Sunday, September 21, 2014

A former LCMS Pastor explains why he has abandoned the LCMS...and Christianity

Dear Readers:  
 
A former LCMS pastor contacted me a couple of weeks ago by email and told me how much he appreciated my blog.  He told me that he has left the LCMS, and, not only that, he has abandoned the entire Christian Faith!  He had my complete attention as he continued his email. 
 
This former conservative Christian "man of God" has a fascinating story to tell.  I have asked him to write that story for this blog.  I have asked him to tell us how, when, and why, as a highly educated, long-time Christian pastor, he came to the realization that Christianity and the Christian god are no more true and real than any other religion and god on the face of the earth.  Below is a brief preview of this former LCMS pastor's story.  He is working to complete the full story, which he will submit to me to publish here, in the coming month:
 
 
"Gary, I didn't leave Christianity due to deep theological issues. My thought process was much more superficial than the historicity of Isaiah, JEPD, or the failure of Christian apologetics. I initially left because there didn't seem to be ANY correlation between faith and life. During my more devout times, I spent hours in prayer, meditating on the scriptures, and doing my best to please God. There have been times when I have ignored God (and sometimes in anger, yelling at Him regarding my frustration); months would go by without a word to (or from) God. Yet, just like anyone else in the world, during those times I've had good things happen and bad things happen. I have felt fulfilled and sometimes unfulfilled. I was “on top of the world” while at other times, in the dumps. There has been no noticeable correlation between living by faith and living apart from faith. (For a future discussion, I'm beginning to see/feel more fulfilled on my present path than I ever did as a Christian.)

My experiences vis-à-vis God is just like everyone else’s experience with their god(s). There is no observable action or reaction from the deity. Be good, be bad, be happy, be angry, etc. there’s only static from the deity. Pray, sing, worship, cut your wrists, lay prostrate before his throne. . . Nothing. Nada. Static. That’s either because he cannot respond or he will not respond. If he will not respond, why? That’s contrary to what the Bible says. If he cannot respond, he is not God by definition.

Your blog provides me some needed theological backbone to my experiences. Whereas I have always wondered what to do with the God of the Old Testament – the harsh, angry, unforgiving, vengeful God – with the God of the New Testament, Jesus who is love, willing to sacrifice, to die in our place. These are two different Gods no matter how one “interprets” the Bible. By writing about your struggles, you have brought up many of the things I “felt” or superficially thought about, and you have asked the hard questions and wrestled with defenders of the faith. Your blog clarifies the emptiness of the Christian message and the inability of their brightest and best to formulate a logical solution to Christian theology’s most obvious and damning inconsistencies."

Either Joshua lied or the Bible is not the inerrant Word of an all-knowing God

Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, "O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon." 13So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 14There was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.…

                                                                                                             Joshua 10:12-14

If a friend tells you that he recently traveled to Africa and while there, witnessed a village shaman call on his god to stop the sun and moon in their tracks for twenty four hours, and the sun and moon obeyed, what would you think?

Answer:  "The shaman is nuts and my friend is even nuttier."

So why would you believe a three thousand year old, ancient middle-eastern fable that makes the same preposterous, laws-of-physics defying claim?

If you pose this question to your conservative Christian pastor, you will get one of the following explanations:

1.  "God made the laws of physics.  Therefore, God can perform miracles that supersede these laws.  You must accept that this event happened by faith alone."

2.  "The biblical author of this passage was speaking metaphorically.  What he meant to say is that God..."

Let's address each of these explanations.  First of all, the sun does not circle the earth.  The earth orbits the sun.  So an all-knowing God would have clarified this fact with Joshua by telling him that he would stop the EARTH in its orbit for 24 hours.  Secondly, if the earth stopped in its tracks that day along with the moon, someone, somewhere in the world would have noticed this and have written it down.  We are not talking about the age of Cromagnan man, here.  Many cultures around the world had the means to record important events at the time that this event is alleged in the Bible to have happened.  Are we really to believe that the sun did not set in half of the world for 48 hours and that night persisted for 48 hours in the other half of the earth...and not one person wrote about this event anywhere in the world???  Because NO ONE did, friend!

"God was speaking in metaphorical terms here." 

This is the explanation that a more moderate conservative Christian pastor will give you.  The problem with this explanation is that there is no suggestion in this passage that the author is speaking metaphorically.  Why is this passage simply hyperbole but the Story of Creation, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace, Jesus walking on water, Jesus raising the dead, and Jesus' own resurrection...events that we are told to believe as fact?

I believe that this one example demonstrates the future of conservative Christianity:  Overwhelming scientific evidence is knocking down one after another of the outrageous, supernatural assertions of the Bible.  Evidence becomes so overwhelming that even the more educated, moderate faction of fundamentalists must readjust their beliefs.

Fundamentalists no longer believe that the sun revolves around the earth.  Many fundamentalists are beginning to accept that geology proves without any doubt that there was no world wide flood.  And many fundamentalists now agree that it is impossible that the sun/earth and the moon stood still for Joshua.

