Category Archives: Uncategorized


2017-05-26

“True stories that didn’t happen” — OMG!, do stop the silly word games

by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman has been blogging about the quaint way too many biblical scholars (himself included) play games with the meaning of “myth” in relation to the gospel narratives. The message strikes me as being something like saying Aesop’s fables are true stories because they contain useful lessons.

Why can’t they just say, yes, Aesop’s fables and the Bible stories are fables or myths or fairy tales but they contain valuable lessons or moral guidance?

Why try to give the stories a fabricated status of “truth” simply because they supposedly contain what some people consider worthwhile lessons?


Quran, Bible — both are powerless without interpretation

by Neil Godfrey

Scott Atran wrote the following four years ago in response to Sam Harris’s insistence that Islam per se, the Quran in particular, were to blame for terrorist violence. I think such views expressed by Harris are seriously misinformed and potentially harmful.

Context-free declarations about whether Islam, or any religion, is inherently compatible or incompatible with extreme political violence – or Democracy or any other contemporary political doctrine for that matter — is senseless. People make religious belief – whether Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth – compatible with violence or non-violence according to how they interpret their religious beliefs.

And how people interpret religious injunctions (e.g., the Ten Commandments), as well as transcendental aspects of political ideologies, almost invariably changes over time.

For example, on the eve of the Second World War, political and Church leaders in Fascist Italy and Spain claimed that Catholicism and Democracy were inherently incompatible, and many Calvinist and Lutheran Protestants believed that God blessed the authoritarian regime. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “if the Emperor calls me, God calls me” – a sentiment that Luther, like many early Christians, believed was sanctified by Jesus’s injunction to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Nevertheless, the principles of modern liberal democracy first took root and grew to full strength in The European Christian and Colonial heartland. As Benjamin Franklin expressed it in his proposal for the motto of the new American Republic: “Rebellion against Tyranny is Obedience to God.”

Or, as the Coordinating Council of Yemeni Revolution for Change put it, an Islam of “basic human rights, equality, justice, freedom of speech, freedom of demonstration, and freedom of dreams!” (National Yemen, “The Facts As They Are,” Youth Revolutionary Council Addresses International Community, April 25, 2011).

That there is a cruel and repugnantly violent contemporary current in Islam, there is no doubt. Factions of the Christian identity movement, the Tamil Tiger interpretation of Hinduism as necessitating suicide attacks against Buddhist enemies*, Imperial Japan’s interpretation of Zen Buddhism as a call to a war of extermination against the Chinese, all have produced cruel and barbarous behavior that has adversely affected millions of people.

(Bolded emphasis is mine)

* Since 2013 we have seen the rise of murderous violence by Hindus and  Buddhists against Muslims in India and Myanmar/Burma.

 

 

 

 


2017-05-17

Back again

by Neil Godfrey

Vridar is not dead; the eight day hiatus was the result of one more hiccup in my transition to a new lifestyle in a new part of the map. This time next week I’ll be on my way to living overseas once more for a few months so we’ll see how organized and Vridar-productive I remain then.

I recall several posts I was wanting to do. Now, what’s first on the list ….. something about British Israelism and its morphing into Christian Identity…..

 


2017-04-05

Reality Behind Arab Threats to Destroy Israel

by Neil Godfrey

Everybody “knows” that when Israel declared its independence the Arab states amassed their armies and marched into Palestine hoping to throw all the Jews out into the sea, but that tiny David overcame their onslaught and as if by divine miracle drove them back behind their borders. Everybody “knows” that again in 1967 tiny Israel launched a preemptive attack on her surrounding Arab neighbours who were secretly preparing to deliver a surprise attack to wipe Israel off the map. Everybody “knows” that Israel has lived daily in the shadow of a perpetual threat to her very existence from an alliance of Goliath-sized Arab neighbours.

Is that the reality, though?

Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy by Zeev Maoz provides excellent insights into the “behind the scenes” realities of Israel’s wars and responses to real and imagined threats since 1956. For some basic info on Zeev Maoz see his Wikipedia entry; see also the publisher’s promotion of Defending the Holy Land.

