Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Evil Lurking behind Independent Baptist Fundamentalism

Jack Hyles, early years

Ever attend an independent, fundamental Baptist church?  If so, you know that in an independent, fundamental Baptist church the pastor has absolute, unquestioned authority. 

Well, as the saying goes, "absolute power corrupts absolutely".

Read this fascinating and disturbing article regarding the largest independent, fundamental Baptist church in the country and its infamous pastor, Jack Hyles. 

How the mighty have fallen! 

Read here.

Jack Hyles, later years

The pastor of each independent, fundamental Baptist church
is a pope with unquestioned, absolute authority

Jack Hyles' son-in-law, Jack Schaap, who succeeded Hyles as pastor of
independent, fundamental, First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, gives his
famous, "How to Polish a Sword" sermon which some
members of the congregation viewed as pornographic.

Jack Hyles' daughter, Linda, speaks out about
her father and his cult:  independent Baptist fundamentalism

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Any Version of Christianity that Refuses to Condemn the Crimes of the God of the Old Testament is Immoral

Imagine talking to someone who attempts to justify the horrific crimes against humanity committed by Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.  What would you think of such a person?  Even if they condemned such behavior today, their justification of brutal crimes committed in the past would not be excusable.  You would look upon such a person with disgust and contempt and consider them incredibly immoral.

So let's take a look at Christianity.  Practically every version of Trinitarian Christianity, from fundamentalist to liberal, sees Jesus as the God of the Old Testament.  To deny that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament is to deny the Trinity.  If Jesus is the God of the Old Testament he is guilty of some of the most barbaric, horrific acts of infanticide and genocide known to man.  Yet Christians of all stripes pray and worship this mass murderer of men, women, and little children.

Any Christian who refuses to condemn and denounce the God of the Old Testament is immoral.


Monday, November 23, 2015

The Burden of Proof is not on Skeptics to Disprove the Supernatural Claims of the Bible, but on Christians to Prove them

Magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events
by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

Dear Christian,

The truth of the matter is this:  your belief system is based on magic---the powers of the supernatural intervening in the natural world. I, on the other hand, do not believe that there is any good evidence to believe that the supernatural exists.  I cannot prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead by the supernatural powers of an ancient middle-eastern god named Yahweh, but neither can I prove that leprechauns and fairies do not exist.  I choose not to believe in things that have a very, very, very low probability of being true.

The burden of proof is not on me to provide evidence that your very extraordinary, supernatural claim of a resurrected first century dead man is false, but on you---the person making the extraordinary claim---to prove that it is true. That is how it works in our culture, my friend. If I come back from a hunting trip and claim to have encountered three green, atennaed Martians, who took me as their prisoner and beamed me up to their mother ship for three days to conduct Martian experiments on my brain---society would not demand that skeptics prove my story false, they would demand that I prove my tall tale true. The same is true with claims of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and Sasquatch. The burden of proof is on the teller of the tall tale, not on skeptics.

YOU are making the very extra-ordinary supernatural claim, dear Christian.  YOU provide the evidence---convincing evidence---to prove it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Should we keep "THEM" out of our Country?

Who is "them"?  Well, currently it is Muslims, but over the 200 plus years of our existence as a nation, Americans have feared many "thems".

---the Irish.
---the Germans.
---the Italians.
---the Eastern Europeans.
---the Chinese.
---the Japanese.
---the Mexicans and other Latin Americans.
---the Catholics.
---the Jews.

Eastern European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island

Change is scary.  The fear has always been that the new "them" will weaken our values and destroy our culture.  It hasn't happened yet.  We always come out stronger and better.

I suggest we welcome ALL tired and poor "thems", regardless of race, nationality, or religion.  Yes, we should screen them.  But we should screen them not based on their creed or religion, but based on whether or not they share our values, such as the equality of all peoples, the equality of both genders, and a respect for diversity of opinion, faith, or lack of faith.

We are a nation of immigrants.   If we each go back in our family tree a few generations, we would probably all find an ancestor who at one time was viewed as one of those despised "thems".

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Should you Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus based on the Testimony Five Hundred Alleged Witnesses?


