21 Jan 2013

Christianity Is Either Brilliant or Foolish

Religious 69 Comments

Sometimes I am astounded at how vehemently people argue when it comes to religion, but it actually does make sense. Take Christianity for example, which is usually the context for the arguments I see. If it were just a bunch of recommendations like “turn the other cheek” or “love your neighbor as yourself,” it wouldn’t be very controversial. But it also wouldn’t seem to be something of divine origin; you could imagine a clever person whipping up a list of such aphorisms.

Yet these aren’t the central tenets of Christianity. Here’s where we have to decide, is this brilliant or is it foolish? There’s no in between.

I remember when I was an atheist, thinking, “The problem with Christianity isn’t merely the implausibility of the gospel accounts. I can watch Star Wars and suspend disbelief about the Force, etc. No, the real problem with Christianity is that it makes no sense. God is mad at humanity because two people ate an apple, but then He forgives them when they murder His innocent Son. What the heck?!”

And yet, if you seriously entertain the notion that there is a God who loves us, and you can see with your own eyes what a bunch of scoundrels all humans are, then there is a certain beautiful logic to it, that it takes God to swoop in and save us from ourselves, through His own sacrifice. If you tried to build up a theology based on what makes sense in a secular context, it wouldn’t be divine. You would end up just making a Super President to lay on top of earthly rulers.

Bill Hicks (I think?) had a funny bit where he makes fun of Christians for adopting the cross as their symbol. He said something like, “That would be like fans of JFK wearing necklaces with little dangling sniper rifles.”

And yes, that’s funny because it’s true: From a human perspective, the Christian emphasis on the crucifixion is odd. Why call it “Good Friday” when–by our own beliefs–that is the day we humans mistakenly tortured and killed God’s Son.

Yet, if the context of the story is correct, then it makes sense. Isn’t a merciful, brilliant God just the sort of being who would devise a plan of cosmic justice, such that when Satan thought he had tricked humans into committing the ultimate sin, God transforms it into our ticket to paradise? It’s true, that’s never a myth I would have invented, because at first it sounds ridiculous.

But that’s the whole point of this blog post. If there really were a God of the kind described in the Bible, His plan would be like nothing you or I would invent.

Before I close, let me address one possible retort. I can imagine critics saying, “Well jeez, with that kind of argument, you can justify all kinds of nuttiness!”

But hold on a second. It is undeniable that there is something incredibly powerful and compelling about the gospel stories. They have inspired some of the greatest works of art, music, and literature known to man. Then, when you begin to study them with a rational approach, at first they seem to be absurd–but the more you study them, the more sense they make.

I submit that this is exactly what we would expect to observe, if the Bible were the inspired word of God.

69 Responses to “Christianity Is Either Brilliant or Foolish”

  1. Yosef says:

    Bob, you wrote [with regards specifically to the crucifixion, but I think you mean in for the whole bible] “And yet, if you seriously entertain the notion that there is a God who loves us, and you can see with your own eyes what a bunch of scoundrels all humans are, then there is a certain beautiful logic to it”

    If there is a beautiful logic, there will be consistency and reason in the bible. If we encounter in the bible things which are either inconsistent, then we would reject the idea the it has a beautiful logic. Take any of the rules regarding killings (e.g. gays, adulterers). Combine it with the facts that Jesus is consistent with the laws of the old testament and (as you say) he does not want you to kill, say, gays. This means either:
    1. The old law was wrong and you should never have killed gays (which is not acceptable since it means the old testament is wrong, and Jesus is consistent with it)
    2. (Bob’s understanding of) Jesus is wrong, and you should kill as the old law says (which is not acceptable since Bob says that is not the case with Jesus, and in fact most modern Christians agree that we should kill as such)
    3. The old law was right, and Jesus is right, it’s just the the law has changed. (I think consistency can be accepted here, since Jesus is consistent with the old law, it’s just that it is no longer in effect). But this means Christians accept that, sure, sometimes it’s right to kill gays.

    Logic seems to lead to number 3, but this seems very far from beautiful.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      Or, “let He who is without sin throw the first stone”.

      • Yosef says:

        Matt, if Jesus says “let He who is without sin throw the first stone”, and the old law says adulterers should be stoned, what should you do? Do you stone them? Do you not stone them? And if you don’t stone them, if you think now that it is morally wrong to stone them, what do you think of the old law? Are you ashamed of it, and think it was wrong the whole time?

        • Matt Tanous says:

          The Law was intended to demonstrate to men that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Hence, Christ came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17) It was never meant for men to uphold, because men cannot uphold it – they have already failed to follow it.

          There is no contradiction between the “old law” and the current situation. There is only the failing of men. Before, the failing was of flawed men selectively applying the Law, and now it is of flawed men recognizing they cannot follow the law and seeking forgiveness and what measure of success they can.

          • Yosef says:

            Matt, thanks for the reply, but I think it has left me more confused!

            You wrote, “It was never meant for men to uphold, because men cannot uphold it – they have already failed to follow it.”

            So, the law saying you have to stone, say, adulterers, was not meant to be upheld? It was just there for people to see, but not actually follow? Are any of the laws supposed to upheld and followed? Suppose someone, before Jesus, stoned an adulterer, would they be held morally wrong by God? Or could they say, ‘Look, right here, it says that we should kill such people’?

