals Paul and Sosthenes wrote about, 1Co 13.1 and stop worrying about whether we might hurt their feelings. An opponent with hurt feelings is never, ever gonna agree. Oh, they’ll call a cease-fire; they’ll stop fighting for a time, when they think things aren’t going their way. But that’s only so they can retreat and come up with better arguments. They never surrendered, and never intend to. Because they’re hurt.

And if they’re never gonna surrender, we’re never gonna win them over. So we lose.

That tendency to fight, to do battle for Jesus instead of share the gospel, is argumentativeness. It’s a work of the flesh. Ga 5.19-21 Unfortunately it’s a common reason why Christians get into apologetics: They wanna fight. They wanna “do spiritual warfare,” and think it means fighting skeptics instead of resisting temptation. Not study and share good reasons for why we believe as we do, and answer skeptics’ doubts; to fight them and defeat them and win.

There’s a proper form of arguing your case, and a wholly improper form, and too many Christians don’t realize there’s any difference. And don’t care either. Hey, Christian apologetics lets us indulge our fleshly desires to beat people up—and use words and scriptures to do it! Nice.

So why must Christian apologists argue? To offer reasonable explanations for why we believe as we do. And only that. Any other form of argumentation is unacceptable. If you catch Christians doing it, rebuke them.

And yeah, they’ll claim, “But I’m doing it for Jesus!” as if it makes the fleshly behavior all right. Does not; never does. So call ’em out on their fruitlessness. The unloving, joyless, angry, impatient, graceless, out-of-control, intemperate, and vengeance-seeking behavior is a sign they’ve gone way off the path, and are fighting for their own honor instead of for the gospel and God’s kingdom.

13 May 2021

Lying so we can win the debate.

Christians lie.

No we’re not supposed to. There’s a whole teaching about this. It’s actually not the “don’t bear false witness” command, Ex 20.16 which has to do with perjury. It’s the one about how Christians need to be rid of lying, and tell the truth to one another. Ep 4.25 But we lie just the same. Usually to get out of trouble. Sometimes to defraud.

And sometimes when we debate with antichrists, and wanna score points, we borrow a rather common tactic we see in politics: We ignore whether our “facts” are all that factual.

Oh, we wish they were factual, ’cause they really help our case. We’ll psyche ourselves into believing they’re factual. We’re willing to dismiss any evidence which says it’s false knowledge. We’re totally willing to perpetuate fraud.

Yeah, it’s fraud. There’s a command against that too. Mk 10.19

But Christians dismiss this particular sin, ’cause we figure it’s so important to win these arguments, score victories for Jesus… and really stick it to those skeptics. Ends justify means. Doesn’t matter that we’re we’re not 100 percent sure about the “facts” we point to, or straight-up that we’re wrong and lying and fraudulent and evil. The goal was to win.

Yeah, this rationale doesn’t fly with God. He’s light, and doesn’t do darkness. 1Jn 1.5 If we adopt darkness, and claim we’re doing it on God’s behalf, we’re really not; it’s done for our victories, not his. We stopped following him. 1Jn 1.6

Whenever we sway non-Christians with non-facts, we’ve not really led them to Jesus. We’ve led them to Christianism. It’s built on lies, remember?—and God’s kingdom is built on truth. We’ve led them into some dark variant of Christianity we’ve invented instead, which we like better—and hopefully God will be merciful to these poor souls and pull them out of our darkness. But there’s no guarantee that’ll happen; ask any cult member.

24 March 2021

Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re entirely right not to.

Back in 2017 an acquaintance of mine started an “apologetics ministry.” It’s kinda defunct now.

Initially it consisted of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. (You know, like TXAB—except I don’t do apologetics.) Except he also created a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, got some friends to be his board members, and solicited donations. He was hoping to turn it into a full-time job… and got really irritated at me for calling it “getting paid to sit in his pajamas all day and argue with strangers on the internet.” But that is what he was doing.

In his mind, he was doing it for Jesus. He figured apologetics is a vital, necessary ministry, and there simply aren’t enough Christians out there… arguing with strangers on the internet, whether they spend all day in their jammies or not.

Like I said, his “ministry” is defunct now. He’s taken to arguing politics. Political organizations aren’t allowed under the 501(c)3 tax code, so I’m pretty sure he’s either no longer accepting donations, or totally breaking the law. As for apologetics, I guess he’s left that to all the other folks who continue to do the very same thing. Many have actually made a career of it. There’s like an army of pajama-clad Christian warriors, armed with the “sword of the Spirit”—and stabbing away at flesh and blood. Ep 6.12-17

Every so often these “ministries” beg me for money. I don’t sign up for their mailing lists. I get put on them ’cause they figure a Christian blogger should be sympathetic to their “plights,” i.e. a salary so they no longer have to work their day job at Kroger. One group has an office in the back of their church building, and (I kid you not) asked everybody on their mailing list for a donation ’cause they wanted to buy an espresso machine. Nope; no $40 Mr. Coffee device with bonus frothing pitcher; they wanted a commercial machine and a full-on coffee bar. Ostensibly so people could come to the office, have a cappuccino or two with them, and debate Jesus. Really because maybe their readers are suckers generous enough to free them from having to hit the Starbucks drive-thru twice a day. Google Maps revealed their office was in an out-of-the-way office park, so I’m entirely sure the only ones partaking of donor-supported espresso would be them. I unsubscribed from their mailing list with extreme prejudice.

