10 Jul 2016

Sobran on Intrinsic Excellence of Christianity

Religious 27 Comments

Joe Sobran wrote this essay a while ago at Easter time, and it echoes what I was saying last week. Some of his particular statements I don’t find persuasive, but below are some of the good ones:

Then there is the argument from comparative religion. Religions are a lot alike, they can’t all be true, so isn’t it probable that they are all false? By that kind of reasoning, you can prove not only that we don’t know who wrote Hamlet, but that it was never written at all.

Was Jesus just like a lot of other religious leaders? Such as? Do other religions have prayers like the Our Father? Did the ancient Greeks ask Zeus to “forgive us as we forgive others”? Did the Aztecs pray like that? How many other religions command their votaries to rejoice, be of good cheer, have no fear? (“Trust in Poseidon”?)

And many other religious figures, we are told, have performed miracles every bit as impressive as those attributed to Jesus. Really? Did they cure blind men and cripples while assuring them that their sins were forgiven?

And did they, even after they had died (and risen again, it goes without saying), make converts who would die for what they had taught? Did any of them ever give a speech like the Sermon on the Mount? If so, where can I find a copy?

For that matter, did any of these impressive religious teachers, who seem to have been very numerous, match Jesus in what has been called his “command of the moment,” making memorable retorts, still quoted centuries later, to enemies trying to trap them with trick questions? Have any of their reported ad libs endured as permanent moral teachings, like “Whoever among you is without sin, let him cast the first stone”?

Come to think of it, the atheists could strengthen their case somewhat by producing the prayers of other religions to show how much they resemble, or even surpass, Christian prayers. Why don’t they? Just asking. But I have my suspicions.

When you point to the rather horrid regimes run by atheists in the twentieth century, you can count on the atheists to disown them, on the pretext that men like Stalin were the “wrong” sort of atheists because they were just as “dogmatic” as Christians. With people who argue this way, you’d better cut the deck before letting them deal the cards. They’re saying that empirical evidence is inadmissible — except when they want to use it.

How can God be both good and omnipotent, when there is so much evil in the world? I can’t answer this one, and it has tormented believers so deeply that the Scriptures themselves ask it many times. It’s known as the Problem of Evil. I can say only that it’s trumped by the real mystery, the Problem of Good.

27 Responses to “Sobran on Intrinsic Excellence of Christianity”

  1. E. Harding says:

    Christianity is different; ergo, Jesus. Well, so is Mormonism, Buddhism and Islam. Not how logic works.

    Much of Christianity is based on Judaism and Greek writings.

    • Andrew Keen says:

      Your post contains an implied admission that atheism is no different than any other religion. I’m sure that wasn’t intentional.

      • E. Harding says:

        “Your post contains an implied admission that atheism is no different than any other religion.”

        -Only within the confines of your head.

        • Andrew Keen says:

          I suppose the confines of your head are quite a bit tighter than mine.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “Christianity is different; ergo, Jesus. Well, so is Mormonism, Buddhism and Islam. Not how logic works.”

      The argument was that Jesus is not just different, but BETTER. Maybe correct or not, but not the straw man you posted. That is not how logic works, Harding!

      “Much of Christianity is based on Judaism and Greek writings.”


      • Tel says:

        Better at what? Why?

        Anyone can say “my guy is better”, and seems like most of them do.

      • E. Harding says:

        I can think up a better religion than Christianity in five and a half minutes.

        That’s not how logic works, Gene!


        -Man; give this guy points for burning straw.

  2. Khodge says:

    Using comparative religion (essentially a branch of sociology) as the basis of theological proof is unpersuasive. For starters, all you can really prove is that the God of Christianity is not the God of Hinduism. Very unpersuasive if you did not grow up thinking as someone with a european rational mindset.

    Arguing from what is, essentially, a sociological/historical perspective also has to be fraught with problems from a Protestant perspective: The same types of arguments that “prove” Christianity fail to justify mutually exclusive theology within Christianity (one simple example is the necessity of baptism) and the smorgasbord of sects.

  3. Tel says:

    Come to think of it, the atheists could strengthen their case somewhat by producing the prayers of other religions to show how much they resemble, or even surpass, Christian prayers. Why don’t they? Just asking. But I have my suspicions.

    The Muslim chants certainly surpass Christian prayer for intensity and depth of feeling. Not sure if walking round with a bruised forehead is everyone’s cup of tea though… but they do get right into it.