            • Brian Shelley says:

              I take from Galatians 3 that ‘The Law’ was meant as a stop-gap ethical code until Christ came. The Law, or any other legal or ethical system, could not create a righteous society. A righteous society comes from heart change and redemption alone.

              Just like God gave them imperfect kings when they asked for one with the warning that all kings will suck. In Exodus 18, it is clear that Jethro is the impetus for a written code and the asking God for advice.

            • Matt Tanous says:

              “Suppose someone, before Jesus, stoned an adulterer, would they be held morally wrong by God?”

              All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. To me, that’s pretty clear – anyone who carries out the law is, at the very least, a hypocrite. To carry out the law accurately, one must first stone oneself….

              The Law could not create a just society. It could only demonstrate what the characteristics of a perfect and just man would be – hence Jesus refers to fulfilling the Law as if it were a prophecy instead of a set of rules.

        • David says:

          Even if the law of killing people has changed from old testament to new testament, how can they both be “the word of God”. If God really were omniscient, how could he have gotten it wrong in the old testament? Or if he was right in the old testament, this must mean that the new testament is wrong and is not the word of God.

          • Matt Tanous says:

            If I punish my child for eating candy before bedtime, but when he is an adult I merely tell him that’s probably a bad idea, does this indicate some imperfection in me as a parent? Or does it merely mean that things can change in this temporally confined world of ours? And if things can change in our world, why cannot God tell us to do different things at different points in the course of that change?

            • Justin says:

              Because the kind of change in punishment for a child to teenage doesnt involves killing him. Stop using sloppy metaphors to excuse mass murder and killing for adultery. If you believe the stories people were killed for not following the law or you know for not being a jew. what is the possible lesson in that. you didnt learn you were just killed.

        • Ken B says:

          Oh, and kudos Bob for NOT citing that story.

        • Matt Tanous says:

          You say that this story “presents an implausible picture of how Jewish law was carried out. It presents an implausible view of the Pharisees.”

          How so? And while the earliest manuscripts do not include it in John where it is commonly placed now, a few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53, at least according to the notes in my Bible.

          • Ken B says:

            Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus has a good discussion, as do many others.

    • xgsmmy says:

      Hmm, interesting comment, Yosef, offers a lot to think about, and really good post Bob. I enjoyed reading it.

    • Z says:

      Good points Yosef. If secular humanism wasn’t filled with all kinds of self serving hedonistic garbage, I might adopt it. Too bad both religions and secular humanism are flawed from the very foundation.

    • Francis says:

      This reply by Yosef to Bob above is the perfect example of how the world looks at Chrstianity as pure foolishness. A fourth response to Yosef’s inquiry is needed to get at why Christianity is actually brilliant. Yosef’s excellent layout is a good example of the many conundrums or inconsistances, as Yosef and the world sees in scripture when they quickly view some verses that seem contradictory in their eyes.

      The fourth response is where the brillance lies if one studies scripture more deeply and as a whole as it is the inspired word of God. Before the time of Christ the chosen people were instructed to follow the laws of Moses which were expanded from the ten commandments to meet the many problems of ancient times. Through the centuries the Jews started to teach that following these laws would save them. But it proved out that few if any could follow these laws and therefore all have sinned. So it is true when the scripture declares that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” But scripture also declares that the “wages of sin is death.”

      Jesus declared that he came to “fulfill the law not abolish it.” Since the wages of sin is death – death is the result of all sin including adultery, promiscuity (in gays and straights) and all other sins. Jesus fulfilled the law in taking the punishment of death due to sin upon himself once for all. He takes our sins away when we ask for his loving forgiveness, and puts them on his own shoulders back on calvery’s cross. He then allows himself in the flesh to be killed in our place fulfilling the law that sin deserves death.

      So to be specific then, The Hebrew Scriptures say that some sins like homosexual activity and adultery require stoning that leads to their death. The scripture does not say who should do the stoning. Many Jewish theologians note that the cause of the death isn’t as important in these scripture passages than that they actually do die. But to be even more clear scripture does not even say when the death shall take place. Nor does scripture say that another could not die in your stead to fulfill the law.

      This is where God comes in and has the last laugh, so to speak. The Father sends His only begotten Son to be the sacrifice; to endure the punishment of our sins that the law demands thus fulfilling the law as God sees fit – not as man sees fit. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son and that whomever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

      No, scripture does not have inconsistencies or contradictions. One must read it with the mind of God who inspired His Church to know the truth even in ages past. These wonderful ancient fathers and mothers of the early church still teach us today how scripture is to be understood. The church of Christ has the Holy Spirit of God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, inspiring her still, and she can help us Christians understand scripture most profoundly and correctly even to this day.

      • Justin says:

        Holy crap, brilliant. no one was actually executed for not following gods laws in the old testament its just fluff to show people are bad not actually was killed, except for all the people the stories say were killed for not follow god. come on have you actually read the bible at all.

  2. Darien says:

    If memory serves, Jack Miles touches on a similar theme in the intro to his “Christ: a Crisis in the Life of God” when he mentions how, to an unbeliever, the apparent worship of a corpse and veneration of a murder seem appalling.

  3. joeftansey says:

    “It is undeniable that there is something incredibly powerful and compelling about the gospel stories. They have inspired some of the greatest works of art, music, and literature known to man.”

    Do we need to rattle off the zounds of famous artists who have mental disorders and drug addictions?

