Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

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

11 July 2018

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

Don’t be naïve.

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.

10 July 2018

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

Trying to activate a conscience is a tricky thing.

Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trick apologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.

PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”
APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “You don’t have anything he still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Like what?”
APOLOGIST. “Like sins. Have you ever sinned?”
PAGAN. “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.”
APOLOGIST. “That’s the only sin you can think of?”
PAGAN. “Well okay, there’s lying, cheating, stealing, stuff like that.”
APOLOGIST. “Right. God lists commandments about that in the bible, like the Ten Commandments. The bible says when you break one, it’s like you broke all of them. Jm 2.10-11 So have you ever lied?”
PAGAN. “Yeah.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever cheated on your taxes?”
PAGAN. “No.”
APOLOGIST. “So you paid your taxes when you bought something out-of-state over the internet?”
PAGAN. “Okay maybe I cheated on my taxes.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever stolen anything, like downloading a movie off the internet, or a paperclip from work?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever lusted for somebody? The bible says that’s the same as adultery. Mt 5.27 That’s a sin.”
PAGAN. “Seriously? The bible’s strict.”
APOLOGIST. “Yes it is. It says if you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Mt 5.21-22 So, ever fantasized about murdering anyone?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, but that’s not really murder.”
APOLOGIST. “The bible says it’s just as bad, and still a sin. Like you said, the bible’s really strict. Ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?—that actually doesn’t mean cursing, but you swore to God you’d do something, and didn’t?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, I did.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever been envious of your neighbor’s house or car or wife? That‘s coveting; that’s a sin too.”
PAGAN.That’s a sin?”
APOLOGIST. “That’s a sin. God considers all these things sins, all of them violations of commands where he told people to never do them. So, do you have anything God still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Guess so.”
APOLOGIST. “Well he wants to forgive you. But you have to ask for forgiveness.”

And from there, a brief explanation about how God made it so everyone can be forgiven and saved, a bit of the sinner’s prayer, and you’ve won another soul for God’s kingdom. And all the angels in heaven rejoiced. Lk 15.10

01 June 2018

The “recovering atheist”?

Kirk Cameron, and how he describes his Christian experience.


Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect.

A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect, which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it.

This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. (Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to.

I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan.

I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-terrible writers and directors. You realize Leonardo DiCaprio was his costar on his ’80s sitcom Growing Pains? Thanks to that steaming turd of a show, nobody could tell DiCaprio had better-than-average talent. For all we know Cameron could be an amazing talent. But he’s never gonna work with Martin Scorsese or Stephen Spielberg; best he can hope for is the one Christian assistant director on Sharknado. So we’re never gonna see his true potential.

What I object to is how Cameron leveraged his celebrity to promote lousy evangelism tactics, and now culture-war movies and documentaries. Dude seems to have wandered into the most mindless circles of Evangelicalism, and that’s where he’ll stay until the Holy Spirit pries him loose. Which is hard to do when you won’t engage your mind.

No, that “won’t engage your mind” comment isn’t just an idle insult. Cameron actually promoted turning off your brain when he works with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry.

19 March 2018

Let’s suppose Jesus is dead.

Relax; he’s not. This is just an intellectual exercise.

Six years ago I was asked to write on “the resurrection hoax” for a synchroblog. The idea was this: Suppose Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Suppose the story was entirely fabricated by the apostles. Hence hundreds of people didn’t actually see Jesus alive. 1Co 15.6 Hence he hasn’t personally appeared to thousands of people in the present day; these are all delusions. Hence despite evidence to the contrary, 40 days after his death, thousands became Christian, Ac 2.41 thousands more in the years thereafter, Christianity spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and now a third of the planet is Christian. But it’s entirely based on mythology and wishful thinking.

Well… for contrast, a billion people claim adherence to Islam, and we Christians figure Muhammed ibn Abdullah al-Mecca was wrong about God. But then again Muhammed didn’t claim any big miracles for himself. (His followers did, later.) He only claimed to hear from angels. I don’t have any problem with that idea; I just doubt these angels were on the level.