Anecdotal (testimonial) Evidence


Testimonials and vivid anecdotes are one of the most popular and convincing forms of evidence presented for beliefs in the supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific. Nevertheless, testimonials and anecdotes in such matters are of little value in establishing the probability of the claims they are put forth to support. Sincere and vivid accounts of one’s encounter with an angel or the Virgin Mary, an alien, a ghost, a Bigfoot, a child claiming to have lived before, purple auras around dying patients, a miraculous dowser, a levitating guru, or a psychic surgeon are of little value in establishing the reasonableness of believing in such matters.
Anecdotes are unreliable for various reasons. Stories are prone to contamination by beliefs, later experiences, feedback, selective attention to details, and so on. Most stories get distorted in the telling and the retelling. Events get exaggerated. Time sequences get confused. Details get muddled. Memories are imperfect and selective; they are often filled in after the fact. People misinterpret their experiences. Experiences are conditioned by biases, memories, and beliefs, so people's perceptions might not be accurate. Most people aren't expecting to be deceived, so they may not be aware of deceptions that others might engage in. Some people make up stories. Some stories are delusions. Sometimes events are inappropriately deemed psychic simply because they seem improbable when they might not be that improbable after all. In short, anecdotes are inherently problematic and are usually impossible to test for accuracy.
Thus, stories of personal experience with paranormal or supernatural events have little scientific value. If others cannot experience the same thing under the same conditions, then there will be no way to verify the experience. If there is no way to test the claim made, then there will be no way to tell if the experience was interpreted correctly. If others can experience the same thing, then it is possible to make a test of the testimonial and determine whether the claim based on it is worthy of belief. As parapsychologist Charles Tart once said after reporting an anecdote of a possibly paranormal event: “Let’s take this into the laboratory, where we can know exactly what conditions were. We don’t have to hear a story told years later and hope that it was accurate.” Dean Radin also noted that anecdotes aren't good proof of the paranormal because memory “is much more fallible than most people think” and eyewitness testimony “is easily distorted”(Radin 1997: 32).
Testimonials regarding paranormal experiences are of little use to science because selective thinking and self-deception must be controlled for in scientific observations. Most psychics and dowsers, for example, do not even realize that they need to do controlled tests of their powers to rule out the possibility that they are deceiving themselves. They are satisfied that their experiences provide them with enough positive feedback to justify the belief in their paranormal abilities. Controlled tests of psychics and dowsers would prove once and for all that they are not being selective in their evidence gathering. It is common for such people to remember their apparent successes and ignore or underplay their failures. Controlled tests can also determine whether other factors such as cheating might be involved.
If such testimonials are scientifically worthless, why are they so popular and why are they so convincing? There are several reasons. Testimonials are often vivid and detailed, making them appear credible. They are often made by enthusiastic people who seem trustworthy and honest, and who lack any reason to deceive us. They are often made by people with some semblance of authority, such as those who hold a Ph.D. in psychology or physics. To some extent, testimonials are believable because people want to believe them. Often, one anticipates with hope some new treatment or instruction. One’s testimonial is given soon after the experience while one’s mood is still elevated from the desire for a positive outcome. The experience and the testimonial it elicits are given more significance than they deserve.

We saw a young man; no, an angel; no, two angels who was/were sitting inside the
tomb; no, outside the tomb, on top of the stone.  Then we saw Jesus who
let us touch his feet; no, he told us not to touch his feet because he had not
yet ascended to the Father.  We then, in great fear, ran away
and told no, that's not right because here I am telling you now!
Finally, it should be noted that testimonials are often used in many areas of life, including medical science, and that giving due consideration to such testimonials is considered wise, not foolish. A physician will use the testimonies of his or her patients to draw conclusions about certain medications or procedures. For example, a physician will take anecdotal evidence from a patient about a reaction to a new medication and use that information in deciding to adjust the prescribed dosage or to change the medication. This is quite reasonable. But the physician cannot be selective in listening to testimony, listening only to those claims that fit his or her own prejudices. To do so is to risk harming one’s patients. Nor should the average person be selective when listening to testimonials regarding some paranormal or occult experience.

Copied fromThe Skeptic's Dictionary

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Crime for which Jesus should not be Forgiven

Imagine your outrage if you were to hear the following news report:

An armed police officer stood by and watched as a group of men brutally attacked, tortured, sexually assaulted, and then murdered a five year old girl.  When the officer was asked why he stood by and did nothing while this horrific crime was committed, he responded, "She deserved it."

Would any decent human being accept this police officer's justification for his inaction in preventing this terrible injustice?  No.  In fact, most decent people would want the officer charged as an accomplice to the assault and murder. 

So why do Christians let Jesus off the hook for the exact same crime?

If the Christian belief system is true, for thousands of years, little children have been dying horrific deaths while Jesus sits on his throne in heaven, watching it all happen, but doing absolutely nothing to stop their suffering.  Every day at least one small child drowns.  Every day at least one small child dies in a fire.  Every day at least one small child is blown to pieces in a war.  Every day at least one small child dies of starvation or thirst.  Every day at least one small child dies of disease.  Every day at least one small child is beaten and abused.  Every day at least one small child is sexually molested.  And every day at least one small child is brutally murdered.

And every day, Jesus does nothing...time, after time, after time.

Jesus is either helpless and therefore not God, or Jesus is a sick, sadistic monster, dear Christian.

While you joyously give thanks every evening to your loving Jesus for blessing your food and keeping your family safe, little children all over the world are suffering horrific deaths. The stark truth is, Christians, if Christianity is true, Jesus is an accomplice to some of the most brutal crimes known to mankind.  How in the world can you worship such a being?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

No, Dear Christians, We Skeptics are not resisting Jesus, only the Superstitious Claims about Him

An anonymous reader has challenged me to read and comment on the following Christian blog post.  I will intersperse my comments in red.