Entitled first-worlders aside, if you’re getting the idea I’m not jazzed about such “ministries,” you’d be so right.

Why? ’Cause argumentativeness is a work of the flesh.

Galatians 4.19-21 NRSV
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“Quarrels,” in verse 20, translates ἐριθεῖαι/eritheíe, “picking fights” or “starting intrigues.” Its root is the word ἔρις/éris, “strife.” In Greek mythology, Eris was the goddess who started a fight between the ruling goddesses over who was the prettiest, and their bickering escalated into the Trojan War. So this word is entirely about picking fights.

But of course argumentative Christians—some of whom translate bibles—have muted this word, or translated it as things they personally don’t think they’re tempted by. The KJV’s “strife” makes it sound like full-on war, and they’re not doing that! The NASB, NIV, and NLT prefer “selfish ambition”—and yeah, we get into pretty heavy denial about how selfish our ambitions are, but that’s still not the best translation. Neither is the ESV’s “rivalries,” nor the MEV and RSV’s simple “selfishness.”

Argumentative Christians wanna fight. And the only fight they can justify to themselves, outside of misbegotten ideas about “spiritual warfare,” is arguing people into God’s kingdom. Not just sharing Jesus like an evangelist; shoving people towards him, like a bully. Proselytism.

In such people’s hands, the gospel is no longer good news. It’s bad. The fruit of such tactics are people who flinch at the gospel, and think all Christians are likewise jerks. If they actually succeed in winning people over, we just wind up with more argumentative Christians: More people who think it’s okay to be a dick to all people, that they might by all means save some.

I’m gonna take a break to throw things, then be right back to rebuke this idea further.

14 December 2020

The odds of Jesus fulfilling prophecy.

Round Christmastime you’ll hear all sorts of sermons about Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. I certainly have. Hear ’em every Christmas. Frequently way more than one sermon: I regularly go to the live nativities my city’s churches put together, and the Christians there are gonna preach about Jesus’s birth yet again, just in case anyone doesn’t already know the story. (Nevermind the fact live nativities keep getting elements of the story wrong, like magi at the stable.)

The sermons are frequently from the Luke point of view, which has his actual birth in it. But occasionally preachers will bring up Matthew’s bit about the magi, because it specifically refers to the prophecy Messiah’s to be born in Bethlehem:

Micah 5.2 NASB
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will come forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His times of coming forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”

A previous Messiah, David ben Jesse, came from Bethlehem, 1Sa 17.12 and the great once-and-for-all Messiah, his descendant, was also expected to come from there.

And certain Christians love to bring up this prophecy. Because it reminds us this was all part of God’s plan to save the world, y’know. Jesus wasn’t an unplanned pregnancy, despite the clever-sounding prolife memes going round the internet. His birth had been in the works since the very beginning.

Certain other Christians love to bring up the prophecy, because Christian apologists love to point out the significance of Messianic prophecies in general. They claim they’ve done the math, and the chances of Jesus fulfilling every single prophecy about Messiah in the Old Testament comes out to a crazy-big number. Astronomically huge. Got an unfathomable number of zeroes after it. One popular stat, based on Jesus fulfilling only eight prophecies, comes out to one in a sextillion. That’s 1021, meaning 21 zeroes in the number. A billion trillion.

Sounds impressive, but the problem is their math is based on a faulty premise: When you’re calculating odds, you’re talking about chance. And when we’re talking about Jesus, ain’t no chance involved.

These’d be the odds if Jesus had unintentionally, coincidentally fulfilled prophecy. In other words, if Jesus had never read a bible. Never encountered a biblically literate culture. Knew nothing about what was expected of a Messiah. Yet stumbled into actions which just happened to sync up with every ancient prediction.

Thing is, Jesus is more biblically literate than everybody. He knows these predictions. He knowingly, intentionally, deliberately fulfilled them. The gospels even say so. Like I said, ain’t no chance involved.

13 October 2020

Why are people nontheist? No, it’s not bad Christians.

Nontheists are people who live their lives with zero concern for God. They don’t believe he even exists, or doubt his existence enough to act as if he’s not. They won’t always call themselves atheists or agnostics, ’cause those guys tend to be antichrists and jerks: They’re not anti-religious. They’re simply not religious.

Why are people nontheist? Simple: It’s how they were raised. They had nontheist parents. Like my dad: My grandparents never outright said they didn’t believe in God, but nothing they did ever indicated any belief, and that’s what they passed along to their kids. My aunts and uncle went other routes, but Dad decided upon atheism.

Now what about people who weren’t raised nontheist? Well, Brennan Manning, a former Franciscan priest who became a popular author and public speaker, had a theory that’s become very widely accepted among Evangelical Christians.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Kevin Max reads the quote before the song “What If I Stumble?” off DC Talk’s bestselling 1995 album Jesus Freak. A lot of Evangelicals listened to that album, heard the idea, thought it brilliant, and spread it far and wide. We still claim it’s true: People become nontheist because Christians suck. So stop sucking! Quit being such jerks and love your neighbor! Be compassionate, be loving, be kind, and win people to Jesus by actually being like Jesus!