Anyway. “The resurrection hoax” is also an intellectual exercise Christian apologists like to use to imagine what the world should look like if Jesus isn’t alive. “If Jesus wasn’t raised, that shouldn’t’ve happened. And that shouldn’t’ve taken place. And this would be impossible. And all these miracles would be delusions.” And so on. Basically we make up a parallel world without Jesus in it, then argue, “We don’t live in that world, so Jesus must be alive.”

D’you recognize the gigantic problem with that argument? Right; it’s what we call a strawman: Build a dummy out of straw, fight it, defeat it easily, then say, “Look how well I can defend myself!” Um… it wasn’t even attacking you, because it can’t, because it’s straw. Imaginary worlds prove, at most, that we lack imagination. ’Cause an antichrist can imagine a world which looks exactly like this one, wherein Jesus is dead. It’s the world they imagine they’re in now.

Still, apologists like to use it to make smaller challenges: “If Jesus isn’t alive, why weren’t the apostles immediately and successfully challenged by people who could refute their resurrection stories?” (ANTICHRIST: “Duh; they were, but when they wrote the bible, they didn’t include any of those challenges.”) “If Jesus isn’t alive, how could the apostles do all those miracles?” (ANTICHRIST: “Hey, I’m not convinced they did any of those miracles.”) I could go on, but as you can tell, I’ve tried this tactic myself, and antichrists have answers for all our posits. We won’t agree with their answers—and that’s why we’re Christian. But don’t presume antichrists haven’t come up with all sorts of reasons to reject Christ and Christianity—ones which work just fine for them.

05 March 2018

The “six days” of creation.

Genesis 1, and why it doesn’t mean what young-earth creationists claim it does.

Creationism is the belief God created the universe and life.

Creationism is an orthodox Christian belief: It’s found in the creeds. “I believe in one God… maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible.” God initially created everything. He didn’t necessarily create everything since—fr’instance, he didn’t create evil. But he created their creators.

So yeah, technically all orthodox Christians are creationists. Problem is, the word “creationist” has been co-opted by the young-earth creationists (YEC for short), the folks who insist God created the universe only 6,000 years ago. Or if you wanna get specific, 6,021 years ago, in October. They’re the ones pushing the idea that if you’re a real Christian, if you’re truly orthodox, you gotta believe as they do.


A diorama from the Creation Museum of a primitive human and featherless dinosaurs. (Yeah, they’re a bit slow to keep up with the latest science. Be fair; so is Jurassic World.) Atlas Obscura

Of course young-earth creationism isn’t the only worldview Christians are allowed. I myself am an old-earth creationist (or OEC), who believes God created the universe 13 billion years ago, and the earth about 4 billion years ago. You know, like most scientists currently estimate. They tend to describe creation in terms of natural, physics-based processes, and they’re right to; that’s what science is supposed to do. Look at nature and make deductions based on the available evidence. Not, as the young-earth creationists do, start with a conclusion (“God made it in six literal days in 4004BC!”) then bend what they observe in nature so it’ll fit the conclusion. That’s how you get superstition. Or, as some folks charitably call it, “junk science.”

I admit I’m biased in favor of my view, but lemme briefly list a few of the other views for your consideration.

  • INTELLIGENT DESIGN. Creationism of any and every kind, but it downplays which specific creator, so as to be more palatable to those who object to religion.
  • THEISTIC EVOLUTION. Much the same as regular evolution, but instead of being solely by natural selection, the Creator had a hand in it.
  • DAY-AGE THEORY. A form of OEC, where the six days are described as six eras, thousands to billions of years long, during which God achieved what Genesis 1 describes for each day.
  • GAP THEORY. Same as YEC believe, but instead of happening in six sequential days, gap theorists posit there are some billion-year gaps in the timeline.

Back during my Fundamentalist upbringing, when I was taught YEC was the only acceptable interpretation of the bible, I was also taught all these other views were forms of compromise: The only faithful interpretation of the bible was a literal one.

So why’m I in the OEC camp today? Because I read the bible without the YEC blinders on. Genesis 1 describes a physically impossible universe, inconsistent with the one nearly everybody recognizes to be true. Yes, nearly everybody. YEC followers included!

08 February 2018

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

Their apologetics don’t evangelize you. Why should yours work on them?

About two months ago on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was accosted 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; he stopped me as I was walking past his synagogue.

He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time, and expect I’ll meet a few more this spring. 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 would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.