Fear of Redemption

      First Things Blog
       by R. R. Reno 

When I conjure in my mind the objections that people I know make to Christianity, I am reminded of my friend on the couch, enervated by life’s manifold demands. Most of these people are not confident rationalists dismissing the supernatural or wanton hedonists rejecting moral constraint; they are not dogmatic about the universe being purely material, and most want to live according to some moral code. Their real objections have to do with stretching and the fear of breaking. Faced with the Sermon on the Mount, they collapse on the couch, as it were, and protest that the degree of demand is just too much. Christianity promises new life in Christ, and our reaction is to shrink from the prospect. We think of our present lives, and we cannot imagine enduring the long commute. We hear St. Paul’s appeal—“present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”—and we worry that we lack the inner resources to stretch so far. We fear breaking across the difference.

How many skeptics did the author poll to come up with this analysis?  Could we see the research data, please?  I will bet that there is no research.  I will bet that the statements above are simply the author's best guess...based on her own presuppositions and biases.  But let's keep reading.

 It is important to understand this fear, for it is at the core of a great deal of contemporary American culture. (Source?  Data?)  The threatening force of moral demand haunts the modern and postmodern soul. When we talk about respecting the unique individuality of each and every person, we are signaling a desire to permit and encourage self-possession. Instead of forcing individuals to stretch toward generic norms and expectations, we want to create a social environment in which moral ambition can be tailor-made. None will break across alien demands. We can endure if we carefully adjust moral demands to our unique abilities and special circumstances.

Christianity teaches otherwise. In The Divine Comedy, Dante describes the exit from the seventh and final ledge of purgatory as a wall of fire. In the poem, Virgil passes through, but Dante hesitates, overcome with fear. The voice of Virgil reassures him. “My son, there may be torment, but not death.” According to the promise of the Gospels, death has been swallowed up by life. What is alien can be inhabited. We can make the long commute from sinner to saint. Such is the reassurance that Dante portrays in Virgil’s encouraging words. That confidence turns on the way in which Christianity understands atonement. (Sounds very Roman Catholic.  In Protestant Christianity, there is no "long commute".  Jesus does it all.  Therefore, based on my Protestant background, this argument holds no water with me.)

We tend to think that the modern project is dominated by ambition. If we will but break the shackles of dogma, we are told, then the true potential of the human mind will burst forth. Progress, the great watchword of modernity, is the promised fruit of freedom. Ambition is certainly present, but greatly influential modern figures such as Rousseau and Emerson were also concerned about the spiritual exhaustion that comes from fruitless efforts to meet unrealistic and inhumane demands. They focused their criticisms of traditional morality upon the socially constructed project of inducing men and women into adopting social roles unconnected to their true natures. Both sought to give men and women breathing room to be themselves. (Sounds good to me.  Think about it folks:  If Christianity had its way, women would still be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.  Thank liberals, reason, and science for the advancement of womens' rights around the world, not some religion or its invisible god!)

Rousseau’s First and Second Discourses emphasize the ways in which prevailing social mores alienate human beings and corrupt the intrinsic dignity of each person. Our healthy instinct of self-regard, our basic loyalty to our own identities as persons, which Rousseau calls amour de so, is transmuted into a competitive comparison of ourselves with others, amour-propre. As a result of this shift, we bend and distort ourselves so that we can fit into prevailing social categories and succeed according to dominant social norms. We become calculating social animals rather than spontaneous, free human beings. We disperse ourselves into our many social roles, and as a consequence, we are not linked to our true selves. Not surprisingly, then, Rousseau wishes us to throw off the shackles of social expectation and live according to the inner truth of our own natures. As the freethinking Savoyard Vicar proclaims in Émile, “I long for the moment when, delivered from the chains of the body, I will be myself without contradiction, without division, and I will only have need of myself to be happy.” Fulfillment comes when everything that defines our lives grows out of our individuality.
Emerson, a century later, does not follow Rousseau’s specific theories of the origins of social alienation, but he joins in Rousseau’s broad condemnation of the dehumanizing effects of social conformity. The crucial similarity between the two is a common judgment that the disciplinary structures of social life force changes upon the individual that create a discontinuity between one’s true self and one’s social self. When Emerson says, “Imitation is suicide,” he is drawing attention to the spiritual death that stems from self-alienation. When we stretch ourselves to meet the standards and goals set by others, we risk waking up one morning drowning in the responsibilities of marriage, children, job, and mortgage, feeling as though we have lost touch with all the passions and desires that once animated and moved us. An empty life is the antithesis of self-possession, and it is against the dispersing, emptying force of duty and responsibility that Emerson preaches his American version of the faith of the Savoyard Vicar: “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and evil are but names readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it.” The highest good is self-affirmation, and thus Emerson concludes, “If I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” Self-loyalty is the antidote to alienation. To thine own self be true is the first commandment.

Ironically, Rousseau’s and Emerson’s diagnosis of self-loss in social conformity has become conformist wisdom in our time. “Question Authority” is the bumper-sticker philosophy of millions, and it flows directly from the worry that collective demand will corrupt individual integrity. The therapeutic atmosphere of contemporary culture is likewise saturated with variations on the fundamental Rousseauian and Emersonian strategy of resistance to self-alienation: Be Yourself! Some proponents of traditional morality claim that this modern and postmodern quest for “authenticity” is but a cover for self-indulgence and a justification for immoralities; but this reaction misdiagnoses the deep structure of Rousseauian and Emersonian protests against the shaping demands of morality. For at root, the impetus for rejecting traditional morality is protective, not permissive. The worry concerns atonement, not freedom.   (emphasis mine)  (Data?  Source?  ...or Assumption??)

