Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Blog Reader: Your Deconversion after Five Months Seems Like a Knee Jerk Reaction

A reader of this blog, Corey, sent the following email:


Hi,

You wrote on your blog site:

In February, 2014, I was a devout orthodox (fundamentalist) Christian. By June, 2014, I was no longer Christian.
 
Let me get this straight! You were a “devout” believer and within 5 months you weren't even a Christian at all? Can you appreciate why that might sound like a knee jerk reaction to some of us reading this for the first time?
 
I came to realize that all fundamentalist religions are based on superstitions;

Superstitions? You mean like the search for Darwin's warm little pond? Did they ever find his pond?

superstitions that cause sane, decent people to hate and commit violence all in the name of their "inerrant" holy books.

Of course, if people commit violence for reasons other than religion, then this pandemic of violence will continue all the same even if we got rid of religion altogether. In fact, if violence is how we disqualify institutions as unfit for our time, then let's examine the trail of blood left behind by the story of natural evolution in the food chain. Even the naturalists cannot hide forever the spilt blood and violence of the fittest feeding on the carcuses of the weaker members of species that could not run fast enough or had not the strength to fend off the predator that was bent on terminating the life of their evening meal. Oh, killing in cold blood back then, with the full animal nature engaged, were such simpler times. But, today, scientists bitch about the wars that are committed in the name of religion, but the scientists funded the effort throughout the centuries by lending their expertise in creating better weapons. And they don't always have the best interests of even their fellow man in mind. We need only consider the war efforts scientists were involved in, such as this one.

"Spurred by troubling questions from Danish Nobel laureate Niels Bohr and Manhattan Project physicist Leo Szilard about slaughtering civilians and precipitating a potentially catastrophic arms race between the United States and Soviet Union, many scientists pondered the ethical implications of what they were doing far more deeply than Oppenheimer, who had earlier dismissed Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi’s suggestion that they poison the German food supply with radioactive fission products on the grounds that “we should not attempt a plan unless we can poison food sufficient to kill a half a million men.” Oppenheimer certainly understood the frightening world they were ushering in, having had to resist Teller’s effort to bypass the relatively puny atomic bombs and proceed directly with production of super bombs. At the May 31, 1945 meeting of Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s Interim Committee, Oppenheimer acknowledged that within three years it might be possible to produce bombs with an explosive force equivalent to between 10 million and 100 million tons of TNT—thousands of times more powerful than the bombs that would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
 
At that meeting, he advocated sharing information with the Soviets prior to dropping
the bomb but also acquiesced in the decision to target civilians. In June, Oppenheimer’s memo on behalf of the Scientists Panel to the Interim Committee disputed colleagues who decried using the bomb against Japan or preferred a demonstration, instead urging “military use” and hoping for consequences sufficiently horrible to put an end to war. His subsequent refusal to expedite Szilard’s petition to Truman, signed by 155 Manhattan Project scientists opposing the bomb’s use, ensured that it would arrive too late to matter.

Oppenheimer’s initial jubilation over the destruction of Hiroshima quickly turned to despair as the significance of what he and the scientists had achieved hit home. The mood at Los Alamos darkened perceptibly following news of Nagasaki and reports of massive destruction.
 
Oppenheimer and others at least comforted themselves with the belief that the bomb had brought a rapid end to the war and avoided a costly invasion of the Japanese homeland. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s definitive study of the end of the Pacific War, Racing the Enemy, should dispel that myth once and for all."   Source:  https://www.armscontrol.org/print/1851
 
I now follow Reason and Science. I want to share these truths with anyone interested in listening. 

When you say, “reason”, do you mean logic? I ask, because logic is based in fundamentally unproven statements called axioms, which are at best assumed to be true. In other words, the use of logic requires a leap of faith to get from the axiom layer of reasoning from unproven assumptions to secondary deductions built atop those unproven axiomic assumptions.
 
Corey...


Monday, August 29, 2016

Is it Fair for Skeptics to use Probability to Counter Christian Supernatural Claims?

Christian: Consider two related propositions:

P1: “God exists.” (Or if you like, consider “The christian God exists.”)
P2: “No gods exist.” (Or “The christian God doesn’t exist.”)

Now, would you assign approximately the same probabilities to each proposition? Or would you give a greater level of assent to P2 than P1?  Unless you assign approximately 50% probability to each proposition, then you do indeed have a belief in the proposition you assign that larger probability to. I’d be interested in your answer here.