Some excerpts (all bolding and formatting is mine):

We noted that the Arab states never exerted a concentrated social, political, and military effort in converting the dream of destroying the state of Israel into reality. The rhetoric of genocide and politicide was not backed up by anything close to the kind of resources and diplomatic coordination that was required for realizing this dream. Most Israeli politicians and scholars accepted the fundamental asymmetry in resources as a constant in the strategic equation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet nearly nobody bothered to ask why — if the Arab states were so committed to the destruction of the Jewish state — they refrained from investing the resources required for such a “project.”

Maoz, Zeev. Defending the Holy Land (p. 574). University of Michigan Press. Kindle Edition.

Even if the human and material military burdens of the Arab states were to stay at their current levels, the Arabs could put together an incredible economic and social challenge to Israel simply by forming a military coalition that pooled their resources in an effective and rational manner. Saudi Arabia, for example, spends $22 billion on defense annually, more than twice the Israeli defense budget. It has fairly free access to American and Western European weapons markets. Had it decided to put its military hardware and financial resources at the disposal of this Arab coalition, Israel would have been under extremely precarious strategic conditions. Again, no shots have to be fired in order to erode Israel’s capacity to meet these challenges.

Finally, consider an effective implementation of the Arab boycott on Israel and on companies trading with it and couple it by a threat to deny or limit the exports of oil to Israel’s main trading partners. If the oil-rich Arab states had been willing to suffer the economic costs of such a threat, Israel’s trade with the outside world would have significantly declined. Since Israel imports much of its basic needs in food, energy, and industrial inputs, it would not have been able to survive economically. Thus, there exist several scenarios — none of them far fetched if we follow the logic of Israeli politicians and strategists — in which Israel loses the big war without having a single shot fired at it.

But the Arab states never came close to materializing the elements of these scenarios. Why?
read more »


2017-02-28

Freudian slip

by Neil Godfrey

Chris Keith writes the following in his review of Anthony Le Donne’s new book, Near Christianity:

Despite my attempts, Le Donne continues to read Mark 15:35//Matt 27:46 as a divine abandonment and says, “Jesus also accused God of abandonment” (166).  I am not afraid of a Jesus who makes me uncomfortable, but I think there’s a better way to read that narrative that makes more sense of the full narrative.

The emphasis is mine. I thought, What a strange thing for a historian of to say! The thought betrays, I think, an unhealthy personal emotional investment in a certain view of Jesus. When an author appears to be coming out and boasting that they are prepared to break with a conventional theological view of their subject it suggests, to me at least, that the field is typically mired in agendas that are far removed from genuine and purely historical interests.

 

 


2017-02-21

A Bedtime Bible Story

by Neil Godfrey

The following in Neil Carter’s post, I Drew the Line at Canaan, brought to my mind a very similar moment in my own life:

I remember one night at bedtime my kindergartner asked for a story from her Story Bible, so I opened it at the bookmark to find that the next story was the conquest of Canaan. This Bible tells its stories at an elementary level using cute cartoons, so I figured I could handle it alright.

With clenched teeth, I read her the story of the conquest of Canaan as her older sister listened in from her bed nearby. As the story concluded, my little girl asked why God was being so mean to those people. Her sharp little mind instantly knew this situation was all kinds of wrong.

I honestly didn’t know what to say. My mind flooded with things to say which would not have gone over well with the older daughter listening nearby . . . I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that at the time I think I dodged the question for fear of saying something which would upset a delicate balance that exists in my family life during those days (and frankly hasn’t yet gone away).

Those who have been in a situation similar to mine will understand how difficult it can be to know what to do when moments like these occur. I quickly changed the subject and finished putting the girls to bed because it was late and I didn’t think this was the best time to open up such a large can of worms.

H/T Ed Brayton, Neil Carter on the Old Testament Atrocities

It was some years ago now, but still raw in my memory. I had just tucked my youngest son, not long beyond being a mere toddler, into bed and sat down beside him to read him a story from his colourful children’s bible that I had bought him.