    “Then, when you begin to study them with a rational approach, at first they seem to be absurd–but the more you study them, the more sense they make.”

    Most days, my table is just a table. But if I stare at it long enough I can start to see patterns in the wood.

    • Tel says:

      Do we need to rattle off the zounds of famous artists who have mental disorders and drug addictions?

      Why not? God created drugs and mental disorders, no doubt they serve a purpose as much as anything else does. Anyhow, what makes you so sure you can recognize one mental state as “normal” and another as “disordered”? Did you ask God yourself on that one, or you are just in the habit of making personal judgements and pretending it is universal?

      • Scott Angell says:

        I wish Bob had a ‘like’ button in his comments.

        • Tel says:

          Reading that again, I was not indenting to sound quite as snarky. However my point is that anything and everything can be a powerful argument for God… if you want it to be.

      • joeftansey says:

        “Anyhow, what makes you so sure you can recognize one mental state as “normal” and another as “disordered”?”

        Because I can define “disorder”. It is a statistically uncommon deviation that reduces one’s ability to function normally. For example, if someone is so depressed that they can’t wash the dishes or take out the garbage, and their apartment winds up looking like a garbage dump, that person has a “disorder”.

        “Did you ask God yourself on that one, or you are just in the habit of making personal judgements and pretending it is universal?”

        It’s not really a personal judgment. You can argue that the definition of “disordered” is arbitrary, but I didn’t make it. That’s just what disordered means.

        • Tel says:

          I would have thought all human minds are statistically uncommon, in as much as they are all different. You have defined thinking normally in terms of functioning normally.

          Any artist who becomes famous must be functioning abnormally in some way because the vast majority of people don’t become famous (although I guess some could argue it is all pure accident). You could try to argue there are certain baseline tasks like eating, etc that are a minimum, but there are well documented cases of famous religious figures choosing not to eat normally (for example the Buddha). I’m sure there are some people out there wealthy enough not only that they don’t take out the garbage, but they have never needed to worry about where the garbage goes. That’s hardly normal, but doesn’t imply any “disorder”.

          • joeftansey says:

            “I would have thought all human minds are statistically uncommon, in as much as they are all different. You have defined thinking normally in terms of functioning normally.”

            I can tell that 4 leaf clovers are different from 3 leaf clovers, even if all the 3 leaf clovers are statistically uncommon in as much as they are all different.

            “Any artist who becomes famous must be functioning abnormally in some way because the vast majority of people don’t become famous (although I guess some could argue it is all pure accident)”

            Well this is a red herring, because my criterion is “mental disorder”, not “mental abnormality”.

            “I’m sure there are some people out there wealthy enough not only that they don’t take out the garbage, but they have never needed to worry about where the garbage goes. That’s hardly normal, but doesn’t imply any “disorder”.”

            You know exactly what I meant. Strategically piling stipulations onto a hypothetical proves nothing.

            • Ken B says:

              “I would have thought all human minds are statistically uncommon, in as much as they are all different.”

              Never met any Rothbardians have you?

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Or Hoppians, or Habermasians, or Wittgensteinians, or Derridaians, or Lockeians, or Randians, or…

  4. Egoist says:

    “And yet, if you seriously entertain the notion that there is a God who loves us, and you can see with your own eyes what a bunch of scoundrels all humans are, then there is a certain beautiful logic to it, that it takes God to swoop in and save us from ourselves, through His own sacrifice.”

    I desire to destroy the bad, in others and myself, for the sake of the good, and then gratify my Ego by exalting “the good” as the unchanging absolute truth.

    “If you tried to build up a theology based on what makes sense in a secular context, it wouldn’t be divine. You would end up just making a Super President to lay on top of earthly rulers.”

    I desire my Ego to be ruler of spirit (i.e. thought), not Earth (i.e. bodies).

    “Yet, if the context of the story is correct, then it makes sense. Isn’t a merciful, brilliant God just the sort of being who would devise a plan of cosmic justice, such that when Satan thought he had tricked humans into committing the ultimate sin, God transforms it into our ticket to paradise?”

    I desire to share in God’s omniscience, but He lets me in on only a few tidbits of truth through mystical revelation.

    “If there really were a God of the kind described in the Bible, His plan would be like nothing you or I would invent.”

    I desire to know such a plan.

    ” It is undeniable that there is something incredibly powerful and compelling about the gospel stories. They have inspired some of the greatest works of art, music, and literature known to man.”

    Earthly slaves built the awe-inspiring pyramids on Earth as a step closer to the absolute.

    I desire spiritual slaves to build heavenly sacred symbols on Earth as steps closer to the absolute.

    “Then, when you begin to study them with a rational approach, at first they seem to be absurd–but the more you study them, the more sense they make.”

    The more I try to escape my own Ego, and imagine it to be “out there”, the more will incomprehensible truths become clear to my spirit (thought).

  5. Paul says:

    It makes sense until you figure that if there is a God, he created us exactly the way we are and he shouldn’t be surprised or “mad” that we ate an apple. The problem with all religions is that it allows people to hold beliefs as a group that would be considered crazy if held by an individual.

    It seams to me that if there was a creator, we would be surrounded by strong corroborating evidence and wouldn’t need to read tea leaves to see how obvious He is. I would also expect the bible to have some pretty profound useful information in it that early primitive men could not divine on their own.