Gary: This statement presupposes that it is wrong for human beings to give a greater probability to two possible events; that doing so proves that you are biased. This is false.

Personal experience and collective human experience has given each one of us an internal “probability guide”. For instance, how many of us (who live in the United States) stop before crossing every bridge in the United States, requesting to see the latest safety inspection report for each bridge?

No one.

Based on personal and collective experience, we trust that the bridges in the United States are safe.

Now, transport us to a third world country; to the hinterland of that country, and set us in front of a rickety, old, wooden bridge that creaks, sways, and pieces of board give way and fall thousands of feet to the bottom of a deep ravine when the car ahead of you crosses it. So what’s the problem? It is a bridge. You have crossed thousands of bridges in your life and not one has collapsed, why worry about this one?

The problem is that you have never experienced seeing a bride sway, creak, and lose pieces of wood prior to driving over it. This is an “extra-ordinary” bridge. You are justified in being wary of it. You are justified in demanding extraordinary evidence to believe that this bridge is safe for you to cross. And so with the claims of the Bible. You have never seen, nor has anyone you know ever seen, a three-day-dead body walk out of his grave. You are very justified in being very skeptical of this claim and demanding extra-ordinary evidence to believe it.  And the same logic can be applied to the question of the existence of the Christian god, Yahweh.  Since no one has ever seen or heard Yahweh, you are justified to demand very extra-ordinary evidence to believe that Yahweh exists.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Are Skeptics Being Unreasonable for not Accepting the Evidence for the Resurrection?

Here is something for Christians to think about. Are we skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus really being unreasonable and biased or are we applying the same reason, logic, and skepticism to your Resurrection claim that we would apply to ANY very extra-ordinary claim, supernatural or natural? 

Christians, ask yourselves this question: Would you believe the reality of the very extra-ordinary supernatural claim listed at the bottom of this post, based on the following evidence:

1. Four anonymous books written 40-60 years after the alleged event are the only surviving detailed accounts of this story. In these stories, it is alleged that several dozen people witnessed this event.

 2. At least two of the authors of the four books describing this event in detail, copy/plagiarize large sections of the first book and it is possible that the author of the fourth book used the first book as a basic template for his story.


 3. Large numbers of people came to believe this story.


 4. Large numbers of people were willing to suffer persecution and death for their belief in this story.


Claim: A man was beamed up into an alien spaceship hovering several hundred feet off the ground; the spaceship then sped off at the speed of light.

Christians: I think that if you are honest, you will admit that you would not believe that a man had been abducted by space aliens by the above evidence, but yet you are irritated that we skeptics will not accept the same evidence for YOUR supernatural tale.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Existence of God does not require Evidence

Evangelical Christian:

Gary, here are some excerpts from Matt Slick’s article entitled HOW DO YOU KNOW THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IS REAL AND NOT FICTION? from Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry:
“Answering the question of how we can know God is real and not just a fictional character in the Bible, is inherently difficult because it deals with the subjective opinions of people. What would constitute sufficient information or evidence to determine that God is real can vary between people. Thus, a critic of Christianity can reject each answer as being insufficient – because it doesn’t satisfy his subjective preferences for determining what to believe regarding the God of Christianity…”

“Biblically speaking, we don’t determine that the God of the Bible is real. We discover that he is real. God is not the same thing as an object in the universe that is hidden on a planet, floating around in interstellar space, or hidden between atoms. He is different than the universe and the things in it. Normally speaking, to determine something’s existence means we find it or produce an experiment to test its existence, or develop a methodology by which we can verify if something is or is not there. But again, this is an approach based on a materialistic worldview that seeks to determine something’s existence by experimentation on physical things and their characteristics…”

“If the God of the Bible exists, then he exists in a way that is different than the universe. After all, he created it. I am writing this article (creating it), and I exist differently than it does. The article depends on my existence, not me on its existence. Doing an experiment on the word patterns and repeatability of style would not prove that there’s an actual person named “Matt Slick” who wrote it. Is there an experiment that can determine my existence based upon what is found in an article? Or, will the subjectivity of the examiner conclude that “Matt Slick” does not exist, even though the article says it is written by me? One may agree I’m real, where another one may not. Again, we are talking about subjectivity because how a person interprets evidence is subject to that person’s worldview and subjective preferences.