I know: Certain Christians are gonna be outraged that I dared let work get in the way of an “opportunity” such as this. 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 any correction from the likes of me. To his mind he’s right; we Christians are wrong; that’s that.

I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. I learned the hard way it’s a big mistake to go to fellow Christians for information about other religions. Nearly all of us are so biased. Which is fine; nothing wrong with preferring your religion to all others. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all its competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. Consequently you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.

So if 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. Hey, I couldn’t argue with that whatsoever. (But 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.

05 February 2018

Has God predetermined everything in the universe? Evil too?

Suppose it was all God’s idea.

DETERMINISM /di'tər.mən.ɪz.əm/ n. Belief every event is fixed in place by external causes other than human will.
[Determinist /di'tər.mən.ɪst/ n., deterministic /di'tər.mən.ɪst.ɪk/ adj.]

I first bumped into the idea of determinism when I was a kid, ’cause my parents let me read Mark Twain. A lot of people assume, thanks to Tom Sawyer, that Twain was a children’s author. Not even close. And in his later years, after so many of his family members died and Twain became more and more cynical, some of the things he wrote were mighty disturbing. What are the chances I read that stuff? Yep, 100 percent.

In Twain’s novella The Mysterious Stranger, some 16th-century German boys encounter a young angel named Satan (named for his uncle—yeah, that uncle) who takes them on adventures. At one point, young Satan introduces the boys to the concept of determinism.

“Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick—and so on till all the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child’s first act knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If you could see into the future, as I can, you would see everything that was going to happen to that creature; for nothing can change the order of its life after the first event has determined it. That is, nothing will change it, because each act unfailingly begets an act, that act begets another, and so on to the end, and the seer can look forward down the line and see just when each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave.”

“Does God order the career?”

“Foreordain it? No. The man’s circumstances and environment order it. His first act determines the second and all that follow after.”

The idea of being locked into a fixed future depresses the boys. But Satan cheers them up by pointing out how, as an angel, he can interfere with people’s chain of cause-and-effect, and change their futures for the better. To the boys’ dismay and horror, Satan’s idea of “better” usually consists of letting people die prematurely, or letting them go mad. In one case Satan even lets a person live a long, happy life… then die and go to hell.

Later in life I discovered Twain, or Sam Clemens as he was known in his private life, grew up Presbyterian. Must’ve been paying attention to all the Calvinism taught in those churches. Because Calvinism is pretty big on determinism.

Determinism, the belief we’re all victims of circumstance—and that even our free will is bound to do as circumstances have conditioned it to do—wasn’t invented by John Calvin and the Calvinists. Nor even St. Augustine of Hippo, whence Calvin first got the idea. It predates Christianity, predates the Hebrew religion, predates the written word. Humans have believed in it since they first saw one rock topple another, and thought, “What if all of life is like that?” Every religion has its determinists.

27 December 2017

The odds of Jesus fulfilling prophecy.

They sound impressive… till you realize we’re applying the entirely wrong discipline to prophecy.

Round Christmastime you’ll hear all sorts of sermons about Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. I certainly have. Hear ’em every Christmas. Frequently more than one, ’cause I regularly go to live nativities ’n crap like that, where Christians are gonna preach about Jesus’s birth yet again, just in case anyone there 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 usually from the Luke point of view, which has his actual birth in it. But occasionally preachers will bring up Matthew’s story about the magi, because it makes reference to the prophecy Messiah’s to be born in Bethlehem:

Micah 5.2 KWL
You! Bethléhem-Efratá! Smallest of Judah’s thousands! Israel’s ruler comes from you, for my sake.
They bring him forth—he who’s from the beginning, from days beyond counting.

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. According to them, they’ve done the math: The chances of Jesus fulfilling every single prophecy about Messiah in the Old Testament comes out to a vast, astronomical number. Then they pitch some number with 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 God’s will, ain’t no chance involved.

These’d be the odds if Jesus had coincidentally fulfilled prophecy. In other words, if he’d absolutely no clue certain things had been said about the future Messiah, and stumbled into actions which just happened to coincide with every ancient prediction.

Thing is, Jesus not only knew about these predictions, he knowingly, intentionally, deliberately fulfilled them. As the gospels state.

14 November 2017

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

Apologetics isn’t about picking fights. Don’t use it that way.