Both Rousseau and Emerson are profoundly pessimistic about any form of personal change that is not internally motivated. They despair of the possibility of linking who we presently are to the persons traditional morality would discipline us to become. They cannot see how a man or woman subjected to the disciplines of commandments can be “at-one” with himself or herself. Both see morally mandated personal development as a form of self-destruction, an immolation of one’s desires and impulses for the sake of something extrinsic to the self. Thus, in order to affirm their loyalty to their own individuality, both Rousseau and Emerson reject all forms of moral discipline that are not tailored to their consciences. Again, I want to emphasize that the goal is not to clear away moral demands in order to make room for heedless self-indulgence. Neither Rousseau nor Emerson wants us to disperse ourselves in vain projects that yield only momentary satisfaction. They want our unique circumstances, our distinctive needs as individuals, and our intensely personal sensibilities and feelings to guide a life of self-possession, since only in this way can we be both morally ambitious and “at-one” with ourselves.
Christian critics of modernity are quick to point out that it is a Promethean fantasy to imagine that moral ideals can somehow emanate out of this project of self-loyalty. Even critics who have no faith at all have asserted that the idea of moral discipline tailored to individuality is a recipe for, at best, mediocrity. Nietzsche was perhaps the most colorful of the irreligious critics of the modern hopes for an individualistic morality that is applicable to all. According to Nietzsche, those who appeal to secular substitutes for the moral discipline provided by traditional Christianity are nothing more than “comedians of the Christian-moral ideal.” With delicious invective, Nietzsche describes the legions of modern educators who are forever trying to teach a humanistic ethic as “whited sepulchers who impersonate life.” Equal-opportunity individualism will produce a wishy-washy morality that does not have the courage of saying an unequivocal “yes” to the irreducible potency of the self, the “will-to-power” of the strong. For Nietzsche, the modern ethic of egalitarian authenticity produces small men who lack the courage to reject morality—or to break themselves heroically across ambitious ideals.  This is the classic Christian assumption that without Christianity, society would collapse into moral chaos, or at a minimum, moral mediocrity.  One has to wonder how the Japanese, who have such a low crime rate and such an orderly, polite society, continue to exist without the benefits of faith in Jesus and all its many wonderful societal, behavioral, and moral byproducts!

Human beings, like other primates, have a natural instinct for altruism.  Watch the reaction of young children (or gorillas, or chimpanzees) if one child is injured or in trouble; the instinctive reaction is to help/provide comfort.  We are a "herd" animal and our genes tell us to be altruistic to other members of the "herd".  Baby gorillas do not need Jesus to be compassionate and helpful to an injured play mate.

Nietzsche’s own proposals for creating ideals are fatally flawed, but I will not argue that here. I’ve enlisted Nietzsche only to show that even an anti-Christian can recognize and expose the incoherence of Rousseau’s and Emerson’s moral vision. But simply to show the failure of modern humanistic ethics is not to make Christian humanism immediately more plausible. In order to do that, I want to show that the underlying concern about self-loyalty that motivated important modern thinkers such as Rousseau and Emerson is, in fact, very much a part of the Christian tradition. Modernity did not discover the threat of alienation. The concern about self-loyalty is present in classical Christian literature as well, and it is a concern that Christianity meets head on.
St. Augustine’s story of his conversion to Christianity, for instance, turns on the same problem of atonement and personal identity that worries Rousseau and Emerson. As a young man, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius. “The book changed my feelings,” he writes in his Confessions. “It gave me different values and priorities . . . . Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom.” With newfound zeal, Augustine embarked on a search for the truth.
For Augustine, the search was difficult and involved setbacks, but in the end he came to see the truth of Christianity. Yet this was not enough. For all his intellectual gains, nothing had changed for him as an individual. “I myself was exceedingly astonished,” he reports, “as I anxiously reflected how long a time had elapsed since the nineteenth year of my life, when I began to burn with a zeal for wisdom, planning that when I had found it I would abandon all the empty hopes and lying follies of hollow ambitions. And here I was already thirty, and still mucking about in the same mire in a state of indecision.”

The problem Augustine faced is one of personal identity, not human nature. Augustine was convinced that chastity is virtuous, and that virtue is a fulfillment and not a diminishment of his nature as a rational creature. He had no difficulty imagining a transformed human nature—and yet, he could not change. “Fettered by the flesh’s morbid impulse and lethal sweetness, I dragged my chain, but was afraid to be free of it.” Augustine sought to change, but he could not, for he wished to be loyal to himself. “Now I had discovered the good pearl. To buy it I had to sell all that I had,” but, he reports with dismay, “I hesitated.” Augustine loved his habits, and he could not conceive of living without them, not because he thought them good, but simply because the habits were his.