If the God of the Bible exists, then he is independent of the universe, transcendent, and answers to no one. Therefore, unless an experiment can be devised based on materialistic principles that conclusively prove there’s a nonmaterial transcendent being outside the universe (which is problematic as mentioned above), then we are left with the conclusion that the only way to know God exists is if he discloses himself.

Biblically, the process for determining whether God is real is to trust the work of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. He discloses himself to those who seek him in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit upon them, where people recognize their sinfulness and also their need for being delivered from the lawful consequences of breaking God’s law.”

Gary

Your statement can be boiled down to this: Yahweh (the God of the Bible) cannot be proven to exist by the process of examining evidence as is done for every other truth claim in our universe. The only way to know Yahweh exists is to experience warm fuzzy feelings about him and to experience answered prayer.

Here's the problem with this belief:  Members of every religion on the planet experience warm, fuzzy feelings about their god/gods, so intense feelings do not help us determine the existence or identity of "God".

And what about answered prayer?

As a former evangelical myself, I can tell you that evangelicals pray about EVERYTHING. Evangelicals pray about which job offer they should accept; which house they should buy; whether they should send Johnnie and Susie to summer camp; that God will bless them financially; that Aunt Bessie will be healed of her sinus infection, etc.. So the fact that once in a great while one of your prayer requests comes true is NOT proof that an invisible being worked up some magic and made your dream come true. It is called a COINCIDENCE. And coincidences happen to everyone, including atheists.

Your warm fuzzy feelings and your occasional “answered prayers” do NOT prove the existence of the ancient middle-eastern god Yahweh.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Heaven is for Robots


Moderate Christian

…I along with many others have concluded that the Bible itself, (Hebrew or NT) makes no claims of an eternal place of torment.

I know eternal conscious torment or “ECT” is the standard Christian dogma, but there is much evidence to discount it. And this is in line with Judaism, the forerunner of Christianity, which never imagined an eternal place of torment.

Now I am not saying there isn’t any notion of “hell” or “judgment” within the bible or Rabbinic literature. But there is very little evidence to support a place of eternal conscious torment.  So what is really offered is the hope and gift of eternal life, as opposed to experiencing the wages of sin which is judgment and the finality of death.

Gary

Just how wonderful is “heaven”?

If the Bible is true, there is no sin in heaven. Everything and everyone is perfect. What does that mean: It means that there is no free will in heaven. There is no freedom of thought in heaven. You will act perfectly. You will think perfectly. You will have no choice in the matter. You will not have the ability to think for yourself.

You will be a robot. Forever. Without end.

No thanks.

I don’t want to exist as a robot. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Examples of Major Errors in the Bible



Copied from Nate's blog, Finding Truth:


So in this letter, I’ll try to cover just a few things quickly to give you an idea of the very real difficulties that make people question the Bible’s legitimacy and Christianity altogether.

First of all, let’s not get sidetracked on things like evolution and the Big Bang. I disagree with most of what Mr X said in those CDs — the evidence for the Big Bang and evolution is pretty overwhelming if you take the time to look into it. And if you’re ever curious, a good starting point is a website called TalkOrigins. That link takes you to their “Index of Creationist Claims.” Most of what Mr X mentioned as evidence for creationism can be found there, along with explanations of why they’re not accurate, and sources for further reading.

But again, I don’t think it’s useful to get bogged down in those issues. For the sake of argument, I’ll go ahead and concede that God exists. But just because a God exists, that doesn’t mean the Bible was inspired by him. So the real discussion should always be about how to defend the Bible.

Here are some things you can check out for yourself:

Judas Iscariot
Read Matthew 27:3-10 and closely compare it to Acts 1:18-19. These are the accounts of Judas’s death. You’re probably already aware that Matthew says Judas died by hanging himself, but Acts says he died by falling headlong in a field, which ruptured his abdomen. Most people put these two accounts together and say something like the following: “Judas hung himself, but at some point, the rope broke, and his body fell and burst open.” That seems to tie everything together, but really look at it for a minute.

First of all, both passages are explaining how Judas died. Well, that could only have happened one way. Either Judas hanged himself and died that way, or he fell and suffered a fatal wound. If we put the accounts together, that still leaves some problems. Let’s say he actually died by hanging himself, but the rope later broke, and his body burst open when it fell to the ground. Well, he still would have died by hanging, which makes Acts inaccurate — we don’t really care what happened to the body once he was dead, after all. What if he attempted to hang himself, but the rope broke before he died, and it was the fall that actually killed him. In that case, Matthew is wrong to say that he died by hanging himself. If it really required both the hanging and the fall, then both accounts are inaccurate.