An acquaintance of mine just started an “apologetics ministry.” Currently it consists of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. You know, exactly like TXAB, except I don’t do apologetics.

Except dude went out and created a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Got board members. Accepts donations. He’s seriously hoping to turn it into a full-time job. He got really irritated with me for calling it “getting paid to argue with strangers on the internet in his pajamas.”

But that is what he’s up to. He’s doing it “for Jesus,” but still. He considers it a vital, necessary ministry—that there simply aren’t enough Christians out there, arguing with strangers on the internet, whether in their jammies or not. I’d beg to differ, but he claims they’re not good apologists—not as informed as he is.

If you’re picking up the idea I’m not as jazzed as he is about his burgeoning “ministry,” you’d be so right. Yet he’s hardly the only Christian apologist I’ve met who covets a career in it. And some of ’em actually have made it a career. Because other Christians are convinced there needs to be 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 would be sympathetic to their plights for regular salaries and to keep the lights on. One group, I kid you not, wanted donations ’cause they wanted to open a coffee bar in their office, complete with a commercial espresso machine. Since Google Maps reveals their office is in an out-of-the-way office park, I deduced the only ones partaking of donor-supported coffee would be them, and unsubscribed from their mailing list with extreme prejudice. Entitled first-worlders; I tell ya.

But back to my apologist acquaintance. Exactly who’s his “ministry” ministering to? The people he wants to pick fights with in the YouTube comments? Or him?—’cause if he can get enough financing, he can spend all the live-long day debating strangers on the internet. (Yes, yes, “for Jesus”!) It can become his day job, instead of his nighttime hobby. As is the case of most of the apologists I know, who never bother to set up a whole nonprofit corporation around themselves.

Why am I so dismissive of the idea? ’Cause argumentativeness is a work of the flesh. Ep 5.20 That’s what he’s really about. Not leading people to Jesus, like an evangelist. Shoving people towards Jesus, like a bully.

And 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 if they’re actually successful, 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. Because they’re doing it “for Jesus.” And hey, if they can gather enough donors, it must mean Jesus has blessed their undertaking right? Surely money must mean divine approval.

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

30 March 2017

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

When apologists try to make God appear in a puff of logic.

Properly speaking, God’s existence isn’t a theology subject. It’s an apologetics subject. Theology is the study of God, and it takes God’s existence for granted: Of course he exists. Duh. Otherwise we wouldn’t waste our time.

But for the sake of apologists, a lot of theology textbooks start with an obligatory chapter on God’s existence. The better-written books point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted: Genesis starts with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” Ge 1.1 KJV 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, calling worlds into being.

The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. God talks to people, and performs the occasional miracle, so we know from personal experience he’s around. 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 there’s such a being 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 suck as Christians.

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. Those folks lack personal God-experiences, or even believe we’re no longer meant to have such experiences, and have replaced obedient devotion with cheap grace and belief systems which justify an inactive, absent God. Really, logical deduction is all they have left.

I still find it bonkers when I meet someone who claims to hear from God, yet when they encounter skeptics, for some boneheaded reason they resort to apologetic arguments instead of, say, words of knowledge.

John 1.47-51 KWL
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said about him, “Look!
An Israeli who’s truly without trickery!” 48 Nathanael told him, “How do you know me?”
In reply Jesus told him, “Before Philip went to call you, I saw you standing under the fig tree.”
49 Nathanael told him, “Rabbi, you’re God’s son. You’re Israel’s king.”
50 In reply Jesus told him, “Since I told you I saw you beneath the fig tree, you believe me?
Oh, you’ll see greater than that.”
51 Jesus told him, “Amen amen! I promise you all, you’ll see the skies have opened,
and God’s angels are coming and going before the Son of Man.”

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

But I digress. Let’s discuss the usual arguments apologists pitch for the existence of God.

29 March 2017

General revelation: How to (wrongly) deduce God from nature.

Problem is, the details vary widely.

General revelation /'dʒɛn(.ə).rəl rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃən/ n. The universal, natural knowledge about God and divine matters. (Also called universal revelation, or natural revelation.)
2. What the universe, nature, or the human psyche reveal to us about God.