So what do conservative Christian pastors, theologians and apologists do:  they move a "literal biblical passage" into the "metaphorical biblical passage" column but continue to demand that faithful conservative Christians continue to believe all the other outrageous, supernatural claims of the Bible...until these passages too are finally moved into the "metaphorical biblical passage" column by overwhelming scientific evidence.

Save your self some time, friend.  The sun does not stand still and dead men do not walk out of their tombs.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why Religious Fundamentalism must be confronted with Hard Facts


You might think that most people already know that Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians (let alone Islamic fundamentalists) are misguided zealots, and you don't need a book to prove it.  This might have been true twenty-five years ago, but it is not true today.  Yes, many people do recoil instinctively from religious fundamentalism.  But it is a fact that increasing numbers of American do not.  Just look at the spectacular growth of the evangelical megachurches...

An unstable world in which individuals seem to have less and less control over their lives has led more and more people to seek refuge in the security blanket of a fundamentalist belief system that explains that what is happening is God's will.  Liberal Christians and Jews may dismiss the fundamentalists as religious nuts, but that is a mistake.




The irreverent iconoclast Christopher Hitchens has declared that "what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."  Not anymore.  Today we need to be able to counter the fundamentalists' arguments not with what we feel instinctively, but with hard facts.

If we cavalierly dismiss religious fundamentalism without taking a closer look at the phenomenon and where it all comes from, we do so at our peril.  And where it all comes from, the acknowledged common pillar on which the belief system of evangelical Christianity as well as Orthodox Judaism is based, is the purported truth of the Old Testament and, more specifically, of its first five books, the Torah.  Hence, any sincere quest for the truth must begin by submitting the fundamentalists' literal reading of the Torah to the twin test of empirical evidence and legitimate principles of reasoning.


                                                                               R.D. Gold
                                                                               Bondage of the Mind
                                                                              



Comparing the Mormon Evidence with the Conservative Christian Evidence regarding their Supernatural Beliefs



       The death of God's prophet, Joseph Smith


Conservative Christian:

Q:  Do you believe that God sent the angel Moroni to give a new revelation of his Holy Word to Joseph Smith?

 A:  No. If you want to know why, here are two ways I can know.

1) Since the Bible is true and Joseph Smith's teachings contradict it, I can know he did not hear from God. Just like I know you are wrong b/c the Bible says so.
                                                         
2) His teachings are internally inconsistent. So I can know you are wrong b/c your own teachings are internally inconsistent.

Thankfully, the biblical worldview is internally consistent.



Gary:

So here is the Mormon evidence for their supernatural story:

1. Joseph Smith, a man living in the nineteenth century in New York state, claims that an angel from God named Moroni appeared to him and showed him Golden Plates which told the story of ancient, seafaring Hebrews who came to the shores of North America prior to the time of Christ an established great walled cities and a great civilization.

2. The Mormon Church has eleven signed affidavits of men who swear that they saw these Golden Plates.

3. The Mormon Church has three affadivits from three of the above men who also swear that they also saw the angel Moroni!

                                                                                                     The angel Moroni appears
                                                                                                         to Joseph Smith


What does conservative/orthodox Christianity have as evidence for their supernatural story:


1. Four anonymous, first century works of literature, which make the supernatural claim that a dead man rose from the dead in approximately 30 AD, two thousand years ago, and that this resurrected dead man was seen by more than 500 persons over a period of 40 days until he levitated before their very eyes from the top of a mountain into outer space.

These four books are alleged to have been written by two eyewitnesses and two close associates of eyewitnesses but we have no statement or documentation, in affidavit form or otherwise, of anyone in the first century claiming that they personally verified the authorship of these books by knowing or speaking with the traditionally ascribed eyewitnesses and almost eyewitnesses who allegedly saw this supernatural event.

All we have is SECOND century hearsay regarding the authorship of these books. Three of these four anonymous books appear to be plagiarisms and embellishments of the first book.
                                                                                                                    
                                                          
 
Therefore, what we really have is just this:

One first century anonymous piece of literature, written by whom we do not know; when we do not know; where we do not know; for what purpose we do not know; and in a foreign language. We have no first hand statements/affadavits from any eyewitnesses of this event, who say, "I, John Ben Doe, do hereby swear under oath that I saw the resurrected Jesus in bodily form and touched his body to verify that I was not having a vision."

The Mormons DO have such affadavits for THEIR supernatural claim. In a court of law, the Mormons would have a much stronger case. However, most educated, non-superstitious people would not buy either of these superstitious ghost-filled fables.
 
The Resurrected Jesus appears
to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road

The Inerrant Gospel of Gezor

Rho, Conservative Christian:                                     

"That unless He is Lord, you can't prove or know anything.
The impossibility of the contrary."

This is the response of a conservative Christian blogger to my request for evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus.  What he is saying is that I will never see the truth and historicity of this event unless I first believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
 


My response to him:

This is actually the best answer you could have given me. Why? Let me give you an analogy:

If I told you that two years ago, on a cold, dark night, as I was traveling alone down a deserted desert road, a group of space aliens from the planet Gezor abducted me, imprisoned me on their space ship, took me to Gezor, in the distant solar system of Shrang, and held me captive on their distant planet probing my brain and recording every detail of every thought I have ever had using Kripton-laced Rayon beams...what would you say?