Now, ask yourself these questions: who bought the field? Can we even be sure that the field in Matthew and the field in Acts are the same, based on the details they offer? Why was the field called “the Field of Blood”? The two accounts answer all of those questions differently.

Finally, Matthew 27:9-10 says that this episode fulfilled a prophecy given by Jeremiah. But Jeremiah didn’t give a prophecy like this. The closest thing to it is something found in Zechariah, and even that isn’t a real prophecy if you go read it in context (Zech 11:12-13).

There have been all kinds of attempts to reconcile this discrepancy, but none of them make much sense. Some have said that the prophets were sometimes collected into a scroll that would start with Jeremiah, and that’s simply what Matthew was referring to. But that’s not what he says. He says that Jeremiah spoke the prophecy. Even if someone had been using a scroll, they would be able to tell when they got to the end of what Jeremiah had written, and it’s easy to see how they may have been troubled by the prophecy not being there. And if Matthew had simply attributed it to Zechariah, his audience still would have known how to look that up — in fact, it would have been much easier for them. Often, Matthew feels comfortable referencing “prophecies” without specifying the prophet that said it. He could easily have done that here as well. And since (if he were inspired) God would want this message to be understandable to all the generations that came after him, it makes absolutely no sense that God would allow this kind of mistake.


I spent a little more time on Judas than I meant to, but it’s a pretty clear place to see the kinds of discrepancies that are throughout the Bible. Another good example concerns Jesus’s birth. Carefully read Matthew 1:18 through chapter 2, and then carefully read Luke 2:1-40. I’d suggest taking notes — a column for Matthew and a column for Luke. Look for these things in particular: how did Jesus’s family get to Bethlehem? Why were they there? What kind of building was Jesus born in? Who came to the birth? How long did they stay in Bethlehem after his birth? Where did they go as soon as they left Bethlehem? Why did they go to those places? Can you combine both narratives into one account that includes all the details from both?

Herod's Massacre of the Innocents
You might be interested to know that Matthew is the only source for the idea that Herod killed a bunch of babies in Bethlehem. No historian, not Josephus, nor any historians who lived during Herod’s reign (even those who were critical of him) ever recorded this event. No other book in the Bible references it. Also, Matthew claims that certain parts of Jesus’s life and ministry fulfill all kinds of Old Testament prophecies. I recommend you read through Matthew, and every time he claims that something fulfills prophecy, go read the passages he’s referencing. See if they actually look like prophecies. Even the virgin birth prophecy. By the way, Matthew was using the Septuagint for the OT, and we’ve discovered that the word for “virgin” in the Septuagint was misleading. The Hebrew text uses a word that simply means “young woman” or “maiden,” which means Isaiah may never have been talking about an actual virgin giving birth at all.

Mr Y spent his last two sermons talking about the canon of scripture versus things like the Apocrypha. But check this out: here’s a quote from the apocryphal (and pseudepigraphal) Book of Enoch (Enoch 1:9):
And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh
Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.
Now look at this passage from Jude 14-15:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
If the Book of Enoch was not written by Enoch (as far as I know, no scholars think it was), why does Jude quote it as though it was? And if the Book of Enoch is actually legitimate and contains real prophecy (as Jude claims), why isn’t it in the Bible?

The Book of Enoch
I think that Mr X or Mr Y may have mentioned these next things, but I can’t remember for sure. Because we now have so many manuscripts for the various books in the Bible, we’ve realized that the last 11 verses of Mark were not originally part of Mark. They were added by someone later. In other words, they weren’t inspired. After all, if God had originally wanted them in Mark, they would have been written at the same time as the rest of the book.

John 7:53-8:11 were also added later. They weren’t originally part of John. And this is the story of the woman caught in adultery! Where Jesus says “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”! Can you think of a more famous story about Jesus? But this wasn’t originally part of the Bible. Who added it? Why? Some apologists claim that this was likely a true story about Jesus anyway, but how could they possibly know that? Just taking these two examples, we know for a fact that the Bible contains uninspired material. What else might be uninspired?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Inga: All you Need to Prove Christianity False is the Bible


Bruce Gerencser (a former Baptist pastor turned atheist) and I are currently involved in a conversation with a Christian named, Inga, on another of my posts.  Inga has asked Bruce and me to read a couple of books written by Christian authors who attempt to rebut agnostic, New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman.  Because of the popularity of his books, and the effects they are having on Christianity, Bart Ehrman has become Enemy Number One to many conservative Christians.