And yeah, I’ve known various ex-Christians who quit Christianity because their fellow Christians were awful to them. Like gay kids whose parents drove them away (and called it “tough love”—like they’re gonna shun the gayness out of them). Like kids who dared question their legalistic parents, and the parents decided it made ’em apostate, and the kids actually became apostate. Such ex-Christians aren’t necessarily nontheist: Many do believe in God, but they no longer identify as Christian, so they’re pagan. But they might not be pagan had they experienced God’s love through God’s supposed people.

So yeah, maybe the greatest single cause of paganism today, is Christians who don’t properly demonstrate Jesus’s love. Like all humans, pagans are looking for love and acceptance, and if they don’t get it from Christians, they’ll seek and find it elsewhere.

But nontheists?—people who don’t believe in God altogether?—meh.

I’d recommend we stop swallowing Manning and DC Talk’s idea whole, and actually talk to some nontheists. You’ll find out really quickly their objection actually isn’t Christians behaving badly. (Though it certainly doesn’t help!) They don’t believe in God because they don’t find the God-idea reasonable.

22 September 2020

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

NONTHEIST 'nɑn.θi.ɪst adjective. Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.)
[Nontheism 'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm noun.]

Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist.

See, Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just their own gods—and the titans, demigods, and daemons in the Greco-Roman pantheon. They also accepted the existence of the gods of other pantheons. They didn’t presume they knew them all. So whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they accepted it. Even added it to their pantheon, which is why they had multiple gods of the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion) and war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos).

Sometimes they figured it was just one of their gods with a different name: The Latins worshiped a Deo Pater/“Father God” (which later got contracted to Jupiter), and the Greeks presumed this was just Zeus with a Latin alias… and over time this became what the Latins believed too. The Greeks did the same with the Egyptians’ Amun-Ra; they figured he was just what Egyptians called Helios. (The Seleucids tried to pull this with our LORD, claimed he was just the Jewish version of Zeus, and tried to put a Zeus statue in the temple. The Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.)

So the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere. Whereas Christians and Jews have only the One, and believe the beings pagans consider “gods” aren’t gods at all. Either they’re devils pretending to be divine, or they’re the made-up gods of scam-artist priests. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God. (But without devils in their explanations, ’cause they don’t believe in any spirits, including evil ones.) To the ancient pagans, rejecting all their gods felt kinda like Christians didn’t believe in any god.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. Because both Christians and nontheists don’t believe in Zeus, Odin, and Amun-Ra. We likewise reject the divinity of Krishna, Olodumare, the Horned God, and any other pagan deities. We think it’s wrong, unhealthy, silly, or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings—same as nontheists! In that, we’re on the same side.

Where we differ is we do worship YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus. Nontheists simply lump him together with all the other gods, and reject him too.

01 September 2020

Christian apologetics: Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t!)

APOLOGY e'pa.le.dzi noun. Justification for one’s behavior, theory, or religious belief; usually in form of a logical argument.
[Apologetic'dzet.ik adjective, apologist e'pa.le.dzist noun.]
APOLOGETICS'dzet.iks noun. The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs.

Years ago a pastor introduced me to a visitor to our church thisaway: “He knows a lot about apologetics.”

“Well, theology,” I corrected him.

’Cause at the time this pastor didn’t really recognize much of a difference between theology and apologetics. In fact a lot of Christians don’t. Theology is what we know about God. Apologetics tends to be based on those beliefs, and regularly argues in favor of them. But ’tain’t the same thing.

Yeah I actually do know a lot about Christian apologetics. Before I studied theology, it’s what my church taught me. Started in high school. My youth pastor (same as a lot of undereducated youth pastors whose job is to babysit the teens, not actually pastor us), wasn’t all that solid in theology anyway. But his youth pastor taught him Christian apologetics, and in college he got into apologetics-heavy ministries. So he taught what he knew. And it turns out lots of youth groups get taught apologetics instead of theology. ’Cause kids already wanna argue and debate… so why not lean into it?

So I learned all the standard arguments in favor of Christ and the bible. And now I can fight anybody!

Let me emphasize that word again: FIGHT.

If you’re a brawler, if you love to argue, apologetics gives you full permission to indulge. It’s why the practice is so very popular. Apologists even claim it’s a form of spiritual warfare: They’re battling false beliefs! They’re striking down lies and half-truths and misrepresentations and faulty logic! They’re contending for the kingdom!

True, they’re totally contending. With other people.

St. Paul explicitly said our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Ep 6.12 We’re fighting spiritual forces and devilish ideas. But that passage about God’s armor is about fighting the forces which lead us to sin. Not fighting other people. Not fighting nontheists and antichrists who have no intention whatsoever of turning to Jesus. Jesus himself told his students to shake the dust off their feet at such people and move on. But Christian apologists don’t obey Jesus: They just keep fighting, and claim maybe some of this arguing is “planting seeds.”

Fighting, argumentativeness, making enemies, quarrels, and factions are works of the flesh. Ep 5.20 Christians should know this already, and back away from any form of Christian apologetics which descends into verbal brawls. But too many Christian apologists do no such thing. They figure the ends—y’might win someone for Christ!—justify their fruitless means.

Hence Christian apologetics is a field that’s full of abuse. Too many apologists can’t keep their emotions and temper in check. Too many of ’em love to belittle their opponents, mock their intelligence, tear ’em down, or call ’em evil and devilish instead of just mistaken or misguided. Too many of ’em love to win a debate—so much so, they’ll ditch the logic they claim to uphold if it’ll make ’em feel they’ve scored a point. Too many of ’em will even claim things that simply aren’t so, or use false testimonies, false information, and bear false witness, just to win.