Augustine’s story of his spiritual journey dramatizes the true nature of our resistance to the Christian view of redemption, a resistance expressed in such influential modern form by Rousseau and Emerson. Like Dante before the wall of fire that forms the exit from purgatory, Augustine hesitated before the disjunctive demand of Christian morality, a demand that is the moral form of the promise of redemptive change. The demand seems to require a death of the self, a renunciation of personal identity. Augustine could not believe that a bush might burn without being consumed.  Christianity demands unquestioned obedience to an invisible supernatural Being and to an ancient middle-eastern holy book, chock full of scientific errors, historical inaccuracies, and rife with absurd justifications for barbaric brutality against even little children and infants.  It truly is "death to self".  It is selling yourself into life-long slavery to an invisible, imaginary, psychopathic monster.
In his modest divine comedy, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis portrays this fear of renunciation. The spectral souls who are met by the Solid People at the entrance to heaven can only journey toward God if they will give up their doubts, vices, and shame. In Lewis’ account, few do, and the reason is simple. They cannot imagine being themselves without the very qualities of soul that alienate them from God. As the hissing lizard of lust warns the frightened man in a scene that echoes Augustine’s hesitations, “[Without me] how could you live?” It is difficult to trust the Christian promise that undergoing such change will bring new life and not death—will stretch us but not shatter us.
Christian proclamation should have no interest in allaying the existential anxiety that naturally arises when we wonder whether our individual desires, commitments, habits, and projects can really endure an otherworldly ethic. For the otherworldly character of Christian ethics stems from the fact that sin structures our personalities and gives shape to our habits. Sin is not a peripheral defect; it is not an unfortunate but subsidiary feature of our lives. Sin determines our identities. As Augustine was well aware, overcoming this propensity requires becoming a different person. Redemptive change must break the bonds of self-loyalty if we are to be delivered from the self that is in love with its sin. St. Paul uses the starkest possible language: “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the body of sin might be destroyed . . . . Whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).

Insofar as we are loyal to our sinful selves, we quite rationally fear that our identities as persons will not survive redemptive change.  How many non-believers in Jesus, living in non-Christian countries, lie awake at night worrying about the consequences of "redemptive change"??  The author has conjured up assumed behaviors and attitudes without providing any data to prove that such behaviors and attitudes, in reality, exist.

For the martyrs of the early Church, loyalty to Christ was very much a question of physical life and death. Their deaths stand in visible and evident witness to the disjunctive structure of a Christian ethics of redemption. The Pauline language of death, however, does not denote a physical cessation of life. At issue is who we are, as individuals: our loyalties, our commitments, our hopes and aspirations. The Gospels report Jesus saying again and again, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” St. Augustine did not face martyrdom, but he felt the horror of loss. It was not as though Augustine was unable to imagine a human being living a celibate life, any more than the rich young man in the Gospels was unable to imagine selling all his possessions. The world has plenty of examples which show that it is possible to be human and celibate or poor. Rather, the problem for Augustine and the rich young man was personal: How can I be celibate, how can I be poor, without dying to my current projects, loyalties, and commitments? And if I do so die, then will I even be myself anymore? Once again, this is a problem of atonement.
How, then, can I endure redemptive change? For Christian faith, the answer rests in the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He is pro nobis, “for us,” as the incorporative power of redemption.
In some classical accounts of atonement, this incorporative power is discussed in terms of an exchange or substitution. Others describe a representative or pedagogical role that Jesus plays. The metrics of analysis can focus variously on debt, penalty, sacrifice, or moral influence. Each account has its advantages and disadvantages, but what unifies atonement theory is a common concern to show that the changes both effected and demanded by the Christian view of redeemed life can be met. A link can be established between old and new, between dying to sin and coming to life, and that link is to be found in Christ. Do Christians ever stop to think about what exactly the Christian act of "atonement" involves:  a bloody, barbaric human sacrifice---the epitome of paganism.  No wonder first century Jews were horrified by this new sect, and no wonder that the overwhelming majority of devout Jews, for the last 2,000 years, have rejected this pagan bastardization of ancient Judaism!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides analysis that highlights this aspect of atonement theory. Describing the logic of redemption, Bonhoeffer observes, “God does not ‘overlook’ sin; that would mean not taking human beings seriously as personal beings in their very culpability.” Whatever God does for human beings in Christ, it must be a “doing” that accounts for the reality of our lives as we actually live them. Bonhoeffer continues with the central affirmation of all atonement theory: “God does take human beings seriously in their culpability, and therefore only punishment and the overcoming of sin can remedy the matter.” This punishment Christ endures in our place.  Christians always try to make their doctrine of Atonement sound so wonderful and benevolent, but I urge you to look at this belief closer:  why do humans need a bloody, human sacrifice-based atonement?  What horrible thing did we (or our ancient ancestors) do that requires the shedding of human blood to wipe clean our "criminal record"?  Answer:  We ate some of God's fruit!

Readers should not stumble over Bonhoeffer’s use of punishment as the metric to describe the conditions for divine seriousness about the particularity of human life. He might have used satisfaction or sacrifice or pedagogy or some other as-yet-undiscovered concept to describe the bridging function that links the person who has died to his old self with the one who lives as a new person in Christ. The crucial point is that Jesus Christ does what is necessary to establish the link; he effects atonement, and we participate in that atonement.  Yes, God sends himself to earth, disguised as his Son, to atone for the forbidden-fruit eating of two of our ancient human ancestors, to appease the holy righteousness...of himself. 

Makes perfect sense.