Inga is not alone in recommending a Christian reading list to me.  It seems like every Christian whom I debate on the issue of the veracity of Christianity has a reading list of Christian books for me to read, including my former pastor and my relatives.   They all seem to believe that if I will just read their recommended books,  I will see "the light" and return to Christianity.  But I will tell Inga what I have told all these other Christians:  There is only ONE book you need to read to determine if Christianity is true or false...the Bible!

And as the Apostle Paul said, the Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian Faith.  If the bodily Resurrection of Jesus did not happen, Christianity is false.


So here is my challenge to Inga and to every other Christian:  Take out your Bible and start reading the four Gospels, in parallel, beginning with the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to his arrest and crucifixion.  Read each segment of the Passion Story in parallel in all four Gospels.  Read them in the order in which most scholars believe they were written chronologically:  Mark first, then Matthew, then Luke, then John.  (There is debate on whether Matthew or Luke was the second gospel written, so choose one of them to read second and consistently read that gospel second, the other third, then John.)

So for example, read the Triumphal Entry story in Mark chapter 11, then the story in Matthew/Luke, then in John.  Then read the next segment in Mark, the Last Meal, and then the same story in the other three gospels, again in chronological order.  And so on, until you read to the end of each Gospel.

Here are the issues I ask you to pay particular attention to:

1.  Are there any significant discrepancies/contradictions which can only be resolved with the most contorted of explanations (spin)?

Example:  When did Mary Magdalene first learn that Jesus had risen from the dead and who told her?

Example:  Did Jesus tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee or to remain in Jerusalem until the arrival of the Holy Ghost?

Example:  Did Judas die from hanging or from his intestines exploding and who bought the Potter's Field, Judas or the Pharisees?

Example:  Why does the author of John not have a Passover Meal in his Passion Story?  Why does he have Jesus die on the day before Passover, when the other three gospel authors have Jesus dying on the day of Passover?

2.   If after reading the Passion Story in the four Gospels in parallel you come to believe that there are significant discrepancies and outright contradictions in the four Gospels regarding very important aspects of the "Jesus Story", what does that tell you about the reliability of these four books as historical sources?

The Apostle Paul mentions very few details about the historical Jesus in his epistles.  He never mentions even one of Jesus' parables, sermons, or miracles.  Isn't that odd?  Even if the primary purpose of Paul's epistles were to address specific problems in specific churches, why would he never refer to any of Jesus' sermons, parables, or miracles?  Is it possible that it was because Paul had never heard these stories?  Is it because some or all of these stories were invented by the author of the first Gospel, Mark, written circa forty years after Jesus death?  Paul never mentions an empty rock tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, one of the principle pieces of evidence in the Christian apologist's armamentarium for the historicity of the Resurrection.  Is it possible that the Empty Tomb story was another theological invention of the author of Mark?

In conclusion:  We have zero documentation of anyone claiming to have witnessed the reanimation of the dead body of Jesus or to have witnessed his reanimated dead body walk out of his sealed tomb.  All we have are claims by grieving family and friends of seeing their dead loved one "appear" to them.  Over the millennia of human existence, thousands of grieving family and friends of the recently departed have claimed to have received "appearances" from their deceased loved one; appearances in which the deceased talks to them and even touches them.  We don't believe any of these "ghost stories", so why should we believe a similar story from a group of people living twenty centuries ago???

But what about the claim that groups of people saw Jesus at the same time?  

There are many examples, in many religions, of multiple people allegedly seeing the same supernatural being or event.  Most Protestants do not believe Roman Catholic claims of groups of people seeing the Virgin Mary, so why should anyone believe similar stories about Jesus from two thousand years ago?

And what about Paul?  He claims that a dead man appeared to him on a desert highway.  Should we believe him just because his conversion from a devout Jewish scholar to a Christian missionary is so dramatic and because he was willing to suffer and die for his new Faith?  Think about this:  if someone today converted from one religion to another and suffered persecution and death for his new belief, would that prove to you that his new religion was true?

Of course not.