You would say that I am certifiably nuts, right?

But I am very sincere and very persistent. I go on to tell you that the Gezorians are making plans to liquidate our entire solar system. At any second of any day, the earth along with Mars, Jupiter and the others will be zapped with a massive carbon-compressed radiation beam from Mt. Krumpet, the highest mountain on Gezor.

What is your response now? You begin backing away from me, thinking that I am so mentally deranged that I might be dangerous, right?

But I persist, and in very urgent, almost threatening language I tell you that unless you get on your knees right at this very moment and plead for clemency to the great god of Gezor, Rakkus, you will perish in the radiation beam apocalypse to come.

To humor me. you ask me for evidence of this tall tale.

I respond with disgust: "You will never believe by the presentation of evidence. Even if I brought the Gezorian spaceship itself down right in front of your eyes, you would not believe, so therefore I will not waste my time to present you with evidence. If the great Rakkus wants you to believe, you will believe. If not, no evidence will make a difference.

You must believe in the Great Gezorian Truth by faith, and faith alone.

So, you see Rho, if I believe with 100% surety that my Gezorian tale is absolutely true, regardless of ANY evidence to prove it, there is no way anyone can convince me otherwise. And you have chosen this same line of defense. You are claiming the complete veracity of an equally spectacular, out-of-this-world science-and-reason-defying supernatural belief...and telling us that you don't need to provide evidence for it, because the only way we will see that it IS truth is if we surrender all appeals to science, reason, and logic...and simply ACCEPT YOUR WORD FOR IT.

Now, you wouldn't accept my word about the Great Truth of Gezor without evidence, would you? So why should I believe your Holy Bible Story without evidence?

Without evidence, both of these stories are just silly, superstitious fables.

Friday, September 19, 2014

All Religions are silly, superstitious nonsense...except mine


sophisticated-religion.jpg

The Amazing Chutzpah of Conservative Christians!

Below is an excerpt from my online conversation with two conservative (evangelical) Christians regarding the (lack) of evidence for the Resurrection.  They are getting testy because I refuse to agree to their premise that "even non-Christian scholars agree that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea".  You can follow the discussion here:  Rhoblogy


Conservative Christian blogger:

Hello Gary. Could you be wrong about everything you think you know, about any topic at all?


Gary:

Absolutely. I could be completely wrong about everything I believe.

Now, I have a question for you: do you believe that it is possible that your entire Christian belief system is false? That the Bible is simply a collection of man-made ancient, middle-eastern historical novels, which contain some historical truth mixed with a lot of superstition and fables?

If we both can agree that our positions are simply of human origin, and since no human is infallible, BOTH our positions could quite possibly be completely false, then I think we have a good basis to continue a discussion of these issues.


Conservative Christian blogger:

So (Gary), you could be wrong about everything.  Including everything you have posted in this debate so far.

No, my position cannot be wrong. It is actually logically impossible that the Christian position be wrong.  It's not about whether a human is infallible. Nobody is. It's whether there is any way to know ANYTHING.  And the only way a fallible human can know anything is if the God of the Bible reveals things to him such that he can know them for certain.  Since you could be wrong about everything, you could be wrong about whether the external world exists, your senses and reasoning are valid, and whether other people exist. Right?


Gary:

Do you see the illogical extremes to which you must go to justify your belief in an invisible ancient Hebrew deity named, Yahweh?

What you are basically saying is this: "Gary, nothing you see, nothing you hear, nothing that you touch can be known for sure to be reality. You must accept that these entities in your environment are real only by faith. Therefore, to believe in the God of the Bible is no different than believing that the chair that you are sitting in is real

You are being foolish, Gary. The God of the Bible is just as real as your chair...now...keep looking at my watch...you are getting sleepier and sleepier...keep looking at my watch...when you wake up you will believe all the nonsense...I mean truths...that I have just told you."

Gary (cont'd): Now, substitute in place of "God of the Bible" any other god: the god of the Hindus, the god of the Muslims, the god of the Mormons...and the same ridiculous logic that you just tried to use on me works just as well for Hinduism, Islam, and Mormonism.

I CHOOSE to believe in science, human reason, and logic which all demonstrate very clearly, to me at least, that your ancient, superstitious beliefs are not real. They are inventions of uneducated, ancient, middle-eastern nomads.


Conservative Christian:

You know Jesus is Lord, but you suppress the truth in wickedness. What you need to do is repent of your sin and beg God to open your eyes. I can tell your eyes are blinded b/c you keep espousing a foolish and literally absurd worldview.


Gary:

It is really sad to hear you speak like that. You seem to believe that I rejected belief in Jesus as God because I had some secret sin I want to commit or because I am angry at "him".

However, it is impossible to be angry or commit a sin against something that does not exist. It is like someone telling me that I am angry at Zeus. I can't be angry at Zeus because Zeus is a superstitious figment of some ancient Greek's imagination, and I can't be mad at Jesus because Jesus is dead. And if Jesus is dead, which he most certainly is, then your Canaanite god, Yahweh, is also a superstitious figment of some ancient Hebrew's imagination.