    Finally, which God, is the right God? How do you know the Mormons or Scientologists or Muslims are wrong?

  6. Bharat says:

    “I remember when I was an atheist, thinking, ‘The problem with Christianity isn’t merely the implausibility of the gospel accounts. I can watch Star Wars and suspend disbelief about the Force, etc. No, the real problem with Christianity is that it makes no sense. God is mad at humanity because two people ate an apple, but then He forgives them when they murder His innocent Son. What the heck?!’ “

    For me, sure this is a problem, and your post seems like an adequate reply to it, but my main problem is that Christianity purports to be true while Star Wars does not. I have no problem watching Star Wars because 2 billion people are not telling me that Luke really did beat the Emperor and the force actually does exist.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      Oh, Star Wars is totally real. It just happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

  7. thesauros says:

    Yosef, I hope you aren’t like most people who bring up this issue and instead it’s a case of “Reading the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like trying to read a Sun Dial by the light of a quarter moon.” Sadly, most atheists, when they suggest that we should be stoning “cheeky children,” (Dawkins) or that we shouldn’t be eating shell fish, are simply blowing smoke.

    For those who are serious though, let me explain. First comes three questions:
    . If Jesus was the end of the Law, then why does the New Testament include some of the Mosaic Law?
    . If Jesus says that not one part of the Law can be abolished, why aren’t every one of the hundreds and hundreds or laws included in the New Testament, and
    . Why are only nine of the ten commandments written up in the New Testament?

    How can all of these questions be answered without going into mental contortions? I think the following resolves what is really no problem at all. We aren’t (and Jesus wasn’t) talking about just one “Law.” This is true on more than one level. The Law of Moses was not just The Ten Commandments, but 613 commandments. In point of fact these codes of conduct, handed down by our Creator started even before Moses.
    There was a code handed down in Eden to Adam and Eve.
    There was a coded handed down to Noah.
    There was a code handed down to Abraham.
    There was a code handed down to Moses, and
    There was a code handed down to us by Jesus.
    The Law or Code of Jesus which is found throughout the New Testament completely overrides the earlier codes in their entirety.

    Just as the guidelines that we have for our children changes as our children get older and their circumstances change, so too with God’s guidelines, as His plan progresses and our circumstances change as a result.

    On that note, we can observe:
    . The Law or Code of Jesus contains some of the old guidelines: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet and so forth; all summed up with, “Love your neighbour as you already love yourself.” (Romans 13:9).
    . The Law or Code of Jesus contains some new guidelines: “For everything God created is good, and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1st Timothy 4:4.
    . And “A new command I give you, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Notice that it is no long just, love others as you love yourself, but “love others as I have loved you.”
    Again, the food restrictions have been completely removed.

    To review:
    Any command of Moses that appears in Jesus’ Code should not be seen as a continuation of those earlier commands, but is specifically part of Jesus’ Law or Code.

    The Laws of Jesus that were also part of Moses’ law are binding on modern followers of Jesus.

    The Laws that were part of Moses Law that Jesus did not include in His Law or Code are not binding on modern followers of Jesus.

    As an example, sexual intimacy only within a male / female marriage is still binding while dietary laws are not.

    In other words, every Law of Moses has been ended unless is has been included in Jesus’ Law Code, a set of guidelines that is found throughout the New Testament.

    • Justin says:

      I like how Christians use these metaphors for mass murder.

      “Just as the guidelines that we have for our children changes as our children get older and their circumstances change, so too with God’s guidelines, as His plan progresses and our circumstances change as a result.”

      No this is not the same thing. The guidelines of God required murdering people for things you yourself dont consider murderable at least i hope not. This isnt teaching its killing. To view it this way is to dismiss and rationalize the brutality of the old testament.

      and do you not understand the implication of this statement

      “As an example, sexual intimacy only within a male / female marriage is still binding while dietary laws are not.”

      Are you saying that the people who brake this still valid law should be killed like the old testament? What Christians are really saying is that god is the ultimate source of morality and if he changes the scripts on humans well hes god and his plan and all powerful and whatever. Fine ok but stop acting like this stuff makes sense. It seems you are just trying to rationalize the brutality of the bible with its glaring contradictions with your own conscience.

      if god is the ultimate source of morality and god decided to change the script again and tells you to murder someone who your own conscience considered innocent of deserving murder for i dont know being gay would you do it. if so your crazy (but that is what christian must believe) and if not god doesn’t exist.

      “Reading the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like trying to read a Sun Dial by the light of a quarter moon.”

      This statement takes the cake. now i have to part of your special club to read the bible and only your approved interpretation counts as the real interpretation. No could possibly read the bible and come to understand it unless they believe first. Dont you guys get how crazy you come across.

      • guest says:

        The guidelines of God required murdering people for things you yourself dont consider murderable at least i hope not.

        Keep in mind that the paradigm in which this takes place is one in which God is speaking with the Israelites, directly: pillar of cloud by day, and all that.

        So, if that paradigm is true, then it actually makes sense to do those things.

        The account is either true or false, but it’s not nonsensical.

        What Christians are really saying is that god is the ultimate source of morality and if he changes the scripts on humans well hes god …

        All the sacrifice stuff, with the priests and whatnot – its function was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice; And at any rate, as Hebrews notes, it’s impossible for those sacrifices to take away sins (because animals cannot substitute for the required death of the sinner); But a perfect human can be a scapegoat; There are none, which is why it was necessary for God to come down in human form and be killed on our behalf.