We had come to the story of Abraham, that historic pillar of faith and obedience. I had been through some traumatic personal circumstances up to that point and it was my mature adult focus on God and living the same faith as Abraham, being willing to sacrifice everything most dear to me for the sake of obedience to and trust in God, that somehow “brought me through” those fiery trials. The example of Abraham on Mount Moriah called to sacrifice his son Isaac was a more directly meaningful image for me in my particular situation than Jesus choosing to suffer and die. I could relate at that time to a story of being prepared to lose one’s children far more than personally suffering physical torment and death.

Now here I was, sitting beside my youngest son, about to read him the story of a willingness to sacrifice one’s son for God that had been my guiding beacon only months prior.

I started to read. I think I got no farther in than the opening words. I suddenly felt a sickening punch in my stomach. I paused. I did not know how to continue. I recall the silence eventually broken by my son asking in his sweet child voice for me to continue.

I couldn’t. I did not now how to utter a word in response. I can’t remember now. I may have told him some other story in my own words; I may have simply made my excuse and kissed him goodnight then turned out the light.

What the hell was I doing? Here I was teaching my son to glory in a tale of a man who was prepared to kill his own son for the sake of proving his own bloody righteousness to his f…ing god!

What sort of a god is that? It is an evil god — playing sick psychotic mind-games with his faithful servants. But what sort of a man is that? It is the sort of man who needs to be singled out and taken away from his family and society and given some serious professional help before he can do any further harm to innocents. Meanwhile he needs to be locked away for barbaric criminal intent pending the success of that treatment.

And this had been my faith-model for the past year and more!

I felt sick, ashamed, utterly disgusted with myself. And I never opened that story bible again. Good god, there was a world rich, happy, imaginative and positive literature for children all around me. Having once trained as a teacher-librarian I knew of hundreds of titles.

Now I look at the happy smiling faces in the pastel illustrations in that and similar children’s bibles and I am reminded of the crude art of totalitarian regimes depicting happy smiling workers, men and women, and happy smiling children in classrooms and on youth camps, all hiding the realities too painful to imagine.

 

 


2017-02-13

Radicalisation — whether extreme sports, cults or terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

Yes, time for me to finish blogging on what the research has shown about how radicalisation works, how people are recruited into terrorist organisations, religious cults, . . . even extreme sports . . .  As Jason Burke (whose works I have blogged about here, most recently on “the new threat“) points out: it’s all the same mechanics.

https://twitter.com/burke_jason/status/830797108059971585

 

https://twitter.com/PeterRNeumann/status/830462741987131393

 

Now to complete those posts on Friction, How Radicalization Happens to Them and to Us


2017-02-07

How Bible Contradictions Began

by Neil Godfrey

Even ancient scribes had problems with some of the laws that were decreed from the mouth of the Almighty himself. Take the commandment against idolatry thundered from Mount Sinai:

You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any figure
that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the earth; 
you are not to bow down to them,
you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God,
am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, to the third and fourth generation
of those that hate me….

(Exodus 20:4-5, Everett Fox trans)

Poor unlucky great-great-great grandchildren.

Fortunately for those innocents scribes or priests knew how to subvert God’s command.

But since they are playing with God’s own words they need to be clever enough to avoid detection.

The first rule they followed was to remain anonymous. Mustn’t make it easy for God to identify the culprit.

Just as there is not a single law in the Bible that Israelite authors do not attribute to God or his prophetic intermediary, Moses, so is the converse also true. In the entire Hebrew Bible, not a single text, legal or otherwise, is definitively attributed to the actual scribe responsible for its composition. Except for the prophets, biblical authors never speak explicitly in their own voice. Instead, they employ pseudonyms or write anonymously. Proverbs, for example, is attributed to Solomon by means of its editorial superscription (Prov. 1:1), while Ecclesiastes is similarly ascribed to “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Qoh. 1:1). Neither of these attributions withstands critical examination.28 Such attributions seem rather to function to lend greater authority or prestige to a literary composition by associating it with a venerable figure from the past . . . (Levinson, Bernard M. (2003). “You Must Not Add Anything to What I Command You: Paradoxes of Canon and Authorship in Ancient Israel”, Numen, 50.1, p. 15)

It was a different matter if laws were merely “man-made”. What one mortal decreed another mortal could strike out and replace. So it was, for example, with ancient Hittite laws as we see from the following case:

If anyone blinds a free person or knocks his teeth out, formerly they would pay 40 sheqels of silver, but now one pays 20 sheqels of silver. . . (Hittite Laws #7, cited in Levinson, 2003)

Inflation or the greater need to allow for knocking out the eyes and teeth of undesirables required a change in the law and it was effected as simply as the above example shows.