    The Zen Buddhists consider arts and crafts to be a type of prayer, reflecting the inner nature of the craftsman (it’s fair to point out the Quakers had a similar tradition, not sure if mainstream Christians would agree). This surpasses regular Christian prayer in terms of utility… because you end up with crafted items.

    None of this demonstrates correctness of theory (not from an atheist perspective anyhow) but in terms of “why don’t they?” well I’m sure plenty have put these kind of arguments forward, but requires someone to listen. To an atheist, this just comes across as a Christian who thinks their particular prayers are somehow pretty cool. Yeah, well everyone thinks that, which is the whole point, isn’t it?

    • Colombo says:

      Do you have data about objective measurements on “intensity and depth of feeling” or you are speaking from your intuition?

      • Tel says:

        Why doesn’t Sobran provide documentation of his objective measurements of quality? Just asking. But I have my suspicions.

        On the same note.

        … converts who would die for what they had taught?

        Muslim converts do it all the time (just search on Ramadan suicide attacks) but as an Atheist I see that as a point against, not a point in favour. A lot depends on your point of view. I much prefer dealing with people who are reluctant to die for their ideology.

        At least there’s a convenient objective metric when it comes to dead people.

        • Andrew Keen says:

          But aren’t suicide attacks different than being put to death? There isn’t anything you would die for under any circumstances?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Tel, Sobran’s point is that the people casually claiming that other religions have prayers/teachings that surpass those of Jesus, never actually produce them. So, give us specific examples of a Muslim prayer that’s as nice as the Our Father, or a sermon that’s better than the one on the mount. (I’m not saying that sarcastically, just pointing out that you’re not even attempting to answer Sobran, even though it seems you think you are.)

      • Tel says:

        The word Sobran used was “surpass” but who gets to judge this, and based on which criteria? Sobran doesn’t say. Just claims no examples are available so no judgement can be made.

        Well clearly that’s not true, plenty of examples of non-Christian prayers are available and plenty of non-Christian people are much more enthusiastic about those than they are about Christian prayers. What do you mean by “never actually produce them”, go spend time in any temple or monastery on Earth that isn’t Christian. You claim the atheists are obliged to go create a detailed index of where these are, or do you think a motivated Christian could find something relevant all by themselves?

        How specific do I need to be? I know a few Muslims, I don’t know their prayers by heart, I don’t even read Arabic.

        I can search out some Buddhist stuff if you are interested, but it would be a translation, not the original. Then again, most Christians read a translated Bible so presumably that’s not a problem. I still have no criteria for “surpass” but if you give me criteria we might not agree on how to judge it anyhow. That’s kind of the whole point of the atheist argument.

      • Jason V says:

        A Christian’s religious belief system, when tested and exposed to contradictory facts from Biblical languages, Biblical history, Biblical culture, the study of Gnosticism as well as Comparative Religions, Astronomy and Astrology, and Archeology, must in the Spirit of Truth and Repentance, be flexible enough to change.

        Look no further than the work of Rev. Craig Lyons Ms.D., D.D., M.Div.

        The Christ Conspiracy by Acharya S
        Bible Myths and Parallels In Other Religions by T. W. Doane
        Aryan Sun-Myths The Origin of Religion (1899) by Charles Morris
        The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Gandy
        The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara Walker
        Jesus: God, Man, Or Myth? by Herbert Cutner
        The Book Your Church Does Not Want You To Read by Tim C Leedom

        Where Judaism Differs by Abba Hillel Silver
        Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed And Creed by Benjamin Blech

        Let’s Get Biblical (plus tape series) by Rabbi Tovi Singer (http://www.outreachjudaism.org/)
        Antisemitism in the New Testament by Lillian Freudmann
        Who Wrote The Bible by Richard Friedman
        Faith Strengthened by Isaac Troki
        Judaism’s Truth Answers the Missionaries by Beth Moshe
        History Of The Christian Religion To The Year Two Hundred by Charles Waite

        The Essene Christian Faith by Martin Larson
        The Essene Heritage by Martin Larson
        The Story of Christian Origins by Martin Larson


        The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
        Jesus And The Lost Goddess by Freke And Gandy
        Fragments of a Faith Forgotten by G. R. S. Mead
        Did Jesus Live 100 B. C.?, by G. R. S. Mead


        The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by H. Maccoby
        Paul And Hellenism by Hyam Maccoby