So instead of frightening me with your bellicose threats I see them as ignorant superstitious nonsense. I take them no more seriously than I would the threats from a medieval witch to "cast an evil spell" on me.

Conservative Christians do not realize how ridiculous, silly, and ignorant they make themselves look when they spew this superstitious nonsense to educated, non-superstitious, twenty-first century people.

Your imaginary deity does not exist.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Best Rebuttal to William Lane Craig

If you have followed this blog for some time you are aware that I have listened to and reviewed several of the "Resurrection Debates" involving conservative, evangelical Christian historian and apologist William Lane Craig and several skeptics of this supernatural claim.  The rebuttals have been very good.  I especially enjoyed that of Dr. James Crossley.  However, the rebuttal below in my opinion is the best I have read.  It is written by an online ex-conservative Christian blogger.


Copied from:  Prove Me Wrong

William Lane Craig has a standard opening statement used when he debates the resurrection of Jesus that he varies slightly from opponent to opponent. Just for fun I thought I’d write out how I’d reply. I used his debates with Robert Price and Bart Ehrman as a basis for this post.
 
 Dr. Craig argues that there are 4 facts agreed upon by the majority of NT scholars that must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis. He further argues that the best explanation of these facts is his claim of resurrection.
 
Dr. Craig appeals to evidence and the consensus of scholarship to establish these facts. Evidential appeals are valid, but the appeal to consensus is not. Christian apologist Gary Habermas has examined every piece of scholarly information he could find on this subject written in English, French, and German from 1975 onwards. He reports that 75% of these scholars do believe that the tomb was found empty. But he further reports that over half of these scholars likewise believe that the resurrection did in fact occur. It is not surprising that believing Christians are more likely to become NT scholars. Churches encourage and financially support promising believers that are interested in going to a seminary. I know because I did the same as a Christian. I supported one such person that today is a professor at a Christian university. If you are an atheist and you want to study the Bible you shouldn’t expect similar support. The fact that scholars, most of whom are believing Christians, assent to such statements as the ones Dr. Craig has made, simply doesn’t make any difference to me. Nor would it matter to me if the majority of atheist scholars rejected these statements. The evidence is what matters.

I don’t think the evidence presented is enough to establish any of the 4 facts that Dr. Craig mentioned. I will take them in turn.

The first fact is that after the crucifixion Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimeathea. We know this because Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn, and Paul all say it. It’s part of Mark’s source material, which is dated within 7 years of the crucifixion. Paul quotes a creed that likewise is rooted to material that dates within a few years of the crucifixion. It’s contained in the sources for Mt, Lk, and Jn as well as extra-biblical gospels like the Gospel of Peter. Additionally, Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the Jewish court that convicted Jesus, is an unlikely invention given early Christian hostility to Jews.

But the issue is not the number of sources. The issue is the quality of those sources. The sources Dr. Craig cites also assert that Jesus cast out of demons to cure illness, that he turned water into wine, that many corpses resurrected simultaneously, that Jesus could teleport, disappear, and float up to the sky. Some sources (Mt, Lk) borrow from others (Mk) and when they do so they often improve on the previous story, which suggests we’re not dealing with unbiased reporting, but attempts to one up one another. We don’t really know for sure that Mark had source material, or that the other gospel authors did. Some scholars speculate that there was, but there may not have been. Perhaps Matthew and Luke didn’t have sources beyond Q and Mark, so they just made things up. We don’t really know, so we can’t just assume they did and call them independent sources, much less quality independent sources.

Dr. Craig says that some of this material is dated very close to the crucifixion event itself. But if the crucifixion happened we don’t really know when. Was it in 100 BC as per Epiphanius, before 5 BC as per Jospehus record of when James died combined with Epiphanius claim of James’ age (96), was it at 21 CE as per the Acts of Pilate, 26-27 CE as per Tertullian, under Claudius at the age of 50 as per Ireanaeus, who reports that he got this information directly from those that knew the disciples?
 
Even Mt and Lk can’t agree on when Jesus was born, so do we really know when he died? These claims are made by those that simply grant all kinds of claims contained in the NT about when Jesus was killed. These are claims I cannot grant, especially in light of the fact that these texts are not the best quality as I mentioned above.

Is Joseph of Arimathea an unlikely invention due to Christian hostility toward Jews? I don’t see why. If I wrote a novel that was historical fiction about the Nazis and I included a character that was a Nazi but turned out to be sympathetic to my position, I don’t know why that would need to be considered unusual or would suggest that my fictive tale was in fact historical since I don’t like Nazis.
 
 Dr. Craig’s second supposed fact is the discovery of the empty tomb. He says that many sources mention it. But I already pointed out that he hasn’t argued that these sources are reliable. He needs to explain why we shouldn’t conclude what we normally conclude about supposed historical books that claim supernatural events or that appear to modify a story to improve on it. He further says that since women are reported as the first to discover the tomb, this makes the claim likely true because that would be otherwise embarrassing. Since women’s testimony was regarded as less reliable than that of a man, then if you were inventing the story you’d sooner report men as the first to discover the tomb. He points out that the earliest Jewish polemics against the tomb presuppose that it is empty (you stole the body). Further it is simple and lacks legendary embellishment.
 