But one can’t be so blunt if the laws have been divinely revealed from heaven.

Before showing how the literate class managed to nullify God’s eternal words let’s see where the idea of punishing future generations originated. It did not begin with God, but God picked it up from his reading of Near Eastern treaties. read more »


2017-01-31

Religion and Understanding the Zealots, Theirs and Ours

by Neil Godfrey

A few weeks ago in the course of explaining why I called this blog “Vridar” I posted a few remarks about American author Vardis Fisher. The name “Vridar” was Vardis Fisher’s fictionalized autobiographical name in the last novel of his Testament of Man series, Orphans of Gethsemane. I was pleased to read last evening that I am not alone in my interpretation of some key aspects of Vardis Fisher’s life and interests . . . and I wonder if I even share some of his reasons for taking a special interest in the violence and trauma arising from the politics of the Middle East. The bolding in the critic’s quotation is, of course, my own.

In a period of the resurgence of fundamentalist religions in many parts of the world, Vardis Fisher’s Testament of Man may be a text of some significance.

Fisher, raised by a strict Mormon mother on a solitary Idaho homestead, commanded a more sympathetic view of zeal than could most American intellectuals of his time. Possessed of a dual consciousness, Fisher rejected the rule-bound exclusivity of any self-appointed “chosen” people, but was all the same drawn to the passion of the prophet. In Testament of Man, he carried out his own arduous quest — to understand the moral development of western humanity. He donned the prophet’s mantle to warn against the dangers of fanaticism. Chronicling the spiritual development of his forebears, Fisher created a prophetic work [i.e. the Testament of Man series of novels] mourning the lost opportunities of Judeo-Christian tradition. He identified those points at which, in his opinion, a wrong turn was taken, a wrong road chosen.

In dishonoring the Mother, demonizing the “other,” [in  privileging law over ethics, and failing to synthesize love of wisdom with love of God, humanity set a course that has led to Inquisition and Holocaust. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, that course has yet to be adequately altered. Religion and reason have yet to be reconciled, and Reuben’s passionate appeal in The Island of the Innocent has yet to be answered: “But there’s a job to be done or there’ll be no Alexandrias. We’ll have a world of Jerusalems”(63).

Zahlan, Anne R. 2000. “A World of Jerusalems”: The Middle East as Contested Space in Vardis Fisher’s Testament of Man.” In Rediscovering Vardis Fisher: Centennial Essays, edited by Joseph M. Flora, 191-207. Moscow, Idaho; University of Idaho Press.

The four novels set in historical Palestine that Anne Zahlan discusses are

  • The Divine Passion (1948)
  • The Valley of Vision (1951) — set in the kingdom of Solomon
  • The Island of the Innocent (1952) — set in the time of the Maccabean revolt
  • Jesus Came Again (1956)

Although it can be tiresomely didactic, The Island of the Innocent serves as the philosophical centre of Fisher’s monumental sequence. At novel’s end, all hopes for a marriage of the best Judaic and Hellenic principles are buried with Judith and Philemon. The work’s repeated debates as to the merits of reason and faith, beauty and righteousness end in violent encounter and the tragic failure of synthesis at the heart of the Testament of Man. Zahlan, pp. 201f.

The anthropology and sociology that informed Fisher’s views have been superseded in the academic world but read as human dramas they have not lost their relevance for today. Of The Island of the Innocent Zahlan writes,

The Island of the Innocent is a daring book. Perhaps only someone raised among Mormons withdrawn from a world of “Gentiles” could, in the last 1940s and early 1950s, have written such a work. In the years after World War II when the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust were being exposed, Vardis Fisher had the courage and clear-sightedness to maintain an adamant opposition to exclusivist religion and politics. Having been exposed as a boy to theocratic-fortress mentality, he could insist on the need to resist the powerful temptation of a tribalist response to even the most extreme persecution. (p. 201)

The tribalism permeating so much of Israeli society and politics is no less problematic today.