One of the greatest problems with atonement theory is that the terms are so often abstract. Debts must be paid; satisfaction must be offered; sacrifice must be made. This seems remote from the concern about authenticity that we moderns have learned from the likes of Rousseau and Emerson. In the Letters of St. Paul, from which a great deal of Western Christian atonement theory draws its inspiration, the link to authenticity is more evident, because Paul sees the incorporative power of Jesus Christ as enacted concretely in the lives of believers. “Do you not know,” Paul asks the Christians in Rome, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). At issue is not an abstract reconciliation of cosmic accounts. God is not up in heaven calculating debts and payments. Rather, for Paul, God is doing something here and now, and that “doing” is addressed to concrete individuals. The incorporative power of Jesus Christ, given objective form in the sacrament of baptism and subjective form in faith, carries the believer across the difference between a life dominated by sin and a life that stretches in authenticity toward righteousness.  A lot of flowery language for the absolute necessity of a bloody human sacrifice to satisfy the vengeful rage of a blood-thirsty ancient Hebrew deity. 

Come on, folks!  If Yahweh is the supreme power of the universe as Christians claim, he makes the rules.  He can change the rules.  Why not a little slap on the wrist for forbidden-fruit eating?  Isn't a human sacrifice and an eternity roasting on a spit in Hell just a little bit of overkill??

As a consequence, Paul can use the greatest possible image of disjunction—death—while still affirming a continuity of personal identity. Jesus Christ is the enduring power across this disjunction. He has died and has been raised. The promise of the gospel is that we can participate in his bridging reality. The upshot is atonement. However great the moral demands, we can stretch toward them, even stretch to the point of dying to ourselves, without shattering our lives. To put the matter in scriptural terms more familiar to students of classical theories of atonement: in Christ, we can draw near to the holiness of God without being consumed by the purifying fires of judgment. We can become radically different—even holy—without emptying ourselves of our individuality.   Sorry, Christians.  There is nothing "purifying" about your god's use of fire.  It is barbaric and sadistic.

A clear expression of this confidence that radical moral demand is consistent with continuous personal identity may be found in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on fundamental questions in moral theology, Veritatis Splendor. The dominant theme of the encyclical is the sovereignty of moral truth, not only as universal and unchanging, but also as commanding the loyalty of the whole person. The ideal of moral perfection flows from this sovereignty, and John Paul’s specific reflections on technical questions in Roman Catholic moral theology are detailed defenses of the scope and depth of moral demand against various efforts to narrow and soften ethical obligations. One of the most important discussions concerns the relationship between divine law and human freedom. There, John Paul responds to contemporary worries about self-alienation with this dogmatic claim: “Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in truth and conform to human dignity.” The demands of Christian ethics, even the counsels of perfection (as in that intimidating Sermon on the Mount) that press the follower of Christ toward supernatural ends, are a fulfillment rather than a diminishment of our individuality.   Isn't it odd that Jesus asks us to forgive our enemies in the Sermon on the Mount...but he burns alive/tortures...forever...his enemies?  Talk about a double standard of morality!

In order to make good on this claim, John Paul must provide some account of atonement. He does not adopt or articulate any particular theory. Instead, he reiterates the basic dynamics of Romans 6. For John Paul, the sovereignty of moral truth “is confirmed in a particularly eloquent way by Christian martyrdom.” Spiritual death to the dominion of worldly powers may well be accompanied by physical death. The earthly kingdom may hang its traitors. Yet the eloquence of the martyrs rests in more than the extremity of their obedience. For John Paul, as for the early Church, the eloquence of martyrdom is evangelical, not Stoic, for the path of suffering and death recapitulates the way of Jesus Christ. The same holds for the less visible suffering of all who feel the painful death of worldly loyalties—hating mother and father (a violation of the Hebrew God's Ten Commandments), plucking out the eyes of lust (ignorant barbarism), selling possessions dearly loved. The very real personal grief and travail under the disciplines of moral perfection recapitulate the way of the Man of Sorrows. This recapitulation serves as a figural expression of the logic of classical atonement theory. We can endure being stretched across the demands of discipleship because Christ has gone before us to establish the way. He has stretched himself out upon the cross. atone for ancestral-forbidden-fruit-eating.  Absurd and barbaric.

No intelligent, all-knowing, good deity would invent this Atonement Doctrine.  Only a sick, depraved psychopath would invent it...or a bunch of superstitious ancient nomads.

At this point the concerns of Rousseau and Emerson return. John Paul’s unembarrassed (He should have been embarrassed to perpetuate this ancient fear-mongering myth) affirmation of the goal of moral perfection and his embrace of the ideal of martyrdom would seem to vindicate the criticism that Christian faith does violence to the human person—that while Christianity may talk of redemption, it actually nurtures a death wish, a ruthless self-denial that relishes suffering. And certainly it is legitimate to wonder whether the sovereignty of a moral truth that is most visible in martyrdom leaves room for individuality, for the projects and loyalties that populate our lives and shape our identities. Far from making us “at-one” with ourselves in Christ, the perfection of Christian moral demands seems to drive a wedge into our lives and split us in two: the thin sliver of righteousness and obedience over against the vast reality of our unredeemed lives.