Human beings make very odd, unexplainable life decisions all the time!

So you see, Inga, you don't need to read one single scholar's book, Christian or skeptic, to know if the central claims of Christianity are true or not.  All you need to do is read the Bible in a way that most Christians have never done:  in parallel.  If you do, you will see that the Bible is not a divine book.  It is a collection of ancient writings by superstitious, very fallible, ancient human beings, full of discrepancies, contradictions, and errors.

The supernatural is not real, Inga.  Just as we no longer believe that evil spirits cause diseases and epilepsy, or that ghosts lurk behind every tree in the dark woods, we should no longer believe that invisible gods and devils engage in invisible battles for our invisible "souls". 

These are all ancient superstitions.

They should be abandoned...once and for all.
Silly
Silly
Silly



A silly ancient tall tale that no modern, educated person should believe is historical fact.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Did Early Christians maintain accurate Oral Traditions?

In my discussions with Christians regarding the historical accuracy of the Gospels, I often point out the fact that we have very little information about the historical Jesus prior to the writing of the first Gospel in circa 70 AD, and, we have zero information about an Empty Tomb owned by a Joseph of Arimathea prior to that date.  The Christian writings we do have from pre-70 AD, the writings of the Apostle Paul, mention nothing about Jesus' alleged virgin birth, his birth in Bethlehem, any of his miracles, sermons, parables, or the details of his death.  The writings of Paul say nothing about the Empty Tomb of Arimathea.  Therefore, how do we know that some of the stories in the first Gospel, Mark, are not simply embellishments which developed over the approximately forty years between Jesus' death and the writing of Mark, either in a gradual process or invented by the author of Mark himself?

Christians often respond with this statement:  "The early Christians maintained very accurate oral traditions.  Therefore, no embellishments could have been added in those forty years.  We can be very confident, therefore, that the Gospel of Mark accurately reflects the sayings and deeds of Jesus."

Me:  "How do you know that for a fact?"

Christians:  "The first Christians were Jews.  Jews of that time period maintained very accurate oral traditions.   And not just the Jews, many of the cultures around the Mediterranean were oral-based cultures.  We know that oral-based cultures of the first century maintained very accurate oral traditions."

Really?

Well.  That is not what the experts say!

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman has written a new book, Jesus Before the Gospels, which deals with exactly this issue:  How did ancient oral-based cultures preserve their stories and traditions, and in particular, how did the earliest Christians remember Jesus, his sayings, and deeds?  Erhman draws on the expertise of scholars in the fields of sociology, psychology, and anthropology to present compelling evidence that directly contradicts the above Christian claim. Here are some excerpts:

The net result of Bartlett's experiments is that when we remember something, we are not simply pulling up an entire recollection of the past from some part of our brain.  We are actually constructing the memory from bits and pieces here and there, sometimes with more and sometimes with less filler.  In the process of this construction project, which we are undertaking virtually all the time, errors can happen.  There can be massive omissions, alterations, and inventions of memory.
--page 135

The consensus among both anthropologists and cultural historians , in fact, is quite the opposite of what we might assume about oral cultures.  As orality expert David Henigie indicates, people in oral cultures "generally forget as much as other people".  And because that is the case, people in such settings are at an extreme disadvantage in comparison with those of us in literary cultures.  If they forget something, they "lose it forever".  For us it is usually not lost, since we can look it up.

...Oral tradition destroys at least parts of earlier versions as it replaces them.

...traditions in oral cultures do not remain the same over time, but change rapidly, repeatedly, and extensively.  That is especially important in considering traditions about Jesus in circulation in the early church, among people who were by and large illiterate, during the first forty to sixty-five years of Christianity, before our Gospels were written.                 
---pp. 182-183

(Classics scholar) Albert Lord persuasively made a crucial point that has been confirmed and reconfirmed by studies since his day:  oral cultures have a different conception of tradition from written cultures.   ...Those passing along traditions in oral cultures are not interested in preserving exactly the same thing.  They are interested in making the same thing relevant for the new context.  That necessarily involves changing it.  Every time.    ---p. 185

(Modern research demonstrates that) Memory is not simply information and experiences from an earlier time.  It is also, at least as much, what is happening now.  How we remember the past is intricately connected with what we are experiencing in the present.  In a very real sense, we do not have any direct, unmediated access to the past.  We have access to it, in our minds, only through the fallible and malleable process of memory.   ---p. 288

Gary:  Therefore, the Christian claim that we can be certain that the earliest Christians, prior to the writing of the Gospels, accurately maintained the oral stories of the Gospels is yet another baseless assumption.  In fact, we know that the stories about Jesus did change, as anyone reading the Gospels in parallel can see for themselves.