There’s a lot of unchristlike behavior in Christian apologetics. It’s why I gotta warn you away from getting mixed up in it. It’s produced way too many Christian jerks. Don’t become another one!

We don’t get a free pass just because we’re “fighting for Jesus.” In fact engaging in such behavior alienates the people we fight. It makes enemies. Makes ’em more bitter and resentful, and drives them even further away from Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom. We’re unwittingly doing the work of the wrong side.

So no, I’m not into apologetics. I’m into theology. I stick to what the scriptures have to say about God, how our God-experiences and the scriptures confirm one another, and the importance of being fruity like Jesus wants. And then I take questions.

I don’t wanna create yet another Christian know-it-all who’s eager to go slap down some naysayers.

03 August 2020

On trusting the bible—but first trusting God.

Whenever Christian apologists write a book on their favorite subject, they either begin by explaining how they know God exists, or why the bible is absolutely trustworthy. It kinda depends on which of the two they consider the higher authority: God, because he inspired the bible; or bible, because it informs us about God.

Custom dictates God should come first, so he does come first in most apologetics books. But not all of ’em, ’cause not every apologist hews to custom. And to be blunt, a number of apologists are total bibliolaters, so they insist it’s vital we establish the bible as an absolute before we can even quote it as an authority.

Thing is, how do we prove the bible’s absolutely trustworthy? Well, here are the answers one apologist offers.

  • Look how many ancient copies of the bible there are! Way more than other books, or contemporary books. That’s gotta mean something.
  • Lookit all the statements the scriptures say about themselves, or other scriptures.
  • Lookit all the contemporary ancient accounts which jibe with the bible. Or all the archeological discoveries which also jibe with the bible. That makes it historical, doesn’t it?
  • Lookit the precise, careful processes the Masoretic Jews and Christian monk copyists used to make sure our copies of the bible are precise duplicates.
  • Lookit how closely the first-century Dead Sea Scrolls line up with the medieval Masoretic texts: Man those Masoretes did a good job of bible preservation.
  • Lookit all the ancient Christians who quote bible—proving not just that there were bibles back then, but since their quotes match the copies of the bible we have, it’s clearly survived down to us intact.

But in these “proofs,” apologists kinda miss the forest for the trees.

Why do skeptics doubt bible? Because they doubt Christians. They doubt Christianity. They doubt our form of Christianity. They doubt God. They doubt all the things which point to bible; stands to reason they’re gonna doubt bible too. Especially since they’ve largely never even read the bible, haven’t a clue what it says, and don’t care enough to bother finding out.

So while apologists are busy trying to explain how the Masoretes invented checksums so they could make sure they precisely copied bible line-for-line, skeptics are busy not caring. So the Old Testament isn’t full of scribal errors. Big whoop. They still think the Old Testament is irrelevant, because they don’t believe the God it describes is even real.

Get it? So, first things first. Before you start discussing the bible’s trustworthiness with anyone, make sure you’re not boring someone who already has their mind made up in the opposite direction.

Which ranks higher: Bible or God?

Like I said, Christian apologists are gonna base a lot of their arguments on bible. Specifically proof texts which defend their points. It’s gonna be the foundation for a lot of their reasoning—so when you build on a foundation, you’d better confirm the foundation is stable. There’d better be some rebar in that concrete, or it’s gonna crack a lot, and pretty much turn into gravel.

But honestly, I don’t focus on the foundation. I focus on the retaining wall. As architects will tell you, the way you make a building earthquake-proof is to not put all your trust in a foundation, ’cause an earthquake’s gonna shake it. You put it in your building’s framework. In smaller buildings like a house, you put a lot of it in the one wall which supports all the other walls. In masonry, you usually put it in your cornerstone.

Not for nothing did the scriptures allude to Jesus as “the head stone of the corner,” Ps 118.22 KJV “the head of the corner,” Mk 12.10 KJV or as Paul put it,

Ephesians 2.19-22 KJV
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Yeah the apostles and prophets who wrote the bible are our foundation, but Jesus himself keeps the building up.

So when I talk to skeptics, I base as many propositions as I can upon my personal experiences with the living God. On what I’ve seen with my eyes, what I’ve heard with my ears and heart, what my hands have handled. 1Jn 1.1 Y’know, like the apostles did. I use the scriptures to confirm these experiences are valid, same as the ancient Christians did… but I still keep referring to my God-experiences.

Other apologists do it the other way round. They were taught to trust bible more than their God-experiences. Problem is, prioritizing bible over personal experience makes no sense to pagans. They think it means we’re denying reality. And to a degree, they’re not wrong. When we reject God-experiences because we think the bible tells us otherwise, you do realize we’re not following God anymore. We’ve gone another way. The wrong way.

Once I started pointing to my God-experiences, I found certain skeptics really grow irritated with me. Y’see, antichrists have learned all these tactics for debunking the bible, specifically so they can win debates with Christians. We Christians foolishly assume we’re better-prepared than they, walk right into their traps, and instead of sharing Jesus we spend the next three hours defending bible. Whereas in sharing my God-experiences instead, I don’t spring any of their traps. It utterly confounds them; it’s like I’m not playing their game properly. Well I’m not. I’m not here to debate abstractions; I’m here to testify.