        The Jewish Messiah by Dan Chon-Sherbok


        Christianity Before Christ by John G. Jackson
        Egyptian Divinities: The All Who Are The One by Moustafa Gadalla
        Egyptian Cosmology: The Absolute Harmony by Moustafa Gadalla
        Historical Deception: the Untold Story of Ancient Egypt by Moustafa Gadalla
        Egyptian Mystics: Seekers Of The Way by Moustafa Gadalla
        Tut-Ankh-Amen by Moustafa Gadalla
        Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought by James Bonwick
        The Historical Jesus And The Mythical Christ by Gerald Massey
        The Deeper Truth: Uncovering The Missing History Of Egypt by Richard Cassaro
        Ancient Egypt: The Light Of The World by Gerald Massey
        Gerald Massey’s Lectures by Gerald Massey
        The Origin and Evolution Of Religion by Albert Churchward
        The Origin Of All Religious Worship by Charles Dupuis
        Temple Of The Cosmos by Jeremy Naydler
        Ruins Or Meditation On The Revolutions Of Empires And The Law Of Nature by C.F. Volney
        Stolen Legacy by George M. James
        Jesus..the Last of the Pharaohs by Ralph Ellis
        Out of Egypt by Ahmed Osman
        The House of the Messiah by Ahmed Osman
        Jesus in the House of the Pharaohs: The Essene Revelations on the Historical Jesus by Ahmed Osman
        Moses and Akhenaten: The Secret History of Egypt at the Time of the Exodus by Ahmed Osman
        The Hebrew Pharaohs of Egypt: The Secret Lineage of the Patriarch Joseph by Ahmed Osman
        Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt by Rundel Clark

        These books will help the reader confront the many challenges regarding the orthodox approach to the inherited “Jesus Story” and the history of Christianity and its true origins. These books point their critical finger at many of the rigid dogmas of Christianity as well as the LITERAL interpretation of the “Jesus Story” which has sadly created not only mental servitude with attendant idolatry but at the same time stifled the real understanding of the original Christian message that goes all the way back to the beginning of time in Egypt. If you read these books you will come to see beyond any doubt that the true meaning of Christianity is to be found in the Mystical and Mythological Teachings. These books will help you see through the false traditions inherited in our day and will show you the need for a revival of the effort to discover the esoteric significance of the Christian heritage, to understand the ALLEGORICAL method of Biblical interpretation, and to find behind the myths, legends, dramas, symbols, and allegories, the spiritual vision which they embody as understood by the Ancients. Only in this way will there ever be a new birth for Christianity and an new enlightenment which is no desperately needed in the Christian world comprising over 3 billion people in the world today.

    • Andrew Keen says:

      Sobran isn’t saying that Christians are more enthusiastic than any other religious followers. He’s saying that Christianity is very different than any other religion. Obviously, he doesn’t prove that Christianity is true; that would be impossible. He’s merely explaining why the common atheist argument that, “There’s more than one religion, therefore they’re all wrong,” is invalid. He’s also trying to show that the “All these religions are basically variations of the same thing” critique is wrong.

      So when he says, “show how much they resemble, or even surpass, Christian prayers,” I take him to mean, “show me something that looks the same as (or an improved version of) what Christ said,” and not, “show me something that I would like better than what Christ said.”

      • Tel says:

        Atheists are not claiming to prove all religions are wrong, but if they cannot all be correct then it would require some additional factor in order to make a decision between alternative religions.

        The only additional factor that Sobran puts forward is that he personally approves of various aspects of Christianity. That’s a really good argument if you happen to already agree with Sobran, but any religion could equally well make a similar argument substituting in their own likes and dislikes.

        Suppose you have a whole row of different fruits lined up, and all of those pieces of fruit were poisoned except for just one piece… but we don’t know which one. The atheist says, “Hey man, I’ll just eat bread and leave the fruit alone, because I have no idea where the poison is.”

        Sobran is standing right up close to the banana and says, “Ohh, it’s such a lovely yellow, this is great. You haven’t even pointed out any other fruit as wonderfully yellow as this one, so I’m gonna eat the banana!”

        • Colombo says:

          But bananas aren’t real. They were created by a political machination of the Roman Empire to cause division among rebelious peoples. As Julius Caesar said: banana-split & conquer.

          The other fruits are all real. You can eat them safely. Except for coconuts, which aren’t really fruit, but horses. Troyan war’s Hector was known as “the breaker of coconuts”.

        • Andrew Keen says:

          But atheism isn’t poison-free bread. It’s just another piece of fruit in the lineup. That’s the point I take from Sobran and the implication that E. Harding inadvertently makes above. If you aren’t eating fruit then you aren’t an atheist; you’re an agnostic.