        The dietary laws, I believe, were designed to keep people from getting sick (“clean” and “unclean” NOT being used metaphorically). Those who would disagree with this have difficulties beyond what you have raised, in my view; and at any rate, I think my interpretation better fits the contexts.

        Those being laws under a theocracy, they would apply under the Old Covanent, and not under the new one.

        Anyway, all that to say that much of it doesn’t have to seem irrational. There are some I don’t have answers for.

        … murder someone who your own conscience considered innocent of deserving murder for i dont know being gay would you do it.murder someone who your own conscience considered innocent of deserving murder for i dont know being gay would you do it.

        To be sure, as above, the command to kill gays was under the theocracy of the Old Covanent, so no longer applies.

        But I do want to point out something that you may not have thought of before.

        Gays don’t actually want you to simply let them be with who they want to be with. We could exclude them from participating in our lives and be fine with letting them do stuff to each other.

        Rather, what they want is for you to be forced to recognize their lifestyle as normal, and to be forced to include them in your lives against our will, much like the government doesn’t allow discrimination toward blacks in businesses (I don’t have the race problem, so this isn’t such a big deal to me; but I do recognize that it isn’t OK to force someone to do business with people with which they don’t wish to).

        Further, it is my contention that many who say they are fine with others being gay are just saying that so that they won’t get in trouble with the law for having committed a so-called “hate crime”;

        Because if you’re straight, then you don’t actually consider the gay lifestyle normal at all. It’s not like you’re open to the idea yourself – you’re repulsed by the idea.

        And it’s not just a preference thing: You think it goes against gender roles. If it WERE about preferences, then all the straight people would have to say that “Yeah, I could possibly bat for the other team”.

        And that’s the real problem with gays: It’s that they, in effect, want you to help them redefine gender roles.

        And what this reveals is that straight people are being told that, actually, THEIR lifestyle – one which is defined by gender roles – is inappropriate and needs to be eradicated by force of government.

        Forcing chaplains to “marry” gays in the military? There you go.

        (The solution, of course, is to get government out of marriage.)

        This is not to say that government should be used to prevent gays from doing things to each other, or from having ceremonies in which they refer to themselves as “married”.

        I’m just saying that the gay agenda is not innocuous. It’s not about individual liberty. And that should give you pause.

    • Yosef says:

      Thesauros, you bring up a lot, and I will try to answer it all concisely.

      You wrote, “Just as the guidelines that we have for our children changes as our children get older and their circumstances change, so too with God’s guidelines, as His plan progresses and our circumstances change as a result”

      Now, there are generally two types of guidelines we give to children. There are the kind of ‘Don’t bully other kids” rules, and there are the kind of “You have to be in bed by 10″ rules. The first kind are moral rules, and the second kind are amoral rules (having a bed time has nothing to do with being a good person). The second set of rules are the kind that change as the kids grow older and circumstances change. The first kind of rules, the moral rules, never change. God’s laws, especially with regards to punishing wrongs, and the wrongs themselves (such as adultery) are supposed to be moral rules. So how can they change over time? Was it once moral, and right, and good, to kill adulterers? But now it is no longer moral and right and good?

      You wrote, “The Law or Code of Jesus which is found throughout the New Testament completely overrides the earlier codes in their entirety.” And you wrote, “In other words, every Law of Moses has been ended unless is has been included in Jesus’ Law Code, a set of guidelines that is found throughout the New Testament.”

      This seems to correspond to my number 3 point in my first post: the laws have changed. I can think of three reasons why a law has changed:
      1. The law was wrong (in which case God’s original law in the old testament was wrong, which is not acceptable to Christians)
      2. The law was incorrectly changed (which is obviously unacceptable since that means Jesus was wrong)
      3. The law was right, but having served its purpose, it’s now time to change. Which, if true, means that Christians accept that it was morally right, for a time, to kill adulterers.

      So, is that right? Were such killings moral and right and good for a time?

  8. Seb says:

    “It is undeniable that there is something incredibly powerful and compelling about the gospel stories.”

    I think you probably don’t mean this literally, or maybe you understand the term “undeniable” differently than I do. It seems implausible that you would think it impossible that anyone might disagree with your statement that the gospel stories have something incredibly powerful and compelling about them, and I even think it’s implausible that you think one might not *very reasonably* disagree with it, even if one were wrong to do so.
    I’m left not really knowing what it is you might have meant then, and feeling rather puzzled as to why you made that statement sound so extremely strong.

    Also, perhaps because I don’t understand what you mean here, I fail to see how you have actually answered the objection that “with that kind of argument, you can justify all kinds of nuttiness!”. As far as I can see, your statements here about the value of the gospel stories and their validity remain unfalsifiable.

  9. Bob Robertson says:

    I take great comfort in the completely arbitrary nature of the universe.

    If I believed that there was any kind of omnipotence, a universal benevolence, then I would also have to believe that people deserve what happens to them.

    And nobody deserves that. Nobody.

  10. Christopher says:

    I like that you say “we” when you talk about the killing of Jesus. It made me think about myself and my perspective on good friday.

  11. RG says:

    But god didn’t save all of humanity, only those that believe he did.