Rejecting or misunderstanding teachers such as Joshua [Jesus], the people of Vardis Fisher’s Holy Land continue in the erroneous ways of their ancestors and base three major religions on rejection of the Mother and deification of the Word.

Fisher’s Middle East focuses on Jews and centers on Jerusalem. . . . His concentrating of theological, ethical, and political struggle on the Jews does not, however, unreasonably privilege Jewish perspectives. In fact, he dwells on dissensions among Jewish believers as, in later volumes of the Testament, he emphasizes divisions among Christians: Hasidim contend with Letzim, and Essenes with Pharisees, as do the factions of the early church among themselves. A onetime citizen of the Mormon Zion, Fisher no more endorses ways of thinking such as those that underlie right-wing movements in contemporary Israel than he does any other exclusivist ideology. To the degree that he deals with the historic relationship of the Jews with other peoples, Fisher foregrounds tensions similar to those that plague the Middle East today.

Interestingly Anne Zahlan introduces another scholar who has also influenced my views, Edward Said, and as I have done in posts here singled out a tragically ironical point that Said makes about antisemitism:

In the second half of the twentieth century, Said explains, the “myth of the arrested development of the Semites” underwent a curious bifurcation: “[O]ne Semite went the way of Orientalism, the other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of the Oriental.”15 In the aftermath of World War II, anti-Semitic hostility has been redirected to Arabs; Israelis now serve the western imagination as new colonial heroes who stand in for “white men” in a depraved Orient. Some of Fisher’s depictions of “the Syrians” and “Antiochus of Corinth” fit an updated Orientalist model of cruel barbarians besieging devout Hebrews, but the author of the Testament of Man takes no stand above or distant from the Semitic peoples he describes. . . . 

Portraying the Middle East as he does, Fisher looks not only back but also “ahead” to . . . his own [world]. He depicts the birthplace of western civilisation was a battleground, painting a picture colored by pained awareness of the failings of his own culture. (pp. 205f)

So I’m not alone in my dual interest of religion and politics, in particular seeking to understand the roots of religion and the violence of religiously minded people today — all the while idealistic enough to do my little bit for a world of Alexandrias competing with the Jerusalems.

 

 

 

 


2017-01-30

Jesus Loves Trump, (a man after his own heart)

by Neil Godfrey

The Bible’s ethics are not for our time. They represent an age when policies like those of Trump’s “extreme vetting if immigrants” were whitewashed as inspirationally loving.

Take the “beautiful” and “touching” story of Ruth . . . .

The story of the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman is akin to that of Ruth, which many scholars see as an example of Hebrew inclusiveness. However, Laura Donaldson, who identifies with Native American peoples in the United States, reads Ruth as a case where a woman must reject her Moabite identity and religion to be accepted into the Hebrew community. For Donaldson, Ruth’s story is not really about altruistic acceptance, but rather another story of cultural imperialism. Her study reveals that benign interpretations of cultural assimilation in the book of Ruth may reflect the privileged social position of Christian feminists who have not experienced forced assimilation and integration into another culture. Avalos, Hector, 2015. The Bad Jesus, p. 239

Similarly, as Avalos points out,

Jesus’ acceptance of the [Syrophoenician] woman was contingent on her declaring his dominion. She calls him “Lord, Son of David’ and repeats the title of “Lord” after he refuses to help her the first time. (p. 238)

To be welcomed into Jesus’ community a Canaanite must demonstrate “worshipful reverence” of the leader. The Canaanite woman is required to “adopt the cultural premises of Jesus.”

That’s the only way the aliens can become “good people”, “wonderful people”, “the best people”.

 

 

 


2017-01-14

Schweitzer in context

by Neil Godfrey

My response to Cornelis Hoogerwerf’s post on Γεγραμμένα, Misquoting Albert Schweitzer, has raised the question of the intended meaning of Schweitzer’s words in relation to historical probability, common sense, and more. Cornelis has said my own explanation of S’s words is wrong; I attempted to explain why I disagreed. But rather than leave the discussion hanging with as a “you are wrong; no I am not wrong” exchange I copy a fairly large section of the relevant section from the Fortress Press edition of Schweitzer’s Quest so that readers can hopefully have a more secure handle on the evidence in order to make up their own minds about the meaning and significance of S’s words.