The argument that women discovered the tomb presupposes that Mark intends to write a persuasive narrative. If in fact he is writing what he knows to be fiction and if he doesn’t mind if his readers take his gospel to be fictive, then there is no problem. C.S. Lewis in writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, reports that two children were the first to discover that Aslan was raised. Children are not the most reliable witnesses. But Lewis is not concerned because he is writing fiction. There are a number of good reasons for thinking that Mark is likewise writing fiction.
 
Regarding the earliest Jewish response, this is nothing but tit for tat polemics. Suppose a young Jew runs home and tells his father a few decades after the events “Hey, I just heard this story about a guy named Jesus that rose from the dead and his tomb was empty.” The father might quickly rebuff the claim with “Oh, they probably just stole the body.” Did the father run out and check on the tomb decades after the events? Did he even know where the tomb was? Unlikely. He’s just offering a plausible alternative explanation to an outlandish assertion that he has heard.
 
The fact that a story lacks legendary embellishment is not a proof that it is historical. There’s nothing implausible about Huck Finn running away from home by floating down the river with a slave, but this doesn’t make it true.
 
The third supposed fact is that people had post mortem appearances of Jesus. The evidence is Paul’s claims in I Cor 15 and the claims of the Gospels. Again, the gospels need to be shown to be reliable before we can trust the reporting and I’ve shown that they are not. As to Paul’s claims, appearances to groups of people are not all that unusual. My Pentecostal family is familiar with these type of events as are the reports of visions of Mary at Lourdes and Fatima. In addition these sections of I Cor 15 show evidence of being a later interpolation. Paul’s claim that the gospel he received from the head apostles blatantly contradicts his claim in Gal 1 that no human agency gave him the gospel, but in fact he got it by revelation. The “passing on of traditions” phrase is anachronistic. Paul is a pioneer missionary of a brand new religion. The thought that he’s passing on traditions and creedal formula suggest we are at a later stage of development, as do the lists of the apostles which appear to be an attempt to bring together rival factions of Christianity, another Catholicizing tendency. The text may have been original, but it’s not certain. We have no manuscripts that are early enough to settle the question.
 
The fourth supposed fact is that the disciples came to believe that Jesus was raised. But Dr. Craig did not claim that these disciples believed that Jesus rose in the exact same sense that he does. Did they believe Jesus was physically raised, and that he rose with the same body he died with as Dr. Craig believes? We don’t know that. We know that the earliest Christians held a variety of views about what the resurrected body was like. Some were docetists, claiming that Christ was never physically present but only had the appearance of flesh. Some Gnostics likewise thought Christ had never come in the flesh. A skeptic has no difficulty explaining that some people, such as the apostles, really believed that Christ rose in some sense.
 
Dr Craig says Jewish beliefs preclude anyone from believing that a particular resurrection could occur prior to the general resurrection. But the NT records that Herod believed Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist, and likewise many of those that followed Jesus believed the same thing.
 
Finally Dr Craig asserts that the best explanation of these facts is a miraculous resurrection. He’s wrong about the four facts and he’s wrong to say that a miracle is the best explanation. Even if the 4 facts were true, and even if it were recorded by eyewitnesses (which it wasn’t) and even if it were written within a couple of years of the events rather than several decades and even if it were written in a scientific era rather than a superstitious one, it still should not be accepted. This is because we all know from experience that miraculous claims are extraordinarily unlikely. So to establish them we likewise need an extraordinary amount of evidence.
 
But Dr. Craig will say that he agrees. He’ll say that of course it’s unlikely that Christ was raised NATURALLY. But there’s nothing unlikely about God raising Christ supernaturally. But that’s not true. If I told you that I arrived here tonight via intergalactic spaceship, you’d dismiss my claim. Does my claim become more probable if I add that God was involved? With or without God we have no experience of such a thing, so we regard it as extremely unlikely.

Does the Christian Religion rise or fall on an Empty Tomb?

I am currently "debating" a conservative Christian on the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.  This Christian man is trying to convince me that the evidence for this supernatural event which allegedly occurred 2,000 years ago can be easily proven.  He is using an attorney's method of debate:  he is insisting that I agree or disagree with each "fact" as he presents it, and stipulate as such in writing, before he will move to his next "fact".

His first "fact" was this:  "Stipulate that the evidence shows that Jesus was buried."

My response was:  No.  I will not.  We really have no idea what happened to the body of Jesus.

He replied:  "Ok, stipulate that there is a greater than 50% chance that Jesus was buried."

I replied:  Ok. I think that there is a greater than 50% probability that the body of Jesus...or what was left of it...was buried by someone, somewhere.

His response:  "So you agree to stipulate that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea."

"What???" I said.  "I said no such thing!"

And after a few more back and forths, I came to the following realization, which I posted on the blog page on which we are having this debate:


This has been a really eye-opening experience.  Why?  I have just realized that the entire conservative/orthodox Christian belief system rests upon one very big assumption:
That Jesus was buried in a marked grave---the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea.