Friday, August 12, 2016

Unlike the Synoptics, the Gospel of John abandons the theme of the Impending Arrival of the Kingdom. Why?

I am currently reading New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman's newest book, Jesus Before the Gospels.  It is very interesting, to say the least.  Below is an excerpt that I find particularly fascinating...and shocking...as a former Christian:

Ehrman:  "It is striking that in the last of the New Testament Gospels to be written, the Gospel of John, Jesus no longer preaches about the imminent end of the world, the coming of the Son of Man, and the arrival of the Kingdom of God (the dominant theme of the Synoptic Gospels).  He no longer preaches about what will happen to people when they die.  For John's Gospel, Jesus' message is no longer that the Kingdom of God is soon to arrive here on earth.  It is that people can have eternal life above, up in heaven with God (John 14:2).  Jesus now does not warn of the coming apocalypse.  He teaches about having eternal life.  It is a life that has come from heaven, in the person of Jesus himself, a divine man who has come down from above so that he can lead others back to the realm whence he came (John 3:13-16).  Those who believe in him will have eternal life (John 3:16, 36).  No longer is the point about an apocalyptic break in the history of earth; it is instead about living with God forever in the world above.  And that comes only by "believing in " Jesus (John 3:15-16, 14:6).

That is why, in the Gospel of John, Jesus takes a completely different tack toward speaking about himself from the earlier Gospels.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke (as well as in their sources, such as Q), Jesus says almost nothing about who he is.  He does call himself the Son of Man, he does say that he must be rejected and killed and raised, and he does by implication say a few other things about his identity (see, e.g., Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-33; Matt. 11:27).  But his identity is by no stretch of the imagination the focal point of his teaching.  Quite the contrary; in the Synoptics, the focal point is God, his coming kingdom, and the need to live in ways that will prepare one to enter it.  Not so in John, where the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God is absent.  In John, Jesus principally preaches about himself.  He is the one who has come down from heaven to bring eternal life.

And so it is in John, and only in John that Jesus makes bold and astounding claims about himself as a divine being, "I am the light of the world." "I am the bread of life." I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me."...     pages 209-210

GarySo why the change in theme from the Synoptics to the Gospel of John, the last Gospel written, a text written approximately at the end of the first century?

Ehrman:  Jesus almost certainly proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God.  This is the core element of Jesus' teaching in our earliest Gospels.  It is at the heart of what he proclaims throughout the Gospel of Mark, starting with the very first words off his lips in 1:15: "The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe the good news."

...This message continues throughout Mark until the climactic chapter of Jesus' s teaching, his famous apocalyptic discourse of chapter 13, where he spells out in graphic detail what will happen very soon when a massive cataclysmic end to history arrives and the Son of Man appears from heaven to reward the elect.

Apocalyptic proclamations of the coming kingdom can be found in the sayings of Q, as well as in sayings found just in Matthew and just in Luke.  The earliest sources we have for the teachings of Jesus thus have him proclaiming that the end of this age will occur soon, within the lifetime of his apostles (see Mark 9:1; 13:30).

The earliest Christians, after Jesus' day, also expected the imminent end of the world as they knew it.  Paul thought that Jesus would return in his own lifetime (e.g., see I Thess. 4:14-18 and I Cor. 15:5-53).  So too, almost certainly, did the other apostles, including Jesus' own disciples.  But with the passing of time, that apocalyptic expectation began to fade.  Jesus did not return; the Son of Man did not arrive; the end did not come.

...Other Christians began to think that Jesus must never have said that the end was coming soon, since, in fact, it had not come.  As Christians (continued to tell) traditions about Jesus's teachings, they changed them accordingly.   Pages 208-209

Gary:  And that is why the theme of the Gospel of John is so very different from the theme of the Synoptics.  It was nearing the end of the first century.  JESUS HADN'T COME BACK!  Christians had given up hope that the Kingdom would soon arrive on earth, in their lifetimes. The Christians of the late first century had begun to see the "kingdom" as something to attain in the afterlife, not in this life, as Jesus had promised in the earlier Gospels.