    So you must believe that god allowed the torture and murder of his son. A son that purportedly performed tasks not humanly possilbe. If you don’t believe that, you’re damned for all eternity (or at least indefinite suspension in purgatory if you’re catholic).

    All entrants to heaven either willingly suspend logic or submit to terrorism. Boy, he sure duped the devil on that one.

    .

  12. Tel says:

    And yes, that’s funny because it’s true: From a human perspective, the Christian emphasis on the crucifixion is odd. Why call it “Good Friday” when–by our own beliefs–that is the day we humans mistakenly tortured and killed God’s Son.

    But he is immortal, so temporarily “killing” him doesn’t represent any material loss to God or anyone else.

    But that’s the whole point of this blog post. If there really were a God of the kind described in the Bible, His plan would be like nothing you or I would invent.

    And if it was all one great godless maelstrom, then the plan would also be like nothing you or I would invent.

    I think the only observable conclusion you can be sure about, is that overall Christianity has worked pretty well for the time it has been around (perhaps a little unfair to gays, polygamists, and witches). You can never decide if it worked by accident, or by God’s design because the two are materially indistinguishable. Pick anything that happened, you could argue it was an accident, or equally argue the God wanted it to happen. Even if you discover some deeper rules that provide a mechanism for what happens, you could still say those are God’s rules.

    Atheism is not a statement of belief, it is a matter of efficiency.

  13. devo says:

    its a trap!! lol just kidding, but seriously obviously if you have to argue a case for yourself, your gonna pull out ALL the stops and try to do a damn good job of it. the truth is whether you believe in it or not, it doesn’t actually change whether it actually exists or not. and i truly believe that most humans are pretty dumb (myself included), so to say that we know how it all fits together is a little pretentious. i certainly believe in energy, in a higher power, but i do not believe in its sentience to the point where it can answer your prayers. positive and negative energy exists, and i think its a malleable flow that we have free will over. but to say i know that the whole universe was created in 7 earth days, is just bad taste. i think the best belief is to believe you truly dont know. how is the bible any more true then the koran? or buddhism? we dont know. correlation is not causation so any number of story’s could circulate as “proof” for the bibles words, but maybe its just a correlation, and not actually causation. but who the hell (sorry) knows, its the internet and im a random dude posting cause theres a comment section ;)

  14. David says:

    Why don’t people believe in Zeus anymore? Many Christians are basically polytheistic anyway. They have “God” which is the Father or lead guy like Zeus. And then they have all the patron saints that they pray to for different things. This reminds me of Apollo, who is the god of healing or Saint Raphael the Archangel in Christianity (there is also, St. Luke the patron saint of doctors). Rhea is the mother of Gods, kind of like Mary, the mother of Jesus who is prayed to by Christians. And I could go on and on.

    • leo nasager says:

      christians do not pray to Mary the mother of Jesus. they pray to Jesus, who is the intermediate between you and God.

      • RG says:

        There’s this big sect of christians known as catholics that pray directly to mary and the other saints.

  15. Ken B says:

    Bob is taking a rather narrow view of what counts as chrisitian I think. There were, and probably still are, christians who believed in more than one god. Some early gnostic christians believed in 365 of them. And the basic myth of proxy redemption makes perfect sense if you have two gods, the first condemning, and the second saving. (The other 363 are gravy.)

    The community of the Gospel of Thomas seems to have been dualists this way. Manicheans certainly were, as were at least some Albigensians. Monotheist christians have spent a lot of time and effort extirpating dualist christians over the years.

    • guest says:

      Monotheist christians have spent a lot of time and effort extirpating dualist christians over the years.

      The Zeitgeist Movie & Other Myth Claims about Jesus
      http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8521

      The challenge in “Zeitgeist” is why we should consider the stories of Adonis, Osiris, and the other pagan mystery saviors as fables, yet treat as factual essentially the same story told in a Jewish context.

      I say these stories are allegedly similar because we are presuming the facts asserted in the challenge are true.

      Mithras is an individual in one of these mystery religions. The claim is that Mithras was born of a virgin and that’s a parallel with Jesus, but not even the mythical Mithras was born of a virgin. Mithras was born out of a rock so there is no parallel there. The challengers claim Mithras was born on December 25th, but Jesus wasn’t born on that date.

      It turns out that a lot of the facts don’t match up as claimed. There are problems with the factual characterizations of these other mythologies insofar as they allegedly parallel the life of Jesus. But even if we take the facts offered at face value – even if Mithras was born of a virgin, and Jesus was born on December 25th – there’s something else even more fundamental with this challenge.

      But even if we take the facts offered at face value – even if Mithras was born of a virgin, and Jesus was born on December 25th – there’s something else even more fundamental with this challenge.

      Here’s the problem. This is an example of circular reasoning. It’s an example of assuming what you are trying to prove.

      We first have to show that Jesus is a fiction before it makes any sense to ask how the fiction came to be. All of this evidence from other myths turns out to be evidence for how a fiction could come to be, but only after you know it is a fiction. It is not evidence that it’s a fiction. That’s a different question. Yet that is how this evidence is offered in “Zeitgeist” and other times I’ve heard it.

      So why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, and Addis as myth, yet think Jesus of Nazareth is history? The answer is because there is good primary source documentation for the latter and not for the former, for Jesus of Nazareth and not for the others. The documentation is very different. And if the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth taken on its own merits is good, then it doesn’t matter if there are other myths that have some similar details.