Before I do let me comment on a new post by Bart Ehrman in which he explains that “some” biblical scholars are also “historians”. The gist of his explanation appears to me to be that if a scholar chooses to study and write about “history” then s/he can be called a historian. Of course that makes perfect sense. But is such a scholar any better at “doing history” than an amateur historian without training or background knowledge in the philosophy and methods of historical research and history writing? I have found that some of the best history writing about “biblical times” has come from those pejoratively labelled “minimalists”. It is their work, and in particular their explanations of their methods, that resonates with the best historical research I read among those writing in other (non-biblical) areas. Most significantly, (a) they do not begin with the assumption that a text’s provenance can be understood entirely from its own self-testimony; (b) they understand the importance of independent confirmation of its contents in order to establish its degree of reliability; and (c) they “take seriously” the question of genre and wider literary matrix of the text prior to deciding how to interpret it, and do not assume that its content is essentially a window through which readers can look to see “true history” in the shadow of its narrative. These may sound like simple basics but they are very often overlooked by many biblical scholars who aspire to write “history” from the Gospels. Unfortunately Bart Ehrman fails on all three of those points. Among some of the best historians working with the “Old Testament” texts are, in my view, Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas L. Thompson and Russell Gmirkin. There are a few names I would consider genuine historians among later biblical-related history, Steve Mason being one.

It is in that context that I read with interest Schweitzer’s words. Even though Schweitzer was not a mythicist and argued extensively against the Christ Myth theory, he did acknowledge the theoretical importance of the above historical principles, especially point (b).

To return to Cornelis’s post, I do see that he has since acknowledged his debt to Bart Ehrman for the views and complaint he expressed in the first part of his post. Given his failure to cite a single “mythicist” who has misquoted Schweitzer in an attempt to mislead readers into thinking S himself presented an argument against the historicity of Jesus, I conclude that no-one has done so and that efforts from certain quarters to mislead readers and repeat baseless rumours related to my own quotations of S are entirely mischievous.

In our recent discussion on my post Albert Schweitzer on the Christ Myth Debate other differences arose. Cornelis believes that scholarship since Schweitzer’s day has indeed raised the level of probability that Jesus was historical to as close to 1.0 as one might wish. Again, his reasons unfortunately indicate a poor grasp of how historical methods and epistemology is understood outside the field of biblical studies.

Schweitzer, pages 400-402

read more »


Robert M. Price Doing Satan’s Work

by Neil Godfrey

Robert M. Price sees himself as acting the role of the original Satan who was God’s envoy tasked with testing the true character of those who professed fealty to God. I’ll leave you to read his post where he explains the analogy. What interested me were the following sentiments:

I have too much experience, much of it quite positive, with religion in general and Christianity in particular, simply to fight against it tooth and nail. It would be pathetic and quixotic. It would say more about me than about Christianity. I would have turned into a crazy, bitter ex-boyfriend. No thanks.

Ditto for me.

I have seen so much of Christians of all stripes and of Christianity in its many variations that I cannot pretend there is no good side to it. There is much to be loved, and I still love it. And this sentiment seems to me basic to any study of religion, period. You have to try to understand Islam, Buddhism, etc., from all sides including the inside. Unless you see what is loveable about it, you will never see why its adherents love it.

Mmm … I’m not quite in sync here. No, I can’t say I “love” any of it, still, though I am awed at the architecture of some of the older churches I’ve seen in Europe. But yes, one does need to try to understand religion “from the inside” in order to appreciate why people do love it — and that’s where I do think too many anti-theists fail. My perspective is more from the psychological side, though. What is it that happens in our brains when we imagine and pray to other-worldly beings? Such questions don’t lead us to love religion so much as they lead us to a deeper appreciation for our fellow creatures, for an acceptance of what we ourselves are made of. Maybe that has more to do with “self-love” or “self-understanding” and appreciation than “love for any aspect of religion”.

 

 


Bishop John Shelby Spong Update

by Neil Godfrey

Westar Institute has posted an update on the health of John Shelby Spong by Cassandra Farrin. Back in September Episcopal Café announced that he had had a stroke.