Were the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai right to exclaim in fear, “Do not let God speak to us, or we will die” (Exodus 20:19)? A return to St. Augustine allows us to see how the Christian process of redemptive change can consume profoundly intimate loyalties and habits in the fires of self-discipline, while still affirming our authentic personal continuity. On this point, the crucial aspect of his Confessions is not any particular theological argument Augustine makes. Instead, what stands out is the successful literary combination of disjunction with continuity. Augustine both pushes away his past in repudiation and draws it near in memory.

The key to Augustine’s success is the repentant structure of the first eight books of the Confessions . This structure allows him to drive a wedge between his present identity and his past loyalties. He sought pleasure, self-command, fame, knowledge, and even wisdom. All of this was vain and nugatory. In his self-description, however, Augustine does not push away his past as we so often do in our own self-assessments. He does not say of his youthful lusts that they were learning experiences. He does not seek to submerge his particularity as a person into some general pattern of maturation, as when we say, “It was an adolescent stage.” He does not make himself anonymous by excusing his errors and sins as functions of inauspicious circumstances or bad social influences. Rather, he draws his youthful lusts and his adult vainglory as closely as possible to his identity. Augustine claims every episode, every byway and dead-end of his seeking, as both wrong and his own. One cannot repent of what one refuses to own.

To both renounce and own the main features of one’s life, as does Augustine in the voice of repentance, creates a literary effect that we might rightly call atonement. It is possible because, at every turn, Augustine’s penitent voice places the reality of his life into the hands of God. He concludes the extended address to God that opens the Confessions with these words: “Dust and ashes though I am, let me appeal to your pity, since it is to you in mercy that I speak, not to a man, who would simply laugh at me. Perhaps you, too, may laugh at me, but you will relent and have pity on me.” God’s identity as the one who comes as the power of redemption allows Augustine to own his past as indeed his own, while, at the very same time, he can disown it as governed by sin. God atones for those whose lives are broken, as was Augustine’s, across the difference between love of self and desire for the divine.

Donald MacKinnon was one of the more idiosyncratic theologians of the twentieth century, and his capacity to think against the grain of conventional theological fashions led him to recognize that we often puzzle out our deepest questions in disguised or muddled forms. Writing in the 1960s, when the key questions of morality and religion were framed in epistemological terms, he offered these cautionary words of dissent: “The philosopher of religion easily tends to think that the greatest obstacles today in the way of religious belief are to be found in the unintelligibility and inadmissibility of such fundamental concepts as that of a creator God, an immaterial soul, etc. But it may be that as a matter of empirical fact, the most deep-seated unwillingness to take seriously the claims of the Christian religion has its roots in a sharp criticism of Christian ethics, of the Christian image of the good life.”

I have little doubt that MacKinnon was correct. However little Rudolf Bultmann’s “modern man” was capable of believing in the “mythological worldview” of premodern culture, I am certain that the postmodern men and women of today are capable of believing almost anything. Ours is a skeptical age, and the fruit of skepticism is most often credulity. We know that we cannot know, so we settle for what is convenient or alluring or exciting or familiar. Why stretch myself when there is nothing out there to stretch toward, and when I’m okay as I am, more or less? The revulsion that we postmodern men and women feel toward Christian ethics stems in large part from the way in which redemptive hope endorses a disjunctive, otherworldly ethic, one that seeks a new identity in Christ. No, I would say that what most rational people find revolting about traditional Christianity is the massive amount of bigotry, discrimination, persecution, and death it has brought upon the world for the last two millennia.

You can attempt to show the theological cogency of this ethical demand, a cogency that rests in the clarity of the Christian identification of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who, for us and for our salvation, became incarnate, was crucified, died, and was raised by the Father. You can show how the premise that Christ is the Son of God who is “for us” allows for an analysis of atonement that makes Christian moral ambition an authentic possibility and a possibility of authenticity. You can expound the repentant logic of Augustine’s Confessions to illustrate the way that Christianity, unlike the dominant modern ways of talking about moral change, encourages a life of morally ambitious self-renunciation and honest self-loyalty. But if the postmodern world falls back into modern doubt and says, “But how can you prove that Jesus really is the incarnate Son of God who died for us and for our salvation?”—then you have little recourse other than proclamation. As Karl Barth knew and never tired of insisting, the grace of God is the answer to every ethical question. Only the power of the great divine fact, the God who is who He is, can overcome our fear of moral change. Jesus is dead.  He's been dead for two thousand years.  Let's follow his ethical, humanistic teachings, but let's not pretend that his ghost is whispering in our ears or speaking to us in our "hearts".  That is a silly supernatural superstition.  It's magic.  Magic isn't real.

The evangelical imperative in our time is thus clear. Be patient with Rousseauians and Emersonians whose anxious desire for self-possession causes them to shrink from the sovereign ambitions of the Christian moral life. Their fear of redemptive change is an honorable fear, one that St. Augustine himself named as his own strongest resistance to God. But don’t confuse patience with concession. Tell them patiently that Christ came to redeem us and that there is no danger that the disciplines of the Christian life will stretch us beyond the breaking point—not even those of us who already feel “maxed out.” Christ, crucified and raised, promises otherwise.