      • Tel says:

        It makes a lot more sense that Jesus was a real man, but when Peter needed to sell the idea to the Romans, he merged in some of the existing traditions of Mithras because that happened to be palatable at the time — thus why we celebrate Christmas on 25 December, regardless on when Jesus was born.

        Besides 25 December is a few days after the solstice, which is waaaay to much of a coincidence when multiple large stone-age structures were built to accurately measure the solstice thousands of years before Jesus.

        • Ken B says:

          Except the fixing of Christmas dates from long after Peter. It was decided by some early bishop of Rome, I forget which, some time later. I think circa 300?

          • Tel says:

            OK, well it may not have been Peter, it seems that the early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas at all.

            Point is that lot of pagan paraphernalia (e.g. eggs and bunnies at Easter, pretty much everything at Halloween) have been absorbed into Christianity. There’s at least some historical evidence that Yahweh started out as a sun god, so expropriating solar festivals makes sense.

            Since maintaining basic solar astronomy (important to any seasonal farming culture) was one of the jobs of the old pagan religion, I would argue that it was even necessary that Christians take this over, or else suffer a technological setback.

            • Ken B says:

              One of the most interesting things about the OT god is how the notion of what he is like changes over time. In some of the oldest books he walks around, and no-one finds it weird. Only later does he become completely disembodied.

          • Tel says:

            This thing reliably picks up midwinter, and has done for 5000 years, which in turn allows a common metric for people to judge their winter stores, and not be quite as stingy with the food.

            http://www.newgrange.com/

  16. Ken B says:

    “It is undeniable that there is something incredibly powerful and compelling about the gospel stories. They have inspired some of the greatest works of art, music, and literature known to man”

    I quite agree Bob. I don’t think that speaks to their historicity though, it’s true of Ovid too. It speaks to their moral and psychological depth, and in a few places their poetry and narrative skill.

    It’s also undeniable they have also inspired some of the worst acts and hatreds on history. I don’t think that speaks to their historicity either. It speaks to their moral and psychological limitations. That’s not a fault; use Ovid as guide to life you’ll get bad results too. But it does mean you need to be wary precisely because they are so powerful.

  17. Gamble says:

    Speaking of brilliant or foolish.

    Check out crazy Jim Cramer. He still thinks centrally dictated low interest rates are the panacea…

    http://t.money.msn.com/top-stocks/the-fed-really-knew-nothing-in-2007

  18. knoxharrington says:

    “But that’s the whole point of this blog post. If there really were a God of the kind described in the Bible, His plan would be like nothing you or I would invent.”

    Couldn’t help but think of the Ghostbusters line “no human being would stack books like this.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kj2bF8dDNs

    Bob – quit being so Manichean. There are other choices besides “brilliant” or “foolish” – “[t]here’s no in between.” As the saying goes “politicians, ugly buildings and whores all become respectable with age.” Another option would be “plausible based on the bronze age knowledge of the time but now seen as quaint and implausible.”

  19. Ken B says:

    What is going on? It’s Wednesday and no comments for 3 hours? There are recent religion and Krugman threads too. Did MF and xg finally get a room?

  20. Andrew Jackson says:

    Don’t mention their names, Ken B! It’s a great positive externality that neither of those two have commented here. The economics community is far better off without their annoying, blathering comments. I suspect Major_Freedom is nothing but a troll trying to spit on the grave of Murray Rothbard.

  21. GeePonder says:

    If this is really your thing, read The Gnostic Gospels and give the other stories a chance. And understand the Gnostic tradition, of which telling these stories was an important part. Then form a council and vote for the ones that you henceforth shall consider the “Holy” ones, but not the other ones.

    It is an interesting exercise to read the “other” stories. Most of them are no more or less believable than the chosen stories. Why not get all sides to this thing. It is quite instructive.

  22. GeePonder says:

    Crap! I was attempting to post to the article, not to any individual sub-thread. I always do that. Unholy blog!

  23. John T. Kennedy says:

    It’s foolish, and if anyone offered this level of reasoning in economics you’d recognize the foolishness instantly.

    • Joseph Fetz says:

      Luckily Bob is able to compartmentalize effectively.

    • guest says:

      Austrian Economics IS actually accused of offering a “foolish level of reasoning”, in the sense I suspect you mean:

      Austrian Economics—the Queen of the Experimental Sciences
      http://bastiat.mises.org/2013/01/austrian-economics-the-queen-of-the-experimental-sciences/

      In Austrian economics, in contrast, one deduces the relation of X and Y from first principles so compelling that they are accepted as axioms, especially the Action Axiom (that people purposefully use means to obtain ends desired for the removal of their felt unease). In Austrian thought experiments, all other things whatsoever are held constant by a mental strait jacket that immobilizes them completely. Therefore the deduced relation of X and Y is always as strong as the axioms of analysis, provided that no logical mistakes have been made.

      Is Austrian Economics ‘Unscientific’?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bF_gPioOoc

      Now, I understand the current definition of “science” to exclude metaphysical considerations, including epistemology; so, for me, it’s a stretch to call Austrian Economics a “science”.

      Having said that, I believe that the term “science” has been artificially divested of such considerations, so I nevertheless allow for proof of a logical nature for epistemological claims such as those presented as derived from the axioms of Austrian Economics, assuming the axioms are true.

