Category Archives: Uncategorized


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.

 

 


2017-01-03

Guy with a Hobby Versus an Airline Pilot

by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne is at it again, posting stuff guaranteed to upset certain theologians fervidly hostile towards mythicism.

Peter Nothnagle: No evidence for a historical Jesus

Reader Peter Nothnagle sent me the transcript of an Easter talk, “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?”, that he gave last March to a joint meeting of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Iowa City and the Secular Humanists and the Secular Students at Iowa. I was much impressed with Peter’s success at distilling all the scholarship around the historical “Jesus” (he’s read all the relevant stuff) as well as his ability to present it in a reader (and listener) friendly manner.

Peter’s conclusion is that there is no evidence for a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted—something I’ve thought for a long time. . . .

Peter Nothnagle (who describes himself in his presentation as “just some guy with a hobby”) forwarded Jerry Coyne a covering note in which he writes:

I conclude that the figure of Jesus was invented by one faction in a diverse religious landscape in an effort to create an “apostolic succession” of authority – “our priests were taught by priests that were taught by followers of Jesus Christ himself, in person”. But even if I’m completely wrong about that, it is undeniable that the only evidence that exists for a living, breathing, walking, talking Jesus is weak, contradictory, or simply fraudulent. Therefore no one can be justified in believing that such a person existed.

Such blind dogmatism! :-J

Coyne himself comments:

One of the things that’s always puzzled me is the rush to judgment about the historical Jesus by Biblical scholars, nearly all of whom, including Bart Ehrman, are eager to say that a historical (not a divine!) Jesus is probable, despite the woeful lack of evidence. This includes Biblical scholars who aren’t religious. It often seems that they’re being tendentious: trying to arrive at a conclusion that splits the difference between secularists and religious people, trying to offend neither group.

The paper itself, or a Why Evolution is True (WEIT) version, is downloadable at here. (I have not yet read it but will probably comment when I do.)

Interestingly this post appears hard on the heels of staunch anti-mythicist James McGrath comparing Christ mythicists with hypocritical and smug airline passengers who think they can pilot their aircraft better than the trained pilot. He attacks their “hypocrisy” . . .

the hypocrisy of it, as though figuring out what is happening with the climate, or the history of biological organisms, or what happened in the past, involves less training and expertise than flying a plane or performing surgery. All these different skills share in common that there is training and specialization required, and while plenty of people think that they can do them without training, the evidence doesn’t support such assertions.

In stark contradiction to this assertion that anyone doubting the historicity of Jesus is way out of one’s untrained intellectual depth, only 48 hours earlier the same author claimed the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus was so obvious or clear to everyone (by inference even to “just a guy with a hobby”) that mythicists were “morally reprehensible” for rejecting it:

denying that which we have adequate evidence for is more irrational – and more morally reprehensible – than believing that for which we do not have adequate evidence.

(My emphases in the quotations)

 

 


2016-12-31

What a bizarre profession

by Neil Godfrey
Romans 13 has been getting a lot of mention lately. Romans 13:1 was the one biblical text that the Communist authorities in Romania consistently knew. “Submit to the authorities” – the Bible says so! — Religion Prof, Nov 14 2016

The Religion Prof tagged those words with this image:

Meanwhile, another “religion prof” has singled out his research into this same passage for special attention with a title that on the basis of a confusing document from an ancient civilization strangely advises modern readers on their contemporary civic responsibilities:

When to Disobey Government – Quick Look at Romans 13

This post is a recycling of appreciation from a “religion master”, again providing instruction for readers today on how they should relate to political authorities:

How Should Christians Relate to Governing Authorities? Michael Bird Clarifies

How strange. Would anyone today turn to the recordings of the Sibyl Oracle for messages of guidance? Or to Hammurabi’s Code for how to treat a purveyors of faulty goods? Or to Plato or the wisdom of Imhotep? Or to the heavenly influences on human affairs according to Porphyry?

I am all for studying ancient documents. I have always loved studying ancient history. But the point has always been to understand how the ancients thought and lived, not how I can learn from them as guiding lights for my own life.

But notice how religion profs and masters take an ancient writing and strain and pull to make it somehow “relevant” as an instruction to readers today:

Consider Stanley Porter’s condition: qualitative superiority. “According to Porter, Paul only expects Christians to obey authorities who are qualitatively superior, that is, authorities who know and practice justice.” (449) The Greek for “governing authorities” (exousiais hyperechousais) seems to suggest this, given that hyperecho carries with it a “qualitative sense of superiority in quality.” (449) Therefore, the only governing powers to which Christians should submit are those that reflect the qualitatively divine justice they’ve been entrusted to bear, enact, and steward.