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.

The evidence, not feelings, demonstrates that the supernatural claims of the Bible are nothing but silly ancient superstitions.  Virgins do not become impregnated by ghosts and do not give birth to demi-gods.  Human beings can't walk on water or turn water into wine.  Three day brain dead bodies cannot be resurrected to fly off into outer space with new superhero-like bodies.

Magic isn't real, Christians.  It is all in your imagination.  All the fancy philosophical and theological terminology won't change the fact that you are asking educated, intelligent people living in the 21st century to believe in the magical powers of ghouls and ghosts.

It's time to put the Bible where it belongs:  in the Fiction Section of the bookstore.


Bart Ehrman is a Grave Danger to Christianity

Evangelical Christian pastor, Jim Elliff, warns Christian seminaries and universities not to invite agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman to their institutions to debate the reliability of the Bible because...Ehrman may win the debate!

From Pastor Elliff's blog:

First, because Ehrman is a false teacher and we are forbidden to give such men a forum to express their views.

The Bible doesn’t treat false teachers kindly. It is one thing to talk with a skeptic who is asking questions to know the truth, or who is confronting you in public, but it is quite another thing to invite and pay a false teacher to come to your turf in order to present his views in an open forum.
Inviting a false teacher to present his errant views in order to persuade students and the public is like allowing a gunman to shoot randomly out into an audience of military personnel because it is assumed the troops have body armor. For one thing, body armor cannot shield against all shots, and for another, there are many people attending who have no armor at all. At last week’s debate, for instance, there were many people from the public who were not even believers. Some young people also attended, and some seminary students who are not yet prepared for the effects of doubt-producing verbiage….

Second, because the minority position almost always gains some followers regardless who wins the debate.

When you have a sizable crowd it almost goes without saying that someone will be convinced of the false views of the false teacher. You may sense an overwhelming approval of the debate by many who love the give and take, but fail to take note of the quiet student or outsider to the seminary now stricken with doubt about the Scriptures. Ehrman’s presentation might be all that is needed to move him over the line….

Third, because debates are not always won on the basis of truth alone.

We don’t need to comment much here, because you understand how this works. Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater. In fact, this is the second time Ehrman won a debate at the same seminary, but against a different Christian opponent. What does that do for our witness? Though I have no question in my mind that our position on the reliability of Scripture is the right one and can withstand Ehrman’s arguments soundly, our side was out-debated.

Fourth, because many of the listeners will not have the opportunity to sort out confusing aspects of the debate with professors or knowledgeable persons….
Fifth, because doubt is insidious.

One seminary student who has now graduated told me that he occasionally had huge doubts about Scripture and God. They were not there often, perhaps only for a few difficult days or weeks once every year or two, but they were so strong that he found himself almost smothered by them when they came. This was a leading student, chosen as one of the best preachers of the seminary. Doubt is insidious. Like a drop of ink added to gallons of water, it can ruin everything. It is the fly in the perfume. We are naïve to think that, being free from doubts ourselves, others do not deal with them regularly.

When a man like Ehrman speaks, doubt-producing statements may be forever lodged in people’s minds, causing trouble when least expected. It only takes a tiny amount of doubt for some people to be destroyed. A weak person might believe his doubts rather than believe his beliefs. Paul spoke of some teachers who were able to “upset the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18) because of their unscriptural view. Surely we should not pay Bart Ehrman for the privilege of doing that.

One friend of mine said that upon visiting one of the Baptist Seminaries in another State he was told, “We’re not here to tell you what to believe.” But truth by definition is dogmatic. And professors are to profess it. Students are not to blindly believe it, but to study the Scriptures for themselves to see if what is stated is true. It is one thing for two believers to debate over certain aspects of the Scripture as men who both wish to believe and do what the Word says—like a charismatic with a non-charismatic, a premillenialist with a postmillenialist, or a Calvinist with an Arminian. But to invite false teachers to have the same access is naïve. There will always be some loss, and often not much, if any, gain.

*Bart Ehrman is the author of Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted, both bestsellers. He is a New Testament scholar who does not believe in the reliability of the Scriptures. He claims to be an unbeliever.

Why is Jesus' statement, "I and my Father are One", only found in the Gospel of John?

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.[c] 30 The Father and I are one.”
31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him.
                                                                                          ----The Gospel of John

There would be no greater act of blasphemy in Judaism than to claim that you are Yahweh himself in the flesh; that YOU are God.  Yet we are asked to believe that Jesus made this earth-shattering statement...and only one of the four authors of the Gospels bothered to record it.


I don't think that Jesus ever made this statement.  I think the author of John made it up.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why is Jesus playing Hide and Seek?

Here is an issue that should trouble every Christian:   If Jesus is God, and Jesus as God so loved the world that he was willing to die a horrific death, why doesn't Jesus, as God, appear to each and every human being, in person, in all his glory and might, to convince every non-believer that he truly is alive and is God? He has the power to do it if the Bible is correct. So why doesn't he? Why allow so many millions of people to die every year without knowing who the true God is? 

If the Bible is true, Jesus/God is playing Hide and Seek with earth's humanity. Would a good, just, and loving God play such a deadly game with us?