A number of Christian apologists love, love, LOVE the idea of general revelation. And I always wind up on their bad side, because as a theologian I have to point out it’s a wholly unreliable form of revelation. It’s so useless it actually does pagans more good than Christians.

This, they really don’t wanna hear. Because they’ve pinned so many hopes on it.

Y’see, apologists deal with nontheists, people who don’t believe in God and are pretty sure he’s never interacted with them before. What apologists try to do is prove God has so interacted with them before. If the nontheist can’t remember any such events, the apologist will try to point to nature and claim, “See, that’s a way God interacted with you!” God made a really impressive sunset, or God not-all-that-supernaturally cured ’em of a disease, or God created one of their kids, or they had a warm fuzzy feeling which kinda felt divine.

Or, if we’ve got a more philosophically-minded apologist, they’ll try to argue that certain beliefs in a westerner’s brain can’t really work unless there’s a God-idea somewhere deep in that brain. Absolutes of right and wrong supposedly can’t exist unless there’s an absolute authority like God to define ’em. Or an unfulfilled desire for a higher power has to be based on an actual Higher Power out there somewhere.

Apologists like to regularly tap the idea of general revelation, and bounce from there to the idea of special revelation—that God actually does tell us stuff about himself, and particularly did so through Jesus.

Me, I figure all this general revelation stuff is quicksand. That’s why I like to leapfrog it and get straight to Jesus. Apologists waste way too much time trying to prove God exists by pointing to nature, reasoning, and the human conscience. But while they’re busy unsuccessfully trying to sway a skeptic, we could’ve just prophesied, proving there’s such a thing as special revelation… and now we’re talking about Jesus while the apologist is still trying to explain why intelligent design isn’t merely wishful thinking.

Why is general revelation quicksand? Because we’re looking at creation, trying to deduce God from it. We’ve began with the assumption creation sorta resembles its creator; that it has his fingerprints all over it, so when we know what it’s like, we can sorta figure out what God’s like.

So look at the people God created, and the way we think and reason. Look at the intelligence which had to go into some of the more complex things and beings in the universe. Look at the attention to detail, the intricacy, the mathematical and scientific precision, the way everything all neatly fits together. Tells you all sorts of profound things about the creator, doesn’t it?

Well, actually, no it doesn’t.

14 December 2016

Why does bad stuff happen in a good God’s universe?

Your handy-dandy introduction to theodicy.

Theodicy /θi'ɑd.ə.si/ n. Explanation or argument for how God can be good, despite the existence or activity of evil.
[Theodicean /θi'ɑd.ə.si.ən/ adj.]

Disaster strikes our world on a daily basis.

Might be a huge natural disaster, like an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, or plague. Might be a “man-made” disaster, like a war, famine, mass shooting, or some terrorist activity. Might be a small disaster: One person unexpectedly dies. Or it’s a wholly expected death; a long illness, and we knew that person wasn’t gonna recover, despite doctors and treatments and prayers.

Every time these disasters strike, people wanna know why God didn’t prevent it.

’Cause that’s his job, they insist. He’s almighty, right? He could totally stop it. But he didn’t. Why the [angry expletive] not? What’s his problem? Doesn’t he care? Does he want evil to happen? Maybe he’s not really almighty. Maybe he’s not really there.

These questions and accusations come out of suffering and loss and rage. They’re totally natural. Most of us wonder ’em from time to time: If God’s almighty, why doesn’t he intervene? ’Cause we’d intervene. If we were God, we totally would step in and put a stop to the suffering. We’d rescue everyone. Or at least the good people. I mean, if a tornado’s gonna smite a trailer park full of child molesters, meth cooks, and white supremacists, that’s fine; they’re getting what’s coming to them. But good people oughta live!

Anyway, whenever people have these questions, out come the Christian apologists, who take it upon themselves to answer the questions, instead of just letting emotional people vent for a bit. Because they’re afraid these people will get so angry with God, they’ll quit. They’ll turn apostate. They’ll spread doubt and nontheism and unbelief, and we’ll be in an even bigger mess than before. We gotta defend God. So they do.

This particular field of apologetics—defending God from people who aren’t so sure he’s good or almighty—is called theodicy. And no, it’s not an abbreviation for “theological idiocy,” though some of its arguments sure make it feel like that. It’s a compound of the Greek words Theós/“God” and díki/“behavior”—it’s an attempt to explain God’s behavior. Or absense of it.

“Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” is the usual way it’s phrased. And when it gets right down to it, there are about five typical answers.

  1. God’s not there. Nobody’s there to stop evil from happening. It’s up to us.
  2. God is there… but doesn’t get involved. Again, up to us.
  3. God’s there, does get involved, and this was him getting involved: He’s behind the disaster. (For reasons. Bigger picture, secret sins, you name it.)
  4. God’s there, involved… but isn’t God as you imagine him. (He’s not almighty, doesn’t actually know the future, isn’t actually good, has some special arrangement with Satan, etc.)
  5. God’s limited himself, and won’t always intervene. (For reasons.)

And—no surprise—those who’ve just suffered a loss, don’t like any of these answers. Because they’re not actually looking for reasons. They just want the disaster undone, and defending what we think God is actually up to, isn’t helping.

04 August 2016

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

Most people believe in God. Now let’s discuss the tiny minority who don’t.

Nontheist /'nɑn.θi.ɪst/ adj., n. 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/ n.]

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

See, the Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just the all the gods, titans, demigods, and demons in the Greco-Roman pantheon: They accepted the gods of other pantheons too. They didn’t presume they knew them all, so whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they’d accept it. Sometimes they added it to their pantheon, as we can tell by the fact they had multiple gods of war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos), the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion), and the moon (Achelois, Artemis, Selene, Phoebe). Other times they figured it was one of their existing gods under a local name, like how Latin-speakers referred to Zeus as Deo Pater/“Father God” (which of course got contracted to Jupiter). When the Greeks first encountered the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, they figured he was just the local version of Helios. They also tried to pull the same stunt with our LORD, and claim he’s the Jewish version of Zeus, but the Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.

Anywho, the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere—whereas Christians and Jews only have the One. Those other beings the pagans considered “gods” weren’t gods at all: They were made-up deities, perpetuated by scam-artist priests with the help of devils. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God (but without devils in the explanation; the part about devils. To the pagans, it’s like we didn’t believe in any god—’cause we sure wouldn’t accept any of their gods.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. When it comes to other gods, like Zeus and Odin and Amun-Ra, we don’t believe in them either. We think it’s just as silly or wrong, unhealthy or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings, as nontheists. In that, we’re on the same side.

But obviously we really disagree about YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus.

20 June 2016

Betting on God.

Why using Pascal’s wager in apologetics is a bad bet.

PASCAL’S WAGER /pə'skølz 'weɪ.dʒər, 'pøs.kəlz 'weɪ.dʒər/ n. Argument that it’s best to presume God exists: The possibility of hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise.

My first exposure to Pascal was actually PASCAL. (I lived in San Jose in the late 1970s, so as you can guess, my middle school had the best computers.) I knew PASCAL was named after Blaise Pascal (1623–62), a French mathematician and statistician. I didn’t know he was also a Catholic philosopher who came up with a popular apologetic argument. Goes like yea:

Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or he is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that he is. Pensées, 4.233

In shorter English: Either God exists or he doesn’t; you gotta pick a side. And since you’re the most likely to win big if God exists, the best bet is God exists.

’Cause here’s all its logical outcomes:

PAGAN LIFESTYLECHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE
IF NO GODDo as you will.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
Have a good, moral life.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
IF GODDo as you will.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal hellfire afterward.
Have a good, moral life.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal bliss afterward.

Best outcome   Meh outcome   Not-great outcome   Crappy outcome

If there’s no God, there are no eternal consequences. So you could live your life however you like, and see just how much you can get away with. Since it’ll be an immoral life, there’s always the risk society will find us inconvenient, destructive, or offensive, and we’ll get caught and punished. Or do something stupid or intoxicated, and wind up with a Darwin award. But if there is a God, and he’s just, consequences are guaranteed. Some of these consequences may befall us in this life; definitely they will in the next.

Whereas if we live like Christians—real Christians, not Christianists—we’ll have been loving, kind, peaceful, virtuous, Christlike people. We’d be blessings to the world—which may not appreciate us, but still. Our lives would be good and exemplary, and worth living. If there’s no God, that’s not bad. But if there is a God, we also get the infinite reward of eternal life.