Without a marked grave, a known "tomb", the Christian argument that Jesus' tomb was EMPTY and that anyone in Jerusalem who knew where the tomb was located could have gone to verify the story (and since we have no record of anyone contesting the claim of an empty tomb, this proves that the tomb WAS empty)...has suddenly fallen through the floor.

If Jesus' body was tossed into an unmarked grave along with the bodies of other executed criminals, no one could have proven that Jesus had not risen from the dead!  So Christians could claim a resurrected body without needing to provide an empty grave!  Potential converts to this new faith either believed the resurrection story by blind faith in a usually second or third hand story of someone "seeing" (most likely in visions, as in the case of Stephen the first martyr and Paul on the Damascus Road) of the resurrected Jesus...or they didn't buy these resurrection stories.

And the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Jerusalem and Judea did NOT believe this resurrection story, did they?

They did not believe...because there was no tomb to examine!

THIS, my friends, is the strongest evidence that the story of the burial of Jesus body by the rich Sanhedrinist Joseph of Arimethea in his newly hewn tomb was NOT a real historical event.  It is almost certainly an embellishment added 35-55 years after the death of Jesus in the historical novel written by the author of the first 'gospel'---"Mark".

Our conservative Christian's response to my preceding statement

"Of course, the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is non-trivial. Further, it is a well-attested to with a preponderance of good and sound evidence."

Gary

And this, dear reader, is what seems to happen every time I debate a conservative Christian regarding the alleged resurrection of Jesus.

The conservative Christian lists statement after statement from...his "inerrant" Holy Book... followed by a list of scholars and website links of statements by these scholars who agree with the veracity and historicity of the Holy Book, but who also happen to be faithful members of the same religion and believe in the divine/supernatural assertions contained in that Holy Book.

After presenting me with this very biased "evidence", from very biased scholars, regarding the claims of a supernaturally saturated Holy Book, the conservative Christian then demands that I accept these statements from his Holy Book as absolute historical fact.

But, if we were to examine the Holy Books of Muslims and Mormons, the same conservative Christian would scoff at the Muslim and Mormon believers' attempts to use statements from THEIR Holy Books, supported by statements from a multitude of THEIR highly educated scholars, as statements of unquestioned historical fact.

The conservative Christian would scoff at the nonsensical notion of believing the superstitious claims from a book written by superstitious human beings....of ANOTHER religion, but the poor fellow just cannot see that he is following the very same biased, false reasoning in assuming that HIS Holy Book contains no error and is 100% historically accurate.


To follow this debate click here:  Rhoblogy blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sherlock Holmes investigates the Resurrection claims of David Korseh and Jesus of Nazareth

This is an expanded discussion from a post yesterday.  It begins with a repetition of my hypothetical resurrection story as told by the followers of David Koresh, following the tragic events in Waco, Texas twenty years ago:

Remember David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas? Yes, the ones who sadly died in the terrible fire in the 1990's?

How would you react if someone told you that David Koresh's grave was found open and empty three days after his burial; that multiple people have seen, touched, and eaten fish with his resurrected body; and that several anonymous books have been found, believed by his followers to have been written by four of Koresh's closest disciples, allegedly written within only a few short years of the Waco fire, all which give multiple attestations to this alleged resurrection.

Let me guess what you would say:

"Baloney."

Now upon hearing your reaction, the Branch Davidian followers of the resurrected David Koresh refer you to some of their "scholars", men and women who possess very impressive titles and degrees from very well respected institutions of higher learning, who give you all sorts of theoretical and evidentiary law algorithms for why based on this "evidence" you should believe in this supernatural event.

Your reaction?

"Baloney."

But, if pushed to pursue this nonsensical claim, what would you demand:


"I want video and audio!"

or...

1. I want to know the names and addresses of the alleged witnesses.

2. I want to compare each eyewitnesses' individual testimony regarding very specific details of how Mr. Koresh looked, what he was wearing, what exactly he said, what exactly he did, the locations of these appearances, the date/day and time. I want to see if there are any significant discrepancies in the testimony of these eyewitnesses. I want to make sure that the eyewitnesses not only did not conspire beforehand to coordinate and harmonize their testimony but that three of them did not all copy the written testimony of the first.

3. I want to know the history and background of the eyewitness. Are they all Branch Davidians? If so, I don't buy the story. If there are non-Branch Davidians with reputations as reliable sources, then I will consider that something really unusual happened, but dead people do not walk out of their graves and have a fish fry with their buddies.

It just doesn't happen friends. It never happens.


I am going to list the reasons below why I believe that Christians are just as unable to give real evidence for their supernatural belief that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, as our imaginary Branch Davidians above are unable to give evidence that David Koresh rose from the dead.

1. Examine the grave.

So if you decide that you want to investigate the claim that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh rose from his grave 20 years ago, what is the first thing you would want to do?

Look at and examine the grave, right? So, can we do the same with Jesus?

No one today knows for sure where Jesus was buried. So we cannot examine the grave to see if there is still a skeleton inside.