Proving the bible is reliable helps convince us Christians to trust it more. That’s why we learn why the bible’s reliable. That’s the only reason why. Learning this stuff so we can convince naysayers it’s reliable? Waste of time. Even if you convince them the bible is well-copied and ancient and historically accurate, they’ll only believe it’s a reliable myth.

Like Homer’s poetry. Ever read the Iliad and Odyssey? Now let’s say these epics were reliably copied, and historically accurate—there really was an Achilles and Odysseus and Hector and Priam, and Troy did get destroyed, and Odysseus did take years to get home. You gonna believe in Zeus now, and worship him? Heck no. Same with pagans who doubt the bible: Its reliability doesn’t do what you’re hoping it will.

So first things first. Show ’em God is real. Show ’em Christ Jesus is the only true way to God. Then they might acknowledge bible.

So the bible has a lot of ancient copies.

Christian apologists love to point out how many ancient manuscripts there are of the bible. ’Cause there are tens of thousands. The New Testament is the most-copied book in antiquity. There are way more ancient copies of the NT than any other ancient book; way more by far. Josh McDowell loves to point out less than 700 ancient copies of the Iliad exist, compared with 24,000 ancient copies of the NT. Evidence That Demands a Verdict vol. 1, c. 4

How does this prove the bible’s reliable? It doesn’t really.

It does prove the bible was popular. As it would be, with Christians. There were a lot of us, and any Christian who could afford to get the bible copied, did. After all, it’s foundational to our religion. Whereas the Iliad is an old pagan poem about a religion which, for centuries, competed with Christianity for followers and power… so it stands to reason Christians wouldn’t be so keen on preserving it. Wasn’t till Greco-Roman paganism was extinct that Christians finally felt the Iliad was safe to read, and wouldn’t convert anyone to Zeusism.

Likewise the billions of bibles published today, in every language we can find, only proves the bible’s popular. Not reliable.

Yet I’ve heard apologists claim this volume implies reliability—and that’s a logical fallacy, an argument which sounds profound but really isn’t. Don’t we keep trying to teach our teenagers that popular doesn’t mean true?

So the bible has very few textual variants.

Christian apologists also love to point out how few textual variants we find in the ancient manuscripts of both Old and New Testaments. Certainly fewer than most ancient books… considering how few copies of ancient books there are.

Certainly fewer than even more recent books. The three earliest copies of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet are extremely different from one another. There’s the First Quarto (published 1603), the Second Quarto (1604), and the First Folio (1623), and they line up for the most part… but they also have some really big differences between them. You may not know this, ’cause if you’ve ever read Hamlet or seen it performed, what you read or saw was a version of the play edited together by textual scholars. Sometimes the scholars were trying to figure out what Shakespeare originally had in the play… and just as often, like the Textus Receptus, they just wanted to make sure all the variants got included. Especially their favorites.

Textual scholars are way more responsible when it comes to today’s original-language editions of the bible. But the most ancient bibles aren’t anywhere near as different from one another as the earliest copies of Hamlet. Take the two oldest copies of the bible there are and compare them: You’ll find very little difference between them. Heck, take copies from the Middle Ages—the result of centuries of making copies of copies of copies of copies of copies—and you’ll find less than 15 percent difference between them. That’s better than the two quartos of Hamlet, both of which were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

For that, the Masoretes and monks deserve a lot of credit for making sure so very few errors crept into their copies. (And we Christians will also give the Holy Spirit a lot of credit for getting ’em to preserve his bible.)

But here’s the thing: Of course there were very few variants in ancient bibles. They were made by devout Jews and Christians, who considered these texts the very word of God, and put supreme importance on making sure these were exact copies. Hence they went to so much trouble to make sure no mistakes slipped in. As opposed to someone who was just reprinting Hamlet, which—though a brilliant play—ain’t holy scripture.

Despite how few textual variants there were, any textual variant makes people doubt the bible’s reliability. And no, we can’t just pretend they don’t exist, like KJV-worshipers will. We know better. Antichrists definitely know better. So even though the bible is remarkably well-preserved, how do we know which verses oughta be in there, and which verses oughta be tucked into the footnotes?

Real simple: Look at the oldest ancient manuscripts.

  • If words or verses are missing in all those copies, they weren’t in the originals; they don’t belong in the bible.
  • If they’re missing in most of those copies, put ’em in brackets or the footnotes.
  • If they’re missing in few of those copies, put ’em in the text, but include a footnote saying they’re not in every ancient copy.
  • And if they’re not missing anywhere, it’s all good.

Again: This doesn’t prove the bible’s the authentic word of God. It only makes reasonably sure our original-language bibles are as close to the original texts as possible. Textual criticism isn’t that difficult a science. It only seems impressive and hard ’cause the scholars are dealing with ancient manuscripts and languages. But relax; they know what they’re doing.

So historians and scholars like it.

Christian apologists also love to point out how historians and scholars consider the bible to be a valid, authoritative, useful historical document. After all, it does contain the history of the ancient Hebrews and Christians, and is confirmed many times over by archaeology.

But there’s two problems with making a fuss over this. Yes, historians and scholars consider the bible historical. Now, does it mean they’ve taken its claims about God seriously, and became Christians? For a number of ’em no. They’re still pagans and skeptics. (Or devout Jews and Muslims.) They may take the bible’s history seriously, and use the bible to find archeological sites. But if they don’t wanna believe in Jesus, they’re not gonna. They’re gonna consider the God parts mythology, and the rest useful. Same as we do the Iliad.