Woah there! Where to begin?

A raft of scholars have found reason to doubt that the passage in question was even original to the writing addressed to Romans: Pallis (1920); Loisy (1922: 104, 128; 1935: 30-31; 1936: 287); Windisch (1931); cf. Barnikol (1931b); Eggenberger (1945); Barnes (1947: 302, possibly); Kallas (1964-65); Munro (1983: 56f., 65-67); Sahlin (1953); Bultmann (1947). And who was this Paul, anyway? What independent evidence do we have to establish anything for certain? And how does one get from “a qualitative sense of superiority in quality” to modern readers’ concepts of “God” and “divine justice” (whatever “divine” justice is)? What was the original context and provenance of the document — we can only surmise — and what in the name of Mary’s little lamb does it have to do with anything in today’s world?

It would be naïve to suggest this passage is the last word on church/state relations, given that our conception of “state” is conditioned by post-Enlightenment views and the original context for Paul’s instructions came during a time of relatively benevolent and well-behaved authorities.

Amen. But why oh why does it deserve to be introduced into today’s discussion at all? Why not bring in Plato as well?

Bird reasons there are occasions resistance to governing authorities is both required and demanded by Christian discipleship. “Just as we have to submit to governing authorities on the basis of conscience, sometimes we have to rebel against governments because of the same conscience.” (450) When governments misuse their power, sometimes Christians must say, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)

Bird likes John Stott’s summary of this discussion: “Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s Law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.”

Deep. Just what everyone instinctively knows and follows. We all acknowledge the need for some form or organization and cooperation. We are social mammals, after all. And we all live this way for the sake of peace and getting along. But of course those of us who have crises of conscience will very often find themselves resisting or evading those causing them such grief. It’s the stuff of thousands of movies and novels and pages of history books. “Christian discipleship” is no exception to the common experience of humanity and living in organized societies. Just dressing up the same conflict in the verbiage of one’s particular ideology makes no difference. My god, Sophocles’ Antigone has remained a timeless classic because of the way it epitomizes the theme of the individual standing up for right against the state.

This human universal owes precious little to a few words written from a vaguely understood context and provenance in a civilization far removed from ours.

And religion careers and publishing businesses are built on the determination to wrestle with problematic Roman era discourses in the belief that they offer something exceptional for initiates into the arcane mysteries.

 


2016-12-30

How Israel Uses (not “Misuses”) The Bible

by Neil Godfrey

Professor of Moral Theology, Daniel Maguire, published How Israel Misuses the Bible few days ago in Consortiumnews.com. I agree with the political point of the article but not the attempt to rescue the Bible as if it has a halo that must be guarded from any blemish. People use holy books to justify almost any agenda they want.

How Israel Misuses the Bible — Some excerpts

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, let the theological cat out of the bag.   When the Security Council rebuked Israel for their land thefts (euphemized as “settlements,”) Mr. Danon replied with pious indignation: “Would you ban the French from building in Paris?”

There, in all of it effrontery, is the imperial theology that birthed Zionism. David Ben Gurion said of Palestine “God promised it to us.” Yitzhak Baer wrote in 1947: “God gave to every nation its place, and to the Jews he gave Palestine.”

So in this hallucinatory theology, just as God gave Paris to France the Zionist deity gave Palestine to Jews including the right to build whatever they want wherever they want it. If the Zionist god posted a “Jews only” sign on Palestine, the presence of non-Jews is a sacrilege and their land claims are specious. If nothing is intelligible outside its history, as the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin put it, Ambassador Danon’s French allusion can only be understood against this theological backdrop.

. . . . .

Zionist ersatz theology imagines a capricious god who is into real estate distribution, a god who hands out eternal deeds to people of his choosing. It is the will of the Creator that all others be cleansed and their property rights be negated.

Misunderstanding the Bible

Zionist theology depends on a fallacious exegesis of the Hebrew Bible. The two key words for properly understanding the Bible are descriptive and prescriptive. Many of the texts of the Bible describe the horrors of a barbaric time. They are not normative or in any sense admirable. The Bible is revered for its prescriptive texts which imagined with classical excellence a whole new social order where “there shall be no poor among you,” (Deut 15::4) and where swords will gradually be melted down into plowshares as violent power is subdued. In the prescriptive texts we see the beauty of Judaism which Zionism violates.