But aren't we making a big assumption? We are assuming that a body was buried! What was the usual custom of the Romans regarding the disposition of the bodies of crucified criminals? Historical records tell us that it was the usual Roman custom to leave the bodies on the crosses...for days, even weeks! This was done as a reminder to other potential trouble-makers within the Roman occupied countries, that this is what would happen to THEM if they started any trouble. And when the Romans did decide to finally take down whatever was left of the corpses (birds and scavengers had usually consumed much of the body), they were thrown into a common grave.

So IF Jesus was buried at all, most likely he was buried in a common pit with many other bodies.

The anonymously written letters of David Koresh's four friends may tell us that Mr. Koresh was buried in the newly built mausoleum of one of the top officials of the FBI, but how likely is that to be true?

The anonymously written letters of Jesus' four friends tell us that Jesus was buried in the newly hewn tomb of a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the same Sanhedrin, who the night before had condemned Jesus to be nailed to a tree and suffer an agonizing death. Possible? Yes. Probable? Well, probably just as probable as Janet Reno letting Koresh be buried in her family mausoleum.

So, in regards to examining the tomb of Jesus...we can't. We don't know where it is.

Therefore, there could be a grave somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem that at one time (or still does) contain the remains of Jesus of Nazareth...but no one knows.

So since we can't examine the grave itself, next we need to speak to eyewitnesses of this extraordinary, supernatural claim.

2. Eyewitnesses

So, you go to Waco Texas and look for eyewitnesses to the alleged resurrection of David Koresh. When you ask around town for the eyewitnesses' identities, everyone says, "Oh, there were a lot of eyewitnesses" but when you ask for names, no one can give you actual, LIVING people to interview.

But they Branch Davidians do have FIVE books which claim that many individuals witnessed this event, and these books do list some names of the alleged eyewitnesses.  One book is written by a man named Paul. It is considered to be the oldest of the five books that tell us about the resurrection of David Koresh.  Paul gives a list of eyewitnesses, but not to the actual event of Koresh coming out of his tomb, but of seeing the resurrected Koresh later that day or even weeks after the event.

However, Paul gives us ZERO details other than that Koresh was killed, buried, and then resurrected. Other than giving us the names of alleged witnesses to Koresh's post resurrection appearances, Paul tells us nothing else, such as mentioning the alleged mausoleum location or the appearance of Koresh upon leaving his tomb. Did he look the same as before his terrible death? What was he wearing? What did he say? What did he do?

Paul tells us none of these things other than to give us a list of names and a claim that 500 people saw the resurrected Koresh at the same time and that if anyone bothers to do it, they can go and ask these 500 people to verify the story as most of them are living. But, he does not give us the names or addresses of these 500 "eyewitnesses".

And, Paul never says that HE witnessed the resurrection of David Koresh, nor that he saw him during the 40 days before Koresh's alleged ascension into heaven. Paul is not an eyewitness to the resurrection. He has received this "evidence" and witness list second hand.

Now let's look at the other four books which DO give details of the resurrection of David Koresh.

When we ask the Branch Davidians who wrote these four books, we are told that as everyone knows and agrees, four devout Davidians: Matt, Mark, Luca, and Johnnie wrote these four books. Matt and Johnnie were close disciples of Koresh who were eyewitnesses to his post-resurrection appearances. Luca was a close friend of Paul mentioned above, and Mark was a close friend of Koresh's deputy leader, Pete.

When asked for proof that these men wrote these books, the Davidians become upset and offended. "All the earliest Davidians attest to the authorship of these books", they retort. You politely ask to interview these early Davidians, but they are either dead or unavailable to be interviewed. 

However, the Davidians refer you to the writings of an early Davidian named  Pappy.  Pappy was not a witness to the resurrection of Koresh, nor does he state that he knew any of the eyewitnesses, but Pappy wrote a book in which he describes all kinds of wild mystical visions of David Koresh, including the claim that Koresh lived (after his resurrection) to be 55 years old! Pappy also states in the book that a Davidian named Presbyjohn told him that Mark the associate of deputy leader Pete wrote the book of Mark.

You reply, "Hmmm. Kind of iffy testimony. Do you have any other sources who can prove who wrote these four books. "Of course," the Davidians reply, we have Irenie. Irenie wrote a book several years after Pappy died in which Irenie quoted Pappy's claim that Presbyjohn knew that Mark, the associate of deputy leader Pete, wrote the unsigned, anonymous, written-in-the-third-person Letter of Mark.

The Davidians then state that another early Davidian leader named, Justin Martin, referred to "the letters" in one of his writings, so this confirms that the Four Letters were written by the above disciples. Besides that, every Davidian leader living after the time of Pappy, (who were not eyewitnesses and very likely never met one of the alleged eyewitnesses) has believed and written books and letters confirming their belief that the authorship of these anonymous early Branch Davidian letters are correctly ascribed to Matt, Mark, Luca, and Johnnie, the disciples of David Koresh, just as believed by all Branch Davidians today.

So, you say to yourself, the Branch Davidians base their belief that disciples Matt, Mark, Luca, and Johnnie wrote the now "Divine" Four Letters based on a very unreliable source...a guy named Pappy, who admits receiving this claim from someone else that we cannot be sure even knew any of the alleged eyewitnesses.

When you tell the Davidians that this is very poor evidence, they are again aghast.