Secondly, “Well historians and scholars consider it valid” doesn’t work on skeptical pagans. They don’t care what historians, scholars, scientists, linguists, researchers, and theologians think. They don’t believe in it; that’s all they care about.

Y’notice I keep coming back to the same conclusion: The bible’s a really impressive, very unique book. It has a long, interesting history. Does this prove it true and reliable? No. Does this convince pagans to trust it? No. When they say, “I don’t even believe in the bible,” we’re not gonna win them over by pointing to how neat it is. We gotta introduce them to Jesus. Only then will the bible become anything relevant to them.

Save the stats for us bible nerds who already like the bible.

30 October 2019

Relativism. (’Cause we aren’t all that absolute.)

RELATIVISM 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪ.zəm noun. Belief that truth, knowledge, and morals are based on context, not absolutes.
[Relative 'rɛl.ə.dɪv adjective, relativist 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪst noun.]

Relativism is a big, big deal to Christian apologists. I’ll get to why in a minute; bear with me as I introduce the concept.

Some of us were raised by religious people, and were taught to believe in religious absolutes: God is real, Jesus is alive, sin causes death, love your neighbor. Others weren’t raised religious, but they grew up in a society which accepts and respects absolutes. Like scientific principles, logic, mathematics, or a rigid code of ethics.

The rest—probably the majority—claim they believe in absolutes, but they’re willing to get all loosey-goosey whenever the absolutes get in their way. They might agree theft is bad… but it’s okay if they shoplift every once in a while. Murder is bad… but dropping bombs on civilians during wartime is acceptable. Lying is bad… but it’s okay to take an iffy deduction on their taxes. And so on. These absolutes aren’t all that absolute when it conveniences them. So they’re not really absolute; they’re relative.

Yeah, it’s total hypocrisy to claim you believe in absolutes, but regularly make exceptions for yourself. But just about everybody does it. We Christians in particular: We judge others—sometimes harshly—for making mistakes, but we live under grace; we’re forgiven, not perfect. Still hypocrisy though.

And recognizing this, a number of people have decided to straight-up deny anything is absolute. Everything’s relative. Usually, all things being equal, certain things are true. (Like the bible’s proverbs.) But we can always make exceptions to these truths; therefore none of these truths are absolute. Sometimes they’re false. Postmoderns are known for doubting whether every “absolute truth” is really all that absolute. But these relativists insist nothing’s absolute. At all.

21 August 2019

When people believe Christianity is a myth.

Christianity is an historical religion. It’s based on a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and breathed and died in the first century of our era. He proclaimed God’s kingdom and described what it’s like, informed us no one could get round him to the Father, Jn 14.6 and despite being crucified by the Romans, physically came back from the dead and sent his followers to proclaim this kingdom on his behalf.

If none of this stuff literally happened—if it’s pure mythology, a fiction based on cultural archetypes instead of true events, which reflects humanity’s fondest wishes, meant to teach greater truths and bigger ideas instead of being taken as fact—then we Christians have a huge problem. See, when we join God’s kingdom we’re kinda expected to change our entire lives based on its principles. We’re also promised Jesus is gonna come back to personally rule this kingdom. But if Christianity’s mythological, then Jesus won’t do any such thing, ’cause he’s dead.

Oh, and if he’s dead, we Christians don’t get resurrected and go to heaven either. ’Cause that’d be part of the myth too. We’ve been had, and are massively wasting our time: Not only is there no kingdom of God, but we die, stay dead, and go nowhere.

1 Corinthians 15.17-19 KWL
17 If Christ isn’t risen, your faith has no foundation.
You’re still in your sins, 18 and those who “sleep in Christ” are gone.
19 If hope in Christ only exists in this life, we’re the most pathetic of all people.

Yet believe it or don’t, there are people who identify themselves as Christian, and believe the bible is mostly, if not entirely, mythology. You’ll find them among the Unitarians, though most of them don’t bother with organized religion. You’ll find them among cultural Christians, who approve of Christianity’s trappings but don’t really believe any of it; who go to church to feel spiritual, but think we Christians are silly for literally believing any of this stuff.

25 March 2019

“The fool says there’s no God around.”

Psalm 14.1, 53.1.

The New Living Translation renders Psalm 14.1 and 53.1 exactly the same:

Psalm 14.1, 53.1 NLT
Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
not one of them does good!

It’s because Psalms 14 and 53 are actually the same psalm. David ben Jesse wrote it five centuries before Psalms got put together—and Psalms is actually made of five different psalters. The first book Ps 1-41 had it, and so did the second Ps 42-72 —so yep, it’s in there twice. For fun, you can compare the two psalms for the differences which slipped into the psalm over time. It’s kinda like different hymnals which have alternate verses to your favorite hymns. (“Amazing Grace,” fr’instance, is a bit different from the way John Newton originally wrote it.)

Differences the NLT actually muted. ’Cause it translated two different words as “actions.” Psalm 14.1 has עֲלִילָ֗ה/alilá, “a doing,” and Psalm 53.1 has עָ֝֗וֶל/avél, “an immoral deed.” The NLT’s translators wanted to emphasize the verses’ similarities so much, they erased their differences. Which isn’t always the right route to take, but one the NLT and NIV translation committees prefer. This is why I tell people to study multiple bible translations: Y’never know what you might be missing because of the translators’ various agendas.