18 April 2016

Creationism. (Don’t let it distract you!)

On the origins of the universe… and defending our views of them unnecessarily.

When American Christians use the word “creationist,” they’re often thinking of the folks who believe in young-earth creationism (YEC for short). These people seriously believe God created the universe about 6,000 years ago.

This date isn’t deduced by observing the universe around them. If we did that, we’d notice we can see stars in the night sky which are billions of light-years away. We’d come to the natural conclusion our universe must be old enough for the light from these distant stars to make it to Earth. In other words, creation took place billions of years ago.

Why do YEC adherents insist the history of the cosmos is less than a millionth of that? Well, they claim, they’re literalists. When they read the bible, they don’t believe Genesis 1 is using metaphor, nor trying to describe creation using the view of the universe familiar to ancient middle easterners. Every day of creation is a literal 24-hour period. Every genealogical chart elsewhere in the book represents literal years; nobody skips generations like Matthew did, and none of the numbers are metaphors (i.e. “40 years” representing a generation).

So when we start from the dates we know for certain, like when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem (16 March 597BC), then work our way back to dates we sorta know (like the year of the Exodus, estimated to be around 1446BC), then add up all the ages in Genesis’s genealogies, we can roughly pin down creation at the fifth millennium before Christ. As Irish archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) did in his 1650 book Annales veteris testamenti/“Years of the Testament,” when he concluded God said “Let there be light” Ge 1.3 around 6 p.m. on 22 October 4004BC.

Seriously, dude pinned down the hour. He believed the years properly begin at the autumnal equinox, and in order for it to be evening then morning, Ge 1.5 evening’s around 6, right? I would presume he meant 6 Arabia Standard Time, not Greenwich Mean Time, which’d be more like 3. Still, it makes sense. Kinda.

Since YEC arithmetic regularly comes close to the good archbishop’s date, lots of ’em figure why reinvent the wheel? They use Ussher’s numbers—which makes the cosmos only 6,019 years old as of 2016. Bible says so.

And, insist young-earthers, if you don’t believe the cosmos is only 6 millennia old, you don’t really believe the bible. You believe scientists who tell you the universe is older, or your eyes, which show you billion-year-old galaxies through the telescope. But you’re not supposed to believe your eyes, nor any of those godless scientists: You’re supposed to only believe the scriptures. Placing anything above the bible means you’ve foolishly undermined your faith, and real Christians believe the bible first and foremost. Heretics believe in the sciences.

So this is why a lot of Christians don’t believe in science: They’ve been convinced science contradicts the bible, and they really don’t wanna go to hell for believing in science.

And this is why there’s a whole branch of Christian apologetics which fights specifically on behalf of YEC theories. Entire organizations, like Answers in Genesis and the Creation Research Institute, exist to provide Christians with solid reasons to embrace YEC beliefs… which they equate with believing in God and the scriptures.

So if you’re an old-earth creationist like me, you’re heretic. Even though most Christians fall straight into the old-earth creationist camp. And have no problem with science.

21 February 2016

Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t.)

The use and misuse of Christian apologetics.

APOLOGY /e'pa.le.dzi/ n. A logical argument used to justify a behavior, theory, or religious belief.
[Apologetic /e.pa.le'dzet.ik/ adj., apologist /e'pa.le.dzist/ n.]
APOLOGETICS /e.pa.le'dzet.iks/ n. The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs.

“This is Leslie,” he said, introducing me to a new Christian he’d just met. “Leslie knows a lot about apologetics.”

“Well, theology,” I corrected him. (Among a certain Christian crowd, confusing theology for apologetics is a common mistake.)

I actually do know a bunch about Christian apologetics. Learned the field in high school; practiced it for years. I learned all the standard Christian arguments for the faith. And over time I got to know all the anti-Christian arguments, as presented me by real live intellectual anti-Christians. Arguments woefully left out of a lot of apologetics books and classes, which means they wind up blindsiding your average young overzealous apologist. Which, in the long run, is probably best. Overconfident Christians need to learn, sometimes the hard way, we don’t know it all. Jesus does, but we’re not him.

But apologetics is an area really rife with abuse. For every Christian who uses apologetic arguments to encourage fellow Christians about the solidity of our faith, there are about 50 who use them to get into verbal fights with skeptics and pagans.