          • Tel says:

            Fair point, I should probably separate militant atheists along the lines of, “I know there’s no God”, as compared with small atheists such as myself who don’t see any compelling reason to believe in God, but if you want to do it, then go ahead (which is pretty close to agnostic, but I just don’t like that name).

            The basic philosophy of skeptical empiricism is that if you cannot measure something, then you presume it does not exist. I emphasise that this is not a statement of proof, it is a statement of efficiency. It requires very little effort to NOT believe in something (I can not believe in loads of stuff), but actually believing requires that one devote time, effort and brain space.

            Beliefs (much like employees) need to regularly justify their existence.

            I should also point out that proof of the absence of God, is similar to proof of the absence of anything… it’s difficult to do without an exhaustive search. Very few atheists have genuinely searched the entire universe.

  4. Reader says:

    Thank you, Bob! When dealing with Christian-atheist dialogues, I really like the work of apologist Trent Horn from Catholic Answers. He talks to a lot of atheists and agnostics and answers their questions very adeptly live.

  5. Silas Barta says:

    I think Islam satisfies all of those but the “forgiveness” part. Muhammed’s words are considered beautiful by those who speak Arabic, and definitely a lot of fanatical followers in the early days.

    • Tel says:

      But who gets to decide that forgiveness is important in the first place?

      Maybe a thousand years from now people will laugh at the idea of forgiveness and perhaps it could go right out of fashion. This is the problem with a complete lack of objective criteria.

      • Colombo says:

        Mosaic law and Sharia look like objective criteria. Through their negation you get an idea of what to forgive. A small number of statutes mean a greater duty to forgive. Which is what Christianity says, and also the reason why so many Christians want the law to come back, because their burden to forgive is heavy, and puts a limit to their ambitions. That is, for true believers but not for posers. Those are not bound by anything, and are very dangerous.
        What do you think?

  6. Harold says:

    “Religions are a lot alike, they can’t all be true, so isn’t it probable that they are all false? By that kind of reasoning, you can prove not only that we don’t know who wrote Hamlet, but that it was never written at all.”

    This is wrong. The logic that says there are lots of religions, they cannot be all correct, therefore *probably* all are wrong is actually comparing two different theses. Given that religion undoubtedly exists, we are faced with trying to explain that existence. Two conjectures spring to mind: 1) There is one correct religion and all the others are wrong. 2) There is an explanation for the phenomenon of religion that does not require any of them to be true.

    If we accept 2), we have no need of further assumptions. If we accept 1) we now have one explanation for one religion (the true one) and we still need another explanation for the others. We have basically still had to accept conjecture 2) for most religions, we have simply added on acceptance of 1) for one of them.

    Good old Occam’s Razor indicates that we should accept that which requires the fewest assumptions, that is there is a single explanation for all religion.

    I do not see how this same logic could ever get you to the point that Hamlet had not been written. I mean, how would that work at all?
    We accept Hamlet exists. We have two conjectures 1) it was written by Shakespeare 2) It was written by someone else. We really have no basis in logic to decide between these. We simply have to look at the evidence. The case is nothing at all like the religion one.

    The rest of the arguments are equally weak.

    The final argument:
    “When you point to the rather horrid regimes run by atheists in the twentieth century, you can count on the atheists to disown them, on the pretext that men like Stalin were the “wrong” sort of atheists because they were just as “dogmatic” as Christians. With people who argue this way, you’d better cut the deck before letting them deal the cards. They’re saying that empirical evidence is inadmissible — except when they want to use it.”
    Religion does not have to be true to provide social benefits. Hinduism and Buddhism can equally prevent mass murderers, yet Christians do not argue that they must therefore be true.

    This leads me to my hypothesis on the existence of religions, expounded here before, but here it is again. Basically religion encourages cooperation. Religion seems to be the only way we have found to allow the growth of large societies. Any society that “attempted” to grow too large without religion will fail due to being taken over by defectors and cheats. Religion is a mechanism to encourage cooperation. This explains why all large societies have a religion, and many of them are at root fairly similar. Atheist dictators killing millions is an argument for the falsity rather than the truth of religion.

    • Andrew Keen says:

      The third conjecture explaining Hamlet’s existence is that it sprang forth from natural processes without intervention by an intelligent creator. This explanation requires no writer whatsoever, only pseudorandom chemical reactions occurring over billions of years.

      • Harold says:

        And a fourth is that elephants dictated it to rats. The third and fourth seem unlikely, given the evidence we have for other similar works.

Leave a Reply to Andrew Keen

Cancel Reply