But I digress. Today I’m writing about the first part of the verse, which the KJV phrases thisaway:

Psalm 14.1, 53.1 KJV
1A The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

It’s a verse I’ve heard quoted many, many times. Usually by Christians who wanna refer to nontheists as fools.

Frequently Christian apologists wanna use this verse as a proof text to argue in favor of God’s existence. As if quoting bible is how you prove God exists: “See, the bible says he’s real, so there.” That’s gonna work on a nontheist exactly the same as if I whipped out a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and said, “See, Oz is a real place!” You don‘t prove God exists with words; especially rude words. You prove he exists by giving ’em a God-experience. Anything else basically makes you the fool.

And I wanna back up even further and question whether this verse is even about nontheists at all. Y’might guess I would say it’s really not.

09 January 2019

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.

HE. “Jesus never said that.”
ME. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly states….”
HE. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”

Where’d he get the idea the gospels aren’t historical?—that the Jesus we Christians believe in, is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is what we call the Historical Jesus hypothesis.

When he wasn’t staying in the White House, Thomas Jefferson used to spend his evenings at home in Virginia with four bibles (two copies each, so he could get the text from either side of the page), scissors and paste, splicing together a private book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays we call it “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s version of the story, Jesus does no miracles (except one or two, which Jefferson left in because he liked the lessons in those particular stories).

Displayed in Greek, Latin, French, and English—though Jefferson’s ancient-language skills were iffy, so sometimes they don’t line up perfectly. UVA Magazine

Y’see, Jefferson believed God doesn’t interfere with nature, and therefore Jesus never did miracles. He was only a teacher of morals. Miracles were added years later by supernaturalist Christians. So Jefferson literally cut out the miracles and kept the lessons. Well… the lessons he liked; not so much the hard-for-him-to-believe statements Jesus makes throughout John.

So yeah, the Historical Jesus idea isn’t new. It predates Jefferson. It stretches all the way back to the most ancient church; you see it in Marcion of Sinope. It’s based on the Jesus we know—the Jesus of the gospels and the apostles’ letters, the Jesus who still appears to people, the Jesus who’s coming back. But it’s a Jesus edited with scissors and paste, as people trim away everything they can’t or won’t believe.

10 October 2018

Are Mormons Christian?

I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.

Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.

Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s be honest; sometimes they totally wanna). The idea of unlimited grace sounds too good to be true. Nobody else offers unlimited grace. Even when commercials claim a company gives you unlimited stuff, there’s always fine print. Always.

Same deal with Christians who are fond of, or fixated upon, doctrines. They wanna know how heretic is too heretic. How far can we go outside the boundaries of historic Christianity before we’re simply not Christian anymore? So they wanna know about groups which call themselves Christian, but embrace heretic beliefs. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are Arian; like the Oneness Pentecostals, who are unitarian; like the Christian Scientists, who believe reality is a mental construct.

So let’s talk about the Mormons.

A small number of ’em aren’t okay with the term “Mormon”; they prefer “Latter-day Saint,” or LDS for short. These tend to be the older Mormons, ’cause back in the 1970s, when I first encountered them, one of their leaders apparently had a hangup about it. (It’s sorta like referring to Christians as “New Testaments.”) Nowaday’s Mormons are used to it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest of the heretic churches. For this reason I interact with plenty of Mormons; we have four of their churches in my city. I first learned what they supposedly believe when I went to Fundamentalist churches, who taught me to shun and fear them. A lot of that was hearsay from ex-Mormons with axes to grind. Since then I went to journalism school, and learned to always go to the source. So I did. Whenever the Mormons wanna evangelize me, I seize the opportunity and ask a ton of questions.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Mormons were kinda secretive about any of their beliefs which were outside the Christian mainstream. (No doubt they were made gunshy by all the hostile Fundies.) I guess somebody in their leadership realized how that came across, and got ’em to cut it out. So now they’ll tell you just about anything you wanna know. Including the weird stuff, which makes ’em a little uncomfortable, but they’re good kids and try to be honest. So if you wanna know about Mormons, don’t be afraid to ask Mormons.

26 September 2018

The flood story and theodicy.

As I said yesterday, when skeptics ask me about the flood story, primarily what they wanna deal with is the idea of a global flood. Earth doesn’t have enough water to cover all the landmasses, and the young-earth creationist explanations for whence and whither the water, generally sound stupid to them. Pointing out how Genesis states the land was flooded, not the world, quickly sorts that out to their satisfaction.

I have yet to run into a non-Christian skeptic whose problem with the flood story is that God flooded the world. I have met Christians who struggle with it though. Generally their problem comes from their Pelagianism.

Y’see, Pelagius of Britain believed humans are inherently good. ’Cause we were created good, y’know. Ge 1.31 But sin bollixed all that, and now humanity is inherently selfish and corrupt—but Pelagians can‘t believe that. After all, they know lots of good people. And optimistically figure all most people need is a nudge in the right direction, provide us good influences, and we’ll straighten right out. This being the case, nobody oughta go to hell; a loving God, if he’s truly loving, would universally save everyone. Right?

Wouldn’t that be nice. But ’tain’t so. Like I said, we’re inherently selfish and corrupt. We could have the best influences ever—like Judas Iscariot had Jesus of Nazareth—yet still figure we know best, rebel, betray, and die in despair and nihilism. It’s not that God doesn’t wanna save everyone; of course he does. It’s that people would rather go to hell than have anything to do with him.