The Zionists don’t know the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive. They take ugly biblical descriptive texts and use them to make imperial policy. Texts such as this from Deuteronomy: “When Yahweh your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you – the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canannites, the Perizzites, the Hivites … and when Yahweh your God gives them over to you … you must utterly destroy them. … Show them no mercy.” (7:1-11, 91-5, 11:8-9)

Following the “logic” of such texts, the Palestinians are now the new Hittites, Girgashites and Canaanites to whom no mercy is to be shown or property rights to be honored. Zionist theology dishonors Judaism.

The worst of mad men, said the poet Alexander Pope, is a saint gone mad. Ironically Jews should know the horrors that religiously motivated people can wreak. Nothing so animates the will for good or for ill like the tincture of the sacred. Christian animus against Jews unleashed slaughters, pogroms, segregation and influenced the anti-Jewish venom that Nazism mechanized with genocidal force.

The survival of Israel living in accord with international law, alongside a Palestinian state, is the goal that has no need of obstructive faux theology. Mr. Netanyahu like the High Priest is rending his garments in outrage, threatening to smite all nations that would challenge Israel’s manifest destiny to build in Palestine like the French can build in Paris. A bit of curative theology is needed to correct this brutal and ignorant madness. The Security Council gave the cure a jump start.

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians and The Horrors We Bless: Rethinking the Just-War Legacy [Fortress Press]).He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu  — Consortiumnews.com December 27, 2016

I have omitted some rather controversial historical details from the original article because I want the focus to be on the political and popular manipulations of sacred texts. I want to follow up with a very positive post about the future of Israel, and the last sentence quoted above is an excellent segue into that — notice the word “cure”!

 

 

 

 


2016-12-24

From the “War against Christmas” to “Christmas as a war against. . . . “

by Neil Godfrey
It is not really until the second century and the rise of Christian gnostics who asserted that Jesus had not been present in an actual physical form — that he had been spiritual only — that Christian thinkers realized that they’d have to start emphasizing Christ’s bodily origins. And so they have to talk about the registration at Bethlehem, they have to talk about the cradle, and even the swadling clothes become an article of faith. So it’s after about a hundred years that Christians decide to start thinking seriously about the nativity, and so the next question for them is when to mark it.

Bowler, Gerry. 2016. The Persistence of Christmas: A Conversation with Historian Gerry Bowler. Accessed December 25. http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/12/19/christmas-gerry-bowler/

If you are thinking, “But but … weren’t the nativity stories written in the first century?” then have a look at Marcion and Luke-Acts.


2016-12-21

Jesus Lives and therefore Lived — If You Believe

by Neil Godfrey

What a hoot! Bart Ehrman is listed alongside Richard Carrier as an authority citing reasons to doubt the historical existence of Jesus! (For those not in the know, Ehrman has expressed deep loathing of Carrier and has written a book arguing that anyone who thinks Jesus did not exist is bonkers.)

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/a-growing-number-of-scholars-are-questioning-the-existence-of-jesus

That’s in the Big Think article by Philip Perry, A Growing Number of Scholars Are Questioning the Historic Existence of Jesus, the same article Breitbart’s Thomas D. Williams views as an attempt by Jesus mythicists to undermine that foundation of Western values, Christmas.

A review of Philip Perry’s articles indicates that he has a gift for framing eye-catching topics. In his article under the heading “growing number of scholars questioning the historic existence of Jesus” he addresses the views of

  • Reza Aslan (who argues Jesus was a revolutionary leader; several mainstream biblical scholars have scoffed at Aslan’s work partly on the grounds that it did not consider more recent scholarship on the historical Jesus)
  • Richard Carrier
  • Bart Ehrman
  • Joseph Atwill (who argues the gospel Jesus was a conspiratorial creation of the Roman political and military leaders; Perry adds a video link to Atwill’s views)

And David Fitzgerald even gets a mention with his book, Nailed.

How could Ehrman be listed here under the title indicating he is one of the “mythicists”?

Ehrman focuses on the lack of witnesses. “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing.”

And some online critics of Ehrman have pointed out that he fails to follow through on the logic of some of his own arguments.

But Perry does have a point when he writes in conclusion: read more »