      • Joseph Fetz says:

        I know that many people often like to consider only empirical disciplines as science, but I don’t think that this is quite right. In fact, this idea is quite new in the history of human thinking, most prominently arising in the 20th century.

        Throughout most of human history science was thought to be the *logic* of a certain area of study, thus all disciplines are related to logic (AKA “the science of sciences”). Thus, all words describing these disciplines are lead with their area of focus and tailed with an “ic” or a “logy”, denoting their relation to the logic of such an area of study/focus.

  24. Michael says:

    I have to say that no, Christianity is foolish, and still makes little if any sense. It is not just that God is mad at humans for eating an apple, and then sends his only son to die for us. It’s that he created that situation in the first place, and if you accept the Trinity doctrine, he is his own son, too. So in effect he must “sacrifice himself to himself to change a rule he made himself” as the meme goes. I find that “foolish” very well describes this, along with some other choice words. If there is a God that loves us, not presenting temptation and then forever punishing us for it would be a good start, making the later salvation unnecessary. The existence of Satan by itself does not speak well of a loving God, but even if God valued the free will of angels and humans, must he allow Satan to tempt us (again assuming the best course-simply not having the temptation-wasn’t taken)? It does sound ridiculous, because it is. If God’s plan is so mysterious no human could understand it, one must wonder at the point of having a scripture, or praying for guidance. And yes, with this sort of argument absurd ideas can be and have been justified. I do not find the Gospel stories powerful or compelling, nor any of the Bible. They are far from the worst literature, but also far from the best. Personal taste here is understandably highly subjective, and thus you should refrain from such blanket statements. While they may have inspired great works of art, that says nothing of their truth or falsity. I have attempted to study them over the years rationally, and the more I do the less sense it seems they make to me. I submit the word of God would be far more consistent, free of error, contain values which do not reflect that of a small Bronze Age culture, and present truths otherwise unknowable. On the other hand, if God’s plan is so mysterious humans cannot understand it, the word of God might be totally opaque and indecipherable.

    • guest says:

      Some of these have answers.

      It wasn’t an apple; It was whatever “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was.

      While the Trinity doesn’t make sense (to me), the difficulties you raise can be answered: The Biblical God can, in effect, be in more than one place at a time; He was controlling a human body; That perfect human could serve as a sacrifice for sin.

      No rules were changed when Jesus was sacrificed; He fulfilled the requirements of God’s wrath on us, if we receive him.

      Satan wasn’t created evil.

      Yes, God could have kept Satan from tempting us, but our reactions are still our fault.

      Here is an article you may find intellectually honest on the matter of mysteriousness in the Bible:

      Respecting the Revelation
      http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5543

      Some think getting a word from God is a substitute for careful Bible study. But it’s bad advice to pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the right interpretation of a text.

      If you think God is telling you something through Scripture that is not connected to the meaning of the words in their context, it can’t be of God because God chose to communicate through language, not around it.

  25. Michael says:

    Apple, fruit; it makes little difference. I didn’t say that it couldn’t be done, but that the idea of sacrificing himself to himself is absurd. It’s also more than controlling a body alone-according to the Trinity Doctrine, God was that body simultaneously. I’m aware that no rules were changed when Jesus was sacrificed (though it’s not even clear this counts as a “sacrifice” anyway-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh55gQwF1iY&list=FL7F-qYxU3FznIcf4hFqRC8g). That’s precisely my point-it would have made far more sense to simply alter the rules instead of this absurd sacrificing himself to himself idea. I never said Satan was created evil, but God gave him free will to become evil, and (apparently) allowed him to come down on Earth, tempting Eve to sin. Tell me, if a parent leaves an open sinkhole in their yard and says “you can play anywhere but there” to their child, then someone else comes along to say “don’t worry-it’s okay to play in there” so that they fall in, whose fault is that? The child, for succumbing to temptation, or more likely the parent for having it there to begin with. I fear that article you linked speaks only to believers and thus means nothing to me.

    • guest says:

      I fear that article you linked speaks only to believers and thus means nothing to me.

      Your claim was that the biblical paradigm requires some kind of special powers for interpreting the Bible. So by the nature of the claims, you are saying that it’s important.

      Your claim requires a response from the biblical paradigm.

      The excerpt I quoted appeals to tools which are available to every human. The point was that, in the biblical paradigm, there are no special powers required for biblical interpretation. Anyone can do it.

      but that the idea of sacrificing himself to himself is absurd.

      It’s only absurd if you believe that the biblical God’s laws are arbitrary.

      God requires perfection, so we all deserve hell. He loves us and wants to save us from our punishment, so it’s necessary for him to devise a plan which will fulfill his wrath on us as well as provide a way for us to be saved, without violating our free will.

  26. Michael says:

    I did not claim that Biblical interpretation requires some kind of special powers. If the article is saying that any person can interpret it in plain language, then fine-I do so. I must say that the Biblical God’s laws do seem rather arbitrary at times. If God is not able to change what he requires, is that not less than omnipotent? In any case requiring perfection of beings he created imperfect is an absurdity. The punishment and salvation from it are necessary only due to God’s actions, or inactions. You do not have to violate someone’s free will simply by not putting beings in the situation of needing your help. It also speaks little of not violating free will when there is a cosmic gun to your head (i.e. hell) against humans taking certain actions. Having an offer one cannot refuse without death (an eternal one here) is not “free”.

Leave a Reply