So when Pelagians look at the people of Noah’s day, their issue is they don’t actually believe God when he declared humanity, except for Noah, was ruined.

Genesis 6.11-13 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined. The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!—all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face, the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them. Look, the land is ruined!”

No, they insist, it wasn’t. A loving God could’ve unruined it… in some other way than flooding it.

To their minds, a loving God should’ve found another alternative than judgment and punishment. The problem—the dirty little secret of universalism—is the only way God could fix ’em without punishing them is to reprogram them. If rebellion is their freewill decision, all God needs to do is abolish their free will, and force them to love him. In so doing, God’s gonna destroy them—you know, like hell will. Only difference is, it’ll look like God never actually destroyed anything—but of course he did, just like a computer with a swapped-out hard drive. Looks the same; isn’t at all.

Y’know, replacing humans with Stepford humans is hypocrisy, and completely undermines God’s character. But universalists don’t care about that so much as they do their character, which they insist is inherently good. Better than God’s, too. (Not that they’ll ever say this. They’ll simply claim instead that the violent bits of the bible which they disapprove of, weren’t literal. Or inspired. Or otherwise count.)

06 September 2018

The bible is a way different book.

Christian apologists—especially when they kinda lean towards biblolatry—make a great big deal about how unique the bible is. To them, it’s a powerful argument why people ought not dismiss it as just another ancient book by dead white brown guys. The bible’s a distinctly, profoundly different book. It’s very unique. Only the most ignorant of skeptics would claim otherwise.

And then they go listing all the ways it’s totally unique. I’ll list a few in this article. But the big pile of ways the bible’s different, is meant to really impress someone that the bible is important and valid.

Which is a basic logical flaw: Unique doesn’t automatically mean important and valid.

Fr’instance let’s say a space alien came to earth, and presented us with his book of the best recipes for blergsperken. What’s blergsperken? I dunno. And none of the ingredients match anything we know about; what on earth is “raw sperkburf?” For all we know, the alien could be its planet‘s very worst cook. But his cookbook is definitely unique.

So the bible’s uniqueness doesn’t make it valid. Doesn’t make it invalid either! Uniqueness just happens to be one of the bible’s characteristics.

Popular apologist Josh McDowell confessed as much in the conclusion of Evidence That Demands a Verdict’s chapter on the bible’s uniqueness. Maybe as a disclaimer, or maybe because somebody pointed out the logical inconsistency—but he didn’t wanna throw out an entire heavily-sourced chapter.

The above does not prove the Bible is the Word of God, but to me it proves that it is unique (“different from all others; having no like or equal”). McDowell 1.24

And then McDowell went right back to dropping interesting trivia about the bible’s uniqueness.

Anyway I wanted to begin with this disclaimer, ’cause I want it clear the bible’s uniqueness only proves the bible is unique. Doesn’t prove anything more. But because Christian apologists insist it totally does imply something, you oughta be aware that’s just their biases talking: They love the bible, and isn’t it just the best book in the world? It must be inspired!

Well anyway. Let’s get into the ways the bible is different.

11 July 2018

“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

The written word is not authoritative.

I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.

For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.

And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impressed when I inform ’em it was written by dead brown men… but not by much. They don’t respect the Bhagavad-Gita either.)

This is why apologists feel it’s very important to establish the bible’s credentials as an authoritative book. This way when anybody responds, “Oh ‘the bible says’—well who cares what the bible says?” we have an arsenal of arguments as to why the naysayer has to take the scriptures seriously.

Personally I’ve found I don’t need an arsenal. Whenever a former pastor of mine was challenged with “What’s the big deal with the bible?” he’d respond with, “Have you ever read the bible?” Few to none have. “Well perhaps you oughta read it before you dismiss it.” So either they’d read it, and the Holy Spirit would work on ’em thataway; or they were never gonna read it, but rather than say so, they just quit trying to put down the bible.

I just presume pagans have their doubts about the bible, and how valid it is. So I don’t bother to point to it. I point to Jesus.

Wait, but where’d I get all my Jesus stuff from? Oh I fully admit for the most part it comes from the bible. But pagans never really ask where I got my Jesus stuff from. They assume I learned it in church. (I kinda did.) If they want to know where in the bible I got this stuff from, I can point ’em to the book and chapter, and sometimes the specific verse. They don‘t ask, though. They just take my word for it… until they don‘t wanna take my word for it anymore. Same as they would with the bible.

Referring to the book and chapter only impresses Christians, anyway. Doesn’t impress a single pagan. In fact, peppering my conversation with bible addresses leads them to believe I’m not really speaking from the heart; I’m quoting a script, ’cause only somebody who wrote all this stuff out as a lecture would include footnotes. And they don’t wanna hear a canned spiel. They want something “more real” than that. Or what feels more real.

So ditch the bible references.

I know; it outrages certain Christians when I recommend this. And not just the bibliolaters. They assume I’m telling people to ditch bible. I am not. By all means, base every declaration you make on the scriptures. But do you need to regularly interrupt your speech with “John 3.16” and “Romans 3.23” and “Ephesians 2.8” and all the addresses which they’re never gonna remember to look up later anyway? Like I said, this only impresses Christians, and they’re the only people we do this for. But they don’t need to hear the gospel; pagans do. So quit pandering to them and consider your audience. The references aren’t actually helping. Ditch ’em.