"What do you mean? These four books have been in circulation since just a few years after Koresh's death! If the accounts in these four books are fictitious legends, people who were alive at the time of Koresh's death would be able to point out the fictitious claims and prove them to be false."

Ok," you say. "Could you tell me where these books were written? Were they written here in Waco? In Texas? In the United States? And how can we know for sure that they have been in circulation as long as you seem to believe. Does Paul refer specifically to these "Four Divine Letters" in his writings, since everyone seems to agree that Paul wrote his letter prior to them?"

The Davidians respond that, no, Paul does not specifically mention these four Letters in his own writings. In fact, Paul rarely ever mentions any of the events as recorded in the Four Letters, nor does he record or discuss much of anything of Koresh's teachings that fill up page after page of the Letters!

So we have a BLACK HOLE in the history of this resurrection story. Between the time of Koresh's alleged resurrection and the writing of Paul we have no documentation of any Branch Davidian making statements of a resurrection, let alone a resurrection from a mausoleum. Paul tells us very little and then, years later, four anonymous books appear on the scene, books for which we do not know the authors, where they were written, or when they were put into circulation! Also, of the first three books of Matt, Mark, and Luca, it appears that much of Matt and Luca are exact copies, often word for word, of Mark, the oldest letter of the four Letters. And Johnnies' letter has minimal historical information other than a resurrection account that looks like Mark's resurrection account on steroids! 

And, the first three Letters have Koresh almost always teaching and preaching using parables, which even his disciples have a very hard time understanding, but Johnnie has Koresh giving these incredible long sermons.  Are we reading about the same Koresh in the Letter of Johnnie???

Ok, so we have no verifiable eyewitnesses to the out-of-this-world claim that David Koresh walked out of his grave three days after this death.

"Not so fast!" say the Branch Davidians. "Luca, the traveling companion of Paul, states in a follow up letter to his Letter of Luca, titled the Acts of the disciples of Koresh, that Paul had an experience with the resurrected David Koresh on the Road to Mexico City.

Luca says that Paul said that he and some buddies were traveling down the Road to Mexico City when a bright light appeared in front of them which immediately blinded Paul for three days. Luca also says that Paul said that he also heard a voice and the voice said, "I am David Koresh. Why don't you believe in me? I am going to make you my missionary to the Mexicans."

Luca then adds that Paul says that his traveling companions could corroborate that they heard a unintelligible voice but did not see the bright light...or was it...they saw the bright light (but miraculously, they were not blinded like Paul was) but they heard nothing...anyway, these buddies could corroborate Paul's story...if we knew their names and addresses or how to contact them...but we don't.

Oh, and Paul said that all this happened in a "vision". He didn't actually see a body or touch a body, or watch the body eat broiled fish...he just saw a blinding light for a fraction of a second and heard voices...in a "vision".

"But hold one dog gone minute!" complain the Branch Davidians.

"Paul met with deputy leader, Pete, and our new leader Jimmie Koresh, the younger brother of David Koresh, for two weeks after his experience on the Road to Mexico City. And we are absolutely certain that Paul told these two hand picked Davidian leaders what the resurrected David Koresh looked like in his "vision" and that this description matched the known appearance of David Koresh, as known by his deputy leader and his younger brother."

But you ask, "Does Paul describe this 'Comparing of appearances of the resurrected David Koresh' in his book?

No.

"We just believe he MUST have done so or why would Pete and Jimmie have accepted Paul's divine calling as Branch Davidian missionary to the Mexicans?

Hmmm. ...maybe...because they believed that Paul really did see a bright light for a split second and heard a voice saying it was David Koresh...in a vision...on his roadtrip to Mexico City since he was soooo sincere in his belief that it really did happen??

Besides, Paul probably also told them that he had been teleported into space, to the "third heaven", to personally hear top-secret Branch Davidian prophecies, shortly after his "vision" on the Mexico City Road. So anyone who had been teleported to see David Koresh in the THIRD heaven, and had received such top secret divine information which he could share (and prove) to "no man", HAD to be the real "McCoy", so Pete and Jimmie accepted his claim to be the Branch Davidian missionary to the Mexicans.

Conclusion:

Dear Readers: So as I told this hypothetical Branch Davidian story, and provided 'evidence' for the alleged resurrection of the charismatic and controversial spiritual leader, David Koresh, in Waco, Texas, twenty years ago, you didn't buy this tall tale for one second, did you?

So why do you accept the same tall tale and same lack of evidence for the alleged resurrection of another charismatic and controversial spiritual leader who lived and died TWO THOUSAND years ago...making it much, much more difficult to verify the accuracies of these ancient assertions?

Isn't it much more likely that Jesus' very devout, very dedicated, but very superstitious and very despondent (and therefore emotionally and psychologically susceptible) disciples THOUGHT that Jesus was resurrected, either by visions or false sightings, and THAT is how this supernatural, ancient, middle-eastern tall tale got to us today? Or do you believe this ancient story, and also believe that invisible vindictive deities and their divine spirits hover around each one of us penetrating into our very thoughts to control our minds???

Haven't we advanced beyond the dark, superstitious, and fearful beliefs of invisible ghouls, goblins, and mind-controlling evil spirits?