Let me emphasize that word again: Fights. If you’re a brawler, if you love to argue, apologetics gives you a brilliant excuse to indulge. It’s why the practice is so common—and popular. Apologists claim it’s a form of spiritual warfare: They’re contending for the kingdom!

True, they are contending. With other people. Yet Paul explicitly said our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Ep 6.12 We’re fighting spiritual forces and devilish ideas. I know, apologetics is supposedly all about how one idea—one rational argument—is more solid than another. It might start that way. But too often deteriorates into one person fighting another. Call it collateral damage or not; there’s still damage.

Argumentativeness, making enemies, anger, quarrels, and factions are all works of the flesh. Ep 5.20 And defending Jesus is no excuse for behaving in such ways. We don’t get a free pass just because we’re “fighting for Jesus.” In fact, engaging in such behavior alienates the people we’re fighting with, makes them more bitter and resentful, makes enemies of them, and drives them even further away from Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom. We’re unwittingly doing the work of the wrong side.

So when my discussions begin to fall apart into a debate, I shut ’em down. I don’t take issue with people who have honest questions, or think they found holes in my reasoning. But when they’re no longer trying to listen to and understand me, but defeat me: “You already have your mind made up,” I’ll point out. “So there’s no point. I’m done.”

Often they wanna argue further, and find it extremely frustrating when I quit. They try to goad me into continuing. They try insults, or claim the only reason I’m retreating is ’cause they’re winning. I try not to take the bait. I’m not gonna encourage their fruitless behavior.

So this is the sort of stuff I had no intention of teaching the newbie. Instead I stick to theology: I explain what the scriptures have to say about God, how our God-experiences and the scriptures confirm one another, the importance of the Spirit’s fruit, and I take questions. I don’t wanna create yet another Christian know-it-all who’s eager to go thump some naysayers.

18 September 2015

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

Probably should put “historical” in ironic quotation marks.

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 stated….”
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 this idea—the gospels aren’t historical, and the Jesus we Christians believe in is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is the Historical Jesus hypothesis.

It’s hardly a recent theory. It predates Thomas Jefferson, who spent his evenings in the White House (this’d be around 1804) taking scissors and paste to four versions of the gospels, to splice together what we nowadays call “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s gospel, Jesus does no miracles. (Well, one or two. Jefferson left ’em in because he liked the lessons in those particular stories.) Jefferson believed neither God, nor real-life Jesus, did miracles: Jesus was only a teacher of morals, and miracles were added centuries later by supernaturalist Christians. So Jefferson dropped the miracles and kept most of the lessons… except the hard-to-fathom, hard-for-him-to-believe statements Jesus made in John.

You see how Historical Jesus works. Take the Jesus we know—the Jesus of the gospels, apostles’ letters, Christians’ visions, and kingdom come. Now trim away anything you can’t or won’t believe. And in case anyone criticizes you for it, make sure you have “historical” reasons why you’ve done so. Here, I’ll give you a few.

  • “When the Christians finally gained political power in the 300s, they rewrote their history so they sounded more supernatural and divine. ’Cause that’s just what victors do. But none of it’s true.”
  • “These stories were passed down orally—from person to person, like an ancient game of ‘telephone.’ Stands to reason they’d get some facts wrong.”
  • “In one gospel it says Jesus did this; in another it says he did that. I say it’s more likely both of them are wrong.”
  • “There are a lot of similarities between Jesus’s actions in the gospels, and various pagan gods. Betcha the Christians swiped those ideas from the pagans.”
  • “People back then believed the gods walked among them. Just look at the Greeks and Romans. So the gentile Christians borrowed that idea, and claimed Jesus was one such god.”
  • “Back then, in those pre-scientific days, people were more likely to accept miracle stories.”
  • “The early Christians needed a Messiah who wasn’t just a great moral teacher; he needed to be divine. So they rewrote him that way.”
  • “According to the bible this event took place, but archaeology doesn’t confirm it, and other ancient historians don’t either. Probably never happened.”
  • “The gospels claim this one person did this thing—but come on. Why would a person do such a thing? I would never. Makes no sense.”

And there y’go. You’re an amateur Historical Jesus scholar.

The professionals are slightly more responsible than this.