Spong’s book Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism had a major impact on my understanding of the Bible at a time I was breaking away from belief in Christianity altogether. In some ways that book was my 101 introduction to critical studies of the Bible.

What I found of particular interest was learning how the differences among the gospels reflected quite different theological perspectives and how later ones attempted to amend deficiencies they perceived in earlier ones. I even wrote up a series of mock “newspaper reports” of the resurrection of Jesus as an attempt to put together what I had learned from Spong’s discussions. (This was all long pre-blog days.)  So one paper reported the resurrection as a rumour based on the hearsay of an unknown guy sitting in a tomb (Gospel of Mark); later gospels added reports of the resurrected Jesus eating fish, etc; and so forth.

The same book also introduced me to the arguments that allowed for gays to be accepted into Christian fellowship. Until then I had no idea how anyone could make such an argument from the Bible, certainly not from Paul’s writings.

Around the time I was reading Rescuing I was moving towards atheism and when Spong came to visit the Anglican church near to where I lived (I think Spong was a friend of Gregory Jenks, another Jesus Seminar Fellow and the pastor (or whatever the correct title is) there at the time. I was blown away by the experience of a congregation of whom nearly all were as radically minded as Spong or anyone else on the very liberal end of the Jesus Seminar. What I simply had to do was personally thank Spong for his assistance in leading me out of belief into atheism — a destination where I felt far more at ease, comfortable, relaxed, than I had as a somewhat “uptight” Christian. We had a little discussion about the uptightness of believers in general: Spong volunteered that it was his sad experience that most Christian believers do have an uptightness about them. (I put it down to those who are serious enough about their faith to take the Bible seriously and always be striving to “put on the new man” — living the life of a “put-on”, in other words, as Edmund Cohen explained it in The Mind of the Bible Believer.)

Spong’s next book, Liberating the Gospels, introduced me to the main principles of Michael Goulder’s arguments about the gospels being written as lectionary readings for churches. What struck me about this book was his case for the “midrashic” rewriting of Old Testament figures throughout the gospels: see the Spong: Liberating the Gospels archive of posts. But what I found truly astonishing was that Spong could argue essentially for the “fictionality” of so many of the gospel figures yet not allow Jesus himself to have been just as fictional, even though the same types of arguments he used for Mary, Joseph, and others were many times more applicable to the Jesus figure. That’s when I learned that Spong’s Christianity is far more “mystical” than anything I was used to — perhaps not unlike Thomas Brodie’s (who does not accept the historicity of Jesus) or Albert Schweitzer’s (who did).

All in all, Spong has had a significant impact on my life and understanding of religion and the Bible. I welcomed the update on Westar’s site.

 

 


2017-01-04

Pros and Cons of Antitheism

by Neil Godfrey

My thoughts exactly, as posted by Trave Mamone on his By Any Means FreeThought blog . . . . The Pros and Cons of Antitheism

So does that make me an antitheist? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. . . . I just do whatever I can to make the world a less shitty place. Sometimes it includes calling out religion’s bullshit, and sometimes it’s working with a religious person for a common goal. Sometimes it’s having conversations with people who disagree with me, and sometimes it’s telling them they’re full of shit. Make of it what you will.

Excerpts

When I first became an atheist . . . . . After seeing so many angry atheist trolls online, I didn’t want to join their camp. Plus, shortly before deconverting, I was (loosely) involved with the liberal Christian scene, so I knew not all Christians were fundamentalists.

. . . There is literally no need for religion in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean religious people are fools; most of them just don’t know you can have a fulfilling life without a god.

. . . even though I’m happy to work with progressive believers for secular social justice work, progressive religion still has a lot of fucked up theology. . .  I’ve seen way too many progressive Christians turn it into another form of shame.

. . . So does that make me an antitheist? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I find labels like “antitheist, “faitheist,” “firebrand,” and “diplomat” to be superficial. I just do whatever I can to make the world a less shitty place. Sometimes it includes calling out religion’s bullshit, and sometimes it’s working with a religious person for a common goal. Sometimes it’s having conversations with people who disagree with me, and sometimes it’s telling them they’re full of shit. Make of it what you will.